The devastated streets of Dublin, Unified Britain, were all but deserted, and had been for the last three and a half years. What had started out as a grey, drizzly late fall morning quickly became something straight out of the worst possible nightmares. The cowardly attack leading to this had come just as the day was getting started for the million plus unsuspecting people of the once proud city. The nuclear blasts from the twin, French terrorist detonated, weapons instantly turned the once vibrant city into a virtual ghost town. Within mere moments, the lives of over a quarter of a million citizens were extinguished, followed by almost double that number in the following twenty-four hours.
The first weapon, detonated on a small yacht less than a hundred meters off North Bull Island, wiped out scores of ships and laid waste to a large section of the docks along with the entire harbor. Before the blast had even reached into the city, a second device, hidden inside an ambulance, vaporized St. James Hospital and a huge portion of the downtown area. The twin fireballs met and crossed, annihilating everything in their paths. Concrete, mortar, wood, plastic, plant tissue, and flesh, human or otherwise, all vaporized instantaneously.
The shockwaves from the twin, almost simultaneous, detonations flattened basically everything within the inner ring of the city, leaving only a few skeletal buildings. Nothing resembling an inhabitable structure remained inside the central area ringed by the M50 freeway. Outside of the circle of total devastation, extensive damage radiated outward for almost twenty-five kilometers from the circles of total devastation. The shock waves ended up taking out almost all light structures, including homes and non-reinforced wooden framed buildings, along with any building that had structural weakness.
The only saving grace, if one could put such words into a terrorist initiated nuclear strike, was the wind pattern at the time. A strong low, just south of the Isle of Man, coupled with a fairly strong high pressure system just pushing onto the west coast of Ireland created a strong steady wind blowing out of Dublin Bay. This weather pattern took the vast majority of the radioactive fallout away from the rest of Ireland and the scattered survivors of Dublin; but did force the total evacuation of the Isle of Man because of fallout.
Still, radiation from the blasts and later fallout was at levels high enough to prevent any serious rescue attempts, let alone real relief efforts. Unified Britain's government reacted quickly, yet cautiously to the devastating twin fifty-kiloton explosions. The first thing they did was to cordon off the fallout zone and get those close to it out of harm's way. Within a month, a fence surrounded the "Danger Zone," while military patrols were established to keep people out of areas the scientists said were too "hot" to safely live in. Before winter ended, a series of two more fences, each slightly more than a mile out from the initial one, became known as the "End Solution".
The area between the inner most and the second one was called the Safety Perimeter, while the second area was set up for military personnel only. This area was tightly patrolled to prevent terrorists from slipping into the non-patrolled port of Dublin, then gaining entry into UB. No civilian from outside Dublin entered this area, but if survivors from inside the "Danger Zone" made it past the inner fence and were spotted in the Safety Perimeter, they were directed to move to one of three gates to the militarized zone. Once there, they found full medical and security teams offering comprehensive assistance. Once they were decontaminated, medically tended to, fed, and clothed they were placed into a refugee style camp where they were checked for origin of citizenship and evacuated to either a UB center or an embassy of their home government; if one existed. Over the years, the camp had dwindled from dozens of tents and buildings to just a few, but it remained open and ready to help anyone making their way out of the DDZ, (Dublin Disaster Zone).
Unfortunately for those who had survived both the heat and the shockwaves, what was happening outside the city was secondary to survival. Most who still took in breaths past the first hours quickly succumbed to the radiation, their injuries, or both. Making matters worse, those who had come out of the terrorist attack unhurt, quickly discovered they may well be the truly unlucky ones as most found their hair falling out and horrible blister type wounds appearing over their bodies within days. As they got sicker, the weather turned colder and food quickly started running out.
With no shelter, falling temperatures, and little food, the weakest soon found a new type of terror. The few food drops inside the city, which were done by aircraft flying over at a high enough altitude to where the crews and their aircraft were not put in harm's way, were quickly hijacked by armed thugs. Gangs formed taking whatever they could from whomever they could, while bitter fights often erupted over supply drops. UB was not oblivious to the situation. Satellite imagery picked up on the fighting around several drops, and with radiation levels still too high to send in troops, the government sent out broadcasts simply telling everyone inside the Disaster Zone to evacuate to the west. Once outside the Danger Zone, survivors would then be taken care of.
As with many government plans, this plan had more than a few flaws. First and foremost, the EMP of the twin blast had knocked out almost all electronics, including radios. Those that survived, all battery operated, since there was no power in the Dublin area, had gone dead by the time the first evacuation orders were given. As even scavenged supplies started running out, the gangs went to war with each other. By the time spring came, the population had dropped to less than ten thousand from well over one point one million.
For one young survivor, the who, the how, and the why became secondary questions at best. Finding food, clean water, clothing, shelter, and staying clear of those who would hurt him were his primary concerns; his only concerns. For over the years, the once civilized city had turned into a free-for-all, with roving bands of survivors scrounging supplies and getting food however they could. This even included a few of the worst groups who had taken to feeding off of other survivors. In addition to these human monsters, there were others who had no qualms grabbing women and children and using them for forced labor or worse.
It was well rumored among those wandering the ruins, that many of the survivors from Dublin law enforcement had taken over the battered remains of Malahide Castle and were using virtual slave labor to rebuild the place by hand. The slaves also tended to crops barely able to grow in the irradiated soil and satisfy their captors as well. Failure to do any of the above would mean a long stint in ancient dungeons below the castle. Other rumors stated that many starved to death in those same dark dank passages to set examples for others who thought of fighting back, fleeing, or stealing some of the sparse crop production.
Finally, and possibly worst of all, were the scavengers who came by boat into the Dublin harbor in attempts to find long forgotten stashes of wealth. These raiders, for there was no other good word for them, often came well armed and rarely took prisoners. Those that did were whispered to be slavers from the city-states of Europe, but because of the poor health and radiation contamination of those in and around Dublin, slaves from within the cordoned off area were not worth much.
The boy had witnessed first hand the brutality of the raiders more than once. The last time he watched in helpless horror as a small group of raiders grabbed a couple of survivors, a man and his teenage girl. They then turned them loose giving them a count of fifty before they started tracking them, as if they were mere animals and the raiders hunters. Less than twenty minutes passed before gunshots announced their "hunt" had been successful. Still staying hidden and clutching his dog, the boy saw the two bodies hoisted up by their feet and pictures were taken by one of the raiders, while the others held their guns and posed with the bullet ridden corpses.
Now over three years since he had lost almost everything he loved, his parents, his sister and brother, the filthy youngster scanned his surroundings with a practiced eye before focusing on the half dozen mostly ruined structures beyond. The last few weeks had been hard as he had decided to move out of the outskirts of Dublin in attempt to find better places to scavenge further out. The small village that had formally been known as Friarstown had proven to be pretty well picked over but not nearly as bad as buildings within Dublin itself. It had been in Friarstown where he had found a new set of boots that actually fit. In a partially collapsed building, he located a dresser. A drawer which had been under some rubble he had chanced upon had some worn, but still very usable winter gloves and other winter underclothing. It was all a bit large, but such clothing was rare and was certainly going to keep him warm when the nights got cold.
Friarstown had also proven a great deal more dangerous. He had to flee a small band of men who had tried to catch him sleeping and then had run once again only a couple of days later from a pack of nearly starving dogs. Pushing on, and now well outside of Dublin proper, he found a few structures fully intact in a tiny hamlet. The mostly rusted sign said it was St. Ann's. It was here where he had chanced upon a long forgotten pantry holding things he had only day dreamt about over the past couple of years. There had been a pack of chocolate bars, two boxes of granola bars, eight cans of dog food, and a few cans of spaghetti and meat. In the far back, he also found almost a dozen cans of vegetables and a large sealed jar of rice. All had proven edible. This discovery pushed him forward further out into what the survivors of Dublin referred to as the 'sticks'. A virtual unknown area where many had ventured out to and next to no one returned.
His next stop had almost been his last as he entered a place with the sign, Cunard. He had picked through five of the ten standing structures with little to show for when the sounds a running engine caught his attention. He darted out of the building he was searching and made for the field beyond. The sound of the engine got louder and the sounds of gunfire echoed over the land. He dove into a ditch, followed moment later by his dog. He then crawled as fast as he could following the low ditch.
A man's voice shouted out, "Where you going boy? Looks to me like you got lots of nice things in that pack of yours. Maybe we could share."
"Yeah, we'll share him alright." Another man's voice responded with some laughter.
The boy continued to move on his hands and knees as fast as he could, purposefully dropping a couple of cans of green beans as he went, knowing no matter what the intentions the men had, food would certainly slow them. Once he had a low hill between him and the men, he made a dash for some trees. A pair of bullets whistled by him, but he kept his feet moving as fast as they would take him. He heard the men yell again, but didn't hear what they were saying as the sounds of his own labored breathing was louder than their distant shouts.
Before he realized they had stopped chasing him, he and his pet had run easily over three kilometers through trees and fields. With no road to follow, the youngster recovered his breath and decided to move further south. Knowing someone bad had a car of some sort, also scared him enough to stay clear of the roads for a while.
His last stop, a group of crumbling buildings, where a formally nice sign hung over it simply stating Kippure Estate had been a total waste of time. Whoever had lived there had taken everything of value or it had been picked over by some other scavenger. Regardless, the place was empty. He took a breath hoping this would be different. It sure looked promising enough.
He put the binoculars up to his eyes waited and watched. Seeing nothing, he glanced over to his only reason for living, his dog. "Renegade, is it clear boy?"
The mutt, a German Shepherd Black Lab mix, raised its muzzle and sniffed the air. After a moment it let out a light snort, telling the boy it had not detected anything either.
Taking one last glance around, he adjusted his coat and made a quick dash across open ground and almost dove behind a large mound of rocks. Looking around again, he realized he was in some kind of old quarry. He peeked out from around the manmade hill of rocks and over to the lime green lake. Seeing no signs of life around it, he instantly guessed it was contaminated and unsafe. In some ways this was a good sign, because there would be no reason for anyone to call this area home. He then focused on the buildings just beyond.
He took in a deep breath of air and listened. Only the sound of a hawk's cry and wind could be heard. He looked down at his dog, "Well boy, this is the furthest out we have ever been and it has been over three days since we have seen anyone. I wonder if there is anyone left alive this far away from the city."
The dog pushed its head into the boy's side and let out a little whine, as if it truly understood the boy's fear that the whole world had blown up just like Dublin had.
The boy scratched the dog's ears and managed a bit of a smile as Renegade spotted the hawk circling some trees not very far away, "At least there are birds around, so the air is probably not poison here."
Once again the dog reacted, wagging its tail and licking the boy's hand.
"Ok, let's check this out." The boy stated as he put the binoculars to his eyes again and surveyed his surroundings again. This time he focused on small things. He inspected every visible window, the dirt around the buildings and even the scrub brush and grass. Nothing looked out of place. The windows were all broken and the curtains mostly rotted. A few birds chirped from a nest built on one of the ledges. Even better, there were no footprints to be found nor were any of the plants broken or trampled. "Stay right behind me Ren." The boy stated to his dog. "We are going to stay on hard clear ground so we leave as little trail to follow as possible."
The dog let out a light yelp and waited for its master to move before bolting out from behind the massive pile of rocks and staying just off the boy's heels.
He dropped to the ground at the corner of the first building and knelt holding his breath. When he heard nothing but the wind whistling through the broken out windows and the continued chirping of birds, a bit of a sigh escaped his lips and motioned for his pet to sniff the air again. As the dog stuck its muzzle up in the air, the boy took a gulp from a canteen and shivered slightly as a cold wind blew around and through the formally beautiful thick brick and stone home.
Wearing clothing scavenged off of the dead and carrying a backpack a bit too big for his skinny somewhat malnourished frame, he glanced around nervously and waited, almost expecting to hear a gunshot or shout. When nothing happened, he slipped into the former home through what had once been a nice sliding glass door. He found a solid internal wall and with it a spot out of the wind. Once again he waited and listened, looking over the formally fancy dining room. He paused and frowned as he realized almost instantly the furniture was still all in place even though there was a fireplace over in the corner.
He reached over and petted his dog's left hip while giving the animal a drink from the canteen. While the dog enjoyed a swallow, he carefully inspected every detail of his new surroundings. Nothing was disturbed and there was a thick coat of dust over everything. "Wow," he whispered more to his dog than himself, "There ain't been no-one here for a long time! We got to check this place out once we get some rest!" He then broke out a trio of granola bars from his stash deep in his backpack and used a survival knife with a broken off tip to cut open a can of dog food scavenged out of the long forgotten pantry found only a few days before.
The further south and west he had pushed, the less people and better salvage he had found, of that there had been no question. The problem was, he was in totally unfamiliar territory and had no rumors to go off of. Rumors from other survivors were crucial to surviving the wastelands in and around Dublin, for anyone who had survived the first few months knew where to find water, what areas to steer clear of, and what to watch out for. The more friendly ones even allowed for some trade.
Unfortunately, a kid his age had to be very careful about trading. For more than once, those he had traded with had come after him in attempts to take everything he had. Twice, early on, they had been successful, but now he was a seasoned survivor and had one item that was truly feared, a gun. Without realizing he was doing so, the youngster patted the pocket where he kept the small, eight shot .22 as he thought about trading. It, along with the extra twenty-nine rounds he had safely tucked into a small, waterproof plastic container in his backpack, were his most valuable possessions. The fact he had a good cleaning kit and gun oil as well, meant his was in much better condition than many other guns owned by armed survivors who roamed the wastelands with him.
The gun, a gift from an old man he had cared for and fed for a few days before the man's broken leg had finally taken his life, was an item of last resort. The man had taken time to show the boy how to safely fire it and clean it, using up a considerable amount of precious ammunition in the process. However, the old police officer knew he was dying. Since the lad had taken pity on him and had agreed to stay to tend to him in his last days and hours, the gun had at least ended up in the hands of someone with a good heart. Since getting the weapon, he had only fired it three times. Two of them, a single shot in the air set the attackers fleeing while the other time, he actually had to shoot the older kid, since the single warning shot had not been enough to get the kid away from him, his dog, and their food.
He quickly pushed off the thoughts of the past; instead, he focused on the here and now. He used his sleeve to wipe the dust off a small area of the floor and spilled the dog food out.
The boy smiled as the dog looked up questioningly, "Go ahead boy, we both eat today. That's all yours."
The dog wagged its tail and licked the boy's face, taking off some dirt as it did so, before circling the pile of meaty chunks a couple of times verifying it was not spoiled. It then pushed itself as close as it could into the boy's side and started eating. The boom of thunder and howling of the wind caused both to look away from their meals, but as the rain started hitting the roof, the boy let out a bit of a relived sigh.
The boy yawned, "Take over Ren. As long as there is a storm, no one is going to be poking around." Still he frowned wondering why the air sudden felt so weird and where the storm had come from when the sky had been virtually cloudless only minutes before. He paused to make sure no water was dripping on him or his pet and took a few more minutes to verify everything in the house was as it seemed.
Finally, he took another bite of a granola bar and patted his dog on the head. "I think we're safe and I need some sleep. Maybe I'll get lucky and have one of those weird dreams again too!" The boy's voice sounded hopeful. The past few times he had slept, he had found himself in another world, one filled with unexplainable sights, sounds, and mystery. Some of it was kind of scary, but anything was better than the reality of living in the ruins surrounding Dublin. Besides, a dream without an explosion, dead and burnt bodies, or running from gangs was a nice change. Putting his head back against the stonewall and resting his hand on his dog's back, the boy got as comfortable as he could.
Before the boy's pet had finished the meal, his master had already drifted off into a catnap, knowing the dog would instantly alert him to any problems. Outside a thousand forks of lightning ripped through the air directly above the boy and his dog as if signaling their importance to the world.
Yet for the boy, who had been through the sights and sounds of a nuclear attack, the almost deafening blast of thunder barely caused a flinch. Instead, he only found comfort in the noise, knowing no one would be out in such a storm so he would be safe for a time. Unfortunately, as with any time the lad found to rest, sleep came at a price. Nightmares ruled his slumber preventing truly peaceful rest. He was actually lucky, for the dog endured his thrashings and was always there when things got too bad for the boy to stay asleep. This time the dreams went all the way back to the day of the blasts, possibly because of the storm raging outside.
The morning of the attack had started out normal enough; his mom and dad had gotten him up way too early for his liking, especially since they were on vacation. They then stayed on him like persistent gnats, never giving him a chance to put his head back on the hotel room pillow. "Don't you close those eyes again,"… "Come on son, get dressed."… "Get your teeth brushed"… "If you don't hurry you won't have time for breakfast"…"You still have to walk the dog"…"We have to get going if we are going to get to the museum and still see some of Dublin."
With no real choice, the reluctant and sleepy-eyed boy finally rolled out of bed and dressed. He then fed and walked his beloved dog, still a bit of a puppy, then headed down for a quick bite, constantly being nagged by everyone to get moving. Basically ignoring the worst thing a boy could have, an older sister, he finally loaded his bags and dog into the rental hovercraft, making sure to have his portable game and music player within easy reach. Before he could so much as turn on his music, his parents and sister hurriedly jumped in, while his brother once again pushed his way into the seat and forced him and his dog into the very back of the hover vehicle. Being too tired to argue, he rolled his eyes and flopped into the back and patted the headrest. Almost instantly the dog jumped in back with him as his father set the autopilot to take them the almost hundred-fifty kilometers from Wexford to Dublin. Once settled, the then eight-year-old quickly drifted off back into dreamland with his dog's head on his lap.
The next thing the youngster knew was the sound of something under the hover car rattling and some smoke coming from under the skirting. With his sister almost shrieking about being late to the museum and his father cursing, they came to a rather sudden stop. His mom made a rather disgusted snort as the grinding sound got worse and the engine finally died. She looked back, "You better take Renegade for another walk hun."
He let out a long breath as he maneuvered out of the back and over his brother, who, as usual didn't get out of the way. Finally clear of the vehicle, he glanced around realizing they were just off of a small river or large stream. Confused he glanced back to his mom who wore a rather bemused grin, even as his father kicked angrily at the hover skirting.
"Where are we Mom?"
She glanced over her shoulder, "Dad decided to take a shortcut once we were detoured off the main road because of some big accident. Since we are not on any road, I'm not totally sure where we are. The GPS says there is a village by the name of Three Castles only a couple of kilometers or so up the valley. I figure we'll hike up there and grab a bite while Dad stays with the car."
The youngster glanced around, "Can I just stay here and let Renegade play in the water?"
His mother shrugged, "Sure, but don't go too far. It shouldn't take too long to get some assistance and we have no idea whose land this is. Also make sure you steer clear of Dad, he is definitely in one of those moods."
The boy glanced over his shoulder and shook his head as his father kicked, punched and cussed at the broken vehicle, "Yeah, I noticed, Mom."
His brother finally pulled his overweight frame out of the back, "And make sure you use some towels if your mutt gets wet so we don't have to smell wet dog all day, again."
"Now Greg," his mom scolded, "Renegade is not your concern. If you had taken better care of him, you would not have lost him to your brother."
The boy glanced back to the dog with a snort, "Stupid mutt, I lost a good Christmas present last year and he got two, how fair is that?"
His father came from behind and cuffed the slightly older boy hard in the back of the head, getting a yelp of pain. "You asked for a puppy and I got you one. It isn't your brother's fault you were too lazy to properly walk it, let alone train it. Now get going with your mom and sister!"
"Why do I have to go?"
"Cause it will do you good to get some exercise for once." The man growled and poked the boy's belly. "You do too much sitting as it is."
The young boy bit his lip, holding back a snicker as he watched his brother's shoulders sag in defeat. Without further argument, the overweight youngster turned to catch up to his mom and sister who were already walking up the hill to get away from the mud close to the stream's edge.
Twenty minutes later the boy was happily playing at the edge of the cold water, while his beloved pet was splashing and snapping at the water. He glanced over his shoulder to see where his dad was, only to find the man working his way up to the top of the hill, holding his phone up over his head. Just as his dad got to the top, there was a bright flash…
The boy trembled slightly as the nightmare entered its final stage. Renegade let out a light whimper and pushed his head deeper into the boy as if hoping to ease the boy's suffering. At the same time, the dog braced expecting fingers to dig into his fur somewhat painfully, just as had happened almost every time his owner had gone to sleep for the last three plus years.
Yet, this time the dream's horrible conclusion, of the boy looking up only to see the blast reach his father and fling the man off the hill and into the debris cloud, didn't happen. Instead, the roar of his world being ripped apart was replaced by the crashing of steel-on-steel and men grunting and cursing in hand-to-hand combat.
He glanced around wildly, realizing he was on a ship, an old weird sailing vessel. All around him swords clashed and men grappled with each other. Just off the port side of the ship, another, smaller ship was attached to the side of the one he was on, with hooks and ropes. Even as he ducked under the swing of a sword, and thrust a dagger into the would-be attacker's gut, he could see even more attackers spilling aboard. The boy looked down at himself realizing he was older, maybe seventeen or eighteen, and somehow knew how to fight. With this knowledge, he used his forearm to block a man's arm and used his dagger to slice deeply into the man's exposed neck.
Blood ran and bodies fell by the score as the crew of the smaller ship slowly but surely took over the deck of the larger ship. Still the boy fought like a demon, but finally it was just him and four others facing a score of men in armor, many with shields and most armed with axes.
The leader of the raiders pushed past his men and looked down at him and the others. While the boy held his blade firm, but defensively, the leader let out a bit of a laugh and smacked one of those closest to the boy, knocking the burly raider down with a single blow. He then spoke in crude English, showing it was not his native language, "Become one of us killer of men, and I let others go when we hit land."
One of the other attackers roared in outrage, only to get a gauntleted fist in the nose, flattening it as if it was made of mud, not bone and flesh. A tense few moments passed with the leader billowing out something the boy could not understand. After a few more moments, the others surrounding them all exchanged glances and shook their heads. Once again their leader laughed.
"Boy, join, for none of me men dare to fight you one-on-one." The man offered his hand, while his stare told the boy that not taking it would spell certain death for himself and the others with him. Finally he reached out and took the hand.
Once again, the dream shifted as he found himself on the smaller ship. Rain came down in sheets and waves tossed the craft all over the ocean. Still, a new sound came from outside the storm as waves could be clearly heard as they impacted on a cliff wall well out of sight.
The sky was dark and cloudy, cutting off all light other than a pair of lanterns hanging off the lower sail and the occasional flashes of lightning overhead. Around him, the crew of the vessel cheered at the sounds of land and started hugging each other. But there was little time for celebration, as the First Mate started bellowing out orders. The boy looked down, realizing he was in the body of an older teen, almost an adult, maybe nineteen or twenty. At his side, was a wicked looking sword and a wooden kite shield was within easy reach. He wore a chain shirt and had a pair of daggers at his side. Somehow he knew it all belonged to him and he knew exactly how to use them, even though the boy having the dream had not so much as ever picked up a blade larger than his broken tipped survival knife.
Even weirder, he also was astounded to find he knew exactly how to follow the orders given him in the language he had not known at the time he had offered the attacker his hand. He quickly moved to the rail and dropped a weighted line in the water and let the knotted rope slide through his leather gloved fingers.
The new dream totally took over. The wind and salt water took away the stench of the ever present burnt smells of post-nuclear attack Dublin. He glanced back as the line continued to disappear into the ocean's depths. "We have deep water," He called out as the eighth knot slid through his fingers and the line continued to drop into the depths with no sign of hitting bottom.
"Keep a close eye on it lad!" The man yelled back. "We are in unknown waters here. I want a report ever few minutes."
The First Mate then turned his attention to those manning the sails, "Get them down, we need to slow so we can see something before we hit it!"
For some reason, the boy knew the ship he was on had sustained heavy weather damage and was without any real anchor and short on crew. This made no real difference. He had total confidence in the First Mate and those in the crew that remained. Still there was some nervousness as the sounds of the waves striking the still unseen cliffs got ever louder. Within half an hour, the crash of the waves sounded more like thunder than water.
One of the older men came over and glanced over the edge as the boy pulled up the line yet again and dropped it over the edge. The two watched the line sink a good distance and both sighed. Once again the boy pulled on the rope, getting it on deck as fast as he could, then kicked the weight over the edge yet again. This time the line didn't sink very far. Before the fifth knot had hit his fingers, the line was going slack. Both the boy and the older man exchanged frightened glances and called out in unison, "Shallow water!"
"Hard to port!" The First Mate called out, while moving at a dead run toward the back of the ship.
The whole ship leaned hard and the splash of salt water waves drenched those on the deck, still the ship moved into even more torturous water. The boy once again dropped the line and found less than four knots had slipped through his fingers before striking bottom. Making matters even worse, he found the weight had caught on something as he found it impossible to pull back up. As the ship continued to turn, the length of rope went taut and almost pulled him off the side of the ship. Fortunately the old man keeping an eye on him pulled his own sword and cut the line. "Don't loop your hand in there young warrior, next time you will lose your arm or you will drown!"
The old man then looked toward the back of the ship and shouted with everything he had, "We lost the line, we are over rocks!"
The First Mate continued to help the helmsman lean hard into the rudder control. "It's going to be a close one boys! Brace yourselves, cause we're gunna scrape this old bitch up a bit more!"
Boards snapped on the starboard side of the ship as the craft's side sliced into the hidden formations just under the surface, but the ship only shook a few times without coming to a full stop. Just as the sounds of rocks and sand striking the bottom of the ship faded and cheers from the whole crew went up, the dream once again shifted. Those yelling and screaming in joy over their near brush with death on the boat, was replaced by the sounds of a lone voice begging for help and mercy.
Torn between the dream and voice, the boy trembled, which in turn cause his pet to growl lightly as if it knew someone was in need. For whatever reason, this sound outside the dream was the pebble that tilted the boy's mind to focus more on the lone voice, than the dozens on the deck of the ship. He glanced up from the deck of the ship and took a step toward the lone voice.
Instantly he found his whole body becoming one with the water, almost as if he was part of it. Suddenly, it was as if he was everywhere the water touched and nowhere, all at the same time. Every ocean, river and stream that emptied into it was instantly accessible. As he became comfortable with this new sensation, he once again focused on the voice, and found with a mere thought he could pull himself from the nearest body of water and be only a couple hundred meters from the sounds. He took a couple of deep breaths and clutched on the edge of the boat dock and pulled himself out of the murky, somewhat polluted, water.
He glanced around, noting he had somehow ended up in a section of London he had been in not long before they had come to Dublin on vacation. He looked over at Mill Road and over toward Hertford RC Church, a place he had actually attended a service at a few times when his mom wanted to find a new place of worship, not really liking the new father of their old church.
Taking a moment to get his bearings, he couldn't help but notice the sky held angry dark clouds that dropped vast quantities of rain. Even the swollen canal he had pulled himself out of was filled with debris and ran well above normal; actually flooding into nearby streets. With a bit of a smirk, he once again allowed himself to become one with the water and slid the last couple of hundred meters down the street toward the sound, while bursts of lightning forked through the sky in a startling display of the purest power.
Once again, the boy came out of the water as he saw a boy no older than himself clutching a dog with a clearly broken leg. Around the boy and his dog were three older kids, all in their upper teens, holding small knives. The leader of the three snickered, "Your mutt can't help you this time and you ain't going to get no chance to call for no help in this storm. Maybe we should send pieces of you back to your old man, to let him know what happens to those who testify against us."
One of the other boys snickered as the dog snarled, "I'm gunna gut that dog while you watch and send the bloody collar back to your old man as well!"
Before the other one could say anything, the boy from Dublin reformed out of the water running down the gutter, picking up a large stick as he did so. "You best gut me first!"
All three turned and their eyes went wide as if they were all seeing a ghost. The oldest one started to bolt toward the East Hertford Rail Station, only to stop dead in his tracks as another form pushed out of the water. The boy grinned as he realized Renegade had somehow entered his dream, only the dog was not totally there, instead it was murky and kind of see through, almost like it was made out of the muddy water it had formed out of. The dog snarled and snapped at the teen forcing the now deathly pale lad to jump back toward the boy.
"Protect them Renegade." The boy pointed toward the other boy and his injured dog. A nasty smirk appeared on his lips and his dog vanished back into the water and reappeared right in front of the crying boy and his injured pet.
The three teens' eyes were all huge with fear but they turned to face the now lone boy, "We'll cut you up ghost boy." The oldest one stated in some defiance.
The boy spun the stick as if it had been the sword he had carried with him in the ship dream only a few minutes before. "Try me." He hissed.
Before any of the three could move forward, a new presence formed out of the swirling and blowing rain. A man with Celtic face paint and a wolf by his side spoke in an ancient language, which the boy somehow understood. "I have not the power yet but you do, call upon the life force of the natural world young Zachery. Make your stick something capable of really doing what needs to be done to these raiders and torturers of innocents."
Strange words came to Zachery as he advanced on the trio. He spoke ancient words of power and rolled his fingers over the end of the branch in unnatural ways. Suddenly water swirled around the stick for a moment, then it heated. He stuck it into the mud in front of him and everyone watching, including Zachery, observed in sheer amazement as mud rolled up the stick as if alive, then washed off leaving the once water-logged branch coated in some kind of hard stone-like coating matching the grain of the wood.
He picked up the stick again, noticing instantly the wooden weapon had grown rock hard and was quite a bit heavier, along with being perfectly balanced for fighting. He moved forward again and swung the now very dangerous weapon as if he had been born with it in his hands. The end connected with the older boy's jaw below the chin and smashed his teeth together.
The young thug screamed in pain as his jaw fractured and most of his teeth shattered in his mouth, as his top and bottom teeth met from the violent impact. Before his eyes could roll up in his head, the terribly thin boy spun the weapon again. This time he smashed it over the boy's shoulders knocking him face down in the mud leaving him with a busted jaw, numerous missing teeth, and a broken collarbone.
Zachery then spun the staff and delivered a gut shot with the tip to the youngest of the three, as the boy tried to advance on him with his knife. Wind rushed out of the attacker's lungs and he fell back rolling in agony. Shaking his head, he moved over to the unconscious boy and kicked him hard enough to roll him face up so the helpless punk wouldn't drown. He then used a side arm swing and broke the leg of the one he had just knocked the wind out of.
Without missing a beat, he finally moved on the last boy and stuck the staff between the boy's legs, just as kid started to flee in total panic.
The last punk tripped and hit the ground hard. Before he could get up, however, Zachery was on him. His stick descended again crashing into the kid's left kneecap, shattering it. He then brought the other end down over the kid's right hand that was still clutching the small blade. Fingers snapped like matchsticks being hit with a hammer.
Zachery, totally astonished at his combat prowess, spun the staff and glanced over the destruction he had wrought. But before he could move to help the boy another power built and quickly formed. An angry looking beast, not much bigger than him, with an almost human-like body, pig nose, and hairy pointed ears and armed with a double bladed axe and wooden spiked shield snarled and blocked Zachery's path.
Zachery's eyes narrowed and he started to advance, only to be stopped by the man with the Celtic symbols on his face. "He is no more ready to fully form in your world as I am, but the powers are gathering for both of us and your purity of sprit has given me power. Let me deal with this young intruder."
Zachery shook his head as he found some inner power he had no idea existed until this moment, "This is my world and that thing does not belong in it! Renegade, attack!"
The beast turned just in time to see the boy's dog leap and bite deep into its upper thigh. At the same time Zachery moved forward and slammed his staff over the creature's skull. As it fell lifelessly to the ground only part of it faded, the axe, shield and a blood pool remained as the rest vanished.
Behind Zachery, the howl of a wolf alerted him to another danger. Without much thought, he snatched the shield and axe. The weapons, although a bit large for him, were still sized smaller than something an adult human would wield. Even better, they were items he somehow knew how to use. He spun, spotting an even smaller creature, this one was his size, but it still held a shield and long blade. It was also trying to get behind his beloved pet.
Rage flashed in his eyes as he sliced into the vile thing's neck before it had a chance to fully form. The axe's blade had no problem slicing through the partially formed flesh and backbone, totally severing the head. Once again it faded but left behind its sword, shield and chain mail shirt along with its head.
Zachery didn't have any time to dwell on the oddness of what was going on, let alone on the rather gruesome sight of a head lying in the street with no body to be found. Instead, he grabbed the even more familiar and better sized sword and expertly blocked an attack from a third beast. This time he used both sword and shield to his full advantage. The spike of the shield connected with the creatures groin while the sword opened a deep gash across the neck as it roared in pain. Seeing an easy opening and using swordsmanship skill he had no idea he had, he rolled forward and slammed the sword into and through the almost fully formed creature. The second the tip of the blade exited the beast's back, it shook once and let out a final pained gasp before its eyes rolled up in its head.
This time, the creature had formed to the point where its whole body crashed to the ground and Zachery could actually smell the foul breath and feel the warm blood on his hands. He yanked the weapon out with the help of his foot planted on the chest of the gutted young monster.
Before he could turn to face yet another threat, the ghostly man and his wolf reacted with extreme prejudice. The wolf leapt, ripping out the throat of a fourth pig nosed beast while shards of ice blasted out of the hand of the man at a fifth and sixth. These last three figures, not having a chance to fully form in Zachery's world, left no trace of themselves as they vanished back into the downpour.
The man turned and bowed as Zachery's eyes wildly looked over the now quite bloody and weapon filled street, "We are clear. They would dare send no more, especially after the losses you gave them so early into the Re-Emergence."
"Those who would bring unimaginable evil to your world."
"I don't understand."
"You will in time. Until then, let me be the first to say well done young man. It is nice to know a third one of the bloodline has joined the ranks of those fighting for purity. Your life is a hard one, but you now have friends and protectors. As the power builds, we will be able to do more for you. Call on me if your need is great and I shall come, for I owe you."
Zachery suddenly felt weak as the man vanished. He slipped back into the torrents of water running down the street and woke next to his dog back in the deserted stone structure. He shook his head, wondering just how insane he was going. Yet as he started to lean his head back against the wall, several things caught his attention. First, he was soaked and truly clean for the first time in memory, as was his clothing and gear. Second, his beloved Renegade looked over with a rather wild look in its eyes, its fur drenched and a trace of blood on its muzzle. Far more frightening was the fact a petrified wood staff, spiked shield, axe, sword with a scabbard, and chain shirt all littered the floor around him. Unfortunately, so did the severed head and dead body.
As the astounded boy shuddered at the gruesome site and picked himself off the ground, a shimmering appeared on the floor for a moment then blasted out toward him, drying him and his pet completely. A moment later a section of the dust covered rug under the table flipped up as a swirling of wind spun through the structure. The gusts then took on the voice of the man from the fight in London. "May you and your pet eat well. We will keep watch tonight; there is nothing to worry about, so sleep until next sunrise. As for the weapons, take them, you have proven they belong in your capable hands." As the wind swirled around the room again, it took with it the head and body leaving no trace of blood or smell of death.
"This has to be a dream." Zachery muttered to himself as he walked over to where the rug had been flipped up. Even before he got there, he could make out the square cut cellar door. Eagerly he pushed the table out of the way and pulled on the brass ring. It took everything he had to muscle the door open, but once he did, he saw a stairway going down. He also noticed a small nook with an almost full box of matches and a half dozen candles. Without hesitation, he struck a match, lit a candle, and moved down.
Before he reached the bottom, his eyes lit up as he found himself in a long forgotten basement. All around him were shelves of canned food, jars of preserved fruits, and boxes of cereal along with other dry edibles including a couple of huge bags of dog food. In addition, there were tools, flashlights, extra batteries, more matches, candles and much more. For a kid facing starvation on a daily basis, this was better than any diamond mine.
In London, a boy stepped off the train platform with his dog just as clouds rolled over and lightning cascaded across what had been a very nice day. The youngster ducked back inside the station but stopped as he caught sight of a trio of older boys.
Looking around and not seeing any law enforcement, he quickly angled out of the station and down Railway Street, heading west. At first, he thought he had escaped the attention of the gang kids, but a large rock suddenly struck his dog and snapped the retriever's left front leg. As the dog howled in pain, the boy grabbed his pet and tried to run. Unfortunately, the animal was just too heavy for him and before he knew it, the three boys were on him.
He tumbled to the ground hard, skinning his knees in the process, as the oldest one roughly shoved him into a wall. Still clutching his pet, the boy turned with tear filled eyes as the three quickly surrounded him. "You will go to jail just like your mates!" He shouted, hoping to show some defiance and attract attention at the same time. The storm prevented any chance of being heard, while the three delinquents simply snorted at his feeble attempt to scare them.
The youngest of the three attackers pulled his knife, "My brother is in the slam because yer old man, now we get ta even the score."
"He was attacked and mugged!"
"Then he got stupid and testified." The oldest street urchin stated, spitting on the boy. "Now me and me pals get to slice you up so yer old man can find out what happens to those who take on the Herford Warriors. Ya live in our streets, and die in em too!"
While the other two also drew small pocketknives, the boy gripped his dog tightly and started pleading for his life. Suddenly the sky exploded in lightning and thunder again and rain swirled around the three attackers as if giving them warning. The moment the oldest one advanced, ignoring nature's fury, the water rolling into and over the gutters of the street seemed to take shape and rise upward.
The boy clutched his pet in terror as the lump transformed into the shape of a kid about his age, only much skinnier. As it formed, a large stick floating in the street moved upward as well, only to end up in the hands of the almost transparent figure. Even though the newcomer was made out of muddy water, the boy could clearly make out facial features and oddly enough a hint that the figure had long red hair.
Before much more could be said, the translucent figure spoke, warning the others to flee. When they attacked instead, another figure pushed upwards from the muddy water racing down the street. This time it was a large canine. It instantly reacted to the command to protect the boy and his injured dog.
For whatever reason, these two apparitions were not enough to dissuade the street punks. Their limited intelligence and all the glue they had sniffed came center stage as none of them ran in outright terror. Instead, they chose to show just how tough they thought they were. Even when a man and an even larger dog-like thing appeared out of swirling wind and rain, the three decided to press the attack.
Their ignorance became secondary as they toppled one after the other to the stick carrying water boy. The boy's hands shook in terror as his fingers dug deeply into his wounded dog's fur. Bones broke and bodies fell. It was almost as if the stick carrying figure was smacking mannequins rather than humans. Each blow was dealt with devastating accuracy and tremendous power.
The second the last boy was too injured to fight, a new swirling of wind brought with it even more terrible creatures. The water boy and water man exchanged words for a moment, before the boy moved in destroying three of the creatures as they formed. The fact the figure quickly and easily switched weapons as it annihilated the new things appearing out of nowhere escaped the notice of the terrified boy. All he knew was the water boy and the water dog had no intention of letting anything get past them, let alone get to him.
It was all over in moments. Before the boy realized the street was now empty, save for the three badly busted up gang members, himself and his injured dog, the rain around him parted and a strange figure with a buffalo head appeared. The figure glanced down, "Young Evan, you have some of the power of the Re-Emergence in you and it was this power that called out and brought you help. Learn to harness it, for you and your abilities will soon be needed to help defend the humans from what is to come."
The figure then glanced down at the dog and shook its head in pity at the whines and whimpers of the animal. It glanced back at the three busted up teens with a degree of anger before turning its attention back to the dog and extended a finger. A ray of light shot out and entered the wounded canine. It yelped in agony a few times as the bone straightened, then fell back into the boy panting hard and gingerly testing its fully healed leg.
The buffalo headed man seemed to smile, if a buffalo can indeed smile, "Now leave this place and go into the city." It pointed to the south. "Look for the ones who have the same appearance as the one who protected you."
Evan looked to the south and saw only storm clouds, lightning, and rain. So dark was the afternoon sky, he couldn't make out anything beyond the glow of nearby streetlights. Shaking in a combination of fear and cold, he managed to stammer out, "How am I supposed to find someone I don't even know in London?"
Another blast of energy leapt from the being's hands as it spoke words of long forgotten power. Instantly, Evan found he and his dog were warm, dry, and rain rolled off of some sort of strange bubble surrounding him. "If you want to learn how to do things like this, then you will find a way. My only advice is this… Let your fledging powers guide you. There are not many humans left who have the power in their veins, and sadly I suspect many will not use their abilities for righteousness. It is up to you and those like you to discover your powers and learn quickly, before those of the time before Magic Lock are all back among you."
"I…" Evan started to speak only to discover he was once again alone on Mill Road. The moans of the three battered gang members were barely audible over the rain as it continued to fall in close to solid sheets. On the other hand, the fact he was warm and dry gave proof of the events of the past few minutes.
With a deep breath, he glanced around verifying no one was around before he went over to the helpless thugs, kicked them for hurting his dog, then emptied their pockets of money. With a decent wad of cash in his hands, he made his way back to the train station.
Having no idea where to start looking, he simple went up to the automatic terminal and bought a ticket for the Waterloo Station in the very heart of London, adding in an extra fee for his dog as he did so. Finally, he inserted some of the pilfered money in a vid-phone and left a message for his mum that, because of the storm, he was going to spend the night at a friend's. Knowing he had bought himself only a day to two days at best, he boarded the first train with a connection to Waterloo station.