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Chapter 1

The sign said ‘Welcome to Heretic Valley’ but it should have read ‘Welcome to Hell’. If you’ve never heard of this place and don’t know where to find it, don’t worry, there are only few who have. All it would take is one wrong turn and the town would find you. I did something that no one else had ever done before; I went looking for it.

It had been ten years since I laid my eyes on this valley. Ten very long years. I was on the outskirts of town, stepping one foot in front of the other, forcing myself to continue. This place had changed. It was different. I could see it. I could feel it.

Few who sought out the Devil lived to tell about it.

This fallen valley needed something, rather someone, to rescue it. I was called back home to be the light, to guide to the misguided. I am their hope. I will be their compass to follow. My name is Wes Andersen and this is Heretic Valley.

 

Chapter 2

The fields that were once green and rolling were now dead and rocky. The tall oaks were hollow, without leaves and rot with disease. The water had left the Valley long ago and only that which could adapt remained.

I stood on top of the oldest building in the valley.  One hundred and fifty feet of mass sprang out of the darkness like a glowing beacon for the city.  The old stone gave way in many areas, but the ancient structure’s integrity held intact.

Generations of cracks, lifelines of the stone, ran up the enormous formation. The lively green ivy was the only color showing on the building as it mirrored the cracks as they spider-webbed their way to the top.

Huge, thick, wooden doors hung upon three solid black iron hinges, two simple iron crosses displayed on each side. The buildings life began as a beautiful cathedral where thousands of patrons would flock each week to repent and worship.  A magnificent stained glass window above the altar, faded from years of neglect, depicted a child at the foot of Jesus, in awe of the calming presence of her Lord.  Forsaken for decades, the images shine and luster had been long faded, forgotten like everything else in here.

Now, people avoided being on the same street as the church, most of the time unaware of even doing so. There are certain places in the world that have been there for so long you can feel their presence. This town had changed dramatically since the church had been the center, the backbone of the area. Strangled and choked out by man’s need for cruelty and chaos, the church remained but the power it had over the masses had long been taken away. Over time it became just a building, a ghost of its former self.

I had been led here to this place knowing it still held a purpose. I don’t know how I knew, but I did. I had never been on this street before and yet here I was with my life’s new purpose laid before my feet.

I was born with a condition, a condition unseen by any doctor that had ever treated me. There’s no name for it and there’s no cure. I like to call it “Gandalphitus.” If I was in Middle Earth I would be carrying an oak staff with a very long, grey beard on my chiseled jaw.

I hadn’t discovered my “disease” until I was well into my high school years. An accidental release of built up rage and despair washed over my body and leapt through my extended left arm, and with it an invisible force of power ripped its way out. I didn’t know what happened. I turned coat and ran before I ever found out. I left my high school and everything I had ever known without hesitation.

Marcus Cristix found me during my time abroad. He took me in when I was alone and taught me how to control my power, and gave me a purpose in my empty life. For five years we lived, studied, and trained together. He was over 150 years old but you wouldn’t believe he was a day over fifty looking at him. It was one of the many side effects of a common day wizard.

He stood a shade under six feet tall, strong build, and still had his full head of hair (no, it wasn’t long white hair reaching to the floor).  He was a well kept man and always dressed according to the times. He was the only other staff carrier I’d met to this day. Marcus had informed me that there were many other individuals like us out in the world but most of them didn’t know what they were truly capable of. They had been like me, confused and scared.

I hoped someday I would be able to rescue someone like Marcus had done for me. He’s only one of two people in my life I have the pleasure of calling a friend.

 

As I stood, firmly planted on my new home, a fierce wind whipped at my face.  Through the soles of my black & white cons I felt the Relics pulse reach out to me. Centuries of life and energy flooded from the building and flowed through me, from my feet through the tips of my extended fingers in the air.  In that moment I became one with the building, entrusted with all of its secrets and its unnatural power.   

 

 

Chapter 3

The memory of my first time back into my city and my home ended. I gathered myself, all six foot three inches and walked across the rooftop to the edge of the building, resting my forearms on the rock ledge. My hair fell in my eyes and I casually swept it across the side of my face. I liked to keep my hair long, just to the edge of my shoulders, even if it tended to be a little annoying from time to time. The sweeping of my hair is now a reflex…no thinking required. My skin looked pale; some would even say it looked ghostly white. Whatever the description it was always a harsh contrast with my black pea coat.

The view was amazing from up here, it’s always nice to take a minute and just appreciate it. The low, thin clouds hovered above the tops of the buildings. The moonlight did it’s best to reach the valley floor, but only a small portion of its light could make it through. To my immediate right permanently overlooking the building was a massive stone gargoyle. It wore a sinister grin, showing its large pointed teeth. Intense, round eyes etched in the stone, carried a silent fire behind them. Relaxed wings, looked similar to a pterodactyl I’d once seen in a dinosaur encyclopedia, emerged out of the shoulder blades. The perched statue had its knees to its massive chest, and the enormous clawed feet gripped the stone mount. I had been lost in my thoughts admiring the intricate detail when I remembered why I had come up here in the first place–I needed to speak to Him.

“Hello Harry,” I started. “Sorry I haven’t been up here in a while.”

“You could have waited longer, Wes,”  a rough voice replied. “With you it’s always too soon.”

“Perhaps it is Harry, but I don’t have many people I can talk to. Sometimes, even I must do things I don’t like to do. For example: talking to someone or in your case something. Besides, my options are quite limited right now. With that said, I know deep down there’s a little part of you that enjoys our little chats. It’s not like you have anything else to do except hang around.” I said letting a low chuckle escape my throat.

I have never figured out how he can look so annoyed without being able to physically move, it had always unnerved me when he did that. In the human form he wore when we’d met, Harry had been a very powerful being. He was centuries old with wisdom and cunning that could have challenged anyone.

Roughly two years ago Harry and I met under a chance encounter. He had been looking to recover something from his past and our paths tangled in a very loud and fiery way. I’d been lucky to get the best of him. If either of us had time to prepare for one another he would have smashed my pretty little face in. The only thing I could’ve done then was run and to keep running until I hit an ocean. He had been and still is a very scary creature. I put him here, in the gargoyle, because I didn’t know how to destroy him. Also, a little part of me knew he could be very beneficial to have around. So into the statue he went.

He is my little genie in a gargoyle. He has helped immensely, but I would never let him know that. It is and always will be a poker game with Harry–or whatever his real name happens to be.

“Even my only company can be bothersome, Wes. Remember, I had family once but just because they were family didn’t mean they were always welcome. Just because you and that yapping mutt of yours are the only company I will ever have doesn’t mean I have to like the visits. Do you understand?”

“That you’re old.” I answered.

“Nice retort.”

“Nice face.” I blurted out. I enjoyed being childish, as long as I can get that last word in. “We are getting off topic sir. I came here for a reason, not to engage in our usual half-joking banter. What can you tell me?” After I asked my question I think I saw his eyes roll. Was that possible?

“If you are referring to the weapons being fired early yesterday morning, not a significant amount. It happened in the Neon district, so there could be a plethora of possibilities. I remember there were four or five bursts of an automatic weapon and simultaneously six rounds of a big revolver, not sure what caliber though. Both guns were fired from the same party and they claimed the life of one man and another in critical condition at Heretic General. It’s hard to say if they were targeted or if it was a spontaneous act, the Neon District is funny that way.”

“Good point. That was a very nice summarization, nicely done. The Neon district huh? I hate going there, but I know someone who might be able to get me on the right track. I suppose it’s time for me to go shopping.” I said turning to the east towards the district. “Keep your non-existent eyes open Harry. Let me know if anything else happens.”
“I agree with your assessment. I will do as I always have Wes, but I don’t need you to tell me anything. Am I the one who needs help all the time?”

“I don’t need help all of the time. You might need some help in a minute when I push you from your ledge though.” I answered.

“Very mature Wes.”

“That’s me, right down to the core.”

“Are we done now?” Harry asked.

“Yes, we are. Good night Harry, go back to doing whatever it is that you do and remember to keep your nose to the grind stone. Ha.” And with that sly remark I turned and started for the door..

I give that guy a hard time but he and I could have been good friends in a different life. I don’t know his whole story, I never cared to ask. We’ve shared our personal space now for a little over two years, and yes, Harry being on the roof contained in a gargoyle is most definitely an invasion of my personal space. An outside view on the situation one would think I was the bad guy, but believe me when I say I’m still the good guy…or the not-as-bad guy. He helps me because he has no other choice, but getting him to cooperate is like pulling teeth. No, pulling my own teeth out would be a welcome activity if it would get me out of talking to Harry. Before I shut the door I gave one last look over the valley: grey, eerie, and full of mystery. Just the way I liked it.

Note to self, going down the stairs far easier than going up them.

I opened the door to my bedroom and wondered why I took the time to close it; no one but me ever goes in there. It’s the principle of the thing, I told myself. There’s a door, all my worldly belongings behind it, and the door should be allowed to do the one thing it was designed for. Maybe I just like using my doorknob. It’s an original Nintendo controller that I fashioned to mount over the knob. Needless to say I was pretty happy about how it turned out. Pun intended. I know, I could have worked something up so all I would have to do was say a magic word like “Abracadabra” or maybe put the door on a “clapper”, but there’s no substitute for an original.

My oversized bed sits at the far wall under the only window in the room. My lanky frame needed as much room as I could get to sprawl out, plus I shared my bed with my ferocious guard dog, Gizmo, a brown and white Boston terrier. Gizmo in turn shared his portion of the bed with a teddy bear missing an eye and an oversized tennis ball that never quite fits into his mouth. In fact I had no idea how he ever gets the ball up on the bed, it’s a good two feet. I wonder if he could secretly fly, and if so where did he hide his cape. Curious I am.

“Gizmo,” I said with my curiosity getting the best of me, “can you fly?” He better not lie to me. The world said he’s mans best friend. I wouldn’t want that relationship tarnished. He didn’t answer me in an audible form, but he did answer me in another way. He swiveled his head and blinked. He then proceeded to hit his teddy bear, who I had named CY, right in the face. I gulped. “I will take that as a sign to not ask that question ever again. You’re right, we all need our secrets.” Gizmo is my best friend; even if the world never said so. He went back to doing his own thing with a content look on that smooshed face of his.

Gizmo and I draped our four post bed in a luxurious black velvet comforter. We added six pillows for the two of us. There’s no better feeling than throwing yourself into a soft, comfortable bed with so many luscious pillows. It felt like quick sand slowly swallowing you whole as you fell into a state of complete relaxation; all the fun without the consequence of dying.  Lying on the bed I found myself staring at the familiar sight of my high arched ceilings.  The old wood beams, bathed in the warm sunlight for many years, stared back at me. They were thick and I must admit even a little scary to look at, but at the same time their strength was reassuring. I felt safe in here. I picked my room in this giant building because of that reason.

The bed was warm and cozy. Gizmo trotted over and pawed at my chest, ruining my slight moment of pleasure, his nature had come-a-calling. We paced down the stairs and we walked to our normal spot; the alley behind our residence.

The church’s cemetery rested out here as well. It was small, and just as old as the church. There hadn’t been a burial here since the church lost its power over the congregation. A three foot tall, white picket fence squared in the area. The paint cracked, faded, and had been peeled by the weather for some time, but a few spots had made it through all of the seasons.  This abandoned, final resting spot offered little assurance that your body would remain at peace. The grass had died long ago and only brown strands swayed in the breeze against the final words for the deceased.

I have only entered as far as the first row of graves. Most of the plots were modest, but there was a mausoleum that stood out in the center of the cemetery. One day I would grow curious enough to find out who slept their final sleep in there. Today, however, would not be that day.

Gizmo never seemed to mind handling his business in the alley. I would mind, but he apparently cared less. It’s one of the few times he was able to go outside: to go potty, when we went to the roof, and daily walks up and down the street. He received most of his exercise running up and down the stairs chasing that ginormous tennis ball. I may or may not purposely throw it down the three flights of stairs, buying myself a few precious moments alone. He’s always been a crafty little guy and had never failed getting the ball back up.

One time I threw the ball and heard it reach the chapel area on the ground floor. Gizmo went chasing after it like normal. Five minutes went by and I grew worried. I reluctantly paused my video game and went to look for him. I found him on the 2nd flight of stairs. He’d made it that far before laying down with the ball underneath his chin, propping up his head. I bent down to pick up my tired little puppy and carry him back to our room. Before I could reach him three things happened: he forced himself back to his feet, gave himself a good shake, and he unhinged his jaw, securely gripped his tennis ball. He climbed the last flight of stairs with pure grit and suicidal determination. He even made it up to the bed before he plopped himself down and fell into a doggy-sleep coma. Because of witnessing that first hand, I firmly believe that the “Napoleon Complex” applied to people and small dogs alike.

It was 9pm. The Neon district would start to come alive about now, it was time for me to go to work.

I gobbled down a quick snack: a generous handful of goldfish, a Granny Smith apple, and a highly caffeinated Mountain Dew (and of course sugar, mmm…sugar). I made my way down the lair and out the back door. The evening light was fading as I turned toward the Neon district, to the starting point of my search.

My saunter was proudly on display as I chose to walk the eight blocks instead of taking my street bike. I wore my usual garb: beaten black and white converse low tops, relaxed blue jeans, and my trusty black pea coat. I wore this coat ten months out of the year, it’s an extra layer of skin for me, and I must have it on. I had a deep blue t-shirt on underneath the jacket with big, white block letters reading, ‘I am not a model; I just look like one.’ Is it true? I can only be told so many times before I started to believe it myself.

My associate was a gentleman that owned a shop on the same street as where the shootings took place. He helped me out from time to time and in turn I bought something from his store.

Most of the buildings and stores on my block were deserted and had wasted away throughout the years. Cracked sidewalks, broken hydrants, and crumbling walls were all that remained. Even those without a roof over their head wouldn’t cross-over and enter my block. I tried not taking it personally, I was sure the church had something to do with that.

The 2nd block still had an operational, low-end apartment building. I’d have to take a guess to say it’s half full, and roughly half of those tenants paid the rent. There’s also a liquor store, hence half of the people who didn’t pay the rent, and then oddly enough a pet shop. The pet store, Pets are People Too, absolutely loves Gizmo and me. We go there at least once a week to get him a special treat. It also gave us a chance to add to his outdoor time. Generally, I would bring him with me if I was walking somewhere but not tonight, not when daddy’s working, his complex can get the best of him sometimes.

Three blocks down and five to go.

The silver clouds hung lower than usual. They looked as if they were infused with a dark matter, refusing to break, choking the light from the bright moon trying to make its way down. The battle between the two had been going on for much longer than I could’ve ever known. Back and forth they fought, never gaining an inch on one another. The clouds wanted to become stronger, darker. They wanted to rule the emptiness of the sky; to become the sky. The moon wanted to wash away the shadows, the despair from the valley itself, but its efforts have been without result, but it won’t give up, it can’t.

A chilling wind picked up, slapping me in my face; I pulled my jacket tighter around me and flipped my collar up around my neck. As I continued to walk, my left arm twitched sharply, it had the sudden impulse to jump out of my pocket. From an alley, masked in the shadows, two figures emerged.

Two men, both in jeans and black work boots stepped closer to me. I was able to get a better look at them as they did so. The man in front wore an old beat up leather jacket and his associate, flanking him, wore a black and red flannel shirt. They were similar in height and build but the most important likeness was what they held in their hands. In their right hands they each held an army combat knife. Roughly eight inches long with a serrated edge on the back; each of the handles wrapped in dark green tape.

These men weren’t big by any means but I guess that’s why they felt the need to carry cutlery around with them. It wasn’t hard for me to see what they were after–anything that I had.

I had to slow them down, get them talking. I remembered that old saying; ‘when in doubt, talk it out’. Okay, so I just made that up, but nevertheless I wanted to test my groundbreaking new theory.

I stepped forward with a friendly smile, or at least I was going for a friendly smile and used a calm voice as I spoke.

“Gentlemen, how are you doing this fine evening?” I was trying to break the ice, you know, start things off in a positive way, not in a let’s-stab-this-guy-many-times kind of way.

“We are doing good, but you won’t be if you don’t hand over your wallet and jewelry,” the man in the ultra-hip leather jacket answered.

Before my brain could send the signal to keep my mouth shut, I quickly replied. “Well,” I said. “You are doing well. You don’t do good, you do well. Batman does good, but us regular folk, do well. To answer your question I don’t carry a wallet and I’m truly sorry but I have zero pieces of jewelry on. Besides that, may I help you with anything else?” This wouldn’t have been the first time that correcting someone’s grammar led to me having a bad night. I’m betting it wouldn’t be the last.

The man in the leather jacket, who I’m now calling Tim, looked to his partner in crime and then back to me; it was evident to me that he was the leader. The man in the flannel, let’s call him Al, was weary around his edges and carried a hint of uncertainty in his eyes. He seemed to automatically fall into place behind Tim. It gave me the feeling that they had been around each other for a long time and Al had learned his place the hard way. It’s tough to play second fiddle sometimes. But, I also had no doubt in my mind that if Tim gave an order, Al would follow it blindly and swiftly.

Tim’s eyes narrowed and his hand gripped tighter on the handle of his blade, showing me the whites of his knuckles. Al followed his lead and readied himself to also strike. My hands had never left my coat pockets as the muggers now, would-be-murderers, slowly crept towards me. Before they could make their move I skillfully slid my right hand from my pocket and extended it towards Tim, the leader. My taser came to life with a simple squeeze of the trigger. Two barbed ends shot towards him, slipping between the un-zipped leather-jacket piercing his flesh; 50,000 volts surged through him. He went from standing, to a fetal position before I had time to drop my arm. My attention was then turned to Al.

“Now, do you want to end up like that, flailing out of control, lying in your own piss?”
“N…N…no sir.”

“Glad to hear it.” I turned my weapon off. “Now get your pal and get off of my streets. I don’t ever want to see you again. If I do see you, you both will be lying on the ground…motionless.” My eyes narrowed, my jaw hardened, and through clenched teeth I asked, “Do you understand?”

“Yes sir,” he answered quietly.

I put Mr. Shockey away and walked past Al as he was helping Tim off the ground. I held back the urge to kick him across his face. Take out the leader and the followers have no one to follow–it’s another theory of mine. The initial test hadn’t worked out as I’d planned but all in all I think the situation went good, I mean well.

 

…….chapters 4-6 to be posted on Wednesday the 21st of September,  2016.

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