The New Guard (Crossroads Book 1) (2 page)

“Hold!” A
deep gravelly voice brought the approaching animals to an abrupt halt. “They
are to be captured alive.” Suddenly, the small glade they were standing in was
lit, marginally, by several lanterns, as nine hooded horsemen emerged from the
surrounding trees. The Koens could not see the riders’ faces through the gloom of
the storm or the shadow of their hoods. Most of their imaginations began
working in overdrive as they became whelmed by the wrongness of the moment.

*

The wind
was picking up and, though the evening was still a few hours away, the sky was
growing increasingly darker. The smell of hot rain was pungent and dominating,
though, as of yet, not a drop had fallen. A loud crack of thunder pierced the
air before it dissipated into a long, low rumble. Rebekah was becoming
increasingly worried; usually at the first sign of a storm the children would
come running home. Why hadn’t they today? She stumbled over some roots, caught
herself on a tree trunk, and stopped to catch her breath. As she looked ahead
through the woods she instinctively placed a hand on her belly. The baby moved,
reassuring her he was still there. It was then that she realized that she could
no longer see David’s lantern light or hear him or the Beagle. She wondered
once more what was going on. Where was everybody? Rebekah suddenly felt a
flutter on the branch next to her hand. She looked up and saw a little owl
perched on the branch. Rebekah and the Owl stared at each other for a few
moments; then the Owl flew off and landed on a low branch a few trees away.
Again, the two stared at each other before the Owl flew back, landing near her
once more.

How
curious
, she thought, and just as the Owl flew off again an urge to
follow it came upon her. A war of thoughts and worries swam through her head.
She imagined the children lost, hurt, frightened. She pictured herself stranded
in the woods during the coming violent storm. She thought of David and how
strangely he was acting. Rebekah also felt the pull to follow this strange
creature. Each time she looked at the Owl or thought about it, her other
thoughts became less potent and began to recede. She took a step toward the
Owl. The strange thoughts of the day fell further to the back of her mind, and
Rebekah set off after the strange bird as it hopped from tree to tree, leading
her deeper into the woods, which she didn’t realize, were now not the ones
surrounding her house.

*

The
children were still fairly close to their home, in the woods they knew so well,
yet which had become so frightening. They were still surrounded by the cloaked
and hooded horsemen and the children huddled together, the oldest doing their
best to protect the youngest. Eight of the nine horsemen were watching the
children, while the ninth one was looking all around.

“I cannot
sense the gateway,” the horseman spoke in a deep baritone voice.

Across
from him another rider spoke. “Be still, Caliban; our allies will reopen it
momentarily.” This rider spoke with a calm authority in a hushed tone.

“I only
count eleven. Where is the twelfth?” The raspy voice issued from another of the
horsemen.

Without
prompting, one of the riders and a hound left the circle while the other eight
remained.

Seconds
stretched slowly into minutes. Silas was the sixth child of David and Rebekah
Koen and often felt he had something to prove. He was lean, some would say scrawny,
though all the running, climbing, and various other activities he threw himself
into was giving him the shadow of muscle tone. The boy was impatient with most
things, even hygiene, which was one of the reasons his sandy hair was buzzed
close to his scalp. Therefore, the situation began to wear on Silas’ nerves.
After several minutes, he inched back into the center of the circle of his
siblings, knelt down, and took a rock in his hand. He wiggled back to the edge
of the group and stood, giving himself plenty of room. With one small flick of
his wrist he flung the rock at one of the horsemen, hitting him in the arm.

Instantly,
the struck rider drew his sword from within the shadows of his cloak. Deborah,
Mel, Nic, and Eve pushed the circle tighter together. Silas inserted himself
with his older siblings, yet stood defiantly a step closer to the horsemen. Mel
looked over at his younger brother and shot him a reproving look. Silas shot
him a look back and stood his ground.

Mel was
the second oldest child and had looked a lot like Silas when he was younger,
though his hair was darker; since Mel was fastidious about showering since
puberty, he was allowed to grow it longer. He had grown in stature over the
past few years. He’d been playing football in high school, and now ready to go
into his junior year, the training was showing on his body. He wasn’t bulky
like his brother Nic, though his shoulders had finally popped out, taking away
the scrawny look he’d sported for so long. The similarities between Mel and
Silas were starting to become fewer and fewer. As they did, Silas seemed to be
trying to move away from emulating his older brother and find the opposite
niche. Thus, Mel wasn’t surprised his “toe the line” look didn’t receive any
acknowledgement, save a scornful look.

Lightning
flashed, pulling the brothers’ attentions away from each other and back to the
situation at hand. The flash of light also glinted off the drawn sword,
revealing the horseman’s face. Though the grotesquely scarred and burnt face was
startling to the children, the older ones still held their ground. The rider
dismounted, moving fluidly from horse to ground. The horseman beside him
reached down, placed a hand on the man’s shoulder, and spoke a single word in
his deep gravelly voice: “Hold.”

A long
roll of thunder followed this command. As the thunder dissipated, the children
heard the distinct sound of a low growl. Looking down, the children saw the
form of the Beagle standing amidst them. His hackles were raised as was his
upper lip, exposing his sharp canine teeth. None of the horsemen heeded the
dog, thus revealing that they, like the children, did not know his true nature.
The children, though, became relieved at the return of their faithful
companion. However, their relief gave way to confusion when they heard the
familiar sound of their father’s voice.

“Men
pledged to sin,
lost
of Heaven, poisoned of Hell,
withdraw from here and tread no more on the soil of Earth.”

Though the
children recognized the voice of their father, they had never heard it dripping
with such scorn or ringing with such power. The hooded horseman with his sword
drawn called out into the darkness outside their lantern light where their
father must have been.

“Never,
King of the Here Between; your words are hollow in this wooded hall.” The
horseman’s voice was raspy and full of long hissing ‘
s’es
.
Contempt filled each word as he spat them out of his lipless mouth. “You cannot
bear the sword in this world, and therefore pose no threat to us whose blades
can be drawn and bring burning, painful, and disfiguring death.”

“Poisoned
souls, you all are to heed my words; do not doubt what God can make possible in
this or any world.” There was an almost mocking tone in their father’s voice
and a distinct ring of metal being drawn against metal. “Do not underestimate
God or those He chooses to watch over the sheep He will make into lions.”

At these
words, the Beagle shot away from the children and attacked the nearest hounds,
bringing them down with strength not evident in his small stature and with a
speed not capable of an earthly dog. At the sight of the death of their hounds,
the horsemen began shouting, fear pouring out from their every utterance.

Action
exploded around the children. Before they could truly comprehend what was going
on around them, David was amongst them with a bright sword in his hands. The
dismounted rider grabbed hold of his mount and tried to swing back up into the
saddle. Before he could fully mount, however, his horse was cut out from under
him. Then their father’s gleaming blade swung at the fallen rider. The swing
opened a large gash in the hooded figure's arm. The man screamed in intense
pain, dropped his sword, and collapsed, holding the smoldering wound. Without
missing a beat, David dodged to the left and drove the tip of his blade into
the thigh of the rider who had earlier commanded him. At his scream, the horse
reared and threw its rider to the ground. Meanwhile, the Beagle had taken down
two more hounds, and the remaining horsemen and hounds began quickly widening
the circle they had created around the children.

David
signaled all the children to follow him through the gap he and the Beagle had
created in the circle. Mindlessly, and in shock, the children obeyed and moved
quickly toward their father. Once the children were safely behind David and the
Beagle, David spoke once more.

“Repent,
for the power of God is absolute and the end He will triumph. Repent and be
forgiven.”

The
nearest horseman spat at David, and the two hounds beside him charged. David
moved his sword swiftly and beheaded one, while the Beagle charged the other
and clamped his jaw around its throat. A quick and powerful whip of his head
ended the struggle and the Beagle disengaged. At a horse call, the remaining
riders retreated, gathering the two wounded horsemen as they fled.

Once they
were sure the riders were retreating, David and the Beagle turned to the
children. David sheathed his sword and man and dog went to the children to
inspect them. None of the children had been physically hurt during the
altercation, but David could see their nerves and courage were frayed and in
need of some bolstering. However, time was not something David had enough of
anymore. As if in acknowledgement of this fact, a hot rain began to fall.

“If we
head north we’ll come to a safe place for the night. After that, we’ll have to
make our way. . .” David was unsure how to tell his children what was happening
and began searching for the words. Before he could think, though, he was
interrupted by Mary.

“But,
Daddy, home is south of here. . . I think.” Her voice quieted as she looked
around the darkened glade, the only light being cast by a fallen lantern left
by one of the horsemen.

David
nodded his head and knelt to be eye to eye with his daughter. “Yes, Mary; our
house is just south of here, but we can’t go back there now. What we need to do
is get somewhere safe until the morning’s light can protect us.”

“Will those
bad men go to our house? What about Mommy?” This came from Dinah, who was still
clutching tightly to Mary’s and Esther's hands.

Before he
answered, David looked to the Beagle who let out a small woof that could have
almost been mistaken for a sneeze. At this, David nodded once more and turned
back to the children. “Your mother and the baby will be safe. We mustn’t forget
to trust in the Lord and know that He is guiding us even through this
darkness.”

At those
words the Beagle ran over and fetched the still glowing lantern, and David took
it in hand. The Beagle ran off once more and within a few moments brought
David’s discarded lantern back. David lit it once more and handed it to Mel.
“See, He is a ‘lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.’”

“Psalm 119,
verse 105,” Jeremiah whispered.

David
smiled and reached out to touch Jeremiah’s head, “Yes, exactly. Come, let’s
go.”

David
took the lead and the children quickly followed. All the children’s hands were
linked, and their eyes were locked onto the path their father was moving along.
All of them except for Mel and Nic. Mel walked toward the rear of the group
holding the lantern high, while Nic’s eyes never stopped scanning the
surrounding forest. Behind them all, the Beagle walked; his eyes too were casting
about the woods, searching for any dangers hidden within.

None of
the children, not even Nic, was aware when the trees stopped being the trees of
their youth, the forest of their home. They did not see or understand the
change in the woods, as new alien species of flora and fauna mixed with those
specimens they knew so well. However, they were thankful there was not much
rain and it quickly stopped, and after an hour of moving swiftly through the
forest they came to a clearing. Fatigue and fear overrode confusion and hunger.
The littlest ones were soon sleeping, snuggled tightly with each other and on
top of the eldest. Most of the older children were trying to process what was
happening and had happened when David started a fire. It was then that Nic noticed
the fire pit which had been there waiting for them. Before he could form a
question in his mind or with his mouth, David spoke.

“Sleep,”
was all he said. The word held such allure and command that almost instantly
the rest of the children started to fall asleep. Silas was the last to nod off,
but not before he saw his father sit down and begin to clean his sword.

Chapter
2

The Dark
Riders (or Void Riders) and their horses could move around in the daylight, but
their hounds could not. The riders still had enough humanity in them that
sunlight was not a hindrance to their physical health. However, the dark powers
given to them by the Void were weakened to the point of uselessness in the
light of the sun. The same limitations hindered the horses’ ability to move at
more than a slow plod. The horses the riders used were normal horses, but they
were poisoned by the power of the Void, and prolonged exposure to the sun
harried them. The hounds, however, were a completely different kind of
creature. While on the outside they mostly resembled various types of hunting
dogs, on the inside they were incarnations of the Void. Stripped of life, the
Void was able to take hold of the hound’s flesh and move about, but only in the
night and never in the full moon. Sunlight burned and poisoned the hounds,
killing them if they lingered longer than a brief second in its rays. Even
overcast days could weaken the hounds, making them no more harmful than newborn
pups. The full moon was very much like an overcast day. All of this combined to
make the daylight a Dark Rider’s enemy, for they drew upon the power of the
Void and the Void cannot stand the Light of God.

As the
crepuscular light of dawn crept upon the world, Caliban, the second ranking
Dark Rider dispatched to hold the children, fumed at the limitations imposed
upon him. In addition, he cursed the Truth Wielder and his canine companion.
Together they had slain six hounds, killed one horse, and cut two of his fellow
Riders with the Sword of Truth. Both of the Riders, their former leader and the
lackey they called the Serpent’s Tongue, had been so thoroughly cut that they
had begun to regret the sins of their life and were near to asking forgiveness
before Caliban had to kill them outright. Command and responsibility for this
mission would now fall upon Caliban’s shoulders.

Watching
the light of dawn break past the horizon, Caliban uttered yet another curse.
This plan to capture the children as they were called over was falling
completely apart. Their leader had been working with a minor demon. They had
worked out when and where the fated children would be brought forth. The plan
formed at that point had been to have the Dark Riders move in and secure the
children. Once they were secure, the demon and his thralls would move in to
help incapacitate the children and bring them to the Fallen One.

Caliban
had voiced his objection to no avail. Why would the Void Riders take the lead?
Why not wait until dark when the powers of the Void were at their fullest? Why
not kill the children outright? No, his leader would hear none of it. He
bragged about how he could draw upon the power of the Void even in the waning
light of day. Though he had proven true to his word, the effort had tasked all
the Riders and the hounds.

The Dark
Riders were weakened; this was the first sign the plan was not going to work.
They crossed over only to find eleven of the fated twelve. Then the Truth
Wielder and the dog showed up. It was then that Caliban knew for certain the
plan would fail.

During the
ensuing confrontation, Caliban’s leader did not address the Truth Wielder;
instead, he let the Serpent’s Tongue do the talking. Caliban knew the spell to
maintain a false night was straining his leader, for Caliban felt the strain of
the spell in his very core. However, for his leader to let that fool speak was
a mistake, and once the dog revealed itself an angelic host, Caliban knew
enough to start pulling back. Caliban was not fast enough to save his leader
and the Serpent’s Tongue from the Sword of Truth, a death sentence for any
working in the service of the Void and the Fallen One.

Caliban
turned away for the brightening morning light and made his way back to the
burrow the hounds had made. As he crawled in and pulled a large rock over the
mouth of the tunnel he wondered, not for the first time, why the demon and his
thralls had not been on the other side of the crossing when they had returned.
In the darkness of night, Caliban would have an answer. He would also begin
hunting down the fated children and killing them one by one.

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