The Gate Keepers

By

Todd Jones

Copyright 1992

 

Prologue

"The Gates have gone unattended for far too long!" Zacknitheen slammed the bottom of her fist on the unyielding service of the pearl-white marble table that dominated the center of the conference room. Pain surged through her hand, running the length of her arm and electrifying her emotions. Zacknitheen savored the throbbing sensation; she felt so much more alive while in her material form.

"Such outbursts will win few heads on the counsel, my dear." Zacknitheen's father, Taurus Demorico the Grand Councilman, mentally projected. He, like all but a few of his race, relied primarily on telepathy as a means of communication, shunning the awkwardness of verbal projection. When Taurus took material form, he stood well over six feet tall with long golden-blond hair and sparkling blue eyes that dripped with knowledge beyond his years and complimented his chiseled facial features and athletic frame.

Assuming physical form was viewed by the genteel as a crude form of mobility, thus left best to the commoners, but Zacknitheen felt differently. "Our society has finally crept from the bowels of destruction to once again shine. Now is the time to reestablish the Gateways."

"You know the devastation that was wrought on our society from those accursed Gateways. We are but a semblance of the great kingdom our ancestors built."

"But the sins of the father are the sins of the son, and we are the sons and daughters that bear those sins. We must correct what has been set in motion."

"Many do share your logic. They fear the dark-ones will come again, and this time they will not rest until we are no more. If only they would have destroyed those Gateways…" Taurus let his thoughts drift off. He stared out the large bay window that comprised the western wall of the room and his incorporeal head shook involuntarily. Taurus' eyes glossed over as an all too familiar look of despair edged itself in his face; a look that seemed to occur too often for Zacknitheen's liking.

"No, venturing out into the universe is just too dangerous. I am truly sorry, my daughter." Taurus could see the passion that burned in his daughter’s angelic hazel eyes. Her blonde hair hung in a frazzled state around her head, clinging to the corners of her mouth whenever she slowed her rapid pacing. She reminded him more and more of his departed wife as the years past. Zacknitheen had always been the strong willed passionate sort, just like her mother. She would make a great leader someday, but on this matter she must yield.

"The sins we bear may yet destroy the universe. Just look through the Gateways and see the infestations that have grown while we have turned out deaf ear."

Taurus knew how stubborn his daughter could be, for she took after him in matters of the state. He was not an old man by any means, only two hundred years; young compared to others of his race, but in this matter he felt powerless. The Gateways were created over nine centuries ago and their mysteries have been lost to his people over the years. He remembered the knowledge gathers using them when he was young to monitor and record the activities of other societies, but then they came; the dark ones, the Kismet as they called themselves.

He hoped his days of battle had long since passed, buried in matters of the state. His heart was there for his people, but his conviction had faded over the last few decades, like so many other survivors of the Great War. "I have seen the horrors you speak of, my child."

"We are responsible for the malicious power mangers that utilize our gateways, the same gateways our ancestors innocently built for observational purposed. If we are not strong enough yet to stop the wanton destruction, at least give me the authority to curtain matters."

"What have you in mind…"

Book I - The Blood of Heroes

1 – The Coldness of Revenge

A freezing chill descended throughout the snow covered world of Mask. Its twin stars continued their tireless journey around the planet, bathing it in light, but delivering little warmth. Incessant winds swept over the surface, sending ripples across the planet's white sea. Through the snow laden air could be seen the remains of a wooden sleigh; capsized in a drift of snow.

Two large canines, still fastened in their leather harnesses, laid mangled near the twisted remains. One's skull was crushed while the other's back was twisted unnaturally; its head and hind facing awkwardly in the same direction. Several bodies littered the surrounding area where Venom slumped against the sleigh. His back and chest were dotted with blemishes from the recent confrontation. Blood splotched sweatpants and a shredded shirt were all that remained of his original clothing.

"What place is this?", he exhaled, his warm breath turning to smoke as it assaulted the frigid outdoor air. The words drifted away as the wind wiped across the land. Venom encouraged the sweet power of revenge to fester inside him, it was his way of dealing with the recent slaughter of his father. Venom was not new to such feelings, for he had known the horrors of incessant clan battles since his youth.

Venom's family, the Chimara clan, are renown for their graceful, yet powerful, fighting styles that coordinated the mind and body into one harmonious system. This system has been refined and honed through the generations. None have been able to match the Chimara Clan's courage and skill in battle, but many have tried. Clan feuding has resulted in many deaths, mostly from other clans, but now and again a member of the Chimara Clan has fallen. When such an event occurs, the fallen comrade is held to have died with the greatest of honor and another member is bequeathed with the task of enacting retribution. Venom was the tool through which retribution would be served this time.

Venom knew the sweet taste of revenge well and how it was a doubled edged emotion; while it kept one focused it could cause lapses in ration thought if not contained. Venom had set off after the assailants with nothing more than his survival skills and anger in his heart. The cold of this world bit into him, cold weather always did, especially this type of cold. Its bitterness ate into his soul as did the memory of his father.

They had attacked at night, killing the leaders of the major clans. Venom remembered. It was no way for ones of their station to die. No way… He looked at the carnage that lay strewn about. Venom spat on the corpse of a man that lay near his feet. He felt sorrow for the clans and their great lose, even the Shariquin, his family’s long time rivals, for many good warriors blood was shed in their house.

Blood trickled from a gash that ran down Venom’s right bicep. He had felt the blade dig into his flesh during the combat that had ensued shortly after his arrival on Mask, but did not allow himself the luxury of pain. Pain was in the mind, and the mind could be controlled. He pulled first-aid supplies from his pack. An expressionless veil fell over him as he proceeded to stitch the wound together. His eyes narrowed and jaw clamped tight at the pain, for even he vast mental conditioning could never shut the pain completely out.

There were so many issued swarmed in his head: If he had not gone out to train on his own; if he had only been there when the they had come; if he just could have been there; and most aching of them all, who could have done this? The pain thankfully subsided to a throbbing irritation that Venom knew he could control. He had to keep moving, despite the fur jacket and leggings he had scavenged, his limbs were starting to become numb. Venom felt a strange harmonious peace in the way the world’s bitter wind matched his heart.

A moan erupted from one of the bodies, bringing Venom from thoughts. A man strained to right himself, but despite his efforts he collapsed; face down in a blood stained blanket of snow. His mind could not comprehend what his body had already told him; he could not move with shattered knee caps.

"Help me!" The man croaked, his tongue swollen and blue where it hung limply from the corner of his mouth. Blood spewed with each word.

"Where is the one who lead the attack on my people?" Venom growled, driving his knee into the man's lower back.

"I know not who you speak of." The man gasped.

"Pain is an amazing feeling. Do you not think?" Venom cocked his head and leaned forward so the two men could lock stares as he spoke. Venom leaned back, grasping tightly on the man’s right arm, the other appendage already looked too broken to be of use, and pulled it behind the man's back. A little pressure at the elbow and…Venom knew the results, he had performed this move many a times during interrogation proceedings.

The man screamed, wishing death show mercy and sweep down to envelop him in his cloak, but there was no chance of that, yet. "He…he's no more than a days walk to the south!" The man lay prone, helpless in Venom’s submission hold. "Now help me!"

"That wasn’t so bad. Was it?" Venom released the man’s arm and with a swift kick to the head, before the man could register that he had been set free, the man fell into an eternal sleep. Venom glared at the limp body, his stern expression faltering as remorse settled in. There was too much death. Venom had never found it easy to kill a man. The memory of his father, slaughtered, was all that he needed to push it away. "Revenge is a dish best served cold." Venom said as he stepped over the body on his journey southward. "And damn is it cold."

Venom’s sight had been deteriorating since he arrived on Mask. The glare from the twin suns off snow gave him a splitting headache. Venom kept berated himself for not coming better prepared, but even if he would have had time he couldn’t have prepared himself for this place. If you would have asked him yesterday, tromping through a frozen tundra in an unknown land wouldn't have been on the top of his list. Then just as he was about to scream out in frustration he felt the inception of a familiar tingle that was brewing in the back of my mind. Over the years Venom has learned to heed his senses for they have saved him more times than he could count.

Venom remembered the survival treks his father used to take him on. He would be dropped off someplace and have to find his way home. The training was fun, testing his skills in defending himself from beasts of the wild along with periodic family members that found it amusing to make his treks tougher than they already were. Those were part of his ascension trials, if he wanted to be leader someday he would must endure these. His father never had any doubt of his sons abilities and those thoughts kept him warm even in this place. "Your wits and a keen knife is all you'll ever need laddie." Is what Venom’s father used to say. Now he was gone. Along with so many others.

Venom crouched low as a scouting party bridged the hill just south of me. The one he sought was within their midst. He drew his doubled-edged knife and waited. Its weight felt good in his palm. As did the taste of revenge on his tongue.

A deep throaty growl erupted from behind Venom. Instinctively he sprang to his feet brandishing the knife. A large gray wolf hunched in the snow and it didn’t hesitate to pounce. Icicles hung from the matted creatures fur. Saliva dripped from its fangs. The scene seemed to move in slow motion, not an unfamiliar effect when your blood is pumping fast.

Venom shuffled to the side, extending the knife as the beast passed. Venom was lucky he got the knife in line before it was on him. The blade cut deep into the wolfs pelt, blood splattered across the snow. The impact forced him to his knees and forced him to give up the blade to keep his balance. Venom was not worried, he was used to fighting without weapons, but animals were always the trickiest of opponents. They are unpredictable and fierce when trained, like this one seemed to be. Venom scrambled to his feet.

The wolf, seemingly unaffected by the gash leapt again. Its agility for such a large beast caught Venom by surprise. The creature was like no wolf he had ever seen before. Whirling to the left, Venom threw a round-house kick with my right leg. The boot struck the beast across the neck, crushing its windpipe. However the wolf's momentum threw him off balance. The impact sent them sliding down the side of a small ridge.

When Venom had finally regained his footing he had slid into the middle of the scouting party. The wolf's limp body a few feet away.

"Damn my luck." Venom thought.

"We've been looking for you, since reports of your incident with the northern scouting party." Slade, a stout man standing a good foot taller than the other, bellowed. A thick black beard connected to a bushy mustache covered his ruggedly etched facial features. His massive arms were attached to a barrel chest with a frame supported by tree trunk legs. Slade leaned against the side of a sled with two wolves harnessed to it.

Venom knew this was the man who wrought such havoc on his clan. Slades’ stare ran through Venom’s veins like ice. Six men gathered round Slade, wearing thick animal hides and brandishing wooden staffs. This was not the situation Venom had hoped for.

"This little chap is what caused such a commotion with the northern group. I'd better start overseeing the training post myself." Slade chuckled in a mountainous voice that erupted from deep in his chest.

"You're the one who defiled my house's sanctuary. You attacked us through the blackened walkway." Venom could hardly contain himself. "You slaughtered my family! You must die!" Venom charged, the embodiment of vengeance. He no longer cared what the situation was or how many outnumbered him. His focus was on Slade.

Rage engulfed Venom as he leapt toward Slade, attempting to land a flying sidekick to the infidel's head. Slade, a man who looks like he has seen many a battles, initiated by himself most likely, ducked. Rage is a doubled edged weapon. It can instill one with a heightened strength, but it clouds the mind. A true warrior would not let it overcome himself. I flew by my target, my foot puncturing the inner casing of the sleigh.

Slade pulled a metallic mace from his belt. "You are as clumsy as you are stupid." He didn't hesitate to take advantage of my situation. He swung his mace with the precision found only in a battle hardened warrior. I twisted frantically to soften its inevitable impact. It slammed into my shoulder, sending me to the sled's floor. I raised myself as Slade entered the sled. My arm left arm numb. I landed a kick to the hulk's jaw. Slade's head rocked back as he took the blow squarely on the chin. Blood oozed from the big man's mouth. This gave me a chance to get better footing. I sent a front kick to his head, followed by another aimed at the hand. If I could remove his weapon I would stand a better chance. His sheer bulk was his disadvantage. The giant lumbered more than moved. This would be his downfall.

My opponent was no weakling, what he seemed to lack in speed he made up two fold in strength. I loosened his weapon, but he wouldn't release it. The big man swung that mighty mace toward my head. A blow that I would never recover from if it had hit, but I timed my kick. The weapon was sent smashing into the side of the sled. I kicked him in the groin as his gaze followed his weapon. The tree was falling. I couple more kicks and I would have him. I saw a blurred image from the corner of my eye. Then the realization came, the other members of his group. I quickly reached for the side of the sled, but Slade must have recovered for he had other ideas. With a mighty swing he sent his fist my side. The air was blown from my lungs. I felt ribs crack as my back slammed the sled's floor. My leg dangling over its edge. Slade lumbered closer. He sent his recovered weapon on my exposed leg. The leg shattered. Bones snapped. I screamed, then felt nothing.

My shrill scream must have startled the wolves. I'm not sure, things were getting darker as the pain enveloped me. They bolted, jerking the sled forward. Slade toppled from the vehicle.

"You would have been better off to let me finish you than to die in the tundra." Slade spat.

I tried to grasp the words and hold on, but I lost consciousness.

"Have you finished cleaning the dojo?"

"Yes, grandfather." A youth in his late teens, Venom, replied. Bowing respectively to a picture depicting a yellow rose painted on the room's wall before leaving the training area.

"How is your arm fairing?" The elderly man said. He easily kept pace with the youth as they traveled down he hallway.

"It is fine." The youth moved his arm to show it didn't hurt, but the older man caught a grimace run across the boys face.

"You are lucky your over zealousness didn't get it broken. You must learn to control your anger. Never fight angry. it only clouds your judgment..." The image faded away as Venom entered the limbo between the past and present. The words still chastised him. "Never fight angry...Never fight angry..."

Venom awoke sprawled out on a soft white bed which conformed around him. The entire room was constructed of white marble with an opening off to the right. An apparition of a woman in her early twenties floated into the chamber. "I see that you are finally awake." Venom didn't see her mouth move or hear her words, but he understood her. He looked around the room in bewilderment, rubbing his eyes to make sure he wasn't imagining it.

"Yes, I am real...or as real as one can get without a corporeal body. My name is Zacknitheen."

Venom tried to get up, but his leg still throbbed. Then he remembered his injury and laid back. His body sank into the bed. "What are you? How did I get here?"

"Well, it looks like we pulled you out of that place just in time. You have lost a lot of blood, but nothing that couldn't be fixed. You should be fully recovered in a couple of days, your time." Zacknitheen said.

"What do you mean? The last thing I remember..." He tore off the sheets. His bare leg seemed fine, a little banged up, but in one piece.

"I know all this is new to you. Forgive me. We'll talk later you should rest." Zacknitheen placed one of her non-corporeal hands on Venom's head. "You will sleep now and when you awake all will be fine." Zacknitheen floated out of the room, leaving Venom to rest.

 

2 - The Pursuit For a Lost Soul

Day turned to night and night to day again, but the sky under the dome never faltered. Deep purple blotches continuously swirled, intertwining with the dome's colorless surface to create a dark ballet of seemingly endless hideous shapes. The planet's moisture-laden clouds coupled with its all too necessary dome bestowed the world of Fisher with a gloomy humid atmosphere. Myriad buildings spanned the city's districts; all variations of the same dismal murky greenish gray color. The structures ranged from newly constructed glass skyscrapers, in the well-lit northern sector, to smog belching factories surrounded by small flats and dilapidating housing, in the surrounding districts.

Papers littered the darkened streets, people huddled under over-hangs that protruded from small shops that lined both sides of the street and water gathered in the uneven road's surface. A neon sign flickered, "Pete’s Pub" in the rain. Its light revealing a small alley adjacent to the establishment. A metallic clang resounded from the alley’s depths, followed by a gurgled scream. The shadows were still once again as silence settled like a veil over the alleyway.

Morex, a tall slender creature with long stringy black hair, hunched over a partially robotic female. Red liquid dripped from his green claw-like fingers, pooling at his feet. Blood trickled from four distinct slashes across the neck of a blonde haired woman on the ground. Her smooth skin interrupted by a large red welt on her forehead, which matched a dented trashcan lid at her side.

She was dressed in a short black leather skirt with a white tank top that had the words, "Alley Rats" airbrushed on it. Her outfit exposed a cybernetic arm with a long metal blade attached to its underside. Through her black nylons two metallic legs glittered; one spasmodically twitched in a puddle of water.

"I really wish she had not pressed me," Morex said to a rat that sat watching him from its perch on a pile of garbage. "I do so hate violence, but she just kept waving that blade at me."

The rat stopped near the end of the alleyway and gave Morex an almost sympathetic nod before it scurried away in the shadows.

"Something about me having to pay for being on her…What did she call it? Turf? Yes, that was the term; turf." Morex felt so alone hovering over the young lady's recent corpse. He had come in search of his brother, wherever he might be. He had never intended to encounter trouble, but it seemed to keep pace with him and spring out at every turn. He had been tracking his brother’s captors for so long now, Morex had almost given up hope. Then he came upon this place, he knew it held the answer. His brother was close, he could feel it.

The women could still aid Morex in his quest. She was quite dead, but he caressed her soft skin, as if lightly massaging her flesh. His fingers ran up and down the length of her body in slow sweeping motions that seemed almost ritualistic in fashion. His eyes rolled back to expose the white that surrounded his pupils. Morex’s image faltered, like the fading picture of a mirage. His body began to shrink within itself. His stringy hair became blonde, covering his now silky skin. The blood vanished from his fingers as they became shorter, more delicate and more feminine. His skin paled to match the body he touched and then the change was complete.

Morex leaned over a puddle, examining his new features in the dim reflection. "She should not have attacked me," Morex said with a remorseful feminine tone. He stripped the woman's clothes from her body and slipped them on like they were made for him. Morex departed the alley’s shadowy sanctuary with a new appearance along with a new outlook of this world and finding his brother.

Morex stood under a neon sign taking in his surroundings. The air was thick with smog and Morex felt he would choke if he took too deep a breath. Small transport vehicles, the likes he had never seen before, swarmed about a tall slender building that dominated the northern sector. The gigantic structure loomed over the city, its presence radiating authoritarian control. The world was strange to him, vastly different from Sylvanistarium, where he was from. The forests where replaced with buildings and nature had succumb to technology. What a sad world, Morex thought before burying the wonders of his world; the Great Falls, the Timarian Forest and the vast Kilmoni Sea deep within him. He had not the time to lament his world or to linger on the ever-present question of how he might return to his homeland once he had found his brother. He did not understand the strange doorway that appeared in the forest that swept him to this world. Morex felt that the gods in answer to his anguish and prayers sent the gateway and that is all he could afford to think of it for know. He had known instinctively that the gateway was the true path, but had no idea it would lead here, wherever here was. He had to find his brother and make those who slaughtered his family pay for what they had done.

Two men stumbled down the middle of the small street in Morex's direction. Noticing the two men, the few citizens that were still out in the night air scurried behind dumpsters, around building and some ran up small flights of stares to flats, securing their doors behind them. The street was still within the minute, except for the laughter of the two men.

One of the men fiddled with a gun, attached to his cybernetic forearm. The other followed, singing an incoherent tune. Their stench permeated Morex's senses, even from this distance. Their scent stood out among all the refuse and scraped against his nerves. The chill that ran throughout his body confirmed that these two were of the same stock as those who invaded his world; their clothing, mannerism and smell. The screams of his family echoed in his mind as the terror of that ghastly night, not so long ago, assaulted him, again.

They had come in numbers; numbers the likes Morex had never seen before in. They invested his world, his people, with the destructive nature of their technology. Death spread quickly from there, cutting the numbers of his race to the brink of extinction.

"What are you doing out here, you pretty little thing?" One of the men said to the attractive blonde; Morex.

"I think we should take this one to the van and show her what's up." The other chided in like some lustful fiend.

"Are you looking for a good time tonight," Morex replied in the best seductive voice he could muster. He could feel them leering at him, their eyes full of lust, his full of carnage and despair. Their grins were all Morex needed for confirmation.

"Lets go." One of them said, putting his arm around Morex's waist.

The two men guided Morex to their van, which was parked a block down the street. As they approached the vehicle, Morex slowed his pace, feigning that his ankle was hurting. One guard fumbled with the vehicles keys, almost dropping. Morex gave the other one a sweet smile, giggling girlishly. Morex let his hands slip behind his back for cover. Then he willed them to change. They became slender with long sharp nails that protruded from their tips. As one of the guards reached for Morex's skirt, he struck.

Holding his hand aloft long enough for guard to comprehend his fate, Morex slashed his nails across the guard's throat. He stumbled back, clutching his neck with one hand and reaching for the van to steady himself. The guard's mouth was agape in astonishment and he tried to scream, but nothing would come. Blood gushed as he clutched at the van. The guard lifted his arm, tried to aim the gun that protruded from it, but the exertion was too much. Darkness crept over him, dragging him down. Everything had happened so fast, in less than five seconds the man had collapsed, a streak of blood on the van pointing to where he laid.

His companion turned at the commotion, releasing a blade from under each forearm, which snapped out to almost a foot past the man's fists. They were like small double bladed swords.

"You're going to pay for that, wench," He spat.

The remaining guard shuffled toward Morex. His arms moving in a figure eight pattern forming a shield of glittering blades in front of him. The drunkenness dissipating with each move, each step seemed surer than the last. Morex was forced on his heels as the man's blood lust increased.

Morex let go of the form of the young girl that he held, reverting to his natural state. This guard was no amateur to the ways of battle, he moved with the grace and skill of a trained warrior. Morex could not afford the concentration it would take to hold the form any longer. His transformation was complete within seconds, causing the guard's advance to ebb. This was the affect Morex had hoped for. He lashed out at the guard's chest, engrossed by the warmth flowing over my hands. Morex bore down on the man with a vengeance that surprised him. The unnecessary bloodshed that these people inflicted on his race, the way they tore his people's life apart, his life. The man was forced to the ground with blows and slashes. The guard lashed out, nicking Morex's, in a futile attempt to save his pathetic life, but that was the last action he would ever make.

Morex dragged the bodies into the van, pools of blood gathered under the vehicle and the smell of death filled senses. Morex did not have time to lament their deaths, for he was vengeance for his people and vengeance has no remorse. He quickly transformed into one of the officer's shape. He studied the van's levers, controls, gadgets, they seemed simple enough to him, almost like he had driven one before. There was a familiarity about the vehicle that Morex had acquired when he took the physical features of the guard. Small bits and pieces of the individual's knowledge were assimilated into him.

{expand on the shapeshifting process and the events that led to this}

While he drove his mind recalled yesterday's events. He returned home to find his parents murdered and his brother missing. The only clue of what had transpired was the remains of two officers dressed in uniforms like the one he wore now. A map, found on one of the officers, with the location of a portal lead him here, to his brothers captors. Morex headed toward the dark green building, which dominated his view. It seemed like the best place to start and he had a feeling this was the right choice.

Morex approached the ominous structure. Vehicles, similar to one he drove, entered and exited a large bay area. He parked the van and checked his uniform. Morex walked toward the stairwell at end of the loading dock.

As he crossed the area officers dressed in the same dull green style uniform traversed the landing bay bustling about in all directions. Metallic appendages could be seen attached to different sections of the uniformed individuals. No one seemed to pay any attention to him. They were too involved in their own duties. The massive quantity of officers and the dreary coloring of the complex, gave Morex a premonition of hopelessness.

Morex followed a guard into the stairwell, which lead to a small platform with four square pads on the floor. As he entered a voice came over a speaker just above one of the numeric keypads on the wall next to each floor pad, "Please insert ID card." The guard, he had followed pulled a plastic card out of his front pocket and ran it through a scanner. He then punched one of the numbers on the wall. The speaker replied, "Thank you, please stand by while implementing." A florescent green beam shot down from the ceiling onto the floor pad, enveloping the guard, then the beam imploded into itself. The pad was now vacant, the guard had vanished along with the beam.

Morex stepped onto a floor pad and reached in the pocket of his uniform where he found a brown card. "Please insert ID card." The speaker uttered. He ran his card through a slot on the wall then punched the highest number on the keypad. "You do not have authorization for that level." Morex tried each number below that until he reached 20. "Thank you, please stand by while implementing." The beam of light washed over him. The room blinked out.

The room blinked in. Morex ran his hands over his body, making sure his was all there. All was in order, except for a slight queasy feeling. The room looked identical to the one he just left except for a numeric plaque with "20" engraved in it.

Morex concentrated on his brother's image. "I've found you." Morex said, certain his brother was on the next level. - shapeshifters have an uncanny sense of detecting when another of their kind is near. This is especially true when it comes to family members.

A man wearing a similar uniform, except for an orange band around his upper right arm, walked into the room. The lower half of the man's face was melded into the other half, which was metallic. Both of his eyes were replaced with mechanical lenses. He stepped on a floor pad, catching a glimpse of Morex. The man's eyes locked on Morex, changed colors, moved in and out, trying to focus on him. The man gave a shrug and smacked the side of his head with his hand.

"Damn new lenses. They must still have some bugs in them. Maybe I can catch the technician and get these adjusted." The man went to leave. Morex struck him in the back of the neck, knocking him out. He pulled a blue ID card out of the uniform's front pocket. He slid the ID card through and punched in 21. He was rewarded with the response, "Thank you, please stand by while implementing."

Morex appeared on the next level with a strong sense of his brother's presence. He knew he was close. He ran into the hallway.

"Where are you going in such a hurry?" One of two guards that stood in front of a set of double doors said. Both men wore uniforms with orange and blue bands on their upper arms. One held a rifle of some sort slung over his shoulder while the other had no apparent weapon. "Where are you headed?" The other chided.

An intense sensation of his brother presence radiated from the interior of the chamber. Morex couldn't contain himself any longer. One of the men reached for his rifle when he saw Morex lunge toward him. Morex grabbed his head and rammed it into the door, knocking him out just as he scooped up his rifle. A small beam of brilliant blue light surged out of the other guard's arm. A sharp pain ripped through Morex's left shoulder just before his arm went limp. Morex kicked the other guard in his groin then slammed the guard's head into his knee as he hunched forward. The guard fired, from a short barrel that ran the length under his fore-arm, just before his body collapsed. The beam sliced cleanly through Morex's side, cauterizing the wound as it passed through.

The wall lent him support as he reached for the doors. Alarm bells sounded when the double doors were swung open. Morex stumbled into the room. His left arm dangled at his side. Pain ripped through his side.

"Kahn!" Morex gasped, blood spurring from his mouth. Kahn sat in a clear cylinder cell in the middle of a laboratory room. Morex fired the rifle. The blast shattered the clear material. Particles rained down in a shower of freedom. The brothers embraced, Morex flinching at the pain in his shoulder.

"Why did they take you Kahn?"

"The best I can make out is that the leader of this place has discovered a means of travel to our world. The rest I can not answer."

"We are all that's left of our family and we will never be separated again." Morex promised through clenched teeth.

"We better get out of here, the alarms are going off."

Morex nodded. They helped each other to the door.

"Watch out!" Morex screamed a guard rounded the corner. The guard fired a rifles. Morex stumbled toward the guard. He was sent sprawling to the ground as he took the full impact of the blast in the chest. Kahn leapt over his fallen brother, slashing the guard's throat before he could react to his cat like reflexes.

Kahn knelt near his brother. Morex's hand grasped at the gaping hole in the middle of his chest. Voices came from the end of the hallway. Kahn dragged his brother into the laboratory and barred the doors by sliding the rifle through the door's handles.

"You should have left me brother. Then you would still be safe." Morex's body had changed back to its natural form, he didn't have the energy to hold his transformation.

"I couldn't let..."

"I know." Kahn consoled

"Promise me you'll...get them..."

Morex's eyes were closing, he could hardly see his brother anymore.

"What are you talking about, you'll be fine. I just have to get you..." Morex's body went limp in his arms.

"Morex! Morex!" Kahn screamed. He shook the body to no avail, Morex was dead.

"Kahn, come with me. Its your only way out." A soothing feminine voice persuaded. Kahn looked up to see an image of woman in her early twenties in a black portal.

The door started to give way to the guard's persistent pounding.

"Who...Who are you? I can't even see you." Kahn still clutched his brother's body to his chest.

"I am Zacknitheen. I'm here to help. Now hurry! I can not hold this portal open much longer."

"You better be right, whatever you are." Kahn dragged Morex's body toward the gateway.

The door burst open and guards poured into the room. A flurry of lasers fired, but Kahn leapt into the blackened portal. The guards rushed the gateway, but the portal had already faded away, along with Morex's body and Zacknitheen's image.

3 - Exploration for the Truth

A white stag pranced across a flower laden meadow toward the narrow stream's shore. Its mate basked in the morning sun's warmth near the ford. The stag's ears perked upward and its head turned toward the eastern section of the semi-circular forest that surrounded the meadow. It sniffed at the air as a sour odor sprang up to permeate the area. Something began to swirl just above the ground in front of the stag. Black streams of smoke shifted back and forth outlining a blurry archway. The rectangular shaped void appeared suddenly with a "POP". It was as if two places, consisting of different air pressures, suddenly collided together. The deer sprinted toward the safety of the western section of the woods as a figure stepped from the darkness.

Cerberus, an average sized man at five foot nine inches, stood at the edge of the black void. He was dressed in blue jeans and a tan jacket. Outfitted with sunglasses and a duffel bag that hung on a strap near his side: he looked like a tourist that had just stepped off a plane.

"The third door has delivered me to…" Cerberus spoke into a small hand held metallic box. "What seems to be a tranquil world. The air is fresh and flowers dot the country side. Another spectacular place. If I keep this up I will never want to return home, that is if I could find my way home. These doorways are so tricky to figure out. I can make out what appears to be a stone castle in the distance. This will be fun."

The deer had almost reached the edge of the woods when three men in studded leather armor stepped from the foliage. They released a volley of arrows; each finding its mark. Blood spurted from the stag's soft white coat as two arrows pierced its hide. It collapsed in mid-stride. The third arrow struck the doe's flank, but she bounded toward the void. Three additional men, with swords drawn, took up chase behind the injured animal.

"Intriguing world!" Cerberus continued to talk into his personal log recorder. "It seems the natives are engaging in the primitive act of hunting."

Cerberus shuffled to the side, barely avoiding the doe as she bounded by. A stream of blood trailed behind her and into the threshold. The wind began to swirl around the black void. One of the men in pursuit lunged for the animal. Suddenly the doe, the doorway, and the man disappeared.

"It seems that this doorway's time interval is similar to the others of its kind. However the predictability between occurrences still eludes me." Cerberus flicked a switch on his recorder then placed it in the inside pocket of his jacket. The hunters stood dumbfounded, staring at the stranger.

A burly man strode forward, at least that is what I first mistook it for. Its matted hair hung partially covering piggish facial features. This explained the irregularity in its movement.

"What have you done with my comrade, sorcerer?" The thing spoke.

It must be some cross breed of man. "My name is Cerberus. I am a scientist currently involved in the exploration of---"

Four other pig-like creatures took up positions surrounding me. I didn't like the way this situation was progressing.

"Where has he gone?" The leader was pointing to the spot where the gateway had been. "Stay clear. He's a spellbinder!"

"I'm not dangerous." I extended make palms out, as you would to a strange dog, slowly. If I could calm the leader the others should follow.

"Yes, it would be wise to bring me to your king." I heard his questions forming. I've been capable of this for as long as I can remember. It seems to run in my family in some form or another. Mine was the ability to manipulate the mind. Some have called me an illusionist and others a mindbender. The mind is an intricate machine that I've devoted my life to understanding.

"Your name betrays you for not only are you named after the guardian of Hades, you infest peoples thoughts." The leader spat. "You will come with us. Keep your demons out of my head or I'll cut you into so many bits that Hades himself won't recognize you."

The situation was slipping fast. I looked into Brew's eyes, m "I mean no harm on such a lovely day as this one, my friend." He said in a soothing voice. "How could anyone inflict harm on another with such beautiful formations floating in the air." Brew couldn't deny it, his eyes wandered upward toward the sky. He gawked at the wondrous white puffs that floated through the sky. They collected together then split apart over and over forming pleasing spectacles.

With the big one content in his fixation I think a little phobia will get me out of this awkward situation. Cerberus thought.

"Someone help! I'm going to fall!" One man screamed. He dropped his sword, reaching for the ground in an attempt to keep his balance.

"Get them off me!" Another shouted, frantically patting and brushing his entire body.

A third bolted toward the woods shrieking something about a giant blue demon with claws swooping down to kill him.

The forth, a puny man compared to the others, stood staring at his companions. He looked around in bewilderment while his commander just stood there smiling and one man stumbled as though he was losing his balance and yet another brushed his body and babbled something about spiders. Nothing had happened. The soldier was quick to realize that this chaos must have been created by the stranger.

The soldier slammed the hilt of his sword into the stranger's head. Cerberus, stunned by the blow, staggered back. The man tackled him, bearing him to the ground so hard the wind was blown from his lungs. Cerberus raised his hands to grab the sword as its hilt came toward him, again. The hilt slipped through his grasp and then blackness surrounded him...

Cerberus awoke to a high pitched squeal. The sound emanated from a flute that a small humanoid creature played. Cerberus was shackled, hands and feet, to a stone wall in a dank dungeon area. Water dripped from a number of cracks in the ceiling, forming small pools for the rat infested area.

"Stop that infernal noise." Cerberus screamed.

The creature looked at him. Its red orbs peered into his soul. The creature was three feet tall at most. He just sat at the edge of some sort of torture rack grinning. It looked deep into Cerberus' eyes, put its lips and continued its incessant playing. The sound pierced through Cerberus' brain. He couldn't even think. The noise shattered all forms of concentration.

"So you disapprove of my friends musical talent." The voice came from a pale, ghostly white skinned man in long dark blue robes. He flowed more than walked into the chamber. The music stopped as the figure entered. "I am most displeased, but someone with your...shall we say talent can't be left unhampered. Therefore I have my friend here to keep you in line." The man scratched behind the creature's ears to its approval. "My name is Kenneth and what might yours be?" He said in a soft soothing voice.

"Cerberus."

"It is good of you to cooperate. If you try anything, my friend won't hesitate to continue his solo. Let me warn you, what you have experienced is only a taste of what he can do to you." Kenneth sneered, losing the soothing tone in his voice. "You have traveled the gates. I can tell by the fluctuations in your body's essence." - Traveling the gates temporarily disturb the bodies equilibrium, while it adapts to the new surroundings.

"I can feel the strength emanating from your mind. That too will be mine in time."

Cerberus gathered his mind as Kenneth's eyes lit up at the mention of his essence. "You will undo these shackles, won't you Kenneth, my friend." Cerberus projected his thoughts as he spoke. A sharp pain lanced through his brain. Kenneth took a step back as Cerberus screamed out in agony as the little creature started to play again.

Kenneth chuckled, "I warned you not to attempt anything foolish. I will let him have his fun for a short time. You will be more reluctant to attempt such a thing again. I shall return when you are more cooperative."

Cerberus' head felt like it would explode from the sheer pain. He screamed and screamed to no avail as the music lanced through his mind. A smirk rose on Kenneth's face, he did so enjoy the sounds of tortured souls. He flowed out of the chamber and headed off somewhere into the castles' darkness.

The music ceased as Kenneth entered the chamber. Cerberus slowly lifted his head. "What do you want of me?"

"Well, it makes no difference if I tell you, since you can't do anything about it anyway. I'll not kill you, but I can say you might not be the same afterwards." Kenneth smirked at the idea.

"I have discovered that these gateways lead to other worlds, which you already know. By traveling through them the natural equilibrium of the body is disrupted. It will adjust. The body is a very complex organism. When someone travels through these gates it will fluctuate to adapt. Its essence will meld itself into the environment to survive. Therefore, if the prevalent force in the world is magic, then the body will be capable of harnessing and manipulating it, in time. You would have most likely figured that out if I didn't get hold of you."

"So what's this got to do with me. Just let me go and I'll leave your world."

"Let me finish. I don't know why this happens, nor do I care. All I know is that those gates hold the keys to other worlds. I have found that I can tap into people and harness their essence, absorbing it, appending it into my own, at least for a time. Sadly the additional boost eventually deteriorate. My body settles back to its normal levels, but the increase in power is fantastic. I need you to continue my experiments. Your essence, in theory will reconstruct itself. Your normal level of mental and physical properties should stabilize. Unfortunately, the people I've taken from other worlds to experiment on have all died in the process. I know I'll get it right sooner or later."

Kenneth approached his hapless victim. Cerberus, too weak to struggled, slumped in his shackles. Kenneth stretched out an age worn hand, its skin dripped with age. The skeletal fingers burned into Cerberus' flesh where they touched his bare chest. Cerberus tried to construct a mental barrier, but it faltered giving way as Kenneth drew the power out of him.

A howl, like the hapless cry of a wounded animal erupted from Kenneth. A glowing arrow protruded from Kenneth's side.

A man appeared, dressed in green chainmail with a bow aimed at the old man. An image of Robin Hood, a fiery tale hero, sprang to Cerberus' mind.

"You will have to do without this one." The stranger slung the bow over his shoulder and gracefully headed to Cerberus. In one fluid motion he drew a thin sword from his belt and cut cleanly through the restricting chains. Cerberus slumped to the floor dumbfounded at the newcomer arrival.

The stranger dragged him toward the black portal that he came through. "We must hurry, that arrow won't hold long."

Kenneth's voice boomed. "You will die for your intrusion." Kenneth worked his hands in mid-air, forming an arcane pattern. A blue light glowed from within the pattern Kenneth weaved. A bolt of lighting shot forth from Kenneth's hands. It sparked across the chamber just missing the stranger as he leapt through the portal.

 

4 - A New Awakening

Venom woke to Zacknitheen's angelic voice. "Your leg should almost be totally healed. Do you feel any discomfort?"

"No, my leg feels fine. I explored some of the complex earlier today, but it wore me out quickly."

"Well, I guess its time for some explanation."

"Yes, please." Venom sat up, leaning his back against the bed's headboard.

"This place is called Taurithena the home world of my people. Early in our evolution we retained a corporeal form, much like yours. We reached out to other worlds in the name of exploration. My ancestors created the gates so they could study other cultures. They traveled, the same way you have through the gates, from world to world. Eventually we evolved, incorporating the knowledge we had gathered with our gates, so we could project our minds though the portal. This allowed my people to perform our studies without interfering in the natural progress of the worlds we visited. Oh, there were times when we made mistakes and altered destiny of worlds, but we learned from them and tried to right our wrongs. Our goal was to acquire the ultimate prize, "the meaning of life" as you term it, knowledge. My people continued their exploration, our minds grew strong and our understanding of other races and the way of the things grew.

One day we stumbled onto a world inhabited by a very powerful race. There isn't much information left about this race or the world, for records from that time period were destroyed in the war that shortly ensued. My people realized this races' highly aggressive and dominating nature too late. We immediately tried to seal the gate, the Dark Ones, as we call them, invaded our world. They used our gates as we had initially and physically wrought havoc on our world. A vast war broke out.

We fought them off after decades of battle, but our race was nearly eliminated. The ancients were forced to draw the life from our planet to fend the Dark Ones off and seal the gate. Most of the records from that time about the worlds that the gate touch have been destroyed in the decades of war.

Our minds are strong, but after the war our bodies were weak. We had to give up our corporeal form to survive. This complex is all that is left of our once flourishing world." We can still take on corporal form if we must, but it requires great concentration and drains our powers quickly. She opened her arms, her image like that of a mirage on a hot summer day, heat waves distorting her focus. Then looking around at the complex she her image became solid, her form solid as any living beings. A sad expression flushed over her briefly as she took in the sight of the complex. "Beyond these walls is nothing, but wasteland. With the war over our scientist have looked to the gates for salvation. We have found, through our decades of neglect, that people are using the gates for personal gain."

"So why don't you just close the gates?" Venom Asked.

"Our scientists don't know how. That information died in the war. Besides its not only our gates that they are using. Rifts similar to our gateways, but not nearly as stable are springing up more and more these days. Maybe there were always there, we don't know. The counsel has decided to recruit people who will help us rid the innocent worlds of those who would take advantage of them. We hope you will help us."

Kahn and Cerberus stepped into Venom's chamber, fallen into position on either side of Zacknitheen.

"It is good to see you two again." Zacknitheen projected to all in the room. Her voice melodic. "Venom, this is Kahn and Cerberus, two newly recruited members. They are part of what we call the Gate Keepers. They, like yourself, have traveled the gates and encountered some of the problems that I have explained to you."

"All of what Zacknitheen has said is most definitely true. This tampering with other worlds must be stopped. Join us and bring a stop to the injustice that is rampaging through many worlds." Cerberus added.

"If there's a chance to enact vengeance on those that have spilled my families blood, then I will help." Venom pledged.