The War of the Gods Book Four Chapter 10

Joseph Lance

He let go of Sally. He wasn’t even aware of it. It was as if something external reached in and simply plucked his fingers off hers.

When he knew what was happening, he desperately turned and tried to clutch at her, but it was too late. She had just disappeared.

“Sally,” he screamed wretchedly into the darkness, but there was no reply.

Joseph didn’t know if it was because he’d created a phase gate or if it was something else, but the experience of traveling through this one was completely different from the rest. It wasn’t over quickly. It was this protracted, chaotic affair. It felt as if he was being rolled down some dark path like nothing more than a dead body in a bag.

“Sally. Sally,” he screamed.

Nothing. She didn’t feel close. In fact, the connection that had been gathering between them now was stretched thin – like someone had plucked her from him and thrown her across the universe.

“Sally,” he screamed desperately one last time. Nothing.

The darkness began to resolve, anyway.

He found himself slipping sideways. It was almost as if he’d been upended in a can someone had thrown into the trash.

He tumbled over some old, cold stone floor.

He suddenly realized he was no longer in phase space. He’d been ejected into the real world.

He shot to his feet.

His eyes widened as he stared at the scene around him. He appeared to be in some kind of old-fashioned carved room.

It was hard to say where he could be, which planet in which galaxy. It was easy to conclude that none of that mattered though, not while he was alone and she was still out there.

“Sally,” he screamed at the top of his voice.

He was a fool for letting his words echo out in the real world. He thought he could hear something. It was this faint scratching sound like a rat trying to get in through a door. It immediately focused his attention.

He twisted his head around and faced the room once more. There was no furniture – just the stone. It almost looked like a prison.

The scratching sound became louder.

It took too long for Joseph to realize what it was. It was one of the phase monsters. But as he checked and rechecked the environment around him, he confirmed to himself he was no longer in phase space.

So what was he doing? Hearing an echo of it?

Sure enough, as it neared, coming close enough that he should be able to see it, he could only hear it. The skin of the back of his neck became so itchy and prickly, he was certain someone had replaced it with brambles. His back arched, and his shoulders rounded high. The scratching was almost directly behind him now. He almost thought he could see something form like a fleeting cloud in front of him and almost thought he felt this ghostly grip locking around his right arm. The amorphous fingers groped along his muscles, sliding down each one as they searched for something to hold, but they couldn’t grasp him.

Joseph stood exactly where he was, ramrod straight and ready for the fight. Even though internally he knew there was no way to win.

The fight didn’t come.

As Joseph forced himself to focus more on the fact he was in the real world, that echo of the monster disappeared. For now.

For now.

Joseph jolted forward, clutched at his throat, and let his sweaty fingers slide down the skin like he was searching for cracks. When he realized he was still alive, he slowly tilted his head back. There was this tingle that charged over his skull, down into his spine, and darted through his hips.

It wasn’t just fear.

There was something about the room around him….

In a blast, he remembered Sally still wasn’t here. Had she just taken a little longer to resolve through gate space?

No. When she still didn’t appear, terror gripped him.

He no longer tipped his head back and screamed her name. That would achieve nothing. It might call another monster to him. Instead, he concentrated. Perhaps he’d left her back in the ship? That would be cold comfort. For if that were the case, then Sally would’ve been eaten up by that anomaly by now. The Queen could survive much, but she wouldn’t be able to survive that.

“Come on. Come on,” Joseph roared to himself in his mind. It didn’t work, though. No matter how much he concentrated and no matter how much he beat himself up, he couldn’t open another gate. Maybe he couldn’t reach the same level of desperation. But that couldn’t be true. There was a new horror pulsing through his heart now, and it was far more disruptive and powerful. He might have been on the edge of death when he’d saved them from that ship, but now he was fine and Sally was the only one in trouble, it was somehow worse.

But his emotions could rage all they wanted – it didn’t help him create another gate.

“Come on, Sally. Come on,” he whispered out loud.

No matter what he did and no matter what he called on, it was irrelevant. He finally gave up, his knees wobbling then falling out from underneath him with cracks like snapped branches. He fell on the stone floor, his body suddenly weighing a ton.

And that’s when he stared at the simple stones long enough to recognize them. They looked… This whole place looked like that bleak carved corridor he’d sometimes see in his mind. The same one that led to that ever-present moaning. And the same one he’d taken to recapture his memories.

Joseph balked. He yanked his hands up. He stared at them, plucking and prying at the skin, almost as if he was attempting to dissect himself.

This was real, right? This wasn’t just in his head, was it? That wasn’t something he could discount. After all, the phase realm was ultimately one of the mind.

But this didn’t feel like the rest of his visions. It was too slow. That moaning just wasn’t there, either.

So where was Joseph? Somewhere that’d been based on that never-ending stone pathway, it seemed.

Somewhere… somewhere that was familiar to him. Deeply, deeply so. The kind of familiar you can never get away from. The kind of familiar that, even if you lose the rest of your memories, was still baked into your soul.

Shaking, way worse than his injuries dictated, he shoved up. It was only then that he noted he didn’t have the future box. It had been in his hand when they’d ported from that rupturing ship, but now it was gone.

While that was bad, it was nowhere close to the ongoing lack he felt at Sally’s disappearance.

There was a door to his side. He slowly inched toward it, expecting an attack at every moment. Not an external one, but one that would rise from his memories. Whatever this place was, it was hardly comforting, and while it was familiar, it certainly wasn’t his home. Now he tuned in to his body, it was as if every single system he possessed was warning him that this place belonged to his enemies.

He reached the door. Slowly, he opened it. He uneasily shifted out into another room.

This one had a door to his left. It led to a seemingly plain stone corridor. That wasn’t what caught his attention. Across the simple floor was a window that led to a balcony. He could almost see out of it.

Edging toward the balcony, his heart descended with every step and every ticking second.

He finally reached it, his body now so pumped full of fear, his muscles creaked like old bones that had been brought back to life.

Clutching the edge of the open stone window frame for support, he walked out.

And he gasped. The move came right from his center and ripped up his throat. It was unstoppable, like it didn’t just want to tear the lining from his throat, but it wanted to tear through the rest of him, too. It would start with his neck, plunge into his chest, then wrap around his body. It would begin with the muscles, then move down to his cells. It would divide Joseph until he wasn’t recognizable.

Above him was space. But it was twisted. He could see the beautiful, stunning stars. But the view was impossible. For it was as if he was staring upon every single galaxy all at once. Somehow, they’d all been brought close, as if the impossible distance of the universe had been reduced.

The sky was strangely rounded, too. Almost as if somebody had wrapped it around this planet like a rainbow or a glittering shroud.

It wasn’t the view that finally made Joseph realize where he was. The information rose right up his chest and blasted into his lips. They parted with a shake. “The Hendari pocket.”

It should… dammit, it should have been impossible, but Joseph had somehow transported to the Hendari worlds.

From what he knew, you needed five Hendari crystals to break through the pocket and come here. The best intelligence the Coalition had possessed was the Queen was required to do that. But Joseph had come here anyway.

He knew why, too.

He’d used exactly the same exploit to arrive here that the Omega guard had used back when he’d fruitlessly fought off the King.

The Omega guard had created a gate point between phase space and this lonely castle.

So what did that mean, exactly? It meant that Joseph Lance was now in the very same place the King was. That beast was just under Joseph’s feet. And Joseph would never have the same chance again.