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Authors: Artist Arthur

Mutiny

BOOK: Mutiny
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Mutiny

A Mystyx Novella

Artist Arthur

What did I do to end up in this nightmare?

One minute Franklin Bryant is a normal teenager in school with his girlfriend, Krystal. The next, a reaper leaves him in Trance, the place between worlds where his destiny will be decided. Franklin has been summoned by the demon Charon to help destroy the Mystyx, a group of classmates including Krystal, with supernatural powers that can defeat Charon.

Franklin loves Krystal, but he faces an impossible choice: join Charon and be rewarded with powers beyond his dreams, or refuse and die….

A Mystyx series novella.

Chapter One

You are here…

 

I'm looking down at the ground, which isn't really the ground at all. It's some sort of shiny black surface that feels squishy under my sneakers. At first I thought it was quicksand, but since I'm still standing and not sinking into some gooey substance I guess that assumption was wrong.

Anyway, this is a different place than the cold dark den where I was before. A reaper grabbed me without saying a word, and dropped me off here just as casually as he did when he'd snatched me. Of course his people skills sucked!

I'm not going to move from this spot, because I don't know where I am or what I'm doing here. Logic says this is not earth, but my fear and heart palpitations say maybe I shouldn't be standing still but running instead. But running where? I'm not sure.

You are here

Those three words, like the red arrow on the shopping mall directory that tells you where you are in the maze of department stores and food courts, keep resonating in my head. Well, I don't see a red arrow anywhere, but I feel like
I am here
.

But where is here? That's the million-dollar question I'm waiting for an answer to.

“You are not dead, if that is what you mean,” says a deep voice from out of nowhere.

I turn around slowly, but I'm not prepared for what I see. If I thought the reaper was freakin' weird, this thing is totally off the charts. It's just a huge black cloak that hovers above the ground. No hands, no feet, no face, just the cloak. Behind the cloak is a big plume of black smoke that makes my bladder weak. The cloak moves and floats kind of like it has a body, a physical form, but it has no features, like ears, eyes, a nose or a mouth, that would make me think it's a living, breathing thing.

What did I do to end up in this nightmare?

“Where am I?” I ask, since that seems like the most reasonable question.

“You are in Trance,” says the voice.

“I'm guessing that's not in Connecticut, huh.”

“It is the realm where you await your final fate,” he continues. “Some are sent to Hades—the land of the dead.”

“Whoa, did you say Hades?

“Hades is for the dead,” the disembodied voice says. “Trance is where you wait until your destiny is decided.”

I nod. “I get it,” I say, trying to mask my fear. “I'm, like, in between worlds.”
Of course I don't get it. What the hell? Why am I here?
I think to myself.

“So why am I here in Trance?”

“You have been chosen to help me in my quest to fulfill my destiny,” is the ominous reply from the cloaked specter.

Is this thing…serious? No, none of this is serious. It's gotta be a dream, and my alarm clock is going to ring and wake me up in a few seconds—hopefully.

“Let me get this straight, you chose me to come here,” I ask, using my arms to indicate the large expanse of nothing that surrounds me, “to help you find your destiny?”

Do I sound incredulous? Probably, since I cannot believe this is really happening to me.

The cloaked figure, bounded by smoke, moves and reaches out, I guess, to avoid enveloping me in its darkness?
Is this for real?

“I chose you because you can help and you are connected.”

“Connected to what? And just who are you?”

“I am Charon,” he says, just before extending his arm as if he's reaching for me. His gesture makes the cloak billow like a sheet, as the ground below shifts from the shiny blackness to an image—a mirage of some sort.

There's sunlight and asphalt, cars parked on a street and a school. It's Settleman's High. Kids are streaming from the doors like insects let loose on an ant farm. One tiny spec grabs my attention. It's Krystal Bentley.

She's wearing a white skirt that floats around her thighs like clouds. Her shirt's light blue and sheer so the white tank underneath is visible. Her hair is out and she has on sunglasses that cover her eyes. I automatically lick my lips, since she looks hot. I pause because and think I might actually be drooling.

Krystal's not alone, but then there's nothing new about that. She's always with the clique she hangs out with, Sasha and that new girl, whose name I forget—and Jake.

“You know these students?” Charon asks.

I nod my head. “Why?”

“That's why you were chosen. You are going to help me conquer them.”

“Conquer who? Krystal and her friends?”

“They're interfering with my destiny.”

“They're just kids, like me. And you are… What exactly are you?”

The emptiness around me grows very cold, like I'm suddenly in a deep freeze. Then it gets hot and sweat actually pours from my face. Something grabs me around the neck and squeezes. I'm gasping and gagging and this feels real, like at any minute I'm going to pass out on this spongy ground and get sucked into an abyss.

“I am very powerful. I will one day rule. You would be wise to help me. If not, you will die,” said Charon.

Just like that, my throat is released and I breathe in gulps of air that is polluted with all that black smoke swirling around the cloaked figure.

Okay, the choice is help him or die. That seems simple enough. Like the blue shirt or the red one, pick one and get dressed.

“What exactly do you want me to do?”

“You must first prove you are worthy. Show your loyalty to me by doing whatever I ask.”

I'm thinking Charon's demand is way too open-ended. I mean, what if he asks me to jump off a cliff or something insane like that? It wouldn't be any crazier than me being in a place called Trance and deciding if I want to live or die, though.

“If I prove myself, what happens to me? Do I get to go back to my life as if nothing's happened?”

“From this day forward, your life will never be the same.”

No kidding. If this was a dream, by now I would have awoken with a mix of dread and confusion coursing through my body.

“You help me, and you will be rewarded with powers beyond your dreams.”

Powers? Who wants powers? I'd much rather breathe the polluted air on earth and walk the streets with kids who have real bodies, not smoke screens. But anyway I hear myself asking, “And if I don't help you?”

Charon lifts his arms again and this time the black cloud comes closer, shadowing me as the image I see now is not one of sunshine and suburban bliss. It's dark and tinged with a red aura. Skeletal bodies move aimlessly around in this inferno as three-headed beasts bark ferociously.

“Death,” he says.

This is a different place. It's still evil, but I can see there's a different kind of suffering here. It's crowded with terrified, emaciated beings clinging to and practically peeling off the walls. Their mouths are open, though I can barely hear them. But I can easily imagine their wails and moans.

The jaws from the head of the three-headed beast open up to roar, but then quickly clamp shut. Another creature appears. This one is huge and tall and humanlike, but with grotesque features. The other two heads of the beast encircle him, intent on attacking the giant. The fight is brutal and I get the sense that the fight will be waged to the very end. This is Hades, and I so don't want to be in this place.

“On the sixth day,” Charon says, holding his arms in the air. A breeze begins to blow around me as I stand perfectly still. “Of the sixth month,” he continues. “At the sixth hour—you will be judged.”

Dream or reality, there's this deathly silence. I figure he's waiting for my answer, so I shrug, thinking I've got nothing to lose, really. “Done deal.”

Chapter Two

I suppose it makes sense to have another plan. If there was any better example of how circumstances can change in the blink of an eye, it was Charon. One day, he was going about his business, bartering souls for more power, hoping to gain enough influence to enter the earthly realm once again. In the next moment, he was banished and exiled from every realm except Trance, the Underworld and the Majestic. Now he was making sure that even if his circumstances changed, he had someone waiting in the wings to take his place. That someone was a teenager from the very town where his enemies flourished. His plan might have seemed foolish at first. But Charon was not a fool, and he did not make mistakes. Everything he did was by design. And this boy—Franklin Bryant—was part of that design.

Franklin did not know it yet, did not fully understand the impact he would have on this world. But that was why Charon was here—to guide him, to teach him what it means to rule. While he would never be stronger than Charon, Franklin had the potential to be more powerful than he was now. He just had to embrace that power.

Charon had a feeling it would not be long. He knew what Franklin's weakness was, knew how he would be tested in the coming days. What Charon did not know for sure was what Franklin's final decision would be. Nasiel, the reaper, would try to influence that, to make sure Franklin had the guidance he needed. Nasiel was a faithful servant, as was Lor. They would watch over the boy, keep him focused on Charon's mission and make him aware of the tragedy that would befall him should he make the wrong decision.

 

It feels like toothpicks are sticking in my eyes when I open them again. But that's a welcome feeling, since I'm lying in my bed, waking up from a fitful night's sleep. Sitting up, I look around, making sure everything is exactly as I remember it.

The bookcase along the wall is full of books. My closet door still has the
Sports Illustrated
swimsuit issue calendar hanging on it. My desk, computer, window with the blinds half-closed, boxes of sneakers that are neatly stacked in my closet are still there, as is my bed and me.

Everything's just as it should be.

But it's really quiet.

Turning so I can see the LED-lighted time on my alarm clock, the numbers seem to be just a little brighter than they were before. It's eight fifteen. I am late for school!

Jumping out of bed, I switch on the lamp on my nightstand and head for my closet. I spare a quick glance at the long lean legs, rounded bottom and big boobs plastered on the calendar of the closet door before opening it to grab some clean jeans. With the denims and a shirt over my arm, I go to my dresser, grab my underwear and toss everything on the bed. A quick scan of my shoe boxes and I find the Jordans that match my sky-blue Polo shirt, pull them out and place them on the floor beside the bed.

Then I quickly head to the shower, knowing I'm already going to miss homeroom. I'd at least like to make an appearance in my first-period class. If I don't, Mr. Hamilton will freak and call my dad. And then my father—Walter Bryant—will
definitely
freak.

Dad's like that—a total wuss about everything, especially school. Since the divorce five years ago, when my mom decided that raising a kid was too much of a hassle for her and my dad got sole custody, we've been more like roommates living in a bachelor pad—and our house isn't a bachelor pad by a longshot.

Dad rarely dates. And when he does, it's always some stuck-up, thin-looking chick with cotton balls for brains. He doesn't even pretend that he cares about them. It's all about his job as a weatherman and this research he's been obsessed with since my grandfather died. Still, he finds time to police my schoolwork, so I've gotta hustle to make it to school.

After a quick shower and drive-by teeth-brushing, I'm headed back to my room to put on my clothes. A quick check in the mirror to make sure my skin's still clear. I had a bad outbreak of zits last year, so I'm vigilant about using the acne medication the dermatologist gave me. My hair's okay. But I might need a cut in a couple of days, since I don't want it to get too long because it curls up and I look like a girl. Outfit's cool, so I'm ready to roll.

It's not until I'm fully dressed and downstairs gulping down a Gatorade and heading to the front door that something strikes me as strange.

Dad's office door is open.

His office is on the first floor, right between the living room and the cubby-hole dining room. But the door is never open, never unlocked. Dad's very particular about that, like he's making a nuclear bomb or something.

I guess I should check it out to make sure everything's okay, so I take a detour and walk into the office. Again, it is eerily quiet. I mean, I don't hear anything, not even the birds chirping outside like they normally do first thing in the morning. And Dad's desk is clean.

There's a sick feeling inside, like this is what I should have expected, but I don't really know why. I don't think Dad is here, or that he's even been here, at least not today. I should feel sick if that's true. Instead, I just continue to look around.

The few times I've been in here, he's had papers all over the place. Today there's nothing. I get a little closer and open the top drawer. Empty. Pencils and pens are still in the holder on the corner of the desk and the date on the word-a-day desk calendar says May 29th. School's almost out!

Speaking of which, I'll just lock the door, and when I get home tonight I'll tell Dad he left it open.

I'm getting my driver's license next month when I turn sixteen. Walking to school's a bummer, but that just means I need to make sure I get up on time tomorrow.

By the time I finally arrive at good ole Settlemen's High, everything seems the same. Just like the day before. That's how it is in Lincoln, nothing different ever happens. Well, last year's incident with the pervert teacher and the sexting scandal could be considered out of the norm. And then there's that dead body that popped up in the lake. So maybe Lincoln was finally waking up from its sleepy suburban boredom.

The minute I step through the doors of the school building, I realize that sentiment might just be true.

Students are still in the hall, so I guess I'm not the only one late. But as I start walking and find myself standing beside someone I know, I say, “Overslept, huh?”

The guy's name is Leroy. He plays on the basketball team, but he doesn't respond. He doesn't even look at me. Okay, so he's rude. Maybe he got up on the wrong side of the bed. Plus, a lot of kids don't speak to me. They claim I'm stuck up, since Dad's on TV and all that. But really, there're no superstars in Lincoln. There're rich people and there're not so rich people, that's it. And I don't think I'm better than anybody, I just am who I am and I don't make any apologies for it.

So as I keep moving through the hall, homeroom is officially over so I'm heading right to Mr. Hamilton's physics class. I wave at a few of the girls I know. Again, no response. Now I'm beginning to think something's going on. I look down just to make sure I buttoned and zipped everything I needed to, and even lift my arms to make sure my guaranteed 24-hour deodorant hasn't taken off a few hours early. Nothing.

But nobody's saying anything to me or even looking at me. As I reach out my hand to open the door to Mr. Hamilton's classroom, it hits me.

The dream.

What if it wasn't a dream?

Replaying the events in my mind, I'm searching for an answer, but all I come up with is that the reaper didn't say I was dead. He specifically said I wasn't. So if I'm not dead, the kids in the hallway should be able to see and hear me. Right?

I open the door and walk into the class. My thoughts are churning and I'm eager to find the answer. So I walk to the center of the classroom. Mr. Hamilton's behind me writing an equation on the chalkboard while the class is filled with students doing things like pulling out notebooks, texting on cell phones, passing notes, and oh yeah, yawning.

Nobody says a word. They don't even look up at me.

Well, I'm not exactly BMOC at school, but I know this isn't normal. I open my mouth and yell as loud as I can.

When I stop, my heart is hammering in my chest so loud I can taste the fear in the back of my throat.

Nobody moved. They didn't look up at me, and Hamilton is still scribbling on the board.

They can't see me or hear me.

This is so not good.

 

“You are not dead, but you are no longer one of them,” he says.

“What? That's insane,” I say out loud, after I pull myself together and get out of the classroom. Once I'm outside, I can breathe and try to calm my racing pulse.

As if I'd beckoned him, the black cloud appears, swirling around the asphalt like some sort of dust storm. I didn't know he could talk. I call him
he
because his voice is deeper than Dad's. The black swirl is just dancing along the ground at first. But as I turn toward the back of the building, it begins to rise like a body standing upright.

Now it's directly beside me, and I guess because I've seen it before I'm not afraid. Beside him stands the reaper who left me in Trance, his skeletal face barely visible underneath the dark hood. The reaper was different from the other creature I'd talked to last night, the one who called himself Charon. Both wore dark cloaks, but at least the reaper had some semblance of a body. Charon was pure evil.

“What did you guys do to me?”

“You have been chosen,” the reaper says.

“By who? You? No offense, but don't reapers just kill? Both of you keep saying I'm not dead.”

“You are not dead.”

“Then what am I? Nobody can see me or hear me?” My voice is growing louder, which is probably a mistake, since I definitely do not want anybody seeing me talking to a big plume of black smoke and a reaper. Come to think of it,
why am I talking to a big plume of black smoke and the reaper of death?

Because something tells me this is real. It's not a dream or a hallucination. This black cloud, this dark foggy haze is real and so is the reaper—even if I'm not dead. They're both as real as the fact that nobody in Settlemen's High can see me. And if they're the only ones who can provide an explanation, then I intend to talk to them all day and all night until they do.

“I am Nasiel. And yes, I could have killed you but that was not my duty this time. I was sent to collect you, to tell you what your mission is.”

“And who is that?” I ask, nodding toward the black cloud of smoke.

“He is Lor, the chameleon. We work for Charon.”

“Why didn't Charon just come for me himself? I'm just saying, since he's all powerful and everything.”

“Charon cannot walk this realm, yet. Certain demonic activity is prohibited here.”

“Demonic activity, huh?” I say skeptically. “But you can come here? Aren't you both demons?”

“I am a reaper. We enter this realm to usher spirits to their death. Lor cannot show his true form in this realm.”

“So he chooses to appear this way? That's just great. And reapers come here to escort the dead.”

“The dead don't see reapers coming, nobody does. We do not speak. We just act and we use humans to help us take whoever we need.”

“Like being possessed,” I say, rhetorically. I'm shaking my head, still trying to comprehend, and then it dawns on me. In a flash I remember the scene clearly and gasp. “I fell in the water.”

“One of the portals to the Underworld,” says the reaper. “I was there at the portal and then you appeared. That is how we knew you were the one.”

Suddenly Franklin realized that the reaper had been sent to take the kid who drowned in the lake just before he'd fallen in.

“And then I was in the woods with…” Franklin said, his voice trailing off. It was clear now. That day when he'd grabbed Krystal after school and took her into the woods. What for? The others came and there was some kind of confrontation.

“What happened to me?” Franklin demanded. “What did you do to me when I fell in the water?”

“Falling into the portal revealed your possibilities. When I was summoned by Charon, I told him about you.”

I blink and blink again, then reach up and touch my eyes to make sure they are where they should be. I know that's stupid considering I can see, but I want to make sure. “My eyes? What happened to my eyes?”

“Possession requires a soul,” says the reaper. “Eyes are the windows to the soul.”

“You took my eyes?” But they're still there, I feel them.”

“I possess your soul.”

“Then I don't really have a choice but to do what you want me to, right?”

“Until you have been reincarnated, you can still exercise your free will.”

“Then why not just reincarnate me? Why give me freedom of mind?”

“Loyalty is a trait Charon values. He will have your allegiance, your fealty, or nothing at all.”

My heart pounded like a hollow drum. But I guess if my soul is gone, there's really nothing inside of me. I need to sit down. Instead I brace myself against the side of the school building, and rub my hands over my face.

My head starts to hurt. “This feels real. I feel just the same as before. But you're telling me I'm different now. I don't feel any different.”

“You cannot go back. Charon is always watching. I will be watching you, as well.”

“But I'm here. I'm on earth.” I look around just to make sure.

“You are here to do his bidding.”

“Right, Krystal and her friends… How do I do that if they can't see me?” It seems like a totally logical question in the midst of this bizarre and frightening situation.

“Trust. Believe in what you will become. You will know what to do and when.”

I'm shaking my head. “This is not happening to me. Why me?”

BOOK: Mutiny
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