"What do you mean he's gone? He can't very well disappear right off the face of the Earth!" Cynthia Ferris yelled into the receiver. She wasn't actually mad at the person on the other end, only at what he was saying. However, with Cynthia's temper, she did not always live by the policy of not shooting the messenger.
"Don't worry, Cynth, we're going to find him. It's going to be okay," the voice on the other end assured her.
Cynthia let out a sigh, then spoke again. "Have you found his apprentice?" she said in a quieter, more calm voice. There was a pause on the line. The person to which she was talking was not accustomed to bouts of silence during a conversation. Immediately, her stress level rose. "Have you found the boy?" she said with a mixture of worry and fright.
"Yes," the speaker sighed deeply, "He's dead."
"Oh my God," Cynthia said, even though she had disavowed a belief in any god ten years ago. "I'll be on the first flight out."
"I think that's for the best, as well. I've already summoned the other."
Cynthia hung up the phone, as there was no real need for an exchange of good-byes. Her mind was still in something of a state of shock, and for no small reason. The fact that Stefan had somehow escaped the Earth was disturbing enough, but adding the death -- most likely murder -- of his protege made all signs point to foul play. This was a very dangerous situation indeed.
However, Cynthia did not lose her head. She knew exactly what needed to be done, and how to go about doing it. At the moment she was sitting at her desk in her study. Getting up, she swiftly moved through the townhouse until she got to the door to the second bedroom in the house. Currently, it was being occupied by her apprentice, Randy. She knocked twice, and in a few seconds he appeared at the door.
To say Randy looked disheveled would be an understatement. He had clearly just woken up: his bleached hair was strewn about, and he was only wearing a pair of gym shorts. Cynthia couldn't be sure, but she thought she smelled a hint of cigarette smoke. Even though she was not a blood relative of Randy in any way, shape, or form, she still thought of him as her child, and would no doubt talk to him about smoking later. But now there were more pressing matters.
"Randy, I need you to book us on the next flight to--"
"--Dublin. I know the drill," Randy said with a grin. He reached back into his room to grab the portable phone, but continued talking, "So, what's the reason for this excursion? And how much school will I be missing?" He was smiling, not at all unused to these spur-of-the-minute trips half-way across the world. Looking up, he noticed that Cynthia was not smiling. Instead, she was staring off into space, apparently lost in thought.
"Cynthia, are you okay?"
Snapping out of her brief coma, she replied, "I'm fine." With no further explanation, she left the doorway, and Randy could hear her footsteps going down the hall and eventually up the stairs. It was a relatively small house, but he liked it more than any of the orphanages or foster homes that he had been forced to stay in for most of his childhood. However, Cynthia's behavior worried him. She did not usually act aloof like this. Something must be very wrong.
"I wish more than anything that I could be happy to be here, Taidh," Cynthia said as she walked across the gate to where he was standing.
"I understand," he replied grimly. Well, Taidh was by nature a happy man, so he said as grimly as he could, which was not all that grim. "Hello Randy, so good to see you again," he said sincerely to the sixteen- year-old. Randy was dressed in baggy, ragged jeans with a t-shirt and flannel shirt. His short blonde-tipped hair was spiked, his left ear bore a ring, and he wore a yin-yang necklace. Many adults like Taidh would be annoyed and insulted by his appearance, but he was not. He saw little reason to be so preoccupied with such trite things.
"Well, let's go down to baggage claim and get your luggage. They're expecting us at the estate."
After parking and walking the long path up to the front door, the trio made their way inside. Leaving their bags in the foyer, they went through a short hallway and into the main living room. Cynthia recognized Jonathan Green, a thin and lanky man of only thirty years of age; Jessica Stone, a beautiful teenager with very alluring emerald eyes and long brown hair; and Robbie Langston, an well-built black teen. Robbie was Taidh's apprentice, and Jessica was Jonathan's.
"Hello Cynthia, so good to see you again," Jonathan said as he got out of his chair and rushed up to greet her. Whenever they met, and for important reasons these times were few and far between, Jonathan was constantly flirting with Cynthia. She was about the same age as him, as opposed to Taidh who was in his forties, and she was aware that she was an attractive women. Far from oblivious, Cynthia had chosen not to return his advances because she knew it could never lead to anything.
"Hi Jonathan, how have you been?"
"Fine," he said nervously. For a second Cynthia was worried his voice would crack. "I only wish we could see each other in good times."
Cynthia hated the circumstances surrounding their relationship as well. As a young girl, she was trained in the ways of the Gestalt from when she was thirteen. Adopted when she was only five, she had lived with her mentor, a man named Oliver Preston, and his wife and grown up as a normal child. Sure, Oliver went on business trips every now and then, but all fathers did. Then, on the day after her thirteenth birthday, Oliver had told her that he needed to introduce her to some very important people. She, he, and his wife, Tanya, had flown to Ireland. It was there that she first met Taidh and Jonathan.
Oliver had explained to her that he, Taidh, and two others made up what was called the Gestalt. Defining the Gestalt is not easy. It started centuries ago in Ireland, a group of four priests had somehow come into possession of the talismans. Each talisman represented one of the four elements that made up the world -- earth, wind, water, and fire. With it, the priests could control the given elements in a variety of ways. And when certain gems were put together, they could form different abilities. The scrolls, actually a set of books that outlined all that was known about the Gestalt, could not even give the origin of the gems. The original Gestalt was composed of religious men, though not of any religion that still existed today, and so they believed them gifts from their gods.
Oliver explained all of this in a very calm, clear fashion, and naturally it made no sense to Cynthia. At this point, he demonstrated his power over water by making the water in a birdbath ripple and splash itself. Cynthia was astounded, even by this small display of the power of the talisman.
When the four gems were put together, it gave the wielder absolute power over nature. Needless to say, this is very dangerous. It is for this reason that each member of the Gestalt lives in a totally different part of the world and must never communicate unless there is a problem. Also, each member must train an apprentice in the responsibilities of the Gestalt. These trainees were given lesser talismans, which granted a smaller power. This was because the protege also served as the sidekick if the Gestaltist was ever in battle. Cynthia was to be Oliver's protege. He made it clear that it was entirely her choice.
Cynthia still remember the day he told her this like it were yesterday. After finishing his spiel, she had wandered out into the courtyard to think it over. As only barely a teenager, it was a big decision and hard to make sense of. Jonathan had found her in the courtyard, and explained how he had become an apprentice only a year before. He said it was exciting and fun, and happily demonstrated his special power, in this case illusion casting, with earnest. After talking to Jonathan about it for an hour or so, Cynthia decided she would go for it. She had never regretted the decision.
After that, Cynthia had continued her normal life, by going to school and playing with friends, but also begun training in the responsibilities of a Gestaltist. They were there to protect people. This did not mean that they actively fought crime, but instead only intervened in very grave situations. Natural disaster and bombings often found the Gestalt helping relief for the survivors and the families of the victims. When a truly cosmic threat reared its head, the Gestalt would join forces. To date, this had only happened once, and that was when the Gestalt was first formed.
Sitting in the living room, Cynthia was not sure that this was not the second time.
"Welcome Cynthia, you and Randy's arrival indicates that we are now ready to begin."
Cynthia looked up to see Eric Strauss, the Geomancer. He was not part of the official Gestalt, but was nonetheless important. It was he who resided in the large estate and alerted the Gestalt members when there was an emergency. A man of fifty-odd years, Eric was dressed in a black polo shirt and khaki pants. His white hair and goatee gave him a dignified aura.
All present turned to him, and he wasted no time with pleasantries. "As you know, the situation is grave. Stefan Ganowski has literally disappeared off the face of the Earth. I have performed every scan that I know of, but each search is negative. This is disturbing, but even more so is the discovery of the body of Arthur Velazquez." All of the trainees' faces showed remorse, as Art had been a good friend of them. Eric paused in respect for the dead. "Arthur's talisman is missing. I think that--"
Eric abruptly stopped, as he =91saw' an energy pattern forming in the middle of the room. As the Geomancer, he had heightened perception and could see such things that the others could not. This one was a bluish energy, and looked almost like a rip in a reality itself. As the energy increased, it started producing heat and light, which the others could see. All sat awestruck.
They were even more surprised to see the appearance of Stefan Ganowski. Wearing a black cape that was bright red inside, and dressed in burgundy medieval garb, he very much reminded them of the element he possessed, fire. He seemed to just jump through the energy field, as if it were a hole. In many ways, it was.
"Oh, look, a party," he said with a sly grin.
"Hello, Stefan," Eric said cooly, "I'm surprised to see you here."
"Well, I'm surprised to see myself not here." He stopped for a minute, and seemed to consider something. "I suppose this world's me discovered the secret also. This could pose a problem. . . ."
"Stefan, what is the meaning of this? How did you elude the searches, and why did you kill Art?" Taidh said, leaping to his feet. With a flick of his wrist, stone columns rose from the ground beneath the floor, destroying the hardwood and encasing Stefan in a makeshift cage.
Stefan snapped out of his thought and noticed the bars. "Oh please, are you now going to ask me to give you one reason not to kill me?" He smirked, and with a wink the rock subsided back to where it came from. Taidh was baffled.
"How did you--?"
Stefan put a hand up, "Since it won't hurt anything, I'll give you all the rundown. As you know, Art possessed the power of teleportation. Using some means that you wouldn't even begin to understand, I learned to expand that power. I had to kill him to get the gem of course." He said this last line with a frivolousness that enraged the apprentices. "First, I learned to travel through time. Then, I realized that I wasn't changing the future because I was actually going to a different dimension. It was only a short step to learn to travel to the present of these alternate timelines."
Cynthia was amazed at what she heard. Even after all she'd seen in the Gestalt, she could never have imagined alternate dimensions. She was also appalled at Stefan's casual approach to murder. He had always been aggressive, and she knew that Eric kept a close watch on him, but she had never expected this. "Then why are you here?" she mustered.
"Isn't it obvious? I'm going to kill you." He was so assured, as if there was no way any of them could do anything to stop him. "Well, enough of this. I have appointments elsewhere."
Surprisingly, Randy was the first one to attack. His power was super-speed, and so he charged toward Stefan with his fists raised. Yawning, Stefan waved a hand, and suddenly a hurricane-force wind came crashing through the room, focused entirely on Randy. It sent him back into the wall, and Cynthia heard a painful crack. Silence.
"Oh, I think I broke him," Stefan said with a laugh. And then, his eyes began to glow a deep red. It happened in a matter of seconds, but they seemed to drag out for all in the room. None could react in time. As his eyes changed from brown to burgundy to bright red, a ring of fire began to surround his body. Stefan let out a childish giggle, and then with no effort at all, let it all out.
Editor's Notes |