Monday, January 15, 2018

Forgotten Realms Series Book 1 "Duality" excerpt

The gentle words and melody floated through the room like a calming wind. The peaceful tunes did little to stir Stephanie from her slumber. It wasn’t until the thirty minute block of nonstop country finished that she finally awakened from her peaceful sleep. As the weather report promised a high of seventy degrees she reached over and slapped the snooze button. The large red digital numbers flashed 9:05 am as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

“Shit.” She cursed as the time finally registered to her still groggy mind.

“Looks like I won’t be making it to class today.” She muttered as she threw the large comforter away from her body and made way to the shower.

It was nearing the end of the semester at the college. With finals due in two weeks, most of Stephanie's time was spent studying in class with her lab partner, or in the library working on her thesis paper. The last four years had seemed to drag on endlessly for her. But at long last, just around the corner, laid her grand achievement for the time spent; a Bachelors of Science degree with a major in religious studies.

With the shower now running cold, Stephanie stepped forth into the fog filled room and towel dried her long sandy blonde hair. With the edge of the towel, she wiped the fog off the mirror, and then surveyed the dark circles forming under her eyes before making her way out of the bathroom. She stepped into an old pair of jeans, threw on a sweater over her wet hair, and pulled on her sneakers. She thought against making coffee, bypassing the coffee pot completely.

“Better to not waste a day of work.” She said as she picked up her book bag and made her way out the door.

Stephanie pulled the car into a parking lot across from the campus. She coasted the car to a stop in a space and cut off the engine. It was a little walk to the college library, but she didn’t feel like wasting time circling the campus lot looking for a closer place, knowing that she wouldn’t find one. She stuffed her keys in her pocket, slung the back pack over her shoulder, and trudged across the grass toward the library on campus.

The library wasn’t as crowded as Stephanie had anticipated it would be. It was easy for her to find an empty table near the religious reference section. She threw her back pack on the solid oak table top. It landed with a loud echoing thud that seemed to travel the length of the building. Paying no mind to the noisy interruption, she made her way through the endless rows of books trying to recall where she had left off on her previous visit.

After ten minutes of searching and muttering curses under her breath, Stephanie emerged from the rows of books and returned to the table with the reference volumes she had been searching for. They hit the table next to her back pack in a cloud of dust and more echoes. Somewhere from across the room floated the hiss of the annoyed librarian.


Stephanie rolled her eyes and pulled out her notebook. She wrote down the volume number, edition, and author information, then where she found the book in the library, just in case she needed to re-read it later. She then turned her attention to scanning the old worn out pages for anything that held weight in her current work.

Stephanie had spent the last four years chasing the theory that heaven and hell existed beyond the veil of what was commonly referred to as reality. If they existed, perhaps other places existed as well, and every religion that had their own views could possibly be just as right as another. The thought sent chills down her spine to think that once and for all she could prove that no one was wrong and perhaps then everyone would find a way to be at peace.

The hours passed by as Stephanie continued her research. The occasional footstep passing in the main aisle took momentary attention from her studies as she looked up to see who passed by. For the most part, the library remained quiet. She made notes, cross referenced pages, and calculated various theories in her mind as she failed to notice the passing time.

It wasn’t a spectacular day by any means. Stephanie rubbed her tired eyes at least satisfied by the productivity of the day. For a moment her mind wandered. Then, there it was.

The sharp pain in Stephanie’s temples nearly knocked her from her chair in agony. The flash of a scene caught her off guard, making her unaware that she had cried out in surprise. The image appeared again taking mere seconds to leave her vision. The pain was so intense she could have vomited, and then wept, as it continued to throb to the rhythm of the pulsing memory in her mind.

Stephanie struggled through the pain. Another flash came and finally her mind registered the picture of a dimly lit circular room. Torches flickered as the picture faded again. When it reappeared she stood in the center of the room, forcing herself to look around. The numbing pain intensified again threatening to send her into darkness. She struggled, clawed at nothing, fighting for air, fighting the air itself, until all at once it was over.

“Are you alright?” A calm male voice asked concerned.

Stephanie looked around stunned. Her books were still on the table unmoved. She looked up and noticed that a man sat diagonally from her at the table. How long he had been there, she had no idea of knowing. He too had books cast out before him and a note pad. So she gathered he was a student of some degree. None the less, he had indeed been there long enough to witness her brief episode.

“I think I’ve been working too hard, beginning to get a migraine.” She chuckled in embarrassment.

“I have a cure for that.” The man smiled reaching into his bag.

It took but a few seconds before the man slid a bottle across the table to Stephanie.

“You carry aspirin?” She asked curiously.

“It comes in handy. Never know when or where I’ll wake up with a hangover.” He grinned sheepishly.

“Sure came in handy today.” She popped a few and slid the bottle back. “Thank you.”

“Quite welcome.” He dropped the bottle in his bag then ran his fingers through his short brown hair.

“I’m Dominic.” He offered.

“Stephanie,” She replied as they shook hands across the table.

“I’m new here. I just transferred my major to this college, trying to play catch up now.”

Dear god, he’s charming… she thought as she looked him over. From his broad smile, to his dancing blue eyes, she could definitely find herself easily enchanted by him.

“You transferred at the end of the semester?” She replied slightly shocked.

“I go four semesters a year. I’m trying to cram a four year degree into two years.”

Smart too… she admired, silently impressed.

“What are you working on that has you so stressed?” He asked changing the subject.

“It’s my thesis on proving the existence of other plains of being, for my religious major.”

“Really, that’s absolutely fascinating!” He exclaimed. “I’ve heard tales, and I have my beliefs, but to meet someone that actually wants to prove it is awesome.” He chattered excitedly.

“Well, thanks.” She replied checking her watch.

“Maybe you could tell me about it some time.” He continued not noticing her actions.

“Shit,” She muttered. “I’m sorry Dominic. I’m going to be late to class if I don’t rush off now.” She packed up her things in a hurry.

“Another time then, perhaps?” He smiled.

“Definitely, see you around.”

Stephanie threw her bag over her shoulder and rushed away. She failed to see that behind her, Dominic watched her every move until she was out of his line of sight. With a proud smile, he too repacked his back pack, and then headed out into the mid day sun.

“Seventy degrees my ass.” Dominic shivered as he entered into the bright spring afternoon.

He cursed himself for believing the weather report. It was closer to fifty degrees as he silently scolded himself for not bringing a sweater.

Dominic watched as students passed by. He huddled in the door of the library a moment longer before deciding he’d be warmer if he just started walking. The library was the center of campus so it took him some time to reach the edge of it. It wasn’t far from there that he would find his studio apartment above the local Laundromat. He fired up his motorcycle when he reached the parking lot and sped hastily up the few blocks to his home.

Students came and went from the Laundromat often so Dominic knew it would be a good place to start his search. It was all too easy for him to convince the school board to allow him access to the campus. He might not be a college student but his research was just as important. A small lie about it would prove to be harmless in the end.

After searching through six out of the seven realms, Dominic could only come to two possible conclusions. The one he was searching for had either kept on the move and he missed her that way, or she had fled into the non-magical realm of earth.  The second seemed far more plausible due to the difficulty of tracking magical beings in a place that had no measure for such things.

So here Dominic was, staring out the window to the busy street below. It had taken twenty years of his near thirty on earth just to search while training him not to relinquish his true nature to the restraints of a human mind. It was a slow and painful process but the success was worth it, and now he was certain. He had found the missing Princess after all.

I just hope there’s still time to get through to her… he thought as the afternoon faded away.

Stephanie barely slid into her seat as the professor began the day’s lecture. He shot his late student a dirty look as she waved off a quick apology. He continued the lecture as she sank down lower in her chair silently. The hour droned on endlessly as she and her classmates were reminded of the upcoming final exams.

At the end of the hour long lecture Stephanie made quick work of exiting the building before she found herself stuck in another lengthy lecture about tardiness. In her rushed exit she failed to notice the confused looking man that had stopped directly in her path. It was too late to stop as she collided with him sending both their books scattering to the grass.

“I am so sorry.” She apologized as they both hit the ground to gather their things.

“It was my fault. I have no idea where I’m going.” He replied as his eyes met hers briefly.

Damn… she thought as her breath caught in her throat.

“I’m new.” He continued as they stood back up.

“You’re the second new student I’ve met today.” She smiled as she rocked back on her heels and extended her hand. “I’m Stephanie.”

“Well, that’s ironic. I’m Steffan.” He replied with a smile of his own.

“Not every day I run into someone with such a similar name.” She replied.

“It’s not common these days.” He replied as the wind blew his long black hair into tangles.

“Could you point me in the direction of the office?” He asked shyly.

“Straight up this path. It’s the second building past the library.” She said. “You can’t miss it.”

“Thanks.” He said. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”

“Yeah, maybe.” She replied with a smile even though he couldn’t hear her. He was already gone.

The clock in the car reminded Stephanie about the reason why she was so hungry. It was already after four and she had skipped her morning coffee along with her morning class. She had the radio blaring country music as she pulled into the drive thru of the fast food restaurant. It was on the way home and made it far more convenient than fighting with the cramped and cluttered apartment kitchen. She turned the radio down as she placed her order and thought quietly to herself.

Why the hell not? What are a few extra pounds amongst friends? She thought as the lady passed her the bag and soda.

Stephanie was by no means over weight. In fact, her mother had always complained she was far too skinny. A once a week trip to the gym kept her toned and fit through her fast food diet. She pulled out of the parking lot, turned right at the Laundromat and drove the three blocks to her one bedroom apartment.

As Stephanie unlocked the front door she was reminded that she should go to do laundry in the next few days. Her apartment had become cluttered with dirty laundry and she had been running on the minimum all week already. She sat down on the stool, cleared off a spot on the counter and munched her spicy chicken sandwich in silence. She then took the drink and fries to the couch and picked at it while channel surfing the basic cable channels she managed to pay for.

Stephanie was by no means broke either. Her eccentric Great Aunt on her father’s side of the family had amassed quite the fortune when she was younger. She had passed it onto her in her will. The first female child born in two generations, she was first in line for it. When she had turned eighteen her parents signed off on the account and watched her go into the world alone.

A large chunk of it went toward Stephanie’s education at the college. While doing so, she was very cheap about what she spent the additional money on. Most of all, she wanted to make sure that she had enough to relocate and buy a house when she got a stable job. So, basic cable and her old beat up Ford Taurus were really good enough for her. It had successfully gotten her out of being called ‘the trust fund kid’.

After flipping through the channels half a dozen times, Stephanie realized that there wasn’t really anything good on cable TV at 5:30 in the afternoon. Defeated, she gathered up her clothes in hopes that after an hour at the Laundromat something better might be on the TV. She threw the duffel bag in the back seat of the car and drove three blocks back up to the main road and pulled off into the Laundromat parking lot.

If Dominic would have blinked he would have missed it. He’d been staring out the window for a few hours now when he noticed her. Parked at the window of the fast food restaurant across the street, in an old Ford was Stephanie, and he continued to watch as she pulled out, passed him by, and proceeded up the road. He raced to the back window and caught a glimpse of her tail lights as they disappeared a few blocks away.

Damned if I’m not closer than I thought!  He exclaimed to himself as he parked on the bed in silent contemplation.

It wasn’t forty minutes later that Stephanie's Ford reappeared and headed straight for the Laundromat. Here’s my chance! He grinned as he scooped up his clothes, hastily anxious. Dirty or clean didn’t matter to him. It was just an excuse to see her anyways. He hit the stairs running, taking two at a time. He barely beat her in the door by a breath as he chucked his laundry in the first washer that he passed. He was putting quarters in the machine pretending to be occupied when she addressed him.

“Two times in one day is quite the coincidence eh Dominic? You’re not stalking me are you?”

He tensed up. Damn her… he turned and smiled.

“Hey Stephanie, how’s your head?” He smiled charmingly as he pushed the start button.

“I’m doing much better thanks.” She loaded the mega washer with her clothes.

“The question is: are you stalking me?” He winked at her.

“If I was, you’d be the last to know.” She replied shocked by her own bold words.

“Indeed.” He grinned. “To answer your question, I am not stalking you. I live upstairs, and its laundry day.” He laughed.

“Oh, that’s good. When did you move in?” she asked casually.

“Last week. I like it so far.” He replied.

“Cool. I live right up the street from here. So stalker or not, I’m sure we’ll see each other often.” She smiled.

“I’d like that.” He replied.

“I think I would too.”  She winked as the washer buzzed.

Damn it, that was quick… he threw his clothes in the dryer.

Dominic turned back to see Stephanie engulfed in a book. The little wires of her in-ear headphones attached to the I-pod in her pocket as she rocked out to some band he had never heard before. He gave up the conversation angle discontent as he disappeared back up the stairs to his apartment. When he reappeared to collect the laundry she was already gone. So with a sigh he retreated to bed. There had to be an easier way than this. All he had to do was find it. So he closed his eyes and vanished into the shadows alone.

Seeing Dominic again had been a pleasant surprise to Stephanie. She thought about the brief encounter as she put away her laundry. She had hoped he would speak more to her and was disappointed when he disappeared upstairs leaving her alone with ‘The Lost Tractors’ playing on her I-pod. So she just gathered up her things and headed for home.

In bed watching the latest sci-fi movie on a random channel, Stephanie nodded in and out of a restless sleep. She remembered looking at the clock and being startled at the time. It was nearly midnight, not that it mattered. Wednesday was her study day so she knew she didn’t have to be up early. It wasn’t long after that the darkness embraced her, taking her back to a faraway place.

Torch after torch flared up in the darkness illuminating the room in an eerie glow. Stephanie stood there silently as she fingered the cold steel sword in her right hand. The leather pants and corset fit snugly and warmly against her skin. The same breeze that played against the flames of the torches also blew her long trench coat against her laced up leather boots. She was not herself here and yet she knew she was more herself now than she had been in a long time. She held her breath in anticipation of what was to come.

“Sephira,” The voice taunted in a sing song tone. She didn’t reply.

“Come now, Sephira. I know you’re there.” He replied with a chuckle as the sound of a blade scraping against stone came from behind her.

She brought her sword up and effortlessly blocked the oncoming blow. The man swung again, their swords meeting in a shower of sparks. She side stepped as he appeared in front of her ready to strike at her once again.

“Be gone from me Sephiroth!” She shouted as she deflected another attack.

He didn’t respond with words. Instead he planted his elbow into her gut and proceeded to growl as she deflected his continued attempts with the sword. The deafening clang of sword against sword echoed through the room as they continued the standoff. His wild eyes danced with an evil glow from the torch light as he spun the sword around in his hand and struck again and again. She struggled to keep up as he brutally swung, jabbed, and danced around her.

Sephiroth’s sword came down with such force, it took the blade clean off at the hilt leaving Sephira defenseless against him. Her arm ached from the abuse of the constant defensive stand, and as the searing pain registered in her mind, she realized that his blade had connected with her arm. Without flinching, she reached out and wrenched the sword from his hands. Just as quickly as she had held it, it was lost to her. A well placed kick sent the blade flailing from her hands, and as he tackled her, it sent them both tumbling to the cold stone floor.

For a moment Sephira thought she had Sephiroth pinned to the floor. His arms were firmly held against the stone floor by his wrists. As he wrapped his legs around her waist he struggled against her bleeding arm. He pulled it close to his mouth, and while the blood flowed past his lips, he grinned.

“That’s it. Bleed for me again my darling.” He said throwing her back onto the floor and holding her down.

“You missed me.” He grinned wider.

“Trust me.” She replied as she threw all her weight into him.

They rolled around the stone floor together both struggling to gain the upper hand. But this time she had him pinned for good. Sephira used her knee to press down his chest harshly cutting off his air supply. With her good hand she reached to the small of her back and felt for the cold wooden handle. In the blink of an eye he realized his moment was over. The solid click of the hammer and the cold steel barrel pressed between his eyes confirmed it. He threw up his hands in defeat.

“I won’t miss this time.” She growled.

“Point taken.”

“Don’t come back for me again.” She pushed away from him violently and disappeared into the darkness.

Stephanie woke up trembling. Her sheets were a wreck from the sweaty battle the dream had given her. They were torn free of the mattress, half resting on the floor beside the bed. The nightstand was in shambles with the lamp tipped over, and her forearm ached as if it had been what destroyed the serenity of objects around her.

It was just a dream. She tried to tell herself.

But as Stephanie looked at the two inch gash on her left arm she began to second guess herself. As she patched herself up in the bathroom she tried to reassure herself that the cut had come from thrashing during sleep, not from the dream. Although it had felt so real she chalked it up to the night terrors from watching one too many Sci-fi movies at bedtime. She secured the bandage with tape and then swallowed a few aspirins.

Once patched up, Stephanie returned to bed only to decide that she would have to make another trip to do laundry. The blood and sweat had wrecked the sheets to the point where she wouldn’t be getting any more rest that night. So, she put on a pot of coffee and settled in to watch her first sunrise of the season, trying hard to make the dream fade away as the shadows turned to daylight.

Stephanie filled her travel mug. After that, she stuffed the dirty sheets and pillow cases into her duffel bag. She cleaned up the scattered remains of her lamp, and alarm clock, and dusted off the nightstand. Thankfully, no permanent damage had been done to any of the furniture. She didn’t feel like explaining this one to the land lord anyways. She threw her back pack over her shoulder, deciding to spend a few hours at the library after washing the sheets. With coffee and keys in hand, she tossed the bags into the car and headed for Main Street.

Stephanie glanced up at the dark windows of the upstairs apartment as she pulled into the Laundromat parking lot. It didn’t surprise her that everything was so quiet. It was still far too early for the college area to be buzzing with busy students. Seven in the morning in a college town was a rare moment, hardly seen by many these days. She locked up her car anyways and threw her laundry bag over her shoulder as she made her way inside.

The Laundromat was empty and Stephanie found herself thankful for the peace and quiet. She stuffed her sheets in the washer wincing a bit as the throbbing pain returned to her arm. Frustratingly, she slammed the door shut, dropped in her coins, and lounged back against the window to wait. The silence was overwhelming and for a peaceful moment, she closed her eyes.

Stephanie’s mind drifted through one random thought after another. An eternity seemed to pass by her in a matter of mere seconds. As her thoughts continued to drift, she found herself flying through the clouds in a star filled night sky. It was breathtaking, as millions of stars blinked and shined their lights for only her, when she passed them by.

It didn’t take long and the star light faded away. It was soon replaced with torch light. The flames cast wickedly twisting shadows on the cold stone walls. Stephanie found herself back in the circular room. This time it was different. She stood outside of herself, viewing the past as if it was an old movie playing on a screen, and she was just the extra person overlooked by the actors. She watched herself battle one person after another. Sweat poured from her forehead as swords clanged and opponents fell to the floor defeated.

She slashed, swept the feet out from under them, fought with swords and knees, until they went down and another stepped forward. It went on like this for some time. Lines were drawn and crossed. Opponents came in single mannerisms, and some in dual pairs. Swords clinked, blood was spilled, and ferocious howls of victory and defeat filled the silence. Then the first audible voice made itself known.

“Well done child.” The man praised.

Stephanie watched herself smile pleased once again at the pleasure of being undefeated. As the man spoke, she effortlessly twirled her sword around in her hands several times before planting the tip of the blade on the floor. She hit her knees, averted her eyes, and rested her forehead on her hands on the hilt.

“Thank you.” She replied in a hauntingly familiar tone.

Stephanie shivered as she looked upon herself in complete confusion. She watched as the woman, ignoring protocol, shifted her eyes up toward the master. Her vision then changed, only to find the master standing with a smug smirk upon his face. Then, he was gone, along with the vision.

Stephanie returned to reality as the dryer buzzed in finality. She wondered when she had the time to put the clothes in the dryer. It didn’t matter. The strange vision faded away from her, and with it, went the immediate memory. She gathered up her things and then she reloaded the car and headed for the library.

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