Travel between alterative worlds is impossible, if they exist at all. Right? That’s what Fraser Daniels has always believed, if he’s ever given it a second thought. But the day his grandfather returns after six years missing, he learns that there are those who can travel between the universes, once passive observers, now a losing force fighting against an evil they cannot stop. Now it falls on Frasier to carry The Grand Work of Bodies, the sacred text that may hold the answers to ending the war. Yet all the while Frasier faces the enemy of The Lost, Bernard. One of their own, and the only one aside from Frasier who can read the ancient book, carved from the very flesh of those who once called friend. It’s a fight for freedom, and every known world is at stake!
World – 3RV
It was a quiet night in London, which meant trouble was afoot. London, a city of some two million souls, was not meant to be quiet. It was unnatural. Dawn would soon be approaching, and with it a new day. But not one Joseph would see. It was rather sad really. For all the darkness in this world, there really was a true sense of beauty in the way the light of the moon refracted off the gargantuan towers that crowded the city scape.
He supposed even in the darkest of worlds there was always some measure of allurement, even in buildings built by conquerors. Perhaps tonight would be the night when fate finally stopped being on his side. Perhaps tonight he would stare down the barrel of a gun and know what it was to experience true finality.
At near on ninety years of age he felt his time was soon to be coming. He’d always know that it would come eventually, though he’d hoped to be less alone when the death came. And looking down at James McKray he was certain loneliness would be coming soon. Unless the authorities arrived before he departed
James let out a raspy nasty series of coughs, spluttering spit, bile and blood all over his weathered jacket. Joseph lifted the glass of water at his bed side table to his face and allowed him to parch himself. There was no question in Josephs mind that James was going to die, the question of course was how long did he have left?
At least he was dying in his bed, not many of their breed were as lucky. Especially the males of their lot. They died bloody and brutal deaths for their burden, one Joseph had never desired to be his but knew, as James was to die, that the burden was to be his from now on.
He looked out the window, towards this strange yet all too familiar world. How long had he been here now? A matter of weeks he thought. Nowhere near as long as some places he’d been, and perhaps far more civilised despite its clear failings. They had running water, cheap food, a working kettle and more than enough tea to last six more months. He would have to make a note of this location at the next grand gathering, three days hence from now. That is should it remain uncompromised in that time.
“Joseph.” The voice of his cousin called him back. He did not want to look at the dying man, for dying was a hideous business. “Joseph, it is now time for me to pass the burden on to you.”
Joseph let out a heavy sigh and pulled off his hat to dab at the sweat building on his forehead and on his arms. “You can last a few more hours James, it won’t be long now.”
James laughed, and this once again led to the spitting of blood which was quickly turning his white sheets crimson. “You and I both know I won’t survive the journey. Crossing is far beyond what I could live to stand. James, it is time. You must take the book.”
And from beneath the bedsheets came the ancient manuscript of their order. Leather bound and over ten thousand pages long – and still expending all the time. The secrets that could be realised if this were in the wrong hands. Or worse, in the wrong hands and back with its brother.
“To think all this trouble for some silly old piece of poor reading.” Jospeh joked, not to the amusement of James.
“It would not have been so silly in the hands of the enemy.” James reminded him. “We were lucky that Emilia had the common sense to hide it where Bernard would not have thought to look.”
“Should I take it, I will take it to pass it on.” Jospeh informed him.
Once again James laughed. “To whom would you pass it? Joseph, none of our councillors can hold this book. If they are found and it is with them then that is the death of us.”
“Then perhaps I will give it to Maggie.”
“Maggie is the only reason we still have safe harbours to go to. The women cannot maintain the borders and keep this on the move.” He stroked the leather cover affectionately as if stroking an old hound. “This was to be mine eight years, before Stephen lost it. That it was found, kept safe and not discovered for so long is a small miracle. Do not forget I was not to be the bearer. Don’t forget your part in all of this.”
Joseph stiffened, knowing full well to what James was referring. “He wanted no part in this.”
“Neither did we.”
“And yet we didn’t have the choice in front of us!” Joseph nearly shouted, eyes watering with tears. “You think I wanted to leave him behind? Apart from yourself he is the only true kin I have left. He is alive, and so he is free from us and this war!”
“Because of your grandson, Bernard is still free to terrorise us.” James reminded him. “The treatment you gave to your grandson could have changed the tide of this war.”
Joseph scoffed. “It would have done nothing. They already had a solution.”
“An entire bloody world away. Besides without Bernard they move as blindly as we do. And if they found him, it would do nothing, we stole their serum-“
James’ abrupt stop had Joseph turning his head to look at him in shock. James turned away, cheeks hot and red with embarrassment and shame. This was a secret he had not meant to tell.
“What exactly do you mean we have the serum?” He asked harshly.
James sighed and turned to his older cousin. “I want to stress that this wasn’t my decision. But I suppose with the burden going your way it is time you knew. One of us got into their labs in World EA42. We copied down the formula for creating the serum and noted them down…well, in here.” He said, patting the book again. “Then…Maggie killed everyone alive who still knew the formula. This was not for you to know!
“In case Bernard ever tried to do to us what we nearly did to him. Not that he has to.” James’ look turned solemn as his colour ever paled. He was not long from deaths embrace now. “This is a secret known only to the council and me. After which it shall only be the council and you.”
Joseph leaned in and asked, “What is it?”
James seemed almost afraid and spoke the words in a hushed tone. The words he spoke were as horrifying to hear as the sound that had begun to build outside. The sound of rumbling. Joseph knew it was time. They were coming. The authorities would be here soon enough. The two kindred shared a brief look and recognised that, this, sadly, would be their final goodbye.
James passed Joseph the book, a deceptivally heavy tome. The last thing he wanted to carry, and the only one who could carry it. “You know what you must do.” James rasped; these words sure to be his last.
Joseph nodded, though he knew not what his cousin meant, and concluded the passing rituals of their order. He took a small knife from his pocket. It was as sharp as the wit of Einstein .The last sight any of the order wished to see. Still, even as he cut, deep and under the skin, not once did James cry out. Perhaps it was a mark of his pride and strength. Perhaps because death was all to near that he had not the energy to scream.
Joseph chose to believe the later. As the rumbling grew closer, he glanced out on to the street and saw the men in their helmets with their decollated Swastikas which had replaced the red cross on the Union Jack. The men looked nervous and uncertain, their commander not so and thus there would be no mercy were he to remain. .
There was a banging on the door. “Police, open your door!”
He did not dignify them with a response, only hurried himself down the stairs uncaring if the noise he made on each creaking step gave away his presence. He had to make it to the back of the house. As he entered the kitchen, he heard a voice carrying far heavier authority yelling.
“This is Sargent Walkens. We have the building surrounded, there is no way out. Come out peacefully and you have my word, and that of the Grand Marshall of the England Reich personally, that none shall receive further harm. We know your colleague was shot earlier. We shall treat him and lower your charges from Insisting Rebellion to Petty Crime. Your lives will be spared the noose. You have thirty seconds to comply.”
“Poppycock.” Joseph mumbled. He’d heard the same words a thousand times in a thousand places. It seemed no matter which world you lived in, evil men held no bargains. He rumbled around under the kitchen counter, awkwardly looking for the handle James had told him was there. Blast his dearly departed kin for his poor instructions.
Once more he heard the voice of Sargent Walkens bellowing outside the house. “Your time is now up, we are now entering the premises.”
Outside the house the men had no idea that Joseph had already made his way out and under the house, nor that the man who’d been shot and injured was lying dead and partly flayed in the bed. So, when they stormed in and took the building room by room, they were shocked, and some horrified, by the sight left in their wake.
It was the business of one officer Jones to bring the news to the Sargent, who himself looked rather nervous upon receiving the news.
“Search the house, discover how he escaped.” He instructed. The officer did as charged leaving Sargent Walkens to be both puzzled and fearful. Puzzled, for the mystery of how a man of nearly a century had escaped within seconds of their arrival and done so swiftly and without any sign of escape. Fearful, for the call he would have to make.
Entering the same vehicle in which he arrived he reached for the radio and turned the dials until he was on the private channel on which he was instructed to contact his superior.
“This is Sargent Walkens reporting in as requested Grand Marshall. Over.”
There was silence and static filling the air, making the man ever more nervous until the voice came over the radio, that of a woman. “The Grand Marshall has instructed me to ask whether the item and the radicals have been captured. Over.”
“I’m afraid neither were able to be captured. Over.”
Silence and static, then, “The Grand Marshall wishes to convey his disappointment. Over”
The bluntness of the statement gave Walkens reason to be nervous. Better men had been executed for less than disappointment. “Please inform the Grand Marshall we have recovered a body, that which we believe to have been the radical shot while trespassing in The Ministry of Data Collection. Over.”
This time the return came much speedier. “The Grand Marshall asks if the body was tampered with before arrival. Over.”
“Yes, the right arm was skinned down to the bone. Though I cannot imagine a reason why, nor how this man became a radical in England none the less. Official records had him as deceased for at least five years“
“The Grand Marshall conveys this is all the information that is required and to continue your search until Dawn at which point cease search. Over.”
Walkens frowned at these unusual orders but none the less complied. “As he wishes. Hail the Reich, Hail Fuhrer Schermur. Hail Grand Marshall Bernard. Over and out.”
The passage under the city was long, damp and dark, and fouled with horrid smells of urine and muck. There was also the rats to contend with. They steered clear from Joseph’s path, knowing not that he was not their enemy but that he was of the same breed that lit fires in their homes and gathered them in cages to ship off to the prisons to torture ‘radicals’ and ‘perversions’.
He would be glad to see the end of this world, for the next one was to be far more familiar to himself. What sort of welcome would he receive there he wondered? How long had he been gone? The years precise to him were unknown, only that when he was last there he was there to preserve his family. Now he had no choice but to place them back into the line of fire.
The edge of the city was a journey of many miles, and he had a few hours now to spare from having made a hurry to be on his way. He did hope that they would be respectful to his cousins body but knowing the kind of men Bernard entrusted he knew that James was surely to be desecrated. Or worse, dissected and studied for Bernard’s foul machinations.
It was foolish not to burn the house on his leaving, but he had to make haste while he could. He had to make it to the road before dawn, only three hours now. He slowed his pace and, with great hesitancy, opened the book. It took him twenty minutes to find what he was looking for. It was, of course, useless to him.
“Fourth coded.” He grumbled.
Well, that was that then. James’ final instruction would remain hidden to him. No Fourth Coder would reveal their language to a Third Coder, above all else the speaking of the secret languages was forbidden. And even if they could, no Fourth Coders were now alive to tell him these instructions.
“Thank you, James.” He screamed to the darkness. “Thank you for leaving me with this! An impossible task! The fate of us all and the instructions to our survival are impossible to bloody read!”
It was truly hopeless. Only a Fourth Coder could know what this said, that or Bernard. Or…it was possible perhaps; the language might still yet be known to him. After all he’d been trained the same as Bernard. He might know the language.
Of course, that would mean returning him to this war which he had promised him release from. Joseph had sworn, an ordinary life, that was what he would lead. And yet, perhaps, an ordinary life deserved some measure of peace and happiness. Soon enough, these would be concepts no longer known to anyone alive or anyone to be born for…forever.
It was decided then, he knew what he had to do – for the good of all life, forever and always. When he reached the end of the tunnels, he felt exhausted from walking. At least that wouldn’t a problem for much longer. James had been very clear on the directions to take. He had been the navigator, and Joseph the guardian to him. As such he had paid very close attention to their escape route, as was his duty.
Now if he’d recalled himself correctly then it was sixteen feet forward passed the grate, turn left thirteen degrees and then forward nineteen steps – or was it twenty? No James had said nineteen, he recalled because he’d first said twenty then said nineteen. He had to be absolutely correct, as the time was fast approaching. The last thing he wanted was for the book and himself, and the flesh from James’ arm wrapped in a plastic bag, to be destroyed because of a miscalculation.
He took these steps carefully and slowly, no longer worried of any dangers that might be nearby. It was the dangers to come that worried him. There was much at risk and far more deadly dangerous than bullets fired by misguided youths of a Reich Ewig.
As he took the last step he waited and allowed the moment to come willingly. He did enjoy the last sunrise over this world and, despite its failings, hoped to return. As his father had once told him, there is more reason to fight for a cause when others are too afraid to stand for that is what inspires bravery in the fearful.
As always, he felt the strange tug, the pull as he was for a second out of all things – a strange place to be indeed. Then to go from nowhere to somewhere and land on your feet again and see the sun rising. It was as beautiful as it had been moments ago, but warmer than the last somehow. A trick of the mind most surely.
World – ER8
It was then he turned around and saw the train that was fast approaching. In a moment like this, the smart thing to do would be to run. Joseph was ninety and, while in much better shape than those that were fast approaching a century, was not fast enough to move out of its way.
Thankfully, good people moved swift enough and were brave enough to risk themselves and a large man in a brown overcoat grabbed him and hoisted him up and out of the way. Joseph felt the man’s hot breath on the nape of his neck and the cold concrete floor underneath him.
“Bloody hell, what you think you were doing in the middle of the track there?” The man asked climbing off him. A small crowd was now around Joseph.
“Oh, hush Michael.” Said a woman in a fluffy white overcoat. “Look at him, he’s old, he probably didn’t know what he was doing.”
“I’ll say.” The man, Michael, snorted.
The woman shot him a look and helped Joseph up to his feet. “Are you aright my darling?
“Perfectly fine thank you.” He told them. “Where am I?”
The woman gave him a concerned look. “You’re in Epsom, Epsom station my darling. Are you lost? Is there anyone we can call?”
“No, my family is in Scotland,” Joseph relied, digging around in his top pocket. “Could you perhaps go to the ticket booth and grab me a ticket to Glasgow please? I’m afraid I don’t have the right currency, but I could offer you a fair exchange for the purchase.”
He then pulled out a small ball, a piece he’d melted down himself. There was a small splash of blood on the top of it but that didn’t seem to bother the woman or Michael at all for they were staring at an exchange of solid gold for a train ticket barely costing eighty pounds for a piece of metal that must be worth at least a grand. Of course, they said yes.
While others attempted to asway him from the exchange, pointing out the unfairness of it all and if he was certain and cognitively aware of his decisions. One even tried to offer him a lift to a nearby hospital.
Joseph had his mission, and he had his purpose. Now all he had to do was succeed against overwhelming odds and the most powerful man in all of reality. For the fate of life and freedom, he had no choice.
Thank you for reading the prologue of The Lost Burdens. This story will be updated every fortnight, with an additional chapter monthly for every time I pass a hundred marker for followers on Twitter. So if you’re eager to find out what happens next, get to spreading the word.
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Next time –
Fraser could hear the sound of rustling, a noise he ordinarily would have dismissed if he hadn’t felt as though someone’s eyes were on him. Not something, like a bird or a fox, but someone. He kept walking, knowing full well that he should keep his calm and wait for the opportune moment when he was out beyond the treeline where he could make a dash across the road and leave the flurry of passing cares as the barrier between him and whatever foul intending persons was hiding amongst the trees.
As the light of the streetlamp got nearer, he started to feel his heartbeat drop and his breathing relax. Then he felt a cold hand on his shoulder and turned and face the very image of not a robber but what could only be a ghost…