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By Robert Liparulo
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Robert Liparulo
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAtlantis, 9552 BC
David had gotten himself into a real mess this time.
He and Xander had followed Phemus, the big man who had kidnapped their mom, from their house to this awful place. Taksidian and Phemus captured them in a town square, and while soldiers were chaining them to a line of children heading to war, David broke away. He darted into a workshop of some kind, heard the soldiers looking for him in an alley. But when he turned from the door, a group of tough Atlantian kids waited for him. They had come through a door on the opposite side of the workshop. Knowing what was coming, David had spun to the door behind him.
Now the six boys rushed up behind David, intending-he was sure-to kill him.
Their screams chilled his heart, but he moved: he grabbed the length of wood that barred the door and yanked it from its brackets.
His attackers' shadows fell over him.
He hollered-an animal-sounding gush of effort and frustration-and spun, swinging the wood like a baseball bat and striking the lead attacker in the head. The energy of the impact vibrated into David's arms, and the boy collapsed in front of him. The others braked, reeling back as David swung again, missing two of them by inches.
A kid kicked at the fallen boy, saying, "Theseus?"
Theseus groaned, and the others turned snarling faces toward David. Six of them-five now that one was down. All of them were armed with weapons: a club, a chain, a hammer. Every one bore signs of the rough life he had led, from a black eye and bruised ribs to fresh, bleeding gashes and missing teeth.
"Go!" David yelled, shaking the length of wood toward the door behind the boys, at the far side of the room. It was open, and sunlight streamed in, turning the attackers into shadowy figures. The place was as big as a barn, with planks of wood stacked taller than David. The only open area was between the two doors, where he and the boys now faced off. "Go!" David repeated.
Instead, a boy dived in, whipping a chain in front of him. David swung the wood. It struck the boy's hand, and the chain went flying. The boy screamed and wheeled away, clutching his hand.
Before David could reverse his swing, a kid of about ten lunged in with a jagged piece of metal. David twisted away, and the weapon tore into his tunic-like shirt. The boy tried to pull away, but David turned to swing, and the boy got the metal tangled in the shirt. The boy's eyes squeezed shut as the wood sailed toward his head.
David slowed it down in midswing. He didn't want to kill the kid, even if these punks wanted to kill him. There was no hate in his heart-only panic and an intense desire to get away. Still, the impact made a sickening thunk! and the boy released his weapon, freed his hand, and stumbled back. He tumbled over the boy already on the floor-Theseus-and landed beside him.
Immediately another boy leaped, a hammer raised over his head. David jabbed, making contact with the boy's stomach. The kid buckled and fell sideways.
David felt a fist slam into his own stomach, and the air inside him burst out of his mouth. He bent over, trying to pull oxygen back into his lungs. The kid who'd punched him did it again, this time on the side of his face. David spun, and someone shoved him hard. He crashed into the door. On the other side of it, he knew, soldiers were pacing the alley, looking for him. Someone kicked him in the small of the back, and he yelled.
Turn! he told himself. Fight! If you don't, you're dead!
But he was desperately in need of air that wouldn't come ... his back pulsated with pain ... and the bony punch to his face had him seeing stars. The expression was true, he registered in some corner of his brain; dark starbursts flashed in front of his eyes as he tried to regain his senses. He knew what was coming: a club cracking into his skull or a piece of metal slicing into skin, muscle, guts.
He pushed off the door and started to turn. Hands grabbed him. They seized his arms, his shirt; one gripped his hair. They pulled, trying to get him into the center of the room, where all of them could pounce from every angle. He kicked the door, kicked it again, making it rattle and thump.
The boys roughly turned him around and hoisted him up, and he saw Theseus was on his hands and knees, shouting angry commands.
"Ton arpakste! Ton kratiste! Thelo to proto htypima!"
Theseus rubbed his head and ear where David had clobbered him. As he rose, he picked up the club he had dropped. He squared himself in front of David, a wicked smile on his face.
David thrashed, kicked, pulled. A boy twisted his left arm-the broken one-and David screamed in pain. His knees gave out, and blackness flooded his vision, but he didn't pass out.
Theseus stared at the arm. He pointed the club at it and said, "Labi ayto ekso!"
The boy holding it pulled it straight. The kid on the other side tugged on his right arm, forcing him to form the letter T with his body.
"No!" David said. "Please, no ..."
But Theseus just glared at David as he hefted the club up over his head with both hands.
Xander's scream left his mouth and was swept away by the pandemonium of the town square: men fighting, soldiers barking out commands, corralled slaves shrieking for no apparent reason. He strained against his chains to get a glimpse of the place he'd last seen David, running between two vendors' stalls.
He yelled his brother's name again.
He knew he shouldn't be calling for him. He wanted David to run, to get home, even if he, Xander, couldn't. But he couldn't help himself. He was so worried, his stomach was cramping. It had been five minutes, and the guards chasing David had not returned. What would they do to him if they caught him? He didn't want to think about it.
Heaven knew this awful society had no regard for human life, especially the lives of kids. The chain gang of perhaps fifty children, to which he was tethered, was proof of that. Taksidian had said they would be put aboard a ship, where they would work until reaching Greece. Then they would be sent into battle ahead of the soldiers to confuse their enemy and force them to use their arrows. It was evil, pure and simple.
He pulled against the chains and yelled again: "Dav-"
The sting of a whip flared in his shoulder before the crack! reached his ears. He hissed in a breath, dropped his shoulder, and fell to his knees. He craned around to see the man who'd been following the chain gang pull the whip back for another strike.
"Stop!" Xander yelled. He lowered his head, and the whip slapped against his back. His T-shirt did nothing to temper its bite, and he yelled out. Gritting his teeth, he rose and tried to turn to his attacker. The chains binding his wrists stopped him. Xander felt tears in his eyes and blinked them away, then lifted his hand to wipe at them, but the chains prevented even that.
The whip-man spat out some words and gestured for Xander to face forward.
Xander turned. Rage tightened every muscle in his body. He wanted to rip away the chains, lash the man behind him with them, and run to find David.
Another man near them barked out a word. Chains rattled at the head of the line of bound children, then the boy in front of Xander began shuffling his feet. The chains drew taut and yanked at Xander. He stumbled forward, turning to look for his brother.
Run, David, he thought. Hide.
They were taking them to the ship. It was going to leave-without David! Yes! It was better that he stayed here, as horrible as Atlantis was. Once they set sail, there would be no escaping, except into the ocean depths or the arrows of Atlantis's enemies. Here they knew there was at least one portal home, the one through which they'd followed Phemus from their house in Pinedale, California, to ancient Atlantis. Here David at least had a chance.
A familiar voice sprang up on Xander's left. Taksidian-still standing in the square next to that human weapon, Phemus-was calling to the man leading the chain gang, waving to get his attention. He spoke in the native Atlantian tongue, and the chain gang stopped.
Taksidian sauntered over to Xander. "Can't leave without your brother," he said. "I'm sure he'll return shortly."
Xander focused on keeping hold of his anger, as though it were a dog trying to break its leash. But he couldn't: He lunged for Taksidian, snapping to a stop at the end of his short chains. "Wait all you want," he said through clenched teeth. "David got away. He's gone. Live with it."
Taksidian smiled. He brushed strands of kinky black hair off his face and rolled his head on his neck, as though the boredom of sending the King boys to their death, had made his muscles stiff. He leveled his cold green eyes at Xander. "You still don't get it, do you?" he said. "I won, I always do. You, your family-you were just a speed bump on the highway to my destiny."
He took a deep breath of the foul air that filled the square, as though it were as fresh as a sea breeze. "You were just a little annoyance that life threw at me to make things ... interesting. I was getting lazy. Not hard to do with that house." He held up his hand, pretending to lift something heavy. "Like having the power of God in my hand."
Xander stretched toward him. He said, "I'll tell you what you have in your hand, and it's not the power of God!" He spat, and a glob of sudsy spit landed in Taksidian's palm.
The man flinched. He blinked, then calmly reached out and wiped his hand on Xander's hair.
Xander jerked away, but, chained, there was nothing he could do. He growled and shook, frustrated and helpless. He snapped his face back toward Taksidian, who had stepped back and was frowning at his palm.
"You don't even know," Xander said. "Whatever you're doing-using our house to go back in time and tinker with history-it's not making something wonderful, for you or anyone else. We've seen it: the future. It's all destroyed. Everything!"
"You see?" Taksidian said, wiping his hand on his black overcoat. "I win."
Chapter Three"Don't," David said. "Please!"
But Theseus-who must have known what David meant, even if he couldn't understand the words-only squinted at his target: David's left arm. The club rose higher as the boy sucked in a breath to give the swing all he had.
David tugged at his arm, but the other boy held his wrist like it was the last piece of bread in a hungry world.
He closed his eyes.
The sound was deafening-a crashing boom!-and for a moment David thought his brain was screaming. Then he realized the noise was the door behind him bursting open. He looked and saw Theseus still holding the club over his head and staring wide-eyed over David's shoulder. The other boys released their hold on him. He pulled his arms close to his body and instinctively crouched. He turned and saw a soldier standing in the doorway. The door itself rocked on one hinge. Then it broke free and crashed to the floor.
The soldier strode in, followed by two more.
They heard me! David thought. They heard my kicks against the door!
The lead soldier said something sharp and harsh.
Two kids behind Theseus dropped their weapons and ran for the other door, away from the soldiers. The one who had held David's left arm jumped at the soldier, his fists flying. The soldier slammed his own fist into the boy's forehead, and the kid stumbled backward and went down, whimpering. He rolled over, got his feet under him, and ran out the door.
The boy on David's right backed away into the dark shadows of the room. A soldier ran to him and grabbed his arm, hard enough to make him squeal. The soldier pulled him to another boy on the floor-the kid David had clobbered. The soldier hooked a hand in that boy's armpit and hoisted him up.
That left Theseus: he was backing toward the far door, the club wavering over his head.
The lead soldier stepped around David. He held his hand out to Theseus, apparently for the club, and spoke. "To moy doste se, agori!"
Theseus shouted back and made like he was going to swing. The soldier drew closer.
The last soldier, standing in the doorway behind David, watched intently. His hand was on the hilt of a sword, sheathed on a belt.
David slowly lowered his hands to the floor and began crawling away. Xander's belt dangled from his neck to the floor, like a rottweiler's collar on a Chihuahua. He had used it as a sling until his arm had slipped out sometime between being grabbed by Phemus and his escape from the chain gang.
He headed for the stacks of wood on the other side of the open area from where the soldier held the two boys. He moved out of the light coming through the doors and felt a twinge of hope. He reached the first stack and started around it. A hand clamped down on the back of his neck.
"Ow ... ow ..." he said, as the hand squeezed tighter. Reaching back to hold the muscular wrist at the back of his head, David got to his feet. The soldier turned him and marched him toward the rear entrance.
Theseus was still backing toward the other exit, the lead soldier matching his movements step for step. Then the kid threw the club and shot out the door. The soldier ducked and took off after him.
David jabbed his elbow into the ribs of the man holding him. It was like striking a brick wall. He kicked the man's legs. The guy continued moving him toward the door. Lashing back, David got his hand on the hilt of the sword. The soldier gripped his wrist, twisted it painfully until David let go, then yanked his arm over his head.
Squeezed by the neck, arm craned up high, David stumbled into the alley.
Chapter FourXander glared at Taksidian. "You win?" he said. "How does the destruction of the world mean you win?"
Taksidian shrugged. "What do I care? By the time all that happens, I'll have had my fun."
Xander shook his head. If Taksidian thought he made sense, Xander wasn't getting it. "But," he said, "the whole world?"
Taksidian's eyes narrowed. He appeared as perplexed by Xander's logic as Xander was by his. "Why not?" he said. "What do I care about other people? Nobody cares about anyone else, not really." He shrugged. "You're simply too young to have learned that yet."
"No," Xander said. "People don't think that way."
"Then they should," Taksidian said. "If you did, you wouldn't be here, chained, whipped, heading for a battle you won't survive. Besides, tinkering with time-making incredible, big things happen-is fun."
"Like a Rubik's cube." He moved his hands as if twisting the puzzle this way and that. "You know, one of those cubes with the little, different-colored squares ..."
"I know what a Rubik's cube is," Xander said. "But how can you say causing the end of the world is like that?"
Excerpted from frenzy by Robert Liparulo Copyright © 2010 by Robert Liparulo. Excerpted by permission.
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