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1

FEARFUL SHADOWS

        The rough stone altar was cold and damp under the young woman's naked flesh. Her blood soaked the ropes that held her spread-eagled on the altar, binding her as she struggled to free herself. Suddenly, her tormentor returned to finish the task he had begun. His black robes and hood hid him in the shadows as mist cloaked the scene. The dark-haired beauty longed to give voice to her terror, but she was gagged and helpless. Her persecutor had spent the past hour violating her repeatedly, and now intended to finish his work and her life. A flame-shaped dagger glinted in his hand. In an ancient tongue, the cloaked villain mouthed an incantation. Then he raised the ceremonial blade like a dragon's tooth over the woman's heaving bosom, and readied himself for the sacrifice to Belial, his patron god.

        Amanda Stewart's long blonde hair whipped about her face in the chill night wind.  Sweat glistened from her comely face and ran in rivulets to soak her tattered halter-top.  Her shapely legs pumped wildly beneath the ragged remains of her navy mini-skirt.  The underbrush slashed at her ankles as the rocky ground punished her naked feet.  She was thankful to have escaped, but her life was still at risk.  She fled without direction through the benighted Canadian woodlands, trying to outdistance her pursuer.
        She reached the bottom of a grade and started across a wooded stretch of terrain.  A root caught her right foot and she fell forward, striking the ground hard and twisting her ankle.  Looking back over her shoulder, she could make out a shadowy shape circling above the treetops.  She could sense those evil, glowing eyes scouring the countryside for her.  She stifled a cry and lay completely still until it passed.  She was terrified because she knew that her pursuer was not of this world.

        Ta-lon dared not wait any longer to show himself.  He had tracked his adversary all night.  Having now scoured his campsite for any sign of accomplices, he was certain that he was alone with the adversary and his intended victim.  The woman was his betrothed, Lady Sapphire of Alta.  The noblewoman had abandoned all of her Atlantean luxury for Ta-lon and his rebel cause.  As the High Priest of Belial readied himself to plunge the blade into his intended victim, Ta-lon stepped out of the shadows and called out, "Ramthar!" aiming his notched arrow at the priest's chest. Ramthar lowered his weapon.
        Then before Ta-lon could react, the blade was quickly repositioned across the young woman's throat.  A trickle of blood seeped from the fresh wound as the woman tensed.  Ramthar then responded, "Your lovely mate will die if you slay me."
        Ta-lon released the tension on his longbow.  "Cut her loose and you will survive this night."
        "Oh, I have no doubt of that.  Loose your arrow at the creature that has just been summoned into this world by incantation and the shed blood of your woman.  If your aim is true, you can cut her free yourself.  If not, the creature cares not whether it devours her alive or dead.  Perhaps you should bury your shaft in her heart, before Belial's demon feasts."
        The misty night air began to shimmer weirdly ten feet above the altar.  Ta-lon's eyes widened and the hair on the back of his neck began to rise like a bird's hackles.  Ramthar slipped away unnoticed as the creature began to take shape.  It was the size of a human, but had the shape of a bat.  Black talons at the ends of its wings and feet glistened in the light of the altar torch.  Its large red eyes stared directly into Ta-lon's soul, the unmistakable glint of cunning intelligence freezing the hunter in his tracks.  He'd only have time for one shot.

        Amanda was on the edge of hysteria.  It took all of her strength to calm down enough to survey her surroundings.  Far to her left, light was beginning to filter over the rolling countryside.  She looked straight ahead.  As she recalled, the nearest town was in that general direction, the four corners town of Oxtongue Lake.  There was no sign of any outlying buildings.  She couldn't tell how much further she had to travel.  Off to her left, she could now hear the slight rumble of traffic over the pounding of her heart.  Her best guess was Highway #60.  She set out in that direction limping on her twisted ankle, staying under the cover of the sheltering trees and brush, realizing that any moment the creature may spot her and plunge its deadly talons into her unprotected back.

        Ta-lon loosed his arrow, aiming just below those evil, glowing eyes.  The shaft found its target and the hellspawn screeched in pain.  Abandoning its dinner, as she writhed in terror on the altar below, the creature swooped down at the hunter with unnatural speed.  Ta-lon quickly notched another arrow, but those deadly claws were already too close for a bowshot.  Ta-lon swung the bow like a club, striking the creature on the side of its horned head and cracking his bow in the process.  The bat-winged demon narrowly missed the row of tree trunks immediately behind Ta-lon and veered up and away from the hunter.  Ta-lon took full advantage of the creature's confusion and covered the distance to the altar with five hurried strides.  He quickly cut the girl free and told her to run and not to look back.  He then prepared to face the enraged creature once again.  Leaping onto the blood-soaked altar, he tore the torch from its bracket and turned it into a makeshift weapon as the hysterical woman dashed headlong into the shadow-soaked woods.

        Ben Parker was fighting to stay awake at the wheel, as he reviewed his less than fulfilling life.  He worked his way through college as a commercial photographer.  Unfortunately, none of his photography assignments involved scantily clad models.  Home & Outdoors Magazine did not feel inclined to use sexy women to promote its rather tame subject matter.  His most exciting and challenging project involved time-lapse photography demonstrating the growth curve of domestic flowering plants.  He finished at the top of his class in journalism at Ryerson.  His father and mother missed his graduation because of a boating accident that left his father in a wheelchair for life.  He had to beg for a job as a photojournalist at the Herald in his hometown of Huntsville, after his dreams of a job with a large metropolitan newspaper evaporated.  Downsizing was the name of the game, and opportunities were few and far between.  His last girlfriend left him for a tennis pro.  His early model Chrysler sounded like it was on its last legs. And he'd just spent the night traveling to Ottawa and back to interview a politician who didn't even have the decency to show up.  When would his lousy luck change?  All he needed was one break, an exclusive story that would interest a wider audience than the Herald's seasonal readership, one break that would open some doors.
        Ben narrowed his vision as a camper came barreling over a rise with its highbeams stabbing into the young reporter's eyes.  He held to the road, but was momentarily blinded.  He cursed the other driver to vent his frustration.  Then there was a figure in the road in front of his car.  He blinked to make sure his eyes weren't playing tricks on him.  Then he slammed on his brakes as hard as he could.
        There, in the middle of the road, fully illuminated in his headlights, was a half-naked woman.  Her face, framed by tousled blonde hair, was pretty in spite of the dirt that smudged her cheeks.  She was covered in blood and grime.  She waved her arms frantically to flag down the speeding vehicle.
        Ben's car slid to rest as the young woman limped to the driver's door.  She pleaded for him to take her out of there.  Ben complied.  As she slid into the passenger seat and slammed the door, Ben stomped on the accelerator and the car lurched into motion.  The girl's eyes, widened with terror, stared back from where she had come.
        "You look like you've just seen a ghost.  What are you doing out here at this ungodly hour?"  Ben tried to sound calm, but her fear was becoming contagious.
        "It's a demon," she breathed, the words racing from her lips.  "Conjured into this world to devour body and soul.  If it catches us, we're dead.  Can't you go any faster?"
        Ben put the pedal to the metal and they hurtled forward.  "Relax.  If you could outrun it on foot, it'll never be able to catch the car."  This appeared to give her some comfort.
        Amanda glanced toward the driver for the first time.  He looked away, but she noticed he had been admiring her legs where they were displayed below her tattered skirt.  "Thank you for stopping.  I must look like something the cat dragged in."  Her fingers combed her bleached tresses back from her face.
        "Not at all."  Ben's luck was changing.  Sure his old Chrysler was speeding down the road out of inherited fear.  He was still dead tired and would probably now have to fill out a police report before he headed home.  But he did have a lovely young lady in his car who might have a newsworthy, although weird, story to tell.  His reporter's persona kicked in.  "Where exactly were you coming from, and where did this thing come from that's following you?"  Amanda shot a fearful glance towards the rear window.  "Sorry," he said.  "The thing that was, but is no longer, following you."
        "I don't know what it was," she said. "I'm Amanda Stewart.  My friends call me Mandy.  I'm attending college in Toronto."
        "You said it was a demon from out of this world.  Do you believe that?"
        Amanda was starting to shiver in the cool night air, now that the adrenaline had stopped pumping.  Ben flicked on the heater, and waited for her response.  "Did I say that?  I was out of my mind.  Probably just an owl, but I was so scared, you know, being alone and all."  They were approaching the population sign for Oxtongue Lake.  "You can leave me here.  I'll phone my uncle to pick me up."
        Ben's luck changed back to bad.  "Are you sure?  I'm going into Huntsville.  It's a much bigger town.  I'd feel safer taking you there."
        "I guess I would be more comfortable in a larger town…some place where I can get Uncle Kyle to wire some cash so I can expand my wardrobe."
        "Great," Ben said.  "And you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
        "Thanks, uh—?"
        "Ben.  Ben Parker."
        "Thanks, Ben."

        Ta-lon braced for the assault as the enraged creature swooped out of the sky, eyes blazing, claws outstretched.  Once the demon was within reach, the hunter thrust the torch in front of him and prepared his knife.  His plan was to drive the blade deep into its underbelly when the creature veered from the flame.  Unfortunately, the creature did not react to the flame in the least.  In fact, it dove right through the flames and drove its talons deep into Ta-lon's chest.  With a bloodcurdling scream, Ta-lon dropped the torch and stabbed the thing with his knife.  The blade cut into the creature's leathern skin showering the hunter with green ichor.  A second later, gargantuan jaws surrounded the hunter's head and snapped closed, beheading the man and spraying his crimson blood over the altar below.

        Kyle heard Ian Priestly's calm voice saying, "And that is how you perished in that life.  But your guide led you to recount that life experience for reasons that affect your current life.  Are either of the souls from that life familiar to Kyle Morrow in this life?"
        "I-I can't tell," he said.
        A female voice prodded, "The woman you rescued.  Look deeply into her face.  Beyond the physical features."
        Kyle tried, but couldn't visualize what the female voice seemingly knew.  She was the psychic.  Why was she asking him?
        "Perhaps more prominent cheekbones, different complexion.  Similar personality, though," the woman suggested.
        Suddenly, it became crystal clear.  "Jennifer."
        "Correct," she said.  "She is your soul-mate in this lifetime, too.  You have a second chance at completing your life together.  But the other player, Ramthar—stare into his face.  I sense you have not met him yet in this life, but you will.  This Atlantean incarnation of you as Ta-lon was the major motivation for your present incarnation.  There is much unfinished karma for you to work out with Ramthar.  He is your adversary in this life as he was in Atlantis, just as Jennifer is your soul-mate in this life as she was long ago."
        Ian began to lead Kyle out of the regression.  Kyle followed his spirit guide back to the temple, the gateway to his soul journey through the Akashic records of his past lives.  Back down the three steps from the temple where he had earlier chosen his spirit guide.  Back through the tunnel toward the light of Ian's study.  The golden glow was still there in his mind's eye surrounding his physical body and protecting it while his mind and spirit journeyed.  Slowly, the glow receded with Ian's suggestive tones.  Kyle opened his eyes, and the spell was broken.  He was back on the couch in Ian's High Park home.
        Professor Ian Priestly was a pioneer in Past Life Regression in Toronto.  Kyle, a Family Law lawyer practicing in Toronto, had recently completed Ian's messy divorce.  Kyle had always toyed with the idea of past life regression; having been fascinated by Edgar Cayce books since his university days.  He let Ian work off part of his legal bill with regression sessions; however, Kyle became hooked, and had now explored five of his past lives.  The life of Ta-lon of Atlantis was the most critical he was told, but he had put up a mental block to these memories, no doubt to protect his psyche from Ta-lon's horrible end.  He would probably have nightmares for weeks.
        His mental block to these memories was the reason for Ian's assistant tonight.  Ian had suggested at Kyle's last session that he arrange for the assistance of a psychic—at an extra charge, of course.  Kyle flashed a look at the woman when she wasn't looking, then realized that, being a psychic, she probably knew he was studying her.  Tanya Jensen was a very pretty blonde in her late twenties.  She had the tiny waist and shapely figure of a model, coupled with a pleasant and vivacious charm.
        "Well, I'd better be heading off, Ian.  I've got an early appointment in the morning."  Tanya turned to Kyle and smiled a perfect smile.  "Nice meeting you, Mr. Morrow.  I hope your session was enlightening."
        "Very.  Thank you, Miss Jensen.  Do you do this full time?"
        She smiled.  "Not too much call for psychics these days.  I work as a dental hygienist by day.  Bye!"
        No wonder she had a perfect smile.  As she turned to leave, Ian excused himself and talked to her on the way out, handing her a bulky envelope as well as some cash.  When he returned, Kyle already had his checkbook out.
        "Nice girl," Kyle said.
        "Ya, not bad on the eyes either, eh?"  The Professor must be able to read minds, too.  "She was in my class when I was teaching Para-psychology at Achievers College in the outskirts of Toronto.  She's got quite a talent."  He blushed.  "I mean psychic talent.  She needs controlled conditions, but she's learning."  As Ian fumbled verbally, he waved his hands about to compensate.  Kyle noticed the ring on his finger, a black onyx with diamond chips set into it in the shape of the infinity symbol.
        "Unusual ring.  A gift?" Kyle queried.
        Ian stopped waving his hand and motioned at the raised carving on the onyx setting.  "See the stylized capital ‘L'?"  Kyle leaned forward and nodded.  The diamond pattern of the infinity symbol fit perfectly into the loops of the ‘L'.  "The ‘L' stands for the Legacy Club.  It's a very exclusive think tank.  Experts from all fields, including parapsychology, meet regularly to try to solve the world's problems—you know, like global warming, plagues, world peace.  Interested?  Membership is by invitation only."
        "No thanks.  I'm finding my clients' problems enough of a challenge without taking on those of the rest of the world.  Speaking of which, I better get going.  I'm in court in the morning and it's a long drive back to Unionville."  Kyle handed Ian the check and stood to leave.
        Ian slipped a cassette tape out of one of the two tape decks that had been recording the session.  "Here is your tape.  You must have quite a collection by now."  Ian walked with Kyle to the top of the stairs.  The main floor of the house was tenanted.  Ian kept the upper floor with the private inside stairway for his bachelor pad and regression sessions.  "Tanya's helping me transcribe and edit my regression session tapes into publishable form.  As long as I change the client names, do you see any problems with publishing the more noteworthy sessions?"
        "You mean a la Edgar Cayce, the Sleeping Prophet?"
        "Perhaps with a more scholarly commentary."
        "Well, I'm not a commercial lawyer, but I'd get signed waivers if I were you."
        Ian extended his hand to Kyle as they reached the bottom of the stairs.  "Thanks for the advice, but that may be difficult.  Not all my subjects over the years are still on speaking terms with me.  Not everyone appreciates what they learn from these sessions like you do."  The short, balding professor stopped abruptly.  "You had a breakthrough tonight, Kyle.  Remember to beware of that Ramthar character when you meet him in this life.  I had Tanya place an alarm in your subconscious.  You'll know him as soon as you meet.  Steer clear of him.  Even if he's progressed over the last 10,000 years, you and he still have bad karma between you."
        "Thanks for the warning," Kyle said.  "If he's a judge, be thankful your divorce is completed."
        Kyle stepped into the cool night air.  Looking up at the stars glittering in the sky, he could almost imagine them talking to him.  He felt in control tonight, at one with the cosmos.  It looked like his longtime search for the secrets of the universe had finally borne fruit.  He slipped into his sleek Mercedes and headed home to his soul-mate.

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        It was nearing 6:30 in the morning when Ben Parker's Chrysler reached the outskirts of Huntsville.  The couple's conversation had centered on background information for the past half-hour, as each of them shared a little with the other.  Ben held his journalistic tendencies in check and Mandy's apprehension had dissipated during their journey from Oxtongue Lake.
        "I hope you don't take this wrong, but..."
        Mandy interrupted, "Why do I sense you're going to broach that forbidden subject again?"
        "No, really, I've learned my lesson.  I just don't feel comfortable dropping you at some street corner in tattered clothes with only the twenty bucks that I have on me to lend you.  After all, not even Canada Trust is open until 8:00."
        Mandy studied him for a moment.  Dark disheveled hair and a day's growth of beard gave him a ruggedly sexy appearance.  His features were handsome, but it was those deep sensitive eyes under his thick eyebrows that held her attention.  Mandy was considering his anticipated proposal as she coyly provided him with an opening.  "I guess you've got a point.  I'm open to suggestions."
        "Well," he said, trying to tread delicately.  "I hope you've got to know me well enough by now to realize I wouldn't take advantage of you.  But, my apartment is close by, and you could freshen up.  I could lend you a shirt and jeans, and you could call your uncle as soon as we get there."
        She laughed lightly. "You're so sweet when you stop being a journalist.  I guess if you were going to take advantage, you certainly blew your chance on that abandoned stretch of road outside Oxtongue Lake.  I accept, although you've already done much more than necessary for someone that you don't know from Adam."
        "What do you mean?  I know you quite well.  You're studying Criminology at Toronto's Achievers College.  You live in residence since your parents are now in New Jersey, your father having been transferred by his company a year ago.  Your sister is studying in Australia, and your closest relative is Uncle Kyle, who is a hotshot family lawyer in T.O.  You hope one day to work for the RCMP in their crime lab and solve cases like Bernardo and O.J.  You don't have a current boyfriend, and you hate pompous journalistic creeps."
        "I never used the word 'hate'."
        "True.  Journalistic licence."
        Mandy giggled, for the first time in days.  "You've got quite a memory for detail, Mr. Parker.  But remember I also know a lot about you, and I don't pose nude for strange photographers on the first date."
        "Understood.  I'll put that off until our second date."
        "In your dreams, Parker."
        The sun was fully risen, as Amanda exited Ben's vehicle.  She froze as a shadow fell across her.  She shot a glance upward.  A peregrin falcon circled overhead.  She watched as it alighted on a second-floor windowsill, and gazed down at the couple.
        "It's just a hawk, Mandy," Ben assured her.
        She looked at the bird apprehensively, and then hurried inside.
        Ben Parker lived in the second floor flat of a century home just off of Huntsville's main strip.  It was sparsely furnished, a normal bachelor pad with clothes draped casually about the small living room.  He quickly gathered them up and chucked them into the bedroom.  He asked Mandy to make herself comfortable while he searched his room for appropriate clothes.  Then he remembered.  He dug a package out of the mess at the bottom of his bedroom closet.  It was still wrapped in birthday paper.
        "Mandy, are you a size eight by any chance?" Ben called out.
        "Good guess," she said.  "Don't tell me you stock women's clothes.  I thought you specialized in nudes?"
        Ben was blushing when he entered the living room.  "I never should have told you about my aspiration to one day do a Playboy shoot."
        She noticed the birthday package in his hands.  She remembered him telling her about his ex-girlfriend, Sandy, and the tennis pro.  "Ben, you don't have to."
        "When's your birthday?" he asked.
        "December."
        "Close enough."
        "You're so sweet.  Thank you."  Her lips lingered on his cheek.  He then rounded up a towel and showed her to the bathroom.
        As Mandy washed away the sweat and grime of her harrowing ordeal in the wilderness, the fearful shadow creature seemed a lifetime away.  Ben Parker was one of the nicest men she had met in some time.  But she would have to return shortly to her studies in Toronto.  Soon their chance encounter would be no more than a pleasant footnote in both of their lives.
        Ben half dozed on the couch in spite of himself as she blow-dried her hair.  As Mandy emerged from the bathroom, transformed from tattered waif to fashionable woman, Ben knew Sandy could not have filled out his gift better.  Mandy turned about to model the light print dress for Ben.  He reached for his camera.  "A photo op, please, now that you're decent."  She smiled, tossed her long flaxen hair aside, and struck a pose for the camera as it whirred and snapped a series of shots.  "Now I'll have proof that I rescued a fair damsel from the clutches of evil tonight."
        Mandy's smile faded.  "I'd better call my uncle before he heads off to work."
        Dumb, Ben.  Real dumb.  "Sure, my treat."  He handed her the phone and she punched out the number.
        "Hi, Uncle Kyle.  It's me, Mandy.  Uh...you're not going to believe where I am."

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End of Chapter One

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