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Chapter 2:
Eyes in the Dark

Vic ran out of his room and down the hallway, his giant shoulders knocking
everything off both walls.  When he reached the living room he could see
weird flashes of green light in the darkness of his back yard, accompanied
by high pitched thunder, harsh shrieks and unnatural howls.  Suddenly, a
figure appeared at the sliding glass patio door.  It was a cloaked and
hooded human form, the twin embers of its eyes glaring balefully at Vic from
the darkness.
“You cannot protect him!” it rasped.  “Give us the Son of the Mountain!”

The figure shattered the door with one kick of its leather boot and stepped
inside.  It raised an arm and Vic could see it held a small crossbow.  With
a slow hollow hiss that might have been laughter, it leveled the bow’s
silver-gray bolt at Vic’s chest.  Through the green flashes outside Vic
could see more figures dressed like the first running toward him.  Several
dog-like shapes bounded onto the patio and stopped, howling and shrieking.

“Get out of my house!” yelled Vic, his voice now a booming baritone.

The hooded figures hesitated.  For a moment nothing happened.  From the
darkness a commanding voice called out.  “It is him!  Do not fear him!  Take
him!”

Vic felt something strike his chest.  In the dim light he saw a crossbow
bolt hit the carpet and bounce behind a table.

“Take him!” the hooded figures echoed.

More bolts came, striking him and bouncing off.  Vic backed up, overturning
his dining room table.  From within their robes, the hooded forms drew
large, cruelly shaped knives.  They advanced.

They cut at him, they stabbed at him, they sliced at him, but Vic felt only
the pressure of the blades running across his skin.  There was no pain.  
There was no pain because there was no injury.  The blades could not cut
Vic’s new skin.  But Vic didn’t know this.  He instinctively threw his arms
up to defend the blows.  He was convinced he was going to die.
“Leave me alone!” he yelled.

Then one of the blades got through and a bright white gash appeared across
Vic’s chest.  Vic growled in pain and lashed out with one arm, striking his
assailant and sending him flying into the opposite wall.  The robed creature
slumped to the ground, unconscious.  The hooded figures stopped, frozen.  
Some retreated to the center of the room.

“Look at his hand!” one exclaimed.  They did.  Vic looked too.  His hand was
gone.  In its place was a fist-shaped piece of gray stone the size of a
microwave oven.  For a moment he marveled at it.

What the hell did that guy do to me? he thought.

He looked down at his attackers.  They stared up at him, six sets of eyes in
the dark.

“He has been given the power of the Mountain,” said one.  That tone, was it
fear or awe?  Vic didn’t know.  Vic didn’t care.  Whatever was keeping them
from slicing him open was a good thing.  Then the voice from outside called
again.  It was a cold, emotionless voice.  It made Vic think of a midnight
graveyard.

“He has been Protected.  Do not fear it.  He is not yet a true Son of the
Mountain.  He can be overcome.  We must take him!  We must bring him to the
King!”

But the figures didn’t move.  They swayed, on guard, knives at the ready,
but did not attack.  One stole a quick glance at its unconscious cohort
crumpled on the floor.

Vic knew an opportunity when he saw it.  He knew the best way to defeat a
blitz was to strike quickly and decisively.  Sliding a foot under him, he
bolted forward with a speed that amazed him even as he was doing it.  The
bodies of the hooded ones flew in all directions.  Glass broke.  Before he
knew it he was outside on his patio facing the dog-like howlers and a red
robed man.  Debris crashed to the ground around him as the roof of his
living room gave way.

Though surprised by Vic’s attack, the red robed figure raised his glowing
staff while the howlers cringed and sprang back.  “You will not escape!”

“Who’s escaping?” growled Vic, and leaped at him.

He caught the mage with a clean shoulder, just like he’d done a thousand
times in football practice.  He drove the leader’s breath from him and sent
him flying into the side of the garage.  The howlers leaped over the back
fence and disappeared.

Stomping over to the dazed figure, Vic lifted him by his neck with one
massive fist and slammed him against the stucco wall.  Cracks spread out
from behind the mage’s head like spider webs.  Blood began to run down the
collar of the man’s robes.

“So you are human,” growled Vic.  “What have you done to me?”

“You are doomed, Victor Grant,” coughed the man.

“Tell me what you did to me or I’ll snap your neck!”

“I?  I have not done anything to you,” said the mage, struggling for breath.
  “The Order.  The Order has cursed you.  They have made you a freak,
twisting your body into a monstrosity.  They mean to take you to Paragon
City, to use you, sacrifice you, destroy you!”

“Tell me how to get my body back!”

This time the man only laughed; a hollow gravelly sound that gurgled with
blood.

“You will never be the same, Victor Grant.  You have been placed on the
playing board.  You are just another piece of the game, another of
Malmochai’s naïve soldiers being led to slaughter.  The Circle will hunt
you.  We will not stop until you are dead.  Your life is gone!  Not even the
Protection of Iaia can save you now!”

“What is Iaia?  Who is the King you mentioned?  Who is Malmochai?  What do
mean I’ve been Protected?  Protected from what?  Answer me!”

With a crooked grimace, the mage pulled a knife from within his robes.  He
uttered three words in a tongue Vic had never heard and looked to the sky.  
“May I have vengeance in death!  The power of the Circle endures forever!”

In one swift motion the man plunged the knife into his eye and slumped in
Vic’s grip.  Horrified, Vic released him and he fell to the ground,
lifeless.  Vic stepped back, his eyes fixed on the body.

“Oh, my God,” he said.  “Oh, my God.”

Sometimes life sends you little surprises, things you don't expect, like
little bits of chaos.  Not a lot, mind you, and never enough to really upend
your life.  And these little packages of randomness may annoy or thrill you,
depending on your outlook.  Vic had always been the kind of young man
thrilled by the unexpected.  In fact, as a linebacker he thrived on
delivering little bits of chaos to the opposing team on every play.  He
liked being the architect of turmoil, the stick that stirs the anthill.

But sometimes, instead of a little package of randomness, life mails us a
pipe bomb.  First Class overnight guaranteed delivery.  Sometimes life turns
our world upside down for no reason at all and nothing is ever the same.  
And we ask ourselves Why?  How could this happen and why did it happen to
me?  And these questions either disable us or force us to recognize the new
course of our lives.

Vic was not ready for this.  This was no little bit of chaos.  This was
Chaos itself.  This was a pipe bomb.  Vic had always been the kind of person
who thrived on knowing certain things would always be the same.  He would
live in his house and go to school and take a scholarship and play ball in
college and get drafted and play pro until he won a championship.  Simple.  
Easy.

These were the plans of a young man for whom opportunity and achievement
went hand in hand.  And for a young man who caused such upheaval in the
plans of others, he very much relied upon his own plans going forward like
clockwork.  It gave meaning to his world.

But now?  Oh, now it all had changed.  In the space of only a few minutes
Vic’s life had changed forever.  And for a high school kid who planned for a
life of regimented success it was the kind of change that gripped him at his
core and shook him like a dog shakes its prey.

You will never be the same, Victor Grant, the robed man had said.  You
are just another piece in the game.

He knew the man was right.  His life here would never be the same.  He had
to leave.  The answers he sought were in Paragon City, almost a thousand
miles away.  Somehow, some way, he was going to travel there.  He was going
to find the man who changed him, who turned him into a marble-skinned
monstrosity.  He was going to find the fugitive mage from the Order of the
Rose and get his body back, get his life back.  He was going to take himself
off the playing board.  Then everything would be okay.

As if waking from a bad dream, Vic realized he was naked.

Where are my clothes? he thought.  Then he laughed.  What difference does
it make?  They wouldn’t fit me now.

He turned and went back in his house.  He had to wake his parents.  The
fugitive mage said they were in a deep sleep.  He had to make sure they were
alright.  If those howlers hurt them…

The house was dark.  Only the kitchen light showed the rubble and debris of
the fight.  Picking his way around the timber and drywall from the collapsed
ceiling, Vic walked down the hall again and peeked into the master bedroom.

Like a miraculously preserved room in an otherwise defiled tomb, his
parents’ bedroom seemed untouched by the night’s violence.  They lay on
their backs, covers up to their waists, peacefully asleep.  Vic slowly
approached and stood over them, like a graveyard statue guarding the dead.

What do I tell them?  Hi, remember me?  I’m your hideously deformed son.  
About fifteen minutes ago my body was changed by magical spell into an eight
foot block of marble with legs.  I just got through defending our three
bedroom home from wizards, alien dogs, and hooded kidnapers with glowing red
eyes and crossbows.  Who uses crossbows nowadays, you ask?  I don’t know,
but I’m going to find out.  You see, I’m going to Paragon City.  I know you
told me never to go there, but that’s where the man who changed me said he
was from.  I’m going to find him and get him to change me back.  I’m going
to take myself off the playing board.

I didn’t want any of this.  I don’t believe in destiny or bogeymen, or
Cosmic Mountains.  I’m going to make this all go away.  I’m going to make
everything go back to the way it was.  I don’t want you to worry.  I’ll come
back.  I promise.

His mother stirred, then his father.  They slowly blinked their eyes as they
began to wake.

“Mom?  Dad?”

It would not be the last time Vic saw his parents, but it was the last time
his parents ever saw their son.  And perhaps for Vic that may have been
enough, except for the way they looked at him.  Such shock.  Such fear.  
Yes, it may have been enough for Vic, except for the ice cold stab of horror
that raced up his spine as he realized they did not recognize him.  To them
he was a monster, something incredible and unholy, a creature of nightmare
come to hurt them.  They crawled off the bed and into the corner.  They
began to pray, choking out the words in halting, breathless gasps.  Vic took
a step toward them.  They began to scream.

Oh, how they screamed.

He threw up his hands as if to say Wait!  Stop!  Let me explain!  I’m your
son!  Mom!  Dad!  Please!   He opened his mouth to say the words….

…and heard sirens.





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