Preface of Asher of the Angelmen
A very old-looking, yellowish paper was slipped onto the man's desk. The soldier who brought it couldn't help being intimidated in the presence of such power, and he stepped back quickly as bony fingers raised the page to examine it.
“These are the first four, then?” The yellow eyes lifted from the paper and bore an imaginary hole with his evil gaze into face of the soldier at his desk.
“Yes, sir,” he answered, still unable to meet the eyes of the man behind the desk. “Our spies have come upon no others. The source of spiritual energy is centered around these four.”
The soldier gained some confidence, knowing the information he presented was accurate. The man sensed that confidence and felt the need to squash it to prove his dominance.
“These four are too young. I would hope my enemy would not be so stupid. Children? One of them is even female. Surely I am not so underestimated.”
He succeeded; the minion shrunk back, defending himself and his information from a position recoiled. “But their powers are great, sir, and will multiply in the presence of the others. Energy detectors around them have confirmed that these are the leaders.”
The man stood. “If this is the best they have to offer, I will enjoy flaunting my power over them and taking back what is mine with ease.”
“Where should I tell them to begin, sir?”
The man looked at the paper. “This one is obvious. Pride will make his flaws the easiest to subdue. We only need to bring down one. If the four do not all meet, we have won before we have even begun. That should require very little effort. Is that something your squadron can manage?”
“With ease, sir.”
Pacing carefully to the front of the desk, coming closer to the soldier, the man answered, “Good. For this one, you will only require one female. Bring down first the angelman they call Asher.”
He returned to his seat behind the desk, storing this new information, the discovery of the angelmen leaders, in his brain so that he could mold it into a plan and use it.
“Yes, sir.” The soldier nearly sighed in relief of retaining his life at the exit of the brief meeting with the powerful one.
“Yes, sir?” asked a worried warrior.
“Let's send a message about the power of our army. Annihilate him, then the others.” He made his point clear by crumpling the paper into a ball in his hand. After a tight squeeze, the ball burst into flame before quickly extinguishing itself. The ashes drifted onto the desk.
“It will be done, sir.” The soldier was happy to carry the order out on the angelman, and glad it would not be done to him.
Chapter 1 The Stranger
Girls at Hanover High School all fell into one of two camps.
The first camp was his fan club, those who swooned at the sight of the tall, fair-skinned, handsome track star. A teenage girl was helpless in the presence of Asher Andrews.
The second camp comprised those who had already been pulled in by Asher's charms and realized that no girl was ever going to climb the ladder in his mind above himself and the sports he dominated. They'd been burned by themselves, each thinking she would be the one at whose feet he would fall, when really, Asher never fell.
There was no in between – no one who hadn't heard of Asher Andrews, and no one indifferent. He was a title-holder. In track, he was a state champion and had been since his freshman year. He brought glory home every spring, and television crews put the small town of Hanover, New York, on the local radar. His speed was what would give him a career in football, which was the sport in which he now made headlines.
Although there was always at least one girl in his presence, rarely did one find any male companions. Asher's attitude was a huge turn-off to other guys, so he had no one close to him. Even the other team members saw him as untouchable. Asher preferred to concentrate on his game, not sharing secrets with others. He didn't seek out the company of other guys, and they pretty much left him alone too.
The slap across Asher's face actually hurt his pride more than his skin, but then again, something that huge was an easy target.
“Hey, now, what was that for, pretty lady?” It took a lot to bother the popular athlete, and the smile he gave annoyed his accuser even more than his action.
“What's my name, Jerk?”
“Excuse me?” he asked, reaching for her shoulder.
“It isn't 'pretty lady.' It isn't 'pussy cat.' And it surely isn't Devin, as you called me in your last text, you know.”
Ooh, oops. Asher was terrible at names. He just didn't take the time to remember them. He loved the spotlight and enjoyed being in the company of just about every person in the school. They were all glad to be in his good graces, or so he thought. He was the closest thing that school had to a star, and they all couldn't wait to see which college would put his stardom on the national scene.
He used that to his advantage to make sure he wasn't alone any weekend night. The big flirt in him loved the attention the girls gave him.
It could hurt sometimes when they found out that he wasn't serious, though.
“I'm waiting.” A very displeased, but serious dark-haired girl stood at his locker staring daggers at him.
Asher avoided her stare, as he rarely looked anyone in the eyes, even when proclaiming phony feelings and making empty promises. With his head in his locker for safety, he said, “Darcy?”
“It's Sara. Not even close.” She slammed the locker door onto his head, and the corner caught his chin. “You know, Asher Andrews, I don't know if this is a game to you. You might think you can have any girl come and kneel at your feet, but it's never going to work for you. No one cares what time you can run a mile in. Once the race is over, you will still be alone. All alone.”
“Actually, I do the shorter sprints, and hurdles are my specialty. My time on the mile is irrelevant because it isn't what I focus on. In track, we don't even do a mile.”
His ignorance of the point infuriated the little brunette. She stomped away with a couple of girlfriends at her side, nose in the air.
Asher reached his hand to feel the long scratch across his chin, care of Sara. Sara, yes, he wouldn't forget that now, even though it wouldn't be of any concern to him again.
She turned back before parading off with the girlfriends to kindly inform him by yelling down the hall for the benefit of other students, “You're not cute, Asher!”
After she was gone, he was still looking in her direction, and said to no one who was listening, as if she had simply overlooked something obvious, “Yes I am. I'm adorable.”
He wasn't down in the slightest, though. She was wrong. He would always have someone. Loneliness wasn't in his future, as far as he could see. Looking back at the mirror in his locker, he gave a winning smile.
Yup, there would be someone new in his life by lunch time. Time to go check out the prospects.
Lunch came and went, but Asher hadn't come across any new company. A lot of the girls were busy with pep club work, decorating the school for the big football game coming up over the weekend against South High. Apparently no one noticed that Sara was no longer his companion and left a vacancy by his side. Asher wasn't bothered. Maybe it was time to switch focus for the time being. South was a big game, one of Hanover's biggest rivalries, and he needed to concentrate on learning the newer plays. As the team's fastest running back, Asher had to make sure he had the plays down before he got into formation, showing any college scouts in the stands that he knew what he was doing. This weekend would be a good one to be alone. He knew his dad would be grateful for that.
Practice came and went. Asher nailed down a few of the newer plays the team had been working on, after some basic drills. He loved the basics. The faster he could move, the better the chance he would avoid contact, a goal well worth its effort.
An hour and a half of pushing his body and mind to its max felt great when he was rewarded at the end with a long, hot shower. He headed back to his locker and took his time dressing. Since practice was over, he could go back to thinking about his social life. He began to wonder why his relationships were getting shorter and shorter.
“Don't worry about it. She's not the one for you.”
“Yeah, I know. To be honest, I don't even know if there's just one. Ha, ha.” Asher suddenly realized he had no clue with whom he was conversing or how the other knew his thoughts.
Asher was always the last one out of the locker room after practice. He took his time in the shower, letting the hot water relieve his well-worked muscles. No one waited for him. He didn't need the company after a work out. He preferred to roll his performance over in his mind as the water rolled down his sun-soaked skin. The reflection usually was a way to congratulate himself, but sometimes, he came away with ideas to improve his performance even more. Today's workout was fine, though, so his mind headed in a different direction, betraying him by hinting at the idea that he didn't really enjoy being so alone.
“You did great out there today,” came the voice of the other.
Asher brought his mind back to where he was. He quickly looked at the person next to him, still unable to figure out who the other guy was. He could have been wrong about not knowing him. He didn't get a good look; that wasn’t done in the locker room. Maybe he just never paid attention to the new person. He decided not to be rude. Asher generally was a friendly person.
“Thanks. Were you there? I mean, are you new on the team?” came Asher's unsure reply.
Upon second glance, the stranger was obviously too old to be a high school student, though his appearance was too vague for Asher to determine his real age. As such, he saw no reason for this man to be in a high school boys’ locker room. Panic rose, but he tried to squelch it with his macho I can handle it attitude.
The other answered him. “Yes and no.”
The man took a step closer, and Asher quickly and nervously backed up to the locker behind him. The stranger was taller than he was, and since Asher was six-foot-two, that said something. It was hard not to be intimidated, even when you thought you were the best athlete in the school.
“Who are you?” Asher demanded, knowing he wasn't commanding much in the way of intimidation, backed up against the wall as he was.
The other was unflinching. He was not exactly comforting nor was he threatening. He didn't move forward but his stare kept Asher frozen against the lockers. “My name is Jeremiah.”
That presented no useful information to Asher, but time the stranger took to make a greeting afforded him an escape. His eyes betrayed him as he glanced behind Jeremiah to an exit route. A champion hurdler, Asher thought he should be able to make it past this guy with no problem.
While Jeremiah's expression didn't change, the locker room door suddenly clicked and locked, as if he'd read Asher's mind. Taking things a step further, the lights in the locker room went out, leaving the pair in the dark, so that any other escape plans were thwarted.
Asher, usually the picture of calm, panicked like a stranded puppy and had no idea what to do next. He couldn't even think of anything to say. Never in his life had he had to deal with a dangerous situation.
Then, Jeremiah’s form illuminated the darkness. His calm voice told Asher, “Be at peace, Asher Andrews. You have been chosen. I will guide you. Now, let's talk.”
Something compelled Asher to stay and listen, but his body took over his mind. At the very word “peace,” his soul began to relax, but his body did not accept it. In a time like this he remembered why he hated being alone, and how nice it would have been to have some big, football-playing friends around to help tackle Jeremiah.
Asher was going to have to throw him off somehow, but that didn't look easy. Jeremiah appeared intensely focused, and Asher wondered what on earth this guy could want with him. Chosen for what? How'd he get in here anyway?
Asher surveyed the locker room, dimly lit and empty of any other human presence. What stood between him and the door, other than the stranger, was a long bench and a block of tall red lockers. Somehow, he would have to get past the man and around the lockers to run out the door.
Jeremiah didn't move. He still awaited a reply from his nervous, unknowing protégé. Though he wasn't moving, his presence appeared to be coming closer to Asher.
“Okay, okay. We'll talk,” Asher assured the non-assailing assailant. “But not in the same place—”
With that, Asher slammed a muscular leg onto the long wooden bench in the locker cubicle. The might of the placement propelled Asher up and over Jeremiah's non-turning head. Way over. Asher had hoped to clear the man, but wouldn't have been terribly upset if he accidentally kicked the guy in the process. He expected to land on the ground behind him so he could scurry around the lockers and out the door.
Instead, he jumped so high, he cleared the top of the lockers. In what felt like slow motion, he torqued his body, rolling in the air over the lockers, and landed in a crouched position on two feet and a hand, right in front of the locker room door. Thrilled to be safely separated from the stranger, Asher quickly unlocked and fell through the door. He then pushed himself back against it to keep it closed, so Jeremiah couldn't attempt to escape and come after him, while he caught his breath.
He knew he was an incredible athlete, but honestly, he had no idea he had that power in him.
Remarkably shaken from the event that just transpired in the locker room, Asher could hardly stop trembling as he exited the gym area. More distracted than he had ever been, he jumped when he heard a voice.
“Must have been a really good workout,” she said, somewhat shyly.
The voice belonged to the pretty little sophomore from the girls’ cross-country team. Asher was enamored with her, and she seemed to be the one girl in the whole world to whom he had trouble working up the courage to actually speak. Normally, he even blushed at the sight of her, but he was already flushed. He enjoyed watching her run when he was between his own runs and plays during practice. She was a distance runner, which Asher admired.
This was the first time she had ever spoken to him.
Mr. Dashing lost his cool. “Huh?”
She laughed, but it was a kind laugh. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I just saw that you were still shaking and thought you must have had a really good workout.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Wow, really? He couldn't come up with anything better to say? Brother.
“I'm Jessica.” She transferred all her belongings to one hand and stuck out the other for him to shake.
“I'm Asher.” He clumsily shook her hand, not transferring any of his things.
She laughed again. “No kidding! Of course I know who you are.”
That made Asher smile. He had almost forgotten his fame around school.
A car quickly pulled up outside the building and beeped once. Jessica seemed to know the cue. “Okay, well, I gotta go. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
She hurried off. Before she got in the car, however, she mouthed strange words to Asher, and he could only seem to translate them as, “Protect the Cause.”
“Yeah,” he said with a wave that she didn't see. That was weird thing to say, he thought. He wasn't a great lip-reader, so maybe he just got it wrong.
Hmm. Huh, Yeah, I'm Asher, and Yeah. Great conversationalist. Oh, well, he needed to be kept humble.
“That must have been some workout, dear.” Asher's tiny, but spunky mom got up on her tip toes to give her son a kiss on the head. He was used to the drill, so he leaned down to let her adore her son. He had an apple in his mouth, as he usually polished one off on the way home from practice.
“I sure hope the coach kept you late to go over what you were doing right. Because we have been waiting for you for dinner, and I’m hungry, sir,” claimed his father, setting down a magazine, and making a beeline for the table.
“Um, you guys go ahead with dinner. I'm not sure I'm all that hungry.” He lost his appetite from the quaking that hadn't been resolved in his stomach after meeting Jeremiah.
His mother would have none of that. “Asher James, that's boloney. You're a growing boy, and you need your nourishment. Now sit.”
“Mom, I'm not a growing boy any more.” Despite his own pleas, a compulsively obedient Asher sat down at the table.
His dad had already begun eating, but loved an opportunity for a joke. “Yes, please Ellen, if he grows anymore, there won't be any dinner left for his old man.”
“No, I mean, I'm not a boy. I'm eighteen now. I'm a man. I'll be gone next year, so I really don't think I need my mom telling me when I need to eat.”
“Aw, Honey, you know you are just always going to be my baby boy.” She stood behind him to rub down his shoulders for him.
Asher lifted his fork and ate some meat, dissatisfying as it was, to please his mother. She loved still being able to take care of him and hated the reference to his near departure.
Asher was the only son in the Andrews family, the only child at all. All the family's eggs were in his basket.
“Okay, so let's have a run down. This weekend you guys are up against South. What did Coach have to say about your coverage?”
Asher's father had never grown up. He had been in a similar position as Asher when he was a teenager. Where Asher's main sport was track, and he used his running skills on the football field, Bruce Andrews was all football. He had been his team's quarterback and brought championships home three years, so having his only child be a boy he could mold into a superstar was a dream come true. He could continue the football dream after all.
While his wife was concerned about her boy going off to college – most likely out of state – Bruce relished the fact that he still had four more years, and even after that there was the possibility of the pros. It was just another sticking point between him and his wife.
The phone rang.
“I'll get it.” Asher went to the receiver, thinking there was a possibility it could be Jessica. He hoped so. He needed an opportunity to provide a little better conversation and prove he wasn't just some dumb jock.
“No,” commanded his father. “No distractions for you tonight. Ellen?”
Asher's mother went for the phone, but Asher kept his ears open to hear who was on the line. He didn't often take phone calls during the week. His father was careful about keeping his social life at a minimum.
Asher tuned his mother’s conversation out after he realized the call wasn't for him.
“Do you have homework?” Bruce was also intent on making sure Asher's grades stayed high enough for eligibility. He didn't have much to worry about. Asher could hold his own in the classroom. His mother often wondered what his grades would be like if he weren't an athlete.
“Yeah, Dad. I think I'll go work on it now.” Asher wasn't completely honest. He did have some homework, but mostly, he just wanted to go be alone. He needed to work through his encounter with Jeremiah.
Chapter 2: The First Dream
Asher finished his homework and then just went straight to bed. Maybe things would go back to normal when he woke up in the morning.
He didn't know that it was all just beginning.
His night began and ended with the most curious dream he had ever experienced.
“Protect the Cause.”
Asher heard the sweet sound whispered before he was oriented to his surroundings. The warm breath on his ear was gone as quickly as he noticed it, and he looked around to find the source.
It didn't take long, because she wasn't hurrying away. It was Jessica, just as Asher had hoped. Her words confirmed the strange message he thought he saw her give him the day before. She now sauntered slowly just a few feet in front of him with a playful smile and a look in her eye that Asher could hardly resist chasing.
He took a few steps after her, but she matched them, still looking back at him. It never entered Asher's mind that she might be able to outrun him. Why on earth would she want to? He picked up the speed. So did Jessica, remaining a few steps ahead.
Asher was vaguely aware they were in the gym lobby of their school, and Jessica headed back toward the long hallway of the science wing of Hanover High. His heart raced as he ran faster. Annoyed that he couldn't catch her he wondered if he should even continue, but for some reason, he couldn't find the impetus to stop.
Looking carefully ahead of him, Asher noticed Jessica's feet weren't touching the ground. As a matter of fact, her legs weren’t moving. She was floating. No wonder he couldn't keep up with her. A small spark of jealousy ignited, as it was Asher's quietest wish to have that ability. Now he definitely couldn't resist trying to catch her.
Her speed suddenly accelerated, and Asher put in his best effort to catch her. His heart nearly jumped out of his throat. Jessica made a dash around the corner to the language wing of the building. Just a second later, Asher also turned the corner and stuttered to a stop.
She had vanished. Jessica was nowhere to be seen. He looked to either side at the lockers and classrooms, but the doors were all locked. He walked to the first door, twisted the knob to test his theory, and was proven correct. She couldn’t have gone in any of them. Just to be sure, he peeked through the side window into the dark room.
Before he could see anything, a whisper warmed his ear again.
“Protect the Cause.”
Before moving, Asher smiled. He knew he had her. He would grab her before she could dash off again. She might be able to outrun him, though only supernaturally, but he knew he was strong enough to hold on to her. He spun around, ready to catch her arms and hold her still.
Shock overtook him as he caught not Jessica, but a girl he had never seen before. She was just as beautiful, but tall, with long blond hair, in contrast to Jessica's shorter dark hair. Her eyes were what captivated him. They were a shade of jade green that matched his own. The pleading look that swam there made him want to rescue the girl. From whom? From what? While holding her, he was her captor, though he meant her no harm.
He looked down at her arms, left uncovered by her sleeveless top. Strange but stunning neon green markings ran the length of her forearms. He had never seen a tattoo in such a color.
The girl took advantage of his distraction and brutishly flipped her advantage. She swung him around and pushed him up against a row of nearby lockers.
Asher wasn't expecting such strength from the girl who came nowhere close to outweighing him. Maybe he was just suckered in by her beauty. It wouldn't be the first time. He would never try to overcome her. He budged, thinking he could escape her easily, but was surprised when he couldn’t.
Okay....This is odd. He wasn't sure what to feel. Then the girl spoke, without using her mouth. The words seemed to spring from her beseeching eyes.
“I'm in danger, Asher. I need you. You need to come for me.”
In the situation they faced, the words made no sense. He was already there with her, and she was in no danger. As a matter of fact, she was the one holding him captive, so Asher knew she wasn't referring to the present time.
He could only respond, “How?”
“Accept your calling.” Again she spoke not with her mouth but with her eyes.
Her answer made even less sense. What calling? How was that going to help the girl? He didn't have a chance to ask these questions. The girl grabbed his shirt and quickly pulled it off. With the strength of a deadbolt lock, she pushed his bare arms over his head and back against the wall while lacing her fingers through his. Her green markings began to glow and became blurred and obscure before heating up. He felt the pain of the heat, like a branding iron. Wanting to escape even more, but still unable, Asher was trapped.
“Oww,” he screamed as the heat intensified. Both of their arms glowed with a burning green light. Asher's arms were so hot that they were melting grooves into the locker behind him. He clenched his teeth and pushed his head back against the metal, but that didn't ease his pain.
As agonizing as the branding was, he wasn't angry with the girl. His heart seemed to open further to her, and now he had an overwhelming protective need to help her. They now shared even more.
“I'm sorry Asher.” The girl used her mouth this time. “Please find me . . .”
She still had not let go of his arms. He didn't mind.
“I will,” he promised blindly, not thinking how it could possibly happen.
Although her body was already pressed up against his, she brought her face closer and closer as though leaning in to kiss him. With nothing else to say to her, he leaned forward to receive the kiss, but wound up falling onto the floor, as the girl had leaned straight into the locker behind Asher and disappeared, leaving him feeling foolish.
Asher was alone, as usual, but on the ground, which wasn't usual. Instead of getting up, he lay back down and banged his head lightly against the ground. It hurt but didn't compare to the pain on his arms. He raised them in the air to look at them and saw the same neon green markings, laced with some red scarring, that had been on the girl's.
The marks were beautiful but very unusual. If he got a tattoo, he wouldn’t choose a strange or lacy pattern. He panicked for a moment as he considered what his coach would say. Or his mom!
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Jessica appeared, her foot on his chest. He wanted to ask her if she knew that other girl, if she went to their school, even though he was quite sure she didn’t. He would have noticed.
Jessica wasn't answering questions at that moment either. She simply told him, “Asher, you must go.”
Just as he woke up.