Prologue: Starlit Prison

Human dictionaries define space as "the infinite extension of the three-dimensional field in which all matter exists" or, even more enigmatically, as "the region of the expanse beyond the Earth's atmosphere." Some individuals with more romantic imaginations try to paint space into a fourth dimension involving the equally ambiguous term time, but in truth the concept is still outside of the grasp of science. Other cultures, other races, other worlds define space and time differently, the myriad meanings stretching across an infinity that rivals the human definition in fact.

All of these definitions are correct. They are also completely wrong. The truth is simply that space and time are indefinable. Meanings shift like sands through outstretched fingers depending on the place and state of mind of the observer. There are those beings for whom space and time cease to exist, and then there are others, those who can step across the strata from one space-time point to the next. Humans, and others with equally mortal minds, term these beings gods and grant them unlimited grasps of power. While this is again both correct and incorrect, the answer lies outside of our understanding. It is enough to simply believe that these beings exist.

*

The prison stretched across the strata of space-time in every discernable direction. In the areas of the known and the tangible the bars of the prison were delineated by bands of starlight against the infinite darkness, the soft glowing light disappearing around odd angles and curves into areas that simply are not.

In one of these areas a being watched. The being, most recently called Altea, sat anchored in a gap of a black hole, all senses trained on the arduous task of scanning the walls for weaknesses. There had been reports from the Lesser Ones that the Unnamed One, called Galra by its worshippers at the time of his imprisonment, had been more active of late than any time since the prison was cast millennia ago. Why this should be was a mystery in and of itself. Old religions had a way of suddenly reappearing throughout the Universe, but Galra had been imprisoned for so long that even the most far-reaching of mortal minds no longer recalled the name. Yet inexplicably, the whisperings and the sacrifices to pagan altars deep in the night were beginning a new round in the cycle.

Worse yet, though Altea radiated unease that rippled through the black hole and sent shock waves toward a nearby sun at the thought, worse was that the Focus was gone. The mere impossibility of the disappearance was staggering. The implications needed to be dealt with now, here, before the danger could spread.

Altea spared the bars of the prison one last wave of scrutiny before slipping from the anchor and launching her attention elsewhere. There were no discernable flaws, yet the danger of the missing Focus was real. There was only one option.

It was time for the Guardians to reawaken.

*

Chapter 1: The Awakening

The man smoothed down the satin vest under his charcoal gray jacket, staring a straight line down his nose with an air of bored composure as the Customs officials began dismantling his luggage. The men were all business, yet there was a subtle air of unease that ran through the room in an undercurrent, lending further speed to hands already shifting through personal articles with a detachment born of long practice. One of the guards, a young man with slanting dark eyes that marked an oriental heritage in spite of his sandy hair, even went so far as to smile apologetically. A smile from a Custom’s official. Hell must surely be showing the first signs of frost.

The man’s hands dropped to his sides and the tension increased as the woman in charge flipped open his carry-on bag. Despite his affected boredom, he couldn’t quite manage to tear his gaze away from her slender hands as they dropped into the bag and out of his sight. The old woman had promised that the Artifact would be safe from prying eyes once it was hidden inside her bag, but she had been wrong before. There was always the chance that she strove to discredit him before the others and to gain more power from his failure. Was she ambitious enough to gamble his life against the sacred Artifact?

But no, the woman’s hands reemerged empty from the depths of his luggage. It was all he could do to bite back on a sigh of relief. She shoved the bag back over the table into his waiting hands, her blue eyes hard as ice.

"I’m sorry about the delay, Mr…."

She frowned suddenly and tossed her head slightly in annoyance.

"Yurak," he answered with a silken smile. "My name is Mr. Yurak. Now if you’re quite finished, I do have a flight connection to keep."

"Of course." Those icy hard eyes bored into him as if certain he must be hiding something somewhere. "Thank you for your patience…" Her voice trailed off again and her gaze became even harder as she tried in vain to recall the name just spoken.

Yurak ignored her and gestured to the two large men dressed in plain blue suits waiting silently by the door. The men sprang forward and grabbed the luggage, hauling the heavy suitcases out into the barely controlled chaos of the international terminal. Yurak tipped his hat to the officials and followed them out, the carry-on bag clutched tightly under one arm. The bright light from the corridor flashed on the red stone set in his black leather eye patch as he disappeared into the milling crowd.

*

The Chief Custom Official shook her head and glanced around the room in confusion. The two remaining officials, both juniors under her charge, continued to stare blankly at the door. "Well? Are you just going to stand around all afternoon, or do you think maybe we can get back to work?" Irrational anger and a feeling she couldn’t shake that she’d just missed something important gave her voice an edge over and beyond her usual tone of command.

The two jumped as the question cracked over them like a whip and disappeared out the back door with mumbles of "yes, ma’am," and "no, ma’am" trailing behind them.


Her eyes narrowed, the woman glared at the wall and tried to remember what she was doing in one of the back inspection rooms when she was almost certain that she hadn’t left her desk all day.

*