If I don’t look, maybe it’ll all go away, like a bad dream.
Because surely this was the worst dream he could ever imagine.
Christopher King sat in the corner, holding the ace of spades in his hand. With a flip of his fingers, he tried catching the card between his knuckles and moving it into a back-palm, where it would appear to vanish to an audience. All he succeeded in doing was causing the card to shoot across the room. He didn’t go after it. He merely grabbed a different card and tried again, refusing to look away, knowing that if he did he would have to face reality.
Magic had always been a hobby of Chris’s. His father had shown him his first card trick when he was seven and had taken him to see his first professional magic show when he was eight. Ever since then, Chris had wanted to become a magician. As time moved on and Chris grew older, he realized that there was no such thing as real magic—it was only smoke and mirrors and sleight of hand—but that hadn’t driven him away from wanting to learn how to do the tricks. In fact, it made him want to practice, so that one day he could fulfill his deepest ambition and perform the greatest trick the world had ever seen, one so great that everyone would believe it was real. However, now at fifteen, Chris wished that magic was real, because there was nothing he wanted to do more at this moment than to be able to disappear.
People he had never met and would never meet again walked past him, talking to one another, sometimes stopping to mutter something consoling to him. He pretended not to hear or even to see them. If he didn’t acknowledge them, then they weren’t there. And if they weren’t there, then none of this was really happening.
He held the playing card between his thumb and forefinger, giving up on the back-palm and flipping it over instead, watching as the back turned into the front and then the back again. If only it was that easy to turn back the hands of time. It wasn’t fair how your life could change so abruptly. How one minute your parents could be safely driving home, and the next in an accident with an eighteen-wheeler.
“Chris . . .”
Chris looked up. One of the people had stopped to offer his condolences. He was a thin man in his mid-forties with a dark moustache and glasses that magnified his sad and drawn eyes.
“Chris, I’m so sorry. My name’s James Chivaro. I worked with your father at the office.”
Go away, Chris willed. I don’t care.
The man held out a pale hand. Chris didn’t know if the man was offering to shake or to help him up. Chris didn’t want to do either.
When the man saw that Chris didn’t make any effort to take it, he hunkered down, his knees popping like twin pistol shots.
“Chris, I understand that this is a hard time for you, and that you feel alone, but I want you to know that things will get better. Believe me. You’ll find a reason to go on and be happy again. I lost someone very close to me at an early age, too, and it felt like my world ended, but here I am today, still whole.”
Chris didn’t want to hear any of it. He squeezed his eyes closed, fighting back the tears, wishing that the man would go away. Thankfully, he did. When Chris finally opened his eyes, he expected to be alone again. What he did not expect was for someone across the room to be staring at him.
This man was large and rugged-looking. He wore a ponytail and a goatee, and his eyebrows were drawn so close together, his glare so intense, that it felt like the man was gazing into Chris’s soul.
The man’s presence startled Chris, and he quickly looked away. Curious if the man was still glaring at him, Chris snuck a look back. To his surprise, the man was gone. It was impossible to tell if he had really been there or if he had been a figment of Chris’s imagination. Needing to find out, Chris stood up, tucking the playing cards into his pocket. When he did, the room immediately grew quiet, as if everyone had been waiting for this moment. The strangers standing between the chairs parted, creating an aisle to the front of the room. Chris forgot all about the odd man. Very slowly, he walked forward, toward the two people lying down, waiting for him at the end of the aisle. As he approached the beautiful hardwood caskets, tears began to flow.
It was time for him to say goodbye to his parents.
—There is a disturbance in the air.
—What is it?
—I can’t make it out. It’s something I’ve never seen before. Deep in the south.
—Look deeper. I must know. There can be no secrets in my kingdom.
Miss Halestrom, a short, portly woman who only wore dresses, sat looking out the window, humming to herself. The blinds were open and the sun was shining, spilling its milky rays onto the creamy walls of the small room she used as her office. She drummed her fingertips on the surface of the desk as she cradled the phone between her ear and shoulder.
“Mr. Abott, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. Yes, I did receive your last email. Yes, Christopher King. When did he come into my care, you ask? About five weeks ago. Yes, very tragic, his parents were in a car accident. No, no inquiries as of yet. His date of birth? Good question. Let me check.”
Miss Halestrom leaned over, typing on her computer, bringing up Chris’s file. For the past eleven years, she’d run and managed the New Beginnings foster home. During that time, she’d had children come into her care for all sorts of reasons: biological parents unable to care for their children, children removed for fear of physical or psychological damage, or the unexpected death of a single parent (or both parents in Chris’s case). Usually the first choice for these types of situations was for the child to live with a relative: an aunt, uncle, or even a grandparent. However, if there were no immediate relatives, or if the relatives were unwilling or unable to take care of that child, then foster care was the next option.
Miss Halestrom knew it wasn’t easy being a foster parent, not when you had to give up the children you took care of and had gotten to know. But she did it because they needed her help, and helping people was one thing Miss Halestrom was good at. That’s why she didn’t mind when social workers like Mr. Abott called, inquiring about the children that came into her care.
“Okay, here we are,” she said when she found Chris’s file. “July 11th. No, no family that could have taken him in—only a grandmother on the late father’s side suffering from Alzheimer’s. No, he’s in perfect health. No mental or physical illness. Very bright boy from what I’ve—”
A loud knock cut her off. It was at the auxiliary door that led outside, the door that she used to let in prospective parents and social workers.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Abott, can you please hold on?”
When Mr. Abott said that he could, Miss Halestrom set the phone down. “Who is it?” she asked the knocker.
The only answer she received was more knocking. Slightly annoyed, she picked up the phone again. “I’m sorry, Mr. Abott, can I call you back? There appears to be someone here. Yes, of course. Thank you.”
The visitor knocked three more times before she could cross the room, and a fourth even as she opened the door. Whoever it was, was impatient. Probably a tax collector or a solicitor. But the man on the other side didn’t look like either. He was tall, muscular, and broad-shouldered with a goatee and long black hair tied back in a ponytail. If he hadn’t been dressed in a three-piece suit, Miss Halestrom might have thought he belonged in a motorcycle gang.
Looking the stranger up and down, she asked, “Can I help you?”
“Yes,” the man responded in a raspy voice. “My name is Mr. Walcott. I understand that you have children for adopshun here.” He pronounced the word slowly, as if saying it for the first time and struggling to get it right.
“Yes,” said Miss Halestrom. “This is a foster home.”
“I also understand that you have a young boy who has recently lost his parents.”
Miss Halestrom looked surprised. “Why, yes, Christopher King. But how did you—”
Mr. Walcott’s eyes lit up. “I will take him now.”
Miss Halestrom blinked. “You’ll—you’ll what?”
“I will take him now,” repeated Mr. Walcott.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not sure you understand how adoption works. There’s a process, and it takes a long time. Usually two to three years. You see, adoptions are handled by a government agency or a private group. And these groups must first investigate the couple who want to adopt a child. They need to make sure that you and your wife are up to par and can provide that child with adequate care.”
“I do not have a wife,” was Mr. Walcott’s response.
Miss Halestrom frowned. Usually the adopters were married. It provided a more stable family. A child like Chris needed something like that, especially after his loss.
Nevertheless, Miss Halestrom thought she’d give the man a try. “Did you speak with your social worker?”
“Why, yes. That’s the first step. You must contact your social worker. I can give you a booklet on the process. It’ll explain—”
Mr. Walcott raised a hand, cutting her off. “Can I see the King boy?”
Miss Halestrom was too surprised to protest. “You want to meet him? Now? Even though he will have most likely found a new home before your paperwork clears?”
“Yes. I want to see him.”
Miss Halestrom thought about this for a moment. She didn’t think it could hurt. Mr. Walcott did seem interested. Very interested, in fact. Like Chris, maybe he had also lost someone close to his heart and yearned to fill the empty void. Who knew, if everything worked out, there was still a chance the two of them could be paired up. If not, then at least it would be an opportunity to allow both Mr. Walcott and Chris to get acquainted with the adoption process.
“Okay,” she said at last. “I can have him come down. Would you be so kind as to wait in the parlor?”
Mr. Walcott bowed his head—“As you wish”—then followed Miss Halestrom out of her office.
Chris lay on the bed in the room upstairs with his eyes closed. He could hear the muffled conversation in the room below and thought, by the way the words sounded, that his name had been mentioned. He didn’t care. How could he after what had happened? It still felt like he was drifting in space, helpless, unable to move under his own power.
Knowing that he would never see his parents again was the oddest thing of all. He turned onto his side and felt a hot tear slip down his cheek. He remembered the way his mother used to come into his room and sit down beside him when he was sick. How she used to read to him. How his father used to try to cheer him up by buying videos on magic. This made Chris want to cry even more. Those things were gone now, and they would never come back. He was left to fend for himself. And even though his father had once told him that he would have to grow up someday and become an adult, he didn’t think that day would come so soon.
There was a knock at the door.
“Who is it?” he asked irritably, already knowing the answer.
“It’s Miss Halestrom. May I come in?”
For a moment Chris wondered what might happen if he said “No.” Would the woman actually go away and leave him alone?
He turned over, wiping at his cheeks with his sleeves. “What?”
“May I come in?”
Chris wiped more furiously. He didn’t want her to see that he was crying. “Yeah, I guess.”
The door opened.
“May I sit down?”
Miss Halestrom moved to the foot of the bed, folding her floral-pattern dress under her as she sat. Her eyes moved from one corner of the room to the other, taking in the surroundings. Chris had not unpacked any of his things. The floor, which should have been strewn with the socks and underwear of a teenager his age, was immaculately clean, the nightstand by his bed unburdened, the tops of the dressers bare. Even the drawers were empty. The only indication that someone was inhabiting the room was the pair of suitcases pushed up against the wall, which had yet to be unpacked.
“I know it’s hard to adjust,” Miss Halestrom said, her voice soft like a pillow, “but you will.” She spoke with feeling and sincerity. “In time you’ll be ready to move on. And when you are, there’ll be someone there waiting for you.” She paused for a moment, then said, “There’s actually someone downstairs waiting to see you now. A very nice man who asked about you.”
Chris turned his back on Miss Halestrom.
“I know you think it’s too soon to start a new family, and I agree. You need some time to heal. But this man doesn’t even have his papers yet, so you don’t have to worry about him adopting you any time soon. Which is why I think you should meet him. It will help you get ready for what to expect in the future. It couldn’t hurt.”
Yes, it could, Chris thought. Just thinking about living with someone else other than his mother and father caused his stomach to knot.
“Will you come downstairs and meet him?”
Chris heaved a huge sigh. He knew Miss Halestrom wouldn’t leave him alone until he agreed. “Fine. I’ll be down in a minute.”
Miss Halestrom’s eyes glistened. “Thank you.”
When she left the room, Chris rolled onto his stomach and buried his face into the pillow, praying for a miracle. Something that would change his life for the better.
Very slowly, without any enthusiasm, Chris made his way down the stairs and into the living room. It looked somewhat cleaner, as if Miss Halestrom had quickly taken extra care in making it presentable. He noticed that she had set out doilies and laid them atop the coffee table. Even the afternoon sun took part in brightening up the room. But Chris still thought there was an invisible umbra surrounding it. A dark shadow that lay draped over his future. And there, sitting on one of the couches with his back towards him, was the man Miss Halestrom wanted him to meet.
In her most considerate tone, Miss Halestrom said, “Christopher, this is Mr. Walcott. Mr. Walcott—Christopher.”
Mr. Walcott stood.
“Greetings,” he said in a raspy voice, extending his hand.
Chris was surprised to find that he took it. He thought it was Mr. Walcott’s face that made him do it. It looked hard and weathered. Not haggard or wrinkly like an old person’s, but matured and experienced. His eyes seemed to blaze with forbidden knowledge, his lips pressed into a thin white line. When he took Chris’s hand to shake, Chris winced at the strength the man possessed.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Chris.”
Chris mumbled something in return and sat on the couch across from him. Miss Halestrom beamed. “Would either of you like something to drink? Coffee, Mr. Walcott? Soda, Christopher?”
Chris said nothing.
“Tea, if you have it,” said Mr. Walcott.
“Of course.” Miss Halestrom smiled and stepped silently out of the room, leaving Chris and Mr. Walcott alone.
The two stared at one another, each of them filled with his own thoughts.
Here it comes. Now this guy will tell me how eager he is to start a family. He’ll probably start off by asking a bunch of questions. Crap like, What’s your favorite sport? or So, Chris, what types of movies are you into?
But these questions never came. Mr. Walcott only sat on the couch, staring in complete silence. Chris hardly expected this, and for that reason almost broke the silence himself.
No, that’s what he wants you to do! It’s a trick. You didn’t want to talk to him in the first place, so just sit here until he either says something or leaves.
It was a good plan, but Chris was discovering that it was harder to carry out than he had anticipated. There was something about Mr. Walcott that made Chris want to speak. Something strange. The man just sat there, staring at Chris as if studying a slide under a microscope. It was as if he saw something that Chris didn’t even see himself.
Every so often he scratched absently at his dark goatee or long sideburns.
Bored, Chris tried to let his vision wander about the room, but no matter which way he looked, he always returned to the man before him, helpless to lock eyes. They were the strangest he had ever seen. He had come across blue and brown before, even hazel, but these were truly a reptilian green with no hint of any other color. They seemed to peer through his head and into his mind.
Mr. Walcott raised his hand and ran it through his hair. For the first time, Chris realized that it was long and clasped at the back in a ponytail. Looking at it, an odd feeling of Déjà vu washed over him. Had he seen this man before? It didn’t seem likely, but every time he studied those hard, weathered features, they looked more and more familiar.
Mr. Walcott smiled.
“I see that you are beginning to recognize me,” he said at last.
Chris’s eyes widened. “Wait, you mean I know you?”
“No, I would not say that you know me, but you have seen me before.”
Chris tried to think back. When had he ever seen this man? He couldn’t place him. Then his gaze settled on Mr. Walcott’s piercing green eyes again, and he suddenly knew. “You were at my parents’ funeral. You were staring at me from across the room.”
Mr. Walcott nodded. “Very good. Your memory does not deceive you. That is something of importance. But how are your reflexes?”
Before Chris could even contemplate what this meant, Mr. Walcott picked up a pillow off the couch and heaved it as hard as he could. It flew through the air and struck Chris square in the face.
Caught by surprise, Chris shouted, “What the hell was that for?”
“Not that good yet,” Mr. Walcott muttered to himself. “Well, we can work on that.”
Chris was at a loss for words.
“You seem quiet.”
“Quiet?” Chris nearly shouted. “Are you—are you serious?”
“I am,” said Mr. Walcott. “Miss Halestrom tells me that you like magic. Is this true?”
Chris opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. The change of topic was so abrupt that it robbed him of every rational thought.
Mr. Walcott just stared at him with those piercing green eyes. “Tell me, Chris, are you nervous to talk to me?”
Chris shook his head. “No, I just—I don’t understand—why did you throw that pillow at me?” Then, very quickly: “Forget it. I don’t wanna talk!”
“You do not want to talk . . .” Mr. Walcott drew the words out as if making sure he had gotten them right. “Is that because you think I am going to replace your parents?”
That seemed to do it. A warm bubbling sensation deep down in the pit of Chris’s stomach rose up and spread through every limb like a malignant stream. His forehead began to burn and his fingers started to twitch. He couldn’t hold it in any longer.
“Nobody will ever replace my parents!” he shouted. “Ever!”
Mr. Walcott smiled his curious smile. “No, nobody will ever replace your parents, that is for sure. But somebody will be replaced. And you are going to be the one to replace him.”
All the anger drained out of Chris, replaced by confusion. “What are you talking about?”
“I promise to explain in full detail. To start, my name is not Mr. Walcott.”
“No, not at all.”
“So then you don’t want to adopt me?”
The man laughed. It was a hearty sound that came straight from the diaphragm and sounded like a quiet roll of thunder. “No, no, I do want to adopt you. But not in the way that you may think. Not in the way that you may think, at all.”
That did it. Chris was utterly lost. Who was this man and why was he talking in riddles?
“I feel I owe you some explanation as to my being here,” the man said. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. As he did, the sleeves of his suit rolled up a little and Chris noticed that his dark forearms were lined with scars. “I am here because you share the soul of a very powerful man.”
“What do you mean?” Chris asked.
“How can I explain this?” The man sat pensively, stroking his goatee. After a few minutes, he said, “This is not the only universe that exists. There are more. Remlia, where I am from, and the Land of the Dead, which resides somewhere in-between. We call this group of universes the Threeverse, and it has existed for all eternity in perfect harmony.
“The Land of the Dead is the axle on which the Threeverse spins. It creates souls and disperses them throughout the livable worlds in each universe: yours and mine. Yet, because there are two worlds populated with people, the souls from the Land of the Dead are split, each half residing in a person in the opposite world.
“The person who shares your soul in my world, Chris, is evil and corrupt. He came to power in the most unspeakable way, and he strives to do the most abominable thing. He plans to remake the Threeverse in his image, which will not only destroy my world, but yours as well.
“You must help us. You are the only person who can defeat him. Because you share his soul, you will be able to pass through his wards and open the way for our fighters. Now is the time for you to overcome the trials that await and make a legacy for yourself.”
Souls? Another world? A legacy? The man who claimed he was not Mr. Walcott was nuttier than a peanut salesman. For the first time, Chris found himself beginning to hope that Miss Halestrom would come back into the room.
There must have been something on Chris’s face that gave his thoughts away, because the man said, “I see that you do not believe a word I say. Do you think I am crazy?”
Chris inhaled sharply. “No. Not at all.” But he did. He thought this man was a lunatic. He was also afraid of him. Crazy people acted first and thought second, and this man looked like he could do some damage. His sleeves rolled up even further. Under his scarred skin, his powerful muscles rippled.
“You do think I am crazy,” said the man. With his raspy voice, the words sounded like an accusation. Chris felt a chill crawl up his spine.
This is it, he thought. This whacko is gonna jump over the coffee table and strangle me.
But that didn’t happen. The man only sat in his seat, staring silently. Too nervous to do anything else—pleading now that Miss Halestrom would walk into the room and save him—Chris sat there, too, careful not to make any sudden movements.
After a silence, the man said, “Very good. You do not act rashly. There is hope for you yet.” He stood up sharply. Chris recoiled and pushed himself back against the couch cushion. The man laughed and motioned with his hand for Chris to stand.
“Rise to your feet.” It was an order that Chris refused to obey. The man sighed. “If I am going to prove to you that I am not crazy, I need you to stand.”
This was the part where the man would capture him and run to some seedy motel where, in that mirthful and joyous place that all psychopaths create in their minds, he would perform unspeakable acts. Chris refused to let that happen.
Discouraged, the man said, “I need you to stand if you are to grab this . . .”
From the collar of his shirt he pulled out a gold necklace on which a strange-shaped medallion hung.
“What’s that?” Chris found himself asking.
“It is a Medallion of Sepheron, one of the few left in existence.”
“What’s it do?”
The man smiled. It eased Chris’s fears, for it took the hardness out of the man’s face. “You are perceptive.”
“What do you mean?”
“How did you know that it did anything?”
Chris couldn’t say how he knew. There was just something about the medallion that hinted at a source of power. The man held it out for Chris to see. It was about the size of a silver dollar, but it was thinner and warped. It looked like an elephant had stepped on it. In the center, hewn into the shiny metal, was what looked like Japanese letters. On closer inspection, Chris saw that it was not letters at all but symbols. Four, in fact, separated by two intersecting lines.
“This particular medallion was given to me by my father. Few others are worthy of the medallions’ power. With it, I can ferry.”
“Travel by magic from place to place within my world. It even allowed me—with the help of a greater source of magic, of course—to travel here, to your world, where I got this horrible thing.” He tugged on the cuffs of his suit. “I do have to say that you people have the most despicable clothing.”
Chris felt his doubt grow. Was he really going to let himself get taken in by what the man was saying? Sure the medallion looked cool, but it was nothing more than a cheap prop someone could buy online. And all this talk about souls, magic, and other worlds? Pure fantasy. This was real life, and in real life magic didn’t exist. Stuff like this didn’t happen no matter how much someone wished it might.
“Touch it,” the man said, his hard eyes finding Chris’s.
“Miss Halestrom told me you liked magic. Well, touch the medallion and tell me if you still think I am making any of this up.”
Chris was surprised to find that he listened. He reached out and touched the medallion. The moment his finger made contact with the ruff surface, he yanked it back, hissing in surprise.
The corners of the man’s lips lifted slyly. “What happened?”
“It—it shocked me!”
“Yeah! Well—I think it did.”
The man leaned closer. “Touch it again. This time with your palm. Hold it over the medallion, and then drop it on top of it. But,” he added without any humor, “do not grab it just yet.”
Chris did as he was told, a bit hesitantly. He raised his slightly-trembling hand and held it about an inch above the medallion.
I’m crazy, he thought. I’m like a little kid. I actually expect something to happen.
“Go on,” the man persuaded.
Chris drew in a breath. When he let it out, his hand was already dropping. He made contact with the medallion the same moment he closed his eyes. When he did, something miraculous happened: He felt a torrential surge of power leap through his body. It began at his palm, ran up his arm, scurried across his shoulder blade, and fled down his spine. All thoughts of the strange man vanished and were replaced with the oddest sensation.
Deep in the back of his mind, like an efflorescent flower, a picture bloomed so crisp and clear it was as if he might have been looking at the sight with his very own eyes. It was a place like no other, so beautiful that his limited vocabulary was incapable of describing it.
Just as soon as he saw it, it vanished.
When Chris opened his eyes, he realized that his hand was no longer resting on the medallion.
“You saw it, did you not?” the man said.
Chris gasped. “What—what was that?”
“Remlia. The Prime world. The one I ferried from.”
Chris shook his head in disbelief. He couldn’t be sure if what he had seen was real or if it was just something his overactive imagination had created.
“Do not fight with yourself,” the man said, seeming to read Chris’s thoughts. “You know what you saw. I will take you there. You have a destiny to fulfill. You are a very important figure to Remlia, and there is a terrible wrong that needs to be righted.”
Chris felt his heart start to beat faster. “Is this for real?”
“Yes. You know it is. Now, let us go!”
“Wait— Now? As in right this second? But I don’t have any of my things!”
“You do not need your things. They are only possessions. Look in your heart. Tell me, do you really want to stay here, where there is nothing left for you?”
Chris thought for a moment. “No,” he said. “I don’t.”
“Then here, rest your palm just above the medallion. When I say so, grab my hand, tightly. I will guide you.” The man reached down and seized a small bag from under the table, slinging it over his shoulder. It was old and worn and looked like it had been through a million journeys.
This was all happening too fast. There was no way any of this could be real. There were too many things that didn’t make sense. Yet, Chris felt excitement rush through his veins just the same. There was something in the man’s words that rang true. Did he really want to stay here, where he had nothing to look forward to but a foster home and a future he didn’t want, with a family he didn’t know? No, he didn’t, and for that reason he decided he would take any possible way out, even if it was with this hard, rugged figure who was most likely out of his mind.
Let the adventures begin, Chris thought, throwing all caution to the wind.
Without pause, he raised his hand above the man’s.
“Grab it,” the man said, “and do not let go.”
Chris had time for only one question before he felt the man’s hand come up and meet his instead: “Who are you?”
“My name is Jace, and I am the messenger.” Before Chris could do or say anything more, there was a brilliant burst of light and a horrible pressure building inside of him. It simultaneously pulled his body like a piece of taffy from all ends and pressed in. For a terrible second Chris feared he might turn inside out. And then, as abruptly as it had begun, it ended.
Miss Halestrom poured a small bit of milk into the tea and stirred until the liquid turned cloudy. She ran the spoon under the faucet and gently placed it on the dish rack to dry. She hummed blithely to herself as she did this, imagining how the meeting between Christopher and the nice man was going. A minute later she was holding the teacup and a glass of soda and strolling out the kitchen. In her mind’s eye she saw Mr. Walcott telling a joke and Christopher laughing. However, when she got to the living room, she found that she had nobody to give the drinks to. The room was completely empty. Both Chris and the messenger had already ferried.
The Dark Tyrant’s Scouts
Chris blinked. He tried to focus on something familiar, something “real”—because surely what he was seeing was fake—but he couldn’t find anything he recognized. What stood before him was a world that could only exist in fiction. It was absolutely breathtaking. Never had he seen such colors so brilliant and distinct. They were so bright, everything just seemed to shimmer. The grass was the deepest green he could imagine, and the sky was the clearest of blues, fading to a deep sorrel, where the sun painted tufts of marshmallow-like clouds floating lazily by on the horizon.
“It is Remlia,” Jace said.
Amazing was the word Chris had been looking for, but the moment the messenger spoke, it left his mind.
“Remlia . . .” Chris said instead, speaking the word slowly, as if he were digesting its meaning. As he said it, he let his eyes rove over the grass-covered plain. For someone who had grown up in the city, this was the largest plot of land he had ever seen unsullied by concrete or something man had built. It was even larger than Central Park! What he was staring at was an empty sward decorated only by the hand of Mother Nature. Trees, tall as skyscrapers, stretched out in the far distance, building a wall that almost touched the clouds.