The Dark Army - By Marcus Alexander

1

Rusty Manacles

Charlie Keeper was not happy. Not by any means.

It had been two days since the Stoman army had killed the Treman guards assigned to protect her. Two days since they’d separated her from her friends and two days since they’d left her in a rotten, rat-infested cell.

‘If you chumps don’t let me out of here this instant,’ she screamed, ‘I’m going to get really upset and, trust me, you don’t want to deal with me when I’m angry!’

To underline her determination Charlie kicked her heels against the wall. (She would have preferred to stamp her feet, but the spiteful guards had left her hanging two metres above the floor.) For the hundredth time she screwed her eyes shut and tried to focus her Will, but nothing happened. Since she’d crossed the divide from Earth to the realm of Bellania, life had been nothing more than one hard lesson after another. Now with her magical ability refusing to materialize, it appeared she was undergoing yet another painful and inconvenient lesson.

‘Why don’t things ever work like they’re supposed to?’ she muttered irritably to herself.

It felt like a lifetime ago that she had been living in London, but in reality it had only been several weeks. And in those short turbulent weeks she had discovered that her house was a Gateway between realms, that her parents had passed on a secret to her that people were more than willing to kill for, and that her family name was more than just a name; it was a title. With that title came a genetic talent known as the Will and the Way that granted her the power to open portals to travel through and to increase her own strength to the point where she could hold her own against foes who were bigger, badder and more vicious than her.

But the Will and the Way had not been an easy thing to study. It had taken long days of gruelling practice before Charlie had been able to wield the writhing golden energy that burst from her hands … But now, when she needed it most, it refused to appear.

Dull weariness and a constant, throbbing headache pounded at the inside of her head, making it impossible to summon the concentration that her Will required. The fatigue from opening a Portal to the University of Dust in Alavis, the beating she’d suffered at the hands of the Stoman soldiers and having to endure hanging by her wrists for so long had all taken their toll upon her body. All she could muster were little bursts of yellow light that frittered and fizzed from her fingertips. And without the power of her Will to tear the manacles from her wrists or open a Portal back to Sylvaris she knew she wasn’t going anywhere.

She felt drained and useless.

Why had she been left for so long and what had happened to her friends Jenson, Kelko and Nibbler? Why hadn’t anyone come to see her or even interrogate her? And why did prison cells always have to have creepy-crawlies and mouldy straw strewn across the floor?

‘I hate stereotypes,’ she grumbled.

Muttering to herself she began to grind her heels against the rotten brickwork so that mortar and small shards of plaster crumbled to the floor. The rats scurrying beneath her feet squeaked as they dodged the downfall.

Charlie peered blearily down at the rodents. ‘I hate rats.’

As she continued to kick and grind her feet, the movement caused the iron manacles to rub deeper into her skin. She scowled up at the restraints. ‘Handcuffs, manacles, Isiris Bracelets and chains … I hate them too! I hate all of them! I hate them!’

Realizing that she was growing close to losing her temper Charlie took a big, deep breath. And another … and then another. Gradually she felt her anger receding.

‘That’s better …’ she murmured.

One of the rats, unhappy with the amount of dust and debris raining down on it, chose that moment to scamper up the wall, on to Charlie’s foot and up her trouser leg.

‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!’ she screamed in disgust. She kicked and thrashed her legs, dislodging the rat so that it fell to the floor. The motion caused the manacles to cut deeper into her wrists.

‘Gaaaaaaaaaah!’ That was it. Charlie really lost her temper. ‘Get me out of here! Get me out! Out! Out! OUT!’

Kicking and screaming, she jangled on the end of her chains as sputters of Will fizzed from her fingertips, and her face went red then purple.

‘Let me out of

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