Janua Caeli

Hello.

Thanks for clicking on the link. Before we kick off, I would like to say that this is all my own work. Some characters, however, are named after characters that appear in published books. This is as close as I can get to thanking those authors for books that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Anyways, I shall warn you in advance that in real life I swear frequency, and though I'll try to keep my writing as clean as possible, there may be some curse words. Also, as the story progresses it is going to get darker. That is why the rating is Teen.

I would love to get pointers from anyone reading this.

Cheers, and I hope you enjoy it.

Nikki


Prologue

The General waited.

He was good at waiting, due to decades of practice. The long years of his life had been full of hours to whittle away until the time was right. Infinitely patient, he wrapped the regulation khaki blazer tighter around his thin, tall frame to ward off the growing cold. The sun set an hour ago, leaving a faint grey glow at the horizon, and already night's icy fingers gripped the air. He watched the light surrender further, feeling a shiver ripple through him.

The darkness was getting stronger, and he wasn't just talking about the night.

Kali, the dark mother, was massing her forces. Her children crept out from the unknown, cunning and fiercely loyal. The eternal twenty-five year old had lost none of her vigour in the decades they had battled. Her vicious smiles was as sharp and pretty as ever, her will as strong, her sight as clear. For the first time, the General began to feel old.

He waited in the garden his first wife had planted, so many decades ago. When in it, he could still feel some of her quiet strength. She had toiled through summer's heat and winter's frosts to plant roses and vines out of season. The trees, starting off as mere sticks, thickened slowly into strong saplings and then matured, at first peeking and then towering over the eight-foot stone fence, long after the determined gardener had died.

Beyond the stone fence were the barracks; concrete and loveless. A garden was a luxury, and completely out of place in a military base. But he had been young and in love, and when she had argued - softly, of course, with gentle words and smiles - that some luxuries were necessities, he let her get on with it . Seated here, on the stone bench she had picked out, the garden made him feel calm. It always did. Maybe his wife had been right, after all. Not that it mattered; she would never know.

A figure approached, at first a grey shadow but quickly gaining the form of a thickset military man.

"Ah, Sergeant Burton," the General greeted. He sat a little straighter and pulled discreetly at the cuffs of his blazer, and tried not to show how cold he was.

"Sir." The sergeant stopped in front of the bench and pulled off a neat salute. The little light remaining in the enclosed garden played upon his grim expression.

The General straightened even more, considering standing up. "Something wrong, Sergeant?"

"It's the Captain."

The General's face fell before he could check the expression - an uncharacteristic lack of control. The younger soldier hesitated, looking around the garden. He took a deep breath to prepare for his superior's disapproval.

"He's still not himself, sir."

"He doesn't want to help." The General was almost sad. His youngest captain was only twenty-six, a baby compared to the other, but he had strength and versatility, and most importantly a quick mind. Charismatic, too; an easy leader to obey. He would have been priceless in their campaign.

"It's not that, sir." Burton's mouth twisted, as if he were about to commit a terrible breach of confidence.

"Oh?" The General was curious. The cold grew too much and, finally giving in, he crossed his arms for added heat while succeeding in portraying an air of authority.

"Sir, he… uh…" Burton shifted uncomfortably. His breath appeared as warm plumes in the frigid air, which came and went quickly. He was nervous. "I think his mind has been affected," the sergeant finally sighed. "He wants to help us, but I do not think he is able."

Had the General been a more emotive man, his entire face would have moved in reaction to the news. His precious new captain, mentally unfit? Inconceivable. Campion had been so carefully picked, so thoroughly trained. The General's voice was carefully neutral when he spoke. "His mind has been affected, you say. How so?"

"He has black-outs and panic attacks, sir."

"Tell me about them."

The sergeant nodded and closed his eyes, trying to form the words clearly. It was important to be accurate and include everything, but thinking took effort for Burton, so it was a few moments before he answered in his most diplomatic voice.

"It always seems the same, sir. There is a trigger - we have no idea what, though, - and then he will suddenly go quiet. Sometimes his fists will clench at his sides or he will grab at his chest, just above his heart. His eyes are always glazed and he looks terrified. He'll begin shaking. His eyes are open, but he doesn't focus on anything, not even comrades shaking him or talking to him. A quick shock may take him out of it, like water in the face or a solid slap, but most of the time he has to exhaust himself or before sedated. When he wakes up, he doesn't seem to remember it at all." Burton paused, breathing deep. With regret, he finished, "I still have the greatest admiration for the Captain, sir, but I am not convinced he is ready to lead again."

Ah, yes.

The Captain had taken it harder than most. Blaming himself and living in the past, until the pain had passed and the memory had been all but suppressed. The General tried to remember what his first one had been like, his first brush with death which had taken his dear Amanda, his optimistic gardener. It was long ago. Death's butcher knife had been blunted by passing years, but even so the General was sure he had not taken it so hard. No drowning in waves of loss for him. It was something all young men must face if they are to fight Kali, but some were affected more than others. He should have known his youngest would react so violently. Uncharacteristically, the General wondered if he had made a mistake in exposing the Captain so early.

"Is he coming?" the General asked at length.

"Yes, sir."

"Good, bring him to me now. Wait outside the garden until we are done here, then make sure he goes straight to his quarters."

"Sir."

The General did not listen, or even watch Burton's brisk salute and departure - he was already busy planning his next move. The young Captain was the hidden ace, and the man was willing, if not able, to lead the mission. Together they would be a match even for the Black Mother. But first his mind needed to be cured. It would take months of careful planning and exposure to restore him.

Then the bitch would get what for.

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