Title: The Summoned Ones, Book 1 of Flight to Bericea
Author: Darryl A. Woods
Publisher: Brelsford Ridge Publishing
Genre: Adult Epic Fantasy
Author: Darryl A. Woods
Publisher: Brelsford Ridge Publishing
Genre: Adult Epic Fantasy
During their journey, they will explore this new world, discover new talents and previously hidden abilities, develop friendships with people they couldn’t have dreamed possible, and will be forced to take actions they would have never considered in any less dire circumstances.
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Chapter 1 Invitation
The night air was brisk as Pattie and Mike stood by the sidelines of their old high school’s football field. The weather had turned cold a few weeks ago. The days had been clear, filled with blue skies, sunshine, and trees showing off their brightest autumn hues.
Tonight, the stars and crescent moon in the clear sky hung unseen above the glare of the bright lights. Pattie, a pretty young woman of 20, was dressed in her typical garb: old blue jeans, a loosely tucked and rumpled button-down shirt, and a denim jacket. Her straight, black hair fell below her shoulders, her large brown eyes taking in the action on the field. She had a natural attractiveness that required no makeup.
Pattie O’Keenan and Mike Wilson had been friends since they were kids. They’d grown up a few miles from one another, in the countryside surrounding the small town of Irvine. From the age of 12, they’d biked to one another’s houses for visits over the long summer breaks. Pattie’s family owned a small horse farm, and she spent a lot of her spare time alone, working with the horses or doing chores. Pattie had grown up a bit of a tomboy. She insisted on doing the same chores around the farm as her two older brothers and didn’t take advantage of being the youngest or the “little sister.” Because of this, her brothers respected her and they all got along well together. Unfortunately, they rarely included Pattie in their inner circle, leaving her too often to her own devices. Luckily, whatever loneliness she felt was eased by her friendship with the boy down the road.
In stark contrast to Pattie’s casual attire, Mike Wilson was well-dressed in a sports jacket and khakis. Although of average build and height, he carried himself with the air of someone who knew what he wanted and how to get it. His dad, a former Marine Corps boxer, had taught him to fight at an early age, and Mike knew how to take care of himself. His air of confidence could also be attributed to his days spent leading teams on the paintball field. He had been playing since the age of 13, when his uncle took him to a local paintball venue. Already an avid reader of military history (tactics, logistics, maneuvering, and overall strategy, in particular), the boy had a keen desire to see whether the techniques he studied in books could be applied first-hand on the playing field.
Since the age of seven, Mike had been interested in all things military. One late night, awakened by a loud noise coming from the living room, he crawled out of bed to investigate. Mike found his dad asleep in front of the TV. George C. Scott was leading the troops through battle in Patton, and the little boy became riveted. He was still in front of the set the next morning where his parents found him sound asleep.
A shrill whistle broke through the crisp night air, immediately followed by the deafening roar of the Mighty Engineers fans. The football team was good this season and had already won five of its first six games. Tonight, however, the game itself was being overshadowed by the return of a former football hero.
“Brandon doesn’t have to enjoy all this so much,” Pattie told Mike wryly.
“He knows he’s the biggest thing that ever happened to this wide spot in the road. No doubt, the biggest that ever will happen,” Mike replied. “As much as he hates the attention, he’d never deprive the folks of this moment.”
Just the week before, Brandon Rollins had made the cover of Sports Illustrated, even though he’d shared it with three other Heisman Trophy hopefuls. Most of the article was devoted to Rollins, however, and his decision to announce early he would play out his senior year at The Ohio State University instead of entering the NFL draft.
“Do you think he had us meet him here for sympathy, moral support, or some far-flung hope we might be able to get him out of this,” Pattie asked.
Mike grinned. “All of the above.”
Now in his junior year, Brandon was already on track to break Ohio State’s all-time rushing record before the season came to an end. The 6-foot, 1-inch 230-pound running back had already surpassed OSU's total yard record with his catches out of the back field. In his high school days, he had shattered every Mighty Engineers record on the books, not to mention most of the high school records in the state.
Ruggedly handsome, with a defined physique, Brandon often caught the attention of admiring females, though his shyness around women was obvious. His graceful way of moving despite his size was also attractive to the girls that always seemed to surround him. Brandon had more going for him than sheer athleticism, however. He was maintaining a 3.8 GPA in business at Ohio State, his devotion to his studies almost as rigorous as his workouts. He knew if he made it to the professional leagues, with his background in business, he’d be able to manage his own career and finances.
Brandon had learned about responsibility and the importance of making good decisions at a young age. His parents divorced when he was only eight, and Brandon helped raise his younger sister after his dad moved out of their house in the northern section of Irvine. He still called her two or three times a week from college. Despite their divorce, Brandon remained close to both his parents and often sought out his dad’s advice. Brandon’s mom remarried when he was 14. His dad remained unmarried and lived close by his children. Brandon and his sister stayed with him every other weekend, and Brandon spent his summers with him.
“Does he still practice his martial arts?” Pattie asked.
“What? Oh, yeah, some,” Mike replied, distracted by the game and the large crowd surrounding Brandon. “Well, he did cut out the sparring, but you know him, disciplined as ever. No matter how much school work or how long practices run, he gets up at 5:00 a.m. every morning and does that ritual workout of his, walking through all those forms. Not during the season, but off-season, he still works with all those weird martial arts weapons.”
Brandon had been working aggressively in the martial arts since the age of 12, having advanced to a black belt by the age of 14. He had a room full of trophies from martial arts tournaments but had decided to stop competing at 16. Major colleges had started noticing him when he was only a sophomore. Taking his dad’s advice, Brandon decided that risking injury and a full athletic scholarship was not worth it. Even so, despite dropping out of competition, he had not abandoned his martial arts training.
“I drag myself up at 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. every once in a while and hightail it across campus to watch his “famous” workouts. Besides, letting all the girls that hang around the gym know I’m his friend doesn’t hurt,” Mike laughed.
“I still can’t believe you ran off to that huge campus with Brandon and left me here to go to community college.”
Pattie was kidding, of course, knowing full well that Brandon’s chance to play on scholarship at a major university and Mike’s academic scholarship were once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. “Who’d have thought all that reading about war and fighting would have landed you such a sweet deal?”
As Pattie chatted with Mike, she looked around expectantly, waiting for the arrival of another old friend. Earlier in the day, Pattie and Mike had met Steve Oliver at Rise and Shine, the local coffee shop. Steve brought his new girlfriend, Gloria, whom he’d been seeing for the last two months. He’d met her at a party he’d organized for his fraternity at Brown University and their sister sorority. Pattie had taken an instant dislike to the girl and was not pleased to see her hanging on Steve's arm as he pushed through the coffee-shop door that morning. No doubt, he’d have her in tow again this evening, she thought with disgust.
Of all the members of the group meeting tonight, Stephen William Oliver III was the most out of place. While the others had gone to public schools, Steve attended Lexington Prep. His parents sent their only child off to the top-tier boarding school when he was eight years old. Before that, he’d spent much of his childhood alone in the family’s Colonial Revival mansion on a 300-acre estate. His father’s political career was beginning to take off, and his parents traveled extensively, leaving their young son at home in the care of their head housekeeper, Carmela. The Mexican woman practically raised the slender blond-haired, blue-eyed boy as her own and soon had her charge speaking Spanish like a native. Because of Carmela, Steve developed an early appreciation for language and a love of linguistics.
When Steve came home from boarding school during holidays and summers, he began to take advantage of the estate’s riding facilities to fill his time. The estate had been in the Oliver family for over 120 years. Backing up to the Daniel Boone National Forest, it was now a working farm producing grain and thoroughbreds. Steve learned he had an aptitude for horsemanship and soon became an accomplished rider. He began competing in stadium jumping and other English equestrian events, honing his skills on the family’s private course.
When he was old enough, he began to travel. Other than Mike, who had taken two fishing trips to Canada with his uncle, Steve was the only one of the group who had been outside the United States. He’d made several trips to Europe and visited nearly every country, even spending some time in Russia. He’d also been to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South America, and most recently spent a month touring China and Tibet. For last few years now during his travels, Steve had shied away from the more touristy locales, preferring to hang out with the locals and hone his language skills. He even went so far as to take odd jobs, hanging out in the pubs in the evenings and sleeping on the floors of farmhouses or barns where he had worked that day. Such exposure to the local color, the languages, the sounds, phrases, cultural influences, and mental processes associated with the spoken word and its regional variations, all fueled Steve's obsession with language. Because of Carmela’s early influence and his subsequent travels, he chose linguistics as his major at Brown.
Although Pattie had figured that Steve would arrive on time, the Reinard brothers would be another story. With Jeremy just in from the University of Kentucky, his brother Will would be monopolizing him, describing all the new projects and inventions he had dreamt up during Jeremy’s absence. Will had decided long ago that college was not for him. Though of above-average intelligence, Will was content to work in their father’s metal fabrication shop, and his after-hours use of the shop equipment allowed him to pursue his real passion: inventing. Jeremy had the same inventive drive, but he loved mechanical engineering and (though he would never admit it) the routine and discipline of acquiring a formal education. If Pattie didn’t miss her guess, the brothers wouldn't make the game. However, she knew they wouldn't ignore Mrs. Stayton’s request to stop by her house this evening.
Mrs. Stayton was Joshua’s mom. Josh was one of the old gang, the one who made sure everyone kept in touch after graduation. He had died this past Tuesday after a six-month battle with cancer, and his passing was the reason they were back in town after 2½ years. The last time they'd all been together was the summer after graduation, when they gathered for their annual week at camp. It seemed like only yesterday that Josh had called each of them, begging them not to visit but rather to remember him in better times.
Mrs. Stayton’s request came as a bit of a surprise to the group. Only Will had remained particularly close to her. He had spent a lot of time with Josh after high school. The two had discovered caving, a common hobby in the local area, where caves were abundant. Will also helped the Staytons by taking on household and automotive repairs. Josh’s father had passed away several years earlier, and to say that Josh was not mechanically inclined was an understatement.
Pattie scowled, “There's Steve now, with that woman trailing him like a hound.”
“Hey Pattie, keep it civil for Steve’s sake,” Mike said in a placating voice.
Pattie could hide her jealousy well enough around Steve, but with Mike, her lifelong friend, she knew better than to try. She (and everyone else) was convinced, and with good cause, that Gloria Stenner was out for two things: money and power. Pattie had never treated Steve as the son of a wealthy state senator, but she always knew he would follow in his father's footsteps despite his disdain for politics. Forced to attend more and more of the senator’s functions over the years, Steve began to resent his father and the perfect image he cultivated for the press and his contributors. Senator Oliver still harbored hopes that his son would enter politics, but despite his natural talent for leadership and organization, Steve had so far resisted his father’s attempts to steer him toward a political career. Pattie wondered briefly if Steve’s aversion to the limelight would dampen Gloria’s affections.
Before Steve spotted her and Mike by the sidelines, Pattie allowed herself a few moments to look over her old friend. She saw he was parting his fair hair on the side now, and his 6-foot, 2-inch frame, though still on the thin side, was more athletic now that he was on the college fencing team. Catching sight of her, Steve raised a hand in greeting, flashing a quick smile. He wasn’t handsome in the conventional sense, but Pattie thought that smile could light the entire football field.
Over the years, she had taken great care to hide her true feelings for the senator’s son, believing that a tomboy from a very average family could only hold him back. One thing was certain, though—a person like Gloria was definitely not what Steve needed.
Mike spoke up just as Pattie was about to address the couple, aware that any remark she might make to Gloria could get the evening off on the wrong foot.
“Hey, glad to see you two. I know you just arrived, but we need to get Brandon out of here before the end of the game, or he’ll never get away.”
Mike continued as everyone glanced toward Brandon, “Halftime was an absolute madhouse. Kids wanted autographs, long-lost friends wanted their pictures taken with him, you know how it goes.”
The foursome was finally able to get Brandon’s attention by waving and shouting his name, giving him the excuse he needed to break away from the large group surrounding him. The four turned and started toward the exit gate where Brandon was finally able to catch up. They were a somber group as they headed for their cars to make their way to Mrs. Stayton's house. Pattie was already on her cell phone to remind the Reinard brothers of the unusual invitation.
The brothers were just pulling up in the driveway as the others rounded the corner and eased in to park behind them. The house was a bi-level, part of a 30-year-old subdivision just off the main drag. Mrs. Stayton was proud of how she had kept the place up after her husband died. Even among all the other well-maintained properties, the Stayton home stood out. Mrs. Stayton had always worked extra jobs and, with Josh’s help, had kept the yard manicured and the flowerbeds perfect; the exterior of the house always looked freshly painted. Will was a great help on the overall maintenance of the place, but it was Mrs. Stayton’s perfectionism that made the property a showplace. Josh had lived his entire life in this home.
Silently the group gathered on the porch, the chill of the night more penetrating now. Pattie knocked on the door.
Mrs. Stayton answered almost immediately, smiling at their familiar faces.
“I'm so glad to see you all. Please come in.”
She was trying to project a strong, upbeat mood but they could tell she had been crying. The loss of her husband, then her only child, had devastated her. She directed them to the always-spotless living room and invited them to sit. After meeting Gloria and exchanging pleasantries with Josh’s old friends, an awkward silence settled on the group.
Then Mrs. Stayton began to speak.
“I don't know how to ask this without being blunt. And I don’t want to offend any of you. I hope you understand that is not my intent.”
She paused, choosing her words carefully.
“It's just that I feel I need to know what drew all of you together. Why my son felt so close to you right up until the end.”
The group, with the exception of Gloria, looked at one another with a mixture of surprise, concern, and relief. Gloria’s interest was piqued, as she had been wondering the same thing. This particular group of friends seemed to have nothing in common.
“Go ahead, Mike. I think you should be the one to tell her,” said Brandon. The others nodded in agreement.
“Well,” began Mike, “as you know, we all met for the first time when we were 12, at the South Fork Summer Camp.”
Mike fidgeted in his chair as he glanced at the others, then continued.
“That first year at camp was awful. The counselors were young and more than eager to abuse their authority.” Mike paused and looked at the others for encouragement before continuing.
“We were spread out across several cabins and met one day quite by accident, when we went to investigate a big ruckus.”
Mike focused his attention back on Mrs. Stayton and started anew.
“That ruckus was Brandon saving Pattie from the camp bully.”
Mike turned to Jeremy.
“You remember, you and I came down the same path just as Steve and Josh were coming down another, and we saw Brandon facing a bully twice his size. Pattie was on the ground nearby with a bloody nose.”
Brandon and Pattie nodded in agreement and Mike proceeded.
“All of us newcomers to camp, even though we were barely acquainted, looked at each other without a word and decided to a person that we were going to help. Just as we started forward, Brandon flipped the bully onto the ground and had his arm twisted in what would best be described as a pretzel. With a few not-so-idle threats from Brandon, the bully left in short order.”
“I didn’t miss the fact that you all were coming to help me,” Brandon chimed in.
Mike was becoming more comfortable telling the story now, as the others hadn’t interrupted with any criticism. He continued his narrative, relating that only two days of camp were left at this point. After helping Pattie up and making sure she was OK, the newly-formed group decided to meet after lights-out.
That night, they began sharing their negative experiences at the camp and quickly fell into an easy camaraderie. They began relating their life stories and soon realized their backgrounds were very dissimilar—in another setting unlike the close confines of the camp, they would never have started hanging around each other. And before the night was over, the eclectic group had formed an almost-instant bond.
They met the following night as well. Because this was their last night together, the group was under pressure to form an alliance against next year’s enforced campout. They knew two things: one, their parents would almost certainly send them to this terrible place again, and two, they wanted to hold on to their newly formed friendships.
Josh and Steve came up with a plan.
“We all love the outdoors, we all love camping. So, why don’t we just make up our own camp?”
After the others stopped laughing, they realized the two boys were completely serious. Josh came up with the idea of form letters written on fictional camp stationery. Steve added that he was sure he could get a post-office box set up using his dad’s campaign as a cover. With the P.O. box, they could get their parents to send checks to the imaginary camp, and Steve was sure he could get them cashed.
“And that's when Camp Wyanet was born,” Mike finished proudly.
The group was concerned over Mrs. Stayton’s reaction, but she smiled in genuine amusement. For those who had been around her for the last few months, it was the first time they’d seen her happy.
“So, you never went to camp all those years,” she said, almost chuckling.
“Well, not exactly,” replied Mike. “We did go to camp, just not where you thought.”
Mrs. Stayon’s smile was contagious. Mike couldn’t help grinning as he offered more details of their deception.
“We picked Camp Wyanet because it was near the state park. There was a side trail near the entrance that cut straight over to the campgrounds in the state park.”
“I remember several times calling and getting a camp recording. I left a message, and later that day, Josh returned my call from the same number. How did you manage that?”
“That was easy, Mrs. Stayton,” answered Steve. “We bought one of those cell phones with prepaid minutes and used the number on the flyers we sent out. I had my older cousin record the message so it sounded like an adult.”
“So, you kids used up all that money we parents sent along with you to go to camp. You must have had a grand old time,” Mrs. Stayton commented, as amused as ever.
“I sure wish I could have thought of something like that when I was that age. I see now why Josh was so close to all of you, even though later he didn’t see all of you that often.”
Mrs. Stayton seemed to grow more reflective. “You must have grown very close spending entire weeks together over six summers.”
She stood up. “Please wait here a moment. I have something for you,” and she walked slowly out of the room.
Mrs. Stayton returned a short time later with an envelope in her right hand. Her eyes were glistening as the sadness fell over her again. The all-too brief-respite Mike’s camp story had offered her was over.
“I have a letter that Josh wrote a few months ago,” Mrs. Stayton offered as she fought to control her emotions.
“He made me promise to bring you all together and give this to you the night before his funeral,” she added so softly, the friends had to strain to hear her words.
With a little more strength in her voice, she continued, “I don’t think I can stay to hear its contents, even if Josh would have wanted me to. I’ll just go on to bed now. Please make yourselves at home.”
Without replying to their good nights and thank yous, she handed the letter to Will and hurried off up the stairs.
Without any ado, Will opened the envelope and began reading the letter, printed in Josh’s distinctive handwriting.
If the Camp Wyanet Gang is reading this, I've already been cremated. I have a final request of you. I've been thinking of all the places people scatter ashes, or how they set urns on a hearth. Nothing like this seems quite right for me. As you all know, Will and I have done some serious caving. We’ve explored most of the caves in the park and several on private land. Other than my music, this has been my greatest passion. So, the spot I've chosen for my final resting place is in the far reaches of a cave in the very park we all used to meet in.
I've put a lot of thought into how and where I would like this to come about. I would like all of us to have one last adventure together as a group. I want you to take my ashes to a cave that Will and I found just before I got sick. You have to remember, Will, it was that place we called Spur Cave.
Will nodded to the others as he lifted his eyes from the page. He remembered the cave well; they had both commented at the time how much the entrance looked like a western cowboy spur. He also recalled that the entrance to the cave was deep in the park, and it had taken them a long day’s hike just to reach it. Josh had become unusually tired that day, and they hadn’t taken much time to explore the cave itself. It wasn’t until later that they learned how ill he was. Afterwards, Will never had the desire to return to the cave to explore it without his friend.
Will suddenly realized that his thoughts had drifted and the others were waiting for him to continue. He returned his attention to the letter and continued reading.
I've been planning this for a while, really not too long after my diagnosis. While I still had my strength, I took camping supplies to the Three Forks campsite. You remember, Will, we’ve used it several times. I carried all the equipment each of you will need to the entrance of the cave.
I asked my mom to have my funeral early in the morning. She must have thought that was odd. Ever since high school, with playing in the bands and all, I seldom got up until the afternoon. But by having the funeral so early, all of you should be able to make the first camp well before dark. Then you can leave early and make it to the cave before noon. I'd like you to place my urn in the cave on a secluded ledge, as far in as you can get in three hours. That way, you can get back out and to the camp before nightfall.
I know this is a lot to ask, but I feel this strange pull that we all need one last adventure together.