Chapter 0 – Prologue
Tonight, look out into the stars, look into infinity, and dream of worlds beyond our own. Multiple worlds, similar to our own, contain realms as varied as our own nations. Now, take a step forward. Did you feel that? No? That’s too bad. Perhaps there are other worlds closer than you think, separated and unseen by the human eye.
The Spring Crow, a beautiful ancient realm can be accessed by only a very few, and those few are of an ancient Jinn decent, born of a world beyond our own only to be cast out. Throughout the millennium these decedents have grown, lived, and died protecting the realms and worlds they now traverse. This is one of their stories.
He refuses to do it. The lineage is over and there will be no protection, I may be the last.
Sir Joseph Kane, a Jinn descendant of the Kane Warriors spoke softly to Lady Cybele, the ruler of the Spring Crow. The Spring Crow, one of the many realms hidden in the multiverse outside of most human’s perception, is protected by a veil separating our reality from theirs. Only a few, to include Joseph, could pass between the veil and walk in both worlds.
“What do you mean he won’t do it?” asked Lady Cybele. “There has always been a Kane protecting the Spring Crow. It’s his heritage, he must know that.”
“I’ve explained it to him and have made every attempt to train him, but he refuses. I will not in good conscious force him to do something he does not wish to do, that is not the way of the realm, and I will honor his wishes,” replied Joseph.
“Sir Joseph, he is your son; he must carry on the tradition. How else will we ensure our safety from the other realms?”
“He has a young wife with child. While unconventional, I have an idea. I will find a way to protect the realm.”
“Sir Joseph, the realm trusts you with its life. I trust you with my life, but you can’t be serious. By the time the child grows he or she will not understand. It will be too late to start training.”
“I’ll think of a way; it’s the only way around this mess.”
“Think about the years you spent with your own son. Even before training began, he knew you were different, that he was different. Do you believe that will carry over to this child?”
Joseph thought about this for a moment. He recalled the years spent with his son, cultivating his beliefs and responsibilities to one day take over as the protector of the Spring Crow, only to have the hard work and love that he poured into his son shunned by stronger beliefs in his earthly world.
“First and foremost, I must ensure the child is brought up in a loving home. My travels here will remain the same as they are now and when I’m away from the realm. Back in the other world, I’ll treat the child as my own. The child will be of my flesh and blood, so that will be the easy part. The hard part will be making up for lost time… to teach him in the ways of the Jinn, of the Kane Knights.”
“It is possible,” said Lady Cybele. “The child will be years behind, but what other choice do we have. Go with my blessing, Sir Joseph, and do be careful.”
Leonardo Joseph Kane, or Leo as he was called by friends and family for as long as he can remember, sat in the second row on the polished glassy finish of the wooden church pew as his best friend was eulogized. His grandfather, his only true friend, was gone.
The local church was a sight to behold, not something you would expect in a small town in Ohio. The outer shell was built from old grey stone that, when viewed from a distance, gave it a medieval appearance. Two spires rose up well above the small A-Frame houses surrounding the area. Inside you were greeted by marble floors that were well over one hundred years old, but gave the appearance of being laid just yesterday. Inside the sanctuary were two rows of pristine pews, sealed and polished to an extent that Leo could imagine sliding off when taking his seat. Surrounding the sanctuary, stained glass windows were commonplace, but in this instance, gifted by a wealthy benefactor. Imported genuine Tiffany Stained Glass, constructed in the old standards of channels filled with bone, wood, and sealed with lead. Each window depicted Old Testament stories, daily life of the times, and stories told by Leo’s grandparents.
While Leo and his family did not attend on a regular basis, he knew that his mother and father were happily married in this very church and someday, he was expected to do the same. At sixteen years old, marriage was the furthest thing from his mind. Leo was in the tenth grade and had become interested in girls, but at this point in his life—while he definitely noticed the girls his age beginning to change, to grow hour glass figures and were getting taller, nearly the same height as his five- foot eight build—he only had a slightly greater interest than he did when he was younger.
Leo leaned back and listened to his grandfather’s friends recount stories of the Great War, his love for his wife who passed ten years prior, and how he would do anything for family and friends. Normally, the splendor of the church and its medieval appearance would have fascinated Leo, but today was no ordinary day.
Leo’s Grandfather, Joseph Kane, or “Grandpa Joe” as Leo knew him, had been a drinking man, a working man, and a gentleman. Grandpa Joe was perpetually well dressed, from his starched collared shirts, vests, and pressed pants—all the way down to his shined shoes. Occasionally, he wore a tie, but Grandpa Joe’s signature look was neatly pulled together without, only his top button remaining unfastened. He’d finished his classic look with dark slick hair and an amulet depicting a black crow on a blue stone hanging from a beautiful silver chain.
Grandpa Joe had lived in a typical house for the area of town. The simple dwelling that was smaller than Leo’s house, but had a grand, wraparound, wooden porch that extended from the front north side to both the east and west. The siding was a worn beige, but still in surprisingly good shape for vinyl. Inside, Grandpa ensured his house was always clean, but it had the unmistakable aroma of books with a hint of mustiness, even when the house’s few windows were flung open to let in the fresh air. Old leather-bound books were scattered in random locations and piled on bookshelves, tables, chairs, and the floor. It never ceased to amaze Leo how Grandpa had been able to always flip to exactly where he left off in any of his readings, almost like magic. During the spring and fall, when the weather would be pleasant, Leo would sit on the porch with Grandpa Joe in the evening. They would watch the sun set on their sleepy Ohio town, while Grandpa Joe read passages out loud from one of his many books.
Almost every day during fall, winter, and spring Leo would run to Grandpa Joe’s house to hastily finish his homework and listen to the extravagant stories that he would seemingly pull from thin air. The stories were so vibrant, lifelike, and unchanging that, as a younger boy, Leo never once doubted the validity of the fantastic lands of far away and long ago. Once Leo’s homework met Grandpa Joe’s standards, which were not always necessarily up to his school’s standards, Grandpa Joe would pour himself, in his own words, “three-fingers of the nectar of the Gods” over a single ice cube rattling in an antique crystal glass and sit comfortably in his favorite, beat-up brown leather chair. Leo knew this tradition and verbiage was a veiled attempt to hide the fact his Grandfather enjoyed Scotch, preferably something from the Islay Region, over ice, and was an excuse to rest a bit. The bite from the liquor would always bring a satisfied smile to the old man’s face, while the ice slowly opened the peaty flavor. It would also relax him and put Grandpa in the mood to spin whatever tale was closest to the surface on his still sharp, seemingly never aging, mind.
That afternoon, just a few short months ago, was no different. Leo had finished his last homework assignment, which in this case was literature. Leo’s teacher assigned the class to recount the meaning behind a book that either the school, or state, had charged the class to read. Being that Leo was a sophomore he was thankful that literature at his age consisted of interesting books such as The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and his favorite The Catcher in the Rye. They were all books that he could, and often did, become lost in… although he wouldn’t share this fact with his peers. No, at his age it was deemed uncool to spend an afternoon reading rather than playing the latest first-person shooter video game with all the false glory, blood, guts, and action normally appreciated by, seemingly, everyone aged forty and under.
In his assignment, Leo recounted what he thought to be the meaning of The Catcher in the Rye. It was, in his opinion, a well thought out report, detailing the growing into manhood of Holden, the main character, and how changes in one’s self and others affects us all. Normally, Grandpa Joe would take a passing glance over Leo’s work, but this time he took a particular interest in the symbology of childhood and Leo’s spin on death. Once Grandpa finished reading the report, he placed it on the table sitting beside his leather chair, took a slow sip, and smiled at Leo.
“Once, a very long time ago,” began Grandpa Joe, as he fiddled with the amulet around his neck, “friendships, family, and turmoil didn’t affect us in the same manner as today. Wars were waged to protect family honor, brother turned against brother for the approval of the father, but friendships were never wasted.
“This life, our world, was not the end of all possibilities, and the people of long ago knew, and agreed, that our world was merely the beginning of another. The gateway into a world set apart by a veil so thin—that if it were known—could be broken with the slightest touch of the lightest feather. This world was hidden but known, it was looked upon as something to look forward to, and to smile when thought about.
“As the years went on, stories of this world were passed from generation to generation, changing a little each time as ideas were lost, facts altered, and untruths told. These variations in the story caused mankind not to revere the possibilities and the prospects of passing into a new world. No, mankind today views leaving our Earthly dwelling as the ultimate end, something of darkness and despair, something to be fought with every fiber of the living soul. Because of these falsehoods, the world set apart went into hiding behind the very darkness that man created. Behind this thin veil, the symbols of wonder and magic became dark and foreboding, rather than of light and prosperity.”
“Grandpa Joe,” Leo said with eyes wide, “the report is only recounting a story of growing up, lost youth, and someone who sees himself as better than the rest—nothing more, nothing less.”
Grandpa Joe gave a weary smile. “Leo, my boy, someday when you are able, I hope you can discover the path to understanding the light and love in the symbology of transitioning; the ultimate journey of transitioning from boy-to-man and from man-to-warrior.”
Grandpa Joe, still sitting in his worn leather chair, leaned left and with nimble hands, thrust his right hand into his worn jeans pocket and drew out—what appeared to be—a worn piece of rounded copper. He again, with surprising agility of an elderly man, leaned forward, took Leo’s hand with his own, and passed the rounded copper to his grandson.
“Leo,” Grandpa Joe said looking into his grandson’s eyes, “I don’t have much in this world, but I have you and the necessary fee for Charon, which came to me after generations of sacrifice. The fee is passed down and not discovered. I will always have the necessary fee and this coin, this fee, is your start.” Grandpa Joe closed his eyes and his smile returned. “When it’s your turn, remember that at the start of any great adventure, the belly of the whale can take many forms.”
Leo stared at the large copper coin his grandfather had given him and didn’t understand. Grandpa Joe’s stories were normally filled with action and adventure, stories that could only have happened years ago when Grandpa was a young man. They were also filled with sense, not nonsense. “The fee for Charon? The start? The belly of the whale? Grandpa, it is only a report on a book about a boy growing up.” Never in Leo’s life had Grandpa been so… strange… and he moved not with the stiffness of his years but, for some unknown seemingly mystical reason, even while sitting, Leo could tell all the years drifted away when he decided to place the coin in his hand.
After the funeral procession, Leo and his dad, Robert Jr, Bob to his friends—and, much to his chagrin, Robbie to his grandfather—and a handful of longtime and faithful friends, paid their very last respects to Robert Joseph Kane. Six of Grandpa Joe’s oldest friends were a sight to behold as they struggled to carry the casket to the final resting place. In reality, the casket set on a collapsible aluminum church truck to ease the movement from hearse to grave, but it still posed a heavy load for the grieving gentlemen. A few final words were given by the preacher before two out-of-place burial-ground custodians in jeans and colored shirts unceremoniously lowered the casket via two lowering devices. As the casket sank from sight, Leo’s father turned to him and stated, “That’s it, ashes-to-ashes and all that goes with it. If everyone is ready, let’s make an attempt to salvage the rest of this miserable afternoon.”
Leo wanted to make the most of the afternoon, he really did, but he couldn’t shake the crass, uncaring way his dad offhandedly shrugged of the death of his own father. Even so, Leo had absolutely no idea what he would do in order to salvage the day, even if he hadn’t just come from his best friend’s funeral.
Leo pondered this for a moment... best friend, he thought. Sure, Leo had friends, just like any kid his age, but his friends didn’t seem as close to him as they were to each other. He was cordial with kids his age, nobody was out to bully him, and he occasionally shared a laugh with other boys in the class. That’s friendship isn’t it? Leo asked himself. When he was younger, he had never been invited to a sleep over, to a movie, not even a birthday party. Perhaps, he thought, perhaps I have acquaintances, but do I truly have a real friend? Did I spend so much time with Grandpa that I’ve missed out on forming lifelong bonds with my peers?
625 Knoop Avenue sat at the end of one of the most sought-after cul-de-sacs in town. His father always kept a comfortable home and he always felt safe in the house where he spent restless summers waiting for Grandpa to return from his yearly business trips.
Once inside, the house opened into the living room—obviously decorated by either a bachelor or a widower. In this case, it was the later as Leo’s mother had passed away some time ago. A pile of newspapers grew ever larger beside the front door—a strange habit his father apparently inherited from Grandpa Joe, as this was customary in his house too—and the carpet was in need of a good run of the vacuum. Beyond the living room sat what was once a cozy dining room that now sat empty, and yet further beyond was the unremarkable kitchen. To the left of the dining room was a set of brown shag carpeted stairs that led up to Leo’s room, his private sanctuary in the house he dwelled.
Leo, much like his dad, picked up habits from Grandpa. For one, his room was always neat, his clothes folded in a specific fashion, and his bed was always made. Another habit he picked up was dropping his schoolbooks wherever they may lie; although, that didn’t work to his advantage as he would occasionally forget his homework within the random stacks. Unfortunately, he did not inherit his Grandpa’s knack for always choosing the exact wanted page from the books he read, or to remember to bring the books with him to class for that matter.
As he sat on his neatly made bed in his room, he realized that in all his years, he never asked questions as to Grandpa’s occupation. It was an unspoken rule in the Kane household that the subject was never to be discussed. As he continued to think about all he knew about Grandpa Joe, and all he did not, he rose, walked to his dresser, and opened the top drawer. Folded neatly in the bottom of the furthest white sock on the right was the large, round copper coin Grandpa had given him. What did he call this again? The fee for Charon? Of all the things Grandpa told me maybe I really didn’t know him at all… or perhaps he was getting older and losing his mind and I was just around too much to notice.
Leo put the coin back into the white sock, folded it neatly, and placed it back in the bottom of the drawer, ensuring it remained furthest on the right.
“Dad, I’m going out for a walk,” Leo yelled down the stairs from his room. He knew his voice wouldn’t carry far in the house, but in this instance, due to the stark quiet of arriving home only a few minutes ago, it rang clear.
“Take your jacket, it’s still chilly for this late in spring,” his dad responded.
Once outside, Leo looked around his small street in his small town. Unlike his Grandpa’s house, Leo’s was slightly larger, of newer build, and was constructed of brick. The brick was quite befitting for the neighborhood; in fact, this neighborhood was one of the better in town. Occasionally, Leo would feel self-conscious about living in such an affluent area because he knew his parents couldn’t really afford it. His mother—when she was alive—swore that they were the luckiest family on the block.
His mother, God rest her soul, Leo thought, was a kind woman taken too soon. She “succumbed to heart failure” is what his dad had told him, corroborated by Grandpa Joe. Leo was young when she passed, too young to remember details, but he did remember her kindness. The kindness she showed in those few short years almost made up for the fact that he never had a feminine figure in his life.
The house didn’t have a wraparound porch, making it a little less inviting than Grandpa’s, but it did have a large, grand, bright red door that, upon installation by his dad, Grandpa exclaimed, “Why, that may as well be the gate to all of eternity! God and Lucifer themselves will use it as a beacon to navigate their way.” From that point on Dad hated that door, but refused to replace it because, as Dad put it, “Spent too damn much of his hard-earned money and time to be concerned with the ramblings of an old man who isn’t around enough to appreciate it’.” Deep down Leo knew his dad loathed the door, but Leo smiled, he absolutely loved it. From what he remembered, so did his late mother, giving Leo the impression that his dad really kept it more for her than to spite his own father.
Leo’s house was just a house, but the area—his area—was, in his mind, the most beautiful spot on the planet. The lush maple trees that lined the road had just finished budding and were turning a bright shade of green. Each tree was as large around as a small car, perhaps half the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, and the roots of the trees were so old and strong that they caused the once pristine sidewalks to bubble and bow in ambitious directions, reaching out as though each new shift was the start of new growth.
Every year Leo knew when he saw the first leaf turn, the slightest hint of gold or red, his Grandpa would soon return. Leo would examine the trees, wishing and praying every fall for a glimpse of color in the lush green canopy that covered each side of his cul-de-sac. In this case Grandpa had only a few weeks left before he would leave for the summer, but this year he was mercilessly taken away from him, early—forever—a fact his family attributed only to age and drink. Leo continued to scan the roads, the sidewalks, and the row of houses on either side of his world.
All the houses were similarly built: brick, small front yards, slightly bigger back yards, and just enough space, in Leo’s opinion, between them. Far more space than that of a larger town, where the houses seem to sit so close you could hand a cup of sugar to the neighbor, if people still did that sort of thing.
From this location Leo could also see his school and the church where, just this morning, he paid his last respects. Behind the church, roughly a mile to the south, was the Rosehill Cemetery, named after one of the towns earliest founders and Mayor, former Army Sergeant Anthony Rosehill of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, Regular Army Infantry, a fact that he had picked up from Grandpa during one of their talks.
Leo shoved his hands in his denim jacket pockets and slowly started towards the cemetery, subconsciously counting his footfalls; he needed time to say a proper goodbye to Grandpa Joe without the boorish comments and stares of his dad. On second thought, Leo thought to himself and reversed direction. Grandpa gave me that silly piece of copper without so much as an explanation. If he thought so much of it, he can explain it, I don’t care if it’s from the grave.
In reality, Leo wasn’t upset and knew the piece of copper coin wasn’t silly, it was a gift; he knew that he needed to cling to anything that would bring him closer to Grandpa, in order to honor his memory. He vowed that the church and his father at the cemetery would not be his final memory or last respect. With that, Leo turned around and quietly went back to his room, as not to disturb his dad—who may have made him stay in for the rest of the evening—and retrieved the copper coin piece. Only then did he start on his way again.
By the time Leo arrived at the cemetery the spring evening was settling in, making the air cool and damp. As Leo walked to the freshly dug and covered grave of his grandfather, he marveled at the differences between the headstones in the vast cemetery. He could tell it wasn’t always so large, that it must have started off as a small plot, probably in a farmer’s field bought or acquired by the town and expanded as the years ticked by. The older section consisted of rough stone or sandstone grave markers marking the deceased’s name, age, and year of death. Some contained an epitaph—or a few words written by family—regarding the deceased, but most were difficult to read due to advanced age.
Further beyond the entrance, the headstones became larger and made of slate, again marking the memorialization of the dead and a few kind words for the departed loved ones. Dotted on the outside most edges of Rosehill Cemetery were the mausoleums and monuments, constructed by those with the foresight and means to mark a final resting place for the deceased and provide a lasting tribute for the bereaved.
Finally, there were the markers… the markers. The markers always made Leo a little sad for they were normally simple bricks placed at the head of the grave with a small brass plate affixed that merely stated the name, age, and year of death. These were always selected by one of two classes of mourners: those who couldn’t afford the elaborate headstone or mausoleum, but still wanted to honor their lost love; and those who didn’t concern themselves with the human soul who was lost to this world forever. Leo’s dad, of course, had chosen the latter—probably for both reasons—which, in Leo’s opinion, was the most depressing of all reasons.
Leo sat beside the newly placed stone at the head of Grandpa Joe’s grave. He could smell the damp grass surrounding him, covering most of the cemetery, but the sight and smell of the freshly stirred dirt covering the remains of Grandpa Joe remained prominent against the otherwise green landscape. The earthy scent of the turned soil filled his nostrils and brought him a surprisingly peaceful feeling knowing that his grandfather had returned to the Earth. Deep down he hoped that he was reunited with his grandmother and the mother that he barely knew.
As he sat and contemplated returning to the earth, he reached into his denim jacket and withdrew the copper coin Grandpa Joe had given him. The fee for Charon, thought Leo, Grandpa, what in the world did you mean? Never in my life, for all the hours that we talked, that you told me stories of what I assumed were of your youth, adventures that you seemingly made up on the fly to entertain and mystify, never once did you speak in riddles.
Leo began flipping the coin, catching it each time in his left and placing it again on his right. As Leo flipped the coin, a large crow swooped down and grabbed the coin, mid-flip, in its large black beak. The crow had to swoop so low that its right-wing grazed Leo’s face, stunning him for a second. Only after the crow zipped towards the west side of the cemetery did Leo snap out of his temporary daze and realize what had happened.
“Get back here,” he yelled in an absent-minded attempt to get the coin back. He knew that yelling at a bird was the absolute last way to get the crow to sit still, but it was the first thing that came to mind; rather, it was a natural reaction to having his coin swiped. He also knew that the crow was probably attracted by the shiny object flipping up and down and that he was partially to blame for its loss.
The crow alighted at the entrance of one of the ancient mausoleums at the furthest edge of the cemetery. The large, black bird was bounding up and down the three steps leading up to an iron gate, which separated the inside of the mausoleum from the outside world. As Leo tiptoed closer to the crow in order to catch him—which he knew would be near impossible—the crow slipped between the iron bars.
Okay Leo, he thought, the crow is in the mausoleum and is trapped on three sides, if I can get in there, I may be able to corner it.
Leo approached the mausoleum, which seemed to grow in age with every step he took. Unlike the others in the cemetery, this one wasn’t built with the grandeur of marble, sandstone, and brass. Rather, it was constructed using what appeared to be five roughly cut stone slabs, each eight feet in height, sixteen feet in length, and two feet thick. The stones were placed with two on either side, one that served as the back, and the fourth and fifth large cut stones capping the fortress and provided its floor. The iron gate seemed to be rustier than it originally appeared from a distance and there were no signs of an epitaph whatsoever. Leo inched closer to the now more ancient-looking building, reached out from the bottom stair, and gave the iron gate a shove. It was so timeworn that the lock no longer worked and swung roughly, as if it were in a tight bind, but made little to no sound.
Leo eyed the bird, who was happily staring at him with the copper coin in its beak, taunting Leo with its black pearl eyes and—uncharacteristic for a bird—standing quite still, only cocking his head from side-to-side.
Leo saw his chance and from the bottom step, he lunged after the crow. As he dove his left foot cleared the first two stairs, but his toes caught the top of the third. He was now crashing face first and headed directly for the crow. He threw out his arms, closed his eyes and, forgetting all about the crow and coin, braced for impact.
A second passed, then another, then another. The impact was impending now… another full second ticked by, and yet another… the impact wasn’t coming.
Leo opened his eyes. There was nothing but darkness and a sense of falling. The smell of the air rushing past reminded him of the earth covering Grandpa Joe’s grave as it careened by. He knew he was falling, but didn’t understand, he was in the mausoleum—he must be dreaming. As soon as Leo let his guard down and wonder why he hadn’t made impact with the hard-stone floor, he landed face first, on a hot, black, sandy shore.