Copyright © 2016 by D.R. Rosensteel. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
When I was six years old, this creep who called himself Nicolaitan kidnapped me. He used me as bait to ambush two of the most awesome, loving crime fighters who ever wore a mask—Amy and Michael Morgan, my mom and dad. Nicolaitan is the leader of the Walpurgis Knights and a total slime pit. Murder is his thing.
I escaped. Mom and Dad didn’t. They gave their lives to save me.
We knew Nicolaitan would come back for me, so my name was changed and I went into hiding. My adoptive parents put me in the most intense training program any crime fighter has ever gone through. For ten years I hid my skills, until one day my little sister (yeah, my awesome adoptive family included a shiny new little sister) was kidnapped by a young Knight named Egon. Déjà vu, he used her as bait to capture me. That did it. I was officially done hiding. Little sisters, especially mine, are off limits to creeps.
Things didn’t work out so well for Egon. I kicked his butt. That would have been a nice, happy ending, but I learned it was just the beginning. Before I sent Egon deep into La La Land, he mentioned that Nicolaitan was still hunting for Lynn Morgan—me—the only surviving member of the Morgan family.
My new name is Lynn Noelle. But everybody calls me Rinnie. I’m a Psi Fighter. I protect the innocent. By day, I’m a sixteen-year-old girl who has a hard time deciding how to do her hair for school. By night, I wear a high-tech mask and armor to hunt the darkest, vilest villains you can imagine, way too evil for the police to handle. I know that’s not exactly normal, but normal and I, well, we aren’t really on speaking terms.
And, yeah, the mask is seriously cool.
Nicolaitan won’t stop until he finds me. He doesn’t know my true identity, but he’s relentless and doesn’t play fair. He lures us—Psi Fighters—out by hurting the people we are sworn to protect. His latest attempt happened in the wee hours of the morning, specifically right in the middle of my much-needed beauty sleep. And he did it in the most tasteless way I could have imagined—a poorly written limerick.
There once was an old high school robber,
Who over a young lass did slobber,
But the Passage was home,
And it caused him to roam,
Which led to one fine Danse Macabre.
See what I mean? Unimaginative cadence, sloppy wording—macabre. Really? It doesn’t even rhyme with slobber. Worse, Andy woke me up at three in the morning to read it to me. Then he made me guess that danse macabre means “dance of death,” Nicolaitan’s melodramatic way of telling us he was about to murder an innocent victim. Yeah. Three a.m. That’s Andy for you.
Andy is my mentor. He’s like a big brother, annoying and lovable at the same time, leaning slightly more in the annoying direction at three ante ploppin’ meridiem. He’s also my sparring partner and one of the most powerful of the Psi Fighters. The Psi Fighters have a long and glorious history that we’re not allowed to talk about. So, I’ll just hit the high points. We are a secret society of Protectors who take on covert missions against dictators, evil organizations, and crime lords. But the Walpurgis Knights are our fiercest enemy. We fight them from the Psi Fighter Academy, a training complex hidden hundreds of feet beneath the city in the old abandoned mines.
Back to the limerick and Andy’s terrible timing at delivering it to me. As badly written as it was, the message was clear—Mason Draudimon was about to die. The “young lass” in the limerick was a little girl who had been kidnapped by a Knight named Scallion and held in a place called the Shadow Passage. Mason had tried to rescue her. A few weeks ago I would have been, like, “Sorry about your luck.” Mason used to be a total butthead. He was one of the cruelest bullies in my high school. But then he showed up during my fight with Egon and nearly died trying to save me and my sister. That’s when I saw how sweet he could be.
So, in addition to becoming slightly attracted to him, I sort of owe him one. Otherwise, I would have totally told Andy to take two aspirins and call me in the morning. Instead, I bounced out of bed, threw on some sweats, and rushed down to the Academy, where I met Andy. He was already in full Psi Fighter armor.
“Are you gonna wear that?” Andy asked, his head cocked sideways, his gauntleted hand on his hip, striking his favorite you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me pose.
I shook my hair so it fell in my face, and shot back with a you-call-me-at-three-in-the-morning-and-expect-me-to-look-good? pose. Then I slipped into my dressing closet, donned my mask and armor, and immediately felt wide awake. Normal people just put their outfits on. Psi Fighters don them. It’s a superhero thing.
The advanced design of my midnight blue uniform made me impervious to practically anything. The knee-high boots were like lightweight moccasins but armored all around. My gauntlets were also armored, but so sensitive that I could feel the texture of my hair through them. The long tabard outlined with gold filigree was more than an awesome fashion statement. It was a second layer of armor that could withstand even a point blank Mental Blast. My belt, complete with Psi Fighter insignia, was a lot like Batman’s utility belt. But I kept snacks in it instead of gadgets.
Then there was my mask, the high-tech helmet that gives a Psi Fighter night vision, super-sensitive hearing, and the ability to communicate with each other as though we can read minds. It also has voice-altering electronics that makes my voice unrecognizable. I can sound like Darth Vader telling Obi Wan he should not have returned, or Hermy the Elf singing “Why am I Such a Misfit?” Totally indestructible, my mask protects me from anything the bad guys can throw at me.
With the possible exception of spiders.
Even my wonderful space-age Psi Fighter armor can’t keep their ick from making my skin crawl. If the Walpurgis Knights ever figure that out, I’m a goner.
I stepped out of my changing closet and headed into the maze of mines surrounding the Academy. When I entered the brightly lit tunnel, I noticed a large, rubber-tracked carriage rolling silently toward Andy and squealed in delight.
“New toy?” I sprinted toward the transporter. “Dibs on the driver’s seat!”
Andy pulled on his mask. “Yes to question number one. Not in my lifetime to question number two.”
“Question number two wasn’t a question. I was staking a claim.”
Andy climbed into the driver’s seat. “I claim that you can’t stroll down the sidewalk without frightening little old ladies. It would be irresponsible of me to let you drive something with enough power to collapse the mines.”
“Ha ha.” Ignoring his inferior sense of humor, I bounced into the passenger seat. It pulled me in like one of those expensive beds made of space-age foam. Without warning, seat belts snapped tightly around me. “Does this thing double as a mousetrap?” I asked.
“Safety first, my dear. Like I said, there is enough power here to collapse the mines.”
“I notice there’s no steering wheel.”
Andy patted my masked head. “Did you also notice that there is no gas pedal?”
“Or key, or brakes, or fancy switches for activating James Bond weapons. I hope you don’t expect me to get out and push.”
“It wouldn’t move if you did. Feast your eyes on the electrodes lining my armrest.” Andy flourished his hand across the inner console like Vanna White. “They connect the driver to the transport’s nerve center. All I do is think. Much cooler than anything 007 has. This baby is loaded. Turbo boost, battering ram, psionic cannon…every accessory you could possibly want.”
I shook my head. “Hardly.”
“What’s missing?” Andy asked, scrunching his shoulders up to his masked ears.
“A makeup mirror. This thing was obviously designed by a guy.”
Andy grunted, looked straight ahead, and slapped his hand against the armrest. The transport shot forward, forcing me back into the seat.
I squealed with delight. “Is this your answer to the Batmobile?”
“Batman wishes he had one of these. That low-tech scrap heap he drives is powered by a plutonium core reactor. One leak, and the whole city is polluted for eighty-seven-point-seven years. That’s why Batman has brain damage.”
“Why eighty-seven point seven? Why not eighty-eight?”
Andy smacked his masked forehead. “Half-life of plutonium. Duh.”
I patted the dashboard. “And this is powered by…?”
Andy put his masked nose in the air. “Pure, environmentally-friendly brain waves.”
“What do you call it? The Psycho Cruiser? The Gran Mal Torino? The Mental Model T?”
“I toyed with Psi-Tran, because technically it’s a Psionic Transport, but then settled on the Andymobile because of its obvious marketing appeal.”
“Batman’s not the only one with brain damage.”
We sped along the tunnel, noiseless except for the low hum of the rubber tracks on the polished coal floor. Timbers and black rock and the smell of anthracite rushed past me. I had walked the coal mines of the Psi Fighter Academy many times, but I had never flown through them at that speed, nor had I gone that far from the training room. Before I knew it, we slid to a silent halt. The tunnel had come to an end, and a ladder disappeared into the ceiling. “All out for Nat Greene,” Andy said.
I leaned my masked head against the dashboard. “Please don’t tell me you made a secret entrance inside the statue of Nathanael Greene.”
“Strictly speaking,” Andy said, “it’s an exit.”
“Strictly speaking, it’s a historical monument that we shouldn’t be desecrating.”
The mines under Greensburg lead everywhere. Over the years that the Psi Fighters have occupied the city, we have opened up inconveniently closed tunnels, closed up inconveniently open ones, and dug a series of exits up to the surface in some pretty unusual locations. When I say we, I mean Andy. This particular exit came up in Sinclair Park, inside, of all things, the massive bronze statue of Nathanael Greene, the Revolutionary War hero they named Greensburg after.
If you’ve never been inside a hollow statue, I don’t recommend it. Claustrophobia aside, there are spiders. And cobwebs with dried up bugs dangling in them. I believe I mentioned my unnatural loathing for all things spider.
I patted Andy on the arm. “You go first.” I followed him up the ladder, planning for the spider yuck to cling to him instead of me, and came out successfully web-free inside Commander Nat.
One thing about Andy, he goes all out when he builds a secret entrance. The interior of the hollow statue’s base was filled with high-tech surveillance equipment. Video monitors that would have made an IMAX HD movie theater jealous covered the walls. Andy touched the electrode plate at the base of the video system, displaying Sinclair Park before us.
I didn’t see anything suspicious—a field of tombstones, and beyond them, a sandbox and some swings. Sinclair Park is weird that way. It was an old cemetery before the rich and famous LaReau family bought it and built a playground in the middle. Apparently, they thought their psycho son, Norman, needed more social interaction. As it turned out, he did. He used the playground to lure children into his child slavery business. I stopped him from taking a little girl once, but he got away. That was my first mission. Which I totally botched.
“Let’s go,” Andy said.
“Where?” I asked. “I don’t see anybody. I don’t see anything but tombs and teeter-totters. No life forms.”
“That means the coast is clear,” Andy said.
“Oh, yeah.” I opened the hidden panel on the back side of Nathanael, and we slipped out. The hard part about being a Psi Fighter is that we try not to be seen. Comic book superheroes get their jollies by going out in public masked so they can flaunt the fact that they have a secret identity. We’re also masked, but we don’t like the limelight.
“Shimmer,” I said into my mask.
“Shimmer,” I heard Andy’s voice over my mask’s radio.
Shimmer is like stealth mode. We aren’t actually invisible, but it makes us nearly impossible to sense. You know how, when somebody is totally annoying and won’t stop talking, you can just tune them out, like they don’t exist? Well, Shimmer works like that. It tunes you out so people don’t realize you’re around.
“Do you see him?” Andy pointed. “Over there. He’s not alone.”
My blood ran cold when I saw what Andy was pointing at—Mason’s motionless body tied to a sarcophagus, and hovering over him, a dark figure wearing a mask like a decaying skull.
My chest tightened. Was I too late? If anything happened to Mason…
“Control your emotions,” Andy said. “I feel your anxiety. So will Nicolaitan.”
“Got it,” I said. I forced the rising panic down and focused on Nicolaitan. He danced in a circle around Mason, playing what looked like a violin. Creepy with a capital C-R-E-E-P.
Andy started across the cemetery. “Stay close to me.”