The Rifters Book 1
A junction between the worlds erupts.
The Gold Rush trickles to a fool’s quest and a string of stagecoach heists. In 1888, Earl Blacke decides to make a new start and become a better man. He escapes into the mountains, heading north. In the wilds of Oregon, a rift inside an ancient volcano opens and sends him into the future, into the present day. It also shaves forty years off his age, forty years to live over again and atone for what he’s done.
Starting over is hard to do. In current day New York, Daelin Long’s dream job at a publishing house goes the way of the dinosaurs her sister chases. With no money and nowhere else to go, Daelin accepts the librarian position in her sister’s dinky town in the middle of Oregon. Nestled inside ancient volcanic peaks, the town of Settler holds onto many secrets. Residents roam the streets with weirdly fashioned devices, and odd lights pulse in the night skies. People whisper of a phantom outlaw and start dying, murdered and missing their heads. On top of it all, Daelin’s sister is missing, and Daelin doesn’t know who to trust.
Earl knows more than he’s saying. He shares a notorious history with the phantom, one he’ll see remains buried. Keeping Daelin’s sister’s secrets is his only chance at redemption, and the only way to keep this world safe.
“The world Pax creates here is like the Wild West meets Ghostbusters with some Stargate and a bit of Steampunk thrown in. Even though everything seems a bit familiar, it’s not, which is what makes it compelling.”CHOOSE YOUR OWN END
“This book catapults the reader right in mid-events and, like Daelin, one is forever trying to figure out the ins and outs of the situation. Though readers have one advantage in that we are prepared to believe. However, what in some books can be annoying, becomes an enjoyable ride, where you are constantly excited to see where the plot will take you next. I really enjoyed the slightly wacky and off center world of Settler.” AMAZON
The Rifters series is set in the town of Settler, Oregon. There’s a reason for its weirdness. Join the Settler community and become part of the story… Check out Settler HERE and see what inspires The Rifters HERE.
Cover by: EDHGRAPHICS
Edited by: Kelly Schaub
© M. Pax 2014, all rights reserved
Earl Blacke exhaled a mist that didn’t originate from the chill of night. His lungs burned. The obsidian pillars on either side of the twisted juniper hissed, smoke pouring off their chiseled faces. The energy streaming out of the rift tasted different, overcooked sugar with a strong hint of rotting fish. Whatever beast traveled the portal, it would not pass. It would not sully his lands.
Over a century ago, Earl wore a different name, one synonymous with notorious and robbing stagecoaches. He’d need that grit tonight. He’d need it to save his girl. No longer perplexed by technology that enabled him to talk to people a long way away without hollering or using the telegraph office, he fiddled with the buttons on his cell phone.
“It’s me,” he whispered. “The gate is opening.”
“The message said the rift would activate three nights before the summer solstice, ushering in a new dark age. It didn’t lie. The darkness must be stopped. Nothing will come through while you’re there. You and the portal don’t mix.” Her bright voice pierced through the overcharged air. “I need three more minutes to finish the device, then I’m on my way.” It would take her an added ten minutes to hike out to the portal from her place, less if she ran.
The power emanating from the stone columns pushed at Earl, flattening his lungs, slowing his blood. “It’s not the usual visitor, Charming.” Rarely did something tame roll through the gate, but this was something much more vicious and heavy. Why did his girl insist on grappling with such things? She should stick to her fossils.
He had spent three years searching for Charming Moon Knight. He found her when she was about to finish graduate school. The perfect time. Like they were meant to have these moments. She meant the world, and whatever it took, he’d keep her in this one.
Inching toward the blue light fizzing between the pillars, Earl squared his shoulders. “I won’t let it through until you get here, darling.”
“You’re the best—” She started to say his name, but the opening to another place cut her off as effectively as a knife across her tongue.
For once his struggles with the gate paid off. It refused to let him enter, refused to open when it sensed him, like he tasted wrong, for he had been its guest once then never again.
The blue light sparking between the pillars hadn’t been so fickle in 1888. The flickers had grabbed onto his curiosity out in the shadow of an old volcano in the middle of Oregon, a new town dubbed Settler. The rift had clutched onto his mind and swallowed him up. Almost as quickly, it spat him out in a time that wasn’t his. In the same place, however, still Settler, Oregon.
Since that day, the gate wouldn’t let him through again. He’d been branded an outcast, as if this world knew of his past sins. The horrid twist in fate hadn’t been all bad. The gold coins he had buried in the 1880s hadn’t been found by anyone else and were worth a fortune in this century. They bought him the dream that had egged him on in older times, plus the trip had shaved forty years off his age. Forty years to live over again, to become a better man. If he held true to Charming, he’d be that man.
Everything about her resembled light: a wan complexion as pale as they came, fiery hair, long and fine, that showed off her cold blue eyes to their best advantage. The exact shade and shape of his. Her spirit shone brightest, always tugging her lips into a smile and her wit into fascinating words. Two years out of graduate school, her zest for life hadn’t cooled.
He pressed his hand against the column, and the world hissed into a solid dark gray. Gray upon gray upon gray. It hunted his girl. He gripped the pillar, the smoothness of the volcanic glass heated up under his palm. A string of red snaked through the gray and wrapped itself around his fingers. It snarled in Earl’s thoughts, Retreat or die.
“Then it’s a fight.” Earl clenched his jaw, willing away the pain. The agony didn’t matter, the past didn’t matter, only atoning for it and saving Charming.
The ribbon of red pulled taut, creeping up his wrist to his elbow. It flashed like an explosion behind his eyes, then all went hush. He floated in a gray fog that prevented his thoughts from mooring onto anything solid, as if he slept in a twisted dream.
His consciousness found its way out and he awoke to the thuds and grunts of battle, the dull thwacks of flesh on flesh pounding it raw. Sitting up, he couldn’t focus. His vision swam, the ground tilted. A scream stopped his heart.
More than ten minutes must have passed with him in a fogged state. “Charming?” He crawled toward her shriek, blurs moving across the silvery night. How had anything gotten through the portal with him beside it? Maybe if he was unconscious, the rift couldn’t detect him. He could think of no other reason for what had happened. The trees came into sharper focus. A small body slammed into a twisted juniper.
The ensuing grunt thundered from Charming’s throat. Twenty feet away she wrestled with the gray entity. “Get away from the gate, Earl.” Her wrist glowed with violet light and her punches flew faster than most people could spit.
The gray entity moaned, a sound like wind funneling through a tin can. The size and bulk of a small room, it stood between Charming and the gate. She fired a strange weapon made from a crystal at the creature.
Across the rough lava ground, Earl crawled to her. He wouldn’t let her die. She wouldn’t fight alone. He hadn’t gone a foot when another being, resembling a beautiful young human male, rose up from the shadows, materializing from nothing, joining her, waging combat at her side. The place where Earl should be.
Chrome pigments slithered across the young male’s blue skin, gathering in his hands. Amber leaves cascaded from his scalp, a strange sort of hair. Earl recognized him as something that had been here before, a something calling itself Cerin. Charming had been warned by her fellow monster slayers to stay away from him. What was she doing?
“We can’t force the evil to leave until you move away from the portal.” Cerin spoke like waves slapping against a shore of jagged rock. He and the gray beast mingled then parted. With speed Earl had never seen, the monster whipped past Cerin to go after Charming. Her screams drove pangs into Earl’s chest.
Blood dribbled down her cheek, and she collapsed onto her knees. Her glasses fell off, twisted and cracked. “Earl, you have to go. Now!”
Leave her? He struggled onto his feet. “I won’t let it take you.”
The majestic Cerin leaped between her and the gray beast. His blue complexion tinted toward black, his chrome eyes flashed, and his cheeks puffed out, straining. “I’ll protect her.”
The gray mass ignored Cerin, tendrils of its gray bulk breaking out, whipping Charming, surrounding her.
If Earl stayed, she would surely perish. “I’ll be right up there.” He pointed to an overhang of rock ten yards away. “One wink and I’ll be back like cannon shot.”
“I’m counting on it. Now run.” She gasped. “Just run. And look after my sister. Promise.”
“That sounds like you won’t be coming back.”
She grunted, hitting the ground flat. A new gash opened on her neck, gushing red like a downpour. “Promise.”
He’d promise her anything and keep his word. “I swear.”
Earl hurried down the trail. When he reached the wall of ancient lava, he climbed up to the overhang. From up there, fifteen feet off the ground, he overlooked the entire scene, the struggle between Charming and the gray beast.
The light between the pillars shifted to gold, and Cerin dragged Charming toward it. She vaulted into his arms and threw a small device at the portal. Five copies of her clutching onto Cerin sprung up before the gate. One version of him carried her through. The color of the rift changed to crimson, another Cerin ferried another Charming into the rift. This repeated until all five couples had gone. The gray mass dove in after the third.
Earl hoped the third Charming and Cerin had been one of the reflections. Had her device split them into five or had Cerin done it? The trick was typical for a Rifter’s arsenal, so it could have been Charming’s doing. The more important question was, would she survive?
No one from this Earth had been through the gate besides Earl, according to Charming. She had said it was forbidden by the same rulers of the rift who had stranded Earl here. What would they do to her?
He could only wait and be the first thing she saw when she returned to Settler. He had to believe she would.
Metal struck metal, hollow and violent, distinct and unmistakable, the cocking of a gun. It stopped Daelin Long’s heart as readily as the layoff notice texted by her former boss and supposed friend: mergr cuts = no room 4u. b gone bi 4. Not a sorry. No care taken to use proper English or spell all the words correctly. Not one answer to Daelin’s pleas. The absolute worst day of her life.
Her box of office things clutched in her cramping fingers, she had shuffled to the subway. Getting mugged at gunpoint on the platform, where she had lost her cashed severance pay, her cell phone, laptop, and even her stapler, had left her short of breath and babbling. Her younger sister had taken advantage when called via a borrowed landline, promising a safe haven. Here. Amid pine trees and rocks. Nowheresville, Oregon. Where Daelin thought she’d at least escape assholes and bullets. If she could swallow, she’d laugh.
Fine strands of black broke free from her updo and tangled in her mascara-lengthened eyelashes. Unbidden, the memory of burnt gunpowder from the worst day of her life assaulted her freefalling senses. Her hand froze around the ceramic frog.
“Turn around nice and slow, ladrón de rana.” The accusation of frog thief shook, high-pitched with gusts of fury.
The lawn ornament chirped out a chorus of gribbets when Daelin set it back in her sister’s garden. She raised her hands as she had three weeks ago, and just like then, they were defenseless save for dried sweat. Straightening to her full six foot height, she twisted around so slowly it’d frustrate a double semi colon.
“Whoa, you’re taller than Sabina. Never thought I’d see that. You’re obviously not from around here.” Inky curls tumbled around dark eyes that didn’t stay still. With the shotgun poised deftly in her hands, the tiny woman towered as a giant.
Daelin stared down the barrel. She fixated on it, unable to speak, unable to move. The wind picked up, carrying a frigid blast down from the snowy peaks, ignoring the arrival of late June.
At an elevation of almost four thousand feet, Settler, Oregon, ignored the seasons respected by the rest of the continent. Nestled inside an ancient volcano in the arid high desert, the area had a unique landscape. The remnants of the volcano had the names of Gold and Swit Peaks. They sat behind the town. Two kindly grandfathers keeping an eye on things. A cinder cone rose between two placid lakes to the west of the peaks, before the eroded line marking the other side of the old crater. Beyond it rose the snowcapped Cascade mountains. The town had established itself between the twin lakes and the twin peaks, snuggled into the perfect nook to enjoy all the splendor surrounding it.
Stiffening, Daelin expected to shiver from the wind. Instead, the slap of cool calmed her, soothed nerves raw from experiences three thousand miles away. The people she knew in the city had warned her about the wild west. Rightly so, it seemed. “M-my sister didn’t answer the door. I’ve been waiting over an hour. She told me how to find the spare key in case she wasn’t around.”
“You that Darling girl?” The barrel lowered. Her well-worn gray sweatshirt and khakis fluttered with the next gust, and delicate fingers, not made for pulling triggers, swept hair out of her elfin face. She appeared no older than Daelin. “¡Hola! I didn’t figure you for the fancy-pantsed type. Charming ain’t. You don’t look like the elder sister either.”
“Yes, that’s me. Darlin Dae Long. Everyone calls me Daelin. I’m only two years older than my sister.” She glanced down at her green T-shirt dress and flip flops, perplexed as to how anyone could label them as fancy. “Can I put my arms down now?”
“Charming and Darling. What was your mother thinking?” The woman aiming the shotgun stood as if she ate no more than one bean a day.
Daelin hoped her sister would come by soon, get her out of this lunacy, and lend her some cash and a sandwich. A nice thick sandwich. It was past noon, and she’d been on the road since five. “Our mother has no love for the conventional.”
“That’s obvious.” The wind threatened to whisk the young woman off to another place with no civilization, because Daelin hadn’t seen any since leaving Boise six and a half hours ago.
Over three hundred lonely miles had stretched between here and there. Sixty miles ago, the tips of the majestic Cascades had started to come into view. Daelin had heard cities thrived on the other side. Maybe she’d make it over there sooner rather than later. No way did her future reside in this tiny town.
“If you know Charming, then you know.” She licked at her lips, wishing she hadn’t let her sister talk her into this. However, Daelin had nowhere else to go and no better job prospects than the librarian position Charming had dangled like a juicy two pound Rueben. “Do you know where she is?”
Shotgun Evita held her finger up in the air then fished a baseball cap covered in foil out of her sweatshirt pocket, settling it over her messy curls. “Who?”
Searching for some possible explanation for the crazy hat, Daelin had to glance up. She hoped Shotgun Evita wasn’t representative of the typical Settler resident. “My sister. Do you know where my sister is?”