Ninjas, mind-controlled slaves, a plasmatic monster, robot dinosaurs, inner demons, and bandersnatches are running amok. Nightmare draws near. The dimensional barriers are thinning toward immanent collapse. This dream we share is ending--it is the Harvest of Souls. The Phoenix Prince moves to save a dying Earth. He enlists a reformed angel of death, a gothic rocker, a homeless vietnam vet, three high school kids, and a slightly dead cat named Fluffles. They are the Others. Clothed in power, armed with special gifts, they take on the Dark Lords in all their forms as Hell comes calling.
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Rex was beyond the barrier, standing on huge, plastic legs, spray-painted a jungle green that shaded into hazel with black stripes for contrast. It flailed proportionately tiny forearms with glee, chomping through the neck of a small raptor. Recorded death screams burst from the sound system as they watched.
An argument between a man and woman standing nearby caught Star's attention. "I don't see what your problem is," the man said. "It's a fine exhibit."
"But that tar pit on the far side of the landscape; its not part of the set. I should know; my crew put it together last night. There was no tar pit in this set when we finished. There certainly isn't one in the floor designs. We didn't put that mess there. Someone else did."
"That's hard to believe. Who would have a tar pit laying around that they'd need to get rid of? And how could they dump it here under the nose of mall security? Maybe one of your men added the effect as some sort of personal, artistic touch without telling you about it."
"That's not possible. They did their work and left. I was the last to go. And believe me, my workers are not that imaginative."
Star looked past Rex to the tar pit in question. It bubbled like simmering gravy, thick and dingy black, ringed by fake rocks and ferns. Something inside her suddenly grew very focused. She felt blazing eyes snap open in her mind. Star nearly choked on a strange sensation that screamed a warning at her.
Star turned to Susan and caught her eye. "There's danger here. We need to get Lea out of--"
"My baby," a woman screamed!
They looked and saw a toddler being snatched into the air by thick tentacles of tar from the pit. Several coils looped around the little girl and dangled her in the air playfully as other sludgy limbs rose like hooded cobras, in a threatening display.
People near the limbs began to run, shoving at those ahead of them, starting the usual, mindless, screaming panic. A security guard ran for the child. He tried to pull her free but was entangled himself, along with the mother, still reaching for her child.
Brian gave Lea a shove into the crowd. "Keep moving. If we get separated, we'll regroup out back at the fourth street exit."
She went without a backward glance, thinking that her friends were right behind her. As the courtyard emptied of non-combatants, the three teenagers linked hands, guided by the Presence within them. They knew this was right though they didn't know why.
As one, they spoke a name unlike any other. It hung in place, even as it reverberated across unnamed dimensions, eluding their grasp but flooding their hearts with strength. Something alien and dangerous looked out of them. White fire washed across every cell from the extra-spatial dimensions within them. A silvery light broke free of them, terrible and fierce, like the new-kindled holocaust of a primal creation.
The energy fountained upward to fill two stories of air-space with the fire-form of a screaming Phoenix. It fanned wings of fire and then collapsed as quickly as it came, leaving three strangely transformed teenagers behind. It was as if they'd changed places with idealized dream images of themselves that were never meant to walk this world. The suits were vee-cut in front, leaving head and hands exposed, elegant in their simplicity.
Hair and skin glowed with a residue of light that hazed their features, giving them an unearthly appearance that helped conceal their identities. Their appearance was still very human, it was just that something alien, something "other", illuminated and completed their humanity.
Their hands came apart, breaking the circuit. They turned to face the plasmic menace.
Kevyn nodded. "Banners are being raised into the wind and we few small souls are called to hold the line in a shadow war, with all we love held hostage to fortune. We are armed with gifts we do not understand, and must fight an enemy we've never seen. And if we fail...if we fall...the whole world will follow."
Star pointed. "Pull in behind that station wagon."
Kevyn turned mercurial eyes upon her. Their pale blue had hardened to a steel gray. His poets’ stare stabbed her soul, probing deeply. He brushed a straying lock of gold away from his face and spoke.
"Failure is not an option."