Chapter 1:

Chapter 1

Paint the World

Monday 29th June 1998Bookmark here

Monday afternoon. My exams were over, and the extra-long summer break had begun in earnest. The weather was appropriately warm (for the UK), the sun shining super-bright through my bedroom window, a new up-beat pop song was playing on the radio, and having been up for about four hours, I was already bored out of my skull.Bookmark here

There was just… nothing to do. At all.Bookmark here

The only two people I’d want to hang out with were otherwise engaged. The internet connection didn’t come on until 6pm. Didn’t feel like reading or playing video games. Okay, maybe that last point was on me…Bookmark here

And so I lay there on my bed, wondering if the whole summer would be this dull. My gaze fell upon the Transformers figures lined up on a shelf, Maximals and Predacons staring out into space. Yep, this was me… 16 years old, only two real friends, a collection of toys and nothing to do.Bookmark here

No, no, stay! It actually gets interesting, I promise!Bookmark here

“Alex!” Mum’s voice rang out from downstairs. “There’s a delivery for you!”Bookmark here

Huh. I wasn’t expecting anything…Bookmark here

I headed out of my room and downstairs, my curiosity piqued. My mother was stood next to the front door, opening up an envelope and taking out the letter within; at her feet was a brown parcel maybe 4’ in length.
“I’m surprised you didn’t hear the postman knocking,” she noted idly, before her attention focused in on the letter.Bookmark here

She had a point. Normally, I would’ve.
“Probably because I’ve got the radio on,” I proposed while taking hold of the parcel. A little heavy. Seriously, what was this?Bookmark here

“What is that?” Mum asked, taking a glance at the mystery delivery.Bookmark here

“I really don’t know…” I told her truthfully, before hurrying back up the stairs with El Package-o Mysterio (yeah, I don’t speak Spanish). No time to waste – I had to see what was inside this.Bookmark here

Door shut- Bookmark here

No, wait, that might make this look suspicious… like I’ve ordered something personal that I want to keep secret…Bookmark here

Door open again.Bookmark here

Scissors from my desk.Bookmark here

Shearing through the tape…Bookmark here

And there it was. Nestled in brown paper, looking newer than new, was a large sword. Its body was crafted in white, black elements scattered across it, and a small circular port just below the blade, adorned with some kind of cool symbol. The blade itself was transparent with a strong, neon blue glow coming from deep within. It’s honestly hard to describe quite what that light was like… it was like it wasn’t even light at all. It was sheer blueness, the colour itself shining from within this peculiar weapon.Bookmark here

Because that, of course, was what it was. For as beautiful and unusual as it was, it was a sword.Bookmark here

No sooner had my eyes fully taken in the contents of the parcel than I shut the flaps back down.Bookmark here

… yes, because that would get rid of the huge weapon inside.Bookmark here

My mind was racing at speeds I didn’t think possible. Who had sent this to me? Why? Had I ordered it somehow, by mistake? From where? If not, who did I know that would send this to me? What kind of sword was this, anyway? It was definitely real, right? Not some kind of toy? Not me imagining things out of sheer boredom?Bookmark here

Cursing myself under my breath repeatedly, I cautiously reached out and opened the parcel up once more. The sword was as I left it… guess I hadn’t imagined it, then. Scratch that one off the list. I took hold of the handle’s black grip and hefted the object out of its bedding. It had some weight to it; it felt like it was a real sword. Light enough to wield, heavy enough to deal serious damage. Not that I knew what a real sword felt like… we’d done archery in school a few times, and that was the closest I’d ever come to handling anything like this. That or holding a carving knife once.Bookmark here

This, though, was an honest-to-goodness killing implement. What… what was I supposed to do with it?Bookmark here

I know what you’re probably thinking. Strange weapon on your doorstep? Go to the police. I assure you, I did think of that eventually. But sat on my bed, holding a 4’ sword with a blade pulsing blue, mind barrelling along and heart in hot pursuit, my train of thought hit a brick wall and its passengers set up shop there.Bookmark here

The skip. The one a few houses down. Dump the thing in there and forget this ever happened. Move on with a 100% sword-free life.Bookmark here

I rushed to my desk again and grabbed some tape – best seal the box back up, at least. Oh, and tear my name and address off of it (which took longer than I would’ve liked, that label seemed to be held on by superglue and magnets) …Bookmark here

A quick scouting trip downstairs revealed that Mum was now in the kitchen. I was safe to try and sneak out without being interrogated. Back in my room, I took hold of the parcel and scurried down the stairs. Just through the hallway, now, past the mirror and that messy-haired loser who never failed to look back at me, shoes on fast…Bookmark here

The outside greeted me with a wave of heat. The street was mostly quiet, save for the sound of someone mowing their lawn – out of sight, so presumably their back garden. Good… hopefully no one would see this. Not that it should look suspicious…Bookmark here

I scurried over to the skip, trying my best to look like this was a menial task that I simply wanted to get out of the way. The rusty old container was fairly empty, mainly just some pipes and a broken washing machine. I felt bad for doing this, but it was the easiest method I could think of. I brought the parcel up to the edge of the skip, and then tipped it over, letting it fall inside with a resonant thud.Bookmark here

There! Job done.Bookmark here

Satisfied, I turned around, began my journey home, and promptly tripped over.Bookmark here

What? How? There was nothing on the ground when I walked over here. Had I stumbled over my own feet again…?Bookmark here

Recovering myself, I glanced back and saw the sword lying there like it had done nothing wrong.Bookmark here

That made no sense at all. It was in the parcel, and the parcel was in the skip. I even double-checked, tip-toeing past the sword and peering inside the big metal tin to see the box resting on a bed of scrap. Turning, I picked the weapon off of the ground and slid it down the skip. It came to a halt underneath the knot of old pipes, more or less hidden.Bookmark here

And again, as soon as I turned away from the skip, the sword was on the ground.Bookmark here

I checked the skip once more. It was most certainly not in there. Somehow, this sword was… teleporting. I was pretty sure that was impossible.Bookmark here

This would have probably turned into some kind of Looney Tunes skit if I kept trying to dump the sword. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results, and I’m certainly not insane. So, what to do? I accepted – more quickly than I would have imagined – that, somehow, this thing was teleporting, and began trying to decide what I could do to work around that.Bookmark here

Why was it getting out of the skip? If I could figure that out, I could probably work out somewhere else to dispose of it…Bookmark here

I picked the sword up, looked over it like I would find some kind of evidence of a conscious mind.
“Err… hello? Sword? Can we talk this out?” I asked – yeah, I asked a sword a question. The response was a growl.Bookmark here

A growl?Bookmark here

(Do swords growl…?)Bookmark here

Except… no, the growl didn’t come from the sword. It came from behind me.Bookmark here

The skip.Bookmark here

What the hell was in the skip?Bookmark here

On the sharpest edge I’d ever been on, I gripped the sword’s handle tightly and turned, in slow-motion, towards the container.Bookmark here

It had to be a fox, right? Or an old toy that had been discarded?Bookmark here

An angry toddler…?Bookmark here

My breath had grown choppy. I was sweating.Bookmark here

As the skip entered my line of sight, I was greeted by a tall, gangly, pale form righting itself. Its face was almost contorted with hideous, exaggerated features, its eyes dark and glaring, wild hair bursting from its head like it was trying to escape.Bookmark here

It growled again, baring sharp teeth threateningly. I took a few steps back in fear and raised the sword in defence.Bookmark here

No, no, this had to be a dream, or some kind of weird drug trip. I knew those mushrooms from last night’s dinner tasted weird. Do tripping people know they’re tripping, though? And this was far too lifelike to be a dream.Bookmark here

The creature began clambering out of the skip, eyes locked on me, glaring like I was its prey. It leapt over the edge, landing on all fours before rising back up, slightly hunched. Unclothed, its form was almost hazy, texture hard to place, but its limbs were branch-like, hands and feet ending in needle-sharp talons.Bookmark here

It advanced. On unknown instinct, I took on some kind of battle stance.Bookmark here

Despite how tightly I was gripping onto the sword’s handle, it spontaneously rotated 90 degrees in my hand. As I glanced ever-so-briefly away from the approaching monster, I caught that emblem on the sword pulsing, glowing brighter than before.Bookmark here

The moment my brain processed that, a torrent of neon-blue paint(?) blasted out of that little port, drenching me through and momentarily blinding me.Bookmark here

Well, this was the end. I had no idea what was going on, but that naked Freddy Krueger knock-off was definitely going to disembowel me while I couldn’t see it.Bookmark here

But then the blue liquid dissolved into the air as quickly as it had manifested and… I was wearing a coat? Wait…Bookmark here

The skulking monster lunged for me with a guttural snarl – the sword spun back around in an instant, and I took a short defensive swing at my assailant. An arc of blue light followed the swing, slamming into the pale beast and sending it flying back into the skip with a forceful thud. Clearly in pain, it groaned deeply and collapsed to the ground.Bookmark here

Getting ever-more confused, I looked over myself. It wasn’t just a coat: I was inexplicably in a completely new set of clothes. For the most part, it was black… t-shirt, trousers, boots, all with blue elements to them, the emblem emblazoned on my chest. The coat was the same, and something that wouldn’t look wrong on a pirate. It seemed like the sword had decked me out in some kind of badass battle costume.Bookmark here

“Change of plan’, I told the sword. “I might keep you after all.”Bookmark here

My focus returned to the creature as it dragged itself back to its feet, clearly worse for wear after its date with the skip. Snarling louder than before, it began to stalk off to my left, steadily circling me – I shimmied right, trying to keep the same distance between us. Apparently, it hadn’t gotten the message.Bookmark here

We remained locked in a slowly-revolving standoff for what felt like a good five minutes (I doubt it was). I could pretty much hear that old cowboy music. Thankfully my menace of an opponent kept me from laughing, its eyes flicking about as it continually measured every aspect of our stalemate. At any moment, it could pounce.Bookmark here

Except it never got the chance.Bookmark here

A torrent of vibrant pink arrows pierced the creature’s back, forcing it to its knees. It cried out, in frustration more than pain, and turned in the direction that the attack came from. While it was distracted, someone sped over to us like Sonic the Hedgehog, skidding to a yellow-strewn halt a couple of metres away from the creature.Bookmark here

Black clothing. White weapons. Swap out my blue for yellow and they were rocking my new style, save for the shorter waistcoat, bare arms and gauntlets.Bookmark here

“Get it get it get it!” the new arrival urged me excitedly. This was a familiar face… Bao Thomson, from my year group at school. The guy who spent weeks campaigning for a comic book club and then disbanded it after four days.Bookmark here

Was this a coincidence…?Bookmark here

“Quickly, get it!” Bao insisted, waving his arms for emphasis. I nodded, gripping the sword more firmly. A few quick steps got me within slashing-range of the creature; I drew the sword back, then struck forward with all my might. Once again, a burst of blue followed my swing, and this time it cleft my opponent in twain.Bookmark here

(That’s… that’s what that means, right? Crap, I’m ruining the moment…)Bookmark here

The creature tried to roar out in agony, but the sound was quickly lost to the winds. Frozen in-place, its body began to become hazy, smeary, detail and form diminishing rapidly until all that remained was a faint smudge hanging in mid-air. That too seemed to be fading with every passing second.Bookmark here

“Man, yours was really cool-looking,” my new companion remarked as he walked over to me. “Mine was some weird little goblin thing. Fast and annoying. Took me ages to get it. But nice work splatting your one!”Bookmark here

“Thanks…?” I replied, confused by how casually he was talking about this and… well, everything.Bookmark here

“No, for real,” he continued, apparently not noticing my tone, “that was slick! You were all like a samurai or something – like that thing where the two samurai slash at each other and then they’re all-”
He froze to the spot, the first time he’d actually been still since turning up.
“- and then one of them falls over dead. Totally like that!”
An excited grin spread across his face as soon as his lips stopped moving.Bookmark here

“Hey, you did it!” another voice – female – spoke out from not too far away. Bao and I turned, to see two more people approaching. Both were from our school, both were again in largely-black and otherwise colour-coded clothes.Bookmark here

Kendal Carr. I think this was the first time I’d seen her without a skateboard… or rollerblades… actually, I’m sure there was a time she tried to parachute off the tallest building in school… The pink elements to her clothing, and the white bow in her hand, suggested that she had been the one to fire upon the monster. Her get-up was suitably sporty – shorts, one missing sleeve, and one of those archery bracers on her left arm.Bookmark here

Zahid Hassan. More of a loner. Or, I suppose, a loner by choice, compared to Bao, Kendal and myself with about five friends between us. Still, he had girls fawning over him, so it couldn’t be all-bad. A loner with a fiery temper… I guess that got them going. Appropriately, his unique colour was red, with a jacket with hood and rolled up sleeves, and tears in his trousers; he was swinging an axe around as he walked over to us, looking disinterested where Kendal was smiling.Bookmark here

“You’re welcome for the assist, by the way,” she added with a cheeky wink.Bookmark here

“Right! Yeah! Thanks… how long were you guys watching…?” If they’d been hovering around the whole time, they probably got bored of the stalemate and figured they’d help out.Bookmark here

“We only just turned up,” Zahid clarified. “Bao’s gremlin took us an hour. You’re lucky we made it at all.”Bookmark here

“I’m actually kinda missing that little dude…” the shorter guy sighed, sounding more genuine than I would have expected.Bookmark here

“Screw him. Bastard wouldn’t die,” Zahid grumbled as his focus went to the white axe in his hand. Kendal rolled her shoulder a little all the while, as if talking about the escapade was reminding her of the exertion.Bookmark here

“Okay,” I began, “do any of you know what’s going on? Because ten minutes ago, I was chilling out in my room and now… sword, monster, clothes, a lot of blue… and I’ve got no explanation for it.”
Bao and Kendal shared a glance; Zahid huffed, not looking up from his axe. Not the reactions I was expecting…
“What? What did I say?”Bookmark here

“Ah, good, you found them!” a new voice spoke up. I turned my head and-Bookmark here

- I swear I’m not exaggerating – Bookmark here

- I saw the most beautiful girl I’d ever laid eyes upon. Wavy, flowing dark brown hair framed a face of shining emerald eyes, soft cheeks, bright lips that curled into a gorgeous smile as she walked towards us. Green seemed to be her colour; small jacket, green skirt over black tights, a long spear tipped with a glowing green head casually running behind her neck as she held it in place with both hands. Birds were singing, her surroundings were faint as giant love-hearts bobbed alongside her…Bookmark here

No, wait, I was hallucinating those…Bookmark here

“You okay? You’re looking pretty red there,” she addressed me as she came to a halt in front of me. Her accent… she was Irish. I clawed my senses together and nodded briskly.
“Great!” the stranger beamed. “I’m Dakota Radley.”Bookmark here

“A-Alex Matthews…” I stuttered, holding out a hand for her to shake, then withdrawing it as I remembered she was holding her weapon. “Uh- sorry-”Bookmark here

“It’s okay,” Dakota smiled, a little awkwardly now.Bookmark here

Brilliant. What a first impression I was giving. Why was this happening to me? I’d never acted like this around cute girls before…Bookmark here

Kendal giggled at me, as if to cement how ridiculous I was being.Bookmark here

“Alex was asking what’s going on,” Zahid summarised for Dakota, who crinkled her nose.Bookmark here

“Short answer… these things,” she bobbed the spear with her shoulders for emphasis, “are Lokon weapons. They’re tied to a preternatural force of creation called Lokonessence. Something weird is going on, and I don’t know what.”Bookmark here

“It’s okay,” Bao chimed in, leaning forward a little. “That’s all she’s told us too.”Bookmark here

“I wanted to find all the weapons first before explaining everything,” Dakota clarified, to all of us now. “Assuming you’re all free, let’s go back to the gaff I’m staying at.”Bookmark here

Kendal was the first to speak up.
“Nah, I was gonna try kayaking but the lake will be there tomorrow! Unless it won’t. I dunno how this whole thing works.”Bookmark here

“Wow, imagine if you can use the weapons to, like, wipe out a whole lake… or a mountain…” Bao started, before almost visibly snapping back to the topic at hand. “Yeah, cool, let’s go to yours!”Bookmark here

“Sure,” Zahid exhaled, stashing his left hand in his pocket and bobbing his axe.Bookmark here

As I covered before, my schedule was very much empty. And if nothing else, I could get some answers on this crazy stuff.Bookmark here

“Okay. Count me in!” I smiled.Bookmark here

Whatever this was all about… it seemed like it could be fun.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.