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History Unwound: Scavengers

By Kaleb Levermore-Rich All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Action

Broken Time

Geo City. A bustling metropolis, filled with citizens of all kinds. Everyone living out their lives blissfully. Not all the time, of course. There's still the crime, and it's usually a little worse than in most of the world. That's why there are people like me. For nearly a century, there have been superheroes keeping Geo City safe from the forces of evil in all shapes and sizes.

I know what you’re thinking: “What heroes? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” That’s because everything’s changed. My only hope is that the people who are watching this vlog remember the true Geo City, the one that’s not currently a living hell. If you don’t remember, or if Geo City is back the way that it was, then let me summarize what I know so far.

Something has changed the timeline, corrupting it so that Geo City has turned into a wasteland of slavery, because apparently the heroes were not there to save the day. And I’m fairly certain that it has something to do with the oldest legion of supervillains in existence. You know, the Hydro Hydra, Mr. Magnificent, the Crimson Crossbones, the Twirling Tyrant, and their leader, the Emerald Emperor? The Order of Masters? Yeah, they were around from the very beginning. And they appear to be passing down their names, uniforms, and powers to their offspring. Have you ever noticed how none of those five supervillains ever seem to age? In fact, I swear they actually get younger as time goes on. It’s got to be a title that’s passed down from generation to generation.

Anyways, I’ve had to travel back in time to fix the damage. I don’t know at what point the timeline changed, but I know that there are five periods of time that could be a potential culprit. The precursor generation, the time before superheroes existed. The salvation generation, the first generation of heroes. The defender generation, the era with the most famous superhero in the world. The legacy generation, the era with the most famous team of heroes in the world, known as the Legacy. And finally, the scavenger generation, the one that could have been weeks before the 4th of July Massacre. The latter is my first target. Why before? Because in my Geo City, there was no 4th of July Massacre, and from what I can tell, almost everything about this nightmare is a result of that horrible night.

This vlog is kind of a way of keeping me sane, but also a way of documenting my experiences and keeping a record of the way Geo City used to be. That is, used to be in the present, not used to be at times beforehand. My name is... well, honestly, I never came up with a hero name. And if my suspicion is right, I was never born in this timeline, which may be why I am the only one with memories of my world, so it really won’t matter if I use my real name or not. My name is April Pride, and this is my story.

"My name is April Pride, and this is my story." Howard Finn paused the Vlog that was just emailed to him from a blocked address. He couldn't help but stare. Why on earth would someone email this to him? He didn't follow any blogs, so why was this in his inbox? Not to mention, why him? What was this girl's deal? There were no such thing as superheroes. If there were, he wouldn't be stuck in this stupid hellhole. They would have saved the day long ago.

Howard shook his head and moved his cursor over to the X button to close the video. He was about to click when he took one last look at the girl on the screen. She was about his age, a teenage girl in a black leather jacket and tattered black pants. Under her jacket was a red tube top that stopped lower than the bottom of the jacket, covered in a black keyhole pattern. She wore dark red fingerless gloves and boots. Her hair was orange with red roots, but the tips were bright purple, all in contrast with her blue eyes. She couldn't blend in anywhere, she stuck out like a sore thumb.

Howard scratched the back of his head. If he had seen her before, he would have remembered. She was too unusual not to. But if he had never seen her before, then why couldn't he shake the feeling that he had? Howard rewound the Vlog and listened to what April had to say.

"Something has changed the timeline, corrupting it so that Geo City has turned into a wasteland of slavery, because apparently the heroes were not there to save the day." Howard paused the Vlog. Was that why?  Did he know her in some form of alternate universe? He didn't believe in such things, but this was too strange to see any other possible explanation.

The door to his room shook with the sound of aggressive banging. "FINN! BREAK'S OVER! BACK TO WORK!" Howard scowled. "I just got on my break five minutes ago!" The door shook again. "YOUR WORKLOAD FOR THE PAST WEEK HAS BEEN BELOW AVERAGE! YOU WANT LONGER BREAKS? BE MORE EFFICIENT!" Howard rolled his eyes, mimicking the voice at the door under his breath. Howard reached forward and turned off his computer.

"Below average?" Howard muttered as he swung his pick at the stone before him. "Below average my ass!" One of the other miners turned her head to face him. "Pipe down, Finn. You don't want to upset the slaves who really are below average. They don't even get a break until night."

Howard turned his head to face the older girl covered head to toe in tattoos. She also had the short leather jacket, tube top and fingerless gloves, but her shirt was purple with no patterns and her gloves were light blue. Her pants stopped halfway above her knees, with boots that went all the way up to just under the knees and a blue fur trim wrapped around her ankles. Her green eyes and black lipstick stood out from her black and red hair. Technically, she was a much harder worker than he was, but her tendency for brawling put her below him in the eyes of their masters.

Howard shrugged. "Hey, Lucy. Remember that weird dream you had the other night?" Lucy Roberta glanced at Howard. A few days ago, she had told him about a dream where they were never slaves. In her dream, Lucy had some form of ability that was somehow related to her tattoos, but she couldn't remember what. By her side, there was a boy who could channel some form of energy into objects and turn them into explosive projectiles. There was a spunky young boy who had some form of super jump capabilities. Some girl had the power to form rings of energy, while another girl could turn into steel. There was also a girl who could walk through walls.

"I highly doubt that I'd forget a dream like that. The part I loved most was being free." Howard nodded. "Tell me about the others." Lucy bit her lower lip. "It's kind of... Fuzzy. Like trying to remember what my power was in the dream, I can't remember what most of them looked like." Howard swung his pick at the stone, cracking it and unveiling a gemstone. "Because I've been thinking. Maybe the dream was like some kind of memory. Like a memory of an alternate reality or something. Maybe there is a world where we're free."

Lucy laughed. "Yeah, maybe. And maybe there's an alternate reality where you actually think about that kind of thing. What's gotten into you?" Howard paused, debating on whether or not to mention the Vlog he received. "Just... Desperate. You know. Anyway, what do you remember?" "Um... I think there were a few siblings and cousins. Yeah, I'm pretty sure that the phasing girl and the jumping boy were siblings. And the ring girl was their cousin. I definitely remember that cocky ginger jumping boy." Howard looked up. "Ginger? Wait, was his sister a ginger too?" Lucy smirked. "Not like you'd have a chance. She was just a figment of my imagination. But yeah, except for the purple highlights." Howard dropped his pick. This was too much of a coincidence to ignore it anymore. "I think there's something you need to see. Meet me in my room after work tonight."

Okay, let's see. I should probably talk about what life was like back when things were alright. Um, I was a member of a team known as the Scavengers. Now, Mom, Dad, if you're watching this, I know what you're thinking. "The Scavengers? Why aren't you the leader of the Legacy?" But if you aren't Mom or Dad, and my suspicions that there are no heroes is correct, then let me explain.

As I said, the salvation generation was the era when the first superheroes were created. The absolute first was actually my great grandfather. His son, my grandfather, was the world's most famous superhero, in the defender generation. His daughter, my mother, was the leader of the world's most famous team of heroes, the Legacy. So Mom and Dad expect me to become the new face of the team... And I honestly don't feel like I can take on such a heavy burden. I mean, everyone in the Legacy was a legendary hero. I'm not sure if I could find anyone who could even come close to them, much less lead them. Not to mention, the first time I ever tried Crime Fighting, I... I... Sorry, I can't even talk about that right now. I'll get to it later.

Where was I... Oh! Right, the Scavengers. There's myself, who can walk through walls. There's my 14-year old brother, Baxter, who has superhuman jumping skills. There's my cousin, Virginia Nightingale, who can generate rings of energy. There's my best friend, Syrah Scarlett, who can turn to steel. Kind of fitting since she's tough as nails. Okay, sorry. I promise not to make jokes like that ever again. Let's just move on, I don't want to have to put everyone at risk if this Vlog winds up in the wrong hands, or in the wrong time stream.

Anyways, life before the change. What is there to say? It's kind of hard to describe a boring, average day to someone because you're so used to it that you just take it for granted. I mean, try to define the word, "Yes." You can't, can you? Because it's such a fundamental and simple word that you use so often that you take it for granted. Then again, an average day for me is clearly not anything like an average day for anyone watching this in the alternate reality.

Um, I guess I could just describe what happened the day before everything changed. I think it was a Wednesday, October 5th, 2016. Mom and Dad are usually still at work after school ends, so I usually have to go with one of their friends, usually from the Legacy. So, I was at the crosswalk with Baxter, waiting for someone to pick us up. A lot of the girls from school were at the same corner as us, waiting to cross the other way. I always hated it when all four crosswalks were in Don’t Walk mode, but whatever.

Baxter turned to face the schoolgirls and smirked with that dorky grin he almost always has. “Hey, check this out!” He said. As soon as our crosswalk turned on, Baxter leapt forwards and crossed the crosswalk with a series of backflips. What a show-off! The girls were definitely impressed, of course. Baxter chuckled and took a bow. That chuckle, I swear, it’s very obnoxious and cocky, but it’s still somehow charming. Just like he is. He always did feel as though the rules didn't apply to him if he disagreed with them. Most girls his age can’t stop talking about him. Drives me a little crazy.

But, then there was one other girl who wasn’t his age. One right behind him after he got to the other side, about five years older than him. “I’ve seen better,” She said. Baxter pointed at the girl, one of our friends, Lucy Roberta. “I like a challenge.” He said, and turned back to the street. The walk sign had switched back off, and the traffic was moving again. That’s when Baxter backflipped through the crosswalk again, and again, I wish to specify, this was during a green light. On one of the busiest intersections on the road. Thanks to his superhuman jumping skills, and probably an insane amount of luck, he didn’t get hit by a single car, but the drivers sure freaked out.

One of the cars crashed into a stop light trying to dodge him. The driver, Valkyrie Pine, one of the Legacy's members, got out and turned to face Baxter. "You could have gotten yourself killed just there!" Baxter slowly backed up. Valkyrie and our mother, Raven, were very close friends. If Baxter had done something to cross Valkyrie, he never would have heard the end of it from Mom. Assuming Valkyrie didn't deal with him first, but she was usually too kind for that.

But she wasn't having any of it that day. Not when he had nearly gotten himself killed showing off. Valkyrie grabbed Baxter by the hair and brought him to the car. I walked over to the front of the car and took a look at the hood. The right headlight had been smashed to pieces, and I was pretty sure that some of the pistons in the engine were torn. And it was such a shame. It was a very, very nice car. Sleek, shiny, gold plated, gullwing doors, probably worth fifty grand. "This isn't going to be a problem, is it?" I asked. Valkyrie shook her head. "No, no. I'll fix it up."

To say that Valkyrie was smart was to say that Mount Everest was big, or that World War II was a bit of a struggle. She made Stephen Hawking look like a babbling idiot. Most superheroes were born with their powers, but Valkyrie personally constructed hers. She built a device that could convert energy into matter, and vice versa. She then designed a robotic skeleton covered in such devices, and synthesized such a skeleton inside her own, giving her the ability to synthesize whatever she wanted. Even if she didn't use her powers, fixing the car would be a walk in the park.

Valkyrie took us to lunch at Alex's Diner, having already fixed the car. Alex's Diner was her favorite place to eat, and not just because of the food or even the presentation. For one thing, they served just about everything. Another thing she loved about it was the fact that her girlfriend, Courtney Locke, was one of the waitresses. Courtney was pretty nice, too. She sat the three of us at a table in the corner, and asked, "What about you two, the usual?" Baxter always got the Star Spangled Burger with Cheese and Bacon, I usually had a Tuna Melt. Valkyrie ordered the Chicken Penne Arrabbiata.

While Courtney went off to enter our order, Valkyrie turned to face Baxter. "Your Mom and I are going to have a talk about that little stunt when she gets home. And I'm certain that your father already knows." Baxter leaned back in his seat. My father, Tyler, wasn't just a crime fighter by night. He was also a high ranking police officer. Baxter's stunt would have undoubtedly alerted the cops... again. I could only imagine how many weeks he'd be grounded for.

After lunch, Valkyrie took us to her laboratory. She had an adorable robot assistant to help her out. Not the stereotypical adorable robot like you'd find in Hollywood, it doesn't have a mind of its own, it's not in love, it's not alive, etcetera, etcetera. But it still looks kinda cute. Imagine a beach ball on top of a disc with wheels. It has three arms sprouting from compartments on the head, but once they're out, they can slide all around the sphere. It has a giant blue light for an eye that's almost as big as its head. Valkyrie asked it to maintain her experiment while she helped me with my homework. She normally helps out both of us, but... Do I really need to explain why she didn't do it this time?

Before we left for home, we stopped by the convenience store. Valkyrie got herself a coffee while I picked up a box of Intergalactic Bars. Oh, god, if Intergalactic Bars don't exist in this timeline, I'm going to lose it. It's salty-sweet, with Caramel, Pretzel, Nougat, Crispy Rice, Almond, Cookie Wafer, and Milk Chocolate... I wouldn't be caught dead without at least one of those.

Valkyrie dropped us off at home. Uncle Rodney Nightingale was taking care of our 1-year old sister, Luna. Uncle Rodney was kind of cool, but to be honest, I was never all that fond of Luna. I don't know why, but she just irks me. Then again, has anybody ever liked their baby siblings? They say that eventually I’ll warm up to her like I did with my brother, but he’s been part of my life for much longer, being only a year younger than me. Mom and Dad finally got home, and gave Baxter a hard time. He was grounded for two months, had his really old game systems taken away, and Dad warned him that his boss wouldn’t tolerate any more stunts like that, or he’d be fired from the police force, and wouldn’t be able to stop the cops from sending him to Juvenile Hall. Anyway, it got late, Valkyrie and Rodney went back home, and Baxter and I went to bed. My cat, Rusty, liked to curl up next to me when I was in bed, and wouldn't move until I got up. I just lied there, scratching the back of his head until I fell asleep.

That night, I had a bad dream. I say dream, but I really mean memory. It was just a recap of the worst moment in my life. Remember when I mentioned my first time crime fighting? That was the memory I re-experienced in my dream. I don’t know if he was under mind control, or if he was evil all along, but the first villain I ever fought was actually my ex-boyfriend. Jason Dimond, my best friend since kindergarten. In the Ninth grade, he asked me out to the high school prom. I wasn't expecting it, but as soon as it happened, I noticed that he was actually really handsome. We started dating for five months, but when he came to my fourteenth birthday party, he told me that he needed some time to himself. That moment alone left me heartbroken.

A month to the day later, I got a text from him. Because we were best friends since kindergarten, he knew about my powers and that I wanted to try fighting crime like my parents. He told me that there was some suspicious activity near a cliffside on the outskirts of the city, just like what I was fantasizing about. I knew exactly what cliff he was talking about. My friends and I liked to call it Symblalah Cliff, because Dad got a little flustered when telling us it was a symbolic site. “This was the site of a very symblol... symbolic! Symbolic battle.” Baxter and I couldn’t help but laugh at his flub when he took us on a tour of the city. I think he meant Historic or Iconic? Anyway, that’s why we called it Symblalah Cliff. The point is, Jason offered for us to go check it out, see what the suspicious activity was all about. I couldn't resist.

It was dark and it was raining. Jason shoved me backwards down a rocky slope. The rocks scraped up my face, hands and knees. It stung when the rain hit my cuts. As I got to my knees, Jason kicked me in the chest and knocked me onto the edge of a cliff. Jason planted his foot on my hand, ready to shove me off to my death. Just before he could shove me off, I swung forwards into the cliff and phased through the cliffside, phasing out of the floor and backflipping right behind him, turning solid as soon as I was out of the floor. What I didn’t expect was to bump into him when I turned solid. Jason lost his balance and nearly fell, but I quickly turned around and grabbed his hand. I tried to pull him back up, but my glove slipped off, and... well, you get the picture. I just stood there for a minute, not having budged an inch, my arm still stretched out trying to reach him.

Baxter once said, “It was the only thing that could leave a scar on the girl who can’t be touched.” And for once, he was right. That was without a doubt the worst experience in my entire life. Not only was I fighting against the boy I once loved, not only did I watch someone die, but I had to live with the fact that in the end, I was the one responsible for his death. That's right, I have blood on my hands. That one moment would stick with me for the rest of my life.

All of a sudden, there was a strange feeling against my side, as if someone had poked me. But I was all alone, and too freaked out to be confused. That's when I remembered that I wasn't actually there, just reliving the moment in a dream. And as with every dream every person has had, as soon as I realized that I was asleep, I began to wake up. I slowly opened my eyes and closed them back shut. "Mom?" The person standing beside me replied, "Do I look like someone's mommy?" As soon as I heard the voice of an old man, I bolted up to find that I was sleeping on a garbage dump. The old guy started digging through the garbage while I took in my surroundings. Many of the skyscrapers had been torn apart, and the clouds were so thick that you couldn't even see the sun. I had no idea whether it was day or night. I backed up and closed my eyes, telling myself, "It's okay. Sometimes you only dream that you've woken up."

I slowly opened my eyes, but nothing had changed. I turned around to face the homeless man. "Excuse me, but do you happen to know where 2 Concord Drive is?" The homeless man pulled a bottle out of the garbage and took a drink from it. I flinched. "This is 2 Concord Drive. My humble abode." I tilted my head. "No, it can't be. That's my home address. I've lived there my whole life." The homeless man laughed the most disturbing laugh I have ever heard in my life, and sat down with the bottle. "Listen, Ginger, I've lived here longer than I would care to remember. I ain't never seen anyone nearly as rich as you."

"Rich?" I wasn't sure what he meant by that last part. I was definitely not rich. Sure, Valkyrie was, and sure, she was pretty generous with it, but my family in and of itself wasn't much richer than the average family. Then again, this guy clearly had nothing. "You're not one of them slaves, or you wouldn't be all the way out here all alone. And you're too well dressed and too fat to be one of us." Um, I am anything but fat, but from his perspective, I might as well have been a blue whale. So I did the only sensible thing. I reached in my pocket and handed him a handful of Intergalactic Bars. The man snatched them and placed a hand on my shoulder. "You're a life saver! And here I was worried you were one of them!"

"Them?" The homeless man pointed at the sky. I looked up to see a fleet of flying aircraft carriers. "Them. The ones who put us in this mess. They were the ones who caused the 4th of July Massacre." I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Now, understand, I wasn't surprised by the concept of flying aircraft carriers, I had seen a few before. I was surprised that they were a threat. "But... But those belong to Resc.ue!" Resc.ue was an agency that created the world's first superheroes. Founded by Richard Smith, the Research Extensive Security Coalition to Undermine Evil was a promise of security, of freedom. I couldn't comprehend the idea of their Protectors being used as a source of terrorism.

The homeless man pointed at his garbage dump. "Seriously, thank you. If you ever need anything, you know where to find me. I've got everything." I took a look at the garbage dump. "That's okay, I think I can get by on my..." I stopped as soon as I noticed two broken binoculars in the garbage. "On second thought..." I picked up the two pairs of binoculars and grabbed a nearby rope, tying the two together so that the non-broken lenses were adjacent to one another. I ran to the top of the dump, looking through the lenses to see the new world. People were getting mugged by the truckload. Rivers had turned a murky brown. I didn't even put down the binoculars, they just fell from my hands. "What the hell happened here?"

I ran into the city, looking for anything that looked familiar. "This can't be happening... Unless..." I suddenly remembered something that Uncle Rodney's wife Kelsey told me. Kelsey Nightingale, otherwise known as Stopwatch, had the ability to manipulate and travel through space and time. She once told me about the concept of alternate realities, and how they can be affected via time travel. Imagine a coin in your hand. When you throw the coin, two separate universes are possible. A universe where the coin landed heads up, and a universe that's perfectly identical, except that the coin landed tails up. In that instance, the outcome has so little difference that it's nearly impossible to tell the two apart. But it's not just coin tosses. Every time anyone is faced with a choice, each choice is its own universe, which leads to even more choices. It gets confusing, but basically, if there was a change, if you went back in time and changed the outcome of the coin toss, you'd change the sequence of events and open up an alternate reality. Was that what happened? Did someone go back in time and change something in the past?

I ran towards a house that had been burned to the ground. This was not something that had changed, Kelsey's mom and dad died in a fire when she was twelve. She always came to this spot when she was feeling overwhelmed. I don't understand how this makes her feel any better, but sure enough, there she was. Kelsey was really, really cool. Short blonde hair, blue eyes, freckles, an English accent, and an unparalleled surgeon. Injuries in the Legacy rarely lasted more than a second, since she would simply freeze time and apply medical care.

Anyway, my grandma was also there, at the remains of the house. Grandma Hannah Nightingale was a retired superhero before my Mom founded the Legacy. She took Kelsey in after the fire. One of her last battles cost her her right arm. Valkyrie had it replaced with the arm of a humanoid robot that could imitate the powers of anyone it observed. Only question... I could understand why Kelsey was here, but why Grandma?

Grandma looked up at me. "Who are you?" That cinched it. If Grandma didn't recognize me, then I was definitely in an alternate reality. Kelsey looked confused. "April. Am I glad to see you." That caught me off guard. If Grandma didn't recognize me, then why my Uncle's wife? Kelsey walked up to me and held me by the shoulders. "Do you know who I am?" I could only give her a freaked out stare. "That depends on whether or not you're really you. If that makes any sense." Kelsey stood up and smirked. "It does. It's really you then. Time must have changed around you. That's why you have memories of the real Geo City." Grandma shook her head, clearly not understanding a word of the conversation.

"Okay. It's an alternate reality. If I remember correctly, that means something in the past changed, and it caused a chain reaction that made all this?" Kelsey ruffled my hair. I always hated it when she did that, but this time, it was comforting. Just being near someone who was familiar was a huge relief. It definitely felt huge, but compared to the panic I was also feeling from all this, it wasn't much. "You remembered. Very good." I nodded. "So what point in time changed?" Kelsey shrugged. "I can't say for sure. But I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the different generations of superheroes." I scratched my head. "Generations? Don't you mean eras?" "Your Mother, Father, Uncle and I were the founding members of the Legacy. That's one generation. Your grandfather was the world's most famous superhero. That's another generation. And his father was the world's first superhero. That's a third. Then there's the foundation of Resc.ue, a period of time long enough to consider a generation. So you're the current generation."

"So how come you don't know for sure?" Kelsey looked upset. "My powers are diminishing. Probably a result of the chain reaction." I started to run out of breath. "So you can't go back in time? We can't fix this?" Kelsey held me by the chin. "Don't worry, I have a plan." Kelsey walked over to Grandma and typed in commands on her robot arm. A section of the wrist opened up into a large ring. Kelsey removed the ring and leaned down to prick her finger on one of the shards of rubble. Kelsey opened up a compartment on the ring and let her blood drip into the container. "I'm giving this thing a sample of my DNA. It should be able to replicate my powers from it."

I nodded. "So you're going to carry that to travel through time?" Kelsey walked up to me and put the ring around my wrist. As soon as she let go, it contracted into a wristband. I was about to ask why when she explained. "I'm already being corrupted by the timeline. If it goes far enough back, I might even cease to exist. Your grandma clearly is already completely corrupted. But for some reason, you're unscathed. Nothing has changed you even in the slightest. Bear in mind, it won't be as efficient as me. It probably won't carry more than one, and since it's detached from the arm, it no longer has a constant power source. You'll need to recharge the battery between jumps, which could take some time." I looked down at the wristband. "Where should I go first?" Kelsey held her hand to her chin. "Try and find out what this '4th of July Massacre' is. There's no year specified, but it can't be too far back in time." I looked back at Kelsey and Grandma with my hand on the wristband's main button. "See you, then." I pressed the button.

The trip was instantaneous. It looked as if the world had stretched out, like a super fast dolly zoom. You know, the thing in movies where the background zooms out, but the characters zoom in? Just as quickly, it snapped back to normal, but I was now in a sky-rail station. Every inch of my body felt itchy during the event, but as soon as I arrived, it was gone. Apparently, to anyone watching, it looks like flickering into and out of existence.

I ran out of the sky-rail station, only to find that it didn't look much different from what I was used to. I quickly ran for the school. I used my Student ID card to get access to the computer lab. I'm not sure if the guy was paying attention or not, because for all I knew, the date on the card could have been in his future. I hopped on one of the computers, at first planning to do research, but then realized that I would have been researching events that haven't happened yet. Not to mention, my brain was overflowing already. That's when I decided to ease my mind by talking about it all. I also figured that someone in the future may understand what I'm going through. So I started recording myself in a Vlog, and... Well, now you're up to speed. That's the whole story so far. So... Yeah. I'm going to sign off here, and maybe I'll record another Vlog if anything happens. Wish me luck. April out.

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Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."

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Ro-Ange Olson: "Loved it and couldn't put it down. I really hope there is a sequel. Well written and the plot really moves forward."