Heroes of the Horde Series, Book 3: Realm by Jennifer Hartz 2 covers

Heroes of the Horde Series, Book 3: Realm by Jennifer Hartz

Six high school students obtained amazing superpowers from their school’s demonic legend and unleash the demonic Horde. As their new powers grow, they have to find a way to contain what they unleashed before the evil spreads beyond the school.

 

Heroes of the Horde Series, Book 3: Realm by Jennifer Hartz 2 covers
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With one of The Heroes of the Horde members kidnapped by the demons, the remaining five face an insurmountable obstacle: The most likely location of their missing friend is inside the demon realm. Without a clue how to enter–and, more importantly, how to get back out again–the team reaches a breaking point. With morale weakened, their relationships crumble and are tested further when a newcomer enters the group. Either this new member tears the group apart or holds the key to eradicating the Horde once and for all.

Surprisingly, their superpowers continue to grow amidst the turmoil until a hundred-year-old mystery is unveiled…one that finally allows them to locate the leader of the demon Horde.

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GENRE: Young Adult Urban Fantasy (Superhero)    ISBN: 978-1-925574-67-8    ASIN: B084S3JPPQ    Word Count: 82,266

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Chapter One

Nightmare Reality

~Jimmy~

 

Our group of superpower-charged demon hunters just walked into the shower of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ locker room–that’s a sentence I never thought would pass through my mind.

I almost laugh, but force myself to focus. Caitlyn said she spotted demons in this elaborate shower and with any luck this is where the demons hold Maggie. They kidnapped her and we’ve tracked them down the trolley lines, through an underground tunnel, which brought us up in the Steelers’ locker room.

We’ve formed an odd sort of V, where Cooper’s at the point with Caitlyn and Shelly beside him. I’m next to Shelly, and Mike is just a few inches away from Caitlyn. We all share worried but determined looks as we round the black marbled wall of the shower. A scene greets us and causes us to instantly halt.

Maggie’s here all right. They’ve put some kind of metal visor over her face, probably to stop her from using her heat vision. She’s slumped in a corner and her boyfriend, Topher, stands over her with a smug look gracing his stupid face. I never really liked that Tober-moron. Now, I’d like to beat him to a bloody pulp. I cast a death glare in his direction, but I’m truly distracted by the other occupant of the shower…

“Mr. T?” Cooper asks. His mouth drops open in shock. Mine does, too.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Mr. T says. He sounds calm, cool, and collected. Almost as if he’s getting ready to give us a stirring lesson on the Civil War.

“Maggie?” I take a step toward her.

“Not so fast there, Mr. Macintyre,” Mr. T says with a self-righteous grin. “I’d like to introduce you to my nephew, Christopher.”

“Oh, you mean that pathetic loser, Topher?” I snark. “Yeah, we’ve had the pleasure.”

“Mr. T…what are you doing?” Shelly asks, her voice drenched with hurt and shock.

I’d like to say I feel the same as Shelly, but I’m not hurt, I’m livid. Seeing Maggie hunched on the floor, scared, and possibly hurt has me seeing red. I can feel the fire surging through my veins. I’m ready to kill.

“I thought it would be quite obvious. I want your powers,” Mr. T replies. “Do you have any idea…can your idiotic, bratty, infantile brains begin to comprehend how long I’ve studied the Horde legend and looked for those powers?”

“Probably not very long, since we have them and you don’t,” I say, cutting my gaze back toward Topher, and wondering the best way to rescue Maggie.

“Once I learned you six discovered the powers…well, I had to get them for myself,” Mr. T continues, glossing over my sardonic comment. “So, I sent Chris here to do a little recon. Learn about you, discover your weaknesses. We teamed up with a few demons, and it was easy pickings.”

Guys, Shelly’s voice sounds in my head, there are demons behind us.

I glance quickly over my shoulder. Sure enough, more than a dozen demons block the only exit to the shower. We’re trapped.

“You teamed up with demons? You don’t actually think the demons will share the powers with you, do you?” Cooper asks, astounded.

Get ready guys, Shelly says. When I say go, Mike, fly in and grab Maggie. Jimmy, make a wall of fire behind us so those demons can’t get through, I’ll throw Mr. T and Topher out of the way, and Cooper bash us a getaway route straight through the wall behind Mr. T.

“Oh, they don’t mind sharing some of the powers,” Mr. T says with a nonchalant shoulder shrug. “In fact they only want two things in this deal. Your powers…” he points to Cooper “and her”. His pointing finger slides from Cooper to Caitlyn.

“What?” Mike exclaims. “Hell no!”

The rage racing through my veins intensifies. There’s no way in the world they’re getting Caitlyn. Whatever transpired between her, Mike, and me over the past few months doesn’t matter. Not only do I love Caitlyn, but she is also my friend. I need to keep Caitlyn safe. I need to keep all my friends safe.

Mr. T lets out a cold laugh. “I don’t think you have much of a choice.”

“Go!” Shelly screams.

Following Shelly’s instructions, I spin around and burst a fireball to life in each hand. I’m about to create the wall of fire when I see six demons converge on Caitlyn.

“Caitlyn!” Mike and I bellow at the exact same time.

We both rush in her direction, but the rest of the demons come at us, blocking our path. I sizzle the monsters closest to me with the fire surging on my palms, but more demons bite and claw me. Everyone is screaming and I hear something breaking, shattering. Is it the wall? Did Cooper just plow through the wall?

Above the din I hear Caitlyn cry out. I can just barely see her through the many layers of demons between us. Mike is closest to her, but he’s surrounded by a mass of demon assailants.

“Caitlyn!” Mike screams.

“Mike!” she cries.

The fear and panic in the voices of my two best friends ripple through me like a shockwave. Rage builds in my heart. New fireballs deploy in my hands. They grow and intensify until they completely engulf my arms.

I can’t contain it anymore. My fury builds to the breaking point and it erupts in massive flames spurting over my entire body. I don’t even think. I rush at the demons closest to me, the fire sweeping over them like an unrelenting dust storm. Their cries of pain barely register in my ears.

“Jimmy, the fire!” I hear Shelly shout over the crackling of the flames encompassing my body. “Cooper, get Maggie!”

“What? No!” Mr. T hollers from somewhere on my right side. I turn to see three demons converge on him. “You promised! You prom–”

“Mike! Help!” Caitlyn cries, again.

I spin toward her, ready to rush the demons around her with my pillar of fire. Then, without any warning, Caitlyn, along with all the demons in the room, disappear.

“Caitlyn… Caitlyn…” Mike yells over and over again. He’s on his hands and knees, crawling to the spot where she just vanished. “What happened? Where did she go?”

“You guys… Mr. T is dead,” Cooper says, his voice an octave higher with shock.

“Dead?” I look back to where I last saw Mr. T. Sure enough, his lifeless body sprawls on the ground. The tiles on the wall beside him are shattered, revealing thick concrete. I guess that was the breaking sound I heard earlier.

I take a deep breath and let the fire encompassing my body diminish. It takes concentration, but I’m able to pull the flames back to my core. My Heroes of the Horde uniform is significantly singed from the flames. The majority of the damage is along my torso where the heat from the fire is the strongest. My chest is completely exposed, but at least my groin is still covered. Well, almost. I hike the fabric up a little bit.

“How did he die?” Shelly asks. She sits next to Maggie and gently lifts the metal visor away from her friend’s face.

“The demons snapped his neck. I saw it,” Cooper answers.

“Come on, you guys,” Mike yells. He’s on his feet now, gesturing wildly. “We need to go after them. We need to get Caitlyn.”

“We have no idea where they went. What can we do?” Cooper replies, his voice sounding hopeless.

“But we’ve got to do something.” Mike’s gaze bounces between each of us. The desperation in his stare is tragic.

“We will,” I reassure him, “but right now we need to get out of here.”

“What about him?” Shelly asks, pointing to Topher who is still alive, but unconscious on the floor.

“Leave him to rot,” Maggie replies. She rears up and kicks her would-be boyfriend square in the ribs.

Normally, I would laugh at her more-than-warranted attack, but, like Mike, I’m insanely worried about Caitlyn.

“Jimmy’s right. We need to get out of here,” Shelly says.

“But–”

“There’s nothing we can do right now,” Shelly continues, cutting across Mike’s rebuttal. She hooks her arm around her twin brother’s elbow and pulls him toward the exit. “Once we’re out of here we can think of a way to find Caitlyn, but if we get caught here by the cops or something we’ll never be able to help her.”

“Hang on. Maybe there’s something I can do to find Caitlyn,” Maggie says.

Mike spins around so fast to look at her he nearly falls over.

“No promises,” she says to Mike, eyeing his enthusiastic pirouette, “but since I can see the spirits of people, maybe I can see Caitlyn’s.”

“What are you waiting for?” Mike yells.

Maggie shuts her eyes and when she opens them again, they’re milky and glazed over. She scans the area with her spiritual gaze, but slowly shakes her head. I look over at Mike, and his face falls.

“I’m sorry, Mike,” Maggie says. “I didn’t see anything but our spirits. No Caitlyn. No demons.”

Mike nods and heaves a shuddering breath. I can see the tears swimming in his eyes. My own eyes sting, too, with tears threatening to fall. How will we ever find Caitlyn?

We exit the Steelers’ locker room the same way we entered, and make our way down the long dark tunnel toward the T line. The thread of our conversation is obvious: How do we find Caitlyn?

“They took her to the demon realm. I’m sure of it,” Mike says. The tears have momentarily left his voice. Now he sounds determined.

“Most likely,” Cooper agrees.

“What do we do? How do we get there? How do we help her?” Mike doesn’t sound like he’s even asking us at this point. It’s more like thinking manically aloud.

“There’s nothing we can do,” Shelly says, her voice dark and hopeless.

“What?” Mike exclaims. He stops walking in the middle of the dark tunnel and turns to face her, eyes glaring the beams of our flashlights.

“None of us can get to the demon realm,” Shelly replies. There’s a noticeable wobble in her voice. “Caitlyn was the only one who could travel back and forth. How can we get there to save her?”

“I don’t care, Shelly. We’ll figure something out,” Mike snaps.

He narrows his eyes at Shelly for a moment then walks to the end of the tunnel where it intersects with the maintenance room off the T line. His already fast, long stride has quickened. Maybe he thinks if he walks fast enough he might enter the demon realm on sheer willpower. The rest of us have to hurry to keep up with him.

As we walk, I edge my way next to Maggie. She’s been relatively quiet since we left the locker room.

“You okay?” I ask in an undertone.

“I’m not hurt if that’s what you want to know,” she says with harshness in her voice.

“I can see you’re not hurt. I asked if you’re okay.”

She glances at me out of the corner of her eye and I can see her slanted, dark gaze glistening with tears. Swallowing hard, she frowns. “I was an idiot.”

“Why?”

“Of course it was a trick. A guy like that wouldn’t actually like me,” she replies. There’s a joking tone to her voice, but I can hear the underlying hurt.

“Maggs,” I reply, “you know that’s not–”

“Don’t bother, Jimmy. I’m okay.” She shrugs her shoulders and falls out of step with me to walk with Shelly, ending our conversation.

I feel literally sick. Maggie is miserable, Mike is liable to fly off the deep end, and Caitlyn is missing. What are we going to do?

Once back in the maintenance room, we retrieve our backpacks and put our street clothes on over our Heroes uniforms. I’m thankful for the extra clothing. It would suck to walk back to the car in the middle of the night wearing little more than a loincloth.

We carefully make our way out of the T line and back to my Escalade. Once inside I fire up the engine, but don’t put the car into drive. Instead I glance at each of my friends in the rearview mirror. Mike sits in the passenger seat. His stony gaze is set straight ahead. I can almost sense the wheels of his brain turning, trying to figure out how to find Caitlyn. Cooper and Shelly sit beside each other in the middle row. They’re holding hands, but their faces both wear signs of defeat. Maggie is in the back, knees drawn to her chest and tears forming glistening tracks down her cheeks.

I rest my head on the steering wheel for a moment and sigh.

“You guys. What are we going to do?” Maggie’s voice hitches a few times over her sobs. “Caitlyn’s gone. She’s just gone. How are we going to explain this to her parents?”

I clench my fingers around the steering wheel and the pungent smell of heated vinyl hits my nose. I force myself to relax my hands. The last thing I want is to melt the steering wheel. I lift my head and take a deep breath. “We’re not going to say anything to her parents.”

Everyone in the vehicle gives me a loud, very appalled “What?” at the exact same time. It takes effort to shut out Mike’s horror-struck expression, so I fix my eyes on the road in front of me and put the car into drive.

“She snuck out of her house,” I say, trying to be the voice of reason. “The last thing her parents know is that she was in her bedroom. They won’t have any clue she was with us.”

“But, Jimmy, she–”

“No, Mike. Listen to me.” I curtly cut across Mike’s words. “What could we possibly say to her parents? ‘She was demon hunting with us and the demons took her.’ They’ll think we’re crazy. Or worse, they’ll think we did something to her. We can’t help her if we’re in the middle of some sort of police investigation.”

“Jimmy’s right, Mike,” Shelly says, her voice thoughtful, but stern. “We need to pretend to be clueless. Caitlyn’s parents need to think she disappeared from her bed. Missing or kidnapped. They can’t have any clue we know what’s going on.”

“Yeah, it’s the only way we’ll be able to help her,” Cooper adds.

“Can you do it, Mike?” I ask. I’ve stopped the car at a red light and I turn, giving Mike a very serious look. “Can you pretend you have no clue what’s going on? Her parents are going to talk to you, ask you a ton of questions. Can you be cool and do what you have to do?”

Mike looks back at me. His big brown eyes are swimming with tears and his head shakes. It’s odd for me to see him like this: broken and helpless.

“I… I don’t know,” he says. “I guess you guys are right. It’s the only way we can help her.”

Very little talk is exchanged the rest of the drive home. Someone will start to say something, a suggestion on how to find Caitlyn, but usually they stop mid-sentence realizing their idea won’t work.

It’s well after two in the morning when I drop everyone off at their homes and finally pull into my own driveway. There’s a painful ache in my heart. A mix of loss, panic, and fear. I try my best to keep my emotions in check. If I get too upset I’m liable to burst into flames again, but the desire to sob is so strong. I tried my best to keep a brave face in front of the others–especially Mike–but now that I’m alone I let myself feel the full force of my despair.

How can Caitlyn be gone? What kind of horrible things are the demons doing to her? Does she think we abandoned her?

Not even bothering to change my clothes, I flop down on my bed, beyond exhausted. My throat burns and my eyes sting. I let the tears come. What are we going to do? I have never felt so helpless in my entire life. How will we ever find Caitlyn? I shut my eyes and try to think. I replay the scene in the shower over and over again in my mind. What did we do wrong? Was there any way we could have stopped them from taking her? There has got to be a way for us to get to the demon realm to rescue her. Scenario after scenario flashes through my brain, but nothing sticks.

“Jimmy,” Caitlyn’s voice whispers into my thoughts.

I sit bolt upright and gape. She’s standing at the foot of my bed, looking perfect and beautiful, as if nothing happened.

“Caitlyn… How are you here? What happened to you?”

I swing my legs around to the side of the bed so I can stand, but she moves as I move until her body is directly in front of me, not letting me get to my feet.

She places one hand on my shoulders and lifts the other, her index finger to her lips. “Shhh,” she hisses, her brilliant green eyes lock on my face.

I try to stand again, ready to pull her into a relieved hug, but her hand on my shoulder pushes me back to the bed. She leans down and kisses me.

“Caitlyn.” I come to my senses and pull away, taking a deep breath. “What about Mike?”

She doesn’t say anything, she just kisses me again. I know I should stop this. We’ve been down this road before. I can think of a hundred reasons why Caitlyn and Mike should be together and why I should take a step back.

I stand up quickly and fully intend on telling to go to Mike, but when I open my eyes it’s not Caitlyn standing before me.  It’s a black-eyed, soulless demon.

 

*****

 

I sit up and try to rub the horrible vision from my eyes, again. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had this exact same nightmare, or one just like it. Caitlyn turning into a demon right before my very eyes.

It’s been almost three months since we lost her. Easily the three worst months of my life. Summer is drawing to an end and we’re getting ready to go back to school in just a few days. Starting junior year without Caitlyn. As hard as this summer has been on me, I can only image how difficult it’s been for Mike.

He refused to go to Florida to visit his grandparents. Instead he spent the summer trying to figure out a way to find Caitlyn. He certainly wasn’t the only one. All of us did everything we could possibly think of, but to no avail. Countless hours spent combing the streets of downtown Pittsburgh searching for any kind of sign, callused fingers from hanging “missing person” posters all over a five-county radius, researching everything on the Horde legend and Deacon Isaac Yoder, and more summer days spent in the library than any teenager in the history of the world looking up every possible book on demonology. Despite all of this, we are still no closer to finding Caitlyn than on the night she vanished.

Slowly, I rise from bed and get ready for the day. The other members of the Heroes of the Horde will arrive early this morning. We’re planning to head back into Pittsburgh to search, something we do almost every day. With a sinking feeling in my heart, I can’t help but think our day will prove unfruitful. I’m not giving up on Caitlyn, not by a long shot, but it seems like we’re doing something wrong. Like we’re missing something simple.

As horrible as Caitlyn’s disappearance is, something adds to the strangeness of this situation. The demons have disappeared as well. Through the whole summer not one single demon attacked us. It doesn’t make sense to me that the demons would simply steal Caitlyn and never come after us again. No, something is brewing. How Caitlyn ties into the whole thing is a mystery to me, but somehow I know we haven’t seen the last of the demons or the last of Caitlyn for that matter.

I make my way downstairs to get something to eat. I snarl when I see Chelsea Blackwater, my dad’s trophy wife, sitting in the kitchen. I don’t even acknowledge her, walking straight to the fridge.

“Good morning, Jimmy,” she says in a syrupy tone.

I turn and look at her, narrowing my eyes. She has more makeup on than any human should wear at nine o’clock in the morning. Her dishwater-blonde hair is teased up, trying to make it look fuller. She reminds me of those obnoxious Jersey girls I’ve seen on TV.

“Morning,” I mutter, forcing myself to be at least polite.

“Did you have a nice trip?” she asks.

Her voice hints at smugness and I know why. I returned from my yearly visit to my mother’s yesterday evening. Chelsea’s smirking because she thinks very little of my mother. This airhead, money-grubbing, Barbie-wannabe can’t hold a candle to my mother. It turns my stomach and causes my blood to boil. I take my hand from the fridge door so as not to melt it.

“It was fine,” I reply, trying to keep my voice steady.

I hurriedly move to the pantry, grab a few cereal bars, and clear out of the kitchen as quickly as possible to avoid any more Chelsea contact.

I did enjoy my time with my mother, but I was distracted. My mind always drifted to Caitlyn and what possibly could be happening to her. My heart wanted to be back here, helping my friends search. I stayed in constant contact with them via phone calls and texts messages, hoping they would discover something. Sadly, during my two-week trip, they didn’t uncover any good news for me.

Chewing on an apple cinnamon cereal bar, I exit the front door of my dad’s mansion and sit on the steps, waiting for my friends. The early August morning is already toasty warm. A scorcher in the making. The kind of day that would find us swimming in my pool but, like most of the summer, we didn’t take the time for fun. We were too busy trying to find our friend.

Maggie is the first to arrive. I see her pulling up the driveway in the simple, used, pale blue, Toyota Corolla her parents bought her for her birthday. She’s the youngest in our group and just turned sixteen in June. My birthday is in early August, which makes me almost one full year older than her.

When Maggie steps out of the car, I’m a little shocked. She looks so different. She went away on a three-week mission trip to Africa before I left to visit my mom. I haven’t seen her in almost five weeks. Apparently she’s changed a lot in five weeks. Her silky black hair no longer holds funky colors, nor is it cut in a choppy fashion. It’s natural and flowing, reaching just past her shoulders. Her clothing also evolved. Gone are the blatantly wild, flashy colors, and strange pieces. Right now she has on simple khaki shorts and a feminine-cut, white t-shirt. Soft, shimmering makeup on her eyes and neutral lip-gloss make her look beautiful.

When she reaches me, she throws her arms around my waist in a warm hug. Seeing her brings a smile to my face for the first time in quite awhile. I release her from the hug and grasp her shoulders, holding her at arm’s length.

“Maggs…” I stammer, trying to find the right words, “you look…amazing.”

“Yeah, right.” She snorts a disbelieving laugh and we sit side-by-side on the steps.

“No, seriously. You look fantastic. More grown up, more mature and…well…” I pause and smile at her, “…hot. Why the change?”

“It’s a lot of things, really,” she replies with a heavy sigh. “My trip to Africa, what happened with Topher, Mr. T’s death…” Her voice trails off and she sighs again. “Losing Caitlyn.”

I nod and glance at her from the corner of my eyes. She gives me a weak smile.

“There are more important things than decorating myself. I still love art,” she says, pausing to shrug her shoulders, “but I think all of the serious things have pushed me to grow up and take myself more seriously.”

“Things are certainly serious,” I reply and let my eyes scan her again. “But whatever your reasons, you look really pretty.”

“Thanks.” She gives me a genuine smile. “The Jimmy Macintyre thinks I’m pretty. Wahoo!” She bumps her shoulder into mine and snickers.

I laugh under my breath and nudge her shoulder back. “Yeah, well, there’s no accounting for taste.”

“Certainly not!” Maggie laughs. “Your last girlfriend was Stephanie.”

“What? Stephanie is pretty,” I reply in mock defensiveness.

“Yeah, pretty dumb,” Maggie scoffs.

I have a nice retort all lined up involving Maggie’s last boyfriend Topher, but I realize how much a comment about him might hurt her feelings. It turns out he only used her as a means to get information about us. He passed that info along to Mr. T, our once-beloved teacher, who sold Caitlyn out to the demons. It’s a good thing the demons killed Mr. T because thinking about him right now, and remembering how his actions led to Caitlyn’s disappearance, makes me want to rip his head off.

I run my fingers through my hair, gaze to the sky for a quick second, and try to hone in my anger. I don’t want to burst into flames right now. Sliding my gaze to Maggie, I spot her giving me a goofy smile and it causes me to chuckle. It’s nice to have this happy moment with her, even if it is subdued. I’ve really grown to care about her over these past few years. Before she was just Mike’s sister’s weird friend, now she’s my dear friend Maggie. Before, I wouldn’t have held my tongue on a comment that would hurt her feelings, now it stings me when she’s sad. Before, I couldn’t have cared less about her, now she is one of the very few people on this planet I genuinely trust. It’s funny how close we’ve grown. I never thought in a million years I’d be sitting side-by-side on my front stoop sharing laughter and heartache with Maggie Floyd. It’s amazing what can happen when you unleash a horde of demons and a few super powers.

We sit in silence for a moment, Maggie leaning her head on my shoulder, and watch another car pull into my driveway. It’s Mike’s hunter-green pickup truck. Shelly and Cooper are crammed in the cab with him. He parks the truck right behind Maggie’s car and they clamber out. As the three newcomers approach, with Shelly and Cooper holding hands, Maggie and I stand to greet them.

My eyes gravitate to Mike and my heart sinks. Gone is the happy-go-lucky grin he always sported. Absent is the lighter than air spring to his step. Dark circles shadow his eyes hinting at sleepless nights. He looks far paler than usual, and he may have dropped several pounds. Probably not eating well.

I know how much he loves Caitlyn. Even though we’re still so young, he mentioned the possibility of marrying her. Some people would call Mike crazy for thinking such things, but I don’t. Mike may have possessed a goofy streak and a tendency to be silly, but he’s also the kind of guy who treats loyalty and commitments very seriously. It is not a stretch for me to picture him marrying a girl at eighteen years old and loving her for fifty, sixty, seventy years until he dies. Apparently, he thought that girl was Caitlyn. Now that she’s gone, brokenhearted is an understatement.

My heart breaks right along with his. I love Caitlyn too. Did I hold any aspirations of marrying her someday like Mike did? No, but I love her in my own way.

Looking at Mike right now, and feeling my own sick heart makes me realize one thing: we desperately need to find Caitlyn. The only problem is I have no clue how.