Josh starts down the road. With the full moon behind him, it's easy to see where he's going. Eskarians have great night vision, so even if the moon wasn't out, he'd be just fine.\n\nBehind him, something moves through the brush in near silence. Josh knows it's the wolf and that it intends to make Josh its first meal. Not going to happen.\n\nJosh whips out his forked dagger and spins.\n\n<center><img src="Images/Nightwolf2.jpg" width="300"></center>\n\nThis can only end [[one way|One]].\n
\nHe ignores the voices.\n\nThe driver rolls down the passenger window. "Joshua Cortaro?"\n\n"That's me," he says. He gets in and the driver takes him away.\n\nGriffin's place is on the northeast side of the island. This area has many islands, most of which aren't all that huge--small compared to many others. \n\nThe drivers pulls into Griffin's circular driveway and stops right in front of the front door. \n\nJosh slides closer to the door. "Thanks, man. Enjoy the night."\n\nThe driver nods, and Josh gets out.\n\nGriffin's front door is always open during the day. Josh goes in, drops his coat on the couch, and heads for Griffin's office. Like the front door, Griffin's office door is always open. Even if Griffin isn't there at the moment, he will be within a very short span of time.\n\nThis time, Griffin sits at his desk, tapping his pen on the desk pad. Waiting.\n\nJosh takes a seat. "What's going on?"\n\nGriffin looks uncomfortable. "I'm going to ask you to keep this between us."\n\nThe entire wall behind him is glass. Light and shadow coalesce around his face. It's unnerving, but that's really due to the fact that Griffin has power like no other. He can do things he really shouldn't be able to do. Most people don't like to be around him, Josh included.\n\n"No problem," Josh says. \n\n"I need to take a few days off to handle a personal matter. Jason will be in charge. If you need anything, call him. My phone will be off."\n\nUnusual. Griffin is always available, day or night. Josh couldn't remember the last time his phone was off.\n\nJosh shrugs. "Okay." He supposes that everyone needs time every now and again. Griffin never volunteers much personal information and nobody ever asks. Ever.\n\nHe gets up and leaves. As he goes out the front door, his phone rings.\n\n"Yeah," he says.\n\n"Joshua Cortaro?" \n\nThe woman's voice sounds familiar, yet he can't quite place it. Only one way to find out. "Yeah. Do I know you?"\n\n"It's Riana," she says, her voice a little shaky. "I'm in town and I've got someone with me. A son."\n\nHoly shit. \n\n<a href="chap2R.html">Chapter 2</a> \n\n\n
Now you've done it. What were you thinking?\n\nJosh is never afraid. He was born in Mexico, long ago, when the Mayan civilization was strong and vibrant, centuries before he changed his name to Joshua.\n\nBack then, he was Ah Pacal. At 15, he led the sacrificial rituals. Rumors about him were pervasive: that he was the son of a god, Quetetzl. That he was a killer, that he drank the blood of innocents.\n\nTheir society had rules, and Josh had broken them all. One day they came to him, en masse, and demanded he leave, never to return.\n\nInstead, he did something they would never have expected. He unleashed his anger on all of them, laying waste to anyone who dared stand up to him. Hundreds died that day.\n\nAnd now he looks at you. What do you do?\n\n<img src="Images/Josh3.jpg" width="450">\n\n[[Apologize|Apologize]]. <br/>\n[[Apologize and beg for your life|Apologize]].
Josh turns north, heading into the mountains. Shadows are longer now, with the sun dipping lower in the horizon. He didn't really expect to take this long a walk and now thinks maybe Blue was right. He should've brought his crossbow. \n\nMaybe he should turn back [[now|Now]].\n\nHe figures it's probably okay and [[continues|Continues]].\n\n
They continue to walk together in reasonably companionable silence. Smoke still wafts from Blue's nostrils. He isn't enjoying this at all.\n\n"Okay, I get it. You don't like walking," Josh says. "If you want to go home, then go. I won't keep you here."\n\n"I like walking well enough, when there's a destination and a purpose. This is basically wandering aimlessly. It doesn't matter which way we go." Blue snorts smoke. "That's what bothers me."\n\nJosh looks at his friend and nods. "I guess I can see your point. I don't agree with it, but I can see it."\n\n"Good enough," Blue says, tilting his head. "Do you hear that?"\n\nJosh holds his breath and listens. He hears birds, a raccoon or two, and--ah, there it is. \n\n"Dimensional portal. I hear it humming now," Josh says.\n\n"Right. It might be something, might not. Want to check it out?" Blue looks at Josh, curiosity on his face.\n\nJosh shakes his head. "Nah. We're here for rest and relaxation. I say we go home, pop some corn, and watch a movie."\n\n"I'll pop it for you," Blue offers. "Faster that way."\n\n"You incinerate it, not pop it. So no, we'll do it the slow yet sure way to actually have something to munch on." Josh grins at Blue. "Won't we."\n\nBlue glances at Josh. "Of course."\n\nAhead, something rushes through the brush and springs onto the road ahead of them.\n\n<img src="Images/Nightwolf2.jpg" width="300">\n\nNightwolf: fast and deadly. Definitely a threat to humanity. So much for popcorn and a movie.\n\nThis can end only [[one way|One]]. \n\n\n\n
Josh lunges at the shifter with preternatural speed, dagger in hand. \n\n<img src="Images/Josh2.jpg" width="450">\n\nThe shifter steps aside, faster than Josh can even see. Josh's dagger only connects with the shifter's coat sleeve.\n\n"I'm not here to fight," the shifter says.\n\n"You're a dimension shifter," Josh says. "And nothing but trouble. I want you gone, now."\n\nThe shifter smiles. "I can see that, but I'm not going to leave. In fact, my plan is to stay forever and annoy you to the end of your days."\n\n"Great," Josh says. "Lucky me."\n\n"Indeed," the shifter says. "I'm actually here to do you a favor. I know of a nightwolf living carefree and thinking she's totally safe. I want you to kill her."\n\nJosh frowns. "Why?"\n\nThe shifter shrugs. "She's a nightwolf. Isn't that enough?"\n\nJosh knows there has to be a catch. "Sure, but why do <em>you</em> want her dead?"\n\n"That's not your concern. Do this, and I'll leave your world...at least for a while."\n\nNow Josh is curious. How did a nightwolf piss off a dimension shifter? "What's her name?"\n\n"Annalissa de Biasi. Remember the name."\n\nJosh nods. "No problem. Now--"\n\n"Now we fight," the shifter says. He spins. His booted foot connects with Josh's face. "You get to lose."\n\nJosh drops onto one knee for only a second. He gets up, ready for more.\n\nThe shifter is behind him. Pain explodes in the back of his head and neck. He drops to the ground.\n\n"And this is to make sure you stay down. Can't have you following me," the shifter says. "Should've killed me when you had the chance."\n\nA fine powder drifts down in front of Joshua's face. He holds his breath, but realizes he's taken something nasty into his body anyway. There isn't much that can affect an Eskarian, but this probably...\n\nA powerful need to sleep washes over him. He fights it, knowing sleep is the last thing he needs right now. With Josh out of the way, the shifter will escape and Annalissa de Biassi will likely end up dead. \n\nHis eyes close. \n\n"Well," the shifter says. "Too bad for sweet, young Annalissa. Looks like I'll have to kill her myself. Nighty-night, Warrior."\n\n<a href="chap2N.html">Chapter 2</a>\n\n
The voices coalesce into a chant, words Josh doesn't understand, which means it's probably an ancient, long-dead language, or comes from people not of this world. Either way, it could be a problem.\n\nJosh follows the sound, moving on near-silent feet. Through the trees he sees a soft, blue haze. As he nears the clearing, he sees twelve lights, like large, glowing eggs that form a circle around a kneeling man. \n\nInside each of these eggs is a being, clearly trapped, clearly trying to escape. They beat against the walls of the shell with their fists and scream, though Josh hears nothing. Tormented beings, for sure, but are they a threat to humanity? Josh moves closer.\n\nOne of the beings goes perfectly still. As it stands, the shell holding it slowly disappears. A white-haired man, wearing white robes, removes a thick chain from his neck. At the end of the chain is a vial of green liquid that shimmers in the moonlight.\n\n"Tonight, I will take your body and you will die," the being says. "I will be reborn unto this world."\n\n"No," the man whispers, tears streaming down his face. "I don't want to die. I'm not ready."\n\n"We are the Twelve, sentenced to spend eternity in Toth. A great wizard summoned us, and we have answered. We will sleep no longer."\n\nThe being opens the vial, holds the man's throat, and pours the liquid into his mouth.\n\nThat was all Josh needed to see. He turns, hurrying away from the clearing, and pulls his phone from his pocket.\n\nAt the same time, his phone lights up and rings, startling Josh so bad he nearly drops it. He doesn't recognize the number.\n\n"What," he says.\n\n"Joshua Cortaro?" a woman asks.\n\nThe voice sounds vaguely familiar, but he's too annoyed now to give it much thought. "Yeah. What do you want?"\n\n"It's Riana. I need to see you," she says. "I need help."\n\nValeriana Secundinus, from a thousand years ago. No one has seen her in nearly that much time. Once a warrior like him, she disappeared, never to be heard from again. Until now.\n\nHoly shit.\n\n<a href="chap2R.html">Chapter 2</a>
Seriously? Clearly, you're fucking with this guy--a really bad choice. He can erase your ass faster than you can say "Oh, shit." and they will never find your body. Why? \n\nBecause Eskarians have pyrokinetic abilities. They can kill you and burn your carcass, reducing it to a fine, gray ash, in a second. And no one will know. Ever. Your pic will end up on a milk carton. Do you really want that?\n\nBack away [[now|Start]].
The shifter smiles. "All bark and no bite, as the humans say. That about sum it up, Warrior? Hmm?"\n\n"I wouldn't say that, exactly," Josh replies. \n\n"Yes, you have rules." The shifter's eyebrows go up. "And I don't. Not here. I want to tell you a story."\n\nJosh shrugs. "Not interested."\n\n"Yes, you are. It's a story about Annalissa, who lives in Seattle. She's a professional thief, very good at what she does. I know you don't care about that."\n\n"Not even a little," Josh says. "What's your point?"\n\n"I'm going to kill her. You can't stop me. You don't know where she lives, what she looks like, or even her last name. The only thing you do know is that she's going to die. Maybe tonight." \n\nThe shifter looks up at the night sky. "It's still early. I could kill her and be home in time for Corn Flakes." His fist connects with Josh's face.\n\nJosh ignores the pain. His fist shoots out for a hard left to the shifter's face and--\n\nThe shifter is gone.\n\n"Behind you," he says.\n\nJosh steps forward, away from the shifter. As he turns, he phase-shifts, becoming nearly invisible. He spins and his boot slams into the shifter's knee, shattering it.\n\nThe shifter screams. \n\nJosh whips his dagger across the shifter's throat. Blood spurts in rhythmn to his heart beat. So that makes the shifter at least partly human, Josh decides.\n\nThe shifter drops to the ground. Josh stands over him and with one swift move, separates the head from the body.\n\n"Without a head, they'll stay dead." Works for nightwolves and apparently dimension shifters as well.\n\nJosh wipes his bloody dagger on the back of the shifters coat. He turns to leave.\n\nOut of the corner of his eye, the shifter's head moves. Josh turns to see what's what, but the shifter remains still. Josh shrugs and heads for home.\n\n<a href="chap2N.html">Chapter 2</a>
He hears the sound of water and turns toward it. He comes to a waterfall and decides now is a great time for a brisk swim. It's a beautiful afternoon. What could go wrong?\n\n<img src="file:///Users/phoenix/Documents/Images/Joshua2.jpg" width="550">\n\nHe gets undressed and the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He's being watched. And he has no weapons.\n\nHe decides to see what's what. You never know. Maybe it isn't a hideous monster looking to decapitate him, but a lovely lady needing some fine company.\n\nHe quickly dresses and heads further into the woods, crunching over dry leaves and twigs, winding through tall firs and maples, and sliding across old, fallen trees.\n\nHe comes to a clearing. At the opposite end, there's a small entrance to a cave. He can hear something moving inside. He [[takes out his forked dagger|Dagger]].\n\n\n<img src="Images/GB03.jpg" width="450">\n\nMaybe it's a bear, or a mountain lion. Probably not a threat to humanity (or a lovely lady), so he decides it's time to head home.\n\nAs he turns, pain explodes in the back of his head. He [[drops to the ground|Ground]].\n
Pain explodes in the back of his head. He sees stars, but turns to face his attacker anyway.\n\nHoly shit.\n\n<center><img src="Images/Darrin.png" width="300"></center>\n\nThat feeling he'd had only moments ago hadn't been someone watching him, it had been a shift in both time and space. What he'd felt had been the opening of an interdimensional door. And <em>this</em> was what came through.\n\nYou really couldn't say dimension shifters were harmless because not only did they come from any<em>where</em>, they came from any<em>when</em>. Maybe humans thought they were the only ones in the universe, but Josh knew better. \n\n"Turn around, go home," Josh says. \n\nThe shifter shakes his head. "I don't think so. It's way too much fun. I can be Superman here. You go home."\n\nJosh bristles. He knows the shifter is here to cause trouble and, most likely, someone will die for it. That's what they do. Then they escape before any of Josh's people can find them and take them out. \n\nThe shifter knows that's probably what will happen here.\n\n"I know you're thinking about killing me right now," the shifter says. "I also know you can't. You've got that code of honor, and all that..." He makes a sad face. "Must be tough on you."\n\nJosh burns with anger. But the shifter is right, damn it. Josh can only act after the crime has been committed, after the threat to humanity is firmly established. Acting beforehand has [[consequences|Consequences]], but in doing nothing, Josh also pays a [[price|Price]]. \n\n\n\n
Josh knows what he must do. The wolf is a threat to humanity. He is bound by the warrior code to destroy it. \n\n<img src="Images/Joshua.png" width="450">\n\nYet, he hesitates. Is he [[afraid|Afraid]]? Or is he plotting a gruesome end to this insidious [[nightwolf|Nightwolf]]?
\nThis is an interactive story about our hero, Joshua Cortaro. Joshua is an ancient warrior, half old Mayan and half Native American, born in the time when the Mayans did human sacrifices...but that's another story.\n\nJosh isn't exactly human. He's <em>Eskarian</em>, stronger, faster, and immortal. He and his brethren are here to save humankind from the myriad threats to humanity. That, too, is another story. Many stories. \n\nIn this one, Josh needs a little R and R and is staying at his cabin in the Olympic mountains in Washington state. He's decided to take a walk with his old dragon companion, Blue, who is about four-foot tall, mean as all hell when he wants to be, and actually does breathe fire. \n\nYour job is to help Josh survive. \n\n© Copyright 2019 Alexa Ann Martin\n\n<hr>\n\nChapter 1\n\nJosh is staying at his cabin in the Olympic mountains in Washington state. He needs a little R and R and this is the perfect place to get it. Grabbing his jacket, he heads out the front door.\n\n"Come on, Blue. Let's enjoy this beautiful afternoon," he says.\n\nBlue is a small, teal-colored dragon, complete with scales, claws and, yes, he breathes fire. He has a voice box attached to the base of his skull that translates his thoughts into sound. There is no filter between what he thinks and what he says.\n\n"Coming," Blue says. As he leaves, he slaps his long tail against the screen door, slamming it shut. It would've shut anyway, but Blue likes the <em>slap/wham</em> sound of his tail against the wooden door. \n\nThey walk down the side of the road. Josh is content to listen to the birds, and feel the cool Autumn breeze. \n\n"I don't really see the point of walking around the woods. You don't even have your crossbow with you," Blue says.\n\n"The point is to relax. Walking is just one way I do that." Josh picks up a stone and tosses it, watching it skip down the dirt road.\n\n"Well, I'm not relaxing," Blue says. "This is stupid and I'm bored."\n\nJosh grins at his friend. "Give it a little more time." \n\nBlue snorts, smoke coming from his nostrils. "No, I'd really rather go [[home|Home]]."\n\n"What if I let you light the logs in the fireplace?"\n\nBlue stops to think about that. "A bribe to keep doing this walking shit?"\n\nJosh nods. "Yep. Like you said, I don't have my crossbow. Could use your help, buddy."\n\n\n"Fine, but just a little bit [[longer|Longer]]. This is not my idea of a good time, you know."\n\nJosh sighs. "I know."\n\n\n
<center><img src="Images/Nightwolf2.jpg" width="300"></center>\n\nThis can only end [[One way|One]].
Josh spins to confront the wolf.\n\n<img src="Images/Josh2.jpg" width="400">\n\nSomething moves in the woods behind him. Josh keeps his eyes on the wolf, dagger at the ready, and listens.\n\nA rush of sound and Christopher Bartholow explodes from the brush, standing between the nightwolf and Josh.\n\nChristopher looks over his shoulder at the nightwolf. "Go," he says.\n\nThe wolf disappears into the forest.\n\nChristopher faces Josh. "Leave that one alone."\n\nJosh frowns. "Why? It's just a nightwolf. It needs to die before some human gets hurt. What are you doing here?"\n\nChristopher's blue eyes lose focus. Josh has known him long enough to know he's about to have one of his visions, a very painful process. Christopher drops to one knee, pants.\n\nJosh thinks about setting a hand on Christopher's shoulder, maybe to steady the guy, maybe to keep him from passing out. He stuffs his hands in his pockets instead. "Okay, out with it. What's going on?"\n\n"I keep seeing Ashka's palace, but I don't see Ashka. Seems like I get closer to the palace as the vision continues, but..."\n\nChristopher's eyes roll to the back of his head. He shivers, then drops onto his stomach. His body phase-shifts, becoming nearly invisible, then the bones in his hands crack and break. His fingers shrink to become claws. He starts to morph into a wolf.\n\nThis is going to be bad. Josh has seen this a few times before. The pain of the vision wreaks havoc on Christopher's body, driving him to near madness. He shape-shifts, usually into a wolf, and then all hell breaks loose.\n\nJosh pulls out his phone and dials Griffin.\n\n"M'Callum," Griffin says. "Where are you?"\n\n"Christopher is having one of those bad visions and is about to lose it. I've got nothing to tranq him with."\n\n"Break his neck, then get him here. We'll deal with the vision later."\n\n<em>Click.</em>\n\nJosh leans over Christopher and does a quick snap. Bone crunches and Christopher's body goes limp.\n\n"Ashka," Josh says, picking up his friend. He gently sets Christopher over his shoulder and heads toward the road. \n\n"So if Ashka is missing, where's the Stone?"\n\n<a href="chap2S.html">Chapter 2</a>\n\n
Blue stops and spreads his wings. He lifts himself from the ground.\n\n"See you later, Josh," he says.\n\n"Have it your way." Josh waves as his friend clears the trees and disappears. \n\nHe decides to go [[north|North]] then changes his mind and heads [[south|South]].\n\n<img src="Images/Dragon2.jpg" width="450">
Josh turns around, thinking, again, that he should've brought his crossbow. Nightfall is coming and even up here in the mountains, there are dangerous threats to humanity.\n\nAs if on cue, a nightwolf howls. He knows the sound, which is different than a natural wolf, and different from a coyote. The nightwolf has a dual-toned sound, as if two wolves are howling at once--or, more likely, the wolf and the human howl at the same time. It is an unsettling sound.\n\nAnd here he is, listening to it. \n\n<center><img src="Images/Nightwolf.jpg" width="300"></center>\n\nThe wolf isn't all that far away. Because it's a known threat to humanity, Josh's duty is to kill it. The problem is, all he has is his forked dagger. That means he has to get up close and personal with the wolf to kill it. Yeah, he can do that, easily, but how nice it'd be to have his little crossbow right about now.\n\nWell, it's currently at home and Josh isn't. He needs to decide what to do.\n\nThe wolf howls again. It's closer now. \n\nThe bite of a nightwolf is deadly, even to Eskarians. It doesn't kill them, technically, but does enough damage that they end up in the dream state. If they don't get the blood they need to regenerate, they'll stay in the dream state, a place where you don't know what's real and what isn't. Hell on earth, if you ask him.\n\nJosh can either keep moving toward [[home|Home2]] or find the wolf and [[kill it|Kill]].
Josh heads south, back toward his cabin, lamenting yet again that he didn't have his crossbow with him. Well, to be fair, he'd expected Blue to hang out at least for a little while, and the dragon just wasn't having any of it. \n\nSeriously. Dragons could be fucking temperametal.\n\nHe hasn't gone very far when he comes to a beautiful Victorian house with an incredible garden, full of flowers and herbs, in the open back yard. His Eskarian brother, Jason, their healer, would be impressed. Jason knew everything there was to know about herbs and natural healing.\n\nJosh moves in to get a better look. Only then does he notice a beautiful, dark-haired woman pulling weeds and turning the soil.\n\nShe looks up to see him, waves.\n\nHe waves back.\n\nAnd then...\n\n<img src="Images/JoshSex.png" width="300">\n\nToday is turning out to be a very good day.\n\nAfter some quality snuggle time, Josh gets dressed and heads for the door.\n\nJosh feels pretty good. He's got Amy's phone number in his pocket and, barring anything extraterrestrial or extraordinary, he's calling her tomorrow. A cup of coffee or a glass of wine at a dockside bar sounds awesome. He looks forward to seeing her again. \n\nA sense of unease hits Josh as he goes out the front [[door|Now]].\n\n\n\n
It's dark when Josh opens his eyes, not that it matters. Josh's night vision, like all Eskarians, is excellent. \n\nHe gets to his feet and sees that he's alone. The back of his head hurts like hell and feels sticky-wet. He doesn't have to look at his hand to know it's blood. \n\nHe heads for the road. A second later, he's standing at the edge of a lake surroundwd by fog. There isn't a lake anywhere near his cabin, which means he's not where he thought he was.\n\n<center><img src="Images/lake.jpg" width="300"></center>\n\nWhat happened? Josh gets out his cell phone and clicks on Maps. The GPS shows he's on Vashon Island. What the hell?\n\nHe dials his commanding officer, Griffin McCallum. It rings once.\n\n"M'Callum," Griffin says. "Josh, where are you?"\n\n"I <em>was</em> up at the cabin. Earlier today, I went out for a walk. Something came up behind me, struck hard, and the next thing I know, I'm waking up near some water. There's no water near my property. I check my GPS and I see I'm now back on Vashon, on the west side." \n\n"We've got a problem," Griffin says. "Get back here as soon as you can."\n\n<em>Click.</em>\n\nOkay then. Josh pulls up his Uber app, calls for a ride, and waits. It isn't but moments before a black Prius pulls up. \n\nJosh is about to get in when he hears what sounds like many voices whispering, coming from somewhere behind him. The sound echoes through the trees, making it impossible to know where it originates.\n\n\n"Ah, shit," Josh says to himself. He knows exactly what's going on now.\n\nHe can either get into the [[Uber|Uber]] and go to Griffin's place because that's what Griffin told him to do, or he can turn and face the [[voices|Voices]].\n\n\n\n\n\n