Evolution - Book One of Arazi Crossing
The first of a six-book series created around 5 main teen characters from 5 continents across the world. To become immortal and to become the ultimate good guys... these teens will travel back in history, their own history to alter their nearly pure bloodlines. Arazi Crossing, and the world, need these teens to succeed.
First… the teens.
Second… the guardians.
Third… the friendships.
Fourth… the secrets.
Fifth… the gifts.
Five teenagers from five different continents have reached the time in their individual lives when their heritage can no longer be kept a secret. Not even they know the exceptional powers buried deep within their lineage.
These five teens stand apart from all humans on Earth. They do not know each other. They do not know what lies ahead. They will have a choice to make: believe and accept… or not.
There will be no greater power than these five teens if they succeed in their quests and become immortal, full-blood Aces. The ordinary will become extraordinary and Evil will face its greatest adversary. But with greatness comes the proverbial price…
Accipere tua fata! Accept your destiny!
Chapter One: Edinburgh, Scotland, May 2015
“Okay, Ma. I understand. But can we just hurry a bit today?”
I held Ma’s arm as we made our way to the grocers. The weekly ritual had gotten a bit boring after all these years, but it had to be done. The only thing that made it worthwhile was when Ma stopped for tea. That’s when I got to go next door to Paragon Pyxis. I loved hunting around in there. I never found two items the same in the dusty, war-torn shop.
“Dear Quinn,” she said, stopping to reach up and ruffle my thick, blond hair as if I were still just a kid. “I’m no’ gettin’ any younger, ye know.”
That was true. The past few years had jammed arthritis into Ma’s knee joints so that the short walk to the grocer took nearly an hour these days. Every single time we head in, Ma goes on and on to everyone, talking about what a great son I am. “A miracle, really,” she says. Yeah, that’s the tale she tells anyone who’ll listen; then comes the embarrassing part.
“I swear my boy came by Immaculate Conception since me and his father, God rest his soul, only had that one night,” I've heard her say. I could never believe she was telling them all this, but she didn’t seem to think anything of it. “I thought I was far past the age for childbearing.”
I got Ma into the grocers and helped her check off her weekly list. After that, I was free to go next door and see what treasures I could dig up. I was really looking forward to talking with Miss Charlotte. The book she’d had for me last week was awesome. I read it in two days, which I didn’t think was too bad, considering it was over seven hundred pages. I don’t always get books from Paragon Pyxis. Over the past ten years I’ve found really cool, antique things that I’ve fiddled with for days at a time. I keep all of them in a special box up on the shelf in the right-hand corner of my closet. I like to play with the idea of saving everything and then one day buying the shop and bringing it all back to sell again.
Ma took a good hour to buy the groceries. I keep trying to get her to spend a bit of money on herself instead of buying so much food all the time, but she never listens. Sometimes it’s painful to watch her shuffling around in those old, grayish shoes that she’s probably had since before I was born. Her navy skirt was getting too short and her floral sweater had those annoying little balls all over it. Well, I’d made up my mind. Starting this week, I wouldn't spend all the change from the groceries she gives me. I would tuck some of it away and then take her shopping one day for some nice clothes – just for her.
Once I had everything packed in our reusable bags, Ma squeezed a few coins into my hand and then lifted my chin with her hand. Looking me straight in the eyes, she said, “Aye, did I ever tell ye that ye ‘ave yer father’s eyes?”
Sighing, I let out a small chuckle. “Yes… at least once a month.”
“Aye, me handsome brown-eyed son – with eyes as dark as Belgium chocolate.” She laughed as she tapped my cheek. “Be off wit ye then, lad!”
. “Thanks Ma,” I replied, giving her a quick hug. Mr. McKnight lifted one eyebrow at me and then turned back to Ma. I've never much cared for that man. Don’t know why – just a weird, gut feeling, I guess. He seems to have a problem with me going next door. Maybe it was the name of the shop? It is kind of an odd name, but somehow magical at the same time. I know paragon is another name for treasure or gem and pyxis means chest. Miss Charlotte has made more than one snide comment about McKnight over the years. But, I figure, whatever is going on with the two of them can stay between the two of them.
“Okay luv, dunna be too long. I’ve got washin’ ta do,” Ma replied as she settled into one of Mr. McKnight’s bulky, brown, lounge chairs. He has a small area set up for seniors so they can sit and enjoy a cup of tea after their shopping. It’s not much, but Ma always says that “a free cuppa tea is a free cuppa tea.”
I jumped off the front porch of Mr. McKnight’s Grocer and walked the few steps it takes to get to the front landing of my favorite shop. Miss Charlotte stood in the doorway and held the main door open with her sizable backside.
“Good morning Quinn,” she said, as she welcomed me into the shop with a swoop of her hand. “I have something for ye – came all the way from Rome, Italy!” she exclaimed, following me to the counter.
I could feel the energy of her excitement. Miss Charlotte is like a second mother to me. I’ve shared secrets with her that I’ve not shared with another soul. I’m not exactly sure I remember how we became this close. Miss Charlotte has always been working here at Paragon Pyxis and I’ve always been one of her best customers. She keeps saying that she’s not the owner of the shop, but I’ve never seen anyone else working here.
“Whatcha got there Miss Charlotte?” I smiled with anticipation, drumming my fingers on a stack of newspapers lying on the counter.
“Now you just wait – just wait!” She laughed as she shuffled behind the counter and rummaged around in one of the drawers. She pulled out a small, rusty key attached to a silver chain loaded with keys of all shapes, sizes and colors. Then she snapped the key sideways and it came away from the rest of them. “There, gotcha!” she announced, triumphantly. Miss Charlotte often speaks to objects in the shop; it’s one of the things I like best about her. “Follow me young Quinn,” she said as she made her way out from behind the counter and walked over to the wall of chests.
“Which one are you gonna shift today?” I asked, barely able to stand it. I didn’t care that I was 15 years old; visiting the shop and playing along with Miss Charlotte was just way too much fun.
I tensed as I watched her insert the small key into the front of a treasure chest on the third shelf from the top. For as long as I can remember, this wall has been stacked to the ceiling with treasure chests from all over the world. There are seven shelves and more than 10 meters of wall space from one end to the other. The chests come in every color imaginable – the sizes and shapes vary too. Most are one main color with lines or waves of other colors that make them more attractive. A few are studded with gems or golden nuggets. Some of the chests are broad and thick, while others look as though they are made of shiny birthday wrapping paper that you could easily poke a hole through with the tip of your finger.
One Saturday when I was 12, Miss Charlotte spent the whole day telling me the history behind every single chest. My favorite has always been the dark-blue one that had dents all over it. It has a big, square, black handle fastened in the center. The handle has a chip in it that exposes the white, ceramic filler inside. The chest is worn, as if someone had thrown it out the window of a moving train. Every time I look at the black scribbles around its edges, my mind wanders off to a land far away where bandits and scoundrels tote the chest from place to place.
This time, though, Miss Charlotte chose a simple chest with ROME stamped in red letters on the front of it, just beneath the keyhole. It looked like one of those stamps that customs officers put on cargo before it can leave or enter another country. She didn’t turn the key. Instead, she carefully slid the chest from its place among the others and lowered it down. I looked up at the empty space in the wall where the chest had been. For some strange reason I felt sad for the wall of chests; it reminded me of a jigsaw puzzle waiting patiently for the last piece to be put into place.
“Aye, dunna look so sad,” Miss Charlotte’s voice snapped me back to the present. “This wall has seen many changes over the centur-um… years. Dunna worry young Quinn. I’ll put the pyxis back as soon as we’re done.” She walked over to a small ledge that juts out from the back wall of the shop. Using her free hand, Miss Charlotte pushed a couple of small trinkets to the side and wiped the dust from the ledge before she laid the chest down.
I walked up beside her and said, “Do I dare ask you what’s inside?”
Shifting her body between me and the chest, Miss Charlotte turned and peeked inside. I tried to sneak a peek over her shoulder, but the growth spurt I had this past summer wasn’t enough. She stood on her tiptoes to block my view. Once she was satisfied with what she saw inside, she snapped the lid back down and turned the tiny, folding hook down into the latch. “Quinn Crawford! I dare say ye get more curious every day!” She whirled around and poked me in the ribs.
Despite not getting to see a darn thing, I stepped back and laughed. She pointed for me to sit down on the chair next to her old, roll-top desk. The look that came with the pointing of her finger was serious, so I decided to do as I was told – I sat down. One thing is for sure: Miss Charlotte has my respect. There is no messing with her. I let out a big sigh and waited.
“Now Quinn,” she began, staring into my eyes, “ye know I think the world of ye. I feel as though yer my own son – the son I never had.” Sighing, she turned back to the chest and lifted it off the ledge. Setting it down on the desk, she continued. “There’s a little gift inside I want ye ta have. I um… I told ye a wee lie earlier.” Her eyes lowered for a moment and then returned to mine. “I dinna just get this gift from Rome, Italy. I got it at the Coliseum in Rome a loooong time ago. It’s something I feel I should pass along – seeing as how ye are so dear to me.”
I was intrigued. I held my breath as she lifted the lid off the chest and reached her hand inside. She turned her head to the side and her mouth curled into a small smile. I stayed focused on her hand as it rose up and out of the chest. I couldn’t see anything. Her fist was tight and secretive as it moved towards me. I looked up at her and she nodded, gesturing for me to open my hand.
“This, young Quinn, is a gift for ye.” Miss Charlotte’s fist hovered over my open palm and then something dropped into my hand.
It was a tiny, copper-coloured box. I felt its weight in my cupped hands and let it roll over. I could tell it was solid metal, but the tiny box was no bigger than a school eraser. It had the most interesting designs all over it. They were etched into the copper box in black, which made them stand out even more. There was something familiar about the etchings, the way the ones on the top and bottom matched. The designs reminded me of something I had seen before, but I couldn’t quite place them. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to history. I love any and all things related to the past. It’s just that I have so many questions about… well, about how and why everything in history happened. I must have read an article about something from the past that looks like this little box, I thought. Or maybe I saw a picture of something with similar etchings? No matter, it’s the coolest little thing I’ve ever seen.
“Thank you Miss Charlotte. It’s awesome!” I said and leaned over to give her a big hug. Then I stepped back for a moment. “But… why would you want to part with something so extraordinary?”
She leaned back in her chair and smiled at me. “Some things are meant ta be kept while others are meant to be passed along.” That was Miss Charlotte, always coming out with lines like that. “Besides,” she said, as she stood up and closed the lid on the pyxis, “I know ye will treasure it, Quinn.”
I squeezed the gift in my hand as I also stood up. “Well, thank you. This definitely goes to the top of my list of the cool things I have from your shop!” I’ve always called it her shop – whether it actually is or not. “Can I help you put the chest back?”
“Nay, I’m fine lad,” she replied, returning the chest to the empty spot in the wall.
Suddenly, I heard an odd noise – a sigh – which seemed to be coming from the wall. Crazy, I know, but it was almost as if the wall was happy now that the chest was back where it belonged. As I stood behind Miss Charlotte, my eyes roamed from shelf to shelf. The wall of chests glimmered as the morning sun cut into the shop through a large, curtain-less window. I wonder if I am the only one who feels as if some sort of magic flows among the chests.
“Dear Quinn,” Miss Charlotte’s voice cut into my thoughts, “I’ve worked here for many, many years. Sometimes I wonder if these old chests have a bit o’ magic in them.” Her eyes twinkled with mischief as they held mine for a moment. Then Miss Charlotte broke her gaze and burst into laughter. She reached out to slap me on the shoulder. “Just pullin’ yer leg! But it’s kind of fun ta wonder if magic really does exist, isn't it?” Not expecting me to reply, she turned and walked back to the counter at the front of the shop.
The copper box felt warm and heavy in my hand. I smiled as I stuffed it in the front pocket of my jeans and made my way over to the counter. Miss Charlotte was fussing with a pile of receipts. I took a moment to look at her – I mean really look at her. I’ve known Miss Charlotte for many years –since as far back as I can remember, actually. Her thick, black hair hung down past her shoulders in frazzled waves. Her big, charcoal-gray eyes always sparkle with knowledge. She’s not tall – maybe 5’6’’ – and she has a few extra pounds around her waist. She always wears the same burgundy shawl over a black, frilly blouse. And the long skirts she wears never touch the floor but cover most of her shoes. I realized she had stopped flipping through the receipts and was now staring at me. I blinked and gave her a big smile. I only have three best friends in the whole world: Nate and Viv, my classmates since third grade, and Miss Charlotte. That’s it – my tiny circle of friends. I knew I could count on them for anything and I hoped they knew they could count on me too.
“Shouldn't ye be gettin’ back ta yer ma?” Miss Charlotte asked.
“Yes,” I nodded. I wanted to stay for a while longer, but I remembered what Ma said about the washing she had to do. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the copper box. Sunlight danced across the etchings, making the box shimmer. “Thanks again for the gift. I will take good care of it, Miss Charlotte.”
“I know ye will young Quinn. I know ye will.” She looked down at the box in my hand and let out a small sigh. Then her eyes rose to meet mine. “See ye next grocery day then?”
“Sure. Good-bye Miss Charlotte,” I said as I walked out of Paragon Pyxis for another week.
Ma was laughing and slapping her knee when I walked back into Mr. McKnight’s Grocer. I looked around at the group of people sitting with her, enjoying their tea. Most of them were Ma’s age. The same group shows up every Thursday. Ma looks so pretty when she laughs, I thought. I watched her dark-blue eyes twinkle and her cheeks redden. It’s hard for me to think of her as old but, she was 42 when she had me, so now she’s pushin’ 60.
“Hey Ma!” I said in a loud voice so she could hear me. “Are you ready to go?” I walked to the milk cartons lined up along the wall behind the cash counter and picked up our grocery bags. My crew-neck sweater was inching up my waist so, in my embarrassment, I quickly dropped the bags and tucked one piece of the sweater into the back of my jeans. Viv was always kidding me that I should show off my handsome bod, but I’m kind of shy. I like my long-sleeved shirts and sweaters and my baggy, faded jeans. The only time I wear shorts is in gym class and that’s, of course, because I have to.
“Yes lad, I’m ready ta get on wit the day,” she replied as she put her tea cup on the glass-topped, coffee table and nodded good-bye to her friends. “Ye better have a more believable story for us next week dear Carson or I’ll be forced to do the story telling meself!” She laughed as she reached for my arm with one hand and for a bag with her other.
Ma always carries the bread bag. After all these years, she still doesn't trust me not to squeeze it and deform the slices so they won’t fit in the toaster properly. As we walked back home, I thought about the gift Miss Charlotte gave me. Sure, it’s just a tiny, metal box, but it looks really old – and valuable, I thought. I had forgotten to ask her how old it was. Miss Charlotte usually gives me a history lesson on the things I get from her shop. It seemed funny that she didn’t this time.
“Ma, Miss Charlotte gave me a gift today,” I told her as we made our way up the stone path to our home. “I’ll show you once I unpack the groceries.”
“Well, that was kind of her. Miss Charlotte’s always been so good ta ye lad,” she said, as I set a couple of the bags down on the porch and opened the front door. We never lock up the house. Ma always says, “If a thief wants to come in then he’ll come in, no matter what.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said as I let Ma walk in first and then shut the door behind us.
We set the bags on the kitchen table and I went straight to work putting the groceries away. Ma watched me for a few minutes and then let out a big sigh, followed by a comment that she needed to rest in the sitting room for a few minutes. “Bring the gift from Miss Charlotte in ta show me when yer done.”
I stuffed the empty bags back into the cupboard and followed Ma to her rocking chair. Then I pulled the copper box out of my pocket and handed it to her. She took it in her wrinkled, thin fingers and then reached over to her side table for her glasses.
“Well now… isn't this something,” she said, examining the little box. “Look at these designs – they’re spectacular!” She rolled the box over and over, carefully inspecting the black etchings. “Wherever did Miss Charlotte get it?”
“It came from Rome, Italy,” I replied, as I sat on the edge of our old, velvet-covered couch next to her chair. “It’s really cool, isn't it?”
“It truly is,” she agreed, as she handed the gift back to me and then leaned back in her comfy rocker. “Quinn dear, would ye be so kind as to make yer Ma a cuppa?”
“Sure,” I said, standing up so that I could put the box back in my pocket. “Be right back.”
After I gave Ma her cup of tea, I went up the narrow, wooden stairs to my room. Ma used to sleep in the room next to mine, but with her arthritis, we decided to move her bed to the main floor. Her bedroom is off the kitchen – it’s a tiny room that used to be a pantry years ago.
I opened my closet door and reached up to the shelf for my silver and black, metal chest. I bought the chest from Miss Charlotte a few years ago when my collection got too big for the old tin I’d been using to store my treasures. It came with a bright-orange lock on the front of it. Taking the key from the chain around my neck, I unlocked it and lifted the lid. I took a moment to review the stuff I’d acquired: a WWI cigarette lighter, three coins from France, a bottle cap from the first year soda pop was sold in Scotland, a miniature replica of a soldier from the William Wallace days, two decks of cards from Spain, an arrowhead from the Boer War and a Chinese origami figure.
I stared down at the copper box in my hand. Even though I didn’t know the history behind it, I felt as though it was my greatest treasure of all. I placed it on top of the other things and closed the lid. Once my chest was locked, I put the chain back around my neck and lifted the chest back up onto the shelf. Closing the closet, I walked over to my bedroom door and flicked off the light.
The sun had gone around to the side of the house, so my room was almost in darkness. I stretched out onto my bed, threw my old, wool blanket over me, rolled onto my side and, before I knew it, my eyelids lowered and I fell asleep.