Burn the Map

...and the atlas and the guide book and the GPS and everything else that thinks it knows where you're going. 'Cause I'll tell you a secret, friend: They don't have a clue.

Welcome, traveler!  Is it a new world you're looking for, or perhaps a very old one?  Either way, your journey begins as soon as you click one of the links to the left (or up above, if you're inclined to the mobile devices).  Think of them as portals to other times and places... I mean, you could think of them as simple navigation buttons, but if you're going to do that, there are zillions of websites you could visit.  But you didn't.  You came here.  So saddle up, suit up, buckle up...  Grab your blaster, your sword, your spellbook...  Basically do whatever it takes to feel ready for adventure and dive into stories where no explorer or mapmaker has dared set foot.  Oh, and I almost forgot...  Where you're going, you might as well burn the map. 

Chapter 1

Derek had been acting strange for weeks.  Nick had been sure his friend was getting in over his head with something, and secretly he'd been glad.  The balance-sheets and quarterly statements all ran together, blurring through his weary brain ten and twelve hours a day.  The rest he spent dreaming, praying for a single moment of significance in a life of trivia.

            When he'd seen Derek heading for such a dangerous part of town, he'd been sure the younger man needed help and told himself, by way of justification, that going to the police might get Derek into serious trouble.  What he'd just seen, however, made it clear that it wasn't Derek who was in over his head.

            “What are you doing down here?  Are you trying to get yourself killed!?” Derek asked.  The night air was chilly and damp with drizzle and the wind coming off the docks.  A dozen hired thugs lay around him, some groaning, others unconscious.

            “H...How did you do that?” Nick stammered.

            Derek hesitated.

            “How did you do that!?” Nick repeated, more forcefully.

            “I just reacted,” Derek finally replied.  “We gotta get outta here before more goons show up.”

            “He shot you!” Nick shouted, pointing at one of the unconscious men.

            “Quiet!” Derek hissed.  “And don't talk crazy; I'm fine.”

            Unconvinced, Nick reached out and stuck his finger through the hole in Derek's coat, poking the spot on his ribs where the bullet-hole ought to have been.

            Derek moved away quickly, covering the spot with his hand and turning toward the city lights.  “Come on!” he repeated, not looking back.  Nick still stood amid the defeated gang, stunned.

            Suddenly the sound of a revving engine growled out as rain pelted down harder, breaking up the image of headlights swinging into view.  Derek continued moving away, but Nick froze, just in time for a black SUV to screech to a stop in front of him.  Derek watched, hidden and unmoving, as men in hoods roughly seized his friend and dragged him into the back seat, restraining and gagging him with duct tape before pulling a bag down over his head.

            Nick cursed himself vehemently as he fought to get his breathing under control.  He'd been so sure he'd found his moment, but now he was the helpless prisoner and his friend, it seemed, was some kind of super hero.

            Finally the long ride ended, and Nick was dumped unceremoniously onto a concrete floor.

            “Is this the guy?” a heavy voice asked.

            “Took out a dozen of Caprese's best fighters without so much as a mark on him.  It's gotta be.”

            “Take the hood off,” the first voice said again.

            The bag was pulled away, revealing only more darkness and five or six even darker silhouettes.

            “I'm Sean O'Sullivan,” the voice continued, “and you're havin' of a skillset that seems right useful.  So, the proposition's a simple...”

            Suddenly a skylight shattered overhead, and a heavy form fell on O'Sullivan, slamming him to the ground.  Shots rang out, but if they hit anything, they did no harm.  A moment later the form became Derek as he deftly dispatched the thugs, then helped Nick to his feet and cut the duct tape binding him.

            “Thanks,” Derek said, breathing hard.  “Couldn't have done it without you.”

            “How's that?” Nick responded, stunned.  “I wasn't even much of a sidekick.”

            “Lousy sidekick,” Derek confirmed.  “Awesome bait.”