Chapter 1

The course of true love never did run smooth.

A Midsummer Night's Dream , 1598

William Shakespeare

The cold breezes seeped up from the ground, whirled into a small funnel, slashed at her skin, blew and tangled her beautiful long black hair. The gusts came from nowhere, carrying with them a strange chanting sound she didn’t care for. It was the hovering sound of Hell—the sound of the dark magic. It was not supposed to follow her to the Daimon Gate, a universe far away from Earth. She had escaped from the haunt of the dark magic seventeen years ago, fleeing from a remote village in Ireland to London. She ran again a month ago, this time not by herself but with Lorcan, the love of her life, exiling themselves from Earth to the Daimon Gate. She assumed they had found their Heaven here.

Now she couldn’t make it home—to the small castle Lorcan had named after her. She stood at the corner of a dead end street, beneath a gothic dome—a place Lorcan had told her several times not to take the short cut through. But she had taken this route several times in the last month. It was quiet and easy. It only took a few hundred yards around the corner, and she could go up the hill to their place. It should be perfectly safe based on what she was told.

The Daimon Gate was a virtuous universe—everything here was governed by righteousness. Orla couldn’t help but roll her eyes when she thought about it. Being righteous was the very reason this whole universe was governed by machinery and a wicked computer system called the EYE. Only machines could tell right from wrong with no exception. It was perfectly normal for her, a human, to make mistakes, wasn’t it? The fact that she wasn’t good at following the rules was only a minor issue.

“All right, wallowing is a stupid thing to do, Orla,” she muttered to herself. She had developed the strange habit of talking to herself since they had moved here. She didn’t want to admit that it could be the result of loneliness and isolation. She shifted her stance and felt a tingling sensation on her toes and fingertips. It was just the chill, she thought, as she stared at a black brick wall in the place where she had seen her usual route home just a few seconds ago.

She had charged at it three times. When she stepped back, the path revealed itself; but when she approached, it closed up on her. Orla was certain if she turned around to go back to the main road, that path would close as well. In this universe, the physical rules were strange. She didn’t understand them, nor did she appreciate them. She knew someone or something had to be playing a joke on her, and if this was a prank, it wasn’t remotely funny. Her psychic ability was telling her nothing at the moment. Her palms were clammy and, even in the freezing air, a bead of sweat trickled down her forehead.

She shoved her right hand into her pocket to grab her cell phone and almost laughed at her own reflex. There were no such things as a cell phones here. In fact, the computer geniuses in the Daimon Gate considered her earthly technology primitive. She merely wanted to call for help, but there was no time to fumble with the thing they used in place of a cell phone—a wrist unit. It was a funky type of watch to her, and a useless object that she had never bothered learned how to operate.

The wind grew stronger, and she thought she heard a howl echo from somewhere in the air. A dried tree branch on the ground flew up, whirled in the wind, and then aimed at her left arm, slashing into it.

“Oww,” she yelped and grabbed at the cut. A small stream of blood oozed through the gaps between her fingers. A brick wall on her left cracked and collapsed. Orla just had enough time to jump out of its way. She turned around, glancing in the direction of the main road. A wall, coming from nowhere, slid across and blocked her view. She was being closed in. She turned back, looking at her usual corner path, open now. She made a small step forward, and the path closed up right in front of her.

She remembered what Lorcan had said—there were invisible networks of dimensional holes that only gatekeepers had access to and could control. She was sure these walls had come from those holes. More walls slid out from dimensional holes, surrounding her like a maze. A wall came in close proximity to where she stood and hit her from behind. Orla fell to the ground. She stood up immediately, her hands balled into fists. “That’s enough, you coward. Wanna play with me? Show your pathetic face!” There was no response save for the sliding sound of black brick walls. Soon they would sandwich her, and she wasn’t in the mood to be anyone’s meal.

She swirled her palms in a circle as if making a ball out of thin air. A ball of fire formed. She smiled as if she couldn’t believe what she had learned from her childhood had worked. She threw the fireball at the wall that blocked her way home. It crashed into the wall and burst into hundreds of pitiful fire particles. Another wall hit her from behind. Orla fell again onto the cold dirt road.

She stood up, created a bigger fireball, and hurled it at the wall. Again and again, she threw them. The sound of the balls hitting the walls was as loud as thunder. The wall cracked and shattered into a pile of dirt and then vanished. The cold wind still whirled, but it was not the icy breeze sending the chill to her spine right now.

A clapping sound came from a dark corner, followed by a man. He looked like a dark prince Orla had read about in gothic novels—tall with slightly long black hair framing a sinfully handsome face. His clapping and his smile sent a chill from her spine to her brain. Her blood ran cold. She had no idea who he was, but she had a feeling that he didn’t come here to see her performance. He came to see her death.



Chapter 2

Orla pasted a smile on her face.

“Impressive,” the man said. “It took a considerable amount of time and effort on my end to get to witness your dark magic.” A faint accent penetrated his voice, but Orla couldn’t make any sense of it.

“There was no dark magic. Just a trick to fool kids who still believe in Santa Claus.” Orla stepped backward slightly, sizing up the man. He was at least as tall as Lorcan, so he had a height advantage over her. He seemed as agile as a cat with movements of an experienced fighter. It was obvious now that he controlled the walls that blocked her way home, and that meant he was a gatekeeper. Taking all that into account, Orla wagered that her chance of winning this fight was nonexistent.

“Who are you? And what do you want?” Orla asked.

“I am a gatekeeper.”

“I figured as much. I can tell that by the way you’re playing with the dimensional holes. But being a gatekeeper doesn’t guarantee your safety when harassing an ordinary citizen like me. I’ll report you.”

The man chuckled. “I was only trying to protect the gate from intruders—and from those who cheated their way in.”

Now her blood ran ice cold. The only person who knew Lorcan had cheated the system for them to come to the Daimon Gate was Ciaran LeBlanc. But Ciaran had promised not to tell anyone. Lorcan had never told the authority of the Daimon Gate that Orla was a trained sorceress who had used dark magic to cheat his life back, not once but twice. In this universe, if they were caught cheating the system for personal gains, they could face the death penalty.

“I don’t know what you mean. But at the moment, as far as I’m concerned, you’re harassing me.”

“Let’s cut to the chase. I don’t have much time, and I don’t think you and your lover have much time, either. You used the dark magic to throw fireballs at my walls. That’s evidence of using it inside the Daimon Gate. I don’t need to explain the consequences of that to you, do I?”

Orla shrugged. “Well, if it’s in the system, we’ll have to face the consequences. Usually, there’s no way out of a severe penalty. So what’s your ulterior motive for giving us a solution?”

The man laughed. “If all the people from Earth are as smart as you are, I could be in trouble.” The man smirked. “Lucky for me, there aren’t many of those around here. Yes, the evidence of your magic was captured within my system. At the moment, it’s internal and under my control. That explains the number of walls I had to use to shield the view of the EYE. But I can report the evidence to central at any time—unless you do one simple thing for me.”

“And what would that ‘simple’ thing be?”

“Ciaran LeBlanc used the system within your castle to cheat the system. I want you to get your man to report Ciaran to the central.” His voice was as smooth and calm as still water. He locked his gaze with Orla.

“Ciaran LeBlanc, the king of Eudaiz?”

The man sneered. “Not for long.”

“Why? Who are you? What did he do to you?”

“Come on. You don’t owe him anything. But you owe your life to yourself. And don’t you want to live happily ever after with your lover at your castle?”

Orla nodded. “I suppose so. But what if the council has already recorded my use of magic? If that’s the case, I don’t have to do anything you ask.”

The man laughed. “Aren’t you a skeptic?”

“I’d call it brain power.”

“Right.” The man approached Orla. “I’m not a big-time gatekeeper, but I can assure you, I am in total control of my limited world inside these walls. Each gatekeeper has a private zone into which even the EYE cannot intrude.”

Orla arched an eyebrow, then as quick as lightning, she threw a fireball right into the man’s chest. Taken off-guard, he staggered back, grunting in pain. Orla smiled. She might not have any physical advantage over this man, but she refused to go down easily. “If that’s the case, then nobody will see me kill you,” Orla said under her breath, hurling another ball. He dodged it and threw his dagger at her. She threw a ball at his hand, but missed.

As the wall behind him moved, the man was distracted. Seizing the opportunity, Orla threw another ball. The man dodged her fireball once again, and it sailed past him toward the wall behind him that had slid open.

Lorcan stood at the opening wall, holding a portable device. He ducked as the fireball flew past, missing his face by inches. The man waved his arm. Orla couldn’t see anything except Lorcan yelling and pointing at her, and then the wall behind her hit her head. She slumped to the ground, and the whole world turned into darkness.

* * *

A large, gothic-looking arch stared down at her, making her blood run cold. There was something wrong with the air around them—her skin felt charged, almost like she was conducting electricity. Lorcan stood in the center of the arch, dancing away from the lightning bolts chasing him. Orla couldn’t believe how many of them there were! There had to be at least a few thousand. She stood there, rooted to the spot, unable to help her lover. She kept trying to run out to help him, but he yelled at her to stay away and save herself. As he shouted at her, he stopped moving, just for half a second, barely escaping the next lightning bolt. Fighting her way free from whatever was holding her prisoner, she started to run to Lorcan, not heeding his warnings to stay away. She was getting frustrated because no matter how fast she ran, she didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Tears started streaming down her cheeks as the hopelessness of the situation started to sink in. She watched helplessly as one of the lightning bolts hit Lorcan, causing him to burst into flame like a Roman candle. As his ashes fell into a neat little pile, Orla screamed in agony. Her heart was dying along with him.

* * *

“Orla! Orla! Come on, honey, you need to wake up now.” Lorcan was trying to shake Orla awake, but so far it wasn’t working. He had seen a gigantic wall hit her from behind, and then the man that she seemed to be fighting with fled the scene. He didn’t understand why this was happening. The Daimon Gate was supposed to be the safest place for them, a self-contained world that was the entrance between universes. Who was the man she had been fighting with? He looked like a gatekeeper. Lorcan wanted to look the man up on his computer system, but at the moment, he couldn’t leave Orla.

“Orla! Come on, baby, wake up for me now, okay?” He went back to shaking her gently, hoping she would open her eyes. Her eyelids fluttered, and she groaned. He swept her up in a tight embrace.

“What happened?” she asked groggily.

“I should ask you that.”

She blinked, and then the encounter with the man came back to her. “We’re in serious trouble, Lorcan,” she said.



Chapter 3

Lorcan helped Orla sit up, leaning her against the head of the bed, then he went to get her some water. While Orla took tentative sips and looked at him over the rim of the glass, Lorcan sat at the side of the bed and checked the cut on her arm that he had secured with a bandage. He tried not to look into her eyes because all he saw in them was the trouble that would put to an end the short happy month they’d been living in the Daimon Gate. “What kind of trouble are we in, Orla? Who was the gatekeeper you fought with?” he asked when he thought any further delay on his part would seem odd to her. She told him about the man’s demands. Lorcan said nothing for a long moment. He went to the window and stared silently outside. After a while, he turned to her. “You’d agree with me that we won’t report Ciaran?”

“Of course. There’s a dark side to Ciaran, and he must have created a lot of enemies along the way because of that, but he’s an important man. People in his universe—their lives—depend on him. If we did anything to harm him, we wouldn’t find a place in Hell.”

The sorrow in Orla’s eyes cut at Lorcan’s heart. He wondered whether the universe Ciaran was ruling, the Daimon Gate, Earth, and anywhere else that had living creatures shared the same Hell. He had seen Hell on Earth when they fought to bring Riley back and tried to free Riley’s late wife, Michelle. If he and Orla committed a sin now, would they return to that same Hell? Or did Daimon Gate have its own version of Hell?



He knew Orla was lonely in the Daimon Gate. They didn’t have many friends here, and after what had happened to them on Earth, they didn’t make friends easily. It had been a month, and the only time he’d seen the light back in her eyes was a couple of weeks ago when they’d had visitors. Ciaran LeBlanc and his people had stopped by on their way through the gate on a multiversal secret mission that he wouldn’t talk about. Some creature had used dark magic on Ciaran, and Lorcan and Orla had done what they could to help him find out what it was. Orla had used her sorcery combined with Lorcan’s computer skills, and for a little while, she had looked happy again. She’d been intrigued and had felt almost like she’d been back at her job on Earth.

They didn’t, however, help Ciaran solely out of the goodness of their hearts. Ciaran made it clear that he knew that Lorcan had died on the 46th floor of the century tower, and that Orla had brought him back with her own dark magic, using it to cheat Lorcan back to life. He had used that as blackmail, and he’d also appealed to their sense of justice. Ciaran was to rule Eudaiz, a universe with hundreds of billion people who relied on him for their safety. Those two things combined had won them both over, and there was nothing else they could do but help him.

The Daimon Gate was a universe full of virtue—governed by virtuous people and operating on virtuous principles. The most serious crime in the universe was cheating any system for personal gain. Lorcan had passed the test that they’d given him and then demanded a deal to get Orla to come with him. The fact that Lorcan had cheated death and come back would be a grave offense, and considered cheating, because he might not be the same person who had initially passed the test. He also hadn’t told them Orla’s real identity, or the fact that she was a trained sorceress. That was something else that could be considered cheating the system. Lorcan’s crimes were grave indeed, but no one knew about them yet. If Ciaran told anyone, then Lorcan would face death by a thousand lightning bolts. That was the vision Orla had just gotten in her delirium.

Ciaran had promised not to reveal their secrets to the Host of the Daimon Gate, and they trusted him. On the other hand, although Ciaran was the king of Eudaiz, if he traveled in the Daimon Gate, he had to play by their rules. If he got caught cheating the Daimon Gate system, he would be killed before he returned to his world. And Ciaran had cheated the system here, right in this castle. He did it to save a senior gatekeeper of the Daimon Gate, Brandon, the prince of the Red Castle. Brandon committed a crime and was supposed to die, but for some reason unbeknown to Lorcan, Ciaran had manipulated the computer system to change the sentence from death to demotion. If Lorcan reported that incident to the authority of the Daimon Gate, the next time Ciaran traveled via the gate, he would be killed.

“Do you think the EYE recorded my use of magic?” Orla asked.

Lorcan shook his head. “I don’t think so. The gatekeeper you fought had blocked the signals well enough. But why did he want to expose Ciaran? The only reason I can think of is that someone is opposed to the fact that Ciaran saved the prince and the princess. But I would imagine there are many other ways to harm Ciaran. Why this way? And why would a gatekeeper of the Daimon Gate want to harm the king of Eudaiz?” he questioned.

Lorcan’s wrist unit beeped. Text had come across the screen suggesting the call was made from the Host residence, asking Lorcan to come and meet with the Host of the Daimon Gate. His nerves started to heighten his senses, and he began to sweat.

He showed Orla the text. A soon as she saw the text, a tear rolled down her face. “The bastard has reported us!” she said.



Chapter 4

Virtue is the core value of the Daimon Gate. As the Host of the Daimon Gate, this man had to be the most virtuous man in the Cosmo, Lorcan thought. Given that, the Host wouldn’t tolerate cheating from anyone. Lorcan shook his head, trying not to think about what may lie ahead of them. There were nine thousand gatekeepers at work here—why would this one want to cause them trouble? He asked Orla to stay in their bed chamber and he made a beeline toward the control room.

The Host only dealt with high-level executives within the gate and top-level executives from the participating worlds. No one knew who the Host really was, though rumor had it that he was once human and used to live on Earth. Lorcan was nervous. He answered the call, and almost instantaneously, a hologram appeared. The image was life-sized, and the man looked like a kindly old grandfather in his late sixties. He had a British accent, and it made Lorcan wonder if the two might have been neighbors at one point.

“Lorcan?” Before the Host could speak, Orla poked her head into the room. She saw the hologram in front of her, and her mouth dropped open. Not very many people had the honor of meeting the Host, for security reasons, but now that the two of them were seeing him in the hologram, they were a little starstruck. Lorcan excused himself hurriedly to the Host, rushed over to Orla, and ushered her outside.

“I’ll be with you in just a second, okay honey? I don’t think the Host would care for you to see him.” She nodded and sat in a chair, clutching her stomach. Lorcan returned to the control room. The holocast of the Host stood in a beam of light, waiting. It had taken Lorcan a good two weeks to adjust to this universe’s way of communication. A holocast was like a telephone on Earth, but the technology was a lot more advanced. The significant difference was not only the life-sized hologram, but the fact that the person could choose to step out of the light beam and enter the environment of the person he was speaking to.

“Lorcan, how are you and Orla faring? Have you had a chance to settle in properly?” The soft British accent calmed Lorcan’s nerves a bit, but he still felt a chill in anticipation of what was coming. The Host wouldn’t drop by his place simply for a cup of tea.

“We’re doing fine. Sometimes it gets a bit lonely for Orla, but we’re managing. I’ve made some progress with the project. Would you like a report now?”

“Lorcan, I’m going to speak to you off the record now. Whatever you say will be between us only. No record of it will appear anywhere or be recorded.” The hologram of the Host took a few steps forward until he was completely out of the beam of light. His fuzzy edges solidified, and his unintelligible details became concrete. Something about him looked familiar, but then again, it could just be that he had one of those kindly old man faces. “Is there anything you want to tell me off the record before I tell you the reason I am here?”

Lorcan contemplated and then shook his head. He didn’t think he was breathing, but he must have been. No one could hold their breath for that long. He swore he could hear the sound of a clock ticking, even though time in the Daimon Gate was different compare to Earth, and they didn’t use clocks. It must be the countdown of his life he was hearing.

“Let me give you a hint. The EYE reports a glitch coming from your system here a couple of weeks ago, resulting in inconsistencies. Any idea what might have caused the problem?”

Lorcan felt as though the floor under his feet was shifting. He cleared his throat. “I don’t know. What sort of problem? I sent out a lot of signals daily while working on your project.”

The Host nodded. “That’s how I figured out there was an inconsistency. I’m taking a preemptive step here. The computer hasn’t reported the issue to the council. But soon, the tech department at central will put a report together, and the issue will be picked up. Are you sure you didn’t do anything different?”

Lorcan matched the Host’s gaze. “No. Nothing. If the EYE picked up discrepancies, please let me know, and I will formally address it.”

The Host smiled. “You’re a good man, Lorcan. It wasn’t a mistake recruiting you. Thank you for protecting the person who sent out the discrepancies from your system.”

Lorcan shoved his hands into his pockets and remained silent.

“The EYE can’t record private conversation, Lorcan, you know that.”

Lorcan nodded. “It seems you’ve fixed the discrepancies and know who caused them, so why are you telling me?”

The Host sat. “While I was looking into that particular issue, I came across a nuance, a piece of information from a computer database on Earth that recorded something about you and what happened at Century tower.”

Lorcan whirled around. “How is that possible? The EYE can’t see into private places.”

“I said the information is from an Earth database.”

“But it was recorded into the LeBlanc security system. It’s not possible for an outsider to  . . .” Then the truth dawned on him, and Lorcan gasped. “You . . .”

The Host smiled. “You did Ciaran a favor, so I will return the gesture, and I hope you appreciate it. I am Ciaran’s father, so of course I have access to the LeBlanc’s security system. That information alone is a life and death matter for many people. Although Ciaran didn’t expose you and Orla, the information was recorded. Sooner or later, it will leak.”

“It already has, I’m afraid.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“My wife was attacked by a gatekeeper just before your holocast. He forced her to use her magic and threatened to report us if we don’t expose Ciaran.”

“A gatekeeper?”

Lorcan nodded. “But I don’t know who he is or his ulterior motive.” Lorcan’s hands were clenched into fists.

“How did he attack Orla?”

“He pulled his gatekeeper’s walls from dimensional holes.”

“He used his resources. There will be a record. I’ll find out who he is. But that can’t be good for you. When he has to answer to the incident, he will reveal your information.”

Lorcan was pacing now, his face clouded over, his eyes stormy. He kicked an empty chair in frustration, sending it through the row of other chairs and creating quite a mess. The Host smiled calmly. “I would never come to you with an unsolvable problem. I appreciate your keeping your promise to Ciaran. So I have a suggested solution.”

Lorcan stopped pacing. He shoved his hands into his pockets and stared at the Host, waiting for him to continue.

“There is an artifact, a key that we lost. It is the key to the life force of one of our gatekeepers. A long time ago, an unknown creature from another universe attacked the gatekeeper of Gate 131. The Daimon Gate connects to nine thousand portals, and this particular portal is an Eastern gate. The creature trapped the life force of the gatekeeper inside of a rock with the key of Psuche, locked the gate with the same key, then fled. No one can travel through that gate, and the gatekeeper can neither die naturally nor be saved. As to the creature’s whereabouts, or even what it is, we have no further information. If you can obtain the key of the Psuche of Gate 131, it will solve your problem.”

“How so?”

“Although I don’t understand magic, and I am not a true believer, there is no rule set in stone saying you cannot use unexplainable resources in the Daimon Gate. The problem is that you have to report it and get it approved. The Eastern gate is a perfect example. That gatekeeper used to be a wizard on Earth.”

Lorcan cocked an eyebrow.

“Yes, you heard me right. It was long before my time. Because of the gatekeeper’s origin, it is deemed appropriate that you would recruit someone with expertise such as Orla’s. I can put your case to the council, stating that I was aware of Orla’s talent before I recruited you, and that you are now both recruited for the mission.”

“You would lie to the council for me?  I . . . I thought . . .”

“That I have to be the most virtuous man in the Cosmo? Well, I suppose I am. And I’m not lying. I will simply move the time I received the information about Orla up a little earlier.” The Host smiled.

Lorcan ruffled his hair. “Thank you. I’ll get you the key.”

“It’s not going to be a walk in the park. If it were, it could have been done long time ago.”

Lorcan nodded. “I see. Thank you very much. I appreciate this.”

The Host nodded and turned on the holocast beam. “I should return to my residence for tea.” He smiled gently, like a grandfather, and turned on his heel, vanishing into the light beam.



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