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Orion

Chapter 1

It was a cold winter morning in Bristol. Orion had been awake for a few hours. He hadn’t slept well the night before, and had taken to reading at around 4 AM. He knew he should have probably gone back to sleep, but it evaded him like it was actively trying to remain out of reach.

He was reading a new story, which was always his favourite pastime. He sometimes re-read his old favourites, but generally speaking he preferred to read new stories, go on new adventures, escape his mundane life for a day at a time.

He was always a fast reader, getting caught up in the pace of the book. The words spurred him on, and sometimes he would find himself getting caught up in the feelings of the characters. He often found himself holding his breath as something intense happened.

Of course, his focus on books and stories could sometimes get him into trouble, especially with friends and family members. He was sometimes chided for spending more time and effort on his collection of books than with his loved ones.

A rather loud knock on his bedroom door pulled him out of his fantasy world. He placed a bookmark on the page he was reading, set his book on his nightstand and proceeded to open his bedroom door.

Connor, Orion’s younger brother, was standing just outside of the doorway. “There’s someone here to see you,” he mumbled. Connor had always looked up to Orion, but was somehow also jealous of him. Orion, though hardly social, did have a small circle of friends. Connor, using the same tactics, didn’t attract many people.

Orion, realising that Connor was not in the best of moods, gave his best winning smile and ruffled Connor’s already messy hair. “Thanks,” he said, grinning at his brother before bounding down the stairs of the three bedroomed house and landing at the bottom with a spring in his step.

Orion hadn’t been expecting anyone today, but Aaron and Lena, his two closest friends, always seemed to turn up at random intervals anyway. Though when he answered the door, Orion was shocked to find neither of his friends.

Instead of the familiar faces of Aaron and Lena, a very unfamiliar face was staring back at Orion’s unblinking gaze. The man looked around 35, with dark hair and grey eyes, which seemed both too old and too young for the face they were set in. The man himself seemed to emanate power and authority, though he looked like he had been severely injured and never quite healed from it.

“Can I help you?” Orion asked.

“You are Orion Hawthorne, are you not?” the stranger asked.

“That’s me. Who’s asking?”

“My name is not of importance. I need you to meet me at the abandoned church. Saturday at 4 PM. Do not be late.” And with that he turned away, walking in the direction of the street.

Orion muttered something about lunatics before closing the door and headed back upstairs to continue reading.

The longer he thought about the stranger, the more he felt the urge to meet him. It seemed odd that a complete stranger would turn up at his door, knowing his name without them ever meeting, and request a meeting before leaving. It just seemed too similar to the books he so loved for him to not be intrigued. But, of course, he couldn’t go alone.

He thought about it for the rest of the day, going over and over it in his head, thinking about what it could be, what could happen, the dangers and the possible benefits. He eventually decided to sleep on it, and finally, exhausted, went to bed.

The next morning he called Aaron and Lena and invited them over. He wanted them to go with him, safety in numbers after all, and so he needed to explain the situation to them. They wouldn’t see the positives of the meeting, but he knew they would agree to go anyway, just to keep him out of trouble.

When they arrived, he ushered them in quickly and took them up to his bedroom where he shut the door so he could explain everything to them without being interrupted or anyone overhearing them. He offered them drinks and snacks which, as usual, they declined, before he got into it.

“So, something really weird happened yesterday,” he began. “This weird guy turned up at the door, and asked me to meet him tomorrow at the abandoned church. He knew my name and everything. It’s really confusing, but I really wanna know how he knew everything and why he wants me to meet him, but I don’t wanna go on my own, in case he’s a nutcase. Will you guys come with me?” he asked.

“Orion, you know that this isn’t gonna end well right? This guy is obviously a creep,” Lena told him.

“You don’t know that. It could be anything, and we’ll never know unless we meet him,” Orion protested. “If you don’t come with me, I’ll go on my own. You know how stubborn I am,” he told them.

“Fine,” Aaron sighed. “I’ll go with you, Lena?”

“Ugh. Fine. Someone has to keep you two out of trouble,” she grumbled. “You guys are always so reckless.”

“You love us really,” Aaron smirked, and then turned to Orion, “So, whatcha wanna do now?”

“Cinema?” Orion suggested.

“What will we watch though?” Lena asked, raising an eyebrow at the boys. Both of them just shrugged, and she muttered something about idiots. “There’s nothing really good showing. I vote we go bowling,” she said, smirking.

“Only if we can play pool after,” Orion replied, smiling. He knew that Lena was the best of them at bowling, but he was better at pool than her. She always wanted to go bowling because she knew she could win, but if they played pool as well it would even out. Meanwhile, Aaron just liked spending time with them both, he didn’t tend to get competitive like they did.

“Deal,” Lena agreed, standing up and walking toward the door. “Let’s go boys,” she said, opening the door and heading down the stairs. The two boys followed her, whispering between them.

“You can stop whispering boys, I know it’s about me and I know it’s not nice. That’s enough for me to get mad at you both!” Lena called behind her, laughing darkly when she heard the groans of the boys on the stairs.

They headed out of the door, with Orion grabbing his keys and a jacket before leaving, and headed down the street toward the town centre.

“So what’s new with you guys?” Orion asked, looking between them.

Lena just shrugged. “My parents just got a dog,” she told him. “Only problem is it’s a tiny little thing that yaps all the time. It’s so annoying. I’m glad I don’t live there anymore,” she sighed.

“Well, it could be worse. If they’d gotten it two years ago you’d have had to put up with it all the time,” Orion told her.

“True, true. Speaking of, why did you decide to stay local when going to university?” Lena asked.

“It worked out a lot cheaper, and stops me from getting into further debt with student loans,” he said, smiling. “I’m clever and resourceful.”

“I’ve known you for years. You’re also diabolical. Your mum is still doing everything for you, isn’t she?” Aaron asked.

“Not everything. I help out. She’s told me if I don’t help out she’s gonna kick me out and force me to get my own place,” he told them. “So I have to earn my keep.”

“So she should,” Lena nodded.

“I moved out first chance I got,” Aaron said, shrugging. “I couldn’t live at home any longer.”

“I’ve met your parents. You made the right choice,” Orion nodded. “To be honest, if I were you, I’d have moved as far away as possible for university.”

“I was tempted, but I figured there were some really cool people staying here, and I didn’t want to leave everyone behind,” Aaron admitted.

“You totally stayed for me,” Orion smirked.

“Partially,” Aaron agreed. “I couldn’t leave my best friend of five years behind. Especially considering how you’ve been so helpful with everything.” He shrugged.

“I couldn’t leave you to suffer, now could I?” Orion smiled.

“You two make such a cute couple,” Lena said, smirking as the boys both turned and glared at her. “What? You do. It’s like one of those boy-love novellas that my sister reads.” She chuckled darkly.

“We are not a couple, Lena,” Orion said, sharply. “Nor will we ever be.”

“Sounds like I touched a nerve,” Lena muttered.

“Just drop it,” Aaron suggested. “I’ll talk to you about it later,” he added in a whisper, out of the earshot of Orion.

They arrived at the bowling alley shortly after everything went quiet. Aaron was glad to get there. He knew that once they started everything up, Orion would relax a little, and leave the mood Lena had put him in behind.

They split the cost of playing three games of bowling together, so each one of them paid for a game. They were assigned an alley and headed over, after being told they were all wearing footwear that was fine for bowling, so they didn’t need to hire any shoes. The new rules said that you only needed to hire shoes if you were wearing high heels or boots.

They set it up so Lena went first, followed by Orion and Aaron. As each person took their shot, the other two would chat a little. It proved to be an efficient system. Of course, Lena won, leaving Orion in second place, and Aaron bringing up the rear. They had all relaxed a little though, and were chatting as usual. They moved over to the pool tables after they had finished bowling, and played a few games before getting something to eat. As the time ticked on, Aaron invited Orion to stay over in his flat.

Aaron, though not willing to admit it, hated being alone all the time, so at least once a week, he would invite Orion to stay over on the sofa bed, and they would watch a couple of movies, stuff their faces with snacks, and just hang out. Orion looked forward to these evenings, as they meant that Aaron was still completely comfortable with him, despite some elements of their history giving him reason not to be.

Aaron and Orion had been friends for roughly five years, since the middle of secondary school when Orion moved to Bristol from London. His dad had died and his mum had never had any other reason to stay in the bustling city. She wanted to move somewhere quieter and she had a sister who lived nearby. Orion was forced to change schools, and he wasn’t exactly popular as it was. Being the new kid meant making friends was difficult, but, one day, while Orion was eating lunch, Aaron walked straight up to him, introduced himself, and invited him to have lunch with a small group that Aaron would usually spend his time with. From that moment, Aaron and Orion got closer and closer, becoming virtually inseparable. They did everything together, and when Orion came out as bisexual, a lot of people instantly thought that he and Aaron were gonna get together. Orion later admitted that he would have been interested, had Aaron not been straight.

He didn’t tell anyone, other than Aaron, that he had spent six months trying not to think of Aaron as anything more than a friend, and only succeeded when Aaron admitted to having a crush on another girl from their group.

The girl now was away at university, her and Aaron had broken up when they went to different colleges. Aaron had been devastated, and Orion had been there to help him back on his feet. They were still very close, and Aaron often referred to Orion as his brother. Orion still had some residual feelings about Aaron, but it was becoming easier and easier to deal with for him.

Lena didn’t know that part of their history. She had only known them since she went to the university that both of the boys were going to. She was studying psychology and was in Orion’s class. She approached him one day, and later admitted it was only because of his name. She loved the night sky, and Orion was her favourite constellation, so when she heard his name, she was intrigued. It led to an interesting friendship, and she kept tagging along with him and Aaron until, eventually, she became a trusted and integral part of their group.

Aaron had only recently trusted Lena enough to tell him all about his family life, something that Orion had known about for most of their friendship. Aaron’s parents were alcoholics, and could be very volatile. He was never sure what he was coming home to. When things were particularly bad, he would go to Orion’s and stay there. Orion had an air bed in his room that went from being hardly used to being virtually permanently inflated, ready for a moment’s notice. Orion made sure that, when he went to bed, his phone was on a setting loud enough to wake him, in case of an emergency. He was always worried that one day, something terrible would happen, and he would be getting a call from a hospital.

It was only a week into their friendship when he noticed that Aaron had only eaten lunch for one of the five days they’d known each other. From that moment he began sharing his food with Aaron, offering him various things off his plate, and, eventually, buying things purely so he could give them to Aaron. He didn’t realise the extent of the problems, but that was how he became a pillar of strength for Aaron, and the starting point to Aaron admitting everything to him.

Orion, conversely, came from a fine family. His mother was loving and kind, and was always there for Aaron. She made sure that Orion took care of him, and often did laundry for Aaron. In the beginning she acted like she didn’t know anything, though she was finding that Orion was asking for more lunch money, and that Aaron was staying over quite a lot. She knew what was going on before she was told, but eventually Orion told her everything, and she told him to keep doing what he was doing. She knew Aaron felt safe in their home, and she wanted him to make sure he knew he had somewhere safe to go when things got bad.

Lena, conversely, had a very easy upbringing. She had spent her life as an only child being treated very well by her parents. She never had to share anything, and was regarded as a blessing by both of her parents. And she was her grandparents’ favourite as well. She was often given gifts, even when it wasn’t any sort of special occasion. She was also always given pocket money, by her parents, and both of her sets of grandparents. She ended up having more money than she knew how to spend, and that’s when she began saving. She now had a savings account with over £1,000 sitting there, waiting for when she wanted to make a large purchase, or do something fun. She had made sure that it stayed there, though, and kept adding to it whenever she could. It was a safety net, more than anything else. She wanted to make sure she had something to fall back on, should she need it. She definitely liked the fact that she had more money than she needed. Having extra money was a rarity in the current state of things, and she loved the idea of being able to save.

Luckily, even with her having been given everything she’d ever wanted, she had also learned the value of money, and, since starting university, had learned to be very thrifty. She had gained a roommate, who was absent a lot due to her boyfriend living close by as well, and they shared the rent, and she generally shopped in the cheaper supermarkets, paying for the cheapest possible food, and making sure to spot the best bargains and stock up on anything that was on sale. That had meant that she’d been able to live without getting into any extra debt. She never touched her overdraft with her bank. Her friends at uni were constantly asking her for tips on how to stay out of debt. She helped them quite often when she could, but some people were beyond help. She made it clear she didn’t have time for compulsive shoppers. She was only going to help the needy, not people who wanted to save money so they could buy more expensive clothes, or extra jewelery.

Of course, neither Aaron nor Orion had those problems. Orion, still living with his mother, made some contributions, but he got off lightly, and therefore had extra money to spend on social activities.

Aaron, living with alcoholics, had learned that money was a scarce resource, and was always very limited with what he spent and knew how to make sure he had enough money to live off, as well as some rainy day money in case anything broke or he needed to pay for something extra that he hadn’t been expecting.

Between the three of them, they always had enough money to have some fun, whether that was going to the cinema, or, like they had today, going bowling and enjoying the other activities.

They always had time for stuff like that. Unless they were busy studying. University studies tended to take up most of their time.

After they had eaten, the three of them left the building and headed for their homes. Aaron and Orion headed for Aaron’s small flat on the eastern side of town, whereas Lena lived a short while away, so after they had travelled for a little while together, they had to split up.

Lena hugged each of the two boys goodbye, and told them she would meet them at the same spot tomorrow for the meeting with the strange man. They agreed to meet at 2 PM, which gave them enough time to have a coffee together before they headed to the church. It made more sense to be able to talk about things, at least for a little while. They didn’t want to go without preparing a little.

Aaron and Orion walked to Aaron’s flat and, after unlocking the door, they headed inside.

“So... You and Lena huh?” Orion asked, smirking.

“What do you mean?” Aaron asked, forcing down the blush that was about to be very evident on his face.

“Oh come off it. I’ve seen the way you two act around each other. You’re made for each other, and you have the biggest crush on her. And you can’t deny it! I’ve known you for longer than anyone, and I know you better than you know yourself. Trust me when I tell you, you’ve got a serious crush on Lena.” Orion laughed, falling back onto the sofa and clapping his hands.

“Oh shush up. Do you want a drink?” Aaron asked.

“Yeah sure,” Orion said, grinning as Aaron handed him a can of coke.

“Stop it,” Aaron told him.

“I can’t help it!” he chuckled. “You guys would make a great couple,” he mused.

“If you keep going on about this, you’ll be wearing that drink before it goes anywhere near your mouth,” Aaron grumbled.

“Okay, okay.” Orion held his hands up in surrender. “I apologise. Now let’s have a nice night,” he smiled. “What’s on the agenda this time?”

“Well, I figured we could play some games for a bit, then move onto a movie or two, before we collapse from sleep exhaustion, then wake up early in the morning to meet your mystery man,” Aaron suggested.

“Sounds like a fun-packed evening, and a dreadful morning, but I can deal. Let’s get this show on the road!” Orion laughed as Aaron pulled a case of energy drinks from under his coffee table.

“And we have supplies for the treacherous areas of late night movies.” Aaron smiled.

“Ahh this brings back memories. Energy drinks, gaming, and movies. Except we used to do this at my place,” Orion said, smiling. “But hey, this is just as good!”

After setting up the console, they started playing. They generally played co-op games, finding it better to work as a team than against each other. They enjoyed the ability to work together, and found it became much less competitive, and solidified their friendship more than working against each other.

They worked on a game they had been playing together for some time, mainly to slowly work on completing the game, but they wanted to try and find everything along the way, and complete all the side quests as well, so they spent a few hours playing, before saving their game, turning the console off, drinking yet another energy drink, and switching to movies.

They started with a horror movie. Aaron had prepared a comedy to follow, in the hopes that it would stop them from thinking too much about the horror movie, and thereby prevent any sugar-induced nightmares about cannibals or serial killers.

After watching the horror movie, and Aaron hiding behind a pillow while Orion watched him more than the movie, finding him more entertaining, they switched to the comedy.

As it turned out, Aaron didn’t have much luck with picking out comedies, what seemed fun at the time of choosing, was generally not as funny as it promised to be, but that night he seemed to have picked the perfect one. He and Orion laughed for most of the rest of the evening, before finally turning off the TV and going to sleep.

Aaron had already prepared the camp bed on the floor of his bedroom for Orion to sleep on. They both got ready for bed, not really caring that the other was in the room, and climbed into bed.

Aaron lay awake for a while, wondering about various things, before finally settling down and trying to sleep. His mind seemed to have different ideas though, and he found it very difficult to get to sleep. He was thinking about everything, from his friendship with Orion, to his crush on Lena, to how the latter would affect the first, and then about the mystery man and what he could want, and whether or not Orion had met anyone interesting since starting university and so many other things.

“Hey Aaron.” Orion whispered. “You awake?”

“Yeah,” Aaron replied, sighing. “I can’t sleep.”

“Me neither,” Orion breathed.

“We should probably still try though,” Aaron sighed.

“Yeah, I guess. Early start tomorrow,” Orion agreed.

“Mhm,” Aaron mumbled, before turning to face the wall of his bedroom and closing his eyes, praying for Orion to stop talking and try and sleep. His prayers were answered though, when he heard the familiar slow, relaxed, even breaths of a sleeping Orion. The sound calmed him, and it wasn’t long before he found himself drifting into a deep slumber.

The next morning the two boys awoke to a loud beeping noise emanating from Aaron’s phone.

“Why’d you set an alarm?” came the croaky voice of a still-tired Orion.

“Because we have plans today and I knew we’d need to be up early to get ready,” Aaron responded, swinging his legs over the side of his bed and stretching before standing and walking toward the door. “I’m gonna have a quick shower. Feel free to do whatever you need to,” he told Orion. “And don’t go back to bed!” he called as Orion went to lie back down.

“How did he know?” Orion muttered to himself.

“Because it’s you,” Aaron called as he entered the bathroom.

Orion had a quick breakfast after raiding Aaron’s fridge, and when Aaron got out of the shower, Orion got in, determined to be quicker. It was 10 AM by the time Aaron got out of the shower, and Orion knew that they needed to leave around 1 PM. That left three hours to wake up properly and make sure they were prepared for whatever was going to happen later that day.

After leaving the shower and getting dressed, Orion headed back into the living room, where he found Aaron watching TV with a bowl of cereal. He smiled to himself as he remembered the familiar scene from so many nights in his early teens.

He had spent an eternity building his close friendship with Aaron, and even now he was struck by just how close they were. Orion no longer had romantic feelings for Aaron, but he looked at him as someone who was closer than family, who would never judge him, and who would always remain a loyal and trusted friend. They were friends for life, and it was an amazing thing.

Of course, they had disagreements in the past, they had argued, they had fought, but they had never fallen apart. Issues were always resolved, and their friendship became stronger for it. Orion would never leave Aaron’s side, because he knew how much Aaron had needed him, and wanted to make sure he was never without anything he needed ever again. Aaron would never leave Orion’s side because he felt he owed him a debt, one that he would never be able to repay, but he would always try to be there for him, the way Orion had been there in the most difficult time of his life.

Eventually, Orion sat next to Aaron and rested his head against the back of the sofa. “Whatcha watching?” he asked, glancing at the TV. He was wearing a plain black button down shirt and a pair of plain blue jeans, his feet were bare.

“Just some weird documentary about geese. There’s not much on,” Aaron shrugged, turning to face Orion. His blonde hair was in disarray and his blue eyes still had an echo of the sleep deprivation that plagued him. His white shirt was ruffled and the top two buttons were undone. His faded blue jeans had holes in the knees and he looked a little more than disheveled.

“Sounds like a bore fest,” Orion muttered. “Wanna play something?” he asked, gesturing at the array of consoles littered around the floor of the living room.

“Sure. What do you want to play?” Aaron asked.

“You choose,” Orion said, smiling. It was a phrase he rarely used, but he was beginning to notice how one-sided their friendship was. Since the issues with his parents, Aaron had never done anything even remotely selfish where Orion was concerned. He had always done whatever Orion wanted, always made him choose what they watched at the cinema, or what games they played.

“Why?” Aaron asked him, looking at the piles of games that were stacked in the corner.

“Because I always choose, and I want you to choose this time,” Orion told him.

“Okay…” Aaron looked at him like he was from another planet before flicking through the games and picking one out. Orion knew that Aaron had picked it out because it was Orion’s favourite game and shook his head.

“Pick something you want to play, not something you think I want to play,” he sighed.

“Can I want to play it because I know you’ll enjoy playing it?” Aaron asked.

“No,” Orion told him. “I want to do something that you’ll enjoy. You can’t just keep doing things because you want me to be happy. You need to do some things for yourself, too.”

Aaron smiled. Orion was thinking of him even now. He picked out a game he had always enjoyed playing with Orion and handed it to him to set up. Orion nodded and set it all up, handing Aaron one of the controllers.

They played for a couple of hours before they started getting ready to leave. Aaron fussed over how he looked, as he always did before they met up with Lena, not that he’d admit it to Orion. Of course, Orion saw through everything. It was impossible to hide something from someone you’d known for so many years. Especially considering they’d been virtually living together since they became friends.

Lena was waiting for them outside of the café on the corner they had separated on the previous evening. They headed inside to get a coffee and something quick to eat before they headed off. They claimed a table and ordered their food and drinks before they got to chatting.

Lena, being of the logical and paranoid mind, asked all the questions she could possible think of about the mystery man. His age, height, body shape, what he was wearing, how he looked, what colour his eyes were and so on and so on. It was like she was building up a profile to give to the police when they were finished. Orion had the worrying thought that maybe that was exactly what she was doing.

Within a matter of minutes their food and drinks arrived, and they got to eating and drinking. They continued talking, but it was less about the forthcoming meeting and more just idle chatter. They talked about university, about their friends, and any plans they had for the next week. Any upcoming lectures or exams, anything they thought was important, other than what they were about to do.

After around an hour of sitting in the cafe, which included another coffee for each of them, they left and began making their way into town. They still had a little while before they needed to head to the church, and it wasn’t too far away, so they could easily get there in time, even if they spent a good while in town. They decided to wander the shops and do some window shopping. None of them were careless enough with money to actually buy anything from the rows of merchandise bestowed upon them, but they liked looking at everything.

At one point, Lena went to look at clothes, at which point Aaron and Orion took their moment to disappear, feigning awkwardness. She found them 20 minutes later in the game shop trying out one of the newer games on the test console that had been laid out on the shop floor. She cleared her throat, and when they ignored her, she tapped both of their shoulders, causing both boys to jump slightly before turning around.

“What? We were bored of waiting for you,” Orion shrugged.

“Yeah well, don’t get too distracted, we have somewhere to be, remember?” Lena said, sounding somewhat exasperated.

“Oh relax. We’ve got plenty of—whoa, is that the time?” Aaron said, looking at his watch. “We’d better set off.”

They all headed out of the shopping centre and began making their way to the church. Orion began feeling nervous. He wasn’t sure why, but he had a weird feeling that this was gonna be somewhat different to a usual meeting. He had the sinking feeling that it was going to go badly, but at the same time had an immense elation, almost like a hysteria.

When they arrived at the church, it was deserted. There was no one around, and they were a few minutes late, so it already was not a good sign. They headed into the abandoned wreck of the building and, as they were stood in the centre of what used to be a place of worship, the echoing sound of footsteps filled the room.

Orion whirled around, and the other two followed his movement. Walking down the aisle was the mystery man Orion had seen earlier. Except he looked somehow fresher, well rested. Like he was ill when Orion first saw him and he had recently fully recovered.

“Mr. Hawthorne.” The man nodded at Orion, who returned the nod.

“And what, may I ask, should I call you?” Orion asked him.

“My name is not important.”

“I think it is, Mr,” Lena said, staring him down. “How are we supposed to trust someone if we don’t know their name?” she asked.

“Fine. Call me John Smith,” the man responded.

“That’s not your name though, is it?” Aaron asked.

“How very observant. You will prove a valuable asset.” John smiled at Aaron and inclined his head.

“Why am I here?” Orion asked.

“You are needed. All of you are,” John told him. “I have an associate who is in dire need of your skills. Or, more appropriately, the skills you will possess.”

“You’re not making sense,” Lena barked.

“I am making perfect sense. You are just not attuned to my way of thinking,” he responded. He moved his arm in a strange wave-like movement, and in the area where his arm had been, the air started to shimmer, and then it began changing colours. It went through all the colours Orion had ever seen, and a few he hadn’t. It was surreal, it was at this point he decided he must be dreaming.

“What?” Aaron breathed.

“This is a portal. It will carry the three of you far away, to an alternate place. A place where the laws of physics are slightly… skewed. You will learn things you would never have dreamed of in this reality, you will meet people who are not necessarily people, and you will change your way of thinking. While there, you will help my associate, and you will return triumphant, or you will not return at all,” John told them.

“And what makes you think we’ll go through that thing?” Lena asked.

“For that answer, I direct you to your friend,” John pointed at Orion. “Mr. Hawthorne?” he asked.

“This is an amazing opportunity,” Orion said, though he was torn. “It’s like one of my books,” he said, his eyes fixed on the portal, like a deer caught in headlights. He was transfixed.

“We don’t know where it leads. It could be anything. And that’s if it leads anywhere. For all we know it could rip us apart,” Lena growled.

“I’m with Orion,” Aaron said.

“Of course you are,” Lena sighed. “Look you two, this is insane.”

“I’m in,” Orion interrupted whatever argument Lena was going to make.

“Me too,” Aaron added.

“Ugh fine. I can’t let you two go alone. But if we die, I’m gonna make your afterlives hell,” she warned.

“Pretty sure mine will be anyway,” Orion laughed and walked toward the portal.

“It’s perfectly safe,” John told them. “You will come out of the other side a little disoriented, but my associate should be there to meet you. He will help you integrate into life in that reality. He will be your mentor and your guide in the other world. Please make sure you follow his teachings, for without them, you will struggle to reach your goal.”

Orion stepped toward the portal and reached a hand out, as he breached the surface, and his hand went into the colour-changing vortex, he was pulled forward by an intense force, and completely disappeared from view.

Aaron looked shocked, but he would follow Orion anywhere, and so, after a second of deliberation, he headed through as well.

Lena shook her head. She turned away briefly, not sure what to do, then turned back and ran at the portal. “I’m gonna kill those boys!” she yelled as she was pulled into the vortex after them.

“We love you, too,” Orion said, catching Lena as she arrived on the other side. They both stumbled, but neither fell. Aaron was still a little woozy. There was another man on the other side of the vortex. He seemed to have been waiting for them, but was still slightly taken aback by their entrance.

“Greetings,” he greeted them, and shook each of their hands. “My name is Rilan, and I’m here to help you to help us,” he said, beaming as he introduced himself. “What can I call you?” he asked.

“I’m Orion, this is Aaron and Lena,” Orion told him, gesturing to the other two in turn.

“Pleasure to meet you all. Please, follow me,” he told them, turning and gesturing for them to do as he said.