{TDA} First Steps: Chapter 2

Chapter 2


1st Private Jenzen Varsios was not happy.

His hand wavered over the control panel, his eyes glued to the array before him. If he was tracking this right, and he was fairly certain in his skills to do just that, he had just found yet another complication in the 98th Fleet’s ongoing objective. Finally, with a sigh of exasperation, he lifted his finger and notified his superior.

“Excuse me, sir, I think we might have an issue.”

The response came back instantly, and not a little perturbed.

“What is it now? You know we’re busy in Sector O8, so whatever you’re bothering me with better be at least a Priority V.”

“I know that sir. That’s why I contacted you.”

The voice was silent for a moment, and when the response did return the difference was marked.

“What is the issue?”

“I caught a primary source entering voidspace from String O3. Identity confirmed to be a non-issue, but somehow they got caught up in the tail of a voidstorm, and bypassed restrictive zone Alpha.”

“Where are they now?”

“They just breached String O1-C and sir… they retained equipment.”

“That sounds impossible.”

“Improbable sir, but not impossible. I have a theory, but you’re not going to like what means sir.”

“No need, I can hazard a guess. Somehow Prisoner K got a message out, and they naturally figured out a loophole.”

“It is the most likely probability, sir.”

“What’s the sources’ name?”

“Jacob Taferin. Below two decades String O3 time. No prior history of Traveling or inclination via family influence. Complete non-entity sir.”

“Likely not for long if they already reached him. Still, this isn’t as bad as it seems.”

“How so sir?”

“The whole purpose of O1-C is reintegration. If he is starting with a clean slate, he might be the perfect control group to observe.”

“But Prisoner K sir…”

“Is already interred. If this is a rescue attempt, it’s virtually pointless. Which means it’s not. More likely, this is a means of contact, or simply a message to us.”

“A message sir? Saying what?”

“That “They” could retrieve Prisoner K at any time desired. Since they haven’t, it means he was serious about his claim. I’ll send this up the chain, but in all likelihood, the order will be to observe and not interfere. Actually, belay that. Send in a care package, something he could attune to. And set up a basic translation protocol for a level H class. That should keep him alive for now. We’ll wait for further instructions beyond that.”

“Yes, sir. It will take a few minutes O1-C Time to engage.”

“That’s fine. Keep an eye on both him and Prisoner K for now. Contact me again if something develops.”

“Understood sir.”

The holo fell silent, and Jenzen looked ruthfully at his screen. “Well, my young friend, let’s see just how well you can climb.”



{TDA} First Steps: Chapter 1

Chapter 1


On July 9th, 2016, at exactly 1:45 pm, a hole in the sky opened up over midwest America.

It happened fast. Just a few milliseconds, then back to normal.

Various governments would probably notice later, if they had the equipment to even register the event in the first place. A number of individuals would speculate if what they saw was just a glitch in the machine. A possibility so strange the only reasonable reaction was to laugh it off.

A day later, a missing person case would be submitted concerning the disappearance of 172 Cessna, and the teenage boy flying it. The family were undoubtedly confused, for this young man was responsible and not prone to running off without warning.

The fact that these events correspond at exactly the same moment is not a coincidence.

Let me back up a bit.

Hi. My name is Jacob Taferin. I’m a rather average 17-year-old kid. I attend high school in the small town of Pleasant Hill, Missouri. I play the occasional sport, make decent enough grades to make my parents happy, and try my best to get along with two older and two younger siblings.

I have a few hobbies. Carpentry (by which I made side money during the summer), dirt biking with a few of the other guys in school, and hitching rides in my uncle’s crop-dusting business. That last one is the most important. Why? Because that’s what got me into this mess.

On Saturday, the day of the event, I had managed to convince my oldest brother Brandon to let me borrow his truck for the summer. It took a bit of bargaining, but eventually, he agreed that I could use the vehicle whenever needed, on the condition that I paid off his last parking ticket.

Meh. I couldn’t really figure out how the heck he got a parking ticket in a town like ours (I mean, there weren’t exactly full parking lots anywhere), but he managed somehow.

Regardless, I figured it was worth the price. Cause it meant I now had transportation out to the airfield where my uncle Tib had his hanger.

Giving an air pump of excitement, I threw together some lunch to go, kissed my mom’s forehead, tickled my little sister Beth till she couldn’t stop laughing, fist-pumped my little brother Simon on the way out, and gave a “Yeehaa!” to some very surprised cows in the home pasture.

I love flying. Always have. Likely always will.

There’s a feeling of freedom that can only be obtained when you’re in the air, when you have the feeling of sky beneath you and above you, when the birds become your only company in a vast wilderness of wind.

It’s how I would describe true freedom, and the closest I can achieve it is by flying in a single-engine prop plane. A hunk of metal that by all reasonable rights shouldn’t leave the ground, propelled by power and physics, beating the air into horizontal submission, and slipping through the streams of gravity.

I fell in love the first time my uncle ever took me up as a kid, and have been begging him ever since to teach me all he knows. He grinned so wide when I first asked that his smoky laugh came out all in a bellow. When he finally caught his breath, he promised to take me up again “Sure as shootin!”

That was eleven years ago, and it probably isn’t much of a surprise that I ended up getting my pilot’s license two years before my drivers’ license. Now, I fly sorties for Uncle Tib, scouting out fields that potential customers need dusted; sometimes even pouring a load of the stuff myself. Tib covers the gas needed and pays me under the table, so I don’t make as much as most of his licensed pilots, but then again, I don’t really do it for the money.

It was a beautiful afternoon. The skies were clear with a slight wind out of the west. No exams to worry about, no chores required to block my concentration. Today’s flight was purely for pleasure.

I drove up to the small airfield, taking the back gate that completely surrounded the field, and punched in the same numbers used for as long as I’ve been alive. Five, four, three, three. The fence was mainly just to keep out stray livestock anyways. As I pulled up to the back hanger, one of the mechanics currently working stepped out from under the engine block of the latest downed aircraft, and nodded in my direction.

“Hey there Jacob! Looking for Tib?”

This was asked by what can only be described as a bush of a man. Five-foot six, tan skin and a grizzled brown beard that stretched to his gut, Glenn’s defining feature was his hairy limbs that would have put any local Bigfoot to shame. Scratching his cheek with oil slick fingers, he seemed more than happy to take a break from his current occupation.

“Heya Glenn. Nah, I don’t need to talk him if’n he’s busy.” I nodded to the coverless plane that sat naked between multiple tool chests. “Working on the 182? Hundred Hour?”

“Ya, your uncle wants this one back out by Tuesday at the latest, but there’s some issues with the mags, so it’s a toss-up till the parts come in. If you want to take something out for a spin, you pretty much got the 172 or the Piper. Everything else is on a job or scheduled for one right now.”

“That’s fine, I like Papa Ten.” I nodded towards the small above wing Cessna sitting near the taxi line. “Mind if I?”

“Nah, go ahead. I filled her up this morning, so you should be good for a few hours.”

“Thanks man.” I gave Glen a last nod, before parking the truck off to the side of the hanger and walking over to what was probably my favorite plane on the field.

With its weathered paint job and slightly warped panels, the old Cessna 172 had endured many a year, and with Uncle Tib in charge, would likely endure many more. I began the rundown and pre-flight checklist, enjoying the combination of cool breeze and golden sun rays as they warmed my back. Finishing up quickly, I glanced in the cargo space to confirm the Go Bag (a small compact tool and emergency kit) was onboard.

Finally, I settled in the Pilot’s seat and began warming up the engines. It was flying time!

There was a little sputtering as the engine turned over, but a few turns and pulls on the gas knob caused it to flatten out. After carefully winding my way over the taxiway and onto the runway proper, I radioed in with the nearest local tower. Receiving the all clear, I finished my check. Less than two minutes later and I was taking off, enjoying that sudden feeling of weightlessness that falls in your gut when you leave the planet’s surface.

The sky was beautiful this time of day, a grand mist hung over the world, and the Midwest of America seemed to exult in it. Small puffy clouds dotted the deep blue surrounding me, and I breathed in the quiet and serene landscape.

Time passes quickly when you’re in the air, and that day was no exception. As I settled into the familiar routine of a standard sortie, the minutes just flew by. Pun intended.

Looking back on that flight, I don’t really know of any way I could have prevented what happened next. It was something quite literally out of my control, almost even out of my understanding.

The sky opened up and time froze. I was aware of the plane no longer moving forward, the propeller no longer spinning. I could feel a heaviness around me, as if gravity had increased. The sharp smell of ozone filled the air.

And there in front, a yawning portal begin to stretch into existence. A surge of power washed over me, through me. I could not resist, though I tried. I could not move, though I desperately wished to. I couldn’t even draw breath, and my chest hurt for lack of oxygen. I knew my death had come, and I had no frame of reference to even understand it.

The portal… no… the void of space began to fill everything in my vision. I could see into infinity… a kaleidoscope of existences stretched from an origin into the beyond. All connected by branches of lightning so vast, they challenged the scope a mind could handle. A light made of colors I could not recognize, and energy formed of power I could not fathom.

It would not stop, but instead grew worse.

My body felt stretched and my mind began to close down. Yet, before my vision faded completely I reached forward across space and pushed the throttle for all it was worth, then threw the landing gear down. If I made it through, I would be crashing. I didn’t think in this moment, I simply reacted.

I felt Death’s teeth on my soul, and it tore and burned. Darkness filled my vision, creeping up the corners of my peripheral then shattered by the brightness of space.

I died. And death was pain. I was ripped apart and then stitched together, again and again. I could feel movement, but I was not the cause. I could think, but my mind was too overwhelmed to comprehend.

I survived. And life was glorious.



{TDA} First Steps: Prologue



Sand shifted as a hot wind blew.

Rusted weapons stood forlorn and forgotten, dully reflecting twin suns above. A tattered cloth caught the edge of a breeze and began to slowly beat a quiet rhythm.

In the midst of these relics of war from a bygone age, a figure abruptly appeared. Body trembling, knees in the sand, the man took his first wretched gasp of air. Ragged clothes and a tattered cloak covered him from the beating heat, and bronze-tinted glasses gave his eyes some relief from the surrounding glare.

Catching his breath, his head gradually raised.


The word dropped from his lips surprised him, for he did not recognize the voice. But should he? Stumbling to his feet, the man began to turn swiftly, taking in the endless hills of sand and the ancient weapons strewn beyond the horizon.

“Where am I?”

Again he noticed the odd cast to his words, the taste of them unusual against his tongue.

“Who am I?”

As if in response, a dull thrum filled his head, the beat heavy and alien. Crying out in pain, he grasped his head in both hands and shook it viciously. Several minutes passed, the booming echo within his skull eventually fading to a quiet throb. At that moment, a feminine voice began to speak.

“Greetings Traveler. You have arrived safely and thus your trial will soon begin. Before you may enter The Climb, please state your name. Keep in mind, whatever name you choose will be how you are universally known, and will directly affect your Legend. As always, the larger your Legend spreads, the greater you affect those around you. Choose wisely.”

The man waited a moment, but no further words were spoken and nothing was repeated. Sighing, he turned to the task at hand. After a quick reflection, he realized he could still remember nothing beyond the past few minutes. Whoever he might have been apparently no longer mattered in this barren world.

“So be it,” he spoke into the open air; “Ego sum tabula rasa… and so I shall be called Rasa, for I have no past to speak of and an unknown future to find.”

The world was still for a few seconds after his decision, and he began to worry that he had made a mistake. Then, the female voice returned.

“Name accepted. Welcome, Rasa! Your Legend has begun! To enter The Climb, please choose a weapon. You have no restrictions currently in place, so all weapons are available. Remember, your weapon is a part of your Journey and will directly affect what skills and talents are available to you. Choose wisely!”

“Hmm. Ever deeper do the questions turn.” Rasa’s gaze moved to the land around him.

His choices certainly weren’t limited. Taking his time, he began to walk stiffly across the dune, occasionally drawing an object from the sand and pausing to inspect it. Swords of steel and iron, bows of bone and birch, halberds, axes, daggers, and staves. There were shields of every size and make; and numerous boxes and books that seemed to emanate with an unusual glow.

Continuing to stumble upwards through the deep sand, Rasa cursed his seeming weakness. His entire body felt as if he had been beaten without pause, and his muscles trembled with even this small amount of exertion. Cresting the dune his feet finally gave out, and he fell to his hands and knees gasping for breath. Rolling over, he lay still for a minute; his gaze tracing the slow-moving clouds above.

His eyes noticed the flight of a lone hawk, the slow glide memorizing as the bird fought against the wind.

“This shouldn’t be. I have no memories, but… I know somehow, I should not be this weak.” His voice barely a murmur, he continued to track the path the hawk flew as it finally caught a draft and rose to face the distant mountains. Mountains?

Sitting up, Rasa stared in awe as he realized the clouds had been cleverly obscuring the horizon. Before him, towering into the atmosphere of the very world itself, stretched an inescapable leviathan of rock and earth. Its valleys and crags became vast sierras unto themselves, its mass reaching across the world and filling his vision even as its peaks disappeared into the distant sky.

“Ah. At least “The Climb” makes slightly more sense now.” The scope of his journey for a moment sought to overwhelm him, the sheer power of the land itself dragging him down. Then gritting his teeth, he ruthlessly shoved the feeling away.

“Every journey must start somewhere. Very well, to the task at hand then.”

Reaching out to the nearest pole, he leveraged it to pull himself fully upright. Standing tall, regardless of his weary body, he faced the towering mountain. As he began to step forward, he stopped, staring now at the staff in his hand. Or at least what he had assumed was a staff. He continued to pull it free, releasing the bladed end of a now recognizable spear. Turning it, he could see that the metal of the double-edged spearhead was a glistening violet hue, catching and reflecting the sun’s golden rays. The pommel was made of the same metal, fashioned into a short point. Examining further, Rasa was startled to realize that the wood of the stave appeared to be flowing gently under his hand. The entire spear, from tip to pommel, measured almost eight feet in length.

For a still moment, as he contemplated the weapon in his hand, he could hear the softest hum… as if the spear was whispering a tune only he could hear.

“This one. This is my weapon.”

Quiet once again reigned, broken only by the now familiar voice.

“Weapon accepted. Weapon name is unknown. Weapon origin is unknown. Weapon potential is unknown. The Weapon has no prior history in The Climb and therefore will have no starting bonuses. Due to current wielder having no weapon restrictions, the Bond will begin immediately. Please choose a Name to initiate the Bond.”

Rasa chuckled. “No name? We can’t have that. Let us see, what feels right for such a beautiful work of art?” Again he felt that comforting hum, only this time it seemed to be in appreciation of his words. “Ah. Not impartial to a bit of flattery are we? No matter, it seems you’ve already chosen for me. I do believe you are… Whisper?”

The hum increased to a high rumble, the wood spiraling in odd formations and spinning in rapid circles. “Whisper it is then!”

“Weapon Name accepted. Bond commencing.”

A flood of strength poured into Rasa’s aching muscles, every part of him feeling instantly rejuvenated. Stretching in the sudden joy of health, he laughed in astonishment.

“Yes! YES! That is more like I remember!”

He gave Whisper a twirl, smiling as it seemed to sing in the air around him. Slowly he started to spin, the tattered rags of his cloak picking up the breeze as he moved faster and faster. A spin turned into a lunge, then a riposte, back into a crouch, and forward into a flip that landed with Whisper snapped back into the ready position.

A sly grin spread across Rasa’s face. Here was at least one answer to his questions. Once more, the female voice rang out around him.

“Bond complete. Congratulations Rasa! You are now ready to begin The Climb. Attributes unlocked. Skills unlocked. Your Journey awaits! Good luck!”