Bound by his dark destiny, Joshua must become the master of Nadia’s sworn enemy to save her life.
After discovering he’s destined to annihilate nearly all life on the planet, Joshua must take charge of a cannibalistic army of mutants with hopes of starting a civil war that will end the reign of evil—or bear the responsibility for destroying the few good people who remain on the planet.
Captured by the leader of the sweepers, Josh learns he will grow up to be a genetic engineer responsible for creating the flesh-eating monsters. The Father recruits him to lead an army of sweepers against the evil generals who resist the termination of the sweeper experiment originally designed to bring an end to a global war that threatened to render the planet uninhabitable. At first repulsed by his telepathic ability to control the sweepers, Josh becomes addicted to the power to control thousands of the creatures at once. Believing him dead, Nadia rejoins her people, where she struggles to gain respect while leading them to safety. Inadvertently pursuing her across the land, Josh may not be able to stop his sweepers from destroying Nadia and her dwindling tribe when they collide in battle.
The dark library shook, and the boom of a distant explosion echoed through the walls. Sparks erupted from logs burning in the hearth, and bits of dust and gravel rained down from the ceiling onto Josh and the Father.
“I apologize for cutting our conversation short,” the Father said, glancing up, “but I fear if we don’t leave now, we shall perish in this cavern.” He looked at Josh as if giving him one last chance for questions.
The thought of being crushed by tons of rock did nothing to break Josh from his catatonic state. His mind seized. He was to become the Father—the madman responsible for creating the sweepers—the knowledge left him crippled as completely as a broken neck. He couldn’t breathe, much less get up and move out of the room.
The Father stood and looked beyond his red velvet upholstered chair. “Take him to the Arctic tunnel. I want him transported to my place in the northern territory.”
“Yes, Master,” a deep guttural voice responded.
Josh knew the beastly way of speech all too well. It was similar to the struggling voice of the super sweeper in the mountain pass—the one who asked Nadia to trade Josh for her life. The voice should have inspired enough fear in Josh to make him leap to his feet and try to defend himself, but the Father’s paralytic words still banged around inside his skull. He sat frozen in shock, and two of the eight-foot-tall super sweepers appeared, one on either side of his chair. They grabbed his arms and jerked him to his feet.
“Be careful with him, you brutes,” the Father scolded. “If he is injured, I’ll feed you to the pawns.”
Seeming to make great efforts to be gentler with Josh—though he still expected to have bruises where the clumsy creatures touched him—the super sweepers guided him around the high backed chair. They led him to the darker end of the room, stopping at an arched wooden door rising twelve feet at its peak and wide enough for three of the big sweepers to walk through side-by-side. Two iron bands ran horizontally across its vertical planks and ended in large rusty hinges. It looked straight out of a medieval castle.
The Father stepped between the super sweepers, stuck a key into the lock and turned it. He opened the door, revealing a shadowy tunnel carved out of wet black granite leading away from the massive Victorian-style library where Josh learned his horrible destiny. The tunnel and library shook and trembled. A loud boom echoed through the mountain, causing more dust and bits of gravel to fall from the ceiling.
“I know this is a lot for your young mind to digest, and soon a multitude of questions will surely blossom from your confusion.” The Father raised his gray eyebrows and gave Josh a sincere look before stepping to the side so the sweepers could lead him out of the room. “I have to take care of a few issues your amphibious friends have created for me here, and then I will join you in my Arctic Retreat, where I promise to provide you with all the answers you desire. I’m certain then you will understand the motives that will lead you to become me.”
Vomit rose in the back of Josh’s throat. The Father’s expression seemed genuine, though Josh couldn’t imagine how such a horrible man could harbor an ounce of compassion in his entire body.
“Please, try not to let all this overwhelm you. Soon everything will be made clear.”
The Father nodded at the sweepers, and they led Josh into the tunnel. The iron hinges creaked, the heavy door closed, metal scraped on metal, and then a clank as the door locked. Being in the presence of the Father was an unpleasant experience, but being alone in the humid tunnel with two super sweepers was even worse.
A bioluminescent root bent and branched overhead, twisting along the peak of the ten-foot-high ceiling. It cast just enough greenish light to reveal the area around Josh and the two sweepers, leaving everything ahead and behind pitch black. The sweepers ushered Josh along for a hundred yards, the light following them. They turned him into a branch off to the left, and the numbness caused by the Father’s words faded, pushed aside by a growing desire to get away from his monstrous escorts. The narrow confines of the tunnel concentrated their foul smell, a noxious mix of wet dog and rotten flesh.
He glanced up at their big ugly heads. Their metal-spike-tipped dreadlocks swayed back and forth with each of their ungraceful strides. Strings of drool hung from their wolfish jaws, which protruded awkwardly off their gorilla faces beneath their beady red eyes.
If he did break free, he didn’t have a clue where he’d run to. These two sweepers were given orders not to harm him. If he got away from them and encountered other sweepers, he’d be eaten alive before these beasts could catch up and protect him. All the same, the urge to make an escape swelled, to the point where he could no longer resist trying.
The boom of an explosion somewhere on the other side of the wet rock walls shook the tunnel. The sweepers lifted their free arms to protect their heads from the gravel pelting them and loosened their grip on Josh. There wouldn’t be a better opportunity. He jerked both of his hands down and toward the beasts, his wrists pushing on the weakest part of their grip, between their thick gorilla thumbs and index fingers. Their grimy claws left painful scratches on his forearms, likely inoculated with enough germs to start them festering, but his strategy worked. Josh broke free of the super sweepers’ iron grasp.
Knowing he couldn’t go back the way they’d come, which would lead him to the Father’s library, Josh sprinted into the dark and humid tunnel ahead. The angry sweepers bellowed, the bearish claws on their massive feet scraping the wet granite floor as they chased after him.
The liberating sound of the explosion came from Josh’s left. When he saw a tunnel branching off in that direction, he made a sharp turn into it, hoping to find Nadia and the Atlantians. Overhead, the bioluminescent root kept pace, casting a green sphere of light to guide him around jagged protrusions of rock sticking out of the walls. The super sweepers were twenty feet behind him, seeming to have trouble running at full speed in the narrow tunnel. They growled, sounding so upset Josh feared they’d forget the Father’s order to deliver him unharmed and kill and eat him if they caught up.
Daring another glance over his shoulder, the super sweepers were just three strides behind. If he wore his muscle enhancing armor, he’d get away from them with ease, or even better, he’d turn around and kill them. Unassisted, he was weak as a mouse compared to the gorilla-strength of the super sweepers.
A claw scraped Josh’s right shoulder, tearing through the white pajama-style clothing he wore. He screamed; both from pain and from frustration at how slow and feeble he was. Adrenaline giving him a burst of speed, he leaped out ahead of them. The sphere of green light grew brighter, the light above the super sweepers combining with the bioluminescent glow above Josh. Not slowing his pace, Josh cringed, expecting the monsters to jump on him at any moment and sink their long canine teeth into his neck—lions killing an injured gazelle.
The paw of one of the sweepers latched onto Josh’s injured shoulder. He pivoted to the right, trying to break free, and a loud whine pierced through the tunnel, followed by a bright flash. Josh heard the boom of another explosion, and the blast lifted his body into the air. Spun one hundred and eighty degrees, he was slung into the rocky wall, the impact forcing the breath out of his lungs.
Gasping, Josh sat on the damp tunnel floor, his back against the wall. One of his pursuers fell across his legs, its black blood splattering his chest. Light flashed from the Atlantians’ flares, blinding him for an instant. He blinked to try and clear his vision, his ears ringing. Nadia stood fifty feet away, barely visible through the brilliant light. Her sword was raised, and Hydromidus and an army of Atlantians pressed in behind her. Nadia’s big green eyes locked onto Josh before sweepers spilled between them. The light glinted off her blade as it came down, and she hacked her way toward Josh. He tried to slip out from under the dead super sweeper and rush to safety, but his muscles wouldn’t obey. Out of breath, he couldn’t move from the cold wet wall.
The other super sweeper jumped to its feet and grabbed Josh’s arm. It dragged him out from under its dead companion and lifted him, throwing his unresponsive body over its shoulder. The monster took off down the tunnel. Nadia broke through the horde and gave pursuit. Relief surged through Josh—he was certain she’d be on his captor in a few strides. The tunnel shook and the ceiling came down, crushing Nadia to the ground. Throwing off the dirt and rubble, she bounced onto her feet and continued running.
Terrified for her life, Josh reached out, trying to scream for her to turn back. Tons of rock and dirt fell from the ceiling onto Nadia, smashing her to the wet floor and burying her. Josh’s chest ached like his heart was ripped out and tossed into a vat of battery acid while it still beat. The sweeper bounced him on its shoulder, smashing the breath out of Josh. His field of vision narrowed, growing fuzzy on the sides as he tried to find Nadia through the cloud of dust billowing down the tunnel.
Hundreds of sweepers spilled in between him and his would-be rescuers. Josh struggled to maintain consciousness. Darkness closed in on him, hindering his desperate search for Nadia. With the ounce of air remaining in his lungs, Josh yelled her name. She couldn’t survive under all that rock. Agonizing sadness tore through him when he realized she must be dead. After she finally admitted her love for him, he’d never be able to see her again. Nadia was the only thing keeping him going, and now his will to live slipped away.
His head throbbed and his ribs felt broken from where he slammed into the wall. Josh bounced on the monster’s shoulder, its metal armor jabbing into his stomach. Each step the super sweeper took sent shock waves of pain through him. The tunnel behind the super sweeper collapsed in its wake, ensuring the Atlantians would never be able to rescue Josh. Hope drained from him, and he quit fighting. His body went limp, his oxygen-deprived muscles unable to respond. Heartache was the only thing his fading mind could perceive. The memory of Nadia’s face close to his, her lips pressed against his, filled his mind, and then was replaced by thick inky darkness.