The following is a short excerpt from the beginning of Antiquity’s Gate: Three Days Till Dawn for your reading pleasure!
THE headlamp’s faint circle of light whispered back and forth across the steel panel as sparks flew like drunken fireflies from the tip of the welding torch. Tobias could no longer feel the biting pain as they lit upon his exposed skin. Droplets of sweat slipped along the creases of his furrowed brow to skid down his nose. His heart pounded like a warning bell in his ears as the hollow drone of a passing train rang against the metallic walls of the chamber.
It wouldn’t be long now, and he tried to console himself with the hope that this would be his final attempt. Tobias had already run out of fuel once, and there was no guarantee he would be lucky enough to steal a third torch without being caught. Stealth had never been one of his strong suits.
The torchlight shuddered and his breath hitched in his throat. No. No, not yet!
As if to defy his wordless plea, the flame weakened. It retreated, sputtering several times before vanishing altogether. The brightness of the beam remained, its afterimage seared into his vision.
His exclamation echoed back at him, ricocheting off the high ceiling of the chamber in callous mocking. The growing chill whispered over his face, intensified by the perspiration that had coated his skin as he fought to control each shivering breath. He licked his lips, tasting salt.
Giving the empty canister a defeated shake, Tobias reached down to rummage through his sack for matches, knowing it was no use. Coming up empty, he spun on the spot, the torch hanging limply in his hand as his eyes searched the blackness for answers. Deprived of the singular focus of his mission, his adrenaline waned.
He turned back. A faint red glow still outlined his nearly- completed square. Six inches. Six inches was all that separated him from whatever lay beyond.
Out of options, he slammed the torch against the wall. The blows were jarring, yet Tobias pounded over and over, sheer strength of will flowing into the void where all of his careful planning had failed him. There was no return from this. If the Elder Council became aware of his discovery, he knew where he’d end up. That stinking pit was the only way they could assure his silence.
Tobias did not wish to be silenced.
He railed against the wall, cursing it with uncharacteristic gusto. This was a mistake.
“No!” he protested into the emptiness. “I saw it!”
Go back, teased the insistent whisper. There’s still time.
“It’s too late!”
He knew he was only yelling at himself as he slammed the torch against the wall once more in hopeless frustration. The vibrant orange glow of molten steel had faded first to a dim red streak, and now to little more than a memory. It was as though it had never existed at all. As if it were all in his mind. As if—
Tobias struck again, and this time when the torch made contact the metal gave way. Not much, not nearly enough, but he’d felt a subtle, grudging shift.
With renewed vigor he resumed his pounding. The upper edge of the panel began to bend outward and cool air rushed through the small opening like water over a dam. Heaving with exertion Tobias stepped back, allowing the draft to wash over him as his breath came in gasps.
Gathering all the force he could muster he lifted his leg, kicking with his heel until at last the steel relented and he stumbled forward, his foot meeting no further resistance as it moved from the darkness of the chamber into the inky blackness of the unknown.
Torch clutched in white-knuckled fists like a lifeline, Tobias righted himself.
He stepped up to the hole and gazed through.