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Damon felt as if his heart were about to leap from his chest, and he brought his right hand up to still its throbbing. To his surprise, he found a normal heartbeat. He thought it must be Mark’s heartbeat he felt, and he glanced at his brother. The expression on Mark’s face confirmed what Damon had felt.
Mark’s scared. Funny, I don’t feel scared at all.
“I’m not at all surprised, Damon. You begin to learn your own capabilities.”
The voice resonated inside Damon’s head, and when he looked at Mark, his brother showed no sign of having heard it.
“That is correct. He can’t hear me, and you needn’t speak for me to understand you. Just think about what you wish to say to me.”
I want you to let us out of here. That’s what I want.
“Soon enough, Damon. Soon enough.”
Who are you?
“I believe you think of me as Death. That name serves as well as another. Follow me down these stairs.”
The mysterious figure led the way down a steep flight of stairs, which led into darkness.
He’s taking us to the torture chamber. I know it.
Damon caught this thought coming from Mark, but for some reason he didn’t believe it was true. He turned and tried to encourage Mark with a smile, but Mark shook his head.

Damon noticed the complete darkness behind them, just as it was in front. He looked around but could not discover the source of the illumination surrounding their three figures. He had no opportunity to investigate, however, as the darkness ended when they stepped into a huge, well-lighted room as big as the sports arena in Kansas City. A wide concrete walkway encircled the floor, which lay about twenty feet below the walkway.
Damon looked around the underground chamber, which better than a hundred yards long and fifty wide, the size of the high school football field. High above, he could see the windows where he and Mark had done their spying earlier. The windows were black. Opaque. No one would see what happened in this room.
Damon felt strong impressions of inimical thoughts, oppressing his mind and threatening to engulf him. He felt other thoughts that drove the oppressors from him and held them at bay. Damon discovered himself standing at rigid attention, jaws clenched, exerting his own will against the sinister thoughts.
Death stood silent.
Damon glanced at Mark behind him, apparently unable to see or hear and outside of everything.
“I can send Mark away if you wish. His presence is not required here.”
Well, I require it.
“Very well. Behold the armies!”
Damon saw Death point at the broad expanse, and on the glassy surface appeared hundreds of the grim warriors who guarded the castle walls, each warrior accompanied by one of the hideous winged monsters. The dark forces occupied only half of the arena, separated from the other half by a wide black stripe at the center. Death lifted his hand, and the warriors clambered onto the backs of their leathery mounts. At another signal, the beasts set up a horrendous screaming and roaring.
As if the din itself were a signal, the opposing forces appeared, an equal number of warriors and mounts as different from the first as possible. Fair-skinned and blonde warriors wore flowing white robes and held glittering silver lances, their steeds white unicorns, as beautiful as the other beasts were grotesque.
Death raised both arms over his head, and silence descended on the arena. He turned to face Damon, his face shrouded, the calm voice ringing within the boy’s mind.
“Do you begin to understand now? Much is at stake here. This battle has been foretold in sacred texts for thousands of years. The balance between the two forces is beginning to swing in a direction never intended.”
Who are they?
“Labels aren’t necessary. The warriors have been chosen from amongst their brethren and represent but a small part of the actual forces that will do battle here tonight.”
But whose side are you on?
No answer.
Then why am I . . . why are we here?
“Ah, that is most important. Though these two forces have always influenced human lives, so the converse is true. Humans have affected the balance between the two. Tonight you are that human influence. You may tip the balance one way or the other.”
Why me? I’m just a kid. You guys are ghosts or demons or spirits or something.
“And that word is important. Spirits. Spirits are here in abundance, and your openness to the spirits is the crux of this conflict. Yes, you are ‘just a kid,’ but a sensitive and powerful one, just beginning to learn the breadth and depth of that power when you are en rapport with the spirit world. Your brother is not the sensitive you are. Oh, he sometimes feels what you feel, but that isn’t unusual for twins. Don’t you often feel what others—strangers—are feeling and thinking?”
That was true. When Damon first became aware of his sensitivity, he would receive thoughts from anyone nearby, and if there happened to be more than two or three, the confused jumble became incomprehensible. With practice he learned to block out the thoughts he had no interest in and attune himself to selected ones. He hadn’t been able to stop this dark man’s thoughts, though. They’d pierced through his block with ease.
“I trust you are aware that neither of these two forces before you have been designated ‘good’ or ‘evil.’ That you must decide for yourself. Put yourself in touch with each force and lend your strength to the one you choose. The battle will be physical for those down on the arena floor, but your battle will be in your mind, which may be cajoled, persuaded, deceived, oppressed, and even attacked. But your body will be protected. The oppression you already experienced emanated from the force that considers itself your enemy, trying to gain an advantage by destroying your mind before the battle began. The fact that you are still functioning attests to the strength of your mind.”
What if I refuse to help anybody?
“You may do so if you wish; however, I don’t believe you will. I selected you for this task because I felt your own conscience and will would make you wish to lend your capabilities.”
Turning once more to the battlefield, Death said, “Let it begin!”