READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Order of Dust by Nicholas J. Evans
We’re all a little broken, aren’t we?
Jackson Crowe is dead.
Or, at least he was. After his death, he awoke in the North-Lane and found himself at the crossroads of life and the beyond. The higher beings gave him a choice: move on, through the North-Lane and into the universe for your next chapter. Or, return to earth and claim revenge. Now, Jackson is known as the Order of Dust, with the task of hunting the ones who take possession over human bodies and return them to the higher beings. Jackson, both grizzled and pained, looks to find who took his life, and the life of his love. To do this he will need his two pistols; one for humans, and one for demons.
On September 22nd, Nicholas J. Evans’ ORDER OF DUST will debut with The Parliament Press!
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Parliament House Press
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THERE WAS NO SOUND, as if the world had lost noise in its entirety. As if nothing but silence had ever existed, and the world was just starting anew. A bird, newly hatched, that hadn’t yet flapped its small, weak wings. A heartbeat would be as thunderous as an explosion here, if there were a heartbeat to be found.
Jackson Crowe opened his eyes and found himself in a vastness of bright white. He felt weightless as he kicked his arms and legs around him like swimming in the deep end of a pool. Every direction he looked there was nothing but the white. It was blinding. He touched a hand to his temple and felt the warm liquid that painted his face. The tacky, crimson leaked from his wound, streaming down his neck. The wound was still fresh and stung as his calloused fingertips gently slid over the open hole. He could feel the knotted, melted flesh burned in a hollow circle.
“Hello... Jackson...” a feminine voice called out from the light.
His eyes scurried around the emptiness to find the source of this disembodied call. That was when a dark silhouette appeared from the nothingness. It was the form of a beautiful woman graced with pale skin and flowing blonde hair. She moved slowly towards Jackson, and hovered. A translucent cloth wrapped her body, streamed over her narrow shoulders and fell over her breasts. There was a shine under the cloth, it came in brief flashes as she approached, shifting from her nude, porcelain skin to something else entirely. A warrior with flowing hair that brushed over golden shoulder pauldrons, and down a gleaming breastplate. The armor came and vanished in uneven intervals like the blinking static of an old screen, and at her hip hung an oddly large blade that vanished again before Jackson could see it clearly. Her wide, soft eyes offered a brief reprieve as her hand extended towards him. Fingers caressed him, ever so lightly rubbing over his wounded temple and down his face. When she pulled her hand back the glossy red liquid coated her colorless fingertips and dripped down her palm.
“Welcome... to the Paragon...” her sultry voice whis‐ pered once more. “It is...a resting place... For those who have started their ascendance through the North-Lane..”
“So... I am dead then? And I guess I am about to enter the universe for my next chapter or something?” Jackson urged confusingly. “Like what Fortega said?”
Jackson, or what was left of him, recalled an odd man in a suit with a large grin and shaved head standing on a stage before a sea of people waiting on his words. His name was Jonathan Fortega, or that was the body’s name at least, and his words would soon drop on the world like a bombshell. On that stage, to the entire planet, he announced that he was in fact not Mr. Fortega, and was instead Terrance Greene, a young man from Queens who was caught in the crossfire of a shooting. He explained that when he died he met two beings, and refused to say their names. Terrance/Jonathan announced the Dusts, the possession of this body, and of the white space he found himself in where he learned of the North-Lane. Now, according to Jackson's parents, this was nothing but a crazy man’s ramblings for years before others came forward, and then powerful officials backed it, then even‐ tually the scientific community as a whole. With it being nearly proven, the world adapted as best as it could.
He was young back then, and took this information as well as any one of that age could. He did not question it, he took it like a large pill and swallowed it just as others from his generation had. If there were any truth to what his assassin said, then Fortega, or Greene, did have that ‘purpose’ he spoke of. He would go on to lead the revolu‐ tion against organized religion, gain followers and others who revealed themselves. It was a hungry great white amongst a school of writhing fish, ready to consume all they knew and offer truth in the form of blood-soaked teeth.
Even in the purity of adolescence. Jackson knew the truth. He understood why Fortega, or Greene, was the first to announce the truth; most Dusts who return are back for the wrong reason.
At only six years old, Jackson had witnessed the closing of the last church. Each one had either become a place for people to gather and discuss the North-Lane, or a place for the homeless to gather and protest their hunger. These relics, once beautiful and powerful, became just as forgotten as an old abandoned building someone would pass by without thought. Years passed and even with all the knowledge gained there still was no way to decipher who was the real person and who was possessed by another. The fear that spread caused a hate for the Un-Ascended and a term, buried amongst the pages of dust-covered books, came to as a slur towards their kind: Demons.
“You certainly could Jackson... But not many Dusts have this opportunity... to meet us here. At the Paragon,” she said once more as she floated back a few feet away. “Like... Terrance Greene...”
“It’s like winning the lotto, kiddo. Bingo, here’s your prize,” another voice called out from behind him.
Jackson turned and viewed the new stranger who had joined in this phenomenon. He was tall and lanky in a tight-fitting pinstriped black suit. His pointy black shoes rested flat on a floor of nothingness and a black fedora rested on top of his head. Under the brim Jackson could make out a large pointed grin not unlike that of his assailant, except this man had stiff blonde hair that bled out from the bottom of the hat and pinkish skin. His fingers were long and pointed, and his eyes were sunken yet frightening. He made his way a step at a time around Jackson and to the side of the glowing woman. The two stood next to one another staring at Jackson in the contrasts of light and dark. A perfect juxtaposition, like that of Ying Yang; Jackson did not know who to fear more.
“Since Usra has so rudely ignored introductions I guess I’ll jump right to it then,” said the man. “First off, nice to meet you, Jackson Crowe.” He removed his hat, placed it to his chest with his pointed fingers, and leaned in for a bow. The man, who seemed to be something more than human, carried a mobster-esque accent. He never once broke eye contact, and never removed his smile. “My name is Azazel, The Ender.”
“And I...” the soft voice rang, “am Usra, The Creator... and we are the start and the finish.”
“I... uh... I don’t get what is happening here... who are you people?” Jackson asked nervously.
“We are... Everything. The founders of the North- Lane... the Creators of the Dusts–”
“The end of your meager lives!” Azazel interrupted.
Jackson remained puzzled. So, they were life and death? If that is the case, why meet Jackson? He spent his life waiting for something that would never happen. Like watching a television commercial with no idea what show was coming on. His mundane existence should not have awarded him this meeting, and he, in fact, did not think he would ascend to begin with.
“We... have a task for you Jackson Crowe. One that required our meeting... One that–” Usra had begun.
“Yea, Yea. I’ll speed this up. She likes to drag a little bit,” Azazel interrupted again. “We got us a middleman of sorts. A gray area if you will. Ya see, I deal only in the dying, the dead, and the Un-Ascended. That lovely lady right there deals only in the new life, the Dusts ascending, and the North-Lane. But... Earth... Well it don’t play by the rules too much. That's where you come in.”
Jackson once again floated there, in the empty white, completely confused.
Me? Shit. You people have the wrong guy, Jackson thought to himself.
“On the contrary... we believe we have... the right guy...” Usra said with a smile.
What?! They heard my thoughts?
“It’s the Paragon, man. Open space. We all share everything inside of this world. So do not come here if ya need some alone time, get what I’m sayin’?” Azazel chimed in sarcastically.
“Jackson Crowe... you are to become... our forceful hand... against the Un-Ascended...” Usra continued as she hovered gracefully toward Jackson with a gentle hand extended. “Our... Order of Dust.”
Order of Dust? I really do not understand...
“It ain’t too hard, kid.” said Azazel. “The position is called ‘Order of Dust’ like the lady said. We can’t act against mortal business, and sadly that includes the Dusts that stuck around. Gotta send ’em home.” He slowly stepped toward Jackson.
“But... why me?”
A feather-like pale hand fell onto his cheek and ever so gingerly held his face in its palm. Usra looked into his eyes, her beauty stunning him for a moment. She smiled as her hair flowed around her lips. Then a sharper hand with a red hue rested firmly on his shoulder and the beady eyes of the suited man pierced his own. In their silence, Jackson felt warm yet frozen, calm yet panicked. All at one time he felt the rush of dormant emotion evoking just from the presence of these two beings.
“You were... dealt a cruel injustice... one in which we could not intervene. And in that moment, we sensed something from you... A chill... Revenge...”
Jackson looked within himself. There was anger, maybe even revenge, and mostly fear. It was an iron pot of bubbling stew that boiled at his depths, but he was so tucked away that it seemed as though he could pass by it or forget it all together. Though, it almost seemed to speak from within him, as if it were alive and full of fury. In his truest self he knew this was not him, these feelings were not the Jackson Crowe that had held her, loved her. But he could not pull himself from this odd calling within him even if it was not rightfully his.
“And us being the great entities that we are decided to give that revenge a purpose there, Sport,” said Azazel with arrogance. “Wanna kill that tan-suited assassin? Wanna prevent others from that same end? Then come on down because YOU are our lucky winner.” He leaned in close to Jackson’s face and whispered in a low, raspy tone, “Time to claim your prize...”
“I can’t... I am not a killer, or a hunter, or even a strong enough man for this. I’m just angry... anger can warp the mind... that is all.” Jackson paused. “Even if the anger is... new.”
“Jackson Crowe... we can... make you a strong man...” Usra said, as gentle as a whisper, as chilling as thunder. “We can... channel... these new feelings...”
“Don’t be weak, Jacks,” Azazel mocked.
Jackson clenched his fists, and felt his unmoving blood boil, “I’m not weak...” he growled behind clenched teeth. He was beginning to not recognize who he was inside, but something burned at his every nerve. “I’m not... fuck‐ ing... weak...”
Azazel moved around him, as smooth as a dance and as slow as a predator. His horrid grin flashed in the scorned man’s face, and his eyes pierced him as if to chal‐ lenge his statement. He chuckled, and snickered, and laughed as he watched the absolution of hate within Jackson grow and expand.
“A strong man gets his revenge, boy,” he said as he circled him like a whirlpool. “But, a weak man? Well that fella is the kind to let his lady die and do nothin’.”
Jackson forced his eyelids closed and pushed away the foreign emotions, the thoughts of cold blood and fiery hatred. Become, something said within him. Become... the Order of Dust... Jackson fought a war within himself against emotions that now spoke as if sentient. Kill... the Un-Ascended...
“It’d be a real shame if that pretty girl of yours watched you be such a fuckin’ coward,” Azazel muttered behind his painted smile. “All I’m sayin’.”
A fire broke inside of Jackson. Rage unchained like nothing he had ever felt and boiled in him like an over‐ flowing cauldron. Was this his own emotion or something the beings had placed within him? He looked in Usra’s starless eyes once more then to Azazel.
“I’ll be your Order...”
Suddenly the white space swirled with vibrant colors of deep, rich purples and oozing greens. They enveloped him and soon all he could see were the beings who continued to hold him. Usra moved her hand to his chest and a warm, red glow ignited within him.
“This... is... the Heart of the Creator.” she said as her palm glowed. “May it heal your wounds... and sustain your life...”
Then Azazel placed his palm over his eyes and his head began to feel clouded, heavy. “Eyes of the Cruel. They will help you see the Un-Ascended who take up residence inside the bodies of innocents. Let’s say that you’ll see a different smile now.” Jackson began to grunt loudly as the pain swelled inside of his skull.
A finger placed over his lips and Usra’s voice rang sweetly in his ears. “Symphony of the Wise... to commune with the Order of Ascendance... Angels are what your people called them... and me... long ago.”
“Guts of the Strong will give you some strength and endurance that your kind would normally not possess. You’re welcome, kid.” Azazel thrust his palm into Jack‐ sons stomach who he let out a cough, winded from the blow. “And before I forget, here’s something important.” He placed his hands over Jacksons ears and leaned in with his toothy grin. “Echo of the End...” he whispered, “now you can call on me whenever you n