Foreign System: Prologue and Chapter 1

Author’s notes: One of a handful of original novels I’m going to be releasing like I do the first round of my fanfiction. There will be typoes and mistakes, as it’s not a final work.

Releasing these in what is in essence, draft stage to give people an idea of things as they progress. Once a book is completed, I will go back edit, add things in, get everything expanded and in order before I proceed to publish if it it has enough interest.

(Table of contents and such will be released as I get more of a handle on things)

Prologue

For most people, the first day of college is a fresh start, a new beginning towards the next chapter of their lives. That was, unfortunately, not the case when you found yourself surrounded by a group of people at decade your junior, because your previous diploma and transcripts were lost and/or deemed inadequate by a petty administrative bureaucrat. In that case, you sat and plotted out how exactly you would get your revenge on the little weasel responsible for your suffering.

Paul Jacobs was experiencing that firsthand after a less than helpful, and in his opinion power mad, bureaucrat had filleted his transcripts, forcing him into a number of freshman intro classes.

Other than a small group of slightly older, but still younger than him students, the entire room was filled with just out of high school freshman. Excited young adults surrounded him, filled with nervousness and anticipation, shifting in their seats and talking among themselves. Some of those talks were filled with attitudes and opinions they weren’t shy about expressing. Loudly and constantly.

Paul remembered being their age. He remembered how much he thought he knew about the world and about life itself. He remembered now how ignorant and naïve he’d been, and how things were rarely with a first appeared. Most of all though, he remembered how little he understood about lies, slants, and false correlations.

Now he was surrounded by an uncomfortable reminder of all those stupid mistakes. And with it, he remembered how much damage well-meaning, but stupid people could do. The whole “well your heart was in the right place” bit didn’t fly very far when you just ruined more lives than you tried to help.

He had seen that firsthand.

Tapping lightly against the leather bound Journal he was writing in while waiting for class to start, he glanced at his phone, noting it wouldn’t be much longer now. Cracking open a separate, spiral-bound notebook he brought for notes he made a last minute check of his fountain pen, making sure the converter was filled before he leaned back in his seat. All around him, people had laptops and tablets with keyboards set up and ready to start typing away.

And here he was using something much, much older.

“Old-school, huh?” One of the few older students asked as he nodded to the revealed converter, just before Paul screwed it back into the body of the pen.

“Ain’t no school like the old school,” Paul responded automatically before shrugging a bit. “Plus, I don’t have a laptop and my tablet is only good for web browsing and reading. Not really good for a lot of notes.”

“Good for watching video too,” the student noted before extending his hand. “Ryan.”

“Paul,” he agreed with a nod as he took hold of the hand and gave a firm shake as he met Ryan’s eyes. “You just out?”

“Yes,” Ryan agreed with a nod and a chuckle. “That obvious?”

“Lucky guess,” Paul responded with a slightly bemused smile and a shrug. “The haircut, posture, an actual handshake help.”

“Ah,” Ryan nodded his head and chuckled softly with a slightly nervous such. “Well, what about you? Setting now is the time to go to school?”

Paul immediately grimaced and shook his head. “Power tripping bureaucrat decided that she didn’t have to properly apply my transcript. Have to take this class until I can finish going over her head.”

“Ugh,” Ryan shook his head and discussed. “That reminds me of some of staff officers. You best be careful, they can get vindictive when you go over their heads.”

“Which is why all use my lawyer to submit the paperwork next time,” Paul agreed with a wince. “It will be expensive, but unless she’s an idiot, she’ll look elsewhere afterwards.”

“And if she is an idiot?”

“Well, then it becomes a problem her superiors want to go away, immediately,” Ryan stated with a serene smile.

“… Why are you going back to school again?” Ryan asked as he gave Paul a look of disbelief.

“I’m horrible at selling myself,” Paul admitted with a sigh and a shrug. “A degree helps with that, if I have a better degree, the less I have to explain about how I can jump from point A to point K to point Q. I’m really no good at it.”

Any response was cut off by the sound of the throat clearing broadcast over the speakers. “As some of you have already noted, it is time for class to begin. To those of you who haven’t, learn to read the time displays on your fancy devices.”

The professor, Paul noted, was rather attractive, or at least she had the potential to be. Maybe. He had to met it was hard to tell with her frizzy hair and lack of makeup. Though he had a feeling she was still younger than he was.

She opened her mouth again, then suddenly a voice echoed through the air.

“Thou who dwells beyond the veil. Oh noble hearts, we call to thee and thine, to whom we beseech for aid. We call for a sacrament, for heroes to aid us from beyond the ether and the void that knows not the touch of time. We ask of you, in this, are dire our, for heroes to be our salvation. Humbly we ask, will you accept?”

Before Paul could truly consider those words, an eager voice cried out, “Yes!”

“Then our covenant is formed.”

And polls world suddenly devolved into a twisting vertigo were every direction felt as down and up all at once, trapping him in the resulting paradox. All he could hear was the ruler of static, too many sounds converging into one, and his vision was a mess of colors he found no words to describe. It was a maddening, torturous existence what pain had been replaced with a complete inability to comprehend reality around him more likely, trying to comprehend the sudden lack there of.

Then, sometime later, an instant, an eternity, he couldn’t tell, but, he didn’t know it ended.

When it had, he slowly took a deep breath then let it out as he savored the world suddenly feeling right again, with firm ground beneath him in what he could most assuredly defined as beneath. Then, he felt a wave of something washing over him, a full-bodied tingling that made him snap his eyes open, before immediately forcing them shot as a bright glare shown in them. Then, he could hear a voice speaking.

“Greetings, heroes, we welcome you to our kingdom with open arms and offer our thanks for your aid,” the voice was deep, with a kind of… Well, regalness to it? Paul wasn’t sure if that was the right word, but… He wasn’t sure how else to describe it.

Slowly he opened his eyes again and squinted into the bright light that filled the air near the source of the voice. What he saw made him go still, is no longer was he in the classroom and no longer was he anywhere he recognized. Before him was a man, tall and proud with the look of a seasoned politician, bearing a gleaming crown studied with strange, glowing jewels.

Turning his head, he looked one way then the other. Taking stock of the situation, he saw Ryan, along with several of the other older students all looking warily at the situation around them, the bodies tensed and coiled. Soldiers, readying themselves for a fight, he realized quickly.

Looking past them, he saw guards surrounding them, armed with shield and spear and garbed in shining plates and glittering mail. He realized he wasn’t the only one to notice. Quickly catching Ryan’s I, Paul quickly shook his head and nodded to the guards that outnumber them to do one for the entire class. He made what he hoped, hoped was a stand down gesture.

The various men froze for a moment, wary, uncertain and probably a little scared. Paul knew that he was himself, he was terrified as his mind tried to comprehend this impossibility he was confronted with. Only, they needed to stay calm for everyone’s sake.

Slowly, reluctantly, they were forcing themselves to relax into more of a “ready” stance than a “combat inbound” stance. Once they had relaxed, the guards slowly do the same, though they kept watching them, and now Paul himself. Seeing that potential conflict at least temporarily diffused, he opened his mouth to ask what was going on, only to be beaten by the familiar voice of the teacher

“What is the meaning of this?! What’s going on here?”

While most of the people who weren’t guards were now focused almost completely on her, Paul frowned just slightly. This situation, he didn’t know exactly what was going on, but the teacher’s panic wasn’t going to help them out. Especially when he had his own panic to keep under control.

The look of confusion was almost genuine wine on the man Paul figured to be leading the group in front of them, but there was something hollow about it. Paul took a slow deep breath, they didn’t know enough about their situation, he didn’t know who they were dealing with and, he didn’t know what the fuck was going on. He just hoped letting the teacher take the center stage was the right thing for them.

“We thought that apparent,” the crowned man noted with a slight frown. “We and our subjects had given call, asking for heroes to grant us aid from what lies beyond the veils. Agreement was given, a covenant was formed.”

“This… This is not real! This cannot be real!” The teacher was quickly protesting, a tone of sudden panic filling her voice as she looked on the verge of passing out. “This is not right! I didn’t agree to this! Oh God, oh God! We’ve been kidnapped!”

Well, that at least told him a great deal about the teacher, whatever her name was. Paul noticed the grimace on the ex–military students faces, and held his own face neutral. The whole situation stuck to have, for some reason he couldn’t explain. It reminded him of some books he’d heard of in the past, stories about a man summoned as a hero of a kingdom, only to find that they were the real monsters. He… Well it could be was just being paranoid, but he had apparently just been summoned to a new world, or maybe a hidden part of the earth?

He wasn’t sure about any of it to be honest hell, he wasn’t even sure why he was making the guesses he was. This kind of intuition wasn’t something he was used to, at least not this quickly, and not for situations. But he had to admit, he did agree with the kidnapping part of the teacher’s statement.

Though apparently the crown didn’t. “We kidnapped no one, we asked for aid, we called out, and it was you who answered.”

“I did no such thing!” The professor protested.

“Oh, that was me, sorry,” a sheepish male voice spoke up as a hand raised. “You said you wanted help, and I didn’t mean to speak for everyone.”

As one, everyone present look to the speaker, a handsome, almost pretty, young man with big, thick glasses, black hair done up in a bun, with piercing grey eyes and all manner of tattoos running down his arms. Paul took a moment to memorize his face before shaking his head and looking back at the crown. The man seem shocked, then affronted, before ultimately curious.

“This is your fault?!” The teacher demanded, almost screeching out. “Typical egotistical male white privileged… Can’t you see what you did to your classmates?!”

The guilty boy flinched back, almost like a beaten dog. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think…”

“That’s right! You didn’t! Your kind never thinks! Let this be a lesson to you, girl’s…” The professor was building up a rant, Paul could tell before suddenly she fell silent, her lips working, but no sound was coming out.

“We would appreciate a greater restraint in a more civilized tongue in our presence,” the crown declared as he affixed the woman with a bone chilling glare. “And we do not appreciate your insulting of our hero in our presence!”

“No, no!” The young “hero” held his hands up placatingly. “That was totally my fault, I completely had that coming! I so shouldn’t have just assumed that my offering to help would only affect me! All my fault!”

The crown man seem to consider the heroes words, before smiling in a way that made Paul want to be far, far away from him. “Very well.”

“Ah! Suddenly, the teacher could be heard again, her face flushed with shame in outrage. “How… How dare you! I will not be oppressed! I will not be silenced! I know my rights! You can’t –!”

And again she fell silent, is now the crowned man’s face was tinged with red. “Rights? Rights?! Whatever right you have in the presence of a king are those they grant you! Wretched woman, you stand before a king in our own castle, and you would dare to speak to us of your rights, as if they would take precedence over our own?! Guards!”

“Hey, wait!” The “hero” protested quickly with his hands raised. “This is all my fault! She’s just freaking out because of how I totally messed all this up! It’s all just a big misunderstanding!”

The king paused at that, confusion and hesitation staying his hand long enough for Paul speak up, “we beg your pardon your Majesty, and again if we made the mistake in how we should address you. Our land has been one without king and court since its founding, and as such most of us know little of how to comport ourselves when presented to King and court. I can only ask that you forgive off fumbling slights we make in ignorance.”

Those words seem to perplexed and mollified the king’s anger, if only slightly as he affixed his attention upon Paul. “A land without king and court? How do such a kingdom begin to function?”

“Slowly, and frustratingly, your Majesty,” he stated with a controlled grimace. “But, with great familiarity and plentiful innovation.”

“Ah. A nation of craftsmen then? Interesting, we had not heard of such before. Though, we can, perhaps, see how this would lead to such an unseemly display…” The king admitted with a thoughtful look upon his face.

“Craftsmen and scholars, your Majesty, who spend their time more with them books and the fellow scholars then with their fellow man, and as such often forget that decorum,” Paul agreed with a slow nod of his head. “If we might asked though, sign, is there a way for you to return those of us that wish to journey back wince we came?”

“Perhaps,” the king said with a canny look in his eye. “But, in truth, we have expended very many resources to summon you for it would be remiss of us to expend more without a return.”

“Will be happy to help!” The would be hero stated, as he quickly pushed himself forward, cutting off anything Paul could say. “Just tell us what you need!”

The king’s demeanor visibly brightened as he turned his attention onto the young man. “And we will be happy to tell you… Though, we suppose that the chance of you being warriors is rather… Insubstantial?”

“We were all students…” The “hero” stated before wincing and looking at the silenced, fuming professor. “Well, other than the teacher…”

“… Truly?” The king asked as he turned back to Paul with an arched brow.

“Those the crave power, but lacked the skill and aptitude to earn it, often take to abusing what little power they managed to acquire,” Paul stated delicately. “I was to be in five different classes, for far more advanced studies.”

“Ah, yes,” the king stated with a slow nod of his head, before turning his attention away from Paul and back to the “hero”. “But where are our manners, hmmm? We on the glorious Emperor Galdenius, the Arisen, of the vigilant Empire of Ashorasa, crown jewel of the world, and beacon of civilization!”

The Emperor, Paul mentally noted, was a rather… charismatic man. A man thatwas at first appearance, quite capable. A man that had half the students visibly in awe. A man the Paul was quite certain should not be given the benefit of the doubt.

“And you, hero?” The Emperor Galdenius asked. “By what name should we call you?”

The young man seem to flush a bit, before bobbing his head back to the Emperor. “I, I’m Leo. Leo Cavanaugh.”

“Then, Leo Cavanaugh, we welcome you and your companions to Vigil, our great palace from which we rule over our shining Empire.

“We welcome our saviors, and offer you are thanks for your aid in our hour of need.”

Paul glanced at the older students as he realized he had a very, very bad feeling about this.

 

 

Chapter 1

Paul suspicions turned out to be accurate, is a situation revealed to them was less than thrilling. Galdenius explain things as they were a peaceful Empire, built on the premise of bringing enlightenment and civilization to the world. However, there were enough examples in Earth’s history of that excuse being used to justify almost every horrible act possible.

Of course, there had been some genuine attempts as well. The problem was, generally to get anywhere, you had to use violence in one way or another. And civilization, was a very subjective thing.

Here they were, at their mercy. Totally and completely. Even if the majority of the students didn’t quite realize it, enough had to weigh down the atmosphere.

He just couldn’t help it, there was something… off about all that. Something whispering there in the back of his head. Something that wouldn’t leave him alone.

So far, they hadn’t really had much information given to them. They didn’t know anything about this enemy they were supposedly here to save them from. Hell, they didn’t even know how they expected them to accomplish anything.

Paul side, and leaned back as he stared at his Journal and his pen. He had an almost full pen, but, even with a full converter, he only had so much left for him to write. Unless he found a local ink, fine enough for the pen to use, or he found a way to multiply what he already had. Unfortunately that was unlikely, the ink itself was top-of-the-line, waterproof, with lubricating properties for the pen’s piston controlled reservoir.

It was also the only thing that kept him from really thinking about everything they were currently facing. Outside of a few, worldly air, and mainly older students, the Emperor had quite effectively neutralized his influence using Leo. He could hear occasional whispers, and snickers from them, but they were simply ignored.

He wondered if it their age, he had truly been that naïve and ignorant.

But, Galdenius had eased back when he saw Paul never attempted to influence the younger students. And in all honesty, Paul wanted little to do with them. They had looked to the Emperor with eyes filled with awe and hunger. Or they had turned their attention to the professor for leadership.

Which brought him to his current situation.

“She’s back you know,” Ryan stated from where he sat next to Paul.

Which was another thing he had learned. Anita Torres, the professor whose class he was forced into, was a raging bitch who had decided that his willingness to save her life was some sort of weird act of submission, the man she could boss him around however she wanted. In spite of the evidence to the contrary.

Paul grunted in response. The woman seemed… To say the least. No matter the facts presented to her, she continued to cling to her delusions of power.

And he was losing his patience with her particular brand of madness.

“Paul, why haven’t you talk to the students like I asked?” And there she was, trying yet again to force her will on things.

He noted the looks on the faces of the guards and courtiers faces and almost shook his head. The one good thing her constant social ineptitude and political ignorance had done, was the damage she had initially done to him and his appearance have been replaced with a respect for how he had handled her.

“As I told you before, Miss Torres, if you wish to impart your desires to them, then you should do so. Those who try to needlessly delegate such things only show themselves and capable and incompetent.”

“Nonetheless, as your teacher…” She continued, apparently believing he was merely trying to defend her reputation.

“As a teacher, your responsibility is only for the classroom,” he reminded her with a gentle but firm rebuke. “And this is hardly the classroom. Perhaps it would be best for you to focus on those actually looking to you for guidance?”

“This all happened in my classroom!” She declared as if that explained everything. It made him sigh as he admitted that to her it likely did.

“Yes, but we were no longer in said classroom. This is not a classroom, Miss Torres. This is not your school, and this is not our world.”

“That’s Professor Torres!” She corrected, seeing as he was not doing as she asked, her face slipping into a glare.

He looked back, unimpressed and un-intimidated. “Miss Torres, the fact that you’re trying to use that as a badge of authority means that I will not use it.” Paul allowed his voice to turn cold, dismissive as he looked her straight in the eye to convey the depths of his meaning.

She flushed in outrage, her eyes narrowed in anger and her mouth hanging open as she struggled to come up with a response. He half expected her to stop her foot on the ground. Instead, she finally seemed to realize that there were eyes watching her, and she was making herself look bad, at least to her students.

“We will continue this discussion another time!” She declared before stalking off.

He wondered when, or even if the woman would realize that it wasn’t the students she should be worried about watching and judging her.

“I know that tone,” Ryan noted with a wince. “You know she’s going to try to start trouble.”

“I’m aware,” Paul acknowledged with a nod of his head. “The thing is, she doesn’t seem to get that this isn’t the US. The rules are different here, and we don’t even know them yet.”

“And the natives aren’t too keen on sharing.”

“Which is why we don’t want to be associated with a power-play,” Paul stated quietly, as his voice dropped involving. “I saved her last time, not sure if I should try that again or not.”

“Why not?” One of the others, named Andy, asked while Ryan reluctantly nodded his head.

“Politics,” Ryan stated with a grimace. “When he saved her before, he was intervening for a hysterical woman. But, because he was treating her as hysterical…”

“It’s more than that,” Paul corrected in that same soft voice that wouldn’t carry. “We’re the ones that always watching. Where the ones they’re worried about, you can see it in their eyes when they watch us. So, if I, we are really perceived as supporting her little attempt at subversion…”

“They become even more worried about us,” Ryan picked up on his train of thought and groaned. “Where’d you pick this stuff up?”

“My gram was a legacy of the old deep South genteel,” Paul admitted with a wince and a shrug. “Found out later just how out of date it was but, the lessons always stuck.”

“Right then, I suppose that’s probably the best we’ve got…”

“I really just hope it’s enough to keep us alive…” Paul stated seriously, giving each of them a look. “Any of the rest of them figured it out yet?”

Left unsaid was that figuring it out meant realizing that their “guards” could and would kill them at the drop of a hat if they found reason to. And Torres was already pushing. It was a reminder this was not the world they were used to.

“No, not as far as I can tell. Our minders are quickly losing respect for them,” Ryan noted with a shake of his head.

“… I really hope I don’t have to go to bat for one of them again,” Paul groaned in frustration before shaking his head. “That would be bad… Very, very bad.”

That was when one of the courtiers appeared, giving everyone save Paul in his small group a contemptible cold glance. Paul himself received a grudging, wary respect that transmitted to his companions. “Come with us, we need to align you with your grimoires.”

Paul blinked a moment, before commenting, “I apologize for our ignorance, but…”

There was a momentary pause as the courtier seemed to consider that, expression warning as he visibly considered how he would respond. Finally, his face smoothed back into full neutrality. “I shall ensure that the information is provided for you.”

“My thanks for agreeing to such a task beneath you,” Paul stated formally with a quiet bow. “We shall be pleased to follow your guidance.”

The courtier preened slightly at the words, but several of the students looked at him with distrust, or even disgust. “Very well, come along, we don’t want to keep his Majesty waiting!”

As he ignored the looks, Paul want to buy Ryan as their small group followed.

“They didn’t seem to like that much,” Ryan noted to him as they walked in a sedate pace.

“Not exactly surprising,” Paul admitted helplessly. “Most of them are still teenagers. They don’t even understand the concept of why he should be appealing to them and sucking up to them.”

“They’re going to stop listening to you,” Ryan warned him in a quiet voice.

“Until the first of them is executed, yes,” Paul admitted just as quietly. “Then they’ll blame me for not intervening.”

“You’re going to let them die?” Ryan asked, disapproval clearly in his voice.

“I can only do so much,” Paul reminded him simply. “And I will only be able to protect them so much, and so long, before they decide to kill me along with them.”

That made Ryan go still. “You think so?”

“How much do you know about monarchies? True, absolute ones, where the monarchs word is law?” Paul asked before shaking his head, then glancing around carefully. “Admittedly, we don’t know how their government to structured. But, I rather imagine it wouldn’t matter, not really.”

“Why not?” One of the vets asked in confusion.

“Because, one, were not citizens of this Empire, and two… If we prove to be inconvenient, beyond ourselves, how many people are even aware of us?”

“Well, the guards…”

“Whom are all likely reporting directly to the Emperor,” Paul agreed with a nod of his head. “But, beyond them? I’ve counted only the same servants every time. All older, either unquestionably loyal…”

“… Or disposable,” Ryan finished grimly it as realization hit him.

“Well, then they’d have no one else to help them,” another one of the veterans noted.

“Only, we don’t know how easily they can replace us,” Paul stated grimly quiet voice. “We don’t even know why they even think they need us.”

That got them all thinking. Paul… Paul just knew that they were missing a lot of information. Too many gaps in the equation.

And there was that nagging voice the back of its head, that told him the answer wasn’t one he’d like. Of course, it never was. But he had to try to keep some hope.

“So basically, we’re shit creek deep in hostile territory with no weapons, or logistics, with a bunch of spoiled civvies?” One of them groaned as he finally added everything up.

“Hope you all wanted to be Rangers,” Paul noted bitterly.

“Hey, I was Navy, no way I was dumb enough to love the suck,” one of them complained good-naturedly.