*This is the first of five sample chapters from the revised Home Run Edition. Cover by IMbeta.
A game as old as humanity was starting in the peaceful Diamond Kingdom, its lines drawing around the unsuspecting citizens. Going on a quick offensive, darkness fell over the beautiful agricultural land and spread across the streets. Chaos erupted throughout the city as fire engulfed abandoned cars and glass shards sparkled down the asphalt. Everywhere there was confusion. Only in the kingdom’s center was the dark repelled, intense neon purple light its final line of defense. There, a massive purple pillar shot from the Earth, connecting the Diamond Castle to the heaven’s above. Some believed the Electron Gods looked down on the game as it played out, waiting to record the first point on the scoreboard.
And then the all-knowing Chatter, the streaming voice of thousands of people from across the city, broadcast its play-by-play into the purple tinted air.
“The protests have turned violent,” said the commentary, “a mob has marched on the castle. It’s all over the net.”
The next voice replied with concern. “I’m reading up on all the news but am really lost. Can somebody explain what’s going on? Who’s fighting?”
At the southern tip of the city, footsteps echoed off the baseball stadium’s concrete walls, the massive structure home to The Diamond Cutters. The sound burst from the entrance onto the streets and a shadow hit the sides of the shops along them, the flat image of a person running at full speed. The silhouette expertly navigated the city, taking a shortcut to the train station on Stadium Way. The shadow disappeared into a dark alley, its presence reduced to footsteps again.
Another commenter answered the hanging question. “Truth is, no one really knows what’s happening, but it looks like people are leading a revolt against King Diamond. Maybe we can pool our information together and figure it out.” The footsteps emerged from the alley onto a shopping center across from the busy train station filled with angry people.
“All right, here’s what I’ve confirmed,” someone said. “Fights have broken out at the north part of the kingdom and it appears that every Diamond Knight in the city is on the clock. Anyone else on the scene?”
The running stopped in the dark just before the lamp on a billboard that proclaimed ‘The Electron Gods Are Watching’ and a figure in a black zip up hoodie stepped casually into its light. It tapped the glass screen of its sleek CB9000 phone and redialed the last number.
“C’mon, c’mon” the hooded figure said worriedly, “get through.”
The small person wore blue jeans and black shoes. A metal tube with an open face near the top was slung diagonally across its back, a black rubber handle visible inside. A pair of black gloves was shoved halfway into the jean’s back right pocket.
After a pause, the phone beeped three times for a recording that said “We’re sorry, due to high volume traffic your call cannot go through.” The figure hung up.
The chatter took up the space again. “I know the west side of the city is on lockdown. How about in the south?” The hoodie surveyed the area.
The gathering between the shops and station was some sixty people deep. Two teams faced off, young protesters wielding dozens of weapons and a sign that said ‘WE CARE ABOUT WHAT’S FAIR’ versus middle aged shop owners defending their shuttered businesses, separated by a squad of the city’s Diamond Knights clad in grey armor. Spectators at the station filed cautiously onto the train, watching the preshow with a mix of curiosity and unease. The figure stood at the sidelines, waiting for the starting buzzer to ring.
The change within the kingdom had been so gradual only those tuned into it had noticed. Slowly, the social landscape had shifted under everyone’s feet until friends found themselves on opposite sides of a battle without moving an inch. After that, every element of their culture was one more front in the war. The mob of people was sad proof.
The train’s doors slid shut and red lights above the station blinked to life. Slowly, the engine car pulled away from the platform and gained speed down the track.
An angry voice overtook the chatter. “Let’s be real for a second; these animals are destroying our city. Drake’s men better be able to serve and protect tonight.” The hoodie looked to the soldiers in their plated armor and steel mesh face masks, short swords attached to their hip. They were more than capable of maintaining the order. The chat supported the conclusion. “Don’t worry about Drake. The king put him in charge of the Diamond Knights for a reason.”
The mass of people was thickest outside the Circuit Breaker outlet. The store’s windows were plastered with marketing for the hyped CB9000, the same thin phone model featured a dozen times. Professional reviewers had heaped universal praise and the news reported record breaking sales and pictures of lines around the block. People on both sides of the conflict had them in their tense hands. With its significant presence, the CB9000 was cast as the official sponsor of the war. The hooded figure continued to the plaza nonchalantly, keeping a low profile in the crowd.
A man nearby wearing a dark blue outfit and white scarf typed angrily into his phone. A second later, his message reached the hoodie. “‘These animals are destroying the city’?” he quoted the earlier comment. “You mean the freedom fighters? Show them some respect.”
“Yeah right, ‘freedom fighters’,” came a sarcastic response, “that’s bullshit. I’m looking at a gang of them right now. The roads are so clogged the Diamond Knights built a checkpoint at the south side train station.” The hoodie took a pause in the rant to see that it was true: an emergency road sign marking the checkpoint flashed “STOP” from the rows of orange lightbulbs. “The phone lines are jammed and everything’s running late. The only thing I’ve been freed from is relaxing at home with my family. You’re all jealous children.”
The figure hit redial on its phone. “C’mon Scramble, pick up” it pleaded but got the beeps again. “Damnit.” The hoodie hung up. The small person looked around, honing in on the three Diamond Knights working the checkpoint. One lifted a bulky black radio to his face. There it was, the figure thought, the emergency frequencies are still open.
The internet tough talk was escalating. “What the hell did you call us? I’m getting really tired of this.” The figure put a hand to the side of its hood, listening intensely to the two arguing. “You’re in the south too? Why don’t you call me a jealous child to my face?”
“Damnit!” the figure said and quickly turned towards the checkpoint, cutting in front of the people waiting for the train.
The hoodie approached the Diamond Knight with the radio. He had a metal badge pinned to his chest in the sharp diamond shape of a baseball field, the bronze star on second base denoting his rank. “Sergeant,” the figure said, “I need to radio the king. It’s important.”
But the knight was too overworked for patience. “Return to the line, we’ll be with you soon.”
Shouting broke out in the middle of the square. The man in the black scarf yelled “You’re just a stupid Diamond sucker defending the status quo” over the line of knights to a trucker-hat wearing man on the other side. “Where is your king now?” The hatted man shouted back “working, unlike you fake revolutionaries.”
The small figure could sense the rising anxiety. “Please,” it said to the Diamond Knight, “the king is in danger.”
“If it’s that urgent,” the sergeant said, “then you can tell me.” Considering the sheer magnitude of its implications, the person couldn’t risk trusting him with the message. “I didn’t think so,” he said. His suspicion aroused, the knight peered into the hoodie for a better look at the face inside, but a loud crashing drew his attention away. The hoodie turned as well and light struck the glowing cheeks, pink lips, and soft young skin of a twenty year old woman. Alex’s blue eyes squinted at the brewing fight.
The hatted man pushed past the line of knights to the protesters and shoved his scarfed opponent. The guy fell onto his allies close by who shouted bitterly in return. “Why don’t you go get a job,” the king’s supporter said, “rather than hanging out here with your loser friends?” While the push irritated the group, the insults made it mad. Someone chucked a bottle, missing the hat but smacking a Diamond Knight’s broad chest.
The sergeant forgot the young woman and barked “break it up!” to the fighters. A few of the other king supporters pulled the hatted man back, but they further provoked the protesters who moved in to isolate their own. Things were spiraling out of control.
Alex stepped forward. “Sergeant!” she said forcefully to the man’s back, “I just need to make a call!”
The knight looked to her and quickly drew the double-edged three foot long blade from his hip. “Get back!” he commanded. Emphasizing the threat, the platform’s twin red lights popped, blinking in time to the sounding alarm. A rumble grew down the tracks.
Looking at the man, Alex knew she had stepped out of bounds and backed carefully away. She couldn’t risk being exposed now. She had to reach the castle. The guard moved to the small brawl breaking out.
More members of the agitated mob were pushing each other and fists started to fly, the violence spreading out from the two that had started it. In response, the Diamond Knights all unsheathed their weapons and tightened their formation. The original poster returned to the chatter: “Why hasn’t King Diamond made a statement? Why do we have to figure out what’s going on all by ourselves?!”
Panic rose above the crowd and Alex knew things were about to get worse. She watched the two men who had instigated the fight vanish quietly in the confusion.
The next train pulled into the station with two knights who were surprised to see the fight outside. The train’s three sets of doors slid open and people from all over the area rushed the platform at once.
Alex squeezed past the river of bodies flowing her way, pushing towards the sergeant. She saw him bring his radio to his faceguard and made out a “yes sir” in response.
“Diamond Knights!” the sergeant bellowed above the group. “Stand down! By decree, the activists have been granted the right of protest. They are allowed to express their grievances as they see fit.”
One by one, the armored units returned their swords to their sheaths. The protesters and shop owners were surprised at the turn of events; both groups looked among themselves, before remembering the other.
That’s when all hell broke loose.
The protesters flooded past the guards. They swarmed the shops and overran those defending them. It was obvious that the group had diverse interests: those among them that hated consumerism smashed the electronics store’s windows shoulder to shoulder with the ones fighting corporate interests by beating the family that owned it while those there for the free stuff made off with the TV’s and cameras inside.
But it didn’t take long for the shop owners and king supporters to form their own unified front. They barricaded the doors, provided medical aid to the injured, and fended off looters with their own weapons.
To this, the sergeant took up his arms again. “Halt!” he said to those protecting their property, “Your aggression is unlawful! Diamond Knights, move in!” The armored peacekeepers marched on the shop owners, tackling all who opposed.
Alex looked on the perverse spectacle in shock. The same questions occupying her mind rushed her ears. “Have the Diamond Knights flipped on the residents?!” the chatter asked as the shoe store was emptied. “What’s happening?” it questioned as the Diamond Cutter’s memorabilia store was destroyed. She stood there, paralyzed with confusion. Then she looked over and saw a Diamond Knight viciously boxing an old man as his convenience store was ransacked. Alex’s blue eyes twitched. She pulled the pair of gloves from her back pocket. “Why would the king allow this?!?” the chatter asked in desperation.
“He wouldn’t,” Alex said with confidence, pulling a black batter’s glove snugly over her left hand.
“This wasn’t the king’s orders,” the chat realized as she cinched the other glove around her right wrist. She reached the hand over her shoulder to the tube’s open face and wrapped her fingers around the black rubber grip inside.
The game had begun. Her secret was out.
“It was Drake,” Alex and the chat confirmed in unison. The General of the Diamond Knights had taken control of the military. She lifted the black handle up, hitting the button on the underside of the metal cap, and unsheathed a long silver baseball bat.
The sergeant was caught in the fray. He pinned a man belly-down on the ground with a knee and handcuffed his hands behind his back. His captive secured, the sergeant lifted his radio and said “come in HQ, backup requested at Stadium Station” but it was swatted from his hand. The box flew like a bullet to the convenience store and blew apart on the knight’s head as he boxed the old man. The sergeant watched the knight fall, furious at the defiance but impressed by the skill. He turned as the end of the bat with the words‘.357’ written in runny red ink struck him across the facemask. Gripping the mesh protector, he turned back to his assailant: Alex stood there wielding the bat like a sword, one foot back, gripping the rubber handle by her hip. She was poised, her stance stable and sure.
“Stop this at once!” she said about the knights suppressing the crowd. “Tell your men to stand down!”
“Can’t,” the sergeant said as he stood and stepped on the handcuffed man. “Everyone’s got their orders.”
Alex rushed the knight. “Let him go!” she demanded, swinging the .357.
The blitz caught the knight off guard. He struggled to block the first strike with his sword, but the second knocked it away, opening up his defense enough that Alex drove the bat into his abdomen and smacked him across the face. The knight was shaken.
The sergeant fingered the dent in his mask. “You still need to get a message to the castle?” he asked. “I’ll personally take you to deliver it. You’re under arrest.” He turned. But Alex had disappeared.
From the crowd, Alex watched the man search and realized Drake’s training hadn’t focused enough on mindfulness. The knight was impatient and impulsive. It was a weakness she would have to exploit with the havoc raging all around. Their fight had drawn attention from the train, and Alex saw one of the knights step from the car and pull his blade, his focus directly on her.
The sergeant was standing above his detainee when he was jabbed hard in the side, but by the time he turned to it he only saw the red tip of the .357 pulling back into the mass of people around him. He got it again in his left ab but was able to snag the weapon midair. He pulled Alex from the crowd, her gloved hands locked around the silver bat’s handle. She could tell she’d chipped away at his strength. He swung his sword with waning power.
Alex calmly tilted the bat back and forth in front of her, letting the thick shaft divert the slashes. With every one of his strong attacks that either missed or was parried, the sergeant’s energy was sapped. In contrast, her simple defense was precise and slight, spending little to wear her opponent down. His attacks decreased in power and speed until Alex had an opening to jab him in the face. As soon as she had, the knight’s leg buckled from under him and the bat cracked against his head again. He fell to his stomach. Through his delirium he saw that the handcuffed man had kicked out his knee. The knight crawled over, feebly trying to stab his captive, but as he raised the sword a shadow passed over him.
Standing above, Alex lifted the .357 so high over her head the blunt tip grazed the center of her back. She brought the bat down with so much force that the metal’s impact cracked like a magnum revolver in the air and its kick blew the hair from her face. The crowd dispersed from around them.
The knight that had stopped the flying radio by the convenience store got to his feet, bits of circuitry and plastic embedded where it had blown apart against his helmet. He cracked his knuckles at Alex.
Alex helped the handcuffed man to his feet. “Get out of here,” she said as the two men charged from the sides. He ran, his hands still secured behind him.
Alex was caught in a pickle between her attackers. The Knight from the train drew his sword as the other lead with his fists. Readying for the attacks, Alex switched her grip so she was holding the bat upside-down, shielding her arm to the elbow. She breathed, staying focused for the incoming blitz.
She used the bat to divert an incoming fist and pushed the boxing knight away, quickly lifting her arm to catch the sword knight’s downward swing. Alex uppercut her foe under the chin and kicked him in the gut. With fluid motion, she stepped back and jabbed the bat into the boxer’s stomach. He fell to his knees, gasping to breathe. She flipped the bat back up and it violently collided with an incoming sword. The two combatants were locked in a draw. On either side of the knight’s head, Alex saw only madness – to the right, people flooded the train and crammed into seats against the objections of the knight guarding them; to the left the vandals flipped trashcans and raided storefronts. Her heart sank.
“Why are you destroying your neighborhoods?!?” she cried out to them. “Your friends and family live here!” She didn’t understand.
The chatter picked up. “Oh my gods, anyone else seeing this video going around?” someone asked in disbelief. “It’s gotta be fake,” someone responded flippantly. “It can’t be real.” But another refuted. “It’s real,” it confirmed. “King Diamond was assassinated. Drake seized the throne.”
That’s when Alex’s entire world fell out from under her.
She tripped over herself. “What?” she said stupidly to the man before her. She was so numbed by the news that she didn’t feel the punch to her gut until she was decked across the face. She fell backwards but somersaulted smoothly to her feet.
The chatter blew up, the streaming conversation repeating the news faster than she could process it: “No! King Diamond!”; “Finally! Dying is the only thing Quentin Diamond ever did right.” The entire city was talking about it, information rapidly bouncing back and forth. “This video’s a keeper – nice angle, excellent resolution.” It was all too much.
Alex was socked in the ribs and realized she needed to keep her head in the game. “No, don’t think about it,” she said as she blocked a sword strike to the side. There were more immediate priorities. She tightened her grip around the bat’s black handle and composed herself. The boxer came in for a powerful kick, but Alex twirled away. Anticipating where the man’s foot would land, she swung the bat down over her head in an arc and slammed the top of the shoe, bending the steel toe insert to a bone breaking crunch. The knight howled, gripping his foot in agony.
The knight on the train was overtaken by passengers rushing the engine room. The spectators weren’t sticking around to see who won.
Changing his tactics, the sword knight charged his shrouded opponent, unleashing a flurry of stabbing thrusts.
Alex saw it coming. Digging one foot back, she held the .357 up before her, bracing the top of the shaft by palming the back. Dozens of attacks hit the metal bat, kachacking with every strike, slicing the sides of her gloved thumb and pinky. In the background, the over-capacity train lurched forward down the tracks. Alex staggered under the continued barrage; her feet slid back along the asphalt, fighting for grip. She was being overwhelmed.
Then she heard it again. “King Diamond is dead.” Her rage reignited.
The guard watched his opponent falter, and was going in for a finishing blow when he got a clear shot of the face inside the hoodie: the young woman’s blue eyes pierced his own, her gaze driving deep into his mind. He recognized them immediately.
“You’re supposed to be at the castle!” he exclaimed, pulling back in terror. His words stoked Alex’s rage while the chatter reiterated why. “The king is dead.”
“It’s too late for that!” Princess Alexandria Diamond screamed at him.
Though she tried to restrain them, the words repeated in her thoughts. Alex swung her foot up and kicked the knight in the head, sending him face-first into the back of the large flashing road sign. In one fluid motion, she stepped forward as “Quentin Diamond” repeated again, rerouting the momentum into a 360 degree spin for power, and whipped the .357 out with so much force the runny red paint seemed to streak further around the silver shaft. “Quentin Diamond is dead.”
As the bat flew towards the knight leaning against the road sign, every thought disappeared from Alex’s mind except the name that filled her mouth. She screamed it out, defiantly calling the man to the field. “Draaaaaake!”
The bat slammed into the knight’s back, cracking like a magnum gunshot so powerful the bulbs blew out the front of the sign, sparks and glass erupting in a fireball. At the explosion, the train shot from the station and everybody in the plaza ducked, obeying the stop sign’s final message blasting into the air. No one moved.
Alex stood over the unconscious Diamond Knights, shoulders rising and falling as she breathed, tightly squeezing the silver baseball bat in her grip.
A siren rose in the distance. It was the Diamond Knight’s backup. Everyone in the crowd grabbed their stuff and scattered. The protesters hauled their loot and the business owners abandoned their goods from fear of protecting them. Within a few moments, Alex was alone.
The chat appeared in her ears once more. “The mill is being overrun! This isn’t over yet.”
Lifting her arm over her shoulder, Alex smoothly slid the .357 back into the metal canister slung diagonally across her back. The cap snapped into place.
“There’s a mob headed to the farm!” someone said, but Alex was powerless to stop it.
She reached into her hoodie when the chatter said “This is nuts, what are we going to do now?!?” and removed the black hard-shell headphones from her head. As if having been beckoned to it, she turned her eyes north: the massive neon purple pillar of light stood proudly in the center of the city, color splashing out from its base.
Alex stared its way as the last voice came over the speaker dangling by her knee. “You fools, don’t you see?” it asked the chatter condescendingly. “We’ve been saved. Long live Drake, our champion.” The first point had been scored. She needed to make a move.
But instead, Alex stood there and enjoyed the silence.
Continued in chapter two.