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When two brothers argue and come to blows in their own backyard, they are magically transported to a strange world known as Backyardia. Once there they are confronted by a great, white bear and a man made of both flesh and metal. The bear is called Polos and is the force for good in Backyardia. The part man, part machine is called the Warlock of the Wraith and represents evil. His eyes glow with a blue light, a characteristic of all of his creatures, known as robogres. Each brother is aided by a pet, which came through with them from their backyard, and by a companion who they meet at the beginning of their quest. Their adventures take them across mountains and deserts, seas and forests, where they encounter the varied inhabitants of the world, some of whom help them and others who try to stop them. They battle a dragon, meet birdmen and giants, sail with pirates and ride with knights. But ultimately, they must find each other and, by so doing, find themselves.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release

Stephen Almekinder

Stephen Almekinder has a variety of experience as a writer. He received a finalist certificate from the Writers of the Future Contest for one of his short stories. He wrote a radio play, which was produced and aired. He adapted the science fiction novel Nova, by Samuel R. Delany, into a screenplay with the permission of the author. One of his short stories was published in a science fiction/fantasy magazine, Once Upon A World, in 1997. Winterhold, Blood of Winterhold, and Lost Empire of Winterhold have been published by Hard Shell Word Factory. Winterhold was a finalist for an Eppie, an award given out by the EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection) group, while Blood of Winterhold was nominated for the Frankfurt eBook Award. Hard Shell Word Factory has also published Backyardia, a fantasy novel for young adults. And it is safe to say that the Winterhold series is not yet finished.

Coming Soon...

Chapter One

In which the adventures begin and the boys travel from their backyard to Backyardia and find out about their quest.

Once upon a time there were two little boys in the backyard. And they were brothers. The younger one was named Noah and the older one was named Gabriel, although most people called him Gabe, except for his brother who called him Gabey. They played in the backyard every day that it was not raining or cold and snowing. Their tan and white dog, Sammy, played with them and once in a while one of their cats, a black and white tomcat who was named Prescott, would join them. He did not play. He sat in the sun or stalked about in a very independent fashion.

The backyard was where all their imaginary adventures took place. They played baseball and soccer and catch and diggers as well as pirates and knights and superheroes. The backyard was their play world. But one day the world of the backyard changed. Or perhaps the brothers changed. It all amounted to the same thing in the end.

It was a day in early autumn, which had changed from being sunny and warm in the morning to cloudy and cool in the afternoon. Both their father and mother, they had checked with both just to make sure, had insisted that they wear jackets, even though they had been able to run around in short sleeved shirts just the day before. Gabe was grumpy because he was made to wear the jacket. He felt it was warm enough for just a shirt. Noah agreed with his brother but complained less since he liked to wear his jacket with the hood.

Gabe scowled as he brandished his plastic sword and charged right at his brother. Noah stood his ground and raised his own weapon, a toy axe that had come with a fireman's outfit. Since Gabe was older and bigger than his brother, his charge bowled Noah over. Noah fell on the driveway but held onto his axe and did not cry, even though he landed hard. Gabe ran on into the grass and turned toward Noah. He was grumpy enough to knock him over again. The scowl had become set on his face. Noah saw Gabey's face and waved his axe and laughed. That did it. Gabe charged again and again Noah went sprawling. Gabe looked up at the windows at the back of the house to see if either Mom or Dad was watching. No one yelled out to him to stop. He figured one more time would do it.

He put his head down in preparation for the final charge. It was then that he saw the two objects that lay between him and Noah on the scuffed blacktop of the driveway.

"Noah, are those yours?" Gabe said in his best angry voice.

"What, Gabey, what?"

"Those. Those things right there." Gabe pointed with his sword, exasperated that his brother had not noticed them before.

Noah looked hard and ran over to them. "Yes, Gabey, they are mine."

"What are they?"

"They're a square and a circle."

"I know what shapes they are, I mean, what are they?"

"I don't know, Gabey."

Gabe walked over to the objects and looked at them closer. There were two. One lay on top of the other. Since he had never seen the objects before and he was quite certain that they were not Noah's, he poked at them with the tip of his plastic sword. They seemed to be made of bright silver metal and glowed ever so faintly against the blacktop. The top one slid off and hit the driveway with a ringing sound and the color faded to a dull gray. That one was round like a circle but also looked like the first letter of his name, capital G. He knew a capital G when he saw one and that was a capital G. The other one was square and looked like the first letter of Noah's name, capital N.

"See, Gabey, a circle and a square."

"No, it's a G and an N. Letters."

"No, Gabey, a circle and a square." Noah poked the G with his axe and it slid the rest of the way off the N. Both of the objects now looked like they were made of dirty gray metal.

"A, G, and an N." Gabe's voice rose. He was still grumpy and being contradicted by his little brother did not help him get less grumpy.

"Circle and square." Noah's higher pitched voice rang out now and he swung his axe at Gabe. It hit him, but not hard, in the stomach. Gabe drew back his arm and was prepared to swing his sword in retaliation. He spared one last glance at the house to make sure that no one was watching and then he swung his sword.

He never finished the blow. He saw Noah with his axe raised about to deliver his own blow, but he too had just stopped. It was not that he did not want to hit his brother. He was angry enough to want to do that. It was just that he seemed to be getting farther and farther away from his brother. He felt like he was looking at his brother through a tunnel that got longer and longer every second and yet still let him see Noah very clearly. It was a bit like looking down the wrong end of a telescope. He had done that before and been surprised at how small and far away everything looked, and yet how clear. It was like that now.

Gabe could see his brother still waving his axe, only it looked different now. It looked larger and more like a real weapon. He also noticed that the light around Noah was bright and hot. Stuff that could be sand swirled around his feet. Noah opened his mouth but Gabe heard nothing he said.

It was then that Gabe was struck in the back with a blast of cold air which made him stagger. His feet scrunched in snow that came up above his ankles. Along with the cold air came a howl of wind, which frightened him with its suddenness. He swung around and a gust of wind-driven snow caught him in the face. He raised his hands to protect himself. That was when he realized that he still held his sword but that it felt much heavier. He squinted against the wind and saw that his plastic sword was now a true metal one, heavy and sharp and well made.

"Noah!" He screamed it, not frightened now so much as confused and angry that he should be plopped down in the middle of snowstorm in his own backyard. "Noah!"

He turned back to where the strange tunnel through the air still gave him a glimpse of his brother who seemed so close and yet so far away. He ran toward the tunnel, thinking to get into and through it and join Noah wherever he was. But the tunnel seemed to stay the same distance from him no matter how hard he ran toward it. He could see Noah lunge forward with the same result. He could not get into it and through to Gabe.

* * *

At his end of the tunnel, Noah found himself standing on sand that was so hot that it made the soles of his feet feel like they were being toasted through his sneakers. But then, he did not seem to be wearing sneakers any longer. He was wearing boots. And his toy axe had grown and changed to real wood and metal. It was now a full-size, pick headed axe. His clothes were different also. He now wore leggings and a tunic with a hood, just like the one that had been on his jacket. A swirl of hot air curled about him and drew up a cloud of sand. Through the sand, and apparently far away, he saw Gabe. Gabe stood on white stuff that swirled also, but Noah was sure that it was not sand.

Noah lifted the axe to feel how heavy it was. It was heavy but he seemed strong enough to swing it easily. He glanced around at the desert in which he stood. Low dunes surrounded him and far off to his right he could see what appeared to be a high wall made of dark stone.

He turned back to the tunnel, which was still open before him. It appeared to be big enough for him to walk right into it. Its walls were dark gray and blue in color and were puffy, like storm clouds wrapped in a circle. But while the walls and the edges of the tunnel seemed cloudy and vague, the image at the center was crystal clear. Noah could see Gabe far away. He shouted to his brother. "Gabey! Come here, Gabey!"

A lunge forward brought him no closer to the tunnel and only caused him to fall. The head of his axe was buried in the sand and he ended up on his hands and knees.

Noah got to his feet. "Gabey, please come and get me." He was getting scared. The only sand in the backyard had been the small amount in the old tire sandbox and he and his brother had scattered most of that across the driveway and the sparse grass. He did not know where he was and he did not like being alone.

"You are not alone." The voice came from the area just to the right of the tunnel where the air seemed to be wrinkled. Noah narrowed his eyes and tried to see who had spoken. The air shivered and bulged and a figure stepped forward.

"You are not alone and do not be scared by me." It was a good thing that the tone of the voice was extremely reassuring for what Noah saw stepping out of the distorted air would normally have frightened him a great deal. It was a bear. The very large, very white bear shuffled forward on all fours and its paws left huge holes in the sand that filled in slowly.

"See, here comes a friend of yours." The bear actually lifted a paw to point to a dune in back of Noah. With a hiss that expressed just how aggravated he was to be walking through the hot sand, Prescott the cat stalked over the dune. Only he was a much bigger Prescott than he had been when he slipped out through the back door that Noah had held open just a little too long. Prescott was not supposed to be let out but he usually got out anyway.

"Prescott." Noah called out to him. He answered with another hiss but he did move to Noah's side and rubbed his head against Noah's thigh. Prescott was also upset and confused but, being a proud cat, he could not let others know this. Noah reached down to pet him and to stare hard at the black and white face that was so much larger than before. Prescott blinked his green eyes and purred as if to reassure Noah as much as himself.

Noah turned back to the bear and opened his mouth to ask what was going on, when the bear held up his paw and spoke. "I will answer many of your questions in a moment. Someone else must be here before we can begin. Watch your brother who also waits." The paw swung to indicate the tunnel and Noah looked into and through it.

* * *

Like Noah, Gabe found that his toy was now a true weapon and that his clothes had been transformed. Warm pants made from leather were tucked into the tops of high boots. A leather tunic was tightly laced up to his throat and a brooch fastened the ends of a woolen cloak which fell down across his shoulders. He tugged up the hood on the cloak just as another blast of frigid air shoved him hard.

He appeared to be high up on a mountain. Through the driving snow, he could make out peaks looming high above him. The place where he stood looked like a path of some sort with sheer cliffs dropping off to either side. He peered over the edge to his right but all he could see was the snow falling down and down into the gorge.

He gripped the hilt of his sword and swung it hard. It merely whistled against the wind but the movement helped him vent some of his anger and frustration. What sounded like a bark behind him made him turn. There, his paws scrambling for purchase on the ice and snow, was his dog, Sammy. Sammy bounded forward and slid into Gabe since he could not easily stop.

"Sammy, stop! Stop!" Gabe yelled to be heard over the wind, and also because he was both happy and angry at the same time. They were close to the edge of the cliff and if Sammy jumped up like he usually did when he was happy to see Gabe, they might both go over into the gorge. "Stop, Sammy. Sit."

'Sit' was the one command that Sammy had learned well and he sat, panting up at Gabe. Only he did not have to look up much because he was bigger than the last time that Gabe had seen him. His head now came up to Gabe's chest instead of only to his waist.

"Sammy, what are you doing here? And what am I doing here? And where is here?"

Sammy whined and gave a short, sharp bark. Gabe took that to mean that he did not know either. Both turned to look at the tunnel that filled the narrow path before them. Its blue and gray walls shimmered like wind blown clouds but the image of Noah remained clear at the center. Gabe could see that Noah had been joined by something else. He squinted and brushed the stinging snow from his eyes. It looked just like a larger version of Prescott.

"What is going on?"

"I, and one other, will explain most of it very soon."

Gabe lifted the point of his sword and Sammy growled deep in his throat as a figure stepped out of the distorted air to the right of the tunnel wall. It emerged from what appeared to be empty air over the deep gorge. It trod the air as if it were solid ground and then its claws clicked upon the stone of the mountain path as it moved to stand before the two companions.

It was a bear, a large white bear, with a face that Gabe could see was kind and intelligent, although up to that moment he had never supposed that bears had expressions on their faces. Nevertheless, Gabe kept his sword up while he told Sammy to sit again, since he had crouched with his teeth bared as if prepared to leap forward.

"I want to know what is going on. Tell me!"

The bear lifted a large white paw and Gabe poked the point of his sword toward it. Sammy growled again and gathered his hind legs beneath him.

"Patience. Just a little patience is required. You will learn all that you need to know very soon. Watch your brother and the cat; he knows how to wait." The bear waved the paw at the opening of the tunnel to where Noah and Prescott could still be seen.

"Oh, yeah, well, he doesn't have a talking bear standing in front of him."

The bear smiled then, at least, Gabe took it for that and was quite sure that it was that. "Ah, but he does, for I am both here and there."

"How can you be here and there? Is this magic or something?"

"Magic is one word for it. Yes, it is magic and more."

"So you're a magician?"

"If you must put a name to me, then call me a magician."

"Good. Well, that helps."

"Helps who?"

Gabe frowned and lowered the point of his sword but still held tight to the hilt. "Me. Yeah, me."

"I'm glad." Gabe could tell that the bear said it sincerely.

Sammy nuzzled Gabe's hand and Gabe petted him to reassure both the dog and himself. His square head felt familiar under his hand. Gabe looked past the bear and into the tunnel, which maintained its solidity on the wind scoured mountain path. He saw Noah wave tentatively and he waved back.