{Where we last left our heroes: Ebony received her father’s pendant for her birthday and heard for the first time the full tragic tale of it… and her parents’ past}

Chapter 2: When the Sky Rips

“Use the Essence of this whole dead world if you have to! I don’t care. You’ve got to get that Gate open this year or we will all shrivel up and die soon! You don’t have the time anymore to wait another year and ‘see if it gets easier’.”

“But sir, the land is drunk dry. The Gate won’t open, not even when I used the little Essence there is on the other side, and that almost killed me!”

“Do it now!” the wizard screamed. “Try it again. Do what you have to. Get the darn thing open or I will personally blast you into a pile of ash and seek a more capable man as the wind carries your remains away. Do it now, or die!”

The man swallowed. “I swear it will be done. In five days, sir. I must take time to gather all the strength that I may and prepare myself.”

“Five days, then.” The wizard brought his face a few inches away from the other man’s. “No later. Understood?”

The man swallowed again, and nodded.

* * *

Ebony was running late for her club meeting for the second time in two weeks. The last time, on her birthday, her fellow club members had assigned her the lead role in her absence. What mischief could they get up to today?

She hurried up the sidewalk in front the small house with the sandwich board sign in the postage stamp yard reading “Broadway Acolytes” and knocked on the door.

“Hey, you’re late, Pocahontas!” The young brunette stepped back to let her through. “We almost started without you.”

“Can’t,” Ebony said slyly. “Not without me.”

The girl shrugged and rolled her eyes. “If you’re trying to get us to switch your role, it won’t work. Come on, Ebony, don’t be a stick in the mud! You’re the closest to looking anything like a decent Pocahontas. Heck, the rest of us are all white!”

“Rachel, there is a big difference, a continental difference, between Chinese and American Indian.”

“Whatever.”

Ebony followed her down the narrow staircase to the basement where the Broadway Acolytes held their meetings. The other eleven members were already gathered, along with the coach, Mr. Gibson. An extra boy was there too, much older than the rest of them, looking to be more collage age than anyone joining a high school freshmen’s drama club. She didn’t recognize him at all.

“Ah, we’re all here,” Mr. Gibson said as she took a seat. “I got the news yesterday that we have been accepted to compete in the Annual Amateur Drama Competition of Gotham.”
The group broke out into wild cheers. Ebony smiled and rubbed her arms. She knew where this would be going.

“This is huge, as you know. We’ve beaten the odds by getting in at all with our little group, but I’m not going to lie to you, there are many people who are wondering how we managed to get in at all and doubting our ability. We will prove them wrong. I know you guys and I know you can do this. There will be a huge crowd of people in the audience when we perform, and since you aren’t used to performing under such pressure, I have an idea.”

The group exchanged tense glances. Mr. Gibson’s ideas were often radical and not always appealing, even though they were nearly always profitable.

“I propose we host a test performance to get you a bit accustomed to it. But of something else besides the Pocahontas play that we’re doing for the real deal, since the rules stipulate that whatever play we do, it has to be the first performance outside of practice.”

Ebony shrugged and there was a general murmur of assent. Jason, the boy who had tried the role of John Smith the last practice, leapt to his feet.

“My cousin Ade is here as a transfer student from Nigeria. He wanted to come hang with us and maybe join in if he could. Is that alright?”

“Of course,” Mr. Gibson said immediately. “We’re doing an adaptation of the traditional story of Pocahontas,” he added for Ade’s benefit.

“More like a ruination of the traditional story of Pocahontas,” Ebony muttered. Rachel giggled. Mr. Gibson didn’t seem to hear them. He continued.

“Jason, your performance as John Smith was okay, but I liked you so much as Pocahontas’ father that I’d like to keep you there if at all possible. I could give you a shot, Rachel, but –” Rachel made a horrified face. “Well, what else are we to do? Ade, you could give John Smith a try if you want, unless there’s another role you’d prefer?”

“I’ll do John Smith,” Ade said grinning. His voice was accented and Ebony glanced at him skeptically. This was even worse than her playing Pocahontas. His dark skin, his accent, his features – they were all completely wrong for the English gentlemen he was playing. Mr. Gibson gave him the script and he flipped through it.

“The big cheeses for the AADCG are allowing contestants to use their equipment, including makeup and costumes and such. I have a sample batch of stuff for us to try this week, and that’ll give us time to play around and fine what we want exactly.”

“When is this competition?” Ade asked.

“The week before Christmas,” Ebony said.

“Which leaves us with three weeks to prepare,” Seth put in. His role had been settled as John Smith’s best friend almost since the beginning, and he was the most prepared of them all.

“Are we going to meet every day then?” Allison, Pocahontas’ mother and Rachel’s best friend, asked. “I don’t think we can be ready with just two Saturdays in between to practice on, and that’s what we did last time we had a deadline to make.”

“If you all can make it, I think it’s a plan,” Mr. Gibson said. “Now, let’s get cracking!”

Despite his non-English looks, Ebony had to admit that Ade was a good actor and a perfect John Smith. Since he hadn’t had time to memorize all his lines, he adlibbed most of it, which kept her and the rest of the Acolytes on their toes. She even liked her costume, which was comfortable despite its fringy leatherness. They finished the rehearsal and sat down to talk it over, sipping lemonade and nibbling cookies.
Thunder cracked. Ebony felt it like a blow. She choked on her lemonade.

“That was very close,” Mr. Gibson said with a concerned look. “Funny. There wasn’t supposed to be bad weather today at all.”

“Maybe it’s a hurricane!” Allison suggested.

“No, not a hurricane. I’ve never heard anything like this before in my life. Just sit tight, everyone, until I find out what weather phenomenon, or whatever it is, is happening up there. Then –”

“Um,” Rachel interrupted, “Ebony’s already gone.”

Author’s Commentary: Yup, after you slogged through all that and things start to look like getting actually more interesting… bam! I leave it for a week. What can I say? Chapter break.

{Read Chapter 3: What Men Fear here}

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