Gauntlet

By: T. M. Franklin


A mysterious house. An old journal. A dusty chest holding more than secrets.

Each talisman found in the chest grants the chosen a gift, a unique ability. But with that power comes a burden—the duty of The Order.

Something is coming.

Something evil.

And it's up to The Order to stop it.





The shriek of the whistle echoed against the concrete walls and Beck dove into the pool, kicking underwater for a beat before slicing across the surface, his stroke strong and sure. He sucked in only two quick breaths on his way across, and he was sure he cut at least a few points off his time on the flip turn. He poured it on for the final strokes and touched the wall, finally taking a deep breath as he broke the surface and looked to his coach.

“Not bad, Leighton,” he said, eyeing the stopwatch. “Still need to work on your rotation, though.”

Beck tried to ignore the voice in his head. You're not good enough. You're worthless. Waste of space. He gritted his teeth and nodded. “I'll work on it.”

Coach nodded. “You'll get it. Drill a little slower until you get it down.”

“Slower?”

“Focus on the technique,” Coach Wilson said, eyeing Beck's teammate in the next lane. “You know what I always say. Technique first . . .”

“ . . . and the speed will come,” Beck said, sliding his goggles off before he hoisted himself out of the pool.

“Nice to know someone's listening,” Coach said with a grin. He smacked Beck on the shoulder. “That's enough for today. Hit the showers.”

Beck frowned. “But I can—”

“I said, hit the showers.” Coach gave him a heavy look. “There's such a thing as over-training, you know?”

Beck sighed. “But—”

“No buts. We've had this conversation before, Leighton. I appreciate the commitment, but you need to get home. Do your homework. Have a good meal.”

Beck smiled and shook his head slowly. “Yeah . . . yeah. Okay, Coach.”

“See you in the morning.” Coach turned away and blew his whistle again.

Beck would be there. 5:00 a.m. like always, half an hour before the rest of the team showed up. A perfect time to work on his rotation.





“Everything okay? It's getting late.” Beck's dad poked his head in the bedroom door later that night, a cup of tea cradled in his hand.

Beck stretched and closed his laptop. “Yeah, just finishing up.”

His dad nodded. “Okay then. Night, son.” He turned to leave, but Beck stopped him with a hesitant noise.

“Any news?” he asked quietly.

Jacob Leighton sighed heavily and shook his head, the creases around his mouth deepening as he frowned. “Nothing yet. The lawyer's working on it.”

“He's been working on it for months.” Beck scrubbed a hand over his shaved scalp. “In the meantime, she's still in that house—”

“I know.”

“—with her. Doing who knows what to her—”

“I know, Beckett! You think I don't know? That I don't care? That every fiber of my being doesn't ache to go take Trulee and to hell with the consequences?” Jacob entered the room and set his cup on the desk, then slumped against it, fatigue and frustration evident in every line on his face.

“Maybe you should,” Beck grumbled.

“You know I can't,” his dad said, his voice breaking a little, his dark eyes glistening and soft. “You know we have to do this right. We have the evidence that your mom is unfit—”

“That's putting it mildly.”

“But I'm not Trulee's blood relative, so it's a difficult case to win.”

Beck's eyes watered, and he swiped at them quickly. “She's her blood relative. Mine, too. She's our mother. And she's done nothing but hurt either one of us.”

“I know, son. I know. But Child Protective Services has found no evidence of abuse—”

“So she has to be covered in bruises before they do anything? A broken arm or a busted nose?” he snapped. “Not all abuse leaves visible scars. And Tru will never tell them what's really going on.”

“She loves your mom, in spite of everything,” his dad said softly.

Beck grunted. “She thinks if she's good enough, she'll make it better.” He cleared his throat and shook his head. “I used to think that, too.”