Lara Van Hulzen
Avery has a normal college life—as long as she is awake. When she falls asleep, her world becomes that of Paragon, an ancient garden of such love and beauty that she longs to stay and never return home. However, the evil lurking along the edges is evident. She knows there's something more to what she sees.
Ophidian, an enemy of old, has challenged The Creator to take control of Paragon, claiming humans would never be selfless enough to protect and care for it. As the threat to the garden continues to grow, The Creator assembles a team to defeat Ophidian, bringing chosen humans to Paragon.
With every dream the garden becomes more alive and complex, as does Avery's new relationship with Nicke leader of The Redemption Team—those protecting Paragon. As this new world pulls her in, earth fades, and Avery must choose between her world and a place that holds her deepest love and greatest challenge.
Ophidian stood atop the skyscraper and peered down into the city. People hurried from one place to another, huddled under umbrellas and wrapping coats around themselves. The stench of greed filled his senses as he watched them like ants scurrying into and out of office buildings in a desperate search for more. Humans always wanted more.
The wind whipped his cloak around him as he walked to the center of the roof. Lifting his eyes to the sky, he watched as the clouds moved at a steady pace. The concrete beneath his feet pulsed from the boom of thunder. Raindrops soaked his hair and trickled down his face. He stretched out his hands causing his cloak to drop to the ground and his wings spread to full span. As a bolt of lightning struck, he grabbed it with one hand. In a fierce grip, he held it as he leapt from the roof and toward the sky. He soaked in the power of once again riding the light as the air caressed his face and the brightness swirled around him. In one final burst of speed, he closed his eyes as his body dropped back to the ground.
The storm was gone. It was quiet. A bird sang overhead. He felt grass beneath him instead of concrete. He opened his eyes, blinked, and looked around.
“Paragon,” he whispered.
He’d done it. He was back.
Silence fell between Nick and Avery. The sound of the waterfall was the only noise. After what felt like hours, Avery found her voice again. “I come here in my dreams and I see you and this amazing place, but don’t know what to think of any of it. I wake up every time frustrated and confused.”
Nick leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, his fingers clasped together in front of him. “I know and I’m sorry. In the beginning, it seems to help if people are eased into the knowledge of this place. But you have a stronger desire than anyone before to know and understand.”
“I know I come here only in my dreams, but it all seems so real.”
“It is real. It is more real than anything you could ever imagine.”
“What is this place? Is it heaven?”
He looked out again toward the valley. “This is Paragon. This is what The Creator originally intended.”
“Paragon.” She let the word roll off her tongue. “What a beautiful name.”
“Yes, it is.”
“And why am I here? Why are you here? Why do I only come here in my dreams?”
He laughed and held his hands up in mock defense. “One question at a time. We don’t have long before you have to go.”
“Go? I don’t want to go! I want to stay and I want answers,” her voice began to rise with irritation. “I don’t ever want to leave.”
“Please don’t get upset. The last thing I want is for you to be anxious.”
She breathed deeply and closed her eyes. Fearing she might wake up, she opened them and looked at Nick. His eyes were more brown than gold up close. Her entire being relaxed.
“I have something for you.” He dug into his pocket and pulled out a gold necklace with an emerald dangling delicately from what looked like tiny wings that held it to the chain.
“That’s beautiful.” She marveled at the stone as he held it up to the light. “It almost looks like stained glass.”
He smiled and motioned for her to turn so he could place it around her neck. “It is. This is for you to always have Paragon with you. Whether you choose to use it or not is up to you.”
“Choose to use it? What does that mean?” She turned back toward him, holding the jewel between her fingers.
“You’ll know soon enough.”
She looked down at the stone that adorned her neck and then back to the valley. “Okay. You said this place is called Paragon, but what is it? Where is it?”
A faint beeping sound got louder and louder until it drowned out the sound of the waterfall. Nick’s image was beginning to cloud over, as if water had intruded her vision again. “No! It can’t be time to go already! Please, no!”
“It’s okay, Avery. I’ll see you again, soon.” He reached out and touched her hand just as his image faded to black.