Authors: Matthew Burkey
“That did not go well,” Cody snapped. The archer nocked and fired a tazer arrow which seemed to only antagonize the attacking creature even more.
“New plan guys, maybe we should just concentrate on taking one down at a time.”
“I don’t think that they are going to give us that chance,” Ryan responded.
And he was right, the trio of creatures rushed forward, intent on smashing the remaining defenders. Ethan and Ryan rushed toward the creature that was still riddled with arrows. Several more flew from Cody’s bow, striking at the legs and arms of the thing. Nothing appeared to slow it down.
Ryan flipped forward as an immortal blade sailed through the air where his body had been before. He came up behind the creature and tried to stab both his daggers into its back but was knocked off his feet as it whirled around, the pommel of its blade striking Ryan upside the head.
“Hey ugly!” Ethan shouted.
The creature whirled back around slamming his blade down toward Ethan, who barely managed to block the blow. Sparks flew as their weapons met, creating brief flashes of light in the dimly lit room. Day crashed into the creature from behind, snarling and biting at its neck. His teeth sunk into flesh, causing the creature to roar out in pain and rip the young lycan from its back and send him tumbling along the ground.
“Holy hell, they’re fast!” Ethan snapped.
As if to illustrate his point the creature struck out with a flurry of blows. Ethan’s swords wove a shell of silver light around him, keeping the attacks at bay. Ryan took off in a sprint, launching himself at the attacker. The creature whirled around, swinging a muscled arm out and catching Ryan across the face in mid leap, sending him spinning to the floor. He hit the ground hard with a grunt, blood oozing from a cut lip.
One look at the situation told him whatever these things were, they weren't’ going to go do down easy. The lycans attacked fiercely but even their supernatural agility and speed weren't enough to outmatch their attackers. Whatever they were, they were fast, strong, and incredibly resistant to any kind of damage.
Cody fired another tazer arrow, sending electrical jolts crawling over its skin. That allowed Ethan to roll backwards and out of the way as the creature slammed its sword down. Slowed only momentarily, he lunged toward Ethan, who dove sideways. He popped back up to his feet just in time to block a flurry of incoming slashes and stabs.
“What the hell are these bloody things?” Cody shouted. He whirled around, his bow striking a charging Unkari in the face so hard that it spun to the floor. Cody stabbed an arrow through its heart a moment later.
“I’m not concerned about what they are,” Ryan panted, he spun around and stabbed a charging vampire through the chest, reducing him to dust. “I’m more concerned about how we are supposed to kill them!”
Apparently unwilling to sit back any longer, the remaining Darklings, vampires, and Unkari surged forward, rejoining the fight. Ryan bolted for the nearest group, creating piles of ash that swirled around him as he danced through the attacking vampires. Day leapt into the fray as well, biting and slashing his way through the ranks of vampire, Unkari, and Darklings.
Neither Cody nor Ethan could offer a response, as both of them were working furiously to fend off attacks by their much larger attacker. Cody parried a blow with his bow, only to be knocked across the room by snap kick. The archer crashed through the ice sculpture, sending chunks flying everywhere.
Ethan flipped and dodged around another attack, finally able to spin inside and slice through the flesh at the creature’s abdomen.
The creature struck out with a powerful blow, breaking Ethan’s pattern long enough to punch him in the face. The blow staggered the young Guardian momentarily. That was all that his attacker needed. He grabbed Ethan by the neck and hauled him to his feet. Ethan’s weapons clattered to the ground as he tried in vain to free himself from his attacker’s grasp.
“Put him down you bloody wanker!”
Cody rushed forward, firing as he ran. Two arrows struck the creature in the arm holding Ethan and another two buried themselves into the creature’s thigh. It roared in pain and dropped Ethan as Cody closed the distance.
Cody dropped to his knees and slid along the marble floor right between the creature’s legs. He leapt back to his feet and flipped up onto the back of the creature, firing several arrows into the creatures back.
Ethan had recovered by now and leapt up, his blades flashing out. They sliced deep wounds into the creature’s chest and neck, causing it stumble and drop to one knee. Cody leapt off, executing a flip in midair. He landed and sent another arrow drilling into the creature's skull. It moaned once more and then crashed to the ground.
Ryan was relieved to see that they had at least been able to down one of them, although they still had two left. He blocked several more attacks by an Unkari before stabbing both his daggers through the demon’s chest. He kicked the daggers free and then spun around, catching a vampire with a roundhouse kick that shattered its jaw and broke its neck. Cody finished it off with an arrow through its heart.
“We still have two more,” Ethan grunted, as he came to a stop next to Ryan.
“What the bloody hell were those things?” Cody panted, joining them a moment later. He spun around and fired several more arrows, turning three more vampires to ash.
“Don’t know,” Ryan snapped.
The lycans seemed to have finished mopping up the rest of the attackers and one of the creatures appeared to be bleeding pretty heavily, however it still looked like it was unwilling to yield to its rather impressive array of injuries.
Cody fired off several more arrows as Ryan and Ethan rushed toward the wounded creature, hoping that they could kill it before it managed to do anymore harm. The creature’s arm took the brunt of Cody’s volley. It let loose a massive roar and then turned and charged back through the door, its compatriot joining him moments later.
“Elise, is she safe?” Ryan asked.
“We’re fine,” Elise responded. “And far away from the hotel at the secondary location, what the hell happened in there?”
“We don’t know,” Ethan admitted. “But there is a dead one. Well, I assume that it’s dead.”
Cody poked it with his bow several times. “Yeah mate, I think he’s shuffled off this mortal coil.”
“We should get it back to Aadesh. He might be able to tell us what it is,” Ryan suggested. “Cody help the wounded, I’m going to guess that not everyone fared as well as we did.”
Cody nodded and took off toward where a knot of lycans, now in human form, were starting to form. Looking around the room they could see that several more of the lycans still laid where they fell, which meant that they were dead.
“I don’t think that it’s going to fit in the overhead compartment,” Ethan retorted.
“What the hell were those things?”
Ethan and Ryan turned around to see Day standing there. A very naked Day, covering up his more intimate areas with a dinner plate. They two Guardians exchanged a look of confusion.
“Day, what happened to your pants?” Ryan asked.
“They weren’t magical pants,” the young lycan responded.
Day let out an exasperated sigh. “I was a late addition to the security team, I didn’t have time to get the pants I was wearing runed so that they would reappear when I turned back into human form, hence them not being magic pants.”
“Wow,” Ethan replied. “So, you’re like totally naked?”
“If I wasn’t naked why would I be holding a dinner plate over myself?”
“Maybe you had on tighty whities and just didn’t want anyone to see,” Ethan offered. “Thought that it might give a little too much away.”
“If I move this plate I’ll be giving everything away,” Day growled. “Now can we please find me something to wear and figure out what just went down?”
“We’ll get whatever this is back to Aadesh,” Ryan said, gesturing toward the downed creature. “Maybe we can figure out what it is and maybe an easier way to kill them.”
Gabriel had been unable to get any real sleep on the flight to Rome despite his best attempts. Everyone else passed out shortly after their conversation about his dream. But his thoughts kept drifting back to Alex and Ethan, even though it was clear only one of them was actually interested in him romantically. Gabriel shook his head and laid back in the seat, wishing for sleep so that he wouldn’t be stuck in a constant argument with himself on who he liked more.
Sadly, sleep never came and the further he got into the flight the more that he realized how stupid it was for him to even remotely think about not seeing Alex again. He was interested in him. He was hot and most of all there was the possibility of something much more than friendship developing. It might actually blossom into a full blown relationship. Gabriel wasn’t sure if he was really ready to handle that, although it was much more appealing than the thought of spending his high school years never dating.
That was downright depressing.
Yet, there was still something alluring about Ethan. Though he suspected that might actually have a lot to do with the fact that he really was unobtainable.
Tony flopped down into the chair next to him as the plane banked slightly left. “We’ll be landing in about fifteen minutes, you okay?”
“Fine,” Gabriel responded. “I was just thinking about some personal stuff.”
“Alex versus Ethan, huh?” Tony inquired.
“It’s a no brainer, I know,” Gabriel responded. “But there’s still something about Ethan that is so damn attractive.”
“His abs? His smile? That stupid way he sways his hips?” Tony prodded with a smile. “Seriously though man, I wouldn’t worry about it. We all want the unobtainable at one time.”
“Well, maybe not me,” Tony admitted. “I mean come on, this is me we are talking about here.”
Gabriel smiled at his friend as the plane started its final descent. Ten minutes later the jet came to a stop at hanger. The door opened up, allowing in a burst of sunlight and warm air.
“Where are we supposed to meet her again?” Everett asked.
“The lady will meet you this afternoon.”
The four Guardians turned as a large hulking man stepped out of a nearby Mercedes stretched limo. He was easily 6’6, with a bald head, piercing blue eyes, and a build that suggested he might have eaten barbells for breakfast. He wore a tan colored suit, though all them could make out the high powered handgun in a holster on the left side of his jacket.
“I am Mr. Hammer.”
“Yes, you are,” Gabriel responded, looking the large man up and down.
“I am Ms. Eve’s assistant,” Mr. Hammer continued. “She sends her regards, she got called out on another appointment. I have been instructed to take you to her residence and make you comfortable until she returns.”
“By all means,” Marissa nodded.
Mr. Hammer retrieved their bags from the plane and placed them in the car. They slide into the back seat as Mr. Hammer and the driver returned to the front seat. Once they were moving down the road and the partition was up Tony glared at both Everett and Marissa.
“Don’t play that game with me,” Tony grumbled, crossing his arms. “You know what I am going to say. We were supposed to meet her and now she’s delayed? She could be leading us right into a trap.”
“She didn’t take our weapons,” Everett pointed out. “That Mr. Hammer fellow didn’t seem too concerned that we held onto them. She is a businesswoman after all, she probably got held up with another client.”
“Like Sainte-Pierre’s partner?” Tony inquired, lifting an eyebrow.
“Stop it,” Marissa snapped. “We are not going to have that conversation, if she wanted to harm us she would have done it in a dozen ways by now. I don’t want to hear another word on this subject while we are here.”
Tony’s jaw clenched and he finally settled back into the seat. “Fine, have it your way. But when this goes horribly wrong and I know it will I am totally going to say I told you so.”
Nothing else was said as they exited the airport. Gabriel could feel the tension in the limo, apparently he wasn’t the only one as Everett cleared his throat moments later.
“Didn’t your parents used to have a house here?” Everett asked.
Marissa’s face started out as a scowl but then softened slightly. “I think they still do actually, although they usually spend most of their time in Washington now.”
“Your parents have a house here?” Gabriel inquired. He was happy for the distraction, hoping that it would be enough ease the tension in the small space. “Do you come here often?”
Marissa shook her head and turned her gaze back out the window. “I haven’t been here with my family for a long time, I think the last time that I was here was right before my parents got out of the Guardians, stupidest decision that they ever made.”
“They were just doing what they thought was best,” Everett remarked. “Besides, there has to be something good about having them retired.”
“Other than the fact that they aren’t home, not really.”
“Do you think that they miss it?”
Marissa looked away from the scenery passing by the windows, apparently thinking the question over. Finally, she shook her head.
“No, I don’t think they miss it,” Marissa responded. “I mean they weren’t very good at it. They always enjoyed spending more time at the office trying to figure out a way to make an extra buck or two.”
“You sound kind of bitter about that,” Gabriel remarked.
“Not at all,” Marissa responded, smoothing out the front of her skirt. “I just know that I don’t plan on leaving a worthwhile job to go play with money. They are what’s wrong with this world, everyone is so stuck on how much they can make and who is the next person that they can exploit. It kinda makes me sick.”
They rode the rest of the way in silence. After another fifteen minutes the car turned onto a long shaded drive that lead up to a massive house that looked like a palace, complete with a large fountain of a dolphin riding the crest of wave that dominated the front drive. The car pulled around the fountain and then stopped. Mr. Hammer opened the door and let them out, gesturing toward the grand house.
“Right this way please,” Mr. Hammer said, pointing toward the door.
They walked inside, not surprised to see that the extravagance carried over from the outside to the inside as well. The foyer opened up into a large room that lead to a grand staircase crafted out of dark rich looking wood. Again, the security guards were obvious, not even attempting to blend into the surroundings.
“Your rooms are upstairs,” Mr. Hammer explained. “If you’ll follow me please.”
They headed upstairs and turned to the right, which lead them down a large hallway lined with full suits of middle evil armor. The floor was made of the same dark wood that the staircase had been constructed of. They stopped at the first door on the right.
“The rest of your rooms are down this hallway all on the right side,” Mr. Hammer spoke. “Miss Eve will return at 8 P.M. until then you are free to move about the estate.”
“You mean we’re stuck here?” Tony asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
“If you wish you to leave let me know and we can arrange transportation.”
Mr. Hammer turned and walked down the hall and then down the steps.
“I guess I’ll take this room,” Gabriel shrugged, stepping inside.
It was a large room, about the size of the room that Gabriel stayed in when he was at Ryan’s. It was decorated in rich wood paneling, soft fabrics, and even had a fireplace. A trio of eight foot high windows were spaced across the wall opposite the door.
“Very nice,” Everett said, poking his head in the room. “Well, I’ll take the next one.”
“You are not sharing with me,” Marissa snapped, looking at Tony.
“I wasn’t even going to suggest such a thing,” Tony responded, feigning innocence. “But I’m going to get out of here.”
“And go where?” Marissa asked.
“Somewhere else,” Tony grunted. “I mean come on we’re in Rome. Do you really want to just spend time standing around here doing nothing?”
“We could be looking for information,” Everett offered.
“Nope, I’m going to go enjoy myself before Eve decides to turn on us.”
Marissa shot Tony an annoyed look.
“I think I’ll join you,” Gabriel remarked, after he put his bag down. “After all who knows the next time that I’ll get to Rome?”
“You see, I like the way that he thinks,” Tony smiled.
In the end, no amount of convincing got neither Everett nor Marissa out of the estate. Mr. Hammer escorted Gabriel and Tony out of the house and toward the more tourist like attractions of Rome. The hulking assistant had other matters to attend to and left them with his cell number to call when they were ready to return.
That suited the two young Guardians just fine, seeing as how they weren’t really fans of the massive man to start with. There was something unsettling about him, although neither one of them seemed to be able to put their fingers on it.
After they got their bearings they spent the next several hours doing most things that tourists do; eventually ending up in the more trendy area of Rome that contained several hot spots for the younger crowd. After they got a late lunch, they found themselves in a particularly crowded restaurant on the patio just as the sun started to go down.
“Ciao,” Tony smiled, as the dark haired girl walked away from the table. That was the fourth girl in the past three hours that had walked over to their table and tried to sit with them. They would chat for a bit and then wander off, most of them putting their numbers into Tony’s phone.
After several hours they called Mr. Hammer to come pick them up and take them back to the estate. Once there they found Marissa and Everett lounging by the pool. Marissa had changed into her suit and Everett into board shorts.
“You really do enjoy that, don’t you?” Gabriel asked, sliding into a chair next to Everett.
“How many numbers this time?” Everett asked.
“It’s harmless fun,” Tony responded. “Besides, a little making out never hurt anyone. Oh and that would be four, five if you count that guy that came up to us at the museum.”
“I hate that you were right,” Everett said, digging around in his wallet to and handing some money to Marissa. “Do you have some girl that you make out with in every country?”
“You never know when you might need a companion for a night,” Tony offered. “Besides, Gabriel here is going to be taking after me in no time.”
“I am not!” Gabriel protested.
“Oh you are too,” Tony shot back. “Did you not see how many of those guys and girls were looking at you today? Seriously, you could have made out with any one of them.”
“Doubtful,” Gabriel remarked. “I haven’t ever kissed anyone.”
Tony’s eyebrows went up. “What do you mean you have kissed anyone?”
“I mean that I haven’t kissed anyone,” Gabriel snapped. “How hard is that to understand? Trust me, I want to...I really, really do. I just haven’t yet.”
“Why not just kiss Alex?”
Gabriel groaned and sat back in his seat. “I am not going to have this conversation with you.”
“Alex is pretty hot,” Marissa admitted. “Although not really my type.”
“Because he’s a vampire?” Gabriel asked.
“No,” Marissa said, shaking her head. “Because he’s a blonde. I really don’t like blondes, brunettes are more my thing.”
“Oh,” Gabriel responded. “Has she showed up yet?”
“Not yet,” Everett answered. “We talked to Jonathan, seems that the vampires are getting bolder. They launched an attack on a lycan stronghold in Ireland, it was one of the bloodiest attacks yet, they left only a few alive. Those that did survive are in critical condition and haven’t yet regained consciousness.”
“Why the change in MO?” Tony wondered.
“I’ll admit that it doesn’t make sense,” Everett offered, with a shrug of his shoulders. “Needless to say it’s gotten the lycans whipped into a frenzy.”
“I can imagine.”
“Well, you know those pesky lycans, they get upset when someone decides to go all genocidal on them. Apparently, it’s this century’s hot button.”
“Eve, I presume?” Everett asked.
Eve smiled. She was dressed in a tan pants suit and white shirt. She appeared to exude power and grace along with a smoldering sense of sexuality, which was evident by the way that Tony and Everett appeared to gawk at her.
“You presume correctly,” Eve responded. “I’m terribly sorry about missing you earlier today. I had another client that I needed to meet with.”
“Anyone interesting?” Tony prodded.
“Now, I wouldn’t keep very many of my clients if I went around talking about who they are, would I?” Eve responded, with a raised eyebrow. “I can assure you that I have no intention of harming any of you. I simply want to help, that’s all.”
“And why would you want to help us?” Tony asked.
“My reasons are my own,” Eve stated, pushing a lock of hair out of her face. “If you’ll come inside we can sit down and discuss this like civilized people.”