Authors: Matthew Burkey
“Has the council given any thought as to what could happen if either one of them breaks the treaty with the Guardians and puts humans back on the menu?”
“That seems unlikely, as least as far as the lycans are concerned,” Jonathan advised. “We’re the ones protecting them and I doubt that the vampires have the strength to openly engage us in hostilities.”
“And we don’t have the number to openly engage them,” Elise added. “Face it, if the vampires did break the treaty and push for war we wouldn’t be able to stop them, there aren’t enough Guardians to go fight them, protect the lycans, and go along with our normal duties.”
“If we know that, then it’s a safe bet that Sainte-Pierre’s mysterious ally knows it too.”
“Maybe he’s just waiting for the right time to pounce,” Marissa sighed.
“Let’s hope that he doesn’t find it.”
Marcus DeVore was a patient man. He had spent three hundred years on this earth and in doing so had learned that some of the best things in life were worth the wait. He pondered this as he descended the stairs of his research facility located on the outskirts of Chicago. By this time next year they would be rid of both the Guardians and the lycans. And that was well worth the wait.
He used a prox card to enter the next door, allowing him access to the lowest level of the lab. Marcus had been building up his company Imperial Medical Technologies, since the turn of the century. He had been a lawyer before, before he had been turned and once he saw the great advances that the humans were making in medicine, he decided to change things up some.
Marcus was a vampire, a fairly young one at just three hundred years old. Despite his rather advanced age, he didn’t look it. He had black hair, with just the faintest hint of silver starting to creep in around the edges, and pale blue eyes. He was tall, 6’5, with a lithe and lean build. He wore tailor made and expensive suits and shoes, only the finest for the man in charge of one of the world’s most powerful vampire covens, the Bloods.
“Ah, Mr. DeVore.”
He was greeted by Arthur Pesk, a small potbellied man with thinning hair and pale skin. However, he was a genius when it came to the science of genetics and splicing genes. It also helped matters that he was a mage, although he had been cast out of the Guardians several years ago for what they called a ‘profane and malevolent use of magic and science’. Personally, Marcus rather liked that about the stumpy little man, though if it weren’t for those talents, Marcus would have gotten rid of him a long time ago.
“Arthur,” Marcus nodded. “I hear that we gained some new specimens overnight?”
“Indeed we did,” Arthur nodded. “Your men managed to capture several children in excellent condition; they are all sedated and in the holding rooms.”
“And to think that you wasted your genius with the Guardians for all those years.”
“I was the fool,” Arthur growled. “I should have seen what they were becoming a long time ago...Janus is the one that saved me.”
Marcus decided not to comment on that. Though he enjoyed the money and support that Janus appeared to be pouring into their own projects, he also was somewhat distrustful of the man. They had the same end goals but Marcus found it hard to put his trust completely in a man that never showed his face.
They finished crossing the lab and stopped near a set of sealed doors. Both Marcus and Arthur punched in codes, seconds later the doors whooshed open, allowing them access to the next area, which included the holding rooms for the captured lycans.
Marcus nodded. “Good, any response for the first test subjects?”
“I’m afraid that none of them made it,” Arthur remarked, hanging his head. “I’m already having the bodies disposed of. I’ll need another batch soon though; Phase II seems to be the hardest on the test subjects. Usually, that’s where we lose them.”
“I’m sure that we can find more of the animals,” Marcus shrugged. “They are like cockroaches after all. All you have to do is throw out some food and they come running.”
“What I don’t understand is how easily they are being defeated, without the Guardian’s help they would have been overrun almost immediately. They don’t seem to have the same resources as you do.”
“The lycans are animals,” Marcus hissed. “While they abided by that ridiculous treaty we did not, we’ve been building our armies for years while they have done nothing but allow themselves to be placated by the Guardians.”
Arthur nodded nervously, shrinking back from the larger man.
They stopped at a large armored door and both entered access codes again, allowing the heavy doors to move away with a soft hiss. Normally, Sainte-Pierre would be the one to check up on the status of this particular experiment but ever since his demise, Marcus found himself spending more and more time down here. There were three tanks filled with glowing blue liquid along the back wall, where a hooded man was standing, inspecting them.
“You appear to be making great strides.”
The hooded man was an athletic figure, dressed in all black. Even under the hood, Marcus knew that he wore a mask, whether it was to hide some disfigurement or to simply allow him to remain unknown, he didn’t know and he didn’t really care.
“Janus,” Marcus nodded. “I wasn’t aware you would be visiting us today.”
“I just thought I would drop by. You appear to be making marvelous progress. How soon do you think that you can get me a combat worthy prototype?”
“A few weeks at the earliest,” Marcus responded. “We need more specimens though, it is unfortunate that most of the ones we have aren’t strong enough to survive the transition.”
“You will have all the help you need,” Janus added. “I have an elite guard unit of Unkari that have been dying to see some action, perhaps they can help you round up more of your specimens… provided you let them have some fun as well.”
“We have no need for the men or the teenagers,” Marcus smiled. “They may kill as many of them as they wish, we only need the very young and the women.”
“Excellent!” Janus said, clapping his hands together. “Your help is very much appreciated Mr. DeVore, I’m glad that you and your coven had the foresight to join me in this endeavor. It’s a shame that some of the other covens haven’t come over to your way of thinking.”
Marcus snorted. “The Heralds and the Bloods have been the most powerful covens for the last 500 years, eventually the rest will see reason and join us. Especially after they see what we have accomplished here.”
“I can only hope,” Janus sighed. “I would hate to have to count them among our enemies.”
“I doubt that will be necessary, some of them still fear retribution from the Guardians, once we prove that they are no longer a threat then we shouldn’t have a problem convincing them to join our cause.”
“Pft,” Janus said, with a wave of his hand. “The Guardians aren’t going to be a threat much longer. I’m working on something that will ensure the end of their order as well.”
“Do you wish to share?” Marcus asked.
“I wish I could,” Janus stated. “But I need to keep you in the dark a little while longer my friend. In order for my plan to work I need complete secrecy. I look forward to seeing your progress next week.”
Janus turned and strode out of the room, leaving Marcus and Arthur alone. They waited until he passed through set of sealed doors before speaking again.
“Do you really think that he can do what he says?” Arthur asked.
“End the Guardians? Ever since their inception, the Guardians have been a thorn in our side. They forced us to make peace with those vermin; they robbed us of our chance to rule this world once...I won’t let them do it again. If he can’t make that happen then I will.”
“They won’t go down without a fight.”
“I know that,” Marcus sighed, gesturing toward the tanks at the back of the room. “But as soon as we perfect our new breed of soldiers they won’t stand a chance.”
“Well, that is our hope,” Arthur admitted, fidgeting with the cuffs of his shirt.
“You better make it a reality,” Marcus sneered. “I’ve promised the other covens and Janus that these new hybrids will be the answer to ending not only the lycan plague but the Guardians as well, that’s a promise that I intend to keep.”
“Why do you suppose that he hates them?”
“Janus?” Marcus inquired, arching an eyebrow. “I’m not sure and I honestly don’t really care. We both have the same goals, to me that’s all that matters.”
Arthur nodded in understanding. “They are going to get what they deserve.”
Marcus smiled. He knew full well that Arthur still held a grudge for what they had done to him. Although Marcus didn’t view humans as much different than the lycans, some of them, like Arthur did have talents and abilities that he found useful. Until he could find a vampire with those same talents and abilities Arthur would be safe, it was a fact that he suspected the former Guardian knew all too well, even if he never spoke of it.
“You and your colleagues shouldn’t have been punished for your research, with an army like we are about to create, the Guardians would have been unstoppable.”
“It is their own fault for being so shortsighted,” Arthur replied. “They failed to see the genius of my work, it’s something that they will soon learn to regret.”
Marcus had a feeling that was what motivated him and had helped him with the results that they managed to produce so far. Despite the setbacks, they were making great strides forward and Marcus didn’t have a doubt that before long, Arthur and his research team would be able to create a viable hybrid that would encompass the best of vampire, lycan, and demon abilities. And when they did, Marcus and the other covens would have an unstoppable weapon to unleash on their enemies.
“Your revenge will soon be at hand,” Marcus said, smiling and starting toward the door. “Very soon both the Guardians and the lycans will be nothing more than a
footnote in our history books.”
“We should be doing something,” Gabriel complained.
They were sitting in Ryan’s kitchen, everyone except Ethan. More and more he seemed to disappear and go off on his own, despite the efforts of everyone in the group attempting to include him in everything that they did.
“Look, there isn’t anything that we can do...”
“I don’t mean with the whole Sainte-Pierre thing,” Gabriel said, starting to pace around the kitchen. “I mean something fun, summer just started and we have another two days off before they throw us back into the meat grinder”
Silence hung in the air.
“What about going down to the lake?” Marissa suggested.
Ryan’s eyebrows went up slightly at that mention and he set the chair he was leaning back in down on the ground. “Well, we do have the Waverunners, dad just finished getting them tuned up last week. Maybe we could even go camping.”
“Yes!” Gabriel exclaimed, clapping his hands together. “That’s an awesome idea!”
“Do you even know how to drive one of those things?” Tony asked, with a raised eyebrow.
“Well...no,” Gabriel said, with a shrug. “But I mean how hard can it be to learn, after all I can drive a car...it can’t be harder than that, right?”
Ryan shook his head, a smile crossing his face.
“Well, we aren’t doing anything else,” Everett offered.
“Let’s do it then,” Ryan nodded.
Elise and Marissa left to go fetch their stuff from their respective homes while Tony, Ryan, and Gabriel worked on getting the trailer and Waverunners hooked up to Ryan’s truck. Gabriel had started keeping several items of clothing at Ryan’s house, including spare undergarments, toiletries and swimming trunks. About an hour later, the girls, Everett and Cody returned and they soon found their way to the highway and toward King Lake, located south of town about fifteen miles.
“When we get there, you two get the tents set up,” Ryan ordered, as they continued down to the highway. The girls were following in Elise’s Range Rover.
“Oh no,” Tony responded, holding up his hands. “I am not setting up a tent with Cody, you remember that time in the Amazon when you let him set up the tents, the damn thing came down on us twenty minutes after we went to sleep!”
“Hey!” Cody snapped. “That wasn’t my fault; the bloody wind knocked the thing over!”
“I’m not sharing a tent with him either,” Tony continued.
“What the hell is wrong with sharing a bloody tent with me?” Cody asked, his brows knitting together.
“You snore,” everyone else in the truck answered.
“Well, that’s hardly fair...”
“You sound like a freight train,” Everett said, looking up from his phone.
“Or an F5 tornado,” Tony said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Or like a Howitzer round going off,” Ryan commented, as they merged into another lane. Elise and Marissa followed suit and slipped in behind them.
Cody made an annoyed noise and then crossed his arms over his chest, looking slightly upset that his friends appeared to be ganging up on him on this particular subject. One glance at everyone in the truck showed that they all felt the same way...well most all of them.
“Well, it can’t be that bad,” Gabriel responded, trying to soften the blow slightly. Although truthfully, he hadn’t actually shared a room with Cody, so he hadn’t yet been privy to the event that the rest of those in the truck were describing.
“Fine,” Tony smirked. “Then you can share a tent with him.”
“Sure,” Gabriel answered.
“So there,” Cody snapped. “At least now I know who my true friends are.”
Everyone in the truck rolled their eyes at that statement.
It only took them another ten minutes to reach King Lake. They checked in with the ranger station and then followed the road that wound its way around the fairly large body of water. Gabriel had only been out to the lake a handful of times and most of his time spent there was just keeping an eye on Sean and Tim. There was a boating ramp not all that far from the campsite where they could offload the Waverunners.
Everett and Tony wandered off to start setting up the tents while Marissa and Elise went to work unloading the firewood from the Range Rover. Ryan and Cody quickly and efficiently unloaded the Waverunners while Gabriel finished getting the rest of the gear out of the truck. Though it was only shortly after eleven, they could already feel the temperature and humidity starting to creep up.
“Alright,” Ryan started, as he snapped his life preserver on. “I’m going to take Gabriel out and show him the basics; the rest of you can fight over who gets the other ski first.”
“What basics?” Gabriel asked, as they headed toward the ski. “Seems pretty simple, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of traffic to run into out here and it’s not like I am going to pop the clutch and sending us careening into a light pole or something.”
“Just get on and shut up for a little bit,” Ryan ordered.
“Wait...what am I supposed to hold onto?” Gabriel questioned, taking a seat behind Ryan.
“Oh for the love...me you idiot,” Ryan hissed. “And don’t worry we aren’t going to do anything crazy, I just want to show you the basics and then you can take it out on your own.”
“Come on slow pokes,” Tony shouted, easing the other Waverunners away from the shore. “By the time that you guys get out there it’s gonna be dark!”
Ryan turned to say something toward the shorter Guardian when they were both rewarded with a wave of water sloshing over their legs. Tony gunned the engine and took off over the open water, leaving a frothy wake behind.
“Please tell me that you aren’t going to try and catch up to him?” Gabriel inquired, though he was already debating on whether he should dive off or simple hold tighten his grip on his friend.
Ryan’s lips pressed into a thin smirk. “No, I won’t...at least not with you on it.”
“The extra weight would slow you down anyway,” Gabriel said, relaxing slightly.
“I think that you are just upset that you won’t get to grab onto me as hard now.”
“Oh shut up,” Ryan said, as they eased away from the beach. They headed out around the small island that occupied the northern end of the lake. Luckily, Gabriel’s photographic like memory came in handy for more than just combat techniques. He seemed to have the general idea down after only a few moments of talking. After they switched spots and went around the island a few times, Ryan was convinced that Gabriel could drive the thing without putting himself or anyone else in serious danger.
“Wow, you are actually letting him in the driver’s seat?” Tony remarked, as he eased his own Waverunner up to where Ryan and Gabriel were floating. “Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“I’ve managed to not hit anything so far,” Gabriel grumbled. “I swear you have no faith in my ability to operate vehicles.”
“There was that incident in Cairo a few weeks ago,” Tony said, a broad smile crossing his face. “You know where you ran the jeep off a cliff.”
Gabriel’s face reddened slightly. “First off that wasn’t entirely my fault, we were being shot at by those Unkari in that assault helicopter and second...too slow!”
Gabriel gunned the engine on his Waverunner, taking off like a rocket and sloshing water all over Tony. Had it not been for Ryan’s enhanced reflexes, Gabriel was pretty sure that he would have thrown his friend off and sent him tumbling into the lake. It only took Tony a split second to realize what it was that happened, he gunned the engine on his own craft and took off after them.
“What in the hell was that?” Ryan yelled, as they raced over the water. Gabriel and Ryan both glanced behind them to see Tony quickly gaining ground.
“I just wanted to shut him up!”
“Next time just punch him!”
They wove around a speedboat that was getting a water skier ready to go and then narrowly missed colliding with a slower moving pontoon boat.
“If you wreck this thing, I am so going to kill you,” Ryan growled. Gabriel felt him grab on a little tighter as they made a sharp turn around fishing boat, sending a spray of water up onto the deck, much to the annoyance of those onboard.
They hit an open stretch of water, devoid of anyone or any other boats, allowing Gabriel to open up the throttle on the Waverunner. They took off down the lake, just as Tony made his way around another boat, gunning his engine as well. Gabriel felt Ryan tighten his grip even more as they accelerated through the open water.
“That was not fair!” Tony yelled, as they brought the Waverunners into shore. “You didn’t play by the rules.”
“There were rules?” Gabriel asked, his eyebrows rising. “I thought that the whole point was to out race you. Ryan didn’t tell me about any rules.”
Ryan simply shrugged as climbed off the ski.
“You are so not going to let me live this down, are you?” Tony asked.
“Probably not,” Gabriel answered, shrugging again. “Unless you shut up about the incident in Cairo, then I might think about letting this slide, after a few weeks that is.”
Ryan made a fire while Everett worked on starting up the grill that they brought with them, it had long ago been decided that after the incident with the spiced chicken, Everett was the only one that was allowed to cook.
After eating they sat around the fire, swapping stories about the last few months.
“I really want to know,” Gabriel said, poking at the fire with a stick. “What all the fuss is about this hot tub incident you keep mentioning is. Just when someone looks like they are about to tell the story, Ryan threatens their lives and everyone clams up about it.”
“With good reason,” Cody grumbled. “You’ve seen what he looks like when he gets mad.”
Ryan shot Cody an annoyed look, which appeared to be enough to silence the archer on the matter.
“We are not going to go through that again,” Ryan said, his warning glare falling on everyone but Gabriel. “Besides, we could always tell him about that Succubus incident.”
Tony’s eyes widened.
“Oh,” Gabriel said, his brows rising. “Now that sounds just as interesting as the whole hot tub story.”
“It’s quite the interesting affair,” Elise said, with a smile. “You see Tony here, who in case you haven’t figured out by now, is somewhat of a Don Juan, had the dubious task of infiltrating a den of Succubi. Now, that would have been all well and good except for the fact that Tony caught the eye of...what was her name again?”
“Delilah,” Tony said, with a heavy sigh. “And she was gorgeous, even for a Succubus.”
“You say that about all your bloody girls,” Cody grumbled, rolling his eyes skyward.
“Anyway,” Elise continued. “Tony cozies up to Delilah and even gets her to admit, on tape that she has been kidnapping young men around town to feed on. So, we go in with the assault team and try to apprehend them and when we got upstairs to Delilah’s room we found...”
“In nothing but his undies tied to her bed,” Cody interrupted, a rather large grin crossing face.
“Undies?” Tony asked, arching an eyebrow. “Really, what are you eight?”
Cody scowled at his teammate.
“And besides it was necessary,” Tony said with a shrug. “I had to play the part make it look real. Nothing ever really happened between us.”
Gabriel couldn’t help but let out a snort of laughter.
“Why didn’t Ethan come out with us?” Gabriel asked. He hoped the inquiry sounded innocent enough, although he was pretty sure that everyone on the team knew about his crush on their team leader. Well, everyone except maybe Cody. The archer seemed pretty clueless about things of that nature.
“Ethan likes his alone time,” Elise offered, prodding the fire. “He’s probably still upset that they took us off active duty for a few days.”
“They didn’t really have choice,” Marissa offered. “Aadesh was right, we were all pretty overworked. Even Ethan can’t keep up this pace without a few night’s rest.”
“Don’t tell him that,” Ryan grunted. “Otherwise we might have to endure another one of his speeches about his sheer awesomeness.”
“He makes speeches about his sheer awesomeness?” Gabriel asked. “Actually, that really doesn’t surprise me that much.”
“It shouldn’t,” Tony grumbled.
“And like you’re one to talk?” Ryan asked. “You’ve given your fair share of speeches about how epic and awesome you are too. Both on the battlefield and behind closed doors.”
“Alright,” Marissa said, standing up and halting the conversation. “I think we can all agree that’s all that we need to hear about that. I’m going to turn in, hopefully without visions of naked Tony in my head.”
“Hey!” Tony called. “It wouldn’t be that bad!”
“Oh great,” Cody moaned. “Now I have that image in my head!”
“That’s creepy,” Tony responded, making a face. “Besides, there are worse images to have stuck in your head.”
“Not from where I am sitting,” Cody grunted.
Gabriel lay awake, trying to calm his breathing. He concentrated on the sounds of the lake around him; the gentle lapping of the water against the shore, the sounds of owls hooting in the nearby forest…