Authors: Matthew Burkey
“I shouldn’t even put him in that position,” Ryan grunted. “Look, before we do anything I need to talk to him. I need to make sure that he is okay with it.”
Elise’s eyebrows went up at that comment. “Really?”
“Really,” Ryan said, with a nod. “He’s my friend, we promised a long time ago that we wouldn’t let a girl come between us.”
“You do realize that kind of devotion to your friends only makes you more attractive, right?”
“Oh very much so,” Elise acknowledged. Now she was picking at lint on her own sweatshirt “So, what do we do now?”
“I’ll talk to Ethan as soon as I can,” Ryan added, standing up. “Um, then I guess we go from there.”
Elise stood up as well. “I guess that’s as good a plan as any.”
Ryan turned to go back toward his tent when Elise grabbed him by the arm and pulled him in close. She kissed him, not a friendly kiss but one that made it clear she wanted a lot more than to just be friends. He felt her melt into him, her hands wrapping around him and snaking their way down toward the front of his jeans. Ryan broke the kiss as Elise eased out of his arms.
“What was that for?” his voice was barely a whisper.
“Just something to make sure that you really get your point across to Ethan about how much we like each other,” Elise whispered. “Goodnight Ryan.”
Ryan stood there for a moment before someone cleared their throat. He spun around to see Gabriel move toward the light of the fire, his face looked red like he was embarrassed to catch Ryan and Elise in the act.
“How long have you been standing there?” Ryan asked.
“Long enough to see that lip lock,” Gabriel grinned. “It was about time already!”
“Settle down,” Ryan urged. “Nothing has happened...yet.”
A confused looked settled on Gabriel’s face. “That really didn’t look like nothing, a few more seconds I would have had clear my throat a lot louder or risk seeing something that I have no desire to see. I’m just glad that you finally fessed up to having feelings for her.”
“She did most of the fessing,” Ryan said, sitting back down. Gabriel took a seat on the log next to him. “Apparently she has felt the same way about me for a while now. And where the hell were you?”
Gabriel’s face reddened again. “I went for a walk.”
“What do you mean and?”
“You don’t turn red like that just because you went for a walk.”
“I ran into Alex Valentine,” Gabriel answered.
Instantly Ryan sat up straighter, becoming more alert.
“What’s Alex doing here?” Ryan asked.
“I guess he’ll be staying here for a while, he said that he’ll be attending Highland next fall. His dad wanted some place to lay low and apparently they thought here was as good a place as any.”
“And what did Alex want?”
“He sort of asked me out on a date.”
Ryan’s eyebrows went up, he knew that Alex was bi-sexual, although he thought that the young vampire would have steered cleared of any and all Guardians given the current situation.
“Why do you look so surprised?”
“What? Oh, no it’s not that. You’re an awesome guy, I figured it would only be a matter of time before someone came along and asked you out. The real question is whether or not you actually said yes.”
“I didn’t really say yes right away.”
Ryan thumped Gabriel on the back of the head.
“What the hell was that for?” Gabriel snapped.
“You, being stupid,” Ryan answered. “Look, I know that you have this crush on Ethan thing going on but we both know that you’ll never be more than friends with him. And here you have a guy that sounds like he is into you and you don’t say yes when he asks you out on a date. That seems pretty stupid to me.”
“It’s not just that!” Gabriel exclaimed. “The vampires are trying to wipe out the lycans and we are standing firmly in between the two. I’m not sure that Jonathan, Ethan, or the council would be ok with me dating a vampire.”
“Jonathan might grumble about security concerns for a while,” Ryan admitted. “But you really don’t know anything that Alex could use. Ethan...well Ethan will get over it. The council will probably strongly recommend you don’t date him but they can’t stop you from doing it and won’t throw you out or anything. It’s happened before, I mean a Guardian dating a vampire.”
“Sure,” Ryan said, with a shrug of his shoulders. “They only really get upset if there is a possibility of kids, which you two won’t have to worry about.”
“Why do they get upset about that?”
“Hybrids can cause a problem sometimes,” Ryan stated. “Let’s not go into that now, you really don’t have an excuse to say no. Unless of course you really don’t find him all that attractive, which I know is a lie after the way you stared him down last time.”
“You think I should go out with him?”
“I’m not saying that you should marry him,” Ryan stated. “But one date is not going to cause the end of the world and who knows, you might even enjoy yourself.”
“I don’t know if it’s a good idea or not,” Gabriel responded, shaking his head. “I’ve never been on a date before, I wouldn’t even know how to act or what to wear or what to say…”
“Stop making excuses!”
Gabriel was slightly taken aback by the force behind Ryan’s response.
“I didn’t know that you cared that much.”
“Look,” Ryan sighed, placing a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I know that you like Ethan, I mean really, really, like Ethan but I am telling you he’s not interested in that kind of relationship with a guy. Alex is, why not explore that.”
“I just hate it when you are right about stuff like this, do you think that I should tell Ethan?”
“Eventually yeah, I suppose you should,” Ryan stated. “But I don’t think that we need to tell him about one little date. I have a feeling that he’ll be dealing with enough angst once I tell him about me and Elise. Any way that you could help me break that news?”
“Oh hell no, that totally sounds like a conversation that you should have with him in private.”
“I hate it when you are right about those kinds of things,” Ryan responded.
Janus stood at the window of his New York penthouse apartment, looking down at the city teeming with life below. He turned away from the window and toward the spacious and well decorated apartment that was currently serving as his residence. The apartment held no personal belongings, mainly because he didn’t have anything that he really considered his.
He knew full well that his old life had been burned away and even if he could go back and find something to connect with who he once was, he wouldn’t want to. He had been weak then, full of idealism and optimism. He had no idea what the world was really like and who the true enemies were. Janus shook off those thoughts and checked his watch, his spy inside the Guardians would be reporting in soon and he was eager to hear their latest update.
He walked to the credenza and poured himself a drink before moving across the expansive space to his desk. It only took him a few moments to get through most of the reports on his various operations, waiting until his spy checked in. Right on the dot the computer blazed to life, indicating an incoming call. Janus smiled to himself before answering.
“Greetings to you as well,” Janus responded, taking a sip of his drink. The person the video screen was sitting in the dark, barely giving off a silhouette. The voice was heavily modulated through the computer, making it impossible to tell whether it was male or female. That was mainly Janus’s doing, on the off chance that someone managed to capture the feed or break the encryption code. Neither was likely to happen but he felt better with both of those systems in place.
“I’ve located the Well of Souls.”
“Easy to access?” Janus asked.
“Not easy enough,” his spy responded. “I’m sending the location to you now. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to completely cover my tracks. I had to piece together a lot of information, including scrolls from the Council of Mages main vault.”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” Janus acknowledged. “Do what you can from Aegis and I’ll worry about the rest.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“You’ve managed to stay covert so far,” Janus responded. “And you’re doing a remarkable job of staying under their radar. By the time that they figure out what you’ve done, it will be entirely too late for them to really do anything about it.”
“I still think that we should make a better attempt at erasing all traces of it.”
“Doing so would embroil us in a war with the mages, a war that we aren’t entirely ready to start. After we gain access to the Well of Souls, then it really won’t make a difference.”
“If that’s what you want.”
“I’m going to be sending a team to the Well within a few hours, I trust that you can keep them off our trail for that long?”
“I’ll do what I can.”
The figure on the screen hesitated.
“Is there something else?” Janus asked.
“Are you sure waking them is wise? We know little about them, what if they don’t take your side and go on a rampage instead?”
“They won’t,” Janus assured his informant.
“And Gabriel, you still want him alive, right?”
Janus nodded to the figure. “He’s still an essential part of our plan, I’ll deal with him as soon as we have secured the Well of Souls.”
The screen went dark as the line was cut.
Janus couldn’t really blame his spy for getting a little nervous. But, he still had use for him and needed him to stay put for the moment. Janus pulled out his cell phone and sent a quick message to DeVore. The vampire responded almost at once, indicating that he was on his way. Janus leaned back in his chair, sipping at his drink.
He stood from his chair and returned to gazing out the window. The door chimed several minutes later and Janus crossed the apartment to open it.
Marcus DeVore stood outside the door, impeccably dressed as always. He was flanked by two large men in equally as expensive suits with dark sunglasses. They held stern expressions on their faces. Despite the myth, vampires were more than capable of traveling in daylight. Hundreds of years of subtle mutations had bred out the intolerance to sunlight. Marcus crossed into the apartment, leaving his guards outside as agreed. He knew that he was in no danger from Janus, after all they were partners.
“It’s good to see you again Marcus, I trust that things are going well with our project?” Janus asked, gesturing toward a chair opposite his desk. “Would you care for anything to drink?”
“Scotch if you please,” Marcus answered, sliding into a chair. “You have a remarkable view from up here, perhaps I should think about making a purchase in this building.”
“I’m afraid there aren’t any units left,” Janus responded, crossing to the credenza and pouring Marcus the requested drink. He returned to his desk and handed the drink over to the vampire before sitting back down. “I bought out all the units in the building when I moved in.”
“You seem to have an amazing amount of resources,” Marcus commented, sipping at his drink.
“I have my ways.”
“You wanted to discuss the hybrids?” Marcus inquired, leaning forward slightly in his chair. “We’ve made remarkable progress. The combination of human, lycan, vampire, and demon DNA has yielded soldiers that are incredibly fast, strong, agile, and durable.”
“Just as your scientist predicted,” Janus responded with a nod.
“We were lucky that you had the resources that you did,” Marcus said, settling back into his chair. “I was surprised to see that a large amount of our research came from Guardian files. I wasn’t aware that they were that forward thinking.”
“They weren’t,” Janus answered. “Those that embraced that kind of forward thinking like Arthur Pesk were asked to leave. They didn’t want the Guardian name sullied with the possible failures of such experiments. Luckily, you and I can agree that you can’t make progress without a few setbacks.”
Marcus nodded in agreement. “As good as they are there are some setbacks. They are still vulnerable to both blessed metal and magical attacks. Even with the glyphs our mages place on them they can still burn themselves out in a manner of weeks. We haven’t figured out how to solve that problem yet.”
“And how intelligent are they?”
Marcus titled his head. “They can follow orders, even think somewhat tactically but they aren’t overly intelligent, just as you requested.”
“We need foot soldiers,” Janus continued. “I’m working on getting us some generals to lead them. Once we eliminate the Guardians our job will be much easier.”
“And you really think that it’s possible?”
“Anything is possible,” Janus said. “I need some of your hybrids for a mission, how soon can you have them to the airport?”
“Good, I’ll need as many as you can spare.”
“I’ll make sure that you have them. Though I must ask a question.”
“With the hybrids nearly complete, why not take the war to humans?”
Janus let out a long sigh. It seemed as if they had this discussion every week. “We aren’t ready yet.”
“The Guardians are already stretched thin. I’m sure with the hybrids we can weaken them even more, making the final victory all that more easy.”
“You don't have sufficient numbers of the hybrids to not only attack the Guardians but guard our installations as well. Once they figure out who make the hybrids and they will eventually, they will strike at every single facility you have, then we’ll be the ones spread thin. We have to wait, at least a little while longer.”
“My men won’t like that,” Marcus admitted. “They can smell the scent of death and decay on the Guardians, it’s a dying order. We need to strike soon.”
“I can understand what they are going through,” Janus admitted. “But striking before we are ready could put the whole operation in serious jeopardy.”
“Our patience wears thin Janus,” Marcus warned. “The covens want decisive action, not this slow game that you appear to be playing.”
“You’ve waited this long,” Janus reminded him. “Rushing into something like this won’t serve our purposes, we need to think before we act. There can be no mistakes. Corrupt as their order might be they are still a force to be reckoned with.”
“And where are you sending the hybrids?”
“Does that matter?”
“I am understandably curious, we are supposed to be partners, aren’t we?”
Janus smiled slightly under his mask. Marcus was more perceptive than he had originally thought. Though he didn’t fear that he would betray him, Janus preferred to keep things secret, at least until his team was in place at The Well of Souls. Still, there didn’t seem to any harm in at least telling him where he was sending the hybrids.
“I’m sending them to the Well of Souls.”
Marcus appeared slightly confused at that comment. “The resting place of the Ark of the Covenant?”
Janus shook his head. “No, just an unfortunate sharing of the name. The Well of Souls holds the key to defeating the Guardians and ensuring our victory. As far as where they are going geographically speaking, well I do believe that it’s somewhere in the Amazon rainforest.”
“What if the Guardians have already gotten there?” Marcus asked. “If there really is something that powerful there, surely they would have removed it by now.”
“I would guess that most of the Guardians don’t even know that it’s there,” Janus answered. He stood and clasped his hands behind his back, gazing out the window. “You have to remember that the Guardians are old, some might even say ancient. They have secrets, most of which they don’t want dragged out into the light of day.”
“And The Well of Souls hold such a secret?”
“Yes,” Janus responded, turning back around to face Marcus. “Assuming our information is correct, the Well holds more than one secret. It will be the key to bringing down the Guardians.”
“To our victory then.”
“To victory,” Janus said.
“I’m not sure that I can do this,” Ryan said.
Ryan was nervous, he could face all manner evil forces but the thought of having a fairly deep and emotional conversation with Ethan was enough to make him want to throw himself back into the middle of any number of dangerous situations. It didn’t help that after their mandatory three day holiday they had been tossed back into the thick of it.
At the moment Gabriel and Ryan were sitting in the break room, enjoying the first warm cup of coffee that had both had in about a week.
Ryan, Tony, and Gabriel had spent the last several days hunting a pack of zombies through the Swiss Alps. Ethan and Everett had spent several days in London, tracking down an escaped rogue mage while Cody, Elise, and Marissa got to escort another group of lycans to a safe house deep in the Florida Everglades. They hadn’t really spent a lot of time together as a team however, which meant that Ryan’s chances to talk to Ethan had been few and far between.
But now they were all back together and Gabriel had been encouraging him to finally sit Ethan down and have that long overdue conversation. On the other hand, Ryan had been steadily prodding Gabriel to send a message to Alex, although he hadn’t really had time to follow through on that either.
“Hey, if I can text Alex you can talk to Ethan,” Gabriel responded. “I think he disappeared into the training room. I’m going to go and try and do that thing.”
“You know, the text Alex thing.”
“Good luck with that, just try and not sound too desperate.”
“You can sound desperate in text messages?” Gabriel asked, a look of panic crossing his face.
“You’ll do fine.”
“So will you,” Gabriel added. “Just be honest with him.”
Ryan nodded and took a deep breath. He entered the training room, just as Ethan launched into another series jabs and kicks against punching bag, threatening to tear it off the beam that it had been attached too. To date, at least within this particular section of Aegis, Cody, Ethan, and himself had been the only ones to actually pull that off as far as he knew. Judging by the way that Ethan was smacking the thing around, it looked like it might happen again.
“Did the bag do something wrong?” Ryan asked, as Ethan slammed another combo into it.
“Yeah, forgot to tell me that I had a nice rear this morning, you better hurry up and tell me or you’ll end up like this bag.”
“I’m not telling you that you have a nice butt,” Ryan said, holding his hands up. “But I do need to talk to you about something. Do you have a minute?”
“Sure,” Ethan said, with a shrug. “Wait, are you coming out of the closet too?”
“What?” Ryan exclaimed. “No, nothing like that.”
“Shame,” Ethan said, walking over to the bench and sitting down. “So, what’s up?”
Ryan shook off Ethan’s earlier comment and then sat down next to his friend. Ethan took a long swig from his water bottle before turning to look at Ryan.
“So? Are you going to talk or just sit here? Because if you are then I am going to go back to punching the hell out of the bag.”
“We’ve known each other a long time and I’ve always tried to be honest with you.”