Authors: Matthew Burkey
“Okay,” Ethan responded. “Ryan spit out already, we’re dudes not girls enough with this dancing around the issue thing.”
“I need to talk to you about Elise.”
“We are not getting back together,” Ethan snapped.
Ryan had to admit that he wasn’t all surprised by Ethan’s reaction. Shortly after Elise and Ethan broke up they had tried to convince them to get back together, mostly because their constant fighting was threatening to implode the team. No one really knew why they broke up and they both seemed intent on keeping it that way.
He rubbed his palms on his jeans trying to figure out a way to easily broach the subject. He was still dreading how Ethan was going to react and took a deep breath, forcing his racing heart to calm down. They were friends, he was just being honest with him...and hopefully that honesty wouldn’t lead to a fist fight.
“You like her?”
Ryan nodded, happy that Ethan didn’t really make him say the words, though that did nothing to calm the nausea that was still swirling around in his stomach. Now that the words were out there he almost felt worse. Imaging Ethan’s reaction was one thing but actually dealing with it, something else entirely. He took another deep breath before looking his friend in the eye.
“And how long have you liked her?” Ethan inquired. He was still calm, his voice remaining even and cool, despite the subject matter.
“A while,” Ryan answered honestly.
“And she likes you too?”
“Yeah, at least she thinks that she does. I mean we haven’t been on a date or anything yet.”
“And if I tell you that you two dating would seriously screw up my world and my life? Would you still go through with it?”
Ryan felt a flash of irritation and anger, at least until he looked Ethan square in the eyes. There was something behind them that made Ryan realize the question was serious. Ryan took notice of something else, vulnerability that he rarely, if ever, saw in Ethan. There was no way, after seeing that look in Ethan’s eyes that Ryan would be able to go through with it if Ethan really was upset but him seeing Elise.
“I’m never going to let a girl come between us,” Ryan responded.
“Do you really mean that?” Ethan asked, his gaze dropping to the floor.
“Yeah, I really mean that.”
“I could be a real jerk and tell you that you two going out would destroy me but that’s not the truth, you were honest with me so I need to be honest with you.”
“Go ahead,” Ethan muttered. “I mean go ahead and ask her out or go on a date or do whatever it is that you want to do with her.”
“Do you mean that?” Ryan asked. “I meant what I said.”
“I know you did,” Ethan sighed. “I know that you wouldn’t screw our friendship up over a girl.”
Ethan’s jaw seemed to twitch slightly after that statement.
“Don’t hide your emotions about this,” Ryan warned him. “I’m trying to do the right thing here.”
“And I told you that I don’t care,” Ethan growled, this time his voice was a lot less even and calm. He stood up and started pacing around in from of Ryan, looking more agitated than he was letting on. “Go ahead and ask her out, it won’t make a damn bit of difference to me.”
Ryan shook his head, Ethan was saying that he didn’t care but looking at him pacing around the room made him think that he really was just trying to do the right thing, regardless of how it made him feel. It was commendable but Ryan wasn’t about to let his feelings for Elise ruin his friendship with Ethan.
“I mean it,” Ethan restated, halting his pacing. “Ask her out, I’m fine with it. I hope you know what you are getting yourself into though.”
Ryan frowned slightly. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Ethan’s lips pressed into a thin smile. “Nothing, go on and have a good time. I’m going to get back to punching the hell out of this thing now, is that okay?”
“Sure,” Ryan said, with a nod. He stood up and walked toward the door, letting Ethan get back to his workout. He hesitated before stepping through and turned to look at his friend again, who by now had gotten back into hitting the bag pretty heavily. Ethan might have been over Elise but there was something else bothering him. And like always, Ethan was hiding it. Ryan shook his head and walked out the door.
“I can’t do this.”
Gabriel was panicking, though that was evident by how fast he was talking. He was standing in the armory at the moment with both Cody and Tony, pacing back and forth. He had no idea why he was this nervous, especially after everything that he had survived as of late. But the very thought of talking to Alex made him all nervous and almost filled him with a sense of dread.
“You dial his number and say hi,” Tony retorted. “How hard can that be?”
“Some of us don’t have your Don Juan like capabilities,” Gabriel hissed.
“You aren’t tossing him into bed and going at it,” Tony responded. “You are just talking to him, like we are now. Come on man, if this is the way that you act no wonder you never got any dates.”
Originally Gabriel had wanted to keep his little rendezvous with Alex a secret but Ryan had persuaded him to at least tell Cody, Tony, and Everett. They all agreed that keeping it hidden from Ethan for the time being was probably a good thing at least until after they were sure that he wasn’t going to kill Ryan for taking Elise out on a date. No need to add even more things for Ethan to worry about until they had too.
“You aren’t really helping,” Gabriel grumbled.
“Look man,” Cody said, finally looking up from his bow. “Just give him a ring and see what’s up. Talk to him like you would talk to us, it’s really not that big a deal.”
“You killed Sainte-Pierre and faced down a demon with a giant pink beam-o-death, this is going to be a cakewalk for you,” Tony smiled. “Just call him before you make me do it.”
Gabriel wanted to argue back but realized that he really couldn’t come up with anything all that witty. He settled for an exasperated sigh.
“Why don’t you try texting him?” Tony offered. “I mean we could totally tell you what to say.”
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
“Coming from the man that hasn’t had a date.”
“And taking advice from the man that has probably had a new and exciting disease named after him,” Cody responded, arching an eyebrow at Tony.
Gabriel suppressed a laugh at Cody’s comment. He looked down at his phone again, as if he could will a message to Alex. His train of thought was interrupted as Tony yanked the phone out of his hand and started texting a message.
“What are you doing?”
“Calm down there,” Tony responded. “As much fun as it would be to sit here and watch this painful angst filled moment, we all have better things to do. I’m just getting the ball rolling.”
“What are you saying to him,” Gabriel snapped, trying in vain to get a look at the screen. “Don’t make me sound desperate!”
“Because you clearly aren’t desperate,” Tony shot back. “I told him ‘hey’.”
“That’s it?” Gabriel asked. “All you said was hey?”
“What did you want him to say?” Cody inquired.
“Um...well, I guess I wasn’t sure.”
Gabriel’s phone chimed.
“What does it say?” Gabriel asked.
“He responded with ‘what’s up?”
“Don’t you dare say what I think you are going to say,” Cody said, sending Tony an almost evil look.
“For all we know Alex could like someone being a little forward,” Tony responded, shrugging his shoulders. Tony quickly typed out a response and sent it back to Alex.
“What are you telling him now?”
“I told him that you were taking a break from practicing.”
“What was I practicing?” Gabriel asked.
“Why does it matter?”
“What if he asks me about it later,” Gabriel shot back.
“If you are doing the date thing right, he won’t,” Tony said, with a smile. “His response was cool. Alright, what do you want to do on your first date?”
Gabriel was sure his jaw became unhinged. He had never been on a date before, he had no idea what to say or how to act. He didn’t have the faintest clue as to what one should do.
“Well, how about what you do on a first date?”
“Don’t you dare answer that,” Cody warned Tony. “We don’t want to scar him for life, what about a movie?”
“No way,” Tony shot back. “A movie is a horrible first date option, you don’t spend any time at all talking to the other person.”
“It’s not that bad,” Cody protested.
“Let’s be honest here,” Tony stated, now starting to pace around the room like Gabriel had been doing moments before. “He’s going to be lucky not to walk into a door, trip over his own two feet, or spill his food all over himself or Alex.”
“Wow, way to have confidence in me,” Gabriel grumbled.
“Don’t worry about it mate,” Cody responded, giving Gabriel’s shoulder a squeeze. “He clearly likes you, so just be yourself and you shouldn’t have any problems.”
“You’re having dinner with him Friday night by the way,” Tony said, tossing Gabriel back his phone. “You get to pick the restaurant, seven o’clock.”
“What!” Gabriel yelped.
“Date, you know that thing that we have been talking about for the past five minutes,” Tony said. “Really, you need to learn to pay attention. You’ll be fine.”
“I’m not sure that was a good idea, we could get called away…”
“And Alex will understand that,” Tony smiled, cutting Gabriel off. “You are not getting out out of this.”
Gabriel leaned against one of the gun lockers and moaned.
“The vampires continue to strike at the lycans every chance that they get,” Jonathan said, as the Guardians filed into the conference room. “And with no signs of stopping either. We lost another Guardian last night. Things are beginning to get out of hand.”
“And he has help,” Marissa spoke up. “Unkari commando teams have been increasingly spotted helping both the Bloods and the Heralds and they are still kidnapping the women and children but murdering the men and any male over the age of 12.”
“Bloody hell,” Cody mumbled. “Just when I thought things were starting to look up.”
“It’s not just the vampires that are an issue,” Jonathan said, leaning back in his chair. He nodded to Marissa who quickly worked her tablet and brought up a map of the United States, with several flashing red circles that seemed to dot the map. “Lesser demon attacks are on the rise, they have increased approximately twenty-five percent since the vampires and lycans went to war.”
“That can’t be a coincidence,” Elise remarked.
“What I am more curious about,” Gabriel said, leaning forward. “Is why they are kidnapping women and children and killing everyone else?”
“Dude has a point,” Tony stated, with a nod. “It really doesn’t make all that much sense. After all, the vampires want to wipe out the lycans why take prisoners?”
“Torture,” Everett offered. “Maybe they think that they can break the women and children easier than the men.”
“Could they possibly be creating a hybrid?” Gabriel asked.
“No bloody way,” Cody responded, shaking his head.
“He’s right,” Ethan added. “Vampires think that the lycans are nothing more than animals, they wouldn’t sully their genetic line by getting into bed with them, in this case literally. Maybe, they are using them for...well, I’d rather not say, if you get my drift.”
Everyone in the room appeared to catch onto what Ethan was saying. Jonathan, however, didn’t let the comment slow down the briefing but continued on.
“The lycan leadership is working to ascertain why the vampires are kidnapping children and women, they’ll share any findings with us. Per the council’s orders, we are to continue with our protection missions and not officially investigate why the vampires are kidnapping women and children.”
Gabriel’s eyebrows went up at that statement. “The lycans don’t want our help?”
“I’m sure they do,” Ethan grunted. “It’s the council that doesn’t want us helping them.”
“The council believes that openly investigating the kidnappings may give the vampires the impression that we are readying ourselves to take action against them. They fear that it might drive the vampires to break their treaty and start hunting humans again,” Jonathan explained, his voice sounded tense, like he wasn’t entirely happy with the decision either. Regardless, it was his job to make sure that they did theirs, which did not include investigating the kidnappings.
“Wankers,” Cody mumbled, under his breath. Gabriel suppressed a laugh and by the noise that he heard come from Ryan guessed that he did the same. Jonathan appeared unfazed by the comment and not even breaking stride continued talking.
“I understand that this is not what many of you wanted to hear but we still have a job to do and a world that needs protecting.”
“This isn’t right,” Ethan shot back. “We’re practically at war with them already!”
“Right or not those are our orders,” Jonathan responded.
Ethan and Jonathan stared each other down and for a brief moment, Gabriel thought that they might start yelling at each other. Apparently sensing this as well, Marissa cleared her throat and tapped several keys on her tablet bringing up picture on several of the screens. It showed a woman, maybe in her late forties with raven hair, brown eyes, coffee colored complexion, and a thin smile. Gabriel didn’t recognize her from any files.
“Who is that?” Tony asked.
“We don’t know,” Jonathan admitted.
“We received a message from her yesterday,” Marissa explained. “Actually the Aegis station in Rome got a message that was then forwarded on to us.”
“What does she want?” Gabriel asked.
“She wants to help,” Marissa said. “We really don’t know much about her, she isn’t a major player or at least not one that we have encountered before.”
Everett tapped a few commands into his own tablet before speaking. “We don’t even know if she is human or not. In her message she claims to have helped Sainte-Pierre track down a number of ancient and powerful artifacts, including the Greek Fire grenades. She calls herself Eve, it’s doubtful that’s her real name of course.”
“Are you kidding me?” Ethan snapped. “You want to trust a total and complete stranger? Hell, doesn’t anyone find this the least bit odd that Eve even knew how to contact the Guardians in Rome?”
“We aren’t all that hard to find,” Marissa put in. “I mean most demons, vampires, and lycans know how to get a hold of us. Since she claims to have had contact with Sainte-Pierre recently the council thought that we should look into it.”
Ethan snorted in annoyance and shook his head. Everett ignored his teammate and continued talking. “She has agreed to meet us in Rome in three days, assuming that we agree to actually go through with this.”
“We aren’t...oh hell you already told them yes, didn’t you,” Ethan growled in frustration. “Why don’t you just put a big sign out front that advertises where we are and for everyone to come on in, you want my swords to so that you can just hand them over to the Bloods and the Heralds.”
“That’s enough,” Jonathan warned. “The council and I feel that any lead we can get on Sainte-Pierre’s ally is worth looking into. This might be a long shot but any information that we can get is better than what we have now.”
“She might not even know anything about his ally!” Ethan protested again.
“That’s enough!” Jonathan yelled, practically coming out of his seat. “This is not open for debate and in case you forgot I am the in charge of this team not you! I make the decision on what operations we carry out, is that clear?”
“Crystal,” Ethan responded.
“We’ve done some searching into Eve,” Everett quickly responded, trying to halt what he assumed was going to be another argument. “There really isn’t anything on her, no one appears to have heard of her, which might be why Sainte-Pierre used her. Our sources are still trying to find anything that they can on her.”
“Doesn’t sound like they are going to be able to dig up much,” Tony added. “Alright, I am assuming that you aren’t going to send everyone on what could be a wild goose chase?”
“That would hardly be efficient,” Jonathan responded, his shoulders sagged a little now and he sunk back into his chair. All of a sudden he looked very tired and incredibly stressed out. “I’m sending Gabriel, Everett, Marissa, and Tony to talk to Eve. Find out what she knows and if she has any idea who it was that Sainte-Pierre was working with.”
“Are you sure that she’ll talk to us?” Tony asked.
“She will,” Jonathan responded, with a nod. “The rest of you will remain here and continue your duties.”
“Which includes what exactly?” Ethan asked. “Sitting on our thumbs?”
“Actually no,” Marissa answered. She swiped her finger across her tablet, fading away the picture of Eve and replacing it with another stunningly attractive female. She was much younger than Eve, with short blond hair, blue eyes, and a lithe body. “Anyone know who that is?”
“My future ex-girlfriend,” Tony said, with a smile.
“I’m too far away but would somebody hit him please,” Marissa responded. “That is Countess Faye Delacart, she’s the daughter of…”
“Franklin Delcart,” Gabriel answered. “He’s head of one of the largest lycan packs on the eastern seaboard. In fact he’s one of the only ones to be considered a serious threat to the vampires.”
“Glad to see that someone did his homework,” Marissa said, looking at the rest of the Guardians, her gaze lingering Tony a half second longer than the other Guardians. “She’ll be attending a party in Paris in two days. Franklin has requested that we send a few Guardians along for protection.”
“What are we now, hired bodyguards?” Ethan asked.
Jonathan shot a death glare at Ethan, which promptly silenced any further comments.
“Paris might be cool,” Gabriel said, hoping to break the tension.
“Ugh, Paris,” Ethan grunted. “Aside from the academy, I really hate that place.”
“Now you’re just being difficult to be difficult,” Elise muttered.
Jonathan cleared his throat bringing the meeting back on track. “You have your assignments, I trust that you can all carry them out without any further discussions?”
No one said anything.
“I can assure you gentlemen that things are going as planned. We will strike at the Guardians when the time is right, Janus has assured me of that,” Marcus said, looking away from his computer monitor. He was in his office, located on the twentieth floor Imperial Medical’s headquarters building. For the past half hour he had been speaking too every member of every vampire coven about the current state of affairs between the Guardians and the vampires. Well, almost every coven.
Anton Valentine was still holding out. But all the rest of the covens agreed that their next step should be taking the war to the humans. With the Guardians spread thin in an effort to protect the lycans as well as stop the flood demons that been bursting into the world, the time to strike was getting closer.
“We grow tired of waiting,” responded Raphael of the Herald’s. “Our armies grow stronger everyday while the constant demon attacks weaken the Guardians even further. We should strike now, before they have a chance to regroup.”
“Patience,” Marcus urged.
“Very well,” someone else responded. “We shall continue to follow his plan, for now.”
One by one everyone signed off, leaving Marcus staring at a blank computer screen. He could understand their frustration, he was feeling it as well, but he had to trust Janus, at least for now. They were making headway with the hybrids, though they still tended to burn themselves out. Both the facility in New York and in Montana were working at peak efficiency.
There was a knock at the door prompting him to look up from his computer. “Come in.”
Arthur walked in carrying a stack of file folders. His hair was a mess and as usual he looked more than a little out of sorts. His shirt was spattered with what looked like coffee stains. The sight made Marcus cringe inwardly, despite his utter brilliance the man could come off as rather oafish.
“And how are things proceeding this fine morning?”
“All things considered rather well,” Arthur responded. “We only need a few more genetic samples to fine tune the next batch, we’ve got them almost bred to perfection.”
“As I imagined you would, the burn out problem?”
“Should be solved after this next generation,” Arthur offered, setting several folders down on Marcus’s desk. “They won’t believe this marvel that we have created.”
“It’s been mostly your creation Arthur,” Marcus added. “Although without my considerable resources, it probably would have taken you many more years.”
“That is true.”
Marcus’s computer flashed a message across the screen prompting him to look away from Arthur and back at his monitor. He hadn’t expected the caller on the other end, not waiting to keep the man waiting, he pressed a button, answering the call and bringing the screen to life.
“Janus, what a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you?”
“My spy has brought me some very interesting information that I thought you might want to be aware of,” Janus said. “Apparently, several of our intrepid young Guardians are being sent to protect the young Miss Faye Delacart. I recalled a conversation that we had a while ago about how advantageous it would be to have her as a guest, as way to persuade her father to end this rather pointless war.”
Marcus’s eyebrows went up at the mention of her name. “That is rather interesting news, we’ve been trying to at least pin down her location for the past few weeks. I take it that you know where she’ll be?”
“In Paris, two nights from now.”
“Now that is interesting,” Marcus mused, leaning back in his chair slightly. “I trust that you can provide me with all the details?”
“I wouldn’t have called you otherwise.”
“If we are able to get our hands on the young Miss Delacart, things will go much smoother in our war with the lycans. It might even be the bargaining chip we need to bring them to their unknowing end.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Janus nodded. “According to my spy the security around here will be rather minimal, hence why they are asking several Guardians go to along. My mages have already been working on weakening the spells that keep a great deal of the hell rifts sealed in France, which means that the local Guardians will have their hands full.”
“You really do think of everything, don’t you?” Marcus responded. “I’ll mobilize my forces, do let me know how your hunt for the Well of Souls goes and how our new hybrids work out.”
“Oh I will indeed.”
The communication cut off, leaving a smiling Marcus sitting in his chair. He leaned back and pulled a cigar from his desk drawer and lit it, drawing in a long breath. Things were finally starting to turn around, Faye’s father, Franklin had been a large thorn in his side since the war started. He was one of the few lycan pack leaders that were causing him and the rest of the covens a considerable amount of trouble. Almost as if reading his thoughts, Arthur spoke up.