Episode 12: Deadly Protection
In the morning light, Bryn and Chad had gone out to retrieve food before she woke. It was their return that roused her. She had been on the floor using Nevetes’ jacket as a pillow, and Bryn’s blanket covered her. Nevetes had been nowhere in sight. Neither had Reis or Sammy been there.
In the present, Krista sat next to her, helping her out with the food.
“How do you both feel this morning?” Bryn took a seat on the edge of his bed.
“Mmm,” she smiled with a nod. Mouth full, it was the only response she could give. But her eyes were bright once again. Genuine happiness was in her gaze.
Krista nodded, but her smile couldn’t quite reach her eyes.
It would be hard not to have concern, which led Bryn and Chad to exchanging a look.
“Hey, you’re both awake!” Sammy’s young face was lit up by her smile. She rushed into the room, waving happily at Bryn as she sailed on past. At the miniature feast, she sat down heavily and began to eat. “I am starving!”
“What did you find out?” Chad asked of Reis, who had followed Sammy back in.
“The death count is at eight. Mostly guards, some businessmen.” Reis ran a hand nervously over the back of his neck, “the man in the alley was found at the headquarters for the guards. They say his face was frozen in fear and he had no blood in him.”
“That was Lugon,” Zene ran her fingers lightly over the surface of the bun she held.
“The Lugon?” Bryn shot up off the bed!
Reis and Chad stared open mouthed at her. Food poised before her lips, Sammy looked scared. Krista stared in silent confusion.
Zene’s soft voice warned them, “there will be more people. Down by the water.”
“Dead?” Chad looked ill.
Zene’s fingers toyed with the food, “it’s my fault.”
Krista touched her arm. And when Zene looked up, she said, “I’m glad they’re dead.”
“Krista?” her brother wavered because killing was wrong and yet.
Krista kept her hand on Zene’s arm as she looked at her brother, “those men did horrible things to us. They didn’t care. And they weren’t going to stop. Not until someone stopped them. I’m glad they’re dead. And I’m grateful, Zene. Thank you.”
Zene’s eyes sought acceptance for something she struggled with, “does that mean I’m a monster?”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Nevetes’ irritated voice cut through the sadness. Zene’s bright smile returned!
“You both will always be heroes in my eyes,” Krista assured softly. Zene set her hand over Krista’s.
Nevetes warned the others, “the issue isn’t resolved, only crippled. You want things to change, do the rest yourself. Zene’s done enough for you.”
From last night, there was a change within Nevetes. He’d washed away the blood, leaving no visible trace of it behind. There was color in his cheeks he was normally without. The red-touched eyes held the same sharp edge as always though.
Bryn had gone stiff at Nevetes’ appearance. Slowly, he took several steps back.
“You can’t run fast enough.” Dark red eyes cast accusation, “you let her get involved.”
“I didn’t ask,” Zene addressed the issue lightly as she stuffed more food into her mouth. Once again, she was smiling.
“I know you didn’t,” Nevetes looked at her. Then his gaze moved back to Bryn, “which is why he remains breathing for now.”
Bryn gulped! As he took a step back his legs bumped into his bed. He sat down hard, “I-I didn’t mean to. I told her…”
“Told her?” there was a dangerous edge to Nevetes’ questioning tone.
“Well, no-not told really,” Bryn stammered.
Around the room, the others trembled or forgot how to breath. None could seem to talk.
Except for Zene. A giggle escaped her lips, drawing eyes to her. Nevetes’ narrowed gaze moved smoothly from Bryn to her. She reprimanded with a smile, “that’s just mean.”
The barest smile emerged, “I’ve kinda missed his squirming.”
Bryn let out the breath he’d been holding. Slumped forward on the bed, his heavy breath moving his shoulders, Bryn panted, “I swear I was trying to keep her safe.”
“It was never your job.” Looking her direction, he pushed, “we’re leaving.”
“Okay,” she smiled, and grabbed at more food.
“She needs time to rest,” Reis was foolish enough to speak up.
Nevetes’ cold eyes stilled his objections.
It was Zene that gave a light-hearted explanation, “we have to move before the sun gets high. Vampires can’t handle the light. Their vision is very sensitive. And I get the sense the heat hinders more than it helps.”
“Stop talking,” Nevetes commanded with light boredom.
“Vampire?” Chad choked on the word!
She picked up the jackets that were at her side. She passed the one over to Nevetes. He looked at it, feeling its heavy weight in his hand. As she put hers on, so too did he.
“Where will you go?” Bryn looked up from where he sat.
“You’re okay with this?” Chad’s jaw hung open.
“Which means you know about this,” Reis pointed out in shock.
They were ignored.
As she did up the buttons on her jacket, Nevetes answered Bryn’s question with a dark smile, “there’s fresh blood in my veins. The time is right to confront the enemy.”
Zene paused as his words hit her ears. Brows drawn in, she looked at Nevetes, “General Vania?”
“Now that you pissed him off, he wants you too. And Vania’s obsessive,” he was walking away. With annoyance he pointed out, “you lost the bag.”
“Sorry,” she apologized with remorse. “At the tower. I left without thinking to get it. You didn’t see it?”
“Didn’t think I’d need to look for it,” he pointed out as they walked towards the door. “We’ll go get it, or you’ll be cold at again.”
“We’re going back to Hope?” Zene paused as something occurred to her, “oh, the book!”
Over his shoulder, Nevetes said, “Bryn can hold onto it.”
“I know what happens next.”
Her eyes shifted minutely as she processed that information. With a smile, she ran back to give Bryn a hug, “thank you, Bryn.”
Slowly, his hands returned the embrace.
She pulled back, casting a wink Sammy’s direction, “keep Sammy close by. She’s braver than you are, and you need that. Take care everyone!”
Zene ran out of the room to catch up to Nevetes.
Outside the dorms, the group watched Nevetes and Zene leave.
“She’s a completely different girl around him,” Reis pointed out. They watched the interaction between Zene and Nevetes. He walked, steadily ignoring her. She had his arm, chatting with animation.
Bryn shrugged, “he takes care of her.”
Reis was shaking his head, “she got Krista out of that death sentence all on her own! She doesn’t need to be taken care of.”
“With him, she gets to be carefree,” Bryn was trying to work it out.
“Weak,” Reis argued.
Bryn looked with surprise at his friend.
Reis shrugged, “she saved my sister. I owe her. So, I’ll make sure she’s happy and safe.”
“Idiots,” Sammy moved up next to them. A withering glare was tossed their way, “Zene is safe and happy with him. She hasn’t stopped smiling since he came.”
“He just murdered at least eight people,” Chad voiced skepticism. “And we just let her leave with him.”
“Zene also took a life,” Krista revealed, leaving the others shocked!
“What?” Bryn was clearly shaken.
“Zene?” Reis couldn’t come to terms.
A soft face, large eyes, and bouncing pigtails took off any edge to the glare Sammy levelled upon them, “Zene’s an Elemental and a woman. And whatever she did, she did it for all those girls she saved.”
“What?” Chad and Reis blanched!
Krista spoke softly, “they broke our feet to keep us from running.”
Fear touched their eyes and silenced their voices.
Krista kept her vision on the pair as they left, “I’ve seen her use her power to heal us. And I’ve seen her stand up to men that had brutalized the rest of us. We were headed towards fates that were so much worse than death. Zene is anything but weak. But using that strength comes at a high cost to her. That’s what her vampire protects her from.”
Sammy’s sigh held a note of envy that shone in her eyes.
Reis and Chad looked on with opened eyes. Bryn looked down at the book he held within his arms.
“So, what do we do now?” Sammy was the one to break the spell.
“I guess we go back to our lives?” Reis gave the suggestion with a shrug.
“And we leave the rest of the bad guys to pick up?” Sammy objected. “Zene’s boyfriend is right. If we want to change how things are, we have to be willing to do the work.”
“Look, I…” Bryn paused for they were suddenly no longer alone.
A man who had been kind enough once to give them a warning approached. And he wasn’t alone. Three young adults walked with him; two boys and a girl. The similarities in their clothing and the similarities in the boys’ appearance made it clear that there was some form of a familial relation. Their clothing marked them as poor.
“Lugon is dead.” It was the first words spoken by the guard to them.
The statement brought about worry. The book fell to Bryn’s back. He and Reis exchanged a glance before they looked back to the guard that had given them the very warning never to utter that name.
“Uh, it wasn’t us,” Bryn shook his head.
“What I find odd, is that yesterday you two even knew that name at all yet lacked the sense to keep your mouths shut and today he’s dead.” Harsh was the accusation.
Bryn glanced over his shoulder. Zene and Nevetes were nowhere in sight.
“We’re sorry,” Reis was at a loss.
“And now, these three show up asking if a vampire was involved.”
“Well, we don’t know anything about that,” Reis’ shaky laughter was an attempt to hide.
“I think it’s time we all had a talk.” Ominous was the atmosphere.
“Where will we find General Vania?” Zene ate at the bun she’d taken from the stuff she’d pilfered this morning before they left.
Ahead, Nevetes walked as though he weren’t blindfolded. Though the afternoon sun was quite warm and powerful, he wasn’t allowing a stop. And though she’d taken her jacket off, Nevetes still wore his. Seemed even the heat wasn’t going to slow him down.
“I will kill him,” Nevetes told her.
Stopping short, her gaze questioned him, “that’s not what I asked.”
“I want you to be prepared,” his tone was gruff.
“I know that he won’t stop,” she resumed walking.
“Then why did you engage him?”
“Because he tried to convince me that you weren’t worth standing beside,” she ran fingers over the hair by her ear. “Made me mad.”
Nevetes’ head tilted down towards her. His sightless gaze was harsh, “you think I need your help or your protection?”
“Yes,” her voice was soft and certain.
Stunned, he stood still.
“And I need yours,” she walked up next to him. She slipped her hand into his.
She waited for him to take the lead from here. After a silent moment, his fingers curled around hers. He moved ahead holding her hand. A muttered comment came from his lips, “possible source of food is all you are.”
She smiled. Together they walked.
“You’re saying that he killed a bunch of people in your town, but you’re coming to follow him?” Chad’s skepticism was thick.
Marie nodded, “I can feel his power.”
There was some serious doubt from Marie’s brothers.
She continued on, “it was frightening, to be sure. And yes, he did kill people, but he didn’t kill indiscriminately. Only those who opposed him.”
One of her brothers spoke up, “those people came into our town and destroyed our homes, threatened our lives, and warned us never to help another non-human again.”
“So, they deserved to be murdered?” Reis was having a hard time. The late morning sun bounced off his hair, giving it a halo.
It was the guard that offered insight, “they lost their fight.”
“What?” Reis was indignant!
Bryn glanced up from reading. Silently, he considered the arguments.
“They lost their fight,” was the reiteration. “They chose the side they wished to stand on, and they lost. There’s no dishonor in that.”
“There’s always two sides to every war. Maybe even more than two,” the guard shrugged with a careless chuckle. “I’m sure good arguments could be made for each side. But I don’t care because like everyone, I’ve got my own issues. Starting with rebuilding the guard before the next Lugon does.”
“You want to rebuild?” Krista held a worry the others shared.
Bryn watched furtively as his friends digested that. Within his hands, Bryn turned the page of the book Nevetes had left behind.
The guard shrugged, “I don’t know what your friend is fighting for, but I know what he stopped here in one night. We do nothing, everything goes back to the way that it was. That’s what I care about.”
“And we know what he stopped in our town,” Marie sat forward. “And what he faces if he continues to go after this general alone.”
“Marie,” Scott spoke up with concern.
Concern that she stood up against, “I’m not letting him face that man alone! Even if he doesn’t think he needs friends.”
“He made it clear that he doesn’t have friends,” Chad pointed out.
Bryn looked up from the book, “I think I know what he’s fighting for.”
“If you don’t say Zene’s love, I’m hitting you over the head,” Sammy’s cute pout got more than a few grins.
With a heavy feeling Bryn handed over the book to the guard. Steady hands took it and held it steady as he read. The others crowded close.
“So, what were you doing while we were apart?” she looked ahead, a happy smile resting on her lips.
“Killing people,” he muttered.
Unphased, she asked, “what are we doing here?”
They stood in a decent sized town with a heavy military presence. Easy was the look Zene had. Her trust proving absolute even here. Nevetes stared darkly through the evening gloom. The town was dimly lit and filled with people. And with something else. He pulled Zene to the right, away from the people who didn’t notice them.
He ran a hand lightly through Zene’s hair. Surprised, she stood still to wait for an explanation. He brushed the hair aside to reveal her neck. Looking darkly into the shadows of the alley he called them out, “you want her blood? Then try to claim it.”
Bloodthirsty eyes slowly emerged from the shadows all about them. Eyes lighting up, Zene took a step closer to Nevetes. Her hand landed gently upon his arm.
She spoke on a whisper, “their sparks are dark.”
A note of surprise rested in his gaze which lay upon her. His hand landed softly on top of her head, and moved down to the back of it.
“Has my brother found his way to you, Notes?” Nevetes asked without looking away from Zene.
Her inquisitive gaze held him.
A form stepped forward before the others. The hood came off his head to reveal a smile, “you gave him your coin. That’s not really allowed.”
“Never wanted your damned coin,” Nevetes finally looked Notes’ way. “Is he here?”
A heavy form landed solidly behind them. Zene gasped, falling away from that figure. Nevetes’ free hand moved with blinding speed to capture the claws coming for her.
He looked at the familiar face, “I’m killing Vania.”
Shock wiped the grin from Kihivas’ face.
“Your hate may be greater than even mine,” Nevetes let go of the wrist.
Anger washed over Kihivas, “you came for allies?”
Darkness flooded Nevetes’ eyes, “she’s the only one I trust. So, do what you want.”
Kihivas fell back at the darkness in Nevetes’ eyes. All he could do was watch as Nevetes led Zene away from the circle of vampires.
“You wanted to let him know because your brother suffered almost as much as you did,” she spoke softly from the safety of his embrace. Nevetes grinned with a cruel edge.
From behind them, Kihivas shouted, “I suffered more than he did!”
“We’ll be at Hope,” Nevetes spoke over his shoulder.
A growl came from Kihivas’ chest, but his eyes had fallen in submission, “why is he always so…”
“Utterly cool?” Notes walked up next to him, a smile on his face. “If I knew that, I’d mimic him. So, what are you going to do?”
“Tch,” Kihivas made a noise of disgust. “As far as the general knows, I’m dead. Why would I let him know otherwise?”
“If that were true, that wouldn’t be here,” Notes looked over his shoulder.
Kihivas watched as the men parted revealing a terrified young man in a familiar uniform. A sneer spread over his features, “I’m not into sheep blood. Do want you want with it.”
From behind him, an empty threat, “the general will find out that you’re here. All of you will be in trouble!”
“What are you doing?” Reis had walked into the dorm room to find Bryn packing a bag.
“Marie and her brothers are right.” Bryn was shaking his head, “they’re going to face someone bad.”
Reis took a seat on the bed, “so, what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know, but I’m a friend. There’s gotta be something,” Bryn’s head was down as he stuffed clothing in without folding it.
“An Elemental and a vampire,” Reis reminded him. “I don’t wanna be a dick, but what are you going to be able to do?”
Bryn stopped packing. His eyes moved slowly to his friend, “I’ve no idea. But, friends are there for each other even when they’re in over their heads.”
“Ok,” Reis stood up. He moved over to the cupboards and pulled out a pack of his own.
“What are you doing?” Bryn unintentionally mimicked his friend.
Reis grinned, “friends are there for each other especially when they’re in over their heads.”
Moments later and the two boys walked out of the dorms with three bags in hand. The afternoon sun was starting to make an appearance. Shielding their eyes from the worst of it revealed a situation ahead of them.
“Sir,” a young man ran up to the trio standing over a large map. “Sir. Ma’am.”
Standing next to General Vania were his two captains; Captain Dae and Captain Elsie. Captain Elsie was a child compared to the years he and Dae had on her, but she’d proven her loyalty to the human race to his satisfaction.
When no one responded, the young soldier danced nervously from foot to foot. It was clear that he felt there was something important he needed to report.
Finally, with an annoyed sigh, the general waved almost dismissively at him, “report.”
A stack of files hit the map obscuring the points of interest, “report came in that a girl and a Primal are behind a dozen deaths in McOrmond.”
He looked at the soldier, considering the words carefully.
It was Captain Dae that provided him valuable information, “McOrmond has been a hotspot for human trafficking for some time. Local criminal mastermind…”
“Mastermind is a generous description,” Captain Elsie interrupted with a snide tone. “They simply took advantage of people too stupid and desperate to fight back. But the trafficking has been small enough not to warrant military attention. And the town is large enough to provide us substantial monetary contributions.”
“So, we looked the other way,” he nodded in agreement. “So, why is our experiment inserting himself in that?”
There was no answer to give other than, “bodies were drained of their blood, sir. More than a dozen in total have been reported dead or missing now.”
“Add that to his list of crimes,” he looked to his captains.
He swept aside the useless reports. Someone else could read them. He had a bigger picture in mind. He set back up the little figures helping establish a visual. “Where is the town?”
“Right here,” the captain to his right set a red figure in place.
“And that village where they received help,” he set a red figure there.
“We know that they were on the road going up this way,” another red figure.
“But they didn’t go to the next town,” a green figure.
“But our scouting beasts went missing somewhere in the woods here,” she circled the large area with her finger.
He set a red figure within the woods.
“They would have come back if they were alive,” Captain Elsie nodded.
There was a nervous swallow from the soldier.
He placed a blue figure, “the meadow with the unidentified creature.”
Captain Dae was nodding as he summarized, “it killed the Tracker and the second vampire. Are we sure we don’t want to have it captured? I’ve never heard the likes of it.”
“It’s entrenched there for now. We’ll come back to it once the experiment and the Elemental are back in custody,” he waved off the concern. A glance at the soldier pierced the kid to the spot where he stood, “the other reports?”
Nerves made the hands shake as he pointed to a spot on the map, “there’s been an increase in deaths here, and our scout hasn’t reported in.”
A frown brought wrinkles to his forehead, “and what of the team at the first village?”
A quick scan seemed almost desperate to produce the report. Fearful eyes looked up, and he shook his head, “there’s no report, sir.”
Two black markers had been placed upon the map as they spoke.
To his left, Captain Elsie spoke, “what is it doing?”
He set down a red marker over a place of importance that had no markings upon the map, “it’s going back there.”
“Hope?” surprise lit the question behind Captain Dae’s voice.
“With fresh blood in it’s veins, he’ll be looking to make a stand. And what better place than where her betrayal led to their end?”
A breath of silence was followed by a tentative question from Captain Elsie, “the…Elemental?”
“No,” Captain Dae’s voice was hard. “It’s mother.”
Vania sneered laughter, yet offered no insight. The orders were clear to him, “get the troops together. We move now.”
Zene stared out across the meadow with Nevetes at her side. They held hands as the breeze pulled lightly at their hair.
“This is Mae’s meadow,” Zene put it together. It looked the same as when they’d first arrived. The bodies he’d come across when Kihivas sat alone here were no longer about. The tall grass and flowers hid what nature had yet to dispose of.
“Zene,” he spoke her name almost in question.
She looked up at him.
“At Hope, you talked about the sparks within spirits. And again with Notes’ gang you mentioned their sparks.”
“Oh yah,” she nodded after a moment of recall.
“What does my spark look like?” his voice was low.
A smile warmed the features of the face which now lay lightly upon his shoulder, “it’s beautiful, like the embers of a fire.”
“Barely alive,” he nodded as though it fit.
But she shook her head, “the very heart of the fire. Something only an Elemental could touch.”
Wry was the look cast to her, but the hint of a smile was there bringing out hers in greater strength. Movement across the meadow pulled their attention. Zene inhaled softly, her hands tightening upon his arm. A pale misshapen figure was emerging from the woods which lined the meadow. It was a grotesque perversion of what it was meant to be. Thick bones were fused in uncomfortable ways. Twisted muscles bulged in odd angles and were punctuated with sparse clumps of hair. Tiny eyes seemed soulless and angry behind a massive nose. It was that nose which had caught their scent and drew it out of the woods.
Nevetes led the two of them out into the meadow. The creature matched their movements till only a single soft hill separated them. Though she was terrified, Nevetes was completely calm. The creature snarled. It was eyeing up Nevetes, silently judging the opponent it faced. Drool fell slowly from the sides of the mouth.
Without warning, it launched at the two of them! Spittle flew out behind. Massive teeth came forth. Deadly claws reached out. The sparse fur pulled back in the wind the creature manifested.
Nevetes stood unmoving, holding calmly to Zene. It was too late to call upon her powers. So, she held tightly to him, desperate to keep him from harm yet unable to do much at all.
A petite figure with dark and wild hair landed heavily in the tall grass between the three of them. The pale creature shifted focus, digging warped muscles into the earth to stop its momentum. It towered over the small figure. One bite, that would be all it would take. And yet, the creature…
“It’s wagging its tail!” she uttered the words with surprise.
Nevetes nodded once, “she’s master in the pairing.”
Mae turned about. And as the creature had done for her, she did now for Nevetes in her own fashion. She crouched in the grass, her wild eyes alight with a frightening looking smile. Behind her, the creature curled up like an obedient dog released from duty and ready to relax.
“What’s going on?” Zene’s head tilted to the side in blank question.
“Mae found a friend. Figures,” he lightly snorted in disgust.
Holding Zene’s hand, Nevetes led them away. She looked over her shoulder to find that Mae and the creature were getting up to follow.
“I don’t understand,” she watched the unusual pair.
“Mae and I are connected,” he told her.
“How so?” she believed him.
“She was my first Elemental,” his comment was cool. Uncaring.
“I don’t have memories of what happened when I was turned,” he looked distantly ahead, uninterested in this conversation. “But I do remember her eyes.”
She walked behind him, looking up at his cold expression.
‘He pretends that it doesn’t matter, but it does. I can’t pretend that this doesn’t bother me, because it does.’
“I’m feeling a little jealous right now,” Zene admitted flatly.
He looked over his shoulder at her. Despite himself, Nevetes chuckled. A light pull brought her closer to him. Looking ahead, he held the barest smile, “never said I liked her. Or that it was a choice.”
She smiled, holding his hand a little tighter.
“Are you sure that you don’t want some of the Primal prisoners?” his captain asked as she stepped up next to him. “I’d rather see them die than our own men and women.”
“So far, every Primal we’ve thrown at them hasn’t come back. I’m not wasting more resources.”
There was reluctance, but no more would be said against his decision. With a salute, she moved off.