Chapter 3: The Homecoming
Gabriel and Breena had left the cave and found themselves surrounded by the villagers. At first Gabriel was wary, they had tried to hurt him when he attempted to leave the village and he was still not very trusting of them. He didn’t have to worry, things were completely different now.
Since Grandfather’s death, the villagers seemed to accept Breena and Gabriel as their new elders. Somehow, they knew the clan’s gift, its energy, had been passed down to the two of them and they now accepted them as their leaders. Banchara had been right when she said Grandfather had planned this all along.
The problem was, neither Gabriel nor Breena knew exactly how to lead a clan. Gabriel had been trained to investigate, to fight, and even to take down shifters. He was an independent agent who took orders, but did not lead anyone.
There was nothing in his training about leading, managing or even supervising other warlocks, let alone an isolated and reclusive clan of beings with shape shifting abilities. As he stood there looking at the faces staring into his, he was suddenly worried. What had he gotten himself into? What had Grandfather gotten him into?
Breena said something to the villagers in their ancient language and they began to disperse. As they left, Gabriel looked to her for an explanation.
“I sent them to begin packing for our trip. They will gather all their personal belongings and be ready to leave by morning. I’ve assigned our flyers to work in shifts to keep an eye out for another attack. If they see anyone coming, they will sound the alarm and everyone will head for the woods. They know where to meet,” Breena explained.
“You’re good at this, I’m afraid I won’t be much help to you,” Gabriel said.
Breena could sense the doubt and worry in Gabriel and she understood.
“I’ve never led the village in any way, but I watched Grandfather do it and I listened carefully to him. I’m not sure if either of us can replace him, but he believed we could. He was extremely special among all the elders around the world. Other leaders came from all over to seek his council. He was greatly respected, and often feared,” Breena started.
“Yes, and now, somehow, we’re supposed to replace him? How can we?” Gabriel asked.
“I have no idea Gabriel, but Grandfather did. He never would have chosen us if he wasn’t sure we would help the clan prosper and grow. I’m just as concerned as you are, but in my heart, I know he never would have chosen us if we couldn’t do it,” Breena answered.
Gabriel stared into her black eyes. She was right. No matter what else, Grandfather had trusted them and they wouldn’t let him down. He would let Breena and Banchara make the decisions for a while. They understood the villagers and they would be trusted without question. Besides, he and Apollo had another pressing task.
“I’ll leave the decisions to you and Banchara,” Gabriel started, “I will watch and learn as fast as I can, unless there is another attack. At least fighting is something I understand. In the meantime, I have something which needs tending too.”
Breena was looking at him and she knew what he was planning. As they stood there, Banchara stepped out of the cave to discover the villagers were gone. She looked at the young couple and waited.
“I’ve sent the clan to prepare for the move. I will send someone to guard the cave until we can come back for our relics. In the meantime, Gabriel and I need to return to the compound,” Breena explained.
“Wait a minute, I’m the only one…” Gabriel started.
Breena placed a finger on his lips and stopped him in mid-sentence.
“You must learn the Scythian way. We always take care of our clan members, and that is what we are going to do. There will be no more, Gabriel and Apollo, from now on there will be always be Breena, Gabriel and Apollo,” Breena said.
Gabriel started to argue, but Banchara was quicker.
“Grandfather gave you both the gift. He kept the three of you behind to fight with him, to defend the clan. He has given you all you need to be great leaders. Breena is right, whatever you do, wherever you go, it must be together, for only together are you at your strongest,” the elder explained.
Apollo gave a short bark of agreement.
Gabriel knew when he was beaten. He sighed and shook his head. He would soon learn it was always better to listen to Breena than to argue with her. He would learn that, and much more, if he lived long enough.
“We may not be welcome there anymore,” said Gabriel, “we left the compound under bad circumstances and had no intention of returning.”
“Don’t think like that Gabriel. No matter what led to your leaving, Zeus came to help you. Even as an accursed one in his shifted form, he came to save you. He even risked his life to save your brother Apollo. We will not abandon him now. We know he was wounded and there is no one left at the compound, he needs you. He needs us! Don’t let the past dictate your future, our future.
Once we know he’s alive and well, you can say your goodbyes and we can start our new life together. We can’t lead the village if we start by running from our past. Besides, if he is alive, he will eventually come looking for you. We can’t start out anew, if we have him looking under every rock for us,” Breena explained.
Gabriel didn’t like it, but he also knew what she said was true. It was also logical. He tried to think of a good argument against her, but he couldn’t. Deep down inside, he was worried about the master warlock. Zeus had left a lot of blood on the ground and he could be in bad shape. He looked at Breena and then Apollo and simply nodded.
“If we run, we can be there by the afternoon,” Gabriel said.
Even as he said it, Breena was shifting into a large black wolf. Apollo took off as soon as her saw her change, leading the way back to the compound. Gabriel stood and watched for a few seconds, marveling at the beauty and grace of the two of them running side-by-side. An enormous grey wolf and an even larger, shiny black one, running stride for stride with each other. They were beautiful. So much raw power. They were the embodiment of everything wild and Gabriel loved them both.
He took off after them and even at top speed, it took him more than a mile to catch them. Once he caught up to them, he slowed just enough to stay right behind them and to watch them run together. They were in perfect unison, neither trying to outrun the other, but working together like a single organism. For just a little while, Gabriel could be happy.
Gabriel, Breena and Apollo had just stopped for a short rest break. They had been running for over an hour and they were nearing the back edge of the outer grounds to the compound. They needed to talk about what they were going to do when they got there.
Gabriel was still worried about the clan though. What if the attackers from the previous night returned? Many of them were killed, but not all. He wasn’t used to being responsible for anyone but himself and Apollo. The safety of the villagers was weighing heavily on the young warlock.
“Will the villagers be able to defend themselves if the mercenaries return?” Gabriel asked as soon as they stopped.
“Yes, they will simply disappear into the forest. When a Scythian turns into a rabbit or a rock, it is a rabbit or a rock. We are indistinguishable from the actual thing we become,” Breena explained.
Still, Gabriel was worried.
“Zeus,” the word popped into Gabriel’s head. He was getting better at recognizing Apollo’s thoughts, but it still caught him off guard.
He looked down at the wolf and realized he was right. They should be more concerned with the safety of the master warlock. He had been losing a lot of blood when he left the village and without help, he was most likely dead by now.
No, for some strange reason Gabriel knew Zeus was still among the living. He wasn’t sure how, but he knew he was.
“What about the cave, will it be secure?” Gabriel asked.
“Banchara will assign some of our best guards to keep an eye on it. We will not forfeit our birthright. The contents of the cave are as precious to the clan as anything can be. Only our freedom and our secrecy are more important, although if anyone were to gain the knowledge contained in the cave, our secrecy would be gone,” Breena answered.
“Sounds like a good job for one of the grizzlies I met the other day, and perhaps a couple of those giant mountain lions as well,” Gabriel commented.
“You still have much to learn Gabriel. You are used to brute force and fighting, but the Scythian way is one of using your mind and your surroundings to accomplish your goals. A grizzly would draw far too much attention and forms that large and powerful are hard to hold for any length of time. No, Banchara will assign the task to three special guards. A skunk, a porcupine and a raven,” said Breena.
“Seriously? Two rodents and a bird? To protect a treasure as valuable as the one in the cave,” Gabriel exclaimed.
“Like I said, you have much to learn about the ways of the Scythian. The deep forest is filled with humans doing many strange things. Some are looking to map the range of forest animals like bears and mountain lions. Some are poachers looking for trophies. Some are just passing through but they get very worried when they see large predators and are likely to shoot at one just from fear.
No one is interested in skunks or porcupines. Even poachers won’t waste a bullet on either of them. If any humans think there are a family of skunks living in the cave they will avoid it at all costs. The raven is there just in case something the others can’t handle occurs, then it will fly swiftly straight to Banchara for more help,” Breena answered.
Gabriel was beginning to see the Scythians were a very cunning and logical species. He also knew Breena was right, he had much to learn about his new clan and their ways.
“What is your plan for returning to the compound?” Breena asked.
“No plan. We go in the front door and we find Zeus. Once we know he’s okay, we leave,” Gabriel said.
Breena stood and stared at him. She had always studied those around her. She had been studying Gabriel since the moment she laid eyes on him. He had many amazing and wonderful attributes, but his stubbornness wasn’t one of them. She wondered if it was a family trait.
Gabriel wished he could read minds. The look he was getting from Breena was disconcerting. It was obvious from the way her eyebrows were furrowed she wasn’t happy, but for the life of him he had no idea why.
“Is there a different plan I should be considering?” Gabriel asked cautiously.
“Can you really just leave him injured and alone? After all he has done for you? You might be able to convince yourself you do not love Zeus, but I know better, and so does Tansi,” said Breena.
Was she crazy? He might feel admiration or gratitude, perhaps even some pity for the master warlock, but love? No, he didn’t love the stern old man. Sure, he had given him everything, including a purpose, after he pulled him from the constant cycle of moving from orphanages and churches, but it didn’t mean Gabriel had to love him.
Yes, his years at the compound had been exciting and amazing and the perfect environment for one as peculiar as he was…and he did get to save Apollo, his adopted brother…and then there was Oz…but none of that meant Gabriel loved Zeus or he ever would!
If only he could convince himself. Just like Grandfather, Breena seemed to be able to see into his heart and the truth within, even if Gabriel couldn’t see it for himself. As much as it irked him, it pleased him to no end to know there was someone on the planet who could see that much of him and yet, still love him.
Breena reached out and took his hand. Blue energy glowed along their fingertips where they touched each other. With a nod, they took off running again. This time in their human forms, stride for stride. It was Apollo’s turn to watch as the two Scythians ran off towards the compound. Even the wolf was impressed, the two were in perfect unison and a thing of beauty to see.
He took off after them, he knew Gabriel would need him at the compound. He already knew what Zeus was and he even had a very good suspicion about Oz. If he was right, the little old man would be waiting on them just like always. His kind never seemed to die, just come and go, but never die.
As the three approached the compound, Apollo warned the other two.
“Stop!” the wolf yelled mentally.
Without asking why, both Breena and Gabriel stopped as soon as they heard the wolf’s command.
“What is it Tansi?” Breena whispered.
Without answering the grey wolf simply looked up. Breena and Gabriel looked up as well and waited. It took several seconds before they heard it. A helicopter, no two helicopters, were approaching the compound and they were coming in low, just above the treetops. As they passed overhead they got a good look at both. Black with no markings and hanging out of both sides were men with machine guns. They were coming for Zeus.
As soon as the choppers passed overhead, Gabriel sprinted for the compound, Breena and Apollo followed closely behind. Gabriel ran as fast as he could, but he knew the mercenaries would beat them by several minutes. If the master warlock was still alive, but badly injured, he would have no chance against a dozen or more heavily armed mercenaries.
By the time he got to the wall, the helicopters had already landed and the men inside them were already storming the house. Gabriel leaped at the wall, planted his hands on the top of it and somersaulted into the compound. As he landed, he just kept on sprinting for the front of the mansion. As he came around the corner and could see the front porch, he pulled his Katana from its sheath. He would make them pay for attacking a wounded and defenseless warlock!
He heard a scream and looked behind him just in time to see Apollo tearing into one of the pilots. The arm holding the pistol wasn’t going to ever work right again, not that it would matter. Gabriel had no doubt Apollo would end this ‘would be assassin’ as efficiently as he had those the previous evening.
Turning his attention back to the mansion, Gabriel ran to the open door and quietly stepped inside. He was hoping to be able to end as many of them as possible before they even knew he was there. As soon as he stepped through the doorway, he stepped to one side and into the shadows. He waited as his eyes grew accustomed to the darker interior of the mansion. He listened carefully, but he could hear no sounds. It was deathly quiet. Was he too late?
Suddenly, a body dropped into the middle of the hall floor. It was one of the mercenaries and he was out cold. Looking up at the second-floor landing, Gabriel caught a glimpse of something huge moving along the corridor above him. It was larger than Grandfather and yet it moved as silently as a cat. Gabriel wasn’t sure if it was on his side or not, but if it was taking out the mercenaries on the floors above, he’d leave it be.
As he began making his way down the hallway toward Zeus’s study, Gabriel was aware the two wolves had joined him. With one on each side of the hall, keeping a step behind him, Gabriel moved to the center of the grand hallway. He held his Katana above his left shoulder, ready for a strike. He heard a sound from the study and slowly turned toward the door.
Tired of the games and anxious to find out if Zeus was okay, Gabriel stepped forward and kicked the door. The door flew open and standing at Zeus’s desk, looking through the papers on it, was a huge, thickly muscled mercenary. He held a pistol with a silencer on it and he looked at Gabriel for several seconds before deciding he wasn’t going to shoot. He smiled wickedly and slowly he lowered the pistol to the desk.
He stepped to the center of the study and motioned for Gabriel to come forward. The size of the man and the ease at which he moved told Gabriel he would be a skilled fighter, one who enjoyed getting his hands dirty. He was going to get his chance. Gabriel was eager to work off his frustrations. Losing Grandfather and then finding out Zeus had been wounded, possibly even killed, by the likes of this paid assassin made Gabriel angry.
Anger and madness were something the young warlock rarely ever felt. He had always found them to be useless emotions. He preferred to do something about the things which angered him, rather than to dwell on them. Now, he had a chance to do just that. The hulking man across from him was as tall as Gabriel but much heavier. He had lots of muscles and probably a good amount of skill, unfortunately for him, it wouldn’t be enough.
As he started to step forward, Gabriel felt a small hand on his shoulder.
“Please remember you are part of the clan now. We only kill if it’s absolutely necessary,” Breena was back in human form.
“Put down your sharp little stick boy,” the mercenary began, talking with a heavy Russian accent, “I will take care of you quickly, and relatively painlessly if you do, besides, the quicker I tend to you, the quicker I can have some fun with your…”
Breena cut him off, “I said you shouldn’t kill him unless you had too Gabriel, but you can definitely teach him some manners.”
Gabriel slid the Katana into the sheath on his back and stepped forward. Just as he expected, the huge man reached for him, instead of trying to punch him. His kind were always better at grappling and believed once they got their hands on someone, they could crush them at will. Too bad he hadn’t trained with warlocks. If he had, he would have realized he would always be too slow to ever do any damage to a well-trained hunter like Gabriel.
As the mercenary reached for Gabriel’s throat he found only air. Where had the young warlock disappeared to? Ugh! He had been hit in the left kidney hard enough to rupture it. How had the young man gotten behind him? When he tried to turn, he was hit with an equally strong blow to the right rib cage, breaking two ribs. This caused him to double over in pain. As he bent forward, Gabriel dove head first over the top of him.
As Gabriel landed on his hands directly in front of the evil man, he drove both of his silver studded heels through the man’s face. The mercenary flew through the air and hit the wall, head-first. He shook his head and stood up slowly. His jaw was broken and there was blood pouring out of a wound on the back of his head, but he was far from over. As he stood, he reached into his boot and pulled out a long slender knife.
Rarely had he ever needed it, but when he did, he was an expert on how to use it. Like a surgeon, he had sliced his way through many skilled fighters before this and now he was going to teach the young warlock a lesson. He had strict instructions not to kill Gabriel, or the black-haired woman, but he didn’t care. He had been hurt and now he was going to make the warlock pay! If it costs him some money, so be it. He had plenty put back and there was always another well-paying job waiting for people with his skills.
As the mercenary quickly thrust his blade straight at Gabriel’s heart, the young warlock only stood and waited. At the very instant the blade was about to touch him, Gabriel turned his left side away from the blade and watched as it slid neatly past him. By holding his position, it allowed him to reach down and take hold of the extended arm in front of him. By grabbing the wrist with both of his massive hands, Gabriel quickly dropped to one knee and dropped under the now locked-out arm straight above his right shoulder.
Without hesitation Gabriel pulled the arm down quickly. As the elbow contacted his shoulder, the joint shattered and bent completely backwards. The long, sharp blade dropped to the ground as the mercenary screamed. Gabriel wasn’t done. As the man leaned forward, trying to grab his shattered and useless right arm with his left, the young warlock leaned forward on his left leg and drove his right heel back into the mercenary’s right kneecap.
It sounded like a two-by-four breaking as the man’s femur shattered and the knee also bent backwards. Instead of screaming, the huge man fell backward silently, already passed out from the massive rush of pain. Gabriel took another step forward, fully intending on kicking the man in an area which would make sure he never had children, when Breena stopped him.
“I think he’s learned his lesson Gabriel, let’s find Zeus,” she said quietly.
“I doubt he’s learned anything, his kind never do,” Gabriel replied.
“We need to find Zeus,” Breena said, “If he’s not in his study, where do you think he would be?”
“He is resting comfortably enough,” came a voice from the doorway.