Face to Face
Guardian… you must awaken!
From amid the black and purple eddies of nothingness, a consciousness is suddenly aware of its surroundings.
Where am I? What is this place?
Anna found herself floating through the black vastness of oblivion with but a single thought – How do I escape?
Sound doesn’t exist in this place, as void as the light that would have helped to secure what little spirit she had left, but her courage was crushed by panic when she realized she couldn’t move.
The Guardian could neither hear nor see anything but the ebb and flow of some strange heaviness holding her body down in this unknown place, and then she realized… she was sinking. Perhaps, she thought, she was drowning… sliding into the depths of death and in whose grip she was blind.
It’s so unfair, the Guardian thought to herself. Surely, everybody deserves the chance to witness the scythe’s fall, or at least… see it pulled back to summon the final blow.
Guardian… why do you slumber? Awaken!
A flash of light is seen somewhere above her and an unexpected eagerness starts to build. She could not move, but hope might yet be delivered to explain what has happened to her. There it is again, she thought. Another glimpse of light illuminating the purple swirls of despair surrounding her.
And then she began to hear strange voices all around her.
“My Lord, we did not expect you would be joining us so soon. Had we known…”
“You would have obeyed my commands to the letter,” said a hissing voice, in sharp reply. “Did I not tell you the girl was not to be harmed?”
Another voice broke in to prevail over the others. Guardian… awaken!
Magic’s call within Anna’s mind was urgent, but when the Guardian finally tried to respond, she found she could not open her eyes. She was suddenly terrified, but relieved she could hear again and could feel the coldness of the air surrounding her… and then, to her dismay, a good measure of lingering pain within her body.
Oh my God, what’s happening? She tried to move her arms and her legs, but nothing of herself was responsive. It took her several seconds to remember she was being chased by black hooded men in silver masks. She was with Sarah Bell, she had her friend by the hand, and then a spell had hit the both of them and then a second hex struck her… and then… that’s all I can remember.
Anna tried to move once more, but it was impossible. She heard the voices speaking all around her once more, voices she didn’t recognize.
“Stunned is all, my Lord. She wasn’t as easily taken as the rest. I will revive her immedi…”
There was a whooshing noise and then the sound of somebody’s breath being snatched away within a flash of green light on the other side of Anna’s eyelids.
Oh my God!
If Anna could have moved her body it would have been trembling.
“Gaskins!” hissed the whispering voice again.
“Right away, my Lord.”
There were footsteps coming closer and then, “Rennervate!”
A huge weight was suddenly lifted away from Anna’s body and she opened her eyes to find a masked figure pointing his wand down at her.
Purple light from Anna’s wand sent the man flying backward. She quickly got to her feet and looked around. The golden dome was sill surrounding them and she could feel an almost suffocating pressure hanging in the air over her head. The enchantments used to keep her from Apparating were still in place.
It was darker than she remembered before being stunned, and although she was standing in a small clearing with the moon shining over her head, she couldn’t see anybody. Anna kept her wand high as she scanned the spaces between the trees and began to sense several heartbeats surrounding her. Some were Guardians, but at least five others were not. The tip of her wand slowly moved between the trees to pinpoint each of them, invisible to see, but there nonetheless… she was sure of it.
Her concentration deepened as her wand slowly moved along, probing for a heartbeat she didn’t recognize.
A purple flash sent another hooded figure flying. She ducked low, expecting a number of retaliatory hexes in response, but nothing happened. She waited; every muscle in her body set, ready for battle. Still, nobody showed themselves. She could sense them watching her, measuring her every breath from out of their hiding places. The Guardian knew their wrath would be swift when they finally decided to strike.
Anna focus narrowed. “What are you waiting for?” her growled into the darkness. There was no response. Very well, she thought, as she straightened and raised her wand to probe the darkness once more. She moved slowly along a horizontal path, dowsing for yet another target in which to strike. She stopped to smile, and then wheeled to her right and fired once more.
Another purple bolt shot forward and split itself in two. One of the beams hit a tree, behind which another hooded figure was hiding while the other beam abruptly turned upward and disappeared into the night. The hooded figure was visible for only a second within the glow of Anna’s hex reflected in his silvery mask. The figure ducked behind the tree just as the second half of Anna’s spell came streaking down from heaven to strike him in the top of the head. The silver mask shot away and the man crumbled.
Once more, Anna crouched low, expecting a severe reprisal, but still… all was quiet. What the hell are they waiting for?
She immediately stood straight again and pointed her wand into the darkness once more. “I can do this all night, fellas,” she quipped.
Her concentration deepened as her wand slowly moved to the left this time before stopping once more. There was something very faint standing in the opening between the trees, so indistinct that she had almost missed it entirely. Magically hidden like the rest, but this figure felt distant, as if his body was standing a few feet away but then again… not there at all. She could sense his calmness, his amused state… confident in his ability to remain invisible to her. Anna closed her eyes and concentrated hard, listening and focusing with all her remaining strength. She began to hear a faint thumping sound just off her aim. She turned her head without opening her eyes and his signal strengthened. His heartbeat was barely perceptible; maybe ten or so thumps a minute, no… a lot less. Her mind triangulated quickly and then she opened her eyes and moved her wand back.
A flash of purple hit a luminescent cloud of vapor that revealed the man for barely a second before disappearing once more. Her hex had easily been blocked. Instantly, a cloud of blackened ash shot forward from the remaining vapor to form a claw that swatted the purple heart out of Anna’s hand. The Guardian screamed and dropped to the ground in pain. It felt as if her fingers were on fire.
“Very impressive,” came a hissing voice from out of the darkness, and then three more men in hoods and silver masks stepped out of the trees. Finally, the man came forward from out of the remaining ash. He was barefooted, bald and had a face Anna would remember in all her nightmares to come. His features were snake-like and his eyes glowed red in the darkness.
“Anna Grayson,” the man hissed softly. “At last… we finally meet.”
Anna’s wand hand was still within the flames, as if plunged into a pool of lava. She grabbed her wrist and looked down expecting to see the skin melting away from the bones, but even in her screaming torment Anna was able to recognize the pain. It had a signature of agony to it that took her memory back to the curse that had hit her when she saw Van Dorn’s face in the mirror. Through her tears of misery and suffering, Anna looked up into the eyes of the man she prayed she would never see in the flesh.
“Voldemort!” she moaned in rattled torture.
One of the masked men immediately stepped forward, “You will address the Dark Lord properly, girl!”
“Lord Voldemort does not need an underling to speak for him, Mugabe,” Voldemort hissed at the man. “Hold your tongue!” His eyes bloomed red before turning deadly cold and the man quickly bowed and fell back.
“Yes, my Lord. Of course, my Lord.”
Anna was in agony; it felt like her hand was dissolving away within a vat acid. As she gripped her wrist tight, she suddenly could feel the jade bracelet there. Without thinking about the danger it might cause to John Dell to bring him to her, Anna found herself repeating the words to summon him over and over again in her mind.
John… please… oh God please… come to me. Help me, John!
Voldemort looked down at her crouching over her knees and gripping her hand tight. “Does it hurt, Anna Grayson?” He sneered unapologetically. “Enough then,” and with but a thought, Anna’s pain was ended.
At first, the difference between the terrible pain just delivered and then the absence of it entirely was so great that Anna thought her hand must have fallen off her wrist completely and she was astonished to see it remained a part of her when she looked down. She quickly glanced to her left to see her purple heart lying in the dirt and she made a jump for it, but it was quickly snatched away. She looked up and could see Voldemort already inspecting it closely.
“Hmmmm… this one looks familiar,” he said, appraisingly. “Purple heart.” He looked at her and smiled. “And… the core?”
“Nundu… and Manticore,” Anna growled back, still clutching her hand.
“Ah yes… I remember now.” He looked at her again. “This would be the wand of Victoria Jennings.”
“Victoria Grayson!” Anna spat back.
Voldemort was still inspecting her wand closely. He looked down at Anna again and smiled. “One of a kind, I have no doubt, but according to wandlore… its allegiance to you might now be in serious question. He pointed the purple heart down at her and Anna recoiled.
Voldemort stared at her and then frowned, as if something expected should have already happened… but did not. He lifted the wand away.
“And then again… perhaps not.” He opened his hand and the purple heart floated out before him as he raised his own wand to take aim.
Anna’s eyes widened in horror. “No!”
There was a faint whisper, a flash of purple sparks, and Anna’s wand was immediately snapped in two. There was a howl of sorrow-filled wind somewhere in the woods as the two halves sputtered and popped and fell without ceremony to the ground.
Anna’s heart sank. Her mother’s wand… destroyed.
Voldemort looked up at the golden dome surrounding them and then waved his hand over his hand to remove it. He glowered at two of his men. “Shouldn’t you be at the castle?”
“Yes, my Lord,” they answered. Instantly, the two shot into the air like ashen bodies ejected from a volcano.
Anna slowly rose to stand again, her anger building enough to set some of her fear aside; as least, for the moment.
“Why are you sending them to Castlewood?”
Voldemort looked back at her and she could see a sneer move across his lips. The man who saw himself as the ruler of the entire world wasn’t used to somebody questioning his motives.
“Because I wish to deliver a message to its Headmaster,” he answered serenely.
“You mean its Chancellor.”
Voldemort’s eyes glowed for a moment. “Whatever you prefer to call him… my message means death for Thordarson.”
Anna scoffed. She didn’t care if her mocking him made the murdering fiend angry. “You really believe two Death Eaters will have a chance against…”
“The greatest wizard in the New World?” Voldemort said, cutting across her. He looked up to watch his Death Eaters heading off in the distance. He thought about it and then motioned to a third who sped off to join them. He then turned to Anna again.
“Probably not, but now that I’ve broken through the spells protecting this plateau, the element of surprise is on my side… and that could very well tip the scales enough to deliver an unexpected victory.”
Anna’s stare darkened. “You’re sending your Death Eaters to their end.”
The wizard displayed an almost insane smile before raising his wand to point at her. Instantly, Anna’s arms and legs were locked together and she was lifted off her feet. “Come here, child,” Voldemort whispered, and she slowly began to float toward him. She finally stopped within a foot of him face to face as his stare began to bore into her.
“So… you do know who I am,” he said to her.
Anna gritted her teeth, trying with all her might to reach out to him. She found herself in a strange moment — willing to die just to get her hands around the thing’s snake-like neck. Sweat began pouring out of her.
“You’re the murdering bastard who tried to kill my father and then when that failed, you tortured my mother into killing him for you! You destroyed her life!” She spat back.
“Destroyed Victoria Jennings life?” He laughed. “No… Anna Grayson, in fact… I improved her life enormously.” He watched her expression closely and could see Anna’s green eyes turning back with rage, as did the beads of sweat on her forehead. The Dark Lord found himself unexpectedly intrigued.
He suddenly reached up to seize Anna by the throat and the weight of her entire body was now suspended below his powerful grip. Her breathing was immediately cut off. She kicked and flayed before him as he pulled her forward to look closely at the ebony dew of sweat pouring out of her. He raised a single finger to probe at the blackness and his eyes widened in amusement as each droplet reached out to snatch at him with tiny, sharpened crawls.
Anna’s legs began to thrash and twist about as she wrenched down at Voldemort’s grip around her neck. She could feel whatever strength she ever had was no match against his power.
“You are… indeed… something different,”” he whispered softly again. “I wonder.”
Anna could feel a startling wave of unbelievable pressure enter the space in the front of her brain and she immediate knew what Voldemort was doing to her. Damon had called it legilimency, the stealing of memories from another’s mind. While both her brother and the Minister of Magic’s probing attempts to gain access to her mind were delicate, almost subtle, Voldemort was far more direct and immensely more painful. He ripped what doors she had conjured to protect her mind completely off its hinges and stepped inside her brain as if he owned the place.
Pictures of her life began passing before her. She saw herself flying down the banister with Widwick on her lap, the school bus bully Veronica Drummond crying with her fingers buried in her mouth. She saw fingertips creating jets of steam in the wall of water. She saw Damon sneering at her and her sisters laughing.
“No…” Anna whispered, but the Dark Lord probed her mind harder.
The images sped forward and all of her efforts to stop him were useless. She saw Sarah Bell crying as she cringed away from a castle house elf, Gwen bouncing her eyebrows, Eric hugging her, she was sitting on her father’s lap.
She saw the blankness within the Mirror of Enlightenment and its roaring voice, “She is… A GUARDIAN! SITHMAITH! Only those willing to sacrifice much may serve under this banner!” She saw the inside of her father’s vault, a bag of gold, flying on Swooper, a blue orb following her through a darkened corridor, her hand disappearing into a door and then the slashing pain of a thousand knives cutting into her body.
She saw her mother’s face, her matted gray hair and her voice, “Your blood is warm, my kind,” her fangs lunging forward.
There was a sudden flash of purple light in Anna’s mind and she could see the image of Voldemort being hurled backward.
A second flash of purple exploded between Anna and Voldemort that sent the two of them flying backward in opposite directions. Anna hit the ground and gasped to catch her breath; her body had been without air for more than a minute.
“My Lord!” A Death Eater took Voldemort by the arm and tried to help his master to stand.
“Do not touch me!” Voldemort screamed back. The Dark Lord scrambled to stand and looked down at the still wheezing girl lying twenty feet away from him.
Voldemort frowned. He had always been a man drawn to power and to whatever knowledge was necessary to gain more of it. His entire life had been devoted to the Dark Arts, because he was convinced the most powerful elements of magic existed only there and his journey to understand it had made him the most powerful wizard alive – perhaps the most powerful who had ever existed. He glared at the girl coughing in the dirt and wondered.
Voldemort looked to another Death Eater. “Bring me the others!”
“Yes, my Lord, as you command.” The man turned and disappeared into the forest.
Voldemort glared down at Anna again as she struggled to push herself up. He smirked as he raised his wand. He would know the extent of this power he did not understand.
At once, Anna’s entire body was engulfed in pain and brought with it the most terrifying memories. She was forced to relive the final barriers within the dungeons of Drogo. The slashing pain of a thousand knives, white-hot from the devil’s furnace, was upon her once again; they cut deep into her body and seared her flesh. Her head felt as if it were being split open as Voldemort twisted his wand over her. On and on it went until Anna’s screams almost tore her throat open before the pain was suddenly stopped.
Anna lay before the Dark Lord whimpering. She thought of her mother and how long she had endured this kind of torture before her mind was finally broken.
Once again Anna’s mind was torn open for inspection.
She saw her hands moving across the flesh of a whale in the open sea, Greechins carrying a stack of scrolls on top of his head, the fangs of the great ape of the Verosapt, her mother sitting upright in her deathbed. The image changed into Sarah Bell, her blank-white eyes staring at Anna through the darkness, Eric kissing Sarah, Captain Reye hollering orders. She saw Leola Grayson floating through the air, the Minister of Magic shouting at her, Mrs. Porchdow hugging her, the images began to speed up.
“Purple flags blowing between the castle’s merlons, flying with Swooper through the blurring alleyways of the Shadowed Forest, chasing a pixie on her flying door, she saw the cursed one hiding in the shadows, the limping man, Trog, sunrise on the Cliffs of Knowtor, Peppercorn being crushed in the jaws of a dragon, a baby dragon clinging to her chest, the face of Sidney dead on the cobblestones, the magic within the walls of Castlewood speaking to her.
Voldemort frowned at what he saw last: Anna conversing with the stones of the Castlewood. He wanted to know more and he twisted his wand again with intensifying focus.
“No!” Anna screamed and another explosion of power and light blasted Voldemort’s arm away. The Guardian quickly fell to the ground in breathless exhaustion.
The Dark Lord sneered. “Bring them to me now!” he screamed.
“I have them, my Lord. They are here.”
Anna looked up and saw TJ, Gwen, Sarah Bell and the murderer Sugianto unconscious and floating through the air.
“Set them there,” the Dark Lord ordered, pointing to an open spot in front of him. He turned to Anna once again. “I have learned much about you these last few minutes, Guardian, but I seek much more now. I will know the full extent of a Guardian’s abilities.” He raised he wand at her again.
Once more Anna’s body was plunged into pain. The knives of the unforgivable curse did their wanted work, tearing into her front, her back, her legs and arms. Her skull was cleaved in half. She screamed again, but this time she held onto an image within her mind she knew would help her to survive.
She pictured her mother in her place, suffering the same tortures for hours without end and the thought of it made Anna’s anger grow. More cruelty was laid into her body and Anna thought of her mother having to endure it, and the rage within her soul swelled once more. More pain, she imagined her mother screaming, and with it the Guardian could feel the pain of the torture curse beginning to diminish. She was finally able to open her eyes and look up to see Voldemort smiling as he twisted the wand, working to increase her agony, but the more he tried, the more enraged Anna became to lessen the curse’s affects upon her. Her vision began to darken and Anna sudden knew why her pain had weakened, why Voldemort’s brutality was not having the desired effect. It was the Lethifold; it was coming.
Voldemort was rarely surprised, but when it did happen the events leading up to it were always etched forever upon his memory. When he was a child and realized he had special abilities no one else shared. He found these abilities could displace his being bullied at the orphanage where he grew up and reverse his torments upon his tormentors. A year later, another memory was cast in stone as well: Albus Dumbledore had come to the orphanage to tell him he was a wizard. He remembered at first being mesmerized by the idea of it and then quickly disappointed with the knowledge that others shared these marvelous gifts. He was just one among many again and he immediately became obsessed with learning all he could about the power available to him.
He quickly learned this magical knowledge, both practiced and forbidden, could yield unrivaled power and he was determined to be unrivaled. Although it did not surprise him that there were two races of people in the world, those they called wizards and the rest they called Muggles, he was surprised to learn that his father, who had abandoned his mother before his birth, was a Muggle. Killing his father at the Riddle house was engraved in his memory as one of the most joyful moments in his life.
There were few surprises in the years that followed, as Tom Riddle continued his studies of the Dark Arts to the depths no other wizard in history had dared. It was always ambition driving his needs, but ambition forever moved the surprise of revelation to the side in his unending desire for supremacy. The work of discovery never allowed for surprise, only brief moments of gratification.
There was only one other time in his life where surprise unexpectedly visited the Dark Lord’s door. It was at the Potter house in Godric's Hollow. After killing James and Lily Potter, he finally moved to destroy what prophesy had said would be his only rival. Born as the seventh month dies, their son it was said would gain the power to end all his ambitions. He remembered being within reach of his imaginings as he pointed his wand at the boy and then delivered what turned out to be his own agonizing death. Oh the surprise and torture of it: To have his soul ripped away from his body was more painful than what otherwise should have been a quick end without his horcruxes. But even after he had created a new body to mark the return of all his aspirations, Voldemort was never surprised by his success.
Ever since he failed to kill Harry Potter, it had always been a well-planned journey to his return, culminating in what was supposed to be the final death of the-boy-who-lived. Although his second attempt had ended in failure again, he had managed to create yet another opportunity to put an end to the boy later that night. He would finally have the long-awaited answer from the Ministry’s Hall of Prophecy in just a few hours. It would mark the final end of Harry Potter and the beginning of his rise to unrivaled power over all. In fact, the only reason he had decided to embark upon a journey across the ocean that same night, so far away from all his ambitions, was to occupy his mind while the prophecy was finally delivered. Voldemort was there to collect on a promise made to him by an old friend. This friend had sworn to deliver Anna Grayson to him in trade for his freedom from the protected plateau and from Spellsburg.
The Dark Lord had heard the stories about the Guardians of Castlewood and of this girl, the daughter of one of his most devoted followers and her father - one of his most ardent enemies. Anna Grayson was the first of the oldest guard known to the wizarding world - absent for more than fifteen centuries. Why had they returned? Was it possible to think their reemergence was somehow aligned to his own return to power? He had already tried to take to the girl last summer, but was thwarted by a ghostly protector he had never encountered or even knew to exist. Not really a ghost, but something highly magical and extremely powerful. Although he had won the battle against the thing calling itself the Sithmaith’s Ally, he was forced to withdraw from Grayson Hill that night, but determined more than ever to understand this Anna Grayson more.
And now, on the very brink of his long awaited success, the Dark Lord found himself surprised yet again. It was hard to believe what he was seeing as he watched Anna’s body disappear within a mass of blackness and smoke. He lifted his wand away and watched as the magical creature she had become turned to move into the forest. The Dark Lord turned to wave his wand at one of the girls lying unconscious on the ground.
Sarah Bell blinked and then quickly sat upright.
“Come here, child,” Voldemort growled at Sarah. Her eyes, completely gray under the curse of obedience, followed his voice without a word. The wizard then turned to the retreating Lethifold.
“Anna Grayson! Would you leave your fellow Guardians to suffer at my hands in your absence?”
The creature halted. Anna’s mind was struggling to remain conscious, but it was becoming extremely difficult. While her body had withdrawn to escape the Dark Lord’s tortures, what was left of Anna’s awareness was in full retreat as well. She had never experienced the kind of power set upon her by Voldemort. Like her mother, she could feel her suffering agonies were damaging to her sanity. The Lethifold hesitated for a long moment and then slowly turned around.
“Stand and face me, or know that your friends will die in the most excruciating manner imaginable.”
The creature wavered and then slowly collapsed inward to form a sphere and then elongated straight again to stand. As her body solidified once more, Anna breathed deep and then sighed. The residual agonies of torture had returned as well and it took all of her summoned strength to remain upright. If she was going to die in the Shadowed Forest tonight, she was determined do so on her feet. She remembered her mother’s sobs in the dungeons of Drogo. Her eyes wide in hallucinating horror as this thing calling itself a wizard brought his curses down upon her again and again. He tortured her until her mind was shattered into the pieces he needed to reform her into what she had become: A murderer, a vampire and a Death Eater. Anna would not allow it to happen to her.
Voldemort looked gratified at Anna’s forced return, but deep down he was also enthralled, fascinated again by a power he did not fully understand or imagine could exist. He had found the timing of a new Guardian sect in the Wizarding world very disturbing, an unexpected element in his plans for domination. And in response, he would do whatever was necessary to gather this girl’s power to himself or see it destroyed.
“Now then… perhaps you’ll be in a mood to listen to me,” Voldemort whispered serenely.
Anna looked into the Dark Lord’s piercing eyes and hissed at him through blackened fangs.
Voldemort smiled. “You are most impressive for one so young, but my coming here tonight should impress you as well.”
“I’m not impressed with murdering lunatics,” Anna’s growled under her breath.
“YOU WILL HOLD YOUR TONGUE!” Voldemort screamed back at her.
Voldemort’s wand moved quickly and Sarah Bell was instantly lifted off her feet. The girl began to gasp and choke and she seemed to struggle at some invisible thing working to throttle her; she was being strangled. Horrified, Anna ran forward and was hit square in the chest with a spell that sent her flying backward across the clearing. She landed with a thud on her back as Sarah crumbled to the ground.
Again, Voldemort pointed his wand at the pile of bodies to the side. “Rennervate!"
Somebody began to stir and Anna looked up and groaned. Sugianto looked around and then struggled to get to his knees. He looked up to see Voldemort staring down at him.
“Tom Riddle? Is that you, my old friend?”
Anna could immediately see Voldemort didn’t like the sound of his given name.
“You will address his Lord properly, swine!” yelled the Death Eaters called Mugabe and this time Voldemort did not admonish him for speaking out.
Sugianto only snickered as he pushed up to stand. “Oh I think in my case there can be an exception. Isn’t that right, Tom?”
Anna saw Voldemort gripping his wand tight, even as he smiled. “It has been a long time, my friend, but things are no longer what they were when we were young.”
“And why is that, Tom? Surely… after all the time we shared in the past together, I would have thought any wizard calling you master today would know about me as well… and yet… it would seem they do not; how very disappointing.”
The fool! Anna thought, with started alarm. He can’t see Voldemort would rather strike him dead than share anything of himself or his past with those that call him their master. She looked down at Sarah Bell, who was lying unconscious in the dirt. Anna was relieved to see her friend was still breathing.
“It took me so long to get your attention after my escape, Tom. I can’t blame you for that, of course, because you’re an important wizard now. Still… that does not explain why I was left to rot in that prison for so long.”
Voldemort’s eyes flashed. Even Anna could see his anger growing, as Sugianto continued with his poorly-veiled criticisms.
“As recently as January, I saw the good news about the escape of no less than ten of your so called Death Eaters from Azkaban prison. Seeing you standing here now, Tom, only confirms my original suspicions that you were the only wizard capable of such a thing. If it could be done at Azkaban, then Drogo would have been no more a challenge. Yet… you did not think of me. Why is that, Tom?”
Voldemort turned to point his wand at Anna again. “I revived you, Arief, because I believe you might have some useful knowledge about this child.” He turned to look back at Sugianto once more. “I would regret having to kill her if instead I might put her to good use.” His lips curled. “Or at least… without understanding her abilities more.”
Sugianto looked at Anna and then grinned. “Oh this one is… very special; very special indeed.”
Voldemort forced an interested expression and replied, “Tell me, old friend. Tell me what you know of her.”