Alexandria was one of the oldest cities in the world, famous for its lighthouse during the Roman rule. Kiara had expected something more historical-looking.
Yes, there were plenty of buildings in the old-Arabic style; but modern skyscrapers, stores and houses made up a large piece of the landscape. Chunks of the city were magnificent, but for the most part, it was run down and a bit smelly. Kiara was reminded of movies set in Indian cities.
The four teenagers had landed near the coast of Alexandria, in an abandoned alleyway.
Strategic. The way the portal always dumps you somewhere you won’t be seen.
From there they had ventured out, asking for directions to El- Horeya Road, which hosted the Graeco-Roman Museum.
They were in front of this building now. The cream-coloured façade bore six columns in the Roman style and the Greek word MOYƩEION inscribed above the entrance.
It was also completely abandoned and surrounded by scaffolding. Aaron scowled. “This doesn’t seem like a very popular tourist destination.”
“It’s been closed for renovations since 2008,” Kiara replied.
Riley cocked an eyebrow at her. “Miss Encyclopaedia much?”
She shrugged. “Google.”
Tania frowned and mounted the front steps. “Don’t you think it’s odd that there are no construction workers? It’s a Monday. Shouldn’t they be working?”
Kiara was the one who answered, “I think there are a lot more odd things ahead. After all, this is where Dominic said the warlock would be.
Riley nodded. “He’s smart. And abandoned museum in Egypt. No one would come looking for him here without a tip.”
“Luckily, we do have a tip.” This came from Tania, who was already on the porch.
A muscle feathered in Aaron’s jaw. “If we can trust a vampire… So, is there a plan?”
Kiara immediately began to explain. “We use a portal to drop us just inside the entrance-’’
“If we use a portal, the warlock will be aware of our presence in an instant,” Aaron interrupted.
“Do you have any other ideas?”
“How about the front door?” Tania grinned at them. She’d shoved against the door and it had swung open easily.
Riley’s brows furrowed. “It’s unlocked. That’s weird.”
Aaron’s expression was a mixture of smugness and fear. “It almost seems like a trap.”
“It is one,” Tania’s voice rang out. The others’ heads shot up and they hurried towards the entry hall, where she had frozen.
“But it’s not for us.”
The hall had once been breath-taking – that was clear. It was enormous and filled with precious artefacts. It wasn’t difficult to imagine its former glory. Now it smelled of dust…
Kiara’s expression turned to horror and bile rose up in her throat. As far as the eye could see, every inch of the floor was covered in corpses. Horrible, rotting bodies. It was something out of a gory film.
Kiara looked down, straight into a woman’s dead eyes. She yelped and jumped to the side, only to bump into another corpse. She shuddered in disgust. “What happened here? It’s awful.”
Tania shook her head, her upper lip curling back. “I’m guessing that the magical host is collecting people to turn into zombies.”
Death surrounded her. Kiara scrunched her eyes shut in an attempt to steady herself. When she opened them, she was calm.
Riley was kneeling next to a body, examining it. “In order to re-animate them, the corpses need to be relatively fresh. These are about two days old, which means that the warlock would have to execute his plan within twenty-four hours.”
Kiara nodded. “Okay. So we split up. This place has twenty seven halls and we need to cover all of them. Riley, you go north. Tania, east. Aaron, south. And I’ll take the west side. Be thorough. Be careful. Be quiet. We meet back here within an hour. Don’t get caught.”
The interior of the museum looked exactly the way Kiara had expected. The floor was white marble, the interspersed pillars as well. The stone walls were expertly ornamented with historical paintings, photos and tapestries. Even the high ceiling was gorgeous with its pastel-coloured mural. All of it very accurately resembled a Graeco-Roman manor.
A filthy one with dead people everywhere, she thought to herself as she crept through the place. Her swords were out and ready. It took all of her self-control not to sneeze at the amount of dust that got kicked up with her every step. On top of that, she had to navigate her footing in a sea of corpses. It seemed that the entire building’s floor was covered.
Thousands of people murdered to become undead…
So far, she’d gone through four halls and discovered nothing more interesting than a few artefacts.
But then she heard it: movement in the next chamber. She kept close to the wall and headed right, taking care to be as quiet as possible.
As she closed in, she heard voices. There were two males.
A warlock and a…?
Just before reaching the entrance, she felt a shiver run down her spine and the hair on the back of her neck stand up in anticipation.
A vampire, then.
She pressed her body close to the side of the entrance and swung her head to peek into the hall.
A lean, youthful-looking man with short auburn hair, angry azure eyes and pale skin was kneeling over a woman’s body. His fangs were out and fresh blood ran down his chin on to his white shirt. Kiara almost gagged in disgust. She’d never actually seen a vampire feed. It was horrible.
Behind him stood another figure, its dark fingers pressed to its lips in thought. The warlock’s skin was only one shade lighter than his charcoal-coloured suit. A thick purple scar ran across his bald head, contributing to the fear-inspiring power of his appearance. His eyes were wide and the colour of violets; the man was striking.
He snapped out of his trance to place a strong hand on the redheaded man’s shoulder. The latter looked up, clearly the submissive partner. When he spoke, the warlock’s voice was deep and rasping. “Asmael, leave enough blood for resurrection.”
The vampire wiped the blood from his face, nodded and stood. The body he’d been draining was discarded like a leftover sandwich. “Yes, Tiberius.”
Tiberius’s dark purple eyes lit and the ghost of a smile appeared on his refined features. “We have a lot of work to do tonight. Tomorrow is show time and I don’t want any surprises.
Kiara supressed a snort. You’re gonna get one.
She’d heard enough and decided to return to the entrance hall. The two men did not notice her slip away.
When Riley came into the entrance hall, Tania and Aaron were already waiting. She was eyeing the bodies around her discontentedly and he was staring at something unknown.
Riley sighed. “I hope you guys found something. I just saw a black granite sculpture and the sacred bull of the Egyptians. Pretty interesting, but not very apocalyptic.”
“All I got were some mummies and a few sarcophagi.” This came from Aaron, whose gaze was now fixed on more concrete things.
Tania glared at them incredulously. “All? I would’ve killed to see a mummy. But no, I get the tapestry section.”
Riley heard boots on the marble floor and looked around to see Kiara approach. Her black gear complemented her tan skin gorgeously and her features were set in determination.
“I found them.”
Tania rolled her eyes. “Of course you did. Next time, I’m taking the west side.”
“Them?” Riley enquired.
She nodded. “A warlock and a vampire. They’re five halls from here and the plan starts tomorrow.”
Tania shrugged; hand already on her weapons belt. “So let’s go in there and kill them right now.”
Kiara shook her head in protest. “They look pretty powerful –’’
Aaron clenched his jaw. “We’ve handled powerful. We should end this as soon as possible.”
“Would you just trust me for once? They could’ve created a few zombies by now. We could be outnumbered.”
“So what’s the plan then?” the dark-haired boy demanded.
“We wait until they open the portal. They’ll be distracted and therefore, easy to kill. For tonight, one of us will keep an eye on the bad guy; another will keep watch here. And we take shifts.”
Tania’s grey-blue eyes nearly popped out of her head. “You expect me to sleep among corpses?”
Riley chuckled despite the situation and said, “We’ll clear part of the floor beforehand. I’ll take first watch here.”
Aaron stepped forward. “And I’ll monitor the supernaturals’ activities.”
Moonlight poured through the museum’s windows, setting everything against a grey background. Riley was alone with his thoughts, his back turned to the sleeping girls a few feet away. Song lyrics were spinning through his mind continuously.
A sudden moan and then harsh breathing came from behind him, breaking the silence. He looked around to see Kiara thrash around restlessly. She was whining in the process.
Then she opened her eyes. The silver-green spheres glowed in the dark. They were darting back and forth rapidly. The movement of her chest increased in speed and she trembled slightly.
He scooted closer, feeling concerned. “Kiara, what’s going on?” he whispered. Anything done loudly would alert the enemy of their presence.
She looked up at him and smiled reassuringly. It wasn’t very convincing. “Start of a panic attack. Trying to stop it. Calm myself down.”
“Is this about tomorrow?”
She shook her head, her breath coming out in gusts. “Could be. Don’t know. It’s – It’s a – a chemical thing. In my brain.” She uttered another groan. “Hate this. Feels like a heart attack. Then I’m scared I’m having one. Only makes it worse… What a freak, right?”
He drew her closer as gently as he could and rested her head in his lap. “Not a freak at all. My sister gets panic attacks too.”
“Rebecca?” she asked in a hushed tone.
He nodded. “When she got them at night, she would come to my room and ask me to sing her a lullaby.”
“Isn’t she seven years older than you?” Kiara’s respiration was starting to normalise.
“Yeah. But a brother is still a brother. I learnt that the panic subsides when you talk about other things.”
Her eyelids fluttered sleepily and she nodded. “It’s working.”
“I’ll keep talking then… My mom’s name is Caroline. She’s the sweetest person you’ll ever meet, but she’s so strong too. You could give her any event to organise and it would turn out amazing. She used to be a philanthropist. Everyone always told me that I look just like her…” He trailed off, but continued after a few moments. “My dad, Victor, is a plastic surgeon. He makes money off people’s vanity, but he’s surprisingly humble himself. Everything you want in a father, you know? He taught me how to throw a football and read me Bible stories every night at bedtime. When I was old enough, we’d go to his study and he would teach me everything he knows: history, biology, science, music. Rebecca always said I’m his favourite, but he dotes on her. She’s currently studying English at Princeton; wants to be a literary agent. She went away to Insulam when I was nine. I knew about this world even then and it fascinated me. We used to go to our cabin in Switzerland for Christmas. The snow was spectacular. But that was before my mom’s cancer. These days we set up the tree and the decorations in her room… We don’t even know if she’s going to make it to Christmas this year. Even if she does, I’ll probably be stuck on the Island.”
Riley sniffed and wiped the tears from his face with the back of his hand. He looked down. Kiara was in a deep slumber, her dark brown curls spread out around her face like a halo.
The warlock’s portal was open.
It differed in appearance from the ones the Guardians used. It was like a giant round window that looked into another world. The edges were glowing blue and rippled like water.
Zombies lined the walls, disgusting in their various stages of decay. Their lifeless eyes were completely fixed on the blue light. They didn’t notice anything else.
The four Guardians had still not made their presence known, but they were spying on the chamber. Kiara looked through the portal and saw a city dominated by skyscrapers. There was a building in the foreground that stood out against the others. It was enormous and crimson, looked like three slim triangles stacked on top of each other.
Tiberius’s dark skin was beautiful in the sapphire light, his back turned to the entrance of the hall. Asmael stood next to him like a bodyguard.
They were sending the first zombies through.
“Where does that thing go to?” Kiara whispered to the others.
Riley was scowling. “I know that building. I’ve been there before.” Then he snapped his fingers and said, “It’s the CN Tower in Toronto.”
“You’re sure?” Aaron asked. Riley nodded an affirmative.
Kiara spun to face her comrades. “Okay. Riley and Aaron, you go to Toronto and stop those zombies before they can do any damage. Tania and I will stay here and try to take care of the magical host and his friend.”
They nodded and Riley moved away from the room with the supernaturals. He pressed his palm to the stone wall. It rippled and a door appeared.
The opening of the portal sent a tremor through the entire museum. Every object inside rattled loudly and Kiara nearly fell down.
“Be safe,” Riley pleaded before disappearing. Aaron followed after kissing Tania goodbye.
Tiberius and Asmael had spun around at the commotion outside. Their gazes were now trained on Tania and Kiara.
“I don’t get it,” Aaron said with a scowl.
“Get what?” Riley asked.
“Why everything is so calm.”
The two of them had landed right in the centre of Toronto’s morning activity, next to what Riley had called the CN Tower. Dressed in black gear and armed to the teeth, they had expected to find a bloody battlefield. A massacre.
Reality proved to be quite the opposite.
The warlock’s portal was not visible from this side, but every now and then a zombie would appear out of thin air. Even though Aaron’d faced the creatures plenty of times, their rotting bodies still disgusted him. There were six of them already. The animated corpses treaded among the people on the streets, stalking their prey like wild animals.
But the humans were going about their business as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
A couple was strolling along the side walk with held hands and happy eyes. A business man wove his way through the other pedestrians, a cell phone pressed to his ear. Three teenage girls had decided to skip school and were giggling through clothing stores. People were meeting for coffee, hurrying to work in fancy cars, walking their pets, getting take-away muffins for breakfast.
Aaron shook his head incredulously. “We fall from the sky and land in the middle of a city. Zombies are roaming the streets. Yet the citizens seem unbothered? These people are experiencing and apocalypse and they don’t even know it.”
Understanding flooded Riley’s features. “They don’t know it. That’s it. The warlock must have put a spell in this place so that nothing magical would be seen by the humans… He can wipe out an entire city without being uncovered. This Tiberius is a hell of a strategist; I’ll give him that.”
A woman headed in their direction. Her blonde hair was swept up, her grey coat unbuttoned, and she carried a briefcase in her right hand.
Aaron jumped in front of her.
She swept past him without blinking.
“I guess Guardians are considered magical too, because they can’t see us either.”
Riley grinned, his golden hair catching the sunlight. “This makes our job a lot easier.”
“Why do you say that?”
Riley’s sword was already in his hand. “Because we can kill these monsters without worrying about discretion.”
Aaron pulled his battle hammer from his belt and smirked. It would crumble a zombie’s skull with one blow. “Then we’d better start doing our job before they can do theirs. Kill them quickly. There are more pouring in.”
The boys nodded at each other and the battle began.
Aaron headed south, slamming his hammer down into the nearest zombie’s face. It disappeared instantly. Riley dismissed another with a quick slash of his blade.
The zombies suddenly became aware of this threat and spun to face it.
The two Guardians stood back-to-back, a circle of supernaturals forming around them. When one ventured too close, it was slaughtered swiftly, Riley piercing the heart and Aaron crushing the skull.
But there was always another enemy to take the dead one’s place. The circle around them was thickening. The zombies were closing in.
Aaron’s voice rang out desperately, “It’s no use. There are just more of them coming through the portal… What do we do?”
A supernatural charged forward in an attack and Riley stabbed his blade through the creature’s chest. He pulled his weapon back with a grunt and answered, “We stay alive and trust the girls.”
Asmael’s fangs came out and he went down into a crouch. His fury and the portal’s blue light made him look like a demon. A red-haired, azure-eyed demon.
Tania drew a hawthorn stake from her weapons belt and addressed Kiara without taking her eyes off the enemy. “I’ll take the bloodsucker. You get the magical host.”
Kiara nodded. “Good luck.”
The blonde Guardian and the vampire sprang forward simultaneously. They clashed in the centre of the chamber, but Kiara couldn’t stay to watch the fight.
Tiberius was staring at her with an odd look in his eyes, waiting for her to attack.
Kiara sprinted towards the enemy, dual swords out and ready. As she closed in, she could almost smell the warlock’s blood. She got closer. Closer. Almost there. Only a few feet away.
And then she slammed into something, her momentum sending her flying back. She crashed to the floor with a loud crack and her blades were knocked from her hands.
She looked up in shock. It was as if an invisible wall had been put up between her and Tiberius. The same as what happened at Rodas Gianakos’s. So it must be a spell.
Then why was it protecting me?
Kiara got up, retrieved her swords and faced the warlock with an expression of ruthlessness on her features.
Tiberius grinned fiendishly. “Did you really think that I was just going to let you come at me with your weapons raised? Please, I pride myself on my ability to strategize.”
She nodded and they started circling each other.
“You’ve got a good plan here, Tiberius. But not good enough. See, you didn’t expect the Guardians to find you in an abandoned museum. Yet here we are. And you can’t hide behind your magic shield forever.”
His smile had disappeared, but his expression remained somewhat amused. “You’re quite a brave little girl to talk to a warlock like that. You know, you look very familiar.”
Suddenly, a plan unfolded in her head and she simpered at her opponent. “Maybe you’ll recognise me when I tell you my name. I am Kiara Westwin.”
Tiberius’s violet eyes widened and terror became clear on his dark face. “Kiara…?”
She shrugged with as much confidence as she could muster. “In the flesh.”
“You know about your powers?”
Kiara hesitated before answering, “I know exactly how to use them. And we both know that I’m more powerful than you.”
The warlock tried to supress his fear, but Kiara saw that it was still very much present. This man was truly afraid of her.
He took a step back. “A strategic retreat is in order, it seems. But know this: my plan will succeed. And the next time we see each other, I will be prepared.”
With the snap of his fingers, everything disappeared.
Tiberius was gone. The portal was closed. The zombies and the corpses had vanished. Just like that.
Only Tania remained, standing over a fallen Asmael like a warrior princess. She slammed her stake down into his heart and the vampire turned to dust with an agony-filled scream.
The girls faced each other and Tania came over. “What was all that about your powers?”
“You heard all of that?”
The blonde nodded. “Yeah. And he seemed pretty terrified of you.”
Kiara shook her head. “Honestly, I just took a chance. I saw the fear in Rodas’s eyes when I fought him and all the supernaturals seem to know who I am… So I thought I’d give it a try. Too bad the only result was him getting away.”
“Well, at least the end of the world has been postponed.”
Kiara nodded, but concerns flooded over her like waves at high tide.
Why was he afraid of me?
Am I that powerful? If so, why?
In a sudden whir, Aaron and Riley landed in the hall. They had obviously used a portal.
It was Riley who spoke first. “What happened? We were fighting and then the zombies all just disappeared. Did you kill Tiberius?”
Kiara sheathed her swords and said, “We didn’t kill him. He fled…”
Aaron stepped up next to Riley. “So now we have no idea when or where he’ll strike again?”
She shot him a vicious glare. “No. But I know where we can find out.”
Tania joined the conversation. “Dominic Quentin.”
Xavier was lying in his bed, his left arm wrapped around Kylie Wilkens. Her red hair was spread out over his chest and her green eyes glinted wildly. “What were you called to the office for yesterday?”
He caressed her arm and replied, “My parents. They’re harbouring again.”
Her expression saddened. “What is it this time?”
“Vampires… Colton wants me to kill my parents. That’s why he called me.”
She propped herself up on an elbow and stared at him in shock. “He wants you to kill your own family?”
He nodded. “Obviously, I said no. But that doesn’t mean they’re safe. He’ll just send someone else to do it.”
She cupped his cheek comfortingly. “They are Guardians. Maybe he’ll show them mercy.”
Xavier shook his head. “You can’t know that.”
“No, I can’t. Unfortunately, I don’t know all the answers. In fact, I don’t even know the answer to us.”
He frowned and turned to face her. “I wasn’t aware that there was a question.”
She rolled her eyes playfully. “Oh, please. You are the biggest player on Insulam. The love ‘em and leave ‘em type. And then, suddenly, a few months ago, you decide to get serious with me. Why?”
He grinned fiendishly and pulled her towards him. Then he whispered, “Because you’re beautiful.” He kissed her nose. “Smart.” Her ear. “Kind.” Her neck. “Strong.” Her collarbone…