Kiara gasped as she slammed into a white marble floor, her brown curls whipping across her face. Her head shot up and she realised that she was in some sort of lobby.
A magnificent ivory arch, embellished with golden patterns, towered over her, leading into a breath-taking room with an antique atmosphere. The lower half of the walls were painted in different shades of blue, creating intricate designs, the other half was whiter than white. A stunning sapphire chandelier kept watch over the centre of the room: a marble desk hosting nothing but a shield with the words ‘Nos sunt tutores de adominatio. Nos sunt semper contro malum.’ inscribed on it.
‘We are the Guardians of good. We are always against evil.’
There was a black woman behind the desk, wavy raven hair tied into a bun. Her strong features were smiling robotically.
Kiara yelped with surprise as Naru suddenly landed beside her, still on his feet. He held a graceful hand out to her and she took it in stunned amazement, allowing him to help her stand up.
“How do I plummet to the ground with as much poise as a dancing hippopotamus and you arrive looking like that?” She motioned at him, appearance still impeccable.
Naru shrugged and grinned with subtle confidence. “I have many years of practice.” Then he shifted his attention to the woman manning the front desk. “Morning, Seraphine. I brought in Kiara Westwin.”
Seraphine’s smile faltered for a moment. “So this is her?” She said the last word with a strange amount of disgust. Kiara wondered what she’d ever done to this woman.
But Seraphine’s elated façade returned rather quickly. “I’ll have one of the Guardians escort her to her room –’’
“No.” Naru stepped forward and Kiara realised he was carrying the trunk with her things. “This girl and her mother were attacked by a zombie this morning.” Seraphine’s honey-coloured eyes widened. “We need to report to Nathan immediately.”
The woman nodded. “He is in his office.”
“Thank you. Come on, Kiara.”
She refused to move. “Whoa, wait just a minute. Where are we? And who is Nathan?”
Naru sighed and she knew he had the urge to roll his eyes. He refrained. “We are at Feminam Collegii Custos. Nathan Houghs is the headmaster and his office is on the seventh floor. Satisfied?”
She shrugged and lifted the corners of her mouth in a cheeky smirk. “For now.”
He chuckled and wiped a hand across his forehead. “You know, you’re way too much like Virginia for your own good.”
There was a stained glass elevator in the left corner of the room and Naru led her into it. He hit the button with the ‘H’ on it and Kiara’s stomach lurched as the lift shot into the air at an alarming speed.
After a very brief ride that still managed to feel like eternity, the doors opened and she gasped at how striking the room was that stretched out in front of her.
It smelled of expensive cigars and Kiara could almost taste the suffocating tobacco. The floor was made of red wood and the walls were lined with detailed wooden panels. The roof hosted a chubby-angels mural and the right wall was a bookcase stocked with hard cover volumes. The opposite wall was a gallery that depicted all the previous headmasters – there were quite a few. A giant window looked out on a lush forest consisting of tall evergreen trees. The sun was beating down on the landscape and Kiara felt rather out of place in her black winter coat.
The view was spectacular. Kiara would have run to stare through the glass, had it not been for the desk in front of it and the figure that stood with its back to her and Naru.
The man was tall and very powerfully built, with broad shoulders and light grey hair. He spoke without turning to face them, “You certainly took your time recruiting Miss Westwin, Naruta.”
Then he spun around. His face was mature, but remarkably unwrinkled and his pinstripe suit tailored to perfection.
Naru bowed his head. “There were some unforeseen complications.”
Headmaster Houghs scowled, making him look very intimidating. “Complications?”
“Virginia Kent and Kiara Westwin were attacked by a zombie in their apartment this morning.”
“A supernatural harmed them – not out of defence?”
Naru nodded. “I managed to get rid of the creature and called an ambulance for Virginia; she was severely injured. I brought Kiara here as soon as I could.”
The headmaster seemed very unconcerned about her mother’s condition. “Well, thank you for your service, Naruta. You are dismissed.”
Kiara’s voice sounded more alarmed than she’d anticipated. “You’re leaving?”
Why was she upset? She’d only met him that day. But somehow his presence had been reassuring. He’d managed to make her feel safe.
His smile was warm and kind as he said, “Don’t worry, Kiara; you’ll be just fine from now on. You’re where you’re meant to be: with your own kind.”
And then he just walked out of the office without as much as a backwards glance. She felt a strange sense of betrayal.
She was jerked back to reality by the other man’s commanding voice. His hard azure eyes were focused on her, making her feel like she’d done something wrong.
“Forgive my rudeness. I am Headmaster Nathan Houghs.” He held out a hand and she shook it cautiously.
“Oh, I know who you are… I assume you have been informed about the Guardians and the fact that you now are one.”
She shrugged. “I think I got the basics. So this is Insulam autem Custodes?”
Nathan nodded tersely. “It is indeed. This is where you’ll be spending the next five years of your life.”
“Is my mother going to be okay?” she blurted. The question had been gnawing at the back of her mind since she’d arrived at the college.
“I believe that she will be.”
Kiara snorted disbelievingly. “You believe she will be?”
The man took a seat behind the dark wooden desk. “Virginia is not our responsibility anymore.”
“So you just turn your back on ex-Guardians?”
Houghs looked uncomfortable, which was something she had not expected. “Your mother’s case is a bit more…interesting than the average Guardian’s. But now is not the time to discuss that. Let me summon your roommate and she can show you around.”
Before Kiara could reply, he picked up the black telephone on his desk and dialled a number.
There was no greeting between him and the person on the other side. “I don’t care what you are doing; you will report to my office immediately.”
Kiara gulped. She hoped there would never be a reason for her to be summoned by Headmaster Houghs.
After a few agonisingly awkward moments, the door to the office flew open and a teenage girl sauntered in.
She looked like the rom-com stereotype of the pretty mean girl – the one Kiara had always secretly admired. Sure, she had been one of the popular girls at Beacon High, but never the slutty cheerleader who had groupies to carry her bag.
This girl had ash blonde hair that was teased and tied into a messy ponytail, absolutely gorgeous grey-blue eyes and a sharp, wide-bridged nose. She bore a petite hourglass figure and poreless powdered skin. Her upper lip was dominant and she had a slight overbite. She wore black tights, a see-through red shirt and ankle boots, and smelled of peppermint drops. She was chewing pink bubble-gum with teeth that were obviously bleached. Despite all of this, her look didn’t seem overdone; she was stunning.
Houghs pressed his lips together in a thin-lipped smile and motioned towards the newcomer. “Kiara, this is your new roommate, Tania Houghs. Tania, I would be most grateful if you would give Kiara a tour of the college.”
Tania shrugged, crossing her arms over her well-developed chest. “Anything to get out of History class… So, where’re you from, newbie?” She had a South African accent, the kind where every word was enunciated perfectly.
Kiara straightened to her full height, making her half a head taller than the other girl. “Upper East Side, Manhattan.”
Headmaster Houghs’s voice carried a warning as he said, “Be nice, Tania.”
She fluttered her false eyelashes. “Whatever you say, Daddy.” Kiara wasn’t shocked by the discovery at all. “Come on, Kiara. We wouldn’t want to upset the headmaster.”
Kiara supressed a giggle and nodded at Nathan. “Thank you, sir.”
Then she hurried after Tania, who was already at the door. Her trunk trailed behind her. Despite her confrontation with Houghs, Tania’s expression seemed blissful. Kiara guessed she was one of those people who just had a bubbly demeanour.
“So, the headmaster is your dad?”
Tania went around turns and down steps without warning and Kiara struggled to keep up. “If you can call him that. Walked out on us when I was seven. Imagine how fun our reunion was August last year.”
“I can only imagine. My father left my mother when I was three.”
“Aww, then I guess we both have daddy issues… Don’t expect me to become your best friend ’cause we have the same sob story.”
There goes the bubbly demeanour.
Kiara was taken aback by the other girl’s insensitivity. “I wasn’t-’’
Tania cut her off with a hand motion and led her into one of the ten elevators. Ten elevators! “So, welcome to Feminam Collegii Custos, known to its inhabitants simply as Feminam. The building is home to approximately 400 girls and fifteen teachers.”
The lift came to a halt and the doors opened. They didn’t step out. “This is the first floor; home to the lobby, training hall and cafeteria. The second and third floors host the classrooms and the third floor also has an infirmary. On the fourth level, we have the library and the weapons room. Bedrooms are on the fifth and sixth storeys. At the top, we have the headmaster’s office and the teachers’ suites.”
“Aren’t you actually going to show me around?”
“How come? You have the same classes as me; just follow me until you get the hang of it.”
Tania let the elevator doors close again and punched down on the button that read ‘6’.
“So, are all the Guardians female then?
Tania shook her head and hurried down the first corridor as soon as the lift doors opened. “No. The Island is kind of shaped like a circle pinched in at the centre. Feminam is at the east side and Masculum Collegii Custos is at the west. Right in the middle of Insulam is Congregata, where the guys and girls get together every two weeks.”
They stopped in front of a door marked ‘183’ and Tania went inside. After Kiara entered, the other girl shut the door behind them.
The room was not what Kiara had expected at all. Everything else at Feminam was decorated so anciently that she’d expected the same from the bedrooms.
The floor and ceiling was constructed out of pale wooden panels and the walls were painted dark red. A large wooden-framed window let in the brilliant sunlight and Kiara was once again reminded of how much hotter it was here than in Manhattan. A brown, striped rug lined the centre of the room and there were two orange-covered double beds at the left side, about six feet apart. Each bed was accompanied by a mahogany dresser and end table. The room was drenched in the scent of Tania’s peppermint perfume.
“The bed on the far side is yours and the door on the right leads to our private bathroom.”
Kiara dropped her trunk on her bed. “This place is stunning… Why do they keep us apart?”
Tania frowned. “What?”
“Why do they keep the male and female Guardians apart?”
“Oh. The Meeting – that’s basically the rulers of the Guardians – are big ambassadors of us staying pure. It has something to do with the fact that virgins can detect vampires. Anyway, for me that ship sailed a long time ago. But that probably isn’t anything strange to you, being from the Upper East Side and all.”
She cocked an eyebrow. “I’m a New Yorker, not a gossip girl. So where is everyone now?”
Tania flopped down on her bed, kicking off her boots as she did so. “In class.”
“Shouldn’t you be getting back there as well?”
The other girl shrugged. “Probably.” She showed no sign of getting up. Kiara only shook her head and started to unpack.
She was surprised to find the journal her mother had given her for her birthday, in the trunk. She frowned and set it down on her bedside table. Perhaps she’d write in it later.
Tania sighed and launched herself off her bed in one swift movement. “Lunch will probably be served in a bit. I’ll go get us takeaways before the masses arrive. At least I get some special treatment for being the boss’s daughter.”
And then she disappeared into the hallway.
Kiara drew her hand through her hair and bit down on her bottom lip. Yesterday she’d been a normal girl from Manhattan, with dreams of becoming an actress. And now she was on an island at the other side of the world, where the main objective was killing supernaturals.
What a day.
The first thing Virginia felt was a searing pain at the back of her head. Then she realised that her entire body felt as if a herd of horses had trampled over it.
She uttered a groan and fluttered her eyelids until she could finally manage to open her eyes to slits. Her first sight was bright white light streaming through a large window in the wall to her left. Then she heard something beeping shrilly and steadily beside her. It made her headache worse.
Progressively, as her vision cleared, she gathered that she was alone in a hospital room. The air smelled the way clinics always did – of things that had repeatedly been sterilised. The walls were painted a serene teal and the floor was covered in light grey linoleum dotted with black specks, the kind that always looked filthy.
A wooden table on wheels stood at the foot of her bed, an unoccupied blue-cushioned chair in the right corner and a heart monitor machine on her left.
She was still dazed and confused as to why she was here. She lifted her head to look down at her body. The movement induced a temporary dizzy spell.
When she removed the sheets and blankets draped over her body, she let out a sudden gasp. Almost every inch of her flesh was bandaged, bloody or bruised.
And then she remembered.
She remembered the zombie in their living room, remembered Kiara stumbling in and remembered the crack of her skull as she was thrown against a smooth, cold wall.
I have to find out whether she got to Insulam.
Virginia scrabbled for the remote that illustrated a cartoon nurse. She pushed down on the button with discreet anxiety and waited.
About ten minutes later, a skinny nurse with golden locks strolled into the room, a smile plastered onto her youthful features. She was wearing a severely ironed white shirt, baggy light blue trousers and sneakers with a brown stain on the left shoe.
“I see you’ve finally woken up, Miss Kent. How are you feeling?”
Virginia waved a golden hand in a gesture that showed how insignificant the question was. “I’m fine. How did I get here?”
The nurse came closer and her name badge became legible. AUDRIE BENNETT. “A man phoned the ambulance and they found you passed out on the living room floor…”
Naru must have gotten her. Thank God.
“I guess you’ll be more careful on the stairs down from the twelfth floor now.” Audrie giggled and Virginia ground her teeth together.
Fell down the stairs! Please. If you knew of the things I’ve done, you’d cower in fear.
Instead of voicing her thoughts, she said, “What time is it?”
Audrie checked the watch pinned to her shirt. “Four o’ clock.”
So they should be at Insulam already, she thought in relief.
“When can I leave?
The pretty, young nurse seemed a bit surprised. “Dr Montgomery will be able to tell you that; he’ll pop in a bit later. But my guess is you’ll be stuck here for at least a few more days… Is there anything I can get you?”
Virginia noticed that her throat was raw with thirst and that she hadn’t eaten that day. “Food and water, please.”
Audrie nodded almost too perkily. “Coming right up.”
She pranced out of the room in the manner of someone who hadn’t a care in the world. She returned a few moments later, bearing a plastic tray with a plastic cup and a plate of steaming food.
She placed it on Virginia’s lap and went over to the heart monitor to adjust the settings.
Virginia looked down at the tray and her eyes widened to the size of saucers, her skin turning a deadly pale colour. She lifted the plate off the tray and set it down next to her.
Right there, where the plate had been, emerald letters made of magical flames were arranged on the tray. They were unmistakably the work of a supernatural spell caster.
The message they conveyed was horrifying and Virginia knew that only she could see the words:
Both of us know of the incredible power she now possesses. She will be able to change everything in the supernatural world. And I will find her.
She yelped and flipped the tray off the bed. It cluttered to the linoleum floor and Audrie let out a shocked sigh. “Miss Kent!”
She paid no attention to the nurse. She was crumbling from the inside. She knew that handwriting. She could never forget the sickening swirls of it.
This put Kiara in grave danger.
Tania was lying on her bed, silver moonlight reflected on her features. She bit her bottom lip and wrote with a rubber-tipped pen on something that resembled a touchscreen cell phone.
Kiara had been informed that it was, however, called a letter pad and that it was an electronic way for people on the Island to send each other letters.
“It kind of forces everyone to write each other real, old-fashioned love letters. Very romantic,” Tania had said with a shrug
Kiara was lying on her stomach, propped up on her elbows. “Who are you writing to?”
Tania had a shy grin on her face, so Kiara wasn’t at all surprised when she said, “My boyfriend, Paul.”
“Is he in our year?”
The blonde rolled her eyes. “Please. I don’t date little boys. Paul is twenty.”
Kiara cocked an eyebrow, but said nothing on the subject. “You know what I don’t get? You were born in 1997 and I was born in 1998, yet we have the same classes.”
“Here at Insulam, two years form one grade.”
A few minutes passed in silence, Tania engrossed in her conversation with Paul. Kiara sighed and looked around for something to do.
Her eyes settled on her end table, where the journal her mother had given her rested.
I should write about this day. No one would believe me.
She reached out to grab the book, but knocked it off the table instead. It landed on the floor, opened at a random page.
Kiara gasped. She’d expected blank paper, but found the pages scribbled with Latin words. It’s not an empty book.
She realised that she must’ve said it out loud, since Tania replied, “Of course it isn’t. It’s The Supernatural Files.”
Kiara frowned and picked up the book, flipping through the pages to see that all of them were written on. “The what?”
Tania sighed and momentarily deposited her letter pad onto her bedside table. “We all get a book for our sixteenth birthday. It tells you everything you need to know about every supernatural creature we know of.”
Kiara’s mouth fell open as she browsed the pages. “The Supernatural Files?” She shrugged. “I would’ve called it The Guardian Guide.”
Tania chuckled. “Yeah. The ancient Guardians were pretty unimaginative.”
And then Kiara started reading, chewing on her bottom lip in concentration.
The Supernatural Files
Welcome to the world of the supernatural, young Guardian. The Supernatural Files will tell you all you need to know about the creatures you will be destroying. They are arranged in order of how much demon blood they possess.
Estries Estries are often incorrectly referred to as female vampires. They are, however, much more dangerous than their male counterparts. Origin: Estries are corpses possessed by demons. Gender: Female Diet: They live only on human blood, because it sustains the inhabited corpse. *Estries are known for seducing their victims and then poisoning them. Abilities: Estries have poisonous nails; they can turn themselves invisible; they can use glamours; they cannot be wounded and they are immortal. Residential preference: The location of the Estrie coven is still unknown. Identification: Estries are extremely beautiful; they are often described as having angelic features. They have blue, almost translucent eyes and they possess pale skin. These creatures have no reflection and are often accompanied by crows. They bear long fangs and red marks on their foreheads. Methods of killing: Estries can be destroyed via decapitation, with the head buried away from the body. They also turn to ash in sunlight. Other: They are unable to walk on holy ground or in moving water.
Striabus (warlocks) Origin: A warlock is the direct descendant of a human and a demon. Gender: Male Diet: Warlocks have the same dietary habits as humans. Abilities: Warlocks are skilled in spells and necromancy. Residential preference: Alone Identification: Warlocks are tall and lean with pointed ears. Some also have slanted pupils. Methods of killing: Warlocks can be killed with weapons bearing the Cross.
Sagae (witches) Origin: The children of warlocks or witches. Gender: Female Diet: Witches are vegetarians Abilities: They are skilled in spells and alchemy. Witches remain youthful in appearance, though they have an average lifespan. Residential preference: They live in a coven in Athens. Spells forbid Guardians from entering this location. Identification: Witches have cat eyes, but it is often concealed with spells. Methods of killing: They must be burnt. Other: The daughter of a warlock is known as a Greater Witch and has more power than the daughter of a witch.
Lamia (vampires) Origin: Corpses bitten by Estries or other vampires. Gender: Male Diet: Vampires live on human or animal blood. Abilities: They are supernaturally fast and strong; they heal instantly and they are immortal. Residential preference: None Identification: Vampires have small fangs *Virgins are able to sense the presence of these creatures. Methods of killing: Vampires turn to ash if their chests are exposed to sunlight. They can also be killed with a hawthorn stake through the heart. Other: Vampires must be invited onto holy ground and they are allergic to wild rose.
Lupus et homo (werewolves) Werewolves are also known as lycanthropes. Origin: Humans are changed by being bitten by a werewolf or by drinking blood from the footprint of a wolf. Gender: Male or female Diet: Werewolves have the same dietary habits as humans. Abilities: They can shape shift and heal abnormally fast. Residential preference: Werewolves live in packs of twelve. Identification: In human form, lycanthropes can be identified by their curved nails, low-set ears and swinging stride. In wolf form, they are very large, with black fur and human eyes. They have no tails. Methods of killing: Werewolves can be killed by stabbing a silver sword into their abdomen. Other: Lycanthropes turn to human form when dying. Wolfs bane can cure a werewolf bite and prevent the change.
Ambulans Mortuus (zombies) Origin: Zombies are fresh corpses sustained by magic. *As soon as the witch’s or warlock’s power is retracted from the zombie, it will return to death. Gender: Male or female Diet: They eat human flesh. Abilities: They feel no pain and are very strong. Residential preference: None Identification: Zombies show signs of decay. Methods of killing: They can be killed by crushing the skull, piercing the heart or slaying the magical host.