daemonum angelus: Discovery of the Guardians

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Seni

FROM: RILEY STERN Hey, Kiara. I heard about the vamp attack on you today. Are you alright?

FROM: KIARA WESTWIN Yeah, I’m okay. Turns out I’m pretty good at staking vampires.

FROM: RILEY STERN Not quite sure that’s the correct use of the word ‘staking’, but that’s good to hear.

FROM: KIARA WESTWIN There was also a witch today.

FROM: RILEY STERN I heard. Sophia Keltin. She was your mission, right?

FROM: KIARA WESTWIN But, Riley, she was just a girl. She was younger than us and she was innocent. And they burned her alive. I tried to stop them. I really did. But Savanna was ruthless. It was awful.

FROM: RILEY STERN I understand and I believe you when you say that you tried to prevent her death. Missions are brutal and it’s often sickening.

FROM: KIARA WESTWIN So, you’re not going to say that I’m weak or that I don’t belong here?

FROM: RILEY STERN Why would I do that?

FROM: KIARA WESTWIN It’s what everyone else did. Their reaction is understandable. Our job is to kill supernaturals, after all.

FROM: RILEY STERN It’s easy to see your enemies as evil, but that’s not always the case. Never believe that compassion equals weakness.

FROM: KIARA WESTWIN Thanks, Riley. Sometimes it feels like you’re the only person I can talk to who gets me… Don’t tell Tania that, though.

FROM: RILEY STERN Haha; I won’t. Know that you can talk to me about anything.

FROM: KIARA WESTWIN I know.

FROM: RILEY STERN Anyway, I have to get to bed now, since our Physical Training teacher decided to give his ‘star pupil’ extra lessons at five in the morning.

FROM: KIARA WESTWIN You have to earn the nickname ‘Headboy’, right? Goodnight, Riley.

FROM: RILEY STERN Night, Kiara.


“It was clearly a trap from the start. The shopping centre was completely abandoned from the moment we got there,” Trish explained to the headmaster, posture as straight and professional as always.

Savanna, Trish, Tania and Kiara were once again in Nathan Houghs’s office, this time to report back on their mission.

Nathan nodded from behind his desk, looking more pleased than was expected in the situation. “Well, the important thing is that none of you are hurt… And you managed to take care of seven supernaturals instead of just the one, which is actually worthy of a reward. It remains strange, though, that vampires would attack four Guardians out of offence.”

Kiara almost cringed. If Headmaster Houghs found out about the target on her back, he’d probably banish her from Insulam, or worse.

Her heart dropped when Savanna remarked, “It was obvious that they were trying to capture Kiara.”

Tania shot the redhead a venomous glare, but her eyes went back to her father when he said, “Miss Westwin, this is the second spontaneous attack on you. Do you have any idea why these supernaturals are after you?”

Her eyes met Tania’s briefly and she shook her head. “No, sir.”

He’s going to know you’re lying.

He nodded sceptically. “Until further notice, you will go on missions and be treated like our other Guardians. In fact, we could even use the situation to our advantage.”

Kiara cocked an eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest. “You want to use me as bait?”

“Of course not. But if you happen to attract a few extra supernaturals, it can only be beneficial… Ladies, you are dismissed.” As they turned to walk towards the door, Nathan added, “Tania, may I speak to you alone for a minute?”


Tania halted and watched the other girls leave, Kiara casting her a sympathetic glance before exiting. Then she turned to face her father. “What do you want?”

Nathan motioned to one of the chairs opposite him. “Please take a seat.”

Tania sighed heavily, but complied. “This better be important.”

He folded his hands together on the desk. “When I heard about the vampire attack, I thought about you immediately. Tania, if something had happened to you, I would’ve been shattered.”

She chuckled disbelievingly. “Is that supposed to make me like you?”

Houghs shook his head. “I think you’re under the impression that I don’t care about you, but that’s not true. And I want you to know that.”

“A father who cares about his family wouldn’t have left when his youngest child was still unborn.”

“Don’t you think I wanted to bring you with me?” His sky blue eyes were full of pleading. “Your mother refused-’’

“Don’t you dare put this on her! You had a great life and you abandoned it without even blinking.”

He slammed his fist down on the desk. “Giving up my wife and children was the biggest sacrifice I’ve ever had to make.”

Tania shot out of her seat. “A sacrifice is something you need to make. You didn’t need to become headmaster. You wanted to.”

Feminam needed me.”

“So you could take care of all the children except your own. Do you know what you left behind? Carla lives with the belief that you didn’t want her. Andrea can’t even remember what you look like. Nate still cries out for you in his sleep and it took Mom four years to move on and marry John.”

Nathan stood up. “What about you? What did it do to you?”

Tears started to sting her eyes. “My foundation was pulled out from under me when you discarded us. I was old enough to adore you. You were my favourite person in the entire world and then you left me with the knowledge that the feeling wasn’t mutual. We weren’t enough for you. I wasn’t enough for you and I resented myself for years… Then I came here and realised that you were an asshole all on your own.”

Tania could feel the sorrow she kept locked up start to escape. His next words obliterated all the strength she had.

“If I could turn back time, I would stay.”

She exploded. Sobs and tears swirled together in an uncontrolled outburst. Every thought of guilt, every sleepless night, and every outraged tantrum streamed from her eyes like waterfalls.

Her father’s arms were around her in an instant and she allowed herself to cry into his chest. She was a little girl again and her daddy could fix all the problems in the world.

His voice was genuine and comforting when he said, “I’m sorry. I am so sorry. I love you, Tania, and I never wanted to hurt you.”

Then she realised what she was doing and she shoved him away with all the force she had. He stumbled back, a stricken expression on his face.

“No. You don’t get to say that. You are not my father. John Hopkins is.”

She wiped away her tears and marched out of the office.


Kiara’s ankle boots click-clacked on the corridor’s linoleum floor, her heart beating in her throat. She took a steadying breath before entering her Supernatural Sciences class.

Her stomach fluttered. Xavier was writing on the white board at the front of the room. His blue sweater accentuated every muscled curve of his torso and his jet-black hair complemented his golden skin in an achingly perfect way.

Upon hearing footsteps, his head shot up and their eyes locked for a moment. She was pulled in again immediately. One glance at those swirling portals was enough to transport her to a different world. There was pain and hesitation in his expression.

Then he looked away. He didn’t greet her or even acknowledge her presence. He just cleared his throat and went on with the lesson as if she was invisible.

As if he didn’t care about her at all.

When she sat down in her desk, Xavier walked away from the board, gesticulating widely as he explained the laws that governed werewolf packs. While he talked, he strolled along every row of school benches, except hers.

And it broke her heart.


It was nine o’ clock at night and Kiara lounged on her bed, flipping through her Ancient Texts handbook. Tania was filing her nails on the other bed.

Suddenly, both of their letter pads beeped at the same time. Kiara frowned and read the message on the screen.

FROM: RILEY STERN Open your window.

When she looked up, Tania was beaming at her with bleached teeth. “I just got the same message from Aaron.”

Kiara bit down on her lower lip in excitement and hurried to her bedroom window. And there, on the lawn beneath her, was Riley.

His dark blonde hair jutted up messily. He was wearing beige chinos and a grey t-shirt that stretched over his shoulders and upper back. He waved at her and she returned the smile automatically.

Only when Tania came up next to her did she realise that Aaron was also present, dark hair blending into his leather jacket.

Tania abruptly flung open the window and swung her legs over the sill until they dangled outside. Kiara’s eyes widened to the size of saucers. “What are you doing?”

Her blonde roommate shrugged, blue eyes glinting mischievously. “You don’t expect me to stay up here with a man like that waiting for me, do you?”

“Well, you can’t jump. It’s six floors down.”

Tania rolled her eyes. “You’re a Guardian, Kiara. It’s time you realised that you can’t get injured.” With a final wink, she leapt.

Tania landed on her feet like a cat, greeted Riley and was engrossed in conversation with Aaron immediately.

Kiara took a deep breath, scrunched her eyes shut and jumped.

Air surged past, sending her hair billowing above her and she had to concentrate on supressing the urge to scream.

Her descent came to a sudden stop and she landed on something surprisingly soft. Opening her eyes, she saw that it was Riley’s arms.

He smiled down at her, his dimples sending her heart fluttering. “Did you really think I’d let you fall without planning to catch you?”

Is he talking about love? Fudgecakes, he’s talking about love…

She felt her heart rate increase and her cheeks redden. “I suppose you wouldn’t.”

Then she looked straight into his honey eyes and found herself unable to do as much as glance away. The gentle kindness that seemed to define him warmed her from the inside.

She was forced out of her reverie when Tania and Aaron cleared their throats simultaneously. Kiara and Riley blushed, giggling as he set her down next to him.

The other two jogged across the lawn to lounge beneath a tree, while Riley and Kiara opted to take a seat on the grass right where they were.

“What are you guys doing here?”

He chuckled. “I think it’s rather obvious that we’re here to pay a surprise visit.”

She beamed. “Well, I like the surprise. A lot.”

“I’m glad.” His tone suddenly changed. “Are you alright?”

Kiara scowled. “Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”

His beige hand came up to caress her cheek, sending and involuntary shiver down her spine. “I can tell that something is bothering you.”

His hand dropped to take hers and she took comfort in his touch. “It would actually be nice to talk to someone… But there’s more than one thing on my mind and I don’t want you to think that I’m a complainer.”

“Stop insulting yourself and me, and just talk.”

She giggled, grinned at him and placed a strand of hair behind her ear. “Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you… Well, I know you said that compassion doesn’t equal weakness – and that’s the only thing that’s been getting me through, but I’m terrified that I might not be the right person for the job. I’m scared and insecure when it comes to things like killing supernaturals and jumping out of windows. What if I never become what I need to be?”

“What happened to the girl who ‘staked’ two vampires? Kiara, when you need to be, you’re a very competent Guardian. Let me reassure you with words by a very wise jungle cat: Being brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble.

Kiara threw her head back and laughed. “Did you seriously just quote The Lion King?”

He shrugged and revealed those gorgeous dimples again. “What? It’s a very inspirational movie.”

She smiled at him. “Thanks, Riley.”

He attempted a frown, but failed terribly. “For knowing my animation movies?”

“For making me feel much better.”

Riley squeezed her hand lightly. “My pleasure. You said there’s more than one thing on you mind?”

“It’s not important.”

“Oh no. Now you have to tell me…”

She stared at the grass underneath her and cleared her throat. “Well, it kind of involves Xavier Carlisle.”

A muscle feathered in his jaw and he pulled his hand away as casually as he could manage. “Your Supernatural Sciences teacher?”

“For a while, I thought he could be more, but… We really don’t have to talk about this.”

Riley tried to hide his expression of discomfort. “If it’ll help, you should talk about it.”

Kiara sighed. “When I first got here, he was so nice to me and I thought we had a real connection. I saw him as the perfect guy – I still do… But then he kissed me a while back and just ended everything instantly. Apparently, there’s no possibility of a relationship between us. He’s been avoiding me since.”

He didn’t make eye contact as he said, “I know how hard it is to see yourself with someone and then have the entire picture shattered in seconds…” His voice trembled on the last word. “But he is your teacher.”

Kiara felt awful. She didn’t know the exact reason, but she knew that her earlier happiness had faded. “I know. I was stupid for thinking Xavier and I could be something.”

Seeing the hurt in her eyes, he placed a comforting hand on her knee. “Hey, any guy who doesn’t want to be with you is crazy and doesn’t deserve you anyway.”

She was oddly disappointed. She’d expected him to be unsettled about her and Xavier. With a shock, she realised that she’d wanted him to react heavily.

“This is going to sound very weird, but I expected you to be more upset.”

Riley shot into a standing position, holding out a hand to help her up. She took it and wiped stray blades of grass from her clothes.

“Why? We’re just friends, right?”

That ‘right’ held a desperate question.

She nodded. “Right.”

He closed his eyes briefly, inhaled sharply through the nose and said, “Well, Aaron and I should probably get back.”

He reached out to envelop her in a hug and she buried her head in his chest. Then he whispered, “Of course I’m a bit disappointed that your heart already belongs to someone else, but that’s not going to stop me from being your friend and spending time with you. Just be careful with Xavier. The last thing I want is to see you get hurt.”

He let go before she was ready, strode across the lawn and disappeared into the forest with Aaron in tow.


Virginia watched Naru from behind as he walked down the corridor toward Apartment 1038. Her small rucksack was slung over his right shoulder and her keys dangled from the index finger of his left hand.

He was smartly dressed, as he always seemed to be these days, in a navy blue trench coat with a high collar and dark jeans.

His jet-black hair still looked the same as it had when she’d met him, visibly soft and sort of spiky. He’d driven her home from the hospital and insisted on accompanying her all the way.

Before unlocking the apartment door, he looked around to flash her a grin. She couldn’t help but smile back. His slightly-slanted eyes were the colour of mahogany furniture and his light skin was beautifully smooth, as most Asians’ were.

Naru’s father had decided to raise his family in Vancouver, but they were practically Japanese royalty.

He shoved open the front door and motioned to her to enter first. The apartment interior was perfect. No sofa stuffing or blood spats on the floor. No scratches on the furniture or broken glass in the living room. It even had that lemon-scented-room-spray-and-cinnamon smell.

She heard Naru place her bag on the stainless steel counter and she spun around to face him. He ran a self-conscious hand through his hair and said, “The couch is camel instead of tan and the painting was completely destroyed, so I had to replace it with a picture of you and Kiara.”

Virginia shook her head incredulously. “You replaced everything?”

He shrugged and came closer to stand behind her. “I couldn’t let you come home to a torn-up apartment.”

“I have to pay you back…”

“Ginia, I don’t want your ex-husband’s money.”

She turned so they were face-to-face and stood up on her toes to fling her arms around his neck. She felt him embrace her and beamed.

“Thank you so much, Naru.” She pulled away. “When did you even get time to do this? Don’t they miss you at Insulam?”

“Even those of us who work for the protectors of the world get time off.”

Virginia plopped down on the sofa and smiled. “New couch is comfortable. You should sit down.” She patted the seat next to her and he obeyed. She gently placed a hand on his head and played with his hair. “Are you even allowed to have contact with me? I thought it was forbidden.”

He rolled his head to the side to look at her. “I’m not twenty-one anymore; I’m not afraid of the Meeting.”

She stared straight into his melted-chocolate eyes and found herself in awe. “You turned into this amazing, strong man and I wasn’t even around to witness it.”

“That transformation would never have occurred without you.”

She put her head against the spot between his chest and shoulder. “This is just like old times. It’s good to have my best friend back. I really missed you, Naru.” He hooked an arm around her back and rested his cheek against her red hair. “I missed you too. Now, let’s stop being soppy and see what’s on TV.”


“For a while, I thought he could be more…”

Kiara’s voice was trapped in Riley’s mind and his anger rolled off his body, into his arm as his fist connected with the crimson punching bag.

“… I thought we had a real connection…”

Over and over again it rang in his ears. Another blow sent the bag flying away and then swinging back like a boomerang, chain clinking with effort.

“I saw him as the perfect guy – I still do…”

All his rage and disappointment was channelled into slamming the target with as much force as he had.

“… then he kissed me…”

And then his blows came down like a storm. He couldn’t stop. It was like he was possessed and he knew that he would go insane if he halted now.

So he continued fighting like a madman. Until he felt like he could breathe again. Until he felt like he was finally above water.

“You’re attacking that punching bag very aggressively for five in the morning.”

Riley pulled his knuckles back and turned towards the training hall door. The pine-wood floor gleamed in the morning sun that streamed through the giant windows at the top of the room.

His Physical Training teacher, Mr Rihan Beets, was approaching him across the hall. Mr Beets was dressed in black armour; auburn hair cropped short and dark eyes amused. There was a brown file in his right hand.

Riley smiled. “Let’s just say I had a few issues to work through.”

Rihan cocked an eyebrow. “What’s her name?”

Riley bent down to pick up his shirt from the floor and chuckled. “Is it that obvious?”

“I’ve just been there before.”

Riley sighed and looked down. “Her name’s Kiara.”

“Ah, Miss Westwin. My wife tells me she has a lot of potential as a Guardian. Anyway, as your PT teacher and not your psychologist, keep dealing with your pain by training.”

He cleared his throat. “I’ll try my best.”

Mr Beets handed him the file. “It’s a good thing you’re up and going, because I just got you your first solo mission.”

Riley flipped open the file and the blood drained from his face. “This is a warlock. You’re sending me after a warlock on my own?”

“It took some skill to convince Headmaster Colton that you’re capable. Don’t let me down.”

Riley mocked a salute. “Yes, sir.”

Rihan strolled out of the hall and Riley gulped. Warlocks were the second most dangerous supernaturals on earth and now he had to face one alone.


Xavier stood at the front of the classroom to address the students and Kiara did her best to avert her gaze. “Alright, girls, Nos sunt tutores de adominatio…”

Nos sunt semper contra malum,” the class chorused.

“Enjoy the rest of your day. Kiara, would you please stay behind after class for a minute?”

Her head shot up and her heart dropped. After all the others had left, Kiara watched in silent agony as Xavier closed the door and drew all the blinds.

They were alone.

And she was forced to notice how his dark grey sweater accentuated his powerful shoulders while simultaneously bringing out the blue of his eyes.

Kiara took a deep breath, stood up out of her chair and approached him with as much poise as she could manage. When she reached his desk, with him on the other side, she muttered, “You wanted to see me?”

He cocked his head to the side and his expression softened irresistibly. “How are you?”

The question destroyed her and she stepped into the trap of looking up at him. Just like that, every bit of anger, heartbreak and disappointment inside her melted away.

Three words. How does he manage to do that so easily?

She cleared her throat to steady herself. “I’m fine.”

He reached out to caress her cheek and her breath caught. “I am not. Kiara, I have been in the process of falling apart ever since the day I told you that we could not be together. I cannot seem to hold a thought if it is not about you. But the thing is, I do not want to stop thinking about you, because I love having my thoughts on you. I know that you must feel hatred towards me and I have no right to say this, but I miss you. I miss your quotes and your laughter and the absolute trust in your eyes. And I hate that I abused that trust. I-’’

She took his hand to silence him and smiled gently, already feeling hope clutch her heart. “You can stop. I kind of already forgave you when you said, ‘How are you?’.”

They chuckled together and Xavier made his way around the desk towards her. “Why does a girl like you even notice me?”

“Seriously? You’re like a better-looking Ian Somerhalder.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Did you just compare me to a vampire?”

She shrugged. “Maybe.”

He came a step closer and they were almost touching now. “Only like me for my looks, do you?”

She let out a giggle, which made her feel like a twelve-year-old with a crush. “Maybe.”

There was still a smile on his lips when he kissed her. His arms wrapped around her and she felt her feet lift off the floor. It started out light and happy, and her heart soared, but the kiss soon turned desperate and full of sorrow.

She was jolted out of the moment when a drop of water spilled against her face. She opened her eyes and found a tear rolling down Xavier’s golden cheek.

Kiara pulled away and the emotion in his portal-eyes broke her heart. “Xavier, why are you crying?”

He rested his forehead against hers and shook his head slowly. “I am sorry.”

She shoved him away with all the force she possessed and crossed her arms over her chest, a feral expression on her face. “Every time you kiss me, you end up apologising afterwards and I get the feeling I’m going to dislike this time even more that the first.”

“I am sorry; I had to do that one last time.”

A muscle feathered in her jaw. “One last time?”

“I have been consumed by thoughts of you – I could not avoid you any longer – and I had to kiss you again before finally abandoning hope on us… Kiara, a teacher and a pupil cannot-’’

“- be in a relationship? Yeah, I got that. You know what I don’t understand, though? You ask me to stay behind, you sweet talk me, you kiss me and you give me hope just to shatter it all seconds later. You could’ve just let me get over you, but instead you decide to lift me up and then throw me down again. And that makes you the most selfish person I have ever met. So, don’t speak to me ever again. I don’t care whether you’re burning from the inside; you will not approach me again. I’m done, Xavier. I’m done.”

She gave him one last poisonous glance before stalking away. When she reached the door, she turned to say, “You should probably open the blinds now. I think you need a bit of light in your life.”


Rodas Gianakos lived underneath a small bookstore in Githeio, Greece. He was a respected member of the community. He was also a warlock.

A warlock who had recently made it onto the Guardians’ radar. A warlock who was about to have his last day.

It was six o’ clock in the morning and Gianakos Value Volumes was still closed. It was small and cosy, and reeked of mould.

Riley had portalled straight into the shop on the third floor of a white-walled, blue-roofed building that looked like it would become the Leaning Tower of Pisa at any moment.

He had daggers with the Cross etched into them in every boot and had a Cross-shaped sword held ready in his left hand.

As he slinked around the dusty bookshelves toward the stairwell to the second floor, his senses were aware of everything. He saw every possible exit, heard every creak of his footsteps on the wooden floorboards, smelled every overweight rat that scuttled across the space and felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

He couldn’t lie – he was nervous. Warlocks were powerful and he didn’t have back-up.

He finally reached the narrow staircase at the other side of the room and descended with caution. One wrong move and the element of surprise would be lost.

When he was about four steps from his destination, a heavy blow landed against his jaw. It didn’t leave a wound, but the momentum was enough to throw him back against the stairs, spine connecting with the wood loudly. His sword slipped out of his hand in the process.

Before he could get a look at his assailant, he was grabbed by the ankles and yanked down with force, skull bouncing off every step.

So glad I can’t feel pain.

When he finally landed on the floor, he looked up. Straight into the rotting face of a zombie. The undead creature roared at him and he pulled a face.

“Dude, you could use a mint.”

The zombie reached out towards his heart, but he kicked it in the chest and sent it flying into a wall. Then he pulled a dagger out of one of his boots and, with a flick of his wrist, sent it soaring at the creature. The blade buried itself in its chest. The zombie disintegrated.

Riley propped himself up on his elbows, stood up and regretted it immediately. He was in a small living room/kitchen area with antique furniture.

And five zombies were staring at him with hungry expressions. There was a single moment of silence before they attacked.

Two of them were on him in a second. One sank its teeth into Riley’s right forearm and the other was aiming to claw at his neck.

He brought his right arm up and then slammed it down again. The creature lost its grip. When the zombie was on the floor, leering at him, he stomped down on its head with as much power as he possessed.

He heard the satisfying crunch of its skull a moment before the monster disappeared. The other attacker was dragging him down and the remaining three were advancing steadily.

Riley grabbed hold of the nearest creature and shoved him away in order to get hold of his other dagger. The latter found itself in a monster’s chest. Now he was out of weapons.

But there were still three of them. Before Riley could do anything, a fist connected with his gut and he tumbled backward, hitting the floor hard.

The zombie responsible for the blow was sitting on his chest a moment later. It was reaching down to get to Riley’s heart. He caught the creature’s arm and they pitted their strength against each other. The monster’s outstretched hand was inches away from his chest.

Shit!

He used all the strength he could gather against the zombie. But he was the weaker opponent of the two.

I’m going to die. I’m not ready to die.

The creature’s hand came closer.

Closer.

Its fingers scraped against Riley’s shirt.

And suddenly, a blinding flash of purple light filled the room. Riley’s head spun. He smelled magic. And then he saw black, unwillingly diving into unconsciousness.


His wrists were tied together, along with his ankles, and he was sitting on a cement floor. Those were the first things Riley noticed.

Then his eyes shot open and he saw a thirty-something-year-old man standing in front of him. The man had dark brown hair and sideburns, green cat-eyes and an olive complexion.

Rodas Gianakos.

The warlock smirked at him. “Ah, I see you finally decided to wake up. Didn’t expect my bodyguards, did you? It was foolish to send one Guardian after me anyway.”

Riley struggled against his bounds. “Why am I tied up?”

Rodas knelt down to look him in the eye. “Are you friends with Kiara Westwin?”

Riley snarled. “How do you know Kiara?”

The other man chuckled cruelly. “Please, boy, everyone in the supernatural world knows Kiara Westwin. And judging by the look on your face, I’d say the two of you are rather close.”

Everyone in the supernatural world knows her?

“What do you want, Gianakos?”

The warlock rubbed his hands together wickedly. “I’m actually quite excited. It’s been a while since I’ve ripped out a heart.”


“I am sorry.”

The emotion in Xavier’s voice still remained in Kiara’s head, even though she’d tried to get it out. She laughed with satisfaction as her blade sank into the white training dummy’s shoulder.

“Yeah. I’m sorry too.”

“… I just had to do that one last time.”

Her sword stuck into the target’s stomach and she clenched her teeth together. “Well, you can be sure that that was the last time.”

“… I had to kiss you again before finally abandoning hope on us…”

Her anger and frustration boiled over. She slammed the hilt of her weapon into her ‘opponent’s’ face and let out a loud roar.

“Whoa, what did that dummy ever do to you?”

Kiara’s head shot up. Tania was approaching her across the training hall floor, high-waist skirt swaying and ankle boots clacking.

Kiara pursed her lips together. “Xavier really pissed me off.”

Tania chuckled. ‘Until you make up again next week.”

She shook her head fervently and sheathed her sword. “Not this time. I’ve made a decision, Tania.”

“And what is that?”

She stepped closer to the other girl. “I’m done hoping and trying for a relationship with Xavier. I’m moving on and the most likely candidate as this stage is Riley. I’m not saying I’m going to fall in love with him, but at least I’m open to the possibility now. I’m not letting Xavier hold me back anymore. And that feels great.”

Her blonde roommate smiled sadly. “I’m really happy for you…”

Kiara raised an eyebrow. “Why do I sense a ‘but’ coming on?”

Tania gulped and looked down. “Kiara, something happened.”

She scowled. “What’s going on?”

Tania’s eyes were brimming with tears when she looked up and Kiara’s stomach knotted. Oh no. This is bad.

Tania let out a sob. “Oh Kiara, I’m so sorry.”

Kiara’s voice came out more desperate than she’d anticipated. “Tania, please just tell me.”

“It’s Riley.”


A few weeks earlier

Mom,

Hi. How are you feeling? I hope you’re doing better than the last time I saw you. The chemo will start helping soon; I’m sure. I will always hold onto hope, Mom, but I can’t hide the fact that I’m worried about you.

I know that the illness could take you away at any moment and I’m so sorry that I’m only allowed to come home twice a year. I’m terrified that I’ll receive the tiding of your death without seeing you. I’m so scared we won’t get to say goodbye.

Don’t worry about me; I’m doing well. I miss you and Dad and Rebecca so much. Please send him my love.

See you in a few months.

Riley.


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