The man’s spine transformed with a sickening crunch. His skin burst open as his limbs changed, hair sprouting through every crack. The bones of his face elongated, making him look like a demon. A shriek of pain escaped from between his misshapen lips as his whole body contorted to bend forward.
And then it was over.
In the man’s place, there now stood a wolf the size of a stallion, its eyes still distinctively human – green as the one’s he had replaced. Its fur was a colour darker than black and its tail was missing.
The transformation from man to wolf disgusted Kiara to her core. And now, it was happening all around her.
She was in the centre of a ring of werewolves, silver blades held ready in each of her hands. Savanna was at her five o’ clock, Tania at her seven.
Just them against a dozen. Three against a pack.
Tania twirled her hunting daggers in her hands and whispered, “Remember to go for the gut.”
The other two nodded in agreement.
There was a second of complete silence, where each side summed the other up. Planning their next move.
The silence broke.
The pack charged with an unanimous snarl.
Kiara barely had time to take a breath before a wolf slammed into her, knocking her to the hard floor of the alleyway in Maracay, Venezuela.
It was on top of her, fangs sinking into her upper left arm. The monster was heavy, its stench repulsive – and it was intent on killing her. She fought to regain control of her body and managed to find enough space to punch up her right blade.
It buried itself deep in the creature’s abdomen and the lycanthrope fell, turning human at the moment of its death.
A young woman with auburn hair.
Kiara didn’t have time to get up before another attacker leapt at her. This time, she was prepared. She kicked out at just the right time to catch the wolf at its highest momentum. It flew through the air; crashed into the cement with a crack! Her weapon was there in a second.
A couple of werewolves were battering at Tania from different sides. The girl was only just managing to survive, knives slashing out to get a mortal shot. Kiara drew a silver dagger from her belt and sent it flying. It missed the animal’s stomach; burrowed into its thigh instead.
Not a lethal shot, but enough distraction to let the blonde Guardian do her job.
Kiara couldn’t watch the second wolf’s demise, as another suddenly jumped onto her back. Its claws found grip on her shoulders. She was yanked backward with a cry. She furiously tried to stab the animal. Her struggles only pulled her down further.
Then there was another monster in front of her, a distance away. It settled into a crouch and then bounded at her with ferocious determination.
With a jolt, she realised their plan. One would pin her down. The other would rip out the organ that kept her alive.
In an awful sense of déjà vu, she remembered her first confrontation with a supernatural.
The thing advanced again and Kiara accepted the fact that there was no escape.
I’m going to die here.
She let out a sob and slid down the wall, sitting with her knees pressed up against her chest. She bit down on her bottom lip and scrunched her eyes shut, waiting for the thing to kill her.
Please just let it be painless.
And then, like the first time, the creatures threatening her disappeared. With the lift of the wolf’s weight off her shoulders, her eyes opened.
Savanna was standing over her like a war goddess, one spear embedded in each werewolf’s spine – straight through into the guts. The redhead pulled the weapons free, grimaced as blood stained her face and said, “You’re welcome.”
Kiara nodded and got up, surprised to find that she was still in possession of both her blades.
Except for the six deaths Kiara’d witnessed, Tania had killed one lycanthrope and Savanna two. There were three attackers remaining.
One for each of them.
The girls were ready, feral snarls on their faces. The werewolves were growling menacingly, ready to strike.
Another moment of silence.
Then, as if a switch had been flipped, the latter opponent gave. The wolves suddenly pulled their ears back against their heads and whined liked pups on New Year’s Eve. They took a few steps back and then bolted.
Savanna snorted and played with the end of a spear. “Well, what da ya know? We made ‘em flee.”
Kiara shook her head, stomach knotting as realisation flooded over her. “They were afraid.”
Savanna rolled her eyes. “That’s kind of what the word ‘flee’ implies.”
“No. Not of us. They were running away from something else.”
Tania’s voice suddenly rang out. “Kiara, what’s that on your arm? It-’’
She was interrupted by a rasping laugh that echoed through the alley. And then another. And another. Three of them, then.
“What was that?” Tania asked.
The answer came from Savanna and Kiara simultaneously. “Witches.”
“Oh, what clever little girls you are,” a high-pitched voice said.
The Sagae appeared at the other end of the alley, strolling toward the three Guardians. The leader had stark white hair down to her hips, red rose-petal lips and skin as white as ice. The other two trailed behind her. They were obviously twins, both with curls framing their black faces. All of them bore the same slanted pupils – the cat-eyes – that made their kind identifiable.
Savanna cocked an eyebrow. “What are you supposed to be? The Wicked Witches of the West?”
The twins spoke in perfect, eerie unison, “We, you insolent little fool, are the Triabus. We are the most powerful Greater Witches of our time. We rule over the coven.”
“And we want her.” This came from the leader, who was pointing a pale finger straight at Kiara.
Kiara stepped forward, fists clenched around the hilts of her swords. “Why?”
The white-haired witch chuckled cruelly. “And why ever would we tell you that?”
Kiara let her right sword clatter to the ground and pulled a lighter from her belt, flipping the lid open to reveal a swaying flame.
The three supernaturals gasped simultaneously and she smirked. “I am sick of being chased down by your kind! I’m putting an end to this mystery right now. Tell me why you’re after me, or else…”
The leader hissed at her. “You are just like them.”
Kiara was poised, ready to fling the burning lighter at the witches, who would light up like a Christmas tree.
But then her vision started to blur and her head spun in a sudden whir. Nausea claimed her stomach. An agonising stab of pain shot through her left arm and her weapons fell.
Taking advantage of her moment of weakness, the witches attacked. When the leader was only a few steps away, Kiara’s legs gave in and the world went black.
Tania crossed Feminam’s lawn slowly, staring at her shoes. Her mind was buzzing with thoughts of worry. When she finally reached Hollow Tree, Aaron was waiting. His dark hair concealed the left side of his face and his leather jacket accentuated his broad shoulders gorgeously as he leaned against the tree trunk.
“Hey,” his deep voice broke the night’s silence.
She pursed her lips together. “Hi.”
Aaron stepped out of the shadows. “How’s Kiara doing?”
His arms wrapped around her waist and he leaned his forehead against hers. “She’ll be alright, Tania. The wolfs bane will do its job.”
She nodded and then looked into his almost-black eyes. All her worries washed away. “It’s amazing how you always manage to make me feel better.”
His expression suddenly became inscrutable and he cleared his throat. “There’s something I wanted to discuss with you tonight.”
Tania frowned, her stomach knotting. Her last meeting here had left her with a broken heart. “What’s that?”
He looked away, but his arms remained around her. “I haven’t really done this before, so I’m not really familiar with the protocol. But – Well – I-’’
“Spit it out, Aaron.”
He took a deep breath and then blurted, “I’m in love with you.”
Her lips parted in surprise and she broke into a grin.
He finally looked at her and gave a small smile. “Tania, I’m in love with you and I want everyone to know that…”
“Oh no; you’re not going to give me a promise ring, are you?”
He chuckled. “No. I’m not going to give you a promise ring. I just want us to be serious about our relationship. I don’t want you to see other guys-’’
“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘exclusive’,” she said cheekily.
He nodded. “Yes.”
She leaned forward to kiss him, her heart performing the can-can against her ribcage. She pulled away only slightly and muttered, “I don’t want you to see other guys either.”
The corners of Aaron’s mouth lifted slightly and he kissed her again.
Wherever she was, it smelled like antiseptic. And it was quiet.
Kiara’s eyes fluttered open and she found herself in an unknown room. The entire place was painted white; there were rows of steel-framed single beds lining the walls and a medical supplies station occupied the centre of the hall.
The Infirmary, Kiara deduced.
She became aware of a dull throb in her left bicep and turned her eyes to investigate. There were sixteen small scars that formed two rows all around her upper arm.
“That’s the wolf’s jaw.”
Her head shot right – to where the voice had come from. Savanna was sitting at her bedside. The girl’s red hair was tied up and her emerald eyes alert as always.
Kiara frowned, realising that she had a terrible headache. “What happened?”
“You were bitten by a werewolf. Don’t worry; we gave you wolfs bane. So, you won’t change.”
The brunette sighed with relief. “Thank goodness.”
The expression on Savanna’s face changed to one of wariness. She eyed Kiara as one would a strange beast. “What are you?”
Kiara scowled. “I don’t-’’
“Usually, when Guardians are given wolfs bane, the bite heals and, within a few minutes, everything’s over. But you… You were unconscious – trapped in delirium – for three days. Not to mention the fact that you have that scar. It’s like there’s something inside of you that either rejects the Change… or the wolfs bane.”
The last sentence was a question, a statement and a threat all in one.
“There’s something else. When you passed out, the smell of magic filled the air even though the witches hadn’t performed a spell. And they went up in flames all by themselves. The fire seemed to come from nowhere. But see, I have a theory. I think it came from you.”
Kiara gaped at the other girl in shock. “From me? Savanna, I can’t create fire.”
“Whether or not that’s true, you’re more than just a Guardian.” The redhead glared at her suspiciously for a few more moments and then stood up with a sharp intake of breath. “Whatever. I’m going to get Tania. She’s the one who’s supposed to be babysitting you, anyway.”
FROM: RILEY STERN Kiara, I heard about the bite. Are you alright?
FROM: RILEY STERN Kiara?
FROM: RILEY STERN They won’t let me into Feminam. Please let me know as soon as you wake up.
FROM: RILEY STERN Kiara, please.
FROM: RILEY STERN I’m going insane.
FROM: RILEY STERN Kiara.
FROM: KIARA WESTWIN Hi.
FROM: RILEY STERN Oh, thank God. Are you okay?
FROM: KIARA WESTWIN I have a badass scar, but I’m fine.
FROM: RILEY STERN When did you wake up?
FROM: KIARA WESTWIN About two hours ago.
FROM: RILEY STERN Any idea why your body reacted the way it did?
FROM: KIARA WESTWIN No.
FROM: RILEY STERN Well, the important part is that you came out unharmed.
FROM: KIARA WESTWIN Do you have any idea what Houghs’s reaction was to all of this?
FROM: RILEY STERN Tania told him that she and Savanna killed the witches. I think he’s just ignoring the rest.
FROM: KIARA WESTWIN Riley?
FROM: RILEY STERN Yes?
FROM: KIARA WESTWIN There’s something I have to tell you.
FROM: RILEY STERN Yeah?
FROM: KIARA WESTWIN Uhm… Well… Xavier and I are together.
FROM: RILEY STERN Oh. When did this happen?
FROM: KIARA WESTWIN Tuesday.
FROM: RILEY STERN It’s what you wanted, so… I guess congratulations are in order.
FROM: KIARA WESTWIN Riley, don’t be like that.
FROM: RILEY STERN What do you want me to say? That I’m happy for you?
FROM: KIARA WESTWIN No. I want you to be angry. Tell me I’m a horrible person.
FROM: RILEY STERN Your heart is already telling you that you’re making a mistake. I don’t need to do it too. Look, I still care about you and nothing can ruin our friendship. I’m glad you’re awake and well. I have to go.
FROM: KIARA WESTWIN Goodbye, Riley.
“Xavier, where are we going?”
“I have already told you that it is a surprise.”
Xavier was behind Kiara, his hands covering her eyes. He led her down corridors, into elevators and around turns until she had no idea where they were.
When they finally came to a standstill, he removed his hands. The Training Hall.
“What are we doing here?”
“You have been confined to your room for a week. I know that you are yearning for a fight.”
Kiara shook her head. “I don’t know if I’m ready for training yet.”
He sauntered into the room. His jet-black hair was still wet from the shower and his white t-shirt made him look irresistible. “You have faced supernaturals and you have faced Cora Beets, but you have yet to test your abilities against mine.”
She gave in. Grinning, she grabbed twin swords from one of the walls. “All that sounds like a lot of bark. But can you bite?”
A mischievous glint entered those portal-eyes as he picked his weapon – a battle axe. “Arrogance is known to accompany lack of skill.”
They moved closer to each other and she giggled. “Honey, I can’t get hurt. You can. So there’s no version of this where you come out on top.”
Then they clashed.
Xavier came at her with the dexterity of a wild animal. The axe swung toward her head – left and right – with the speed of a lightning bolt about a dozen times. By ducking the blows, she was pushed back.
Back. Back. Back.
She finally managed to bring her blades up against his weapon’s hilt. She shoved until she could gain some ground again.
He flashed her a smile and stepped aside. Her own momentum made her tumble forward. She regained her balance just before hitting the floor and spun around to face him.
The axe’s blade came leaping, connecting with her cheek hard. Riley would never have gone for that blow.
It didn’t leave a scratch.
She smirked and started driving her blades towards him, slicing out. He was now on the defence. She headed straight for the far wall so she could pin him down.
It was almost too easy to drive him back.
When she reached the wall, she realised why. He’d taken her straight into a trap.
Her blades were caught behind his weapon and he used this to spin them around. He pushed her up against the wall, a feral grin on his features.
She simpered and brought her face closer to his. “You know, you’re kind of sexy when you’re fighting.”
His lips parted and he leaned in even more. “The feeling is mutual.” His voice came out hoarse.
Riley’s would have been smooth.
She kissed him slowly, taking her time to bring her sword up without him noticing. She finally pulled away and said, “Never get distracted.”
Her weapon was at his throat.
He let the axe clatter to the ground in defeat and chuckled. “Touché.”
She abandoned her blades as well, hooking her arms around his neck. He had such broad shoulders.
Yeah, but Riley is taller.
Stop thinking about Riley!
“There’s something I haven’t told you yet,” she whispered.
His hands settled on her lower back. “Tell me.”
“I love you too.”
Their lips met again and this time, both of them became oblivious to their surroundings.
Virginia opened Kiara’s old bedroom door, a silver tray balanced in her hands. It bore a plate of food and a piece of paper.
He was in a deep slumber, yellow-brown skin contrasting with the white bedding. She grinned. It was almost impossible to catch Naru still asleep.
She placed the tray on the nightstand and kissed his forehead softly. His eyes flickered open and he smiled sleepily. “Ginia, what’s going on?”
He sat up and she positioned herself at his side. “I couldn’t let you return to Insulam without making your favourite breakfast.”
She handed him the tray and he beamed. “French toast. I didn’t think you’d remember.”
“How could I forget? We used to make it very free weekend’s Saturday morning.”
He chuckled gleefully. “Yeah. I remember. You used to drown yours in honey…” Then he frowned and picked up the letter that rested next to the plate. “What’s this?”
“Just read it.”
He cleared his throat and obeyed:
I have made so many mistakes in my life and loved the wrong person so many times. But now everything seems to have turned out alright. Because Kiara is safe at Insulam and you’re back in my life.
Naru, you are my best friend. When we stick together, there is nothing we cannot do. You’ve been cheering me on and that’s all that has gotten me through. Your arms are the ones I’ve always been comforted by.
You are my best friend, but you are also the love of my life. My heart. My soul. The one I want to be with from now until forever. I realise that now. Maybe I’m a couple of decades too late, but…
I love you, Naru.
He put the tray on the bedside table and looked at her; tears welled up in his chocolate-coloured eyes.
“Why are you crying?” she asked.
He took both her hands in his. “I’ve been waiting for that for twenty-five years.”
She kissed him.
Their lips had never met before and Virginia couldn’t imagine why; everything just sort of fit. Kissing Naru was like coming home in wintertime to find a fireplace crackling in the corner and your favourite movie on TV. Like hot chocolate on an icy day. Like the morning sun on your skin after a long night.
He pulled away and she almost groaned in protest. “You’re making it very difficult for me to leave,” he said.
Her eyes lit up suggestively. “I’d say you still have an hour or so.”
He grinned and gently pulled her down on top of him.
“This better not become a habit.”
Tania was glaring at the envelope that lay white and unopened on Kiara’s bed. Kiara stepped up beside her, hands trembling slightly. “You think it’s from the same person?”
The blonde raised her shoulders in a shrug. “There’s only one way to find out.”
Kiara picked up the envelope with trepidations and opened it to reveal another letter. She read it anxiously.
I send you this and ask that you trust me in the same way that I am trusting you. Show this to no one who need not see it, since a message from a vampire will no doubt arouse suspicion. There’s a warlock who is creating an entire army of Ambulans Mortuus in order to take over some of the world’s largest cities. He is currently positioned in Alexandria, Egypt. He is planning to create a portal in the Graeco-Roman museum through which to send his zombies. Act quickly or it will be too late. For any further help, visit me at Castle Felis in Transylvania, Romania.
Realise that I trust you with many lives, including my own.
“Well, it’s not another threat,” Kiara observed and handed the sheet of paper to Tania.
Tania scanned through Dominic Quentin’s letter and then threw it down on the bed. “We have to give this to my father.”
Kiara’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. “Are you insane?”
“Taking this to the Headmaster is the only sane thing to do.”
Kiara gesticulated passionately. “He won’t believe any of it. He’ll just send us to Transylvania to kill this Dominic.”
“Which is our job,” Tania countered. “How do you know he isn’t just another supernatural trying to kidnap you? And even if you believe this vampire’s story, my idea makes sense. The warlock is trying to take over the world. That’s serious stuff. We can’t do this on our own.”
Kiara sat down, pleading now. “Tania, please. Ever since I came here, I’ve been meandering around without a purpose. This could be my purpose.”
Tania put her hands on her hips. “To do what? Get both of us killed?”
“To help supernaturals whilst still protecting humankind.”
“You can’t do both.”
“You know you don’t believe that. Look, we won’t be going alone. We can take Aaron and Riley with us.”
Tania was almost shouting now. “We? Do I get any say in this?”
Kiara folded her hands together and held them in front of her chest. “Come on, we could save the world and kick some zombie-butt while doing it.”
“So, what? We just up and go to Alexandria?”
Kiara shrugged. “Pretty much.”
“We can’t use a portal, because everyone on Insulam would feel it…”
“Is that a yes?”
Tania rolled her eyes. “Fine, but the boys are coming with us and we’re taking enough weapons to slay an army – which is apparently exactly what we’ll need to do.”
Kiara jumped up in excitement. “Thank you, Tania.”
“We’ll need help getting off the Island.”
Kiara grinned. “I know just the person.”
FROM: KIARA WESTWIN I need your help.
FROM: NARUTA ISHIDA Whatever you need.