“Are you completely out of your mind?”
Aaron’s voice was tinged with panic as he faced Tania and Kiara. His eyes seemed even darker and his hair was getting shaggy.
Riley was silent next to him, staring at the ground in thought.
All the Guardians were once again gathered at Congregata, but this time the four of them were focused on business. The girls had just finished explaining the vampire’s message.
Kiara sighed exasperatedly. “Why is that everyone’s reaction to this plan?”
Aaron shook his head fervently. “Maybe because it’s insane. You’re going after the word of a vampire.”
Riley finally joined the party and interjected, “That’s the part of this that bothers you? I think we can actually trust this Dominic-guy, but that’s the problem. He’s describing a full-out apocalypse and you want to take this on by yourselves?”
“If we bring other Guardians into it, our informant will be killed,” Kiara explained for what felt like the millionth time.
“Which is what should be done. Tania, you agreed to this?” Aaron asked.
“Not at first, but we’re four of the best. If anyone can handle this, it’s us. Dominic Quentin is helping us do our job. He doesn’t deserve to be hunted.”
Riley suddenly nodded and said, “Okay, we’ll join you.”
Aaron gaped at him. “Keep your ‘we’ to yourself. I thought you were in the sane pool with me.”
“I am. I do think this is a suicide mission, but I know I can’t convince you girls to stay. And I’m sure as hell not letting you go alone.”
Tania looked up with pleading, blue eyes. “Aaron?”
He tried to avoid eye-contact, but surrendered in the end. “Fine.”
Kiara nodded, a contented smile on her features. “Great. So, I’m meeting up with Naru later. I’ll let you know when we leave and where to get together. Don’t let anyone see you go out and don’t tell a soul about any of this.”
Naru was waiting on the beach at the northwest side of Insulam – a figure in a navy blue suit facing the ocean. When hearing her footsteps, he spun around. His slanted features broke into a grin.
He surprised her with a bear hug, which she returned without hesitation. “Long time no see, Naru.”
“Yeah, I took some leave to spend time with your mother. She misses you.”
Kiara smiled reminiscently. “I miss her too.”
The conversation shifted. “So, you’re serious about this plan of yours? You want to sneak off Insulam to destroy a zombie army in Egypt?”
She put her hands in her jean pockets and nodded. “That pretty much sums it up.”
He chuckled softly and shook his head. “I can’t say that I’m surprised. It’s only what your mother would’ve done. And she’d have dragged me along too.”
“You’re not going to tell me I’m crazy?”
“No. I’m just going to pray for your safety.”
Kiara cleared her throat. “Were you able to arrange transportation?”
“Yes. Tomorrow night a cabin cruiser will be waiting for you here. It’s about five days’ sailing ‘til you reach the coast of Indonesia. There, a Rupert Glaze will be waiting to take you to the airport at Jakarta. He has your flight tickets to New York-’’
“Why New York? Naru, we need to get to Alexandria.”
“Because, as soon as you set foot off this Island, everyone will be looking for you. There’s only one place the Guardians aren’t allowed to search: your mother’s apartment-’’
“Wait. Why aren’t the allow-’’
“That’s a story for another time. So, when you land in New York, you go straight home and you stay there for three days. After that, the Guardians will stop looking and just assume that you went home for a visit. Only then can you leave for Alexandria. Understand?”
Kiara cocked an eyebrow, but nodded. “Wow. You really planned everything.”
He shrugged. “I promised your mom I’d take care of you.”
She smiled and threw her arms around him. “Thanks, Naru.”
“Tomorrow night at eight. Don’t be late.”
The city outside the penthouse was alight and alive with activity, unlike the interior. A dark figure sat at a glass table, eyes on the view and hand around a tumbler of brandy.
“She’s good. She’s smart. But she is still just a teenage girl. How is she evading every attack I throw at her?”
The young man in the corner bowed his head in submission. “She is very powerful.”
The figure took another swig of brandy. “That may be, but she is no match for me. Not yet. I will get her. It’s only a matter of time… Come here.”
The young man obeyed, stepping up next to the
figure. Its hand reached up to caress the youth’s cheek. “Despite the others’ failure, you are doing a very good job. I always knew that I could count on you, Admissarius.”
The young man’s eyes closed and he smiled gently, leaning into the touch. “Always.
“Can we slow down a bit? If I weren’t a Guardian, my arms would’ve fallen off half an hour ago.”
Darkness had descended over Insulam and the girls were heading northwest to meet the boys and the boat. Tania was hauling three luggage packs through the forest, complaining about it every step of the way.
Kiara rolled her eyes, easily managing her own backpack. “Maybe if you hadn’t packed your entire closet, we wouldn’t have to slow the pace every five minutes.”
“Jeez, Grumpy, who rained on your parade?”
“This is a big deal and it’s resting on us. I guess I’m just a bit tense.”
When they finally reached the beach, Aaron and Riley were already waiting. As was the cabin cruiser.
Oh, look how good Riley looks in his trench coat.
Kiara cursed herself for still finding him attractive.
Stop liking him. You’re with Xavier.
Then she realised that Riley’s face was as pale as a sheet of paper and he gulped at the white ship bobbing in the waves. He looked at her. “You didn’t say anything about a boat.”
“What were you expecting? We’re on an island.”
He shook his head, nervousness creeping into his honey-coloured eyes. “We can’t go on a boat… I – I get – Well, I-’’
Kiara clenched her teeth together. “Before I die of old age, Riley.”
He sighed and then confessed, “I have motion sickness.”
She cocked an eyebrow and then saw the fear in Tania’s expression. The blonde nodded. “Yeah, I’m not too keen on this mode of transportation either. I have a fear of waves.”
Kiara threw her hands into the air in frustration. “Great. I’m stuck with a seasick puppy and a cymaphobic Barbie doll…” She turned to Aaron. “How about you? You feel the need to become a thalassaphobe?”
“Kiara, calm down,” he responded.
She took a steadying breath. “You’re right. Sorry. Alright, are we ready to leave?”
Riley groaned. “I’m never going to be ready.”
“Well, man up. It’s time to go save the world.”
The night had been bumpy and filled with protests from certain passengers, but it was finally morning. Kiara emerged from the cabin in her pyjamas and a windbreaker. A cup of tea was cradled between her hands and her chocolate brown curls were tousled.
She was just in time to witness the rising sun bathe the world in brilliant white light. A gust of wind came flying past her and she shuddered. “It’s always bloody freezing at sea.”
Riley was splayed over a deck bench, his arms and face dangling over the side of the boat lifelessly. His dark blonde hair was standing in about a million different directions and his skin was sallow.
Oh, even when he’s sick he’s cute.
When she sat down next to him, he looked up with sunken-in eyes. Kiara simpered sympathetically. “You look miserable.”
He chuckled humourlessly. “And here I thought I was going to sweep you off your feet on this trip… Ugh, I spent the night watching my insides become my outsides.”
She held out her cup. “Do you want some tea?”
“I prefer coffee.”
Kiara pulled a face. “Sorry. Won’t see that cross my lips. Skinny vanilla latté is as close as I get. I could go fix you some, though.”
He shook his head and his eyes fell shut. “It’s alright. Probably wouldn’t have stayed down anyway… The fresh air helps.”
She used her left hand to play with his hair comfortingly.
Stop being affectionate with him.
Oh, shush. He’s sick and we’re friends.
“How long have you been out here?”
“Since four this morning. But I’m feeling a bit better. Captain Craig gave me some seasickness pills. They have an effect of drowsiness, though…”
“I’m sorry that you have to go through this.”
He groaned. “One night down. Four days to go. Yeah.”
“If I could take your place, I would.”
He didn’t reply and his breathing evened out. Sleep had taken him. She smiled fondly, kissed his forehead and headed back to the room she shared with Tania.
The blonde was cuddling a pillow, jumping every time the ship travelled over a swell. “Are we in a freaking storm or something?”
Kiara had to supress a grin. “Actually, the ocean’s relatively calm.”
Tania grunted in frustration and shot her roommate a venomous glare. “You’d better love me very much for doing this.”
Kiara beamed. “How could I not?”
Her next destination was the small kitchen/dining area. Aaron had just finished his breakfast and was doing the dishes.
She leaned against the fridge and said, “Hey, Aaron. How’s it going?”
He looked up with an expression of contempt. “What? All your friends are ill and now you’re trying to make conversation with me? I’m not interested.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “What did I ever do to you?”
He halted his washing and dried his hands on a kitchen cloth, slinging it over his shoulder when he was done. “You’re the reason we came on this crazy expedition in the first place.”
“I’m sorry, but I didn’t feel like abandoning the world to a zombie apocalypse. You didn’t have to come.”
“Of course I did. I couldn’t let you drag Tania into this without back-up. Just know that if she gets hurt, you will pay.”
She stepped closer to him, anger rolling off her like the waves outside. “Look, I was Tania’s best friend before you were her boyfriend. And if you knew her at all, you’d know that she would never let anyone force her into something. I would never put her in danger if it wasn’t important. You don’t own her. So, back off.”
She held his stare for a moment longer and then marched out.
Manhattan. Upper East Side. 303 E 83rd Street. The Camargue building. Eleventh floor. Apartment 1038.
Kiara had taken the spare key out from under the ragged welcome mat and was now facing the apartment. She took a steadying breath and unlocked the door with trembling hands.
She hadn’t seen her mother in six weeks and the last time she’d been here had been a rather traumatic experience.
The apartment stretched out in front of her exactly the way she remembered it. Spotless stainless steel counter. Fluffy brown rug. Golden curtains. Giant bouquet. Even the cinnamon-lemon aroma that seemed to define the place. She dropped her bag on the dark wooden floor and nodded contentedly.
Riley, Tania and Aaron filed in behind her, Riley closing the door behind them. He nodded and said, “Nice place, Westwin.”
Tania snorted. “That’s an understatement. It looks like a celebrity should live here.”
Kiara shrugged, enjoying the praise for the home she’d grown up in. “This is what happens when you live with an interior designer… So, Tania and I will sleep in my bedroom. Boys, the couches are all yours. Sorry for the limited amount of rooms; we live on my dad’s leftovers.”
“Impressive leftovers,” Tania added with a chuckle.
When all four of them had moved deeper into the living room, the apartment’s front door opened. A tall, slender woman with bright orange curls and rich brown eyes entered, a shopping bag clutched in her one hand.
Virginia Kent. Kiara’s mother.
Her eyes widened at the sight of strangers in her home. But then she saw Kiara. The shopping bag fell to the floor and she bounded forward.
Kiara staggered back as Virginia’s arms were flung around her. She returned the embrace. Virginia was sobbing tearlessly and stroked Kiara’s hair.
“Oh, darling, I have missed you so much. I am so glad that you are safe and that you are here.”
“I’m glad too.” Kiara pulled away and motioned to her companions, beaming. “Mom, let me introduce you to my friends…”
“Mom, I have so much to tell you. It feels like we haven’t talked in ages.”
Kiara and Virginia were flattened out on the latter’s bed, having left the others to their own devices in the living room. The bedroom was cosily decorated in soft creams and browns.
Kiara remembered many nights pouring out her heart in this room. Remembered the stitched patterns on the bedspread, the golden-framed mirror above the dresser and the thick carpet that felt like dog fur between your toes.
Virginia gesticulated widely as she said, “It has been ages. Six weeks are forever when it comes to us. It was always you and me. Now it’s just one of me.”
Kiara nodded and played with her mother’s silver bracelet. “I wish I didn’t have to live on the other side of the world.”
“Me too. But enough soppy statements. I want to know everything.”
Kiara chuckled lovingly. “I don’t even know where to start.”
“How about details on you and Riley?”
Kiara frowned, hiding the emotions that welled up inside her at the mention of his name. “What?”
Virginia rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on. I saw the way he looks at you. It’s as obvious as an elephant on a pool table.”
“Riley is one of my best friends. He’s an amazing guy, but we’re not a thing. I’m actually dating someone else.”
“Mmm… Tell me more.”
“Well, his name is Xavier Carlisle and he’s my Supernatural Sciences teacher. But don’t worry; he’s only twenty two.”
Virginia cocked an eyebrow. “A teacher, eh? Dangerous choice in boyfriend. Not that I’m one to talk. So, why do you like him?”
Kiara smiled fondly as she thought of what made Xavier Xavier. “He’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve met and he has such a unique sense of humour. He’s romantic and strong and protective. And we have the same taste in literature, which is why we first fell in love. Oh, Mom, he’s gorgeous too. He has these eyes that just go straight into my soul. Every time he looks at me, it feels like he knows me better than I know myself.”
Her mother was grinning like an idiot. “He sounds wonderful. But you haven’t…”
“Good. So this scheme of yours – trying to save the world on your own – is reckless to say the least. But that seems to run in the family.”
Kiara now remembered the question that gnawed at the back of her mind. “Why can’t the Guardians track us here? On my first day at Feminam, Houghs said that your case was different. Why?”
Virginia suddenly became very interested in the duvet’s patterns. “That is a very long story, which I would rather share with you at another time.”
A muscle feathered in Kiara’s jaw. She felt as if she could strangle someone. When she eventually spoke, her tone was harsh, “I guess one more mystery isn’t going to make a difference.”
“One more mystery?”
Kiara shook her head and then threw her hands up in frustration. “What’s my mother’s big secret. Am I choosing the right guy? Why are supernaturals trying to capture me? How did I kill Rodas Gianakos and the Triabus witches? Why did Dominic send that letter to me? Am I leading my friends on a suicide mission?”
She only realised the intensity of her emotions when a tear trickled down her cheek. She wiped it away swiftly and sniffed, straightening.
Her mother placed a hand over hers. “Are you okay?”
Kiara snapped her hand back and put on her mask. “I’m done sitting around like a weakling, waiting for answers. Tell me. Don’t tell me. It doesn’t matter. I will find out. And I’m going to save the world from this zombie apocalypse if it’s the last thing I do. You asked me if I’m okay. The answer is no. But I’ll force it to be a yes. There is no room for error and I refuse to back down.”
She got up from the bed and left her mother’s room with a heavy heart and a determined expression.
The young, fiery-haired woman was bended over, her hands in a box. She came up, a stack of plates wrapped in newspaper in her hands. She had warm brown eyes, and was wearing jeans and a green blouse.
She moved over to the new mansion’s professionally-furnished kitchen, removed the crockery’s wrapping and tucked it into a glass cabinet.
She went over to the next box. Suddenly, a man’s voice came from the other room, getting closer. “Okay, Charles. Yes, I’ll call him back. Yes, you too. Bye.”
The young man ended his call and padded into the open-plan living area. His dark brown hair was in need of a cut and his silverish-greenish eyes were happy.
The woman put her hands on her hips and faced him. “What did Charles say? The business okay?”
He nodded and strolled closer. “It seems my company is faring better in my absence. I don’t know whether I should be relieved or concerned.”
She went over to him and hooked her arms around his neck. He placed his hands on her lower back and beamed. Her fingers knotted into his hair. “If it’s going so well, can’t you stay home for a few more weeks?” Their lips met and the young woman smiled. “Or months.” They kissed again. “Or years.”
He chuckled and bit down on his lower lip in a way that she found irresistible. “That does sound very tempting.” When he pulled away, he asked. “How’s the unpacking going, Mrs Kendrick?”
“It’s a very tedious process, Mr Kendrick.”
He grinned fiendishly. “I think I can help with that.” He raised a hand, the smell of sorcery filled the air and then the kitchenware shot out of their boxes, neatly placing themselves in the correct cupboards.
The young woman looked up at him with nothing but adoration in her expression. “I love it when you do magic.”
They were locked in another embrace almost instantly. The man leaned down to plant a lingering kiss on the woman’s lips. “You know, there is still one day of our honeymoon left.”
The young woman placed her hands underneath the man’s shirt to touch the bare skin of his back. “I like the way you think, Mr Kendrick.”
He smiled lovingly and rested his forehead against hers. “Against all odds?”
“Against all odds.”