After finding out Lycans had taken control of the area, Kaleb made the decision to keep a low profile until our supervisor, the last member of our team, would arrive. However, we’ve received a message a day later informing us that he wouldn’t be able to report until next week. So for the past couple of days, we remained inconspicuous and continued our routine cover as college students.
After the conversation how the Knightley’s – well me in particular –couldn’t reside back in Montana, there was a heavy tension within our group. Mostly the cause of this was my lack of verbal communication towards them. Even Axel, who was innocent and unlikely to know about this revelation, had been subjected to my stubbornness. But how could I not be angry towards them? They knew yet decided not to tell me. When would have they told me about this? Maybe on the day, I would be appointed as part of the Custodian Order, or after I’ve been ordered never to return home. It irked me nonetheless how they chose to hide it.
Though I’m thankful for the Hunters for taking me in, I’ve always thought I would be returning home once I was old enough and had gained back my family’s name. But I was wrong. And I’ve been played a fool. However, it doesn’t change things. I’m still determined to find out who put my life into this mess. If they were here, if my family were alive, I'd still be here in Montana with them. Istill have a home. But that wasn’t the case anymore.
As the week passed, I started to grow weary and impatient. It’s the middle of the second week yet we had heard nothing from our supervisor. Antsy, I finally snapped while we were all sitting at our usual table during lunch break.
“How about we scope the place? We aren’t really doing anything but gather information.”
“Glad to hear you’re talking animatedly again.” Kaleb pointed, looking slightly amused.
I scoffed and ignored his comment. “So what? Are we going to waste more time pretending to be students? Because I could not stand my literature professor already.”
“Mr. Rupert’s not so bad,” Tony interjected – defending the said professor. “He handles our World Literature in the afternoon. He’s okay.”
“If you like being called to stand in the middle of the class and read Hamlet, then no, he’s not praiseworthy.” I dryly stated.
“You did well, Roe,” Axel remarked and gave me the same encouraging word after I did the embarrassing deed.
I snorted and rejected his praise. “So what, Kaleb? Are we going to do something or not? We have a short time frame and we’ve already wasted more than a week.” I inquired again, turning towards the supposed leader of this team.
“I know you’re impatient, Roe. But I couldn’t compromise this mission. Didn’t you promise to listen and trust me on this?”
“Of course, though it depends on what kind of leadership you’ll show us. And right now, you’re not making much of an impression on me.” I stressed, sounding a little rash than I should. But I wasn’t here to play nice – not when it involves a time frame about my life and how little I have freedom of it.
Kaleb stared at me for a moment, his eyes trying to search for something to change my resolve. But he knew well enough how adamant I am about this mission.
“Okay, fine,” he declared. “But as you’ve said, we’re only scoping the area and nothing more.”
For the first time in days, my heart swelled and I beamed. “Yes!”
“If I knew this would have made you smile I would have suggested it sooner,” Kaleb jested, smiling at my enthusiasm.
Across us, Tony grinned as well upon seeing my reaction. “You really know how to smash down his walls, Roe.” Tony teased, which ended him getting a punch from Kaleb.
After lunch, we’ve gone our separate ways and perfectly continued portraying our covers. Once classes were over, we headed back to the apartment and started planning for our recon mission tonight. From the rising tension in the room, it was obvious we were nervous. Even though I talked big and insisted on doing this now, it was difficult to flush away the anxiety. It was our first field mission. No matter how many mock missions we’ve done back home during our training years, nothing could prepare you for the real world.
We had an early dinner to prep for things. For the past week, all we’ve ever eaten were take-out meals from various food chains within a ten-mile radius from our place. Though I knew it wasn’t healthy, I’ve mostly lost my energy by the end of the day. I could only compromise breakfast. It took up my extra time and kept me busy whenever I had a bad night.
When we’ve devoured the Chinese take-outs, everyone huddled in the living room. Axel had already pulled out the steel cases, which had been left in the apartment for us. It held all of the tech and armory we’d need for our mission. There were earpieces for communication and various handguns with at least ten pouches of ammo. We could get away carrying the mini daggers in public, but this heavy artillery was enough to put us into jail.
However, there’s no fear as he unloaded the weapon. The Custodians held enough power to keep things under wraps from humans. Most intelligence agencies and military camps around the world know about us. But they choose to turn the other cheek, knowing the type of people we are. It’s better to instill fear and keep certain groups of people quiet and cooperative.
While I was cleaning my chosen handgun, a 9-mm silver standard with a built-in silencer, Kaleb had spread out a map on the kitchen table. He looked serious. His eyebrows furrowed as he drew some sort of patterns and lines on it. Once he was satisfied with his artwork, he called us out. I lagged behind Axel while Tony hurriedly walked up to him.
“Are you sure we can scope that much area in one night?” Tony inquired, staring at the map.
Now I caught a glimpse of Kaleb’s scribbles. I noticed a few of the circles with one nearly encircling a whole forest area. My eyebrows creased trying to make out the image. I didn’t butt in and waited for Kaleb to reply to Tony’s question.
“No. We can’t. This is for later. These here,” he paused to point at two mini red-circled areas on the map. “This is where we’ll be going tonight.”
Looking at the area, it took me a second to recognize where it was. “We’re going to my house?” I finally asked.
Kaleb turned to me and nodded. “Would you prefer not to go?”
“No. I want to.” I abruptly replied, trying not to sound hesitant.
He studied my face for a moment before nodding again and continuing where he left off. “We are scoping these areas. Roe, Axel and I would be taking the house, while Tony would take the perimeter outside. Are there any more questions?”
“Kaleb, wouldn’t it be better if one of us stayed by the car for a quick getaway when things aren’t doing… Uhm… good? We should consider all cards here even though we’re not getting in contact with the Lycans. Plus, we aren’t sure how vast their territory would be, with how they’ve taken control over this town.” Tony suggested.
“True. Thank you for that, Tony,” he nodded and paused for a second to recollect his thoughts. “Then how about you stay by the car and handle communications? Axel and I are going inside the house. Roe, take the outside perimeter.”
“Why am I taking the perimeter? Wouldn’t it be better if I take the house instead?” I objected.
“The house is located at a vast clearing with little cover. It’s best you take the forest. You’ll have a better chance to outsmart a Lycan there,’ Kaleb argued, his eyes boring through me.
“Are you implying I couldn’t protect myself against a Lycan in open field combat?” I challenged, arching my eyebrow.
“I’m not saying anything. But I’m not letting you go to a place where there is a higher chance you’d meet one. My mother’s going to kill me if you’re hurt.”
I was about to argue but then pressed my lips in defeat. “Fine. But I’m taking two guns with me.”
“Make it three, for spare,” he offered and gave me a sly grin.
I rolled my eyes and kept myself from wiping the victorious smile off his face. He won this round.
It was past ten in the evening when we decided to head out. We’ve all geared and suited up, changing to comfortable black outfits that covered us from head to toe. We looked like a pair of black ops mercenaries, minus the bulky bulletproof vest and helmet. Though in my case, I’ve exchanged the helmet for a velvet scarf. It had my family’s name sewn on the edge in golden thread. The scarf was the only other thing I’ve salvaged connecting me to my family other than my trusted dagger.
The drive to my childhood home was near thirty minutes from civilization. The abandoned and burnt house was located on the outskirts of town in the middle of a forest. The choice of living here has been frowned upon by other Custodians. Who in their right mind lives in a place where it was easy for Lycans to attack? But no Lycan had been brave enough to attack one of the Custodian’s strongest Kynigan family, the Knightley. My father was the head of the Kynigan, and every attendant under our family were the best hunters. Hence, it was tragic and came as a shock to our people with what happened to us. I lost not only power and rank but also my family. How could the strongest Custodian family be killed in a Roués attack that night?
The information Custodians had gathered about the Roués at play that night wasn’t the usual kind. They were synchronized. It was almost like they’ve created a new pack – civilized with each other yet deadly for us. If Roués start banding together, it would be difficult to understand their motive and actions. Though the Order had considered Roués being civil with each other, we didn’t have proof. The Roués who attacked that night were either killed or had gone into hiding, making it difficult to get answers on these looming questions.
It was already eleven when we’ve arrived at the outskirts of town. The only source of light we had was the headlight of the car. Not a sign of the moon out in the sky. In a way, the darkness could be to our advantage. But it was also an advantage to them. With heightened senses – though not as close as Lycans – we could hold our own. Yet there was also a higher chance we’ll be ambushed.
It took much time until we’ve arrived close to the clearing where the Knightley residence used to be. What used to be a clear rocky road leading to the house was now covered with overgrown grass, paired with a healthy fog. It was like we’ve entered into a hunted house with signs screaming for us to go back, except we’re not turning back. After nine years, I was here. I’ve dreamt what the reunion would be like, though I never thought it would be in the middle of the night.
After driving for two minutes inside the forest, we’re finally greeted by an iron gate – the entrance to the Knightley compound. For a second, everyone sat there in silence like they were waiting for the gate to automatically open. When no one volunteered to get out of the car and do the honor, I sighed and hopped out from the front seat.
“Roe? Where are you going?” Kaleb called out while he manned the wheel.
Before I could respond, Axel got out from the passenger seat behind me. “I’ll open the gate, my lady,” he declared and closed the door behind him.
Now we were no longer in human civilization, Axel was back to addressing me in a formal manner. “I’ll help you out, Axel.” I slammed the door as well.
“You don’t have to, my lady. Please head back inside the car. This is my job,” he insisted and opened the door for me.
I regarded Axel for a second before bending down, grabbing a small pouch placed by the dashboard. As I retrieved it, I pulled out its contents, the earpiece for communication, and threw back the pouch back inside the car to a baffled Kaleb.
“I’m heading out for a perimeter run now. It’s better to get a head start,” I said before grabbing the door and shutting it again.
“My lady…” Axel started put I held my hand up, stopping him that instant.
“Open the gate, Axel. I’ll be running just outside. I won’t stray far,” I assured and started putting on my communication earpiece.
“Would you like to exchange places with me instead? I don’t think…”
“Stick to the plan, Axel. I’ll be okay. You know what I can do.”
“But still, my lady…”
I arched my eyebrow in warning, halting him from arguing again. “I understand. If you need me, just call,” Axel nodded in defeat.
“Thank you, Axel. I’ll be fine.”
With that, I left the group and started a healthy jog towards the eerie forest. I hadn’t looked back at the car, which I knew stayed for another minute before I heard the clang of the gate opening. It didn’t take much time until my eyes adjusted in the dark. Having these slightly enhanced physical attributes are perks for being born as a Custodian. My breathing remained even after I started doing sprints. It makes our job a lot easier and gave us a fighting chance against Lycans.
After running halfway around the property, I took a short breather. The night breeze was chilly and I was lucky enough to own a cozy scarf. I rearranged its position and allowed it to cover most of my face. Once I was done, I surveyed the area and saw a tree high enough for leverage. I settled myself there like an owl. From where I stood, I had a good view of the whole property.
Even though there was a nervous knot at the pit of my stomach, my heart was on a steady pace. My eyes bore on what remained to be the place I used to call home. The remnants of the estate had slowly been overrun with grass and vines. It was like a historical site.
I peeled my eyes away and studied the vast forest behind me. Contented, I then glanced down at my watch a few minutes after, checking how long I had been gone from the group. It wasn’t until then I heard a screechy sound coming from my earpiece. I winced a bit and pulled the small earpiece away.
“Red? Are you in position?” Kaleb’s familiar voice called out my code name over my earpiece.
“Red, in high altitude on the lookout. Silver in position?” I replied and spoke through a small mouthpiece covered underneath my scarf.
“Silver and Black in position,” Kaleb responded.
“Black taking the back side of the house.” Axel’s voice surfaced next.
“Blue taking note. No spots in the area from the radar.” Then Tony followed.
“Red, all clear on my side.” I offered, my eyes peering over the far end of the house.
There was a brief silence, as everyone concentrated on the task. As for me, I kept a watchful eye on the inner open field of the compound. For precaution, I studied the forest behind me again. In the still night, it felt and sounded like a perfect time to be snooping around. However, the lack of sound made the hairs on my body stand. It didn’t sit well in my gut.
“Red speaking. I think something is wrong.” I finally spoke.
“Silver. What’s wrong, Red?” Kaleb was the first to ask.
“My lady, do you need me there?” Axel followed, no longer addressing me by my code name.
“Black, stick to the mission. Silver, I think something’s not right. The forest is too quiet. Blue, is the radar picking up anything?” I inquired, my eyes quickly doing a sweep over the vast area.
“Red… I think…” Tony started but trailed off as a screech followed.
From the sudden sound, I winced and pulled one of the earpieces out. “Blue?” I called out with more volume, which was a mistake.
I heard them first before I saw them. Their movements were controlled and synchronized, it nearly looked like a choreographed dance. It would have looked beautiful but then they weren’t humans. As tall as horses, with furry hairs covering their body and walking on all fours, five Lycans pounced at my direction until they halted a few meters away. Even with the leverage, with their height, it was easy for them to claw me down from where I stood.
Now my composure was gone. My heart started to pound in my ear, canceling the other voices calling out for my attention. This was it. After nine years under the protective wall of the Hunter family, I’ve met the creature that killed my family. Now I’ve met one of the enemies.
But rather than a rush of rage, I was frozen at the sight below me. I had my hand balled into a fist, willing myself to find the courage to move or at least speak. Yet nothing. I had become a statue.
It took a moment for the Lycans to find me. With their heightened and superior senses, they’d easily pinpoint my location. In unison, five pairs of eyes glared in my direction. But I didn’t look away. I kept my eyes on them. A second later, one of the Lycans broke away from their perfect position. As a dark gray Lycan disappeared from the tallest tree close to them, he reappeared a second later – now in his human form.
My heart lurched upon seeing his human counterpart. I knew him. He was one of the men always walking behind Cole Blackwell. It was Ash Mikael.
“Custodian. We know you are there. Show yourself.”
I contemplated on what to do next. But rather than speaking up, I followed his order. Slowly, I stepped further away from the shadow of the tree and stepped into the moonlight.
I can do this.
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