~New beginnings are always tough; but stand strong solider, there is hope on the horizon. ~
Chapter 1. // Lini Cooperation
Dark brown eyes filled with apprehension were a blur, reflected off the steam-covered mirror. The young woman chanted a mantra profusely as she pulled her hair into a professional style, but the dark voices in her head chanted the opposite louder than she liked.
‘I can do this. I won’t mess up.’
’You’ll fail. ‘You’ll mess up like you always do.’
She continued her routine, giving up on the mantra, and her thoughts finally went silent for a while, before landing on all the events that took place over the few short months she officially moved here for work.
Now, who would think that a peasant girl from the countryside would make it as far as she did?
Certainly not those fake friends she managed to acquire.
Her family? Her sole support system. And that’s all she needed.
So now, thanks to them, and one true friend on her side, this country girl is going to a job interview for the most prosperous business of the century. It took off as quickly as it started, the owner being one of the richest and most persuasive men alive, most eligible bachelor, and the son of Gregori Rossellini; one of the nicest men, and best businessmen of our century. It is a shame though, that many thought of him as a heartless person, despite his numerous donations to charities all over the world.
Dabbling in every aspect one could think of, Lini Cooperation is making waves in the business industry, lowering the unemployment rates to almost zero. Whatever it is you’re good at, there’s a place for you in one of their departments.
The girl had heard of the business through her friend, X, who knew the CEO personally. He was looking for another computer scientist or engineer, and X immediately told him about her basically being both; how she had perfect memory and was “basically a genius”. It sparked the man’s interest enough to get her a job offer. Though excited, she was also terrified of the idea of integrating into such a large business family.
Finding a suitable, discreet apartment was a bit harder than she thought, but with her cousin’s help, she got it after almost three weeks of upping and leaving her mother and siblings. It was quiet and secluded, and the location was perfect enough; merely a thirty minute commute to the establishment. An hour if you went on foot. It was in the dangerous part of the city, the shadows ever-moving and whispering in the dead of night, hoping to capture prey. To her, it was perfect.
The girl absentmindedly wandered about her apartment, putting everything back in their place after a visit from her aunt the night before. The nerves were driving her insane while she waited for her cousin to pick her up so he could drop her off at the building. After what seemed like an eternity, her phone finally blared.
Space Unicorn! Soaring through the stars. Delivering the rain-bows all around the world!
She quickly ran to answer, hopes high that it was him announcing his arrival and telling her to hurry up or they’ll be late. Her prayers were answered, and she grabbed her computer bag and slung the strap over her shoulder as she quickly locked her door behind her, satisfied when an electric blue sigil pulsed softly before disappearing into the wood of the door, and walked towards the small green car parked next to the sidewalk. The early September air was crisp as it blew across her face; a sign of the oncoming winter.
She was greeted with warmth as she opened the passenger door and sat inside, pulling the door shut. The man in the driver seat was similar to her in skin tone. His tattoo covered arms were hidden beneath a long-sleeved navy blue shirt that fitted him like a glove. His usually curly, dark brown hair was now a lighter shade of brown, which complimented his eyes, a few shades lighter than her own brown orbs. His smile was lopsided as he greeted her, and her nerves calmed significantly at the sight of a familiar face. They drove off in a comfortable silence, and once they drew closer to their destination, the man spoke up.
“Alright Grey. Here’s what you need to know: first off, speak loudly. I know you’re soft-spoken, but this man will get pissed if he can’t hear you. Secondly, do not look him in the eye for more than two minutes. Sure, look him in the eye when you’re shaking his hand and stuff but yeah, no more than two minutes long. Firm handshakes obviously, and be very confident.”
Grey gave her cousin an exasperated look. “That’s like telling an owl to stay up during the day! Or telling me to stop watching Tim Burton movies! Sam, I can’t do that!” the girl exclaimed, flailing her arms. Sam groaned deeply and brought the car to a stop before the red traffic light. “Okay, why would I let you stop watching Tim Burton movies? And, yes you can Grey. I believe in you, and you need to believe in yourself. Don’t let your thoughts get to you because you have qualifications that other companies would kill for! If Mr. Martini turns you down after the interview, then it’s his loss. Now, take a deep breath, shake those nasty thoughts away and relax. You got this.” The traffic light turned green, and the car moved off again, drawing them closer and closer to Grey’s future.
“Okay, one: it’s because X told me to, because they’re creepy. And two: it’s Rossellini.” Grey whispered the last part, and her cousin threw her a confused look. “The man’s name is Rossellini. Raphael Rossellini. Not Martini!” The sound of their laughter calmed Grey even further, and they sat in silence for a minute, before it was broken by Sam. “He hasn’t changed.”
Her heart clenched and she smiled, but it was a pained one. Briefly looking at his cousin, Sam held her hand, wishing that he could calm her down, but as soon as the car pulled up in front of the shiny, lofty building with Lini Co. at the crown of it, bile rose up in her throat and it took everything in her not to actually throw up. She sat there for a minute, inhaling and exhaling deeply, while Sam gently rubbed her shoulder, hyping her up as she breathed. She began to chant the mantra again, and it filled her with enough confidence to open the car door, wave goodbye to Sam as he drove off, and walk into the building with a confident stride. Once she got inside though, her steps faltered as she gazed up at the massive chandelier that hung at the center of the room and soft instrumentals filled her ears. Elevators lined the wall before her, and to her right was the long reception desk.
Everything was bleached and reflective, and windows that lined the walls to her right from floor to ceiling just behind the reception desk allowed natural light inside. Although the weather was in its usual gloomy state, there was enough light to see the detail of everything in the room. The left wall held pictures of the Rossellini family line, starting with the first entrepreneur, Mr. Angelo Rossellini, founder of several businesses in the early 1600’s; a few elevators were on that wall as well. The pictures were small enough to hold the line of forty-five men and women, but big enough to see every detail of the faces displayed. She recognised each and every one of those people, and tried not to let the memories consume her.
People rushed about the ground floor, the only source of vibrancy in the bland, hospital-like colour of the lobby, carrying trays of coffee and stacks of papers, trying to avoid each other so as not to cause a mess. Some people simply walked along with their briefcases or handbags, deep in a conversation with someone on the phone or someone walking along with them. The scene was as typical as it could get, like in those old, cliché movies she watched whenever she was bored, and past experiences as well. What set it apart was the extremely modern décor.
Grey sucked in another breath and exhaled through her mouth, then walked towards the receptionist, who was a pretty red-head girl (who almost resembled Anne of Green Gables, if you focus long enough), who looked about a year older than she, clad in a tight white suit and red lipstick. If Grey knew anything about clothes and being a girl in general, she knew this woman was probably stuck-up and snobbish, and was willing to gossip and fight her way to whatever she wanted. She tried reading her, but remembered that she took the serum this morning, and it won’t wear off until sunset. Shaking off the nerves, Grey cleared her throat and prepared herself to make her voice louder than usual. “Excuse me.” The red-head girl looked up at Grey with a subtle, disgusted look and gave her a tight lipped, fake smile.
“Hi. Welcome to Lini Co. How may I help you?” her accent was faintly French, mixed with a lot of British.
“Hi. I have an interview with Mr. Rossellini. My name is Katherina Augustine.” The red-head’s eyes flickered to the desktop screen, then she slowly leaned forward in her elbows.
“Look, Ms. Augustine. A lot of women come in here, claiming that she has an interview with Mr. Rossellini. But he’s a very busy man and this company has no time for little scams like this. So, why don’t you leave the building, go to the café down the street and have something to drink, before I call security and we make a really big scene, okay? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of work to do.” The woman turned back to her computer without a second glance at Grey, who was shocked at what just occurred. Before Grey could speak up again, the red-head swore loudly and slammed her hands down on the white marble counter.
“What-?” Grey whispered before the red-head spoke again. “This damn system keeps crashing and I have to re-enter all the data. Again!” she began to swear again, and Grey flinched, because it was lengthier, louder, and was a mixture of French and British swears, causing everyone in the lobby to stop completely, or walk by slowly, gaze affixed. Grey took a deep breath and exhaled through her mouth.
“Ma’am. If I could be of any assistance, would you mind if I took a look at the computer?” Grey asked politely, and the woman looked up at her with wild eyes. “I wish you luck on that. No one has been able to find out what’s wrong with it.” She said, slightly out of breath, gesturing for Grey to come around the long desk, and she noticed that everyone continued on their business, like the never stopped to watch a secretary have a mini-breakdown. Finally before the troublesome computer, Grey fixed the blue, square-framed glasses on her face, and her fingers tapped at the keys of the keyboard. The annoying buzzing sound of error echoed and Grey hummed, quickly going through all the possible errors in her mind. Once she found her solution, she tapped at the keyboard again, then crossed her fingers.
The screen blinked to life and the red-head made a sound of shock. Grey waited for the system to reboot, and all the data reappeared, causing the woman to make another sound of shock. “You, you fixed it. You actually fixed it.” Grey turned towards her with a faint smile on her face. “You’re welcome.”
She made her way back around the counter and stood before the woman again. “Is Mr. Rossellini in? I really do have an interview with him, and I believe that I’m very late.” The red-head tapped at the keyboard, and nodded. “He’s in. Let me inform him that you’re here.” She picked up a black landline, her bright red nails curling around the phone. Just as she was about to dial a number, one of the elevators dinged and a tall man exited.
He wore a navy blue suit and white button-up, jet black hair unnaturally ruffled, and dark blue shoes that reflected the fluorescent light. His jaw was set, and blue eyes icy and stone cold. Everyone parted quickly as he moved forward, towards the receptionist’s desk. Grey inched away slightly, her heart in her throat as he came to rest on the counter. “Olivia, send someone to clean up my office and call Hunter to let him know of the incident. Also, order lunch for my office; we have a staff meeting at 12:30. Did the interviewee come yet? She’s very late.” He spoke lowly, in a thick Italian accent, and Grey found herself shivering. She shook her head slightly, clearing the NSFW memories that tried to consume her.
“What was that about?” she whispered internally, receiving no response but light, tired chuckles. “Seriously. I thought we broke the bond years ago.”
“You can’t stop true love, darling. Or Fate.”
It has been a while since she heard that voice. Before she could question the voice, Grey was pulled out of her head when she heard Olivia speak. Snapping in her direction, Grey felt the nerves begin to consume her again. “Sure thing, Mr. Rossellini. The interviewee is standing right next to you, sir. She may not need an interview after all, given that she just fixed the problem with the system.”
She felt his gaze land on her, and Grey turned her body towards the man and took a tiny step back, to enable herself to look at him properly, since he towered over her. “Mr. Rossellini.” She said firmly, sticking her hand out, and he took it, surprisingly gently, but shook it firmly. If it wasn’t for the serum, her arm would feel like a fireworks display on New Year’s Day. “Ms. Augustine. A pleasure to meet you. Already hard at work I see?”
Grey forgot herself and smiled sheepishly, but regained composure and the smile dropped as quickly as it came. “The problem presented itself, and I tackled it.” Clearly, she spoke the tight words, as the man nodded in approval, his mouth quirking up slightly.
“The job is already yours, Ms. Augustine, but I still need to interview you. For business purposes.” Grey nodded slightly, butterflies in her stomach. “Of course, sir.”
She got the job!
He turned towards Olivia, after giving her a single nod. “I almost forgot. Send a bouquet of flowers to my mother and Caia. And, book a flight for Taj to visit.” Olivia nodded, and Mr. Rossellini faced Grey again. “Follow me.” He turned away, and began to walk back in the direction he came in long strides, resulting in Grey taking large steps to keep up with him.
’Psssst!’ Grey looked behind her, at Olivia, who gave her a thumbs up. She smiled, and Grey mouthed ’Thank you’ to her, and in response, she merely waved her hand in a dismissive gesture, before turning back to the computer. Grey turned her head forward, and nearly crashed into Mr. Rossellini’s back. She stopped herself from losing the job she just got, by pushing herself on her toes and flailing her arms in a circular motion. Catching a whiff of his cologne, her mouth watered slightly and she cursed her stupid, feminine hormones and their weakness.
The elevator chimed, and the doors slid open. Mr. Rossellini stepped in and Grey followed after him. The interior was gold, with a mirror on the ceiling and back of the elevator, which greeted Grey with the reflection she despised, of a short, chubby girl, dressed in a white, long-sleeved top, a black skirt and leggings, and heeled boots with blue glasses on her chubby face. Sunset couldn’t come soon enough.
She quickly turned away from it, watching the doors slide shut. The elevator lurched up smoothly, and Grey beat her fingers against the strap of her bag to a tune she couldn’t place, chomping down on her lip, and darting her eyes to and fro. She was planning an escape route if things went south, when Mr. Rossellini spoke.
“So, Ms. Augustine, I understand that you attended Oxford, and completed your Computer Science and Software Engineering courses with flying colours, earning your Masters. I also understand that you have a Doctorate and a few more Masters. What else did you study?” Grey was startled slightly by his voice, but composed herself and responded, clenching her quivering hand as she turned to face him. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t meet his eyes for too long. It was too painful; her vision almost blurring with tears as she recalled a century ago.
“I majored in the pure sciences, Psychology, Geography, Literature and a few languages; Spanish, Latin, German, Mandarin; just to name a few.” She was thankful that her voice didn’t shake as she answered him, and finally met his eyes. He nodded approvingly, an impressed look flashing across his face.
“That is very impressive, Ms. Augustine. Your skills would come in handy once we decide to expand and do business with other companies and countries.” Despite herself, Grey smiled slightly, hoping that the flush of her cheeks wasn’t obvious to him.
“Thank you, sir.”
Surprisingly, he gave her a small smile in return.
The night was exceptionally cool as Grey and Sam sat high above the night life of the city. Dressed in black and glamoured, the two munched on potato chips and bobbed their heads to the music that blasted from the club across the street from them. Their focus was in the alley beside said club, where a group of men smoked and openly polished their weapons. From where she was perched, Grey could sense that they dabbled in magic a bit, but were simply humans, most likely hunting for a virgin to sacrifice.
As soon as her interview was over, Grey rushed home and spent the rest of the day returning her twin brother’s call and chatting excitedly with her mother and siblings. She didn’t realize it was sunset until she felt her skin ripple painfully as the gold, black, and silver ink unfurled and sunk into her skin. The change in her physique was noticeable; the pudginess of her pre-teen stomach was gone, the skin of her face tightened and lost its baby fat and she felt taller than her previous day form.
Her awakened companions who occupied her body were fast asleep; Grey could feel one of the soul’s fatigue in her bones. She was stubborn alright, ignoring Grey’s suggestion to go into hibernation like her other companions. They had all recently awakened, yet she was the only one who still had a presence throughout.
“I’m not leaving you alone, Katty.”
“Much appreciated Sidra, but the serum is weakening you terribly.”
“I’ll be fine, darling.”
Grey had given up arguing with her after many conversations like this.
Sam had sent a simple text just after sunset. “You up for patrolling tonight?”
It had been a few days since their last patrol, and nothing significant happened, but it didn’t hurt to breathe in the air and see the city at night. She responded immediately, then prepared herself. Twenty minutes later, she was climbing into a different vehicle: a black pickup truck with tinted windows (for the occasional vampire). They drove in silence, as Grey flipped through the folder Sam handed her upon entering the vehicle. Although X was back home, he knew everything that went on here.
They weren’t too big yet, but a new cult had surfaced, and like most others, they used virgins as a sacrifice. There were three missing girls, who were more than likely dead, from the university not too far from the club that served as a front for the cult. Stopping them before it got out of hand was essential. There were only twelve members, so it was okay for just Sam and Grey to handle the situation.
It had been hours, and nothing happened. The lines were much shorter now, and there were more people coming out than going in. A few students from the university up the street walked in groups, either to a restaurant open at 3am or home, finally. Grey actually missed those days.
“How’d the interview go?” Sam asked, dusting his hands and crumpling the empty packet. He was still chewing, and a few chunks shot out of his mouth.
“It went fantastic; until Ash called and started swearing.” Sam burst into laughter, a few more chewed chunks flying out of his mouth. Despite how upset she still was about the situation, she laughed along with him. It took a few minutes, but the laughs died down and they refocused on the alley across the street. “It’s the ringtone.”
Her head snapped to Sam, and he pursed his lips to prevent himself from laughing again. “Hey! Space Unicorn has done nothing to you.” Sam snickered then, but said nothing.
Her legs were beginning to lose feeling, so she stood up on the ledge, turned, and jumped down to the flat roof they had snuck onto. She did a few lunges and jogged in place until she felt them again, but didn’t return to her seat. Instead, she leaned over the ledge, propping her head into her open hands. Sam glanced at the watch strapped to his right hand and sighed. “It’s 3:30 in the morning and there’s nothing happening. Let’s head home.”
He swung his legs over and jumped down, picking up the empty packets and shoving them into his backpack. As they began walking across the roof however, a shrill scream pierced the somewhat stillness of the early morning. They rushed back to the ledge, just in time to see a struggling girl being dragged into the shadows of the alley.
Not wasting a second, the pair leaped onto the ledge and off the building, landing with cat-like grace, expertly weaved through the scarce oncoming traffic, and dashed into the shadows. The men surrounded the frightened girl, who sobbed and pleaded to their deaf ears. The katanas strapped across Grey’s back were silently unsheathed; Sam pulled his short blades from his boots, and the pair struck, invisible to all.
The men whirled about and swung at nothing, shouting threats and profanities, before they met their end by the blades of Grey and Sam. A few put up a fight, but not a very good one. The girl screamed each time one fell, and by the time the twelve men were killed, her breathing was ragged and she was on the verge of passing out. A single, painful groan left one of the men, and Grey sunk her blade into his throat, effectively killing him. At that, the girl, who was cramped and quivering violently in a corner, passed out, head slowly sliding down the wall. Sam caught her head just before it connected with some broken glass littered on the ground.
Grey’s eyes searched the brick walls for a door suspicious enough to be the entrance to the cult’s base. Back pressed to the wall, she opened the candidate slowly, and peered into its darkness. Her eyes adjusted and searched the room, spotting a sacrificial circle, candles, robes, and a black, leather-bound book with occult symbols printed on the front in blood red. There was also a table, and several surgical instruments on one of the walls. There was no trace of magic, thankfully, and she straightened, facing the entrance fully. She looked at Sam, who had adjusted the girl so that she was comfortably laying on the ground. He looked up at her, and Grey jerked her head to the entrance.
“This is the place.” He nodded and stood up from his crouched position. “Let’s burn it down.”
They dragged the corpses into the building, far away from the circle itself. Sam broke it, while Grey searched for, and piled flammable objects. Once they were done, Sam pulled a miniature canister of gasoline that held as much as a full one, and spread it through the room. They exited the room backwards, and Grey snapped her fingers, a small flame flickering to life at her fingertips. She concentrated, and it grew, spreading across her hand, before she released it and quickly closed the door. Sam already had the girl in his arms, and they quickly walked out of the alley, weaved through the oncoming traffic that had gotten slightly more dense, and through another alleyway to arrive to the pickup.
They were nearly at their destination, the house of the girl’s parents, when they picked up the faint sound of sirens. The girl stirred and murmured incoherently, and Grey lightly placed a hand to her forehead, soft blue light leaving her fingertips, and the girl fell limp again. They finally pulled up to the house in the suburbs, the early morning sky growing lighter by the minute. The streets were still silent, but in a few houses, the people were rousing from their sleep.
Sam didn’t turn off the car. He hopped out and gathered the girl in his arms again, carrying her to the front door of the generic house. He let her down gently into a sitting position on the chair positioned under a window with flowers, before pressing the doorbell a few times and walked back to the car, driving off without a glance backwards.
It was about 7am when he slowed to a stop outside Grey’s apartment. “Thanks for coming with me to stop those guys.” He said after a minute of silence. She smiled softly. “Not a problem Sammy. I love patrolling with you.” He squeezed her shoulder, and she opened the car door, letting herself out. “Later Kat.”
She stood at the top of the stairs and watched him drive off, then turned and ascended to her apartment. She pressed her hand to the door, and the electric blue light retracted. She had already opened the door, when a voice called out to her. “Grey? Is that you? Why are you getting in so early?”
Grey turned to the voice of the young man, about Sam’s age, who was dressed in a dark suit and tie. He was one of the only people who lived in the complex that she could tolerate; he didn’t ask too many questions about her personal life, he didn’t want to enter her apartment to ‘get to know her better’, none of that. He was just another tenant, being neighbourly, but not pushing the boundaries. “Hey Leo. I was out with my cousin, partying all night.” She said casually, leaning against the threshold. “Then what’s that?” he gestured to her clothes, and she glanced down, a slight panic gripping her.
“Huh… jelly doughnuts?” her tone implied a question more than a statement, but Leo didn’t know any better. He nodded and waved goodbye to her. Once he was out of sight, she slid into her apartment and shut the door, feeling the magic pulse through the wood of the door, before divesting herself of the bloody clothes.
After a much needed shower, her lumpy bed was the most heavenly thing in the world. Alas, her mind was still very much awake, so she grabbed her phone, and on impulse, opened the news app. Her eyes widened and she shot off her bed, staring at the top headline.
“Unconscious woman FLOATS through oncoming traffic.”
Slowly coming out of her shock, she clicked on the article.
“In the early hours of this morning, motorists were shocked out of their sleepy dazes upon seeing a young woman afloat, weaving through traffic. Not too long after, a fire was reported at local nightclub, Rave. Further investigation is expected.
Could it be that guardian angels are real?”
’Yeah, real assholes.’ Grey thought to herself, chuckling as she slipped back into bed, only to shoot up again. Remembering the occult book she shoved into her backpack, she removed it and carefully placed it in its own glass case, sealed in the closet of her spare bedroom. Sighing deeply as the sigil dissolved into the wood of the spare bedroom door, she lazily turned back to her small bedroom, the warmth of her magic sealing her door drawing her closer to sleep.
“Tia Vienna is going to murder us.” She thought out loud, settling into bed and drifting off into fitful sleep. Before her nightmares begun, his blue eyes and gorgeous face was all she could see.
“Monday can’t come soon enough.”
Then the demons tore the images to shreds with their talons, sending Grey hurtling into the void; her screams were silent to all but them.