It was pretty much a wasted day as Sara slept in. By the time she woke, the sun was already beginning to set. As her body struggled to get itself out of bed, she looked around at her dark room. A small part of her wondered if the past night had been a dream, but then again, she figured her chest wouldn’t have felt as sore as it did. Managing to crawl out of bed, she headed straight for the washtub and took the most relaxing, hot bath she had ever had.
Juli and Marian stepped into the ballroom. Both looked radiant enough to certainly test a man’s will not to stare.
Juli scanned the crowd, “Where’s William?”
“Don’t be so desperate!” Marian whispered, “Oh, wait! He’s dancing with that girl over there!”
Juli quickly grabbed Marian, “What!”
“Just kidding!” Marian smiled.
“How’s my fair lady?” William asked, approaching from behind. Like all male Guardians, he had a formal uniform similar to his normal outfit but without a sash, complete with a knee-length military jacket.
Juli spun around, “Excited. We haven’t been here a minute and the party is fantastic.”
Marian’s eyes darted from side to side looking for her would-be date. She spotted him halfway across the room, drinking with a fellow Guardian, “I’ll be right back,” she said, even though Juli paid no attention.
“Jacob,” Marian said as she came to his side.
Jacob was stunned by Marian, “You look beautiful.”
“Thank you. I like your uniform.” Marian said.
“Really? We were just talking about our uniforms,” Jacob said, “They’re kinda plain, don’t you think?”
“No,” Marian said, taking hold of Jacob’s arm, “It’s…simple, yet elegant. And I like a man in uniform.”
Juli and William were having a slow dance.
“So, how long have you been in Rhea?” William asked.
“A little over a year,” Juli replied, “I came here with my best friends, Sara and Marian. You know Sara, don’t you?”
“I’ve certainly heard of her,” William said. “She’s definitely going to be a household name around here for a while.”
Sara was certainly in no hurry. After nearly falling asleep for the second time in the tub, she decided to step out. She went to her dresser and found her formal attire. It looked similar to her normal uniform, but with a skirt and no sleeves.
The halls of the Citadel were noticeably empty.
Sara walked at a brisk pace. As she crossed one of the gardens on the upper level, she stopped suddenly. The curtain wall of the Citadel was right next to her. She leaned against it, looking through the crenel at the city before her. Instead of enjoying the view, she peered at the shadows as if she were expecting something to come out.
When she thought about it, if something had popped out, like a Vesuvian, she’d be completely helpless with no weapons.
A Guardian and his date for the evening suddenly came from around the corner, talking and laughing.
Sara waited for them to pass before following suit. She entered the ballroom directly behind the couple mistakenly thinking that no one would notice her. Just like in the dining hall, almost everyone’s attention was drawn to her. But the odd moment was thankfully cut short.
Juli and Marian were standing around with their dates and Richard.
“Sara!” Juli shouted.
“Over here!” Marian added, waving.
The party didn’t completely stop, but most, especially the Guardians, paid their respects by saluting Sara with their drinks as she passed. Sara, blushing slightly, smiled and nodded.
“Looking good, Sara!” Richard said.
“Not bad yourself!” Sara shot back.
Marian wrapped an arm around Sara’s, “What took you forever?”
“You fell asleep again, didn’t you?” Juli asked.
“In case you didn’t hear. I had a little tussle with two Vesuvians, “Sara said.
Marian released Sara’s arm, cringing, “What?”
Sara rolled her eyes, “I can’t believe you haven’t heard by now.”
“Oh, we heard! We just didn’t think it was you!” Juli said.
Richard wrapped an arm around Sara, “Who else could have done it? Even among us Guardians, Sara is already a legend. Earlier this morning, I overheard two Guardians saying that she had the skull of a Fenrir hanging on her wall.”
“Everyone in the city has been talking about it,” Juli said, “You actually killed a Vesuvian?”
“Just like they showed me!” Sara answered, grabbing a drink from a passing waiter and taking a chug. Her face soured at the strength of the alcohol, “Someone tipped the bar good!”
“Easy now,” Richard said.
“Hey, Rich!” Jacob began, “Remember last year when we were escorting that convoy to Genoa, and we got jumped by three Vesuvians?”
“How could I forget,” Richard replied, “Charles almost lost his arm in that mess.”
“What ‘mess’,” Jacob said, “We all made it out alive and bagged two Vesuvians.”
“I would hope that four Guardians and six soldiers are a match for three Vesuvians,” Richard replied.
William nudged Jacob, “You should have been there when me and Rich ran into a Fenrir.”
“I heard about it,” Jacob said.
“Yeah? Well did I ever tell you I had nightmares for almost a week because of that?” For a brief moment, William stared at the floor, “All that hair, claws, and teeth. It was like a dog.”
Richard shook his head, “More like a wolf, with the way it howled.”
Juli took hold of William’s hand, “How’d you kill it?”
William took a quick swig of his drink, “As fast as we could.”
“Sara, do you really have a skull?” Marian asked.
“Marian,” Sara said in disbelief.
The sun had completely set, and the full moon was out.
Several miles from the city and into the forest, cliffs soared hundreds of feet. From here, Leon could see the lights of New Haven as a soft amber glow in the distance. Sitting in a crouched position, he scanned his surroundings before casually standing up and diving feet-first to the ground. A fall from that height would kill just about anything, but for a Vesuvian, it might as well have been a hop.
Upon landing, he took off in a burst of phenomenal speed leaping, bouncing and jumping from one tree to the next.
Within perhaps a minute, Leon found himself at the edge of the tree line, looking at the gates of New Haven. He stood motionless, watching the patrolling soldiers.
With the light from the moon, the soldiers could see several dozen yards out toward the forest. One was startled when he spotted Leon approaching the gates, “Halt!” he ordered, getting the attention of several others.
Leon did as told.
“It looks like a Vesuvian,” a soldier said, “Besides, we’re not expecting anyone until tomorrow.”
“What should we do?” Another asked.
“Alert the Guardians,” said Thomas, passing by, “I’ll deal with the Vesuvian.”
Leon waited as the gate opened and Thomas passed through, approaching him at a brisk pace.
Several soldiers gathered along the wall and began to whisper among themselves, “He’s crazy.”
“He’s an Elite. He can handle it.” another said.
Thomas pulled his halo from its holster as he closed in.
Leon didn’t even get a chance to speak before having to dodge a swipe from the halo that could have split his head in two.
Minutes later, back at the Guardian’s ball, a soldier burst through the doors, bringing the party to an abrupt stop, “There’s a Vesuvian outside the gate!”
Immediately, everyone scrambled to the nearest armory.
“What’s going on?” Marian shouted.
“Wait here,” Sara said, running off with the rest of the Guardians.
Leon grabbed his staff and began using it to block many of Thomas’ strikes.
Thomas was stronger and much more imposing than Sara, but slower. He found it difficult to land any hits even when he feinted.
There were a few times here and there where Leon had to eat a punch or a kick just to avoid the halo’s razor edges.
Sara arrived at the wall with several Guardians. She recognized Leon almost immediately, “It’s him,” she whispered to herself.
Thomas was becoming more exhausted and frustrated by the second. As he swung wide, Leon ducked under and grabbed him by the arm, flinging Thomas several yards through the air and landing with a thud.
A few of the people along the wall gasped in horror.
Leon reached into small knapsack around his waist and pulled out a small roll of paper, then tossed it in front of Thomas.