Love is the Only Hope
The shifted Zeus and Oz walked to the front of the mansion and looked out on the devastation. There were dead and dismembered shifters throughout the compound, more than a thousand of them. As they looked out on the devastation, the first light of the sun started to creep into the eastern skyline.
“Can you assume your human form?” Oz asked the master warlock.
Zeus nodded and began his deep breathing technique, calming his mind and willing his body to become human once more. Slowly, all signs of the wolf left his body and in its place, was the human Zeus. With only his tattered pants left, he looked more like a shipwreck survivor than a master warlock. He could barely stand, but he needed to know what had happened to Gabriel.
“We are needed,” Oz said as he led the warlock down the steps, supporting his old friend as they moved slowly toward the small group near the wall of the compound.
They appeared to be the only ones left alive. Zeus recognized Breena and Apollo, but the others were all strangers to him. There were two, very large men, and a small black wolf with golden eyes. Oz led him straight to them.
“How bad is it?” Oz asked Breena.
She wasn’t sure how much to say, nor how much she even understood herself. So, she simply looked at the ground without answering.
Leonidas stepped toward the small man, “I am Leonidas, Gabriel’s father. We will need your help if there is any chance of saving him.”
The mention that this was Gabriel’s father, the man that had been with his daughter after she was infected with the virus, brought both curiosity and anger to Zeus. Where had he been all this time? Had he been responsible for any of this?
Leonidas ignored the look Zeus was giving him, the dragon would be back soon, and they had to be ready.
“Gabriel loves both of you, he also loves Apollo and Breena and that is our only hope. In the Asian scrolls, the only time a dragon was stopped was because it chose love over hate. Only those of you willing to sacrifice yourselves need stay, all others must go. The dragon must only sense love, nothing else,” Leonidas explained.
Zeus started to protest, but Oz stopped him with a shake of his head. The master warlock couldn’t quite understand why they were talking about dragons and what it had to do with Gabriel and how much he loved them.
Leonidas looked at each of them in turn. Only if they could feel love and nothing else, could they help Gabriel. Breena didn’t hesitate, she simply nodded and moved forward. Apollo licked the face of the black wolf and then moved up to the side of Breena. The black wolf seemed to understand, and she trotted off to stand on the porch of the mansion, several hundred feet away. She did not truly know Gabriel and therefore could not feel love for him. Apollo was who she loved, and she would wait nearby in case he needed her.
Leonidas looked at Zeus and the master warlock stepped up beside Breena. He didn’t understand any of this and still didn’t understand what a dragon had to do with saving Gabriel, but he was sure now was not the time to demand answers to his many questions. Leonidas looked to Oz next, but the little man was already floating to Zeus’s side.
Finally, He looked at Yellow-mane. The elder seemed to be thinking.
“You cannot fool the dragon, if he senses that you are not fully willing to die for him, he will kill us all. Now is not the time to be a hero, we will only get one chance at this,” Leonidas pleaded with Yellow-mane.
Breena knew what the clan elder was thinking. She had to get through to him or he would doom them all.
“I know you want to protect the Scythians and will give your life for them, just as Grandfather did. If this doesn’t work, you will get your chance to try to stop Gabriel before he destroys everything on Earth, but please let us try this first,” Breena begged.
With a deep sigh, Yellow-mane nodded and walked away from the group, he joined the black wolf on the porch of the mansion and watched. Deep down he hoped it would work, he had truly liked Gabriel and was only now beginning to understand that he really was his nephew. He had tried to believe it before, but now, with Leonidas saying it, it suddenly seemed undeniable. If this didn’t work, he would have to assemble every Scythian he could and try to bring the beast down before it killed them all. He knew that according to legend, the dragons were invincible, but he still had to try.
“So, you are the watcher I’ve been sensing for so long?” Oz asked as he looked at Leonidas.
“Yes,” Leonidas answered, then added, “I want to thank you for taking care of my son as if he were your own.”
“I’ve always felt as if he were my own blood relation,” Oz answered truthfully.
“Is it wise that you are here among this group?” Zeus asked, “I mean no disrespect, but you said yourself he must know that we love him, unconditionally.”
Leonidas looked hard at the elder warlock for several long seconds before answering.
“I’m sure in your mind, I deserve that, but you must know I have always loved my son. For the record, until you brought him here and began training him, I didn’t know he had survived. Stazia didn’t believe the baby would ever make it, but we were determined to try. Once she disappeared, I searched the world over for her. When she was nowhere to be found, I returned here, and I have kept watch ever since. I knew if Stazia ever showed up again it would be here.
You may have raised him Zeus, but you are not alone in your love for him. We are both fathers and I know you can relate to the love a parent has for a child. I have sacrificed everything to make sure Gabriel survived and I will continue to do so for as long as I live. I made a promise to your daughter, whom I loved with all my heart. Even when Stazia believed she was beyond being able to be loved, I loved her. Gabriel may not even know who I am, but there is none among you that love him more than I do, and he will know that,” Leonidas explained.
As the big man spoke, his voice was strong and true, but tears streamed down his face. It was easy for all of them to see just how much he loved the son he had never held, talked to or looked at eye to eye. Each of them was thinking about Gabriel and how much the young man meant to them. He had been an orphan most of his life and now he was going to see he was no longer alone and that his life mattered. He would know there were five souls willing to die to help bring him back.
As they stood waiting, they heard the screech and as one they looked up. Diving down, straight at them was the dragon that had once been Gabriel. It had consumed so many shifters that it was now more than double the size it had been when it became the dragon. There was smoke and fire streaming from its nostrils as it flew straight at them.
The sight of this immense beast with its giant fangs dropping down on them at an unbelievable speed was shocking. All of them were experiencing fear! Even Oz, who found it a curious sensation, realized this beast just might be able to kill one of his kind. Perhaps that was why the others were so willing to allow him to return. Even they knew how powerful this creature was.
“Don’t look at what he is now, don’t give in to the fear his current form is causing! Close your eyes and remember the Gabriel we all love. Remember why it is you love him,” Leonidas yelled above the screeching.
Breena reached out and took the hand of Oz and laid her other hand on Apollo’s shoulder. Oz grabbed Zeus’s hand and the master warlock reached over and held Leonidas’s hand. As one, with their eyes closed, they waited for the dragon to take them. Each one thinking thoughts of love and trying to remember the best moments they had experienced with Gabriel the human.
Apollo remembered the long walk back to the compound when Gabriel had rescued him. Breena remembered the spark she felt the first time she climbed on the motorcycle behind him and wrapped her arms around his massive chest. Oz remembered the little boy that was never afraid and always willing to try. For Zeus, it was the embrace they had shared just before Gabriel had discovered he was a shifter. No matter what, he had felt love at that moment and relief at being able to tell his grandson who and what he really was.
They all felt the ground shake and a wave of hot air rushed around them, almost knocking them from their feet. As they slowly opened their eyes, they saw the dragon was sitting less than five feet from them. It was breathing heavily, but otherwise it wasn’t moving. It stared at each one of them in turn. It took a long, hard look at Leonidas, extending its snout forward and sniffing hard, trying to figure out who he was.
As it did so, it extended its long, forked tongue and licked around the side of the big man’s neck. Where the tongue touched his flesh, smoked rolled off and there was a hissing sound as it left second degree burns. Leonidas never flinched. The dragon looked at the other two men and then at the woman. It seemed to be trying to remember who they were or if it even knew them at all.
As it looked at them, Apollo broke from the group and walked forward. He stopped directly beneath the beast’s massive fangs. He knew Gabriel was only in this form because of him. Seeing him struck down by the massive shifter was more than his brother could stand and now he was in danger of being lost to them forever.
Apollo loved the black wolf with all his heart, but he loved Gabriel more. As the dragon stared at him, the massive wolf stood up on his hind legs and could barely reach the massive dragon towering above him. Apollo began to lick the bottom lip of the dragon that was Gabriel. He licked the beast right between the two giant, golden fangs that jutted up into the air from the bottom jaw.
The dragon allowed this for a few seconds and then it reared up onto its hind legs and with its wings thrashing, it dropped down upon the grey wolf. The assembled group closed their eyes, they knew they would be next. The black wolf howled from the mansion and began racing toward the dragon. Yellow-mane simply looked on. He was the only one to see what happened next.
They all felt the rush of air and the sudden coolness washing over them. As they opened their eyes, the dragon was gone and lying on the ground in a fetal position was Gabriel. Breena rushed to his side and held him. Zeus followed her and as he felt the young warlock’s neck for a pulse, he was devastated. The was no sign of life. He fell to his knees as the tears began to flow.
Breena was crying as well and Oz was deeply moved. He had never fully cried before, but he too felt like his heart was breaking, and just then, he wished he could cry. Leonidas was shaking, he had just lost his son and his only reason for living. Only Apollo seemed unfazed. He began to lick the side of Gabriel’s face and there was no response except tiny blue flashes of light. Sparks kept coming off the side of his face where the wolf touched him.
Breena tried to push the wolf back, but Leonidas stopped her.
“Do you see that?” he asked excitedly.
“What do you mean?” Breena asked.
By now, Yellow-mane was there as well.
“The sparks, where Apollo is licking him,” Leonidas exclaimed.
“If the gift is still within him, he must still be alive. The gift cannot reside in a vessel once it dies. It leaves immediately!” Yellow-mane explained to the group.
“But if he has no pulse, how can he be alive?” Zeus asked, still not certain what the ‘gift’ they were talking about was.
“It worked, the ancient sages were right, it worked!” Leonidas began. “Once, more than five thousand years ago, in ancient China, there was a dragon. The Scythian that became that dragon had just fallen in love with a young maiden before he was attacked by human villagers for being an outsider.
They were beating him to death when he assumed his dragon form and began slaughtering every human he could find. The young maiden couldn’t stand to see him hurt, nor could she stand to watch as the humans tried everything to kill him. She walked to the top a hill and offered herself to the dragon. She knew she would be killed, but she loved the man and she didn’t care. He had become the dragon to protect himself.
The dragon landed near her, but when it chose not to kill her, it became human once more. Unfortunately, the transformation killed the Scythian. His body wasn’t strong enough to handle that much of a change all at once.
A local wise man, a sage, was actually a Scythian that saw the events play out and recorded them in a scroll. He believed only the power of a clan’s gift, an extremely powerful one, might protect the Scythian and allow them to survive the transformation back into their human form.”
“So that’s why you suggested to Grandfather to split the gift and make sure Gabriel got a very strong part of it,” Breena said.
“Yes, Gabriel needed the negative portion of the gift. Two negatives create a positive and if he was to survive he would need a very strong negative charge. Luckily, your clan’s gift is one of the strongest ever known, and it worked.
“If the gift is still within him, then he is alive whether we can detect it or not. Likely he is closer to death than any Scythian has ever been and lived to tell about it, but he is alive! The gift will keep him alive and eventually restore him fully,” Leonidas stated.
“But how long will that take?” Breena asked.
“No one knows, this was all just theory until now,” Leonidas answered.
“What will happen next? Will he become this dragon again the next time he’s in danger?” asked Zeus.
“I’m sorry, but no one knows the answer to either of those questions. No one has ever survived coming back from being a dragon. From here on out we will be writing new scrolls for our descendants to read and all of it will be new information,” Leonidas answered.
“We will take him to the mansion where he will be cared for,” Zeus announced.
“No!” Leonidas interrupted, “Gabriel is a clan elder and he will be treated as one. You are welcome to visit when you want, but he will be kept in the clan village until he wakes. He’ll be safer there than anywhere else.”
Breena nodded her agreement and so did Yellow-mane. Oz pulled Zeus away before he could argue and started to explain what he could to the master warlock. Zeus was having a hard time understanding any of it.
Yellow-mane interrupted the discussion.
“You are one of the ‘ancient ones’, are you not?” he asked Oz.
The tiny man simply stared at him.
“If so, then you know what we are and how important our secret is to us. We are on uncharted ground here. Outsiders are forbidden from knowing our secret and yet you are, for all intents and purposes, family. Since this wasn’t supposed to be possible, we must learn how to deal with it.
You may tell Gabriel’s grandfather what you must, so he understands what we are and what we are capable of. He must trust that we can protect Gabriel, and if he is to visit the village, he must understand how important our secret is to us. Can you make sure this happens?” Yellow-mane asked Oz.
“I will do my best,” Oz answered. “Of this you can be sure, Zeus can keep a secret if he chooses to.”
“Someday you must tell us how a master warlock becomes a shifter and still remains a master warlock,” Yellow-mane added.
As they looked on, Leonidas cradled Gabriel in his arms like a child and then suddenly he was no longer a human. With Gabriel cradled between his front talons, Leonidas, in his gryphon form leaped from the ground and flew toward the Scythian village. Breena switched to her giant wolf form and ran off in the same direction. Apollo and the black wolf followed close behind.
As Zeus looked on, wondering if he’d lost his mind, Yellow-mane transformed into a giant, saber-toothed lion and followed the wolves running toward the back of the compound. Seeing people turn into wolves of any kind was nothing new to Zeus, but to see people shift into an extinct creature and a mythological one, was hard even for him to grasp. He still hadn’t come to grips with how his grandson had become a dragon and then returned to human form. He was going to need a little time to make sense of all of this.
“We need to tend to the American twins,” Oz said as the two turned toward the mansion.
“What about all these bodies?” Zeus asked, pointing to the human remains strewn throughout the compound. With the new day’s sunlight, the shifters were gone, and only human corpses remained to show the results of the battle waged during the previous night.
“Once we have tended to the twins, I will take care of it. The Canadian counsel and Prime Minister are already aware of the attack by the shifters tonight and the plans of Miss Grace. The cameras did not record anything out away from the mansion, including the appearance of the dragon, gryphon or saber-toothed lion. They do not need to know about the Scythians or exactly how many shifters were lost.
As with war, once the fighting is over, politicians only care about their careers, not the lives lost, or the sacrifices made by those left. There will be those that demand to know what happened, but these shifters willingly joined the White Alpha and her plans for world domination, they will be reported as missing, nothing more,” Oz said very matter-of-factly.
Once inside the mansion, they checked on the twins. Anthony’s injuries were more extensive and would require some time in a hospital. Oz would transport the American warlock to a hospital in Vancouver where he could be treated. They were used to dealing with injured warlocks so there would be no questions once they were notified about who they were dealing with.
Jaida was badly bruised and had a minor concussion, but she would be good as new in no time. Luckily, her injuries were such that she would be able to stay at the compound and recuperate. While she rested, Oz did his best to explain to Zeus what had happened the night before, outside the mansion. He made sure to disable all the cameras before explaining anything to the master warlock.
Oz finished explaining to Zeus what he could about Gabriel, Breena and the Scythians. Then, he left the master warlock alone, so he could tend to the multitude of bodies in and around the compound. Fortunately, the dragon had disposed of many of the shifters as it sought to eat and kill all it could find. Those it didn’t devour it had incinerated, either way there were a lot fewer bodies to tend to thanks to the dragon. The tiny man even transported the ones that had been locked in the cells of the garage to the city where they would be held in the council’s cells awaiting their trial. Each of them would be put on the Angel List.
Zeus made sure Jaida was resting comfortably and then called Dr. Connors. He asked him to meet him at the cemetery to inspect Grace’s hide-out. They needed to see what they could discover about her plans and when and where her next incarnation might appear. He was certain they had not seen the last of Miss Grace.
Try as he might, Zeus was having a hard time concentrating on the Grace issue. He couldn’t stop thinking about the Scythians. How could they exist for thousands of years and still not be discovered? However, the more he thought about it, the fact there were tens of thousands of people around the globe infected with the shifter virus and yet the general public knew nothing of the true existence of shifters, caused him to rethink that point of view.
His many decades as a warlock had allowed him to see many strange things and on more than one occasion he was certain he was being watched, even though no one was there. He found himself wondering if those times were when he was in the presence of Scythians. He couldn’t help but imagine that there might be many untold numbers of creatures that were thought to be merely myths and legends that might exist somewhere on the planet.
In the back of his mind was the ever-present understanding that his grandson, Gabriel, was part Scythian. According to Oz’s theory, it was the dormant shifter virus given to Gabriel by his mother, combined with the Scythian blood of his father, that had allowed the boy to exist when he shouldn’t. He wasn’t a shifter, but that part of him was the only reason he was alive with a Scythian father. He was a unique hybrid and he had almost wiped out all life on the planet!
Zeus needed to focus. His thoughts of the Scythians would have to wait. Zeus had a full agenda and the Scythians were low on the list. He needed to keep tabs on Jaida’s recovery and to make sure Anthony was getting the best care possible.
He also needed to meet with Dr. Connors as soon as possible and learn what they could about the recently deceased Grace. All the while, he had to keep his fears and worries over Gabriel in check. He knew Oz had agreed it would be better if Gabriel was cared for at the village, but Zeus would have felt better if the young man was still at the compound. He trusted Oz and himself and very few others.
Oz returned from the hospital and reported they were going to do several scans and a battery of tests on Anthony. The preliminary diagnosis was a skull fracture, a serious concussion, a broken collarbone and severely bruised ribs. There was no indication of excessive swelling of the brain and the doctors felt he would recover fully in a few weeks, but they wanted to do additional tests to be sure.
With Jaida resting comfortably and Oz due back any minute to keep watch over her, Zeus showered, dressed and prepared to meet Dr. Connors at the cemetery. It was unlikely they would run into any of her henchmen as Zeus was sure they had all been eliminated the night before. Just to be sure though, he armed himself and wore his custom body armor underneath his long warlock coat.
By the time he was ready to leave, Oz had returned. After a short talk with Oz, he was out the front door and headed toward Vancouver. He drove straight to the cemetery. Dr. Connors was waiting for him at the north entrance. They parked their cars and walked into the cemetery together.
They went straight to the mausoleum Gabriel had described in his report. The first room they entered was set up to receive ten coffins. There were five vaults built into each side of the building with a large, open area for visitors in between. There was what appeared to be a small office at the end of the open area, off to one side. The office had a stately, carved wooden door, marking its location.
As they looked around, both men realized that the inside of the building only accounted for about a third of the amount of the building visible from the outside. But how to get to the rest of the building? There didn’t appear to be any additional doorways, either inside or out.
“I’m guessing there will be at least one hidden room or chamber, but where is it?” asked Dr. Connors.
“One thing’s for sure, it will be hard to find and most likely boobytrapped to prevent unwanted visitors from gaining access to it, so be careful,” Zeus answered.
As Dr. Connors entered and began searching the small office, Zeus stood in the open area with the wall vaults for coffins. With engraved plaques of the deceased on each of the vaults, it appeared that all of them were occupied, something Zeus found strange. He was sure Grace would not want any members of the public visiting the mausoleum. Visitors only invited prying eyes, something Grace would surely want to avoid.
As Zeus was contemplating that question, Dr. Connors yelled for him from the office. It was not only urgent, but from the sound of his voice, the doctor was in trouble!