Two of the triplets, Christina and Helga were working furiously in the lab. Grace had given them just one week to complete the gene splicing and to produce a dozen of her new, third generation lieutenants. These would be her biggest and most ferocious ones yet. Two of her first- generation lieutenants were guarding the lab along with a large pack of shifters that doubled as the security team. These two were from the ‘first generation’ of new shifters Grace had created. They had increased size, strength and new abilities beyond any of the previous lieutenants.
But, as formidable as these two were, they were weak copies when compared to the four Lieutenants now traveling with Grace on a mission away from the lab. These four, second- generation lieutenants, had even more size and strength, combined with the new powers of the first generation. All of this made them nearly invincible. Nearly.
Thanks to her ever-growing paranoia, Grace made sure that no matter how powerful she made her lieutenants, they would never be able to rival her own abilities. Had she encountered the same shifted Zeus that killed her previous incarnation, she would have realized they still weren’t powerful enough.
In addition to the stress of meeting Grace’s timeline, Helga was having a crisis of conscious and was disgusted with herself. Every time she drew a sample from one of the captives she had to look them in the eye. It made her feel dirty and ashamed. She hadn’t had anything to do with their kidnappings, but if she lifted a finger to help them, Grace would kill her. What was she to do?
Franzee was the rebel of the three sisters, Christina was the mad scientist, always wanting to try another experiment, but Helga was the emotional one. Her empathy had always been a liability as far as Grace was concerned and she kept a close eye on her.
Helga, like Franzee, was aware that they would never escape the lab. She knew deep in her soul this would one day be their tomb. After the previous Grace had been killed by the Canadian warlock, she thought there might be some chance at escape, but since then, the new Grace had implemented some ‘improvements’ and she now knew she could never leave the lab alive. If only she could help save the captives it might somehow atone for her misdeeds. What had Grace call them, Scythians?
The three sisters, led by Grace, had found a way to extract the DNA and RNA from three of the Scythians captives. She also seemed excited about some information she learned from one of the prisoners. He was a messenger for the leaders and his message, once revealed, had thrilled Grace. That was the reason for her current mission. He was the first to perish. They weren’t sure what all the abilities of the remaining creatures were, but given enough time, Grace would find out. She didn’t care what happened to them in the process either.
Several of the captives had already perished as they preferred to die rather than be experimented on. Just looking in the eyes of the remaining Scythians was torture to Helga. She could see they knew they were going to die too. It was as if they saw Helga as their only hope. How could she? What could she do?
They were being held in large airtight cubicles made of aquarium grade plexiglass more than six inches thick. Not even the strongest among them could break through the panels. There wasn’t the tiniest crack anywhere to be found. The water elements among them had already tried every corner. That was when they realized they were being recorded for the express purpose of finding out what their abilities were.
At one point or another, Grace had seen most of them change to at least one other form. She seemed to be interested in the water elementals and the flying animals most of all, but she had recorded all she learned about each one. She planned to eventually use all of them, or at least their DNA. After that, they would be killed. She even planned to experiment on how best to kill each different type of Scythian.
Helga suddenly decided she wouldn’t be a part of it. It would cost her, her life, but she no longer cared. She made sure they all had food and water, but she refused to take anymore samples. Grace was gone and when she came back in a week, she’d kill Helga, but that was better than the way she felt looking at the prisoners. She just couldn’t take it anymore!
As she walked back into the lab, Christina asked about the samples. When Helga declared she didn’t have them and wouldn’t take them ever again, Christina back-handed her across the mouth.
“You weak…little…pathetic excuse for a scientist! Now get back in there and get me the samples I need,” Christina screamed.
Helga turned her face back to her sister and with a trickle of blood running down the corner of her mouth, she defiantly stared at her. With eyes blazing, Helga was daring her to hit her once more. The weeks of constant work and the pressure and stress of being around Grace had taken their toll and Helga was getting ready to unleash all her frustration and anger on her abusive sister. She had never hit anyone before, but she was going to use every last bit of strength she could muster to give her sister everything she had.
Christina must have sensed what was going to happen. She stared at her sister for a full minute but didn’t try to hit her again.
“Very well, you know what Grace will do. Your days are now numbered, enjoy them while you can. You are not to leave the underground sections of the lab for any reason,” Christina said with a sneer.
“We are sisters, how can you be like this?” Helga asked.
“Sisters? We are a failed experiment dear. Grace wanted three scientific warriors worthy of learning her secrets. Instead, she got me and two weak copies. You and your emotions, blah, blah, blah! Franzee is no better. She’s always willing to take chances outside the lab, but never in here. Both of you are weaklings in your own way, and you’re both worthless!” Christina answered.
Helga had always known her sister was cruel, but it wasn’t until this moment that she realized she was insane as well. As a scientist she knew this was a possibility. The triplets had been created by splitting a single egg. In doing so, there was always the chance of negative traits, either physical, emotional or mental. It was only now she realized that her sister had probably always been insane. What she thought was a cruel streak, was nothing more than a scientific defect.
Tomorrow, when Franzee came, she would tell her about it. Franzee had been wanting to talk to her about something, but they were never alone together. There was always a guard or Christina or Grace for almost a week now. She knew they both felt like their time was coming to an end. Grace’s threats of allowing them to rapidly age to death was no longer scaring them the way it used to. The two sisters were equally reluctant to take samples or in any way hurt their captives and it was infuriating both Grace and Christina.
As Christina went back to work over her microscope, Helga sat down at the security station and stared at the monitor. If only there was a way to be free? Without her injection she would die within a week, but oh what she would do in that week. Like a fruit fly living on borrowed time, she would flit and fly from one place to another. Seeing things, tasting things, hearing things, just living!
As she watched the monitor it began to flash red. It was a sign that someone had entered the courtyard of the farmhouse up above. She was supposed to call an alert and send out all available security forces still underground to assist, but instead she simply input the proper code in the computer to turn off the silent alarm. Next, she disabled it and all other alarms so that whoever was up there would have unfettered access to the lab down below.
She hoped it was a small army arriving to free her, but she suspected it was nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps, a lost stranger from the nearby national park looking for directions. Unfortunately, since the security personnel were also shifters they’d be torn to shreds. Still, Helga could hope it was an army coming to rescue her.
As she looked at the screen for the courtyard, she saw a truck pulling up with a small group of what looked like locals inside. As the four civilians stepped out of the vehicle, they were surrounded by shifters. Before anything else could happen, an enormous white shifter walked into the courtyard. Oh no, Grace was back already!
Helga felt her heart drop to the floor. Instead of days, she had minutes to live. Without thinking she walked to the station behind Christina and grabbed a small lab microscope and hit her sister in the back of the head as hard as she could. Christina dropped to the ground in a heap. At first, Helga was sure she’d killed her abusive sibling, but a quick check showed she was only unconscious. But what could she do now? She’d never make it out of the lab alive tonight and Grace would be here in a matter of minutes.
Franzee! Yes, Franzee would know what to do, she had to find Franzee. She would be in her private quarters above the barn. Three deluxe apartments with all the modern amenities. But how could she get there without Grace seeing her? She would hide! There were places where she could hide and once Grace had come through she could backtrack to the apartments and Franzee.
As Helga went to hide, things were just starting to get interesting in the courtyard up above. Eight shifters had surrounded the SUV and the four gypsies standing outside it. They neither recognized or cared who these strangers were, they were going to kill them. The bloodlust within was building by the second, soon they would attack, but not before they allowed their prey a chance to scream in fear and to cower like little ants.
Then, out of the darkness came an enormous white shifter. Immediately, the eight shifters dropped to one knee and bowed. The one closest to the giant shifter detected it first. In the dark of the night, the shifter walking toward them had to be Grace, no other shifter on the planet was that big or completely white. Except, this shifter did not smell like the White Alpha, nor was it a female and it was wearing some sort of vest.
By the time the first shifter realized the mistake and was starting to stand, it was too late. As Zeus leaped between the first two kneeling shifters, he grabbed them by the throats and crashed their heads together. The skulls of both creatures cracked open and their brains spewed forth from the force of the blow.
As soon as that was done, Zeus leaped between the next two shifter that were already standing and ready to attack. These two faired no better than the first two, within a second of landing, Zeus had killed them. As he looked for the remaining shifters, he found they were already dead. As soon as they had knelt to honor what they thought had been Grace, the twins had decapitated two apiece.
From start to finish, the attack had taken less than seven seconds. All in all, a successful first attack by the small band. But the hardest part was yet to come. Now they had to figure out how to get into the underground lab. Zeus looked at Dr. Connors and Pierre. Together, they pointed at the barn.
The two men had already decided the farmhouse was too obvious and most likely to be thoroughly searched by the government if there was ever a question about the purpose of the farm. Instead, they agreed the entrance to the lab was most likely in the barn across the courtyard. As one, the group headed for the barn. Zeus led the way, followed by Jaida with her katana drawn and Anthony bring up the rear. He had a matching pair of silver-plated swords in each hand.
Once inside the barn, they found a stall with a locked door. Dr. Connors turned to the rest of them and explained.
“I’m sure this is what we’re looking for and I can bypass the security to allow us entry, but I can’t stop the alarms. They’ll know we’re coming,” he said.
“Just do it,” Zeus said in his rough, gravelly voice.
Then he stepped up and ripped the door off the hinges of the stall. There, he could see a heavy metal panel, he thrust his right paw with his razor-sharp claws into the side of the panel and ripped it from the wall with ease. He had exposed the electronic components and control box for a very highly sophisticated security system and lift controls.
Zeus was still looking for a worthwhile fight. He might be in control, but it was the nature of his shifted self to want to kill and destroy. Even Jaida had been disturbed by the sheer strength and brutality of the way Zeus had so easily dispatched the four shifters in the courtyard. She knew it had to be done, but she hadn’t fully realized the strength and abilities of Zeus in his shifted form. Now she knew just how much he had held back and toyed with Anthony the night her brother had attacked the master warlock in the mansion. In a second, he could have dispatched the American warlock if he had wanted too. It made her shiver to think about it.
The doctor attached a set of wires from his vest to the security system and was reading a small screen attached to his left wrist. After twenty seconds, the back of the stall slid open to reveal a hidden elevator. Only the twins and Zeus could fit in the elevator at one time and even that was a tight fit. Dr. Connors and Pierre waited patiently for their turn.
Hearing the sound of running feet, Pierre looked out toward the courtyard. He could see several men looking at the bodies of the shifters and talking excitedly. He could only make out some of the words, but it seemed like one of them had suggested that Grace was the only one capable of doing such a thing and they were debating whether to run or to continue to look around the farm for intruders.
It would only be a matter of time before they checked the barn. Pierre heard something from the room above him. Someone was moving around up there, could it be Franzee? That would have to wait.
“Doctor take the next ride down but show me how to operate the lift, so I can join you when I’m done,” he whispered.
“What are you going to do?” Dr. Connors asked.
“You’re going to need time to get down there, so I’ll take care of the issue outside and be down to join you in a minute,” Pierre answered.
“Your funeral,” Dr. Connors replied.
“Doctor, these are men, not shifters,” Pierre said.
The doctor showed Pierre the button to push to recall the elevator once the light showed it had reached its destination below. As soon as he showed him, the old spy walked out the stall and into the night. The last thing Dr. Connors saw was Pierre pulling out a small gun with a long silencer on it with his right hand and a throwing knife with his left. Suddenly, the doctor felt sorrier for the men outside than he did for Pierre.
The doctor saw the indicator that the elevator had reached the bottom of the shaft and hit the button for it to return to the surface. For some reason it would not allow him to recall it. Something was keeping the doors jammed open and preventing it from rising. But what could have happened to the three who went down in it?
As he waited, the doctor pulled out his father’s fountain pen. He could eliminate at least three of the guards before he had to reload a new battery, not that he wanted too. He didn’t like violence. Other than the incident with Thomas in the council chambers, he’d never hurt anyone before, and he didn’t plan on doing it now if he could help it.
As he waited, he strained his ears to pick any sound of approaching guards, the return of Pierre or even Pierre fighting…anything would be better than the silence. It was absolutely quiet. Dr. Connors could hear his own heart beating, trying to burst forth from his chest as the anxiety of waiting took control of him. Finally, he heard someone coming and he readied his pen.
Out of the dark came Pierre. He was walking casually, and he had a blue handkerchief in his hand, wiping blood from one of his throwing knives. He saw the doctor and the way he was holding the pen and knew what it must be.
“I can only assume that you aren’t planning on squirting ink on me, what is that?” he asked.
“Sorry,” Dr. Connors said as he put the pen back inside his vest, “it’s a little invention I came up with for personal use. It’s a high intensity laser, strong enough to burn through three inches of steel in less than eight seconds. It will kill, but I have no desire to use it that way.”
“Excellent doctor, excellent, but if you’ll take my advice, stay out of the field. None of us really wants to kill anyone, but out here, we don’t often get a choice. With the bad elements we’re dealing with, it’s usually kill or be killed,” Pierre offered.
“For some reason the elevator will not come back up. Something’s holding the doors open,” Dr. Connors explained.
“Well then, we’ll wait for another ten minutes and then we’ll use that laser of yours to cut through that outer door and make our way down the hard way,” said Pierre casually.
Deep below the two men, things were getting very interesting for the trio of former warlocks. Very interesting indeed.
As the elevator began to descend, Zeus had placed his feet against the rear of the car and his outstretched front paws against the door jams, suspending himself in mid air above the floor of the elevator car. Without a word the twins wrapped their arms around the massive front paws of the shifted Zeus. About halfway down the shaft, the floor of the car separated and slid quickly and quietly into the sidewalls. Had they been standing on the floor they would all be falling into the shaft below.
“Traps, always traps,” Zeus said as the twins hung from his arms.
“I thought it was way too easy to bypass that security panel,” Jaida answered.
As the car neared the bottom, the floor slid shut once again and Zeus and the twins stepped back down and took up defensive positions inside the doors of the elevator car. As the doors were opening, they could see two guards standing in the hallway with automatic weapons pointed at the elevator car. As the doors were sliding open slowly, Zeus placed his outstretched arms against the sides of the car and kicked both legs into the opening doors with all his might. The aluminum and thin steel of the car’s inner doors had no chance against the power of the massive shifter. The two inner doors bent outward like a badly opened tin can, while the two outer doors were knocked flying down the hall toward the guards.
As the guards dove out of the way, the three occupants of the elevator car moved as one. Zeus took a half step forward and leaned his head out of the car before leaping as high into the air as the hall ceiling would allow. The twins each rolled out the corners of the elevator with one going left and the other right. They continued to roll until they were several feet from the car.
The guards recovered from the doors flying at them and began shooting at the now-empty elevator. After a short burst, they both stopped at the same time, both trying to figure out why their fingers would no longer work. In fact, nothing worked. And the pain…their throats were on fire. Both guards were already dead they just didn’t know it yet.
As the twins came out of their rolls, they both threw a small, but very deadly, silver-coated throwing star at the two guards. The two stars struck the men in the throat, just above their Adam’s Apples. The sharp metal tore through the outer skin and buried themselves deep into the men’s brain stems, effectively paralyzing them instantly.
The twins stood slowly and watched as the two men fell face forward onto the floor. Standing behind them was the shifted Zeus holding his katana in his right hand. The sword looked like a knife in the giant shifter’s long-clawed, paw-like hand. As the men hit the floor, they broke in half. If the twins hadn’t got them, Zeus would have. As the stars were entering their necks, Zeus was slicing them in half with a single swing of his sword.
The three of them nodded to each other as a way of acknowledging each other’s skills. Slowly they turned and headed down the lone hallway. There was no chance of surprise now, the gunfire echoed throughout the underground complex. Whoever, or whatever was still left to guard the lab would be coming for them now. Right on time, two massive shifters came running down the hallway on all fours. Each of them was almost the same size as Zeus!
Both creatures were dark, but as they got closer it was easier to see that one was dark grey and the other was dark brown. Both had the telltale red glowing eyes of the werewolf.
“Mine,” roared Zeus.
“We’re in this together Zeus, we’ll take the brown one,” yelled Anthony.
As soon as the American said it, he regretted it. The brown shifter was almost upon them when it was suddenly gone and in its place was a wall of water!
Zeus, on the far side of the wide hallway, flattened against the wall and watched as the water went rushing by him. He knew instantly what was happening. Grace had managed to give her lieutenants the powers of a Scythian. He would have to be ready for anything with the grey shifter bearing down on him.
Down the hall, Jaida leaped into the air and drove her hands into the ceiling tiles suspended above her. As her hands broke through the flimsy material she was reaching out hoping to find something, anything, to grab onto. She was in luck, there was a structural I-beam running across right where she reached. As the wall of water ran under her, she lifted her legs in a tuck position and held on in a tight little ball while the water rushed by.
Anthony wasn’t so lucky. He had already decided, as he usually did, to fight the wall of water head on. With his two swords crossed in front of him he stood in the middle of the hall and allowed the water to strike him full in the chest. Somehow, he was hoping the two swords would have some kind of effect on the shifter turned ‘tidal wave’. Unfortunately, the only effect was Anthony being knocked off his feet and drenched with water,
As soon as the water hit him, it was instantly a shifter again. The enormous beast stood over Anthony. With its right front paw over its head, it prepared to drive its six-inch long claws into his belly. Before it could do so, it changed, this time into an enormous owl. The change occurred as Jaida was trying to thrust her katana into the back of the shifter above her brother. The transformation saved the shifter and the owl flew silently down the hallway.
Before it could circle back, Jaida picked Anthony up off the floor.
“Okay, since when can shifters turn into water and owls?” Anthony asked.
“Sorry brother, but here in Grace’s lab, weird things are afoot. It must be something new she ‘cooked’ up, but don’t ask me how, your guess is as good as mine,” Jaida answered as the two of them took up defensive positions facing the direction the giant owl had flown.
Jaida pulled Anthony back toward the open ceiling she had broken through just seconds before. This way, they could take the high ground if they needed too. In all their years of hunting shifters this was the first time the twins were truly shocked. Neither one said it, but both were thinking it, ‘how does one fight such a creature?’
Zeus was taking a direct, albeit cautious approach with his shifter as well. The grey beast had stopped only a few feet from him and now it was circling closer and closer. As it reached, Zeus instinctively knew what the creature would do. As the massive shifter feinted a left claw to his face, it followed it with a hard-slashing blow to his ribs with its right paw.
Zeus was counting on Dr. Connors vest to protect him from the cutting force of the blow. He knew he’d still feel it, but he was hoping he wasn’t about to see his intestines filling the hall in front of him. As the grey shifter struck his side, Zeus was raking his own massive claws across the creature’s neck. The blood spewing forth told him he had done some serious damage. Before he could throw a second slicing blow, the shifter was gone and in its place was a giant eagle flying backward down the hall. The bird still had blood flying out of its neck and after a few beats of its wings it turned to a large, round stone and dropped to the floor.
“You’re not getting out of this fight that easy!” Zeus roared.
He stepped up and as the rock was hitting the hallway floor, he took his katana and struck the rock down the middle. The blade of the Japanese sword had costs Zeus a small fortune, but he knew it was worth it. Forged in an active volcano deep in the heart of Japan by a dedicated group of Taoist monks, the metal was pound-for-pound stronger than almost anything known on the planet. The rock was sliced cleanly into two halves and the shifter was no more.
Jaida had seen the final blow Zeus gave his shifter and she now knew they could be stopped, it just had to be unconventional or unexpected. Looking down the hall, she got an idea. She sprinted ten feet grabbed something off the wall and came back to Anthony’s side just as the owl-creature came flying straight at them. With talons extended towards Anthony’s eyes the creature was aiming to blind the American.
As it was almost upon them, Jaida pulled the fire extinguisher from behind her back and sprayed the white powder right in the giant bird’s face. As Anthony tried to cleave the bird in half by using a crossing technique with his swords, the owl was gone and in its place was a wall of water. The twins leaped up, grabbing onto the I-beam above them as the water rushed by.
As the shifter in water form ran down the hallway, it stopped and reverted to shifter form. It still had some of the powder from the fire extinguisher in its eyes, but it was mad and didn’t care. It was bigger than all the other shifters around and it had been told its special ‘powers’ made it invincible. Right now, it wasn’t feeling all that invincible, but it was going to teach that little female a lesson! As the creature took it’s first step back towards the twins it was stopped dead in its tracks…literally. As the creature changed from water to shifter, Zeus had run up behind it and as it took its first step, he drove his katana into its back, through its heart, and out the front of the beast.
“I’m not going to complain about you killing that thing, but I am going to ask, what was it?” Anthony asked.
“Later,” Zeus replied as he headed down the hallway, back toward the elevator.
Once there, he reached down and ripped the inner elevator doors off the car. As soon as he did, they were no longer holding the elevator in place. He reached down and pinched the metal floor together, so it couldn’t separate on the doctor and Pierre. As he stepped back, the car began to climb back up to the barn above.
“What now?” Jaida asked.
“We wait for the doctor,” Zeus replied. Then he moved over into a corner of the hall to wait.
Unfazed, Jaida walked over and climbed right into Zeus’s lap and waited with him as she held her sword deftly in her left hand.
Up above, Pierre was starting to get worried. The three had been down there for almost ten minutes and they had heard rapid gunfire coming from below. He wasn’t sure, but he didn’t think Zeus was bullet-proof.
Finally, the elevator began moving back toward the top. Just as it was arriving, there was movement by the door of the barn. Both men turned simultaneously, Pierre with a silenced pistol in his hand and the doctor with his trusty fountain pen. The doctor was still on alert, but Pierre relaxed as soon as he saw it Franzee.
“If you’re going to attack the lab, at least let me go with you,” she said.
Without waiting for an answer, she walked to the waiting elevator and stepped in, even the fact that the inner doors had been ripped off the car didn’t seem to catch anyone’s attention.
At the bottom, Franzee saw the remains of the two guards, the giant shifter and even the rock and knew what had happened.
“Is this the worst of it?” Pierre asked her as he took in the scene in the hallway.
“I doubt it, you haven’t met Christina yet,” Franzee said as she walked down the hall toward the heavy steel high-security door.