Shortly after, the Guardians of the neighboring congregation appeared to provide help. “What happened to this place?” Julio was awestruck. The house was almost destroyed. The front door had been torn out and the dining room had been carbonized including the curtains and almost all the furniture. There was also a lot of blood all over the ﬂoor, not to mention the bodies of the three demons. Fortunately, the congregations were located in remote locations; they had no neighbors around.
Moving into the house, Julio spotted the girl knelt beside Jake who remained motionless on the ﬂoor. The conductor touched the side of the Guardian to see if was still alive. He was badly hurt and his heartbeat was so weak that almost no one heard it. Hurriedly, Julio took out a bottle with a viscous liquid. The others who came closely behind were completely astonished. These were the Guardians from Julio’s congregation. Tiago was the eldest among them, having only eight decades of life.
“Whoa, look at them! I have never seen a Guardian of Darkness in person. They are very similar to our species!” Joan stammered.
“Of course! Practically, they are of our species. The difference is they switched sides, becoming these vile and murderous creatures,” Tiago explained, kicking away a demon’s severed head.
“Have you seen any before?” asked Annabel admiringly.
“Sadly yes, but not in Alcantes . They have never been in this town before, not even on this continent. By the time they invaded the Earth, only the most experienced Guardians of Orpheus could face them. Many of our species died during the years of the invasions.”
“My ... what barbarity! I’m glad I never witnessed it ...” Relieved, she added, “Look at them. They are noticeably more muscular and much stronger than our Guardians!”
Joan carried in the jars with potion made with Ambrosia. She said, “Of course they are stronger than us. Most of them should be at least five centuries old.”
“Their smell is also different. It’s good and much like ours,” Annabel said.
“As I said before, their origins belong to our planet so the similarities between us are inevitable,” Tiago explained patiently, looking at the armor of the demon. He added, “It seems they have continued wearing this armor in their battles. They used this at the time they fought in behalf of Orpheus. They only changed the color of the cover, which was previously white,” he explained as he pointed to a demon whose body rested lifeless on the ﬂoor. He was wearing dark pants and a vest of steel, coupled with bracelets of metal covering the wrists to the elbows, emblazoned with several sharp blades. The black cape hung from the shoulders through steel jambs.
Samuel and the girls nodded. They were all distressed with the unexpected little visit from the dreaded demons from the planet Zebheus. While they quickly climbed the stairs to deliver the potion to the wounded Guardians, Joan asked, “Centuries ago, the Guardians of Orpheus had to wear these armors?” She pressed the pots in her arms. “From what I know, this medieval costume is not trendy and was never part of our uniform!”
Annabel, who crouched beside Mark, gave him some potion to drink. Samuel ran towards Lana, embodying the superhero. He did not actually pay attention to the conversation.
“You do not know? Tiago raised an eyebrow at her and said in a low voice,” “Good I think our generation of Guardians will find any knowledge obtained about the fearsome legends of Orpheus is good. Some say ...”
“Hurry up with that! Do you want to leave them immobilized for a long time?” Julio shouted, gesturing to the two of them to end the conversation. He heard about the sensitive subject on which the Guardians speculated.
“Do not exaggerate, Julio! They are all being treated,” Tiago said as he gave the liquid to Olivia. She was now sitting and resting back against the wall.
Joan took care of Nathan, the youngest. Despite him having already drunk some potion before, he still had wounds on his throat. When she took off the boy’s shirt, she was startled to see where the demons had caused more damage.
To make sure that all the wounded Guardians had been medicated with the potion, Julio became quiet. This substance made exclusively with Ambrosia was quite rare and could only be obtained through a mediator who brought it straight from the planet Orpheus. The potion had no power to raise the dead. It was only effective in treating very serious injuries. It also neutralized and eradicated the damage caused by any kind of poison. The stock Mark had was finished. Thankfully, Julio had some Ambrosia. However, due to the amount he used to heal the sick Guardians, he would have to request more of this substance from his mediator.
“Julio, we have to take Jake upstairs. I need to clean him and put him to bed,” Kate said to the regent.
“Come my dear, I’ll help you.” He was still shocked by all the cruelty that the Guardians had suffered. With the help of the regent, Kate took the boy to his room. It was an arduous task as Jake was heavy and stocky. He had not recouped all his conscience; he was delusional and weak.
At this time, Nathan, Olivia, and Lana, were medicated and were also taken to their rooms. They needed to rest until the potion completed its effect. Mark chose to go to the library’s sofa as he did not want to rest. He asked Julio to join him in discussing what steps were needed to be taken. They needed to convene a meeting with the mediator and make the crossing through the portal. For this type of unusual event, the mediator would need to be urgently notified.
Kate went to the bathroom and filled a bowl with water. She used a damp towel to clean his wounds. The spot where he had hit his head had a large cut. She took a wet towel, started cleaning the area, and then disinfected it. His arm and the side of his body where he had severe burns had already begun the process of healing. New skin replaced the burnt areas.
Kate pulled his torn shirt past his head. She exclaimed with horror and surprise upon seeing the severity of his injuries. His chest was the most affected site containing three large perforations which almost reached the heart. She washed the towel in the basin and began the cleaning process by removing all the blood that had drained from his neck to the abdomen. When she passed antiseptic on the wounds, he groaned, squirming a bit and narrowing his eyes. However, she did not stop and continued to clean him. She finished the job with another bandage. Soon after, she took the bowl and dirty washcloth and disappeared from the room. She returned minutes later with a glass of water and sat next to him in bed. He opened his eyes. Catching her arm, he took her hand to make her lean towards his lips. Pressing a light kiss on her, he said, “Kate, are you okay?”
Giving him water to drink, she said, “Jake, I’m fine. Drink up and stay still. You’re hurt and you’ve lost so much blood. You need to rest.” She ran a hand through his hair.
“I was so scared ... You should have escaped. You promised me!” Jake said.
“Shhh!” she motioned, putting an indicator on her lips for him not to speak. He needed to rest.
“Kate, if something bad happened to you, I ...”
She frowned. She was scared as his heart was hammering in his chest. “It’s okay. Nothing will separate us! I could never go and leave you to die.” The tears emerged from her eyes and began trickling down her face. With a sad expression, she added, “You cannot keep sending me away!”
Jake stared at her in silence. He had never felt so scared in his life when he saw the demon advancing with sword and launch the jet of ﬂame on her. By a miracle, she was faster and the fire could not reach her. The worst thing was that he was helpless and could not even protect her. He was barely able to stand up and raise his sword and he had to use the rest of his energy to be able to kill the demon.“I cannot let this new danger pass. You could have died!” He pulled her close so she could lie down beside him. “You have to stop being so stubborn.”
Kate leaned on one elbow and made touched his face lovingly, “You don’t understand.” she leaned her forehead against his. “You’re all I have!”
He sighed, pulling her towards him. She lay beside him and rested her head on his neck. Jake stroked her hair and kissed her head. They were silent for a while. While Kate stroked his arm, she smelled his scent which she loved so much. Once she gathered her courage, she asked about what was tormenting her for some time, “Who is Barbara?” She needed to know.
He stopped stirring her hair. At the same time, Kate felt his body stiffen and his breathing had becoming more intense. He remained in thought for a long time. “Jake?” she whispered apprehensively.
He turned his face, kissed her forehead, and said in a low voice, “Barbara was my companion.”
Kate froze, feeling a mixture of emotions. She felt fear and jealousy, leaving her totally insecure. Companion? Had Jake ever been married? What happened? Where was she now? Did she want him back? With all those doubts, she was left stunned.
“Do not worry, she’s not with us anymore,” he said with a sorrowful face, reassuring the conﬂicting emotions that plagued him.
Kate was relieved and guilty for all those disturbing feelings. Still staring, she asked him, “Were you married?”
Jake reached out and placed his hand lightly on her face. “The relationship between Guardians is different than humans. When we fall in love, most of us usually stay forever with the same person.” Looking away, he said, “Barbara was the only woman I loved and shared a relationship with seriously. We met when we were very young.” Turning to stare at Kate’s blue eyes, he continued, “In our world, there is no such thing as marriage, just a commitment to your beloved. A promise of love.”
“How long were you together?” she asked.
“Our relationship lasted about fifteen years,” he answered.
“What happened to Barbara? Was she also a Guardian?” Kate asked warily, knowing that this would be the worst part.
“Yes, she was a Guardian. She died because of me.” With a tense expression, he put his forearm over his eyes. “I arrived too late.”
“Hey, I’m sure it was not your fault and that you did everything you could. Fatalities happen all the time.” She raised her head and stretched out her hand to take the arm he covered his eyes with. Getting closer, she leaned her body over his. Capturing his gaze, she felt the strong heartbeat in his chest. Sometimes, the feelings he felt towards her was so intense it made her scared. “If you will ever love me, will you want to be with me forever?” she murmured.
Jake held her face in her hands. “Kate, I ... I already love you ...”
She gasped, “But ...”
He pulled her by the arms and put her on his lap. He put his hands on her back, under her blouse, caressing her skin. Kate, feeling an immense desire to take care of his body, bent over him, placed a hand on each side of the pillow, and began to kiss him. She pressed her body so hard against him and just forgot about the injuries. Jake did not complain and corresponded with the same intensity to kissing and hugging. While Kate slid her hand over his hard abdomen, reaching to the waistband of his jeans, he had already removed her blouse and was now trying to unfasten her bra. She wheezed as Jake invested in kisses, leaving her completely disoriented.
“I love you.” He broke the kiss, whispering in her ear.
“Jake ... Promise you’ll never leave me?” she asked.
“Do you still have doubts about what I feel for you? What do I need to do to make you believe me?” he said hoarsely, giving her a wry smile. “Please, no poetry!”
The two laughed. Hearing a noise from the door, they looked at each other in terror. She was only in her bra. When they see the doorknob turn and the door opened, she fumbled and ended up falling to the ground. Upon entering the room and coming across the two completely cramped with fear, Mark coughed, trying not to laugh. Julio scratched his beard, feeling embarrassed. Striving to be discreet, Kate noticed a smile forming on the lips of the regents. Clearing his throat, Mark was the first to speak.
“For the effort you’ve been doing, I can conclude that he is now cured. Aren’t you, Guardian?” Holding a smile, the conductor saw Kate’s blouse lying on the ﬂoor. “Judging by the bandages made, I can deduce that the girl has done a great job!” He threw one entertained look at her and then looked at Jake.
Kate felt ashamed and her face was boiling in a shade of scarlet red. She stepped forward to grab the sheet that Jake was lying on. She gave a strong tug on the cloth, bringing almost the kid along and knocking her down. Mark, failing to hold more, laughed. Kate ended up bunching the sheet. Jake rolled his eyes and with his index finger, pointed to the door for Mark.
“Is that how you treat your conductor nowadays?” Mark complained, still smiling. “I’m just happy to know that you are well taken care of!”
Julio, ceasing with the mockery and sarcastic comments of Mark, spoke to the couple. “We will have a meeting. We need to decide what action should be taken towards this illegal and violent attack that we suffered recently.” While Julio scratched his beard, he looked at Kate, wondering what the creatures of darkness really intended to do with her. Kill her? Capture her? Torture her? What was the great interest in this girl? Was it because her aura was not human? The fact that she was hiding behind those beautiful blue eyes? Still intrigued, Julio continued, “I am aware that the attitude we have to take is anything but ordinary. We’ll have to get in urgent contact with the mediator of Alcantes to notify this bombastic invasion involving the Guardians of Darkness. One of the regents responsible for the congregation will have to make the crossing through the portal, get to Orpheus, and get in touch with the leader responsible.” He stared at the girl for a few seconds and vented. “We’re not sure to what degree and in what proportions, but the demons will continue their search for Kate, no matter what it takes. We must be prepared for other attacks. Perhaps today was only a preview of what is to come.”
Mark nodded and pointed to the couple, saying, “Come to the library, we need to talk.” Jake agreed and said they would be there in a few minutes. The two regents left the room and closed the door behind them. She remained motionless on the ground. Jake got up from the bed and lifted his arm. He could not tell if Kate was in shock because they got busted, or if it was from what Julio said about the demons not giving up on her. “Kate, what is it?” He smiled and tried to pull the sheet she was wrapped in.
“I was just thinking how it would have been much easier if the creatures had found me the first time they killed my adopted family. If I had died, other lives would have been saved and the problem would have been resolved.”
“Never repeat such bullshit, bighead!” He slowly pulled both her ears, giving her a quick kiss on the lips.
“It’s true! How many people have to die or get hurt for me to stay alive?” she said, pulling the tip of the tape that was beginning to loosen the bandage that covered his chest.
“Kate ...” He lifted her chin. “No one else will die, much less take you away from me.” Still staring at her, he stressed, “I do not care who you are or what happened in your past ... I will not allow any demon or creature to take you away from here.”
The library was disorganized. It looked more like a madhouse. The ten Guardians walked from one side to the other, still upset by the unexpected visit of the servants of darkness. It was much more than an insult. They invading and destroyed almost everything. They were cowards for using poisoned blades. Moments before convening the meeting, Mark and Julio had a private conversation about this unexpected visit from the Guardians of Darkness. The regents could not understand why, after so many years, they would return to invade Earth. Was the leader of Zebheus the mastermind of this invasion? Was he the person responsible behind all the clandestine attacks involving the girl? Unfortunately, this was the answer nobody had the answers to.
“I have no idea how they tracked her down so fast. She’s only been here for two days. It was less than a week ago when her parents were murdered. It definitely does not match the history of persecution that they have planned for years,” Julio said puzzled.
“You are right. There was a longer interval between the discoveries and the murders.” Marcus was talking of the history and life of the tragedies of the girl. Julio had already taken it upon himself to inform them.
Kate stared at Jake across the library as she sat in a small chair. The Guardian had put on a shirt. She felt terrified at the thought of how he had almost died. Tired and not knowing exactly how to proceed, Jake stepped forward. “We need a strategy. When they attack again and pass through the portal, it will be essential that we are prepared with weapons, spells, shields, and all that is lethal to them should be within our reach.” He got up and ran a hand through his hair, then motioned towards the chair where the girl was sitting. “Kate is helpless and has to be protected. She must stay in a safer place. The Guardians of Darkness are different creatures and demons that we are used to facing. These warriors of darkness are stronger and do not fear us. They came very close this time. I cannot allow her to face that risk again.”
Olivia, who listened to everything, looked upset at him and said, “Are you kidding? The helpless Kate? I saw what she did! She saved Jake’s life, twice!”
“Are you suggesting that she can enter the club of the Guardians?Do you want to train her to kill some demons?” Jake stood and stared at Olivia in a scary way.
The others just watched the confrontation intently. Kate also remained silent. She intended to have a very serious talk with him in private later. Was this bid the safest place? She would not tolerate staying away from it, under any circumstances.
“Not at all! What I’m trying to tell you is that she can be useful. The demons cannot see her. That’s how she saved your life. While you lay almost unconscious on the ﬂoor, she attacked the demon.” Olivia said as she really liked the attitude of the brave girl, facing the Guardian of Darkness and defending Jake.
“When you will mention the time when the demon threw fire at her and she almost got stabbed? Remember that?” he growled angrily, remembering the moment when the demon almost decapitated Kate.
“Didn’t you see the jump she made? Didn’t you notice how Kate viewed the scene of the fight and used the table as a shield?” Olivia opened her brown eyes at him. “She knows how to defend herself! When your heart stopped beating, it was she who revived you and gave you first aid!” The redhead went near Jake and pulled the bandages that covered his wounds. “Not to mention that it was she who asked for help.”
Lana and Nathan looked at the two Guardians full of expectations, and then looked at Kate with great admiration. Rising from the chair, Mark said to the boy who remained stubborn, “Olivia is right, Kate was very helpful. You have to understand. We’re not trying to put her between the crossfire. I think it’s unnecessary for her to stay away from us. I prefer her to be with us instead of sending her to other congregations or shrines. We do not know if there are informants or what kind of help the devils are getting. It would be very dangerous to drive her away.”
“Mark is right,” Julio said. “This girl needs to stay with us. She will be safer.”
“Insurance? The same as what happened a few hours before?” Jake remained tense.
“Do not worry, we will be prepared for the next attack.” Nathan said, trying to calm him down. Jake remained adamant and was strict to keep her safe.
Faced with the adverse opinion that the views did not fit, Jake decided to cease the discussions. He knew exactly what action would be taken next. A possible invasion by Gabriel was included in his plans. Before turning to leave the library, he looked at Tiago and said, “I want to thank you for coming here and helping us.” He added wearily. “As to our fights, I suggest a truce ... If it were possible, I want us all to leave our differences aside and work as a team.” He directed a look at Sam and Olivia. “This proposal goes for you two as well.” Tiago, Samuel, and Olivia nodded.
“You’re right. We need to be united and well prepared. We must develop a good strategy of attack and defense against these demons. When I got here and saw how you were injured, I could only assume the strength and power they possess,” Tiago stared at everyone, visibly worried. He was fully aware that the Guardians of Orpheus had not died for a little, and with the congregations united, they would be stronger and have more chances against the demons. Sam looked at him and nodded quickly.
He said, “For me, it’s alright. I witnessed with my own eyes the monstrosities that they are able to unleash.”
“I agree with you. When those demons return to fetch the girl, it will be the end of their race!” Olivia said, full of conviction. “We will make them repent from invading Earth!”
Jake gave a grateful look to everyone and offered them a handshake. They needed to act like adults and put aside all their differences. With this imminent return of the Guardians of Darkness, they would have to remain alert, protecting Kate and humans. After this confrontation, the situation would inevitably worsen and raids and attacks would intensify significantly. “Thanks, really. All help is welcome.” Jake looked towards the girl. “We need to keep her safe and prevent another attack like this where they caught us unaware and nearly caused us major fatalities.” He turned and said to Lana, “You were great today. You acted bravely without fear of the enemy and helped us to defeat them. This contradicts your absurd theory and proves that you are a great Guardian!” As soon as he finished speaking, Jake turned and left the library tense. He had to put his plan into practice.
“It’s best to leave him alone for a while.” Mark looked at Kate, shaking his head so she would not follow him. He then said seriously at the others, “So, we’re all clear? I will not need to pull anyone’s ear?” he said, opening a friendly smile.
Julio, who was also getting sick of the fights between the Guardians, sighed with relief. “Finally! I only regret having taken so long to realize that we really are a team.” He looked into Mark’s eyes. “It took a tremendous misfortune before this could happen, though.”
After a few moments of silence, Kate asked worriedly to the regents, “How will they proceed and what attitudes will they take? I don’t want anyone else to die or get hurt because of me.”
Julio let out a long sigh. He scratched his beard as if he were stroking a pet. This nervous tic that the conductor had left Kate in agony. Still scratching, he announced with a gruff voice, “Samuel, grab the phone. Let’s contact the mediator of Alcantes.”
She knew that Jake’s intention was to keep her safe. However, she was upset that he wanted to push her away rather than have her fight beside him. After the meeting, she walked up to his room and knocked on the door. He did not answer. She waited a few seconds and knocked again, but nothing. She decided to open the door. She looked around and did not see him. The room was spacious, however a little messy. She noted that he also liked to read. There was a bookshelf that occupied a space next to a dresser. Unlike her, he did not enjoy much romance. Most books were stories about art. A cold wind came through the open window, causing the shutters to swing and crash against the glass. She was surprised to come across various sketches and oil paintings painted exclusively with her face. Kate felt loved and a delicious warmth welled in her heart. The paintings were fascinating; Jake was a very talented artist. Still admiring his work, she was startled by a noise coming from inside the bathroom and decided to come back later. As she turned to leave the room, the bathroom door opened. Coming out of the bathroom was a plume of hot steam accompanied by Jake with a towel wrapped around his waist. He looked grumpy and asked, “What do you want?”
She did not answer as she was breathless from looking at him wearing only a towel. He was without the bandages that covered his chest wounds. These had already healed. The thorax, abdomen, arms, and all those sculpted muscles left her amazed. Jake was beautiful. Just perfect.
“I... I wanted to know if ...” she stuttered, unable to look away from his body.
Jake giggled and turned his head from side to side to analyze. She was completely embarrassed and ashamed. He loved causing these reactions. Kate always liked to play the smartass; it was now his turn. “Do you like what you see?” he asked as he approached her.
Completely bewildered after seeing that wonderful view and even forgetting about the scolding she wanted to give him, she said, “Ahem ... I like it much.” Clearing her throat, she added, “You are an artist and so much more. Why did you never tell me you painted?”
Caught off guard, he turned back and looked at the fabrics she pointed with her finger. “Ah ... This ... It’s nothing. It is only a distraction.”
Kate noticed that his face, from being cheerful and sagacious, now exuded sadness and concern. She came to him and said, caressing his face, “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine! They will not find me.” Trying to cheer him up, she asked with a shy smile, “When did you paint all of this? Was it before or after our disastrous first date?”
“I started painting them the first day I met you, and since then I’ve never stopped.” he said, staring at her face.
Taking a deep breath, Kate put a hand on his chest to push him away. His closeness was too provocative; Jake was too tempting. Changing the course of the conversation, she told him the latest news. “Julio contacted Hector, the mediator of Alcantes. Hector assured that none of the rulers of the congregation needed to go through the portal. He will convene a meeting with the ruler responsible for Orpheus.
Dropping her waist, he headed toward the closet and looked for some clothes. Jake said without looking at her, “It’s better that way. We would be very vulnerable if any Guardian had to go away even for a short time.” He turned and looked at Kate with a smirk. “Are you staying there to checking on me with this look of a wolf? Can I at least get dressed?”
Kate narrowed her eyes at him and asked apprehensively, “Will you do what you said earlier in the library? Do you really want to send me away?” He answered evasively.
“Kate, I need to find a safe place for you to stay in. I cannot risk it and leave you here. What if they come back in greater numbers? How will I protect you and keep you safe? You saw how able and stronger they are!”
The sadness and disappointment were clear on her face. Even though Jake was right, she just did not want to stay away from him.
“Please, Kate, you do not ...” he argued, tired. “It’s for our own good! If I know you’re safe, I will be able to maintain focus and concentrate on the fight. I cannot falter again. That blunder I gave almost cost you your life!”
She did not answer, and left the room with her head down, accidentally bumping into Olivia. “Watch your step, girl!” the redhead protested.
“Sorry, Olivia ...” She looked at the Guardian and suddenly gave her a hug.
Olivia let go of her and said, “Hey! Stop already with this sentiment!”
Kate said, “I just wanted to thank you for saving my life.” Olivia looked at her confused.
“It was not me. It was you who saved Jake’s life!”
Kate shook her head. “I was able to do so only after you threw the sword to us. If not for you, we would have had no way to defend ourselves and the worst could have happened.”
Olivia looked down at her hands. “I only did my duty. Even between fights and arguments, we Guardians help and give our lives for our fellowmen and that includes you, Kate.” She looked admiringly at the girl’s face. “It was very brave what you did today, saving Jake and all of us. I had another opinion about you and now, I feel ashamed.” She reached out for a handshake. “Sorry for treating you the way I did.”
“Thank you, Olivia. That means a lot to me,” Kate said, smiling. She returned the gesture with a handshake and went to her room.