Twenty-nine years ago…
The light drizzle hit the side of the old, stone building, causing small splashes to burst off its surface. It had turned to autumn just recently, but the cold moved in quickly that year. It caused the rather tall man in the overcoat, taking shelter in the building’s shadow, to hunch closer to the doorway. He didn’t mind being wet, but he never liked being cold. Not that he had to worry about it much. It was a small effort to shrug off the unwanted sensation. It was as natural as breathing to him.
He looked down at the paper he carried, trying to keep it from the rain, and double-checked the address again. “You better had gotten this right, Laramie,” he sighed.
He pressed against the doorway, not bothering with the handle. It was locked anyway. He pressed harder and was rewarded by the sound of steel rending on the other side. Finally, the door buckled and swung open. It clanged hard against the wall, but Terence Bryce paid it no heed, rushing through the portal and diving inside the building. He came up in a roll, predicting a strike from several directions. All that met him was silence.
He looked around to find himself in a small, empty room. He frowned. He expected at least some resistance. The man he was tracking was known to have expansive resources and at least a little intelligence about him. Surely, he knew Bryce was coming for him.
Terry Bryce removed his coat and crossed the room, easing the door open into the adjoining hallway to find it similarly empty, though the lights were on.
“Well, somebody’s home,” Bryce said to himself. “You better had gotten this right, Laramie,” he repeated.
He walked cautiously down the hall. His hard-soled shoes struck the floor solidly with each step, but made not a sound. It was a trick of magic Bryce had perfected long ago, and he used it well. When he rounded the corner, he caught the first sign that he was in the right place. Two men were standing guard over a monitoring screen and speaking in hushed tones. Fortunately, their backs were to him.
Bryce closed the distance in a dash, impossibly fast, impossibly silent. His hand struck the first guard with powerful force and a sent a torrent of invisible energy into his victim. The guard crumpled to the floor as Bryce’s attack coursed through him, overwhelming his senses and sending him to dark sleep.
The second guard was more prepared, and reacted with inhuman reflexes – an acolyte.
The acolyte went for his pistol. Bryce wasn’t about to let him play that game. He collided into him and bore him down using his superior strength and another blast of archonic energy. The acolyte resisted him for a moment, but he couldn’t last long. Bryce had been in the game a long time and had developed a reputation for the power that came naturally to him. Unlike the acolyte, who needed to physically draw a limited reserve of spiritual energy – mana – from a fallen archon in the world, Bryce was bonded to an archon in the Astral Plane, and could draw upon its mana at will. He had spent decades strengthening and honing that bond.
The young acolyte before him didn’t stand a chance and fell to the ground, unconscious beside his fallen comrade. Bryce looked around, expecting reinforcements to press down on him, but there was nothing coming. He frowned again.
“What are you about, Mr. Radughi?”
He inspected the monitors that the guards were watching. Several men were down on the floor in various rooms. Then he spotted signs of a struggle on one of the screens. So that’s why no one was left here to stop me. Now, how do I get there? he wondered.
It didn’t take him long to find out. As he walked down the next hall, he heard the scuffle behind the near wall. That wouldn’t stop him. He summoned the energies again to bust through it, sending mortar and stone flying before him. He should have known what he would see when the dust cleared.
The large, blonde man was airborne, hurling through the air horizontally toward a group of guards, twirling as he went. They rained gunfire down on him, but he had summoned invisible fields of energy before him, and their spinning motion deflected the bullets away from him. He bowled into the group, scattering those he touched with his fields, and causing the others to back away defensively.
As soon as he landed, he whirled with frightening speed and released a few small knives into the air. With a hum of pale blue energy, they shattered into several sharp shards of metal that fanned out and pierced the guards. Those that were not struck mortally were sent slumping to the ground, overcome by the energy in the enchanted blades. The blonde man continued his spin, rolling to avoid a hail of bullets from the remaining guards. He grunted in pain as he caught a few, but he never stopped moving.
Then Bryce was on them as well, the tall man leaping into the fray in a single archon-fueled bound. He used no weapons, but his powerful strikes carried superhuman strength and were augmented with tiny, green blasts of archonic energy that threatened to overpower the sense of his adversaries. He punched the first in the face, dropping him instantly, and then kicked another, right into the waiting blade of his newfound ally. The third attempted to take him down, another acolyte that struck with bone-crushing force, but against Bryce’s stone-hard durability, it only made him mad. He gripped the acolyte by the throat, crushing his windpipe and flooding him with the pure force of his green mana. Despite his violent end, the man died happy.
“I was wondering if you’d find out about this place,” Bryce said addressing the other man, who was just striking down the final acolyte with a deft stab of his small knife. The energy of a blue archon did more damage than the blade itself. “But you shouldn’t be here. Reanna needs you.”
“Good to see you, too, Terry,” he said with a fatigued smile. He picked himself up and pulled at his ripped shirt, inspecting himself for any serious wounds. “Still wearing a suit to a fight that costs more than your car, I see.”
“Man’s gotta look good when kickin’ ass, Donny.” Bryce hadn’t changed much since he last saw Don, though his short, black hair had thinned a little, receding from his scalp. He was still tall, dark-skinned even for a black man, and in the best shape of his life thanks to a little magical conditioning. And he always wore his finest suit.
“How’s your boy? Eric, right?” Don asked, taking advantage of the reprieve to catch his breath.
“In Egypt, with his granddad. He’ll learn more there, anyway, and he’s safer, too.” Bryce replied. “So, what’s the story here? Why aren’t you with your wife?”
“You would know if you’re here too. The bastard that attacked Reanna last week is here. I know it. I have to take him down, before he tries for her again,” Don said with firm conviction. “How did you find out?”
“I’ve been tracking him. Picked up his trail over at Harvard University of all places, but no idea what he was doing there. He’s a Romanian named Vincent Radughi, and man, has his family got a past. All the way back the days of Vlad the Impaler. They got a source, Donny, and I think it’s one of the Fallen. A dark archon.”
“Well then, let us go relieve him of his life, but not until I question him first, Terry,” Don warned his old friend.
“Yeah, yeah, no bashing his brains in until we have a word with him – a few words,” Bryce chuckled. “But we gotta be careful with him. He ain’t gonna be no pushover acolyte like these punks. He’s been around the block a few times, and no telling how close he is with the archon.”
They left the room, still on the alert for more guards, or acolytes. They encountered none. When they came to a door at the end of the hall, Bryce smashed it open, and Don tossed a small steel sphere into the room that exploded in a brilliant flash of pale blue light. Then they cautiously entered the room, ready for an attack that never came.
Alone, sitting in a chair at a desk across the room was a hawkish-looking man with a full head of dark hair that appeared to be in his late sixties. He seemed perfectly comfortable in his seat, grinning at them and showing no signs of distress from Don’s archon grenade.
“That him?” Don asked.
“You go low, and I go high?” Don asked.
The two men dashed through the room at the Romanian man, who sprung to his feet with smooth ease that belied his apparent age and launched the desk at them in a single motion. Bryce hit it first, smashing it and barely slowing as Don sailed over the top. Don crashed into the seasoned acolyte first, leading with a large, dagger-sized blade. Bryce was there a split second later, sliding into the fray feet first.
But their worlds exploded in a bright orange flash of light, and they were sent tumbling away. Don crashed into the far wall and thudded to the ground heavily. Bryce rolled into the remnants of the destroyed desk, groaning in pain.
Bryce was able to lift his head up first. “That ain’t no acolyte, is it?” he stated, more than asked.
“It would appear not,” Don grunted, picking himself from the floor.
“I am known here as Vincent Radughi,” the man spoke calmly in a low tone, smiling, “but you may call me Visnau.”
“Well, Visnau,” Bryce said, hopping from foot to foot and shaking off the pain, “I’m about to call you dead.”
“Careful, friend,” Don warned. “We have to be smart about this.” Then he looked at the imposing archon in the form a man before him. “I want to know why you attacked my wife,” he said evenly.
He just grinned evilly back at Don, and Bryce knew there would be no answers given freely from the dark archon. They would have to wrench their answers from him after they pounded him into the ground. A task he knew to be far more difficult than anything he had ever attempted before. But it promised to be fun, and that made all the difference for a man like Bryce, who was fueled by the green mana of pure happiness.
Bryce began to move to the far side of the room so that he and Don could flank the archon. Attacking him from multiple sides might be the only chance they had for victory. Don palmed a few of his special archon grenades as he moved into position. Bryce dashed to the archon. Don released the charged steel orbs.
More than human, Visnau reacted with uncanny speed, swatting the orbs away before they could unleash their torrent of energy. Still, he was caught in the blast of a few flashes and staggered. Unfortunately, Visnau had purposely deflected one of the orbs directly at Bryce. It flashed before his eyes and dropped him to the ground. If he were any less skilled in the use of archonic energy, he would have succumbed to their pacifying effect, but his green mana flared within him and saved him from that fate.
He looked up to see that Don had evaded the blasts and moved in on the archon while he was vulnerable. Bryce struggled in vain to join his friend, but he was still too disoriented from the grenade’s effect. Don attacked Visnau with several slashes of his large knife, cutting the archon grievously – and how he howled in pain! – but he recovered before Don could end him.
He crushed Don’s hand and gripped him by the neck, crushing the life out of him. With his good hand, Don tore at the archon’s grip. It was no use. The archon was far too strong. But with his mangled hand, Don reached toward the empty space beside him.
“This is nothing,” the archon taunted him. “I’ll send you to oblivion, mortal, and there you will know true pain and true craving!”
Abruptly, a soft blue light began to emanate from Don’s outstretched hand. It quickly grew into a brilliant blue sphere that pulsed with the light of a true archon. It flashed in a blast of energy that engulfed the room. Bryce felt the love coming from the light – a healing light that allowed him to regain his feet. He recognized its source.
When the light faded, he scanned the room again. Don knelt on the ground where he had stood a moment before, but he looked refreshed, and his hand was restored. The dark archon, Visnau, lay crumpled on the ground by the far wall. The blue sphere pulsed and hummed in the air.
Visnau raised his head and scowled at the disembodied light archon with a look that somehow expounded both hate and lust. “Rejahn!” he spat the name with venom in his voice and crawled to his feet. He advanced on Don and the blue archon slowly, gauging the light of the other archon, ignoring the human.
“Terry, you with me, brother?” Don called, but never took his eyes off Visnau, twirling his blade in his hand. “We have to support Reanna, let her take his fury and take him down while we distract him.”
“Yeah, I got you, man.” Then he had a thought, Wait, that blue archon is really Reanna!?
The humans let the archons engage each other, blasting each other with storms of orange and blue light. Then Bryce charged Visnau again as Don lanced him with hurled blades. As soon as he came close, Bryce realized the archonic energies would wear him down quickly, but he was determined to do his part. He pounded at Visnau and took the damaging flashes of orange light that lashed out at him in response. It was like hitting an unyielding wall, and he hastily retreated into the healing blue light of Reanna.
Yet they were succeeding. Visnau was staggered. He growled and cursed, but it helped him naught. The blue light penetrated him, and Don’s knives and Bryce’s fists rained down on him. Then he slumped to his knees and let out a furious howl and a final blast of violent orange light.
Bryce and Don were thrown back once again, reeling and disoriented on the floor. Bryce recovered first, still bathed lightly in Reanna’s healing glow. Nonetheless, it took a great effort to shake his head clear and look up. Visnau lay on the floor again, this time unmoving. The blue archon, Reanna, was lashing out in apparent pain and dissipating before his eyes. She faded in a final fragmented flash of energy and was gone.
“What now?” he asked Don. “What the hell just happened?”
Don took a moment to regain his composure before speaking. “She bought us time, but the deed is not finished. We need to contain him. With this.” He held up a crystal prism which seemed to be made of pure blue energy.
He walked to the fallen dark archon and reached forward with the crystal. Bryce watched as a stream of orange mana began to leave the prone human form and enter the crystal prison, but it did not go easily. It fought and lashed out at Don with every pulse that was drawn from the body. Each attack pierced the blonde man deeply.
“What the hell, Donny!? What are you doing!?” Bryce yelled at his friend.
“It’s the only way, Terry,” Don said, grunting through the pain. “I’m sorry. I have to do this. You tell Reanna that she made this possible. Tell her I love her more than anything, and that’s why I need to make her – and the world – safe from this vile bastard.”
Terence Bryce walked up behind his friend, staring at him hard. Then he struck suddenly with a powerful blow of superhuman strength and archonic energy that laid him low. “No Donny, you are too valuable to lose like this. You have a special little girl on the way – a family to take care of now. You make sure my boy knows what kind of daddy he had. You make sure he grows up right.”
Then he picked up the crystal.
Don’s head ached as he awoke, though he was nevertheless content,
having risen from dreams of happiness at the touch of Terry’s green mana. He
summoned his own reserves of mana, touched with the blue light of love.
Reanna’s love. The healing energies restored his awareness fully, and he
remembered what had happened before he was struck down.
“Oh, Terry. What have you done?” he whispered to himself.
He saw his friend lying on the ground not far away and pulled himself to his feet. Upon inspection of Terry’s body, he found that his old friend had in fact passed from the world. It was only a corpse before him. Don knelt down to close Terry’s eyelids and laid a gentle hand on his head, drawing forth some mana to scan for any foreign presence within. When he found none, only burned out residual orange mana from Visnau’s corruption, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“You stupid, noble fool,” he said softly, “though you likely said the same about me before taking my place. I’ll have to pay you back for that one when we meet in the afterlife, my old friend. You will be remembered by those that love you, I promise.”
Then he rose to his feet once more and looked a short distance away to see the crystal he had carried not too long ago. It’s blue structure was intact, though it was filled with swirling, raging orange energy. Don picked it up. The presence within screamed like the wind and rushed the confines of the crystal, but there would be no escape for him.
Don observed the energies within the crystal closely, looking for any sign of green mana or another presence. He found none and breathed another sigh of relief. Terry’s soul was not captured by the dark archon. He had indeed passed to the afterlife freely.
“You will work for me now,” Don promised the trapped archon.
He began gathering his things to leave. Likely, he had time before anyone would come to inspect the building, but there could be a guard or acolyte still hiding around here somewhere. He needed to get the trapped archon somewhere safe before the integrity of its prison failed.
He thought of Reanna. She was probably worried about him by now. He remembered how her specter had faded from Visnau’s assault on her, and he became worried. He ran for the exit and fortunately found no opposition. When he made his car, he first checked the car phone and found three voice messages waiting for him, all from Reanna. He listened to the first.
“Don, I need you. When you are done, come home fast. The archon’s attack induced me. She’s coming now! Get home, soon.”
The remaining messages were inquiries to his silence, and each seemed increasing troubled about his safety. He tore down the street, using his mana to augment his reaction speed and better avoid a collision with another vehicle, though at this time of night there were few other cars on the road.
He dialed the house number on the phone as he drove, hoping Reanna would be there to answer.
“Hello, this the Calvin residence,” he heard a woman’s voice answer.
“Who is this?” he demanded of the voice.
“This is Mrs. Tate, sir. I am one of your wife’s attendants,” the voice responded. “She is in labor, sir, and cannot talk right now. Are you coming home?” He heard the sound of Reanna cry out for him in the background.
“You tell her I’ll be there in an hour,” he said, and hung up the phone. Driving at the speeds he intended to reach would take all of his concentration.
Don arrived at the massive estate that he and his wife shared in just under an hour, as promised. When his car screeched to a halt in front of the enormous mansion within the grounds, he bolted from it and raced for the birthing room they had prepared for Reanna. He found it crowded with several people, including the doctor they had hired along with his nurses and a few personal attendants.
Don pushed through the crowd, shoving the others aside, including the doctor. “Reanna! Are you okay?”
She nodded to him, breathing heavily, but smiling, happily relieved to see him home safely. “Yes, my love. I’m so happy you are here now.”
Her smile and her voice filled him with such warmth that he couldn’t help but to smile back before inspecting her. He saw that she was in heavy labor and far along already, but was using her mana to ease her pain and aid the process.
Don knelt down between her legs, to the protests of the doctor. He used his own mana reserve, which was freely given to him from his wife, to coax the babe from her mother’s womb. It took mere minutes, and soon the baby’s little head could be seen, and then she was free. She cried for a moment, but Don scooped her up in his arms and sheathed her in the loving light of his blue mana, invisible to the other humans around him, but it caused the babe to stop crying and coo in his embrace.
A nurse tried to reach for the baby to clean her and let the doctor inspect her, but Don merely snatched the towel from her and did the deed himself. He knew she was healthy and well.
She was perfect.
“My beautiful baby girl. My little Taylor Calvin. I promise I’ll always be there for you, and you will always know love.”
Then he walked over to the head of the bed and laid the girl in her mother’s waiting arms. They both showered the tiny girl with loving affection. And as Reanna looked upon her daughter, she began to weep with what Don thought were tears of happiness.
Unlike his wife, Donald Calvin never realized that his newborn daughter was missing half her soul.