Twenty-nine years ago…
A light drizzle hit the side of the old, stone building, causing small splashes to burst off its surface. Autumn had come just recently, but the cold moved in quickly this year. A rather tall man in an overcoat, taking shelter in the building’s shadow, hunched closer to the doorway. He didn’t mind being wet, but it allowed the coldness to sink through his jacket. 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.
Terence Bryce looked at the paper he carried, trying to keep it from the rain, and double-checked the address again. He glanced down the street to assure himself he was alone. Fortunately, this was a remote location, and his presence here would likely go unnoticed this late in the night.
“You better had gotten this right, Laramie,” he said to himself.
He checked the handle, finding it locked, and pressed against the doorway. With a small grunt, he pressed harder and was rewarded by the sound of steel rending on the other side. The door buckled and swung open. It clanged hard against the wall, but Terry paid it no heed, rushing through the portal and ducking inside the building. He braced himself, predicting the pelt of gunfire. All that met him was silence.
He looked around to find himself in a small, empty room and frowned. The man he tracked was known to possess expansive resources and at least a little intelligence about him. Surely, he knew Terry was coming for him. Terry removed his coat and crossed the room, easing a door open to find the adjoining hallway also empty, though the lights were lit.
“Well, somebody’s home. You better had gotten this right, Laramie,” he repeated.
He walked down the hall, his hard-soled shoes striking the floor solidly with each step but making not a sound. It was a trick of magic Terry perfected long ago, and he used it well. When he rounded the corner, he caught the first sign he was in the correct place. Two men stood guard over a monitoring screen and spoke in hushed tones, their backs to him.
Terry closed the distance in a dash, impossibly fast, impossibly silent. His hand struck the first guard with powerful force and sent a torrent of invisible energy into him. The guard crumpled to the floor as Terry’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. Terry 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 didn’t last long. Terry had been in the game a long time and developed a reputation for the power which came naturally to him. Unlike an acolyte, who must physically draw a limited reserve of spiritual energy – mana – from a fallen archon in the world, Terry was bonded to an archon in the Astral Plane and could draw upon its mana at will. His might was a testament to the decades spent strengthening and honing that bond.
The young acolyte didn’t stand a chance and fell to the ground, unconscious beside his fallen comrade. Terry looked around, expecting reinforcements to press down on him, but none came. He frowned again.
“What are you about, Mr. Răducan?” He inspected the monitors on the desk. Several men lay on the floor in various rooms, and Terry spotted signs of a struggle on one screen. 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 close in on the fight. As he walked down the next hall, a sounds of a scuffle emanated from behind the near wall. It wouldn’t stop him. He summoned his energies again to bust through, sending mortar and stone flying. He should have guessed what he found when the dust cleared.
A large, blonde man was airborne, hurling through the air horizontally toward a group of guards, twirling as he went. They rained gunfire on him, but he summoned invisible fields of energy before him, and their spinning motion deflected the bullets away. He bowled into the group, scattering those he touched with his fields, and causing the others to back away.
As soon as he landed, he whirled and released a few small knives into the air. With a hum of pale blue energy, they shattered into several jagged shards of metal which fanned out and pierced the guards. Those not struck mortally nevertheless slumped to the ground, overcome by the energy in the enchanted blades. The blonde man continued his spin, dashing to avoid a hail of bullets from the remaining guards. He grunted in pain as a few shots struck him but never stopped moving.
Terry leapt into the fray in a single archon-fueled bound. He wielded no weapons, but his powerful strikes carried tiny, yellow blasts of archonic energy which overpowered the senses of his adversaries. He punched the first in the face, dropping him instantly, and kicked another, right into the waiting blade of his newfound ally. A third attempted to take him down, another acolyte who struck with bone-crushing force, but against Terry’s stone-hardened skin, it only made him angry. He gripped the acolyte by the throat, crushing his windpipe and flooding him with the pure force of his mana. Despite his violent end, the man died happy. Terry looked up in time to see the other man, strike down the final acolyte with a deft stab of his small knife, his mana doing more damage than the blade itself.
“I was wondering if you’d find out about this place,” Terry said, “but you shouldn’t be here. Reanna needs you.” Terry glanced around the room and down the nearby hall to make sure no other guards would disturbed them as they collected themselves.
“Good to see you, too, Terry,” the blonde man said, panting between words. He pulled at his ripped shirt, inspecting himself for 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.” Terry Bryce hadn’t changed much since he last saw Don, though his short, black hair thinned a little over the years, 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 archonic conditioning. And he always wore his finest suit.
“Yeah, sure,” Don said and flushed himself with an unseen power to refresh his stamina. He stood a little straighter, and his breath steadied. The two men walked the hall, lowering their voices, their senses alert.
“So, what’s the story here? Why aren’t you with your wife, Don?”
“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. 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 Vincențiu Răducan, and man, has his family got a past. All the way back to the days of Vlad the Impaler. They got a source, Donny, and I think it’s one of the Fallen. A dire archon.”
“Well then, let’s go relieve him of his life, but not until I question him first, Terry,” Don said.
“Yeah, yeah, no bashing his brains in until we have a word with him – a few words.” Terry 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 stalked the halls, still on the alert for more guards, or mana-empowered acolytes. They encountered none. When they approached a door at the end of a short hall, Terry smashed it open, and Don tossed a small steel sphere into the room which exploded in a brilliant flash of pale blue light. After another moment of silence, they cautiously entered the room, ready for an attack that never came.
Alone, in a chair at a desk across the room sat a hawkish-looking man with a full head of dark hair who 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.
“This ain’t good, Donny. No one in his right mind sits around like a dope while his entourage gets slaughtered around him.” Terry glanced at his friend. “I’m guessing that ain’t gonna stop us, though, right?”
Don shook his head. “That him?”
“You go low, and I go high?”
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. Terry 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. Terry arrived a split second later, sliding into the fray feet first.
Their worlds exploded in a bright green flash of light, and they were sent tumbling away. Don crashed into the far wall and cracked the concrete before thudding to the ground. Terry rolled into the remnants of the destroyed desk, groaning in pain.
Terry lifted his head first. “Looks like we’re the dopes. That ain’t no acolyte, is it?”
“It would appear not.” Don grunted, picking himself up from the floor.
“I am known here as Vincențiu Răducan,” the man spoke in a low tone, smiling, “but you may call me Visnau.”
“Well, Visnau,” Terry said, hopping from foot to foot and shaking off the pain, “I’m about to call you dead.”
“Careful, friend,” Don said. “We have to be smart about this.” He glared at the imposing archon in the form of a man. “I want to know why you attacked my wife.”
Visnau grinned widely back at Don, offering no explanation. They’d have to wrench their answers from him after they pounded him into the ground. A task far more difficult than anything Terry ever attempted before, but it promised to be fun, and that made all the difference for a man like him, who was fueled by mana of pure joy.
He moved to the far side of the room so he and Don could flank the archon. Attacking him from multiple sides might be their only chance. Don palmed a few of his special archon grenades as he moved into position. Terry dashed to the archon. Don released the charged steel orbs.
Visnau reacted with uncanny speed, swatting the orbs away before they could unleash their torrent of energy, though he was still caught in the blast of a few flashes and staggered. Unfortunately, Visnau deflected one of the orbs directly at Terry. It exploded 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 mana flared within him and saved him.
With his superior agility, Don evaded the blasts and moved in on the archon while he was vulnerable. Terry struggled in vain to join his friend, yet he was 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 grabbed him by the neck, squeezing the life from him. With his good hand, Don tore at the archon’s grip. It was no use. The archon was far too strong. With his mangled hand, Don reached toward the empty space beside him.
“This is nothing,” the archon said. “I’ll send you to oblivion, mortal, and there you will know the pain of true craving!”
A soft blue light began to emanate from Don’s outstretched hand, where it quickly grew into a brilliant blue sphere, pulsing with the light of a high archon. It flashed with a blast of energy that engulfed the room. Terry felt the love coming from the light – a healing light which allowed him to regain his feet – and recognized its source for he felt it once before.
When the light faded, he scanned the room again. Don knelt on the ground where he stood a moment before but looked refreshed, and his hand restored. The blue sphere pulsed and hummed in the air. The dire archon, Visnau, lay crumpled on the ground by the far wall. He raised his head and scowled at the disembodied spirit 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 sphere slowly, gauging the light of the other archon, ignoring the humans.
“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.” he said, and thought, Wait, that blue archon is really Reanna?! Did Don call her here, somehow?
The humans let the archons engage each other, blasting each other with storms of green and blue light. Then Terry charged Visnau again as Don lanced him with hurled blades. As soon as he came close, Terry realized the archon’s aura would wear him down quickly, though he was determined to do his part. He pounded at Visnau and took the damaging waves of invisible energy that lashed out at him in response. It was like hitting an unyielding wall, and he was forced to retreat into the healing blue light of Reanna.
Visnau was more vicious and destructive an opponent than Terry ever faced, yet they were succeeding. Visnau staggered. He growled and cursed, but it helped him naught. The blue light penetrated him, and Don’s knives and Terry’s fists rained down on him. Finally, he slumped to his knees.
Terry grinned as he continued his assault, until he finally broke the dire archon’s skin. All he saw beneath was a flickering light without substance.
“No!” he whispered.
Before he could react, the image of the archon shattered, knocking him back a few paces. A flash of green light appeared from empty space and pierced Don in the gut, suspending him in the air. Visnau came into view, his hand impaling Terry’s friend. Terry dashed ahead, knowing he would not arrive in time. He didn’t care. He must try. With an otherworldly shriek, a blue beam of light beat him to it, cascading over both man and archon.
Visnau let out a furious howl and a brilliant blast of violent green light which sent Terry reeling and disoriented on the floor. Still bathed in Reanna’s healing glow, he managed to recover, though it took great effort to shake his head clear. Visnau lay on the floor again, this time unmoving. The blue archon, Reanna, thrashed in apparent pain and dissipated before his eyes. She faded in a final fragmented flash of energy and was gone.
Terry scanned the room to find Don in the corner, his chest heaving in heavy gasps and coughing blood. Terry raced over, skidding to the floor beside Don. He pressed his hands to his wound, mana flowing from his touch. The wound closed, but it was more than skin deep.
“Donny! I’m sorry, man. I can’t heal it inside. It’s too much!”
Don tried to speak but only hacked up more blood. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small blue crystal. His eyes focused on the downed archon. Terry looked behind him to see a faint wisp of green light rising from the body.
“Seal him… before he… escapes. Or…” Don coughed splattering Terry with blood. “We all… die.”
“No, man, not me. I can’t.” Terry said. He grimaced and closed his eyes for a moment. “Reanna told me something she didn’t want you to know. Your little girl is gonna be something special, something far more important than any of us could ever be in our whole lives, and she’s gonna need you. You gotta do this, but you gotta do something for me, first.” As he spoke, he flooded Don with more of his mana – too much. “My boy, Eric, is in Egypt with his granddad. You gotta promise me he’ll know what kind of daddy he had. You make sure he grows up right.”
It was the last thing he said. With the last of his energy, he sent his very life force into his mortally injured friend – to pass on his vitality. There was no other way. The world grew dim around him, sounds faded, and then there was nothing.
Don’s whole body ached as the world came back into focus, though he was nevertheless content, having risen from the touch of joy within Terry’s mana. He summoned his own reserves of mana, filled with a sensation of love. Reanna’s love. The healing energies restored his awareness, and he remembered.
“Oh, Terry. What have you done?” he whispered.
His friend lay on the ground next to him. Upon inspection of Terry’s body, he confirmed his old friend passed from the world. This was only a corpse. Don closed Terry’s eyelids and laid a gentle hand on his head.
“You stupid, noble fool,” he said, “though you likely said the same about me before taking my place. I’ll have to pay you back when we meet in the afterlife, my old friend. You will be remembered by those who love you, I promise.”
Don struggled to his feet and surveyed the room. A short distance away, Visnau’s spirit rose from his body, flashing and gaining strength. Don scooped up the blue crystal Reanna had given him and dashed to the dire archon. As he reached for the disembodied green light with the crystal in hand, a stream of mana drew from the spirit into the crystal prison, but it did not go easily. It fought and lashed out at Don with every pulse of energy drawn from the archonic spirit. Each attack pierced the blonde man. He gritted his teeth and held on. If he failed here, Visnau would break free and end him. He would go for Reanna again. The thought galvanized his resolve.
You’ll never touch her again!
With a final cry, the archon’s soul was pulled fully within the crystal and sealed. The torrent of energy ended. Don examined the crystal. It’s blue structure was intact and filled with swirling, raging green energy. The presence within screamed like the wind and rushed the confines of the crystal yet there would be no escape for him.
“You will work for me now,” Don promised the trapped archon.
He gathered his things, not wanting to tarry longer. The crystal needed to be stored somewhere safe before the integrity of its prison failed. Don thought again of Reanna. He remembered how her specter faded from Visnau’s assault on her, unsure of her fate, as she probably worried about him. He picked up Terry’s body and slung it over his shoulder, using a bit of mana to lighten the burden, and ran for the exit. 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, you better be alive! I need you. The archon’s attack induced me. She’s coming now! Get home soon.”
The remaining messages were inquiries to his silence, each increasingly troubled over his safety. He tore down the street, using his mana to augment his reaction speed and better avoid collisions with other vehicles, though few other cars occupied the road this time of night. He dialed the house number on the phone as he drove, hoping to hear Reanna’s voice.
“Hello, this is the Calvin residence,” a woman answered.
“Who is this?” he demanded.
“This is Mrs. Tate, sir. I am one of your wife’s attendants. She’s in labor, sir, and cannot talk right now. Are you coming home?”
Reanna cried out for him in the background.
“You tell her I’ll be there in an hour.” He hung up the phone. Driving these speeds would require all his concentration.
Don arrived at the massive estate 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. He found it crowded with several people, including the doctor 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, relieved to see him home safe. “Yes, my love. I’m so happy you’re here now.”
Her smile and voice filled him with such warmth he couldn’t help but to smile back before inspecting her. She panted in heavy labor, but used her mana to ease her pain and aid the process. Much of her power directed inward, however, to the baby girl within her. Reanna’s love for their child was so profound, so deep, she filled the child with the power of love to her own discomfort – or so Don believed.
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. Then she was free. She cried for a moment until Don scooped her up in his arms and sheathed her in the soft bluish light of his mana, invisible to the other humans around him. 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 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.”
He walked 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 his newborn daughter was missing half her soul.