This is the third book in the Third Company series.

Chapter One

A Wedding and a Mission

I walked along the sidewalk, breathing in the crisp late summer air. I wanted to take advantage of the good weather while it lasted. That was why I had chosen to walk rather than drive. I had plenty of time.

I turned a corner and my ears pricked up to the sound of fist on flesh, a noise I recognized all too well. I rushed over to where the sound was coming, a side alley between a liquor store and a pharmacy. There I found two men beating up another guy. The guy called for help. I looked down at myself. I was wearing a white button down shirt with a gray pinstriped jacket and matching slacks. My shoes were black leather Kenneth Cole, and expensive. The last thing I needed was to be getting into a fight in the best clothing I owned. The man cried out again. I gave a sigh and ran over to them as I muttered, "Why me?"

I reached the three just as the guy getting beaten on fell to the ground. "Hey!" I shouted. "Leave him alone!" Maybe words would be enough.

"Who the hell are you?" demanded one of the attackers, a short, buff teenager with a tattoo on his neck. "Get outta here!"

"I think maybe you're the ones who should leave. I'm calling the police." I reached into my pocket for my cell phone. Before I could get it, the second attacker, a taller version of the other, came at me, suddenly producing a short but still deadly knife from his pants.

I dodged out of the way of his arm, which swung towards me in a haphazard manner. I swung my elbow back as he lunged past me, hitting him right between the shoulder blades. He fell forward onto the ground. I sensed the other attacker coming at me from behind and ducked, swinging my leg out to trip him. He fell backwards onto the ground and I stood, looking down at both of them. "Are we finished?" I asked impatiently. I had places to be.

But sadly, it appeared we were not finished. Both attackers got up at the same time and came at me in unison. It was a good strategy. It would give them a better chance of taking an opponent down if they overwhelmed him by attacking at the same time. Unfortunately for them, I wasn't just any opponent. I grabbed the arm with the knife first and squeezed the wrist while at the same time placing a kick into the other attacker's stomach. He went flying back, hitting the brick wall behind him and falling into a slump on the ground.

The other struggled, tried to swing at me, but I grabbed his other hand too. I watched his feet for any attacks as I applied more pressure onto his wrist. He cried out in pain as I heard the crunch of bone, and the knife dropped to the floor. I kicked it away and pushed the guy, he flew back and fell to the ground. He nursed his wrist, which was probably broken.

I turned around just in time to find the other attacker had gotten up, and he had gotten a hold of the knife. I gave a sigh of frustration as I was forced to throw myself backwards to avoid the knife as he stabbed it towards my neck. I lost my balance, something that rarely ever happened to me, and I stumbled back, hitting the wall. I pushed myself back up, but the attacker was already swinging his fist my way, and I wasn't in the right stance to dodge it. He hit my mouth and my face turned, but my body stayed in position.

Now I was angry. I swung my fist, hard and low, hitting the guy square in the stomach from below. He flew, literally flew up, several feet and back, landing on the floor with a thud. I knew he was pretty much out for the count. I looked over at the guy with the broken wrist. He was staring at me in shock, and he quickly scrambled to his feet and ran. I guessed he was the smarter of the two.

I went over to the victim, who had just started to sit up. I reached my hand down to the wounded man and helped him up. "Did they take anything of yours?" I asked.

"No, no. I hadn't handed it over yet," he said as he stood and wiped the blood that was dribbling from his nose.

"Would you like me to call an ambulance?"

"No, I'm okay. A little bruised up, but fine. Thank you. Thank you so much."

I shrugged. "No big deal. But I gotta go." I did have somewhere to be, and if I stuck around, the guy would probably start to ask questions, like why I had been able to throw a man through the air with my punch. "You sure you're okay?"

"Yes, yes, I'm okay. Thank you. Please, is there anything I can do for you?"

"Don't worry about it," I said with the wave of my hand. I jogged over to the sidewalk. "Have a nice day," I called behind me as I ran out of sight. I hurried over to another street and ran for a few minutes, until I was sure no one would be following behind me.

Only then did I realize that I was bleeding where the one attacker had hit me. He had split my lip and my mouth was bleeding onto the collar of my freshly pressed white shirt. I gave a grunt of frustration as I found the nearest gas station and went into the bathroom. I took off my jacket and hung it off the hooks on one of the stall doors. Then I unbuttoned my shirt and washed the collar under hot water, trying to get rid of as much of the blood as I could. I couldn't get rid of the stain all the way, but I did manage to was away most of it. I then focused on my face, washing the blood off my chin and neck and wiping my mouth clean. The bleeding had stopped, and my lip was only a little puffed up. Looking at myself in the mirror, I saw that my brown hair, normally in a state of arranged chaos around my head, was completely disheveled and sticking out in all directions. I ran some water through it, trying to calm it down as best as I could. Then I got dressed again and left the bathroom, hoping that I looked presentable enough.

With all of the delays, I made it to the church with barely enough time to spare. I went to the nearest seat in the back and had only been sitting for a minute when the music began to play, and everyone stood. I watched as the bridesmaids and groomsmen came in in pairs. I didn't know any of them very well, although I could name them all.

Next came the bride, accompanied by her father. The bride was Iolani Pierce, or Lani as we all knew her. She was a good friend of mine. She looked beautiful in her white dress, simple, but elegant. She never had to try hard to be pretty. She was a natural beauty, with shining red hair that cascaded down around her shoulders and back, bright green eyes that seemed to stare into your soul when you looked at you, and a face that seemed to be cut straight out of a magazine. On top of that, her figure was more than alluring. Her husband was a lucky man.

Lani was marrying Nikolaas Kesari. The wedding all seemed very standard and normal, but I knew it was anything but. Nikolaas Kesari was the head of a vampire clan, and had, until recently, been one of our greatest enemies. He was now an ally. Lani had made it so by marrying him after being turned into a vampire herself. They were already married under vampire law. They were now just making it official under human law. I looked over at him, standing at the front of the church. His eyes were riveted on Lani's, a small smile tugging the corners of his lips. He looked classy in an expensive black tux that constrasted greatly with his pale skin and deep blue eyes, but matched his jet black hair. He had an air of power around him. His presence seemed to radiate out, filling the room with his very essence.

I looked around the room, counting the vampires that were present. Lani had kept the invitation list as short as possible concerning the vampires. The humans didn't know what they were. Well, at least, most of the humans didn't. The exceptions were me and my friends, or rather, my squad mates.

My squad mates consisted of Lani, Orion, Randi, and Leo. Together, we made up Third Company. It was a division made up only of our squad. We worked for a company called Animagia. It was a military organization that took on the task of fighting all the evils of the world that most people didn't even know about. This included demons, vampires, werewolves, black magic, and any other sort of evil-doing. A large part of Animagia was made up of people like me, agents or Animages blessed with the powers and abilities of one animal.

Lani, Randi, Leo, and I were the youngest Animages in all of Animagia history. I had been coronated at the age of twelve. I remembered the day vividly. I had been walking home from a friend's house when right there, in the middle of the subdivision I lived in, I had turned a corner and found myself face to face with a silverback gorilla. I had nearly wet myself, but my fear was short-lived. I soon felt a sense of calm and warmth as the gorilla began to glow. I reached out my hand, and he reached out his. My palm was tiny compared to his, and I felt an electric shock as they touched. A feeling of power and strength had overwhelmed me for several seconds, and then it was over just as soon as it had started. I opened my eyes and the gorilla was gone. I continued my walk home, in a sort of trance. But Animagia workers intercepted me, and they took me to headquarters to explain what had happened to me.

Being gifted with the power of a gorilla was an amazing gift. But it came at a price. My entire life had been decided for me in that moment. I didn't have a choice anymore. I was called to help people, to help save the world and fight evil, and I couldn't turn away. I had a duty now, and that came before everything else in my life. I didn't hate the job, but it did involve some heavy sacrifices.

Before I realized it, the ceremony was almost over. Lani and Nikolaas said their "I Do's." They kissed, everyone stood and cheered. They filed out of the church, the crowd of guests following closely behind.

"Han, where were you?" I heard Randi's voice from behind me as she touched my shoulder to get my attention.

I turned to face her. I was caught a bit off-guard by the fact that she was wearing a dress. She never wore dresses or skirts willingly. I supposed she felt that she had to today. The dress was colorful and fit her well, and made me think that she couldn't have picked it out herself. She looked good. Her dark hair was pulled up in a classy bun. With heels on she stood several inches taller, reaching just below my chin. Randi wasn't beautiful in the way Lani was, but she was still attractive. Her looks were harsher than Lani's, but striking all the same. If I didn't know her so well, I'd probably be both intimidated by her and drawn to her at the same time. Her brown eyes could go from inviting to accusing in no time at all.

"Well?" Randi asked impatiently.

"I was here."

"We were supposed to meet in front of the church fifteen minutes before the ceremony. You didn't show. And what happened to your lip?"

"I just got into a little spot of trouble on the way here, that's all."

"What was it? Something serious?"

"No, just your run-of-the-mill mugging. But one of the guys managed to land a punch."

Randi's mouth opened in mock shock. "Landed a punch? On you? Never!"

I gave her a push and she stumbled towards the curb with a laugh, coming right back to my side a moment later. I glanced down at her. She had been doing a lot better lately. She had lost her family in a horrific attack at the beginning of the year, and for a while it had been hard to get her to smile or laugh with any sincerity. But she seemed more at ease lately, more willing to enjoy her life. I was grateful for that.

Randi and I had been best friends since we were little. We both had our coronations on the same day. They told us that it almost never happened that two people who knew each other so well both got involved with Animagia, let alone on the same day. It was an amazing coincidence. Our lives had changed a lot in the last six years, but we were still best friends.

"Hey guys," Orion said as he caught up to us and began walking next to Randi. "Where is this reception at again?"

Orion was our squad leader. He wasn't an Animage. I still wasn't sure of how he had even gotten involved with Animagia. He seemed to have super human skills, but he wasn't gifted like we were. It was strange, but he seemed like a private guy, so I didn't ask a lot of questions. Orion was just an inch or two shorter than my six feet. He had dark brown hair and eyes, and seemed to have a studious air about him. He was strong and graceful, and had proven a great squad leader, even though he was only twenty-seven.

"It's just a few blocks away," Randi said.

We walked on, chatting amicably about nothing in particular. We reached the reception hall and I immediately headed towards the plates of hors d'oeuvres. All the fighting had made me hungry. I was there for a few minutes when Leo approached me. "What's up?" he asked casually as he reached for a piece of fruit.

"Not much," I said between bites of food.

Leo was the member of the group that I was least close to. I would consider us friends, especially after all that we had been through together, but he always seemed to have his guard up. He never really let any of us in. I didn't really mind it. It was his business anyway. He was just as tall as me, with sharp brown eyes and a stronger build. His dark brown hair was a bit shorter than mine, since he had just cut it short and was now in the process of growing it out. Lani and Randi informed me that he was good looking. Actually, the word they used was "hot." I guessed he had that rugged, manly look going for him.

"Not much, huh?" Leo asked with a half-smile. "Is that lipstick on your collar?"

I laughed. "Yeah, I wish. No, it's actually blood. From this." I pointed to my lip.

"Hm. Too bad. I thought you had finally gotten some action."

"Must you say it like that?" I said with a laugh. Leo was always giving me grief for the fact that I never dated. I had tried it a few times before, when I was beginning high school, but with Animagia, it had just been too much. And I just wasn't the kind of guy who could date casually, like Leo. I was more of a relationship person.

"You know, weddings are a great place to meet women. I'm just saying."

"Duly noted. Come on, let's go find our seats."

"Congratulations," I said as I approached Lani. The dinner was over, and now people were mingling and dancing. Nikolaas was currently dancing with his sister, leaving Lani, for the first time that evening, unattended.

Lani smiled at me. "Thanks."

"I'm glad you finally got your parents on board." Lani's parents had practically disowned her when she had told them she was going to drop out of school and get married. Over the past few months, she had been contacting them again and trying to work things out. They were at the wedding, so I assumed that she had had some success.

"Yeah, well, it wasn't easy. I told them I was able to get my diploma and was looking into community colleges."

"Is that true?"

"No, not at all. But they don't need to know that."

I was in a similar situation. My parents thought that I would be leaving in a week to go to a school about four hours away. I was actually just going to get an apartment in the city and work for Animagia full time.

"It took a while," Lani continued about her parents. "They're still a bit uncomfortable about things, I know. But they're trying to be supportive and move on."

"Well, it probably helps that they can see you're doing so well."

Lani nodded, a smile on her face. She looked out at the dance floor and I could see her eyes following Nikolaas.

"You love him, don't you?"

Lani snapped her head to look at me, startled. "What?" she asked, her eyes widening.

"You're in love with him," I repeated.

"What? I'm…how…." She took a breath and lowered her voice. "How did you know?"

I shrugged. "I know you well enough to tell. You're happy with him. And I'm happy for you."

"You can't tell anyone in Animagia," Lani whispered to me. "They still think this is a business deal, an alliance. And it is. But…there's more to it now. I don't want to anger the higher ups any more than I have. They still have their prejudices against the clan, and Nikolaas especially."

I gave a nod. "Your secret's safe with me. And it looks like Leo's doing better with the whole situation." I nodded to where he was currently talking to one of Lani's vampire guards, an attractive woman named Teresa. Leo had been the most against Lani's arrangement, and it had taken him a while to come to terms with the fact that what was once one of our greatest enemies was now our ally. But, Leo had a tactical mind, and he knew that it was good for the company. So, after his initial negativity, he was able to accept things.

Lani laughed. "I can't believe him. After all the crap he gave me. If he hooks up with her he's never going to hear the end of it from me."

Nikolaas had finished his dance and came to us, wrapping an arm around Lani's waist and smiling at her. He gave her a kiss and then turned to me. "Hello, Han."

I repeated my congratulations and excused myself, heading over to the bar. I asked for whatever was on tap. The bartender handed me the beer and I sat on a nearby stool, watching the festivities. A few minutes had passed when a fellow Animage approached me. We had done a few missions with his squad and we got along with him well, since he was around the same age as us. His name was Ryan.

"Hey, Man," Ryan greeted as he took a seat next to me, leaning his elbows back on the counter behind us.

"Hey. What's going on?"

"Not much. Enjoying the party."

"Got any good work lately?" I asked. Ryan had just graduated high school as well, and was also beginning to work for Animagia full time.

"Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that."

I turned in my stool so that I was facing him. "What's up?"

"I accepted this job from Animagia a couple days ago. It's pretty easy, but requires some time."

"Okay. What's that got to do with me?"

"Well, you see, the head of the Asari clan just got into contact with me for another job that would have me out of the country for the next few weeks. They're paying pretty well, and I really want to take it…."

I nodded slowly, understanding where he was going. "So you want me to take the Animagia job for you?"

"They wouldn't accept just anyone for the job. They asked me because they know I'm sociable and get along well with people. That's the kind of person they need. So I thought you'd be perfect for the job."

"What is it, exactly?"

Ryan turned in his stool and leaned forward, lowering his voice so that we wouldn't be overheard. "An espionage mission of sorts. Apparently there was a significant peak in the magic waves a week ago." At headquarters, Animagia monitored the level of magic in the region constantly, so that they could tell if anything suspicious was going on. It also helped us locate problem areas. "They traced it back to this girl and her mother. They just moved here I guess. She's about to start school at Central High. Animagia looked into them, but they seem completely normal. They can't figure out why the spike traced back to them. Also, upon asking around, it seems that Animagia isn't the only group interested in this family."

"So what exactly is it that they want?"

"They want someone to enroll in Central High, get close to the girl, and figure out what they're hiding."

"That seems dangerous if magic's involved."

Ryan shrugged. "Since when is our job ever safe? I guess they suspect that these people know nothing about Animagia, so as long as you can maintain your cover, they'll never peg you as a threat. They don't want to use brute force, because they're unsure of whether this girl and her mom are good or bad, or if they even know anything at all. Also, they don't really want their interest in the situation to be known, what with the other parties that seem to know about it."

"What other parties are we talking about here?" I asked suspiciously. If it were allies of ours, or harmless groups, then that would be one thing. However, Animagia had a lot of enemies as well.

"They didn't say. But, I can't imagine it's anything too bad, or else they wouldn't ask us to do this."

"How much are they paying?"

Ryan cringed dramatically, as if he had been dreading the question. "Just an extra hundred per paycheck."

I rolled my eyes at him. Of course he would save that information for last.

"But after I complete the job for the Asari clan I can throw an extra thousand your way."

I thought for a moment. I didn't really have any other jobs lined up, and this sounded easy enough. "Make it two thousand and we have a deal."

Ryan smiled and held out his hand. I shook it, and he told me that Animagia would be in contact with me about the job. Then he left to go mingle with the others, and I was left at the bar to wonder about what exactly I was getting myself into.

All right, so obviously this book is following Han's perspective. Let me know what you guys think so far. I'm a little nervous about righting first-person from a guy's perspective. I've never really tried it, at least not to this extent before, so if anyone has any critique or comments on that, it would be really helpful. Of course any other comments are welcome as well. Thanks for reading!