Dawn was barely lighting the land outside, giving it an otherworldly, quiet sense of solitude belied by the buildings standing stoically side by side along the street around her. The street lights were still lit but their luminescence only made the early morning scene more eerie as the thick fog which clung so closely, dampened and smothered everything it touched, ghosting trees and buildings alike in its thick shroud.
But this was when Nadia liked to come out here. She was enchanted, almost mesmerised by what she saw.
A gentle early morning breeze caught the loose strands of Nadia's shoulder length, glossy dark brown hair, wafting them about her chilled face. It wasn't yet winter but that didn't mean much. Winter always came early here in the Ukraine.
Swinging open the door, Gustav quietly stood in the opening, leaning against the frame. He stared down at Nadia, a sombre, implacable expression with a slight smile, as he watched his daughter's fascination with the world around her.
"It's beautiful. I never knew the world looked like this." Nadia said almost reverently, her voice quiet as though afraid to disturb the peace that surrounded them.
"What's it like, seeing things on the astral level?" her father asked.
"It's…um. It's…." Nadia thought about it for a moment. "I guess it's a bit like being long sighted and you can't see things clearly close up without glasses. Imagine you have something on your shoulder, you know it's there but its blurry and you can't make out what it is, but if you stand in front of a mirror and look at it again through your reflexion, it becomes clear because your looking at it from a distance. It's a bit like that. I can't see things directly in a physical sense any more, but looking indirectly, I seem to see things more clearly than ever before. I don't see things in a flat two dimensional view like on a television screen, or in a normal 3D view either. Everything has more depth than it did before, I don't just see the outside of something, I can see through it."
Nadia chewed her bottom lip and her brow scrunched in contemplation for another moment as she thought on how to put it into a perspective her father could understand. If he had have asked her the same question just over a week ago she would have told him to go ask her sister, Paige. But then, just over a week ago she was still only a Lycan Druid with no special ability other than to read and speak any known language.
Of course that was how her life came to be changed so dramatically. Thinking she was helping to save her best friend's life, Philippe, or Pan as most people knew him, she read from the evil sorceress Morganna's grimoire, which of course led to her blindness, death, and her resurrection. The last part was thanks to her sister Paige, making her an Ei'Ambriath, a Spirit Walker, like herself. What that entails exactly, Nadia was still trying to figure that out. One thing she knew for certain though, her normal eyesight was gone forever. Now, she looked at the world through new eyes.
"Sort of," she answered. "Depending on how much I concentrate, I can see the different layers that makes up all the natural elements in the world. The more complex something is the more layers it has, and each layer has its own set of colours and wave forms. Rocks for instance, only have one layer of energy. Plants have two. Animals have four and people have seven. All the colours swirl together but if I concentrate I can see each layer individually, like peeling away the layers of an onion."
Awe transformed Gustav's face in wonder of his daughter's new view of the world.
"Is this how Paige sees the world too?" he asked.
"I suppose so. But I think it's different for her, she only looks at the astral world if she wants to. I have no other option. This is the world I live in now," she sighed. As much as this new sight fascinated her, she did miss seeing the world in the way she used to.
Nadia's silvery grey eyes fringed with long dark lashes narrowed as she studied the changing landscape in more depth.
A dead pigeon on the pavement, a carbon based inanimate object, no longer radiated the beautiful colours of its living aura. Now it appeared to her as dull brown, no more interesting than the pavement it lay upon.
It hadn't taken her long to learn that while some things had become infinitely more defined with her new sight, some things in the physical world were no longer visible to her at all.
She could see the puddle on the road, but not the reflection of the street lights in it. Some man made synthetic objects too had become invisible to her, like plastic and nylon. And didn't that just suck. She was living in an age where almost everything being made was either completely synthetic or had synthetic components. Looking at a plastic manikin in a shop window for instance, all she saw were floating clothes. Very creepy.
"Come on inside. Cook's almost got breakfast ready." He told her. Wrapping his arm about her shoulders, Gustav guided his daughter back into the warmth. As the door opened, the stinky smell of wet earth and street garbage, gave way to the seductive aroma of frying bacon and freshly brewed coffee inside her father's Restaurant, and her stomach gave a loud rumble.
She'd always wondered if scents had colours. Now she knew. They did, and the familiar aroma lit up the air around them like a beacon. It was just another fascination she had come to appreciate.
Despite the chill and the enticement of fresh coffee, Nadia was loathe to enter the building she'd called home for most of her life. As she stood on the frosty pavement she realised it didn't feel like her home any more. Too much had happened. Too much had changed. She had changed.
It felt so odd that in such a short space of time everything that was once so familiar to her, now felt so foreign. Memories from her youth, even from last week, they all felt like they were someone else's. She felt so distant and detached from everything.
Nadia shivered. The longer she stood there, the more intense the chill seemed to bite at her. First through her jacket, then her clothes and finally her skin. It was comforting in a strange kind of way, it reminded her that she was in fact still alive, and for that she was grateful.
"Come on." Gustav encouraged gently, holding to door open for her. "I need to talk to you and you sister and I'd rather do it inside where it's a bit warmer."
"Oh, what about?" she asked.
"Yeah dad, what about?" Elise asked as she climbed the last few steps to stand beside him in the doorway.
Gustav looked between his youngest two daughters with pride, a small smile quirking up one side of his thinned lips. His daughters had him wrapped about their little fingers and he knew it, but he had to at least try to pretend otherwise. Deliberately, he etched a stern line between his brow and motioned with his hand and a quick jerk of his head for the two girls to follow him inside.
The Bunker Restaurant, a.k.a. home, was in fact an old WWII bunker which had been converted into a restaurant complete with WWII memorabilia. Everything from a wax figure of a WWII soldier near the restaurant's entrance, a novelty which appealed to guests. There were also gas masks, medals, old guns and even a hand grenade or two. Some artefacts you could touch and others were kept under glass. It was very popular with tourists.
The grey stone walls and domed ceiling remained in their original rustic condition. The only part of the restaurant's interior not original was the floor which had been updated from cobble stones to a flat slate floor for public liability reasons. The authenticity of the restaurant's appeal was capped off with the original light fittings and dodgy flickering lights. That had less to do with the old fixtures and more to do with the Ukranian power grid being a little fickle at times.
However, in the level below the restaurant, there was no such power problem. A high tech generator maintained constant power to Gustav's family's residence and to the holding cells and training centre beneath. While the restaurant was a legitimate business, it was also a cover for their primary concern. The Alliance's Baltic and Northern European Regional Headquarters, of which Gustav was the leader.
Nadia and Elise took a seat at a table at the rear of the restaurant opposite their father. The stronger scent of bacon and fresh coffee was making Nadia's stomach rumble loudly.
"I'm heading back to England this afternoon. There's a meeting at the Club tonight." Gustav told them.
"Is it about Nicholas, have they found the son of a bitch?" Elise bit out.
Gustav glared at his youngest daughter with a disapproving eye for her choice of language. Although the words he'd choose to describe the psychopathic Vampire were much more colourful and would have him putting a pocket full of dollars into the swear jar, if he chose to express his thoughts, which he didn't. Gustav's gaze quickly shifted from Elise to Nadia, his keen eye watching her intently for her reaction. "Yes. And, no."
Nadia's expression didn't change, she remained impassive to the news. Relief suffused Gustav's features and his expression softened. He'd been worried that after what Nadia had been through because of Nicholas, just bringing up his name might be upsetting for her. He was pleased to see he was wrong.
"We're coming with you." Nadia told him quickly.
"To the Manor, sure. But not to the club," he told her firmly.
"Of course we're coming to the club. It's their big re-opening since Cassie accidently blew up the dance floor a couple of weeks ago. The place is going to be pumping." Nadia told him, blowing off his concern with her blasé attitude.
"And if there's a meeting about Nicholas, Pan will be there. Sorry, we can't call him that any more can we. Philippe will be there and that's the real reason you want to go, admit it." Elise smirked at her sister.
Nadia didn't bother to answer that question, they all knew it was true. But why wouldn't she want to see him? After all, she was probably the only person who hadn't seen him since his transition. Sure, she'd spoken to him everyday on the phone but that wasn't the same as seeing him face to face.
"Do you think that's wise? You're still trying to find your bearings." Gustav said.
"Dad, stop fussing. I'm not a kid anymore. I'll be fine. Besides, if I go to the club it's not like I can escape the family fussing over me now can I? I'll not only have you and Elise there but all my other sisters, their husbands and all our friends." She blew out a frustrated sigh and slumped back into her chair. "On second thoughts I might just stay here, it will be more peaceful and I'll be less likely to want to kill any of you for being overprotective."
Gustav and Elise both laughed.
"I might stay here with you." Elise said.
The bell in the kitchen rang, the jovial tinkle notifying them that their breakfast was ready.
"I'll get it." Gustav grouched, looking between his daughters again who looked like they were ready to argue over whose turn it was to fetch the food. Anybody would think they were expected to make the breakfast, not just collect it from the cook.
Gustav slid from his seat with another grumble, the thud of his heavy boots on slate in the quiet restaurant giving him a formidable presence. And for most, his presence was just that – formidable. More than one man had cringed at the sight of him. Sadly, his large, heavily muscled and imposing stature had little effect on his daughters, other than to make them roll their eyes at his stern scowls and dangerous growls. And he'd been blessed with five of them, each one as strong willed and independent as the other. It was enough to make an overprotective father want to cry.
A minute later, Gustav returned to the table with plates of bacon and eggs, freshly baked bread and a pot of coffee. Placing them on the table, he was just about to take a seat with the girls once again when his phone buzzed in his jacket pocket. Pulling it free, his face hardened with a frown.
"I have to take this. You girls decide what you're doing. I'm leaving here at midday. Sharp. Gwynn ap Nudd is meeting us in the Golosiyivsky Forest with a couple of the other Nephilim high council."
Nadia and Elise both raised their eyebrows at their father who'd obviously told them all he planned to as he walk away to answer the call. This meeting tonight really was a big deal. More than just Nicholas was going to be discussed, of that they were sure. Nadia was even more determined now to be there. Elise on the other hand still looked undecided.
Elise moved to the other side of the table, taking her father's vacant seat, to sit opposite her sister.
"Admit it, your main reason for going to the club is to see Pan?" she grinned, reiterating her previous rhetorical comment.
"Of course it is, and what's wrong with that? He is my best friend." Nadia retorted haughtily.
"I remember a time when you used to say I was your best friend." Elise teased, but a hollow kind of sadness lingered in her voice.
"We still are. Of all our sisters you're still the one I come to talk to about my problems. But you know we both changed after Morganna kidnapped and tortured you, and I had to read her damned book so Teagan, Paige and Kaitlyn could defeat the witch and rescue you."
Both girls dropped their gaze uncomfortably to their plates of food which suddenly neither one had an appetite for. The memory of that time was still so fresh. For both of them.
That had been the first time Nadia had read from Morganna's grimoire. No one could have predicted the repercussions of something so innocent but the consequences were severe. At least for Nadia. From that day forward she suffered debilitating headaches for days at a time, and slowly her eye sight had deteriorated until she needed glasses permanently. But that wasn't the worst of it. The cursed book called to her night and day, drawing her back to its pages, tempting her with its evil power. She would have given in to that temptation too, if it hadn't been for Pan. He was always there for her, acting as her self appointed EBA (Evil Books Anonymous) sponsor.
So naturally Pan became her beast friend. They shared everything with each other, all their hopes and dreams, and their deepest, darkest secrets and fears. Or, at least she had. It seemed Pan had kept his darkest secret to himself. She couldn't blame him though, admitting that his brother was a psychopathic serial killer was a tough confession to make.
As for Elise becoming down graded to her 'favourite' sister, that hadn't entirely been Nadia's fault. After Elise's kidnapping she'd changed too. She was no longer the happy-go-lucky teenager without a care in the world. Elise became reserved and withdrawn. She spent her spare time learning to protect herself both physically and mentally from anything similar happening to her again. And, she cut herself off emotionally from the one person who had meant the most to her since she was twelve years old. Callum.
Unfortunately for Callum, it had taken him until the moment he pulled Elise from that dank cell to realise his own feelings for her.
"I'm jealous of you, you know." Elise said, breaking the silence.
"I liked it when we were the same, just two normal Lycan Druids. Mortal. You're like all our other sisters now. Teagan is the most powerful Druid on the planet and a true immortal, Kaitlyn is Mated to a Wyvern so she'll live for as long as he does which will be at least another two and a half thousand years. And now you're like Paige. I don't even know if the two of you are still Lycans since you became Ei'Ambriath's. Does one cancel out the other or can you be both at the same time,…and be Druids as well. And then there's me. The plain Jane of the family. I feel so insignificant compared to all of you."
Nadia laughed. Her pale eyes sparkled with tears she laughed so hard. Elise couldn't help quirking a half smile despite her confusion at what Nadia found so amusing about her deficiencies.
"That's funny. That's how I've always felt about all of you. Teagan can stop things in space and time and she's the most powerful Druid in the world. Kaitlyn can make herself invisible. Paige could make her astral form into a separate physical entity and now she can do so much more as an Ei'Ambriath. And you, you can literally walk through walls. On top of all that, every one of you is drop dead gorgeous. Then there's me, the ugly duckling of the family who can read and speak in different languages. Woopie-do! Big freaking deal. If anyone's entitled to feel underwhelmed about themselves, it's me don't you think?"
"I'm boring. I keep a journal of how boring I am. You know the kind, the one that notes: 7:15am ate breakfast; 8:30am had shower; 8:45am cleaned teeth; 9:00am had impure thoughts about…someone; 9:30am started training session." Elise countered, trying to outdo her sister in humdrum stodginess.
"Could that someone be Callum?" Nadia needled questioningly.
"I'm not telling."
Nadia studied her sister over the rim of her cup of coffee. She wasn't going to get an honest answer from her even if she already knew the truth. Nadia's new sight came in handy for some things. Elise's aura lit up at the mention of Callum's name. She was still as much in love with him today as she had been when she was sixteen.
"Come to the club tonight, it'll be fun." Nadia prompted. "You can't avoid Callum all the time you know."
"Why not, it seems to work for Marcus and Brin."
"No it doesn't, and if you want to make your point more believable, using Brin and Marcus is a bad example. For whatever reason, they've never liked each other so the animosity between them works well. For them." Nadia pointed out. "Callum has always been like a brother to you, you don't want to ruin that just because you're a screwed up mess." Nadia told her, choosing not to antagonise her sister with the truth of her feelings.
Elise laughed then too as she stabbed her fork into her egg. "I'm still jealous," she confessed.
"So am I." Nadia chuckled.
They'd come to an impasse. Neither one was willing to forego their low self esteem to see that they might both be equally as impressive in their own way.
"Fine. I'll come."