Nash remembered his Lord's words clearly: "Be alert my sons, great changes are coming, can't you feel it?" And here was one of them, unconscious on the floor and wow! He could feel it fiercely! The energy pulsing inside of her was powerful yet subtle and it vibrated around her with an almost palpable intensity.
"Kirsan, this worries me." Kirsan looked at him questioningly. "What did your mission say?"
"And you think it's a simple coincidence that you found her right here?" Nash's suspicions were certain now. He couldn't really prove it, but he was sure they had a mole.
"No, it can't be a coincidence. The Guardian mentioned the girl's mother had found a Ludniem but no one would send me to retrieve one of those, however rare they might be. Any apprentice could have done the job without problems."
"Exactly. During the assignment I wanted to talk to you but we didn't have time."
"I thought you seemed preoccupied with something. What did you want to tell me?"
"It takes too long to explain. I will show you."
Kirsan nodded, understanding what he wanted to do. He turned to Nash and touched his temple. Their minds connected immediately, both were so in tune with each other they only needed light contact to be able to share their thoughts.
Nash showed him all the details that corroborated his suspicions, including his mission and everything he did until he came here. Nash had not reported what had really happened during the Evocation, his record had been brief, a mere "extermination completed". Then he had registered the human female as "retrievable collateral damage" before putting her in one of the isolation cells for recovery. Nobody had paid attention to it.
The information exchange only lasted a few seconds, their minds didn't need more time to process all the information. Kirsan looked at him raising one eyebrow. Nash was right, someone had definitely been tampering with the missions.
"What are we going to do now?" Nash muttered with his eyes still fixed on the girl.
"Now…" Kirsan answered thoughtfully, "We're going to deal with the human that's sneaking through the garden with one of those ridiculous guns in his hands, after that we'll have to think of a good plan for her."
"Oh." Nash had been so focused on his thoughts he had let his guard down completely and he hadn't noticed there was another person near the house.
"It must be Andreas, the other humans mentioned him before I came in."
"A grand entrance, I assume." The mocking tone was so evident Kirsan rolled his eyes.
"I didn't expect to find such powerful safeguards in a human house, I admit I may have used more force than necessary. That Guardian did a good job with the wards. So I suppose, for your standards, it was indeed a grand entrance. Raziel tried to kill me, you know?"
"She didn't follow their protocol? Guardians don't just do that."
"I know, but now we know why she did it, don't we?" He said, pointing at the girl.
"Well, that doesn't make any sense. Why try to kill you and then leave her behind?"
Kirsan nodded, he had thought so too at first.
"Actually, it does make sense. If she had taken her, we would have the perfect excuse to hunt the entire clan. It was a smart move, because this way we literally have nothing. We can't touch the girl, so we can't wake her up and we have no reason to attack them either. Right now she is as human as the boy who is about to enter the house to find out what happened."
As Kirsan finished talking, Andreas jumped into the hall, pointing his gun and flashlight everywhere, he had heard voices just a few seconds before, but there was no one here.
"Klaudia!" He whispered when he saw the girl on the floor, his face went pale fearing the worst as he ran to her side without letting his guard down.
He carefully placed two fingers on her neck and let out a sigh of relief when he felt the girl's pulse, slow but steady. She felt awfully cold though, so he took off his jacket and covered her, but he couldn't take proper care of his sister until the house was safe.
The security of the house was one of the best available, no one could have trespassed without being detected by the cameras and triggering the alarm. So what in the world had happened here and where were the others?
After checking the girl's pulse again, he took a deep breath and started creeping towards the living room without making any noise, he was sure he had heard voices before and people didn't just vanish.
"Is that what you think?" The whisper in his ear almost gave him a heart attack.
Andreas swung his gun around sharply, but the corridor was as dark and empty as before. Yet that voice had sounded as if someone had just whispered in his ear, he had even felt a cold breath on the back of his neck that sent chills down his spine. Had he imagined it? He had hardly slept on the way here, perhaps his tired mind was playing tricks on him in the sudden stressful situation.
"What situation?" The voice came back, right behind him.
Again he turned as fast as he could but he was still alone. His heart was racing inside his chest, he had to focus on what he was doing, find Alfred, Helena and Mar and make sure there was no one else in the house. Whatever this voice was, it wasn't real.
"But there's no one else." This time Andreas didn't turn round, he kept going until he reached the hall, but there was no one in there either.
He took another deep breath to calm down and went back, but as soon as he turned around he felt like someone had knocked the air out of him.
The hallway was on fire!
But how? A few seconds before everything was calm and quiet and now it looked like the hallway to hell. The flames couldn't have come out of nowhere and without making noise! Andreas dropped the gun and covered his nose with his arm to protect his lungs from the smoke as he backed away from the fire.
"Noise... What noise?" The voice sounded again with incredible clarity behind him.
Then Andreas realized it was true, everything was still silent around him. The hell engulfing the corridor made no sound, but he could feel the heat on his skin and the lack of air around him, he even felt his throat burning when he breathed.
"Heat... What heat?" As soon as the voice said that, everything around him cooled down.
At first it was just a pleasant chill, but soon the temperature dropped violently making him shiver with cold, he could even see his breath in the air. A blanket of frost began to cover everything around him until it consumed the fire in the corridor.
Andreas was paralyzed trying to process what was happening, but one thought made its way through the confusion: Klaudia. It was hard for him to move because of the cold and slippery floor, but the young man managed to get outside.
Yes, there she was, still covered with her jacket, neither fire nor ice had touched her, she was still intact, as if nothing had happened.
"Ice... What ice?" Andreas clenched his jaw as he looked around and saw that everything was as it should be.
There was no trace of flames, ice, blood, shattered glass or broken doors... nothing. Everything looked perfectly normal despite the darkness and his unconscious sister laying on the floor.
"What's happening to me?" he whispered, whipping the sweat from his face.
"You're dreaming." The voice answered.
Yes... the idea settled easily in his mind.
Of course he was dreaming! Nothing he had just seen made any sense! Oh boy! Andreas laughed, it sounded a bit hysterical but he felt so relieved he let his body slide down the wall and sat on the floor. This was just some kind of nightmare! He most likely had fallen asleep on the couch.
"Take her to bed." The voice sounded again, and this time Andreas listened willingly.
"Of course." He laughed, whipping his hand over his face again, he was soaked in sweat.
That was the most lucid dream he had ever had. Klaudia would be so jealous when he told her. If he could actually remember the dream after waking up. His sister had a weird obsession with being able to control what she did in her dreams, he didn't understand it, but he would take any opportunity he could get to tease her a bit, she always had the funniest reactions.
He carefully took her in his arms and went up stairs. It seemed to take the same effort to do anything in this dream as it took in real life. Oh well, they weren't called lucid dreams for nothing, right? On the first floor he almost fell when he tripped over the girl's flute case.
Andreas grunted, that was such a random thing to trip over in a dream. He kicked the case out of his way and went to put Klaudia in her bed.
"How do I wake up?" He asked, feeling a bit silly standing there in the darkness, watching his sister sleep in his own dream.
"Go back to your couch, don't forget the gun and the flashlight," replied the voice.
Andreas did as he was told. On his way back to the little guest house, he looked up at the sky completely amazed by the incredible lightning storm that had broken out, it felt like the sky was about to fall down. The boy burst out laughing and tried to memorize the colors and shapes of the magnificent lightning bolts that were shining everywhere, he wanted to remember the amazing view when he woke up.
Once in the house, he laid down on the armchair, turned off the gas in the fireplace and threw the blanket over himself. As soon as he put his head on the pillow, everything around him turned into shadows and soft voices whispering in his ear.
. . .
Klaudia woke up with a horrible headache, she just had another nightmare. A chill ran down her spine when a vague memory from the dream made its way into her conscious mind. The vivid image of piercing blue eyes watching her from the shadows barely lasted a fraction of a second, but it was enough to make her nervous. The girl hated those kinds of dreams where she couldn't remember straight away what she had dreamt. She knew she would be getting sudden random memories of the stupid dream for the rest of the day.
With a sigh, she got out of bed, but everything started spinning, so she had to wait a couple of minutes before she could stand up. Klaudia looked at herself in the mirror wishing she hadn't, she looked terrible and, to her surprise, she had fallen asleep with her clothes on, in fact she hadn't even finished unpacking.
Great, she had missed the family dinner and gross, she had worn those clothes during the trip from Osaka to Tokyo and from there to Los Angeles. A trip that long should be forbidden to do in one sitting and she had fallen asleep without showering - disgusting.
Probably one of her parents, or Andreas, had gone to fetch her so she wouldn't sneak out of helping set the table, but when they saw her asleep they decided to have mercy on her and let her rest. What a bummer, she had missed Mar's special dinner, and she wanted so badly to try her roast again.
It had been more than four months since he had last tasted her beloved Margaret's cooking, so now she was extremely disappointed. At least she would get some pancakes for breakfast, she was starving, but first she had to take a long shower. Klaudia staggered into the bathroom. Her brain felt numb. She clearly needed painkillers.
When she went down for breakfast, she almost fell down the stairs after tripping over her flute case, what was that doing here? She could swear she hadn't taken it out... as soon as she touched it, a barrage of images hit her: first an explosion, two figures talking in the corridor and blood... Klaudia dropped the case and grabbed her head, suddenly it felt like it was about to explode.
The girl had to lie down on the floor and use her meditation exercise to avoid an anxiety attack. When she was sure she could walk again, she picked up the flute with trembling hands and returned to her room. She had forgotten to take the painkillers and now she also needed an anxiolytic. When she had mild psychotic episodes (as her psychiatrist called them), the pills really helped her to reduce the anxiety.
In the kitchen, she found a plate with pancakes and a note on the screen of the fridge. It said dad had received a call in the evening, something important had happened and she should talk to Andreas. Unbelievable, not only had she missed dinner with her family but now she had no idea when she was going to see them again.
Klaudia stared at one of the family photos hanging on the wall. They were all there. Dad, tall and imposing, in very good shape for a man his age. If he weren't her father she'd even admit he still was attractive, with his brown and silver hair carefully combed back and his blue eyes reflecting the smile on his lips as he hugged Mom; one of the most beautiful women she'd ever seen, with her lush chocolate colored hair falling over her shoulders. Her hazel eyes looking at the camera with kindness, and her golden skin glowing in the sun. Definitely beautiful, gorgeous. She liked to imagine she had inherited those great genes, hopefully she would look this impressive when she reached fifty, with the same vitality and figure her mother had, but in reality she looked nothing like her, or her father for that matter.
In the picture was also Margaret, she was a childhood friend of her mother's, she had no family and since Klaudia could remember, she had been with them, helping her parents run their successful business and preparing the best meals in the world. Mar and her mom were both the same age, but Mar somehow looked about twenty years younger than her mother (which she would never admit out loud). The grey hair gave away her age even though her mother had told her Mar always had it that way. Apparently when they were young, the contrast between her amazing emerald eyes and the almost silvery hair had caused sensation among the boys. Klau was sure she still attracted a great deal of attention and probably had a bunch of men interested in her, but Mar didn't seem to care about romance.
Andreas was by his father's side. The picture had been taken in this house when she was thirteen so the boy must have been about eighteen back then. Alfred and Helena had taken him in foster care when his dad, who had been one of Alfred's employees, had lost custody. The poor man had lost his wife in a terrible accident and was left alone with Andreas when he was just a little boy, he fell into a severe depression and started doing drugs. Alfred cared a lot about him, they were good friends and he had contributed incredibly to the success of the company, Alfred considered him one of the best engineers he had in the research and development team. As soon as he had noticed what was happening to his friend, Alfred had not hesitated to offer his friend the help he needed and promised to take care of little Andreas. However, shortly after they had taken the child in, the father had relapsed and died of an overdose, so Alfred and Helena became the child's legal guardians and soon after they had adopted him. They raised him like their own but never hid the truth from him.
In the picture he looked radiant at six feet tall, blond ash hair, golden eyes and skin, and a smile that took your breath away. He was as handsome and hot as ever, but she would never tell him that; if his head grow any bigger it would float away.
And finally, there she was, tiny, dark hair, dark eyes, round face and childlike features, a thirteen year old girl too smart for her age, with one or two mental health issues and a great family.
Klaudia looked at herself in the reflection of the window, she had changed a lot since that picture had been taken. The childlike roundness was gone, she had a pretty face with pronounced cheekbones and smooth lines, unfortunately the height hadn't changed much, she had only reached five foot three after her last growth spurt, but she had a slim figure and tried hard to keep her muscles in good shape, to compensate for the height. Klaudia had a very specific idea of what beauty should look like and no one had been able to change her mind about it. She had grown her hair and, for years now, she dyed her bangs and some strands of hair electric blue. Overall she considered herself a very average looking girl and she liked that, it was easier not to attract attention that way.
The beeping of the clock brought her back to reality, it was already ten o'clock in the morning. Whatever, so something had happened with her parents' company. Since the beginning of the year they had been talking about a possible partnership with some random company in England. If the British had accepted the offer, then her parents would have had to go there, or somewhere else, to sign papers and all that boring stuff. Mar would have gone with them too, of course. So now she was here alone, eating cold pancakes with berries that didn't even taste like Mar's pancakes, waiting for the medicine to kick in and take away the headache and the feeling that something was wrong.
"Hey, Smurf." Andreas' voice came from the hallway.
Klaudia went to greet him and start complaining about her parents but she almost choked on her pancakes when instead of seeing him walking down the corridor, she saw again the image of the two figures talking amidst the chaos of blood and rubble that had become the entrance to their house in that vision.
"Are you all right?" asked the boy as he arrived beside her. "You look pale, drink something, it will help you," he said, opening the fridge and pouring her a glass of orange juice.
Klaudia accepted it willingly and let the cold coming down her throat calm her down a bit. Her heart was still racing from the weird vision. It had been so vivid, that for a second she thought it was real.
"Well, well, well, would you care to inform me of the great news?" she asked, trying to focus her attention on reality. "Are mom and dad going to be twice as rich?"
"Double... would be a big stretch , but they're going to definitely be richer. It seems the British have finally accepted the deal, so they've had to go back to New York. Alfred was euphoric and angry at the same time, they could have told them the decision a week earlier and we could have planned our holidays differently, or that was what he was grumbling before giving me instructions for the new plan."
"That sounds like I'm gonna hate whatever you say now. When dad leaves instructions, is no good, it always means zero fun."
"Actually after reading the documents I thought you are actually going to like the idea they have for this year a lot ."
"Are you kidding me? Documents, as in plural? Is it really that complicated? Tell me we don't have to move."
"Okay, I won't tell you." The boy smiled at her. "You can read it yourself. Personally, I think it's great."
Klaudia sighed and went to fetch the whipped cream from the fridge, she needed extra sugar to deal with "the plan", so she put half a pancake in her mouth and filled the rest with whipped cream directly from the can. Okay, now she was ready for anything. Klaudia took the tablet Andreas had given her and started reading.
"You're going to get fat if you keep gobbling up food like that," said her brother, teasing her. "Actually never mind, go on, get fat, it will be easier to beat you in a fight."
"'N 'ur dr'ms!" she replied.
"Gross! Don't talk with your mouth full." He laughed in her face while he gracefully dodged a blueberry she took from her plate and threw at him. "You can't even aim!" And he kept laughing. Klaudia grimaced at him and ate what was left of the pancake. "I have to run some errands in town, but I'll be back in the evening. If you're going to be home, let me know so I can bring some dinner. See ya, Smurf."
"How long are you going to keep calling me that? I know you are my big brother and best friend, teacher, nanny, bodyguard," she counted with her fingers, "and for all practical purposes everything since... well, since forever, but I think this Smurf thing should retire. If you refuse to use my actual name, at least find something that fits my incredibly awesome personality and all the wisdom of my two decades."
Andreas laughed again and stood in the doorway.
"First, your two decades are not up until the beginning of next month…"
"Which is in a week from today." She cut him off.
"Whatever. And secondly, I'll stop calling you Smurf when you stop dyeing your hair blue."
"Then I'll never get rid of the stupid nickname, great. I'll be a Smurf for the rest of my days. The agony is strong with me."
"Good thing you're studying science. Drama's not your thing. See ya, blue hair!"
"That one is so much better!" She exclaimed, but he was already gone.
Klaudia looked up from the tablet and watched him cross the garden until he was out of sight.
"Great!", she mused. The California house, home of the always amazing family vacations, had just reached the level of fun of an amusement park. "Welcome to Emoland, the World of Loneliness. Yes, that would be the perfect slogan, it would attract crowds", she thought out loud.
She had been looking forward to spending time with her parents and Mar and now, whether it was because she missed them so much or because of the awful headache, the jetlag, or her paranoia, she couldn't help but feel that something was terribly wrong.
"I wish you were here, I wanted you to help me choose a college…" she whispered, looking at the picture on the wall.
Suddenly the air pressure dropped, so much she immediately felt sick and almost threw up her freshly finished breakfast. Breathing became quite a feat and she started to see dots of light. What was wrong with her today? Was she having trouble with her blood pressure now too?
Klaudia tried to reach her phone to call her brother but suddenly she felt like she was about to pass out. Her vision went blurry, she was going to lose consciousness at any moment and she was completely alone.
"Absolutely great" she muttered under her breath.
"Klaudia…" A familiar voice reached her like a distant echo. There was a bright light coming from the hallway and she could see a silhouette moving towards her. "All this is a lie, we are not coming back. Don't believe anything they tell you." Another two figures joined the first one.
"My girl... We're so sorry you have to deal with all this now. It all happened so fast, we didn't even get to say goodbye." That voice sounded like her mother but she couldn't recognize her, the silhouettes looked like dark human shapes against the light.
"We love you very much my beautiful, we didn't want to leave you alone but everything went so fast, we thought we'd have more time…"
The voices got tangled in her head and Klaudia could barely breathe now, which made it even more difficult to understand what they were telling her.
"Forgive us for not telling you, you're still so young, you shouldn't have to get involved in any of this. It's so unfair, you're just a kid…"
"We don't have much time." The first silhouette advanced towards her and she could almost see intense green eyes inside that halo of light. "You have to be strong now Klaudia, don't let them deceive you. Don't believe what they tell you, don't let them drag you down with them and above all, don't let them know we came here and told you the truth. Information is a powerful weapon. The Guardians have always been there to keep the Balance and we will not leave you unprotected. Even if I can no longer be here with you. I don't know how much you can remember from what happened, but you must know that from now on nothing will be the same. They will always be after you, they always have been. They will try to convince you to do what they want, but do not fall for their mind tricks, they only want to use you. They want your power to fulfill their wishes."
Klaudia let out a moan, she felt like her head was going to explode and nothing she was hearing made any sense.
"What truth? Who are they? What are you?" she managed to whisper holding her head in her hands as she tried to keep her eyes open.
"Klaudia," her father's voice sounded clearer now, "you were born with a very special and very dangerous power. Raziel came to us when your power began to wake up. She has been your Guardian ever since and she helped us to hide you and keep you protected. Thanks to her, we were able to give you a normal life."
"There are beings who want to use you, we call them Renegades," intervened Margaret or Raziel, whatever her name was. "They need you to rise to power. We've been able to keep you safe from them all this time but yesterday when he showed up... Kirsan is one of the most powerful and dangerous ones and he was going to take you with him. He wanted to use your parents to force you to do what they wanted and I couldn't let that happen. I had to use all our combined energy to stop him, to seal your power. Thanks to that sacrifice they can't touch you anymore. You're safe for now, but we can't come back to you to make sure you will be safe."
Klaudia wanted to scream, punch the stupid silhouettes and make them disappear. She didn't want to believe what they were saying, it wasn't true, it was crazy. Those were not her parents and their words were nothing but twisted delusions of her sick mind.
"Honey there's so many things I'd like to tell you, but we don't have time. We can't help you from where we are now, but we'll look after you until you come with us. Raziel made sure they can't hurt you, but we have something that could help you in an emergency. It's in my office, in the safe. It is a portal of light, it will take you wherever you need to go, keep it with you at all times in case you ever need to escape. We love you very much, please forgive us for not having been able to do this better. I wanted to tell you everything but we didn't want your world to change like that while you were so young."
"Now we have to go," said Raziel. "I have warned the other Guardians, they will take care of you. I know you can handle this and you will make the right decisions, but remember, don't let them fool you. Renegades always act the same way, they seem harmless until it is too late. For now you are safe, but the protection I left on you will not last forever. Be cautious, follow your instincts and remember, from now on you will never be alone."
"Goodbye my love, we love you very much." Her mother's voice echoed in her ears for a few seconds before it disappeared.
Klaudia tried to call out to her and ask her not to go. They couldn't leave her alone. She wanted to tell them she loved them too, but she also wanted to shout at them that it had been stupid to hide that madness from her, that it wasn't right for them to disappear like that and that she didn't understand anything. Yet all she could do was cry as she watched the light disappear in front of her.
The last thing she saw before losing consciousness was a hand wrapped in light touching her forehead.
14 of 14