Whispers of Nowhere

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Rebel-Dynasty, Apr 20, 2015.

  1. Hi, there! :)

    I'm looking for concrit on a novel I'm currently writing. I won't post the entire thing (it would be far too long) but as I have on a few writing sites I belong to, I'll post the first eight chapters to give you the general idea. This is only the first draft. Any concrit I receive will be taken into serious consideration during the revision stages.

    Here goes (starting with the Prologue and Chapter One, together).

    Edit: I should probably explain that this is a YA Fantasy novel. I know what you're thinking: "Oh god, another one of those?" And the answer is--no. At least, not in the context of what you're probably expecting.

    Summary: When fifteen-year-old Gwenyth Lamelle comes into contact with nine, bizarre artifacts her father brings home one night, she accidentally releases the powers locked within them. Now it is up to her, and her two mysterious guardians, Forneus and Phenex, to reclaim those lost powers before they fall into the wrong hands. In a world ruled by gods, spirits, demons, and other mystical beings, the trio are in a race against time, with the fate of the world—of all worlds—hanging in the balance…


    Whispers of Nowhere: Prologue (open)

    Forneus sat in the centre of the surveillance room, the only light in the otherwise cramped space provided by the ten, transparent images that floated around him, almost as though they were caught in orbit.

    A large amethyst cluster, a winged staff, an elegant sword, a feathered crown…one after another they went on by, continuing from the crown to the amulet, from the amulet to the cauldron, from the cauldron to the jewel-encrusted goblet, and so on, until the ghostly images had circled back to the amethyst.

    He muttered absently to himself, his eyes roving over each one of the images while his long, thin fingers tapped the keys of the crescent-shaped console in front of him. He had just finished his hourly log, when the whole system began to sputter, the projections wavering before vanishing, completely. Pinpricks of light danced across his vision when the images flickered out, the room plunging into total darkness. The very projections he’d just been looking at continued to flash before his eyes, only now they were inverted like the negatives of photographs.

    What’s going on?

    Forneus was not easily panicked, but something in the way the blackness fell over the room had him spinning in a wide circle, his luminous, silver eyes darting every which way as he tried to catch a glimpse of whoever, or whatever, was responsible for his sudden lack of sight.

    He never got the chance, for just as he’d begun to feel a familiar, prickling sensation along the back of his neck, fatigue stole over him, his eyelids drooping heavily. Fog seemed to fill his mind, causing him to stumble forward, his legs no longer able to support his weight. He landed face down on the hard, cool floor, a rush of air ghosting passed his lips as he reached out toward the last image he’d seen before the system had gone down; a young, blonde-haired girl.

    Forneus could feel himself being pulled into slumber, unable to fight against it as he watched the girl’s after image swim across his vision, seized by a pang of guilt as fat droplets poured from the child’s large, green eyes, a stuffed bear clutched to her chest.
    I’m sorry…I failed…

    Chapter One

    Whispers of Nowhere: Chapter One (open)

    Eight years later…

    Gwen bolted upright in bed, eyes wide as she peered around at the long, disfigured shadows cast by the assortment of furniture and knick-knacks scattered across every square inch of her small bedroom. The lavender walls appeared a deeper shade despite the brilliant, silver light of the moon peeking through the cracks of the venetian blinds, a light breeze coming in through the small, square window opposite from her.

    As the frantic thudding of her heart abated, she let out a sigh, and leaned back against her pillow, tucking one arm beneath it as she did so. Letting her eyes drift closed so that only the faintest glimmer of light made it beneath her eyelids, the fifteen-year-old frowned.

    What had woken her from the dream, the recurring nightmare about the large, grey serpent she’d been having for as long as she could remember? Of course, she always woke up before the end, before its coils squeezed the breath right out of her, but still…

    It wasn’t until she heard the soft click of a door closing down the hall that she realized what had brought her out of the dream before the worst part could happen.

    It looks like dad’s home late again; that’s the third time this week.

    As a curator for the local museum, her father’s hours were unpredictable at the best of times. As a result of this, and of her mother always travelling on business for the car company she represented, Gwen spent a lot of time on her own. Even though she oftentimes felt lonely, she didn’t mind the solitude that much; whenever she had spare time, she would either ride her bike down to the nearest coffee shop where some of her schoolmates worked, and chat with them on their breaks, or she would sit at home, fixing anything from the grandfather clock in the spare room, to her dad’s ancient laptop.

    Even still, she had found herself alone a lot more than usual…

    Rolling onto her side, she pressed both of her fists into her pillow, fluffing it up until it was just the way she wanted it. Brushing back the tendrils of hair that had fallen across her forehead, she let out a sigh, and closed her eyes, willing her mind to go blank in the hopes of falling back to sleep once again. This proved to be futile, for now that she was awake, she couldn’t seem to return to the blissful state of unconsciousness she had so suddenly been jolted out of in the first place.

    She tossed and turned for some time, finally kicking her blankets off and glaring at the bright, crimson numbers of the alarm clock sitting on the nightstand beside her. 12:18 a.m. With a huff of annoyance, Gwen lowered her feet to the cool, hardwood floor, and pushed herself up with a groan, stretching her arms high above her head, and letting them drop limply at her sides once she’d worked out the last of her sleep-induced stiffness.

    Deciding that a late night snack might be in order, she made her way out of her room, through the short length of hallway, and down the winding stairs leading to the kitchen. Beams of light from the streetlamps outside shone through the window above the kitchen sink, bathing the mocha countertops in a soft, orange glow. The only sound that could be heard in the otherwise silent household was the ticking of the clock that hung on the wall separating the kitchen and the living room.

    As she began rummaging through the cupboards, she caught sight of something glittering on the dining table. Turning around, she was surprised to see an assortment of items strewn across it, ranging from decorative to just plain bizarre; a feathered crown, a black cauldron, a strange looking staff…

    When her gaze fell on an amethyst cluster bigger than both of her hands put together, she reached out toward it, admiring the deep purple crystals lined with quartz. Gwen had developed a keen interest in gemstones at a young age, and as a result, had a true appreciation for a wide assortment of them. Amethysts were no exception, and had been amongst the first ones she’d learned to distinguish from all others.

    Dad must have brought them home for cleaning, she mused, her gaze flicking over each one of the nine items on the table with mild interest. They’re probably for the museum’s new exhibition.

    A spark emitted from one of the stone’s uppermost shards the moment her fingers made contact with it, causing her to draw back with a startled gasp. Before she could even wonder what had just happened, a white light began to radiate from deep within the amethyst’s core, spreading upward through the lower portions of quartz, and up into the peaks of lavender and violet. Pinpricks of light shot out from between the grooves of the stone, dancing across the surfaces of the walls and floor like refractions cast from a disco ball.

    “What…what’s going on?” Gwen gasped aloud, retreating a few more steps as each of the other items began to emanate the same light as the amethyst crystal. The light seemed to flow in a counter-clockwise fashion, moving from the stone to the sword, then to the crown, and continuing on until all nine items glowed as one.

    In the midst of all of this, Gwen just happened to notice her own hand. The same one she’d touched the crystal with shone with the same intensity as the items, lighting up from within so that each tendon and membrane of skin became nearly transparent. Before she even realized what she was doing, she had backed into the refrigerator, watching in morbid fascination as the light permeated the rest of her body, sending a warm, tingling sensation into each one of her limbs.

    The strength of the light continued to grow, forcing her to squeeze her eyes shut against its blinding glare. It ended just as quickly as it began, a flash of light cutting through the thin protection her eyelids offered before fading to black, leaving her to blink away the red specks before her eyes.

    When the last vestiges disappeared, it took every shred of willpower Gwen possessed not to scream. Not a single trace of the items remained, the surface of the dark wooden table gleaming back at her almost guiltily. However, her father’s missing artifacts weren’t the cause of her panic.

    A dark-haired figure clad in a navy blue frock coat and trousers lay coughing and sputtering on the linoleum directly in front of her, and if the radiant afterglow surrounding him was anything to go by, he was not what he seemed…

    Gwen stared uncomprehendingly at the man in front of her, his face level with hers; so close, in fact, that she could see the faint traces of stubble lining his jaw, his lips seemingly moving without sound, though it was hard to tell past the buzzing in her ears. It wasn’t until her eyes met with his that she finally snapped out of her stupor. Drawing away from him with a gasp, she realized she was sitting on the linoleum, her back pressed firmly against the stainless steel refrigerator.

    “Miss..? Miss, are you alright?”

    How had she wound up on the floor, and for just how long had she been sitting there, staring into nothingness with this strange man talking to her? Where had he come from, anyway? One minute, there were artifacts on her dining table, and the next…

    “W-Who are you?” Her voice was hoarse, barely above a whisper.

    Aside from his frock coat, which Gwen thought looked suspiciously like the ones she’d seen in her history textbook, he wore a black dress shirt, the collar just visible beneath the unbuttoned lapel. Nearly every one of his fingers bore a ring of silver or gold, all of them etched with strange markings. Runes, she thought. One in particular stood out above the rest, a gold ring on his left middle finger, the only one with a stone set into it; a modest, oval-shaped sapphire.

    “Please, don’t be afraid,” Gwen jumped at the sound of the man’s voice, her gaze snapping up to meet the startling silver of his eyes, “I assure you, I mean you no harm.”

    Summoning her nerve, she slowly rose to her feet, fixing the man with a distrustful glare. “You didn’t answer my question,” she bit icily, “Who are you?”

    There was the slightest twitch at the corners of the man’s mouth when she said this.

    Is he making fun of me? She wondered, taking another step away from him.

    “My apologies,” He swept into a courtly bow before straightening again, standing at least a foot taller or more than Gwen’s five-feet-two-inches. “My name is Forneus. I am the guardian of the artifacts—the very ones that, until recently, were in your possession.”

    Gwen edged around him warily, refusing to let her guard down in the event he tried anything. The man named Forneus studied her with curious eyes as she moved in a wide circle, strategically putting the dining table between them. It was only once she did so that she was able to take a better look at him. He was actually quite handsome, in a regal sort of way; with short, wavy black hair, high cheekbones, a prominent nose, and a well-defined chin. Judging from the way his eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled, she guessed he was probably in his mid-to-late thirties; or appeared to be, at any rate.

    “Okay,” she said slowly, frowning, “You’re talking about the weird stuff my dad brought home, right? But what do you mean, ‘guardian’? Why would a couple of old relics need protection?”

    Forneus opened his mouth as if to speak, and shut it again. Gwen grew more wary of the silver-eyed man as the seconds ticked by; his demeanour had shifted, his expression becoming troubled, the skin around his eyes having tightened noticeably. As far as she could tell, he didn’t seem to be angered by her question yet no matter how long she studied him, she couldn’t get a clear read on him.

    Who was this stranger, and what did he want? Why did it appear as though he was carrying the very weight of the world on his shoulders? She had seen that look before; on the faces of her parents every time they received the monthly bills, in the eyes of the substitute teachers that came to her school when they were assigned to that one, troublesome class that delighted in their suffering—yet somehow, when she looked at this man, who must have been far younger than either her parents or her teachers, the look in his eyes spoke of a far heavier burden.

    Finally, he answered. “I…I can’t say.”

    Gwen narrowed her eyes at him, all the while edging closer to the kitchen’s entrance. She wouldn’t let whatever sympathy she felt for him get in the way of common sense. He was still a stranger in her house, after all.

    “What do you mean, you can’t say? You show up in my house, completely out of the blue, and you can’t answer a simple question?”

    “I assure you, this is far from simple.” Forneus ran a hand over his face with a sigh. “They’re not going to be happy about this…”

    “Who are ‘they’?” She demanded. This secretive nonsense was getting old, fast. If she could just get to the handset in the living room…

    Forneus studied her for a moment, lips pursed as if deep in thought. Gwen held his gaze for a few minutes longer until he averted his eyes, his shoulders slumping.

    “I can’t tell you that, either.”

    That did it.

    Gwen sucked in a breath, preparing to scream. In the blink of an eye, a bejeweled hand had clamped over her mouth, her scream turning into nothing more than a muffled yelp. Eyes wide, she tried to catch a glimpse of the man behind her, his other arm pinning her body against his.

    “Please, you mustn’t,” He begged, his breath warm against her ear, “No one else can know about what has happened, tonight.”

    She continued to struggle in his grasp, surprised by the control he possessed despite pinning her with only one arm. In fact, it seemed like he was hardly having any trouble at all, and to top it off, he wasn’t even hurting her. She had to admit, it took a great deal of self-control to restrain someone without causing them the least bit of physical harm; if he had wanted to hurt her, he would have done so, already—the fact that he hadn’t had to mean something.

    Breathing deeply through her nose, she relaxed. She still didn’t know whether she could trust him, but struggling certainly wasn’t getting her anywhere. As soon as she went still, his grip slackened, and he drew back with an apologetic bow.

    “I’m sorry to have restrained you like that,” He told her, his tone gentle, “It is of the utmost importance that I fulfill my mission as discreetly as possible. If anyone else were to learn of what happened here tonight, it would cause no end of trouble.”

    Gwen crossed her arms, studying him closely. “You’re not human.” It wasn’t a question, but an affirmation, and one she had become certain of the moment he’d taken hold of her.

    Surprise flitted across his face, quickly disappearing as the mask settled back into place. Canting his head to the side, he stared at her curiously. “Oh? What makes you think that?”

    “Drop the innocent act,” She said, glaring at him accusingly, “There isn’t a person alive anywhere that looks like you do, not to mention your speed—I didn’t even blink, and you were right behind me. So you can try telling me you’re human all you want, but I’m not buying what you’re selling.”

    There, it was out. It frightened her beyond all reasoning, but it was true; she could feel it. She couldn’t explain it, but she knew it, deep down inside—like a memory from long ago, hazy and fragmented, lost to the passage of time.

    Forneus stared back evenly, his lips pulling into a tentative grin. “Alright, I suppose it couldn’t hurt to tell you that much,” He sighed in resignation, “You’re right, I’m not human. I’m a daemon, an entity born of this earth, and molded by the gods, themselves.”

    Gwen looked at him in dumbfounded silence, her mouth open slightly, trying to process what he’d just told her. What in heck’s name was a daemon, and what had he meant, ‘molded by the gods’?

    “There’s no such thing as the gods.” She blurted instead, eyeing Forneus warily when he let out a soft chuckle.

    “Oh, but there are,” He insisted, “In fact, I know some of them, personally.” As soon as he said the words, he seemed to regret them, his mouth forming a grim line as he looked away from her.

    Gwen only vaguely took notice of this, however. She started to tremble, mind reeling with the information he had unintentionally given her. One emotion after another came to the surface, struggling for dominance over the others, more than she knew how to deal with—and all causing her to swing from disbelief to certainty, from fear to acceptance, and back again. She had no reason to trust this man, this daemon, as he’d called himself—absolutely none. And yet, despite all her reasoning, she couldn’t help actually believing what he’d told her. Every word he’d spoken had been with such sincerity, such conviction. The fact that he seemed genuinely distressed by what little he had let slip couldn’t be overlooked, either.

    Get it together, Gwen! She admonished herself, gripping the wall for support. Okay, so he’s not human—that much is obvious. It doesn’t mean that you can trust everything else that comes out of his mouth. For all you know, he lied about what he is—he could be an evil spirit, or some kind of devil…

    She was trying to create some sort of order to counteract the chaos in her mind, when a brilliant flash of golden light came through the doorway separating the kitchen from the living room. She exchanged a look with Forneus, the self-proclaimed daemon offering her a shrug in return, both turning simultaneously at the sound of approaching footsteps.

    The light faded, flickering like a flame being extinguished. A figure emerged from the darkness, his auburn hair turning a fiery red as he stepped into the pale glow that came through the kitchen window. As he turned his molten amber gaze on Forneus, Gwen found herself instinctively moving to stand behind the daemon, her mouth going dry as the stranger drew nearer.

    “Hello, Forneus. It’s been far too long.”

    Gwen stood rooted to the spot, unable to coax her muscles into moving, no matter how desperately she wanted to. Her pajama shirt clung to her back, a cold sweat breaking across her skin as she studied everything from the two hoops in the newcomer’s right ear, both engraved with the shape of a single, golden bird, to the leather jacket, t-shirt, and jeans ensemble that he wore—complete with a pair of black and white sneakers.

    Who is he? What is he? She wondered. Fear clawed its way up from the pit of her stomach and into her throat when his eyes met hers, her heart pounding deafeningly in her ears.

    Whatever he was, he wasn’t human—of that much, she was certain. A human couldn’t have entered her house without making even the faintest amount of noise in the process, and there wasn’t a person alive with eyes that same brilliant, mottled shade of amber—or was it gold? They seemed to be shifting from one colour to the other, depending on just where the light hit them. There was something very, very unsettling about those eyes…

    Forneus smiled warmly, shaking hands with the stranger, “It has been a long time. Though seventy-five years is nothing but the blink of an eye for us, wouldn’t you say, my friend?”

    “You exaggerate, as always.” The man replied, his lips quirking into a wry grin.

    Gwen gave a start upon hearing this. Seventy-five years?

    She stared at the duo, perplexed. Forneus looked as if he was in his mid-thirties at most, the newcomer appearing younger, still—in his mid to late twenties, maybe. Either way, they looked younger than both of her parents. And yet, she couldn’t deny the possibility that they were much older than they appeared. Forneus was wearing clothing straight out of the eighteenth century, for crying out loud! If he truly was a daemon as he claimed to be, then wasn’t it possible for him to be decades older than he seemed—perhaps even centuries?

    And the newcomer—she didn’t even want to begin guessing how old he really was.

    Or what he was, for that matter.

    All the while, the duo spoke in hushed tones, neither one of them paying any attention to her as she grabbed hold of the kitchen counter for support, knees knocking together as black specks began dancing before her eyes.

    This can’t be real…I must be dreaming…what other possible explanation is there?

    It wasn’t until both Forneus and the stranger turned to face her that she realized she’d begun hyperventilating.

    “Miss, you’re shaking…are you alright?” Forneus asked, taking a step closer and resting a hand on her shoulder, “You’re rather pale.”

    Gwen shrugged him off, her gaze flicking between him and the newcomer. “Don’t touch me,” she demanded, her voice quavering. “And who the hell is he?

    She thought she saw the faintest hint of sadness in Forneus’ eyes, the silver dulling to grey as he complied and withdrew from her.

    She didn’t have long to ponder on it, however, as the newcomer turned inquisitive eyes on her. After a long, uncomfortable moment of holding his gaze, he finally turned back to Forneus with a frown. “Wait, is this girl…?”

    “Yes,” Forneus replied simply, shoving his hands into his coat pockets, “She is.”

    “Well, I’ll be damned…”

    Gwen felt her shock dissipating, giving way to exasperation at being studied like some kind of organism under a microscope. Gritting her teeth, she rounded on them both. “Hello, did you even hear me? Who are you?”

    Whatever she had seen in Forneus’ eyes moments ago disappeared then, the daemon smiling fondly at her. It almost seemed to Gwen as if he had expected her outburst, perhaps even admired it. She didn’t know what gave her this impression, but something in the way he was looking at her was oddly familiar.

    An eternity seemed to pass with them staring at one another, so when the amber-eyed man snapped out of whatever trance he’d been in and reached out toward her, Gwen couldn’t help recoiling at the unexpected movement. She didn’t know what he was going to do, but she was suddenly afraid. Without consciously doing so, she stiffened, squeezing her eyes tightly shut in the process. Upon hearing quiet laughter, she peeked out warily from beneath her lashes, her eyes going wide when she realized he was no more than a foot away from her, his hand resting on the counter next to her hip. The sudden proximity was unnerving, to say the least.

    “Well, aren’t you a jumpy little thing,” He chuckled, grinning crookedly as he continued, “Not that it’s any of your business, human, but the name is Phenex.”

    Annoyed, she glared up at him, the feeling passing as what he’d said sank in.

    Wait…does he mean…?

    “Like the legendary bird, phoenix?” She asked aloud, feeling her cheeks warm in embarrassment when he sneered back at her.

    “Not just like it, little girl.” Gwen made a sound of protest at his gibe, but he ignored her, and continued on, “I am a phoenix. However, the spelling of my name is undoubtedly different from what you may know of it, having been derived from a primitive dialect dating back to when your kind were nothing more than simple-minded beasts. Though from what I’ve seen, not a lot has changed.”

    She was just opening her mouth to deliver a scathing reply, when both men suddenly went rigid. Forneus moved closer to her, while Phenex crossed the kitchen to draw back the filmy white curtain covering the window, peering out into the darkness with a scowl.

    “Shit,” He swore, moving quickly to join Forneus at Gwen’s other side, “They’re coming.”

    “Even with the artifacts disappearing, I never would have anticipated they’d respond so quickly.” Forneus’ cheek twitched, a line forming between his eyebrows as he looked worriedly from the window to his companion, and back again.

    “Who’s coming?” Gwen glanced frantically between the two men, letting out a gasp when they simultaneously grabbed hold of her arms. “Hey, what are you doing? Let me go!”

    Warmth washed over her, each nerve ending tingling as if little bolts of electricity were dancing across the surface of her skin. The heat was particularly overwhelming where Phenex’s fingers met the inside of her forearm, resembling the feeling she experienced any time she’d ever stood too close to the stove while cooking.

    As a bubble of golden light radiated around them, she stopped struggling, her mouth hanging open when she caught a glimpse of movement outside of the window. Before she could discern what it was, everything exploded into dazzling colour, the kitchen vanishing as she was pulled into nothingness.
    #1 Rebel-Dynasty, Apr 20, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2015
  2. Chapter Two

    Whispers of Nowhere: Chapter Two (open)

    The moment her feet touched ground, Gwen stumbled away from both men, and began retching.

    “My apologies,” Forneus’ voice came from behind her, his hand resting lightly between her shoulder blades, “I should have warned you before teleporting. It can be pretty jarring the first time, around.”

    As her stomach fluttered, threatening to unleash yet another torrent, she heard Phenex scoff in an undertone, “Tch. Human beings are far too delicate.”

    Scrubbing her mouth with the back of her hand, Gwen glared over her shoulder at him, retorting, “You know, for someone with such a grim outlook on humans, you sure seem to like taking the form of one.”

    A shadow passed over his face at this, his eyes glinting dangerously when Gwen turned to face him. “Watch your tone, girl; the only reason I don’t take my true form is because it does more harm than good in the mortal wor—” He stopped, lips pulling into a grimace as he cast a wary look in Forneus’ direction.

    Gwen looked from him to the daemon and back again, scowling at the secretive gaze that passed between them. Shifting, she firmly planted both hands on her hips. “You were going to say ‘mortal world’, weren’t you?” When neither one of them spoke up, she demanded, “Well? Answer me!”

    Phenex rounded on her then, his nostrils flaring as he spat, “Who are you to demand answers from us?”

    Gwen fixed him with an icy glare. “Oh, I don’t know,” She countered angrily, “I’m just the girl you dragged into this whole mess! I have no idea what’s going on, I don’t know how I’m going to explain disappearing in the middle of the night to my father—I don’t even know where I am right now!” She gestured helplessly at the expanse of empty field around them.

    There wasn’t a single tree or house to be seen, not a soul in sight; just an endless sea of yellow and green stretching out on either side of them, shrouded in darkness, the only light provided by the half-moon and stars, high above. Rows of cattails and Queen Anne’s lace swayed in the evening breeze, the tall grass seeming to change from emerald to sage and back again, rippling like ocean waves.

    “Trust me, that is the least of your problems,” Phenex said scornfully, crossing his arms over his chest as he peered down at her through a fringe of reddish-brown hair, “Now that the seals have been released…” He put a hand to his forehead then, sighing wearily.

    Gwen stared at him, curious. “What was that about seals?” She prompted, unconsciously taking a step closer despite the burning glare he threw her way.

    Forneus came up beside him, clapping a hand on his shoulder sympathetically. “It seems you’re having a rough time keeping things discreet, old friend.” There was laughter in his words, his silvery eyes dancing with amusement.

    “Forneus, please,” Phenex said, a note of exasperation in his voice when he turned his gaze on the other, “This is serious. You know that better than anyone.”

    “Indeed, I do.” Forneus’ expression grew solemn, his smile fading as he let out a long, shuddering sigh. “But, she is right. We did drag her into this, so it’s only fair that we let her know what it is we’re up against. Like it or not, she is involved now, and after what we sensed back at her home…well, I’d say there is a high probability she’s been targeted.”

    Gwen’s breath hitched upon hearing this, and she turned wide, fearful eyes on the two beings in front of her.

    “Targeted? Why would someone target me?” She felt the blood drain from her cheeks, sickened as yet another realization hit her. “No…What about my dad, will he be alright? We have to go back! Please!”

    “Calm down,” Forneus soothed, touching her shoulder lightly, “No harm will come to your father; we’ll just have to keep our distance to ensure it stays that way. I’m sorry, but you won’t be able to return home—at least, not yet.”

    Stricken, she lowered her gaze, a coldness settling in the pit of her stomach as the weight of his words washed over her, saturating her every pore. I can’t go home…dad will probably go out of his mind with grief and worry, and there’s nothing I can do to help…he could be in danger at this very moment, and I wouldn’t know it…

    Tears pricked the corners of her eyes at this thought, her breath coming in shallow gasps. It took every shred of willpower she possessed to keep the tears from falling, pain blossoming in her bottom lip as she bit down to keep the sobs from surfacing.

    “At any rate, we should report back to the council,” Phenex declared, “They’ll want to know about everything that’s happened, tonight.”

    Gwen didn’t know what he was talking about, nor did she care; her entire life had been turned upside-down in the course of a single night, and she hadn’t the slightest clue as to why. She didn’t have the strength to be angry, anymore; all she felt was icy dread, slowly filling her until nothing else existed, spreading into her limbs until she no longer felt the soft, damp earth under her bare feet.

    Two hands suddenly grasped her upper arms, the one on the left using a much lighter touch than the other. Wrenching herself free, she folded her arms across her chest, glowering at both men.

    “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what the hell is going on!” She said hotly, noting the difference in their reactions at her sudden outburst. Whereas Forneus’ luminous, silver eyes had widened in shock, Phenex’s had narrowed, flashing back and forth from amber to gold.

    Gwen didn’t give a damn if he was mad—she was, too!

    She hurried on before either one of them could open their mouths, her voice hoarse. “After being abducted in the middle of the night by a couple of supernatural men—or whatever the hell you are—I don’t think it’s a lot to ask!”

    “You self-centred child,” Phenex growled, looming over her angrily, “There is a lot more at stake than your—”

    Forneus raised a hand, cutting his tirade short. “Take it easy, Phenex.” For a moment, it seemed as though he was about to argue; instead, he averted his gaze, folding his arms across his chest with a contemptuous snort.

    Turning back to Gwen, Forneus leaned forward so that he was eye-level with her. “I promise you, I will tell you whatever you want to know once we’re somewhere safe. But for now,” He held out a hand to her, “Please, will you bear with us for a little longer?”

    She glanced from the proffered hand to the kind smile on his face, the shadows beneath his eyes the only indication of his unease. Feeling a twinge of guilt, she reluctantly placed her hand in his, her bangs fluttering when she let out a weary breath. “Alright, I’ll go…but you’d better keep your promise.”

    Forneus squeezed her hand gently, and straightening, cast a meaningful glance in Phenex’s direction. The other took his cue, looking away from the teenaged girl as he firmly grabbed hold of her shoulder.

    The same blurred colours she’d witnessed during their last teleportation flashed before her eyes, forcing her to shut them tightly against the dizzying sense of vertigo that came with it. As the warmth flooding her system finally peaked, she took a deep breath, once more plummeting into nothingness with the two strange beings beside her.

    (Not sure why, but the spoiler tag keeps splitting chapter two into two parts; this is the second half of it).
    Whispers of Nowhere: Chapter Two (open)


    Gwen’s feet came into contact with a cold, smooth surface, the impact much lighter than it had been the first time around. Still, dizziness swept over her, causing her stomach to clench, her body unaccustomed to the form of travel she was being subjected to.

    Much to her relief, the feeling passed, and as she opened her eyes, she gave a start at what she saw. Phenex let go of her almost immediately, folding his arms across his chest and turning away as she gaped around at the colourful, arid space surrounding them. Once she was steady on her feet, Forneus’ grip slackened, and she spun in a slow circle, drinking in everything from the crystalline walkway she was standing on—which was just one in a network of many, reminding her of the intricately woven threads of a spider’s web—to the softly undulating hues of pink, purple, and green that seemed to fill the entire space, for there were no discernible walls; at least none that she could see.

    It looks just like the Northern Lights. She mused, gasping when she realized it extended far above her, as well. There were walkways crisscrossing both above and below, each one lined with columns of dark marble, evenly staggered on both sides; some ended with large, glowing archways—all of which had strange red glyphs above them, no two the same—while others had spiralling crystal staircases branching off of them, each walkway seemingly supported by nothing more than the thick, silvery pillar at the very heart of the colourful void, reaching as high up as she could see, and extending just as far below.

    Swallowing back the panic she felt when she looked down, she decided to focus on the glowing archway nearest to her instead, squinting against the brilliant light pouring out from its centre, her gaze immediately roving to the symbol above it.

    “What is this place?” She breathed, brushing her bangs from her eyes as she tried to make sense of the strange red lettering; it was unlike anything she’d seen in her father’s books.

    She glanced between Forneus and Phenex, the former gifting her with a smile as he gestured for her to follow them. “Come, we can talk on our way there.”

    “On our way to where?” Gwen asked, keeping pace with the two men as they headed down the winding path. The rhythmical clacking of Forneus’ boots echoed as they descended a long, spiralling staircase leading to yet another level of crystalline pathways, several of them branching out from the central junction that lay ahead, reminding her of the spokes of a chariot wheel.

    “Well, since we’re just giving away all of our secrets now,” Gwen hazarded a look in Phenex’s direction when he muttered this, the auburn-haired man maintaining a steady gait even as he glanced back at her, “The place you find yourself in is a realm simply known as ‘the Spectrum’.”

    “This is where the gods reside, as well as all of the entities in their employ.” Forneus explained, drawing her gaze from one to the other, her eyes lingering on the coloured lights that reflected off of the daemon’s black hair before returning her attention to what he was saying, “This includes Phenex, and of course, myself, as well.”

    Gwen shook her head, numb disbelief causing her to falter in her steps as she tried to absorb the information she was being given. Despite everything she’d witnessed first-hand since meeting the two beings, despite standing in this vast, strange world of theirs, the truth was still a tough pill for her to swallow. For the second time that night, she couldn’t help wondering if all of this really was nothing more than a dream.

    This must be how Alice felt when she fell down the rabbit hole. She decided, picking up the pace when she realized she had fallen several paces behind them.

    Forneus glanced at her when she sauntered between him and Phenex, a look of mild concern on his face before continuing on with his explanation—an explanation Gwen felt she’d missed the first half of when she’d inadvertently tuned him out.
    “I’m sorry,” She could feel her face growing warm, suddenly embarrassed. “What were you saying? Something about the gods forming the council more than a millennium ago?”

    Forneus smiled at her, his expression one of understanding. Phenex, on the other hand, scoffed openly, making her face burn even hotter.
    “Just like a human,” he declared, “Such fleeting attention spans, even when it’s something of great importance.”

    Gwen scowled up at him, eyes narrowing when his lips pulled into a self-satisfied smirk. What she wouldn’t give to wipe that smug look right off of his face!

    Phenex snorted, tilting his head as he studied her. “Well, as you have undoubtedly noticed,” he drawled, gesturing at the grand, obsidian door directly in front of them, Gwen regrettably not having done so until he’d mentioned it, “We’ve arrived at our destination, so the rest of your questions are just going to have to wait.” He finished this statement with a mock bow, infuriating her further.

    Forneus shook his head with a sigh, casting an apologetic look in her direction before turning to his colleague. “I suppose I’ll make my report, first. I trust you have no objections, watching over her in my stead?”

    If not for the fact that it meant she’d be stuck with him, too, Gwen might have openly laughed at the long-suffering expression on Phenex’s face. As it stood, however, she was just as sickened by the arrangement as he was, her stomach giving a painful twist when she wondered how long they would be left alone in one another’s company.

    “It’s not like I have a choice,” Phenex muttered, “Just hurry back, will you?”

    Forneus smiled faintly, “I’ll try, but I can make no such promise.” He cast one last look at Gwen, and disappeared through the massive door, leaving the two of them to stand awkwardly on either side of the doorway.

    Having nothing more to do, and having no particular desire to talk with the man standing an arm’s breadth from her, she allowed her thoughts to wander. She was uncertain as to how many hours had passed since Forneus had shown up in her house, but looking back over everything that had happened to her since, it felt like a lifetime ago. Despite still being somewhat frightened, she could no longer contain her growing curiosity about the world she was in, and its inhabitants. As shocking as it had been to learn that the gods of old actually existed, it had become even more so, now that she found herself standing within their realm. She wondered just how many of them there were, what they were like, how much of the stories she’d read about them were actually true…

    Her thoughts then turned to Forneus; the daemon seemed pleasant enough, though she still found that she was slightly afraid of him. She wasn’t sure what to make of this, and couldn’t help wondering if her fear of him stemmed from the very essence that made her who she was—her humanity. After all, hadn’t she learned in school that by nature, people were often afraid of what they didn’t understand; that it went back to the days when mankind functioned on instinct, alone? He hadn’t done anything to earn her distrust, but the simple fact of the matter was that they hadn’t known one another long enough for him to have gained her trust, either—at least, not yet. Still, she felt she should at least give him the benefit of a doubt, since he had been kind to her from the very beginning of this whole endeavour—unlike a certain amber-eyed someone

    Gwen peered at Phenex out of the corner of her eye, studying everything from his tousled hair to the youthful set of his face, his mouth set into a grim frown as he stared straight ahead. She was at a greater loss as to what to make of him; so far, he’d been incredibly hostile toward her, and her first impression was that she didn’t like him—not one iota. But, hadn’t he rescued her from whatever had shown up back at her house, just the same as Forneus? Surely he couldn’t be all bad.

    Even so, she thought stubbornly, it doesn’t excuse the way he’s been treating me.

    He must have felt her gaze on him then, for he turned his head, quirking an eyebrow when their eyes met. Feeling heat creeping into her cheeks, she quickly averted her gaze, giving herself over to the uncomfortable silence that seemed to be pressing in all around her, all the while wondering just what Forneus had meant about being the guardian of the artifacts…

    Phenex leaned against the doorframe outside of the council chamber, shoving his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket with a sigh. Each minute seemed longer than the last, the firebird pointedly ignoring the furtive glances of the girl next to him. The one time he had deigned to make eye contact with her, she had looked away; one emotion after another had flitted across her face, going by with such swiftness, it was impossible to determine the thoughts behind them. He was certain he had seen conflict in those large, jade eyes, though what she felt conflicted about, he hadn’t even begun to guess.

    Not that it particularly matters, He thought with an agitated sigh. Leave the molly-coddling to Forneus; after all, he’s the one who likes the girl. I’m not here to be her friend—I’m here to do my job. My only concern is to keep her out of the enemy’s reach, nothing more.

    And yet, despite the vehemence behind his thoughts, he found himself staring at her once again, noticing the way she chewed her bottom lip, her eyebrows knitting together as though she were deep in thought, gaze fixated on the transparent walkway below her feet. Something glinted behind the stray locks of blonde hair when she tilted her head forward, catching the coloured lights of the Spectrum.

    Earrings, he realized; two gold studs in the lobe, and a tiny, silver hoop in the cartilage, no doubt identical on the other side. Seeing the way she trembled, her arms wrapped tightly around her, he supposed he might feel a bit sorry for her. Even with the amount of heat his own body generated, he found the Spectrum quite cold at times, so it wasn’t difficult to imagine just how much colder it was for a fragile, human girl.

    He contemplated offering his jacket to her, but thought better of it—why the hell should he care if she was cold right now? He didn’t owe this self-absorbed child a single thing; he didn’t owe any human being anything, for that matter. If not for the fact that he believed in the council’s objective, preserving the sanctity of the mortal world and everything in it, he wouldn’t bother interacting with humans, at all. After everything he had been through…

    His fuming was interrupted when the girl spoke to him then, the meekness in her voice catching him slightly off-guard.

    “Forneus said you guys work for the council, right?” She paused, continuing on when he made no attempt to respond. “He told me he was the guardian of the artifacts. I just wondered what that meant…” She trailed off, the blush in her cheeks deepening to crimson as she lowered her gaze.

    Phenex felt one eyebrow rise involuntarily as he studied her, unsure what to make of the sudden change in her demeanour. It couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes ago that she’d been glaring at him, eyes filled with something bordering on hatred—now she was interested in showing him respect?

    Humans, he thought with an internal sigh, such fickle creatures.

    He was actually considering giving her an answer, when the council door opened, its hinges groaning as Forneus stepped out of the chamber, and onto the crystalline walkway. The girl looked up at the same time he did, her frown mirroring his when he saw the exhaustion lining the guardian’s face.

    Forneus offered him a weak smile when their eyes met, giving a single, nearly imperceptible nod of his head, letting him know he was fine. Phenex was certain the report had been no less gruelling, of course, but it seemed as though the council had gone easy on him, all things considered.

    Then again, what more could they really do to the daemon?
    Phenex gave him a quick pat on the shoulder, and grabbing hold of the edge of the door before it could close, looked over his shoulder at the girl, meeting her startled gaze.

    “Why don’t you ask him?” He told her, and with that, he stepped over the threshold leading into the chamber, taking a steadying breath in preparation for the many questions the High Council no doubt had in store for him.
    #2 Rebel-Dynasty, Apr 21, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 23, 2015
  3. Chapter Three

    Whispers of Nowhere: Chapter Three (open)

    Forneus stared after Phenex until the door closed behind him, his brow furrowing in confusion. Ask me what? He wondered, turning inquisitively toward the adolescent girl next to him. Her gaze was still fixed on the door, a frown of uncertainty settling across her face.

    “Miss…?” Forneus inquired, the girl giving a start as she looked up at him, clearly having been deep in thought.

    “It’s Gwen,” She responded, somewhat distractedly, “Gwenyth Lamelle—but you can just call me Gwen. Everyone else does.”

    “That’s right…how could I have forgotten?” Dumbfounded by the lapse in his memory, he hadn’t realized he’d spoken aloud until he caught sight of Gwen’s expression. She eyed him warily, tilting her head as though trying to put a difficult puzzle together. He didn’t understand why, but much to his relief, she decided to forego asking him what he had meant, and turned to a different topic, instead.

    “You told me before that you were the guardian of the artifacts,” She shifted nervously from one foot to the other, “What does that mean, exactly?”

    Forneus contemplated her for a moment, not quite certain where to begin with his explanation. There were so many factors that needed to be taken into account; with everything Gwen had already been through, he wanted to make things as simple for her as he possibly could. Absently fiddling with the cuffs of his sleeves, he decided that the beginning was as good a place to start as any.

    “I was appointed guardian by the High Council of Deities, themselves—the very gods that Phenex is reporting to, as we speak—to watch over and prevent the artifacts from ever falling into the wrong hands.” Seeing that he had her full attention, he continued on. “It was a task assigned to me seventy-five years ago, and one that I would have been relieved of in only a few short months, if not for two things; what happened eight years ago, and then what occurred, tonight. Now that the artifacts have disbanded, a successor guardian cannot be appointed until they are reclaimed.”

    Gwen tilted her head. “What happened eight years ago?” She asked, frowning.

    Forneus clasped his hands at the small of his back, for lack of anything better to do with them, his gaze lowered. “To be honest, I’m not entirely sure,” he admitted, “One minute, I was watching over the artifacts via the Ethereal Network—that is to say, the Spectrum’s surveillance centre—when someone, or something, attacked me. I didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late. When I awoke…”

    “…Eight years had passed?” Gwen guessed, her eyes widening. Despite looking baffled by what she’d just been told, she seemed to be taking it all in stride, her voice only shaking marginally when she asked, “I don’t understand, though…why are the artifacts so important? What is it that they do?”

    Well, she was bound to ask that question, sooner or later, He thought ruefully, though I wish it had been later, rather than sooner…

    Exhaling slowly, he resigned himself to walking the tenuous line between too much information and not enough. He had promised to tell her anything she wanted to know, but doing so had been poor judgment on his part; the council had made it clear that telling her too much could lead to future complications—that it could very well put her life in jeopardy—but in his experience, the opposite also held true.


    Gwen’s voice broke through his thoughts, the guardian offering her a reassuring smile when he noticed the fretful chewing of her lower lip.
    “My apologies, I was just trying to decide on how best to explain it to you.” He replied, bowing his head, “Do you recall what Phenex said earlier—to be more specific, when he made mention of the seals?”

    She nodded, her eyes lighting up as though she’d found the final piece of the puzzle. “Wait…he was talking about the artifacts, wasn’t he?”

    “Very good, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.” Forneus smiled, “The artifacts originally were just that; ordinary items belonging to the gods who had forged them. However, the Greek god, Apollo, enchanted them by imbuing them with ether, which in turn made them into seals; these seals served as protective barriers to the realm, ‘Nowhere’.”

    “…Until now.”

    Having been engrossed in his explanation, Forneus hadn’t noticed Phenex emerge from the council chamber—and judging from the way she’d nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound of his voice, neither had Gwen.

    Doing his best to suppress the grin tugging at the corners of his mouth, he noted with slight amusement that Phenex didn’t bother to conceal his own smirk from the girl; clearly, her startled reaction hadn’t gone unnoticed by him either, but unlike Forneus, he had no qualms when it came to antagonizing her.

    Gwen glowered at both of them, her gaze flitting back and forth from one to the other, the irritation of being startled melting away to be replaced with puzzlement. Finally, she seemed to have reached some sort of decision, her soft, green eyes coming to rest on Forneus. He could only venture a guess as to what decision she’d come to, but he had a feeling it had something to do with who she preferred talking to—him, or his fiery companion—and by the look of it, he had won that particular ‘contest’. He wasn’t sure what to make of this, but he would have been lying to himself if he denied feeling the slightest bit pleased by the outcome; not because he wanted her to favour him over his oldest friend, but…

    “What do you mean,” Gwen asked, bringing Forneus’ attention back to her, “they served as the seals to ‘Nowhere’?”

    He hesitated at this, unsure of how to proceed; would he be crossing that line into dangerous territory, if he answered her question, or was it essential that she be made aware of this particular truth? Images of her being captured by the enemy came unbidden to his mind, forcing him to bite back the mixture of fear and anger he felt at the mere thought of it. He didn’t want to entertain the notion of harm befalling her, the very girl he’d kept watch over since…

    No, don’t think on it. He scolded himself, swallowing against the lump in his throat. If we fail, losing her will only be one of many problems we face on a much larger scale.

    He cast a helpless glance in Phenex’s direction—silent, pleading. What was he supposed to do?

    Phenex shook his head with a resigned sigh. “You may as well,” he declared, running a hand through his hair and fixing Forneus with a meaningful look, “The council has permitted her to know certain information; just be sure to stick to the basics.”

    Catching his meaning, he nodded, and turned to meet Gwen’s expectant stare, noting her slightly puzzled expression. “Shortly after it was founded, the High Council concocted a plan to seal away any of their brethren who posed a threat to the natural order of the mortal world, along with any lesser entities who served under them—and thus, the prison realm of ‘Nowhere’ was created.”

    Gwen gaped up at him, her arms falling limply at her sides. He could practically see the information turning in her mind, her eyes going cloudy and unfocused, then lighting up again as it dawned on her.

    “Whoa, whoa…they created a whole other world?

    Forneus smiled. “Indeed, they did.”

    “That’s…that’s…” Gwen stammered, putting her hands to her head as she tried to find the words.

    “…Beyond your comprehension?” Phenex supplied, sneering when she glared back at him.

    “Phenex,” Forneus warned mildly, and returned his gaze to Gwen. “I believe the word you were searching for was ‘unbelievable’?” He offered, knowing full well that at this juncture, she was well passed any skepticism she had previously held on the matter.

    She nodded, a slight blush rising in her cheeks as she lowered her gaze. “So, the seals…?”

    “That’s right, now where were we before we were interrupted?” He looked pointedly at Phenex when he said this, the other giving an apologetic shrug of his shoulders, though it was obvious from the curling of his lip that he wasn’t the least bit sorry. “Ah, yes. In their role as the seals, the artifacts kept the doorway to Nowhere closed, preventing all who were imprisoned within from escaping.”

    “So, now that the seals have been released…does that mean…?”

    “Unfortunately, yes.” Forneus nodded, frowning. “According to the reports the council received from the Regulations Force—an elite team equivalent to your world’s police and military forces, if I’m not mistaken—many of the prisoners have already broken free, with many more following closely behind them.”

    “If they know that the prisoners are escaping, then why isn’t anyone trying to stop them?” Gwen’s words came out somewhat strangled, her pupils contracting with fear.

    As he started to reply, Phenex cut in.

    “Tell me girl,” His eyes betrayed the faintest hint of curiosity as he tilted his head to look at her, “Are the tactical units in your world capable of catching every criminal, of meting out punishment and justice for every act committed against the laws they uphold?”

    She gaped back at him for a moment, sputtering over her answer. “Well…I…no, I…I…suppose not…”

    “I thought as much.” Gwen seemed to burn an even darker shade of red at his words, her obvious annoyance fading slightly when he went on.
    “Unfortunately, the Force’s units are too thinly spread between here, your world, and elsewhere; we simply don’t have the numbers to contain them.” He seemed to take notice of her frightened expression, for much to Forneus’ surprise, he continued on in a milder tone. “However…the convicts were stripped of their powers upon incarceration; therefore, it will take them some time to replenish those lost powers. With any luck, we should be able to flush them out of hiding before they can do any real damage.”

    An uncomfortable silence fell between them then, Forneus turning his gaze toward Gwen, gauging her reaction. Despite Phenex’s assurances that the Regulations Force would do everything in their power to prevent total destruction from occurring, she visibly paled, eyes unfocused as she stared passed his shoulder into the multi-coloured void beyond.

    “I promise you, Gwen,” He gently laid his hand upon her shoulder, noticing that despite flinching, she didn’t withdraw from him as she would have, before, “The convicted entities will be dealt with as swiftly as possible; no harm will befall your world. After all, what affects one world affects the other.”

    She seemed to consider his words, a line forming between her eyebrows as she absently clutched at the hem of her pajama top. Sensing her unease, he went on.

    “However, the only way to ensure the continued preservation of the mortal world is to track down each and every one of the artifacts. Bringing them all together again is the only way to reactivate their seals, and thus, the only way to close the portal to Nowhere once again.” He cast a surreptitious glance in Phenex’s direction to make sure he hadn’t said more than he was permitted to, the other merely giving a curt nod in reply. “Of course, before they can all be brought together, the convicts will have to be detained once again. Unfortunately, there is no way to open the portal in order to admit one prisoner, without running the risk of the others escaping again in the process.”

    “But that is a matter for the Regulations Force and the council,” Phenex declared with a flippant wave of his hand, “Let them be diligent in their duties—ours is merely to get hold of the artifacts before anyone else does. If we need to take down an enemy or two along the way, so be it.”

    Seeing the feverish glint in his companion’s eyes, Forneus sighed, shaking his head wearily. Leave it to Phenex to let his battle lust get the better of him…

    Returning his attention to Gwen, he noticed that she was shifting from one foot to the other, the skin of her face ashen, bringing attention to the dark circles forming beneath her eyes. A subtle tremor racked her shoulders, the girl wrapping her arms around herself as she vigorously rubbed her hands over them.

    As comprehension finally made its way to the forefront of his mind, Forneus swept into a bow, pressing one hand to his chest, the other curled behind his back. “My apologies,” He shrugged out of his coat, and gently placed it across Gwen’s shoulders, “You must be exhausted after everything you’ve endured, tonight. Come, I will show you to your temporary lodgings.”

    “Thank you.” Her words were so softly spoken, that if not for his exceptional hearing, he wouldn’t have known she’d said anything, at all.

    “Think nothing of it.” He assured her, beckoning with his hand for her to follow him back up the crystalline walkway. As she followed along beside him, he just happened to catch the look of disgust on Phenex’s face; his hands were shoved deep within his pockets, his shoulders hunched as he scowled back at him.

    Forneus bit back a snicker, the sight calling to mind the image of a petulant child. He knew full well what had merited such disdain from Phenex, and the knowledge only served to amuse him, further. To think that kindness toward a human could bother him this much. He thought with a shake of his head. His grin faded however, when he remembered the reason for Phenex’s hostility toward humans, his stomach clenching guiltily in response. Though I suppose, if it had been me, I would feel much the same way he does…

    Maintaining his pace, he glanced over his shoulder, silver eyes meeting striking tawny ones. His contrition must have shown, for Phenex’s expression began to soften, one corner of his mouth twitching into a lopsided grin. Relief washing over him at the telltale sign of forgiveness, he returned the smile in kind, and faced forward once again.

    Gwen continued to walk along beside him, completely unaware of the silent exchange that had passed between the two beings, the teen appearing to be concentrating all of her energy into putting one foot in front of the other. Convincing himself that she probably just needed a good night’s rest, that she’d be back to her regular self in no time and there was no cause for concern, Forneus’ thoughts wandered to other matters, his eyes only vaguely taking in the shifting of the colours surrounding them as they continued toward a split junction at the centre of the translucent walkway.

    It wasn’t until a few minutes after they’d headed down the path on their left that Gwen broke the silence, Forneus observing the way her eyes flitted from him to the auburn-haired being at her right, and back again, her pale cheeks taking on a rosy hue as she kept pace with them both. “So, if Forneus is the guardian of the artifacts,” she hesitated a moment, peering at Phenex out of the corner of her eye, “then what does that make you?”

    Sensing that he was far more likely to make a smart remark than give an honest answer, Forneus cut in smoothly. “Phenex is actually a high-ranking, elite agent of the Regulations Force, First Unit; however, he serves as a solitary foot soldier.” He looked down at Gwen, adding with a wink, “This is because he doesn’t play well with others.”

    This elicited a giggle from her, Gwen quickly putting a hand over her mouth when Phenex turned his burning glare from her to Forneus, the guardian unable to keep himself from grinning. In truth, he was relieved; teasing Phenex had simply been a bonus—hearing Gwen laugh after all that had happened, even if it was only the tiniest bit, counted as a positive omen in his books.

    “Don’t encourage the girl.” Phenex muttered, his eyes flashing in irritation.

    “This girl has a name, you know.” Gwen scowled, “It’s Gwen—Gwenyth Lamelle.”

    “I didn’t ask, and nor do I care.”

    What in the name of Mythos occurred in my absence? Forneus wondered, staring between the two of them with a mixture of confusion and amusement. He nearly laughed aloud, noticing how very alike they were—something he was certain that, if it was ever voiced aloud, would be met with blatant denial, possibly even fiery retribution.

    Deciding he’d teased Phenex enough for one night, he opted to keep his counsel. Dread of incurring his painful wrath aside, Forneus didn’t wish to push him any further; it had been a trying night for them all, and he didn’t want to create more friction between the phoenix and human girl than what already existed. Frankly, he’d prefer if there was no tension between them at all, but he knew it was far too much to hope for, given the current circumstances.

    As they continued their journey up the crystalline walkway, making many twists and turns along the way, Gwen spoke up again, casting a furtive glance at Forneus as she did. “So, what happens now…you know, since I can’t go home, yet?” There was a tremor in her voice as she said this, jaw clenching and unclenching as she fought to maintain control of her emotions.

    “You will remain here, until such a time when the council decides what to do with you.” Forneus replied. When he saw her pale further, he mentally cursed himself for his poor choice of words.

    The poor girl is already frightened enough as is, He admonished himself, the last thing she needs is another reason to be afraid.

    He turned to face her when she halted in her steps. She was trembling, her hands clasped against her chest as she stared up at him with wide, fearful eyes. Feeling Phenex stiffen beside him, he cast a furtive glance in his direction; disdain was written across his face, his eyes narrowing as his mouth pulled into a severe frown. Realization hitting him like a thunderbolt, Forneus experienced a wave of sorrow. Something about Gwen’s reaction was triggering the ghosts of Phenex’s past all over again; he didn’t know what, specifically, but he couldn’t help thinking that he was to blame. If only he had chosen his words more carefully…

    No matter how long you’ve lived, no matter how many years have passed since that unfortunate day…will you never truly heal? He wondered morosely, his gaze meeting Phenex’s for a fraction of a second, before his attention was diverted back to Gwen.

    She had retreated a few more steps from him, her mounting terror evident from the way her eyes flitted back and forth between them. Human though she was, it was clear to Forneus that she was picking up on the intense hostility radiating off of Phenex at that precise moment, her lip quivering whenever her gaze landed on him. Glancing between the two, he heaved a sigh. Phenex’s past scars would have to wait. Right now, a confused, petrified human girl needed reassuring, and since his slip of the tongue had been the catalyst for this entire situation, it was his duty to make it right.

    “I apologize,” He held his hand out to her, placating, “That was poor wording on my part. I assure you, we have no intention of causing you any harm—quite the opposite, in fact. The council wishes to protect you until all of the artifacts have been reclaimed, to ensure you don’t end up caught in the crossfire between us, and those who oppose us.”

    She visibly calmed at his words, Forneus’ coat sweeping across the translucent walkway as Gwen’s arms fell back at her sides. There were still traces of anxiety lining her face, her eyes wary as she asked in a timid voice, “I don't understand, though...what do I have to do with the artifacts in the first place?”

    When he failed to answer, she continued on.

    “I mean, there must be some sort of connection; all I did was touch one of them—and they all vanished! Then, you showed up, out of the blue, and now I can’t go home, because someone or something is after me? I don’t understand…why is this happening, and why to me, of all people?”

    Forneus attempted to answer again, only to have Phenex interrupt, the mottled golden-amber of his eyes glittering dangerously as he glanced back at him. “Take care of things with the girl,” he murmured, “Something important has come to my attention. I’ll catch up with you, later.” With that, he turned on his heel and stormed off, heading back down the same path they had just come from.

    Forneus followed him with his gaze, watching when he turned the corner just beyond a set of twin pillars, and disappeared from view. He knew, no matter what Phenex said, no matter the excuse he came up with, there was nothing important for him to take care of at that very moment. He had seen that look in his eyes before. He needed time to cool off, and as such, had decided to remove himself from occupying the same space as the teenaged girl. Despite his agitation toward Gwen, Forneus knew that he had left every bit as much for her benefit, as for his own; Phenex would never admit it to himself, let alone to anyone else, but he still cared enough that he would never go out of his way to deliberately harm a human being, no matter what horrors he had endured in the past.

    “What did I say…?”

    He was brought out of his ponderings at the timid sound of Gwen’s voice, Forneus looking to his right to meet her startled gaze. Allowing his features to settle into a relaxed smile, he patted her on the shoulder, and beckoned her to follow him further down the winding quartz path.
    “Don’t take Phenex’s attitude too personally.” He told her as they came to one of the few enclosed passageways the Spectrum had to offer, a faint smile tugging at his lips as she studied the cavernous walls, her eyes lighting up when she caught sight of the glimmering flecks of gold imbedded within the dark stonework. “He isn’t as bad as he seems. Things have just been…difficult, for him.”

    The hues of colour were softer in this part of the Spectrum, the deep blues and violets undulating hypnotically as they ran between the crevices in the walls on either side, while the continuous sea of colour that rolled below the crystal walkway cast prisms of light on the ceiling. Forneus observed Gwen out of the corner of his eye, watching as she cast her curious gaze from the shimmering ceiling above, to the many doors lining the walls on either side, each one of varying colour.

    Leading her to one streaked with grey and black marble, he grabbed hold of the old-fashioned brass door handle, and threw it open, gesturing for her to take a look inside. “Welcome to your personal living quarters,” He declared, “I hope you find them to your liking.”

    Gwen stepped over the threshold, casting a furtive glance at Forneus as she entered the modest, yet sizable room, her fingers grasping the edges of his coat to keep it from slipping off of her shoulders.

    “Wow…” She breathed, noting that the walls undulated with the same, calm tones as out in the corridor, the temperature seeming to be warmer here than in the rest of the Spectrum. A bed with pristine, white linen sat in the far corner to her left, a simple, mahogany nightstand next to it. The rest of the room was bare, though it was reasonable to assume that with the amount of space left, a great deal more had once occupied the quarters.

    “It once served as the barracks for some of the Regulations Force’s operatives,” Forneus explained as Gwen continued to investigate her surroundings, “However, with the department being downsized significantly within the last century, this entire corridor is currently vacant.”

    A feeling of tranquility fell over her, the adrenaline she’d experienced before beginning to ebb away, her thoughts becoming hazy as the sudden desire for slumber seized her. Was there some enchantment within the room making her feel this way, she wondered, or were the events of the night finally catching up to her? Just how long ago had she been in her own bed, staring at the numbers of her clock radio? It felt as though a lifetime had passed since she’d been in her kitchen, staring at the artifacts…

    She hadn’t realized she’d voiced this out loud until Forneus gave a slight chuckle, declaring, “With everything you’ve witnessed tonight, it’s hardly surprising that you feel that way. In truth, though, we’ve only been in one another’s company for little more than two hours—by the mortal realm’s standards, at any rate. It’s approaching 3 a.m.—where you come from, of course.”

    It’s really only been that long?

    However, with this realization came another—she needed to go to the bathroom, and badly. Glancing around the room, she was sorely disappointed to see that there wasn’t one. When she voiced this aloud, Forneus chuckled again, and snapped his fingers. What happened next caused Gwen to stumble backward with a gasp. She watched in wide-eyed fascination as first, a doorway appeared in the wall to her left, expanding until a small room had formed off to the side of the one she was standing in. Once the walls and linoleum had finished materializing, a stand-up shower, toilet, and bathroom sink appeared, complete with earth-tone green countertops and matching bathmats. A simple, metal towel rack laden with soft, cream-coloured towels and washcloths appeared next, showing up on the wall closest to the shower, the modest facility filled with what looked to be fluorescent yellow light.

    It took her a moment longer to stop gaping, and to make use of it, her face warming with embarrassment as she strode passed Forneus. His chortles continued even after she’d re-emerged from the bathroom, returning his coat to him with a scowl; clearly, he found something in her reaction amusing. Between him and Phenex, it seemed her frayed nerves would never know a moment’s peace, again.

    “My apologies,” Forneus bowed, his shoulders still quaking with residual giggles, “Being that the Spectrum’s residents have no need to relieve themselves, lacking bathroom facilities hasn’t been a problem, until now. Fortunately, we have vast knowledge of how they work. I hope you find it adequate?”

    Try as she might, Gwen couldn’t hold his laughter against him, even if it had been at her expense; she supposed, if the roles had been reversed, she would have laughed just as he had. Feeling her lips twitching into a smile, she replied, “Yes, it’s fine. So, if you don’t…well, you know,” she shifted awkwardly, the rest of the words coming out in a jumble, “then does that mean you guys don’t eat, either?”

    “Yes and no.” Forneus paused as he pulled his coat back on, his rich voice filling the room once he’d buttoned it nearly all the way up. “While we don’t need to relieve ourselves, we do still require rest and sustenance—the latter coming in the form of ether, while slumber simply allows us to replenish whatever magical energy we’ve used.”

    Before she knew what she was doing, Gwen found herself sitting down on the edge of the bed. Her curiosity getting the better of her for what she felt must have been the hundredth time that night, she echoed, “Ether?” Hadn’t he mentioned it once before, while explaining the roles of the artifacts?

    Grinning, Forneus patted her on the shoulder. “All in good time, Gwen—for the time being, you should try to get some rest.”

    Feeling her eyelids beginning to droop, she reluctantly agreed with him, and crawled beneath the thick, white comforter with a yawn.

    As Forneus made his way over to the door, he looked over his shoulder at her. “I will ensure that food and other necessities are provided for you, as well. If you need anything else, be sure to let me know.” With that, he bid her goodnight, and left the room, the marble door closing with a soft click behind him.

    She didn’t know how long she stared into the darkened room, watching the effervescent walls on either side of her pulse from blue to violet, and back again, but as time passed, she started feeling nauseous, her temples throbbing in time with the pounding of her heart. Abandoning her theory that the room had been enchanted to make her feel drowsy, Gwen curled up on her side, a whimper escaping her when her stomach clenched painfully. Now that she was alone, homesickness began to take hold, her breath coming in quick, shallow gasps as she fought back the tears that were threatening. As memories of her parents and her home flitted across her mind, she surrendered to them, the tears continuing to trail down her cheeks long after she’d fallen into a fitful sleep.

    When Gwen awoke, she was surprised to see a folding tray next to her bed, a gilded platter laden with an assortment of fruits, muffins, and other baked goods sitting on top of it. Next to it was a pitcher of clear liquid and an empty glass, the teen realizing just how parched she was after her fitful sleep in the strange, forbidden world she currently found herself in. Sitting up, she poured the liquid from the pitcher into the glass, and cautiously sniffed at it. Satisfied that it was only water, she swallowed the contents of her glass and refilled it, draining another half cup before her thirst was finally quenched.

    As another bodily need brought itself to her attention, she lowered her feet to the smoky, dark tile that made up the room’s floor, and sauntered over to the bathroom Forneus had created for her mere hours earlier. She winced at the sudden brightness that surrounded her, shielding her eyes from the light that had automatically come on the moment she’d stepped through the door.

    It was only upon exiting that she took notice of the toothbrush, shampoo, and other assorted toiletries sitting on the bathroom counter—she would make good use of them soon, but not until after she’d had something to eat. Her stomach growled loudly right then, as if reminding her of the hunger gnawing away at her insides, her mouth beginning to water as the tantalizing smell of freshly-baked blueberry muffins called to her from the other side of the room.

    It wasn’t until she was sitting back down on the bed, buttered muffin in hand, that she saw the clothing lying at the bottom of the comforter—bra, underwear, a pair of boot-cut jeans, a green long sleeve, and a pair of blue and white sneakers balanced on top. Swallowing the bite of muffin she’d taken, Gwen slowly got up from the bed, and checked the clothes over. She didn’t have time to wonder why everything was the proper size, nor to be mildly disconcerted by it, for a knock came at the door just then, startling her out of her thoughts.

    “Come in…” She called, repeating herself when her voice refused to come out louder than a whisper the first time around.

    The door opened soundlessly, admitting the silver-eyed being she had met short hours ago in the comfort of her own home. He seemed hesitant to impose at first, only crossing the threshold when Gwen waved him in, her breakfast still in hand. Noticing the crumbs she’d inadvertently dropped all over the floor while gesturing at him, she quickly stooped to pick them up, flushing in mild embarrassment. She furtively glanced at Forneus out of the corner of her eye as she straightened, immediately taking notice of the troubled expression darkening his features.

    What’s eating him? She wondered, still glancing over her shoulder at him as she tossed the crumbs into the bathroom sink. She didn’t get the opportunity to ask him out loud, for the black and grey marbled door opened yet again, startling the thought from her mind. In walked Phenex, his gaze darting around the room before it came to rest on her, lips curling into a mocking grin. Had he seen her flinch when the door opened?

    Of course he did, she huffed in annoyance. He wouldn’t be grinning at me, otherwise.

    Feeling the heat rising in her cheeks, Gwen glared back at him. “You could have knocked, first,” she snapped, striding across the room to stand in front of him with her hands on her hips, “Or is it that you haven’t heard of this little thing called privacy? Where I come from, it’s all the rage.”

    It was quick, but she just managed to catch a glimpse of it. A flicker of irritation, Phenex’s expression darkening for a split second before the mask of indifference carefully slipped back into place, the feverish afterglow in his eyes the only evidence that the teen’s sarcasm had hit its mark.

    Pleased with herself, she didn’t realize he’d closed the distance between them until his hand came down on her shoulder, gripping it tightly, Gwen gasping at the amount of heat radiating from the palm of his hand.

    “You forget yourself, human.” Though his tone was soft, there was no mistaking the underlying current in his words. However, this was as far as he went, removing his hand and turning his attention to Forneus before she could fully register what had just happened. “I have news; the first one has been located.”

    A chill raced up her spine when his hand left her shoulder, Gwen repressing a shudder as she looked between the two beings. It was clear Forneus hadn’t noticed the exchange, and being the stubborn individual that she was, she refused to run crying to him over what may or may not have been a threat.

    No, he couldn’t have meant it like that, she reasoned, he’s a jerk, but he’s one of the good guys…right? He was probably just trying to scare me. Yeah, that’s it.

    Taking a deep breath, she pushed her thoughts aside, and returned to the discussion at hand. “What do you mean, ‘the first one’?” She asked, mentally cursing herself when she lowered her gaze under the intensity of his. It was made even worse when she saw the superior smirk tugging at his lips, making Gwen’s cheeks burn with anger all over again.

    “The first artifact we need to collect, of course.” Phenex declared, his eyes seeming to brighten as he looked down at her, no doubt relishing in her discomfort.

    Jerk, Gwen seethed, unconsciously balling her hands into fists. I’ve just about had it with your superiority complex!

    Having missed Forneus’ response, she just barely caught Phenex’s question to the guardian. “Can you ensure she’s ready in time for our departure?”

    It took her a moment to catch up, Gwen drawing back slightly once she had. “Whoa, hang on a sec,” she protested, “What do I need to be ready for? Where are you taking me?” She glanced at Forneus, the guardian giving her an apologetic look in return.

    “I meant to tell you this, but Phenex got here before I had the chance.” He sighed then, pressing the tips of his fingers to his forehead. “The council has ruled that you accompany us on our mission.”

    “T-They…what?” She stammered, her arms dropping limply at her sides as the gravity of his words sank in. “Why do I have to go along? Isn’t it going to be dangerous? Wasn’t that the whole reason behind why I can’t go home, why I have to stay here—because of the danger? And now, you’re telling me the council wants me to go along with you?”

    She couldn’t keep the incredulity from creeping into her voice, her words wavering as she glared at him accusingly. “You said the council wanted to keep me safe until after the artifacts were found!”

    Forneus’ face fell, his luminous eyes dulling as he looked back at her guiltily. He opened his mouth to respond, but stopped short when Phenex stepped in between them, golden-amber eyes flashing as he stared down at her.

    “Look, we wouldn’t be in this situation, if you hadn’t touched the artifacts to begin with!” He snapped, his upper lip twisting into a snarl. “Thanks to you, we’re on the brink of having a full-blown crisis on our hands!”

    By this point, Gwen was too angry to be intimidated by him. She stepped forward, glaring at him with as much venom as she could muster. “How on earth was I supposed to know touching them would make them disappear like that?” She declared, “Until last night, I didn’t know a single thing about them, much less that they were enchanted!”

    “Regardless,” Phenex countered, his eyes turning a burnished gold as he glared back at her, “You did release them, and as such, you are obligated to help Forneus retrieve them.”

    “You’re not being fair,” She said, voice breaking with exasperation, “I didn’t know!”

    Phenex glowered at her, a look of disgust on his face. Turning his head slightly to the side, he peered at her from the corner of his eye, muttering under her breath, “Tch. Like that’s any excuse…”

    Gwen flared at this, her arms trembling with suppressed rage. “Are you even listening to yourself?! You’re being completely irrational.” Her voice quavered, “It’s not just an excuse—it’s a legitimate reason! My father brings artifacts home all the time. How the hell was I supposed to know these ones were any different from the ones he’s collected, before?!”

    The air seemed to swell between them, though whether it was just her imagination, or whether Phenex was, in fact, responsible for the sudden rise in temperature, Gwen couldn’t be sure. Either way, she’d never felt as frustrated as she did right now, her skin prickling as hot blood pumped through her veins. Determined not to break eye contact with him this time, lest he take it as a sign of weakness, she remained rooted to the spot, eyes narrowing when she saw his stance become more rigid.

    Before Phenex could make a retort, Forneus interjected, holding his hand up in a placating manner. “I’m sorry, Phenex, but Gwen is right—she isn’t to blame for what happened. The artifacts never should have been brought together, to begin with…and they wouldn’t have been, if I hadn’t failed my duties as guardian. If not for the failsafe Apollo put in place, preventing whoever is responsible for bringing the artifacts together from using them, we would have a full-blown crisis on our hands. But still…it never should have come down to this…the failsafe shouldn’t have been necessary…”

    Gwen gaped up at him, shocked by the heaviness in his words. Seeing the sorrow-filled lines beneath his eyes, she couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. After all, it wasn’t really his fault—he’d been attacked, so how could he really hold himself accountable for what had happened? Tentatively taking a step closer, she reached a hand out toward his shoulder, but stopped, letting her arm fall back at her side. Just as Phenex’s anger had filled the room moments ago, so too did Forneus’ despair. His sadness seemed to settle over the room, blanketing everything it touched in a dread-filled fog, permeating her very pores.

    “Why…why weren’t they meant to come together?” She asked softly, afraid that her words might upset him further, but feeling the information was too important to pass up. “What is the ‘failsafe’ that’s keeping things from being worse than they already are?”

    “A little more than one thousand years ago—one thousand, two-hundred, to be precise—shortly after the High Council was formed, Apollo proposed that they appoint the very first guardian. It was decided that entities serving under the gods, and not the gods, themselves, would carry out this task, as the deities had a great deal of responsibility in governing the various realms, already. The role of this individual, as I told you last night, was to watch over the seals, and ensure that the artifacts remained apart.” Forneus paused, breathing a sigh. When he continued, his tone was far heavier, his eyes having lost some of their luster. “The reason for this was to prevent the convicts of Nowhere from escaping, for if the seals were brought together, the gateway to Nowhere would be opened. As such, it was decreed that the guardian responsible for failing to prevent this from happening would…” He trailed off then, lowering his eyes under Gwen’s inquisitive stare.

    Despite her curiosity, she couldn’t bring herself to prompt more out of him. Whatever had happened in addition to Nowhere’s gateway being opened was obviously a source of great pain for him.

    Phenex sighed heavily beside her, casting a stern look in her direction as he continued in Forneus’ place. “The guardian appointed at the time of such an occurrence loses a sizable portion of his power upon the seals’ release.” His voice was thin, impatient. “This is intended both as penance for his failure in his capacity as guardian, and as incentive to reclaim the artifacts—and in doing so, the power he has lost.”

    “So, in short, a second chance…?” Gwen murmured, more to herself than anyone else. Still, as she looked at Forneus, she knew the price had been steep. The ‘second chance’ being permitted to him was more like a double-edged sword than an opportunity to make up for his mistakes. What power he had lost would only be returned to him once he got the artifacts back. If he failed in his mission, would those powers be lost to him, forever? Would the High Council truly be so unforgiving to one of their own? Even as the thought crossed her mind, she knew the answer; the punishment for failure may be harsh, but according to everything they had told her, it was also fair. Both Phenex and Forneus had made it perfectly clear just how important the artifacts were, and as such, that losing them could mean the end of the very worlds they were sworn to protect.

    Gwen stirred from her thoughts when Phenex spoke again, his words edged.

    “Judging by the look on your face, you’re finally starting to get it.” His breath hissed between clenched teeth, as though he was trying to keep his temper under control. “If you care about anything besides yourself, you will take responsibility for your part in this whole mess, and you will help Forneus in whatever meager way you can! Or does the suffering of the one who saved your life short hours ago mean nothing to you?”

    Turmoil burned its way up through her stomach and into her chest at Phenex’s words, her breath catching in her throat as she stared back at him, unseeing. She didn’t know Forneus well, but she did care—she really did. He had saved her life, and in their short time together, he had been nothing but kind to her; for Phenex to suggest she didn’t care at all only angered her, more. How dare he assume he knew her, how she felt?

    Feeling the heat creeping up from the back of her neck and into her cheeks, Gwen glowered back at him. “I do care!” she didn’t mean for it to, but desperation crept into her voice, her eyes beginning to sting, “But how am I supposed to help? I don’t know what you want me to do, or if I can even do it…I didn’t ask for any of this! After everything that’s happened, I don’t know if I’ll ever see my family again…”

    Phenex towered over her, Gwen trailing off as she shrank back from him. Outrage was written all over his face as he glared down at her with feverish, glittering eyes. “You’re even slower than I thought,” He said, lip curling in disdain, “You don’t get it, you simple, foolish girl! The very fate of the worlds are at risk—this one, and yours. Your petty concerns are nothing in comparison!”

    It was like being slapped. So that was it, then; how she felt, what she was going through…it didn’t matter. Nothing about her life, not her concern for her family, or her fear of what was to come—as far as he was concerned, it was nothing more than triviality. But could she really deny his logic? She hated to admit it, hated him even more for saying it, but she couldn’t close her eyes to the truth. He was right, and there was no way around it; what was her life, really, when balanced against the fate of the world?

    ‘The very fate of the worlds are at risk—both this one, and yours!’

    The words kept repeating in her head, becoming more urgent with each syllable, driving all other thoughts from her mind. She stared between both beings then, unblinking, vaguely aware that Phenex was still glaring down at her, his mouth moving, though no sound seemed to be coming out…

    What am I supposed to do, now?

    Phenex reprimanded Gwen for a few moments longer, not even caring when he noticed the glazed look in her eyes, her expression blank—as though she were somewhere else, entirely, worlds away from the room they were standing in. It wasn’t until Forneus gave his shoulder a shake that he finally stopped short, and glanced back at him. The guardian gave him a significant look, before tilting his head toward the girl.

    It was only now that he was no longer scolding her that Phenex took notice of her wide, green eyes, the trembling of her lower lip. The vacant expression had vanished, replaced with frightful awareness. Had he really scared her that much with what he’d said…or was his temper the culprit? He looked away, turning his glare toward the tiled floor. Revulsion settled in his stomach like a heavy stone, the thought that it was probably ‘both’ nagging at the back of his mind. While he didn’t feel any remorse for revealing to her the cold, hard facts of what was at stake, it was troubling that he’d lost control of his emotions so easily. What was it about her that made him so quick to anger? Sure, she was a self-absorbed human, but—weren’t they all? So why should this one, insignificant girl, upset him as much as she did?

    Because she’s not insignificant at all, He admitted to himself, casting a long, hard look in Gwen’s direction. She could be the difference between the success and failure of this mission...and that’s only if she helps us!

    Frustration stirred within him in that instant, rolling off of him in waves—frustration at the girl for her unwillingness to help, and frustration at himself, for ever entertaining the notion that she would. Spinning on his heel, he made his way over to the door, vaguely aware when Forneus started to say something, but stopped. Grabbing hold of the handle, he glanced back at him.

    “There’s no help for it. I’ll inform the council of the girl’s lack of cooperation; they’ll just have to come up with another plan.”

    Just as he was about to wrench the door open, Gwen’s voice reached his ears. “Wait…” He stopped, the near-pleading note of that one word catching him off-guard. “I’ll do it…I-I’ll help…”

    If not for the particularly awful mood he found himself in, he might have felt a bit of smug satisfaction that, in having conceded defeat, he had brought about her sudden change of heart. The very irony of it was too much to ignore. As things stood, however, he was in a bad mood, and whatever victory he had claimed felt hollow.

    That tremor in her voice…

    He glanced over his shoulder, eyes locking with jade ones that seemed much too bright. “Good,” He muttered, his attention drifting to the Forneus, “Make sure you’re both at the rendezvous point on time.”

    Forneus bowed his head in reply, Phenex returning the token of respect with a quick nod of his own.

    “Alright, then; once I’ve taken care of a few personal matters, I’ll meet you there.” Throwing the door open with more force than he’d intended, he squared his shoulders, and without another word, stepped out of the room. As the door closed behind him, he could hear the soft murmur of Forneus’ voice as he attempted to comfort the girl. Heaving a sigh, he quickened his steps up the quartz pathway, determined to force the whole event from his mind. He might have been able to do it too, if not for how she had looked at him before he’d left the room.

    Exasperated, he ran a hand through his hair, and headed up the long, curved path leading to his own quarters, Gwen’s stricken expression haunting him the whole way.
    #3 Rebel-Dynasty, Apr 23, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2015
  4. Hello, again. Things start picking up in this next chapter.

    If anyone has any constructive criticism they are willing to give, I'd really appreciate it. :)

    Chapter Four

    Whispers of Nowhere: Chapter Four (open)

    Forneus sighed, idly stroking the sapphire ring on his middle finger, eyes half closed as he stared at the glittering wall opposite. His gaze drifted over the doors lining the corridor, though he didn’t take in the unique beauty that each one had been crafted with. His thoughts were elsewhere—specifically on a certain fiery being, and the teenaged girl that seemed to be the target of his ire. It had taken him several minutes after Phenex’s departure to calm Gwen down, murmuring assurances that nothing that had happened—not Phenex’s outburst, nor the release of the artifacts—had been her fault. Once her tears had finally subsided, he had thanked her for agreeing to help in the restoration of both the artifacts and his powers, and with that, had left her in the privacy of her quarters to shower and dress, telling her he’d wait for her just outside the door.

    This was what he was doing now, as he pondered over the level of hostility his old friend had displayed toward the girl. He didn’t understand what it was about her that had Phenex so bothered. He had interacted with humans—however briefly—sometime after the regrettable incident had occurred over three-hundred years earlier, and on occasion ever since.

    Then what is it about Gwen that upsets him, so? He wondered for what must have been the tenth time in as many minutes, running his fingers through his hair and sighing again. As his gaze lingered on a particularly large pyrite fragment imbedded in the wall, yet another thought occurred to him; when should he tell Gwen about her past, about her true role in regard to the artifacts?

    The door behind him opened, chasing the thought from his mind as she emerged from her room. He turned to look at her, quickly taking stock of her appearance. Her chin-length blonde hair was still damp, water droplets trickling down from the tips of her bangs and splashing onto the green long sleeve shirt she wore, the one Forneus had laid out with the rest of her clothes while she’d still been asleep. Even though she wasn’t looking at him, he could see that her eyes were bleary, her eyelids puffy and rimmed with red as though she had recently been crying—certainly more recently than when Phenex had left. Seeing her so miserable sent a pang through his stomach, but he knew there was nothing he could do to help her, and that even if he were to bring it up, she was much too proud to admit what she was feeling, anyway. Instead, he simply rested a hand on her shoulder, asking her if she was ready.

    As her brilliant jade eyes finally found his, she nodded, her lips forming a grim line. Tightening his grip on her shoulder so as not to lose her during the teleportation process, Forneus concentrated. As the power began to build in his chest, he could feel each individual fragment of crystal, pyrite, and marble blending together, until the entire corridor was nothing more than a warped blur. The skin on the back of his hand—the same one gripping Gwen’s shoulder—began to tingle. It felt as though little bolts of static electricity were dancing across his larger knuckles, until they finally arced all the way up his arms, through his torso, and back again. He felt Gwen stiffen under his grip, letting out a gasp as she felt the power coursing from him and into her. Fortunately, having travelled this way a couple of times, already, she didn’t attempt to withdraw from his touch, instead clenching her eyes shut against the dizzying blur of the Spectrum corridor.

    Good, He thought, it’s just about time for us to meet with Phenex, anyway.

    Closing his own eyes, Forneus focused all of his will into visualizing the rendezvous point Phenex had spoken of. It was only once he could see the beautiful, cobblestone streets of Wiesbaden clearly in his mind that he opened them, again. There was a brilliant flash of white light, and in an instant, the cool, arid environment of the Spectrum had vanished, giving way to the chilly, inky night in the capital of Hesse, Germany.

    (Still Chapter Four; goes from scene two and on).
    Whispers of Nowhere: Chapter Four (open)

    Stumbling as her feet finally made contact with solid ground, Gwen was grateful when she felt Forneus’ hand gripping her own, preventing her from falling face-first onto the concrete. As she blinked away the trace images of light dancing in her vision, she realized she wasn’t standing on concrete at all, but rather on rain-slickened cobblestones. A stiff breeze blew her hair back from her face, the cool night air making her shiver.

    “So sorry, my dear,” Forneus murmured, glancing guiltily at her as he settled his coat over her shoulders, just as he had done in the Spectrum the night before, “I should have provided you with a coat of your own.”

    Gwen took the frock coat gratefully, assuring him that she would be fine. It was only once she’d shoved her arms through the sleeves that she took notice of the building directly in front of them. Up above the black, glass-paned doors that she was certain marked the main entrance, were large, dark letters declaring the building to be, “Hessischer Landtag”. What this meant, she didn’t know, but looking at the white-washed stonework, fringed with rough-hewn bricks surrounding the building’s many windows, she couldn’t help being enthralled by the structure’s magnificence. The entrance sat at the very corner, the building taking up the full width of the intersection as it stretched from one street, and onto another.

    Gwen glanced around, realizing that the Landtag was framed by an assortment of other buildings along the city block, the only divide between it and the others coming in the form of arched alleyways at the furthest ends of its pristine white walls. Sitting along the edges of the streets were old-fashioned, cast-iron lampposts, each one casting pale, yellow light onto the glistening stones below. Some bore only one lantern, while others were made up of three or more, all fixed to a single post. It was beneath one of the single lanterns that she spotted Phenex. He was leaning casually against the lamppost’s base, arms folded across his chest, looking down the opposite stretch of road from where Gwen and Forneus stood.

    Forneus must have noticed him at the same time as Gwen, for he called out to him, ignoring the stares of the few pedestrians taking an evening stroll on the opposite side of the street. Looking at him, Gwen could understand why they stared—after all, how many other men were wandering around in clothing reminiscent of the eighteenth century? Though without his jacket, there wasn’t anything that should have drawn that much attention to him; only the polished, knee-high boots really stood out, with their glittering silver buckles. Once their gazes swept past the dark-haired man and landed on her, many of them took to gawking at her, muttering to one another in a language she didn’t understand.

    When he started making his way toward Phenex, Gwen put the strangers staring at her out of her mind, knowing she had no choice but to follow him despite the intense burning sensation that had started in the pit of her stomach. She wasn’t particularly eager to be in Phenex’s company so soon after their last encounter—especially considering the fact she’d been weeping because of him no more than fifteen minutes earlier. Doing her best to keep her gaze averted, she just caught the brief flicker of his gaze in her direction, before he turned to Forneus, grasping his hand in greeting.

    “I was starting to wonder if you got caught up with something else.” Gwen thought maybe Phenex had looked in her direction yet again when he said this, that he might even be implying this ‘something else’ had to do with her, but since she was too busy staring at her own feet, she couldn’t be sure.

    “My apologies, I wanted to be sure we didn’t draw any attention upon arrival.” Forneus replied, his black boots scuffing the cobblestones as he shifted his weight, “I trust you haven’t met with any trouble while waiting for us?”

    At this point, she was only half listening. Gwen contented herself with studying her surroundings, taking in the breath-taking style of each building, wondering if it was neo-classical or neo-gothic, only to realize it didn’t matter—it had to be the most impressive work she’d ever seen in her young life, and yet, she knew, given how very little she’d seen of the world, there were undoubtedly far more beautiful architectural wonders yet for her to discover.

    Though under the current circumstances, she was given to wonder if she would ever have the chance to travel around the world, like her mother did. If things were really as bad as Phenex had said…

    Catching movement to her left, she found herself staring down one of the arched alleyways she had noticed before. Squinting, she tried to get a good look down it, but could see nothing but pitch blackness. Perhaps it had been a cat, if indeed she had seen anything at all.

    Probably just a trick of the light. She told herself, pulling Forneus’ coat more securely around her as the wind started picking up. Clenching her teeth to keep them from chattering, she swept her gaze up and down the street, realizing that the last of the stragglers from before had long since left the area. The only ones here—wherever here was—were Forneus, Phenex, and herself. It was then that she began to feel a bit uneasy. Something felt off; she didn’t know what, but she knew it was something. There was a tingling sensation starting at the base of her spine, slowly travelling upward to the back of her neck, making her skin crawl.

    She looked up at the duo then, aware that they’d abruptly stopped talking, both of them wearing identical frowns; could they feel it, too?

    “I don’t like this…something feels…wrong.” She said finally, choking against the feeling of terror growing in her chest. “Where are we, anyway?”

    Forneus looked as though he was about to reply, when a high-pitched whistling interrupted him, the sound growing louder with each passing second, giving Gwen the impression that whatever was making it was getting closer. Feeling the hairs along her arms and the back of her neck standing on end, she drew back behind the guardian, her gaze flitting around as she tried to catch a glimpse of something, anything that would indicate what was happening. Forneus moved into a defensive position in front of her, shoulders tensing as he glanced behind him to make sure she was safe, eyes bright and alert.

    “Phenex!” He barked, casting a sidelong glance to his right. Phenex mirrored his tension, his lip curling into a snarl.

    Heeding Forneus’ call, he nodded curtly and dashed forward, a stream of fire coming from his right fist as he swung around to meet his target. The flames fanned outward when they collided with something unseen in the alley, though Gwen couldn’t even begin to guess what it had been. Between the shock of seeing Phenex conjure flames out of nothingness, and with everything shrouded in darkness the way it was, she was finding it difficult to process much of anything. The blast that followed sent a shower of sparks down around him, the embers igniting and flickering out when they made contact with clothing and skin, alike. Gwen just caught a glimpse of his predatory grin before he lunged forward again, the flames leaping from his fingers and throwing the shadowed walls on either side into sharp relief as they spiralled toward a group of creatures that, until now, had been concealed at the far end of the alleyway.

    Gwen gasped; there had to be five dozen or more of them, all in varying shapes and sizes. Most of them were unlike anything she’d ever seen, while others bore a striking resemblance to the pictures of mythical creatures she’d seen in the books her father kept in his study. At the head of the pack was a two-legged creature with the head of a bull, a large gold ring looping through both of his nostrils with a small length of chain dangling off of it. A massive, double-sided axe was held out in front of him, his yellow eyes glowing brightly in the fiery aftermath of Phenex’s attack.

    Could that really be…a Minotaur? Gwen wondered, her breath catching in her throat as she watched the beast shake its large, horned head, giving a loud snort as it did.

    Glancing around, she was certain she recognized several of the other monsters, as well; chimera, basilisks, cockatrice, gargoyles—as well as a few others she couldn’t remember the names of, and felt she was probably better off not knowing.

    As she watched, the horde suddenly broke apart, dodging as Phenex launched one fiery attack after another, the flames nearly taking up the full breadth of the alley. A cacophony rose as many of the monsters were engulfed in flame, their shrill wails piercing the night air with such intensity that Gwen felt compelled to clap her hands over her ears to block them out. Resisting, she watched as the Minotaur rushed forward with an angry bellow, axe raised high over its head, ready to strike Phenex. He was quicker however, ducking beneath the massive axe as it swung in a downward arc, and thrusting his fist forward into an uppercut. Embers sizzled over his knuckles when he connected with the beast’s jaw, spittle flying from the Minotaur’s mouth as it reeled from the unexpected force of his attack.

    Several of the other monsters lurched forward with angry cries as their leader attempted to recollect himself, their eyes of crimson alight with complete and utter loathing. As they swooped down upon Phenex, Gwen found she was able to understand snippets of what they were saying to him.

    “You will pay for what you’ve done to our comrades!”

    “How dare you strike Lord Asterion?!”

    “The boss sends his regards…now, prepare to die, beloved pet of the gods!”

    Gwen didn’t have time to ponder what any of it had meant, for at that moment, intense light radiated around Phenex, appearing as though it was pouring out of him. There was a sudden, outward burst, a massive ball of golden flame that engulfed all of those who had dared get too close to him. As the smell of burning flesh reached her nostrils, she brought her arm up to her face, desperately trying to block it out with the sleeve of the frock coat, for fear she would end up sick to her stomach, otherwise.

    Eyes watering, she glanced up at Forneus in wonder; how was he not the least bit affected by it? Throughout the entire ordeal, his gaze never strayed from Phenex, simply watching in silence as he incinerated one enemy after another. Was it because he wasn’t human? Or, was it because in all of his years of existence, he’d borne witness to too many battles, just like this one?

    She didn’t get to ponder further, for Phenex unleashed another salvo, flames leaping off of his hands and feet with every punch and kick that he threw at the enemy horde, the creatures seemingly having recovered from the deaths of their comrades as they closed in around him. Watching as his fire lit up the night, gleaming against the damp cobblestones beneath his feet, Gwen could only stare on in wonder.

    Every movement was so precise it was almost elegant, the flames streaking through the air only serving to further support this impression. She couldn’t deny it—at least, not to herself; she was awestruck. The very idea that Phenex could inspire such a feeling should have been absurd to her, but as the glowing streaks of fire trailed all around him, accentuating each movement of his body, all thought and feeling pertaining to their mutual dislike of one another was forgotten, completely. She had never seen someone move so gracefully while fighting, and yet with such raw masculinity, at the exact same time.

    “Everything will be alright, Gwen. I won’t let any harm come to you, I promise.” Forneus’ words startled her, Gwen peering at him questioningly before taking notice of her hands. Both were wrapped around his forearm, her knuckles white from the intensity of her grip. Embarrassed, and having no memory of having grabbed onto him in the first place, she hastily let go, thankful that his eyes were still focused on Phenex and not her, for she could feel the heat creeping into her cheeks.

    Gasping when Phenex was knocked to the ground with the flat of the Minotaur’s axe, she breathed a sigh of relief when he twisted around and did a kip-up, flames lancing from his heels and slamming squarely into the broad head of the beast with enough force to plant his face, muzzle first, into the street.

    “What should we do?” She asked, casting a furtive glance at Forneus. She followed his gaze, watching as Phenex began fighting in earnest, just barely holding his own against the onslaught. He’d been doing so well against the horde until now, but the more time passed, the more it seemed likely he’d be overrun by them. His movements were no longer as lightning quick as they had been moments before, and though she didn’t want to say it out loud, Gwen was worried for his safety, despite his earlier attitude toward her.

    Forneus seemed to share her train of thought, for he gave her an anxious backward glance, his silver eyes much brighter than usual. “Phenex can hold them off, but he won’t be able to do so indefinitely,” He replied, watching as Phenex unloaded another torrent of flame on the creatures surrounding him, “We need to find Loki’s Amulet. Only then will this battle come to an end.”

    Loki’s Amulet?

    That’s when it dawned on her. When Phenex had told them earlier that the artifact had been located, he must have been referring to the amulet! “Okay…do you have a general idea of where it might be, then?” She asked him, “It’s got to be around here somewhere, right? Wherever here is…”


    Startled by his reply, she glanced up at him. “Sorry?”

    “Wiesbaden,” he repeated distractedly, continuing to follow Phenex’s battle, silvery eyes dancing with the orange glow of the flames, “It’s the capital of Hesse, Germany.”

    Gwen gaped up at him, dumbfounded. “We’re in Germany?

    She didn’t have time to make sense of this information, however, for at that moment, an ear-splitting shriek cut through the air, forcing her to cover her ears. She glanced over just in time to see a large woman covered in black feathers backhand Phenex with enough force to take out a small pick-up truck, her scraggly features contorting into an ugly scowl as she shrieked again. The attack sent him tumbling across the cold, hard ground, coming to a stop no more than three feet from her and Forneus, face down on the cobblestones.

    “Not that it isn’t fun, getting batted around by the harpy, and all,” Phenex coughed up a mouthful of dirt, and pushed himself up on his elbows, glancing back at Forneus, “But I could really use your help, right about now.”

    Forneus seemed to be caught in a moment of indecision, his gaze flitting back and forth between Gwen and his auburn-haired companion. Taking notice of the many cuts and scrapes criss-crossing all along Phenex’s neck and face, Gwen opted to make the decision for him.

    “He’s right.” Even then, she knew just how foreign the words must have sounded, both beings giving her a startled look when she said them. “You said the artifact is close by, right?”

    Forneus faltered, before giving a single, sharp nod. “Yes, though with the seal being dormant, I cannot pinpoint its exact location. That’s why—”

    “That’s why you brought me,” Gwen interrupted him, the realization causing an uncomfortable prickling at the back of her scalp. “That’s it, isn’t it? The reason the council told you to bring me along is because, for some reason, I’m able to sense the artifacts in their dormant state, when you can’t?” And it was true; ever since they’d arrived, she could feel a warm, familiar thrumming just at the edge of her consciousness, the sensation spreading until it flowed from one limb, and into another. It was the same feeling she’d experienced when she’d touched the amethyst on her dining table the night, before. Not even twenty-four hours had passed, and for the second time since meeting the guardian and his fiery companion, she felt like a lifetime had passed her by.

    The stronger the sensation became, the more certain she was that the energy coursing through her veins had something to do with the artifact they were looking for. She didn’t know why she could feel it, nor could she explain how she knew it was the artifact she was sensing—she just simply knew.

    Before Forneus could reply, Gwen gasped, noting with alarm that the monsters had been inching closer the entire time they’d been talking, with only Phenex’s blazes keeping them at bay. The guardian turned to see what she was looking at, only to find himself beset by three of the monsters at once. Scales, feathers, and clothing blurred together as he held them back, the sound of guttural snarls resounding off of the nearby buildings. Flames leapt from Phenex’s fingers in great tendrils as he created a circular divide between Gwen and the horde, but it seemed to be of little use, for several had made it across the divide, just the same. Worse still, they had made it passed Phenex, himself—and they were coming straight for her.

    There were six of them, each one of them identical to the last; four legs, with wrinkled, charcoal-coloured skin beneath scraggly patches of grey fur, protruding lower jaws, wickedly curved teeth, and long, dual-split tails. If Gwen had to compare them to anything, she would have compared them to dogs, maybe even lizards, for between their teeth poked long, forked tongues.

    As they crept closer, she drew back, nearly tripping over the curb behind her. Ice-cold fear trailed down her spine, gripping her tightly, her feet rooted to the ground. She could hear their deep, throaty growls; smell their hot, sour breath. Each muscle in her body screamed for her to run, but she just couldn’t seem to break free of the terror. Just when the pack of reptilian dogs seemed about ready to pounce, a crackling sound reached her ears, followed by a blinding flash of violet light.

    The next thing she knew, Forneus was directly in front her, his black dress shirt rumpled and slightly torn, though he seemed otherwise unharmed. Blinking dazedly, she looked around, startled when she realized the creatures that had been bearing down on her just seconds before were nowhere to be found. That’s when she finally noticed it. She hadn’t been able to see it before with his back to her, but now that he had turned around, she could see the electricity dancing across his left arm, violet sparks crackling along the rings on his fingers.

    Did he just summon lightning? She stared, fascinated. What else can he do, I wonder?

    “Are you alright?” Forneus asked, eyebrows drawn together in concern. Gwen could only nod, her vocal chords seized with fear from her close encounter. He seemed to understand this, for he squeezed her shoulder, a sympathetic glint in his eyes when he spoke again. “I know you’re afraid. Given the circumstances, it’s perfectly understandable. But we really need your help right now, okay?”

    “You need me to look for the artifact,” She managed to squeak out, swallowing against the terror threatening to take over once again, “by myself…”

    “I’m sorry. If we had any other choice...” He trailed off, casting a furtive glance in Phenex’s direction. When he seemed on the verge of being overrun again, he went on hurriedly, “I promise you, Gwen, we will keep you safe…so will you help us?”

    She stared at him, wide-eyed, not knowing what to say. When she did open her mouth to answer, to tell him she didn’t know if she could do it, Forneus pulled one of her hands into both of his own, his luminous eyes pleading. When he spoke, his voice shook slightly, “Please, we can’t do this without you…”

    How could she say no? He had just saved her life, yet again; if she didn’t help, like she had promised she would…if she failed to find Loki’s Amulet…

    All three of us will die, here.

    The realization was all that it took to set her legs in motion, and giving Forneus a quick nod before pulling her hand free from his, she tore off down the street. With her heart pounding in her ears, and the steady, familiar thrumming in her veins becoming stronger, Gwen shut out all other sights and sounds, the square around her becoming a distant blur as she concentrated on finding the amulet.

    Rounding a corner to her left between a long stretch of white and rose-coloured buildings, she had just passed another one of the arched alleyways, when the tingling in her limbs became overpowering. Skidding to a stop, she backtracked, and tentatively stepped into the entryway. A single ring of pale, white light shone at the far end of the alley, illuminating a stack of cardboard boxes against one wall, and a couple of skids propped against the other. Casting one last look behind her, she took a deep breath, and ventured into the alley, straining her ears for the faintest sound, the slightest hint of whether or not she was being followed. The only sound that greeted her was her own footsteps as her shoes crunched over debris, the narrow passageway seemingly devoid of all else. It wasn’t until she reached the far end that she realized the alley turned into a split junction leading onto another city block, this one appearing to be residential.

    Just before she could set foot onto the street, however, she froze, unable to take another step further. The buzzing sensation that coursed through her body peaked, the feeling almost unbearable; if she had been able to collapse, she would have, but whatever had taken hold of her seemed to prevent her from falling, now. The most she could do was blink or twitch her fingers, nothing more.

    What’s happening to me?

    Afraid, all she could do was stare at the rows of houses in front of her. Fear built in her chest with every beat of her heart, growing until it was almost suffocating. She could barely see the twinkling lights lining the street, all of her senses seeming to intensify one minute, and go numb the next. A sudden warmth started to blossom in the tips of her fingers and toes, spreading inward until it reached the very centre of her body. Something about the warmth stole her fears away, settling over her like a comforting glow. It was then that she realized she was glowing, a soft pillar of white light surrounding her, the light wrapping further back around than she could see from her peripherals.

    Just when she was really beginning to wonder what to do about her predicament, a flash of green caught her eye, drawing her attention to a spot no more than seven feet from her; something was hovering there, just beneath one of the street lights. Squinting, she tried to make out what the object might be. As it started floating toward her, she managed to catch a glimpse of a green stone set within gold filigree, strange symbols accenting each of its four corners.

    It’s Loki’s Amulet! Gwen thought, excitement chasing away the last of her anxiety.

    Was the artifact responsible for her current state of immobilization? As it drew nearer, the surge of power she’d felt upon entering the alley enveloped her once again, almost as though something within her was greeting the amulet’s return. It was a strange thought, one that seemed both familiar, and foreign. She didn’t know why, but it called to mind how she had felt upon meeting Forneus, when he had smiled at her for the first time. There had been something familiar in the way he had looked at her with such fondness in his eyes—but why anything about Forneus should be familiar to her, and why he should have been looking at her with fondness, she didn’t know. And so it was the same with the artifacts; she didn’t know what her connection to them was, but she had to conclude that there was one. Otherwise, why else would they respond to her?
    Gwen was in the midst of thinking she needed to ask Forneus again just what that connection might be, when a voice echoed all around her, forcing a startled gasp from her lips.

    “You, who have awakened the power of Loki’s Amulet, have proven yourself worthy of its gifts!”

    She stared, wide-eyed, as her right arm lifted of its own accord, the amulet moving toward it, and nestling into the palm of her hand. As the voice continued, she realized it wasn’t echoing all around her—it was coming from inside her own head!

    Behold! By the grace of the Greek god, Apollo, you have been blessed with the ability to control the weak-willed of all those who would dare oppose you.”
    The voice was a pleasant richness, its disembodied words flowing melodiously, “Have a care, however; you must use this gift sparingly, for its effects are only temporary. Now, dear child, go forth, and make use of your newfound abilities in the name of all you hold sacred.”

    It was only after the voice faded completely, that Gwen found she could move again, the pillar of light vanishing from around her. She collapsed against the cool, grey bricks of the alley wall beside her, limbs trembling as she fought to stay on her feet. Taking several slow, deep breaths, she savoured the cold burn of the night air in her throat, the last traces of shock beginning to wear off as adrenaline flooded her system, filling her with a sharp sense of awareness.

    Casting a quick glance at the amulet in her hand, she straightened, gritting her teeth when her legs threatened to buckle under her. When she finally managed to steady herself, she took off running, turning down the alley she had come from with such speed she nearly went sprawling over the garbage bins at the far end. All the while, she only had one thing in mind—getting back to Forneus and Phenex, before it was too late…


    “Forneus, behind you!” Forneus ducked, his skin prickling from the heat as Phenex sent a jet of flame streaking passed his right shoulder, setting the man-sized serpent behind him ablaze before it could sink its fangs into him. The guardian had been too preoccupied with the mixed group of demons in front of him at the time, fighting them with the only means he currently had at his disposal; his intellect, his lightning, and when defense was necessary—which it was, quite often—his force field.

    Getting even one of my other powers back will be a blessing. He thought, watching as the basilisk writhed on the ground, its shrill wail piercing the air. Yellow eyes widened, the vertical pupils contracting as the serpent’s scales turned from bronze to black, the flames consuming it until nothing remained but a scorch mark on the cobblestones. Meeting Phenex’s gaze, he gave him an appreciative nod, and the two returned to the task of keeping the remaining monsters confined to one area, preventing even a single imp from slipping down the alley Gwen had disappeared into.

    Despite all of the enemies they had taken down, the Palace Square littered with the remains of hellhounds, cockatrice, harpies, and the like, many more still remained—and while Phenex seemed to have no shortage of energy, Forneus himself felt more than a little fatigued. Still, he pressed on, grabbing hold of a hybrid demon-hound when it lunged at him, both its upper and lower jaw firmly in his grasp, the beast snarling as it struggled to get free.

    Gritting his teeth, he widened his stance, and with a growl of his own, slammed the beast full force into the ground, finishing with an electrical surge through his fingertips and into the creature’s brain. Even with his full attention on the task at hand, he was aware of Phenex at all times, both hearing and feeling the roar of his fire as he wiped out a dozen enemies or more in one, fell swoop, permanently silencing their anguished cries.

    Satisfied that the hybrid wouldn’t be getting up anytime soon, he rose into a defensive stance, arms up and knees slightly bent, his eyes sweeping back and forth as he took in the remaining enemies in front of him. He felt Phenex’s body heat before the other’s back met his own, the guardian glancing over his shoulder to see that they were surrounded on all sides. Somehow, in the course of their attempt to corral the enemy horde, they had wound up cornered, themselves.

    “Well, I don’t know about you,” Phenex declared, head cocked slightly in Forneus’ direction, sparks licking his fingertips as he maintained a constant state of readiness, “but I’m running out of ideas.”

    “That makes two of us.” Forneus murmured, manifesting a concentrated dose of lightning in the palm of his hand. Where was Gwen? Wherever she had run off to, whether she’d found the amulet or not, he hoped that she was alright.

    That’s when she appeared, almost as though heeding his silent call, half running, half stumbling, as she made her way out of the alley at the end of the block. Her bangs were plastered to her forehead, sweat trickling from her temples, Forneus experiencing a twinge of concern upon seeing her ashen complexion.

    As she got closer, more and more of the creatures turned to look at her, their shrieks and roars filling the Palace Square as they prepared to attack the seemingly powerless human girl before them. If this indeed had been their impression of her, they were gravely mistaken, for she came to a stop about fifteen paces from where they stood, her expression settling into a mask of determination, eyes taking on an almost feverish glow.

    “Leave them alone!” She shouted, her voice carrying up and down the alleys of the empty square. Staring at Gwen in dumbfounded silence, Forneus just happened to glimpse Loki’s Amulet, the green stone gleaming as it peeked between the cracks in her fingers, casting its emerald rays onto the wet cobblestones when it caught the light of the streetlamp behind her.

    Surprised as he had been by Gwen’s outburst, Forneus was even more so, when several of the enemies actually seemed to be listening to her. Is this the amulet’s doing? He wondered, exchanging a furtive glance with Phenex, golden-amber eyes betraying confusion equal to his own. His bafflement was short-lived, however, bright orange flames igniting in the palms of both hands as he held them out at his sides. From the way he bared his teeth, knees bent and his shoulders hunched, Forneus knew he was moving into a more combat-ready stance, waiting to spring forward at any moment.

    “Forneus, we’ll never get a chance like this again.” Phenex said. His eyes were fixed on the enemies before him, all of which had gone still the moment Gwen had yelled at them. He had no doubt come to the same conclusion Forneus had; that Gwen had somehow gained control over their enemies, and that the amulet was responsible. “I’ll carve a path through them; all you have to do is make it to the girl. What d’ya say, old friend—you up to the task?”

    “Need you ask?” Forneus replied, lips twitching into a faint smile.

    “Alright then, on my mark…” Phenex was nearly crouching now, the twin fires in his hands flickering wildly, a toothy grin lighting his face. Forneus didn’t even have time to feel amusement at his obvious battle lust, before Phenex shouted, “Now!”

    Forneus bolted into the air at the exact same moment that Phenex unleashed his fire, the blaze moving in a clockwise burst, lighting up the enemies that had been closest in the circle surrounding them. Those who had been standing behind their now incinerated comrades drew back in surprise, leaving a narrow gap between them and Gwen. Landing lightly on his toes, Forneus didn’t spare a single moment, and raced forward, taking full advantage of Phenex’s diversion. Releasing little bolts of lightning into the throng of enemies on either side of him, his face split into a grin when he glimpsed the burning glow in his peripherals—Phenex was providing literal ‘cover fire’ for him. Even though more than half of the creatures had stopped at Gwen’s command, neither one of the operatives was taking any chances.

    Forneus was almost to her, now, the teen stumbling forward part of the way to meet him, her pale features relaxing into a wan smile. When they were only an arm’s length from each other, she reached forward, the tips of her fingers barely skimming the sleeve of the frock coat as she held the amulet out to him.

    “Forneus, I got it! I got the—” Her jubilation was cut short as a bright streak of white light suddenly jumped from the amulet in her hand to him, striking him directly in the chest. Both came to a halt, neither one able to move, Gwen yelping in surprise when she was frozen, mid step. As soon as it began, it was over, Forneus letting out a gasp as he felt the power coursing from his chest, and into the rest of his body, a frothing, blistering heat surging through his veins; a familiar sensation, and one the guardian had sorely missed in the short time that he’d been without it.

    He was just about to congratulate her for pulling through on her part in the mission, when her head lolled forward, her knees giving out under her. He caught her in one, swift movement, her head resting against his chest as he scooped her up in his arms, bridal-style. Peering down at her, he could see the sweat beading across her forehead, her breath coming in laboured gasps. Clearly, in returning the amulet to its seal state, as well as returning one of his powers to him, the journey to Wiesbaden had taken a toll on her.

    “You did well, Gwen. Thank you.” Forneus murmured, cradling her with one arm and raising the other in front of him. He would take care of her soon, but first, he and Phenex needed to rid themselves of the remaining enemies. Keeping an eye on the enemy horde, he became acutely aware of the restless shuffling of those that had stopped at Gwen’s command. They were moving toward him once again, their dull eyes lighting up, transfixed on the teenaged girl in his arms.

    Their movements were slow, at first, almost uncertain, the gargoyle at the head of the pack taking a few tentative steps forward, its granite wings spread wide as though for balance. Rubble crunched beneath its feet, the creature growling between stone lips half eroded from both time and battle, dull fangs protruding over the lower half of its jaw. Suddenly, the beast rose to its full height, massive fists clenched on either side as it let out an ear-splitting roar. This must have been the signal the rest of the monsters had been waiting for, for they all lunged forward as one with howls and shrieks of their own, hooves and claws thundering over the rain-slickened ground, sending vibrations up through Forneus’ boots.

    Well, this isn’t good…

    Rotating his arm so that his palm was facing outward, Forneus gritted his teeth, willing the flames to come forth. A few embers sputtered, the guardian mentally pleading for them to ignite, all the while keeping his gaze on the approaching horde. Flames lanced outward, only to disappear, yet again. Crimson eyes flashed wickedly, the pack nearly on top of him…

    Finally, the flames came to life, splitting into three concentrated balls of fire that circled around his wrist, ready to be launched at his command—and launch them, he did. All three fireballs streaked through the air, wisps of smoke floating up from where they impacted the gargoyle. The grotesque beast faltered in its steps, causing the rest of its compatriots to do the same, eyeing him warily.

    Hmm, not up to full power, yet. He mused, sighing. Oh, well. All in good time, I suppose…

    He was just preparing to summon a series of thunderbolts down upon the horde, when a fiery wave rolled through the pack, leaving nothing but blackened ash in its wake. As he looked up, he was met with a familiar, playful smirk, Phenex cocking an eyebrow as the embers on his fingers flickered out. Feeling his lips twitching into a smile, Forneus averted his gaze, only to realize the sudden quiet around them, the only sound that of the cool, evening breeze whistling between the alley ways. Not a single enemy was left, the Palace Square empty save for the two of them, and the unconscious teenaged girl, secure in his arms.

    “It’s good to see you have your fire back,” Phenex came to stand beside him, chuckling, “Even if it does pale in comparison to mine.”

    Forneus grinned at this, the smile fading as he looked down at Gwen, her face half hidden by the fringe of hair plastered against her cheek. Guilt gnawed at his insides. He had promised not to let harm befall her, and he had failed—had been doomed to fail from the start, it seemed, for there was no avoiding her destiny with the artifacts. Whether he liked it or not, there was no escaping the truth; her fate was intertwined with their own.

    “Will she be alright?” Glancing up, he noticed Phenex’s gaze on the girl, the corners of his mouth turned downward.

    “I hope so.” He replied, gently brushing the hair back from Gwen’s eyes. Gathering her up in his arms more securely, his frock coat wrapped tightly around her, he couldn’t recall the last time he’d seen her so vulnerable, so helpless. It was as though he’d gone back in time, the teenager in his arms reverting to the six-year-old girl with braided pigtails, soaked to the bone and crying after pursuit of a minnow had sent her tumbling, headfirst, into the river just on the other side of her campsite. Her parents, who had been packing up their gear at the time, hadn’t heard her cries. In leaving his post that day, he’d taken a great risk. But, being seen by mortal eyes and suffering admonishment from his superiors had been the least of his concerns; in fact, there had been no thought to either of these things—there had been only impulse, the driving force to save the single most important thing under his protection.

    Shaking himself out of his reverie, he glanced up to see Phenex studying him intently, face half obscured in shadow beneath the tousled fringe of his bangs. Even still, Forneus could see traces of unease within the tawny eyes, the other turning his gaze away as though embarrassed, “I’ll get in touch with the Fifth Unit, and make sure clean-up is taken care of. You just worry about getting the girl back to her quarters, alright?”

    Giving a start at the unexpected show of concern, Forneus bowed his head, smiling. “Thank you. I appreciate this, truly.”

    Even though he shrugged off Forneus’ gratitude, he knew Phenex was pleased, just managing to glimpse the other’s grin before he turned his head away. Prying the amulet from Gwen’s fingers, he put it in his pocket, and allowed himself one last, backward glance at his long-time friend. Readjusting his hold on the girl in his arms, he closed his eyes, concentrating until only images of the Spectrum drifted through his mind. A warm, tingling sensation started in his chest, flowing until it reached his fingers and toes. Golden light spread outward, surrounding both him and his human charge in a radiant bubble. There was a sharp jerking sensation, and then, something solid beneath his feet. He opened his eyes to the sight of familiar incandescent walls around him, the ever-changing hues of blue and violet reflecting off of the smoky tiled floor.

    Feeling Gwen shudder in his arms, he strode toward the bed at the other side of the room, and pulled back the comforter, the teen still wrapped in his coat as he settled her onto the plush mattress. As he brought the edge of the blanket all the way up to her chin, he sighed, relieved to see that some of her colour had returned, her breathing coming more evenly.

    Staring down at her sleeping form, he touched her cheek lightly, making certain that she wasn’t feverish. Surprised when she sighed, turning her face into the caress rather than away from it, Forneus drew back, puzzled. Reaching out tentatively, he stroked her cheek again, resulting in the same reaction—only this time, she smiled. Forneus experienced a rush of affection when Gwen’s face settled into a look of contentment, realizing that his touch had been a source of comfort to her. To think, after all this time…

    Your eyes may not have remembered me, but some part of your mind still does.

    Letting his arm fall back at his side, he studied her for a moment longer. Satisfied that she seemed to be alright, he swivelled on his heel, and quietly made his way to the door, hand resting on the brass handle as he peered back at her. Even though her condition had improved rather quickly, he couldn’t dispel the guilt he felt, his throat becoming uncomfortably dry the longer he looked at her.

    “I’m sorry,” He whispered, “I’ll find some way to make it up to you…I promise.”

    With that, he stepped through the door, making sure to shut it quietly behind him. Once out in the corridor, he inhaled deeply, allowing the pulsating colours beneath the transparent walkway to draw his attention, soothing him after the ordeal in Germany. Putting his hands in his pockets, he felt the cool, smooth surface of Loki’s Amulet pressed against the palm of his hand, reminding him of what he had to do, next.

    Forneus heaved a sigh, and squaring his shoulders, slowly made the trek toward the council chambers, filled with dread at the prospect of a secondary debriefing in less than twenty-four hours.

    Less than an hour later found Forneus in Gwen’s room again, the guardian setting the clothing he’d brought for her on the nightstand beside her bed. Casting a critical eye around the room, he supposed it wouldn’t hurt to put a bit more furniture in her quarters, since she would be staying with them for an undetermined amount of time. He was certain she’d feel more at home, if the room weren’t so barren; a dresser, maybe a couple of chairs and a table…

    Hearing her whimper, he looked down, noticing that she was still rather pale, the blankets falling halfway off the bed as she tossed and turned. Sometime between him leaving and returning, she had wriggled free of his coat, the navy blue garment lying in a heap beneath her legs. Careful not to wake her, he gently took hold of it, and snapping his fingers, returned it to its former state, cleaned and freshly pressed. Draping it over his shoulder, he fixed the comforter next, making sure Gwen was fully covered, for she had begun trembling, arms wrapped tightly around her torso.

    You’re having a tough time of it, He thought, resting his hand on her forehead. Relieved when her temperature felt normal, he snapped his fingers again, and settled into the folding chair that had materialized behind him. But, I think you’ll be alright, now. Don’t worry Gwen…I’m here.
    It wasn’t long before Forneus heard the slight click of the marble door opening, the guardian not needing to turn his head, for not only could he see who it was from his peripherals, he would have known, either way.

    “I was wondering where you’d gone off to,” Phenex strode toward him, keeping his voice low, “I guess I should have known you’d be here.”

    “I take it the clean-up went well in Wiesbaden?” Forneus asked, draping an arm over the back of his chair as he met the other’s gaze.

    “Fortunately there wasn’t much to worry about,” Phenex answered, shoving both hands into his coat pockets. “By some stroke of luck, no humans witnessed the ordeal, so no memory wipes had to be performed—mostly just superficial damage to the street that needed cleaning up, nothing special.”

    Forneus nodded, relieved. Attention returning to Gwen when she began to mumble in her sleep, he felt his lips tugging into a smile, noticing the way her mouth puckered, forming a childish pout. The overwhelming urge to laugh took hold of Forneus then, no doubt brought on by the earlier stresses of the day, the guardian looking around desperately for something—anything—to distract himself with, lest he wake her. As his gaze flitted back to Phenex, he was surprised to see him frowning down at him, arms folded across his chest.

    “Tell me…why do you even like the girl?” He asked, somewhat accusingly. “She’s a spoiled, self-centred brat, with absolutely no respect for authority.”

    “For you, you mean.” Forneus laughed softly, shaking his head. “Don’t be so quick to find fault with the girl. Why not try to get to know her, first? Who knows, Phenex—you might surprise yourself, might even find that you like her, too. Trust me, old friend…she isn’t as bad as you think.”

    Phenex snorted in response, his dubious expression making Forneus chuckle. Rolling his eyes, Phenex sat at the foot of the bed, Forneus grinning as he watched him gingerly lower himself onto the very edge of the mattress, as though trying not to disturb the sleeping girl.

    “So, what do you plan to do, now?” He asked, running a hand through his hair and letting it drop to his side, absently curling his fingers around the edge of the bed.

    Forneus tilted his head back, thinking. “Now that we’ve begun retrieving the artifacts, enemies far worse than the ones we faced in Germany are sure to surface,” Keeping his tone modulated, he looked at Phenex meaningfully. “And since rumours of Gwen’s involvement won’t be far behind, my only option is to become her guardian, officially.”

    “I suppose you have a point, there.” Phenex murmured. Silence fell between them, the other’s golden-amber gaze drifting around the room, lingering on the luminescent walls before coming to rest on Forneus once again. “Have you told her anything yet—you know, about what she is?”

    When he hesitated, Phenex cocked an eyebrow at him. “I’ll take that as a ‘no’.”

    “I know that I should,” Forneus admitted, sighing, “Every time I consider it, I can’t help worrying that it will be too much of a shock for her.”

    Phenex snorted. “Because having us show up out of thin air, only to drag her back to our world somehow didn’t qualify, already?” He could tell that he’d meant it playfully, but Forneus took it to heart, all the same.

    “That’s exactly my point,” He insisted, massaging his temples with the tips of his fingers, “That, in and of itself, must have been hard enough for her; to burden her with more might prove to be too much of a strain, right now.”

    “You are far more concerned for the girl than the task requires.” Hearing the mixture of curiosity and disgust in Phenex’s tone, he simply grinned back at him, neither confirming nor denying the accusation. He knew if he gave it enough time, Phenex would eventually come to understand it on his own. Until then, there was no point in trying to force it.

    After a moment, Phenex rose from the bed, sighing wearily. “Whatever you decide, I’m behind you every step of the way…even if I don’t understand your reasons.” Tawny eyes narrowed at him as he went on. “I just hope you know what you’re getting yourself into…hell, what you’re getting us into.”

    “As do I, old friend.” Forneus gave the other a rueful smile.

    Phenex gave him one last, long look before turning on his heel, waving at the guardian half-heartedly as he strode toward the door. “If you need me, I’ll be in my quarters, sleeping.” He glanced back over his shoulder, the corners of his mouth quirking into a wry grin. “I would suggest you do the same, but I know you won’t listen to me, anyway.”

    Laughing softly, Forneus bid him goodnight, his gaze lingering on the door long after he had left, lost in thought. His attention returned to the bed in front of him when he saw Gwen shivering out of the corner of his eye, the teen letting out a soft whimper. Wrapping the blankets around her more securely, he brushed the bangs from her eyes, and settled back into the folding chair, his eyes drifting closed as sleep finally claimed him.

    #4 Rebel-Dynasty, Apr 25, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 27, 2015
  5. Hello, again. Continuing on with Chapter Five, in which the main antagonists finally make an appearance. :)

    Chapter Five
    Whispers of Nowhere: Chapter Five (open)

    Two days.

    Two miserable, stinking days, since Reeves had first arrived in the city, having detected an all-too-familiar presence, that of his long time arch nemesis, the human-personified firebird, himself—Phenex. Despite his weakened state, the Shade just couldn’t resist the overwhelming desire for revenge frothing in his veins. It had been most fortunate, however, that the trail had gone cold, for as much as he hated to admit it, he knew that if it had come to a fight, the firebird would have had him at a disadvantage. Even now, he was far from being at full strength. Being locked away in the realm of Nowhere for as long as he had had drained him of all but the most basic of his powers. If not for the aid of his Mistress, he likely wouldn’t have made it this far.

    For everything that flame-wielding bastard has put me through, I’m going to pay him back—in spades. He seethed, leather-clad hands clenching into fists. Just you wait, Phenex…when I get my powers back, you’re gonna be beyond sorry!

    Lowering the brim of his fedora to shield his eyes from the midday sun, Reeves leaned back against the alley wall, melding with the shadows as he watched humans passing him by, scurrying about to do whatever it was that mortals did with their short, insignificant lives. Not a single person paid him any mind, though even if they had bothered to, all they would have seen was a man with curly brown hair in a dark brown hat and trench-coat, looking for the world like a gangster from the nineteen-thirties, or a private eye from the old black-and-white films.

    Sighing, he folded his arms across his chest, and stared down the opposite street, absently taking notice of the heat waves that rose off of the pavement, shimmering in the air like water. ‘Mirages’, the mortals called them, though these were far from being the dehydration-induced hallucinations that men experienced, crawling in the desert. Not that it mattered to him, one way or another. He couldn’t have cared less about the bustling downtown core of this city, or its many shops. The people wandering to and fro, gossiping about everything from their next door neighbour, to the latest celebrity divorce, held no interest for the shadow demon, whatsoever. The only information he cared about involved one thing, and one thing, only—the location of the next artifact.

    It had been eighteen hours, since he’d received word of what had occurred in Germany—a mission that had resulted in the scorching deaths of each and every one of the operatives he’d been ordered to send there. Even without the intelligence reports his shadow minions had provided, he would have known who was responsible for their deaths. After all, only one entity possessed fire that nearly rivalled the sun, itself. However, he had learned something of interest; not only had the firebird been there, but a daemon and human girl, as well. According to his information, the daemon had served on the Regulations Force, until being promoted to the position of guardian of the artifacts sometime before the Shade’s incarceration. As to the girl…he couldn’t help but laugh. For the High Council to include a human girl, of all things, on such an important mission…well, it was downright unthinkable.

    They really must be scraping the bottom of the barrel. He mused, chuckling to himself. His gaze roved up and down the street, taking in the storefronts that lined either side; old, rundown brick buildings in shades of grey, white, and red, the paint long since beginning to yellow and peel. Every fourth shop or so, the building’s separated, leaving an alley between them that led to the parking lots out back, the concrete cracked and broken in several spots along the sidewalks. Some of the shops were new, with bright, neon signs, or large, gold and black lettering set into cream-coloured backdrops, advertising anything from florists and coffee shops, to burger joints and night clubs. Others looked like they had been there since the dawn of man, their signs so worn from weather and time that it was hard to tell what they sold, there. The street itself was clogged with noon-hour traffic, cars of every make and model driving slowly, bumper-to-bumper, the sun glinting off of their taillights as they passed by.

    Reeves was just beginning to wonder how much more tedium he would have to suffer through, when something caught his eye; the very thing he’d been waiting for all this time, in fact.


    Double-checking to make sure no one was watching him, he focused his power until he felt a coldness settle across his shoulders, the feeling akin to being dragged beneath the icy, still surface of a frozen lake, literally ditching his physical form to become one with the shadows. Dark, smoky wisps coiled off of him as he melded with the pavement, evaporating once the transformation was complete. Once in this form, it was all too easy for him to sneak about, darting from shadow to shadow, until finally reaching his destination—the back of the alley across from the very one he’d been standing in only moments, before.

    Taking shelter behind a stack of cardboard boxes, he slowly rose up from the ground, startling the individual standing there with his declaration of, “It’s about time!”

    Chuckling under his breath as the small, wiry being let out a yelp, he let the last of his shadow self fall away, revealing his physical form. Recognizing him, the other being stepped forward with his hands clasped in front of him, and bowed.

    “Sorry for making you wait so long, Master Reeves.” Cife murmured, his voice trembling.

    Reeves studied his subordinate a moment, taking in the straight, vibrant red hair as it fell around his shoulders, steel grey eyes averting under his intense scrutiny, the left one obscured by his bangs. Between the milky pallor of his skin, and the brilliant white of his one-piece suit, it was difficult to tell where Cife ended, and his outfit began. In fact, if not for the many zippers and chains adorning the one-piece, and the Shade’s superior eyesight, he might not have known the Akuma was wearing anything, at all. Except for his black ankle boots, that is; given the colour contrast, those were a tad harder to miss.

    Figuring he’d let him squirm long enough, Reeves gave Cife one of his charming, toothy grins. “Don’t sweat it, kid. Where are Misa and Kizah?”

    The two beings in question stepped forward then; one female, and one large, particularly muscular male. The female, built every bit as androgynously as Cife himself, was night to his day. Inky black, iridescent skin, cropped, feathery platinum hair, and deep, violet eyes flecked with gold—the right of which was partially closed, due to the grotesque, grey scar running from the top eyelid to just behind her ear. She was every bit as loud and brash as Cife was quiet and timid. Misa, the second one born of the trio, was clad in a blue, single strap halter top and skin-tight white pants with red whorls along the sides. The ‘demon mouthpiece’, as Reeves had come to call her, completely devoid of common sense—and by far one of his best subordinates. With a katana at her hip, and the aggression of a skilled predator, there was no better soldier in his arsenal—except for perhaps Kizah, himself.

    The tallest of the three Akuma, though considerably larger, was not particularly aggressive, unless in the throes of combat. However, this didn’t negate his value as a soldier. Unlike his smaller counterparts, Kizah was level-headed, meeting each challenge head-on, and with such indifference, Reeves was often given to wonder if he had any emotional motivation, at all. His sheer size made him a powerhouse in battle, the russet-skinned entity only requiring a pair of gauntlets and his two fists to get the job done. While both Cife and Misa’s appearances were rather garish, his was far simpler. A network of black, tribal tattoos covered his entire neck, back and chest, most of it hidden beneath a form-fitting, navy blue long sleeve shirt. With black slacks, dark brown combat boots, a long black coat, and an eight-point star hanging from a silver chain around his neck, he was the very picture of intimidating. However, the most interesting thing of all about him was his eyes. The left one was a steely grey like Cife’s, and the right a golden-flecked violet—just like Misa’s. The contrast between his heterochromatic eyes and his short, curly black hair and sideburns made for a striking, imposing figure, and in their line of work, this made him the perfect fit.

    “Good, now that we’re all here, we can get down to business.” Reeves declared, eyeing each one of them expectantly. “So, what news do you have for me?”

    Misa gave him a superior look, her banded red lips stretching into a feral smile. “Thanks to yours truly, we know where those Reg. Force lackeys are heading, next.”

    Ignoring the fact that it was probably Cife he had to thank for that bit of information, Reeves asked, “And just where would that be?”

    “Rome. And you’re going to love this, boss! Looks like the next artifact is supposed to be there, something called ‘the Goblet of Bacchus’.”

    Reeves perked up at this. Her Ladyship had mentioned something by that name, he was sure of it. It looks like we’re on the right track, after all. He mused, tugging at his gloves absently.

    “Boss…?” Misa was still standing in front of him, one fist planted on her hip as she stared up at him curiously. “Did the name ring a bell, or somethin’? You wouldn’t believe what we had to go through, to get that info. The place was just crawlin’ with—”

    Kizah cut in before she could go off on one of her usual tangents, the larger Akuma speaking softly, despite his deep voice. “Unfortunately boss, we don’t know exactly where in Rome the artifact is supposed to be,” he explained, idly stroking the soul patch on his chin, “We only managed to get the general coordinates.”

    “Hey, after two days without any leads, I’ll take what I can get.” Reeves declared with a dismissive wave. Grasping the brim of his fedora, he gave them a curt nod. “Good work, you three. Now, haul your tails to Rome—take some of my shadows with you. Once there, use them to set up a perimeter, so that you’ll know exactly when the firebird and his friends show up. I’ll go inform her Ladyship of the news.”

    “As you wish, sir.” Kizah bowed, his coat swishing around his calves when he straightened. He seemed about to speak, when Misa cut across him.

    “Besides taking the artifact from them, what do you want us to do with the council’s little pets?” There was a savage gleam in her eyes as she asked this, the fingers of her right hand trailing along the silver hilt of her sword, tracing the outer edge.

    Chuckling, Reeves replied, “You are to engage the enemy in whatever way you see fit—as long as you don’t destroy the artifact, you can maim and kill to your heart’s content.”

    Though I doubt you’ll manage to kill him

    Just as the three Akuma were about to leave, he raised his hand, stopping them. “Oh, yeah—capture the human, if you can. The mistress would like to have a…shall we say, ‘little chat’, with the girl?”

    This, of course, was an understatement. He didn’t know why she wanted the girl kept alive, but something about the human had her Ladyship vexed, and whatever had her vexed was bad news for everyone under her command. If they failed to do exactly as she had specified, there would be hell to pay. Literally.

    With Kizah’s assurance that they would fulfill their duties as ordered, he turned on his heel to leave, trench-coat swirling around him, the smart clacking of his dress shoes against the pavement echoing off of the alley walls. Glancing over his shoulder, he grinned in satisfaction. The trio had already departed; no doubt in eager anticipation of what awaited them, should they succeed in their mission.

    Making his way to the mouth of the alley, Reeves ignored the overpowering stench of diesel as a transit bus lumbered passed, and turned down a short drive leading to the underground parking lot of the new condominiums; their tall, glassy facades overlooking the bay shore. Voices floated down to him as he descended into comfortable darkness, a slight breeze whistling between the large, concrete supports that stood sentry every eight parking spaces, or so—a sound that, while no doubt eerie to human ears, was music to his own.

    Casting a surreptitious glance around to make sure no mortals were present, he strode toward the very back, making his way to the unfinished portion in the far right corner, the section cordoned off. The vibrant, orange mesh was a stark contrast to the shadowy wall behind it, but even the Shade doubted that any of the humans who resided here had noticed the dark, pulsating vortex stretching from the corner to the third parking space beyond it. With his powers being less than half of what they once were, he couldn’t teleport just anywhere at will. As a result, her Ladyship had set up portals for him all over, granting him the ability to report to her from any part of the city.

    Allowing himself a predatory grin, Reeves leapt over the mesh fencing, and stood before the portal. It’s only a matter of time, Phenex. As soon as my powers are restored—you’re mine!

    Emboldened by the mere thought of having the firebird at his mercy, he steeled himself, and stepped into the swirling vortex, no doubt in his mind that her Ladyship would be most pleased with his diligence…

    Chapter Five, Part Two
    Whispers of Nowhere: Chapter Five (open)


    Her Ladyship sat languidly, her back resting against the pool’s edge with her elbows braced against the dark, shale bricks framing it. A weary sigh drifted from luscious pink lips, as she gazed at her surroundings. It had taken her many years to find a location befitting her station, but as she took in the ambiance of the candlelit garden around her, with its dozens upon dozens of white candles sitting around the bath itself—some in sconces, others simply sitting on crystal dishes—and the assortment of potted azaleas and angelica sitting amidst the burgundy lace, she knew she couldn’t have found a better place than this quaint, romantic Japanese hot spring.

    When she had first come upon it, it had been a thriving business, something she’d come to learn was known as a ‘spa’ to the mortals who dwelled here. Humans would enter the modest, teakwood reception house at the very front of the property, just beyond the main gate. Then they would follow the path that snaked around the side of the building, making their way passed the flowering cherry trees, and over to the dividing screens just opposite from where she currently sat. Once there, they would discard their clothing, and take advantage of the supposed healing qualities the hot spring had to offer. It hadn’t been long, however, before the half-siren had claimed the place for her own, scaring away all of the humans with the help of her most trusted operatives, and setting up an invisible barrier to prevent any more from ever finding the place, again.

    Separating the rows of blossoming magnolia trees were white-washed flagstones, scattered with flower petals of pink, white, and lavender, the sweet, fragrant smell of the magnolia blossoms wafting in the warm, evening breeze. Tilting her head back, she gazed up at the moon, the silvery orb approaching fullness with each night that passed. The sky was a mixture of blues, ranging from cerulean to navy, and from navy to midnight, billions of stars twinkling far beyond the reaches of those who dwelled on Earth.

    Her eyes were just beginning to close, lulled by the water’s enticing promise of slumber, when she felt a presence, sending a thrill down her spine. The sensation was cool, familiar, like that of fog ghosting across her skin. Certain that she knew who it was, she rose from the comfort of the warm, bubbling pool, the water trailing down her curved form, and vanishing beneath the gown of deep violet that suddenly appeared; covering her in a rich, smooth silk that hugged each one of her curves nicely. Only a single strap held the gown in place, leaving the smooth, mocha skin of her left shoulder completely untouched.

    Slipping her feet into the pair of strapped high heels she’d left next to the pool, she stepped lightly onto the flagstone path and called out into the darkness, inviting whoever was there to come forward. A figure moved from beneath the lone Japanese maple standing sentry at the far end of the garden, the figure’s face cast in shadow, though she knew at once who it was. He took a few more steps toward her, falling to one knee on the white-washed stones, eyes concealed by the brim of his hat as he inclined his head reverently.

    “Mistress, my sincerest apologies for interrupting,” He rasped, the tenor of his voice one of devotion, “I bring news from our Akuma operatives.”

    Her Ladyship appraised him with hooded eyes, drinking in everything from the black, leather gloves on his hands, to the neatly trimmed goatee that complemented his angular jaw, the dark trench-coat he wore billowing around him on the ground, catching the flickering, orange glow of the candles that lined the walkway. It was only when he turned his gaze upward, staring at her quizzically with those piercing blue eyes of his, that she finally spoke, her lips quirking into a smile. “You may speak, Reeves. What news is it that you have brought me this night?”

    “Word has it the High Council has their sights set on Rome. It’s likely that the second artifact, the ‘Goblet of Bacchus’, can be found, there.” The Shade declared, the briefest flicker of interest lighting his eyes when he continued, “I believe they intend to send Phenex and the daemon he hangs around with, as well as that new human pet of theirs; just as they did with the last artifact.”

    She nodded slowly, considering his words. Before his incarceration, Reeves had been her most trusted subordinate, her second-in-command. Something, it seemed, that not even the passing of fifty years could change, regardless of the fact that his powers were in a temporarily weakened state. When the phoenix had locked him away in the prison realm of Nowhere, she had found herself in a most troubling position; for though the council didn’t suspect her of any wrong-doing, it wouldn’t have been long before she found herself in one of their interrogation cells, suffering the same fate as Reeves. Fortunately, with the help of one far more experienced in matters of betrayal, she had succeeded in escaping the council’s suspicions completely—the one she had eventually come to call master framing some poor, unwitting demigod in her place.

    Poor Hercules, She grinned slyly to herself, you never did see it coming, did you? Perhaps if you hadn’t spurned my advances, things would have been different. No matter; if we should meet again, I’ll know just how to deal with you.

    Returning her gaze to Reeves, she smiled. “I see. And what orders did you give to our little Japanese demon friends?”

    “They’re in Rome now, waiting to ‘greet’ the firebird and his pals,” Reeves was all teeth now, the corners of his mouth curling into a feral grin, “Since we don’t know the exact coordinates of the artifact, I sent some of my shadows to set up a perimeter. Once the council’s pets go after it, our little trio will snatch it right out from under their noses.”

    “…And the girl…?” She asked, pacing, the sharp click of her heels against the flagstones the only sound in the dead quiet of night.

    “All taken care of,” The irises of Reeves’ eyes briefly flashed crimson, before reverting back to their usual crystal-clear blue, “The Akuma will bring her to you alive, as ordered.”

    Laughing softly, her Ladyship stooped so that she was nearly eye-level with him, his breath catching in his throat when she reached out her hand and cupped his chin, fingers gently trailing along the rough stubble of his jaw. “You have served me well, my beloved shadow demon.” She crooned, experiencing an overwhelming rush of power when he trembled under her touch. “If our mission should succeed, I shall reward you most lavishly for your dedication.”

    Reeves rumbled low in his throat, sending a vibration through her fingertips. The power she held over him was simply intoxicating, a familiar hunger she hadn’t experienced in decades beginning to stir within her. With something as simple as a few words and a teasing caress, the Shade would go to the very ends of the earth for her, not a doubt in his mind that, when all was said and done, his efforts truly would be rewarded. Not that she didn’t have full intentions of rewarding him, of course she did—but if he were anyone else, if she didn’t truly hold him in the high esteem that she so claimed...well, how easy it would be to take from him what she wanted and then discard him, just as she had with so many others.

    True, she had originally taken him on as her subordinate all of those years ago with the sole intention of doing just that, but with the passing of time, she had eventually grown to appreciate him. With each success he’d secured for her, it had become obvious that she needed his exceptional skills on her side. Reeves belonged to her, and her, alone—not even her master had sway over him, though she would pretend that he did whenever he granted her an audience, for both her sake, and his. If the master were to ever discover the truth…

    Before she could take leave of her own senses, she stood, breaking contact with Reeves so suddenly that all he could do was stare at her dazedly, eyes clouded. The half-siren scolded herself, her fingertips pressed against her temples. She needed to tread more carefully; it would be all too easy for the master to read her mind, even from this distance, and if he did, it would be the end of everything she’d worked so hard to achieve.

    Not to mention our lives. She thought bitterly, glaring up at the moon until the feelings of unease ebbed.

    Sighing, she returned her attention to her subordinate, his eyes shining brightly in the darkness as he looked at her, a bewildered frown tugging at the corners of his lips. “Mistress, have I done something to offend you?”

    Gesturing with her forefinger for him to rise, she waited until he’d drawn himself up to his full height before she answered. “Not at all, beloved. On the contrary, you have done exceptionally.” She leaned toward him, feeling him stiffen in surprise when she pressed her lips against his, urgency pumping in her veins. When the soft contours of his mouth finally melded with hers, the passion was overwhelming, forcing her to pull away, breathless.

    Once they had both composed themselves, she took his face in both of her hands, holding his icy blue gaze with her own. “If there are any changes in the situation, report them to me, immediately.” She instructed, continuing on in a hushed whisper as she brushed her lips against his cheek. “Until your powers have fully returned, you must stay to the shadows as much as possible; we cannot risk your exposure just yet.”

    Reeves tilted his head to the side, his expression shifting into one of impatience—a look the half-siren had become far too familiar with in the last forty-eight hours. She knew what he was going to say before he even said it, and as he opened his mouth to speak, she gently pressed a finger against his lips.

    “Hush, darling. You will get your chance to settle the score with Phenex, I promise you.”

    “But if the Akuma—”

    “The Akuma are far too weak to kill an entity of his caliber,” She interrupted, letting her hand fall to his shoulder, “Quite frankly, I would be impressed if they were able to land a scratch on him, period. You, however, are an entirely different matter.”

    This seemed to placate him, his expression softening as he took hold of her hand, and gently kissed it. “You are too kind, Mistress. I promise you, I will not fail my mission.” He pressed his fist to his chest, bowing.

    “I trust that you won’t. Now, attend to your duties,” She ordered, gracing him with a final smile, “I have my own preparations to make.”


  6. Hello there! I just barely started reading this, and I have to say it is extremely well written! I simply adore your vocabulary! I have only managed to read the prologue and the first chapter so far and only found this one area that could use a little work:

    From Chapter One
    This is probably just my personal thing, so others might not even care, but I don't like it when a word is repeated too closely after its first use(I'm referring to your use of "with"); I feel like it disrupts the flow of the sentence a little bit. Maybe if you put something along the lines of The same one she'd used to touch the crystal shone with...the flow would glide along without any problems. Again this is probably just me being nitpicky, feel free to ignore it. I look forward to reading the rest. :)
    • Love Love x 1
  7. Hi, there! ^^

    Some of those chapters are pretty long, so I'm just grateful anyone's reading it at all. ^^;

    Heh, the funny thing is, I've probably looked at that sentence a dozen times or more, thinking there was something off-putting about it, but I couldn't put my finger on what. I'll certainly need to restructure that particular sentence.

    Thank you so much for your interest. :) I really appreciate it.

    Note for anyone else who might be reading: I realize there are instances where I use the wrong passed/past. These have been corrected--at least for the most part--on the actual document itself. As soon as I have time, I'll be sure to correct them in each one of the chapters I've provided, here. :)
    #7 Rebel-Dynasty, May 4, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2015
  8. Hello again! I'm back with yet another chapter. I hope you enjoy. Constructive criticism and feedback in general is much appreciated.

    Chapter Six
    Whispers of Nowhere: Chapter Six (open)

    No sooner had they arrived amongst the broken columns that stood at the very heart of the Roman Coliseum, when they were ambushed by a strange trio; all exceedingly different from one another, yet the same. From the flow of energy he felt rippling off of them, Forneus was certain that they were Akuma—Japanese demons, known for their use of elemental magic, and their penchant to cause natural disasters. But there was something strangely familiar about the power coming from them, something he couldn’t put his finger on, though he was positive he’d felt this specific presence once before.

    A stiff breeze blew through the arena, kicking up a thick cloud of dust around the two parties, though neither side dared to move. He was keenly aware of Gwen’s hold on his arm as she stood behind him, her grip tightening reflexively when the slim, platinum-haired female of the trio took a threatening step forward, crouching with her hand on the hilt of her sword, the blade still in its sheath. In spite of the heavy scarring of her right eyelid, her violet eyes shone brightly as day faded to night, the golden flecks of her irises catching the rays of the setting sun as it came through the slats lining the spectator standsor what formerly had been the stands, Forneus thought, for the passage of time had thoroughly ravaged the coliseum of its former splendor; the stacked, circularly-seated rows surrendering to the wild vines pushing their way up through limestone and mortar, alike.

    Phenex moved forward in response to the female demon’s unspoken threat, flames already crackling in the palms of his hands. Though he couldn’t see from his vantage point, Forneus could easily imagine his expression; everything from the shifting of his feet, to the way he rolled his shoulders, spoke volumes of his eagerness for battle.

    Between the terrified teen behind his back, the three enemies in front of him, and the firebird at his side, the tension had become overwhelming; the pressure in the air reminiscent of the onset of a thunderstorm, his skin prickling in anticipation. His gaze shifted from one Akuma to the other, from the large, muscular one with heterochromatic eyes in his dark, solemn clothing, to the smaller male and female in their far less conservative apparel. Despite their contrasting complexions, the duo could pass for twins, though the male seemed worlds apart from his ‘sister’, if that was indeed what she was; for while hunger gleamed in her eyes, there was nothing but fear to be seen in his.

    Eventually the female seemed to bore of their silent stand-off, for she glanced back at her two companions. “This is them? These are the guys the boss wants us to take out? Man, I’m disappointed,” She went on in a disparaging tone, sneering, “How about you guys—Cife, Kizah?” Neither of her companions said anything. They simply nodded, the smaller Akuma visibly twitching with his eyes downcast, the larger one expressionless, as if the whole situation held very little interest for him.

    Though he, himself, remained unperturbed by the female’s comment, Forneus could see Phenex stiffen, a low rumble starting in his chest.

    “Take it easy, old friend...” Forneus murmured, his voice just barely a whisper. “She’s trying to goad a reaction out of us. Don’t be fooled—they might not look like much, but they’re radiating a lot of power; I can feel it.”

    Phenex glanced back, eyes flitting from him to Gwen, his gaze lingering on her for a hair longer before returning his attention to the female Akuma. When he gave one of his usual, nearly imperceptible nods, Forneus understood, immediately; he would err on the side of caution, if only for Gwen’s sake.

    Not that he would ever admit it out loud. He mused, fixing his gaze on the three Akuma when they began pacing, their steps slow, deliberate. Taking hold of Gwen’s wrist, he mirrored the trios’ movements, gently guiding his human charge so that she remained behind him at all times, both groups circling one another, with Phenex positioned between the Akuma and Forneus. There was no doubt in Forneus’ mind that Phenex did this intentionally, providing an extra buffer in order to shield Gwen, further; regardless of his personal feelings towards humans, he would perform his sworn duty as an operative of the Regulations Force to the utmost of his ability.

    Forneus didn’t know for how long they continued on in this manner, circling one another, weaving between the broken, fluted columns scattered throughout the arena, the only sound that of their footsteps crunching over rubble, when the larger Akuma finally spoke.

    “Remember the boss’ orders, Misa…” His words were met with impatience from the female, her eyes narrowing as she glared over her shoulder at him.

    “I heard you the first ten times,” She snapped, her already dark complexion appearing to deepen a shade further in her irritation, “Come on Kizah, what are you waiting for? We’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em!”

    The one named Kizah said nothing, and simply continued his leisurely stride, his mismatched eyes flitting from Forneus to Phenex, and back again.

    Yes, what are you waiting for? Forneus wondered, echoing the female—Misa’s—question. Why hadn’t they attacked, yet? Were they biding their time, and if so, why? Noticing their attention on Gwen, he was given to wonder if their orders had something to do with her. So many questions flooded his mind, and all the while, he continued on in the same steady manner, not once faltering in his steps as he kept Gwen behind him. Phenex appeared to be growing more restless by the minute, the fire spreading until it encompassed each one of his fingers, his hands balling into fists.

    Whatever their reasons for not having attacked, yet, it didn’t matter. What did matter was finding the second artifact as quickly as possible, but this would prove difficult with the three Akuma dogging their every step. If he could just get Gwen a safe distance away, he knew that he and Phenex would be able to hold the trio off while she searched for the goblet…

    Forneus glanced back when he heard Gwen gasp, surprised when he saw the colour drain from her face. “What is it, Gwen? What’s wrong?” He asked, worried. He could feel her trembling, her eyes wide, unfocused.

    “I-I…I think it’s nearby…” She whispered, her eyes clearing when she met his gaze, “I’m not sure…but I think it’s—”

    He shook his head, shooting a warning glance at her. Gwen seemed to understand, for she abruptly stopped talking, pressing her lips firmly together and casting an apologetic look in his direction.

    “Now, now,” Forneus’ attention was drawn back to the one known as Misa, her violet gaze fixed on Gwen, “It’s not nice to keep secrets, blondie. Why don’t you share with the class?” Her banded lips were drawn back into a cruel smile, the fingers of her left hand tightening around the hilt of her sword, her right hand grasping the sheath.

    At this rate, it wouldn’t be long before she gave into impulse, and launched the first strike. This in and of itself didn’t worry Forneus, not when he knew Phenex was primed and ready for action; but there was something disturbing in the way the female Akuma looked at Gwen, with such maliciousness, such savagery. The sudden, overwhelming need to protect the girl stole over him in an instant, coming through so strongly—so violently—it forced a rumble from deep within his throat, furious, turbulent waves struggling to break free as his gaze locked with Misa’s, challenging her.

    Without looking at her, he murmured, “Gwen, when I give the word, I want you to make a run for it. We’ll hold them off; you just concentrate on finding the artifact, okay?” He felt her free hand come to rest on top of his, confirming she’d heard him. That’s my girl. Aloud, he said, “Good. Okay, let’s take this nice and slow…”

    Despite keeping his voice low, Forneus was certain that the female Akuma and her companions had heard the exchange, all three sets of eyes trained on him and Gwen, though they still cast furtive glances in Phenex’s direction, undoubtedly aware that to ignore him completely would be to invite their own deaths. Whoever they served, he or she was clearly well acquainted with what he was capable of, or so it appeared to Forneus; perhaps the female Akuma, Misa, was of a far more reckless persona, but it was obvious to him that the large one known as Kizah was the leader of their little group, and not her. As such, they continued treading carefully, never once lowering their guard.

    A wise choice, Forneus mused.

    Deciding he’d had quite enough of their endless pacing, he brought his arms forward, calling forth three, fiery orbs to circle above the palms of both hands. “Get ready.” He declared, as much for Phenex’s benefit as for Gwen’s.

    Phenex’s own fire, having dwindled somewhat over the course of the last few minutes, flared back up again, the flames bathing his leather jacket and the shirt underneath in a soft, orange glow, gaze fixed on the trio, his golden-amber eyes taking on a feverish gleam.

    “…Now!” Forneus shouted, sending the fireballs whizzing through the air with a simple flick of his wrists, the female Akuma drawing her katana and blocking with the flat of her blade. He could hear the distant thudding of Gwen’s shoes as she ran off to do as he’d instructed of her, her footfalls echoing between the ruined columns and archways. Meanwhile, Phenex had engaged Kizah the moment Forneus had unleashed his attack on Misa, rushing him with one fiery punch after another, leaving the large Akuma no time to retaliate.

    “Cife, get the girl!” Misa shrieked, baring her fangs as she charged Forneus, the guardian sidestepping each vertical slash of her sword with practiced ease. Spotting an opening, he delivered a devastating palm strike to her chest, adding an electrical surge for good measure, effectively stunning her. She tumbled over backwards, falling in an awkward heap, limbs akimbo.

    He watched out of the corner of his eye as the thin, pale Akuma named Cife moved to do as he was told, both hands roving over the utility belt slung across his narrow hips to withdraw the throwing daggers sitting there, gripping three of them between the knuckles of his right hand. Preparing to intervene, Forneus summoned a series of fireballs into his open hand, twisting them until they formed a rapidly-spinning wheel of flame. His efforts proved unnecessary when Phenex landed beside him, beating him to the punch.

    “Not so fast!” He growled, knocking the thin, diamond-shaped blades from Cife’s grasp with a thin stream of flame, the grey-eyed demon yelping as he stared fearfully at the firebird, wounded hand cradled against his chest.

    Phenex had returned his attention to Kizah by this time, the brutish Akuma bearing down on him with an angry roar, his gauntlet-covered fists smashing the ground as he tried to land a hit, though Phenex was far too quick for him. Forneus was certain he’d caught the faintest hint of a smile when he streaked past him, the expression mocking, almost playful, as he continued evading each swing of the demon’s massive fists. When Kizah was thrown off-balance by his own haphazard attacks, he took full advantage of it, and sprang forward. Gaining a foothold along the bewildered Akuma’s shoulder, he rebounded off of it, launching high into the air and unleashing a rain of fire down on him.
    Forneus’s attention was drawn back to Misa when he heard a high-pitched growl, the female Akuma fully recovered and running full-tilt toward him, her katana extended. Thinking this was as good a time as any to switch tactics, he held his right hand out in front of him, focusing on the ether flowing through his body and concentrating it into an electrical form, his knuckles tingling as the current travelled through his shoulder and into the tips of his fingers.

    When the tip of Misa’s blade was no more than a foot away, he released the electrical discharge, the lightning taking on a brilliant, indigo glow as it coursed through the katana and into her. She screamed, her knees buckling under her, Forneus only stopping when she was writhing on the ground. Really, it gave him no pleasure to do this, to cause pain and suffering to any being, be they benign or malevolent—but after she had threatened Gwen? Well, she deserved far worse than what he had just bestowed upon her.

    As a high-pitched whistling reached his ears, Forneus instinctively threw a force field up, the three knives that had been sailing through the air emitting a green flash of light when they glanced off of the energy barrier, falling to the arena floor with a soft thud. As the shield dispersed, he turned, levelling his gaze with Cife’s, the small male’s grey pallor taking on a slight green tinge as he stared back at him with wide, frightened eyes.

    Sighing, Forneus concentrated, summoning lightning into his outstretched hand. His fingertips tingled as indigo-violet energy arced from his thumb to his pinky finger and back again, forming a ball of static within his open palm. He didn’t know what to make of the timid, red-headed Akuma, other than to assume that perhaps, unlike his cohorts, he derived no enjoyment from combat, and had simply been forced into service.

    Regardless, he still poses a threat to Gwen, and to us. Turning his hand so that his palm was now facing downward, he was just about to release a powerful, electrical surge into Cife, when the demon spoke in a shrill, youthful voice.

    “N-No…please…” He pleaded, retreating a few steps from him, only to trip over a broken piece of column and fall on his backside with an audible thump.

    If it hadn’t been for the sheer magnitude of the mission, and if not for his ever-growing desire to protect Gwen from any and all who would do her harm, Forneus might have actually taken pity on him. However, the guardian had been around long enough to know that, in such matters, showing the enemy mercy would be most unwise; for even if Cife were to surrender, his companions certainly would not.

    Swallowing back his feelings of reluctance, he held out his hand, preparing to send just enough voltage into his foe to knock him out, when his suspicions were confirmed; Misa’s high, grating voice rising above the electrical crackle.

    “Cife…you disgust me…” Allowing the static to fade, Forneus swept his gaze over to the dark, iridescent-skinned female, watching in silence as she struggled to her feet with the help of her sword, the blade firmly planted in the ground. “Don’t you dare beg the enemy for mercy…the boss taught us better than that!”

    Her exclamation was followed by a series of explosions a short ways behind both her and Cife, all three entities turning to stare as brilliant flames of red and orange rose up, towering over the second and third rows of the spectator stands. A blast of hot air swept the entire diameter of the ground floor, both Akuma raising their arms to shield against the searing heat, crying out as their skin started to bubble and blister.

    Forneus, for his part, was wholly unaffected, merely feeling the heat washing over him as one feels the waves of the ocean on a tropical beach. Between having his own penchant for fire magic and his long-standing friendship with Phenex, he had built up something of an immunity over the centuries. This wasn’t to say that Phenex’s flames couldn’t burn him, of course, but simply that it would take more than a gust of hot air to cause him physical harm.

    With the two, smaller Akuma lying injured on the ground, and Phenex in the midst of combat with Kizah, Forneus was afforded the opportunity to look at the expanse of stands behind him. Peering through the billowing dust, his gaze flitted from one tier to another, following the entire breadth of the stands in hopes of catching a glimpse of Gwen somewhere amidst the overhanging archways and eroding stone benches. But with the sky deepening from lavender to navy blue, the coliseum walls cast long shadows over the stands, shrouding the lowermost portions in complete darkness. He couldn’t see her, but he knew she was there, somewhere; there was no doubt about it in his mind. If he strained his ears, he could just make out the sound of her sneakers crunching over dirt, of pebbles skittering across the ground when she inadvertently kicked them.

    When the arena was rocked with yet another explosion, he heard her frightened cry, cut off by the sound of the battle raging on just beyond the gladiatorial pits. Had it been the explosion that scared her, or had Gwen run into some sort of trouble? What if there were more enemies here, than just the three he and Phenex had been fighting all this time? What if she was hurt? Anxiety gnawed at his stomach, his throat constricting at the mere thought of it.

    He couldn’t wait around any longer; he had to go to her, right now.

    Glancing over his shoulder, he was relieved to see that neither the dark or the pale-skinned Akuma would pose a problem, at least not for the time being; both were still nursing their wounds, Misa muttering curses under her breath as she clutched her burnt midriff, Cife lying face-down, his whimpers muffled against the dirt floor.


    Forneus took a steadying breath, and with a burst of determination, bolted forward, desperately hoping that he would find Gwen, and that when he did, it wouldn’t be too late.

    Gwen’s heart had been pounding out the same rapid, erratic rhythm from the moment she’d sprung into action, tearing off toward the coliseum stands in search of the second artifact, the ‘Goblet of Bacchus’, as Forneus had told her. The adrenaline rushing through her veins pushed her onward, even when her legs threatened to collapse under her, the steady, sharp pain that had started with every inhalation of breath like a knife between her ribs. The familiar thrumming she’d experienced with Loki’s Amulet had grown stronger with every step, the warm tingling that raced down her spine seeming to tell her that she was drawing nearer to her goal. The arched entryways that lined the stands suddenly seemed menacing, the last of the sun’s rays fading down into the horizon, throwing everything around her into gloom. Even the silvery light of the moon, nearing fullness, wasn’t enough to penetrate the deep shadows, despite the fact that the coliseum lacked a roof.

    Up the worn, broken stone steps she ran, continuing on past the first row and then the second, all the while guided by the overwhelming feeling that seemed to set each one of her nerve endings aflame, her sense of urgency growing by the second. She could hear shouting far behind her, the sudden whoomph of fire as it ignited, the orange light throwing her surroundings into sharp relief before fading again, leaving her to blink away the pinpricks of white light before her eyes. It wasn’t until she tripped and fell, scraping her knees through her black denim pants, that she decided to stop moving. She scanned the darkness on either side of her, unable to make out more than a fuzzy ledge here, the corner of a seat there, everything else blacker than pitch.

    That’s when she saw it, peeking out from beneath the rubble of one of the benches far to her left; a sliver of bronze reflecting off of the divider that separated the second row from the third. Is that it? She wondered, squinting through the darkness. She couldn’t quite make it out, though she was certain she caught a flash of something—perhaps a diamond, just like the ones from the goblet she’d seen on her kitchen table no more than three nights, before. Beyond that, nothing else was discernible, and unless she moved from her spot on the steps and crawled her way over to it, she wouldn’t know for sure.

    Choking back a startled yelp when a resounding crash came from the other end of the coliseum, Gwen crept forward on her knees and elbows, moving along the ground like a soldier crawling through the trenches, her gaze fixed on the glimmer of bronze in front of her. Just keep going…never mind what’s going on behind you…that’s it, almost there…

    It became clear with each move forward that it was the ‘Goblet of Bacchus’ after all, the vertical diamond and ruby patterns lining from its lip down to the stem glittering between the blackened vines entangling it. She could almost touch it, now, the fabric of her sweater whispering against the edge of one of the benches as she stretched her fingers out toward the goblet.

    That’s when it dawned on her; not even a full seventy-two hours had passed since she’d first been pulled into all of this artifact madness—so how could the vines have wound around it, already?

    This doesn’t make any sense!

    As if on cue, the vines that had been holding the goblet shot out toward her. It happened so suddenly that she didn’t have time to think, much less act, the vines beginning to snake all the way up from her wrist to her elbow, and tightening. “No!” She yelled, yanking her arm backward, the fingers of her other hand digging into the divider next to her, trying to anchor herself. As she continued to struggle against the vines, more of the dark, wispy tendrils winding their way around her neck and torso, it occurred to her that the goblet wasn’t glowing; why hadn’t she been struck with a pillar of light like she had the first time? When she’d gone after Loki’s Amulet, she had only to get close to it, and it had reacted! So, why wasn’t it the same with this one? Was it not the second artifact, after all?

    No…it has to be! I know it is—I saw it that night! Please, wake up! I need your help!

    The vines were closing in faster, now, binding her from head to toe, wrapping so tightly, she could scarcely breathe. Her vision started to fade until the coliseum stands had become no more than a blur, fogging at her peripherals.

    “Gwen! Gwen, where are you?”

    Was that Forneus’ voice? She tried to move, tried to call out to him, but no sound came out—the vines tightened around her throat, their thin tendrils gagging her as they then proceeded to close over her nose and mouth, her body growing colder with each passing second. Soon she would lose consciousness, and there would be nothing but darkness to welcome her.

    “Hang on, Gwen! I’m coming!”


    “Gwen! Please, answer me!”

    I’m sorry…I let you down…

    “Oh, thank Mythos…I’m right here, sweetheart. You’re going to be alright…”

    A flash of light cut through her eyelids, only to disappear, leaving behind a darkness much deeper than before.
    She felt something brush against her cheek, her body being pulled to one side, cradled against something firm, yet soft; the feeling soothing, familiar. It took her a moment to realize she could breathe again, the vines no longer constricting her air flow. As soon as she thought this, her eyes fluttered open, and she began coughing, her chest heaving as she tried to suck in deep lungfuls of air. Two strong, gentle hands grasped her shoulders, the one on her right trailing down to rub between her shoulder blades, Forneus’ voice murmuring in her ear, telling her everything would be alright, that he was there, now.

    “The…the goblet…” she managed, before succumbing to another coughing fit, her throat burning with the effort.

    No sooner had she felt Forneus shift, reaching toward where she had indicated, when they were both shrouded within a dazzling pillar of light, both ceasing to move just as they had before with the amulet. She couldn’t understand why the goblet was only now reacting, but as she watched it float toward them, she supposed it didn’t matter. As long as the seal had been reactivated, that was all that mattered. She would just have to ask Forneus about it, later.

    A wave of pure sensation rushed up from her toes to the top of her head, seeming to eat away at the shadows surrounding on either side of them, Forneus gasping when the light that bathed her suddenly enveloped him. His grip on her shoulder reflexively tightened then relaxed again, Gwen catching a glimpse of his wide-eyed astonishment, his pupils contracting when the light grew brighter. It seemed so strange to her, that despite being a supernatural being, he reacted in much the same way a human would, under the same circumstances. No, it wasn’t just strange—it was downright fascinating. In a moment of pure, innocent curiosity, she wondered what other similarities he shared with humans, if he experienced sensations or emotions the way they did.

    When the light suddenly vanished, Gwen, unable to feel much of anything, couldn’t stop herself from falling limp, her back resting against the stone bench behind her, heart hammering against her ribcage as she struggled for breath. Why hadn’t a voice spoken to her, as it had before? She wondered, bemused. Had she gotten another gift, like the strange mind-control power she’d received from Loki’s Amulet? What about Forneus; didn’t he say that his fire magic had returned to him back in Germany? After all, that was one of the conditions of finding the artifacts, having portions of his power returned to him—so just what had they gained from the goblet? I suppose we’ll just have to find out, once we get out of here…if we get out of here…

    She was startled out of her thoughts when Forneus asked her if she was alright, his voice unsteady. He sounded as breathless as she felt, as if the reactivation of the artifact had taken a toll on him, as well. She could feel a tremor go through her shoulder where he rested his hand, his silver eyes bright and alert, though lined with exhaustion underneath. Perhaps he does experience things the way humans do, after all.

    Seeing the genuine concern in his luminous eyes, Gwen was overcome with gratitude, warmth slowly blossoming in the very centre of her chest. She averted her gaze when she felt her eyes beginning to sting, moisture budding in the corners, though she was determined to not let him see the tears fall. He’d been so sympathetic toward her, so caring, so understanding—it was more than she could bear. But she needed this, needed to have just this one time when he wouldn’t feel obligated to comfort her; she was tired of crying, damn it! She’d done far too much of it in the last few days already, more than she’d ever done in the past two years of her life.

    Well, no more. She thought resolutely, digging her nails into the palm of her hand until the tears receded. From now on, I have to be strong.

    Gingerly swiping at her eyes to conceal the fact that she’d been on the verge of crying at all, she turned to face him again, forcing a smile to her lips. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

    Forneus gave her a long, searching look, the guardian finally rising to his feet, and offering her his hand with a resigned sigh. It was obvious from the way he kept sneaking looks at her that he didn’t believe her, though he said nothing more on the matter, merely pulling her to her feet with one hand, and pocketing the goblet with the other. When another violent tremor rocked the coliseum, they both turned toward the source of the explosion, Gwen squinting as she took in the fire blazing in the arena below.

    “We’d better get back, before Phenex burns the entire coliseum to the ground.” Gwen glanced at him when he said this, Forneus gently taking her hand in his, his expression suggesting that he was only half-serious.

    Nodding her agreement, she took a deep breath and shut her eyes, giving herself over to the familiar, dizzying sensation of being teleported.
    It was all Phenex could do to stay on his feet, dodging one blow after another as the large, russet-skinned Akuma swung his gauntlet-clad fists at him, occasionally grazing him but more often than not, hitting nothing but open air and the sand-covered arena floor. The latter always stirred up a massive cloud of dust, making him wonder if it was intentionally done, for it always rendered him immobile for a few seconds, seized with a coughing fit as he tried to regain his bearings.

    It was during one of these times that he felt his suspicions were true, Kizah managing to land a solid hit, planting his fist directly in Phenex’s gut, knocking the wind right out of him. He hit the ground hard, jagged rocks digging into his side where he landed. He could tell from the sharp pain as he exhaled that two of his ribs were broken, an intense burning sensation starting above his navel as his regenerative abilities kicked in, healing the breakage within a matter of seconds. Rolling onto his back, he did a kip-up and dodged to the right, Kizah’s bronze-plated knuckles just missing him by a hair, the Akuma thrown off-balance by his own bulk, just as before.

    Phenex took advantage of this, swinging his left fist in a wide hook, and slamming it into Kizah’s jaw, singeing the flesh on impact with a last-minute ember burst across his knuckles; a tactic that had become his bread and butter when facing off against opponents larger than himself. This did the trick, Kizah staggering back a few steps with a grunt, one hand coming up to touch the blistering skin on the right side of his jaw. Phenex wasn’t about to wait around for him to recover, not now that he had the upper hand. He lashed out with his right leg, fire trailing along behind his heel as he snapped his foot forward, connecting with Kizah’s midsection.
    The Akuma stumbled back several paces, eyes of grey and violet narrowing as he glared down at him. He continued moving backward in an obvious attempt to put some distance between himself and the fiery being, but Phenex was having none of it. Baring his teeth, he rushed him, leaping high into the air with his arm drawn back, crimson flames licking across his knuckles. Kizah’s eyes widened in alarm, too late, as Phenex brought his fist down with a growl, the punch connecting just beneath the left eye and knocking the dark-clad entity off his feet.

    Kizah immediately brought both hands up to his face, a guttural wail echoing off of the perforated walls of the coliseum as he writhed on the ground, blood trickling down his cheek from where the burn had already begun to blister. Shaking the hand he’d struck him with, Phenex ignored the unearthly noise floating up from the Akuma’s mouth, and decided now was as good a time as any to take stock of his surroundings. He cringed as his gaze drifted from the lower levels of the stands behind him, to the broken columns scattered on either side. Everywhere he and Kizah had wound up during their fight showed signs of their battle; from blackened scorch marks criss-crossing along the ground, to large impact craters that put the surface of the moon to shame. On top of everything else, most of the columns and stone archways, having already been in a state of ruin, had now been reduced to a fine powder.

    The unit was not going to be happy about this—not in the slightest. And guess who they’ll blame? He thought bitterly with a sigh.

    “You bastard,” He turned at the sound of Kizah’s voice, the demon letting out a snarl as he lumbered to his feet, Phenex instantly taking notice of the angry, swollen red patch of skin beneath his left eye. “I’ll tear you limb from limb!”

    So, he can get mad, after all…

    He dove to the side, rolling across the ground just in time as Kizah brought both of his fists down, the tremor causing several of the columns that had still been standing up to that point to come crashing down, the sound of stone shifting and cracking as large pieces broke away resounding across the entire pit. He barely made it to his feet before Kizah was looming over him once again, the gauntlets coming down faster now, one after the other, drilling the ground barely an inch away from him each time. He could feel the air move with every strike, his bangs fluttering against his forehead as he deked from side to side.
    “Phenex, look out!” Forneus’ voice reached him faintly, barely making it through the barrage of attacks being thrown at him.

    I am looking out, He thought to himself, hazarding a glance over his shoulder to see Forneus running toward him with Gwen in tow, what the hell is he talking ab—

    It happened all at once; a sharp pain between his shoulders, and again in his right calf, followed by a vicious uppercut from Kizah, the larger entity taking advantage of his momentary distraction. Phenex landed on his back, the sharp pain intensifying as whatever he’d been hit with dug deeper into his flesh.

    It’s gotta be that bastard with the knives. He surmised, trailing his fingers along where Kizah had hit him, the contours of his jaw swollen, tender. Thankfully, it was already beginning to heal, a warm, tingling sensation travelling along the abused area. The wounds in his calf and back, however, were another matter; he would have to remove the blades in order to let the regenerative process take over.

    Not that I’ll get the chance. He thought grimly, rolling off to the side as another hammer-punch hit the ground barely an inch from where he’d just been. He winced as the blades dug in deeper, but staggered to his feet, nonetheless, leaping backward when Kizah threw another punch his way. Vaguely, he could hear the sound of approaching footsteps, coming faster now, though from the number of footfalls, he knew it was more than just Forneus and Gwen. The other two Akuma were no doubt coming to the aid of their comrade, just as his was coming for him.

    Wrenching the throwing knife from his calf with a snarl, he lobbed it at Kizah, the blade bouncing off of his chest harmlessly, distracting him just long enough for him to unleash a single, fiery burst between both hands, palms facing forward. The flames fanned out on impact, sizzling along the open edges of the Akuma’s long coat, and burning a hole in the dark blue shirt underneath.

    Phenex had just enough time to feel the muscles in his calf starting to heal, when Kizah unexpectedly lunged forward, slamming his elbow into his shoulder. Searing pain travelled down the full length of his arm, his stomach churning when he heard the sickening crunch of his collarbone breaking. Momentarily weakened, he stumbled, jarring his left knee when he landed on it, a cold sweat breaking out across the back of his neck. He could just make out the sound of the female Akuma screeching over the blood rushing in his ears, ordering Kizah to finish him off.

    As quickly as the feeling of nausea had come, it vanished, his collarbone shifting back into place with an audible pop, the torn ligaments mending between both shoulder and socket. Now if only he could get the damned blade out of his back! Temper flaring, his furious gaze met Kizah’s just as he pulled his arm back to deliver the final blow. Phenex was too fast for him. He brought both hands forward, cupping them so that his wrists were touching, and with renewed strength, unleashed a fiery torrent nearly the full width and breadth of his foe. As blood-curdling as Kizah’s screams had been before, they were nothing in comparison to the guttural wails coming from his mouth, now, his heterochromatic eyes bulging in their sockets as he fell back with a loud thump.

    The flames dissipated, but not before they left a series of raw, angry welts over every exposed inch of his skin, as well as the patches that could be seen through the sections of clothing that had all but burned away. The agony must have proven too much for him, for he’d gone still, his chest just barely rising with each breath.

    Unconscious, Phenex realized, good.

    Groaning, he slowly got to his feet, the sting of the blade in his back growing ever more irritating; he would have ripped it out long before now, but with it sitting directly between his shoulder blades, he couldn’t brush it with the tips of his fingers, much less get an actual grip on the damned thing, and pull it out. Still he tried, twisting every which way, reaching back with one hand, then the other, all to no avail.

    Guess I’ll just have to ask Forneus, then. He thought, defeated.

    Startled by the sudden flash of indigo-violet light just behind him, he turned in time to see Forneus unloading a bolt of lightning into the two androgynously-built Akuma, the female apparently having been in the process of thrusting her sword toward his exposed, leather-clad back, her one good eye wide in a mixture of surprise and agony. Both dropped to the ground, writhing and screaming, Forneus continuing on for several seconds afterward.

    Noticing the usually silver eyes darkening to a slate grey, Phenex knew from experience that he was well passed the point of being furious, something that could only be brought on under rare circumstances—such as the lives of those he cherished most being threatened. And while he was certain a portion of Forneus’ ire came on his behalf, he figured something awful must have occurred, no doubt when he’d gone in search of Gwen while Phenex, himself, had otherwise been engaged in combat. Whatever it was, it must have frightened him terribly, he realized, experiencing a twinge of concern. If there was anything that pained him, it was seeing Forneus in this very state.

    It was only once all three Akuma were safely out cold that Phenex took stock of Gwen, the teen silently clinging to the back of Forneus’ coat, her jade eyes large with fright. She looked paler than he remembered, scratches covering her face, neck, and arms, a few of which were still bleeding.

    “Are you alright?” He looked up at the sound of Forneus’ voice, the words coming out strained.

    Phenex nodded, volleying back. “Are you?” He allowed his gaze to drift from one to the other, letting Forneus know the question had been meant for both of them, even if he was reluctant to say so.

    As if in answer to his question, Gwen’s eyes rolled back, her knees buckling under her. Forneus grabbed hold of her before she could hit the ground, and in one fluid motion, had her cradled in his arms, head resting against his chest, her expression peaceful. Phenex stared at her for some time, unsure of how he felt at that precise moment; try as he might, he couldn’t quash the concern he felt for her, for the strain she was under. He didn’t much like the girl—she was a human after all, and they had long since proved that they couldn’t be trusted—but he didn’t exactly hate her, either. Ambivalence, He mused. Isn’t that what they call it?

    “It must be the artifacts taking a toll on her like this.” He said aloud, hissing through his teeth when he felt the dagger shifting in his back, “Damn it…I hate to ask, but do you think you can take this thing out for me?” He turned so that Forneus could see the dagger.

    Forneus obliged, ripping the blade out as quickly as possible, Phenex gritting his teeth against the brief flash of pain. Once the warmth started, he heaved a sigh, his posture relaxing. He could feel his torn clothing mending as well, all thanks to an enchantment Apollo had given him shortly after the Greek god had taken him under his tutelage. Quite the useful spell, all things considered, though it sometimes took a while to kick in. Luckily for him, fire had absolutely no effect on his clothing, having been hand-crafted and tailored specifically for him—otherwise he would have found himself in many an uncomfortable situation, by now.

    When he turned to face Forneus, the guardian was gazing at the girl in his arms, eyebrows drawn together and his lips turned down at the corners. If there had ever been a time he’d seen him this anxious and vulnerable, Phenex couldn’t think of it. “She’ll be alright,” the words were out before he even realized he was saying them, “She just needs rest, that’s all.”

    “I know.” Forneus’ expression softened, managing a tentative smile in his direction.

    Phenex had barely noticed. His mind had started to race, studying the three unconscious forms lying at their feet. Something about them had seemed…off. “Who are they, anyway?” He nudged the small, red-haired male with the toe of his shoe, and glanced up at Forneus.

    “I’m not sure,” His expression was thoughtful, “You could feel their power, right? You could tell for certain that they were Akuma?”

    Phenex nodded, “Of course. We dealt with a lot of them back in the day. I don’t think it’s possible for me to forget their presence, even if I tried.”

    “Even so, something feels strange about these ones,” Forneus murmured, almost to himself, “Something about their energy is…unstable, yet, familiar. I just can’t seem to put my finger on it.”

    Phenex was quiet for a moment, contemplating what he had said. Now that he had mentioned it, it seemed so obvious to him, so much so that he wasn’t sure how he could have missed it, himself. Something did feel familiar about the three Akuma, something far beyond just being able to identify them for what they were. What it could be, however, he didn’t know. Stranger still, why hadn’t they used any of their real power? Where were their attacks of fire and ice, of thunderstorms and gale-force winds?

    It was then that he became acutely aware of something moving in his peripherals, something dark and shadowy, creeping closer from every visible angle. “Forneus,” he said in warning, “I think we’d better leave.”

    Forneus, who had been looking down at Gwen once again, glanced up sharply, suddenly alert. Phenex saw him unconsciously tighten his grip on the teen, hoisting her more securely in his arms, silver eyes flashing. As he peered around at the ethereal shadows sliding across the ground toward them, he replied evenly, “Yes, I suppose we should.”

    Between Forneus’ arms being too full of unconscious teenaged human to fight, and the large number of enemies closing in on them, there was simply no time to contact any of the Regulations Force units to collect the three Akuma. Perhaps with any luck, the trio would still be in the coliseum when one of the units did arrive.

    As they teleported, returning to the calm, undulating walls of blue and violet in Gwen’s quarters, Phenex felt a primal growl building in his chest, clawing its way up his throat, fighting its way out between clenched teeth.

    Forneus, who had been laying Gwen on the bed, looked up at him, bewildered. “What is it?”

    For a minute, he couldn’t speak, his gaze fixed on the opposite wall, unfocused. White-hot rage frothed in his veins, bubbling up like lava. No—hotter than lava, scorching him from within. “Those shadows…” He choked out, barely able to suppress his anger.

    Forneus stared at him, uncomprehending. Then, his eyebrows lifted, his expression alight with understanding. “You think it’s—?”

    “There’s no doubt about it,” Phenex answered, nostrils flaring, “Reeves.”

    Reeves studied the three Akuma in front of him, gaze flitting first from one, then to the other, taking in their battle worn appearance. Kizah was almost completely covered in burns, his skin a shiny, raw pink crusted with yellow, one of his eyes completely swollen shut. Cife and Misa were on either side of him, faring only slightly better than their larger counterpart. At first glance, they appeared to be covered in lacerations, but upon closer inspection, he realized that the bluish-violet markings zigzagging over every exposed inch of their skin were also burns, just of a different kind—nowhere near as severe as Kizah’s, and most of which had already begun to fade. Studying the strange pattern, which, curiously enough, reminded him of forked lightning, he knew these hadn’t come from Phenex; the wounds were too precise to have been the firebird’s doing. No, this had to be the handiwork of the daemon, the entity he knew far too little about for his comfort; the one he’d have to keep a closer watch over from here on out.

    He had only arrived in the coliseum ten minutes before, having received reports of the mission’s failure from the network of shadow minions under his command, namely those he’d sent with the Akuma. In that time, the trio—mostly Misa—had gone into a fast, albeit lengthy explanation of all that had happened, from the moment they’d confronted the firebird and daemon, to when they’d awoken a few minutes before his arrival. None of them had seen the girl with the goblet, but that didn’t matter; Reeves knew from his shadows that she had gotten a hold of it, his ethereal forces having witnessed the brilliant pillar of light that had shrouded both her and the daemon the moment they’d touched the artifact, how the light had been too painful for the shadows to intervene. Reeves didn’t fault them for this, of course—he knew full well how devastating light could be, especially to those lesser entities of darkness.

    What he didn’t know was what the light portended. He supposed it might just be a sign that the seal on the artifact had been reactivated, but from what he’d heard about the first one, there was more to it, than simply reinstating the seals. Indeed, his shadow minions had been adamant that, upon retrieving Loki’s Amulet, not only had the girl been able to exercise control over some of his lesser grunts, the daemon had displayed another power that, until that moment, had been absent during the battle. Because of that, he suspected something of a similar nature had happened this time, as well.

    It begged the question, though; was it because of the girl that the daemon gained more power, or could the artifact alone do that? More importantly, if it could grant a common daemon that kind of power, what could it do for someone like him…or for someone as powerful as her Ladyship? Had his mistress known about this power-granting ability all along? Was there more to her desire for the artifacts, than merely preventing the prison realm from being reopened? Or was she truly only doing this under the orders of her own master?

    Too many questions, and not enough answers.

    Stirring from his thoughts, he was somewhat surprised to see the Akuma still kneeling before him, all three of them looking anywhere from mildly nervous, to outright terrified; from their expressions, and the way Cife continuously trembled, it was clear they anticipated punishment for their failure.

    “You guys can relax,” he sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, “The fact that you failed doesn’t really come as a surprise. Not only did you underestimate the daemon—even now whose powers we know next to nothing about—you were ignorant of Phenex’s strength. Even if his pal hadn’t been around, you still would have lost. The firebird alone is stronger than the three of you put together.”

    “Over-glorified fire chicken…” Misa muttered. Judging from the way she quailed under his baleful glare, she hadn’t meant to say it out loud.

    “That ‘over-glorified fire chicken’, as you call him, is responsible for the imprisonment and deaths of many of our brethren,” Reeves flared up, “You would do well to remember that, Misa…or had you forgotten that even I once fell victim to his flames?” His voice took on a quiet edge, more lethal and deadly than if he’d roared in outrage.

    She seemed to shrink further away from him as the seconds ticked by, both male Akuma to her right remaining silent, though Reeves could see the furtive glances that passed between them. It was only once he felt she’d gotten the message that he tore his gaze away, noting the way all three slumped with relief. Not that this surprised him, of course, given their connection to one another.

    Having no further need of them for the time being, he levelled his gaze with Kizah. “You’re dismissedfor now.” He declared, tilting the brim of his fedora. “Rest up, and get yourselves healed. I’ll call on you when there’s more work to be done.”

    The trio left without a word, disappearing into thin air before his eyes; no brilliant flash of light, no shadowy vortex, nothing that usually happened with other entities when teleporting from one place, to another—just simply vanished.

    My turn, Reeves smirked, and to think, not even twenty-four hours ago, I couldn’t even do this much for myself.

    He raised both hands, holding them out so that it looked like he was gripping something between them, his stance relaxed. It started out small, no bigger than a grain of rice; a dark speck, floating a mere two feet from him at eye-level. As he spread his arms wider, so too did the speck grow, until finally, it was large enough to encompass him from head to toe—a portal comprised of his very own shadowy essence, able to take him wherever he wanted. Even if he still wasn’t up to full strength, it was more than enough, having the ability to do something as simple as teleport once again. Until he had lost it, he hadn’t realized just how much he missed travelling by his own power.

    Well, never again, He vowed, never again will I be at the mercy of that damnable firebird, or his High Council masters!

    Once he was satisfied that it was stable, he moved closer to the swirling mass of black and grey energy, the vortex humming softly with something akin to electricity as he drew nearer. Well, might as well get this over with…

    Taking a steadying breath, Reeves stepped through the portal, already filled with dread at the prospect of how her Ladyship would react to this latest development.
  9. Do you think you could eventually put a link to a downloadable pdf file when you're done? I'd like to sit down and read it once it's finished (I have this weird thing about not wanting to read a story until it's finished. Example: Bleach manga. I'm waiting until the final chapter is posted before I read any further in it.)
    • Like Like x 1

  10. I think I could do something like that, sure. :) The first draft is nearly done (just a couple more chapters to go), so once I've done a bit of editing (full-scale revisions will take a great deal more of my time, lol), I'll try to make it accessible in such a way. Or at the very least, provide the full thing on the sites it's posted to (fiction press, tablo, spark-a-tale, etc.)
  11. Or you could even publish it on Amazon kindle store.
  12. It's something to consider, though honestly, if I publish through them, I'll just feel like I'm cutting corners. Not that I'm saying writers who have done that are, but that I'd rather go through a publisher in order to make sure my book is up to snuff before it's released on the market. ^^;
  13. agreed.
  14. And now we enter Chapter Seven...

    Chapter Seven

    Whispers of Nowhere: Chapter Seven (open)

    There was still so much Gwen didn’t understand. She knew that three days had passed since she’d retrieved the Goblet of Bacchus; that it had been six days since that fateful night, when she’d stumbled across the artifacts sitting so innocently on her dining room table—a false innocence, she now knew—that led to her meeting Forneus, as well as his temperamental cohort, Phenex.
    She had even come to learn that the Spectrum, despite not being governed by the known laws of time, itself, carefully monitored the passage of time across the globe, as well as every other world under the High Council’s protection. Additionally, because she played a major role in regards to the artifacts—yet another thing that she found mystifying, since she didn’t understand why she held such importance, to begin with—Forneus was under orders to pay careful attention to how long she resided within the realm of the gods. Why this was necessary, she hadn’t bothered to ask, but she assumed it must bear some significance; whether it had to do with the collection of the artifacts, or something entirely outside of the information the guardian was permitted to give her, she could only venture a guess.

    No, there were still a great many things she didn’t understand about this frightening, yet beautiful realm; not the strange red glyphs above the glowing archways stationed at intervals along the vast web of crystalline walkways, nor why the majority of the Spectrum was filled with a kaleidoscope of colours, instead of solid walls. If she were braver, she would have attempted to touch the ever-shifting void, just to see if it was solid, gas, or liquid. Or maybe it had no physical form at all; maybe it was made of light. Of course, this just made her wonder if it felt warm like the rays of the sun did while coming in through a window—or if it was tangible, at all.

    All of this, however, was not what currently puzzled her. At first, all she could hear were muffled voices, garbled as though she were listening to someone speaking under water; only the odd word here or there making it passed the distortion. Warm, comfortable numbness washed over her, random images flitting through her mind, far too quickly for her to catch more than a vague impression, here and there; sometimes the briefest glimpse of a face, other times a specific location, though none of them were the least bit familiar to her. It was because of these feelings and the images that came with them that she instinctively knew she was dreaming—or rather, had been dreaming, until the voices pierced through the veil between sleep and consciousness.

    “The caduceus should be…”

    “…Thessaly? This could prove to be much more challenging than the last…”

    “Agreed, and with it being such a populated area, it would be a miracle if we managed to...”

    “What about…did the council…”

    “Yes, it was him, just as I knew it would be. Listen, there’s something I have to tell you.”
    The voices had become sharper, the conversation less broken, though she could make no more sense of it than she could at the start. Who was talking, and where was she, anyway?

    “Now is not the time to be reckless.”

    Was that Forneus?

    “Forneus, listen to reason! This is the perfect time to take Reeves out of the equation, once and for all!” Strange, that sounded a lot like Phenex. “Old friend…no, brother…we might never get another chance like this! Please...don’t try to stop me; not from doing what needs to be done.”

    The longer she listened, the more aware she became, and with that awareness came the absolute certainty that it was Forneus and Phenex’s voices she could hear. But something was wrong; not only were they arguing, which due to the former’s patient and gentle nature, was hard for her to imagine, but even stranger still, she could have sworn that Phenex had just been begging a moment ago. That didn’t seem right—she must have misunderstood. Being as proud as he was, it didn’t seem like something he’d do, and yet…

    “Tell me, is this coming from ‘Phenex, elite soldier of the Regulations Force, First Unit’, or is it, ‘Phenex, the harbinger of vengeance’ doing the talking?”

    An exhalation of breath followed this question, no doubt one of them sighing in frustration, more than likely that one being Phenex. As the last traces of sleep-induced fog cleared from her mind, Gwen opened her eyes, seeing only the fuzzy, soft hues of cerulean and lavender of the ceiling above her, until her vision sharpened. Peering first to her right, where the bathroom was located, its door ajar, and then to her left, where a tray of food had been left for her, she sat up with a groan. Rubbing the crust from her eyes, she blinked a few times, her gaze coming to rest on the two beings standing on the other side of the room, just in front of the black and grey marbled door. When neither one of them looked up, continuing their argument in hushed tones, she cleared her throat.

    “Who is Reeves, and more importantly, why are you guys holding a conference in my room?”

    Both Phenex and Forneus glanced up simultaneously, surprised. It didn’t last long though, before the former averted his molten-amber gaze, leaning with his back against the wall and his arms folded over his chest. Everything about him just screamed moodiness, and it seemed to Gwen that he’d been like this ever since they’d returned from Rome; but why, she didn’t know, and in all honesty, she had no inclination to find out—especially not when he looked like a bomb about to go off at any given moment.

    Forneus glanced at him meaningfully, as though trying to relay a silent message, the look in his eyes almost pleading. When Phenex refused to meet his gaze, he heaved a sigh, and settled into the folding chair next to the bed, offering Gwen a smile as he did; there was something undeniably sad about his expression.

    “My apologies for waking you,” He said, grabbing the crystal pitcher from the tray next to him and filling one of the empty glasses with water. He then handed it to Gwen, who took it with a grateful nod. “How are you feeling?”

    “Better than I have for the last couple of days.” She replied, taking a long gulp from her glass, and setting it back down on the tray. “So, what did I miss? It sounded like you guys were having a serious discussion.” Seeing the flicker of tension that crossed his face, she hastened to add, “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I was sleeping, but then I could hear you guys talking...”

    Forneus placed his hand on top of hers, offering her a reassuring smile. “It’s quite alright. After all, we’re the ones who decided to ‘hold a conference in your room’, as you so aptly put it.” His eyes seemed to dance as he said this, his playful smile proving to be infectious, Gwen returning it in kind. “In truth, I was just coming to check up on you, when Phenex showed up with information from the council.”

    Though warmed by his concern for her, she couldn’t help but glance Phenex’s way when he said this, noticing the way his expression darkened. Though for once, his agitation didn’t appear to be directed at her; he was staring at the wall opposite, his gaze clouded over as if he were lost in thought. Gwen didn’t know what it was, but something about the look on his face made her uneasy, her skin prickling as though alerting her to a danger, unseen.

    Giving herself a mental shake, she returned her gaze to Forneus, absently grabbing a warm, sesame-seed bagel from the tray as she asked, “Okay, so…what’s the news?”

    The guardian leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, his expression grave. “We now know the identity of at least one of the entities trying to impede the reclamation of the artifacts, though this information didn’t come from the High Council—it was Phenex who confirmed this, in fact, just after our mission in Rome.” Having just taken a large bite out of the bagel, Gwen simply nodded at him, encouraging him to go on, in which he seemed more than happy to oblige.
    “However, this specific entity isn’t the only one hindering our progress; there are many others, running amok and creating disturbances all over the globe. Some, like the trio we faced back in the coliseum, come after us with the sole purpose of interfering with our mission, while others are merely content to cause havoc. Of course, all of this spells trouble for the council and the Regulations Force, regardless.” He paused, brow furrowing as if he were reciting the report verbatim. “Furthermore, we suspect that ‘the Akuma trio’, as we’ve come to call them, is either working for, or with, the entity we’ve identified. There may be others, as well. Admittedly, most of this is simply conjecture on our part; but we are also trying to ascertain if there is more to their agenda than the mere prevention of the seals being reactivated, or not.”

    Gwen took a quick sip of water to help wash down the piece of bagel that had gotten lodged in her throat, gasping, “What other reason could they have?” To her, whatever plan the ‘bad guys’ were concocting seemed fairly straight-forward; prevent the High Council and the Regulations Force from reawakening the seals on the artifacts, and they would never have to worry about being trapped within their hellish prison, again.

    “As far as we can tell, there isn’t really anything to support our theory—except for one thing,” Forneus ran his fingers through his hair, a gesture Gwen was beginning to recognize as a sign of his unease, “If they simply meant to keep themselves from being thrown back into Nowhere, all they would need to do is destroy the artifacts. And yet, from what we’ve observed, they seem interested in claiming them for themselves; though to what end, we don’t know.”

    Between the pensive expression on his face and Phenex’s palpable agitation from the other side of the room, Gwen suddenly found she’d lost her appetite. Setting the bagel down, she stared at the clean, white comforter still covering her from the waist down, pondering over what the escapees of Nowhere could possibly want the artifacts for. No answer came to her, though this didn’t really come as a surprise, given how very little she knew about the artifacts and their powers, to begin with.

    Unable to think of anything to say, she excused herself and made her way to the bathroom, taking her time while she brushed her teeth, and doing her best to ignore the shadows under her eyes when she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror. Not a word was spoken even when she returned, Gwen suddenly conscientious of her every movement, the soft slap of her bare feet as she padded across the smoky tile seeming loud in the otherwise quiet room. She settled back down onto the bed, cringing when the bed springs groaned under her weight, and drew her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them as she first looked from one being, to the other. Phenex still wasn’t looking at her, though seeing his frown deepen, she didn’t doubt he could feel her gaze on him; Forneus, however, was looking at her, his expression troubled, almost helpless.

    When she saw that neither one of them seemed inclined to speak, she broke the silence, “So, this entity you’ve mentioned…I’m guessing it’s that Reeves guy you were talking about, before?”

    From the glance Forneus threw Phenex’s way before answering, she was beginning to get the sinking feeling there was a lot more to Reeves than just being some ordinary, run-of-the-mill 'bad guy' from the movies; it was almost like…
    “You are correct,” Forneus’ voice cut across her thoughts, Gwen instantly taking notice of his more languid posture, one leg crossed over the other with one of his arms hanging over the back of the chair. “Reeves is an entity known as a Shade; not like the souls of the dead you’ve undoubtedly heard about in the old Greek legends. In this context, it refers to a shadow demon—a particularly powerful one, capable of giving life to the surrounding shadows and controlling them in whatever way he sees fit; more often than not for his own personal gain.”

    The room seemed to be getting warmer as he said this, and Gwen had a feeling Phenex was responsible. When she glanced his way, she saw the barely contained fury lighting his eyes, the mottled amber giving way to fiery gold. Forneus must have felt it too, for his posture became rigid once again, and he leaned forward, his voice dropping an octave as he continued. “The High Council has made his capture high-priority, though they have also issued orders for his immediate execution, should he refuse to surrender; this scenario is much more likely. The closer we get to the new moon, the more powerful he becomes, and once that happens…”
    He didn’t need to say the rest. Gwen had no trouble imagining the worst-case scenarios on her own, most of which involved complete and utter global annihilation. Given Phenex’s reaction to the mere mention of Reeves’ name, she again found herself wondering if there was more to this story than either one of them was letting on. Surely he wasn’t worried about fighting Reeves; she had seen him in the throes of battle, had caught a glimpse of his true strength, of the amazing feats he was capable of. So, what was it about Reeves that put him on edge like this? Peering at him surreptitiously from beneath her lashes, she was certain he wasn’t afraid. No, this definitely wasn’t fear—the gleam in his eyes was pure, unbridled fury. This went far beyond his duties as an operative; this was something personal.

    Then it struck her—there was a vendetta between him and Reeves!

    When she met Forneus’ gaze, he gave a brief nod as though to confirm her suspicions, despite her not having voiced them aloud. From what she’d managed to learn from him over the past few days, the guardian had a wealth of magical gifts at his disposal—and thankfully, reading minds wasn’t one of them. She could only assume then that he’d noticed how she’d been looking at Phenex, and had simply put two-and-two together. Gwen had never been particularly good at concealing her thoughts or feelings from anyone, whether they were a close friend, family member, or an acquaintance. She didn’t know what category Forneus fit into, anymore, and not just because she’d been in his company for six days straight. Once again, she was seized by the feeling of familiar unfamiliarity, as though she knew him, yet didn’t—or perhaps it was more like she had known him once, a long time ago, and for whatever reason, could no longer remember.

    She wanted to ask him about this, about the familiarity she experienced every time he was near, of the jolt she felt whenever she heard his voice—she’d been on the verge of asking him quite a few times, in fact— but each and every time, something more important had come up, or she’d lose her nerve. If she was completely honest with herself, she was scared of knowing; once you know something, you can’t un-know it, right? And what if the truth proved too much for her to bear?

    Pushing the thought away for the time being—not just because she wasn’t ready to hear Forneus’ answer, but because there were more pressing matters at hand—Gwen decided to change the subject, fearing that any further talk of Reeves would send Phenex flying into a rage, one he just barely seemed to be containing, in the first place. Thinking that she may have heard one of them mention the location of the next artifact when she’d still been half-asleep, she decided asking about it and where they’d have to go in order to get it was a far safer topic than anything else, at the moment.

    “Okay, so…with everything that’s going on, now…is it still safe for us to…you know, search for the artifacts?” Catching Forneus’ look of gratitude, she knew he must have felt as she did, equally as desperate to leave the subject of Reeves behind. She went on, “I thought I heard you guys mention something about the third one…what was it, the cad…the cad-u-ceus?” She tested the word out, unable to remember how it sounded, for it had been garbled at the time when she’d heard it.

    “Hermes’ Caduceus,” Forneus replied, his pronunciation of it careful, like that of an English professor speaking to one of his pupil’s, “And in answer to your question, yes. Despite our present situation, our orders remain firm to reclaim the artifacts, and reinstate their status as seals. In fact, with the current goings-on, you might say our mission has become all the more urgent. Regardless of whatever foes await us, our efforts to quell them will be for naught, if we fail to retrieve every last artifact.”

    The weight of this wasn’t lost on Gwen; for the first time since she’d arrived in the Spectrum, she could feel her perception of everything she’d known, everything she had ever believed possible, starting to shift. The feelings of reluctance and uncertainty had begun ebbing away, and though fear and self-doubt still remained, a newfound resolve had taken root deep within her, growing until it overshadowed all else.

    Turning so that she was completely facing him, she asked, “So, where is it? Hermes’ Caduceus, I mean.”

    “We don’t have exact coordinates, but we’ve traced it to somewhere just on the outskirts of Thessaly, Greece.”

    “Okay, when are we going?”

    “That depends entirely on you,” Forneus seemed to be studying her, his eyes lined with worry, “Are you well enough to undertake this mission?”

    Gwen squared her shoulders, determined to keep her fatigue from showing. “Yes.”

    “Then as soon as you’re ready,” Climbing to his feet, he clapped a hand on her shoulder, and smiled. “We’ll be waiting for you out in the corridor.”

    The moment he’d stepped outside the confines of Gwen’s quarters, Phenex mentally prepared himself for what would follow. Forneus would undoubtedly want to continue the conversation they’d started prior to the girl waking up, and this meant he would try to convince him not to do what he had full intentions of doing; going after Reeves—alone.

    Inevitable as it seemed, it didn’t stop him from trying to get away from Forneus before the entire, unwanted conversation could come to pass. Regardless, he wasn’t fast enough; the guardian was hot on his heels, and before he could get more than a few steps down the pyrite-flecked corridor, a firm, familiar grip took hold of his right shoulder, forcing him to turn and meet the other’s luminous gaze.


    “I know what you’re going to say,” He interrupted, brushing the other’s hand off with a scowl, “There’s nothing more to discuss, Forneus. My mind’s already made up.” He tugged at the collar of his leather jacket, fixing him with a baleful glare—a look that demanded he drop the subject immediately, unless he wanted to be on the receiving end of the phoenix’s flames.

    Not that he could ever bring himself to actually harm Forneus, and they both knew it, too; but still, if Phenex could just make him see the depth of his resolve, that he planned on going through with this, whatever the cost, how could he not try? And if it meant he stood even the slightest chance of winning Forneus’ approval, no matter how reluctant he might be in giving it, wouldn’t that make it more worthwhile? Why couldn’t he understand that what he was trying to do would benefit them all?

    “Reconsider, old friend. I beseech you.” The pleading in Forneus’ voice was almost too much, but Phenex stood firm, determined to keep the warring emotions within him from showing. He forced his expression into a blank, unreadable mask…or so he hoped that was what he was doing; with the desperate look being thrown his way, his resolve had begun to weaken.

    So much for determination…

    As if sensing this, Forneus pressed on, Phenex unable to shrug out of his grasp this time, as both hands came to rest on his upper arms,

    “Phenex, please. There is still so much about the situation we don’t understand; we don’t know who or what else we’re up against. We don’t even know Reeves’ location at present, or anywhere else he might frequent, when he grows weary of staying to the shadows. How will you find him? How can you be sure this isn’t a trap? For all you know, he could be making preparations to ambush you; he probably already has!”

    Gods, if only Forneus knew how much it was killing him, having to look him in the eye right now. But no matter how much it pained him, Phenex couldn’t afford to let him know just how vulnerable he was to the other’s continuous pleas—regardless of how heartfelt he knew them to be. Instead, he swallowed against the dryness in his throat, willing his gaze to remain steady when he spoke.

    Summoning as much scorn into his voice as he could, he scoffed, “You’re joking, right? I can take down Reeves and his lackeys by myself, no sweat.” He narrowed his eyes, refusing to back down now with his goal in sight. “Besides, the longer we wait, the stronger he gets; you said it, yourself. We have an obligation to either capture him or kill him, and I’m not going to lie—I really like the sound of the latter.”

    “You’re letting your personal feelings cloud your judgment,” Forneus countered, his words taking on a sharper edge, eyes flashing angrily, “What we have an obligation to is the reclamation of the artifacts!”

    “No, that’s your responsibility,” Phenex said, attempting once again to dislodge the other’s hands, his grip having tightened in his moment of anger, “Losing the artifacts was your screw up, not mine. The only reason I’ve helped you this far is because the council ordered me to; if you really want to make up for your mistakes and get your powers back, do it without me, because I won’t suffer for your failure any longer!”

    As soon as he said the words, he regretted them. He hadn’t meant to say any of it, he really hadn’t, and from the stunned expression on his face, Forneus hadn’t expected him to, either. The pressure on his arms left him, suddenly, the guardian's hands falling limply at his sides. Phenex could do nothing but stare, horrified, as the look of shock melted into one of unbearable agony—as though the words he had spoken had caused him physical pain.

    And with the way those eyes dulled from silver to grey, he knew without question that they had; with those few, careless words, he had managed to cut Forneus more deeply than he could ever have done with the sharpest blade. He wanted to take it back, would have given anything to take back every last syllable, but it was too late; the damage had already been done. No amount of apologizing would make up for the hurt he’d just caused, and even if it could, his stubborn pride wouldn’t allow him to utter the words, at least not while he was still in a state of agitation.

    So, he did the only thing he could do. He fled. No parting words, no warning of any kind—just up and teleported, not even bothering to pick a destination, beforehand. He needed to get away from Forneus as fast as possible, away from the broken, dejected look in his eyes, and this was the only way he knew how.

    When he found himself standing on a quiet, familiar street, he groaned. Of all the places he could have teleported to—it just had to be Gwen’s hometown. As if he needed another reason to feel more wretched than he already did.

    “Good job, Phenex. You really stepped in it, this time.”


    Phenex wandered around the deserted streets, only vaguely aware of where he was going, his footfalls echoing softly as he turned off of one of the main roads, and onto a suburban boulevard. He estimated that it was sometime after midnight, probably closer to dawn. Maybe three or four in the morning, well before the sun would make its ascent into the sky—or more accurately, before the Earth would have made its full revolution toward the dwarf star, causing the sun to appear as though it were ‘rising’.

    Either way, it didn’t matter, none of it did; not the fact that it was particularly cold for the month of May in this region, or that the wind had steadily been picking up since he’d first arrived half an hour ago. He hadn’t even noticed that it was raining until it had become a downpour, soaking him through within a matter of minutes. He felt the cold, and yet he was physically removed from it, as if he wasn’t really walking along the faintly-lit streets with his hands shoved deep in his pockets, giving a shudder whenever droplets of ice cold water fell from his bangs and onto his nose, or reflexively hunching his shoulders when they’d trickle down the back of his neck, T-shirt clinging to the contours of his shoulder blades.

    Some distant part of his mind took notice of the manicured lawns on either side of the boulevard, of the neatly-trimmed boxwood hedges running parallel with the sidewalks, of the coloured solar lights and lawn ornaments scattered throughout the lavish gardens of tulips, pansies, and marigolds. But his mind was elsewhere, in a place of vibrant colour and crystalline walkways, a place of gods and entities, alike, filled with the pleasant memories of his youth; far removed from the cold, dreary greyness currently surrounding him.

    As he made his way down the very centre of the road, his gaze flitted from the ranch-style house on the far corner with its faded, powder blue siding and wooden swing set in the front yard, to the rose-bricked bungalow next to it on the adjoining street, the lattice trellis along the eastern wall laden with fragrant, purple wisteria blossoms.

    There was a massive ash tree on the property line between the two houses, probably three-hundred years or older, and though Phenex ordinarily would have stopped to marvel at the beauty of such a healthy, magnificent tree, perhaps even go so far as to take a well-deserved nap under it, the feelings nature often invoked in him just wouldn’t come, this time.

    All he could think about was how callously he had treated Forneus—Forneus, out of all of the beings he had ever known in the entire universe, his oldest and dearest friend—the moment his own selfish wants and desires had called to him. Forneus, the one being he could always count on to watch his back, to listen to him and spar with him when he needed to blow off steam; the one entity who always knew just what to do to make him laugh, or to show him tough love when he needed to be pulled out of one of his moods.

    Forneus had been there for him since he’d first joined the Regulations Force, welcoming him into the First Unit’s ranks and taking on the role of mentor, ever patient and understanding in his guidance of the young firebird, even when Phenex lacked patience with himself. No, he had been more than just a mentor; he’d been like a brother to him, their friendship forged at an age when both were considered young for their kind, filled with youthful vigour and excitement. It was a rare bond, one that had lasted through the centuries, despite the time they’d spent apart. And just like the hot-headed idiot that he was, Phenex had let his temper get the better of him, casting Forneus aside like yesterday’s newspaper.

    If Forneus never forgave him, it would be exactly what he deserved. And yet, he couldn’t help hoping that, in spite of the terrible way he’d treated him, Forneus would welcome him back with open arms, that somehow, all would be forgiven and forgotten; that they could go back to the way things were before the artifacts had been lost, before Gwen—before Forneus had been appointed guardian, to begin with. Just go right back to the days when it was just the two of them, sharing a private joke at the expense of their fellow unit members, whom they had gone to such lengths to—and had taken great pleasure in—annoying with their mischievous tendencies.
    But you can never go back. At some point, without even realizing it, he had stopped walking. He stood in the middle of the road for what felt like an eternity, rain cascading down his face as he tilted his head back to stare at the ominous storm clouds high above him, their heavy, swollen forms promising that the storm was far from over. Heaving a sigh, he glanced around, noticing that he had wandered onto yet another street, this one ending in a cul-de-sac.

    The pavement gleamed beneath the streetlights, everything bathed in brilliant white, instead of the soft, orange glow of the lights in Gwen’s neighbourhood. The construction of the houses here seemed newer, too, and when he turned to his left, it was to see a grey and white real-estate trailer sitting just beyond the orange, mesh fencing marking where the next house would be, the light from the street reflecting off of the trailer’s rain-spattered windows. The more he looked around, the less he liked what he saw; this area was still too underdeveloped, which on its own wouldn’t have bothered him, if the lack of civilization had been filled with forestry and wildlife instead; but it wasn’t. The land had been cleared for the sole purpose of creating human dwellings, leaving the landscape rather barren. At least Gwen’s neighbourhood had been—
    Why was he thinking about Gwen, anyway? It wasn’t like she had anything to do with the guilt currently clawing its way up from the pit of his stomach. He may have felt concerned for her well-being at one time or another, but that was only because her help was needed in the reclamation and reactivation of the artifacts and their seals; he’d be damned if he let himself care about a human beyond what his station required of him, now. Mortals had proven themselves unworthy of his devotion and loyalty long ago, in a time when he had freely given it—a mistake he wouldn’t be making, ever again.

    Running a hand through his hair with a sigh, the damp auburn locks clinging to his fingertips before falling limp against his forehead again, he turned on his heel, and started back the way he’d come. It was only now that he took notice of the ghostly, grey shadows shifting in his peripherals, coiling up from the pavement like steam. It hadn’t dawned on him that Reeves wouldn’t have to make an appearance, in order to launch an ambush against him—not until now. Chances were, after being incarcerated for fifty years—courtesy of Phenex, himself—the Shade most likely wasn’t up to par just yet, and thus, wouldn’t risk going up against him until his powers were fully restored.

    How could I have been so stupid? Phenex scolded himself, calling sparks to both of his hands and sweeping his gaze from one side of the street to the other, watching as the shadows peeled away from the walls of the few houses sitting there. They advanced toward him, slowly at first, their crimson eyes peering warily at him from deep within their wispy forms, no doubt cautioned by their master to avoid his flames at all costs.

    Then all at once they sprang forward, a swirling mass of black and grey tendrils merging together to form one large, hideous shadow beast, appearing to him as a multi-headed feline with more than a dozen shadowy tentacles draped across its back. Meanwhile, a sea of red eyes glowed at him from all over the creature’s body, the ghastly sight distracting him just long enough for the beast to lash out at him with one of its razor-sharp claws.

    Shrouding his body in flames, he wasn’t the least bit surprised when he felt himself flying backward, colliding with the real-estate trailer with enough force to knock it off of the cinderblocks holding it up, the sound of shattering fiberglass hurting his ears. Fortunately, the fire had taken the brunt of the shadow beast’s attack, the creature drawing back with a pained howl while Phenex got to his feet and brushed himself off, barely a scratch on him. The impact had hurt though, both when the claw had slammed into his ribs, and when his back had met the trailer, and for that, the shadow minions were going to pay, dearly.

    “You wanna play rough? Fine, we’ll play rough,” He growled, focusing the flames onto the tips of his fingers, “Since your coward of a boss can’t be bothered to take me one-on-one, I guess you guys will just have to do.”

    Judging from the way all four heads snarled at him, their ethereal fangs bared, they didn’t appreciate his criticism of their master one bit, the red eyes covering the rest of the creature’s body narrowing to almond-shaped slits.

    Good, get angry; I’m counting on it.

    The rain, having dwindled to a steady drizzle at this point, started to pick up again, turning into yet another torrential downpour, causing the flames in his hands to dance wildly. They burned much too hot for anything as common as rain to extinguish them, however; only Zeus, himself, could quell Phenex’s flames, and luckily for him, the Greek All-Father had no such desire.

    Just as Phenex knew it would, the shadow creature lashed out, roaring in fury as it brought one tentacle after the other to bear on him. He dodged from side to side with ease, all the while channelling energy into his hands until his entire body was bathed in a radiant, golden glow. When the monster lifted one of its claws, ready to bring it directly down on him, Phenex seized the chance he’d been presented with, and released a fiery discharge at the beast, the ordinarily orange flames flecked with the molten gold of the energy he’d stored up.

    At first, it seemed as though he’d scorched a hole through the creature’s chest, but when it didn’t cry out in pain or anger like his opponents were often wont to do, he knew instantly that something had gone wrong. The hole, easily twice as thick as he was and nearly as tall, closed up again, the sides stringing together like melted wax so all that remained of the wound’s existence was a puckered outline, until that, too, disappeared.

    It didn’t take long for him to figure out what had actually happened; the shadow minions had split apart when he’d launched his attack, the flames passing harmlessly between them at the moment of impact. More shadows had come to join their brethren by this time, their wails rising to meet the thunderous roar of the storm. Forked lightning pierced the sky, throwing the nearby houses into sharp relief, before plunging everything back into darkness. Only the glow of crimson eyes and his own flames prevented the street from falling into utter blackness, for the streetlights had gone out—whether from the storm or from the battle, he didn’t know.
    He didn’t have time to ponder on it at that moment, either, for a dozen or more of the shadows had now gathered around him, and from the way they were closing in, he had the distinct impression they were trying to corral him toward the shadow monster.

    You think you’ve won this fight, do you? Red embers licked along his fingertips, flaring up in reaction to his insatiable hunger for combat. Well, prepare to be disappointed.

    His opponents didn’t have time to do more than squeal in terror when he thrust one fist forward and then the other, sending a fiery wave tearing across the pavement toward them. The flames broke apart, splitting into twin streams, the two halves swirling around one another before merging together once again, forming a crimson double helix that sent most of the shadowy spectres into a panic, scattering every which way; others were less fortunate, and got caught in the blast, their ethereal bodies reduced to cinders.

    It wasn’t long before the rest came after him, Phenex gritting his teeth as shadowy tendrils shot out of the darkness, pinning his arms to his sides and dragging him to the ground. Several more had converged together, following the example of the ones forming the hideous, multi-headed feline. Some bore the likeness of one type of animal or another, while others were indiscernible, merely writhing, pulsating shades of black and grey with malicious, gleaming red eyes.

    Peering up through rain-drenched bangs at the approaching pack of shadow monsters, he strained against the tendrils binding him, and within seconds, broke out of their grasp, the shadow minions crying out when he sent flames arcing across their limbs.

    “Consider that a parting gift.” He told them, unleashing a salvo of fireballs into the throng when they seemed about to retaliate. He barely got out a snicker, before the four-headed shadow feline bounded toward him, the rest of the pack right behind it. “Well, I guess play-time’s over…”

    Phenex leapt into the air a split second before the lead monster could reach him, planting his foot against one of the creature’s heads and vaulting high above it. The tentacles lining its back snapped out toward him, but having anticipated this, he sent a shower of sparks down upon it, the fire sputtering as each one of the appendages ignited. The shadow creature roared, turning to watch his ascent through the sky. All four pairs of ears flattened against its heads as the creature let out a low growl, its body tense as it prepared to launch a counterattack.

    He wasn’t about to give it the chance; the moment he started plummeting back toward the ground, he brought both hands forward, and released a torrent of fire directly into the monster’s face. The shadows, no longer able to sustain the creature’s form, separated, their anguished cries rising in a deafening cacophony over the howling of the storm.

    No sooner had he landed on his feet when he was knocked off of them again, surprised when he felt a crushing weight settle across his chest. “You need to go on a diet,” he ground out between clenched teeth, shoving at the shadow blob with both hands, “For the love of Mythos, you’re a shadow! How the hell did you get so damned fat?”

    This was clearly the wrong thing to say, for several thin appendages shot out from the blob, pinning his wrists above his head and wrapping firmly around his torso, a savage growl resonating from somewhere deep within the creature’s ever-changing form. This was the least of his problems, however, for the rest of the shadow minions—both shadow beasts and single entities, alike—were drawing closer, gathering around him like predators before the kill.

    It was by sheer luck that he happened to notice that the shadow blob, despite having bound his entire upper body, had neglected to bind his legs. Smirking, Phenex brought his legs up, and slammed his feet flat against the pavement, the concrete exploding as fire erupted from beneath it, zigzagging between the cracks and devouring the few, solitary shadow creatures that were crowded there, their surprised yelps drowned out by the roaring flames. When the blob shifted on top of him in what he could only assume was an attempt to see what had become of its companions, he concentrated on the fire burning within the core of his body, bringing it to the surface of his skin until it enveloped him, completely.

    The moment the embers touched it, the shadow blob began to writhe, falling off of him and rolling to the side, the horrible sound of its screeching abruptly coming to an end as it was consumed by the flames. Smoke started to rise from where it had lain on the ground, Phenex wrinkling his nose against the dank, acrid odour that suddenly filled the air and clambering to his feet with a groan.

    As he glanced around at the remaining shadows, brushing the dirt and grime from his leather jacket, he felt his lips pull into a feral grin at what he saw in their large, crimson eyes, a low chuckle rumbling from deep within his throat. He could smell the sweet, heady aroma of their fear, mingling with the scent of the rain, the effect of the two smells blending together nearly intoxicating. The storm had finally ended, a strong gust of wind carrying off the few, wispy clouds that had been left behind, the full moon bathing the world below in its soft, silvery glow.

    Scanning the sea of fearful, red eyes staring back at him, he breathed deeply, and summoned flames into the palms of his hands once again. As soon as he did this, a terrified wail started at the centre of the shadowy throng, spreading around the group until it reached a deafening pitch. The ethereal beings forgot all about the monstrous forms they’d taken and broke apart, becoming individual shadows once again, each one scrambling over the other in a feeble attempt to escape his wrath.

    “Tell your master I send my regards,” He declared to their retreating forms, the orange flames in his hands growing brighter, “If any of you actually survive, that is.”

    If they had been scared before, they were outright terrified, now. Cries for mercy and screams of terror jumbled together into a desperate wail as the shadowy mass pushed and shoved their way toward the portal that, until that precise moment, Phenex was certain hadn’t been there, before. In fact, he was positive; that was the spot where the first shadow monster had attacked him, leaving a massive crater when it had tried to grind him into the ground with its claw.

    Figuring he’d tormented his opponents long enough, he unleashed his flames, the twin fires converging into a single blast when he brought his hands forward, the explosion rolling across the broken pavement until nothing of the shadows was left, except for smouldering heaps of ash.
    Surveying his surroundings to make sure there were no survivors, he shook his head at the amount of damage that had been done, already dreading the report he’d have to give the council upon returning to the Spectrum—and given the fact that he was supposed to be in Thessaly right now, he’d be surprised if they didn’t demote him on the spot.

    Now that the thrill of battle had begun to die down, Phenex could no longer keep the guilt at bay, his stomach churning as the words he’d spoken to Forneus resounded in his mind, repeating mercilessly until he thought his head would burst. He wondered if Forneus had waited for him, or if he and Gwen had gone after the artifact without him, braving whatever conditions awaited them in Greece.

    Since Forneus’ photon and spectral arts had been returned to him during their last mission, Phenex could only hope that the guardian’s time in the Training Facility had proven fruitful, and that he could make full use of the arts once again; if so, perhaps he would no longer need Phenex’s help, and if that was the case…

    Phenex sighed. No sense in standing around here, feeling sorry for myself. Tilting his head back, he stared at the moon high above, basking in its silvery glow. I have to face him, sooner or later. Might as well get it over with…

    Swallowing against the lump in his throat, he closed his eyes, forcing all other thoughts from his mind until only images of the Spectrum remained. His body tingled, the cool gust of wind that blew his bangs back from his forehead disappearing as he was transported from the damp, suburban streets, to the still, arid space of the timeless realm. Seeing the familiar pyrite corridor stretching out on either side of him, he squared his shoulders, and gripping the brass handle of the marbled door, threw it open.

    It took his eyes a moment to adjust, watching the veined walls pulsing from blue to violet, and back again. It took him even longer to comprehend what he was seeing, his gaze drifting from the partially open bathroom door, over the neatly-made bed, and to the other side of the room, completely devoid of furniture.

    Phenex blinked a few times, trying to ignore the painful clenching of his stomach, despair settling over him until he could feel nothing but the cold, lonely isolation that surrounded him.

    The room was empty.

  15. Well, here's the final part of the sample. Any and all feedback is much appreciated. :)

    Chapter Eight

    Whispers of Nowhere: Chapter Eight (open)

    “No, Forneus!”

    “Don’t worry about me, just go! You…have to…run! Do you hear me, Gwen? Run!

    Violet bolts of lightning jumped from the tips of Forneus’ fingers, dancing across the ground between him and the three Akuma opposite whenever one of them seemed about to make a move toward Gwen, all three sets of eyes following her when she took an uncertain step back. The Akuma weren’t the only ones staring at her with hunger in their eyes, however; an entire army of monstrous beasts stood behind them, eyes of crimson and yellow glowing feverishly, saliva dripping from their fangs as low, threatening growls resonated from deep within their throats. Forneus was the only entity standing between them—Gwen’s first and last line of defense—and instead of doing as she was told, she just stood there, gawking at him.

    I have to run, she told herself, I have to find the caduceus; Forneus is counting on me!

    Gwen stared back at the guardian in wide-eyed horror, and a fraction of a second later, took off running, nearly losing her footing as she slipped across the grass. She followed the full length of the stone wall bordering the Lithaios River, her hands fumbling across the protruding rocks before she finally managed to get a solid grip, preventing herself from falling over the wall and into the swirling rapids, below.

    All the while, her heart pounded frantically in her ears, the unearthly sounds of roaring and snarling far behind her urging her to keep on running, lest the three Akuma or any of the other monsters got past Forneus, and came after her. If they caught up to her, she would most certainly die; that’s what she had to keep telling herself, or her legs really would give out under her. Fear, no matter how debilitating, was the one thing pushing her forward; fear for the guardian risking everything to protect her, and fear for her own life. It was the only thing that kept her exhaustion at bay now, despite the burning ache building within each one of her limbs, stabbing at her calf muscles and along her ribcage like a series of small, hot needles.

    So she kept running, adrenaline flooding her system, arms pumping at her sides, breath rising and falling in time with the steady thudding of her shoes over wet ground. Gwen skidded across the pavement, making a sharp right turn onto the bridge, and bolted toward the spot the steady thrumming in her veins seemed to be telling her to go. The sensation was every bit as overwhelming as it had been with the first two artifacts, directing her with the same keenness that left her wondering if the artifact itself was sentient, and thus, if it could somehow be guiding her through some sort of telepathy.

    The people on either side of her became a blur as she streaked by, but she barely noticed their surprised gasps or mutters of disapproval as she shoved her way passed them, unable to afford the luxury of being courteous when the fate of the world was at stake.

    What were these people doing here, anyway? Okay sure, it was broad daylight, Gwen knew that—but couldn’t they see the monsters, hear and feel the explosive tremors that passed through the ground each time they unleashed an attack against the man on the other side of the river; the very man who—alone—was doing anything and everything possible to keep their city from falling into ruin? They might not know who or what he was, but surely they could have realized that much.

    Why the hell weren’t these people running for cover?

    It was at that moment that they began to do just that. It started with two or three people, raising their hands to point at the opposite side of the bank, their eyes growing large as shrieks of terror burst from between their lips. Within seconds, nearly every person along the bridge had started screaming, the sound of their footsteps becoming a deafening roar as they clambered back the way they’d come, Gwen frantically scrambling out of the way as the people she’d passed seconds before came thundering behind her.

    She had just reached the end of the bridge, her gaze roving past a large, white building emblazoned with unfamiliar, blue neon lettering at the very top of it, when her toe caught on something—most likely someone else’s foot—sending her sprawling across the pavement, sharp pain shooting through her arms when she landed hard on her elbows. As people continued to run past her, all she could do was curl into the fetal position, hands over her face with her eyes tightly shut, and hope that none of them trampled her in their panic-stricken state.

    Gwen didn’t even get the chance to peek out between her fingers, before she felt a weight pressing down on her back, forcing her flat against the ground. There was a sudden explosion of pain in her shoulder, followed by the sound of cloth tearing as a very large, sharp something ripped into her flesh. Biting her bottom lip to keep from screaming, she caught a glimpse of the thick, black talon puncturing the skin just below her right shoulder blade, unable to tear her gaze away as dark, crimson blood seeped into the fabric of her sweater, the grey turning to maroon. A large, hooked beak suddenly came into view, Gwen letting out a startled cry as it latched onto her upper arm. The right side of her body exploded into searing agony the same moment she heard the sickening crunch of bones breaking, the pain unlike anything she’d ever experienced, before.

    The creature, whatever it was, had bitten clean through the bone, tearing through flesh and sinew alike. Blood spurted from the wound like water from a fountain; only instead of clear liquid, a rich burgundy came out of Gwen’s shoulder, pooling on the ground around her.

    She couldn’t hold it back any longer; she screamed.

    The pain was beyond excruciating, as if each one of her nerve-endings had caught on fire; hot, bitter liquid rose from her abdomen and up her throat, filling her mouth before she vomited it onto the pavement. It kept coming in one violent torrent after another, until her stomach was completely empty, Gwen continuing to dry heave as the monster on her back loosened its grip.

    This brought her no relief whatsoever, for as she peered up through a haze of tears, she realized other monsters had gathered around her, undoubtedly coming to finish what their companion had started. A sea of glittering, red eyes stared back her, their low, savage growls carrying the promise of still more agony to come.

    This is it…I’m going to die here. The thought should have instilled her with terror, but instead, a dreamlike calm stole over her, the pain that racked her body beginning to fade as it gave way to nothingness, her consciousness slipping away. I’m going to die here, and my parents will never know…

    “Gwen!” She could hear Forneus calling her name, heard the heartbreaking tremor in his voice, but there was nothing she could do to comfort him. She wanted to reach out and let him know it was alright, that she didn’t blame him for all that had happened, that she was sorry she’d failed to fulfill her promise to him—but she couldn’t. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t get her vocal chords to cooperate. Worse still, the darkness had started closing in, pressing in around her from all sides until it filled her peripherals, entirely; very soon she would succumb to unconsciousness, and then...

    There was a sudden, blinding flash, cutting between her eyelids and then fading. The last thing Gwen saw was a familiar figure haloed by a nimbus of orange light before oblivion took her, no longer able to fight the growing darkness.

    For a long time, there was nothing—only the cold, unforgiving darkness. It surrounded her, penetrating every pore, replacing everything that made her who she was, until finally, Gwenyth Lamelle was no more; only this twisted, shadowy perception of her remained, unthinking, unfeeling—simply existing.

    Then something broke through the darkness, slowly, at first—just the faintest glimmer of golden light, far beyond her reach, a mere pinprick in the ever-darkening void. The speck of light began to grow, and as it grew, the blackness surrounding it began to melt, starting from the furthest corners—if there were indeed corners surrounding her, at all—and steadily moving closer, until only a pale silhouette remained, like a wispy, grey cocoon around her. In what seemed to be no time at all, that too had yielded to the radiant, golden light, thawing her from the inside out until she was brimming with its comforting warmth.

    Am I dead? Is this the afterlife?

    As the warmth flowed into her, blossoming at her centre and pouring into each finger and toe, she became aware of a dull aching in her right shoulder, the pain pulsating up and down her arm until it was no more than an uncomfortable tingling, not unlike the kind she’d get whenever she slept on one side for too long. No, she couldn’t be dead; once you were dead, you wouldn’t be able to feel anything…right?

    When she felt something touch her collarbone, feather-light, Gwen opened her eyes, letting out a startled gasp as her vision sharpened, taking in the familiar, tawny eyes staring back at her.

    “P-Phenex…!” She stammered, trying to sit up, and failing. She bit back a groan as a wave of nausea roiled in her stomach, a firm hand gently pushing her back down.

    “Lie still.” Phenex ordered, cupping both hands over her shoulder.

    Dazed, Gwen did as she was told, not understanding what was going on at first, her thoughts hazy, muddled. Slowly, her mind started to clear, glimpses of what had happened coming back to her in fragments. Her arrival in Thessaly, with Forneus beside her; the monstrous horde that ambushed them, led by the Akuma trio; the powerful force field the guardian had created to hold them back, while simultaneously raining bolts of lightning down on as many of them as he could; Gwen running, stumbling, nearly getting trampled, and then the bird-like creature attacking her; and then, suffocating agony.

    With an effort—and despite the warning glance he shot her way—she craned her neck just enough to peer at Phenex through the fringe of hair that had fallen across her field of vision, taking notice of the golden glow coming from his fingertips. It was then that she realized the light touch she’d felt before had been from an actual feather—a small, fluffy golden one, in fact, sitting just beneath his hands.

    Phenex must have read the confusion on her face, for he spoke then, his tone far gentler than she’d ever heard it, “Phoenix feathers are imbibed with magical properties,” He explained, returning his attention to the task at hand, “By placing them on a wound, I can heal pretty much anything, no matter how severe. The feathers act as conduits between me and whoever I’m treating, helping to focus my powers into a more concentrated area.”

    Settling back with her eyes closed, Gwen surrendered to the warmth, letting the soothing, tingling sensation saturate her from head to toe, occasionally glancing up at him from beneath her lashes. Phenex’s gaze remained on her shoulder, both hands gently resting over it, golden-white light peeking between the cracks in his fingers. The longer she stared, noticing everything from the subtle clenching of his jaw, to the way he narrowed his eyes in concentration, the more bizarre the whole situation became. To think that someone like him, a being capable of great feats of strength, capable of creating flames within the palms of his hands that incinerated his enemies in the blink of an eye—could also use those very same hands to do something so gentle, so selfless, as heal the injuries of a human like her.

    The fact that she was a human, the very species he seemed to detest beyond all reasoning, only added to the absurdity of this fact; how could it be, that despite his hatred of her kind, he still went out of his way to help her? She supposed it was possible he only did it because the High Council and the Regulations Force expected it of him, and yet, was it also not possible that he would give her aid, regardless? If he didn’t believe in the High Council’s vision—in protecting and preserving her world, and all others—what was to stop him from walking off the job? No, beyond even that—what was to stop him from becoming like the very entities he hunted down for a living?

    Gwen didn’t have the answers; she might never know what drove him, what had made him the being he was today, and by that exact same token, she couldn’t be certain that he wouldn’t become one of the monsters he slayed with such fervor.

    No, she might never know for sure—but she believed in him; with all of her heart, she believed. No matter his hostility, no matter how sharp his tongue when he spoke to her, no matter how intimidatingly he might act, she could do nothing else but believe in him; whatever he said or did in anger paled in comparison to the actions he took, here and now. As far as she was concerned, the very fact that he was taking the time to heal her spoke volumes louder than the few, snarky comments he’d made ever could.

    Perhaps there was more to him than being a golden-eyed jerk, after all. She could admit that to herself, if no one else.

    That’s when something else dawned on her; hadn’t she been covered in cuts and scrapes after their mission in Rome? She could clearly recall the deep, stinging gashes the black vines had left on her, red welts marking everywhere from the base of her throat to her ankles, and yet, when she’d awoken the next day…

    “Have you done this, before?” The words were out before she could stop herself, her face starting to burn, “Used your healing powers on me, I mean.”

    Her question was met with silence for what felt like an eternity, her face growing hotter each passing second. Phenex glanced at her, one eyebrow cocked in bewilderment.

    Finally, he answered. “Yes.” His gaze lingered on her for only a moment longer, before he turned back to the injury that, thanks to his ministrations, no longer hurt. The crippling pain she’d experienced from the monster’s attack had been reduced to nothing more than a stiff ache; for all the pain she currently felt, she may as well have overdone it during a rigorous workout, never mind having gone on a life-threatening mission in pursuit of a magical artifact.

    The artifact!

    In all of the confusion, she’d completely forgotten about retrieving Hermes’ Caduceus. And what about Forneus; what had become of the silver-eyed guardian that had risked so much, just to keep her safe?

    Before she realized she was doing it, Gwen had started to sit up, only to fall back again when her stomach twisted in protest. Apparently her injuries weren’t as healed as she’d originally thought.

    “Didn’t I tell you to lie still?” Phenex admonished her, returning the feather to its perch on her shoulder with a sigh, and cupping his hands over top of the wound once again. “You’ve suffered a fair bit of damage; it’s going to take me a few more minutes to undo it all. You can at least try to stay put long enough for me to do that much…or is it that you enjoy feeling like absolute hell?” He glanced at her as he said this, his expression hard.

    Oh, good—the attitude’s back. I was beginning to wonder if I’d hit my head, or something.

    “But…what about Forneus?” She protested, ignoring his sarcasm, “And the arti—”

    “Forneus is fine.” He interrupted her, tone gentle once again as his molten gaze locked with hers, canting his head to the right.

    After a confused moment, she realized he was gesturing toward a group of people standing some distance away on the other side of the river, Forneus among them. Relief washed over her at the sight of him, noting that he only bore a few, minor scratches, his clothing much worse off, for both the dress shirt and coat were torn in several places, revealing slivers of pale skin underneath. His lips were moving quickly as he spoke to a strange, ivory-skinned man in flowing, lilac robes beside him, though what he was saying, and to whom he was speaking, Gwen didn’t know. She’d never seen the man before, but judging from the worry lines creasing Forneus’ brow, they must have been discussing something of great importance.

    “Members of the Regulations Force, Third Unit,” Startled by Phenex’s voice, she looked at him inquisitively, “The one Forneus is talking to is Mathis, their commander.”

    Glancing back at the pair, she noticed that the one named Mathis had hair similar to Phenex’s, only honey-coloured, the short, feathery locks sticking up every which way. His eyes were a rich, liquid brown, flecked with traces of olive—and currently staring right at her. His gaze flitted from her to Forneus, lips moving, though he was too far away for her to hear. It seemed whatever he’d said must have been about her, for
    Forneus turned around, luminous eyes brightening and lips twitching into a smile as his gaze met with hers.

    When he noticed Phenex beside her, however, the smile faded. His gaze turned steely, the crows’ feet that had been at the corners of his eyes mere seconds before smoothing out, his expression inscrutable. Phenex stood then, as if on cue, startling Gwen when he drew away from her, both hands shoved deep within his pockets.

    “There, you should be alright, now.” He muttered, averting his gaze. She thought she saw a glimmer of something in his eyes; regret maybe, but it was hard to tell, for as he tilted his head downward, his feathery bangs fell across them, obscuring them from view.

    Gwen didn’t budge, only stared up at him in dumbfounded silence, unable to make sense of what had happened between him and Forneus, for she was sure something must have; ever since she and the guardian had left the Spectrum, she had known something was wrong, but unable to figure out just what, had pushed the thought to the back of her mind, knowing she would need her wits about her, if she was to have any chance of finding the caduceus. She could recall the sadness in his eyes when he’d told her it would just be the two of them going to the capital of Thessaly, a city in the northwestern region known as Trikala; she remembered how the silvery orbs had lost their luster, darkening to the shade of storm clouds—his usual, ready smile absent.


    She was roused from her thoughts when Forneus came forward, holding a bejeweled hand out to her. Phenex had drawn back several more paces, awkwardly shifting from one foot to the other; neither one of them looked the other in the eye. Pretending she didn’t notice the tension between them, Gwen accepted the proffered hand, gasping when he pulled her up with dizzying speed, and wrapped her in a gentle embrace.

    She stiffened, disoriented by the unexpectedness of it. Only once she realized that he was just hugging her did she finally relax, closing her eyes and resting her head against his chest, listening in wonder to the rhythmic beating of his heart; given his mystical nature, it was a sound she hadn’t expected—but one that was comforting, nevertheless.

    “I’m so sorry, Gwen.” Gwen lifted her gaze to meet his when she felt the rumble of his words vibrate through her cheek, caught off-guard by the sorrow in his voice. “I promised to keep you safe, I swore that I’d protect you, no matter what, and I…” He broke off, his expression pained.
    Though she had only known Forneus for a short time, Gwen had become particularly fond of him; between the contradictory feelings of familiar unfamiliarity he invoked in her, and the many dangers they’d already faced together, the six days that had passed felt more like years. The kindness in his eyes, the sincerity with which he always spoke, the way he laid a steadying hand on her shoulder after every teleportation, how he was always so patient and gentle with her, no matter the situation…

    His every word and gesture had become so natural to her, so familiar and comforting, that as she looked up into his pale, anguished face, she had trouble remembering what life had been like without him. When she saw countless, blood-red welts on the right side of his neck, running under the thin shadow of stubble covering his jaw, she frowned, extending her fingers toward the angry-looking marks, only to draw back, fearing that her touch—however light—would only wind up making the gashes hurt more than they undoubtedly did, already.

    “You have nothing to be sorry for.” She said earnestly, “You did everything you could Forneus, so please…don’t blame yourself. Besides, I’m okay, now. Phenex healed me, see?” She pulled back from him, and gave an experimental roll of her shoulder, “Good as new.”

    “So you are.” The words were spoken so softly that she almost didn’t hear him. But even if she hadn’t caught what he’d said, there wasn’t a chance of missing the turmoil in his eyes when he looked over at Phenex. Following his gaze, she wasn’t the least bit surprised to find that Phenex wasn’t looking at either of them, instead staring fixedly at the pavement under his feet.

    Gwen jumped when she heard someone clear their throat, having forgotten all about the lilac-robed man Forneus had been talking to, earlier. When she met his gaze, it was to see his liquid brown eyes dancing with amusement. It took her a moment to figure out why, but once she did, she was mortified, her cheeks starting to burn as she hastily disengaged from Forneus.

    Had she really been clinging to him all that time? The guardian, for the most part, had the decency to look every bit as abashed, busying himself with trying to make his frock coat as presentable as possible, which was a futile effort at best, given its ragged condition.

    If Mathis had noticed any of this, he was kind enough not to show it. “While it is certainly good to finally meet you, Miss Lamelle,” He nodded courteously, and continued on, “I fear time is of the essence; we must locate the caduceus as soon as possible. Have you sensed it, dear child?”

    He talks just like Forneus, she realized, I wonder if he’s a daemon, too?

    Gwen opened her mouth to answer, and shut it again. Now that he’d brought it up, she noted with a sort of curious dread that the overwhelming feeling she experienced with each artifact—the same feeling she’d gotten just before the bird-monster’s attack had rendered her unconscious—was gone.

    “I have,” she said, casting a worried look in Forneus’ direction, “But that was before I blacked out. I don’t know if it’s still there, or if it ever was to begin with, but I could swear I felt its energy coming from somewhere over there.” She pointed toward the building she had noticed while running along the bridge, the one with the bright blue neon lettering anchored above its uppermost windows, forming words she didn’t understand.

    “The Achillion Hotel…” Mathis murmured, frowning as he gazed up at the vast building. “Why on earth would Hermes’ Caduceus wind up there, of all places?”

    “Does it really matter?” Gwen spun around at Phenex’s voice, surprised to hear him speak for the first time since he’d tended to the gaping wound in her shoulder. His golden-amber eyes were transfixed on the hotel, both hands buried deep within the pockets of his coat, “The real question is whether it’s still there, or not.”

    An awkward silence fell between them; the only sound that of the Third Unit’s members as they called out to one another, setting to work at whatever duties were expected of them.

    As she watched them, Gwen couldn’t help thinking of the cop dramas her parents watched from time-to-time. Several of Mathis’ agents—some humanoid in appearance and others not—were gathering what she assumed passed for forensic evidence in their world, placing whatever oddities they found into small, clear vials. Many of the vials held everything from plant matter to soil, from broken shards of concrete to loose fabrics, all of which were carefully placed in what she thought might be packing crates, though they didn’t look like any she’d ever seen. They were mostly transparent, almost like glass, with iridescent whorls of red, green, and violet gleaming across their surfaces whenever they caught the sun’s light.

    Other vials held liquids that ranged from crimson to almost black, no doubt blood samples of the monsters that had laid siege to Trikala. The Third Unit members who weren’t collecting evidence seemed to be setting up a perimeter around the entire area, not unlike a crime scene being cordoned off—only they weren’t using yellow tape, but raising some sort of protective barrier similar to what she’d seen Forneus use, only instead of a brilliant green, theirs was a soft indigo.

    As she swept her gaze over the hotel with its shining white façade, to the ramshackle apartments on the other side of the river, it suddenly dawned on her—what had happened to all of the people? No sooner had the thought occurred to her, when a short, silver-haired man came forward, answering her unspoken question as he addressed Mathis.

    “Sir, we’ve just finished the evacuation of the city; the Second Unit arrived a few moments ago, and Commander Lithias is having them perform memory wipes, as we speak.” Eyes of navy blue met Gwen’s for a fraction of a second before the man, dressed in what looked like black and grey camouflage, went on. “We’ve also taken several of the entities responsible into custody, and will be transporting them, shortly.”

    “Very good, Kamish,” Mathis replied, clapping a hand on the shorter entity’s shoulder, “Once everything is set, be sure to report to the council as swiftly as possible.”

    “As you wish, Commander,” the man named Kamish hesitated a moment, his gaze flitting between Gwen and Forneus, passed them to where Phenex was standing, and back to the Third Unit commander, “Sir…?”

    “Yes, what is it?”

    “Begging your pardon sir, I don’t mean to pry,” His voice rose slightly, the faintest sheen of perspiration at his temples, “but several of the unit members and I were wondering about the artifact?”

    Feeling Forneus shift beside her, Gwen cast a sidelong look at him, swallowing against the sudden lump in her throat. There was something in his expression that suggested he was deeply troubled, the skin around his eyes pinched; if he was worried about her inability to sense the caduceus, she shared in his discomfort. What if the bird-like creature had somehow robbed her of the ability to sense the artifacts when it attacked her? As bad as that would be, she was certain the High Council would have no problem finding another means with which to locate them. No, there were far worse things than her losing her ‘artifact-tracking talent’; what if, in all of the mayhem, the Akuma trio had gotten their hands on it?

    “We were actually just discussing that,” The serenity in Mathis’ voice surprised Gwen, the commander spreading his hands wide as he went on, “We’ve hit something of a snag in our search, but I’m confident we’ll find it, soon.”

    Judging by his expression, Kamish wasn’t comforted by his commander’s words, and who could blame him? Gwen certainly didn’t. Even still, he kept his silence, and with a simple bow of his head, excused himself to continue on with his duties.

    After a moment, Gwen cleared her throat, aware of the three pairs of eyes that had turned to look at her when she did, self-consciously tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She was just about to ask how they would find the caduceus now that she could no longer sense it, when a painful throbbing started in the right side of her chest, building up until it spread to the entire right side of her body. A wave of nausea seized her, bringing her to the ground, the city swimming in her vision.

    “Miss Lamelle!”

    “Gwen! Gwen, what’s wrong? Please, answer me!”

    “You, there—get in touch with Commander Asclepius of the Fifth Unit; inform him that operative Phenex requires his unit on standby! They are to prepare to receive us within the next five minutes, unless I say otherwise!”
    She could see all three of them standing around her, their faces etched with worry. But something was wrong; they were distorted, rippling like water. Their voices were equally strange, almost hollow, fading until they were nothing but white noise. Gwen gasped for air, but whether from panic or from whatever it was that had taken hold of her, she couldn’t seem to draw in a single breath. Bile burned in the back of her throat, choking her. She clutched at her chest, desperately willing the agony to stop as she rocked back and forth on her knees, convulsing as one torrent of pain after another went through her.

    Somehow through the haze of pain, she heard the sharp intake of breath beside her, felt the warm, rough fingers grasping her right shoulder and collarbone, followed by a rush of heat, almost burning her. She felt herself being moved, almost lying on her back now instead of kneeling on the hard pavement, her head resting against something soft, yet firm. A voice swore softly by her ear. Gwen bit back the whimper rising in her throat, blinking away tears as she tried to see who it was.

    At first she couldn’t see much of anything, her vision too heavily blurred; everything bled together, forming a swirling, nauseating mass of colour. Eventually, she could make out a face framed with tousled, auburn hair, a pair of golden-amber eyes peering back at her. As the scent of leather and warmth filled her nostrils, she knew. Phenex knelt beside her, his image becoming sharper and fading again, one hand over her chest, the tips of his fingers emitting a soft, golden light.

    “What’s wrong with her?” It was Forneus who spoke, Gwen struggling to lift her head to look at him, only to find she couldn’t. Phenex was holding her, cushioning her head with his free arm as he continued to work his magic.

    “Whatever attacked her before, it left something of itself in her shoulder,” He answered, “If I had to guess, whatever it is, it’s toxic, and I’m willing to bet all of Mythos it’s inhibiting her powers.”
    If anything more was said, Gwen didn’t hear it—blinding pain shot straight through her, a scream coming unbidden to her lips as her muscles started to spasm. As the convulsions worsened, Phenex swore again, his hold on her growing tighter. Somewhere amidst the chaos of her screams and the sounds of Forneus’ dismay and of Mathis shouting orders to his unit, she could hear Phenex’s voice, a soft murmur against her ear. What he was saying, she didn’t know, but she got the impression it was meant to be soothing. She squeezed her eyes shut, gritting her teeth to hold back the rest of her cries as what felt like fiery needles continued to prickle across the surface of her skin.

    “What is that?” Forneus’ voice was muffled, almost as if he were talking through a wall.

    “I recognize it,” Came Mathis’ reply, though his words were every bit as garbled as Forneus’ had been, Gwen stifling a whimper as pain continued to throb in her shoulder, “It’s a shadow seal, no doubt courtesy of that damnable Shade.”
    There was more cursing at her ear. “So I was right, then.” Phenex said bitterly, “He meant to clip our wings, keep us from finding the rest of the artifacts.”

    “Yes, it would seem so. No doubt the seal was triggered to react to any foreign presence, your healing technique included. But, since you were able to draw it out of her, you shouldn’t have any trouble healing her, now.”

    Mathis’ words proved to be true, for no sooner had he said them, the pain began to subside; the sensation of having been set ablaze dwindling to a dull, throbbing ache in Gwen’s joints. Her vision cleared, warmth flooding her veins and into each one of her nerve-endings as Phenex’s healing powers took over, completely.
    As she took deep, steadying breaths, she couldn’t recall the air ever having smelled sweeter than it did at that moment; the subtle scents of freshly-trimmed grass and the cold, clear water of the Lithaios River mingled with the heady perfume of flowers and the tang of leather, until they all merged into one peculiar, yet pleasant aroma. There was something else; ginger, or maybe it was cinnamon, though where it came from, she couldn’t say.

    She peered up just in time to see Phenex crush a dark, cylindrical piece of what looked like stone within the palm of his hand. Flames licked out between his fingers, then vanished as he opened them, the ashes scattering in the breeze.

    And that’s when it started, no more than a faint prickle in the tips of her fingers, at first, growing into an overwhelming surge that encompassed her whole body. Gwen gasped, bolting upright as the powerful tingling travelled up and down her spine.

    “Gwen?” Forneus was in front of her now, down on one knee with both hands on her shoulders. She could hear the scuff of Phenex’s shoes and the squeak of leather as he rose to his feet, backing away a couple of steps. Now that she was no longer cloaked in the ample heat generated by his body, Greece’s balmy weather felt like a winter chill to her, Gwen shivering in spite of herself.
    Mathis spoke before she could answer, his violet robes swishing around polished black boots as he stepped forward, Gwen glancing up and meeting his hopeful expression. “Is it the caduceus, my dear?”

    By this point the tingling had become maddening, almost unbearable as it forced the hairs along her arms to stand on end. “It must be,” Gwen told him, gritting her teeth against the sensation coursing up and down her arms while Forneus helped her to her feet, “Every time I’ve been near one of the artifacts, I get this weird, tingling feeling all over, only it’s got a sort of—rhythm to it. Like a heart beating, but not.” It was a pale comparison to what she was actually experiencing, but it would have to do; she didn’t have the words to explain it.

    Not that it matters, anyway. She thought. Wheeling around, she glanced up at the Achillion Hotel, the thrumming sensation growing more insistent as her eyes fell on the rows of balconies overlooking the river. Her gaze roved over each floor and doubled back, coming to an abrupt halt on the second tier, third balcony from the left.

    “There…” Gwen took off toward the hotel, sprinting the short distance between the bridge and the broad side of the building, the sound of Forneus’ boots crunching over rubble following along behind her. Coming to a stop almost directly under the first row of balconies, she craned her neck, squinting against the harsh glare of the sun as it glinted off of the glass enclosures that, until then, had been invisible to her.
    “Great,” She muttered, bringing both hands up to shield her eyes, “Even if I could climb up, how the hell am I supposed to get onto the balcony with that glass in the way?”

    She glanced around, barely noticing that Forneus had come up beside her, her gaze falling on a door at the furthest corner of the building. It didn’t look like the main entrance, but it didn’t matter; any door would do, and since all of the people had been evacuated, getting to the room with that particular balcony shouldn’t be a problem. Or so she thought, until she tugged on the metal door handle, only to find that it wouldn’t budge; the door was locked.

    “There are other entrances scattered throughout the hotel’s lower levels,” Gwen peered at Forneus when he spoke, listening intently, “Keep trying the doors; I’ll check the rest of the building, see what I can find.”

    “Wait!” She called before he could round the corner, the guardian stopping mid step, “Why don’t we just teleport?”

    He studied her for a moment, his mouth forming a grim line. She stared back at him; it had seemed a good idea to her, a necessary one, in fact—so why did he look so worried at the very prospect?

    “Teleportation is hard on you at the best of times,” He stated mildly, “After everything you’ve endured during this mission already, are you certain you can handle it?”
    If the question had come from anyone else or at any other time, Gwen might have been insulted; but since she was still fairly weak from the shadow seal Phenex had pulled out of her, and since it was obvious that Forneus’ intentions were sincere, she gave him what she could only hope was a reassuring smile. “I’ll be fine, I promise. Besides, it’s not like we have a choice.”

    “She’s right,” Mathis’ voice came from directly behind her, making her jump, “The sooner we secure the artifact, the better.”

    Half expecting to be startled again, Gwen glanced suspiciously over her shoulder, and frowned; where had Phenex gone off to?

    As if reading her mind, the Third Unit Commander said, “If you’re looking for your fiery friend, he said he had some urgent matters to attend to back in the Spectrum.”

    “I’m sure he did.” Something in Forneus’ words sounded bitter to her, Gwen casting a critical look in his direction, all to no avail; if he felt her gaze on him, he made no sign of it.

    What the hell happened between you two? She wondered, though she didn’t dare ask. Instead, she put a hand on his shoulder, silver eyes meeting hers as if just seeing her for the first time. She didn’t know what was troubling him, and she didn’t need to; all she needed to know was that he was troubled, and that at that very moment, he needed her every bit as much as she needed him. It was for this reason that she felt compelled to reach out to him now, struck again by how quickly things had changed since their first meeting. Could it really have only been six days ago?

    “So, how about it, Forneus,” Gwen broke the silence, smiling as she squeezed his shoulder affectionately, “I think it’s about time we reclaim another one of your powers, don’t you?”

    “Very good, my dear,” She glanced back at Mathis, the fair-haired entity bowing courteously, though whether to her, or Forneus—or even both of them—she couldn’t be sure. “My operatives have just about finished their work. If you do not require additional assistance, then I shall take my leave.”

    Forneus returned the gesture and murmured his thanks, Gwen watching as the commander pivoted on his heel, and took long, brisk strides toward the nearest batch of operatives. By the look of it, they had just finished packing up the last of their forensic crates, a large procession of them standing guard around the few enemies they’d managed to take captive. She noticed that neither the monster that attacked her, nor the Akuma trio, were amongst them.

    She would have to ask Forneus what had become of them later; for now, she had more important matters to attend to. Not a word passed between them as both turned toward the hotel simultaneously, their gazes upward.

    Closing her eyes, Gwen took hold of his hand, and after a dizzying rush, opened them to find that she had a spectacular view of the Lithaios River, the sun’s light reflecting off of the softly-lapping waters.

    Okay, now to find the caduceus.

    It didn’t take more than a few minutes, before they were both seized in a bubble of radiant light. A winged staff, no longer than Gwen’s forearm, floated down, appearing from just below the ridge separating the balcony above them from the one they stood on. Once it was nestled in the palm of her hand, a silver-white beam lanced out from it, striking Forneus square in the chest.

    Just as with the goblet, no voice resounded in Gwen’s mind to tell her whether she had gained another power, or not; but Forneus had, she knew, for as soon as the glow surrounding them had receded, he had immediately called it forth.

    It being the ability to summon weapons out of thin air, or so it appeared to her as he held out his arm, a brilliantly shining long sword materializing in his grasp, and disappearing with a flick of his wrist. The ‘arcane arts’, he called them, telling her that this was but one of its many uses. She told him that whatever they were called, they were about the coolest thing she’d ever seen. Forneus had smiled at that.

    When they noticed that members of the Third Unit were leading people back into the city, tourists and locals, alike, Forneus decided it was time to go. However, with so many people pouring into the streets, making their way toward the hotel, it would have been impossible for them to teleport without being sighted. So, they did the most inconspicuous thing imaginable—they walked out, appearing as nothing more than a couple of regular, everyday people, only Forneus drawing mild attention with his old-fashioned attire.

    Once they were safely on the opposite side of the river, Gwen just happened to glance up at the hotel’s sign. Something seemed different about the blue, neon lettering, but for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out what it was.

    She was just about to ask Forneus if he noticed anything strange about it, when her temples started to throb, her vision becoming blurred. She had one last, fleeting impression that the mission had indeed caught up with her, just as he had said it would, when exhaustion stole over her. Unable to keep her eyes open any longer, she succumbed to it, the last vestiges of consciousness fading as she was swept up into a pair of familiar arms.

    Teeth clenched in fury, Reeves dismissed his subordinates with a wave of his hand, watching as the three Akuma vanished like smoke into the chilly night air. He stared at the spot where they’d been kneeling mere seconds ago, the only proof of their having been there the three shallow indentations—all nearly identical—in the rooftop gravel. Kizah, of course, had left the more prominent mark of the three companions, leaving two massive, circular depressions where his left knee and right fist had rested.

    Another mission, another failure, He swivelled around, dress shoes crunching loudly as he crossed the gravel pit leading to the very edge of the roof, and peered down at the dimly-lit city below. Lights of red, orange, and white stared back at him, evening traffic of the mortals who commuted to and from work, or so he supposed; he didn’t care in the least for the stupid, weak-minded creatures, but he had been around long enough to notice some of their habits—much to his chagrin.

    More than twelve hours had passed since the mission in Thessaly had gone up in flames, and yet, it had taken the Akuma until only twenty minutes ago to report in. Not only had every one of the shadow minions he’d sent ended up eradicated the moment the firebird had shown up, two-thirds of the rest of his force had been captured. Where the High Council planned on keeping them detained, he didn’t know, but it was reasonable to assume they had a temporary facility set up, until their main prison was back up and running again.

    Though I suppose I should be relieved that the mission failed. He thought bitterly, gripping the brim of his fedora when a particularly strong gust threatened to rip it from his head. It had been a fool’s errand to send the crossbreed along on the mission; wyvern and manticore blood did not mix well, as it turned out, and according to Misa, the creature had nearly killed the human girl, instead of retrieving her, as it had been commanded to do. If it had come from Misa alone, Reeves might have had cause to question it, but Kizah had confirmed it as well. Cife had been too bloodied to do more than tremble, but that wasn’t unexpected of the pale-skinned Akuma; he always trembled.

    Really though, what had her Ladyship been thinking, providing him with such an unstable creature, a mere prototype, on a mission as important as this one? And worst of all, if the beast had succeeded in killing the girl, it wouldn’t be her Ladyship to blame, no—it would be Reeves that took the full brunt of the master’s wrath. Her Ladyship’s anger was bad enough—the serpent god’s was far worse.

    Turning his gaze toward the silvery fullness of the moon, he sighed. He would just have to err on the side of caution, from here on out. Even with the new moon no more than two weeks away, he knew he wouldn’t be strong enough by then, not for what her Ladyship expected of him, nor for what he expected of himself. Another month from then, however? Well, that would be a different story all together.

    Six more weeks; just six more weeks, and then I’ll be unstoppable!

    In the meantime, he would just have to ensure that things were as inconvenient as possible for the firebird and his friends…
  16. Sorry for the wait!!

    For chap 2: The main problem in this chap was that there were a lot of comma splices/commas that weren't needed

    he didn’t owe any human being anything , for that matter. [This one is questionable not really sure]

    the simple fact of the matter was that they hadn’t known one another long enough for him to have gained her trust, either—at least, not yet.

    nd; that it went back to the days when mankind functioned on instinct, alone?

    not for the fact that it meant she’d be stuck with him, too, Gwen might have openly laughed at the long-suffering expression on Phenex’s face.

    This must be how Alice felt when she fell down the rabbit hole. (,s)he decided, picking up the pace when she realized she had fallen several paces behind them. [This one actually needs a comma hehe]

    his includes Phenex, and of course, myself, as well.”

    Gwen didn’t give a damn if he was mad—she was, too!

    She didn’t have the strength to be angry, anymore

    They’ll want to know about everything that’s happened, tonight.”

    ’m sorry, but you won’t be able to return home—at least, not yet.”

    It can be pretty jarring the first time, around.”
    (This is from the end back to beginning for both sections)

    There might have been a couple more, hope this helps :3
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  17. No problem. ^^ Thanks for the feedback. Yeah, I'm kind of...notorious, when it comes to commas. xD

    Definitely something I'm going to have to fix up during revisions; and yup, this has been a big help, indeed. ;)

    Thanks again for taking the time. ^^
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