Shakespir Edition, License Notes
Thank you for downloading this ebook. This ebook remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.
“I hope you like the tea.”
Lucius put the small cup down on the coffee table in front of him, smiling at his host as he tried to find a more comfortable sitting position on the couch. William Fern smiled at Lucius’s obvious discomfort, taking a sip from his own cup before putting it down himself.
The two sat alone in the older man’s library, surrounded by shelves of texts, covers worn with age. Lucius was reminded of the time when William’s grandfather had been The Order’s librarian. He had kept the massive hall lined with rows of books, manuscripts, scrolls and maps dating back centuries. They had often joked about it being the modern day Library of Alexandria, the treasures within beyond compare.
But that was a different time.
“You outdid yourself, William,” Lucius said.
“It’s garbage,” William laughed. “Still, it’s better than what my wife makes. Believe me when I tell you that I’m sparing you a lot of misery.”
Lucius smiled at that. If there was one thing the Fern family never lacked, it was a sense of humour. Lucius had been close to William’s grandfather. The older Fern had been the best man at his wedding, making sure Lucius wouldn’t bale in the last second. Even during the first war, the man had never been short of jokes and sarcasm, something that had added a little light to the chaos.
“How is your wife?” Lucius asked.
“Oh, you know, gardens and cooking mostly,” William sighed. “We try to keep things as mellow as possible.”
Lucius had driven into town earlier that morning, hoping to avoid as many familiar faces as possible. He knew he was unwelcome here, as was anyone from the Order. Memories lingered in Sommerst, passed down from generation to generation. The past never died here. Nothing was ever forgotten, or forgiven for that matter.
He had helped erect the first houses in the area, a loyal soldier in the resistance that had fought against the Ancients and the Order for twenty years. Sommerst had been their base, a well-hidden community that had offered a home and family for years. After the Order had fallen, his return and efforts to rebuild it were viewed as a betrayal by many, despite his intentions. The only support he and his Quartet had received came from the Ferns. Luckily for him, a Fern had always been elected as mayor, making sure he wouldn’t be killed in the streets the minute he came in.
“Have you passed by Lara yet?”
Lucius shook his head. “I don’t think I’ll ever be welcome there.”
“She’s family, Lucius,” William smiled.
“She was family,” Lucius answered. “That died with her sister.”
“If I remember the stories correctly, I’d say that isn’t quite correct.”
Lucius eyed the man with a smile, finally standing up, unable to bear his seat anymore. He paced to one end of the study, looking at the books lined along one shelf, running his fingers across the rough surfaces of their spines. He felt comfortable in Sommerst. Sometimes he wished he could come back and finally settle down.
“I came to ask you for something, William,” Lucius finally said.
“I had a feeling there was more to this visit than just my tea.”
Lucius chuckled. “I need help,” he said.
“You need help?” William asked. “Or does the Order need help?”
Lucius ran a hand through his hair and poured himself some water from a pitcher near the bookcase. “It’s not the same Order.”
“Do you still take orders from Herneith?” William asked. When Lucius didn’t answer, he nodded. “It’s the same Order, Lucius.”
“Herneith is not Sabaf,” Lucius countered. “Things are different now.”
William chuckled and stood up, taking his cup and placing it on the tray next to his guest’s. “The only reason there aren’t two teams resisting the Order, Lucius, is because of your Quartet. We’ve all lost respect for the Ancients. We don’t trust them, and we have every right not to. You yourself didn’t at one point, not too long ago.”
Lucius said nothing. He remembered the first war vividly, the war that had taken away his wife, friends and family. He had hated the Order then, and everyone that had been a part of it. He had taken them on with a vengeance, without remorse, a soldier many feared more than respected. Now, standing on the opposite side, he wasn’t surprised at the Renegades’ aggressiveness. There was a time he had done worse.
“Have you ever asked yourself if this war is any different than the last one?” William brought him back from his thoughts.
“No one’s being exiled this time,” Lucius said.
“Yet,” William countered. “What’s going to happen if Rakel gets what he wants, Lucius? How long do you think you can stop him from following in the footsteps of Lam?”
“He’d have to take the Keep,” Lucius argued. “That won’t happen.”
“You have a lot of faith, especially when you’re here asking for my help.”
“The Renegades aren’t strong enough to take down the Keep.”
“Neither were you when you stormed through its doors.”
Lucius sighed. He wasn’t getting anywhere. William could see his frustration, and put a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“There is no army for you here, Lucius,” William whispered. “Nor will there ever be. Our war is over. All we can do is pray for you, and hope you can hold what’s left of our kind together.”
“Hope doesn’t win wars,” Lucius said.
William smiled and squeezed his friend’s shoulder. “You’ve surprised everyone before.” He walked back to his desk and sat down with a sigh. “Spend the night, and in the morning pass by Lara. Closure is important.”
Ethan woke up to the sound of rain.
He had been dreaming again. The same village as before. The same screaming. The strange language had been clearer this time, but not enough for him to understand it. He had felt like one or two of the words were familiar, but he had lost their meaning almost immediately. The surf had still been behind him, sea water splashing in droplets at the back of his head and nape, a strong contrast to the heat from the fires in front of him. He had felt like he should know the place, as if the dream were a memory rather than inexplicable pictures in front of his eyes.
Ethan sat up in the back seat just as Patricia pulled into a motel, the green fluorescent sign welcoming him to where ‘all heads rested safely’. After the night before, he was starting to have a hard time imagining that that were even possible anymore.
They had left at dawn, packing what little possessions they had into two cars and moving out before anyone had woken up. He had been introduced to Eric and Nadia quickly, each stranger than the other, before being ushered into the back seat of Patricia’s car. The sight of the broken window was a strong reminder of the fire that had thrown his life off course, and he had felt his eyes water as he remembered Alicia.
“Try not to call anyone until we’re well out of here,” Rick had told him.
He had had no intention of complying, especially since he knew his mother would be worried. He had tried to call her when they had stopped for gas, but had only gotten the answering machine, quickly leaving a message telling his parents that he was ok and would be going out of town for a while. He had bumped into Leah after hanging up, and the look in her eyes had been enough to send chills down his spine. If she had known about the call, she hadn’t shown it, and he hadn’t tried calling again.
He waited for his eyes to adjust before scanning the run-down motel. Patricia parked near the front desk and disappeared, leaving him alone with Rick. If the motel had ever seen better days, Ethan doubted it was recent. A lot of the rooms’ windows were shattered, and a few doors hung loose on their hinges. There was only one other car parked at the far end of the motel space, tires flat and rust screaming out like a bad joke.
“I don’t think our heads are going to rest safely here,” Ethan said.
“It will do,” Rick answered, looking out at Patricia as she booked rooms for them. “Besides, you’ll learn to sleep with one eye open no matter where we stay.”
“How long are you keeping me with you?”
“You’re not a prisoner.”
“Right, but without you I’m a dead man?”
Ethan sighed. “Then what choice do I have.”
Rick didn’t answer. They watched Patricia exit the front desk, keys in her hand and hood over her head against the falling rain. She got into the car without a word and cruised to their rooms. Ethan looked at the closed doors from the shelter of the car, half expecting corpses to storm out with machetes, rotten skin hanging from their bones. He thought about sleeping in the car.
The door beside him opened and Eric looked at him as he grabbed a bag off the back seat. The blonde smiled as he saw the look on Ethan’s face. “I don’t like it either,” he said, “but it’s Trish’s call. Where I lay my head is home, right?”
“Right,” Ethan said half-heartedly.
He stepped out of the car, pulling his bag out with him. He had been able to buy a few things on their way, not too much to worry about, always paying in cash. Leah had been with him the whole time, and he started to wonder if she were babysitting him. The redhead made him uncomfortable, staring the way she did, lighter flipping across her fingers. He watched her park her bike between the two cars, and even with her helmet on, he could swear she was watching him.
He felt a hand around his shoulders pulling him towards a room.
“You’re bunking with me,” Eric said cheerfully. “I’ve never had a roommate, so you better not be a snorer.”
Ethan let himself be led to their room, Eric quickly unlocking the door and trying the lights. One bulb hung lazily from the centre of the ceiling, barely illuminating the room. Ethan felt like he had just walked into the twilight zone, a stark reminder of how well he had it before hell had broken loose. Eric, though, didn’t seem to mind at all. He threw his bag on a bed, officially claiming it as his own, and walked straight into the bathroom. Ethan could see him wrestle with the lights, and when it was apparent that there was no hope, the blonde just shrugged and closed the door.
Ethan set his bag down, taking in his cheap surroundings as he inspected the bed for anything that might crawl across his legs at night. When he was satisfied that nothing would bite, he lied down, crossed an arm over his eyes, and tried to sleep. His mind was racing with questions, but he knew that he wouldn’t get any satisfaction tonight. His four new acquaintances were very vague about anything he wanted to know, Rick constantly assuring him that he would get answers as soon as they were safe.
After ten hours on the road and their new lodgings, Ethan began to wonder where safe was.
“How’s the mattress?” Eric asked as he stepped out of the bathroom, jumping on his own bed without waiting for an answer. “Wow, now this is hell. Trish really outdid herself with this one.”
Ethan looked at his roommate as the he tried to settle into the pillow, still fully dressed. Eric seemed a lot more laid back than the others. Where everyone was on edge, he seemed to be having the time of his life. Even here, in a motel that screamed ‘condemned’ and a room fit for Auschwitz, the blonde was smiling.
“You don’t seem all too unhappy,” Ethan said.
Eric opened his eyes and turned to him, smiles and all. “It’s better than the car,” he said.
Eric laughed. “Man, there were times we couldn’t even stop to take a leak. You try sleeping in a car for four days and then tell me how bad this is.”
“Am I going to learn what sleeping in a car for four days is going to be like?”
Eric’s smiled faded for an instant, then came back as he wheeled his legs over the edge of the bed and looked straight at him. “Listen, I know this is hard,” he said, keeping his voice down. “I know you have questions and no one’s giving you the time of day to even tell you where we’re going. We’re asking you to put a lot of trust in us, and you don’t even know us.”
“I’m glad we’re on the same page.”
“The truth is, those people who burned down your home? They’re probably already following us, and they’re not very nice people.”
“I bet they’d say the same thing if I were riding with them instead.”
“I bet you they’d kill you just the way they killed your girl.”
Ethan frowned and sat, staring straight at Eric. “Talk about Alicia again, and you won’t have to worry about the people following us.”
Eric smiled and held his hands up in a sign of defeat. “Hey, don’t take your anger out on me, ok?” he said, almost chuckling. “You want me on your side if things get rough.”
“I don’t want anyone on my side,” Ethan hissed. “I want answers, and if you’re not going to give me any, then I want to be left alone.”
Eric looked at Ethan a bit longer before he shrugged and lay back down. “I get it,” he said, eyes closed, smile gone. “But you’re not the first to go through all this, and you won’t be the last, so get over yourself and stop acting like a sad puppy.”
Ethan said nothing, furious and half wanting to punch the man in his face. He stared at Eric a moment longer, then decided to let it go, falling back onto his own bed and trying to sleep.
Rick loved the rain. He sat on the hood of Patricia’s car and let the water soak through him. He remembered a time when just hearing the rain tapping at his window would wake him up with a smile. It soothed him, and no matter how tired he was, he never missed a moment to sit in the midst of the falling water with his eyes closed and his mind clear.
Ever since he and Patricia had left home, Rick couldn’t remember a time they had stayed in one place for more than a few days. It was starting to get to him, and even now, with the rain washing over him, he could feel the stress eating away at him. His Quartet looked to him for guidance and support, and the extra weight of the responsibility wasn’t helping.
Calliope had told him that he had to give up all ties with home. It was safer that way, she had said. He remembered the day they had met, walking up to him and Patricia while they were leaving the cinema complex. She had invited them to coffee, explaining everything in less than an hour and expecting him to leave with her immediately.
He had made her wait for a week.
“What are you doing out here, wet boy?”
Rick turned and smiled at Patricia as she walked out into the rain towards him. She pulled herself up next to him and wrapped her arms around his waist.
“Well, it’s raining,” Rick whispered, almost to himself. She squeezed him tighter.
Rick wrapped his arm around her shoulder and held her closer. Her strength never failed to impress him. She had gotten used to their new routine a lot faster than he had, although her eyes betrayed her need for some stability. She hadn’t thought twice when he had asked her to come with him, and he thanked the stars every night for her. Without her, he knew his new life would have been impossible.
“Did you check in on the kids?” he asked.
Patricia laughed. It had become a running joke between them, both feeling like they were the Quartet’s parents. “Our new foster child is going to be a problem,” she joked.
“We can handle it,” Rick smiled. “Besides, Leah seems to have already taken him under her wing.”
“You mean she’s scaring him to death.”
“Same thing, really. Leah scares everyone.”
Patricia nodded. “She gets that from Calliope,” she said quietly.
They sat silently, listening to the rain as it fell on the cars around them, a soft breeze picking up and falling again. It was serene, almost like it was washing away their problems.
“You know, we can just take the car and leave,” Rick said. “They’ll be fine without us.”
“It’s not a choice, Rick,” Patricia whispered. “Not anymore. You know that.”
“Should I have had said no?”
Patricia looked up at him, frowning. “You’re not getting soft, are you?”
Rick laughed. “You’d love that, wouldn’t you?”
“Right,” Patricia mocked. “Find a cabin out in the woods somewhere, raise a family, get old and fart through the night.”
“You want a family?”
Patricia stared at him a bit longer, and then leaned her head on his shoulder again. “How about we get through this whole war-of-the-worlds thing first?”
Rick sighed. “Sometimes I get the feeling that we’re never going to stop fighting.”
Patricia squeezed him again and said nothing.
When Lara opened her front door, she would have slapped the man standing outside if she could have reached him.
“What are you doing here, Lucius?”
Lucius stood a few feet away from, trying to smile, and the only thing that came to her mind was how ridiculous he looked in jeans and a T-shirt. He was obviously uncomfortable, and she had no intention of making him feel any better.
“I was in the neighbourhood,” he started, then stopped when she held up a hand to silence him. He had always felt like a school boy when confronting Lara.
“Unless you’re lost,” Lara said, “I suggest you leave before I rip your throat out.”
“Lara, I – ”
Lucius gazed at his wife’s sister, the very sight of her bringing up painful memories of their past. She had been by his side through everything; from the moment he had lost Samantha to the day they had stormed the Keep together. She was a force to be reckoned with, and she had trusted him fully, a trust he had betrayed when he had decided to stay and rebuild the Order. He had never seen so much pain and hate in a person’s eyes before, and even now, after almost a century of having avoided each other, that same look sent chills down his spine.
“I’m sorry,” Lucius said. “This was a bad idea.”
He turned to leave, and just as he reached the last step of the front porch, he felt a hand grab his arm, turn him around and slap him hard. His eyes stung, and it took a moment for him to register what had just happened. Lara was standing in front of him, breathing heavily as tears ran down her cheeks, her eyes shooting daggers at him.
“You bastard!” she shouted. She tried to hit him again, but this time he deflected the blow. “You sorry excuse of a man!”
“Lara, please,” Lucius started, looking around to make sure none of the neighbours were watching. He didn’t want anyone knowing he was here.
“How dare you come to my house?” Lara was shouting. Lucius grabbed her by the arm and pushed her back to the door, quickly, forcefully, closing it behind them as soon as they were inside. “Get out!”
“I was out!” Lucius screamed back, his outburst shutting her up.
Lara raised a hand to her side and started moving her fingers, cracks coming from the floorboard below her.
“Lara, don’t,” Lucius said, grabbing her hand and stopping her.
“You betrayed us,” Lara hissed at him.
“I had no choice.”
“Yes, you did, and you chose the Order. After all we had gone through, after losing Samantha, you went back.”
Lucius held her arms as she tried to break loose. “The Order didn’t kill Sam, and I didn’t go back. There was nothing to go back to. I was rebuilding our home.”
“This was our home!”
“No, this was an escape,” Lucius tried to calm her down. “We were hiding out here, running away. This was never meant to be permanent. This was never meant to be home.”
Lara stopped struggling and stared at him, her eyes bloodshot. “For hundreds of us, this is exactly what it was. It just wasn’t enough for you, Lucius. This was never enough for you.”
Lucius let go of her and stepped back, unable to say anything. He knew she was right. He hated the man he used to be, vengeful, without remorse as he destroyed homes and tore his kinsmen apart. The old war had been bloody, and he had been the cause for at least half of that. Now he stood in front of the one person in the world who had brought him back from the abyss, lost for words, unable to say anything to comfort her.
“I just wanted to see you,” Lucius finally said. “I wanted to apologize.”
Lara sat down on a chair and shook her head as she hugged herself. “It’s too late, Lucius,” she said after a moment of awkward silence. “It’s far too late for that.”
Lucius stood in his place, unsure of what to do next, wanting to make things right in any way possible, yet unable to think of how.
“Why didn’t you come back before?” she broke the silence. “Why did you wait this long?”
“I was scared,” Lucius admitted.
Lara smiled bitterly, nodding.
“Lara, I truly am sorry. I just wanted to say that.”
“Well, you said it,” Lara looked up at him. “Now get out.”
Lucius watched her get up and walk away, turning into a room and slamming the door behind her. He contemplated following her, and then decided against it. He dug a hand into his pocket and pulled out a necklace that had belonged to Samantha, hanging the trinket on a key holder beside him. He took one last look at the closed door Lara had disappeared behind, and left.
Leah had been sound asleep when the shooting started.
Without batting an eye, she jumped up, still fully dressed, and pulled Nadia out if her bed just as the room’s windows exploded. They kept their heads low as bullets flew over them, burying into the walls, shattering glass and ripping wood to splinters.
“They found us!” she screamed at Nadia, groping for her lighter and cursing when she couldn’t find it in her pocket.
Nadia tried to get up and was pulled down harshly before another round of bullets tore through her. She helped Leah push a bed over, trying to shield them both as much as possible.
“How the hell did they know where we were?” Nadia screamed over the noise of automatic rifles going off in the night. Leah shook her head, confused. She tried to look over the bed, but the bullets kept her from getting her head out far enough.
“We need to get to the others,” Leah said, the urgency in her voice mixed with anger at being caught off guard. “Could you take down that wall?”
Nadia looked at where Leah was pointing to and shook her head. “Not without taking the whole thing down on top of our heads,” she said. “We need another strategy.”
Leah looked around her, her mind racing. They were stuck.
When the SUVs raced into the motel parking lot, Rick and Patricia had been walking back to their room. Before they could act, the occupants had jumped out and had started shooting. Rick had gotten them both behind the car just before the first rounds tore through the wall where they had been standing. He barely had enough time to think before three more SUVs followed the first group and gunmen started pouring out.
Their attackers weren’t taking any chances, shooting at everything, obviously backed up with enough firepower to warrant the aggressiveness of the attack. Rick was able to get a quick look over the hood of the car at the sheer magnitude of their numbers, losing count at fifteen before bullets slammed into the car and sent him down again.
“We can’t stay here,” Patricia cried out, seeing a few gunmen racing out of the shelter of their vehicles. With the fire cover they had, they would easily be able to make it around, and then she and Rick would be out in the open.
“I’m thinking,” Rick said, worried as he saw bullets fly into the rooms where the rest of the Quartet was.
“Rick, now!” Patricia screamed.
Rick turned to where Patricia was looking, three gunmen turning around the beat-up car and raising their guns to shoot. Rick quickly raised his hands, his eyes burning bright as he felt heat race through his body. In an instant, sheets of water rose from the ground, throwing the men off. He clenched his hand into a fist and pushed with every bit of energy he had, the sheets of water slamming into the gunmen, throwing them in different directions.
“That’s not going to keep them,” Rick said.
As soon as the words left his mouth, he felt a gust of wind rise around him. Quickly, the torrents picked up speed, mixing with the rain, twirling in little tornadoes around him and Patricia. Rick barely had enough time to throw himself over Patricia as the winds suddenly blew outwards. The car they were hiding behind rocked as he heard screams of pain around him, looking up to see Eric step out of his room, arms stretched out, eyes burning white.
The motel was in complete chaos.
Eric stood fast, pushing the air around him in waves at the gunmen in front of him. He watched them slam against the SUVs they had just been hiding behind, falling still to the ground. He brought his arms up and around in circles, the winds picking up speed, throwing the others off guard as they aimlessly tried to shoot at him. With a burst of energy, he sent another wave at the closest SUV, watching it flip over the men hiding behind it.
In the midst of the pandemonium, he could see Leah and Nadia race out of their room, the shooting stopping long enough for them to escape their hiding place and join the fight. Nadia was already on top of her game, her hand aimed at another SUV as she forced the ground under it to heave and topple it over onto its side.
Patricia raced out from her cover and into her room, Rick getting up from his hiding place in time to push the rain in the direction of the gunmen. A bullet flew too close to his head for comfort, and he pushed harder, the torrents of falling water slamming into the gunmen like pellets.
“Leah!” he screamed at the redhead.
“I can’t find my lighter!” she shouted back, hiding behind the other car as bullets slammed into the glass around her.
Rick cursed under his breath and ran towards her, bringing a wave of water up off the ground for cover. He slid down beside her and looked around for the rest. What had started as a single force assault was slowly turning into a full out blast fest, and at the moment, he and his friends were at a disadvantage.
He wasn’t the religious type, but at the moment, he felt it was his best option. He had slid behind a wall, covering his head as glass and splinters showered him, bullets screaming over his head. He had watched Eric step out and almost screamed in horror when he saw his eyes burn as if aflame. He was scared, confused, and on the verge of panic.
He heard Rick shouting outside, and suddenly Patricia raced into the room. She grabbed him by the arm and started to pull at him, but he resisted.
“We have to get out!” she was shouting at him, and when he wouldn’t budge, fell down next to him. “What the hell are you doing?”
“That’s the stupidest question I have ever heard!” Ethan shouted back.
“We’re sitting ducks here,” she urged. “We need to leave.”
“I happen to like my body bullet free!”
Before Patricia could reply, the shooting outside picked up volume, and she pulled Ethan down.
When Ethan felt the heat for the first time, he was lying on the motel room floor, half covered by Patricia, bullets flying around him and threatening to end his existence.
The heat came suddenly, urgently, and it burned like nothing he had ever felt before. He remembered how his hands burned after he had tried to save his parents, the pain staying with him for weeks after the skin had healed. The doctors had told him that it had all been in his head, that the burn degree hadn’t been at all as serious as he had believed. Still, he had felt the heat as if his hands had been pushed into a furnace.
This felt the same. He felt the burning in his hands first, and screamed as it snaked up his arms to his neck and down to his core. He felt it race throughout his entire body, burning him from within, eating away at everything inside as it spread. He felt the heat behind his eyes, inside his skull, crushing as he grabbed his head in agony.
Patricia felt it too, and as she rolled off him, she could see his eyes burning the flames she had slowly gotten accustomed to seeing in the rest of the Quartet. This was different though, and for a moment she forgot all about the bullets flying over her head. Her jaw dropped as she saw Ethan’s eyes glow in colours, changing from red to blue, white to green. She watched him writhing in pain as she clamped down on his head, the intensity of the flames in his eyes growing.
Outside, the Quartet was losing control as well. Rick was the first to fall, clenching his head as he felt a surge of energy race through him. Leah was next, closely followed by Eric and Nadia. The four lay helplessly on the ground, the heat racing through their bodies like wildfire, their control lost in the midst of the pain they were being subjected to.
The shooting intensified, then slowed as the gunman realized they were getting no resistance. A few ventured slowly from out of their hiding places, guns raised as they walked towards where their prey was hiding. After a few stray shots, the shooting stopped completely, and in an organized line, the hit squad made their way forward.
Leah opened her eyes
Her mind strained as she tried to register a hundred different things at the same time. Around her, her Quartet lay on the ground, unconscious, helpless. She was on the ground beside them, her body burning with a heat she had never felt before. The shooting had stopped and she could hear footsteps coming closer. She looked at the door that led into Eric and Ethan’s room, her eyes barely making out Patricia cradling Ethan in her lap, her eyes wide in shock.
Leah stood, and as she did, dozens of automatic rifles held their aim at her. She looked at the men standing around her, keeping their distance and unsure of what to do. She felt her eyes burning, and when she looked down at her hands, she could see fire rising out of the palms in little candle-like flames. She clenched her hands and the flames quickly balled around her fists.
“Stand down!” she heard someone shout at her.
She looked up slowly, confused as to what was happening to her. Something was different, and she had no idea what it was. She felt for the energy inside her, the one she was used to calling upon when needed, and was taken aback when greeted by something else completely. Something stronger. Something wilder.
“Stand down or we’ll fire!”
Leah locked eyes upon the speaker, the gunman closest to her, and cocked her head as she felt the new energy race through her. She could feel it claw its way into every inch of her, filling her completely, and she smiled. It spooked the gunman, and before he could pull the trigger, he was engulfed in flames.
As the rain fell and the winds blew, fire burned through the motel parking lot. The hit squad never stood a chance.
Lucius ignored the first two times his phone rang.
His meeting with Lara had hit a chord, and he had decided against going back to William’s. He didn’t think he’d be able to sleep anyway, and there was still another stop he had to make. The sooner he got things over with, the faster he could be on his way before he overstayed his welcome.
Driving out of town, Lucius was amazed at how much Sommerst had changed since he had last visited, the town having grown beyond what he remembered. The Ferns had really put their heart and soul into the little haven, with much support from residents who were obviously keen on maintaining it. There was a charm to it that he had forgotten completely, and he knew that it was only a matter of time before more people would become aware of just how beautiful it was.
Lucius slowed his car down a few miles out of town, turning onto a dirt road that had been half concealed and forgotten. He drove through overhanging branches as his tires crunched on stones, the ride slow but bumpy as he made his way forward. After a mile, the road opened up to a clearing and a log house, dark and looming with its woodland background, uninviting. Lucius parked his car, stepped out and breathed in the fresh air.
He walked up the house’s front steps and opened the screen door. He pulled a key from his pocket and pushed it into the front door, struggling with the locks as he turned. He had to push his shoulder against it just to move it on its hinges, but eventually it gave way and let him in.
The house was just as he had left it.
Lucius walked into his old home, closing the door behind him. He took in his surroundings with fondness, his eyes touching on every detail he had almost forgotten. He dropped his key on a small table next to the door, disturbed dust jumping into the air and dancing before falling back. He walked through the house, running his fingers across tables and chairs, picture frames that hung on the walls and stood at attention on the mantelpiece, and old trinkets that had belonged to his wife which he had kept safe even after Samantha had passed. He felt tears build in his eyes, his mind refurnishing the house with memories of how it had looked when it had been busy with life.
He made his way past the kitchen and towards his bedroom, stepping in cautiously as he eyed his old bed and the chair he had spent years reading in when he hadn’t been off fighting somewhere. It felt lonelier than it had felt when it had actually been lived in. He shrugged off the nostalgia and walked to his old closet, pulling the doors open from their dust-covered handles, revealing a flight of stairs inside that went straight down into darkness.
Lucius made his way down, lights instantly erupting around him as he descended. He was glad the old system still worked. His task would have otherwise been quite impossible.
The stairs led to a large room, lights illuminating rows upon rows of shelves. During the first war, this had been the resistance’s armoury, its location hidden and only known to a handful. He remembered how the first Fern had labelled it hell’s asshole, a man who had always been uncomfortable with weapons and violence, despite their need for both back then. Now the shelves were barren save for a few old crates and the dust that accompanied them.
Lucius walked to the back of the room where he had stored his personal belongings, things he had not had the chance to pick up when Sommerst’s residents had turned on him and his Quartet. He opened the first box and rummaged inside, his hand pushing memories from one side to the other as he looked for what he wanted. When he didn’t find it, he pulled the box down and aside, and then rummaged through the second with the same results.
It was only after the fourth did he find the music box. He sat down against a wall and looked at the old thing, blowing the dust off it and winding it up. He let the music that emanated soothe him, and he smiled at the memory of him and Sam dancing arm in arm to the melody. It had been a birthday present for his wife on their third anniversary. Lucius had had it custom made to play a lullaby her mother had sung to her as a child, and Samantha had cried when she had first heard it. Now, even Lucius couldn’t hold back the tears.
When the song was over, he waited. There was a click from within the music box, and wiping his tears away, Lucius turned the top of the box anticlockwise and opened it. There was a key inside, made of stone and decorated with hieroglyphs. At the top of the key was a triangle with a line through it, the element sign of air. Lucius took the key out, put it in his pocket, and closed the music box again.
He hesitated for a minute, looking at the beautiful contraption, and then put it back in the box with the rest of his things. He replaced the boxes quickly, urgently, racing up the stairs and out of the house as memories of his life with Samantha raced through him, threatening to suffocate him. He fell to the ground, breathing heavily, trying to calm down as the emotions washed over him in torrents. He cried freely, unashamed.
His phone rang again, and Lucius reluctantly answered when he saw Calliope’s name on the caller ID.
“Where the hell have you been?” Her voice was shrill, a mix of annoyance and anxiety.
“I’m still in Sommerst,” Lucius answered. “I have the key.”
“That’s the least of our worries,” Calliope was saying. “Rick’s last assignment had a bit of an unexpected turn. We have a problem.”
“The new kid. Ethan.”
“What about him?” Rick waited for Calliope to answer, the silence deafening. “Cali, are you there?”
“He’s a Fifth, Lucius,” Calliope finally said.
“So? That’s actually a good thing.”
Calliope went silent again, and then said, “He’s their Fifth. And he’s broken out.”
Lucius hung up and ran to his car.