• C.A. Lightfoot

The Guardian - Chapter 3

Updated: Sep 26

The Guardian continues with chapter three.

Synopsis: Dover finds strength and secrets within the garrison's homebase- The Arbor.


 

Chapter Three


For those dedicated to the Host of Heaven, there could be no weapon without light. To fight the Legions of Hell, Celestians were required to constantly absorb light, from whatever sources proved available.

Dover had done some pretty mean things with the light from a refrigerator bulb.

Dawn proved to be the most powerful force for Guardians, though Dover never had a completely straight answer as to why. Mornings were typically spent on the little rooftop of her apartment building, communing with the Creator’s power on her own. It had become her private time, her haven.

Today, however, Dover needed something more.

She took Embry’s car toward the north end of Atlanta, where she would find the Arbor in a quiet, upscale neighborhood. Wrought-iron gates gave way to a long, sweeping drive flanked by a thick curtain of soaring Georgia pine. Just catching sight of the multicolored brick exterior with its cathedral-style windows brought Dover a sense of relief unlike anything she had ever known in her mortal life.

The house itself would be better described as a mansion, though it took great pains to be as nondescript as possible. Three wide floors were furnished with fine couches and chairs, heavy wooden tables, and shelves bursting with books. Heavy Persian carpets concealed almost all of the marble tiled floors. Thick drapes covered the windows to discourage any prying eyes, if the towering gates and half-mile drive hadn’t proved enough deterrent.

She parked the borrowed sedan beside a familiar blue truck, hopping out as dawn broke over the edge of the grounds. Dover practically flew through the front door of the Arbor, skidding through the empty foyer and taking the stairs two at a time.

Normally, the three flights of marble wouldn’t have even winded her, but this morning it took far longer than it should have to make it upstairs. Once she reached the top floor, Dover paused to catch her breath.

Sunrise sang in her veins, more seductive than a siren’s refrain. The Guardian quickly stepped up to the long oak table outside the door, which already groaned under the weight of assorted weaponry. She quickly divested herself of her gear, tossing it haphazardly into the pile to be collected later. Beside the table there hung a large pewter bowl filled with blessed water. Dover reached into the basin, rinsing her hands and face so that she could enter the sanctuary in some semblance of cleanliness.

Once she kicked her boots off, Dover pushed the worship room door open with one shoulder.

Inside, she found light.

In lieu of the fine furniture that filled the rest of the home, this sacred space required only thick carpeting on which the Guardians and angels sat. Morning light flooded the room through wide, open windows that stretched from the ceiling to floor. A soft September breeze that smelled of pine drifted in, forcing Dover to take a deep breath before she even found a place to sit.

Ignoring the other Celestians in the room, Dover folded her weary body into a place at the back, resting her hands on her bent knees, palms facing skyward. Her eyes drifted closed, breathing automatically slowing into a rhythmic, methodical cadence. Within seconds, she entered the trancelike state preferred by worshipping Guardians, infusing her body with the light that would heal her, empower her, and connect her to the divine.

Unhindered by any human structure, the light flowed effortlessly into the room. Dover gave herself over to it completely. It snaked lazily through her veins, spreading warmth to the deepest, most intimate parts of her. Injuries began to stitch themselves back together, collected blood that had become bruises dispersing with shocking speed. Her very cells seemed to sing with triumph, with that all-encompassing love she felt came directly from her Creator. In these moments, there could be no fear, no danger, not even responsibility. Here she became a worshipper at the feet of divinity. Nothing more and nothing less.

Time became meaningless as Dover absorbed light into every cell of her body. Unlike some Guardians, she did not only take the light as a boost to her supernatural powers or to negate the need for rest. For Dover, she wanted the glory of God, to commune with the one reason she agreed to become a Guardian, to do His work.

Because He had chosen her, Dover strived to never be a source of disappointment.

Nothing in the worship room moved until the sun shifted its position, moving too high for the light to spill unfiltered through the eastern facing windows. One by one, Guardians broke the trance, standing and stretching with renewed strength.

When Dover finally opened her eyes, she found that she’d vastly underestimated the number of Celestians in the room. Around two dozen of Atlanta-based Guardians worshipped at the Arbor on a regular basis, a few others often trickled in after a rough night, as Dover had done.

As she looked around at the familiar faces, Dover realized that today’s numbers must have been twice their usual compliment.

She stared at the assembled gathering of her colleagues in a sort of dumbfounded shock, wondering what might have brought so many Guardians to the Arbor that morning. The last time she had seen the Arbor so full would have been two years ago, when one of the weaker Legions made a play at surfacing in the human world.

That battle left a multitude of scars no amount of light could heal.

She had just found the willpower to stand when a familiar hand grasped her arm. Dover turned toward Elise Porter, expecting the usual warm smile and kiss the bubbly blond woman had to offer.

When neither appeared to be forthcoming, Dover understood something had happened to her friend. She allowed Elise to move her toward the far corner of the worship room, dodging the other Guardians.

What astonished Dover the most as Elise pulled her away, was the silence. Normally, even with the usual number of Guardians, it took someone an hour to get out of the room between the hellos, the goodbyes, and the ‘I saw a Reaper demon last night!’ shop talk. It seemed they were all too preoccupied with their own worries to bother with the idle chit chat common in any profession.

“Dover, my dear,” Elise said in a low tone. “Are you alright?”

Unable to focus completely on her friend, Dover’s eyes continued to consider the Celestians present at the Arbor. She nodded absently in response to Elise before she managed to drag her attention back to her mentor.

“Yes.” Dover answered, finally. She met the intense blue of her friend’s eyes. “Are you? What’s going on?”

A few small clumps of Guardians remained in the room, all of them seemingly lost to bitter solemnity that hung in the very air of the worship room.

“Half a dozen Guardians were called to new Charges last night,” Elise explained. “I ended up with two new ones in the space of a few hours. It’s all so strange.”

At this, Dover allowed a frown to crease her face. She hadn’t heard of anyone receiving more than one Charge at a time, even within a few weeks could be considered uncommonly frequent.

“You already have six,” Dover whispered. “I’ve never heard of any Guardian having more than that, even one on extension.”

Elise’s blond curls whipped around her heart-shaped face, her plump bottom lip dry with nerves. “I had a run-in with a Summoner and its hounds as well.”

Startled by this, Dover felt her own eyebrows fly up into her hairline. The hand she’d entwined with her friend’s tightened, unwilling to release her in the wake of this revelation. Little could truly terrify a Guardian, especially since they typically died in violent manners. Summoners were created as the antithesis of Guardians. They drew on death and darkness the way Guardians fed on light and life, fierce warriors fueled by demonic blood.

For Dover to have encountered Summoners bothered her, but that Elise found herself pinned by them herself brought her to near-panic.

Typically, demons, even those of high rank, tended to be sketchy, secretive, and secluded. Three Legions attacking Guardians could not be a coincidence.

“I need to see Hanael,” Dover told her friend. “If Summoners are becoming active on the human plane, something devious is going on. I barely got to Embry’s last night in one piece.”

She quickly explained the previous evening’s events to her friend, including the injuries she sustained by Sliding with her Charge.

“We aren’t the only ones,” Elise replied when Dover finished. “Every Guardian I spoke with last night had some sort of odd encounter with demons.”

“As though they wanted to test us,” Dover mused. “Pushing at our defenses in one swoop. Did anyone else report two separate legions?” Elise shook her blond curls once more. “No.”

“Were any Charges lost?”

“No,” Elise sighed. “Thank God.”

The younger Guardian nodded her agreement. Losing a Charge could be likened to a parent losing a child. Failing a Charge, severing that link between angel and human, could lead a Guardian to do the unthinkable.

“Dover Ellis.”

His voice sounded the way she thought an angel’s should; deep and strong, though utterly inviting. The low timbre of his words washed over her, giving that urge to ignore the summons so he might be forced to say her name one more time.

Hanael represented the heavenly host on earth, one of a few dozen angelic beings given human form on a one-century rotation. Fortunately for him – and those like him – when they needed a human body, they were not forced to possess one. Each came from the Host for one-hundred years at a time, watching over the corps of Guardians as mentors, as guides, and as disciplinarians.

The leader of Atlanta-based Guardians stood incredibly tall, with a lean, muscular frame he frequently covered in fine, tailored suits. Today’s selection shone in a shade of blue so dark it might have been mistaken for black. This seemed somehow out of place in the light-filled worship room, even with the added solemnity of the Guardians gathered there. Hanael’s face, though handsome, had an ancient air to the sharp lines. Dover once likened him to an artist’s rendering of a Norse god come to life, though she never said as much aloud. His eyes caused her plenty of distraction, their deep green irises encircled by a gold ring that announced his angelic lineage.

If his eyes weren’t taking her concentration, it might be the supple perfection of his generous mouth, especially when he curved it into a rare smile.

Thinking about the leader of Guardians had really become a problem.

Elise poked her in the ribs, forcing Dover to move. Hanael did not have a smile for her this morning as he turned his back, leading her toward the door of the worship room. Elise squeezed her hand before the distance between their bodies forced Dover to release her.

Dover paused in the hall to regain her weapons and boots, sliding it all on as Hanael waited patiently at the staircase.

Once she dressed, the Guardian followed her superior through the silent halls of the Arbor, toward the office she knew waited on the second floor of the eastern wing. None of the Guardians or Cherubs – lesser angels who tended to Guardians and maintained the Arbor – hindered their progress.

Dover stepped into the office while Hanael held the door for her. As though a switch flipped as her feet crossed threshold, the grip she had on her emotions involuntarily relaxed. Dover crossed the familiar office toward antique chaise in front of the curtained window. Only when she sat did she note how her fingers trembled. She stared down at her hands in a sort of awe, unable to cease the shaking no matter how she tried.

“Dover.” Hanael closed the office door with a quiet snap before crossing the room to where she sat. Dover continued to quiver, suddenly overcome by the scents of the Summoners, the baying of the Hounds. In the recesses of her mind, she heard the crack of a semi-automatic rifle, but that sound heralded the coming of a panic attack she knew all too well. Dread filled her heart as her breathing shortened. Dover tried to soothe herself, backing away from the warning signs as Hanael kneeled in front of her

The superior angel rested his hands on her knees, their long fingers stroking softly in support, to offer comfort. His innate telepathy would give him all the information he required to assist her and so she offered none. Dover kept her gaze focused on those familiar hands, taking several long minutes to silently handle her emotions.

Once she took control of herself, Dover lifted her head so her eyes could meet those of her most trusted colleague. Hanael’s expression bore understanding and compassion, the emotions angelic beings were most equipped to handle. Dover offered him a quivering smile, which he returned easily.

Fear remained something a Guardian could not banish entirely, though the emotion became somewhat muted for most of them. Once a person had died, what more could there be to fear? Guardians were, after all, guaranteed heaven if they completed their Guardianship in good standing.

Still, the events of the previous night had allowed fear to burrow into her heart. It would not be so easily removed.

Once she calmed the tremble in her hands, Dover rested them atop Hanael’s. For all their stoicism and duty, angels could be downright tactile. She allowed herself to be distracted by the golden-emerald of Hanael’s eyes, giving in to the comfort of someone else possibly having the answers.

“You were gravely injured last night,” Hanael said quietly. “The demons nearly had you. Why did you hesitate when you were surrounded?”

The rich rumble of his voice sent an involuntary shiver down Dover’s spine. She fought to ignore the reaction, though that only worked a little. She thought back to the moments before she dove into the Slide and the feel of its power crushing her before they landed at Embry’s.

“I did not have enough light to Slide, especially with a passenger.” Dover replied. “We were surrounded.”

Hanael nodded gravely. “Your druid friend managed to heal you?”

“Yes. I feel fine.”

“Good.”

He removed himself from her, standing with the fluidic grace of the angelic. As he turned his back, Dover became very aware that she probably needed a shower. She ran her hand through her hair, straightened her silly t-shirt and adjusted the guns at her hips. Compared to Hanael’s cool composure, she probably resembled a vagabond in desperate need of a meal. She found it difficult to remain calm and professional with that particular mental image now lodged in her mind.

Oh well.

As the angel moved to his desk, Dover stood. Her hands were steady now, her breathing regulated. Now that the panic had passed, she could attempt concentrating on what she needed from the leader of Guardians.

The desk’s smooth surface remained almost bare, excepting a small stack of files, a fountain pen, and a small brass clock that softly ticked the seconds by. Hanael’s penchant for clean lines left his office with an almost Spartan feel, with very little in the way of décor or comfort. Dover hooked her thumbs on the front pockets of her jeans as the angel idly leafed through his files as he waited for her to speak.

“A mature Succubus attacked my Charge last night, when I felt the Call.” Dover explained as she stopped in front of his desk. “And from the smell, two Summoner Legions were poised to attack at his home.”

Hanael appeared genuinely surprised by this when he raised his head. Those deep green eyes crinkled at the edges with concern. The high level demons enjoyed their paranoia, which typically worked in the favor of the Guardian Corps.

“Two? Are you absolutely certain?” The angel asked, bracing his massive hands on the polished surface of his desk.

Dover nodded once. “I caught the scent of decay clearly and then the unmistakable smell of excrement. They were using Demon Dark to block the light, Han. If I’d been a second later, one of the hounds would have taken a chunk out of my left flank.”

“Audacious.” Hanael replied in a thoughtful murmur.

He pushed away from the desk, pacing back toward the high, heavy bookshelves that lined the wall behind him. As he clasped his hands behind his back, Dover shifted her weight uncertainly. She knew the other Guardians had a rough night. Had any of them experienced what she had? She could not read the Power’s expression, not that it was unusual, even after thirteen years as his minion. Dover cleared her throat after several moments, the question she’d never asked burning on the tip of her tongue until she could contain it no longer.

“Who is he, Han?” The Guardian spoke in a rush, as though the words wouldn’t have as much impact if she said them quickly. “Why are they so intent on grabbing Jon Bennett?”

Her superior angel did not speak as he turned to gaze out of his window which overlooked the manicured lawns of the Arbor. Dover watched his profile for a moment, still astonished by the perfection of it, even under the worry she tried to control.

Seconds ticked by, counted by the small brass clock that rested on the edge of Han’s desk. Dover shifted her weight from right foot to left and back again, trying to still her restlessness as she awaited an answer to the question Guardians were not supposed to ask.

When she could take it no longer, Dover took a step closer to the tall angel.

“Han?” He shifted slightly toward her at the call of his name, but another few beats passed before his body turned to face hers. His eyes were no longer open and expressive. Dover had the distinct impression that he intended to hide things from her.

This knowledge sent unease clawing at the back of her neck.

“I am not at liberty to reveal that information, Dover.” Hanael answered at last. “Your duty is to protect your Charge, without knowing why. You took an oath to do just that. I suggest you do so.”

Taken aback by the dismissal in his tone, Dover stood ramrod straight so quickly her still-healing ribs ached. He would have no other conversation on the matter. Dover offered a polite inclination of her head, biting her tongue so hard she could nearly taste blood. Hanael nodded tersely to complete her dismissal, so Dover turned on her heel and slammed out of his office.

If Hanael would not help her discover why demons wanted Jon Bennett so badly, she would figure it out herself.





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