• C.A. Lightfoot

The Guardian - Chapter Fifteen

Summary: Dover restocks her gear at Embry's place. When she goes to find her mentor, she finds horror instead of her friend.




 

Chapter Fifteen



Embry had a room in his house that was dedicated to the work of his craft, a prayer room. What had once been a bedroom had converted into a place of ritual, with heavy-limbed plants in every corner and a little thicket of mushroom caps meant to invite the fairy folk. Furnishings were minimal, culled down to a tatty sofa that her friend picked up at a consignment store a few years ago and a few old chairs that were made for style, not comfort. In the center of the room, the floor had been meticulously pulled up, revealing soft Georgia clay around a deeply dug fire pit. The skylight opened to release the flame used in ritual, and it allowed light to flood as Embry worked.

Dover listened as Embry whispered in the native tongue of his mother, calling out to the spirits of the Earth.

He had once explained to Dover that his house was chosen for the location. It was built on the remains of an ancient grove of trees, its location filled with natural magic.

The heavy scent of burning wax saturated the room, mingled with the heady aroma of sacred oils and essence of rosebud. No matter the weather outdoors, or even inside of her friend’s home, the prayer room was always light, cool, and with the hint of sunny warmth. Dover always thought she could feel the spirit of Mother Earth in this room.

It made her decidedly uncomfortable.

Watching as the sunlight flickered over Embry as he moved, Dover chewed on the cuticle of her left thumb. Jon wanted to come in, to watch Embry work his ritual, but the druid wouldn’t allow it. Dover knew it was more for Jon’s comfort than his. Some of the requirements could get a little on the exotic side.

Embry sighed softly as he finished his prayers. Dover pulled a small, lopsided smile onto her face as he stood, brushing red clay from the legs of his blue jeans. For his ritual he had donned a fraying white robe over his usual jeans, giving him the air of a wizard from Middle-Earth. Dover was careful not to mention that.

“I can’t believe you got ghoul dust, Dove.” Her friend was saying as he stepped over to the table where he mixed his potions and stirred his spells. “And real ghoul dust. Not just grubby bones of a dead cat that might halfway charge a spell.”

“Holy Light, every time.” Dover responded with a one-shoulder shrug. “My hand paid the price.”

“Actually, I think I did.” His dark eyes lifted from the mortar and pestle he worked with. “I had to peel the skin off.”

Dover rewarded her friend with a mock shudder. “Don’t remind me. That’s just too creepy to think about.”

She was easily able to dodge the clean cloth Embry tossed at her in retaliation. It was always a pleasure to watch a master at work, no matter the artistic medium. Embry’s elegant hands carefully unfolded small satin pouches, filling them with a precise measurement of the mixture he had just created.

Ghoul’s Bane was something almost no practitioners could create. The dust of the unconcecrated had to be used, infused with magic, and a hint of powdered silver. Once the concoction was finished, the satin bag kept it charged. A swipe of the dust under the eyes allowed the wearer to appear invisible to demons, even necromancers. And, occasionally, it offered a hint of foresight. Not a bad little charm.

It was almost impossible to accurately create without the dust of a Banished ghoul. The jar of dust Dover and Jon provided Embry with was fit for a king. Several kings, actually.

“Here you are, my darling.” Her friend whispered the words, stuffing a half dozen of the tiny satin satchels in her hands. “Don’t you argue with me. You deserve it and I’ve got twice that many in my drawer. Just take it.”

Dover caught her bottom lip between her teeth, unsure of how to respond. Just one satchel could fetch Embry just a hair under three hundred dollars. She held in her hands a fortune.

“Em…”

“No.” That freckled face was a mask of calm. “You’re dealing’ with ghouls and necros and crazy ass angels. You take the dust, and you use it. Understood?”

Touched by his thoughtfulness, Dover inclined her head sharply. “Yes, sir.”

“Good.” Embry nodded once, with finality. “Now, what else does my angelcake need?”

Since Embry was one of the few humans who could read and write Celestian in the country, Guardians typically picked up Angel Dust and charms from angels. The price was negligible, but it always came with a feeling of ‘owing’ the angel something. Lucky for her, Dover had Em. She thought for a moment before replying.

“I need a few more blessed rosaries, I’m completely out of Angel Dust, and my relic for Light was destroyed.”

Nodding, Embry went through his mental list before he turned to the heavy chest of drawers to the left of his altar. Unlike the clutter and burning wax of the altar, the chest was meticulously laid out, with all items carefully labeled and buffered by nullifying brass plates.

Her friend gathered up a handful of rosaries and a pair of silver crosses that could be used as relics to invoke Holy Light. Once that was tucked into a small sheepskin bag, he grabbed a large Tupperware container of the shimmery Dust. When she noticed that the container was one made to hold breakfast cereal, she snorted a laugh.

“What’s so funny, Dove?” Embry asked, stacking her spoils neatly by the door.

Dover chuckled, shaking her head. “I was just imagining you dumping your Lucky Charms into a cauldron so you had somewhere to put the Dust.”

Embry’s answer was an uplifted brow and a slightly concerned twist of his lips.

“You’re a little odd, girl.”

“I know.” Dover tossed back lightly. “And thanks for the loot.”

“Anytime, you know that.” Her friend turned toward her with a lopsided smirk, his brows lifted with interest. “So, want to hear what I found in your boyfriend’s book?”

Her heart thudded in her chest at the thought of Hanael, but Dover responded immediately. “Don’t call him that, we’re not in sixth grade. What’d you find?”

Curious, Dover followed Embry as he stepped to the table just across the room. It tended to go easier for someone casting spells and working in Celestian to keep one far from the other. Embry’s workspace for Celestian items was kept scrupulously clean, and normally it would only hold whatever item he was currently blessing or whatever charm he was attempting to twist.

Today, however, all that lay atop the long folding table was a white cloth, with the book lying open in the center. Before she leaned up to look into the book, Dover stowed her stash of Guardian loot into her backpack for easy carrying. Once she was sure to brush any remnants of Dust from her fingers – Ghoul’s Bane and Angel Dust could cause serious damage to relics – Dover reached out to touch the soft, leathery cover of a book that likely dated back to the 14th century.

The words were written by hand, in keeping with the age of the tome. Exquisite penmanship brought to life the soft, curving sigils that were the angelic language. Sketches depicting how rituals should be conducted were just as carefully rendered, though the once-vibrant inks were faded by the passage of time. Dover gently swiped the pad of her index finger over the soft swooping lines, wondering about the human or angel that brought to life this magnificent book.

“I went ahead and translated the symbols you couldn’t figure out,” Embry was saying as he took up a nearby journal where he had been making notes. “Some of them are just…I can’t even tell you what they might mean, but you were right in one. Every spell and ritual here is made for protection from angels.”

“Why?” Dover wondered aloud, not taking eyes nor fingertip from the intricate beauty of the tome lying innocent on the table. “Why would anyone need to protect themselves from angels?”

“Might have the answer.” Embry reached out, flipping the book’s pages as delicately as possible. “Here, the author left a little note. It’s in a less formal form of the language.”

Peering into the book, Dover frowned. “Of all God’s gifts, the one that may destroy all life is that of a free mind.”

Embry sighed. “Guess angels aren’t always so obedient.”

Shaking her head, Dover exhaled slowly.

“Crap.”


Instead of heading home after seeing Embry, Dover took her beat-up old truck toward the western side of Atlanta. Since the death of her mentor’s Charge and the resulting meltdown, Elise had taken to hiding in her apartment.

Over the last few weeks, Dover kept her distance. Elise asked for privacy to mourn and the younger Guardian had not the heart to break that confidence. After reading through the angelic book with Embry for most of the evening, though, she had a nearly-uncontrollable desire to see her friend.

Dover stopped at the good chicken place across the street before jogging over to her friend’s building with the scent of freshly fried poultry trailing in her wake. Her stomach growled at the enticing aroma as the Guardian slid into the elevator.

She had a key to the apartment, so she stepped inside without a problem when the elevator deposited her on the appropriate floor. Dover hummed under her breath as she stepped into the familiar home, a haunting melody that she heard on the radio only about fifteen times a day. It was starting to get irritating.

“El?” Dover called out as she set her keys on the hook and peered into the dark apartment. “Mope’s over. I brought Papa’s from around the corner.”

It wasn’t until she set the bag of food on the counter, dropping her mobile phone beside it that Dover realized the apartment was dead silent. Frowning, she reached out to flick the lights on, blinking as the cheap fluorescents warmed up to illuminate the darkened room.

Dishes were washed and neatly stacked, the coffee pot was empty. That was weird. Elise didn’t survive on less than two pots a day. She couldn’t remember the last time the pot stood empty.

“Elise?”

Was she not home? A chill crept up the length of Dover’s spine, flooding out to her arms and legs to leave goose-bumps in its wake. The Guardian reached for the waistband of her jeans, her hand closing tightly around the familiar grip of her firearm.

She’s not home. She’s just not home. Calm down, Dove.

Something told her that wasn’t right, not this time.

Clicking lights on as she moved, Dover strode slowly into the living room. The coffee table’s surface stood clean, even free of books. Dover could see, as she pulled the gun from her jeans and held it in front of her body, that the books usually covering the beaten oak table were stacked neatly on the shelf. Elise did not do neat, not with books. They could always be found bouncing around the room, ready to be picked up at any moment with some random object acting as bookmark.

Breath became heavy, too quick. Dover could hear the rush of blood in her ears as tension turned to panic in her heart. Something had gone wrong. Where was Elise?

As Dover turned toward the bedroom, a lightly swaying silhouette in the doorway gave her the answer.

“No.” The word passed through her lips in a whisper, disbelief telling her heart not to listen to her eyes. “No. Elise.”

The gun fell from her hands, metal clattering so loudly against hardwood that it made the Guardian jump in her skin. Tears welled in her eyes, spilling hotly onto her cheeks as she realized what really happened.

“No. No.” Dover reached for the heavy hunting knife she kept holstered under her jacket, rushing the meager steps to where her dearest friend had hung herself. “No. Nononono.”

Gasping for air that did not seem to reach her lungs, Dover took Elise by the waist, hauling her up to reduce the pressure of thick cord to her throat. Her fingers were numb, unable to feel the death-chilled flesh as she reached up with her blade to slice at the rope that killed her friend.

“Elise. El. Breathe.” Dover sawed desperately at the thick cord, swearing violently when it took longer than a moment to break. The full weight of her friend landed in her arms, almost crushing Dover’s body when they crashed into the floor.

Dover shifted to hold Elise in her arms, remembering at the last second that she left her mobile phone on the counter. It wouldn’t have mattered, not now. Death’s blue tinge had already taken residence under Elise’s pale, pale flesh.

“Open your eyes!” Dover begged, shaking Elise in her arms. “You wake up, El. God. Don’t leave me. Please.”

Elise remained lifeless in her arms, without even a single breath left in her lungs. Dover shook her friend again, tapped her face lightly as though she would wake from a minor faint. Dover knew none of this mattered, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself.

“Elise. Please.” Dover sobbed, tears splashing from her cheeks to the soft, cool skin of her friend. She lifted her face, her voice to shout into empty air. Her soul reached out to the Host, screaming into that choral hum so that it went quiet in shock.

“Help us!” The Guardian wept, rocking her friend’s body in her arms.

“Somebody help us!”

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