The rain battered the windows, wind screaming to be let in. The power had gone out over an hour ago but the lightning flashed after every roll of thunder, illuminating his bedroom. The cacophony was enough to drown out the angry ocean beyond the cliffs, assaulting the rocky crags.
He didn’t like the woman standing at the end of his bed. He disliked her in the daylight when she had appeared just as quickly as the storm clouds that rolled in. He liked her a lot less in the dark. Each flash of lightning illuminated her, staring with those crimson eyes surrounded by black halos and a slash of matching crimson underneath.
Lightning flashed again and she was gone. He sat upright, hand to his throat before catching her opening the window, letting the storm in.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Put your shoes on.” she said.
He hated the voice the most. It was deep and smokey, a voice you felt inside your chest, like fingers ready to wring the blood out of your heart.
He slipped on his slippers and shuffled to the window. The thunder growled.
“I’m not going out there. I’ll get soaked.”
“Are you a witch then?” she asked.
“Then I don’t see the problem.” She gripped him under one arm and hauled him out into the rain.
He was soaked within seconds and lost a slipper in his effort to keep up with her longer strides. Lightning flashed and he saw the cliff’s edge coming fast.
“Wait!” he screamed.
She swung him around and stepped out into the air, giving him no choice but to hang on. They hit the ground sooner than he expected. The rain was off him now and he shoved her away.
“Are you trying to kill me? They said you were supposed to protect me.” he screamed into the dark. Sparks flew near the ground, sputtering as something ignited, and the fire rose up from the wood in a rough hewed hearth. They were standing in some kind of cavern. “What is this?”
“It’s a fire,” she told him nonchalantly.
“No, how did you find it?” he growled. He caught the blanket she tossed to him.
“Your butler. It was built during the war.”
“Which one?” he asked.
She rolled her eyes. It was possibly the most emotion he had seen her exhibit. “One of them.” She moved towards the entrance.
“Wait! You’re not leaving me here?”
“I am. It’s not safe in the house.”
“But what about my father? Are you going to bring him down here too?”
She blinked slowly. “Your father is already dead.”
The fingers crushed his heart. His eyes burned. “Some guardian you turned out to be.”
She shrugged. “He summoned me to protect you, not him.”
He faced the fire, defiance giving way to tears. When he turned back, she was gone.
She could feel her charge’s anger, sadness, and fear mixing together and simmering under her skin, but she wouldn’t let it distract her. The hunting party was coming.
Four of them, camouflaged in shiny, black rain coats, rifles held under their arms. They separated into pairs and she slinked along the roof, following the two who would be the first to come within range. These two separated, as one went into the courtyard and another along the side of the house.
She pulled the knives from inside her jacket, matte black metal blades with red tipped points and edges. The man in the courtyard fell with a knife in his neck.
She made her way back across the roof to the other side where his partner was and grounded him.
She sighed making her way back across the roof to find the other two targets. Humans were strange things. They’d kill each other for just about anything: money, drugs, power, resources that would provide them with more money, drugs, and power. The father wanted to protect his son from the consequences of the terrible things he had done.
“I’ve been their most wanted for seventeen years now, and they’ve finally caught up to me,” the man had told her upon her arrival. “I’ve fortified my fortress the best I can but I suspect they will still get in.”
That made her pause. How does one fortify a fortress with a plethora of skylights and picture windows?
Strange and impractical creatures.
The third man had left the ground in favor of the roof and she sliced through his throat, sending him off the edge, arms flailing as he smashed through glass roof of the pool house.
Something hot and metallic bit into her left shoulder so very close to her neck.
She jumped down and grabbed ahold of the gutter with both hands, the strain sending shocks of pain down her left side. Red lights flashed before her eyes.
Heavy boots came pounding her way. Bracing her feet against the underside of the overhang, she leapt out over the pool house, breaking through the glass ceiling. A giant inflatable bird floating in the water broke her fall considerably, before she sank to the bottom of the pool.
She broke the surface to the sound of rapid gunfire. Diving back under, she swam to the edge closest to the house and the overhang. She cautiously raised her head and listened. The gunfire had stopped. She crawled out of the pool and raced for the outside door, coming to a halt once she was back out in the rain.
The anger, the fear, the sadness were gone replaced by relief.
He had been found.
She gritted her teeth expecting to feel the burn on her arm as the black line of his life was seared white by his death.
She climbed up the downspout, grabbed the gutter, and pulled herself up just enough to see. He was there where the shingled roof met the glass, peering down with his rifle. Hand over hand, she moved along the gutter, out of his peripheral, then pulled herself over the edge.
She rushed him.
His head turned as she swung her leg and kicked him. His head whipped to the left and he lost him balance, falling over the edge of the roof. His scream was cut off by the sound of him body hitting the concrete.
She sprinted across the roof, jumping into the outstretched arms of a tree, and shimmied down to reenter the house through her charge’s bedroom window, knowing exactly where to find him.
“You’re still here?” the butler said. He hissed as the hot water from the mug he held splashed onto his hand.
She found them in the great room, a fire burning in the oversized fireplace. Her charge was asleep, wrapped up in a cocoon of blankets on the sofa.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. She crossed the room to stand over her charge. On a side table was a plate with a butter knife and a half eaten muffin smeared with jam that shimmered like a clot of blood in the firelight.
“I reside here,” he said with a huff. “I guard the young master when he’s in the house. In fact, I pulled him up from the cellar; wet and shivering. You were supposed to protect him by taking out the SEALs, not drag him outside. Now he’s ill and he too exhausted to drink his tea.”
“He’ll be ill with a scalded tongue if you make him drink from that.” He looked down into the cup as if trying to read the future. “Will you cool it down for him?” she asked softly, her voice a murmur like the distant thunder.
“I supposed,” he muttered, turning for the cart at the other end of the room.
The impact hit him like a lightning strike, piercing between his ribs, and puncturing his lung. The mug shattered, spraying him with the hot tea as he fell to his knees.
“How?” he gasped, struggling to breathe.
She came to stand behind him, head cocked to the side as she appraised how far the butter knife had gone in. “You can pierce anything with a dull object if you throw it hard enough.”
“No. How did you know!” he shouted with what remained of his breath.
She shrugged. “Process of elimination.”
The cart groaned and in a flash of blue a figure in a white robe appeared, face covered by a hood and shroud. It crouched on all fours and hissed at her.
“He’s yours,” she raised her hands as she backed away from its prey.
Woe be to any guardian who killed a gatherer’s intended meal.
She returned to her charge and tossed the plate into the fire. Maybe, just maybe, he would grow to be someone unlike his father.
She shook her head.
The blue light was starting to blur the edges of the room. Her job was complete.
She stepped back into the light and disappeared.
A/N: Whew! This turned out quite a bit longer than I intended. I wanted to exercise one of my characters from my current novel project. I hope you made it to the end unscathed.