3354 words (13 minute read)

Chapter 03

Roof of the Reed Residence

Taylorsville, Utah

The evening was pleasant. The scents of night blooming flowers and cut grasses drifted up to where the Guardian was perched atop the roof of the Reed residence. Elizabeth wasn’t at Sarah’s house but was, in fact, at home having a picturesque family dinner with Carter and Jezebel. The Guardian sulked as he kept watch on the Reynar house down the street.

After announcing their engagement to friends, family, and neighbors, Carter and Jezebel had an engagement party thrown in their honor. While the Guardian was happy for them and longed to share in their joy, he knew this development would make his calling all the more difficult. The day following the engagement party, Carter moved into the Reynar house while Beth was on Spring break from school. The three of them looked like a family, together. The Guardian struggled with his envy daily, resenting having to watch over Beth from greater distances whenever Carter was around and awake.

The Guardian had a personal relationship with the Reynars and with Carter, before Elizabeth was born, but things were different now. He was different now. However, he wasn’t the only one who’d undergone a drastic change in the intervening years. Carter too was different; more different than Jezebel could ever conceive of. For while the Guardian was a vampire, Carter was a werewolf.

Though his change put Carter at odds with him, the Guardian was grateful that Carter had the ability to protect Jezebel and Elizabeth, if it came to it. Part of the Northwestern American Pack and also Beta over the local region, Carter marshaled roughly forty pack members spread throughout the area. His change in pack rank four years ago was one of the reasons Carter hadn’t reenlisted in the air force when his contract ended. It was then that Carter became a fixture in the Reynar house; training Beth in self-defense, teaching her survival skills, coaching her in sports, and introducing her to a variety of firearms. The Guardian still coveted Carter’s unhindered relationship with Elizabeth.

“Why aren’t you at the house?” The Guardian asked as his companion climbed silently onto the roof to join him.

“Bossman says I’m not needed if he’s home.” The young man said, appearing every bit as dejected as the Guardian felt. “He’s home, so-”

“He’s wrong. He is distracted when he’s there. You should continue as we agreed.” The Guardian’s words were neither gentle nor harsh; he spoke as though stating a fact.

“You know I can’t go against orders, Pops,” his companion said glumly.

The Guardian considered this for a few moments. “I understand how obedience is so ingrained in your kind, but consider this: there may come a time when Elizabeth’s safety, her very life, will depend on your ability to disobey an order.” The Guardian paused to allow his companion to absorb what he’d said. “If I were you, I’d start working on that.”

After a few moments, his companion slapped the Guardian on the back, saying,  “Thanks, Pops.” He crept to the edge of the roof and dropped quietly onto the lawn below.

The Guardian watched as he disappeared into some large bushes midway between the Reed house and the Reynar house. A few moments later a massive, black wolf emerged and trotted on towards Elizabeth’s home. “Atta boy,” the Guardian whispered.

***

“So, is it weird?” Carter asked Beth, conspiratorially as they cleaned up after dinner while Jezebel took a work call in her home office.

Beth looked up at him in puzzlement. “Is what weird?”

He bumped his elbow against hers without pausing scrubbing the pan he was working on. “Having me here full-time.”

Beth didn’t need time to consider the question. “Nah. To me, it feels more like something being made right.”

The two worked on without further conversation for a while. When they were nearly done wiping down the counters, Carter spoke again. “You know that I consider you my daughter, right?”

Beth was a bit taken aback by the abrupt shift in topic and had to think for a moment. Carter’s gut clenched while he awaited her response. “Yeah. I guess I can see that.” She resumed her task.

“How do you feel about adoption?” Carter felt butterflies in his belly.

Stunned, Beth turned to stare at Carter for a moment before replying. “Well, I’m not against it, but I’d probably want to try to have kids of my own before resorting to adoption. I think that’s still a long, long time off, though.”

Carter chuckled.  “I meant, how would you feel about me adopting you? I could officially be your dad, Kiddo.” Carter was almost more nervous about this conversation than he’d been about proposing to Jezebel. He didn’t know what exactly was in store for him and his girls, but given what the Crone had told him over the last eight months, he surmised there would be hard times ahead. He wanted to face the coming troubles as a family unit, whole and bound.

Elizabeth’s eyes were wide with surprise. “But, I’m turning eighteen in two months.”

“I can still adopt you after your birthday. In fact, it may even be easier, as far as paperwork goes.” He shrugged and gave her his patented Carter grin. “What d’ya say, Beth?”

Elizabeth’s mind was a whirl of emotions. She’d always felt the absence of her father; Carter certainly helped to fill that void. She always looked forward to their time together, whether it was for training or watching films at home. Whenever he’d leave on deployment, she missed him terribly. She started to think how she’d figured Carter would someday be the man who gave her away at her wedding, but the thought of marriage, of feeling such romantic love for anyone other than Toney felt like citrus on an open wound. She shoved the thought away and returned to pondering Carter’s proposition.

“You don’t need to answer right away. It’ll keep until after the wedding,” Carter said warmly, turning away from her.

Elizabeth followed Carter into the living room, “Wait, do you guys have a date? Mom didn’t say anything.”

He sank onto the sofa, draping his bulky arm along the back of it. “No, we haven’t set a date, but we’ve been talking about August, right before you head off to college.”

“August,” Beth repeated. She wondered if she’d be around then; she hoped she wouldn’t. She kept feeling like she needed to be somewhere, that she was wasting her time staying at home and finishing high school. The feeling was troubling to her because she knew the value and importance of graduating. Still, she couldn’t shake the need to leave. Her painful dreams about Toney had slowly been replaced with images of, what she thought was, the Bay area in Northern California. Having only been to San Francisco once on a school tour and once to visit her aunt Katherine, Elizabeth wasn’t entirely certain that’s where she was being drawn to. Still, she had decided to narrow her collegiate goals to universities in that area.

“Kiddo?” Carter’s voice cut through the haze in Elizabeth’s mind.

She shook her head and made an effort to focus on him. “Yeah?” When Carter didn’t reply and continued staring at her with a look of concern and puzzlement, Beth asked, “What? Is there something on my face?” She began touching her lips to detect what was amiss.

“Where were you just then?” His words were soft, but the worry was evident in his tone.

“What are you- I was right here. I haven’t gone anywhere,” she bristled a little under his scrutiny.

“Beth, you zoned out for almost three minutes. You weren’t responding to anything I was saying and you had this… look on your face.” The hairs on the back of Carter’s neck had raised, and warning bells had gone off in his mind. He’d picked up a strange smell in the room and known something wasn’t right. Deep in his chest, Carter’s wolf paced and growled and tried to break loose. Though he didn’t know precisely what was going on, he surmised it had something to do with what the Crone had foreseen. Carter soothed his inner wolf while he waited for Beth to reply, to explain if she could.

Elizabeth blinked rapidly, clearly surprised to learn of how long she had spaced out. After a few minutes, she cleared her throat and said, “Oh. It was nothing. I must have been lost in thought.” She moved as if to join Carter on the sofa and then changed her mind. “I need some fresh air; I think I’ll take a walk. Will you let Mom know I’ll be back soon?” She didn’t wait for permission or reply; she walked to the front entry, paused to pull on her running shoes, then left.

Carter was on his feet in no time, rushing for the back door. When he finally stood in the backyard, he channeled his wolf and called for the pup he’d sent on his way only a few hours before. Not a moment later, a great, sinewy, black wolf lurched into the yard, whining and glancing back down the side yard towards the street. Realizing the wolf must not have returned to the den, Carter shook off his frustration at being disobeyed and said, “Follow her.” Without delay, the wolf set off after Beth. “Protect her,” Carter’s last words were more of a benediction than an order.

***

The man within the wolf was relieved to find Beth hadn’t gotten much of a head start on him. He loped after her, using whatever cover he could find without letting her out of his sight. What would the Beta have done if he’d followed orders and returned to the Den? He was so grateful that Beth’s Guardian had set him straight. With some struggle, he shoved aside his irritation at the Beta and focused on guarding the human. “Our human,” the wolf brusquely corrected the man, “Ours.”

The Guardian’s companion could sense emotional turmoil rolling off Elizabeth; it crashed into him in great waves. Yet he bore it, reveling in gratitude that she was channeling her inner struggle into running; there was a time not long ago when Beth would have simply hidden in her room and let the shadows take her. Those dark days had been hard on the wolf because he couldn’t be at her side, because he couldn’t protect her from her emotions, because she couldn’t know he existed. When Beth revived her running habit, though, the wolf ran with her and felt as though he were doing his part to help heal her.

Elizabeth’s run had taken her to the nearby park and the wolf followed her into the lush lawns, through the shrubbery and trees. A warm fog rolled in, obscuring the park and lightly veiling Beth from his view. The wolf (and the man deep within him) began to feel uneasy. The park didn’t smell as it should; he’d run with Beth through this same path many times, but as he chased after her now, nothing smelled familiar. Where had the fog come from? It was a clear night, no clouds to hide the stars from view or shade the moonlight.

Right when the wolf was about to speed his pace in fear of losing Beth, his sensitive ears picked up the slowing and then stopping of her footfalls. He heard her struggle to catch her breath; not because she had overexerted herself, but because she was emotionally overwhelmed. The wolf too stopped and waited for Elizabeth to resume her run. He’d just sat on his haunches when a sound very close to him drew his attention. He whipped around to face its cause; had the noise been made by the tree he found there? The longer he examined the trunk of the tree in question, the more his hackles rose; something about the tree wasn’t right.

The wolf growled low in his throat, careful not to be loud enough for Beth to hear. Before his eyes, the bark shifted slightly and two aubergine eyes, the shape of a nose, and a set of lips emerged from the tree. He stepped back in surprise, snarling and snapping at the oddity.

The amethyst eyes twinkled and the lips spoke, a Scottish accent evident, “There now, Wolfie. I but wish to observe. I’ll not harm the girl.” The eyes shifted, looking behind the wolf, and narrowed. “Off you go, pup. While I pose no threat to your charge, there are others about who do.”

The wolf blinked and the face was gone. The fog began to disperse and the wolf rushed to find Beth; he was willing to risk her seeing him if it meant keeping her safe. As the fog cleared, he spotted her composing herself in preparation to resume her run. However, Beth wasn’t the only person he saw; two people - no, not people. Two vampires were stalking Elizabeth through the trees, seemingly unaware that she had a werewolf watching over her, protecting her. As the wolf charged to intercept the two leeches, he knew a moment of uncertainty. Perhaps, these vampires were like Elizabeth’s Guardian, sworn to protect her. His hesitancy was brought to a swift end when he processed what the spirit possessing the tree had said.

The pair of vampires were so focused on their prey that they didn’t see the attack coming. The wolf leaped for them, tackling the female and clenching his maw around the male’s thigh. The vampire he had latched onto cried out in pained alarm and the wolf shook his head rapidly from side to side, violently tearing at his flesh. The plump blond female beneath him was hissing and squirming, trying to break free to assist her partner. Finally, she gave one great heave and the wolf found himself swinging off of her. He released his hold on the vampire, coughing out the foul blood that had spilled into his mouth.

The male vampire stumbled, snarling in pain and fury, but the vampiress caught him. She eyed the werewolf warily and let out a hiss, though she didn’t move to attack him. The man deep in the wolf wondered if, perhaps, this pair had never encountered a werewolf before.

“Leave it, Ivy,” the man growled.

“Kabir, I can take him,” the vampiress whispered in reply.

“Ivanka!” the vampire barked, “The Guardian is coming. We can not be here when he arrives. Let him handle the mutt for us.”

“Milo won’t be pleased,” the vampiress pressed.

“Get us out of here!” the vampire hissed darkly.

The wolf watched this exchange while growling and pacing around the pair. He knew he should have attacked and fought to the bloody end, but he felt a pull towards Beth and it distracted him from doing as he should. He only wanted to go to her. Immense relief swept over him when the vampires departed, running at such a speed that the wolf could only make out the blur of their retreating forms. Without a moment to spare, he started after Elizabeth, determined to see her safely home.

The wolf, shielded by an unwieldy hemlock spruce, observed the Reynar house until Beth vanished behind the front door. He was both glad and saddened by her arrival home, knowing that she was safe inside with Carter, but that until she reemerged he would only see her if she passed a window he happened to be passing at the same moment. The sharp sickly-sweet scent of vampire wafted into the wolf’s nose and he turned to face the Guardian.

“You handled that well,” the Guardian commented, looking at the house instead of at the wolf directly. “I can teach you how to kill them.” He offered, then paused. “I can teach you how to kill us. I know you aren’t untrained, but being a vampire I know more about how to maim and kill my kind than even your elders.”

The Guardian’s companion huffed through his snout. He wondered if the Guardian had been nearby, why hadn’t he joined in the fight? Why had he only watched? Why did he allow the vampires to escape? He let out a low woof and trotted off to where he’d cached his clothes nearby. Some things couldn’t be easily communicated while in wolf form.

By the time the Guardian’s companion regained his human form, he was bone-weary and barely able to stand long enough to dress. Not trusting his ability to move stealthily through the residential area, he sat there in the small clearing hidden by the shrubbery. Feeling sure the Guardian was nearby, he spoke from where he sat resting his forehead on his knees. “Some help you were, Pops. Those creeps could have killed me, or worse, they could have killed Beth.”

When he let out a chuckle, his companion was able to determine the Guardian was sitting on the roof overlooking the bushes hiding him. “You didn’t need my help. Besides, I was guarding Beth just in case those vampires weren’t alone.”

The companion groaned and stretched his neck one way then the other. “How close were you? Did you see that thing in the tree?”

After a telling silence, the Guardian replied, “There was something other than the vamps?”

Popping his knuckles and rolling his shoulders, the companion replied, “Yeah, but it was like a part of the tree, or in the tree. And, I know you’ll think I’m nuts, but I think the tree thing was controlling the fog.”

“Yes, I felt it, too. That fog wasn’t natural. I haven’t heard of such a creature before, though. Purple eyes. How strange.”

Purple eyes? The companion stiffened, sitting up straighter despite his exhaustion. “So, you did see it, then?”

“I only saw the vamps,” the Guardian replied.

“Alright, then explain how you know about the eyes being purple,” the companion insisted.

“You told me about them. How else would I know?”

The Guardian didn’t sound like he was lying, but his companion felt a niggling in his gut. He was sure he hadn’t mentioned the eyes. Feeling his body’s plea for rest, he decided not to pursue the matter further. “Whatever you say, Pops. I’m going to catch a nap. I’m bushed.”

The Guardian held back the laughter that wanted to burst free. The man saying he was bushed was curling up to sleep while actually under a bush. Wanting to maintain his serious heir, however, he let the humor of the moment pass him by. He shouldn’t be laughing; he’d made a mistake and now his companion was suspicious. The Guardian had been so careful to hide his gifts from the werewolf, most of them anyway.

As his companion succumbed to unconsciousness, the Guardian delved into the man’s mind.  He examined every detail he could latch onto before his mind wandered away from the events at the park and slipped into a dreamscape. The pomegranate colored eyes that emerged from the tree seemed old, ancient. The Guardian almost felt as though he could see ages in those gleaming, hungry, judging orbs. It disquieted him.

The Guardian listened as Beth told Jezebel about hearing a dogfight at the park. Jezebel was on the phone with animal control a few moments later. He laughed to himself, knowing animal control would find nothing but a little spilled blood in the park. He then ghosted off the roof to run a security sweep of the neighborhood while his companion was still asleep. He wasn’t fool enough to think Elizabeth was wholly safe for the night.

As he prowled the street, weaving in between and behind houses, the Guardian felt a swell of pride for his companion. The encounter in the park was the first time the young man had really needed to defend Elizabeth, and the Guardian was pleased with his performance. If anything ever happened to him, he felt secure in the knowledge that between Carter and his own vigilant companion, Beth would be well guarded and loved.


Next Chapter: Chapter 04