When I met Sol at the top of the stairs, I saw he’d changed for the occasion too. While we’d just been at the headquarters, he’d been wearing casual clothes, but now he was dressed in full Ancile gear. Gone were the tracksuit bottoms and plain T-shirt, replaced by a suit of Kevlar body armour, similar to what riot police or something would wear. The only difference was, Sol didn’t have a helmet, and instead of a riot shield he had a massive sword in a leather case strapped to his back.
“Holy shit. That thing’s huge!” I exclaimed, stepping in closer to admire the weapon. From the looks of it the sword was almost as long as Sol was tall. But what really caught my attention about the sword was the light golden sheen the metal had. The sword itself looked to be made from silver or something similar, but it glowed with a golden iridescence that reminded me of the shimmering aura I’d seen when my powers were taking over.
Suddenly my heart rate sped up, and I felt my body growing warm.
I remembered what I’d recently read about the weapons used by members of the Ancile; The Celestials are said to be the ones who imbued Reverard with its unique magical properties that make it an especially strong weapon against demons and other dark paranormal beings.
My ancestors, and other beings I was descended from had made weapons like the one Sol used. Would I be able to make Reverard too when my abilities were unbound?
Without thinking, I reached out to touch the hilt of the sword, and as I did, my mind was assaulted with images. I saw Sol, younger than he was now, but older than the teenager I’d seen in the picture Jenn had shattered. He was kneeling before Bernard, who had less grey in his hair than he did currently, while the older man handed him the sheathed sword.
The image changed, and I saw a man I didn’t know swinging the sword and decapitating what looked like a zombie.
The mental pictures flashed more quickly, and I saw various men and women throughout the ages, wielding the sword against dangerous, paranormal beings.
Finally, the scene settled, and I saw the sword standing in the weapons rack of a medieval blacksmith shop. Kneeling in front of the sword was a young woman who looked eerily similar to me. We had the same pale blond hair, bright blue eyes, and heart-shaped-face. The woman in the vision was wearing the long, richly embroidered gown of medieval nobility.
She reached out with both hands, pressing her palms to be blade, and began chanting in a language that sounded vaguely Italian, which I assumed was Latin.
As she chanted, her eyes glowed with the same golden iridescence I’d seen shimmering around Sol’s sword, and gossamer thin strands of gold flowed from her hands into the sword. The golden strands sank into the metal, glowing for a moment, and then vanished.
A bright, white light blinded my vision, and then my focus returned, and I was standing beside Sol.
He turned to me, his brows drawing together. “Are you okay? If you’re not up to coming—”
I straightened my spine, cutting him off before he could continue. “No, I’m fine. I just … I think I saw your sword being made.”
I explained the visions to Sol as we descended the stairs to the ground level. When I finished speaking, he looked at me closely, a mixture of awe and concern in his gaze.
“That’s amazing. I didn’t even know Reverard could react like that,” he said, pushing open the huge oak doors, and leading the way outside.
“How long has it been since there was a Celestial who was a member of the Ancile?”
“I can’t say for certain, you’d have to ask Lettie, but not in my lifetime, and not in Bernard’s. Probably even longer.”
“Which might explain why none of you knew Reverard could react like that,” I mused aloud. “Perhaps it’s something only Celestials can do?”
“That makes sense,” Sol agreed, then stopped for a moment. He frowned as he added, “But that also means your abilities are trying to push through again. We need to find Morgan as soon as possible.”
I still felt a little overheated from the visions, but didn’t tell Sol that, knowing he’d only send me back to the H.Q if he thought I wasn’t up to the task.
Instead, I kept him talking as we trudged down the long walkway, away from the H.Q and towards the parking lot.
“If the Order hasn’t had a Celestial for at least fifty years, maybe more, how do you guys make new weapons?”
“We don’t,” Sol answered flatly. “All the Reverard we have has been passed down through the Order over the last centuries. Of course, only the Fortium can wield it, so what Reverard the Order has is distributed between what Strong Ones there are.”
“And let me guess, you’re not so common, either.”
Sol smiled sadly. “That’s right. My kind are the least frequent paranormal beings in the Order, after only the Celestials.”
Sol opened the car door for me, and I slipped into the front passenger seat, while he laid his sword, and the medical box from Lettie, on the back seat.
After Sol had settled in the driver’s seat, and started the engine, I asked, “What about everyone else? Like vampires, sirens, shifters and arcanists?” reeling off all the paranormal beings I knew of – bar Catherine of course.
“Those who can preform some form of magic are quite common. There are arcanists, witches and sorcerers, all of varying levels of power. Shifters are common too, and make up more than half the paranormal population, but they’re all divided into different clans and packs, some of whom are aligned with the Order, some of whom are directly against it, and then some of whom don’t care either way.”
“There are other shifters?” I asked, my gaze growing wide. “Like what?”
“Think of an animal, and there’s probably someone who can transform into it. Very rarely there are shifters who can transform into multiple different animals. All the bear sleuths are aligned with the Ancile, while the wolf packs are directly against it.”
“Wolf packs? As in werewolves?”
Sol chuckled. “Not like the movies make them out to be. There’s no half-man, half-beast monstrosities running around. But yes, there are people who can transform into wolves.”
“And those people who can transform into wolves are against the Ancile? Fuck! Are they likely to attack or anything?”
“There have been too many wars to count over the centuries. Right now, things are peaceful, because the High Alpha doesn’t want to fight. But when he dies, and a new Alpha is elected, who knows what they will want. We always have to be ready for war. The same was once true of vampires, but now many are aligned with the Ancile or neutral. We have Lettie to thank for that. She’s spent her entire life fighting for peace between vampires and the rest of humanity.”
“Damn. She’s a hero.”
Sol laughed. “Don’t let her hear you say that, she’d hate it. But yeah, she is pretty remarkable.”
As we got closer and closer to Stourley, my heart started to race and my palms became sweaty in a way that had nothing to do with my unbound abilities, and everything to do with the memory of Catherine feeding.
“She won’t be able to sense me, will she?” I blurted out.
Sol took his eyes off the road for only a moment to glance at me. “I don’t think so. She doesn’t even know you have latent abilities, so unless she’s looking for you directly, you’ll be safe. Her focus will be elsewhere,” he said, without even needing to ask who I was talking about.
“How about when my abilities are unbound?”
“As I said, she never sensed me when I was posing as a lab tech or a bodyguard. A lich’s ability to sense lifeforce isn’t the same as a Celestial’s. Liches feed off emotions; usually fear, but in Catherine’s case, we suspect adoration and admiration. The more people love her, the more powerful she gets.”
I shuddered, thinking about how as a teen I practically worshiped Catherine the way other teens did celebrities. Had I unknowingly made her stronger?
Even if my life wasn’t in danger due to possibility of my latent abilities burning through me, I’d still want my powers unbound so that I could use them to help defeat Catherine.
In a weird sort of way, I felt partly responsible for her.
Finally, Sol slowed the car as we came to a huge cemetery.
I almost burst out laughing. “Of course the Underground is in a cemetery? Because where else would hundreds of paranormal beings hangout?!”
“Many, like Lettie, are nocturnal and must hide by day. And it’s not like cemeteries are overly busy places. It’s the perfect hideaway,” Sol reasoned, getting out of the car and opening the door for me.
I climbed out as well, the soles of my combat boots slamming down on the tarmac of the parking lot. There were a few lights in the car park, but most of the cemetery was shrouded in darkness.
I’d never been scared of graveyards before. In fact, I hadn’t been to one since my grandma’s funeral when I was thirteen. But looking out now, on the rows and rows of graves, I shuddered.
Not because of the dead bodies buried below, but because of the countless alive beings lurking even deeper.
Sol placed the medical box on the ground next to me, and then retrieved his sword from the backseat. As he strapped it to his back, I got an inkling of how long the weapon actually was, and by my estimates it was about two-thirds his height, so easily four-and-a half feet in length.
“That thing must weigh loads,” I said.
“Ten kilograms to be exact,” he replied, lifting it like it weighed little more than a bag of potatoes.
My brows drew together. “Exactly how strong are you, Sol?”
Chuckling, he said, “Well, it’s not like I’m regularly bench-pressing weights or anything to know for certain, but I can lift about 500 kg.”
My eyes almost bulged out of my head as I did the quick, mental maths. “That means you could lift me seven times over?”
“Yeah, that sounds about right,” Sol started walking towards the fenced off graveyard as though it was nothing.
I grabbed the medical box and jogged after him. “You know, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to all this. I was blown away earlier when Jenn shattered that picture.”
He frowned. “She usually had more control than that.”
I had to suppress an eyeroll. “Oh, come on, we were talking about Morgan. It’s obvious she still loves him.”
Sol’s frown only deepened, and I wondered what he’d be capable of if he lets his strength show through his emotions, like Jenn had. He could probably punch a hole in the tarmac.
“Follow me. The main gate is always locked, but I know a way in,” Sol said, making no more comment about Morgan.
I wanted to ask more but figured the time for questions would come soon enough. We were looking for the very man, after all.
We walked around the perimeter of the cemetery, to the rear where it was more overgrown, and a huge yew tree shadowed many of the headstones.
Directly in front of the yew tree was a dilapidated mausoleum where a fox napped on top of the stones.
“Oh good, Sarah is here,” Sol said, easily stepping over the half-broken stone fence.
I had to place the medical box on the floor to climb over the fence, and then retrieve it once I was on the other side. Thankfully, Sol waited for me, which was good, because I think I might have been too scared to cross the cemetery alone.
“Who’s Sarah?” I asked, glancing around for someone else, but there was only me and Sol. Oh, and the…
The fox jumped from the mausoleum and trotted across the gravel to stand in front of Sol. It sniffed his feet and then looked at me, it’s yellow-green eyes narrowing.
“Who is this?” the fox asked in a distinctly female voice.
Despite the heavy medical case in my hands, I jumped back. “Holy shit!”
I swear the fox rolled its eyes. “Explain”! it demanded.
Sol huffed out a breath. “Calm down, Sarah. This is Roxie, she’s a friend.”
“She stinks of vampire. What is she, a familiar or something?”
Before Sol could respond, I stepped forward and asked, “And what’s wrong with vampires? The one I know is one of the smartest people I’ve met.”
This time I was certain Sarah rolled her eyes. “I assume you’re speaking about Lettice Williams. And if so, she really does have you fooled, doesn’t she? But don’t let Miss Williams’ polite words fool you into thinking she isn’t a monster like all the others.”
My nostrils flared. “Listen, Sarah, I don’t know what your deal is but Lettie has been good to me. I can’t judge all vampires but she’s one of the good ones.”
Sarah snarled, bearing her sharp teeth, as her russet fur stood on end.
Sol stepped between us, holding his hands up. “Enough!” he bellowed. “We’re not here for a fight.”
Sarah’s eyes darted towards the medical case, and she snarled again. “I know what you’re here for, and you’re lucky Cassa allows it. If it were up to the Skulk, their kind wouldn’t be welcome here.”
I was burning with questions, but kept my mouth shut as Sol went on.
“Cassa and the Order have an agreement, and I’m here of official Order business.”
Sarah’s ears twitched, and her eyes widened. “Any news?”
Sol shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry. We have our top scientists working on it, but nothing yet.”
I assumed Sarah didn’t know the Ancile’s top scientist was Lettie. If she did, she probably wouldn’t have been happy to hear she was working on whatever if was Sarah and the other foxes wanted.
Something about Sarah jogged a memory in my mind, and I remembered Sol and Jenn’s exchange when he’d first bought me to the H.Q.
‘Where is the Old Bear?’ … ‘In the lab with the bat. They’ve had another sample from the foxes.’
Knowing what I did know about Bernard, it was easy to figure out he was the Old Bear in their conversation. Was Sarah one of the foxes Jenn had spoken of? And did that mean ‘the bat’ was a joke at Lettie’s expense?
I frowned, making a mental note to ask Sol about it later.
“If you’re not here about what’s happening to me and my people, what do you want?”
“I need to speak with Cassa,” Sol said, explaining nothing more.
“Fine. I suppose you better follow me.”
Sarah trotted off, her bushy tail flicking from side to side, as she led the way inside the mausoleum.”
I glanced uneasily at Sol, who seemed completely unphased, and figured this was normal for him, so I had no choice but to follow.
Sarah led the way a flight of stone stairs, which led to a second level of the mausoleum, where various stone mounds stood, I assumed buried beneath were coffins of the long deceased.
We went down another flight of stairs, and then another, until we were three levels below ground, and come out onto a long, unlit stone corridor, smelling of damp.
I heard the scuttling of creatures and supressed a shiver.
“I can’t see a damn thing,” I complained, pulling out my phone, and turning on the torch.
Sarah turned to me, her eyes glowing in the artificial light, and let out a warning cry akin to a scream.
I had no choice but to turn the light off again, and blindly tried to follow Sarah and Sol into the darkness as best I could.
“Here, take my hand,” Sol offered.
He reached out, almost smacking me in the face, and I held onto his large, warm hand. Part of me flushed being so close to him, it might even have been cute if I didn’t feel like a stupid child.
“Does being a Strong One mean you can see in the dark, too?” I whispered.
“No, I’ve just been here enough times to know the way. My senses are more advanced than a regular human’s though. All paranormal beings’ are.”
I assume this extended to Celestials too, but something inside me said I shouldn’t mention me being descended from them in front of Sarah.
After what felt like about twenty minutes, we reached the end of the stone corridor, and were faced with a solid, stone wall.
My eyes had adjusted to the lack of light, and I could just about make out carvings on the wall in front of us.
Without hesitation, Sarah stepped forwards and pressed her front, left paw to a carving in the shape of triangle with what appeared to be an eye in the centre.
The ground beneath out feet rumbled, and there was the horrible sound of stone scraping against stone, as the wall in front us slowly reformed into a staircase leading down into the depths.
“Welcome to the Underground,” Sol said, as he followed behind Sarah.
As I was still holding his hand, I had no choice but to follow them, too.
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While The Order of the Ancile is in its web fiction serial format, I intend to keep it free to read. I write because I love to, and there are stories that NEED to be told.