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A Family Affair

Discussion in 'Creative Archive' started by Chadwyck, Jan 22, 2012.

  1. OoC: Yay! I've actually found inspiration to start writing again. Chadwyck, Liam and Serah story ♥~

    BIC:

    Chapter 1: It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

    There was a cold wind tearing through the trees, a high pitched whistling echoing from the branches. Several twigs were torn from the trees and the sound of splintering wood could be heard every so often. In the middle of a dense forest, away from the prying eyes of others, there was an estate. The estate could have easily been described as a mansion, only that it would seem inadequate to deem it as such. The grounds were in a large area that had been cleared of most of the forests native trees in favor of other, exotic species that covered the property in the scent of a masterfully tended garden.

    There were three buildings within the walls of the compound, each of them large enough to be considered the main house in its own right. Though, only one could be clearly seen as the focal point of the grounds, the mansion within a mansion that was obviously the most luxurious and lavishly furnished out of any of the buildings.

    The compound belonged to none other than the Monroe family of assassins; one of the most highly feared and respected families in the entire world. Their skills were legendary; they were the instruments behind many historical events: instigators of wars, tools of destruction. Renowned the world over for never failing a contract that had come into their hands. The family was known not only for their natural ability and inherent talent, but for “farming” for new, skilled assassins. They adopted children who showed promise and trained them in the way of combat. In truth, there were only four members of the main family line; despite the organization being well into the hundreds. Children who showed that they had the makings of greatness were sent on the common contracts, while the family heads specialized in specific killings.

    The father, Patrick Monroe, was an expert at military assassinations; one of the world’s best marksmen and hand-to-hand combatants, he could bring even the most hardened of veterans to their knees. If they managed to see him coming first. His wife, Madeline Monroe, an expert in political assassinations; she was skilled in blade dancing, using her seductive wiles to get close to her target before striking, her weapon of choice was a sword-whip. Their daughter, Etheline Monroe, was an expert in private sector assassinations; she was able to move like a shadow, undetectable and silent as the grave, she uses trained snakes and poisoned needles to kill her targets. And lastly, the son, Conan Monroe, an expert in group assassinations; the boy was born with the ability to control technology with his mind, he uses a suit of armor made of the finest components to kill his targets while he maneuvers it from a safe location.

    Hiring any member of the main family would cost more than hiring several of their adopted members, but they would also ensure that any target met their end without fail. Not once had a member of the Monroe family main line set out for a target and not kill their prey. In fact, the whole family had a reputation of never failing a single job; except for one contract involving a young man out for revenge against a corrupted dictator responsible for his family’s death.

    It was this particular shortcoming that kept Patrick up this night, the wind mirroring the force of his anger underneath the calm demeanor that he always wore. He was meditating in the main house; the largest building that was reserved for only his wife and children and a handful of selected adoptives. The other two buildings on the property were for training and housing the other adopted children.

    Patrick’s mediation chamber was in the back of the house; a room fit for the most respected of men. The floor was polished obsidian, his own image reflecting back at him off of the black stone. The walls were actually bamboo fountains, the sound of calming running water echoing around the room constantly. The room was unfurnished and bare except for the cushion that the Monroe family head was kneeling upon; deep in the recesses of his mind.

    He noticed the door opening before the intruding child could even mutter his apologies for interrupting. “Sorry for disturbing you, father,” one of the adopted children muttered solemnly, hoping to avoid upsetting his father with this matter. It was a common feeling in the presence of Patrick Monroe to find oneself shrinking away from him in fear of his power. He was well built, standing at six foot three with the sort of strength that keeps one limber but imposing at the same time. His face was scarred on his left cheek and his military cut hair was beginning to gray. Currently, he wore a silk robe and meditation pants, but his magnum revolver was beside him as always, ready for action at a moment’s notice.

    “What is it? I trust this is important to warrant disrupting me in the middle of the night.” Patrick spoke in a heavy voice that seemed to sit upon one’s shoulders, weighed down by sheer intimidation alone.

    “We found them.” The boy said with a poorly hidden smile, knowing that this was news that his father had been waiting for for several years.

    “What did you say?” Patrick shot a surprised glance at his young ward, letting his feelings show in a moment of weakness.

    “We found them, father. They’ve been living in a house in northern Michigan somewhere by the Great Lakes.”

    “I always did teach you kids that it was best to avoid heavily populated areas.” Patrick started laughing, the satisfaction dripping from his every gesture. “This contract is long overdue for completion, our client will be happy to hear this. Leave me, I must decide how to handle these illusive targets.” The boy gave a slight bow before ducking out of the room, grinning that he had delivered news that pleased his father so.

    Patrick smiled darkly, this blight that hung over his families head had all been caused by one man. The only contract that they had ever failed to fulfill, and now he would see to it that it was done; the client had left the contract open to them for a significant price reduction. But the money wasn’t important. It was dealing with the pest that had hurt his precious reputation. “The Monroe family has always been on top.” He said this to no one in particular, before continuing, “Prepared for a little family reunion, Liam? It’s been far too long.”

    -------------------------------------

    Liam woke with a start, a cold sweat had soaked his pajamas through and chilled him as he stood and went to the restroom to change his clothes. It had been happening more and more lately, these late night to early morning wake-ups; it was getting ridiculous really. Even more ridiculous than having all concrete flooring in the house; his feet felt like ice cubes by the time he reached the restroom.

    He quickly changed into something not cold and damp and hazily made his way back toward his bed, pausing momentarily to look at the house, as he did every night the past week. It was nothing luxurious by any standards, but it was far from being an impoverished hovel. It was an open studio type building, having no walls to separate rooms aside from the restroom and shower. The rest of the house was open, the kitchen took up a large section of the first floor, but the rest was a roomy living area with a flatscreen television, a couch, two recliners, several arcade games that Chadwyck had insisted on, a pool table and some other non-essentials. In the back of the house was a flight of stairs that led to the sleeping area, which was on a balcony overlooking the living area below. It was spacious and comfortable and had made a wonderful home for the past three years.

    Of course, as it always did, thinking about the house he currently called home made him think of where he had come from. The compound in the forest that housed hundreds of trained assassins. The Monroe compound. Liam hadn’t changed his name since leaving, mostly because he felt he shouldn’t try and change his past, but rather intended to learn from it. And partially he kept it because he liked the way that Liam Monroe seemed to roll off the tongue, making him sound suave and sophisticated.

    The reason he had left the family was also the reason they had opted to live somewhere so far from civilization; he had failed his first contract that his father had entrusted him with. His task had seen to kill a young man who was making things difficult for a corrupt politician to seize control of the government in some backwater country; Chadwyck Felling. The man he now regarded as his best friend in the world, a true brother to someone who had never been a member of a real family. They fought countless times, but the result was always a draw, until finally Serah stepped in and put an end to the fighting. After failing to kill Chadwyck, Liam knew he couldn’t go home to the Monroe household, so he joined the young man in his quest.

    He chuckled bitterly to himself, before he mumbled softly, “these memories are precisely why I’ve been waking up every night in a cold sweat. The nightmares of the vengeance that my fath-- Patrick Monroe,” he corrected himself, “is surely planning for shaming his family.” It had been three years since that incident, and it wasn’t as if Chadwyck, Liam and Serah had remained under the radar; they had been pretty frequently mentioned in internet articles and once in a possible UFO sighting. They weren’t the type to keep a low profile, especially not in the mercenary/hired hand/whatever pays the bills business that they found themselves working in. More often than not they were off destroying a city block trying to capture a wanted man, or sometimes protecting some bigwig with an underworld price on his head. It really went anywhere and everywhere on a daily basis.

    They’d even managed to make some friends along the way; people who were equally as gifted in getting in way over their heads and making a few new vacant lots in major cities.

    He could hear the wind pick up outside, it blew the pellets of rain that were beginning to fall into the windows; the pitter-patter of the rain losing the calming effect it usually brought with it, being replaced with a hard barrage on the exterior of their house.

    “It was a dark and stormy night,” Liam sighed with a little smirk to himself, finally shaken from his reverie and heading off to bed once again. Something stopped him from following the path he had set out for himself in his head, however, and he found himself making a detour to the “closet” (which was actually a coat rack embedded in the wall) and grabbing his briefcase: Pandora’s Box, as it was called.

    The briefcase had the ability to transform into one of ten different weapons, or in some cases pairs of weapons, and had been a gift from the Monroe family to celebrate him taking on his first contract. Not only the peculiar box, but all the weapons that it could turn into. Each and every one of them had been enchanted in one way or another; self-replenishing ammunition, elemental bullets, they were all very helpful and incredibly fun.

    Again Liam sighed, as he grabbed the key-ring from his coat pocket, each key representing another weapon the box could become, and began absentmindedly twirling them on his index finger. The green-haired man scratched at his stubble, forming on his face as he had neglected shaving the last few days, and cracked his neck. His blue pajamas with purple pinstripes looked out of place on him, mostly due to his normal manner of dress: a black suit and matching fedora.

    “How long do you plan on sitting over there?” He asked suddenly, still facing the stairs but clearly speaking to someone behind him. An amused chuckle drifted across the room as a man seemingly emerged from the shadows.

    The man was dressed in full black, a hood and mask covering his face like some sort of ninja. “I’m impressed,” he said quietly, “I figured by now you’d be growing a bit rusty, but it seems you’re just as sharp as ever. I can see why you were one of Mother and Father’s favorites. You’d have had a room in the main house if you didn’t fail that contract, I’d wager.”

    “How did you find me?” Liam spat, sometime between figuring out that there was an intruder and calling out to him, he had inserted a key into Pandora’s Box and a pair of twin, modded Beretta M9 pistols had appeared in his hands. Their barrels had been lengthened and they fired a higher caliber round than normal. Currently, they were both trained on the intruder, and the look on Liam’s face said that he would fire without a second thought.

    “No time for pleasantries, brother? And after such a long time without seeing another family member.” Beneath the man’s mask, he grinned, “hardly complimentary. You screwed up a contract and let a target live. We’ve been looking for you for a long time. You knew it was only a matter of time before we found you.”

    “So what? You’re here to kill me and finish the job with Chadwyck, then?”

    “You catch on quick, saves me the trouble of having to explain.”

    “Not gonna happen, I’ll kill you before you take a step.”

    “Did you really think father would send me alone?” His eyes glanced up at where Chadwyck and Serah were sleeping, a feeling of utter dread filled Liam’s entire being.

    The green-haired man was gone in an instant, a pop resounding from the space he had just been occupying being filled by air rushing to fill the void. Instantly, he was face to face with an assassin about to bring a knife down on Chadwyck’s throat. A bullet between the eyes ended that threat, but also filled the room with the bang of the gunshot.

    “What the HELL!” Chadwyck sat bolt upright, reaching for his blade, a flame erupting in the palm of his hand. Without so much as a word, Liam grabbed a hold of Chadwyck’s wrist, teleported them both over to Serah’s bed, grabbed her as well and teleported the pair of them outside into the freezing rain. “Liam, what are you-- hey!” Chadwyck shouted as his friend disappeared again.

    Liam was back in the center of the room, looking at the initial assassin and another who he must have overlooked in his rush to get Chadwyck and Serah out of harm’s way. No more games, Liam thought, tightening his grip on his pistols. He was gone again, reappearing behind the assassin he had missed initially and firing a shot poised for the back of the head. The assassin dodged with an expert acrobatic twist and kicked one of Liam’s guns away.

    Liam countered with a kick of his own, sweeping the assassin’s legs from underneath him and sending him tumbling to the ground. He fired two round from his remaining pistol toward the first man, who was trying to come up and and attack while Liam was distracted with the other assassin. Successfully backing the first man off for a moment, Liam delivered a kicked to the man on the ground who was beginning to stand up, followed by two shots to the man’s chest.

    The first man now had Liam’s second gun and began firing at Liam wildly. His bullets couldn’t find their target, however, as Liam proceeded to teleport around the room, finally appearing above the man and shooting him in the top of his head. He reappeared in front of the man before he fell and took his gun back from him as he crumbled.

    He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, returning his guns to their briefcase form and unlocking the front door just before Chadwyck started pounding on it. Patrick must have been sending a warning, there’s no way he expected those three to finish off Chadwyck and I, especially if he had known Serah was here as well. It must have been a test to see how much trouble we were going to give him. After all, what’re a few adopted, disposable children when he has hundreds of assassins to choose from.

    Liam was so caught up in trying to analyze the situation, he missed Serah’s gasp and Chadwyck’s question. So, Chadwyck walked up to his friend and grabbed his shoulders. “Liam.” He began, making sure that he was getting paid attention to. “What happened? Why the hell did you take me and Serah into the freezing rain, you ass? I’m gonna catch pneumonia or something.” The young man began toward a new, dry pair of clothes, when he stopped after stepping over one of the assassin’s bodies. “Who are these guys?”

    “Monroe family assassins.”

    Chadwyck stopped in his tracks, and an awkward silence hung in the air.

    It was Serah who finally broke the silence after several seconds. “Why? Why now?”

    “Because they finally found us and they’re trying to tie up lose ends.”

    “So, what now? We move to another house?” Serah asked, hoping that it would be that simple. Of course, these things never are.

    “Unfortunately, no. They found us once, they can find us again. It may have taken them three years, but that just goes to show that they aren’t going to give up. This isn’t something that’s just going to go away; we need to deal with it.”

    Chadwyck grinned, the prospect of fighting a league of highly trained assassins getting his blood flowing. “Good, it’s about time we got this over with. Where do we find the headquarters? Let’s go end this fight.”

    “No, that’s now how we deal with this. Going after the Monroes is a suicide mission, there are hundreds of trained killers at the compound at any given time. We may be good, ducky, but we aren’t that good.” Liam frowned, knowing that the only alternative was going to be hard enough as it was without Patrick sending people after them at any given time. He may have already sent another squad to finish what the others couldn’t.

    Chadwyck’s mood was significantly dampened upon hearing that a forward assault was not going to be their plan of action.

    “If not by attacking them directly, then how do we get them to stop coming after you two?” Serah asked, usually the most logical of the group, it seemed she had been considering going head to head with the Monroe family too. It made sense, seeing as her two “older brothers” had been targeted, and if there was one thing that she couldn’t allow, it was people trying to hurt the two people she held most dear.

    “They’re after us because of a contract. Revenge is just a bonus to them; they’re professionals, if the contract is terminated, they’ll have no reason to come after us. At least, that’s how they’ve always operated in the past.”

    “That contract you were sent out on to kill me? It’s still active?”

    “Yes, from the looks of it. Which means that in order to end this, we have to find the man who hired them and either make him cancel the contract, or kill him.”

    “It just can’t be anything simple with you two, can it?” Serah sighed, shaking her head. “We don’t even know where to look, the revolution that Chadwyck started reformed the government and banished Huxley from the country, which means that he’s long gone by now.”

    Liam thought it over for a moment, weighing in their options. “First thing we need to do is collect some information. We’ve got plenty of connections who may be able to give us some info. In the worst case scenario, we go to Lucanad and look for clues ourselves.”

    “All right,” Chadwyck stretched, “but first we’re going to need somewhere to stay. They know where this place is and it’s only a matter of time before more of them show up. Let’s start heading east, we can check in New York for some info from our friends’ library and depending on how that goes, we can decide what to do from there.”

    “We should be safe for the night, I doubt there will be anyone else coming before dawn, it’s only a few hours off now.” Liam stretched, “we’re going to need a place to stay for a few days in New York while we pour over some records and try and track Huxley down.”

    “Leave that to me,” Serah chimed in with a wink and a smile, “I’ll make a few calls in the morning and see if we can’t find a place to crash.”

    “Good, then it’s a plan. We’ll head out in the morning, for now let’s try and get a bit of sleep, even if it is only a couple hours. Chadwyck and I will sleep in shifts, just in case.”

    Chadwyck grabbed his sword and sat down on the couch, flipping on the television and turning it down a bit so it wouldn’t disturb anyone upstairs. “I’ll take first watch, go get some rest, Liam, those nightmares have kept you up the last few nights.”

    “Yeah, thanks. Just wake me up in a bit and I’ll take over.” Liam smiled and went to his bed, collapsing into the comforter and his body immediately losing strength from exhaustion. The rain splashing against the house a natural lullaby as he drifted off into a deep sleep.

    ----------------------------------

    The morning came, but the rain didn’t let up. It was a bit foreboding, the darkness that hung in the sky despite the fact that the Sun was now up. Symbolic of the sudden storm that the trio had found themselves caught in so suddenly.

    “So, where are we headed?” Liam asked, stretching and cracking his back. Even though he’d only slept about an hour and a half, he was feeling much better than he had been previously.

    “Good news, guys,” Serah beamed brightly, waving a piece of paper with an address written on it, “Sorena and Sem are staying at one of their houses on the West Coast, so they said we can stay at their house in New York for a few days.”

    “The west coast, huh?” Chadwyck asked, thinking about how nice the California Sun would feel; although he loved the rain more than sunlight, nothing beat the smell of the sea and crashing waves one found in California. “In California?” Chadwyck asked.

    “I’m, uh, not really sure. It was sort’ve hard to keep Sorena focused. She started rambling on about the waves and just what particular shade of blue the ocean was today. Then she started complaining about how the sand got everywhere and how in her younger days sand knew its place.” Serah laughed endearingly, Chadwyck and Liam only grinned, knowing exactly how the witch got when she started to let her mind wander. Which was pretty much constantly. “Anyway,” Serah continued, “Sem took the phone from her and gave me the address, figuring Sorena forgot that was the point of my call in the first place. Then he hurried off the phone after asking me to ensure that you,” she playfully prodded Chadwyck with her index finger, “don’t burn the house down. Last thing I heard was him telling Sorena to stop insulting the charms that some street vendor was selling.”

    “Well, at least we know that the two of them are getting along as always. It’s been too long since we’ve had a get together, we’ll have to sort that out once this whole affair is over.” Liam chuckled, imagining the whole scenario that Serah described.

    They packed a few bags, traveling as lightly as possible. Chadwyck and Serah each placed a hand on one of Liam’s shoulders, and the three of them were off in an instant. Taking one breath in Michigan, and the very next in New York. It was an exciting feeling that only came with the skills that Liam had. He could teleport anywhere in the world, depending on how well he knew the area. Since he wasn’t exactly sure as the location of the house, he took them to the closest landmark that he knew.

    “Let’s get moving, I’d like to get settled in and start researching immediately. The sooner we get this whole mess behind us, the better. Who knows how long we have before more Monroe assassins show up.” Liam scratched his head, pushing his fedora back on his head. They all agreed to do just that and started walking toward their new temporary housing, the urgency of their task setting in.
     
  2. Good, yes, exciting story. I assume it provides as-yet-unknown backstory - I haven't read very many of your previous fics so I have only the vaguest idea of the characters. Still, I don't really care, just keep 'em coming, barkeep. :p
     
  3. Shiny Lyni

    Shiny Lyni 2016 Singles Football

    FFFFFF CHAD OMGOMGOMG ANOTHER STORYYYYYY <333333

    *shoves her autograph boom up his nface to get another signature now*

    But really, I love this already and its so good you're distracting me from studying and I like it that way :DDDDDDD
     
  4. ... You shoved your what into his what now, Shiny?

    Amazing story as always, Chad- it was a very enjoyable read. Keep them coming ^^
     
  5. Shiny Lyni

    Shiny Lyni 2016 Singles Football

    b-b-b-booooook. I swore it said book. Up hice ffffaaaacccceeeee D: Darn stupid kindle... I can never type correctly with that. ;_;
     
  6. Chapter 2: The Finer Points of Research and Dinner

    It was a simple enough matter to get into Sorena and Sem’s house in Manhattan; Serah had told them flat out that Liam would just teleport them inside so that they didn’t have to try and figure out a way of getting a key to them or something. Once they actually found the house with the address they were given, Liam simply had to focus on getting them on the other side of the door, which, with his ability, was no trouble at all.

    Once inside, they were slightly surprised by how modern everything looked. Sorena, being the ancient being that she was, would hardly know how to properly work a cell phone, let alone some of the fancy gadgets that were laying around the house. There was a lot of glass and “modern” decor. They came to the conclusion that Sem must have had the biggest hand in the decorating and furnishing, and he probably helped Sorena figure out most of it. Still, despite Sorena and Chadwyck being good friends, there were few occasions that they had been invited over to their home. Perhaps it was just the way Sorena dressed, but Chadwyck had been expecting something a bit more old world.

    The three of them each went off and found a room to call their own, Liam opting to just crash on the couch. It left less cleanup for him, he wouldn’t have to make the beds when it was time for them to leave in a few days time. After quickly unpacking, the trio met in the kitchen to discuss what to do first. Chadwyck had placed his sword down in the room he claimed for himself, knowing all too well that he’d warrant unwanted attention if he carried it with him. Not that he minded, he just didn’t want to get a lecture from Liam about lying low. Unfortunately, that was exactly what came next.

    “We need to lie low, guys. The Monroe family isn’t known for losing their targets, it’s likely they already know we’re here in this city. They’re not like the criminals that we round up for some cash or like any common guns for hire. They’re smart, and they have nearly unlimited resources. They’ll be upon us before too long, which is why we’re only going to be in town for a few days tops.”

    “Liam, this isn’t our first time keeping a low profile, we know the drill. This is sort of what we do for a living, you know?” Chadwyck complained, though keeping the obvious tone that he was just trying to work Liam up so that his friend knew he was joking. It wasn’t the best time to be making jokes, the situation was as dangerous as they come, but Chadwyck never liked to approach things from a position of fear. He preferred to make jokes, and often times he actually looked forward to the conflict; it was the one thing that he knew he was good at. The one ability that he had grown up honing, taught to him by his master.

    “This is different. These people are on a whole different level than what we’ve faced in the past; trust me, I’ve seen what they can do.”

    “Liam, relax,” Serah said with a smirk, placing a hand on his, “we’ll be careful. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone in this.”

    Liam took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. “I don’t know what I would do if my,” he hesitated, unsure of how best to phrase it, “I can’t stand the thought of losing my new family to my old one.”

    “Please, it’ll take more than a few lousy assassins to get rid of us. Trust me, my green-haired compatriot, you’re stuck with us for quite a while.” Chadwyck clasped a hand on Liam’s shoulder and smiled broadly. “I’m even leaving my sword here to draw less attention, I know the drill,” the young man grinned, “now let’s go get the boring part over with, so we can get to finding the bad guy. You know, the fun part.”

    Once again, Chadwyck and Serah each grabbed hold of Liam’s arm and they were gone from the room, reappearing just outside a small office space on the corner of East 57th Street and Park Avenue. The sign above the door read TERRA INVESTIGATIONS and this particular company focused on solving crimes with a supernatural nature.

    Chadwyck always loved coming here, the owners of this detective agency were more close friends who they saw far too sparingly. The young kinetic opened the door for his two friends and bowed politely, imitating one of the doormen one would find at a hotel in this area.

    Immediately after entering the establishment, Chadwyck remembered that Serah had never been before; she knew the two who owned the agency, but she’d never met their receptionist. Before Chadwyck could give her any warning, however, she was already speaking.

    “Ew, what smells like--”

    “Death? Sorry, it’s just me. I don’t mean to smell offensive, it’s hard to get the stench of decay off after you’ve been dead a while.” The man sitting at the reception desk interrupted Serah’s sentence, apparently having heard the comparison of his odor to the smell of death many times in the past. It was only natural, the man was a zombie after all. The result of some crackpot necromancer’s attempt at a meandering army of the undead. Unfortunately for the necromancer, the spell went awry and left the zombie he raised with a full recollection of his life and a very much intact free will. Not to mention a pretty awful case of depression. This zombie was the walking corpse of a certain mister John Doe, which was his actual, legal name while he was alive. In death, he decided it’d be best to keep it.

    He was sitting at his desk, which was littered with various office supplies, and most bizarrely, several dead plants and a rusty old watering can. Apparently being dead sort of hurts one’s green thumb, despite the shade of your decaying flesh taking on a distinctly green tone. His hair was frizzy and sticking up in a wisp reminiscent of one of the troll dolls that were made popular in the 1960’s. His clothes were torn and dirty, but still easily identifiable as a suit, probably the one he had been buried in. The emotion on his face was one of absolute apathy, but seeing Liam and Chadwyck seemed to lighten his mood, a bit. “Oh, it’s you two. It’s been a while since you’ve come around. Sorry if I scared you off or anything, I know it’s a bit unsettling to try and befriend a zombie.”

    “Don’t worry about it, John. We’ve just been busy with work, actually, it has nothing to do with you.” Liam smiled as warmly as possible, but it was apparent that his mind was elsewhere. “Where are Julia and Angel?”

    “They’re out on an assignment right now. Hopefully they aren’t dead, they don’t bother to call me to keep me updated on their state of well being.” His dry, emotionless way of talking made it pretty much impossible to determine whether or not he was joking, but Chadwyck chuckled slightly anyway.

    “Any chance that we can use the records to check for something? We’re sorta looking for someone, and Julia and Angel’s library is the best place to keep track of current affairs, since they keep so up to date while they look for any evidence of unholy magic around the world and whatnot.” Chadwyck explained. It was true, the two “detectives” kept close tabs on world affairs, having at least some record of the major events to happen in the last few decades. They had their own reasons for doing so, but it came in handy in several occasions for others in the past.

    “I’m sure it’s fine, but I better give them a call and let them know you’re here.” John picked up his telephone receiver and punched in a few numbers, though Serah noticed that he moved painstakingly slow; perhaps after one died the sense of urgency was lost. After what felt like several minutes, though in reality little more than twenty seconds had passed, John spoke up. “Hello, Julia. Yeah, it’s John.” A slight pause while she responded. “No, I’m not calling because I’m lonely again, I’ve been doing a lot better lately. Taking care of my plants helps take my mind off of it.” Serah wondered if he realized that his potted plants were either dead or dying, but John changed the subject. “Anyway, Chadwyck and his friends are here wondering if they can use the library. I don’t know, I didn’t ask. I just figured they wouldn’t tell me anyway, people tend to want to leave my presence as fast as possible.” The trio felt a pang of guilt at the last sentence. They had been impatiently waiting for the moment they could start their search and leave John to his own devices. “Okay, I’ll tell them.”

    They all tried their best to look genuinely interested in whatever John was going to say. “They said of course you can use it, what are friends for, after all.” They all suspected that Julia would have said that sentence a bit more jokingly and happily. John relayed the message as emotionless as one would expect a corpse to be. “Oh, and they said to tell you they’ll be back tonight if you guys want to go get food. Don’t worry, I won’t be coming. I don’t eat very much.”

    They thanked John for passing along the information and then went to the back of the office building; there were two desks that belonging to Julia and Angel. They were plain and didn’t have much on them by way of personalization; the duo were hardly in the office for very long before heading out on another investigation, they didn’t see the point in customizing their workplace. Upstairs were the living quarters, where they all slept. Except for John, who preferred to stay awake, he didn’t need sleep anyway, and that way they had someone to take calls twenty-four hours a day.

    They kept walking through the completely pristine and uncluttered office, up to a doorway that was awkwardly placed in the corner of the room behind Julia’s desk. Chadwyck and Liam had been through the doorway before, to the room on the other side, so they took the unusual sight in stride. Serah however, gasped at the scene displayed before her on the other side of the door that seemed to have something slightly off about it.

    They were now in a warehouse of sorts, a space that was obviously much too large to be on the corner of East 57th and Park Avenue. Not only was there a space entirely too big for the agency they had just been in, but the space was packed with books and periodicals and other means of keeping records; filing cabinets and computers lined one of the walls. Every few seconds a piece of paper would fly over and file itself away in the appropriate place.

    “Julia magically linked their agency with a warehouse in the middle-of-nowhere Alaska. The warehouse is enchanted, obviously, constantly updating itself and sorting itself; and luckily for us three the heater is still working.” Liam explained, seeing the impressed and curious look on Serah’s face. “Unfortunately, for all the organization this place has and all the time taken to ensure that the details are all correct, we still have no idea where to start looking.”

    “Well,” Serah started after her mind wrapped itself around this place. She’d been around magic before, but it still surprised her every time just how much could be done through enchantment. “We should probably start with the section they’ve got on Lucanad, if nothing else, it should at least have the records from the country directly after the rebellion. Maximillion Huxley was not a man who lived quietly, he’s bound to have turned up somewhere in the news since then. I’m assuming this place is set on autopilot to copy any and all records made by the governments of the world. He’s here somewhere.”

    Serah really was a bright girl, it had impressed Chadwyck and Liam many times before. It was good, as the two men tended to act based on their negative emotions; Chadwyck and Liam had both caused more than their fair share of trouble simply because they got angry. Serah liked to think ahead, to plan things out, to use her brain. Of course, Liam had tactical knowledge and other skills she couldn’t even compare with, and Chadwyck was creative and the strongest member of their group. Each of them had something to offer, it’s what made their little “family” work.

    They walked in silence over to the section where they would find the section on Lucanad, the small island in the North Sea that housed no more than one million residents. After a few minutes of searching through the various papers and folders, they were each sitting on the ground in the middle of the aisle reading their own file. It was the type of work that Chadwyck couldn’t stand, but the fact that he was reading about his home country made the task a little more bearable. It’d been three years since he had been back, after all. He made a mental note to go visit the old man after this was all done.

    The minutes dwindled away as the trio worked at filling their heads with info from the small country of Lucanad. After about an hour Serah happily clapped her hands to get Liam and Chadwyck’s attention. “Look, I found the record of the revolution! It mentions us!” She was filled with glee upon discovering this, mostly because the record had been made by the government that had taken over after their fight was finished. “Chadwyck Felling, leader of the rebellion, left the country shortly after the new regime took over control of the government. With him were Serah Nightingale and Liam Monroe, Chadwyck’s own personal task force during the final fight against the corrupted Lucanad Military Gold Division, the dictator’s personal protectors. The three of them were regarded as heroes by the now free citizens of Lucanad, and a statue of each of them resides in the nation’s capito Wynfoll, at the center of the cityl in Treggar Square.”

    “Huh, I didn’t realize that they’d erected statues of us in Wynfoll, we should really go back there and visit; I’ve never had a heroes’ welcome before.” Liam chuckled lightly, grateful that something had presented itself to distract him from his reading. As much as he liked to state he was the responsible one of the group, he disliked this sort of thing almost as much as Chadwyck did. Almost. The pyromaniac had fallen asleep before Serah interrupted with the excerpt.

    The now fully awake Chadwyck rubbed the sleep from his eyes and nodded, “does it say anything about where Huxley went?” He motioned for Serah to keep reading, if there was anything about Huxley’s location, they were close to uncovering it.

    Serah’s eyes skimmed the paper, reading aloud once she found the information on the man in question. “Maximillion Huxley, the general in charge of the Gold Division and personal bodyguard to Commander Kendrick Ridley, fled the country before the Reformed Lucanad Army could apprehend him,” Serah paused for a moment, lowering her head before continuing, “whereabouts are currently unknown.”

    They sat for a moment in silence before Chadwyck finally spoke up. “Well, that report is at least three years old, right? Maybe they know his location now.”

    The Reformed Republic of Lucanad would not have given up searching for a criminal responsible for the deaths of countless innocents. They’d still be searching for him, and with any luck, they had some idea of where the rat was hiding. The three took up their files again, making sure that all the information they had was written at a later date than the report that Serah had read. Still, they didn’t seem able to find anything of use to them. Hours drifted by, and before they realized it, they heard someone calling out for them.

    “Hey! Chadwyck, Liam, Serah, we know you’re in here somewhere! We’re back from our case, and quite famished; take a break from this boring bookwork and come eat with us.” They all perked up upon hearing the voice, not only because they all wanted an excuse to stop looking through records for the day, but also because they knew who the voice belonged to.

    Serah was the first one up and running to greet the sorceress. “Julia! It’s been too long!” She sprinted through the warehouse and embraced Julia at the door. The young chlorokinetic had bonded with Julia a lot the last time they met, and they were great friends. She also respected Julia’s abilities to use plant magic, and the fact that the sorceress didn’t just treat them like tools of war, like many mages did when using plant magic.

    Julia Myrrin was a beautiful young lady. Her skin was fair and her hair was silvery-blonde, cut and layered to just above her shoulders. She was dressed as she always was, which meant that their case wasn’t something she held in very high regard. A pastel-yellow tee-shirt depicting a heart being assembled from pieces of machinery, pastel-orange and red arm warmers that were up to her elbows, a black skirt with matching leggings and red Converse lowtop shoes; in her hands, of course, was Adam, her tome of ancient magics and sarcastic comments. The latter of which she wished she could stop. “I’m just going to head upstairs to change,” she smiled sheepishly, realizing that Serah had been appraising her outfit. “We’re going to a pretty nice place, so I’m gonna dress up a bit. You guys seem to be appropriately dressed though, so that’s good.” She winked at Serah, and by now Chadwyck and Liam had caught up to their younger companion.

    Serah had opted for a nice summer dress, flowing down to her knees. It was green, of course, as that was her favorite color. She wore a matching, flower hair clip and black, polka-dotted flats. Chadwyck wore a black dress shirt, untucked, beneath his favorite jacket that could be dressed up or worn casually, with a pair of black jeans and boots that just barely passed for dress shoes. Liam, of course, was wearing a black suit and white dress shirt, black tie, and his fedora; Liam never dressed any other way.

    “Yes, I suppose that you’ll be leaving me here, then?” Adam spoke finally, apparently he’d been sleeping until just a moment ago. Serah’s hug must have woken him up. “You never take me out to dinner with you. You’re ashamed of me, I knew it. Can’t have the common people hurt themselves trying to figure out the concept of a talking book, oh no.” He continued to drone on as Serah cut in.

    “Okay, Julia, we’ll wait in the reception area then.” Serah grinned as she led the two older men out of the warehouse.

    Once they reached the reception area, they found Angel, who had already changed from his usual hoodie and jeans combo into a nice, black shirt and slacks. His face, however, was still hidden behind his porcelain, full-face jesters mask; divided up by a vertical line down the center and a horizontal line across the bridge of the nose, colored black and white except for the lips of the mask which were gold. The eye sockets of the mask revealed his unusual eyes; black instead of white and an emerald green iris that stood out even more because of the dark background, a result of the darkness living inside him due to his status as the True Elemental of Darkness. He spoke when he saw them enter the room. “Hey, did you find what you were looking for?”

    “Not yet, Angel, but we’re not far off, I think.” Liam said, shaking the Elemental’s hand and then, less formally, giving him a high-five. “How’ve you been? It’s been far too long since we’ve seen one another.”

    “Can’t complain, been getting a decent amount of work, lately. Which could be good or bad depending on how you look at it; luckily we’ve been called in before anyone’s gotten hurt. Just got back from dealing with a haunting. You know how ghosts are, big whiners.” Despite not being able to see his face behind his mask, it was apparently he was smiling as he said this. “We just had to help the guy find peace and he moved on. Nothing too exciting.”

    Chadwyck stepped up and followed Liam’s exampled: shaking Angel’s hand and then high-fiving him. Serah stepped up and embraced him, planting a small kiss on his cheek as she did so.

    “So, what brings you guys to New York? I take it that this is something important to make this guy,” he indicated Chadwyck, “sit through hours of research.”

    Chadwyck smirked, taking the jab in stride. “Well, unfortunately, that contract I had placed on me during the incident in Lucanad is still active.” Angel glanced at Chadwyck, surprised he was taking the life threatening news so lightly, before fixing his gaze on Liam.

    “You mean the one you told me about?” Liam nodded solemnly. “So, I take it you had a run in with them, then.”

    “Liam’s douchey family?” Chadwyck chuckled, “yes, but Liam took care of them easily enough. Unfortunately, they’re not likely to give up while the contract is still active. So we’re left with one option.”

    Serah was the one who finished the thought for Chadwyck. “We’ve got to find Huxley and either make him remove the contract, or kill him.” She sounded angry, her voice betraying her hatred of the man. Not only for the crimes he committed against the people of her homeland, but for daring to try and hurt Chadwyck, the person that she loved more than anything in the world. Her big brother.

    Angel was quiet for a couple of seconds, “well, you guys know if you need any help at all, Julia and I are here for you. Free of charge, of course,” they all shared a laugh as Julia came back downstairs. She had changed into a black, Victorian style dress with a short, black leather jacket, lace gloves and high heeled leather boots. Normally, she’d wear a cloak instead of a jacket, but dinner in the big city wasn’t typically a place one wore such things.

    “All right, everyone, sorry for the wait. Adam will, unfortunately, not be joining us,” she smiled and took Liam and Chadwyck’s arms, “shall we go?”

    ----------------------------------

    The restaurant that they ended up at was beautiful and, as Chadwyck noticed with a bit of a frown, expensive. The bounty hunters had money to spare, sure enough, but Chadwyck was still hesitant to spend too much in one sitting; still, since it was a rare occasion to spend time with Julia and Angel, the young elemental allowed himself to relax.

    The restaurant itself was called Seventh Heaven and was located in a tower on Central Park West, from the interior of the restaurant, one could overlook the park stretching out below. Which was possible no matter where in the round restaurant one happened to be seated, as the entire building revolved at the top of the spire. The crystalline glass sparkled with the reflection of candles and chandeliers, many smartly dressed patrons were sprawled out among the many tables, draped with silk tablecloths. The silverware was real silver, and the glasses made of fine crystal, fine china made Chadwyck a bit uncomfortable as he took his seat.

    “Relax, ducky, from looking at you, one would think that you hadn’t ever been to a five star restaurant. We’ve got more than enough cash for this place.” Liam smirked as he raised his champagne glass and took a sip.

    “Yeah, yeah,” Chadwyck muttered, noticing for the first time that they had been seated for the past few minutes. He was so preoccupied with the decor that his body had been functioning on autopilot. “I’d like to have some money left after this too, you know.” The last part of the sentence was lost to anyone who was still listening, as he said it under his breath and just as the waitress returned, topping off everyone’s drinks and preparing to take their dinner orders.

    Serah was absolutely beaming with excitement, it wasn’t often that they attended a dinner at such a lavish establishment. She didn’t mind since she knew that they weren’t really cut out for that kind of fine dining, but now that she had been given an excuse, she couldn’t help but feel as if they should be eating at places like this all the time.

    They all placed their orders, Julia ordering a filet mignon cooked medium-rare, Angel opting for seafood fettuccine, the smiling waitress wrote their orders down with practiced grace before turning her piercing blue gaze on Chadwyck, Liam and Serah. Serah was the easiest, ordering whatever vegetarian dish appealed to her the most. Liam ordered roasted duck with raspberry glaze, and Chadwyck glanced down a the menu and decided on beef wellington. The overly happy waitress skipped away to place their orders as Chadwyck finished off his glass of champagne.

    Every took sips from their glasses of champagne, except Serah who was still too young for alcohol and instead drank a glass of ginger ale, and Liam couldn’t help glancing over at Angel and getting a glance at what lay beneath his mask as he moved it just out of the way of his lips. He’d never seen the scars, but he knew the story of how he’d been caught in a fire when he was a boy and had only survived thanks to the shadows opening a doorway for him to escape. Then another thought struck the green-haired man. “Wait, that’s a fair point. How often do you two come here? No one is even casting a glance at our appearance, even with Angel’s mask being so obvious.”

    “Well, this is our favorite spot for when we feel like high class food and a wonderful view,” Julia said with a practiced, high-brow smile of someone in elite status, “but it’s also due to the fact that in Manhattan we’re pretty well known. Terra Investigations is a prospering business after all; I’ve even had calls about turning our job into a television show.” She laughed a little at the idea. “People tend to recognize us just because of jobs we’ve done around the city, stopping supernatural crime is apparently very news worthy.”

    “That’s amazing, Julia, we’re practically eating with celebrities.” Serah grinned, looking at the older girl, it was plain to see that the young brunette held high respect for Julia, and that it had just been increased by discovering the woman’s celebrity status.

    “Well, what about you guys?” Angel asked, lowering his mask again, “you do a lot of mercenary work and the like, don’t people recognize you from all that you’ve done?”

    Chadwyck thought about this for a moment, trying to remember if he’d ever noticed someone gawking at him before. “I think it depends on the job and the place. A lot of our work is more for corporations and politicians than for normal people with problems that need solving. But, on occasion, we’ve been responsible for saving a town or something from a monster or two. We’ve been in the news a few times, but we’ve always preferred to stay under the radar. With the Monroe family after us now, you understand why.”

    As Chadwyck finished his explanation a woman approached the table, at first everyone was so preoccupied with the conversation that they just assumed it was the waitress. Only Angel noticed that the woman was different, and not a moment too soon, as he noticed her dropping powder into Chadwyck’s drink as she refilled it. “Look out!” He shouted as a tendril of darkness shot out from beneath the table, poised to impale the woman through the chest. She avoided the attack, by only mere inches, by springing backwards out of the way, landing briefly on her hands and then back on her feet.

    Now they were all up and ready to fight, watching the woman carefully as she eyed them like a rat that had been backed into the corner by a cat. All around the restaurant, men and women disguised as waiters began to come to her aid, and in seconds Chadwyck and company were completely surrounded. “They tracked us down this quickly?” Serah sighed, shifting her gaze back and forth from one group of enemies to another. There had to be at least twelve of them, more than doubling Chadwyck’s group.

    “I take it that these must be your brothers and sisters, Liam,” Julia nodded pleasantly, “pleasure to meet you all. Now, if you’d be so kind as to leave, we won’t need to end your meaningless lives.”

    “You guys really didn’t do your homework, did you?” Angel scoffed, looking around the group surrounding them. “You should know that even doubling our number won’t be enough, we’re not exactly your typical opponents.” In time with his words, the shadows beneath all of their feet became tangible, raising out of the ground and attempting to swallow them whole.

    One of the boys in the group’s eyes flashed and the shadows evaporated into inky, black smoke from a sudden burst of light.

    “Careful, Angel, the Monroe family only recruits children with great skill. Almost all of them have supernatural abilities.” Liam explained carefully, making sure that none of them attempted to strike while he spoke, “of course,” he began with a wry grin, “that doesn’t mean that they’re good enough to stop us.”

    Chadwyck and Serah, who had fought alongside Liam many times over the past three years, used his sentence as their cue to attack, and they each fell to their knees and attacked as he finished his taunt. Chadwyck sent a wave of fire toward three of the attackers, it started low to the ground and grew to a crest like a wave in the ocean. A boy no older than Serah split the flames with a spire of ice protecting from the flames. Thrusting his palm forward the ice splintered into shards and flew through the air at the young elemental.

    A wall of darkness stopped the ice shards in their tracks before sinking back into the abyss from whence it came.

    By this time the entire restaurant was in an uproar, patrons and employees scattered, tripping over themselves to get as far away from the danger as possible. Within seconds the area immediately around them was devoid of life. In the next few minutes, everyone would be safely away from the fight.

    Serah held her hand flat in front of her, her palm facing the ceiling, and blew on her hand; seeds spread out on the ground before her as she did so, seemingly appearing from her skin. Instantly, the seeds took root in the carpet and erupted into a tangled mess of vines; everything happened in a matter of seconds. The vines stretched out and attempted to entangle several of the attackers, which they did successfully to two young girls who had been rushing forward to attack Liam and Angel.

    The attack made contact with another girl’s feet without any trouble, but before it could wrap itself around her fully, she looked down and they began to wither, water vapor escaped into the air around the vines. The girl giggled as the water vapor combined into a single puddle in midair, that continued growing as the plants were being withered away back toward their origin, Serah. She sent the water, which by now was a large volume, toward Serah and she was submerged, in midair.

    Liam noticed it happening and teleported into the water with her, took hold of her hand, and got out of the water. He wasn’t pleased to be soaked to the bone, but keeping Serah safe was always his first priority. He turned, a handgun in mid-reload in his hand. He switched his ammunition to elemental bullets and fired a round into the sphere of water where they had just been.

    It froze and fell from the air, shattering into powdered fragments upon hitting the ground. He continued firing, the bullets causing ice to sprout from whatever they made contact with. One of them found their target, and the hydrokinetic girl froze solid as she fell to the ground. “Eleven to go,” he breathed.

    Julia turned to the other six of them and grinned, knowing full well that each of them had a special ability, but also knowing that whatever it was wouldn’t help them against her. She muttered a spell beneath her breath and thrust a hand out in front of her, a magic circle spread out in the air just an inch from her fingers. “Arc of Lightning,” she spoke clearly and confidently, and as she did so the magic circle exploded into bolts of electricity that raced toward the six assassins.

    Four of them took direct hits from the attack, but the last two managed to avoid with the aid of teleportation. “Lucky ducks,” she smiled as she turned on her heel and tried to spot them again.

    Chadwyck and Angel rushed forward, the three Chadwyck had attempted to remove from the equation were firing at them with semi-automatic machine-guns; Chadwyck was stopping the bullets with an electromagnetic field that stopped all the bullets from reaching them.

    Angel manipulated the shadows and wrapped them around himself, causing him to disappear entirely. Chadwyck thrust his hand forward, sending his electronic pulse forward, knocking them all off of their feet for a moment. It was all that Angel needed, having risen from the shadows behind them all and kneeling down. Their own shadows spread out on the ground served as their downfall, tendrils stretching out and impaling them, grabbing them all, and pulling them into the darkness. None of them would be seen again.

    Over on Liam and Serah’s side of the battle, things were getting interesting. The two girls who had been ensnared by Serah’s vines were now free thanks to the hydrokinetic’s efforts. They looked at Liam and Serah with mild amusement, the fact that their “sister” had been frozen solid didn’t seem to effect them in the slightest. They were able to fight again, that was all that mattered.

    One of them snarled as her body shapeshifted into something entirely unlike a girl, she was more along the lines of a bizarre black beast. It was hard to pinpoint what beast had been the intended result, but one thing was clear: this black scaled creature had claws. The other pulled a kendo stick from her back which was promptly surrounded by an aura of white light that seemed to take the shape of a blade.

    “I’ve got the shapeshifter,” Serah rushed forward immediately, not wasting a second of time waiting for the fight to come to her.

    Liam couldn’t help but smile as he watched her eagerness, then turned his attention to the light-wielding swordsman. He held his pistols up and they became a briefcase again, instantly, without missing a second, he had inserted another key into the lock and was holding a sawed off shotgun in their stead. He fired both barrels at the girl as he teleported.

    She blocked the pellets with a flourish of her light-blade and cartwheeled out of the way, Liam having appeared above her with a combat knife that he kept tucked into a small sheath on his leg. As she avoided his stab, he fired again, aiming low at her feet. She jumped up to avoid it and Liam jumped as well, teleporting as he did so. He reappeared inches from her, the momentum from his own jump still carrying him forward; he brought his knee up and into her chin, sending her spiraling down toward the ground.

    Liam was there first, however, bringing his body round in a backflip, placing his feet firmly on her chest as he spun and slamming her into the ground. The impact caused her to cough up blood and lose the grip on her kendo stick, sending it skittering across the ground. “How are you tracking us?” Liam asked in a growl, kneeling low and placing his weapon against her forehead.

    “Let me save you the trouble, big brother,” she spat the words at him and bit down, her mouth beginning to foam immediately. She had realized Liam’s intent was to interrogate her and resorted to poisoning herself; the assassin’s last ditch effort to avoid compromising the mission. “Father,” she wheezed as her body spasmed, “will see you dead.” With a sick grin the life was drained out of her body, a few spasms later she lay perfectly still.

    Serah jabbed out with an outstretched hand, branches that looked more akin to metal spikes coiled around her hand. The shapeshifter dodged the attack and tried one of her own, slashing for the young girl’s throat. A thicket of vines intercepted the attack, slowing it enough for Serah to move aside and deliver a kick to the black beast’s solar plexus. Small thorns had attached themselves to the bottom of Serah’s shoes, making the kick more painful.

    In retaliation, the scaly abomination swept at Serah’s legs. Serah countered the attack by flinging herself forward, above the swipe and over the shapeshifter as it was ducking low. As she passed overhead she commanded more vines to grow from the ceiling and wrap themselves around the shapeshifter’s throat. With a slash of razor-sharp claws the vines were torn asunder and the attack continued. “You just don’t know when to call it quits, do ya?” Serah asked, avoiding another attempt at tearing out her throat.

    She concentrated on her immediate surroundings and in the next second a thicket of bamboo shot out of the ground around her, impeding her attacker’s movements. She ducked low, knowing what to expect next and waiting for her moment to strike. The bamboo was halved by a swipe of the monster’s claws and it bellowed out in frustration. At that moment Serah acted, leaping into the shapeshifter’s stomach and delivering a crippling knee to the stomach; as the beast doubled over, Serah flicked something into the creature’s mouth. “You should really learn to keep that big mouth of yours shut.” She smirked as she began walking away. The shapeshifter seized this opportunity to rush toward Serah, stopping dead in its tracks only inches away.

    Shrieking in pain, the life was wrestled out of her body by whatever this new attack was. Serah turned with a solemn sigh, watching as blood red roses blossomed from the shapeshifter’s mouth and ears. “Such a pity, such beautiful flowers wasted on the likes of you.”

    All that was left was Julia’s two, who had reappeared to her right. Again, she spoke an incantation and the air around her began to chill, her breath was visible as well as the breath of the two girls. A magic rune had encompassed a large area of the ground around the three of them. They shivered as they began unloading rounds of their sidearms at the young sorceress. Julia held up a single finger as she continued to mutter the incantation, a barrier deflected the bullets, sending them off course around the room.

    She stopped reciting the spell and pointed her finger at the pair. “Flash Freeze,” she commanded, and again the rune erupted into light. Everything within the circle froze instantly, there was no hope of escape, even for a teleporter; the girls were nothing more than ice sculptures now.

    The group came together again, already coming off of the adrenaline rush they’d had during the fight. “So, they seemed nice.” Julia joked, hoping to make light the fight that had just taken place. It wasn’t as if she’d been given any trouble by it.

    “Did anyone manage to figure out how they were tracking us?” Liam asked, though he knew that everyone had been too preoccupied with trying to survive the encounter to think of questioning the attackers. “I tried to ask one of the girls, but she poisoned herself before I could get any information out of her.”

    “Sorry, Liam, I wasn’t thinking. Just got a bit carried away.” Angel scratched the back of his head as the others all repeated a variation of what he had said, all looking slightly embarrassed.

    “Well, at least we took care of them. We’ve bought ourselves a bit more time to finish looking through the records and get out of New York.” Chadwyck noted, leaning against the window and taking in the view.

    “Then we’d best get to it,” Serah agreed.

    Julia sighed, “and we didn’t even get our meals.”

    Everyone had lowered their guards too much to notice the thirteenth assassin appear in the room and rush toward Chadwyck, and by the time they noticed that he was there, the assassin had tackled Chadwyck out of the window.

    “Chad!” Serah shouted, almost flinging herself out with him.

    “Serah, no! He’ll be fine, c’mon!” Liam grabbed her and kept her from doing anything rash as they watched the pair of men fall from the tower.

    “You’re a dead man, Felling.” The assassin laughed wildly, his arms locked around Chadwyck, keeping his arms pinned to his side. The air rushing passed their heads was loud and piercingly cold thanks to the velocity they were traveling and the time of night that it was.

    Chadwyck didn’t look amused, looking into the man’s eyes and scoffing. He burst into flames, the intensity causing the man to release his grip from Chadwyck, swearing as he did so. Chadwyck grabbed the man by the throat, choking him as he positioned him beneath his own body, poised to slam him into the concrete below. “How are you tracking us?” Chadwyck demanded, “I can save you if you tell me now.”

    The man’s response was a rough attempt at spitting in Chadwyck’s face. It was enough of a success to push Chadwyck over the edge as he squeezed the man’s throat all the tighter and racked his body with several thousand volts of electricity. He threw the man downward, as best as he could given his lack of leverage, and stopped his own descent with a burst of flames at his feet. He floated down to safety with the use of his electrokinesis, landing softly beside what remained of the assassin’s body.

    “Charming,” Liam grunted upon seeing the mess on the sidewalk. “I take it he wasn’t keen on talking either?”

    Chadwyck shook his head as he rubbed his eyes. “I’m freaking tired, let’s go get some shut eye. I’ve had enough of this crap for one day.”

    “Sorry that our evening was ruined, you two,” Serah frowned, addressing Angel and Julia, “we’ll see you tomorrow.”

    “Yeah, see you guys then.” Liam and Chadwyck added together and they began walking away.

    “No problem, don’t worry about it at all,” Julia smiled and waved goodbye, “do try and be careful on your way back home.”

    “Yeah, and don’t bring anymore friends with you tomorrow. I’ve had about all I can take of these losers,” Angel added with a chuckle.

    The five of them parted ways, leaving the incident at the restaurant behind them and hoping that the next day would hold more positive results.
     
  7. OoC: This is a bit of a shorter chapter (it's only like 7 pages) D: but I figured that I had reached a good stopping point and I didn't want to ramble on for another fifteen pages on what could easily be the next chapter, so yeah :x

    Chapter 3: Hopefully They Have Insurance

    Another twenty-four hours passed with Chadwyck, Liam and Serah sifting through document after document of Lucanad’s most recent reports, and there had been nothing about the whereabouts of Huxley. He had vanished from the country, and other than the odd reference to him still being out there somewhere by whoever was writing the reports, there was no information about him whatsoever. Even Julia and Angel had helped them think of possible solutions and other documents they should check, all in vain. This man knew how to stay out of the public eye, at least this soon after the event.

    “So, what? We forget about it and wait for some Monroe brat to come kill us? Not gonna happen, we are the Mercs With Merit, we always get our job done.” Chadwyck had blurted out, pounding his chest to show that he was not going to surrender that easily.

    Liam rubbed his eyes, he still wasn’t sleeping well, and staring at the pages all day had been bad for his eyesight. He had already removed his contacts in favor of his glasses, as there was too much irritation to keep his lenses in. “No, we can’t give up. If we don’t find him, we’re sealing our own fates.”

    “Well, boys, it’s obvious what we need to do, then,” Serah snapped her fingers and shifted her hand into a ‘thumbs-up’ directed at her two companions, “we go to Lucanad and search for anything he might have left behind. There’s bound to be something in the old palace, or his house.” She hesitated before she added the last part, but she realized that this was bigger than her personal squabbles. Without Chadwyck and Liam, she would be left alone, and keeping them safe was worth more than her pride. “We can even see if my parents know anything, provided they haven’t gotten themselves thrown in prison by the new regime.”

    “All right, then it’s decided.” Chadwyck stood triumphantly, cracking his neck. “We’re going back to Lucanad to continue our search!”

    “Come and eat first,” Julia shouted into the warehouse, having heard Chadwyck’s shouting echo throughout the building. “You can leave once you’ve had dinner with us again. Don’t worry, we went out and got it; figured that it’d be safer to eat in.” They couldn’t see her face, as she was at the other end of the warehouse, but they all could tell she was sticking her tongue out teasingly.

    “So, you’re heading to Lucanad then? To see if Huxley left anything behind?” Angel asked, his mask moved aside so that he could eat. A modest meal of a local Chinese Take-Away restaurant, a fact which Adam seemed to disapprove. Not that the man in the book’s cover could eat anyway, but he felt that such food was beneath him, and as such, beneath his current master.

    “It’s worth a shot, the New Regime doesn’t seem to have any ideas where he went, but he might have left something behind in his house, or the old palace, or one of the secret bunkers used by the Gold Division.” Chadwyck answered, taking a mouthful of Chow Mein. He was the only person at the table using chopsticks, everyone else was more comfortable with a fork.

    “Those bunkers sound like they may be trouble to find.” Adam noted from his position propped up beside Julia so that he was facing the table and the guests. “How do you intend to uncover them?”

    “It’s been three years, so the New Regime should have uncovered most of them by now, and Lucanad isn’t a big place, worst case it’ll take us a few days to find them all.” Liam shrugged, resigning to the idea of spending more time than he was comfortable for the sake of finding an end to the conflict.

    “And with Liam’s teleporting, hopefully it won’t even take that long.” Serah knocked on the wooden table, smiling. “And with any luck, we’ll find something useful before we need to resort to searching for the bunkers.”

    “Would you three like any help? Angel and I don’t have any cases at the moment,” Julia frowned, not pleased with the prospect of her friends up against so many people with only the three of them to fight back. Adam, however, kept on mouthing: if you want Lucanad to still be there in the morning, I suggest saying no repeatedly toward them, shaking his head frantically.

    “We’ll be fine, Julia, we can’t ask you to get any more involved than you already have. We put you in danger for our sake once already.” Liam shrugged, finishing off his hot and sour soup.

    “Oh, Julia, you’ve actually got a case, I forgot to mention,” John mumbled from the doorway, having just stuck his head around to keep Julia from running off on some crazy adventure. “Someone called while you were out, they said that there was something odd happening in their town, but they didn’t know the cause of it. Even the local church is at a loss for explanations into the matter, and the Holy City recommended you and Angel to the mayor.”

    Julia smiled, it was good to have friends in high places, lately they had been getting a lot of work thrown their way from the church; they were still recuperating after the incident and couldn’t afford to send out many of their Clerics. It was just another outlet through which their agency was gaining notoriety; not to say they had bad business before, it was just greatly increased recently.

    “Anything specific?” Angel asked with his mouth full of Shrimp Fried Rice.

    “Mysterious disappearances. They don’t know anything more.”

    Chadwyck, Liam and Serah took this as their cue to leave. They stood, thanked Julia and Angel for their hospitality, and began heading for the door.

    “Hey, you guys,” Julia called after them, causing them all to cast a glance back over their shoulders, “try not to die, you hear me? I’ve already got enough revenge to chase after, I don’t need any more on my plate.”

    They laughed, and Chadwyck replied, “you know us, we won’t go down easy. Too stubborn for that.” He gave her and Angel a thumbs-up and a smile, before waving and following his companions out into the street. He could hear Julia eagerly gathering the details for their case as the door swung closed behind them.

    “Alright, back to Sem and Sorena’s house to pack up our stuff and then we’re out of here. We’ve stayed put too long anyway, so watch your backs.” Surprisingly, it was Serah who was warning them, not Liam. She was more anxious than before, after having been attacked at dinner the previous night, plus the added prospect of returning home; which meant the possibility of seeing her parents. She closed her eyes and forced herself to focus on the present. There wasn’t time to dwell on the house that she once called home.

    They took a few steps in sync with one another, Chadwyck and Serah grabbing hold of Liam’s coat sleeves, and then they were gone.

    Luckily they were all well accustomed to instantaneous spacial transfers after three years, but even so with all the teleporting they had done in the past few days, Chadwyck was starting to feel nauseous. “You know, maybe we should take it easy on the teleporting right after dinner. My stomach is still back on East 57th, and that doesn’t feel very good.”

    “Quit your whining and go pack your bags, we’ve gotta get going.” Serah stuck her tongue out at Chadwyck teasingly, though she had to admit that she too was feeling a bit sick. Liam was never affected by his ability because he’d grown accustomed to it years ago, but his friends were still relatively fresh on the spectrum of teleporting, and food never liked to cooperate with a stomach that didn’t know how to just stay in one place.

    Chadwyck grabbed his sword and slid it into the clasps on his back, locking the blade in place. He felt uncomfortable without his sword, he’d had it by his side for twelve years and whenever he had to leave it behind, he felt strangely naked. It had become a part of him, and it was a constant reminder of the Old Man; an enchanted-weapon smith and his surrogate father after the loss of his real family who lived in Mount Hybourne in Lucanad.

    He grabbed a handful of clothes and shoved them back into his bag, but he froze suddenly, as if he had been caught in one of Julia’s Flash Freezes. “Something’s wrong.” He whispered, though he couldn’t figure out what it was. He had a good sixth sense, it was usually correct about things being off, even if it was ever so slightly.

    Instantly, he grabbed his bag and sprinted into Serah’s room, taking her hand and her bag and rushing off down the stairs. “Liam!” He shouted, but the green-haired man was already running up the stairs to meet them. Without warning he tackled Chadwyck and Serah and they all disappeared, reappearing the same instant several hundred yards from the house as it went up in a giant explosion; not only did flames tear apart Sem and Sorena’s house, but the buildings directly next to their home began to burn as well.

    “What the--” Serah’s shout was drowned out as the fire began to roar, engulfing the debris and starting to spread to other buildings.

    “Liam! How did you know something was wrong?” Chadwyck asked, thankful for his friend’s quick actions.

    “I found the bomb.” He coughed smoke out of his lungs, “and I’m sure it wasn’t the only one after an explosion like that. But one was in the closet, luckily that was where I hung up my spare suit, or I’d never have found it.”

    Chadwyck nodded and ran forward, extending his hands and trying to establish a link with the flames in his mind. Go to sleep, flames. Relax, and go to sleep.

    While he was trying to put the fires out, which were rapidly spreading to the surrounding buildings and heading higher up the Manhattan Skyline, the earth beneath his feet began to shift and crack, before becoming soft and malleable. He started to sink, but he refused to let the flames claim any lives. The quick sand was up to his torso before it hardened again, trapping him entirely. His eyes were still closed, pouring all his concentration into stopping the spreading fires.

    Serah immediately went to work, taking hold of the plant life living beneath the asphalt and sidewalks, forcing it to expand and grow exponentially; the ground around Chadwyck tried to collapse and crush the young man’s lower half, but thick weeds that were as strong as steel pipes tore the ground apart before it could do any damage to her friend.

    Liam scanned the area, deciding that whoever was attacking them this time was not only alone; the trap would have been set up by this individual who had intended to only stick around to make sure no one was left alive after the explosion and to confirm the kill had been made. Now, however, they were improvising; and they were likely at a vantage point where they could have been safe from the explosion and flames, while still having a good view of the street.

    There were too many possible locations. Every window could be housing the assassin, they could be up on a roof, or sitting in the cafe on the corner. Liam’s mind worked overtime, running through all of his training that he had received to try and guess not only the assassin’s location, but also his next step. He could have been lining up a shot from a sniper at that very moment or trying to collapse the entire street and bury them in the earth. What would Liam have done in this situation?

    In the next second he was gone, air rushing away from him as he filled the space that it had been occupying milliseconds before. He was in a darkened room, the only light coming from the open window. At the window, there was no one. “I was wrong?” Liam was about to teleport again, when he felt the gun barrel press into his back.

    “No, you were right. And I was counting on it. You forget, Liam, we know you just as much as you know us.” It was a woman’s voice, and she sounded older than the other assassins that Patrick had sent after them. A veteran of the family, then? Someone more likely to complete the task. Apparently Patrick was beginning to grow weary of this game, he was throwing more hardened killers at them now.

    “So, why haven’t you killed me?” He asked, hazarding a glance over his shoulder. She was about five inches shorter than he was, and the barrel he felt against his back belonged to a Glock 17. She was right, though, she knew what she was doing. With the gun barrel touching Liam, he couldn’t teleport. She was a trained killer, in the split second that it took Liam to teleport away, she would pull the trigger and the bullet would be inside the young man before his body faded completely.

    She smiled, though there was no hint of warmth in it, it was more akin to a mountain lion baring its teeth. “You’ll be dead soon enough, but first, I need to use that briefcase of yours. A sniper rifle, now.” She was commanding him to produce a weapon from Pandora’s Box, so Liam could gather that she didn’t know how the case actually worked or she would have simply killed him and took the box and the keyring for herself.

    Liam sighed deeply, trying to act as if she had made a decision that actually affecting him negatively. In actuality, Liam was slightly impressed with how quickly this woman was able to formulate this plan, but her fatal mistake was not killing Liam and instead trying to use him. Give the enemy time to think and you’re lowering your chances of success every second; Patrick had taught him that, but it held true.

    The green-haired young man held Pandora’s Box up, so that the young woman behind him could see it clearly, and began to knock on it with his other hand, as if there were a specific order of taps that would cause the case to bend to your will. The assassin watched, mystified, as she eagerly awaited her prize; once she had the sniper rifle, she could kill Liam and use the rifle to finish off the others. She could practically taste Patrick’s praise when she returned with the news, and she allowed herself to become distracted for but a moment. That was all the time Liam needed.

    He spun, knocking the gun away with his briefcase, delivering a swift kick to the woman’s chest, splintering the door behind her and sending her flailing back into the hallway. He picked up her Glock and tested its weight in his hand before aiming it at her. “Nice gun, think I’ll keep it. You should’ve killed me as soon as you had me caught off guard. Oh, and you should have picked a spot closer to the ground,” he added, “the seventeenth floor is a bit too far from anything a geokinetic can manipulate.”

    He fired a round in between her eyes, “I’m sorry, you know,” he said after he dispatched her, “I know you didn’t chose this path for yourself.” He shook his head quickly, trying to remove the guilt he felt as he tucked the Glock into his waistline.

    “Don’t go getting sentimental, you fool,” he could almost hear Patrick saying in his ear, “these people are nothing more than targets. When you see them, you do not see a person, only a mark.”

    “She would have kept coming after you if you didn’t kill her.” He tried to convince himself. He clenched his fists. These weren’t the Monroes he was fighting, these were lost children the same as him who had been brought up to be killers. “You changed, didn’t you?” He asked, looking at the young woman’s body. “Would they do the same, given the chance?”

    All of the assassins who he had killed in the past two days danced in his mind. “Patrick Monroe.” Liam spat the name, “you knew that this would happen. You knew the guilt I’d feel killing others like me. For what you’re making me do, I will never forgive you. But if it’s for my best friend, I don’t care who my enemy is. For every one of them you make me kill, however, I will pay you back tenfold.” This oath Liam swore to the non-present Patrick eased his mind. He would continue to fight and to kill, he had no choice but to do so. But he would make the man responsible for all of it pay. “That’s a promise,” he said to the assassin laying at his feet.

    He teleported back down to the street to see Chadwyck had successfully quelled the flames and Serah had broken him free from the constricting earth and asphalt. They could hear sirens in the distance, “the police will be here soon, it’d be best if we weren’t present when they arrive.” Liam said, approaching his friends.

    “Yeah, we’d better go.” Chadwyck stretched as Serah nodded in agreement. “Hey,” Chadwyck continued, given Liam a look over, “you alright?”

    “They didn’t chose to become assassins,” Liam said flatly, “the Monroes took away their freedom and sent them to kill us. In order to defend ourselves, we have to kill them, I know that, but--”

    “They don’t deserve it, Liam, you’re right,” Serah placed a hand on Liam’s shoulder, “but we don’t have a choice. Your father has taken that luxury away from us. Right now, it’s kill or be killed. But I promise you,” she looked him straight in the eye, “we will make him pay for all that he’s done.”

    Liam nodded, taking a deep breath and letting Chadwyck and Serah grab onto his coat again. “Next stop, Wynfoll.”

    Chadwyck glanced over at the remains of Sem and Sorena’s house. “I sure hope they have insurance.” He smiled sheepishly as the trio vanished into the night air.

    OoC: Why, yes, in case you were wondering, that case that Julia and Angel received as our heroes left Terra Investigations /is/ a fic idea that will probably come about centering on the Terra Investigators ;D
     
  8. OoC: I really hope you guys are enjoying the story, because I am actually really liking where it is going and how well it is progressing. It's really helping me get back into the swing of writing, which I've been a bit disconnected with lately.

    Please feel free to leave comments letting me know what you think about the chapters and story as a whole, I'd love to get some feedback since these are three very important characters to me. Thanks ^_^

    Chapter 4: Somewhere Beyond the Sea

    The Lucanad air was crisp and refreshing, this time of year was usually chilly, leading into the warmer temperatures of the Summer. There were occasional storms that soaked the land, but the frequency of the rain had lessened in the last few weeks. The country’s capitol, Wynfoll, was located on the Southern Shore; the Prime Minister’s palace was situated on a cliff overlooking the ocean. This was not the Old Palace, however, the Old Palace was located in the Western forests, and that was where the Supreme Commander Kendrick Ridley had ruled the country. The Wynfoll mansion had been reconstructed to house the elected officials of the Reformed Republic of Lucanad, and the Old Palace was abandoned.

    Before Chadwyck, Liam and Serah could search the Old Palace for any clues left behind as to the location of Maximillion Huxley, they needed to check in with Prime Minister O’Halland and announce that they were in the country. They also needed someplace to sleep, as they had skipped straight over night hours and into the early morning thanks to the time difference. They would head out the next day, hoping that there would be time to relax before the Monroe family found them again.

    They appeared in Treggar Square, at the center of Wynfoll in the early morning, just about the time that the city would be sparking to life. The city hadn’t changed much in the three years that they had been gone, the same old cobblestone roads and old brick buildings lined the square, smoke still rose from chimneys up to the sky, mingling with the clouds overhead.

    What had changed, however, was the appearance of three rather impressive marble statues in the center of the square, situated in a triangle like shape, facing away from one another. They were each about ten feet tall, depicting the likenesses of Chadwyck, holding his sword above his head in a triumphant cheer, Liam, fixing his hat and aiming a pistol to Chadwyck’s left, and Serah, holding her hand out with a blooming rose in her palm and several vines spreading out from her feet.

    “That’s impressive,” Liam said, gazing up at the statues in awe.

    “I never thought that they’d be this impressive,” Serah gaped, she remembered reading that they erected statues in their honor after they left, but not prepared for how impressive they would be.

    “We look awesome!” Chadwyck shouted, a huge grin spread across his face.

    “Oh, great, they’ve fed your ego even more. Please, keep it under control while we’re here.” Liam chided, but Chadwyck knew better than to take him seriously.

    Their astonishment had distracted them from the fact that a small crowd was gathering around them, the square was starting to fill with citizens who had been woken up to see their heroes who had returned to the country. They heard the whispers of the people as they confirmed their identities, looking from the statues back at them before finally the silence was broken by a collective cheer. The people of Wynfoll shouted and whistled, a small girl walked up and hugged Chadwyck’s leg, she couldn’t have been older than seven.

    The trio had not been expecting this at all, and they weren’t accustomed to welcomes that were meant for heroes; they were nothing special, but Chadwyck had unintentionally sparked a revolution, making the population of Lucanad take action against the injustice of Kendrick Ridley. In actuality, he had just been seeking revenge for the loss of his family at the hands of the Gold Division, but his action spurred others to move with him.

    The crowd pressed in on them from all sides, trying to shake hands and pat on the back and offer gifts to the three. People were in tears, thanking them from the bottom of their hearts for freeing them from the tyranny that they had faced. Three years had passed, but the pain they had been in under the rule of the Supreme Commander was still fresh in their minds. They couldn’t move a single inch, but they didn’t want to; these people were so happy just to see them, they couldn’t even think about leaving before they’d seen every last person wishing to thank them.

    “Please, citizens, let’s not overwhelm our guests!” A woman’s voice rang over a loudspeaker, somewhere overhead. The crowd stopped and parted, allowing a woman accompanied by several other important looking people walking through the masses. They didn’t look like most authority figures, they were each wearing huge grins as they approached the trio. It took Chadwyck a second to realize that the woman had to be Prime Minister Natalie O’Halland, she looked like she had aged quite a bit, despite the fact that only three years had passed. Holding office must be a stressful situation.

    “Chadwyck Felling, Serah Nightingale, Liam Monroe,” she began, turning to each of them in turn, “welcome back to Lucanad. To what do we owe the pleasure?” She said, smiling happily, she had been the one person that Chadwyck had officially sponsored for Prime Minister, but she won the election on her own merits.

    “Nothing pressing, I assure you, Madam Prime Minister. However, we would request a place to stay the night, and perhaps we could speak on our specific plans at a later time,” Liam was hoping that the Prime Minister would get the hint that speaking of their reasons for visiting aloud would be unwise. He also hoped that he avoided making the citizens feel like something was wrong with his statement.

    “Of course, you three must be exhausted! You all are welcome to stay in the palace, as my personal guests of course.” She bowed to them, which made them slightly uncomfortable; they each felt it should be the other way around, but they didn’t say anything for fear of offending her.

    “And of course,” Chadwyck started, loud enough for the crowd to hear as they were led away toward the palace, “we will hold an official press conference later and see to it that everyone gets a chance to visit with us if they so wish.” The crowd cheered again as they left Treggar Square and walked up the hill to the cliff-side mansion that housed the Prime Minister and her family.

    The palace was an impressive sight, obviously newer than the rest of the city, having been reconstructed from an old mansion that had long ago faded into shambles. It was built from stone, treated to look as old as the rest of the town. It was three stories tall, with more floors underground for use as bunkers or anything else that may be needed. The foyer was huge, with a domed ceiling that housed a massive, crystal chandelier. The floors were marble and they gleamed as if they were slick with water, it was possible to see one’s reflection almost as clearly as looking in a mirror. There was an impressive winding staircase in the back of the room that led up to the second and third floors, while the kitchen and dining room branched off on the right, through a living room that was lavishly furnished. To the left of the main entrance were many different offices, but behind a huge mahogany door lay the Prime Minister’s office.

    “Could I have a word before we show you to your rooms?” She asked, leading them to the door.

    “Of course, it’s no trouble at all.” Serah smiled and filed through the door, being held open by two guards.

    After they took their seats on three comfortable, leather chairs and the Prime Minister was behind her desk, Natalie O’Halland spoke again, “so what could you not tell me in the square? Is there trouble in our country?” She was worried, hoping that if something was wrong, these three heroes had come to offer their support.

    “Nothing is threatening Lucanad, Madam Prime Minister, this is a personal issue,” Chadwyck answered, scratching his head, “unfortunately, Maximillion Huxley has an unresolved contract with the Monroe family of assassins for my life.”

    “I’m... I’m sorry to hear that,” suddenly the Prime Minister felt guilty, not being able to offer one of her country’s heroes and the man responsible for her being elected into office anything more than an apology. “I’m afraid he’s no longer in Lucanad, we would have tried him for crimes against the people if we had caught him. We still have no idea where he is.”

    “We are aware that he’s no longer in Lucanad, however we were hoping that he might have left something behind that may be able to tell us where he went or where he might go in case something happened. Anything that may help us find him and put a stop to the contract.” Liam was the one who had answered this time, sighing.

    “If I come across anything I’ll let you know immediately. Where do you intend to look?”

    “The man’s home, if it hasn’t already been torn down or sold, and the Old Palace.”

    “Hm, we have checked his home, unfortunately there was nothing there. He spent most of his time in the Old Palace protecting Ridley. There was little to be found aside from the bare essentials should he return home and stay for a few days. As for the Old Palace,” she paused, looking over a few old documents, “we haven’t searched it thoroughly. We were content to let it remain a ghost, and we left it alone.”

    “Then we’ll begin our search there tomorrow morning,” Liam decided, standing, “now, if it’s alright, I would like to get some rest.”

    “Of course, I’ll have the guards show you to your rooms. Please, feel free to help yourself to anything in the palace. It’s because of you three that we even have this building, it’s as much yours as it is ours.”

    They thanked the Prime Minister for her hospitality and exited the room, following the guards up the stairs to the second floor, east wing, and to their rooms. They shared a small living room area that branched into their rooms, which was just as well furnished as the main living room on the first floor had been. The guard saluted them, bowed, and excused himself from the room.

    After dropping off the few belongings they salvaged from the fire in New York in their rooms, they met again in the common area.

    “You guys can get some rest,” Chadwyck said with a stretch, “I’m going to visit the Old Man.”

    Liam and Serah looked at each other, trying to decide if it was safe for him to go alone. “You want me to teleport you up there?” Liam asked, though it was apparent that he was exhausted.

    “Nah, I’ll be fine walking. It’ll only take a few hours to get up to Mount Hybourne on foot, and I’d like the time to clear my head. It’s been a really hectic past few days.” He started to leave, “could one of you call Sem and explain what happened? I’d prefer it if they found out their house blew up from us instead of the news. I’ll be back by nightfall.” He shut the door behind him.

    “Nose goes!” Serah shouted, touching her nose with her index finger. “Oh, too bad, ducky,” she said with her best Liam impression, “looks like you’ve got to let Sem know we destroyed his and Sorena’s house. Night!” She disappeared into her room, leaving a very disgruntled Liam alone with a cell phone in his hand.

    ------------------------

    The trek from the southern end of Lucanad to the area where Mount Hybourne was located, near the center of the island, was a four hour walk, it was a good chance for Chadwyck to clear his head and think about what had been going on the past few days.

    Liam had told him all about the way that the Monroe family handled their contracts. They fulfilled each and every request to the fullest, they were professionals and they handled every job that way. The client called the shots and they never failed to deliver favorable results. It was their family pride, and Liam was going to be their new star; they treated him like a member of the core family, not like the adopted child that he was. All he had to do was kill Chadwyck and fulfill the contract and it would have been a good life for him.

    That was another thing that always bugged Chadwyck, Liam was adopted by the Monroes when he was eight years old, but he had no recollection of his parents or his life before that. He told Chadwyck that he had only been in the orphanage for a year before he was adopted, so that meant that at least up to his seventh birthday he lived with someone, but Liam didn’t know who.

    It bothered Chadwyck that Liam’s parents might be out there alive somewhere and Liam would never know. And thinking about Liam’s parents, of course, made the young elemental think of his own family.

    They had lived in a small town about a mile from the base of Mount Hybourne, where the villagers never went. They regarded the mountain as something unknown and dangerous, tales of people losing their lives trying to reach the summit were the stuff of local folklore. People were content to leave it be, ignoring the behemoth and continuing their daily lives. Chadwyck’s father was a local baker, and his mother helped him in his shop. Chadwyck had been an only child, nearing his ninth birthday, and he occasionally helped his parents in the shop, which usually meant that he was eating sweet bread and playing in the back.

    He had a relatively simple life, but one that he enjoyed immensely, he was happy to be with his mother and father and they loved him very much. They gave their son everything that they could, they were attentive, and their son was their whole world. Chadwyck had wished that those days would never end. And then, the General Kendrick Ridley marched his troops into their town and began killing everyone. His parents had tried to run, to get him to safety, but they were caught and they forced Chadwyck to watch as his parents were shot and killed. What happened next, Chadwyck couldn’t be certain; he woke up in the home of the Old Man, high up on the mountain.

    The Old Man had told him that his parents were gone, and how Chadwyck himself was on his way to death’s door, when his powers awakened and he exploded in an angry ball of fire and electricity. Before the soldiers could regroup, the Old Man rushed in and saved him from their wrath.

    Chadwyck should have been grateful to the Old Man, but something inside of him was dead. He didn’t care about the fact that he was alive, all he cared about was that his parents weren’t. And he knew who had been responsible for it. Over the next nine years, the Old Man raised Chadwyck, forged him a sword, and taught him to fight. Finally, the time came that Chadwyck couldn’t wait any longer, he wanted his revenge and he set out to find it.

    That had been three years ago, and Chadwyck had not seen the Old Man since.

    He was shaken from his reverie when he came to the ruins of his town, after twelve years he could still make out the remains of buildings. He stared at the charred remains of his family’s bakery shop sign, that used to hang from the awning out front, which tears in his eyes. The earth had been churned, he knew why his town had been destroyed; a large deposit of natural gas was beneath their town and Ridley had used it to fuel his coup against the government.

    The young man clenched his fists and forged on, it wasn’t far from the mountain now.

    Then there was the revolution, of which Chadwyck and his friends became the unlikely heroes. He had never intended to start a rebellion, or overthrow any rulers and free the oppressed. All he had been interested in was avenging his parents, and his town; the fact that other people were angry with Supreme Commander Ridley had never occurred to him. Then there was Serah.

    The daughter of a family that gained power by supporting Kendrick Ridley’s coup and helping him rise to power. Serah grew up watching her parents abuse and belittle the other citizens of Lucanad, and she knew somewhere deep within her, that it was wrong. She spent many nights helping the resistance steal information from her parents, until she was finally discovered by a patrol from the Gold Division; they chased her to the outskirts of the city, and they were prepared to open fire on her, but Chadwyck’s hunt for all of Ridley’s top officers had led him to the city of Netri and he saw what was happening.

    His war against Ridley started with the Gold Division, and he jumped at the chance to dispatch the soldiers. Saving the girl in danger only occurred to him afterward, which made him feel guilty. Serah, the girl introduced herself as, decided to tag along with her savior. At first, Chadwyck had tried his best to ignore her presence, but slowly she began to get to him, and he started to see her as the little sister he never had.

    She was willing to go back to her parents and ask them for information on his behalf, he realized, they had come a long way from three years ago.

    By now, Chadwyck had reached the mouth of a cave on the face of the mountain. Inside, he could hear the clanging sound of metal meeting steel, he rolled his eyes when he realized that the Old Man was forging another enchanted weapon that no one would ever use. “Yo!” He shouted into the cave, the clanging stopped abruptly, and before Chadwyck could say another word, there was a sleek katana blade at his throat. “Sorry, Old Man, didn’t mean to startle you.”

    “Three years and you haven’t visited once, now you show up without so much as a warning?” The Old Man spoke harshly, the way that Chadwyck remembered. Though, in three short years, he appeared so much older. His hair had now fully grayed, even his goatee, his face was riddled with wrinkles that hadn’t been there before, and he seemed to have lost the spring in his step, it took him a few seconds longer than usual to have a blade at an intruders throat.

    “There’s not really much chance of me letting you know, unless you’ve joined the rest of the twenty-first century and bought a telephone.” Chadwyck grinned, the katana finally being removed from his throat.

    “Bah, telephones, television, what do I need with such things? I raised you here for nine years without it and you turned out alright, didn’t you?” He raised an eyebrow, as if he was still wondering about the answer to this himself.

    “Well, I guess, but I had one at my home before you took me in; so it made those nine years a lot harder knowing what I was missing out on. Luckily, your harsh training regimen kept me occupied.”

    The Old Man sheathed his katana, which hummed lightly from all of the power that had been etched into it throughout the years, “come in, don’t stand in the doorway like a fool. I taught you better than that.”

    The elemental rolled his eyes again and followed his surrogate father into his home. He took a seat on one of the chairs in the room, looking at the forge.

    “I’ll put some tea on, you still like tea, don’t you?”

    “Yeah, still like tea.”

    The next few minutes passed in silence as Chadwyck’s mind was taken back to his years growing up in the cave; everything was exactly as he remembered when he left, storming out despite the Old Man’s protests against taking rash action. The Old Man had always had his best interests at heart, and more often than not, Chadwyck had thrown them back in his face.

    A teacup was placed in front of him, the liquid inside prepared the way that he liked it, he smiled as he drank it; tears welling up in his eyes before he blinked them away. “I’m,” he started, clearing his throat, “I’m sorry that it’s... been so long. I meant to come see you sooner, but--”

    The Old Man raised his hand, cutting Chadwyck off, “please, don’t apologize. I am happy to see you again.” For a second, the Old Man seemed to sum him up. “You seem different than you did when you left. At peace. You were such an angry boy. Were you pleased with your vengeance? Is that what changed you?”

    Chadwyck looked into his teacup and shook his head, sadly, “I got my revenge, but that didn’t change me. That helped change my home. But it couldn’t save me.”

    A raised eyebrow from the Old Man, “then what saved you from your darkness?”

    Chadwyck’s mind went to Serah, the girl who had seen the good inside of him when he couldn’t see it himself. “Serah did. She helped me find my light, even though I was surrounded by so much darkness.”

    The Old Man smiled, taking a sip from his teacup. “I am relieved. You have found a friend to rely on, someone that you can trust.”

    “I think that I always had someone I could trust,” Chadwyck said, looking up at the Old Man, “I was just too lost to see that.”

    “No need to get sentimental, Chadwyck.”

    “I’m sorry, Old Man, I just, I’m sorry for the way I treated you back then. For my anger and my frustration, when all you wanted was to help me. I’m sorry for leaving things the way that I did.”

    “Chadwyck, do not worry yourself over me. I never had a son, life took that opportunity away from me. But I always saw you as my child, and I tried my best to raise you as best I could. It warms my heart to see what a fine young man you have become, and I thank you for coming to visit me.” Chadwyck took a deep breath, a single tear running down his face. “You could stand to do it a bit more often, though,” the Old Man laughed, and Chadwyck joined in.

    They spent several hours visiting with one another and catching up, Chadwyck told the Old Man all about how he had started living with Liam and Serah and the business that they ran helping people who needed help, fighting for people too weak to fight, and trying their best to live on the money that they made. They laughed, and for a while, Chadwyck was a child again, making up for all the time that he had missed spending with the Old Man because of his bitterness.

    “So, what brings you back to Lucanad? Surely you didn’t come just for the hero worship,” he laughed, “yes, I know all about your heroic standing. I venture off the mountain pretty regularly for supplies, you know, I’m not a shut-in.”

    “Actually,” Chadwyck started, unsure of how to continue, but he figured that telling the truth would be for the best, “I’m looking for Maximillion Huxley.”

    “The leader of the Gold Division? Why do you need to find him?”

    “It’s not for revenge, not this time. He placed a contract on me with a powerful family of assassins three years ago, and it’s still active. If we don’t find him, then I’ll never stop being hunted. This family always fulfills their contracts, without fail.”

    For a second, the Old Man looked worried.

    “I’ll be okay, Old Man, I’ve got Liam and Serah with me. Plus, you trained me to fight, I can take ‘em!”

    “I know you can. You’re a born fighter, after all, and stubborn as a mule. You won’t go down that easily.”

    Chadwyck smiled, laughing a little, “hey, I’m not that stubborn, am I?” They shared a laugh before Chadwyck continued, “if anything happens to me, though, I just want to say--”

    Again, the Old Man raised his hand, “I don’t want to hear that talk from you. Nothing will happen, so no goodbyes. I will see you again.”

    Chadwyck stood up to leave and the Old Man walked with him to the entrance of the cave. “Thank you for visiting me, son.” The Old Man hugged him and turned to head back inside. “Come see me again, and this time try and do it a bit earlier than three years, eh?”

    He chuckled and disappeared into the cave.

    “I will!” He called after him before turning to leave. “I’m not the only one who’s changed,” he paused to cast a glance back over his shoulder, “dad.”

    ---------------------------------

    “I told you, they didn’t really seem all that upset.” Liam was explaining to a dumbfounded Serah as they walked through the streets of Wynfoll toward any dining establishment that caught their fancy, they had taken a nice nap in the palace and awoke a bit peckish. They felt like getting out and walking about, so they opted for eating out rather than bothering the palace chefs. “It almost seemed like it wasn’t the first time one of their houses has been completely destroyed. Which, I guess, is good news for us. At least they weren’t angry.”

    “Still, it’s hard to believe that they aren’t at least a little upset by the fact that they just lost one of their houses. Even if they weren’t actually living there at the moment.” She frowned, holding a finger up to her chin, “well, at least we got off home free!” She linked arms with Liam, laughing and steering him toward the restaurant that had caught her eye; something that specialized in vegetarian soups.

    Liam sighed, guessing that Serah chose the location simply because he was the very picture of a carnivore. He loved a good steak, cooked rare and washed down with so many energy drinks that he might have a heart attack. The very picture of America at its finest, he chuckled.

    Despite the circumstances, he found himself enjoying their trip to Lucanad. The fresh air, the smell of the sea so close by, royal accommodations, and, he had to admit, the hero worship was nice. He glanced at all the curious onlookers, waving when he caught their eye, and smiling at any woman who glanced his way as flirtatious as he could. Liam wasn’t a player by any means, but it was nice to be so admired. For the first time in a while, he felt relaxed and, dare he say, happy. However, all good things have to pass eventually.

    It took him a second to register what he saw, his brain scrambling to set off any and all alarms that were working, but not able to get through thanks to the shock of seeing someone so unexpected in a place he thought was safe for the moment. Patrick Monroe was sitting outside a cafe, sipping a cup of coffee and reading a news paper, as if he were any pedestrian on the street. When he saw Liam looking his way, he raised his cup in a toast, nodded once, and finished off his coffee. He placed some money down on the table, much more than seemed necessary for a single cup of coffee, and stood. Liam was frozen in place, so Patrick made his way over to them.

    “What’s wrong, Liam? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Afraid of me, are you? Good, you should be.” His voice dripped confidence, as if he could dispatch both of them with no effort on his part and be on his merry way.

    Serah stepped between him and Liam, defiance written on her face. Vines had started to inch their way toward him, but he only smiled. Not in a friendly way, his face reminded Serah of a wolf. Liam still didn’t move, which was definitely not normal for the green haired man.

    The man who taught Liam everything that he knew, standing before them now, Liam could sense the power emanating from the man. He had almost forgotten what it was like to be in his presence. Terrifying. At this moment, he was the only person in the world capable of frightening Liam in this manner.

    “Careful, girlie,” he cleared his throat as the vines began to wrap around his feet, “wouldn’t want to cause a scene in such a public place where so many innocent people could get hurt. I don’t kill for free, and as such these people have no reason do die. Unless you give me a reason to act, of course.” The vines immediately retracted from his feet. “There’s a good girl. I didn’t come to hurt you, not yet. I’m simply here to offer some friendly advice; you will not last another day in this mad campaign against me. Tomorrow you will die, so you had better enjoy the last night you will ever have. You didn’t want to make things easy, so I’ve decided that the core family should be put into action. Good luck.”

    He walked away, turning his back on his enemies without fear, completely sure in his strength. Liam shuddered, and he stopped at the edge of the square and called out to Liam, “try to have a bit more fight in you tomorrow, you won’t want to make things too easy. I can get more money if you put up a good fight! Oh! And don’t try to run, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m tracking you. Your first encounter with us, you got a tracking device in your blood system. It’ll wear off eventually, but it’s got at least five days left before it fades. Ta-ta.” He waved and seemed to disappear into the crowds passing by.

    A good few minutes passed before Liam composed himself, “I’m sorry, Serah. I... I lost my nerve there for a second. That man... he taught me everything. He’s the only man I fear I wouldn’t be able to kill, and if it comes down to it, that means that I can’t protect you and Chadwyck from him. To me--there’s nothing more terrifying.”

    “It’s alright, Liam, we’d better get back to the palace. Suddenly,” she said, glancing at where Patrick had been only moments before, “I’m not so hungry.”
     
  9. Chapter 5: The Viper Den

    Chadwyck had returned completely unharmed from the Old Man’s cave to the north of Wynfoll, and he was in a good mood from seeing his surrogate father, but the news that Liam and Serah had for him disturbed him and nearly undid all the good that seeing the Old Man had done for him.

    “Well, he gave us a day, right?” He asked, trying to salvage his good mood.

    Serah nodded, also trying to look on the bright side for Chadwyck’s sake, she hated having to ruin his good day with such awful news.

    Liam thought it over for a moment, “that’s true, and despite the shortcomings that Patrick Monroe has as a human being, he is a man of honor. He told us we would not survive tomorrow, and that we should enjoy this night. As much as I hate to say it, he’s right, we should make sure to get some rest.”

    They were all back in the common room outside their individual bedrooms in the palace. There were guards stationed outside the heavy double doors that led to the hall, and other guards patrolled the grounds all hours of the day. A skilled family like the Monroes would find a way through the security with little difficulty, but it would prove to make things difficult for them; if only slightly. “You’re sure he won’t send anyone tonight, try to sneak attack us?”

    “No, he won’t.” Liam said matter-of-factly, “he doesn’t need to. He says we’ll face a member of the core family tomorrow, and there is no reason to doubt their abilities. He’s taunting us by giving us a full night’s rest before the fight, but he wouldn’t go back on his word.”

    “Then,” Chadwyck stood up and stretched, he hadn’t taken a nap earlier like his companions had and the exhaustion was starting to wear on him, “I’m going to sleep. I suggest you two do the same, this threat will not hinder our own agenda, we’re searching the Old Palace tomorrow. We should rest up.”

    He got to the door of his room and stopped, looking back over his shoulder at Liam as Serah came over to give him her nightly hug good-night, “anything you can tell us about the core family? Abilities, talents?”

    “Afraid not anything useful. They never use their skills at the compound aside from training the new adoptees, and that’s only if they need special training because of some inherent abilities, like myself, most kids are trained by the older ones. Even in my training, though, they would only get me started, watch my progress specifically, and give advice where it was needed. All I can tell you is that they are all very, very skilled killers. And they’ve more than likely all got their own supernatural talents as well, which I’ve got even less knowledge on than their basic combat skills.” Liam hung his head as if he was ready to pass out, apparently he had already been wracking his brain trying to figure out what they would be up against tomorrow.

    “Hey, don’t worry about it, we’ll take whatever they throw at us, just you watch.” Chadwyck gave him an enthusiastic thumbs-up and disappeared into his bedroom after he had said goodnight.

    Serah walked over to Liam and gave him a hug as well, “I’ll be going to sleep too, it’ll be a tough fight, sure, but we’ve fought tougher enemies than your family. We’ll make it.” She smiled, kissing him on the forehead to help ease his mind. Liam rolled his eyes, thinking about how motherly Serah always acted when something like this was happening. It was intriguing how quickly she could go from an immature child to a seemingly responsible adult depending on the situation.

    Liam realized, not for the first time, that Serah was growing up before his eyes. She was already seventeen, he felt like very old in comparison at twenty-three, but he also felt a little sad. The fourteen year old girl who had been like a sister to him and Chadwyck was becoming a woman. That was a scary thought.

    “Yeah, we’ll make it. Go get some rest.”

    Liam was left alone in the common room. He was exhausted, and he wanted nothing more than to lie down for the night and sleep straight through to next week. But he couldn’t, no matter how he wanted to, his mind was working overtime trying to figure out a way to keep his friends safe. It hadn’t been entirely true to say that he didn’t know anything about the core family; while it was true that he hadn’t ever known much about their abilities, he had known them as people. Right at the beginning of his stay at the Monroe Compound, he had been the favorite.

    They had known what they were getting when they adopted him, and Patrick and Madeline had been the very picture of loving parents, minus the way they treated the other children and being able to kill a person in every imaginable way. With Liam, they had always been kind, at least when he was doing everything that they asked. If he made a mistake he would be severely punished, sometimes even injured, but it was all Liam knew and it made him strive to be the ideal son. They had taught Liam everything that he knew about not only killing, but life in general. He had spent a good portion of time in the main household, living like a member of the core family for twelve years, his life had been good for the most part and could only get better.

    Then, of course, there had been Etheline and Conan, his brother and sister. Liam had always found comfort in the fact that they were treated with the same severity of punishment if they made a mistake, letting him know that they were on equal ground in Patrick and Madeline’s eyes, and over the years they had become a closeknit group. Sharing each other’s pains and short comings, Liam looked up to the older children and had spent a lot of time in their company. They looked out for him like he was actually their little brother and not just another of the soldiers their parents kept and trained. They had shared everything, and Liam knew that they loved him the same as he loved them.

    Conan was the oldest child, he was a genius when it came to technology and he was often found playing video games when not training. Liam would often spend his days watching his brother do anything, so long as he could spend time with him. He idolized him, he was calm, cool and collected; Liam wanted nothing more than to be just like him when he grew up. Conan, Liam realized lying awake in bed, would be twenty-eight now.

    And then there was Etheline. Liam and her had always shared a special bond, she was only one year older than he was and she would often times let Liam help her feed her animals while she taught him all about the tactics that father had taught her. She loved animals, and had many pets, everything from average house pets like cats and dogs, to more exotic animals like snakes, parrots and even things like scorpions. Liam would also be astonished by how her black hair sparkled in the sun and how her blue eyes would reflect his own face when he spoke with her face to face. He had always thought she was beautiful.

    Everything was set, and Liam would have become a member of the core family if he finished his first contract. But, despite wanting nothing more than to please his family, he found himself unable to kill Chadwyck. First because their skill had been too evenly matched, and eventually because Serah would interrupt their fight before either could land the killing blow. Chadwyck and Serah showed something that Liam had never seen before: compassion and mercy. They let him live, even after all that he had tried to do. Returning to the Monroe family didn’t seem important, not after he had gotten to know what true friendship was. Despite missing his family initially, he realized that they weren’t who he thought they were.

    They were he only family he’d ever known, so he put up with the torture when he made a mistake and the grueling regimen that was their daily training. Despite the fact that there were good moments with the Monroe family, he realized that they loved his ability to kill, his usefulness to the family. He had been lucky to have inherent gifts that they wanted and needed for their business, but if he had been any less skilled, he would have just been another nameless grunt that they handed a gun to and sent to collect their paychecks.

    Serah and Chadwyck, after their initial distrust faded, began to like him for who he was, not what he was capable of. Liam knew somewhere deep down, that this was the way it was supposed to be; he shouldn’t have to earn the love of a family by taking the lives of others. A family should love unconditionally, like Serah and Chadwyck did.

    The prospect of fighting the family he once knew, while protecting the family he now had, sent shivers down his spine. His resolve was shaking, but he would have to remain strong. Patrick had proven over the past few days that he would sooner kill Liam than look at him; he was a Monroe in name only, and only because he didn’t know what other name he’d have. There was nothing for him there, anymore.

    He had known the side of the Monroes that hid their true nature, but now he was seeing that they were truly heartless, ruthless monsters. The side of them that Liam had known, the side that he wished he could save, were nothing but masks that they wore. “They are nothing more than my enemy. And I will fight them to the last to protect Chadwyck and Serah.” Liam spoke aloud, reassuring himself and giving himself the strength and resolve to follow through.

    Finally, Liam’s mind settled down, and the cold embrace of sleep enveloped him in darkness. He slept deeply, without so much as a single dream.

    -----------------------------------------

    Liam had teleported them just outside of the Old Palace grounds, there had once been a wall that had run around the entire property, but the rebellion had torn it down in their attack three years prior; debris still littered the ground and some sections of the thick, concrete wall remained standing. For a moment, the trio stood on the outside of the grounds, looking in. It seemed like it had been only yesterday that this was a battlefield, the site of a war that they had been leading.

    In three short years, nature had begun to reclaim what had been taken; trees and vines grew rampant throughout the grounds, the gardens were overgrown and ripping up the concrete footpaths. Even the palace itself was suffering from the attack by mother nature, cracks were appearing in the walls from lack of upkeep, the plants Serah had used during the battle were still thriving, several of them had torn away walls and moved into the interior of the house.

    It had effectively become a part of the forest, the Palace was nothing but a skeleton, and with time it would decay away and disappear. “Somewhere in there, there has to be something that will help us find him.” Serah mumbled to herself, as if it were a prayer. A wish that she hoped with all her heart to come true. They couldn’t afford to waste time; she would not be forced to stand by while her big brother was torn away from her.

    Slowly, as if stepping foot into the Palace grounds would break the spell and they would find themselves back in that battle from three years ago, they began to cross the overgrown gardens. Serah used her abilities to move the obstacles from their path. Occasionally they would stumble upon the remains of a soldier, though they’d be unable to tell what side they had fought for if not for the uniform. Chadwyck felt a pang of guilt whenever he saw remains of a resistance fighter. His personal vendetta had led to their deaths, and though he never asked for the leadership of the rebellion, it had been thrust upon him. Many of these men died not because he couldn’t defend them, but because he had been too blinded by rage to care.

    Serah saw the guilt written on his face and grabbed his hand, comforting him as best she could. The young man smiled at her and nodded, silently thanking her for her concern; they were all silent, caught up in the spell cast by their memories.

    Moments later they crossed the threshold of the palace, the ornate doorway that had been the portal into a grand foyer had been torn away, heavy wooden doors hung broken off their hinges; wild grass grew up between the tiled floors, now dull and coated with grime.

    From the cracked roof hung a dilapidated, crystal chandelier, barely suspended by a rusty chain. The trio took care to avoid walking beneath it. Walls were missing from the palace entirely, everywhere they looked the outside was visible through cracks and holes, one room blended with another as the wild plant life took over. Furniture that had once been the envy of kings now either lay broken or were missing entirely from the hands of looters.

    “How are we going to find anything in this mess?” Liam asked, bending over and picking up a ruined book off the floor of what was once the living room.

    Chadwyck walked over and opened a desk drawer, several mice scurried away from the desk as he did so, a nest of sorts had been built inside of it. Any papers the desk had held, which had undoubtedly belonged to one of the clerks who worked in the palace, were torn apart and used for the animal nests. A wall had once separated the living room from where Chadwyck was now, which he was guessing was the library. “We’ll just have to keep searching, there’s a lot of space here, we can’t afford to overlook anything. Even if this is a pain in the ass.”

    Serah was blaming herself for the state of the palace, she had gone all out in the final battle, summoning all manner of vegetation to her aid. She never dreamed that it would continue to destroy even after they had gone.

    “We did what we had to do,” Chadwyck said to her, able to tell exactly what was on her mind, “there was no way of knowing that this would happen, or that we would need to come back here.”

    The girl nodded, trying to find anything of use to them to no avail.

    They continued moving from one room to the next, and despite the sheer size of the palace, they found that every corner of the ground floor had been taken over by the forest. Nothing had been safe; when the people left and the upkeep ceased, nature had come back in force.

    They picked their way across the ground floor, which wasn’t easy due to the amount of destruction and the sheer size of the palace. Eventually, they had searched through the kitchen, dining room, three separate living rooms, a library, some offices and several walk-in closets as well as all the hallways connecting them. It became apparent that there was nothing of use on this particular level of the building, as they made straight for the grand staircase. However, as they entered another wide open foyer between the dining room and the main living room, they were stopped dead in their tracks.

    The foyer was open, and mostly clear aside from small pieces of the ceiling that had crumbled away and scattered across the floor. At the other end of the hall, sitting on the stairs, was a woman who looked to be about the same age as Liam. She stared daggers at the green-haired man from across the hall with her forest green eyes. She was dressed in a purple and pink dress - that looked to be at least partially inspired by a Japanese kimono - with black, heeled boots. Her skin was fair, like moonlight and her hair was red as fire.

    “Oh, Liam, it’s a shame it had to come to this, really.” She was openly hostile, even more so than the other assassins that they had faced, the look on her face was nothing short of fury. She began walking toward them, stopping just short of the hallway point.

    Warily, Liam began stepping toward her as well, stopping a good distance away as he spoke up. “Etheline,” he sounded surprised. No, not surprised, Chadwyck decided, but sad. “I... I had hoped that we wouldn’t have to meet like this.”

    “Of course not, you would have much preferred we never saw each other again at all. Why would you be happy to see me? You’re the one who left, after all.” She had an odd way of speaking, almost like she wanted to shout at him, but was too upset to do anything but choke the words out.

    “It isn’t like that! I never meant to hurt you!”

    “Oh, you didn’t? You have a fine way of showing it! You left me alone, Liam. After all that you promised me. Promised for us. You never came back.” She was on the verge of tears, but when Liam took a step closer to her, her fight was back and the sadness gone. “All you had to do was finish the job that father gave you and we would have been together! I... I was planning my wedding day! It was supposed to be perfect, like a fairy tail, I dreamt of it like the stupid girl I was. And you would have been the next head of the family.”

    “Etheline, listen... I... I couldn’t go back to the compound. Not after what I saw, what I learned. Father and Mother were wrong to treat us the way they did--”

    “So to get back at them you went and joined the very resistance that we were hired to stop? You went and became friends with the man you were supposed to kill? What about Conan and me!? We helped each other through the bad times, and after you left, who do you think got the worst of Father’s rage!? We did! The ones you left behind! I stood up for you because I foolishly thought that I loved you, that I wanted to be with you forever. Well, apparently you never cared about me.”

    “I never said that! I cared about you, Etheline, I always have.”

    Chadwyck and Serah were feeling very much like outsiders, and even worse, eavesdroppers. Liam had never told them any of this, and now it was all rushing out like a flood, and they felt awful for finding out the way that they were. Etheline Monroe was very quickly looking less like an enemy, the way that Liam was looking at her, but it was all the more reason for them to keep their guard up. Liam was clearly upset, she might attack without warning. At least, they tried to convince themselves she would, but she was just as upset as Liam.

    “I’m sick of your lies, Liam. If you loved me, you would have come back.”

    “Please, believe me when I say I couldn’t. I couldn’t trust myself to be around Father and Mother, after Chadwyck and Serah had shown me genuine care, not conditional affection that disappeared with the way we behaved. Our parents never once told us they loved us, you remember? Chadwyck and Serah showed me the mercy that we should have known from our parents, but instead they only ever gave us beatings and torture. They don’t care about us, Etheline, they only care for themselves; the money that they can make by using us.”

    “Just keep on justifying your actions, Liam. I’ve heard enough. I loved you once, but now, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to take everything that matters to you; maybe then you’ll know how I felt when you left.”

    “Etheline, I don’t want to fight you.”

    “Sure about that?” The question signalled two things, firstly it told Liam that she was about to give him a reason to want to fight her, and secondly, it prompted the attack that Liam had been too upset to predict.

    While the assassin and Liam had been arguing, Etheline Monroe used the situation to her advantage; a single, small and extremely venomous snake had slithered its way behind the trio and waited for the mental command from Etheline to strike as it inched its way closer to its target. Not Chadwyck, but Serah, a target chosen out of spite. The assassin would take the new woman from Liam’s life, no matter what role she played in it, to show him the pain that she felt.

    With the end of the argument, the snake reared back and struck out at Serah, biting her on the calf and injecting its venom into her system. Chadwyck quickly reacted by stopping the snake’s skull in and incinerating its body in the process.

    Immediately the poison took effect, Serah’s body lost all of its strength and she collapsed, unable to do anything but struggle for breath. “Within twenty minutes,” Etheline started as Chadwyck and Liam looked from her to Serah’s body, trying to decide the best course of action, “she’ll be dead. Don’t bother taking her to a hospital, they won’t do much but prolong the inevitable. You see, I’m holding the only vial of antidote for that snake’s bite that you’ll find for hundreds of miles.”

    Liam raised his pistols, lining up the shot with Etheline’s chest, “hand it over, or I’ll shoot,” he was fully prepared to kill her, she could see it in his eyes.

    “Going to kill me, darling? Then come on, I don’t have all day. Though, I’d be careful if I were you, wouldn’t want a shot to shattered the bottle of anti-venom, or for me to fall and land on it. It’s such a fragile thing, after all.” She smiled wickedly as she turned and ran up the stairs.

    “Careful not to hit her too hard,” Liam said as he and Chadwyck set off in immediate pursuit, “grab the antidote, that’s our first priority.”

    Under normal circumstances, Chadwyck would have made a remark about how he was aware of just what the most important thing in this situation would be, and how Liam isn’t the only one with combat experience. However, these were not normal circumstances, even by their standards, so he kept completely silent. His entire world was lying on the ground and speeding toward death, and he had to do whatever he could to stop it. He would never let Serah die.

    Chadwyck raced up the stairs, in hot pursuit of the woman while Liam used his ability to his advantage, teleporting to the floor above and attempting to cut Etheline off. She bounded up the steps, throwing a long, nail like blade in front of her. Liam had just enough time to slide, using his forward momentum to avoid the attack, but quickly teleporting again to avoid a second attack.

    Etheline turned a corner with Chadwyck on her heels, she leapt up and twisted in mid-air tossing a handful of the nails at her pursuer. The elemental made to sweep them out of his way with little fuss, but Liam tackled him out of the way.

    “The hell are you doing? I almost had her!” Chadwyck pushed Liam aside and started to move again, but Liam grabbed his hand and pointed at where the nails had embedded themselves in the floor.

    The plants growing along the ground withered and died within seconds. “Poison, watch out. She poisoned Serah for a reason; she’s trying to use our anger and desperation against us, keep a cool head.”

    Again they were up and moving, Etheline hadn’t made much progress, instead she was sitting at the other end of a long corridor. “A shame you managed to avoid that, the element of surprise is gone from my little toys, now.” She pouted as she held several nails in her hand in front of her face, one between every finger.

    Liam looked to his left and noticed electricity arcing from Chadwyck’s own fingers, his irises were beginning to look like an electrical storm. “Cool head. You fry her, you risk frying the poison.”

    Chadwyck balled his fists so tight that his knuckles turned white before he thrust his hand to the side and caused a wall to crumble as electricity made contact and exploded. “Hand over the antidote.”

    Liam had seen Chadwyck upset before, he’d even seen him genuinely angry a few times, but this was nothing like that. This was pure rage, and Liam knew that Chadwyck was barely holding himself back for Serah’s sake.

    Before Chadwyck could take brash action, Liam ran forward, disappearing and reappearing behind Etheline, his momentum carrying him toward the wall. He kicked off the wall and back toward Etheline, and he was face to face with another snake, already striking at his face; he’d walked right into a trap. He acted purely on instinct, his hands moved faster than he knew was possible. They snatched the hat from his head and tilted it, catching the snake’s bite inside the fedora and throwing it off to the side. However, that had proven to be only the first part of the attack, as Etheline had fallen to the ground and was now stabbing up at him with a poisoned nail while he passed above her, still carried by his momentum. He was forced to withdraw, appearing at the end of the hallway where he’d been standing only a moment before.

    Chadwyck ran forward, but Etheline was on the move again, not away from him, but toward him. She was using the hallway to her advantage; while it was still wide enough for three men to walk down it side-by-side, it would hinder the average fighter’s ability. She jumped sideways, kicked off the wall and brought her foot to meet Chadwyck’s temple. The young man caught her foot and tried to push her back, but she turned it into a backflip and kicked off the wall again, her hands in front of her and wielding two poisoned nails.

    Chadwyck fell back on the ground to avoid her, continuing his fall into a backward roll and bringing his legs up, about to kick Etheline in the stomach, but stopping short for fear of harming the anti-venom. She crashed through one of the doorways lining the hall and rolled on her landing, coming up on her feet and tossing more nails at the doorway, causing Chadwyck and Liam to take cover.

    “Damn it,” Chadwyck panted, “she’s smart. Making up for her disadvantage in a fight by holding onto something that we need. I had her there,” he sighed, glancing around the corner and quickly withdrawing as she tossed a nail where his face was. “Can you get in there?”

    “She’s been anticipating my teleports this whole time, no doubt she chose to withdraw to this room because she has something lying in wait. Apparently, to answer your question from last night, she has the ability to control the minds of snakes.”

    “Not just snakes, but they are father’s favorite. Says they’re good for assassinations.” Then she added, coolly, “you gonna come in here, Liam, or should I come and get you?”

    “Oh, to hell with this,” Chadwyck grunted as he turned the corner, much to Etheline and Liam’s surprise, and shot a ball of flames at the snake-charmer. She barely had time to avoid, but the room that had been overgrown with plant-life and decrepit wooden furniture went up like a match. Chadwyck shot a glance at Liam, trying to tell him his plan without actually putting it to words. Liam glanced at Etheline, who was running to the next room through a hole in the wall and nodded.

    Chadwyck ran after her, waving his hand as he moved into the room, extinguishing the flames. Etheline stumbled, caught off guard by the fact that Chadwyck had attacked her so abruptly. “You idiot, do you not care for Serah’s life?” She held the vial in her hand up, ready to throw it to the ground where it would shatter.

    “And what if I said that killing you and getting revenge was good enough?” Chadwyck smiled wickedly, holding a ball of wild-looking lightning in his hand.

    “Then I guess it doesn’t matter,” she shrugged, chucking the vial at the ground and simultaneously throwing three nails at Chadwyck.

    Chadwyck created a wall of fire that melted the nails before they could meet their mark. “That all you got?” Etheline smiled, but suddenly her smile wavered, “oh, you noticed the lack of shattering glass too?” It was Chadwyck’s turn to smile as Liam appeared, holding the anti-venom.

    “You’re lucky that I’m fast, ducky, that was a reckless move.” Liam exhaled loudly, as if he’d been holding his breath for the past few minutes.

    “Well, we had to do something to get her to part with the antidote. We weren’t getting anywhere stuck at that doorway as we were.”

    “You think you’ve won? Please, I still have plenty of fight in me!” The woman shouted, clearly backed into a corner. Suddenly, dozens of snakes surrounded her, coming from every crevice and crack visible in the room.

    “Yeah, but now I’m not holding back,” Chadwyck said, clenching a fist surrounded by a purple glow, flames and electricity danced in the energy.

    Liam barred Chadwyck’s path with his arm, handing him the vial he said, “leave her to me, you go give this to Serah. Make sure she drinks all of it.”

    “Liam--” Chadwyck started, before deciding against it. Liam could fight his own battles, and now that Serah was safe, he was content to let Liam do so. It was his right, after all, and Chadwyck had a better idea of their bizarre history. “Give her a good one for me.” He turned and ran off down the hall, back to where Serah lay waiting for aid.

    One after another snakes threw themselves at Liam to protect their master, and one after another they were dispatched with a barrel full of shotgun pellets.

    “Stay back, Liam,” Etheline shouted, throwing nails at him by the handful. Liam would simply teleport a foot or two in either direction to avoid them while he kept moving forward, killing any snake that dared cross his path. “I mean it. I’ve got plenty of fight left.”

    “You lost, Etheline. And you’re out of poisoned nail-needle-things. The snakes are all dead. Stop this foolishness. Please.” He raised the sawed-off shotgun toward her, pleading with her. She put up her fists like she was ready to fight, and Liam took another step toward her. He blocked a punch from her and retaliated by embracing her, holding her tightly so she couldn’t fight him off. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you. I never wanted to hurt you.”

    “Stop it! Stop lying to me! Just kill me already, won’t you!?”

    “I won’t!” He held her shoulders and pressed her up to the wall, tears were in his eyes. “Listen to me. It doesn’t have to be like this, you know? You don’t need to listen to Mother and Father anymore, they couldn’t hurt you anymore. Just think for yourself, Etheline. Is this really what you want?”

    “It’s not about what I want, it’s all I know! You may have betrayed us, but I can’t. I won’t. So you might as well kill me, since you can’t convert me.”

    Liam reached into his coat and produced a pair of handcuffs. “I’m not going to kill you,” he said flatly, locking one rightly around her wrist and the other around an old radiator. “I didn’t want this to happen. I never asked for any of this. All I ask is that you forgive me. I... just want you to forgive me. I found happiness outside of the life I knew, but I should have come back for you; I know that, I was just too scared. I want you to be happy, that should have been my first priority.”

    Tears trickled from Etheline’s cheeks onto the ground, “just shut up. I can’t forgive you for leaving, Liam. Not yet.” Liam nodded and started to leave, “but,” she started, causing Liam to turn and look back at her. “Thank you for sparring me... Mother and Father won’t show such kindness when they learn I’ve failed.”

    “That isn’t how it should be, Etheline. Don’t you see the problem with it?”

    “Of course I do, but what else do I have?” Liam opened his mouth to speak, but Etheline shut him up, “just go, Liam. I don’t need to hear any more from you. Oh, and, you won’t find anything of use here. Huxley’s information is long gone.”

    Liam stopped and turned once again, “do you know where he is?”

    “Only Mother and Father know.”

    Liam nodded and left her there without another word, it was obvious that she was done speaking with him, and Liam was ready to leave this place.

    “That hurt. I’m still really stiff,” Serah said, rubbing all of her joints.

    Chadwyck laughed, “just be glad you’re still breathing.” They both turned when they heard footprints, Liam came down the stairs, sullen and still hatless.

    “Is she...?” Serah started.

    “She won’t be bothering us again.” Liam answered dryly. “There’s nothing here, we’ve gotta look elsewhere.”

    Chadwyck and Serah knew it wasn’t their place to pry, so they focused on where they were going to look next. “So, I guess we’ll have to go see my parents, then?” Serah said sadly, “this has been a totally awesome day, guys. Paralyzed, almost died, and now I’ve gotta go beat some information out of the last two people on Earth I want to see.”

    Chadwyck picked Serah up, carrying her toward the door. He stopped and waited for Liam, still looking back up the stairs wistfully. He turned to move toward Chadwyck and Serah, when he noticed his hat on the ground in front of him, and a snake slithering away back deeper into the house. He smiled slightly before he picked it up and joined his friends, replacing it on his head.

    “So,” Serah began, as Liam prepared to teleport them away, “you and your sister, huh? That’s kinda gross.”

    “She’s not really my sister,” Liam growled, “there’s no blood relation. At all.”

    “But it’s still like, the principle of the thing, you know?”

    “Oh, shut up.”

    The trio disappeared, Liam and Serah still bickering as they went.
     
  10. Chapter 6: In Plain Sight

    While they waited for Serah to get her strength back, it didn’t take long, the antidote worked fast, they were sitting in the common room of their joined rooms in the mansion. They were in relatively high spirits, having survived an encounter with a member of the core family. Liam was still a little out of it, but he was getting his bearings as they decided on what they should do next. Unfortunately, they all knew what they had to do.

    There was no alternative that they had, if what Etheline had said at the Old Palace had been true, then there was no documentation that would lead them to their target; the trio’s last option was to see if Serah’s parents knew anything. Serah, knowing full well that this could be their last chance to find the man responsible for the contract on her friend’s life, put her distress aside and accepted what she had to do. She had to return home. After she ran away with Chadwyck and Liam three years ago, returning to her parents had been the furthest thing from her mind; they had made their living by selling their souls to Ridley and helping keep the country oppressed. Serah would never forgive them for that.

    Though she didn’t like the idea of returning home, seeing those people she called mom and dad, she told Liam and Chadwyck exactly where they lived; though it was unnecessary, Chadwyck remembered the city where he had saved Serah from the guards out for her blood. Still, he had never actually seen her house, at the time he didn’t care, Serah had invited herself to follow him, it hadn’t been the other way around. Now, however, he knew that he was forever in her debt for that decision; she had saved him in more ways than one, and if he’d had his way, she never would have come with him.

    Chadwyck knew without even asking that this decision to not only see her parents again, but ask them for help, was more upsetting to Serah than she was letting on. It was part of his ‘older brother’ feeling that he got from time to time; the feeling that he knew exactly what was going on with her even when she tried to hide it. She had similar experiences with him, but his always seemed more accurate than hers did.

    “Serah,” he began, making sure he had her attention, “you don’t have to come with us if you don’t want to. Liam and I can ask your parents some questions and leave, just like that. I know you’d rather not see them.”

    The young girl just shook her head in response, smiling softly, “I’m going with you, Chad. I won’t let you go off without me, not if something happens that I could help you prevent. Besides, I may not like it, but they are my parents; I should be the one to ask them. They might respond better to me. Though, they could hate me for all I know.” She laughed, not doing a great job at hiding her bitterness.

    Chadwyck wasn’t sure what to say, but luckily Liam interrupted, saving him the trainwreck of a response he had built up for her last statement. “Then, we should probably go,” Liam admitted, rubbing his temple. An act Chadwyck and Serah recognized as a quirk he had when something was on his mind. It’d only been about half a day since they visited the Old Palace, so it wasn’t hard to guess that Etheline was the root of his distractions.

    “Only if you get your head together,” Chadwyck placed a hand on Liam’s shoulder. Long ago, they made a promise to watch each others’ backs, even if it meant being a little blunt with one another, “you have to let it go, or you’re gonna get yourself killed. Here and now is where you need to be, worry about Etheline when our lives aren’t on the line.”

    “I know... I know. It’s just the way she talked to me, how much she hated me for leaving. I never thought that it’d upset her as much as it did me. But I couldn’t go back there, not even for her.”

    “Liam,” Serah said, embracing her other ‘brother’ and burrowing her face into his jacket, “you don’t have to convince us. We know how hard it was for you.” Surprisingly, there was no jab at him for having feelings for his adopted sister, which Serah would undoubtedly tease him about for years to come. But now, even she knew that he needed to be reassured of his decision, and he was conflicting with his own thoughts.

    The young man relaxed, resting his hand on Serah’s head. “Thanks. I’m sorry I’ve been a mess the pass few hours.”

    “We’re just trying to look out for you, maybe you should stay behind?” Chadwyck suggested, “walking wouldn’t be too tough, and we probably won’t even need to, I’m sure the Prime Minister can arrange some sort of transportation for us.”

    “No, I’m going. I’m not going to let you go alone, we’re in this together, aren’t we? I can’t stay behind and risk you running into any more Monroes without me.” Chadwyck and Serah nodded, taking a hold of Liam, “shall we be off?” Another nod, and they disappeared from the room.

    They reappeared at the edge of Cornerstone, the city that Serah grew up in. A coastal city, its name came from the fact that it was not only situated on the opposite side of Lucanad from the capitol, situated in a ‘corner’ of the country, but also because it was the primary port for all of the shipping and trade with outside countries, particularly England and Germany. As such, anywhere other than the docks themselves, was very prestigious land; most of the city was occupied by wealthy business owners and government officials responsible for maintaining the trade routes. Aside from Wynfoll, Cornerstone was the place everyone wanted to live, the two cities were the largest in all of Lucanad, and luxurious living was easy to come by if you could afford it.

    Chadwyck had originally come to this city looking for one of the officers who had been directly responsible for giving orders during the attack on his town, who had since been promoted to a high ranking position in Ridley’s militaristic government. Most of the officers who served under him from the attack had been.

    After years of living in a cave up on a mountain, this city was extravagant and even more amazing than it should have been. For the briefest of moments, Chadwyck had been distracted from his quest for vengeance, and that led him to the sea. He’d never seen it except from a distance, at the peak of Mount Hybourne.

    At the sea, though, he was reminded of why he couldn’t afford distractions from his overall goal. A girl, who he could never have guessed would become so important to him, came running through the streets. She tripped at the top of the hill leading down to the shoreline and rolled down, nearly reaching the sea foam as it washed gently against the shore. She was exhausted, obviously having run as fast as she could, the sweat made the sand stick to her face and arms; Chadwyck had just been thinking about how irritating sand was before she came crashing into his life.

    It only took a second to see what she had been running from; five armed guards rushed onto the scene, surrounding the girl with rifles raised. She looked up, panicking, she was hopeless and seconds away from accepting her fate. “You have been found guilty of passing sensitive information along to the revolutionaries, by the order of Supreme Commander Ridley, anyone aiding the rebellion is to be killed on sight.” They had said. If seeing the uniforms of Ridley’s military wasn’t enough to make Chadwyck intervene, this order would have surely done it.

    As it was, he was already stepping up to dispatch the soldiers when he heard the decree; before they even realized he was there, he had set two ablaze and halved another two with his sword. He stepped up to the last man in the squad, grabbing his rifle barrel and melting it as he grabbed the man’s throat with his free hand. “Unless you want your throat to end up like that gun,” he nodded toward the dripping metal that hissed as it hit the cool sand, “you’ll tell me where the commanding officer of this city is.”

    It wasn’t hard to make the man cave, especially not after what had happened to his fellow soldiers. The two who had been set ablaze ran into the ocean. As they re-emerged from the water, Chadwyck snapped his fingers and they were struck with electricity; they didn’t last longer than a few seconds.

    Afterward, Chadwyck hadn’t counted on the girl wanting to come with him, and despite his arguments against it, she invited herself along with him. It wasn’t long after that they had met Liam, though he was trying to kill Chadwyck at the time.

    For a second, Chadwyck just turned his face to the sky and smiled, breathing deeply. “What’s up?” Serah asked, raising an eyebrow.

    “This city means a lot more to me than I thought it did, you know? If I hadn’t come here, if I didn’t want to see the ocean in person at that time, we never would have met. And Liam probably would have killed me without your interference.” At this, Liam merely shrugged. It was true, if Serah hadn’t stopped their fight, Liam would have either killed Chadwyck, or the elemental would have gained the upper hand and killed him. “I’m just glad that fate was on our side that day. It’s hard to imagine what I’d have become if I hadn’t met you.”

    “Well, at least you would have become something, those guards would have killed me if you hadn’t shown up when you did. And even though you were a bit scary, you saved me. And I just knew that I had to go with you, otherwise I would have just ended up dead or alone on the streets.”

    “I’m glad you were persistent, I didn’t want you tagging along at all. I was debating the best way of ditching you when Liam attacked us for the first time.”

    “You’re welcome for that, then.” Liam patted Chadwyck’s arm.

    Chadwyck rolled his eyes before Serah started, “but you’re good guy instincts kicked in and you protected me again, instead of taking off. I knew the kind of guy you were at heart.”

    Chadwyck wasn’t sure if Serah didn’t know how much he had descended into darkness before they met, or if she just chose to ignore it. She always seemed so sure that he would do the right thing, but before Serah had come into his life, doing the right thing never seemed like an option. It was kill or be killed, and nothing else mattered except for his vengeance. “Well,” he started, avoiding the subject, “we’ve waited long enough. We’d better go find your parents before a sniper starts firing off rounds at us.”

    “Nah, don’t worry about that. The only sniper in the main family is Patrick, and if I know him, he’s left us up to the rest of the family first and gone on to protect Huxley himself. A last line of defense should always be your ace in the hole, as he would most likely say. I can never seem to remember all his little sayings about tactics, they always bored me.” Liam said, trying to reassure his friends, but instead reminding himself again of Etheline. They had always mocked her father’s saying together when he said something particularly useless or obvious, and tried to come up with better ones for him to use instead. He cracked his fingers, now’s not the time for distractions, Liam.

    They tried to stick to the more crowded areas, blending in with crowds as much as they could. It wasn’t easy, since there always seemed to be a group that recognized them, shouted at them, and incited a widespread panic of hopeful fans. Still, as long as they were in a group of people, they should have been safe; the Monroe code of honor dictated that there’d be no reason to harm bystanders, and collateral damage looked bad for future clients.

    They were feeling hopeful that their plan was helping them avoid detection up until they reached the main square of the city. It was unnaturally empty, like it’d been cleared, and aside from the small group that had followed them into the square, they were the only ones in the opening. When they reached the middle of the huge area, they stopped. It was obvious that this was a trap, no sense it trying to avoid it now. So they waited for something to happen and told the few bystanders with them to clear the area. Which they did, somewhat, resigning themselves to the outskirts of the square, creating a perimeter. They could not bring themselves to miss the chance to see their heroes fight. Within minutes, a crowd had gathered thanks to the few calling and texting their friends to come see the action. Soon, the trio found themselves in the middle of a circle of people, all waiting to see their champions send another villain packing.

    Between the cheering and the applause, they could barely hear themselves think. “Liam, how likely is it that we’re about to be attacked?” Chadwyck asked, watching the crowd for any sign of assassins amidst them.

    Liam had his eyes up on the rooftops around them, watching for a sniper. Perhaps he had been wrong about Patrick and he was about to rain death down on them while they had nowhere to run to. “Very.” Was all Liam said as he continued to survey the area.

    It turned out that they didn’t have a sniper to fear, but it hardly seemed like good news as several enemies sprang forward out of the crowd. They were clearly not human as their silver bodies reflected the sunlight, mechanical joints could be heard hissing and clicking as they surrounded the trio, faceless humanoids watched them eerily. There were eight of them, in all.

    “Robots? Alright, seems simple enough. They don’t even look like they’ve got guns for arms or built in missile launchers.” Serah shrugged, “I always figured that if we went up against robots it’d be much more like Terminator with our luck. This seems much less intimidating by comparison.”

    As she said this, the robots simultaneously jerked and their right arms shifted into razor sharp blades, their left arms becoming small, round shields. They tilted their heads in unison, as if inviting the trio to attack. “Creepy,” Chadwyck noted, “the way they move freaks me out. I’m really glad they aren’t dolls, or puppets.” Liam raised and eyebrow. “You know I have a phobia. It’s bad enough these things are faceless.” Chadwyck muttered, drawing his sword.

    Serah and Liam moved in perfect sync with Chadwyck, immediately they were on the same page; the results of three years of fighting side-by-side with one another. Serah took a stance that provided her with a wide range of effect; the ground in the square rumbled and cracked, as stalks of weeds shot up and entangled the enemies. They hacked at the plants, trying to free themselves, as Liam produced a grenade launcher and fired one of the projectiles in an arc, heading for the center of the group. Chadwyck concentrated as several sparks fluttered through the space immediately around him; as the grenade hit the ground and exploded, Chadwyck created a dome of electric energy, confining the explosion within the dome and maximizing the force within the smallest amount of space.

    Within seconds their enemies lay scattered across the square in so many pieces.

    “Well, that was simple enough,” Liam shrugged, eying the components littering the ground.

    “Yeah, that almost seemed too easy,” Serah commented with pride.

    Chadwyck caught some movement, the components seemed to be vibrating. They started moving toward each other, slowly at first, but then suddenly in a flurry of pieces. “Maybe it wasn’t quite as easy as it seemed. Though, it could be because Serah just cursed us with one of the lines you never say.”

    “What? It did seem too easy!”

    “But you don’t say it out loud! Now look, they’re... They’re back?”

    The robots had all been reassembled, and aside from a few scorch marks, they were completely unscathed.

    “Yeah, I don’t know what I was expecting, but that certainly wasn’t it,” Liam’s brow furrowed. “I think we’re dealing with a technopath. It makes sense. The simultaneous movements, the components putting themselves back together again.”

    “So, we won’t get anywhere fighting these things?”

    Before they could keep on working through the problem, the eight robots sprang forward, not letting the trio come up with a plan. “We must’ve been on the right track, whoever this is wants us too busy to make a plan!” Serah shouted, dodging a swing of one of the blades and countering by tightening a vine around the robot’s sword arm and popping it out of its socket. It clattered to the ground, and she used the same vine to grab the blade and hurl it into the face of another robot.

    Chadwyck had hacked through two of the robots with his sword, blasting another one’s head off with a burst of fire and was moving onto the next target when the first three rebuilt themselves and started attacking him from behind. He was put on the defensive, blocking slashes and shield bashes as he waited for an opening.

    “Chad! Save some energy, if they keep coming back you shouldn’t go at full strength!” Liam shouted, shoving a pistol into one of the robot’s faces and firing repeatedly, and repeating the action with another robot’s stomach, kicking them both to the side before they rejoined the fight. “We need a plan!”

    “You want a plan?” Chadwyck growled, grabbing one of the robot’s arms with a hand encased in flames, melting through it and using its blade in addition to his own to defend against the attacks of the other two. “How about this!?” He sent a burst of electricity out, blowing the three enemies he was fighting back.

    As soon as his electricity met its target, something odd happened. The two robots that Serah was fighting and the three Liam was trying to back off stopped in their tracks for a second before resuming their attack.

    “Wait, did you see that?” Liam asked, teleporting over to Serah with a shotgun now and blasting back the two robots overrunning her.

    “Yes, the electricity must have affected the technopath’s connection to the robots. We may have the beginnings of a plan.”

    “Where do you think this technopath is?” Chadwyck asked, suddenly decapitating and blasting away a robot that had snuck its way up behind Liam and Serah.

    Serah and Liam looked at each other, then Serah began, “I’d say he’s close by. He’s obviously watching the action.” She pulled seeds out of her pocket and breathed life into them, they became two, seven-foot-tall trees quickly; their roots tearing through the stony ground. The trees became a weapon when wielded by Serah’s powers, their roots reached up and ensnared the robots, their branches waved like clubs, even their trunks bent and moved to buy them some time to plan while keeping the robots at bay.

    “Great, there’s hundreds of people around the square watching the action, how are we supposed to find one person in that mob?” Chadwyck asked, scanning the faces of the crowd. It wasn’t amounting to much, they all blended together and became indistinct from one another. Whoever this member of the Monroe family was, they were crafty; they’d been lying in wait for them to reach a crowded area, using the sea of onlookers as the perfect vantage point while remaining concealed.

    “There’s obviously interference with their abilities when you hit the robots with electricity. It must disrupt the current, and I’m sure that would cause noticeable discomfort for the person connected to the machine.”

    “Oh, good,” Serah sighed, “we just need Chadwyck to keep zapping ‘em with lightning while we try and notice one pained face in a huge crowd of onlookers. I was afraid this plan was going to be ridiculous.” She thought for a moment. “Wait! It might not be ridiculous. If you two can keep those things off of me, I can create a field of plant life and watch everyone’s reactions at once.”

    This time, Chadwyck and Liam exchanged glances, both raising an eyebrow at the suggestion. “You can do that?” Liam asked, not convinced.

    “You never told us you could use your plants as surveillance.” Chadwyck added.

    “Well, it’s sort’ve a hunch, really. I can kinda feel through the plants that I’ve connected to with my abilities; I figure with enough concentration, I can use them to see. In a sense. But I’ll need to be sitting completely still and pour every ounce of concentration I’ve got into it.”

    “Well,” Chadwyck shrugged, “got a better idea? Suppose this is worth a shot. I’ll draw their attention, Liam, you stick close to Serah and make sure they don’t get to her.”

    Suddenly, one of the trees was uprooted and tossed aside like it was a twig. The robots had apparently unbuilt themselves and let their components all form one, giant robot. The trees must have been causing a bit of annoyance for the technopath, because immediately after, the second tree met the same fate.

    “Try and make it quick, yeah?” Chadwyck added, looking up at the ten foot tall, massive machine. “It’s like a tank with legs.”

    Liam teleported Serah to the other side of the square while Chadwyck drew the robots attention. It didn’t hurt that he was the actual target of the contract, so his death would mean its fulfillment. At this point Liam and Serah were just acceptable losses, accomplices of the target, and therefore their deaths would not be held against the family.

    Serah took a deep breath and grabbed two large handfuls of seeds from her pouch, she spread them out, and the plants within erupted. Soon a blanket of wildflowers covered the entire square, several of the people watching flinched and tried to move out of the way before they realized that they were harmless. She sat down and closed her eyes, concentrating on connecting with the plants surrounding her. Luckily, her hunch proved correct, when she went deep enough into the connection, beyond simply controlling the plants, she could effectively see through their eyes, in a manner of speaking.

    Chadwyck hacked at the robot’s legs and created a layer of smoke to conceal his movements, since getting hit by this newly made behemoth would prove highly painful as well as counterproductive to their plan. He would burst from the smoke and deliver a few heavy, fire fueled punches to the creature before avoiding its counterattack by hiding in his smoke cloud. Finally, it seemed that Serah was ready, so he leapt back and fired a bolt of lightning at the robot, and sure enough it seemed to short out for a split second.

    Liam looked at Serah hopefully, but she shook her head, “I need him to do it a few more times. Several people reacted, I need to try and narrow it down. I’m getting a lot of information at once.”

    The weapons expert quickly teleported to Chadwyck’s side and relayed the news before returning to his place protecting Serah. It seemed unnecessary, though, as Chadwyck was now not only the target, but the biggest threat. His lightning was a cause for concern for the technopath, and he was the focus of the enemy’s attention.

    The robot’s heavy fists morphed into what appeared to be a spiked club and a chainsaw. “That seems a bit unfair, how many random components do you have in there? A chainsaw, seriously? There’s nothing hightech about a chainsaw.”

    The mace-hand swung down and shattered the earth where Chadwyck had been standing a fraction of a second before, he had used a burst of flames to quickly move to the side and out of harm’s way. He fired another bolt of electricity, hoping Serah would get what she needed sooner rather than later.

    Again the robot froze momentarily before continuing its assault on Chadwyck, leaving Serah to accomplish her part of the task.

    The chainsaw swung down and tore up the ground as Chadwyck backpedaled from the destruction; another swing, this time Chadwyck blocked it with his sword, it sent him flying several feet from the force of the blow.

    He rolled aside just in time to avoid being smashed by the mace-hand coming down at him. His arm stung from taking the force of the hit, luckily his blade had absorbed most of the impact, otherwise he’d probably be looking at a broken arm and possibly some ribs. He countered the attack with another burst of electricity.

    This new robot was too big, and fast for its size. Slowly it was wearing Chadwyck down, just from the effort it took him to avoid the strikes. Taking the brief moment of its immobilization to stand again and ready himself for a new attack when it recovered, he took an offensive sword stance. The robot turned and eyed him curiously, and as it stepped forward, Chadwyck took the opportunity to strike. He couldn’t stay on the defensive forever.

    His sword was encased in flames and he rushed forward, the heat making it possible to slice through the robot’s legs, toppling it to the ground. It would rebuild itself, true, but it would take a few moments, and Chadwyck didn’t intend to give it the time. Keeping up the attack, he took off the arms, effectively reducing the robot to a torso and nothing more, but he could already see the components moving to reattach themselves.

    Stabbing his blade into the ground, he held his hands over the robot’s face and unleashed a constant stream of electricity into it, knowing it would be immobilized for as long as he could keep it up. Somewhere in the crowd, someone cried out in pain, the sudden overflow of electricity overloading his senses. Serah reacted immediately, the wildflowers nearest the technopath reaching up and tying themselves around his hands and feet.

    “I’ve got him,” she said, her eyes snapping open, “over there.” She pointed the way and Liam was off instantly, teleporting over to the man, who by now was no longer surrounded by onlookers, them all having cleared the immediate area to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

    The man who had been caught was older than Liam, with short blonde hair and broad shoulders. He was wearing normal clothes, a tee-shirt and jeans, no doubt to blend in with the crowd. “Conan.” Liam’s balled fists loosened slightly, another reunion that he wasn’t ready for.

    “Liam, I see you haven’t lost your touch. I’m really impressed by that target though, he put up a good fight.” The older man said with a smirk, as if they weren’t enemies, as if this were just a game they were playing for training purposes.

    “He has a name, and I’d appreciate it if you’d use it. He’s my friend.”

    “Of course, but I don’t use targets’ names, father’s rules.”

    “Father has a lot of rules.”

    “That why you never came back?”

    “Look, I don’t expect you to understand.”

    “Oh, no, that’s the difference between me and Etheline. I do understand. But you didn’t leave me behind, you left her. She felt abandoned. But me? I always knew why you left, it’s the same reason that I’ve always thought about leaving.”

    Liam was silent for a moment, “you’ve thought about leaving?”

    “I used to, when we were kids. When I watched mother and father torture the other kids for making a mistake. When I had to comfort Etheline after a particularly tough day of training that resulted in her being punished. Why do you think father was going to make you the next head of the Monroe household over me? He knew that I could never be a ruthless as he was. But it looks like he was wrong about you. You left, you did what I only ever thought about doing as a stupid dream.”

    “Why are you doing this then? Why did you just try and kill us? If you understand why I left, why do you keep listening to what father has to say?”

    “I had to be sure of something.” Conan looked far away for a moment, then he came back, changing the subject. “I spoke with Etheline after her attempt at you failed. She called me and told me what you said. Seems like you did a number on her world view. She’s gone back home now, I expect she’ll have a lot of thinking to do.”

    “Conan, I don’t understand.”

    “Father and Mother are still after you, Liam. You need to hurry. Mother is at the girl’s house now, trying to keep her parents silent. You need to hurry.”

    Liam looked over at Chadwyck and Serah, who were once again leaving him a respectful distance so that he could talk to his brother in peace. “Thank you, Conan. I’m sorry.” He ran over to Chadwyck and Serah and relayed the news about Serah’s parents, and in an instant they were gone.

    Conan smiled as the flowers loosened around his wrists and ankles. “Maybe you will be able to stop him. Maybe then father will see that there is another way. Good luck, Liam, you’re going to need it.”
     

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