Sean turns the page of his book with his left hand. With his right he balances a throwing knife, its point resting perfectly still on his finger tip. He had not the time for a good read in a great while so in the few moments of peace he won with the toss of a coin he felt it was well deserved to practice escapism. The weapon was there just in case, although it was unlikely there would be trouble in the house tonight, for whatever that is worth. The change in the air is just so slight that few would have noticed, however the air was Sean’s realm and should one enter it you would not see Sean undisturbed. His hand tilts to let the blade slide, it rights itself in midair and without even looking Sean sends it flying across the command center into the hall.
Sean waits until he has finished a sentence, places a book mark firmly in place and then looks up from the pages to see Ian holding the blade with a bloodied hand. “New book?” Asks Ian. “Yeah, pretty good so far. Where have you been?”
“It’s a long story, sorry I’m late. Where is everyone else?” Sean puts down his book, and runs his hand over the mouse pad of a lap top to keep it active. What must be a hundred windows were up and running with emails and other messaging services. “They’re packing up for a hunt. I drew the short straw so I get to watch the comms. Or pretty much just do nothing.” Ian smiles, “You lucked out with that one Sean, how are you handling the burden of phone watch?” Sean makes a stern face before responding: “I take my duties very seriously. But I could go for a smoke. Everything should be fine here.” Ian takes a quick look around before nodding. “Yep, no danger. I’ll go keep you company.” Before leaving the command center Ian walks over to a window sill that had a ceremonial display of Japanese swords for whenever one might need to stand on ceremony. He removes the top blade and sets the imitation piece off to the side. He then lays an extravagant katana of a finer quality in its place. Sean notices it, but he does not ask.
The house outside the room is buzzing with life. The sounds passing the hallway are a hodgepodge of weapons checks and ammunitions boxes being stacked into loading zones for the cars. Nick has just placed a tablet on a chair in the living room when he looks up to see Ian and Sean. “Yo! Ian it feels like we haven’t seen you in a month. How did things go with Alex.” Ian shrugs, “Yeah sorry it took so long. I think we better save the story time for when the gang is all here.” Eliot enters on cue. He looks tired, more so than usual. Both he and Nick have spent more than their share of time getting out the word about the coming danger. “Wow man,” begins Ian. “You look like hell.” Eliot stares past Ian for a moment and then snaps back to life. “Yeah, we’ve been busy here. Glad you’re back. I need to get my gear.” Ian raises a hand before Eliot leaves “Hang out for a bit. Where’s everyone else?” Sean impatiently removes the unlit cigarette from his mouth. He yells “Hey you dead beat losers, wherever you’re hiding come out!” Scott fires back from the kitchen, “Gee Sean, you make a strong case for us to respond.”
“And yet here you are talking to me so I guess I’ve done my job!”
“You were adopted.”
“Makes more sense than me being related to you.” Both sides are quiet. Scott walks into the living room shaking his head. Nick grins wide, Ian does the same. Eliot fights the urge to fall asleep. Nothing says normal in this house than brotherly quarrels. “Well,” says Sean, “That’s one deadbeat where are the rest of these clowns?” Kiara stumbles down the stairs rubbing her eyes. She asks: “Have we ever had a peaceful night in this house without someone screaming or what have you?” They’re all hard pressed to find an answer. Then at the sight of Ian she waves, “Welcome back. Can I go back to sleep yet?” Ian smiles, “Doc you should see a doc, may have some sleeping pills for you, you’re getting kind of haggard.” She rolls her eyes, “That’s what the team needs, a self-medicating EMT.”
At this point Marko walks in to see the gathering crowd right where he thought they would be. He sensed Ian’s return but held off on coming in from the garage, until he was finished loading equipment. He stares curiously at Ian for a moment as if not sure what to say and then tilts his head to one side. “Hey Ian. Did you get stabbed?” The others perk up and share a confused look. Ian responds. “Yeah.” Marko nods in understanding. “Did you get stabbed a lot? Like, through the heart?”
“Honestly, it’s not a big deal. I was dead for like five minutes and now we’re here.” There is an explosion of conversation as the confused party prods at Ian trying to find out more details. He raises both hands and just shakes his head. “It’s really nothing; the thing is Alex feels pretty guilty.” Sean pipes up, “About stabbing you in the heart?” Ian thinks on it for a moment, “Yeah, I guess for that too but mostly for sitting out the last competition. The Blade Master is with us from here on in. They’re also going to be making some changes to the system of theirs. More on that later.” As they chatter around Ian continues Marko nods his head. This is a significant gain but it may not be enough to stem the tide of coming danger. There is still a lot of enemies and unanswered question between them and the now three day wait for the re trial. Eliot, as if reading Marko’s mind starts talking over the others. “I’ve sent word to everyone not directly hunting demons to look for the sleepwalker. Not a one of them has ever heard of the thing.” Ian gives Sean a look as if to ask what a sleepwalker was, he only gets a shake of the head from Sean. It meant he would explain later. Scott asks, “Won’t that show our hand?” “Well,” says Eliot. “That’s kind of what we want.” Nick agrees, adding: “Yeah, the thinking is if we put out a call to find this thing and the demons don’t want it found they’re going to make a mess of hiding it and then we’ll know at the very least it exists and where it might be found.” Ian chimes in with: “There is one problem. For all that we can see of them they still have an entire realm we don’t have eyes in.” Nick looks at Ian thoughtfully, “We’re pretty sure that if they move the sleepwalker into Hell it will be game over on that front, but if it were that important they would have already done it.” “Seems like a lot of conjecture,” says Ian. Scott replies, “I mean we don’t even know this thing exists yet but it’s not like we can do much else. We’re forbidden from direct confrontation with the demons or else they might link us to you two and we lose. I’d rather go on a hunt then sit around here waiting for you two to save the world again.” Scott is right, thought Marko; when the competition begins it will just be Ian and him in the ring with whatever disaster they get stuck with. It was not fair to the others to have them sit out on this too. “Well alright then,” Ian says. “We have a monster to catch. I’m guessing since it isn’t a demon and since you’ve already started to telegraph our play we can go at this thing full force?” “Yep,” says Nick. “Well then I’ll fold you all there.” “All where?” Asks Marko, “We don’t know where we need to go but that’s good thinking. If you fold space for them that should cut the travel down significantly. Ian stares at Marko for a second. “Why do I get the feeling you have more plans for me after that?” Marko stares expressionlessly back at Ian. “I have a request of you. We may have the curse that they put on Tatia and Deacon figured. We still need to find the source. You travel the fastest so that’s what I’m going to ask of you to do. And it’ll need to be quieter than this little escapade. If they catch wind we’re coming for the curse they might just kill them.” The thought sends an unpleasant vibe towards everyone. It is bad enough that their friends are hurt, how much worse would it feel to cause them to die?
“Ok, we have a plan. But where are you going man?” Asks Ian. Marko looks at the others. “I’ve spent the least amount of time here; it’s only logical that you all go out and stretch your legs. I can babysit Alicia.” There is silence. Ian asks him if he feels up to it. Marko takes another look around the house. “I think I can handle it.” Alicia walks into the room. She holds an old journal. Alicia has been studying demons religiously the past few days. “What’s going on here?” She asks. Ian sees the journal; he grimaces at the thought of her gathering state secrets. “Nothing.” He says. Kiara gives him a reproachful look. “They’re about to head out for the night. You should get some rest I don’t remember the last time I saw you sleep.” Neither does Marko. He says: “Alicia, you and me are going to watch over the house. You can have the master bedroom. I trust you’ll feel more at home near your sister’s things.” Eliot gives a face palm. Kiara kicks the back of Marko’s leg. He doesn’t see that the direct mention of Rebecca might be distressful for Alicia. After all, why would it? The kick reminds Ian that Kiara had not been mentioned in the travel plans. So he asks: “What about you Doc? Where will you be for all of this?” She smiles, betraying a little more excitement than perhaps intended despite her tired features. “I’m going for a ride along. I figured if I had to be stuck with a hospital shift or maybe I could help uncover something from this sleepwalker business you know I’m there for you all.” There had never been a time where the group felt sorer about not expressing just how much Kiara had been an integral member of their team and a great friend to have. For those capable of expressing sorrow and guilt this was a moment worth remembering seeing as Kiara really did not need to be there. Nick put an arm around her, “You know we love you Kay! Of course you can come with us.”
Sean stares at his cigarette that he has not yet been given the chance to enjoy. He senses the time is near for the band to part ways, possibly for the last time before judgment. He leans in towards Marko and says “I need to talk to you.” The two move away from the others as the conversation drifts towardsa new wave of Alicia’s questions and Ian’s disapproving looks. Nick and Eliot peel off as well to give last minute advice to one another and express their appreciation for Kiara. Back in the command center Sean speaks quietly. “You got this right?”
“Of course. What does Alicia know so far?”
“Everything Rebecca knew or should know about us. The rest is all half-truths or what I think Rebecca might have assumed on her own. And that’s of course assuming she doesn’t assume that we haven’t been feeding Alicia false information. And that’s assuming…”
“Yeah I get it. You did the best you can with what you got.”
“I don’t know if this will pay off.”
“It was a gamble to start these tactics and if the baddies haven’t revealed us yet for meddling with them, it can only mean they’re planning something too. I want to be here for when it happens and I’m almost positive it will involve Alicia. So there’s that…”
“Yeah ok, but… How much of you is still in there man?”
“I don’t know, and I honestly don’t want to. It is not going to help me to dwell on that. I might have to count on logic overriding emotion on this and leading me down the right path.”
“See that’s my problem. Marko would have never said what you just did. Logic can breed sacrifice.” At this point Ian has broken away from the others to Join Sean and Marko. He looks at the sword he brought in and thinks on whether to bring it or not. The internal debate is over quick. He leaves it. “Marko that’s for you by the way. You’re a mess with your powers but you ought to be able to swing your sword.” Marko reaches for the hilt and then picks up the sheathed blade to examine it. “There’s something else you should both know,” he begins. “I had a bit of a trip with Ben. I have something along the lines of a bad screenshot of his thoughts. He was obsessed with the idea that the only way this whole mess could have happened is if the demons had something the eternals wanted that they couldn’t get from us. We don’t have time to figure out what that is, but I think if there is something to be learned there we might be able to keep this from ever happening again.”
“So,” says Ian, “That’s not much help for right now.”
“I know, that’s why I’m only mentioning it in passing. There is more, but it was meant I think for me to figure out. There may be a way to use my losing emotions to our advantage. And finally, there is a warning.”
“This should be good,” says Sean.
“Yeah. The gate that held Ben kept him at as close to a level head as a crazed Demon Lord might get. So he’s probably out right now and rapidly losing control of himself. Ian if you see him, walking the Earth. You might have to kill him.”
“I’ve done worse.”
“He used to be a champion. I feel like you should be forewarned if anyone can kill us before this contest its him.” Sean rolls his eyes. “Anything else you forgot to tell us?”
“Yeah. Angels used to be here. And I think we might know one.”