Guardians Rise Chapter 1

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Prologue

 

October 2006,

She wore a mask that covered the majority of her face, only leaving the top half, past the nose, exposed. Her eyes were reduced to slits, focused. She was forever focused when on a mission. Long hair was tightened atop her head in a bun, keeping it out of her eyes. All around her was darkness, but she expected as much. Even in daylight, The Empire achieved darkness. Although her heart tried to thump chaotically within her chest, she willed it to keep quiet. She couldn’t allow the Vampires to pick her out. She couldn’t allow herself to be caught.

Slowly, she strode down the hallway in the Emperor’s manor, led by guards – two in front, two behind her. When they entered the council room, the energy from within suddenly hit her like a wave. It was stifling. Utterly overwhelming and yet she had to remain composed. She had to pretend she was meant to be there. Dithering between the guards, she set her canisters down. Delicately, she twisted the tops; compressed liquid suddenly began spraying from the holes in the top. It sprayed about like teargas, except no one bar the girl felt like coughing. As the liquid entered the air, the Vampires in the room grinned, inhaling it. From the other canisters, she gently tipped blood into their goblets. As she did, she listened in on their conversations.

“We need to tell people that we are at war. I won’t have the Vampires weak. I won’t have them turning a blind eye and losing themselves to the inferiors.” Andrelle Romanov said, her lip upturned.

As soon as she spoke, the room around them grew colder; so cold that ice could cling to the walls. The room was hers upon speaking. She addressed everyone and no one at the same time. As if she was ensuring they all knew she had them; at the same time, she would impress upon them all that she was so above them, that she didn’t truly need them.

“So what do we tell them, mother? What do you propose?” Cyrus Romanov asked, Andrelle’s eldest son.

“We tell all of our people that war is at our doorstep. It has finally caught up to us. That everyone bar us are the enemy, even more so now than ever before. Tell them to be alert. To rise. To dominate…I shan’t have us falling.”

As she said it, she slammed her fist onto the table, turning on the girl. Andrelle’s frozen grey eyes stared into hers, dangerously thirsty.

“Hurry with my drink, child. I’m hungry.”

She hesitated, captivated by the look Empress Andrelle Romanov gave her. As soon as every member of the royal family had a full goblet, the girl escaped the room in a hurry. But she had what she needed. She knew for sure now that the immortal war was official. That her organisation could start to move against them. That the Guardians were finally being given an opportunity to regain their home.

As soon as she reached home, the girl calmed her racing heart. She explained to both her bosses that the Empress had called for war and would soon be telling all her people of their decision. That the Vampires would start to stir. Her Leading Officer in the Guardian organisation took this as brilliant but troubling news. Kain Elesky called for a meeting of the Leading Officers to propose further plans. However, her other boss, the leader of her task force, was grinning as he always did. He already knew, of course he did; he knew everything.

“You shouldn’t have risked yourself for such crappy information.” Sphinx said, draining his glass. “We knew Andrelle would call it. She’s so predictable that it’s painful.”

“Oh please! Like you could ever know what goes through that woman’s head.” Siobhan Lloyd said, shaking her head and rolling her eyes at Sphinx’s feigned confidence.

“Either way, it was obvious.” He pouted.

“Yeah, well, I had to see for myself. And you know Damon, he likes facts.” The girl rolled her eyes too, punching the punching bag in the living room, which was at the side of the dining area where her comrades dwelled.

“You seem tense…”

She began attacking the punching bag over and over, sweating and panting. “Do I?”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“No,” She hit the bag whilst speaking. “I don’t. I’m just…it’s not great having so…Goddamn. Much. To. Do. It’s go here, Grace. Go there, Grace. HQ this. War that. Boyfriends up. Boyfriends down-”

“Boyfriends?” Sphinx smirked.

“Just leave it. I’m fine. It’s fine. The sooner Andrelle is dethroned, everyone will be happy and a lot of weight will be off my shoulders.”

“That’s not going to happen anytime soon though, child, so reduce the weight another way.” Said their boss, striding through the room just to inform her of that fact, his mood unfamiliarly chilling. “Now focus. If this was real, that punching bag would have you dead by now.”

2 Years Later, 2009, England

“We, as humans, are weak, but at least we know this. We’d be fools to think that we weren’t. However, my fellow Guardians, once you realise that you’re weak…you know that you must work until your fingertips bleed in order to become strong.”

A thunderous applause broke out in a large hall with rows upon rows of people, clothed in uniform, filling the space. None of the men and women in the room were seated; instead they all stood tall like soldiers – which was exactly what they were. Each was either in a black or white polo shirt, grey combat trousers and boots with a rubber sole – garbed for battle.

The man who stood in front of the podium continued, “Now, we have a prisoner waiting to be collected at the D’Annas’ London residence. A team from the Seventh Division will be the ones to collect this prisoner, or dispose of her should she resist arrest. The prisoner is Vampire menace Juliet Kane.”

The members of the Seventh Division bellowed in echoic synchronisation, “Yes Commander!”

The man who stood broad and powerful in front of the podium was the Commander of the Guardian organisation – though he was often referred to as Captain or Chief as well. He was dressed in a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, tucked into charcoal trousers and finished with smart shoes. He was an older man, with short, white hair and a moustache; many lines and scars spoilt what may have been a handsome complexion beforehand.

A long, thick chain hung around his neck, yet the chain did not hold any sort of pendant or engravings. He seemed the obvious authority figure in the hall; his appearance and the air about him screamed ‘leader’. Thousands of men and women were at his command, most of which were flesh and blood humans.

“Together we purge the darkness!” The Commander roared, his thick, white moustache wriggling as he did.

Together we purge the darkness!” His soldiers repeated.

All of a sudden the room began to filter out, starting with impressive and potent looking First Division Officers, followed by the next division down and so on and so forth.

Outside the hall, a few members of the Seventh Division lingered; the rest of their teammates had rushed off to ready themselves for their mission. Seated confidently in front of one Seventh Division soldier, the young Jake Hansen, were two First Division Officers. They each perched on opposite sides of the hallway, both holding a laidback, self-assured stance. Jake approached them, a glint of awe sparkling in his brown eyes.

“You hear that? Our division is finally doing something worthwhile! We’ve been given Juliet Kane to capture! It’s obvious that the Commander has noticed our potential -”

Laughter echoed across the hallway, travelling from the Officer seated on the ground, his head thrown back sardonically. “You’re adorable! Really, you are! Juliet Kane?” He laughed loudly again, tears of mirth gathering in his striking brown eyes, “She’s a small fry!”

Jake’s cheeks became red, “Oh yeah? Then why would he send Seventh Division soldiers to get her?”

The man suddenly became very serious, “Because she’s not that small. But her sister, whoa! Now she’s where it’s at. Taking down a woman of her calibre would be pretty darn impressive.” Jake’s fists clenched in embarrassment but the man continued, the hall becoming emptier as more soldiers left the small space. “We go after Vampires like Sphinx, mate, Juliet Kane wouldn’t even be a warm-up for us.”

The man tugging at Jake’s pride didn’t seem to be getting a kick out of wounding him; he simply enjoyed proving how ‘great’ and ‘skilful’ First Division Officers were. However, his friend leaning against the wall beside him, didn’t appear to care about educating the young soldier.

“Ha! You talk so big but you seem to have missed one small thing, Stefano!” Jake started, his hopes of insulting his superior rising. “Sphinx Thomas is still alive! You can’t be doing a very good job, can y-”

Even before Jake had finished his sentence, Sal DeStefano, with a quick flick of his arm, sent small, lethal darts shooting through the air and into Jake. A disorientated and dazzled expression came over Jake’s face, when he found himself pinned to the wall by darts impaling his white t-shirt. He hung limp from the wall, his face angry with embarrassment. All of a sudden Sal jumped to his feet, swiftly appearing in front of Jake with a sword to his throat. The sword was thin and shinning silver, but so smoothly drawn that its tip was still lingering in its sheathe; Sal clutched the hilt whilst the blunt end of the blade ran along his forearm. Jake wanted to gulp but he realised that to do so could mean a nasty wound.

Finally, Sal’s teammate looked up at the sudden commotion to find his friend’s black coat falling from his shoulders, drifting slowly to the ground.

“No, Sphinx is not dead yet, but that’s only because he’s in hiding and so out of our reach. I just used him as an example. But don’t you worry, little boy, we’ll get rid of the beasts that make you piss your bed at night, just so you can wake up and go about your sorrowful life, killing Vampires as pathetic as Juliet Kane!”

His laugh sounded again in a terrifying boom as Jake became more and more restless. He wanted to yell, scream, punch and cry but he knew it was useless. Sal and the other First Division Officers have always been better than him, and no time soon would that change.

“Sal, mate, you should really keep a lid on that temper of yours.” Started the man leaning against the wall, a charming look on his lightly tanned face, completed with dark brown hair, piercingly pale green eyes and a smile that so easily broke hearts. “He knows the truth behind what we do and he respects us for it, deep down. It’s quite simple though, my friend, keep working hard and you’ll be taking down Vampires like us someday. Perhaps you’ll even be the one to kill Sphinx Thomas with your own hands. I mean, even I killed the infamous Maria Lambrick when I was a mere rookie!” He laughed sweetly in his short reverie, “Those were the good old days!”

Sal loosened his hold on the hanging teenager as he listened to his friend speak, his expression still sarcastic. Jake turned his attention to the man leaning against the wall, his eyes filling with awe at the sight of the pleasantly potent man. “Wow! Actually, I think I remember hearing about that, Damon. Didn’t it go down in the history books? ‘Fifth Division boy singlehandedly puts an end to Maria Lambrick’s reign of terror’?”

The young man pushed off from the wall, “Yeah, it said something like that, but that doesn’t matter now. Keep your head up and your hopes high, friend; anything is possible.” His words were matter of fact, so much so that Jake felt lifted. “What’s your name?”

“J-Jake Hansen, sir.”

“Ah, Chris’s brother. Well Jake, good luck on your mission. I’m sure you’ll be standing beside me soon enough.”

With those last words of inspiration, Damon started to turn away; his long black coat flowed behind him angelically as it rested on his shoulders, his hands deep in his pockets. Jake was too busy staring after Damon to notice that the sword was quickly being drawn from his throat, then sheathed before Sal collected the darts out of his shirt.

In a hard thud, Jake dropped to the ground on his knees, rubbing his neck from where his collar had chafed him and the blade had been lingering.

“Damon is a lot nicer than me, but also naïve. A toddler like you could never reach the top, but by all means…keep on crawling.”

Sal sniggered to himself before grabbing his coat from the ground and throwing it over his shoulder, following after Damon. Jake’s pride was stained once again.

—*—

A biting chill loomed over the stone cell like a whisper of sinister curses. Rusted chains were cinched to a solid rock wall, but even though it was haggard from hundreds of years of distress, the prisoner caged within the claustrophobic four walls was unable to set herself free. She rested her weary head against the rough stone, which was coated with condensation, her lips chapped and her eyes grey. Her shackles dug deep into her wrists, leaving a sickening decoration of red, purple and blue over her pale skin. Although she had the power of accelerated healing, with the lack of blood to feed on, she had become so weak that her abilities had slowed to a standstill.

A clanging of heavy footsteps sounded across the concrete like a song of hope for her. She rose on her dry, scarred knees to see who was coming, but they did not stop. The footsteps became progressively quieter as they passed, leaving behind an empty hole in the Vampire’s chest.

“Jorell!” She coughed dryly, “Let me out of here!” Although she aimed to be aggressive, her voice failed her and became hoarse with weakness.

Silence fell over the cell once again; no answer, no sign of freedom. She cursed under her breath as she lashed forwards, the rusted shackles impaling her flesh and leaving such a large gash in her skin, that she felt the warmth of her own blood trickle down her fingers. Her head lowered in defeat. All of a sudden, a calming melody began to fill the room, a low tweeting growing in a crescendo as its creator came ever closer. The Vampire turned to find a bird tottering between the iron bars, its own song the music for its dance.

“Come here, come here birdy!” She murmured with foreign alacrity as she watched the robin turn to face her, its head tilting from side to side as it studied her.

For some reason or another, the bird surmised that the Vampire was trustworthy, taking the risk to enter the cell. The bird skipped here and there in its daze, moving closer and closer to the Vampire before thwack! In one quick, brusque movement, the Vampire crushed the bird with her foot before slowly and carefully scraping its body closer to her. With agile movement, she scooped the bird up with her feet, bringing it to her mouth. The bird’s fragile skeleton crushed against her eager mouth with an unnerving squelch. She fed until its body had become dry.

The crimson clung to the Vampire’s crusted lips as a smirk formed on her mouth. The chains’ power was suddenly lessened as a warming strength began to pulsate through her veins, blessing her with enough power to free herself. With a loud boom, the chains finally broke from the wall in one swift tug, the rock crumbling in an avalanche of dirt and pebble from the stone; the shackles still clung to her misshapen wrists however. With her foot, she banged down the stone door which had once kept her captive. The smell of freedom filled her nostrils in a rush of fresh air as she put her dirty hand to her unnaturally beating heart. Her chapped lips smirked, smoothing her murky blonde hair as she surveyed the area. ‘Finally…I can return home,’ she thought, clenching her fists. At once, Juliet Kane ran for her life.

Symphany rose at the sound of the stone door hitting the ground, instantly understanding that the reckless Juliet Kane had set herself free. Without hesitation, she teleported outside of her house to find the Vampire approaching a small garrison of humans, all armed with heavy artillery. Symphany froze. Although the people were not there for her, she didn’t doubt that they would be quick to dispose of her if she was caught in their line of fire. Juliet sauntered towards the group of armed humans, her demeanour expressing great composure as she stared after them. Each of the troops held some kind of weapon, their target – Juliet.

They were Hunters, or at least that was what the Vampires called them. They went by many names depending upon the individual: Vampires called them mere Hunters, seeing as they were the ones being hunted; Angels called them Exorcists; Demons called them Sicarius, which meant ‘assassin’ in Latin; but the group themselves were called Guardians, for they believed that they were the protectors of mortals. The Guardians were a large organisation of humans and Half-breeds – half Immortal, half human people – who had dedicated their lives, training to kill Vampires.

Each of them wore a white polo shirt, charcoal combat trousers, military boots and black jackets which kept them warm against the chill. The insignia on their left breast read, ‘Guardian of the Night’ curved over an infinity symbol. They were armed with all kinds of weapons; bows and arrows, guns, daggers, darts and even whips. Each chose a weapon which best suited their fighting style.

“One more step and you’re dead, beast!” Warned the man at the front of the group – the Leading Officer of the Seventh Division, Jace Capello.

Juliet twisted her tongue in her mouth as she took that fatal step towards them.

“Fire!” He yelped.

Thunderous rains of wooden bullets shot relentlessly towards Juliet, but she danced between them at lightning speeds without working up a sweat. Whilst she moved between the shots in her swift movements, the archers took their chance. In sync, they all drew arrow after arrow from the quivers resting on their backs, sending them soaring towards Juliet on the ground – they were stationed atop garages. One or two of the arrows grazed her skin, but the majority missed their target, or were simply caught in her grubby hands. Symphany still stood motionless, watching, wondering. Juliet had been her family’s prisoner for months; it should not have been possible for a weak Vampire to take on such a large group of Guardians, but yet there was Juliet doing just that.

The wind seemed to change and suddenly, Juliet was done playing. She bolted towards the troops, augmented by their weakness. She slid underneath the leader of the group of Guardians with the prowess of a feline, before suddenly kicking upwards at his gun in a swift disarm. The man was discombobulated before Juliet booted him in his stomach, sending the man soaring into several of his comrades. The archers were getting dangerously close to landing a lethal hit on Juliet, and so they were her next prey.

She ran at a house before bouncing from it, up onto the roof of the garage. Each of them was dumbfounded; close combat was not what they had been trained to handle. The thrill she was getting from the fight was frightening to witness; the bloodlust apparent in her fearsomely grey eyes. She grabbed one of the Guardians by the arm and bent it backwards, hearing its dreadful crack, finding pleasure in the noise. Lunging for another, she took an arrow to the hand. Without even a wince, she retrieved the long, bloodstained weapon from her palm before turning and plunging it into the archer’s heart.

A loud thwack lashed across the air and all of a sudden, Juliet found herself falling backwards, a whip having wrapped itself around her ankle and tugged her downwards. Luckily, when being dragged down, Juliet had managed to land on top of another Guardian, and without hesitation, she quickly broke his neck. The Guardians took on more and more of Juliet’s incomprehensible moves. But now she needed to feed; she was hungry, angry, weak. Her sharp, thirsty fangs dug deep into their bodies, draining each and every one she caught of both their blood and their life. Symphany wanted to help them; she needed to help them but she couldn’t. She was paralysed.

“You’ll have to send a more elite team of Hunters if you want to beat me! What were you? Eighth Division? Maybe Seventh at most? Ha!” She whipped her head backwards, “You’ll have to do better than that if you want to stop me and my siblings! What happened to your more prestigious weapons, huh? That’s what it’ll take to beat me; wood just isn’t good enough anymore!” Juliet snarled complacently as her dirty fangs retreated, looking upon the dead bodies and the trembling fallen with aversion.

Suddenly, the unnerving glow of a white face emerged from within the shadows of the trees. Juliet looked towards the figure and smirked. A brave Guardian took an opportunity and sent an arrow out into the night, in hope of catching the person within the darkness.

But it missed. The young woman simply tilted her head to the side, not wincing or grimacing but instead smiling as the arrow whistled past her freckled cheek, lifting her loose, brown curls as it flew.

“Juliet, let’s go,” The young voice demanded, ushering her sister over to join her within the shadows.

“Yes captain!” Juliet jested, rushing off towards the trees. “For a moment there, I was beginning to think you’d forgotten me.”

“Never.” The woman declared, her hand ruffling through thick, grey fur. “Family is the most important thing to me. Anyone who tries to break that, automatically becomes my enemy…”

Before the remaining Guardians could stop them, the two women were gone. Jake Hansen looked around at his fallen comrades, their dead eyes staring blankly into nothingness. ‘How could I let them die? Juliet Kane was supposed to be a ‘small fry’, but I couldn’t even stop her. Damon will be disgusted…and he has every right to be…’ he thought as he dropped to his beaten knees, wallowing in the ghost-like presence that Juliet had left.

 

 

Part One

The Awakening

 

 

Chapter 1

The Return

Present Day, September 2007

Letti was alive. Her heart’s song played loudly inside her chest, roaring more fiercely than ever before; she had beaten them. She had beaten them all. Every colourless face within the Weeping Wood, near Bellemere’s parents’ house, was horror-stricken. Each relative of the D’Annas’ asked questions with their eyes, unsure of whether or not the girl swaying in front of them was in fact the ‘deceased’ Letti Marie Kane who had drawn them all there.

As Letti blew in the breeze, as fragile as paper, Kaizen felt the spear – which he had held ready to impale Bellemere’s chest – fall from his grip and hit his foot. Surely his eyes must not have sent the correct signal to his brain, because his mind was telling him that a miracle had happened. Letti was alive, or at least not dead.

The tips of his fingers began to tingle with the need to touch her, to ensure his hand wouldn’t just slip right through her as if she was a tormenting ghost. But he was paralysed. He felt himself become devoid of all movement. Perhaps it was he who was dead, not Letti who had re-joined the world of the living. Perhaps Bellemere had quickly turned the spear on him and taken his life before he could process it. Either way, in truth, he did not care. Letti was in front of him, really and truly within his reach and the reason why did not matter.

Rudely breaking through Kaizen’s frozen state, Symphany materialised in the woods followed by her sisters and the Kanes. She had registered Kaizen’s shocked thoughts of Letti’s arrival, and immediately stopped fighting Juliet in order to confirm the reading. And now she had. Her best friend, her sister, was alive again. Barely breathing, snow-white and bruised, but alive none the less.

“Le-Letti? How? What? Are you OK?” Symphany questioned, gently approaching Letti as if she was a deer who would dash away in escape if startled.

The question had hung on everyone’s lips but no one bar Symphany had dared to ask it, in case the answer she gave was dissatisfying. Letti wrapped one arm around her own waist, as the other dirty hand reached for a tree in order to balance herself. Her eyelids became heavy as if she were falling asleep, but she forced them open, looking around her surroundings but truly seeing no one.

“I…I’m…f-fine. I’m f-fine…I-”

All of a sudden her body folded as she fell, hitting her head against a rigid tree then colliding with the ground. Symphany lunged forwards, lifting her limp body before violently shaking her. Letti’s head cocked to the side, giving no recognition to being shook. A sickening churning washed over Symphany as she looked up at the crowd’s anxious faces. No one gave an answer; their eyes were each awash with disorientation. Letti’s return had turned their world upside down. At least when they believed that she had been killed, they could simply find the culprit and dispose of them; but now everything had changed in a matter of seconds. Now there were two very large questions that hung over them all like the drooping branches of the weeping willow trees that surrounded them. Who was responsible for Letti’s return to life? And what had she become now?

Symphany teleported from the wood and materialised inside the Kanes’ mansion. Gently, she took to the stairs and found a bedroom in order to lie Letti down. After ensuring she was safe and comfy amidst the plump sheets, Symphany returned to the crowd of miscreants in the Weeping Wood.

Never before had she felt such an overwhelming, stifling presence of guilt. It hung over and around them all like a large, poisonous cloud. She knew that there was no way everyone was responsible for Letti’s transformation but just like her, she knew they were all aware that each and every set of hands was partially stained with Letti’s blood.

“So we’re just going to stand here and let the wind do the talking for us?” Symphany exclaimed, her voice a lot louder and harsher than originally intended.

Wyatt spoke up, “I suppose we’re still in the same position. There’s still the matter of who did what and when. Still one’s word against the oth-”

Treachery!” Bellemere exploded, her eyes still lingering on the spot where Letti had collapsed. “One of you went behind our backs and turned her before killing her.” Her eyes finally regained the ability to move, quickly falling on Kaizen, but his eyes and attention were lost in another realm. “I knew you took her to that damned lake, boy, but she did not drink. So what plan came next, huh?”

Jorell grunted, “Again with the finger stretched towards us? Not a very convincing way to avoid blame-”

I couldn’t give a damn about what you think!” She barked, the veins in her neck growing thick and angry under her pale skin. “Wyatt’s right; we’re back to square one and I don’t like moving backwards. As soon as Letti wakes up, she’ll tell us everything and even before she’s finished speaking, I’ll have the bastard’s head on a spike. Trust me when I say this…you’ll be sorry you ever messed with Bellemere Kane.”

A loud snort hit Bellemere like a fly to the face. Ready to swat away the bug, she shot her enraged attention towards Honour.

“I’m not afraid of you, Red! You just drained my mother within an inch of her life; any second now, you’ll drop dead.” Honour broke into laughter, her uneven smile spreading across her newly adult face.

Jorell’s jaw tightened before he shook his head at his daughter’s naivety. Bellemere’s rage softened, amusement growing in its place.

“Child, child, child!” She sang, “How sweet it must feel to be so…empty-headed.” Honour’s bright eyes reduced to angered slits; Bellemere approached her with every word she released shooting like bullets. “I don’t concern myself with your blood. If I want it, I’ll take it. It’s delicious; it’s like a drug that enhances your senses in every conceivable way and, to be quite honest, I love it.” She winked at Honour’s horror-stricken expression before folding her arms, “Now all of you, get off my land.”

“What? Letti is back, we need-”

“Shall I say it again in a way your kind will understand?” Bellemere bellowed, her eyes threatening to burn Symphany’s skin from her bones. “Lasciare la mia terra, D’Anna famiglia.”

She cut her eyes from them before taking off into the woods towards her mansion. After each delivering their own disgusted glare, every Kane followed behind their leader. The D’Annas dithered for a moment, outraged and confused, but Jorell knew it was best to retreat and fight another day. Each of his children and relatives teleported away as he bent to retrieve his wife’s still, blood-drenched body from the blackened grass. Kaizen was left in the woods once his parents were gone, their absence suddenly ringing a loud silence about him.

He suddenly became very aware of his own presence; his smoke-like presence within the wind. He didn’t feel real; he didn’t feel like a part of the world anymore. He felt lost, completely and utterly devoid of answers. Although he knew that to do so would be signing his own death warrant, he wanted to dismiss Bellemere’s orders. He wanted to teleport straight to Letti and reconnect with the world; reconnect with normality, sense and direction. But he didn’t. No matter how much his heart throbbed and his hands itched for her, his head knew the right thing to do. Once Letti woke, she would find him…and his world would return.

—*—

          “Yes, yes I know what to do… I know what would be the wrong thing to do too! Do you really think I’ll be that stupid? Wait, don’t answer that!” The girl’s laugh chimed, “OK, I’ll return soon but could you please have backup close-by just in case? OK, thanks, bye.”

The young, blonde haired woman hung up her mobile phone before surveying her surroundings. She was sat on a park bench at the Kanes and D’Annas’ local skate park. Several teenagers in large groups, and children frolicking with their parents, decorated the space with joy. The young woman – who was only twenty-two years old – had fair features, the kind that accompanied a gentle soul. Although her confidence would suggest otherwise, her tight curls and deep green eyes gave the impression of undying innocence. She took a deep breath before jumping to her feet with a spring in her step.

“Now, I do believe Letti’s house is this way…”

 

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