For Disclaimers See Part One.
The bard can fed, as always, at Terias_McKlay@hotmail.com
Megan slowly opened her eyes quickly shutting them when the early afternoon sun hit her square in the face. She groaned and flipped onto her other side giving her pillow a punch to readjust it. She was rewarded with a short grunt of pain and she opened her eyes to see Lexina looking at her with a raised eyebrow.
"Oh jeez," Megan adopted her best apologetic look and the Hunter smiled.
"I didn't realize I was that uncomfortable."
"No you're not, sorry I didn't mean to..."
"Don't worry about it, I needed a wake up call anyway."
"What time is it?"
"Um," the Hunter squinted at the clock on the wall. "Quarter to two."
"Hmmm, guess we'd better get up then."
"You can stay and sleep if you'd like. It won't take long to see if Siobhan knows anything."
"No I want to come," Megan sat up and rubbed her eyes. "God I really stiffened up. You?"
"A little bit but I'm pretty used to getting beat around."
"Yeah but I doubt your stomach and eye are on your list of common injuries."
"They certainly aren't as rare of an occurrence as I would like. No matter," the Hunter shrugged her shoulders. "One pain is as easily blocked out as the next."
"Alright Supergirl, let me check out your war wounds before we go out." Megan stood and walked toward the kitchen.
"What the hell?" Lex looked around the destroyed shop struggling to take it all in. Her apartment had looked like Martha Stewart's house compared to this.
"Siobhan?" Megan called out stepping over a pile of books. She looked over the counter shaking her head at the empty cash register.
"Find anything?" Lex asked from wherever she was in the shop.
"Cash is gone."
"So are the crystals."
"Looks like, the little pricks probably destroyed this place for fun."
"Siobhan's been having some trouble with one of the small gangs running around here."
"Siobhan?" Lex yelled her voice echoing off the high ceilings.
"Where do you think she is?" Megan asked as Lex appeared from behind a bookshelf.
"Who knows, could've happened last night and Siobhan went home after she saw it or something." Megan shrugged and moved off to the backroom. Lex walked around the room checking under tables and overturned shelves for the shop owner. Lex knew the late hours the Irish woman kept and it was possible Siobhan had been here when the thugs had come in.
Judging by the damage it didn't look like they had been particularly squeamish about violence. A muffled ‘oof' came from the back room and Lex walked toward it cautiously.
"I'm good, I just tripped over..." Lex sprinted as Megan let out an ear rending scream. She reached the door to find Megan on the floor three feet away from the shop owner's corpse. The Hunter didn't have to check for a pulse, aside from the two bullet holes in Siobhan's skull her body looked to be stiff with rigor. Lexina shook her head and walked around the body kneeling next to Megan.
"Yeah," the pair got to their feet and Lex steadied the older girl as she wobbled slightly. The blonde pushed away from her and ran to one of the broken windows proceeding to empty her stomach into the alley. Lex understood the reaction, she'd done the same thing the first time she'd seen a dead body.
It was similar to the first time she'd killed something that bled rather then dusted. It had been a particularly nasty but not overly intelligent Kaldayo demon she'd destroyed as a trainee. The monster had bled like a slaughtered pig when she'd cut its throat spattering her with blood.
After the blood lust had died down Lex had cried for hours over the dead body of the demon. Athena had found her and taken her back to the apartment to shower before sending her home. Lex had cried long into the night about her lost blood innocence before falling into a troubled sleep. It had been one of the most traumatic moments of her life and she'd essentially had to go through it alone.
"I'm sorry." Lex went to the girl and squeezed her shoulder.
"You don't have to apologize. It's a natural reaction."
"Then why don't I see you puking?"
"Dead bodies are unfortunately common in this line of work."
"You get used to it?" Megan asked her face a mixture of sadness and disgust.
"Not used to it but less affected by it," Lex said knowing she was doing a poor job of explaining.
She hangs around me for too long she'll learn first hand how you begin to deal with dead bodies.
"I don't understand, why would they kill her?"
"I don't know. This isn't for us to deal with though, we've got to get what we need and get out of here," Lex said with regret.
"We can't just leave her here."
"We don't have a choice Megan, we'll call the cops from a payphone okay?" Megan nodded though she didn't look happy with the response.
"Grab whatever you can on mercenary demons, I'm going to go for warlocks." The Hunter gently pushed the reporter into the main area and closed the door to the back room.
Lex went up the ladder to the section on the dark arts and the masters thereof. She grabbed a book on the histories of Salem, a complete index of the known warlocks and tossed them both into her backpack.
"Megan did you find your stuff?" Lex tossed her backpack over her shoulder and called out again.
"Megan?" The Hunter jumped over the rail of the small upper level ignoring the stairs to her left. She landed softly despite her heavy boots and crept toward where she could hear breathing. There was someone else in the room, that much Lex knew from her predator's instinct.
She wasn't sure how he'd gotten in without her hearing him but she was about to make him realize his mistake. She rounded a shelf of books to see a young man with several piercings and a blue mohawk holding a hand over Megan's mouth.
The flash of metal revealed the small switch blade he held in his free hand and Lex tried to think of how she could disarm him without risking Megan's safety.
"What do you want?" Lex asked trying to get him talking so she could have time to think.
"Well I wanted the cash but I'll settle for your little friend here."
"We both know that's not going to happen. Why don't you take whatever else you want and get the hell out of here?" He laughed disturbingly as he raised the knife to Megan's throat.
"I've got what I want and unless you want your little girlfriend here to taste steel I suggest you step back." He pressed the blade tighter into Megan's skin and Lex's eyes shot daggers at him as a small well of blood dripped from her throat.
God I hate punks like this, I'll show him steel. Lex prepared to release the catch on her hidden dagger and looked to Megan hoping the girl would see the warning in her eyes. She was surprised not to find a trace of fear in the sea green eyes but instead an anger and defiance that made even Lex pause.
Uh oh. This guy'd be wise to be the one to step back. Somebody's pissed.
From where she was Lex could see Megan's movements though the girl's captor couldn't. The blonde brought her elbow forward and drove it back into his stomach as she grabbed the arm with the knife.
He began to double over from the unexpected strike, his grip on her loosening. She turned out of his arms and nailed him in the groin with a knee. He dropped to the floor in the foetal position the knife landing beside him with a clang.
Lex pulled Megan away from him and kicked the knife up into her hand. She examined the illegal blade curiously. The hilt was faux ivory and the blade was made of some cheap metal that had been sharpened excessively and the Hunter snapped it easily.
"You've been holding out on me," the Shadow Hunter said as she took off her belt and used it to tie the thug's hands behind his back. Megan shrugged and didn't lift her head to meet Lex's eyes.
"After Siobhan and I were mugged I took some self defence classes. I didn't want it to happen again. I told you I could take care of myself."
"Yeah you did." Lex murmured as she took the hilt of the knife and struck the boy on the back of the head with the pommel. His body went limp and she dragged him into the back room.
"You might want to come look at this." Lex tucked the unconscious thug in the furthest corner of the room and picked up Siobhan's lifeless body. Megan was right, it seemed wrong to leave the woman where she was.
"Be there in a sec," she said as she gently laid the shop owner on a cot near the side door. Lex had slept there for nearly a week when she'd been delirious with fever back in June.
She'd caught some demon's version of the flu and Athena hadn't known what to do. Siobhan's powerful healing abilities had allowed her to deal with the bug easily. The shop owner was always the one Athena brought Lex to when she had injuries her Dhaskalos couldn't handle.
I'm so sorry Siobhan, Lex thought as she looked at the Irish woman, you didn't deserve this.
The Hunter grabbed the blanket that lay at the side of the cot and draped it over Athena's fallen friend. After she dealt with the warlock she was going to make it her personal mission to hunt down every person involved and make them pay. The boy in the corner groaned and Lex felt her ire rising.
I could start with him. He's no better then the people who did this, assuming he didn't have a hand in it himself. Now a good woman is dead and a waste like him gets to live.
The Hunter released the catch on her wrist sheath and slowly made her way to the tied up form.
We don't have enough ways to die we have to start killing each other. This animal doesn't deserve to breathe.
Lex grabbed him by the throat and picked him up easily holding him a foot above the ground with one hand. Lex put her knife to his gut preparing to push the blade in. She'd never killed a human before but this guy seemed as good a place as any to start.
"Lex?" Megan walked through the door and Lex released her grip on the man slipping the knife into her sleeve. He dropped to the ground in a heap and did his best to move away from the Hunter.
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing," Lex said dismissively, "what did you want to show me?" Megan looked at her critically before motioning for Lex to follow her. The blonde led her into a small alcove behind the counter to a computer desk.
"This area is kind of hidden, whoever sacked the place must have missed the computer, Siobhan didn't get the chance to turn it off."
"What am I looking at? Oh." Lex's eyes widened as Megan scrolled the Tribunal's official database.
"From what I can tell this is a comprehensive database of every book, villain, generations of Shadow Hunters, anything the Tribunal has ever encountered."
"No, did you know Siobhan had this?" Megan asked looking up at the Hunter.
"I didn't even know this existed," the brunette admitted.
Someone's been keeping secrets. But why?
"Is it an internet site?" Lex asked.
"No, it's the computer system. Aside from the basic programs needed to run the information the entire hard drive is full of the database."
"Very big whoa," Megan agreed.
"This could be a huge help."
"I'm shutting it down. We can take the whole computer," Megan said already in the process of shutting down the computer and unhooking it.
"Alright, I'll bring the car into the alley."
"I'll start packing things up."
"Okay," Lex manoeuvred through the debris and opened the door.
"Hey Lex," the Hunter turned back to her friend quirking an eyebrow in question.
"I'm glad you didn't kill him." Lexina gave her a look of surprise before nodding curtly and stepping out into the light.
"Some, I'm still running the program. If it doesn't decode within the next hour I'll try something different. I should have known it would lock me out when I shut down the system." Megan said with a shake of her blonde head. "One way or another I'll get in."
"Do I want to know why an aspiring journalist knows how to crack computers?"
"Have to stay ahead of the competition somehow. If you can get into a police database you can find out the details of an investigation, check company stocks, see where some of the elite are travelling on flight manifestos..."
"Okay, I get the point." Lex held up a hand to stop the older girl's list of computer crimes.
"Just be thankful you ended up with a journalist for a sidekick," Megan said with a smile as she turned to the computer screen. "I don't think this is going to work, I'm going to have to try something else."
"Hmm?" The girl was engrossed in whatever she was working on and Lex grabbed the back of the chair and turned her around so she would have to listen.
"You are not my side kick, okay? We're friends and," she looked at the computer they'd taken and gave a smile. "We're also partners in crime, but I am not your superior okay? I wouldn't have gotten half this far without you."
She waited for understanding to show in Megan's face before letting go of the chair and spinning the girl back to the computer.
"'Sides neither one of us is a real superhero, I don't even own a set of tights." Megan chuckled as she went back to work.
Lex moved away from the blonde to give her space to work. She looked for a book on the floor remembering she'd left it on her bed. As she was about to leave the room a thought occurred to her and she spoke with a rare emotional honesty. "Megan?"
"Yeah Lex?" She asked without looking from the screen.
"I am thankful you're here to help, I don't think I could do this alone."
I've never really been alone. A loner yes, but not alone. Athena was always here to help, to pick up the slack when I couldn't get things done. But I have to be an adult now, I have to figure things out for myself and isn't there some cliché saying that part of being an adult is knowing when to ask for help?
"That's what friends are for Lexina, so that you don't have to do things alone. Besides, you think I'd miss out on the greatest story of my life?"
"You're a regular April O'Neil aren't you?" Lex asked with a smirk.
"Cowabunga dude." The young Hunter shook her head and moved off to fetch the book.
"I'm in," Megan said excitedly before she was overcome with a yawn. As good as it felt to break into the database she was still running on less than six hours of sleep for the past 48 hours and everything in her body was telling her to go to bed.
Lex looked up from the book she was reading and slowly stood. Her eye had been troubling her for the past few hours. Though it was halfway to healed Lex had complained that it had been throbbing non stop.
Given the Hunter's habit for understatement Megan had a suspicion that the girl's pain was nearly blinding. Nevertheless, she refused to sleep or take anything to dull the ache despite Megan's arguments.
"What've you got?"
"Everything, the entire database is open but it could take a lifetime to sift through this."
"Any way we can engage the warp drive? We really have to track this guy down."
"Trekkie." Megan accused.
"Figures, I knew there had to be a geek lurking under that Champion of Justice façade." Lex narrowed her eye, Megan coughed and turned her attention back to the computer.
"What are we looking for specifically?"
"Azriel first, from there I'm not sure." Lex rolled a chair over and sat next to Megan wincing at the bright screen. All the reading was aggravating her eye and the pounding in her skull had been getting steadily worse.
"The name registers as a known mercenary. He's been credited for some minor acts of violence, a few deaths, none of them Tribunal members. Actually he's been used by the Tribunal for a couple of jobs."
"Come again?" Lex said looking at the screen and willing her vision to clear so she could read the information for herself.
A demon working for the Tribunal? When the fuck did that become kosher?
"Mostly just collecting stuff from unwilling owners. In '87 he was hired to obtain a statuette from a private collector by, and I quote, ‘any means necessary'."
"Need I ask what means he used?"
"Um... Police report indicates it took them three days to find his head."
"Well, that sounds pleasant in a gruesomely decapitative kind of way."
"Nothing else? Anything about who he could be working for now?"
"No, his last job with you guys was three years ago, the Tribunal hasn't heard from him since."
"What about the book?"
"What about it? We don't even know what it is, who it's by, nothing."
"Could we have missed something? There's got to be a clue somewhere, maybe we should go back to the mine."
"There's nothing left of it, it'd take us weeks of digging to just to find his lair." Lex said as she stood and pushed the chair away.
"Well then what do you suggest we do?" Megan asked her temper flaring momentarily. The situation was starting to wear on her.
"I don't know, you're the reporter aren't you supposed to be all intuitive or something. Where do we go from here?"
"I don't know, look for books the Tribunal might want? Azriel knew about the book, maybe the Tribunal sent him to get it and didn't want it recorded that they sent a demon against one of their own."
"To take something Athena would've freely given?" Lex asked incredulously.
"How do you know she would've?"
"The Tribunal is Athena's life, she'd die for them. She almost did."
"No, she nearly died defending herself from a demon the Tribunal has used to collect things before."
"Fine, try it and see but you're wrong." As Megan typed in the search parameters Lex began putting books on random shelves. Athena liked them in a specific order but Lex had never quite understood it so she placed them anywhere there was space.
It would make good busy work for Athena when she came home. One shelf was still face down on the floor, the heavy wood was awkward to move alone so she'd left it where it was. One day when she was feeling keen she'd attempt to get it back into place.
"I'm not sure, the Tribunal has a large list of books that they're after, but you're right, without something to narrow it down it's a needle in a haystack."
"Your dream," the Hunter said realization finally dawning on her.
The warlock's book, that's got to be it.
"What about it?"
"Type in the description of the book he had in his hand."
"Humour me." Megan sighed knowing Lex would explain herself and typed it in. The search was narrowed considerably but a fair list of books remained.
"Almost. Look, that one there," Lex tapped her finger on the screen to show the link she meant.
"So? How's it different from the rest?"
"Most of these books are already in the library see?" She asked pointing to a book on Jundar demons that was recorded as being in the London Archives.
"Gotcha. There are only two books that aren't listed as being placed in a library, a Dhaskalos' Journal and a warlock's Book of Shadows."
That's gotta be it.
"Check out the Book of Shadows." Megan clicked on the link bringing up a large page of information. "Who did it belong to?"
"Not sure, hang on a sec, it looks like they sent someone to pick up this book, several someone's actually. A Protégé?" She looked curiously over at Lex and waited for the Hunter to explain.
"A Protégé is someone the Tribunal identifies as a possibility for becoming one of the Thirteen. They're trained on the assumption that at some point they will be a Shadow Hunter. That way, if they get their powers the Tribunal isn't starting with some green recruit. Sometimes, the Seers miss Protégés and you end up with a Hunter who doesn't understand and can't control their powers. They're relatively rare and their careers are generally useless, violent and mercifully brief."
"This isn't a good life Meg, especially for someone who's unprepared to be suddenly responsible for the protection of the human species, it's a big responsibility and not one that many people want. I certainly didn't, still don't. Death is the gift the Powers give us.
‘Peace after constant war, it's why the texts say the Hunters were chosen from mortals. To have this kind of life for eternity would drive a person mad. Plus, when the untrained die, a new warrior, stronger, more experienced, who has had time to prepare for their duty, is called. For the people who are called without ever having been trained, a swift death is the best thing for all concerned."
"Gods, that's harsh Lex."
"It is, but Shadow Hunters don't get to live in the world of second chances or hopes of mercy. That's just way it is."
"So who chooses the Chosen Ones?" Lex shrugged and looked at the computer screen.
"Sources say The Powers That Be, whoever they are. I've no idea honestly, I don't really worry about it. Whoever does it must have some plan and my successor is only called after I die so I'm not too concerned with how the higher ups go about it."
"How long have you been a Shadow Hunter?"
"Only about eight months, my mom died in late May and I got my powers about a month before that."
"How long do you guys usually live?"
"My direct predecessor was around for a month or so before she was jumped by a gang of vampires. The oldest Hunter on the team right now has been in the game for 11 years. I've only spoken with her once, shortly after my mother's death, kind of a pep talking rallying of the troops thing. She sounds like a real hardass and being as how she's been a Hunter the longest everyone looks to her for guidance. How long we live more or less depends on skill and luck."
"That sucks Lex, you guys are the champions but you get kind of a raw deal."
"Yeah I guess, but at least I probably won't have to worry about becoming a bitter old lady." She said. Megan smiled sadly at the young Hunter and turned back to the screen. "Don't look so down Meg I have no intention of letting some demon knock me off anytime soon."
"I know," Megan sighed but turned her attention to the screen. "I just don't think it's fair."
"Fate rarely is, now why don't we get off this morbid topic hmmm?" Lex waited for Megan's nod before continuing. "Okay, who did this big bad Book of Shadows belong to?" The Hunter asked sitting down.
"Um... A warlock who had been excommunicated from his coven. He came back, killed the high priestess, sacrificed his coven to a hell god and laid waste to the town they'd created. This was back in the 1700's. The Tribunal imprisoned him in another dimension but he had his book with him when they did the banishing spell. Look here, in 1981 they sent a Protégé into the Other Realm to retrieve his Book of Shadows. Why would they want such an evil thing?" Megan asked pulling her hair back and putting it in a bun to keep it out of her way as she spoke.
"I'm not sure, it's not really the book that's evil. Magic is a tool, it can be used for good or bad. In the right hands I guess the book could be used to fight evil," Lex hazarded though she had her own questions about the Tribunal's desire to possess the book.
I don't like the picture of the Tribunal this is painting, demon employees, forbidden magics, what are they up to?
"So what was this guy's name?" Lex asked her mind quickly shifting into high gear, they needed answers. Now.
"Let's see, Protégé is to go to Other Realms via a tunnel under London, the spell requires a level two witchcraft. The mission was to retrieve the Book of Shadows of Gideon the Gruesome." Megan gave the brunette a look.
"Gideon the Gruesome? Who comes up with these names?" Megan asked, Lex shrugged in response.
"Where've I heard that name before?"
"Does it list the Protégé who did the mission? Maybe..."
"That's it!" Lex cried jumping up from her chair. "You're a genius." Lex pulled Megan from her chair into a hug, easily lifting the shorter girl off the floor.
"Whoa there tiger," Megan patted the girl's back and waited patiently to be put down. "Not that I'm against being called a genius but..." Megan stopped talking as Lex put her down and bolted out of the room.
The blonde followed at a slower pace finding Lex digging through her backpack. She pulled out a leather bound book and opened it thumbing through the pages.
"Right here," Lex pointed at the page and showed it to Megan who began to read aloud.
"I regret pitting Emma against Gideon but the Tribunal will not reconsider. Emma's magic working abilities are needed to break his defences. The time is nearly upon us, I hope she's ready. She will be ready," Megan looked up at Lex. "Who the hell is Emma?"
"Maybe we can find out," the pair went back into the office and sat down at the computer. Lex pulled her chair close so she could see the screen, the throbbing behind her eyes forgotten. "Look up Protégés."
"Way ahead of you partner, what's her name?"
"Emma Morrow, found in 1976." Lex read waiting as Megan's hands flew across the keyboard.
"Here she is, Emma Morrow; parents died in January of 77, vampire attack. Her Dhaskalos was one deceased Marcus Carlson field name, Aries." Megan turned to Lex, "what is it with you guys and your Greek names?"
"Generally a Dhaskalos picks a code name for field operation. If their Protégé is chosen as one of the Thirteen they can choose to give up everything about their old life including their names. If they do usually the Hunter will chooses a name that matches that of their Dhaskalos. It's just a way of identification. Athena told me about this one guy she met at the Dhaskalos' academy, he'd done a PhD in biology or something and his thesis had been on bats. Naturally everyone started calling him Batman so he took that as his field name when he graduated. The Hunter he trained ended up calling himself Nightwing."
"Oh my. I think I like the Greek. I'd probably choose something like Artemis or maybe Aphrodite," Megan said with a smile.
"Uh, being named after the goddess of love probably won't strike fear into the hearts of evil, but Artemis is nice."
"You changed your name," Megan said making it a statement rather than a question. Lex's eyes went dark before she nodded. The blonde sensed her friend's pain and put a hand on the girl's knee.
"Want to tell me what happened?"
"My mother was murdered by a vampire not long after I became a Hunter, I had to break away from my old life or I probably would've killed myself." Lex quietly admitted. Megan understood, she'd had her own morbid thoughts when her parents had died, her sister had kept her grounded.
"So why ‘Lexina'?"
"Tried to keep with the whole Greek thing Athena had going on."
"What does it mean?"
"Defender of man." Megan's eyes widened
"Defender of man? Lex my dream, what the warlock said..."
‘The blood of innocents shall soak the earth and not even the defender of man shall defeat me.' Yeah, tell me something I don't know.
"Don't worry, premonitions can be guidelines, just because you see it doesn't mean it's going to happen. Thanks to your dream I know what I'm dealing with, I have a chance now because of you, okay?"
"Okay," Megan said though she didn't look particularly comforted. The blonde gave Lex's knee a squeeze and continued reading the mission debrief. "It says the mission was a failure. The girl barely escaped with her life. The book was destroyed."
"Damn, that was our only lead," Lex said dejectedly.
"Might still be. She never became a Shadow Hunter but she did stay on to become a Dhaskalos. So she would've chosen her own name then wouldn't she?" Megan asked, Lex nodded grateful the girl was such a quick study.
"This should link to her file as a Dhaskalos." Lex watched as the girl clicked on the link, still in awe of the plethora of information in the database.
"Look there's even a picture from the day she was inducted as a Dhaskalos." Megan said as the rough outline of the woman popped up on the screen. The image gradually increased in clarity revealing a short, slender, brown haired young woman. Lex squinted her eye to see clearer.
No, it couldn't be.Could it? Change the hairstyle, add a decade or two.
"Oh shit," Lex muttered as the file finished downloading.
"What is it Lex? Do you recognize her?" Megan asked looking at the Shadow Hunter curiously.
"It's my Dhaskalos. Emma is Athena."
"Why wouldn't she have told me she was a Protégé?" Lex asked her frustration evident in her voice.
Not like I shouldn't have figured it out for myself ages ago. With a name like ‘Athena' how couldn't I have seen it when I was reading a journal by a man named ‘Aries'?
"I'm sure she has a good reason," Megan comforted trying to calm her agitated friend. The girl hadn't stopped moving since finding Athena's picture and their conversation had been circular at best since then.
"This is ridiculous, we're supposed to trust each other and she's hiding things from me."
"I agree it's important, but you have to put your emotions aside for a second and consider the new spin this puts on things." Lex stopped her pacing and levelled an exasperated glare at the blonde.
The reporter fought the urge to look away from the fierce blue eye, Lex's intimidating visage was only enhanced by the eye patch. She didn't want to be the one to say what she was about to say but someone had to.
"Like maybe Athena wasn't as truthful with the Tribunal as you want to think. What if Gideon's book wasn't destroyed? What if Athena stole it and now he or the Tribunal wants it back?" Lex looked as though she wanted to hit her for even making the suggestion and for a fleeting moment Megan thought the girl would give in to her violent tendencies.
"No," she growled with a forceful shake of her head. "I already told you, the Tribunal is her life, she would never betray them." As she spoke Lex realized the theory made too much sense. Gideon was fully capable of hiring a demon and some of the magic Athena dabbled in probably flirted the line with the forbidden arts.
The Tribunal might have been extremely reticent to allow her to continue in the Craft if they knew half of the spells she used. The only explanation was the Tribunal didn't know of Athena's activities and that in itself was enough to raise suspicions.
"It would explain what the demon said."
"Okay," Lex said with resignation in her voice, "say Athena did take the book and lied about it. How would Gideon have summoned the demon without it? If he was trapped in another realm he would have no way of communicating with Azriel." Lex said her voice softer than before.
"No idea, you?"
"I...I don't know." Lex sat down beside Megan and leaned back in the chair. The blonde patted her leg reassuringly.
"We'll figure it out. Why don't you go to bed? You look trashed."
"Yeah, after patrol, what about you?" Lex asked feeling a little guilty for snapping at the girl.
"I have to pick up some clothes and have a shower. I also have a class tomorrow I can't miss. I'll come back around noon okay?" Megan asked. She didn't like the idea of leaving the headstrong girl alone for long but if she missed the class she'd fail the course.
"Okay," Lex said trying to hide her disappointment. She was beginning to get used to having the girl around even after such a short period of time. The Shadow Hunter hadn't realized how lonely she'd felt over the past two weeks with Athena in the hospital.
"Good, get some sleep," Megan ordered as she stood to leave.
"Lex?" Blue eyes looked up into green. "Don't get any ideas about going off alone on some tirade. Let's try to get more information before you confront anyone on anything. Okay?"
"Okay," Lex nodded in agreement and watched silently as the blonde left the room.
She walked over to the window watching as the sun set on the small city. She didn't want to believe Megan's theory, Athena was her mentor, her rock. If a Hunter couldn't count on her Dhaskalos who could she count on?
No one, just like she said.
"Payton, keep your guard up."
"I'm tired Athena, can't we take a break?" A vicious strike on her arm that worked under her guard and into her ribs was her only answer. Payton fell to the floor and rolled along the mats avoiding the staff tip Athena had thrust at her throat. Her Dhaskalos attacked her relentlessly finally sweeping Payton's leg from beneath her and swinging the staff at her temple.
Her perfect control stopped the heavy wooden stick a hair's breadth before Payton's skull. The girl looked up at her mentor confusion in her eyes. She made a move to get up but Athena held her to the ground with a foot on the young trainee's chest.
"Your opponents will not stop because you're tired or hurt or emotionally burnt out. He will use it as an advantage and he will kill you." Athena let the girl up and stepped back watching as she slowly got to her feet rubbing her arm.
"You're not my enemy, you're my Dhaskalos." Payton argued kicking her staff into her hand and placing it on its rack.
"Don't be so sure about that Payton, too much trust in anyone can prove fatal."
"I don't understand, I thought you were... I thought the Tribunal was the one thing in the world I could count on."
"When push comes to shove and it's kill or be killed I won't be around and neither will the Tribunal. You are the only person you can ever trust, you alone know all your weaknesses and your strengths. The only person you can count on is yourself, remember that." Payton nodded her head sullenly as she picked up her backpack and prepared to go home.
"You were warning me Athena and I didn't listen." Lex leaned her head against the cool glass letting it soothe her swollen eye. "I didn't remember, but I'll never forget again," the Shadow Hunter swore as the sun dropped below the horizon.
Lex's sword sliced through the air easily severing the vampire's head from his body. His cohorts tossed the couple they'd captured to the side and advanced on the Hunter. The brunette raised her weapon and motioned for the vampire to come to her. The smart one stayed in place while his comrade charged. The Hunter dropped to one knee and dug in her heels. The vampire's momentum carried him onto the blade and Lex held fast as his body slid down the double edge.
The Hunter tried to pull the sword upward, startled when the vampire wrapped his hand around the blade and held it in place. The brunette looked up in surprise just in time to see the palm strike that sent her sliding backwards. The vampire pulled the sword from his body and holding it by the blade smiled at the Hunter.
Lex ducked to the side just as her sword sailed past her and imbedded into a tree. The Hunter pulled a stake from her coat and got to her feet. She whipped it at the vampire who caught it in mid air and gave the warrior another disturbing grin.
"C'mon little Hunter, I thought you guys were supposed to be the ‘be all end all' of vampire enemies. I've eaten toddlers who've put up more of a fight."
"I'll show you a fight you cocky leech." Lex reached behind and took a grip of the hilt of her sword giving a firm tug on the weapon. It moved only slightly and the Hunter grimaced when she realized she'd need two hands to pull it free.
"Go ahead kid, I'll wait," the vampire said as he used the stake to pick his fangs. Lex narrowed her eye suspiciously before she turned and grabbed her sword. She put her boot on the tree and pulled, the blade came free suddenly and the Hunter lost her balance as the resistance disappeared.
She landed on the ground with a thud and she grimaced as she heard the vampire chuckle behind her. She stood up, red faced, determined to defend the remains of her tattered pride.
"You know they just don't make'em like they used to," the vampire dusted off his coat calmly and tugged at his sleeves. "I tell ya, the one I killed a few years back was a lot more of a challenge, but then she'd been on the job for a few years. You've been around what? Six months?"
"Eight," Lex said defensively, taking a better stance.
"Oh, well excuse me, I will say what you lack in skill you make up for in spunk. That Xing girl had no personality, no flair."
"Lee Xing," Lex whispered, no wonder he was so cocky. Xing had been rumoured to be one of the best warriors the Tribunal had trained in recent memory. Honour and duty had been the code she'd lived and died by and the entire Tribunal had mourned when they'd lost her.
"Yeah that was it," the vamp shook his head, "you Hunters and your history. It always surprises me what you can remember."
"Are we gonna talk all night or are you going to come over here so I can dust you?"
"Ooh, there's that spunk again. I'm all chills."
The vampire jumped forward reaching for the Hunter. Lex swung her sword grazing his arm but the strike left her wide open. Her opponent gave her a shot to the ribs and backhanded her into a tree. Her entire left side went numb and she dropped her sword as her hand spasmed.
"All you punks are the same," he struck out at Lex with the stake barely missing her throat.
"Even Xing," he kicked and Lex grabbed his leg taking a step back to lock his knee. He jumped and hook kicked her with his other leg and they landed on the ground in a tangled heap.
"Sure she was strong and there's no doubt she mastered everything the Tribunal taught her but it was all the same predictable moves." Lex extricated herself from him and stood reaching into her pocket for her flask. The vampire tackled her and pushed her up against the tree holding her by her throat.
"Go ahead girl, have a drink, I like a little seasoning with my meals." The Hunter unscrewed the cap and held the flask to her lips.
"There is one difference between me and Xing," Lex said before taking a large mouthful of the liquid.
"Oh yeah, what's that?" Lex spit the holy water into the vampire's eyes, he dropped her and began wiping at his face.
"She never played dirty," the Hunter pulled a flat stake from her boot and shoved into the vampire's heart. She took a particular satisfaction in watching as his body turned to dust. Not only had she rid the world of yet another blood sucker she'd also avenged one of her predecessors' deaths. She looked over at the couple she'd rescued, the last vampire was nowhere in sight.
"You all right?" Lex asked as she sheathed her sword and walked toward them.
"Get away from us you freak!" The man screamed as he held the woman closer.
"Calm down, I'm not going to hurt you." Lex held her hands out to show she meant no harm and slowly moved closer. She stopped a few feet from the pair and held out a hand to help them up.
The man looked at her with something bordering on disgust before getting to his feet on his own and pulling his girlfriend with him. The woman stumbled and Lex caught sight of the blood on her neck.
"Are you alright?" Lex moved to stabilize her and was caught by surprise as the woman's boyfriend cracked her in the jaw. The blow snapped the Hunter's head to the side and Lex turned back to face him with a glare.
"Big mistake pal." The Hunter nailed him in the crotch with a knee and grabbed him by the collar of his cheap pleather coat. She ran him into a tree and took him by the neck holding him off the ground.
His face reddened and he sputtered for breath as Lex held him fast. He struggled, kicking and clawing at the Hunter and she pushed him harder against the tree to keep him still. His eyes began to roll back in his head and his body went limp.
What am I doing?
Lex dropped him to the ground and he coughed as he began to come to. Lex clenched and unclenched her fists trying to calm herself down.
That's the second time in two days, where the hell did my control go? She turned to the woman who looked at her with fear written on her face.
"I...I'm sorry, he'll be okay, I promise. Are you alright?" Lex took a step toward her and was assaulted by a scream that would put most horror movies to shame. The Hunter cringed at the harsh sound and took off at a sprint nearly ploughing into a large horse and his rider.
The brunette looked up at the mounted cop and gave a bit of a shrug before side stepping around the animal and heading toward the inner park. She immediately heard the cop nudge her horse into a gallop and Lex veered off the paved path deliberately taking to the forested area that would be hard on the horse. She jumped cleanly over a five foot boulder landing in an unexpected hole and twisting her ankle.
The Hunter limped along as best she could hearing the cop rein in the horse as the territory became rougher. Blocking out the pain Lex ran toward one of the many wall murals the park sported and vaulted over the top, she dropped to her knees next to a manhole and ripped the top off tossing it to the side. She climbed down the service ladder and used her telekinesis to pull the manhole cover back into place.
In the words of the all powerful Arnold: I need a vacation.
Lex peeled off her clothes and tossed them into the laundry basket. She reeked of the sewer, a cross between human waste and a garbage dump in 30 degrees Celsius weather.
She set the shower near to its hottest setting, wincing as the scalding water hit her eye and stomach. The young warrior rested her head against the tile letting the water wash away the filth hoping it would take some of her guilt with it.
"I can't believe I did that." Lex banged her head against the wall trying to banish the memory of the way the woman had looked at her.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid." She picked up the soap and scrubbed down vigorously trying to get the dirty feeling off her skin. Between the sewers and her conscience it took three shampoos and a good 40 minutes under the showerhead before she felt clean enough to get out.
She yawned as she stepped out and grabbed a towel from the rack. Lex was on her last dregs of energy, she'd been overtaxing her body for the better part of two months and it was starting to catch up with her. Her entire system was working overtime to heal her wounds and though they were steadily getting better her overall health was gradually getting worse.
Between Athena and Siobhan and that stupid vampire she could feel her emotional walls beginning to crack as well. Dejected, she threw on a set of pyjamas and collapsed onto her bed holding her pillow close to her chest.
She wasn't usually one for crying, preferring instead a more physical outlet for venting her frustrations but right now she wasn't sure she could fight back the tears. Alone and exhausted the young Hunter broke down and cried herself to sleep.
Lex lazily opened one eye and turned her head to look at the clock, eight am. The Hunter groaned and sat up giving her stomach an absent minded scratch as she put her feet on the floor. The brunette nearly screamed in agony as her fingers raked across her bandage.
"Note to self, next time a big spiny demon holds you upside down by your ankles, don't struggle." Lex got gingerly to her feet. She'd definitely stiffened up during the night and she went through a series of daily stretches to loosen up.
Feeling a little better she padded barefoot into the bathroom to brush her teeth sticking her tongue out at her blotchy cheeks. She'd slept for nearly six hours and still she showed signs of crying.
Yet another good reason to keep my emotions in check.
The Hunter brushed her teeth and washed her face before heading into her room to change. She tossed on a spandex tank top and a pair of hospital pants tying her hair back as she made her way to the training salle. She looked over at the complex rope obstacle Athena had made shortly after Lex had moved in. It had taken a good deal of practice to master moving through the course without disturbing the ropes.
Sighing she grabbed a staff from the rack and went through a series of kata, thrusting and swinging at imaginary foes. She lost herself in the complicated moves setting her body on auto pilot and automatically correcting her body positions in the mirror.
She finished her set of forms her chest heaving as she sucked in breath and her stomach injury made itself known. The Hunter bent over at the waist gripping the staff tightly as pain lanced through her body.
"God damn it," Lex forced herself into a fully standing position and glared at reflection in the mirror. Sweat rolled from her hairline and down her face and the Hunter felt her ire rise. Two months ago she could've run through the entire set of kata without breaking a sweat.
I will not give in to this, I will not let my injuries dictate my actions.
She tossed the staff to the side and walked over to the weapons rack pulling a large battle axe from it. The young warrior approached the metal plated straw dummy and unleashed her pent up fury on the manikin, hacking and slashing with abandon.
I give everything I have, my mother, my life and all I ever get is betrayal and ungrateful little scabs that society could just as soon do without. I never get to rest.
The battle axe rang out loudly as it connected with the metal plating.
I always hurt, always some new bruise or broken bone or cut or life threatening injury.
The blade cut through the metal sheet and into the padding beneath spraying straw everywhere.
What the hell gives them the right to judge me? They're not worth the blood I shed for them.
Lex decapitated the practice dummy and let the axe rest on the floor. The Hunter looked in the mirror disgusted with the person she saw looking back at her. Gone was the self -confident warrior replaced by a pathetic temper tantrum throwing little girl.
Unwilling to look at herself anymore the Hunter raised the axe and flung it at the mirror in front of her shattering it. She kicked over the practice dummy and left the training room feeling more frustrated than when she had started.
I don't even know who I am anymore, what's happening to me?
Lex made her way into the office sitting on the comfortable leather chair. Sweat rolled off her body and she squirmed in frustration as it dried and stuck her skin to the leather. She jumped from the chair tempted to overturn it.
Calm down Lex, relax, take a shower.
She repeated this mantra as she went into the bathroom and turned on the water. She switched it to its coldest setting and jumped in, her skin tingling as the needle like droplets hit her skin. Her temper cooled with her body temperature and she got out, quickly tying her hair and dressing in her usual black cargo pants and tank top.
Whatever's going on with me I've got to put it aside. I have a job to do, whether I believe in the people I protect or not, I have to do my duty and the first order of business is finding that book.
"So, how's the ‘personal project'?" Mark asked making quotation marks with his fingers.
"I think I've made a breakthrough."
"Ah, so I take it your source came through for you."
"He did, it set me back a bit more than I would've liked but it
was definitely well spent."
He tisked at her shaking his head.
"I can barely afford to buy Chef Boyardee and you're paying snitches."
"Gotta build a base sometime," Megan let her hair hang down hoping to obscure Mark's vision of her face. The bruise from the demon's strike was still glaringly apparent. She'd managed to make herself look like less of a raccoon with some artistic makeup application but given his proximity he would notice the swelling.
"You sound tired."
"Late night," Megan answered squirming in her seat. She hated these desks, even at 5'4" she felt too big for them. Poor Mark somehow had to fold six feet of musculature into the tiny space.
"Ah, out partying?" He ruffled her hair and Megan jerked away as a bolt of pain raced through her skull. "Whoa, sorry." He gave her the look of a spanked puppy and edged away from her, Megan gritted her teeth until the pain subsided and patted Mark's arm.
"My fault, I uh... think I drank too much my head feels like it's going to explode." He didn't look convinced but the Professor stepped up to the podium and he was forced to shut his mouth.
Thank the goddess. Just gotta get through the next three hours and duck coffee with Mark. Doing good. With an inward sigh Megan pulled out her pen and began to write.
Lex retied her ponytail and looked around the office. She'd checked every book on the shelves and all the trunks of books in both hers and Athena's room. She'd looked behind the old piano, in the kitchen cabinets, under beds and couches and all over the training room.
She'd even gone so far as to tear open her Dhaskalos' mattress and dump out Athena's personal drawers. Something she was going to have a hard time explaining if Megan's hunch turned out to be wrong.
"Where is it?" Lex looked over at the single over turned shelving unit in the middle of the floor. She was almost certain that all the books on that case had been splayed across the floor away from the shelf.
Guess it's now or never.
With a sigh she went over to the shelf and worked her fingers under the wood. She lifted up on the bookcase her arms straining slightly under the heavy weight. She slid her hands further underneath to get a better grip jerking back as she felt a sliver slide into her palm. The shelf crashed to the floor and Lex cursed as she pulled the two inch sliver from her hand.
"Damn it," she gave the shelf a half hearted kick in retribution pushing it back a few inches. "Stupid peace of crap, this can't get any worse."
And of course by saying that I've officially taunted the gods into cocking the ‘fuck with me' gun.
She plopped down on the floor nursing her hand and glaring at the unyielding shelf. She looked at the floor to see if dropping it had done any damage. To her chagrin a small section of flooring was broken clean through.
"Yeah that about figures." She pulled herself over to the hole checking the extent of the damage. As she moved her head the sunlight glinted off something in the hole blinding Lex momentarily.
The hole wasn't quite big enough to fit her hand but she reached in as best she could her fingertips brushing against something cool and metallic. Her internal debate lasted less than a second before she lifted her fist and punched it through the floor.
The wood gave way with a crack and Lex hit the floor again making the hole big enough to pull out the metal box. She wiped the wood shards off the box and pulled it out holding it up to exam it.
A large cast iron lock held the box shut and Lex eyed it critically. She wasn't very good at picking locks it was one of the few of Athena's skills that Lex hadn't been able to pick up. The Hunter looked around the room for something heavy her eyes finally resting on a metal paperweight.
She stood up and brought the box over to the desk and picked up the metal sculpture of a tiger. She made short work of the lock and tossed the broken metal shards on the desk and replaced the paperweight.
A few days ago she never would have dreamed of invading Athena's privacy like this but as it stood now she felt almost no guilt. She opened the top of the box her eyes widening as she saw what lay inside. She lifted the large book from the case opening it with great care.
"And there it is boys and girls, the PTB have officially fired a canister round of ‘fuck with me' ammo."
It was one thing to have suspicions, it was totally another to actually have them validated. Athena had always force fed her morals on being honest with and protecting the Tribunal all the while living in deceit. Lex got up and pulled a backpack from the closet and thrust the book inside. Some small part of her brain nagged at her.
I should leave a note for Meg, shouldn't I? God, I forgot how much trouble it was to have friends.
Jotting a quick note down on a piece of paper Lex taped it to the outside of the door. The Hunter threw on her jacket and backpack and set out, determined to get some answers.
To be continued...
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