The first explosion was barely noticed throughout the labyrinth that was the Gene-Tech Scientific Facility, especially in the secure wing, where the soundproofing and cold steel walls dampened the noise into the background. The lights flickered a bit, and one of the guards at the front desk noticed a small blip on one of his security screens. He was reaching for his walkie-talkie to ask one of his comrades to check out the generators when the lights died abruptly. The sudden silence was broken only by the excited babble that exploded over the walkie-talkies and the buzz of the orange emergency lights as they came on.
“What the hell is going on?”
The strong voice of Alex Masterson, head of the Facility, cut cleanly through the confusing gibberish, and the other voices stopped abruptly. The silence stretched as it became clear that no one had an answer for the man who said impatiently, “I want an answer, dammit!”
He was standing in an antechamber deep within the secure wing, his handsome face lit by the hellish orange glow of the lights, the walkie-talkie clenched in one hand as he watched the two junior mages in the other room finish the final preparatory spells. His dark hair was slicked back, as much by sweat as by gel, and his dark eyes were tense as they strained through the gloom to monitor what was going on in the inner chamber.
The ritual room was barely brighter than the outer room, but by the light of the candles lit around the edges of the chamber, he could see the two breeders strapped to the tables, their swollen bellies revealed and ready for this final session. When no answer came from the walkie-talkie, he threw the unit into the wall with an angry oath and resumed pacing. There was the faintest smell of burnt wires, like brimstone, in the air – some damn fool must have tripped one of the fail safes on the circuits again.
Everything had to go perfectly. There was no more room in the schedule for delays – the breeders were no more than three weeks away from delivering, and his Patron Lords were eager for the births. This was the last session – it had to go exactly according to plan. His patrons, and his pride, would demand nothing less.
He came out of his musings as the door to the outer chamber opened and one of the mages stepped in. “We’re ready to move forward, Mr. Masterson,” the man said quietly. “We’ve repaired all the damage to the spells that Cameron did. Everything is set for the Lords, as soon as they are ready.”
“They’ll be here shortly. Thank you, Damon.” Alex watched the man bow and leave before continuing his pacing.
Damn Cameron and his change of heart. Alex still didn’t understand what had happened to his former best friend and chief mage. What were you thinking, Cam? Alex thought for the thousandth time. You knew how important this was to us! To Gene-Tech! This is the future, and you chose to try and stop it. Why couldn’t you understand? There had been several moments, right after Cameron’s death, that everyone had thought he’d succeeded in aborting at least one of the fetuses, but they had managed to save all three. Alex’s patrons had been most displeased with his lack of control over the project. Alex was still smarting from the lecture Andreas had given him.
This is MY project! He glanced in at the chamber again, savoring the sight of both women tied to their tables. Caran’s eyes were closed, her pale lips moving in what he assumed was prayer. Alex sneered at her fear, and then stopped.
Teraisa was looking back at him, her dark blue eyes alien in the flickering candlelight. There was no fear – only a promise of something that stung him. Challenge? Threat? After a moment, he deliberately turned his back on the window, ignoring her stare, although the skin on his back prickled as her eyes continued to bore into him.
His thoughts were interrupted by the faintest whisper of wind moving through the room’s still air. Alex moved back towards the window as a dot of emerald light appeared in the semi-darkness of the center of the room. The spot turned lazily, arms of energy spiraling out from the center in ever-lengthening swirls. Alex waited, his arms crossed over his chest and one foot barely tapping the ground in irritation as the portal continued to open.
Andreas always did like to make an entrance.
“Did we rush you?” Alex asked sarcastically, as the two Elemental Lords stepped through the portal slowly. Andreas, the majestic Shadow Lord, ignored him, meticulously settling his dark robes around his tall, athletic frame as the green glow of the portal faded.
“Don’t be obnoxious, Alexander,” Kymara said softly, gliding over and kissing his cheek. Alex tried to keep his scowl in place, but the slender Dawn Lord smiled up at him, her golden eyes mischievous, and he smiled back, in spite of his irritation at their theatrics.
They were a picture of contrasts – Andreas tall and dark, with hair and features similar to Alex’s own, and Kymara, as golden as her name implied, long blonde hair trailing in a cloud down her back, her pale silver robes a stark contrast to Andreas’ midnight blue ones. Even in the eerie glow of the emergency lights, Alex fancied he could feel the warmth of the sun coming from her skin as she laid a hand on his arm.
“Have you repaired the damage?” Andreas asked, his robes finally arranged to his satisfaction. “I want no problems.”
“The damage has all been repaired.” Alex gestured to the other room. “Everything is ready.”
“Then let us begin.” Andreas opened the door and gestured for the two of them to precede him in.
The atmosphere inside the chamber was thick with fear. Both breeders were bound to the tables with thick bonds, clad in specially designed hospital gowns that bared their swollen bellies. Kymara leaned over the dark-haired breeder Teraisa, trailing her warm fingertips over the woman’s cool skin. “Think of what she will do,” the Dawn Lord whispered to her. “Your daughter will be the envy of our worlds.”
“My daughter will never belong to you,” Teraisa replied, her mouth twisted with anger. Alex watched, almost fascinated by the challenge in her dark blue eyes.
“We’ll see.” Kymara laughed and turned to the other table, where Caran still prayed, her green eyes screwed tightly shut. It was hard to tell which excited the Dawn Lord more: Teraisa’s defiance, or Caran’s fear. She trailed her fingers over Caran’s belly as well, smiling as the woman whimpered.
“How do they feel, my love?” Andreas asked. Kymara smiled, running her fingers once more over Teraisa’s womb. The energy that surged up from the child still inside sparked along her nerve endings, adding to the excitement she felt welling up inside of her. They were so close….
She shuddered in pleasure and turned back to her lover, who stood glowering in the middle of the room. “Perfect. Once these are born, we should breed Teraisa again for the fourth child. Her blood is stronger.” Kymara joined Andreas in the center of the circle painted on the floor and looked over at Alexander. “Are you joining us?”
He shook his head. “I’ll watch from the other room. These Magics make me sick.”
Andreas snorted. “Why does that not surprise me?” Alex’s jaw clenched at the contempt in the Shadow Lord’s voice.
Alex refused to rise to the bait, and only the slamming of the door belied his anger at the jibe. Kymara’s silvery laugh only made matters worse.
“Come, my love,” she said, still giggling a bit. “Let us begin.”
She stepped to the very center of the circle and took Andreas’ hands in her own. Her voice, light and clear as a church bell, floated up into the darkness above the candles, supported by the deep baritone of Andreas as he matched her chant.
The glass and the wards that kept the spell’s power confined also muted the sounds, but Alex knew the words to this final Calling by heart. His lips moved along with the Elemental Lords’ as the darkness coalesced and began to move down into the center, spreading shadowy fingers along the wombs of the breeders.
This explosion caught everyone’s attention. The entire Facility shook – inside the chamber, Kymara’s voice faltered, although Andreas continued to chant steadily. Alex leaned against the glass, the smell of brimstone and burning stronger now. What the hell was going on?
A brilliant flash of light exploded in the center of the chamber. Even years later, Alex couldn’t say what happened. He was thrown backwards by the shockwave that poured out from the center of the ritual chamber, the glass from the window shattering around him. There were several screams – Kymara’s, Andreas’ and a guttural shriek that scraped against his eardrums. When his eyes cleared and he saw the nightmare before him, his own scream intertwined in the mix.
Kymara lay in a pool of her own blood, the harsh gargle of her breath scraping out of the hole ripped in her throat. Andreas knelt next to her, his hands clapped over his eyes, blood spattered all over his robes. There was blood on the walls, the floor, and the remains of the window. The candles had been knocked over – now the only illumination was from the emergency lights.
Caran and Teraisa were gone.
After checking himself to make sure he was unhurt, Alex tore into the room, unable to believe what he saw. None of the bonds were intact – it looked as though whatever had stolen his two breeders had claws, not fingers. His brain shuddered away from the implications of that thought.
Kymara gave one last shuddering gasp and lay still. Alex knelt beside her and felt for a pulse on her wrist. Finding none, he clenched his teeth, and turned to the Shadow Lord.
“What happened?” he asked, trying hard to keep the harshness from his voice. I need him, remember, he told himself. Especially with her gone. I need him to make this work.
Andreas didn’t answer, and Alex clenched his jaw, holding onto his temper by sheer will. “Andreas?”
The Shadow Lord finally lifted his face from his bloody hands, and Alex scrambled backwards hastily, his mouth dropping open in shock. His hand came down on a pool of blood and he fell, trying to get away from the ruin in front of him.
There were two huge slashes across Andreas’ formerly handsome face, obliterating not only the dark eyes, but part of the sockets that had held them as well. It was as if some demon had raked his claws across the Shadow Lord’s face.
“Find them.” There was a wealth of agony and fury in the Shadow Lord’s voice, colder than Alex could ever remember hearing from the Elemental. “Find them and make them pay.”