“Show your face, Custodian.” Ash ordered again after I had walked away from the shadows. “What’s your business in this area? We hadn’t received any information about a visit from your people.”
It was then I was able to make out the voices in my ear.
“Red? Roe? Are you okay? Talk to me!” Kaleb barked in worry.
“My lady. I’m heading your way!” Axel exclaimed as I heard ragged breathing in his end as he started sprinting fast.
“Don’t. I’m okay. I’ll handle it.” I muttered under my breath, my voice low enough it was almost a whisper.
“Who are you talking, Custodian? Do you have other company?” Ash asked in alert. Without any signal, one of the Lycans broke away from the group as it started running towards the entrance of the compound.
“No. I’m alone.” I finally spoke up, making my voice even and clear at the lie.
“Don’t take us for a fool, Custodian. It’s best not to make an enemy out of us here when you’re out numbered,” he warned grimly and took a step closer to me.
“I’m not, Lycan.” I confidently affirmed.
“State your business here. And get down from that branch. My Alpha insists.”
“Alpha?” My voice slightly shook at this revelation. I scanned the remaining Lycans in wolf form and observed which one was the Alpha. From the way they’ve identically stood confidently, it was difficult to pinpoint the one who held more authority.
But then, like I had called him, a Lycan with the blackest fur broke away from formation and strode in my direction.
“Get down now, Custodian,” Ash ordered as the Lycan halted a good few paces from the tree I occupied.
“My lady?” Axel’s voice surfaced over my earpiece again. But this time his voice sounded calm and collected. What changed? “He’s here.”
As if on cue, I watched as a man wearing an identical outfit as I am running towards the black furred Lycan. Ash was somehow distracted, which took him a second too late to respond. In his human form, he ran towards the black Lycan and stood between him and our new company. The unknown man stopped underneath the tree where I stood, like he was protecting me. From the way he was positioned, it was difficult to make out his features. But I could make out his golden brown hair.
“I presumed you’re Mr. Blackwell’s son. Cole, was it?” the unknown man spoke, giving all of the attention in his direction.
“Who are you Custodian?” Ash demanded dryly without relaxing his protective stance.
It was funny how a human man was protecting a beast. But if that were the Alpha, of course in whatever form their followers would be, they would protect them. Their loyalty was one of their redeeming qualities.
“John Lockwood, under the Morgan family. It’s nice to meet your acquaintance.” He tilted his head in show of gallantry yet his eyes never peering away from the enemy.
Upon hearing the name of the mysterious newcomer, all tension in my body left and I suddenly gained a bit of confidence and a fighting chance. Before I could act on it, John called out to me.
“Red, Silver and Black are worried about you. Would you like to join me now?” he asked, but it was more of an order. My interest also perked that he knew our codenames.
With that, I squatted and jumped down the nearly six feet high distance. I absorbed my jump with the balls of my feet and hands. My body was able to handle the landing with the extra physical abilities Custodian have, plus the extra training grilled into our system since we were young.
“Sir Lockwood. It’s nice of you to finally join us.” I stated out of pleasantry and stood beside him.
“The feeling is not mutual. You were supposed to wait for me,” he muttered under his breath. “And stay behind me while I talk to them.”
I was about to object but then he took a step closer to the Lycan, who was too close for comfort. In defeat, I followed his instructions and stood closely behind him.
“Alpha, I apologize for this sudden intrusion in your territory. I’ve just informed your father about our business in the area. But my subordinates were rash in their actions. They hadn’t been briefed yet. I promise I’ll take action on it.” Each word coming out of John’s mouth made me cringe at what I had done.
But of course, this was all on me. I had insisted on this mission tonight.
I watched quietly at the exchange between the human and the wolf. Ash nodded towards the black wolf, which got my entire attention. At the sheer size of the Lycan, I had to tilt my head up to see his ocean blue eyes. From the branch I stood before, I completely overestimated its height. The Alpha Lycan was a beast. It placed the Lycan in my nightmare to shame.
“My Alpha said you are free to go, Custodian, but with one condition. Your companion has to show her face.” Ash said and pointedly turned in my direction with interest.
“What?” I blinked in confusion, not sure where the conversation was going.
John slightly turned in my direction as well, tearing his watchful gaze away from the monster in front of us. With his uncalculated action, I grew alert and took a cautionary step closer towards him. He shouldn’t turn his back with an imminent enemy so close.
After John regarded me, he turned his gaze towards the Lycans. “The girl’s identity stays hidden. Isn’t my beautiful face enough to get you by tonight? And besides, I already gave your father all of our identity.”
I watched Ash glancing towards the black Lycan before looking back at us. With a heavy breath, he nodded and gestured for us to go. After a swift nod, John grabbed my wrist and nudged me sideways, away from the platoon of Lycans in front of us. Once I got a good head start running back to the entrance of the Knightley compound, John kept a steady pace behind me – like he was shielding my back. I hadn’t thought much of what just happened and continued sprinting away from the enemy’s camp.
It didn’t take long before I reached our meeting place. When I arrived, I was quickly greeted with my friends’ embrace. It made me stagger back and nearly lose my balance while they enveloped me in a tight embrace. It was Kaleb who’d taken most of my personal space.
“I’m alive guys,” I muttered dryly, sensing a bit of tension in the group. With a pat on Kaleb’s back, he finally let me go.
However, he kept me within arm’s length, placing both his hand on my shoulder. “What were you thinking? Why didn’t you say anything? Don’t make me worry like that!”
“He almost had a heart attack, Roe. Please consider the poor man’s heart,” Tony added teasingly but he looked as worried as Kaleb.
“My lady, are you okay? Did those ruffians hurt you anywhere?” Axel jumped in, his voice rising above the others. Glancing at him, it wasn’t then that I noticed he had clasped on my scarf like a clamp.
“I’m fine, Axel. I’m sorry for not responding quickly. They’ve caught me off guard. It was foolish of me.” I stated in assurance.
Axel studied my eyes for a second before nodding in acceptance.
“Now everyone’s have their sweet reunion. Mind anyone telling me who’d cleared tonight’s activities? Because if I hadn’t forgotten, I was appointed as your supervisor.” John finally spoke up, bringing everyone’s attention to him.
Even though there was limited light in the area – since we were standing in the middle of an abandoned compound – under the moonlight, it was enough for us to see each other’s facial feature like it was daylight. Another enhanced physical attributes of Custodians.
“Sir Lockwood. I’m Kaleb Hunter, son of Minister Viktor Hunter. I’m leading this team. It was my call to have this mission tonight. If you have anything to say or punish for our lack of civility of action, by all means blame it on me. I’m responsible for this team.” I tore my eyes away from John and glanced at Kaleb in guilt.
“No. It wasn’t entirely Kaleb’s fault. I insisted that we took action tonight – seeing as you were late Sir Lockwood.” I pointedly informed. For some reason, I still have a bit of fire within me to talk against both my superior and Kaleb. But it needed to be said.
“My lady, I apologize for being tardy. But I don’t see the point on your rash decision tonight. Why are you so adamant on starting without me?” John gallantly bowed like a gentleman and asked in an icily calm manner.
I pursed my lips at his clear sarcasm, but didn’t let it get to me. “I’ve always asked for this mission for the past nine years, Sir Lockwood. Don’t you know who I am?”
“I clearly know who you are Lady Knightley. I’m a Kynigan. It’s already a given.” He briefly paused like trying to phrase his next words better. “But still, I see no point on why you’ve risked yourself tonight. As the last bloodline of the Knightley, you should be more cautious of your decisions,” he added more seriously.
I considered his words for a moment. I found myself speechless and couldn’t find a valid argument. He was right. I wasn’t dispensable. What happened tonight had been the result of pent-up emotions for the past nine years. I should have acted with more caution.
“Don’t be so down, my lady. I’m not saying you’re entirely at fault. I should have arrived sooner. I’m supposed to be here with you as early as I could. You were all my responsibility. And since no one died or ended up in a bloody fight, I’ll let this mishap go.” John declared and studied the rest of the group. “And looking at you three, Lord Kaleb Hunter, Apprentice advisor Tony Reed, and Kynigan Axel Rogan, I think I’ve got myself a good team.” He nodded to himself in approval.
Kaleb finally broke away from me and stood in front of the group. “Let me start all over again.” He paused and held out a hand towards John. “Welcome, Sir John Lockwood. We’re under your care. It’s a pleasure to have you as our supervisor.”
We hadn’t lingered long in the compound and hastily retreated back to our apartment. To not provoke them, it was better to withdraw for now. Upon arriving at the apartment, John informed us on what had happened since his arrival. Per his story, he had arrived earlier that afternoon. As customary when entering a Lycan territory, a supervising Custodian were to greet the Alpha of the Lycan Clan – which was why he didn’t head straight to our place on his arrival. Under some circumstances, it took him awhile to finally get to meet the Alpha. Without realizing the sun had already set, their conversation lasted longer since they were discussing terms of movement in their territory. It was rare to have Custodians roaming freely in their turf.
He was still with the Alpha when he received the message of another Custodian roaming suspiciously near an abandoned Custodian compound. From there, he had to bow his head in apology for our own actions. Obviously, he knew it was our group. No one other than us had been assigned with a mission in this area.
“Thank you for that, Sir Lockwood. And again, we apologize for our inconsiderate actions. I didn’t know there were formalities in this kind of situation,” I guilty confessed, feeling how much we’ve overstepped boundaries with my rash decision.
“Don’t worry about it, my lady. Only supervising Custodians knew about this formality. Also, it’s rare for Custodians to work on sole Lycan territory. We’ve always worked outside their grounds based on the laws and treaty,” he responded lightly, trying to ease my guilt.
“So what do we do now? Do we have to meet with the Alpha and introduce ourselves formally?” Tony inquired, shifting the conversation back to the topic.
“As I’ve said, it’s no longer necessary. I’ve already made the formal introduction. The Lycans know about our name and my presence – well, now Lady Knightley too. I would like to keep the rest of your identity a secret if we can help it. You’re all still new graduates and recruits.” John answered thoughtfully.
“Wait? What do you mean they know of Roe’s presence?” Kaleb interjected in worry, his eyes briefly landed on me.
“They’ve already caught her scent from tonight,” John replied bluntly – like it was obvious. “But they’ve not seen your face, so it’s better she’d not run into any Lycans for awhile.”
In an instant, everyone sat frozen in the living room couch. As for me, I choked on my breath at his words. How are we going to break this down to him? What he’s asking was nearly impossible? Does it mean I’ve already blown my cover?
“Sir Lockwood, there’s something you should now about…” I spoke up first, bringing everyone’s attention towards me. “I think those terms would be difficult to do.”
“Why? How could that be difficult?” His eyebrow furrowed in concentration.
“You see our cover are to act as students at this local college. And there are Lycans in one of my classes…” I trailed off, looking at Kaleb and Axel for help.
“Sir Lockwood, one of our classmates is an Alpha Lycan.” Axel continued for my sake.
“What? Are you in the same class as that brat-prince Blackwell?” John looked at Axel and I in disbelief.
I’m not sure if I had the voice to answer so I nodded in reply.
“If they are attentive enough, I think they’ve already caught our scent, sir Lockwood.” Axel informed.
“Wait. Is that why they asked to see your face?” John turned to me knowingly.
I blinked when realization dawned on me. Was it why Ash Mikael asked?
“What? You knew one of the Lycans?” Kaleb asked in exasperation. “Why hadn’t you said anything in the first place?”
“Don’t be overdramatic, Kaleb. I’m not sure if who I saw was the same man. It was dark in the forest.” I evasively respond.
“But still… you could have recognized his face. Our eyes could adjust to darkness.” He pressed, not buying my lie.
Aggravated how the conversation turned, I redirected it back to our topic. “Whether they did know my scent or not, could we risk it?”
“Are you implying to stop going to school? We’ve talked about this already, Roe. And if it were a plan, you disappearing would raise suspicion. We couldn’t have them thinking it’s us.” Kaleb argued.
“But we should at least consider it. We can’t…”
“Okay, let’s not talk about that now. And Lady Knightley, you’re still keeping your cover. If you’re not there tomorrow and had a suspicion it’s you, it would be counter productive if they’ll have any notion your group are Custodians. It’s easy to alter your scent. Just use a different body wash and lotion, and mask it more with a potent perfume. It always does the trick.” John interjected and held up his hand like he was mediating a fight.
In the corner of my eyes, I saw Kaleb visibly relax at John’s final verdict. To my dismay, I leaned back on the couch in defeat. When I saw it was inevitable I’ll win anyone’s favor on letting me skip school, I kept quiet for the rest of the meeting. Once John dismissed us – at nearly one in the morning – I headed straight to my room, not in the mood at talking with anyone. Before I walked away, I saw Kaleb’s apologetic look. I know he only wanted what was best for me – even if I disagree on his decisions. He was a great leader, and a good friend. But it doesn’t take away how easily our judgments clash. I couldn’t hate him for it.
After a few hours of sleep, we all waked up again like normal young adults heading out for college. I hadn’t thought about where John was staying until he groggily got up from the living room couch. I felt bad he’d didn’t have a room of his own, seeing as there were only three bedrooms in the apartment. Kaleb sharing his crammed room would’ve been suffocating for two grown men. And it would be inappropriate if one of them shared with mine.
“Don’t worry, Lady Knightley. The couch is only for one night. I’ve rented a place a few blocks from here. I just didn’t go since I was too tired.” He answered when I’ve asked. He had finally joined us in the dining room for breakfast.
Once we were gone, we all did our last minute prep before heading out for school. While I waited for the boys to clean up the dishes, I sat around in the living room with John. After eating, he decidedly lounged on his makeshift bed and turned on the television. He started flipping on channels until he settled on a re-run of a football game.
“I’m curious, what’s your cover while we all pretend to go to school?” I asked, speaking up to him after my previous interrogation in the dining table. “From what our mission stated, you’re our Uncle of some sort. What job are you implying?”
“I’m supposed to be a professor at your school.” He replied with nonchalance. His eyes hadn’t averted away from the television screen.
“What? Why didn’t you say anything?” I straightened up on the single couch where I sat. “But wouldn’t that be bad? You know those Lycans last night go to our school. They’ve already got your scent.”
“As they have yours, my lady.” He pointed out. “But don’t worry about me. You should worry about yourself for today.”
As I was about to inquire some more, Kaleb and Axel joined us. Since Tony wasn’t with them, he must have headed out to the car first. It was his turn to drive today. The boys were taking shifts on it.
“Here,” Kaleb threw a can in my lap, which I instinctively caught. “Spray that for extra cover.” He added as I studied the mysterious bottle.
“To further hide your scent. Mother gave it to me for extra precaution. She said to only use it on desperate occasions.”
Reading the label, I looked up at Kaleb and arched my eyebrow. “A perfume? I already put on a new scent, Kaleb. I’m fine.”
“This isn’t an ordinary perfume. It’s casted by a Curatrix to hide your scent from Lycans.”
“Oh, wow. I didn’t know something like that existed. That’s really handy.”
“Though that’s a faulty invention. As long as you aren’t pinpointed by Lycans, you’ll be fine.” John interjected. His eyes didn’t tear away from screen.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t walk directly in their path or catch their attention,” John explained.
“Okay. That should be easy.” I muttered, trying to encourage myself.
“I’ll keep you away from them, my lady.” Axel assured me.
“Good luck.” John darkly chuckled and gestured for us to go.