The Shield Of Soren
Chapter One - Experiments (Year 101 of the Second Age)
THE LONG CORRIDORS of the Meraxan research laboratory were cold and sterile. Sickly yellow lights flickered and cast a jaundiced glow across the grey walls. It was quiet tonight with only the occasional guard patrolling the silent passageways. Nobody entered the laboratory. There was little reason to, so why would they? Nobody even knew it existed; the classification of the building as a top-secret location ensured that. Vincent Wilder strode through the corridors with an uncomfortable heaviness hanging over his heart. It should have been an exciting prospect, being called to a top-secret laboratory in the middle of the night with the promise of something game-changing awaiting him.
But Vincent had learnt long ago to treat “ground-breaking” advances in science with scepticism. His last few projects had either fallen flat and produced only minimal results or failed completely. What made this one any different? It didn’t help that the state-of-the-art technology and highly expensive research materials were almost entirely under the control of a psychotic scientist by the name of Reign. An unhinged human at loose in a laboratory would have been dangerous enough, but giving that level of control to a Rhygun was insane. Vincent himself would never have allowed a half-human-half-demon access to something so important to their cause, but it hadn’t been up to him. No matter how much he liked to think he was in control, Vincent knew who pulled the strings.
Vincent sighed. It was a mess. His whole operation was a mess at the moment. Though he hated to admit it, the Children of Light were stronger than his army. If things continued this way, this war of centuries would finally be over, and not with a pleasing result. For one hundred and eleven years, he had been fighting this damn war against Callista and her people. He never aged, never withered and died, but without growing old he felt like there was no progress. He almost regretted the fact that he and his people had gotten a hold of the Children of Light’s elixir at all. Sometimes all he wanted was to grow old naturally and die an old man. Alas, it would never happen. So he was forced to continue fighting a war he wasn’t sure he could survive.
It seemed that at every turn the Children of Light were winning. Merely seven years ago, Callista’s army had attacked a crucial schooling encampment and destroyed an entire academy of learning, killing many innocents in the process. Not to mention what Callista herself had recently done to his most-beloved child.
Vincent clenched his fists as fury threatened to engulf him. Trying to convince himself that the memories were just that, memories, he tried to calm down. He needed to keep his head, at least until Reign told him what had excited him so much in the middle of the night.
Vincent shook his head to clear his mind and straightened his black collar. The suit jacket usually fit him perfectly, but for some reason this evening it felt snug and restrictive. It was no surprise to him really. He had pushed his body harder than ever over the past few weeks. Since that incident, he had thrown himself into sparring with every fibre of his being. Maybe he had bulked up a bit, which could only be a good thing. Every ounce of muscle was an extra ounce that could be used against Callista and her damn people. Vincent smirked at the thought and undid the buttons on his jet-black shirt, so the sleeves didn’t dig so much into his muscular forearms.
Maybe whatever Reign brought for him today would be worth something after all. It wasn’t as if everything Reign did was a failure. There was always Caleb Maddox. That young man looked to be an interesting addition to their army, if he grew up to fulfil his potential.
Vincent was empowered by the thought that maybe, just maybe, something would start to go their way. By the time he approached the laboratory at the centre of the complex, he was feeling a little more positive.
He waited outside the door and took a deep breath to ready himself for Reign’s overbearing presence. No sooner had he set foot inside the room than Reign was directly in front of him, grinning insanely with manic, blazing eyes.
“This is it, Vincent! Oh yes, this is it! You won’t believe the beauty I’ve got for you!” Reign was literally hopping from one foot to the other. Vincent screwed his nose up in annoyance.
“Can you at least let me enter the room?” Vincent mumbled, as he pulled the door closed behind him. There was a peculiar smell in the room, like the faint aroma of burning sulphur or a match that had been lit then extinguished. The human part of Reign ruled over his appearance. At first glance, it was unlikely anybody would notice anything amiss about the kindly-looking middle-aged man. But step too close to him, and nobody could avoid the lingering stench of Hell, the almost tangible wafts of brimstone and ash that clung to him.
Looking away to avoid the smell, Vincent gave a half-hearted smile. “Show me what you’ve got that was so important at this unreasonable hour.”
Reign grinned. “Oh, you won’t be disappointed. The boss wasn’t.” He waved a dismissive hand in the direction of the far corner of the lab. It was only upon closer inspection that Vincent saw the twisting, tumultuous shadow of the Bavelize, lurking in the darkness.
He immediately dropped to one knee and lowered his head. “Oh Great One, forgive my insolence. I did not realise you were here and would not have acted in such a way had I known.”
The room was silent, but an eerie echo of breathing reverberated against Vincent’s eardrums, as if the noise came from nowhere and everywhere at once. “Stand, Vincent.”
Vincent slowly rose to his feet and met the Bavelize face-to-face, if one could call what the shadowy creature had a face. A swirling mass of writhing smoke, there were no features to speak of, but more an ever-changing, undulating mask of darkness.
The voice of the Bavelize echoed through Vincent’s head again. “Listen to what the Rhygun has to say. It could change everything.”
Vincent was still sceptical, but he could not argue with the deity that watched over the Brotherhood of Shadow’s every move. Giving a low, courteous bow, he turned to Reign and indicated that he was ready to hear whatever the scientist had to say.
Reign’s eyes glowed with enthusiasm once more. He waved Vincent over to another door and Vincent followed him into a second room. There, in a line, standing strictly to attention, were at least twenty young people from Vincent’s kingdom of Meraxor. He frowned. Many of them were his own children, and he looked down the line with a growing sense of uncertainty.
But Reign waved him right by the line of people to a huge glass tube in the centre of the room. An immense cylinder, there was a heavily bolted sliding door at the front, but the rest was completely enclosed. It didn’t take Vincent long to realise it was a prison cell.
He pressed his face up to the glass and inside, cowering on the floor of the cell, he saw a young girl, surely no more than ten years old, with flowing silver hair and ragged clothing.
Reign sidled up beside him and placed his chin on Vincent’s shoulder, making him jerk back in surprise and a fair amount of annoyance. Reign chuckled and then pressed both hands up against the glass and peered in.
“Look at this beauty, Vincent. We found the specimen a few days ago, out on the edges of the Meraxan rainforest and brought it here.” He licked his lips as he looked at her, and it made Vincent feel somewhat queasy.
“She’s just a kid. Why did you bring her here? Go and release her.”
Reign laughed again and shook his head slowly from side to side. “I think you’ll find she holds great potential for our military interests.”
Vincent sighed with impatience and began to walk from the room, but a hiss penetrated his hearing suddenly, forcing him to cover his ears to save his eardrums from being perforated.
“You will stay,” the Bavelize snarled from the corner, the sounds echoing through the laboratory.
Vincent spun on his heels and tentatively removed his hands. He rejoined Reign and tried to keep his mouth shut as the Rhygun scientist resumed hopping from one foot to the other.
Reign began to unfasten the heavy door of the glass cage, flicking back catches and sliding back weighty iron bolts. With a loud clang of metal slamming into metal, the final bolt was undone. Reign slowly pulled the door open, and Vincent found his breath catching in his throat.
High-pitched whimpering came from the tiny bundle of rags cowering at the back of the cage. Her long silver hair parted for a moment and Vincent could see her wide, silver eyes, terrified and innocent. Vincent’s skin prickled with discomfort. He hoped that Reign had a damned good reason for capturing a small child like this.
Beside the glass cage were two oil lamps, both resting unlit. Reign reached up and took one down. Then, in a single savage moment, he slammed the lamp onto the floor of her cage. The girl screamed in terror and covered her head with her hands, but he hadn’t been aiming for her.
The shattered glass gave way to a stream of oil that spread out in a pool across the floor. This seemed to scare the girl even more, and she began to cry quietly, sobbing into her clenched hands.
Reign looked back at Vincent. Excitement flashed in his eyes as he drew a match from a box in his pocket. A small flare of light, a flicker of sulphur and a small flame danced on top of the match. With another laugh, Reign tossed the match into the glass cage.
Vincent gasped as the oil ignited in a rush of intense heat. The entire floor of the cage burst into flames. Vincent tried to rush forwards to save the girl from a fiery death, but the heat was too intense. A hand tapped incessantly at his shoulder, and he tried to brush it away, but Reign grabbed hold of his hand.
“Look! Look!” Reign shouted excitedly, pointing at the cage.
When his eyes fell upon the cage, Vincent froze to the spot, his eyes nearly popping from their sockets. “But…how?”
The girl, who Vincent had assumed would be burning in agony, was somehow floating above the flames, hovering at the top of her cage. From her back sprouted two enormous wings of the purest white feathers Vincent had ever seen. The two beautiful white fans could only just fit within the confines of the cage, and as she beat them to stay afloat they fanned the flames beneath her.
It wasn’t just her wings that dazzled Vincent with their purity. Her whole body had adopted an ethereal, almost ghostly, silver aura, her hair shimmering with radiance. She didn’t seem too frightened any more, but there was a definite hint of sadness in her gentle eyes.
Vincent studied her carefully, struggling to catch his breath, which he hadn’t realised he had been holding. “What is she?” he managed to croak.
Reign grinned and draped an arm across Vincent’s shoulder. “She, my friend, is an angel.” He paused to allow Vincent a chance to absorb the surprising revelation before continuing. “I could sense something in the air when we first picked her up, a kind of sour smell, a tingling on the tip of my tongue—the reek of an angel. The demon in me is repulsed by and attracted to her at the same time. Our species have been at war since the dawn of time, so the temptation to rip her to shreds is rather overwhelming.” He chuckled again, sending shivers down Vincent’s spine. “But, of course, my duty is to you, the Bavelize, and my mission in your realm, so I think we should utilise her skills instead.”
Vincent nodded, his eyes still locked onto the bewildering sight of the angel, rhythmically flapping her wings to float above the dwindling fire. The flames were beginning to die down now that the fuel was running low, but thick, black smoke swirled at the top of the cage and the angel was beginning to cough and choke on the oppressive fumes.
Reign grabbed a bucket of water that he had presumably prepared, ready for this occasion, and hurled it into the cage. The freezing liquid hit the flames and extinguished them immediately.
The angel collapsed to the floor, wet and gasping for breath, her energy seemingly sapped. Her grand, beautiful wings slowly folded back into her shoulder blades and her eerie glow faded until she was nothing more than a cowering, terrified child again.
“I don’t understand,” Vincent said, frowning. “I’ve heard of angels before. The legends of the first age are full of them. The stories claim that angels possess incredible strength and speed and that they can heal themselves. This one should be able to break free of this cage and kill me easily. Maybe not you with your demon genes, but definitely me. Why doesn’t she at least defend herself?” He stepped in closer and examined the cuts on her body, where whip lashes and knives had sliced her skin.