Here is a snap shot of Book two in “The Guardians Series”
Cursed (Book 2)
by Wendy Owens
Some people are born into love, some people are born into war, when Gabe discovered he was a Guardian Angel, his life was suddenly thrust into both. If this hidden war wasn’t enough to deal with, Gabe learns he is fated to be the great protector who will one day deliver the last prophet to either safety or death. All of these revelations didn’t matter for Gabe, he only cared that his new life included Sophie.
Sophie and Gabe grew closer over the summer. She is now a fixture in his life that keeps him moving forward. Evil doesn’t stop stalking him just because he found happiness. This time darkness finds it’s way into Rampart manor and Gabe will have to decide if he is willing to risk everything to try and stop it.
Gabe’s stomach twisted, each knot tighter and more agonizing than the last. He wiped his sweat-soaked hands on the legs of his jeans and searched the nearby crowd for a familiar face. He imagined that if he could just catch a glimpse of Sophie, everything would be all right. Unfortunately, Sophie was nowhere to be found. Gabe felt hopeless.
The roar of the crowd began to grow. He heard them harmoniously stomping their feet in a rhythm that cried out for battle. Gabe glanced across the arena to several cages that were shielded by large cloaks. Whatever was inside was clearly becoming agitated by the noise of the crowd. The captive creatures began beating against the bars. Random secret shrieks and growls came from their general area.
“Rampart Manor!” Gabe heard Uri’s magically amplified voice shout over the thunderous group. “Let’s be honest, we all know the reason why we’re gathered here today. Yes, yes, of course we want to support our dear friend, Gabe. But, let’s get real for a minute. Day in and day out we learn and train and grow as Guardians. We do as we’re told and follow the rules. We all work hard. Now it’s our turn to watch some demons tremble in fear! It’s our turn to watch the hunters become the hunted. Who’s ready to see some fighting? Better yet, who wants to see what our great protector is made of?”
The crowd erupted into a frenzy at Uri’s words.
The past summer had been full of blood, sweat, and tears for Gabe, but it was also an experience he wouldn’t trade for anything. He had grown close to Sophie and all of his new friends. Uri had even become what Gabe would call his best friend; something he hadn’t had in his previous life. As appreciative as he had grown of Uri’s humor, right now, in this arena, was one of those moments he wished Uri was able to contain himself.
Gabe had felt somewhat confident about his tests when he awoke that morning. He had spent every free moment studying and practicing for this all summer,though it didn’t take long before he realized what Uri had done. After the tenth or so person wished him luck and expressed how much they were looking forward to seeing him in action, he knew Uri had decided to make this day into a big event for the entire manor, even though Gabe wasn’t comfortable being a spectacle.
Gabe’s confidence quickly disintegrated into rage, conjuring visions in his head of strangling his dear friend Uri for inviting a crowd to watch his tests. It was hard enough for him to concentrate alone in complete silence knowing what was at stake. He wasn’t sure how he would be able to do anything with a hundred of his future classmates looking on. Gabe knew that failing today wouldn’t only let down everyone who helped him, but could also have his mentor, Michael, questioning if he had made a mistake in choosing Gabe.
“Get over here, Gabe,” Uri motioned to his friend to join him in the circle. He reluctantly walked to his side. Uri grabbed his hand and raised it high into the air in a triumphant motion. “Are you ready to kick some demon tail, my friend?”
Gabe glanced over his shoulder at the rattling cages and could only feign a smile for a short moment. As he looked back to the crowd, he saw Michael standing off to the side with an expressionless face, his arms crossed, watching intensely as the scene unfolded. For a moment, he thought Michael may step in and stop the side show antics. When Michael just continued to watch, Gabe knew he was on his own.
“So everyone knows the rules …” Uri shouted. “Oh yeah, that’s right, there are no rules! Gabe can showcase anything and everything he has learned to stay alive!”
“I think you’re exaggerating a bit, don’t you?” Gabe mumbled under his breath to Uri. He was sure Michael wouldn’t let him die in these tests. At least, he thought he was sure. Gabe quickly looked at Michael again for some reassurance. He still displayed no change in expression or stance.
“Don’t worry,” Uri continued. “We’ll all be safe. There’s a protection spell on the arena so the demons won’t be able to escape. Just you and them!” Uri patted Gabe on the back heavily. Then he turned and scurried out of the arena. Uri’s words made Gabe even more anxious as he stumbled forward.
Gabe turned slowly, his hands feeling like two large boulders hanging from his sides. He watched in horror as Uri and two other men pulled the draping from the three cages.
The two continued to stand in silence for a moment longer while Gabe debated if sharing anything with Neru would help. Something was strange about her, but Gabe thought perhaps it was exactly those things that drew him to her.
“I know almost everything that’s bothering me is probably myself reading into stuff and being irrational,” Gabe smiled trying to show humor. “I tend to do that.”
“I’m sure you’re not that bad,” Neru said, giving Gabe a slight nudge.
“Take the tests for example, I studied all summer. I skipped nearly all the social events going on so that I would be prepared when the time came for my tests.”
“And so you were. Are you annoyed you had to give that all up?” Neru asked, pulling a strand of hair back from her face to reveal a confused expression.
“No,” Gabe quickly interjected. “I didn’t mind any of that. I was actually happy to do it all if it meant catching up to the rest of my friends.”
“So what’s the problem? Seems like you nailed the tests.”
“You would think so, wouldn’t you?” Gabe asked, looking off into the distance again.
“Didn’t you?” Neru asked. “That’s what it looked like to the rest of us. I could have never came up with half the ideas you did.”
“Well, I thought I did really well, but then …” Gabe thought better of revealing his frustration with Michael to this girl he barely knew. Instead he revised his statement. “Then some friends pointed out that I could have done better.”
“Gabe, you can’t let a few friends make you doubt yourself,” Neru assured him as she reached over and took a comforting hold of Gabe’s hand, wrapping her tiny arm around his. “Your test was to defeat the three creatures and you did.”
“Yeah,” Gabe said slowly as he considered her words. “I suppose you’re right.” He thought, If you knew it was Michael that did not approve of my methods, I bet you would be saying something else right now. He remained silent about that detail, however.
“That’s all that has been bothering you? That’s not so bad,” Neru said, trying to lighten the mood.
“Sort of,” Gabe replied, glancing over at her with a smile again.
“Oh my. Gabe, how much do you have going on up in that head of yours?”
“More than you would probably care to know,” Gabe added, looking down into the water, unconsciously picking at his cuticles with his teeth.
“All right, spill it,” Neru demanded.
It was like a flood gate opening for Gabe. He couldn’t hold back any longer. “It’s not just one thing. There are a bunch of little things really. I start classes and my girlfriend doesn’t even care that she gets pulled out of all the ones we share. Two of my friends that I consider to be the model couple are bickering. Let’s not even get started with the fact that Baal and who knows what other demons, are trying to hunt me down and kill me. I don’t even get …” Looking over at Neru’s expression, Gabe knew he had completely unloaded on her.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to …” Gabe began.
“No, it’s fine,” Neru said, pulling Gabe closer in a reassuring way. “I didn’t realize you had so much on your mind. If I were the protector I am not sure what I would be feeling. Nobody can blame you, not even your girlfriend.”
“Gabe!” Sophie’s voice shouted behind them. Quickly they pulled apart, Gabe turning around to look at Sophie.
“Sophie, where have you been? I was looking for you.”
“Yeah, it looks like you were looking real hard, Gabe.”
“What?” Gabe asked, confused by Sophie’s tone. He considered telling her that she was full of nonsense, and then thought better of it.
“Whatever, Gabe,” Sophie said, turning to walk away in a huff.
Gabe glanced at Sophie, then Neru, and then Sophie again. Lunging forward, Gabe took hold of Sophie’s arm and spun her to face him. “What’s your deal? This is Neru. I met her in one of my classes today. We were just talking.”
“Yeah, Gabe, I always talk arm in arm with guys I just meet,” Sophie argued, pulling, trying to break free of his grasp.
“Are you serious, Sophie? I’m sorry if I upset you. I didn’t mean anything by it,” Gabe pleaded.
Sophie stopped struggling and turned to face Neru. “Hi, Peru. I’m Gabe’s girlfriend, maybe he mentioned me.”
“It’s Neru,” the girl replied.
“Oh, so sorry, N-e-r-u,” Sophie added sarcastically.
“Gabe may have mentioned you,” Neru added with equal spite. “Hey, Gabe, we’ll talk later. I should really take off.”
“Okay, thanks for the talk. Sorry about this,” Gabe told her.
At Gabe’s apology, Sophie crossed her arms, giving him a disgusted look. Neru simply ignored her and walked away in the direction of the dining hall.
“Sophie!” Gabe yelled. “What has gotten into you?”
“Into me?” Sophie defended herself, giving Gabe a slight push. “I come here looking for you and find you practically making out with some little twig of a girl.”
“Whoa? Making out? I was upset because of our fight earlier and she was trying to make me feel better.”
“Yeah, I bet she was,” Sophie made no effort to hide her anger.
“Look, this is ridiculous! I don’t see what this is accomplishing. There was nothing going on. I guess you can either believe me or not.” Gabe had never seen Sophie become jealous. He wanted to shake her back to reality, back into the girl he had come to care so much about.
“Fine, Gabe! Whatever you say!” Sophie replied and then turned towards the dining hall; from her tone she was still clearly irritated. “Let’s just go eat.”
“Fine!” Gabe rejoined. The two walked off together in silence.
“Well?” Gabe urged as Uri reentered the room.
“What?” Uri replied in a daze.
“Did you talk to him? Michael?” Gabe asked, slipping the few items he packed into a nearby drawer as Uri walked across the length of the room in silence.
With a dazed look on his face, Uri stopped when he reached the bed and rested on the edge of it.
“Uri?” Gabe said, attempting to snap him out of the trance-like condition. “Did you get to talk to Michael? How is everyone? Is Sophie all right?”
Still Uri said nothing, staring at the empty space in front of him. Gabe walked hurriedly over to him and waved a hand in front of his face, repeatedly snapping his fingers. “Hey, snap out of it!”
“Huh,” Uri muttered shaking his head as if the coma he was in was something he could physically brush off. “What did you say?”
“Is everything all right?”
“Not exactly,” Uri replied.
“Is it Sophie?” Gabe asked, his voice strained with panic.
“No, she’s fine,” Uri quickly put Gabe’s fears to rest.
“Is it someone else?”
Uri just nodded at first, not wanting to bring the situation into reality by verbalizing it. “Michael,” Uri whispered finally, unable to say the name at a normal volume.
“What happened? Is he ok?” Gabe asked, turning and resting on the corner of a chest of drawers.
“The trackers, they were on him as soon as he left …” Uri answered, his words trailing off and he continued to look blankly at the space in front of him.
“Uri!” Gabe exclaimed. “Is Michael all right?”
“Oh, yeah, I guess. The clerics have been working pretty hard on him and they say that he’ll pull through. But Haim said he was banged up pretty good.”
“Well, that’s good news, right? Michael’s going to be okay.”
“Gabe, he could have died! He went out there on his own to protect us,” Uri shook his head, running his hands over his face and through his greasy hair. “I should have never let him do it. I told him not to go alone, but he said he didn’t want to risk the trackers reading anyone else and figuring out the plan.”
The two sat quiet for a moment; Gabe unsure what to say to comfort his friend and Uri stewing in his own frustration. “Damn it! It was a stupid plan!” Uri swung an arm around behind himself and his bag being the nearest object in reach, swung it across the room with as much force as he could muster.
The group continued walking until they entered into the main area of the courtyard. There they saw Artis already standing alone, a small group of elderly gentlemen and a guard gathered nearby her. The two boys who were leading Uri and Gabe escorted them to Artis’ side, and then took a step back.
“What’s going on?” Uri whispered in Artis’ direction.
“No clue,” Artis whispered back. “They just told me to come with them.”
“Same here,” Uri muttered.
“Me too,” Gabe added.
“Gabe, Uri, step away from her,” the boys heard Michael’s voice command behind them. Quickly turning around, they saw their mentor standing next to Patina.
“Huh? What are you doing here, Michael? I don’t understand, they told me you were hurt,” the confused words stumbled out of Uri’s mouth.
“Boys, I want you to come over here and stand behind me. Now!” Michael said sternly. The two did as they were told, though both were clearly confused. They had not been told of Michael’s arrival and last either had heard, he was at Rampart, on the mend.
“Artis, I want you to get on your knees,” Patina called out to her young student that was now standing all alone.
“What?” Artis asked, terrified by what was happening.
“You heard me. You need to get down onto your knees now. I don’t want to have to hurt you,” Patina repeated.
“What is going on here?” Uri asked Michael, confused as well as terrified. “You can’t let her do this, Artis was helping us.”
“Silence, Uri,” Michael hushed, not even looking in his direction.
“Please, Patina, don’t do this,” Artis pleaded.
“Guards!” Patina shouted, as if giving the girl a final warning.
With that, Artis’ head slumped towards the ground though her shoulders stayed rigid.
“Artis?” Uri cried out, fearful that she might be hurt.
Artis’ fingers curled into tight, balled fists at her side. Her head rotated from side to side, though her face was still not visible. The small crowd watched in silence as the veins in her arm began to protrude intensely. Her knees bent in an inhuman way as she crouched low to the ground and at last looked up at the crowd. Her face had contorted into an unrecognizable one.
“Artis?” Uri repeated, this time unsure if who he was looking at was the same small, frail girl he had spent so much time with in the recent days.
“Artis can’t come to the phone right now,” the unfamiliar voice called back, stretching her neck out and flicking her tongue wildly between words.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Artis, but I will if I have to,” Patina called out.
“Your student is gone, Patina. The curse has gone on too long untreated,” Michael insisted. As the words left Michael’s lips, Gabe realized what was happening. Artis had been the one who was cursed and switched the stones. Though his original instinct was to not trust her, he wished he had been wrong.
Gabe felt sympathy for this girl he had just met, though he couldn’t help but think of Sophie and how she would become a monster just the same if left untreated. He felt an even more intense urgency to break the curse.
“Somnus,” the word was soft and delicate as it left Patina’s lips. Nothing like the powerfulness in Michael’s voice when he had cast it on Sophie at home in the hall.
Gabe watched as Artis’ body fell to the ground, the muscles no longer contorted and her appearance returning to normal.
“Gabe, this is going to take time, you have to be patient,” Michael assured the young boy.
“Time, Michael? She doesn’t even see me. Hell, now she has fallen in love with my best friend. How can I possibly be patient?” Gabe groaned.
“She will come around, I’m sure of it. And I would hardly say she’s in love with me,” Uri added.
“It just feels so hopeless. I wish I could say to her ‘Sophie, I am in love with you and you’re in love with me.’ And we would be back to the way things were.”
“What?” Sophie’s small voice gasped from the doorway. As the three had been talking, no one noticed Sophie had quietly entered the room in search of Michael.
“Sophie!” Gabe exclaimed hopping to his feet. “I can explain.”
“No! Stay away from me!” Sophie cried running from the room.
Gabe turned to give chase, but Michael grabbed his arm, holding him back. “No Gabe, let her go.”
“But—” Gabe began.
“You will have time to talk to her; right now she needs to be alone with it. All right? Patience. We can’t rush her through this process,” Michael said reassuring his young student.
Gabe looked at the door, though he wanted to chase after her he knew his teacher was probably right and chose to wait. Every fiber of him wanted to give chase, but for now he would give patience a try for the sake of him and Sophie.
“I don’t understand why this is so hard,” Gabe muttered.
“What?” Michael asked, a confused look in his eyes.
“If Sophie and I are destined to be, then why has it been so hard for her to fall in love with me again?” Gabe inquired.
Michael sighed, saddened by the state of his student’s heart. “Gabe, it’s just like you and your destiny. You may be the protector of the prophet, but it is your choice to actually fulfill it.”
“Are you telling me that even if Sophie is my soul mate we may still not end up together?” the question slipped out of Gabe’s deflated body.
“Would you want her to love you if it wasn’t of her own free will?” Michael posed.
Gabe thought on his mentor’s words for a moment, “I suppose not.”
“Gabe, she loved you very much. I think it comes down to you needing to be patient and give her time. I am sure she will come around,” Michael reassured the boy.
As the door creaked open, a small hint of candle light peeked out.
“Why is it so dark in there?” Gabe asked, glaring back at Haim.
“The overhead light seemed to agitate her; she seems to like the candle light. The barrier shield can only be removed by Michael, but if you want, you should be able to cross in,” Haim explained.
“Wait, what are you talking about? What barrier shield?” Gabe demanded.
“Michael thought it would be best if Sophie couldn’t leave the room in her condition,” Haim said, attempting to delicately shed light on the reasoning behind the imprisonment.
“And a guard isn’t sufficient?” Gabe asked defensively.
“I just think Michael wanted to make sure she was safe,” Haim replied.
Gabe hung his head; he had no words left to say. Part of him just wanted to close the door and walk away. To close the door on the entire situation Sophie was trapped in. Somehow, if he could close that door, perhaps everything would return to the way it was. Things could go back to the way they were over the summer when Sophie and he were happy and together, back to when Sophie was the light that made all of this worth it.
Gabe took another deep breath. He knew there was no going back, this was their reality now. He needed to go in and confront his fears, confront the situation they found themselves in. He had to be strong for Sophie’s sake.
As Gabe stepped inside he heard Haim interject, “Stay close to the walls,” just before the door closed.
Gabe squinted, trying to readjust to the darkness. To the side, he saw a small table with a candle perched on it. Under his feet he heard cracking. Looking down he could see the floor was covered in straw. Gabe’s stomach twisted. He couldn’t stand the thought of Sophie being kept like this.
In the far corner of the room, Gabe saw a figure curled up in the corner. A pale blanket wrapped around them. In the dark, Gabe could not even make out the color of the person’s hair.
“Sophie?” Gabe spoke softly.
The figure trembled, but barely stirred at his voice.
“It’s me, Gabe.”
Gabe watched, holding his breath as the figure slowly turned. The body moved in an almost unnatural way as it shifted and crawled slowly on all fours across the floor. When the candlelight at last fell on the figure, Gabe could make out the auburn hair of his beloved Sophie. Her hair was matted, greasy, and hung in her face.
Gabe saw her shoulders were hollow looking and her skin was almost glowing white. Gabe caught sight of Sophie’s fingers, her knuckles were bloody, and her nails cracked and peeling. Instinctively, Gabe fell to his knees and crawled to Sophie. Without even giving it a thought, he grabbed her hands and pulled them closer to the light.
“Oh Sophie, what happened to your hands?” Gabe cried.
Sophie jerked her hands from Gabe’s grasp. Arching her back she sharply hissed as she flipped her hair back and glared at him. Gasping, Gabe fell back on to his butt, crawling towards the door backwards on his hands. His beloved Sophie’s blue eyes were gone; instead a deep full blackness stared back at him. Her lips were dry, cracked, and appeared almost blue in color, at least at the places that weren’t covered with spots of dried blood. Unlike the skin on the rest of her body, her face her face was the color of ash. It was marbleized by black veins that crawled up her neck and splintered around her eyes, making them appear even more haunting.
“Oh God, Sophie!” Gabe shrieked.
“Hst!” Sophie spat and bared her jagged, sharp teeth at Gabe, the spaces filled with a rotting blackness. She hovered close to the ground like an animal.
“Sophie, please! It’s me, Gabe. Don’t you recognize me?” Gabe begged as he searched for any part of Sophie.
Blankly, the creature stared back at Gabe. There was nothing left of her true eyes, nothing of what they had been, nothing of his former love.
Wendy Owens was raised in the small college town of Oxford, Ohio. After attending Miami University, Wendy went on to a career in the visual arts. After several years of creating and selling her own artwork, she gave her first love, writing, a try.
Since 2011, she has published a young adult paranormal series, The Guardians, which will contain five books total, as well as a novella.
Wendy now happily spends her days writing—her loving dachshund, Piper, curled up at her feet. When she’s not writing, she can be found spending time with her tech geek husband and their three amazing kids, exploring the city she loves to call home: Cincinnati, OH.