We have a new assignment for you, Mr. Reinhardt
These words are not comforting to me. At eighteen, I am a gargoyle who has been demoted because I broke the rules. Now I have a new mission, a new mark to protect. But I don’t expect Emma Chase. I don’t expect to question my own race. I don’t expect to care for my own mark. And I am not prepared for what I find at The Acropolis.
“We have a new assignment for you, Mr. Reinhardt.”
The words are not comforting, and I barely glance at the men and women gathered around the long, newly waxed mahogany table. I can see my reflection in the surface, my jaw tight, my eyes stormy. My dark blond hair is getting a little too long, and I fight not to brush it off my forehead.
“I already have an assignment.”
It isn’t wise to question the Council, but I am tired and overwhelmed. The girl I’d spent most of my life loving is on a foolhardy quest with a Demon, and I had let her go. I had known it wouldn’t be long before the Council interfered. It had been my job to protect her, and I had botched it.
“We have a new assignment for you.”
The Director’s voice is firm, unwavering, his emphasis on the word “new” accented enough that I finally force myself to meet his gaze. Director Gibson.
At sixty-two, Gibson is powerfully built for his age, his body honed to perfection by a daily regimen that would intimidate most men. His graying hair is still mostly black, and the only wrinkles on his face are around his eyes and lips. He is former military, a retired Navy Seal, and he expects, no demands, attention when he speaks. And I am foolish enough not to give it to him.
“Am I to forfeit the mission I’m already on?”
The question is more an act of defiance than a necessity. The way Gibson’s eyes light up, I know he recognizes this.
“Dayton Blainey did the forfeiting for you.”
More hurtful words have never been spoken.
I eye Gibson warily. As head of the Council of Gargoyles, he is, by far, one of the most powerful men I know. For one, he is no ordinary gargoyle. In ancient times, a statue of a griffin was carved, and with divine intervention, transformed into reality to protect the weak and the possessed from Satan. In his gargoyle form, Gibson is a terrifying half-lion, half-eagle creature that will stop at nothing to defeat evil. I have only seen him in this form once, at my induction into the Inner Circle, and I’m not particularly keen on seeing it again.
Gibson stands up, his hands resting resolutely on the table’s surface. Somewhere a janitor is moaning. The wax job isn’t going to hold up.
“We have an escort job for you.”
I try hard not to groan.
“An escort job?”
It is one of the more demeaning gargoyle positions, transporting some hapless weak creature to wherever the Council deems necessary. My botched Guardian job is biting me in the ass.
“I’m better than that.”
My tone is petulant even though I know I shouldn’t complain. It’s an honor being inducted into the Circle at all. Gargoyles are a protective, familial lot and they don’t agree with inducting anyone who hasn’t first graduated from high school, but I had come into my powers early and had been hard to ignore. And with the recent developments in my relationship with Dayton Blainey, the Council has decided my education would be better concluded using tutors between missions. It isn’t something I can argue.
“Escorts are entry level. You haven’t earned anything beyond that.”
Gibson is thrumming his fingers against the table’s top, and I know by the rhythm that he is getting frustrated. Time to back down.
“Who’s the mark?” I ask evenly.
I know resisting will do nothing more than get me suspended, and I can’t afford to lose my status, not while both Dayton and Monroe are now as embroiled in the supernatural world as I am. The two girls are my closest friends.
Director Gibson smiles. It is forced, but still evidently approving.
He takes a file from a thin, birdlike man next to him and slides it to me from across the table. I catch it easily, my fingers wrapping around the thick manila folder as I use my other hand to pull out an extra chair at the end of the table. I prop my left foot up casually on the seat and brace an arm against the table as I flip the file open.
Gibson raises a brow at my irreverent position, but I prefer him think me flippant rather than weak, and the truth is, my leg is bothering me. I had sustained an injury to it a year before in a car accident. While pulling my friend, Jacin, from a precariously overturned Sentra, my leg had been crushed when the automobile rolled unexpectedly. It had been a rash night of partying, and my friends and I had all been drunk for varying reasons. From the way my leg throbs now, I know it is going to rain. Gargoyles can heal. Without the ability, my leg would have had to have been amputated. I am lucky I only have an occasional limp and only when I’m in human form.
I look down at the folder and pause. Emma Chase. From the photograph now staring up at me, I know she can’t be much younger or older than my own eighteen years of age. The picture is awkward, a quick snapshot of a slim girl, dark hair framing high cheekbones and wide, scared eyes. She isn’t smiling.
Name: Chase, Emma
I see nothing extraordinary until I flip the page, and then there it is—six years of medical records, all with similar descriptions written in indistinguishable handwriting, all with the same grim prognosis.
I look up at Gibson.
“Shouldn’t you be calling in the Angel of Death?”
Gibson shakes his head.
“Not necessary.” He gestures to the file in front of me. “Flip past the medical.”
I did as ordered and sit up so quickly, I’m sure the whole room hears my protesting knee pop as I pull my leg from the chair. My eyes fly to the director.
“This is a job for the S.O.S.”
Gargoyles are divine protectors, assigned to guard against Satan and evil, but the S.O.S., short for the Swords of Solomon, is a special group of men and women trained to protect artifacts attributed to King Solomon from the Bible. There are other groups assigned to other artifacts, but the file I’m looking at now definitely belongs to the S.O.S.
Gibson sits back down, his fingers now still against the table’s surface.
“The girl is not an artifact.”
I know this, but . . .
“Have you mentioned this to Alessandro?”
Alessandro is the head of the S.O.S. His operation is based out of Italy, but he has spies all over the world. Gargoyles operate in a similar fashion. Our Center is based in France, but we have families living everywhere.
“We’ve met on the subject, and he agrees with me,” Gibson says as I close the folder only to pull the cover back open.
There, again, is the awkward photo. There is nothing remarkable about the girl, nothing to make a person look twice.
My eyes flick from the photo to Gibson to the photo again.
“Does the mark know?”
Someone clears a throat a few seats away from Gibson, and I let my eyes wander to the source. It is a brunette woman of average height, her hair cut in a severe bob that does nothing to diminish the sharp angles of her face. Her eyes are heavily made up with mascara. Delilah Simpson.
Delilah is a member of the Council because she had single-handedly taken out a group of rogue Demons who had taken over a community in the Northwestern United States. Her gargoyle form is much more impressive than her human one.
“The girl, Emma, does not know.”
The way Delilah enunciates the girl’s name, I know she has a personal interest in the mark. I stare at her the same way my mother always stares at me when she knows I’m hiding something. Mom has a vicious “truth-inducing” gaze. It’s obviously hereditary. By the way Delilah squirms, I know she has spoken out of turn.
“I handled her adoption,” Delilah mumbles before looking away.
That catches me off guard.
I look down at the folder and flip past the girl’s dossier. Sure enough, there are the appropriate documents.
“I don’t understand. How long has this mark been in the system?” I ask.
It is unusual for a gargoyle to be assigned to a person for life. It has happened, but the cases are rare.
It is Gibson who answers, his eyes on Delilah. She stares back defiantly.
“The girl shouldn’t have been allowed to live,” Gibson points out.
Delilah didn’t look the least bit fazed.
“Infants are allowed immunity.”
A man I know only as Rainey grunts from across the table.
“Despite the possible danger she could pose? Both to herself and to society?”
Rainey pats the table angrily. The wax job is definitely done for.
“She has never been a danger,” Delilah argues.
I watch the proceedings with growing interest while working a piece of spearmint gum from my pocket and popping it into my mouth. I had flipped the girl’s picture back into view, and her scared eyes stare back at me. A school picture maybe? It isn’t a surveillance shot. She had known this photo was being taken.
Huh? I look up to discover the whole Council has turned toward me. I straighten.
Gibson sighs but doesn’t reprimand me.
“You’ll need to use caution when approaching her. The girl is a little . . . shy.”
A few Council members snicker. Delilah glares at them. I just lift a brow.
Rainey can’t seem to help himself. He snorts. A tall man with thick, brown hair and wide shoulders, Rainey isn’t the type to skirt an issue.
“Terrified may be the better description,” Rainey replies.
I glance around the boardroom and realize the Council members are all avoiding my gaze. What kind of Escort job is this?
“Where am I supposed to take her?” I ask when it becomes obvious nothing more is going to be said on the whole “shy but better described as terrified” subject.
Gibson says the word firmly as if he’s expecting an argument, and by the looks shot his way, he’s right. The Acropolis.
There are ancient Greek ruins called the Acropolis of Athens, but we all know he isn’t referring to those. No, the Acropolis is a project set in motion by a collaboration of gargoyles, the S.O.S., and other groups devoted to protecting mankind. It is a fairly new idea, a school, which has only been in operation for two years with minimal success. It seems only plausible the mark be sent there considering her records. But while I look at Gibson with approval, the rest of the table stares at him with expressions akin to horror. Were they not aware of Gibson’s plans?
“She wouldn’t make it a week,” Delilah practically hisses.
The Council’s reaction is beginning to worry me.
“It’s either that or we destroy her.”
Gibson’s words are final, and when he stands, we all stand with him.
“You’ll take her to the Acropolis.”
This last command is meant for me, and I nod as Gibson adjourns the meeting among sighs of discontent.
“You’ll need to provide the school with extra protection,” Rainey calls out as Gibson leaves the table. The Director doesn’t turn around.
“It’s taken care of.”
Delilah moves up beside me as we watch Gibson exit the room.
“Is she that dangerous?” I ask.
Delilah gives me a sympathetic smile.
“No, not Emma.”
There are countless wise quotes that wax poetic about choosing a path in life, poetry about the road less traveled, but there is nothing that says either path is easy. Each path requires sacrifice, each path is full of scars. ~Emma Chase
My name is Conor Reinhardt. I am a gargoyle Guardian in exile for killing my own. My mark is safe, the group of hybrids we’ve led from the Acropolis, secure. There’s a new hybrid king in the Outer Levels of Hell, and he needs the Acropolis refugees. I expect the journey ahead. I even expect the danger. I don’t expect the shadows that haunt me, those beckoning spirits of guilt that never let me sleep. Guilt from killing my own. I don’t expect the things the hybrids learn about themselves. I don’t expect many of the challenges in our path. I’m not sure I even expect us to survive The Labyrinth.
“Wars are not always won on a battlefield. Frequently, they are won by heroes or rulers who fight quietly, covertly.”
These words are not comforting to me, and I barely glance at the people gathered around the long, mahogany table. I’ve been here before in a place like this, staring into the firm eyes of the gargoyle director. The table was different, the same type of wood, but shinier, newer, more polished. I can’t see my reflection in this one, but I know what I would see if I could. A clean shaven face, blue, haunted eyes, and dark blond hair, recently cut. I am the same, and I am different.
“We already have our heroes.”
Unlike with Gibson, I have no trouble questioning the people before me.
“And you believe that, Gargoyle?”
Marcas Craig’s voice is strong, distinctive, unwavering, and I force myself to meet his gaze.
It is a déjà vu moment, but the sixty-two-year-old Gibson is replaced by an equally powerfully built man, his youthful, twenty-something body honed to perfection by centuries of labor, his life spent hiding from his own kind. His ebony hair shines in the low light, and the only sign of the toll his new responsibilities have on him are the deep set lines around his mouth. He is the hybrid king, a half-blood Demon, a man once chosen to sit on the right hand of Satan but who fought him instead to win a kingdom in the Outer levels of Hell for crossbreeds. He doesn’t demand attention, but I give it to him anyway.
“And the only way she’ll negotiate is if you use the hybrids?” I ask
The question is unnecessary. I know the response, but I wait for it anyway.
“You know as well as I do why it must be them. Look at their parents.”
More frightening words have never been spoken.
I eye Marcas warily. As the hybrid king, he is, by far, one of the most intimidating men I know. For one, he is no ordinary hybrid. In ancient times, the she-Demon, Lilith, lay with the Biblically cursed Cain. Together, they created many half-blood children. Marcas and his twin brother, Damon, were their first born sons. These sons, like the rest of Cain’s children, crave human blood. It is their curse.
Many, many years later, Damon, driven insane by his blood lust, bound Marcas to my best friend, Dayton Blainey. The two of them then embarked on a journey that would eventually claim a kingdom for all hybrid Demons.
For the past two months, I have been helping them fight for this kingdom. I have seen Marcas in battle, and I respect him.
Marcas stands up, his hands at his side.
“They are important to the cause.”
He’s right, and I know it.
“And the imp?” I ask.
My tone is snappish, hard. The hybrids from the Acropolis are important to me. Saving them required giving up a part of myself, sacrificing the lives of gargoyles I knew, trained with even. Seeing this to the end isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. If I can save one of the hybrids, it will be an accomplishment.
“I admit the imp’s parentage is not the same as the others, but she represents the minority of lesser Demon hybrids. That could work to our advantage.”
It’s funny how the hybrids are an “advantage” now, but to me they are people.
“When?” I ask evenly.
Marcas smiles. It is forced, but effective.
“Soon. I want Emma Chase to lead.”
I sit up hastily, my hands landing heavily on the table’s top. I’m having the déjà vu moment again. Memory overlaps reality, and I’m looking down at my fingers, the blurry image of a folder in my hands. A photograph stares up at me, an awkward snapshot of an unsmiling slim girl, dark hair framing high cheekbones and wide, scared eyes. Emma Chase.
I know this girl now. I know how un-awkward her face actually is, how bright her amber eyes can become, how her dark hair feels beneath my hands. And Marcas wants her to lead.
My gaze meets Marcas’.
Marcas doesn’t blink.
“You know why.”
And I do. Emma is the daughter of the she-Demon Enepsigos. Her mother alone is reason enough.
My eyes wander to a rugged, dark-haired man on the right side of the table. He is a tall man, middle-aged but strong. Alessandro Mancini.
Alessandro is the head of the S.O.S., a group of warriors who protect artifacts attributed to the Biblical king Solomon. He is also Emma’s father.
“And you’re okay with this?”
I’m aware no one knows why I ask the leader this question. To them, Alessandro is only acquainted to Emma through me.
The hard edge to Alessandro’s voice belies the fear in his eyes. His gaze slides away from mine, his impassive expression returning quickly.
A small hand taps the table, and I know without looking Dayton Blainey is irritated.
“From what I’ve heard, Emma Chase is quite the remarkable individual. She seems strong enough to lead. Why the drama?”
I don’t look up at the short redhead because I know she’ll see the defeat in my eyes. Maybe Emma is competent enough to lead, but I’m not comfortable with the idea of throwing her into a pit of snakes.
Will Reinhardt’s interfering voice is confident from beside me. My cousin has always seen Emma in a different light from the rest of us. His prejudices are not as deep as the older gargoyles. He sees something in her, and I have to admit he’s right. She’s capable, but her powers are unpredictable. The reports Alessandro gave me upon my return to the S.O.S. are detailed. Emma has learned control, but her emotional abilities are unstable.
I look down at my hands, the imaginary photo still prominent in my memory. Wide eyes. Wide, scared eyes. Skin that is too warm to the touch.
I look up to discover everyone gathered has turned to me. I straighten.
Marcas watches me a moment before eyeing the gargoyles surrounding me.
“You’ve all done my race a great service, and I know you’ve had to make sacrifices to do it. I’m not sure what I can offer in return. Anything you need, ask.”
Will, Marion, and Grace shift uncomfortably. There is nothing Marcas can do. Marion and Grace could return to our people if they wanted, but Will and I . . .
“Just treat them well,” I say quietly. The other gargoyles nod in agreement.
“You have my word.”
Marcas’ promise is comforting, and I nod as he adjourns the meeting.
“We’ll meet with the hybrids soon,” Marcas says as he moves to exit the room with Dayton at his side. The other gargoyles step in around me as we watch the rest of the delegation follow his lead.
“They’re ready,” Will says.
I give him a sympathetic smile.
“Let’s hope so.”
Deliverance: Acropolis series Book 3
I need to remember my name. I need to remember my father’a legacy. I am a Reinhardt. I have protected my mark. I have fallen in love with a hybrid, the daughter of a powerful she-Demon. I have survived the Labyrinth. I have helped procure the Spear of Destiny to secure the hybrid kingdom on the Outer Levels of Hell.
Now there is only darkness, the cold feel of metal against my skin, the memory of a kiss keeping me warm. For gargoyles know better than to imprison another gargoyle in stone. There is corruption in the gargoyle hierarchy, and I need to escape. I need to save the girl I love. I need to find Deliverance.