There was no way out of the city but to walk it; the infrastructure of London had completely shut down following the earthquake. Parts of the road were buckled and collapsed, Victorian watermains had burst; parts of the underground were reported to be flooded or collapsed in completely. It took several hours for Amelia and Donovan to escape the city but Donovan wanted to go through the centre to assess the damage. They stalked like silent shadows through the devastation, observing what could be repeated elsewhere in the country or worse yet, the world. St. Paul’s cathedral’s dome had a giant crack but still stood; though the Gherkin close buy had many of its windows shattered. It had rained glass and Amelia and Donovan’s heavy boots crunched over what had fallen. It got a little better the farther they got from the Tower; it seemed it had been the epicentre of the quake. Though other fragile and older buildings hadn’t even been able to withstand what had shook them and various old pubs and listed buildings were nothing more than heaps of rubble. In Trafalgar Square, Nelson’s column had toppled into the fountains but there was still one proud lion staring out from the debris, defiant against London falling down around it.
Police and volunteer forces were out in strong numbers; many crowded around Parliament, the various museums housing historical treasures and art from several centuries. The Royal Standard was flying over Buckingham palace as the Queen returned to the capital to meet with the Prime Minister and discuss how to address the nation. London hadn’t seen this much damage since the Blitz.
There were crowds of people around either staring in horror, fear or just in simple disbelief. There were others calling to those trapped in some of the debris, helping those who needed first aid or simply consoling those who looked lost and afraid. The air was still so chilly and many were shivering while working, hands white with the cold.
“I wish we could help them,” Amelia said quietly. Donovan nodded but reiterated that there would be more events like this and even worse if they didn’t do their duty. Amelia nodded in mute agreement but the part of her that had once been concerned with this world was very wounded and ached for her adopted city. She silently vowed that she’d find out who caused this damage, if it was indeed linked to the Lock being broken as they believed, and would do all she could do have them punished. London needed to have justice.
Donovan and Amelia had left in the late evening under the cover of darkness but by dawn they were reaching the outermost limits of the city. They had walked slowly at first but then picked up their pace as the worst of the devastation was left behind. They stopped for a few minutes to eat and drink but Donovan pushed them on, wanting to reach a safe house before night fall. They also had to check some caches and stores on their way which would taking them vereing away from the safe house.
“I don’t fancy us being out in the open quite yet at night,” Donovan said as he scanned the horizon. “There is too much uncertainty. I hate not being able to see the face of my enemy.”
“It’s very strange to have an enemy,” Amelia finally said when they were moving again. The weak light from the winter sun was filtering through the bare branches of trees, casting flickering shadows an her teacher. “It’s not something I’ve had before, really.” Donovan’s head dropped forward, it was so easy to forget the times. He dropped back to walk beside her, even though the path was narrow and so Amelia took the opportunity to casually link her arm in his. Donovan was always suprised at the easy affection she gave to him. It was a different time but this aspect of it he very much enjoyed and appreciated.
“I don’t know how to explain the mindset,” he said after a moment, “it is not something you can teach but that you learn on your own. But what you must remember is that they, whoever they are at this point, will want to harm you as they did the Ravens and Erik. You must not hesitate if you think you can strike them.”
“But we don’t know how yet,” she replied.
“Then you must not hesitate to run and get somewhere safe. You have your map and you’ll be able to see them,” he said and then instructed her to see through the surface reality.
“Ahhh,” she said picking up a few points of light. They weren’t exactly like what Guards showed up like but they were a solid imprint of warmth and light. Guards’ images would waver like candle flames but these were like glowing eyes in the darkness.
“You will be able to gain access to them as it is your nature as a guard. These caches, byways and Houses are mostly left empty so there would be no one to answer the knock,” continued Donovan. “But until we know what is going on, you must promise me to not hesitate and attempt to get inside if I tell you to.”
“What about you?”
“I have more experience and I am your teacher; your protection falls under my responsibility not mine under yours,” he said firmly.
“That’s a bit rubbish,” she replied defensively, “how am I supposed to learn anything?”
“Oh you will, there are other dangers on this path that we’ll have to deal with when they arise,” Donovan laughed, “but in all seriousness, if these beings were able to attack Erik and the Ravens without us knowning until the very end, they are capable of seriously harming us. I have other skills to draw upon at this point whereas you may not.”
“This is so weird,” she muttered. “I know this all to be true and have half formed memories of them but I still sometimes can’t believe it all. Even though I can see beneath all of the trees, grass and rocks to some other reality and am carrying a great ruddy dagger at my hip.”
“It’ll get less strange, I promise,” he replied. She smiled up at him and gave him an awkward hug, considering all their gear and weaponry. He allowed himself to give her a brief kiss on the forehead before parting from her side to scout ahead once more.
The day passed without much comment; they both were constantly on the look out for danger. Occassionally Donovan would point out tracks or some other article of interest. When they finally approached one of their first tasks – a small store of weapons and other supplies, it looked undisturbed and still well protected. Donovan expected as such, it was far too small for a raiding party or hostile group to take notice of. The next store was slightly larger but still undisturbed. Donovan checked the log book; the last Guard to pass through the small waystation had been in 1923.
The light was growing thin and they were a few miles away from the place where they’d rest for the night. It was another small waystation but enough for them to make camp.
“It’s a small cave, really,” Donovan said consulting his map, “but its an ancient place. Not many people would enter it, I guess to other people it would seem quite creepy. Some become tourist attractions like Stonehenge and others stay nestled in a patch of wood for centuries.”
“Have they always been protected or is it something the Guards did?” Amelia asked, intrigued by these ancient spots.
“Some of them have always had a power against darker forces. Most of the time we amplify them with charms buried within them or what the more powerful members of the Guard can weave around them. Once they are enfolded in the tapestry of the Vanguard’s power they’ll stay safe unless compromised. Astyages, I imagine could weave one in, that is his power. He can draw upon the powers of this world and weild it, change it and manipulate it for certain purposes. George was the same; very old and powerful magic.”
Donovan pointed out to the more thickly wooded area they were approaching. It was only a mile or so away with the sun setting behind it, covering the ground ahead of them in shadow.
“Donovan,” Amelia said suddenly with a hint of urgency in her tone, “the air, the cold, its dropping too quickly to be natural.” It’s like the night the Raven’s were killed, that edge on the cold. Donovan drew his sword and his eyes clouded as they pushed passed reality. Amelia gripped her staff tighter and peered through it as well.
“It is exactly like before,” Donovan agreed, “something wrong on the air.”
“They move on the air,” Amelia said whipping her head to face east and pushing herself to see far into the distance. She couldn’t quite see them but she could sense that they’d be coming. ”We have to run, Donovan, they’ll come quickly. I know they are going to come.”
“Then go,” he grabbed her hand and pushed her in front of him, “keep following the path it’ll lead you straight there. I”ll be right behind you.” They would only need a couple of minutes at the rate they were running; even with no sleep and walking all day. The air kept growing colder and burning their lungs nonetheless. Suddenly the wind picked up as well; the autumn leaves rustled and started to rise, swirling around their footsteps and trying to block their sight of the path ahead. Amelia knew it could only be moments ahead as the beacon that drew her to it was growing stronger. She could still hear Donovan’s heavy steps only seconds behind her.
“There!” She cried out as she saw the mouth of the cave; but there was something slightly wrong with it. “Something’s tried to get inside!”
“Get in! The seal was never broken, it’s still safe,” Donovan shouted. Safer than it is out here anyway, he thought to himself. He could see his breath again, as it had been those nights he had been on Guard. It was almost as cold, though there was no snow. Amelia ran full tilt into the cave mouth, she could feel the barrier set up to keep all those who were not a part of the Vanguard at bay push against her before letting her pass. Moments later Donovan was beside her, breathing heavily but still focussed.
“What can you see?” He asked, his eyes already clouded over.
“Nothing, but they are there, I can feel it,” she replied. The rocks suddenly shuddered and heaved as if being pounded from above or shaken from below.
“Shadows, they want to force us out but I think this will hold fast,” Donovan stated. They stood facing the outside world, bits of dust and debris dislodged from the roof of the cave but nothing else happened. The shuddering eventually stopped but Amelia and Donovan could still sense the presence; the air was almost brittle from the cold and they both shivered in the near darkness of the cave.
“I don’t like it, I don’t fancy them, whatever they are hanging outside the entrance all night,” Donovan grumbled.
“What if we give them a feight, something to draw them out?” She suggested. The light was fading fast now and soon it would be completely dark.
“I don’t like it but at the same time, I don’t know how we’ll draw them out so we can see them,” Donovan replied. ”We need to know what they are before we can figure out a way to kill them.”
“I’ll go,” Amelia stated dropping her pack and grabbing the climbing rope tied on the outside. ”Wrap this rope around my waist. If I’m hurt you can pull me back through. I can’t do the same to you.”
“Aye,” Donovan gritted his teeth. She was right, it was the best option though he would have rather been the one to take the risk. Even though Erik looked to have put up a fight, his wound would not heal. If Amelia was hurt there was nothing he’d be able to do. But this was their job, see the face of the enemy so they all would stand a chance in defeating it. “Keep a careful eye.”
“They are going to be quick,” she gripped her staff tightly, sheathing the dagger for the moment. Her hands were white on the staff and her face set. ”Dammit, dammit,” she grumbled. Before either of them could say another word she pushed though the barrier and exited the cave. Donovan could see a frost slowly descend over the forest and hear things start to freeze. Whatever was going to happen it was going to happen in seconds.
“Halt!” Cried Amelia, “I am of the Vanguard and consider your actions as hostile. You are warned that any further attack or attempts upon the lives of my fellow Guards will be met with equal force with no quarter.”