Winged: The Awakening by Vianca Eunice M. Martinez on the Independent Author Index
Sixteen-year-old Gabriel has a few things in his mind on his sophomore year: to survive high school and everyday life in Everheights, be normal, and blend in. An easy feat for some, but for Gabriel–an orphan and an amnesiac
living at the town’s cathedral–it’s more than a daunting task. When Freya Richwell–a beautiful and enigmatic young girl–arrives in Everheights to learn from Reverend Spohl, and the two become friends–weird things
started to happen around them that makes Gabriel’s life that much harder than simply trying to fit in: an ominous presence stalks them and shows them vivid images of death and destruction; a storm suddenly appears and envelops the whole town and then disappears as quickly as it appeared and no one seems to remember about it; dead birds raining down from the sky; and a fog that renders the townspeople unconscious and makes them disappear. Then there are those visions and dreams that Gabriel keeps having about a man called “Siegfried” and a woman by the name of “Lucia”, both of whom seem to have something to do with his illusive past. But that’s not all of his worries.Before he knows it, Gabriel is thrust into a world that he never imagined existed. A world filled with magic and mystery. A world filled with danger. A world where love, courage, and faith are the strongest weapons he could wield. And a world where his past, his present, and his future lie. The only person who can show him the way is the very person who can cost him his life.
The wind howled furiously around them, beating the dilapidated house as if it wanted to truly destroy what little safe haven they had left. Rain poured down heavily from the dark, tumultuous, stormy sky as if the heavens were crying at their current predicament.
The young man pushed his wet, black hair back from his forehead and from his deep-blue eyes. He was so drenched from head to toe that he could have passed as someone who had fallen into a river, which wouldn’t have been too much of a surprise for him if it happened considering how their luck had been.
The clothes he wore—a pair of old converse, torn jeans, and a grey shirt under a dark-green hooded sweatshirt—were grimy and clung to his body, showing the muscles he had built over the years while practicing a number of sports.
The thought of sports sent a torrent of memories rushing back at him, memories of the life—the normal life—he had once lived.
A cold chill ran down his spine; it wasn’t just because of the wind and the weather—which was more than just a turbulent storm—but also because he had come to think of how much his world had changed dramatically.
He knew the dangers of letting his thoughts run and fly off into the past like that, especially under the current circumstance, but he could not help it. He may constantly deny it, but he missed and craved for the normal life he once had.
With a flash of lightning and ear-shattering thunder, he was able to catch a glimpse of what remained of their little sanctuary. It was a structure which could have once been a beautiful, one-room cottage with its rectangular massive body arranged picturesquely into asymmetrical blocks, imitating the sprawling look of a century-old small villa in Italy.
The low-pitched roof now had a large gaping hole. The heavy, support brackets under the eaves would have been beautiful with their pearly white paint and elaborate carvings, but these were now gnarled and bent, the paint slowly peeling. The windows, with their heavy hoods and swirling designs were already broken, some were carried off by the storm while others had their panes smashed by flying debris. The creaky wooden floor boards were now wet—some were loose and in danger of flying with the strong wind, maybe even smashing what remained of the windows.
The whole house groaned as if it was a living being, capable of feeling the pressure of the unnatural weather as its body was being dismantled and torn apart.
Lightning flashed in the sky and thunder roared not far behind, briefly illuminating the darkened world once again and allowing him to see the frightened expression on his companion’s face, the face of the person that he had been sworn to protect—no, the person that he was destined to protect.
He squeezed her soft, fragile, cold hand and felt her shiver beside him. They had been hiding here, hoping for the storm to pass along with the danger that it brought, not knowing how weak the foundations of the house were, until moments before when the storm began ripping it apart.
She was frightened. But he knew that it wasn’t just the storm that frightened her. It was the ones who caused the storm—the beings who had been trying to flush out and kill her and her kind.
She wasn’t a normal human being, although she may look like one. She was one of those beings who had come from a world filled with light. A world he had only heard stories about, a world that he had no right to set foot upon unless he has proven his worth.
Truth was, he wasn’t normal either, not by human standards.
She pulled her knees closer to her chest. Her jeans, her shoes, her long-sleeved black and white shirt, as well as her light-pink cardigan sweater, were wet with the rain and clung to her body, showing off her curves. Her eyes—a bright gold color hidden beneath long lashes, were focused on the hole in the ceiling where rain water poured relentlessly. Bluish-black circles hung under her eyes, proof of how many sleepless nights they have had to endure.
She was chewing on her lips, which were the color of Sweetbrier Rose. Her beautiful silvery hair which reached down to the small of her back was now disheveled. Her skin and her face, which had been ivory pale and almost translucent, were now matted with dirt, grime and scratches—a reminder of what a struggle it had been to get this far.
Anger flared within the young man as he saw her looking like a ghost of her former self, and it was all thanks to them.
His grip on her hand must have hardened as she looked at him with a worried expression etched on her heart-shaped face. She asked, “What’s wrong?”
The young man shook his head and smiled at her. He lessened his hold, hoping to make her feel better—like how she had told him that his smile always managed to do so during all those days that have long gone by.
“Nothing,” he told her, still smiling. His voice had matured long ago but had still managed to surprise him. Even now, when he spoke, “I was just thinking.”
He didn’t need to tell her more than that. She already knew what he meant.
She gave him a small smile, and he could feel the sadness as she said, “I’m sorry…”
He didn’t wait for her to finish what she was about to say. He already knew what it was she was apologizing for.
He had known her for a very long time and she had done that so many times in the past, believing that it was because of her that his life took an unexpected—and, in his opinion, quite an unbelievable—turn. She had said that if they had never met, then he wouldn’t be in this predicament with her. He would still be living the life that he had grown accustomed to. He would be living a normal life.
“Please don’t start this again, Lucia.” the young man told his companion as he brushed a loose strand of wet hair from her face with his free hand. “We had been over this again and again, and now really isn’t the best time to start.”
“But—!” she wanted to argue, just like how she always did. Somehow, the sense of déjà vu from this conversation made him grin.
Some things never change. He thought to himself.
Then he said, “Even if things played out differently, you know that in the end you and I would still have met. It’s like what my grandfather said, remember? I was destined for you. Besides, I would have learned sooner or later that I was different, that I’m not as normal and ordinary as I thought I was.”
He knew how sappy it sounded to her, but those words were the truth and he knew that, as always, she needed to hear them.
She gave him a smile. This time, it was a smile full of appreciation as she squeezed his hand. She then leaned in and brushed her lips against his. It was a short, soft, gentle kiss. She rested her head on his shoulder, their hands still intertwined.
At that moment, there was an air of peace around them, of hope that things will get better—that they would be able to live through the night despite the danger that was drawing near and that was sure to come.
He wanted that moment to last.
He turned to face her, tipping her head with his fingers so that his sapphire eyes stared intently into her golden ones. Three distinct words played on his mind. The words that he had long wanted to tell her but never had the opportunity to do so. There would always be someone or something that would interrupt just as he was about to utter them.
“Lucia, I—” he began, his voice shaking.
But the words never came, it never escaped his lips. As another flash of lightning and another roar of thunder gave light to the room, he saw a figure draped in darkness, standing by the door which had been torn apart by the storm.
He quickly scrambled to his feet and Lucia did the same. Instinctively, the young man moved in front of his companion. Like a knight, his body acted as a protector between her and the robed intruder—a Taken.
Seeing the intruder and knowing what it was, the young man knew that the others pursuing them were not far behind.
“There is no escape now,” came a shrill voice from the man before them.
The robe that clung to the man’s body was made of tendrils of smoky shadow, flexing and moving as if they had a life of their own. Ghostly apparitions appeared from each of them—moaning and wailing spirits that seemed to be trapped in his robe.
The skin that was visible through the man’s clothing was deathly pale. It wasn’t the same kind of paleness that Lucia’s skin had. It was sicklier, almost corpse-like.
The Taken stretched out his hand, inviting them closer, as he said, “Hand her over and your life will be spared, Guardian.”
The Taken spat the word “Guardian” like it left a bad aftertaste in his mouth—which it probably did. There was no question to the amount of animosity that raged between those of his kind and the Guardians.
The young man gritted his teeth and willed himself to draw upon the power within him. With it, he summoned a weapon which appeared in his hand with a brilliant flash of golden white light.
It was a one-handed sword with a hilt made of pure gold. On the sword’s pommel were two snakes whose bodies were coiled around each other, acting as the grip of the sword. The sword’s guard was shaped like unfolded wings.
The blade was made of celestial silver and it glowed faintly like a beating pulse, basking the room with a mixture of golden and silvery hues. On the flat-side of the blade was a group of Angelic Scripts made of golden lines and markings that no human would be able to decipher. The light from these markings was more vivid than the light from the sword’s blade. It was from these markings that the strength and power of the weapon lay.
“I would rather die than betray her and the oath that I had given!” the young man shouted over the beating sound of the rain and the howling of the wind.
His grip on his celestial weapon tightened even more as he readied himself for the assault that he knew was inevitable.
The Taken did not waste any more time. The young man knew that the Taken wanted to kill him before his brethren arrived so that he could boast of this accomplishment and then take Lucia away.
The Taken lunged at him with his own abominable weapon—a crimson-red blade with a hilt made of dried bones and a guard shaped like a human’s skull.
The young Guardian gently pushed Lucia away before he met the attack. With every strike he let out, and with every parry to the enemy’s blow, he gave it his all, knowing that there was no room for hesitation. Lucia’s life was at risk and he would do anything in his power to protect her and keep her safe. It was his duty. It was what he was born to do.
He was aware of his surroundings as he was trained. He knew that Lucia was stricken by the battle before her. He knew that she didn’t want to feel helpless and that she too wanted to fight.
She had once told the young man that she wasn’t any damsel in distress. She was an angel capable of fighting and wielding magic. But, as powerful as he knew she was, the young man couldn’t risk her joining the fray.
Unable to sleep and rest properly for days, she was weak. Using her magic now would only do her more harm than good. But, more than her disdain for her current helpless state, she was worried about him—the one who was risking his life to protect her.
The young man didn’t know how long it took until he finally gave the final blow to the Taken’s heart. As soon as he did, the abomination curled up into a ball with an eerie moan before vanishing with a puff of black smoke and an explosion of dust. The young man knew that it was quite a long battle, based on how tired he felt.
He didn’t feel as victorious as he should have felt after just winning against one of their sworn enemies. He had never gotten used to taking another person’s life, even if that life belonged to a Taken. Not only that but he did not come out of the battle without a scratch.
A gaping gash was on his right arm from the attack and he didn’t realize it until after the battle that he was hurt and bleeding. He tore off the ruined sleeve of his sweatshirt, revealing the wound not only to himself but to Lucia as well.
“You’re hurt,” was what she said after giving a gasp as she saw his wound.
She moved forward, her hand outstretched. The young man knew what she was going to do.
“Don’t waste your energy, Lucia,” he said, his voice hoarse and his throat dry, stopping her not only with his words but also by taking a step back.
He could not allow her to heal him. He would not allow her to waste her energy on something like that.
Although the wound hurt, the young man didn’t lie when he told her, “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
“But I can’t just let you bleed to death!” she protested.
He shook his head, trying to give her a reassuring smile as he spoke, “Stop exaggerating, Lucia. I’m not going to die because of this. Trust me. Besides, we may need that power of yours for something more important than this.”
Silence filled them before he turned and looked around, surveying their surroundings one more time. Seeing and sensing that no other Taken was near, he quickly took Lucia by the hand and together they made a run for it, out of the broken-down house and into the raging storm in the middle of the night.
He didn’t care if he was hurting or if he was tired. He didn’t allow fatigue to show on his face or to slow him down. He did what he was trained to do—to think about nothing else but the safety of his Liege.
They didn’t know where to go and it didn’t actually matter to them where they were heading as long as it was as far away from the house as possible. They both knew that the other Taken were not far behind. The only thing illuminating their path as they ran—and occasionally fell—was the young man’s celestial weapon and the lightning from the storm.
The trees were of no comfort at all. Instead of shielding them from the rain and hiding them from those who were pursuing them, they merely proved as obstacles. The low branches acted like hands and claws that hooked themselves on their clothes and scratched their bare skin. The stubby roots were enough to trip the pair, but still they pushed on through, never daring to slow down.
Finally, they stumbled out of the forest and found themselves at a clearing. The faint light from the distant town of Everheights flickered beyond the unnatural storm.
“There,” he said, pointing to the direction of Everheights. “We should be safe at the town’s cathedral.”
Lucia nodded then looked at him with the same worried expression that was on her face minutes, perhaps hours, ago. She asked, “Will we make it there safely?”
He took a look at the stretch of forest that they emerged from and then back at her. He could sense that they were near, and that it would only be a matter of time before they managed to catch up with them.
He said, “You can make it safely there…you should fly to town, Lucia. It would be faster that way. I’ll buy you enough time for you to get to the cathedral and then, I promise, I’ll meet up with you.”
Her eyes widened at the young man’s suggestion, he knew how she hated it when they were separated, even if it was only for a short while and even if it was her safety on the line.
“No, I will not leave you,” she told him. Her soft, melodious voice was shaking, laced with indignation. “Who knows how many of them are still after us under this Dark Storm.”
“That’s precisely the point, Lucia. You know that my duty is to ensure your safety no matter what the cost.” he reminded her.
She didn’t have to think too much about his safety. He and those that were like him knew the risks that came with being a Guardian. But she was worried and didn’t want to leave his side. At that moment, he finally understood the reason why his grandfather warned him about being too close to his Liege.
“I am safe enough with you. We’ll arrive at Everheights together.” she said with finality. She was about to say something more, when her eyes suddenly went wide with a mixture of surprise and horror.
Before he could whirl around, he felt a sharp pain on his chest. As he looked behind, he saw a dozen of the Taken, one of them had a bow aimed at him.
The young man wondered where the arrow was until a pain in his chest exploded and he found himself falling with a blood-soaked arrow, sticking out of his chest.
He heard Lucia shout, “No!” and saw, with his already fading vision, the Taken moving towards them—towards Lucia. He wanted to move between them, to do his duty and protect her from these creatures that were sent after her, but he couldn’t. He could no longer move his body.
Moments later, he heard her scream something that made no sense to him. His mind was already jumbled up with incoherent thoughts and he was already losing consciousness. It was, however, a scream that he figured would always be etched in his memory should he survive—which now didn’t seem much of a possibility. As she screamed, there was a blinding flash of light. It was like the sun exploding. And then, at that instant, she was gone.
Just like that, he knew that Lucia had perished in the hands of the Taken. After so many months of hiding and fighting, she was gone.
The last thing the young man remembered, before fading into the depths of darkness, was the thought that he too was dying. He was dying and he was alone. He had failed to save what had mattered most in his life. Most of all, he wasn’t able to tell her how much she really meant to him. This was his regret when the memory of that moment—the moment when he could have told her that he loved her—was the last memory he had before everything turned to nothing.
Copyright© Vianca Eunice M. Martinez. All rights reserved.