For those chosen as Protectors, their length of service usually ended when they were marked. Any wound received during their service meant that they were not at the top of their form and could mean the difference between life and death for those they were assigned to safeguard. Raina was shaken, but not from the battle. This had only been her third assignment and as long as no one knew, she would continue as if it had never happened. She zipped her jacket all the way to the top before she turned around to face her young charge. She took her hand and stared deeply into the girl’s eyes for a moment, wiping the girl's memory of her. The girl stood there, entranced while Raina walked away.
Once a job was done, she would be reassigned. It was the practice of the Order to never have a protector do more than one job with the same person unless it was years apart. It prevented those who would do harm from not only recognizing the Protectors, but also from predicting how they fought. Each assignment was different, and the methods used to do the job were as unique as the individual they were protecting. This was their advantage.
Raina had heard legends of only one other who had been marked and continued his missions long before it was discovered by the Order and by then he was so accomplished that they did not remove him from service. She had been taught that the stories were made up because once marked, the evil ones would always recognize that Protector by the poison left in the wound, no matter how small. None of this was important to her until now. She had always been so confident that she pictured a lifetime of missions and never the possibility of being marked so early on. She walked on, trying to remember the stories, the details she needed if she was going to make it through her next assignment undetected. She didn't come up with anything useful.
As soon as she arrived at her hotel room, she made quick work of packing only what she arrived with, a single bag. She stopped to look at herself in the mirror and unzipped her jacket. The wound was only a scratch that barely broke the skin at the base of her neck, on the right side. She was disgusted at the thought of years of training being cut short by a mere scratch half an inch long. It was barely noticeable now and when it healed, she was sure it wouldn't be noticeable at all. Still, it made her pulse quicken to think that somehow the smell of even the most miniscule amount of poison would make her vulnerable.
She made up her mind that she was not going to let that happen and zipped up her jacket. She grabbed her bag, took a deep breath and closed the door behind her. Into the night she walked alone for miles, waiting for the envoys to appear. They would bring her instructions, whatever she needed for her next assignment and she would be ready. The night air was crisp and energizing. She picked up her pace and it wasn't long before she heard footsteps behind her.
"Nice work, Raina!"
She turned around to see the envoys coming toward her. It was Arytt and his twin brother Niall, both grinning broadly.
"What took you so long?" she smiled back.
"Getting things ready for you, of course." Niall said as he took the bag out of her hand.
"Tell her the truth! Niall, here, has discovered that he likes human food. French fries to be exact. Extra salty." Arytt elbowed his brother.
"Okay, is this supposed to be some kind of clue?"
"You're quick. Yes, it is." Arytt got back to the business at hand. "This one's going to be a little different. Your assignment is a high school girl, and we get to stay with you."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Raina didn't understand.
"It would be suspicious for a teenager to be on her own, don't you think?" Niall put in.
"Good point, but who are you guys supposed to be?"
"We're your uncles!" Niall was more pleased with the idea than Arytt by a long shot.
"So that's what the french fries were about. It figures." Raina rolled her eyes at Niall. "Let's get on with it."
The twins took each of Raina's hands and the three of them turned to mist. The envoys were just that, messengers, or sometimes couriers. Rarely did they ever participate in assignments. They came and went unnoticed as their talents afforded them since before the beginning of time as humans know it. They aged differently, and Raina always wondered how many centuries Arytt and Niall had seen.
When they let go of Raina's hands, she saw that they were inside the living room of a house. She always enjoyed traveling this way, but what she did not like was, not knowing where they were going. Just once she would like to know beforehand.
"Come on guys, it's just a few hours until sun up. Are you going to tell me what we're doing?"
"Better sit down." Arytt directed them.
"Yes, this is a big one." Niall plopped down on the couch beside Raina.
"Shut up, Niall. Let me tell her!" Arytt snapped as he sat down himself. "Now, Raina, you remember the stories of the Waylay, yes?"
Raina nodded. This wasn't at all what she thought she was going to hear. Assignments never began with stories of their own history. It was always just instructions of who to be and who to protect and some particulars on how.
"There has been some strange activity going on among some factions which has led the order to believe that one of the artifacts has surfaced."
"What are you talking about? What artifact?" Raina scooted to the edge of the couch.
"We're not sure which one, but from the intelligence we've gathered, their ranks are tripping over their own rumors and each other to get it. The order thinks that if they find it, it could reunite them, so they are pulling out all the stops on this one. That's where you come in."
"If it's that important, why me? I've only done three missions. Surely, they've got someone with a lot more kills than I do!" Raina stood up and felt their eyes on her.
"It's not as simple as that. Besides, they needed someone young to embed with this assignment while the others are keeping them busy elsewhere. Like I said, we know she has an artifact, we just don't know which one it is." Arytt motioned for Raina to sit back down.
"Wait, why does it matter which one she has, and did you say "embed"? You mean, I don't get to just do my job? You'd better explain this to me Arytt."
He looked at Niall, who shifted toward Raina to take his turn at trying to make her understand the importance of her assignment.
"Of course you get to do your job. You’re just going to have to stay with her awhile, that's all."
"What do you mean stay? It's get one and get out, that's how this works, guys. If I stay, they'll know me and I'm done." She glared at both of them hoping this was a joke. It wasn't. "There's something you're not telling me. Spill it. Now!" She stood up again and looked toward the door.
"Your assignment is someone very special." Niall began. "The Maldiss haven't located her yet and we want to keep it that way until we can find out what their forces are up to. When you find the artifact, you'll hand it off, but you can't leave her."
"This doesn't make any sense. Why not?!" she huffed.
Arytt and Niall looked long and hard at each other. Raina figured they were having one of their 'twin conversations' and it irritated her.
"The order thinks she may be a hybrid."
"A what?" Raina cleared her throat. "That's not possible."
"They've traced her, and everything points to exactly that. Part of your mission is to find out for sure. They want you to find out if she is aware of anything, if she has any power. You will have to wait for the Order to decide what to do. Do you understand?"
"Yes." Raina slumped back down on the couch and tried to reason it out in her own mind.
There had never been a mission like this one before. There were no other Protectors around her age and female, so that part made sense. The only other one was male and for the age of the assignment, there was no way he could stay close enough to her without causing a stir. The Protectors were few in number, there was no getting around that fact.
She couldn't decide whether to tell them about her scratch or not. It didn't bleed, so maybe she was safe. If she told them, she knew the order would have to rethink their plan and could lose valuable time. If she didn't say anything and was detected during the mission, she might be killed and they would have to come up with something anyway. She decided to keep her mouth shut. She had no choice, really.
Arytt and Niall informed her of what they had already set up before she had even finished her last mission. She had mixed feelings about their confidence in her, but she wasn't going to let that show. Everything seemed simple enough, though her interactions with humans had never included making a relationship for any length of time with an actual assignment. This was going to be completely different than what she was trained for, and involve a good amount of guesswork. She wondered if they'd thought of that or if they were going to be more preoccupied with french fries. Raina shuddered to think that her success on this mission could very well depend on junk food.
Copyright 2011 by M.C. Kelly. All rights reserved.