Chapter 23--Embracing the Void--

An older woman with long curly blond hair approached Erik as she came to the door, holding the very large wolf. The woman stepped back in surprise as Erik pushed her way past her and headed down the hallway. Turning around, the lady made an attempt to follow her, her fingers clutching the professional skirt she was wearing.

"Erika, shouldnít you be in school?" she questioned in a hesitant tone as the younger blond turned to her with a scowl.

"Iím not feeling well today. I had a bad night," Erik grumbled, giving the other woman the slightest hint that she was listening to her.

Her companion seemed to notice the bleeding bump on the side of her head and she ran forward, reaching out for Erik. But before she could actually touch her, she pulled away and glanced down at the floor, pretending to be unaffected by the strange injury. "Did you hurt yourself again, honey? Iíve told you so many times that you shouldnít spend so much time running around the streets. Iím beginning to suspect that youíre in a gang or something."

"God, mother! You worry about every tiny thing. Iím not in a stupid gang."

"So how did you get that mark?" her mother posed, waving her hand over the wound on the girlís head. "A biking accident maybe? A fight?"

"Yeah, a fight. Some punk tried to start something. I had to dissuade him," lied Erik, using her tough-girl tone to convince her mother that she was proud of her pretend accomplishment.

"They wouldnít try to fight you if you dressed like a normal young lady. Gentlemen donít fight with ladies."

"These were no gentlemen. They were just run-of-the-mill scumbags looking for a tussle. If I had looked all pretty like you tell me, they would have tried to do more than beat me up. Fights work out for me much more to my liking when I dress like this. And donít bitch about my style anymore. I get enough of that from father. Youíre lucky I put up with the Erika thing."

"Thatís your name, dear," the lady pressed, frowning at her daughterís curt attitude.

"I prefer Erik. It doesnít sound so stupid," the younger blond groused, slapping at her motherís hands, which were trying to check on her injury. "Quit messing with me! Itís not like Iím a fragile doll. I can handle a little head injury."

"Erika, itís my job to worry about you. After all the crazy things you do. Fighting with boys and dressing up like them. Shouldnít you be growing out of that?"

"Shouldnít you be treating me like an adult? Iím almost eighteen!"

Erikís mother breathed a relieved sigh and put a hand on her chest. "Thank goodness, you arenít now. But wherever have you been going the past month? I know you like to hang with the boys and the like, but whenever I call your customary haunts, none of your friends seem to know where you are. They say that youíve been neglecting them lately and that they hardly ever see you anymore."

"Theyíre not my friends, mother. Theyíre just people I hang out with when Iím bored. For that matter, why have you been inquiring about me outside of my knowledge?" her daughter snapped, entering one of the rooms in the hallway. She moved over to the bed and set the unconscious beast on the end.

"Iím sorry if it offends you Erika, but I like to know whether or not my daughter is engaging in wild activities," the woman responded with a tinge of haughtiness in her voice. "No matter how you chose to avoid me, I am still your mother and while you live in this house, I have a right to know what youíre doing late at night."

"Why bother? Itís not like you can stop me."

"I think I could if I tried hard enough. The only reason I allow you to go about your own way sometimes is because I understand that adolescence can be a trying time. When I was your age...."

"When you were my age, you were a doormat. Everyone walked over you just like they do today. Face it mother, you and I were nothing alike. We will never be alike. So donít try to relate to my problems. Youíll just complicate matters," Erik cut her off with a sharp retort.

The older blond shook her head and leaned against the doorway, her waves of golden silk spreading around the edge. "I just canít understand you anymore, Erika. We never used to have problems like this. When you were a little girl, we were the best of friends. You were so sweet and everybody loved you. They especially loved your adorable wispy hair. Remember how I used to always put it up in that cute French braid."

Erik grimaced at the nostalgic smile on her motherís face, as she watched her with those soft brown eyes. "How could I forget? I hated that sissy hairstyle! Why do you think I chopped it off when I turned fourteen? You always babied me far too much, which is just what youíre doing now? I want to take care of this dog and youíre annoying me."

"Where did you get that animal anyway? It looks too big to be a normal pet. I hope you donít plan on keeping that thing. I did not take this new job just so I could house a monstrosity like that," her mother informed her sternly.

"Stop stressing over nothing. I donít plan on keeping this dog. Iím just taking care of him for an acquaintance. He got into a messy fight with some other mongrels and he asked me to tend to it while he was at school," Erik argued, shooting her parent a frigid glance. "So unless youíre going to show me where you keep your old veterinarian stuff, you can go away."

"Erika, Iím not blind. That thing is no mutt. That is a wolf. Youíre telling me that your friend has a pet wolf? That sort of thing is illegal."

"So call the pound or something if it bothers you that much. I donít care. Itís not like I give a damn how the kid got the beast. Iím just doing him a favor in return for him lending me a hand."

Ignoring the teenagerís last comment, the woman ambled over to the bed and ran her hand down the wolfís pelt, making critical noises under her breath. She examined the various cuts that surrounded his sides and the burns on his back and forepaw. Shifting her hand from the front leg, she worked her way back to his back legs, feeling for any additional injuries. When she came to the torn gash on his back leg, her eyes turned dark and somber.

She looked back up at her offspring and set censuring eyes upon her. "This animal was in a lot more than a simple dogfight. Thereís evidence that he was involved in a fire and the work on his leg was definitely not caused by teeth. Teeth leave jagged edges or tooth marks. That wound is mostly clean and appears to be done in a solid slice. To me, it has the traces of being inflicted by a sharp weapon of some kind. I would even go so far as to guess that a long knife could have done it. Injuries like those are not the usual result of dogfights. What was your friend doing with this beast to cause such wounds?" she analyzed as Erikís eyes wavered.

"How should I know? When I ran into him, the wolf was already like that. Itís not my business to question these things," the girl snapped, turning away from her mother. "So can you help him or not?"

"I can administer treatment but I think that other things should also be done. I hate to see animals treated poorly. Perhaps, you wouldnít mind introducing me to his owner so I could ask him a few things?"

"That wouldnít be a good idea," stammered Erik, disliking what the older woman was implying.

"Why not?" the lady protested, tilting Wolfís head backward so that she could have a clear view of the damage that had been done to his neck. "This looks like abuse."

Erik pushed her mother violently, knocking her to the carpet and standing in front of the sleeping animal with her arms crossed upon her chest. "If youíre just going to cause trouble, then I donít want your help! When the damn animal is taken care of, Iíll take him to the pound or something. That way heíll be safe and youíll have no reason to bother the person who he belongs to. I never expected you to make this so frigginí difficult. I should have just taken him to father."

"He would have shot him on sight. You know how your father can be. He likes to hunt things."

"At least, he wouldnít have nagged me for an eternity about pointless moral aspects."

Sighing, her mother shook her head and crept off the bed. "Iíll go get some medical supplies," she muttered as she trudged out of the room.

"Itís about time!" spat her daughter, returning to the beast resting on her mattress. She brushed the fur away from his neck and unlatched the chain from around his throat, placing the topaz sun on the floor. "I think mother would find this trinket a little strange wrapped around the neck of a wolf." Sneering at the door that her mother had exited from, Erik rolled her chestnut eyes in disgust. "Youíre more trouble than youíre worth, Solanis," she cursed.



After she had forced the older lady away by repeatedly cussing and snatching things from her hands, Erik found herself alone with her old nemesis. She looked over the bandaging that her mother had done, making sure that she had seen to each of Wolfís injuries. His paw and leg were swathed in cloth and a wet towel soaked in medicine had been placed over his neck to tend to the wound there. He looked to be in stable condition, breathing regularly and no longer bleeding too profusely. Erik prepared a bowl of cool water and set it down by the bed. She was still wondering if it had been worth listening to her motherís prattle just to heal the one creature that had ever been able to best her in a fight. She had told him then that when they next met, she would kill him. Was the offer still good?

As a Guardian, she had been forced to stave on fulfilling her vendetta since she found it easier to have the Sun Guardian and his partner take out most of the opposition. Her mother did put up such a fuss whenever she came back from a fight with the Chimera. All that that woman ever asked was ĎWhere have you been?í or ĎWere you taking drugs?í or her all-time favorite, ĎWere you engaged in some sexual activity?í Typical neurotic parent questions. Erik was just glad that she had managed to convince her mother to stay out of her business for the most part. Questions were tolerable as long as the woman didnít try to actually do anything.

It was a decent change from her father who was always in her face. He thought he could still control her life even though she no longer lived with him. For a while, his interference had caused a severe problem. He rarely let her go anywhere without a detailed description of where she would be going, who would be there, what they would be doing, or whatever else he considered relevant. As if that wasnít bad enough, if she didnít come back when she said, he would throw a king-size fit and ground her to her room for the rest of the week. The only thing that he had been somewhat lenient on was the handling of guns. While her mother was extremely opposed to the notion of her owning a weapon, her father saw no major problems with teaching her how to shoot. Guns were his hobby. But outside from training his daughter in the arts of weaponry, the man was a pain in the ass. His overbearing nature got on her nerves and she couldnít stand how he would order her around like a drill sergeant and all under the guise of Ďjust trying to be a good father.í Whatever.

She had sure fixed him good after she had ditched the long hair and gone for the guy-style attire. Now, he just thought she was a lesbian. Hey, whatever got him off her back was fine. It had managed to make him avoid her a whole lot more. Even when her mother had spent many fruitless hours trying to explain to him why her daughter still appreciated boys, he had refused to change his opinion. Of course, her mother had been wrong there. Erik didnít like boys with their whole macho deal and she mostly certainly didnít like the fragile darlings known as girls. She didnít have any interest in either. Come to think of it, she hadnít had much interest in anything in quite a while. Everything was so mundane and laid out in its own vapid plan. What was the point in paying much attention to anything?

The task of handling the Keys was somewhat engaging but for the most part got tiresome fast. It was just too easy. There was no challenge in any of it. Well, the good thing was that she was getting something out of it. She had asked for one thing in return for her services. Erik had wanted to be strong enough to oppose any that challenged her. She was almost to where she wanted to be. Most feared her and took her threats seriously. Nobody pushed her around anymore and she no longer needed the protection of another being. Her experiences had taught her how to take adequate care of herself so she believed that the other party was keeping its part of the promise. Still, why wasnít she satisfied? There was nothing that could stand in her way. Well, almost nothing.

Erik looked toward the black canine to see if he was stirring yet. No, he still lay on its side, basking in the comfort of darkness. He had better enjoy its sleep. When he woke up, he was in for a world of pain. Even though the injuries were starting to heal thanks to her and her motherís care, Wolf would still be limping around for a while. But that was his own dumb fault. He had put himself in a position that he should have known he could not win. Strange, she had thought that he knew better than that. Dominic had seemed to be the intelligent and able fighter. How else could he have beaten her and discovered her secret? Yet, he had deliberately chosen a hopeless action. For what? For the boy that he was sworn to protect. Was protection supposed to entail such a self-sacrificing mentality?

He was her equal. His moves matched hers and his skill rivaled her every technique. She hated him for it. There were no qualms about admitting that. But she had believed that his purpose was to prove something to himself much like her. Erik could tell that the youth felt that he had no identity except for the one he possessed as a Guardian. He lived only to fulfill his destiny. But he had defected to Tyrell, a boy much weaker than himself, and come to help her. That wasnít part of the Guardianís role. Their job was to protect the Keys only. Everything else was a lower priority. It baffled her. Had she missed something in the many times she had studied him with the other youths? She never misjudged anyone.

What she had told Tyrell about her ability to see the truth about people hadnít been a lie. She really could sense the emotions of others and use that to have an insight into their psyche. It wasnít like empathy since she couldnít feel their emotions. She could only read them. Erik had attributed this talent to the fact that all of the Guardians and Keys shared their own selective skill. Tyrell had his dreams and telepathy, Kat had her sense of danger, Lucian had his telepathy, Tashira had her strategies, and Dominic had his superb strength. It must have just been a side effect of being connected to this whole matter. They all had something to help them along.

Then, there was Angelique Darcel. The girl had discovered a Shard and could use it. She had also heard something about her ability to heal in one of the various conversations between her and the others. The problem was that Angelique was not a Guardian or a Key. Why should she share their gifts?

Suddenly, pain shot through her hand and she realized that she had not been paying attention to her guest for the past few minutes. He must have woken up. Erik moved her head casually to the side and laughed at the beast that had her hand in between his jaws, biting hard enough to draw blood as a weak snarl accompanied his motions.

"Ah, the impervious Solanis has awoken," the girl teased in a singsong voice, using her fingers to pry her hand from Wolfís mouth. Pulling it away she wiped it on the bed and stared back at the beast, unmoved by his ferocious action. "Have a nice sleep, Guardian?"

Wolf snapped at her and attempted to rise to his feet, claws sinking into the thick cushion surface of the mattress. Erik snatched him by his ruff and lifted him off the bed, dodging the furious swipes of his back legs as he fought to break free. Just as quickly as she had grabbed him, she let him fall to the ground, right in front of the bowl she had brought. The beastís eyes flashed and he gazed at the closed door longingly. Erik reached down and roughly patted him on the head, smacking her palm against his skull.

"Drink up, boy. Mother says that you should have some water so that you donít get sick from all the things she gave you."

The animal growled again and turned his head to the side, closing his eyes. His companion chortled and shrugged her shoulders. "Have it your way. But Iím not letting you leave until you drink it all. I told the Key I would give you a hand to repay him for making you come back for me. Now, donít make me break my promise." Wolf continued to ignore her, flattening his ears and yawning so that his long white fangs were in plain view. The girl reached into her blazer and slowly pulled out her gun, placing it in her lap. She caressed the barrel with her callused fingers and lowered her eyes. "Too bad. Guess Iím just going to have to shoot you after all. Canít have you threatening me like that," she cooed, giving the beast a malicious smirk.

Frustration gleamed in Wolfís eyes as he bared his teeth in another snarl and then leaned down toward the bowl. He sniffed it idly but didnít drink it. Erik lost her cool, shoving his muzzle and forehead into the water and almost flipping the vessel over.

"I donít have all day. I want you out of here as much as you do. Itís not like Iím trying to poison you. Itís just water. Now drink it before I drown you, you stubborn mongrel."

He pushed back with his broad shoulders, forcing his head away from the bowl and thrusting her against the edge of the bed. Then, he gave her one last baleful glare before lowering his neck and lapping warily at the water. When he seemed to accept the fact that she wasnít trying to kill him, Wolf began to drink faster so that soon he was guzzling down the liquid at a normal rate for a canine. He finished the bowl, keeping one eye on the girl the entire time as if he was waiting for her to do something. Erik waited until the dish was empty and then patted his crown again.

"Now, thatís a good wolf," she praised as he tore himself away from her and limped to the other side of the bed. Erik chose not to follow and decided to speak to him from where she was sitting. "So I suppose youíre racking your head trying to figure out what youíre doing here, right?"

A base snort was her reply so she went on. "I told you that Iím doing your dear Tyrell a favor. That and I want to talk to you before you run off into the wild." Wolf lay down on his paws, apparently ashamed of his inability to have a say in what was going on. He scratched at the carpet with one paw while scrutinizing the handiwork on the other paw. "Donít be so forlorn," Erik advised him. She was not thrilled with the idea of dealing with a moody beast. It was Dominic that she wanted to speak with. "Iím going to let you go. I just want to ask you some things first."

Wolf sluggishly pulled himself off the carpet and plodded over to her, still growling and giving her searing looks. He sat down and perked his ears, showing that she had his undivided attention. Erik swore and shoved him away. "Iím not talking to you like this, Solanis. I want the boy. I would appreciate to have some comprehensible response during a conversation. So change."

Her guest ran out his tongue in a dry laugh and started to lick his bandaged paw. She could tell that he was trying to aggravate her. He understood what she wanted. This was just his way of getting back at her. Dominic always did have his blasted pride. She considered threatening him with the gun again, but then decided that that way was getting old. Besides, Tyrell had mentioned that Dominic hated being forced into things. The gun might make him lie to her once he did change. That would be detrimental to her cause. Maybe she could trick him into complying with her orders.

"I nursed your injuries. Are you so ungrateful as to ignore that fact? All I want is a little talk. Would it kill you? You should be used to talking by now after all that time you spend with that crazy Hell Guardian. I assure you that I wonít be as annoying as he is," she posed, pretending to be insulted by Wolfís reaction to her hospitality.

The Sun Guardian yawned again in a lazy and passive motion. Seeing her rage, he wagged his tail like an excited mutt, mocking her further. He was being a real jerk about this whole thing. She had given up her school time to make sure that he was all right. The task had even forced her to spend several interminable hours talking with her mother. Wolf should have more respect for her generosity. Yet even as a wolf, Dominic was still a jerk. She resisted the impulse to kick him. Erik was sick of fighting with him. She wanted her answers and she wanted them now. He had to listen to some reason. Glaring at him in fury, she ranted at Wolf once more.

"I want to know why you acted so foolish back there. Why did you try to take on both of those Chimera? Why did you let that pacifist talk you into fighting? Why have you now decided to let others control your actions?"

His eyes shook and he stared at her in disbelief. After a few moments, he backed up and turned his head, spying his amulet on the ground where Erik had dropped it. He trotted over to it and set one paw on the gem and then threw his head back in a plaintive howl. It was long and deep, taking time to thin into a low rumble. As it did, the light from the topaz spread around him, melting away the disheveled fur as his body took on more human characteristics. Bones shifted and grated against each other as they repositioned themselves to the body of a man. Before she could blink, the form before her was that of the teenage Dominic Solanis kneeling upon the floor. His hair was still wet from where she had dunked him into the water and the bandages that the residents of the house had given him were loose around his wrist and leg. There were also a scattered group of cuts on his face, results of Lupeís claws and fangs. Imbedded under his fingernails was the dried blood of the same Chimera.

She was surprised that he was fully clothed just as he had been when his transformation was reverted during the first appearance of the Amethyst. With that instance, she had assumed that the speed of the change had allowed him to retain his attire. But this change had been willed and invoked. It disproved her belief that Dominic was a lycanthrope. He didnít need the moon to change or anything like that. His amulet was used as the medium for the shape-shifting. Because of this, he could control whether or not he came out of it undressed. Under her presence, he had chosen the clothing option. She wondered if he used this method in other situations. It looked like it took much more control and power than an ordinary change.

Dominic panted audibly and pushed his sodden hair back with his hands, gazing at the girl sitting in front of him. Except for the exhaustion, he didnít seem fazed at all by what had just happened. Probably, he was used to it by now. Still, it did seem rough on oneís body. Before she could ponder this further, the boy jumped right into the topic.

"Iíll give you your answers, Erik. But only if you agree to answer some of my questions," he offered, readjusting the wrappings on his wrist and leg so that they wouldnít fall off.

"Very well, Solanis."



So she wanted to talk. Well, he did owe her for taking care of his injuries while he was Wolf. This could also prove useful. If he answered her simple questions, then he could find out more about the Chimera and possibly why Erik was such a strange Guardian, lacking a sword. It would help him to have a better understanding of the situation. Provided that she didnít try to drown him again or talk to him as if he were a common dog as she had been doing, he could see to giving her a little insight on his way of thinking. He was an opportunist and this was a marvelous opportunity to learn as much about his enemy as he could.

"Iíll start," he suggested, situating his position so that he was no longer sitting on his legs. "The only reason that I came for you is because that idealistic brat insisted that I come. He refused to leave without you and I was not going to abandon my charge, unlike some." The last was said with a bit of a taunting sneer. The boy continued before Erik could debate that remark. "As for why I allowed myself to get cornered by two very angry Chimera, I had to protect the Key. I promised him that I wouldnít let him get hurt. Unfortunately, I screwed up that promise by setting him against Lionelle. I saw what he did to his leg. Though Iím sure his "sweet Angie" will be able to fix that for him. I donít believe she will hurt him."

"Why did you consent to listening to Tyrell? You could have overpowered him and forced him to leave," the blond pointed out.

That was true. He could have forced Tyrell to come with him. Tyrell didnít have his strength or his stature. The Key would have had to agree to leave had he chosen to follow that course. But he was beginning to learn something over the last month. One couldnít always force people into acting the way one wanted them to act. Such a thing was viewed as vicious and dominating. Sometimes one had to be willing to try other approaches or compromise in order to achieve the goal. Forcing Tyrell to comply would have just augmented his current fear of him. Before that wouldnít have made him flinch, but now he felt upset at the notion that his charge would hold such negative feelings toward him. A Key shouldnít have to be afraid of its Guardian. What would that accomplish? If anything, it would hinder his job since Tyrell would get into even more trouble by trying to stay away from both the Chimera and his Guardian.

"That boy truly wanted to save you. It would have been wrong to force him to escape without you," Dominic struggled to find the proper way to address her query.

"You never seemed to care about that sort of thing before."

"I donít have a choice. The person that I have sworn to watch over detests me. He hates the way I act and he defies me at every turn, pointing out the cruelty of my dealings with Ambrose, my sister, and anyone else. He even prefers my animal self to my actual human persona. The truth is that I scare him. Can you believe that? A Key fears his Guardian. Itís so outrageous!"

"I see no problem with that. If he fears you, then you have full power over him. You can make him obey you," noted Erik, opening the chamber of her gun and counted the remaining bullets. "In this world, power is everything."

"What power?" the other youth raged, jumping to his feet as his violet eyes danced with their dark flames. "I have no power! Tyrell chooses to withhold valuable information from me because he doesnít trust me! He trusts Wolf! He trusts an animal that is merely a method of escape for me. A damned illusion! Dominic is nothing but a brutal asshole to him. When he wants help, he turns to Ambrose or Maren or even that wretched Kathryn. And when I try to get him to listen to reason, he hides behind others who all team up to convince me that Iím wrong and just being a jerk again. What sort of power is that?"

"Why do you even care? Youíre better than him."

"No, Iím not. Everything he tells me is true. And Iím sick of it being true. I donít want my charge to see me like that. I donít want him to fear me. I want him to be able to tell me things. I want him to be able to trust me. Iím his Guardian. His life sometimes rests on my decisions. He should be able to trust me."

Erik got up from the ground and sat on the end of her bed, looking up at the older youth with wide eyes. "So you consented to his wishes to avoid using force?"


"It seems that I have underestimated you, Solanis. I fell for your ploy. With all my talent at reading people, I failed to see that you do care about others. You just like to pretend that you donít because itís easier for you. Quite interesting, I must say."

Dominic looked flustered by her reply and rubbed his arm nervously. "Forget about that. Your turn. Tell me how Fang knew we were coming and why we were able to get in without that much trouble. I know you know more about the Chimera than you pretend to know," he prodded, raising his eyes to stare her down.

"You should be a news anchor, Solanis. Youíre so good at asking the tough questions," taunted Erik as she cracked her knuckles.

"Iím waiting."

"Such an impatient boy. Iíll cut to the chase. I believe the Chimera predicted that some Guardians would come to recover the Key. They know of our loyalty. Therefore, they assigned Fang to deal with us until Lionelle could get the information he desired revolving around the Cruce. I could also tell by the way that it was set up, that the building was not their true base. It was just a place to set up their plan. They wanted a Guardian because everyone knows that we know more about this situation than the Keys. And as an added bonus, they could threaten to harm one of us to make Tyrell tell them what they wanted."

"I heard Lionelle say that Guardians were no use to them when they had a Key," Dominic refuted.

"What makes you think that they didnít just say that to make you two come into their hands, thinking that they were going to kill me. After all, two Guardians and a Key are a better bargain," his companion chuckled as he noticed an amused glimmer in her eye.

Dominic cringed at his own stupidity. Of course, that was the reason why Lionelle had made such a big deal about criticizing Lupe. He was trying to instigate them and it had worked. They had walked right into their trap like clueless sheep. He should have foreseen something like that. Jeez, he was getting sloppy.

"How do you know all this?" he barked, hoping to throw his self-loathing on someone else.

The blond pushed herself up and sauntered over to him, almost pushing her face close enough to touch his. "Like I told the Key, I am just a very good observer. I have a talent for picking up peopleís innermost feelings. I know whatís inside of their soul. I can tell what sort of person they are just by looking at them."


"A gift of my birth," she replied, backing away from him with a twisted grin.

Her guest snorted disdainfully. "Prove it," he challenged in a cold voice.

"I know why you want to leave the Ambroses."


"You like the Hell Guardian," Erik quipped, smiling as Dominicís face broke into a dumbfounded stare. "Iím right, arenít I?"

" can you...what...why do you say that?" stuttered the boy, feeling himself start to blush. He quickly turned away from the blond, feeling his fingers poking into the heel of his palm. What was Erik talking about? How did she know this? He didnít even know if he liked the younger boy. Yes, he felt that he was getting too close to him by almost letting Lucian reach the status of friend, but that didnít mean he liked him. Then, there was that kiss. But that had been a spur of the moment thing. It had made him feel better for the brief time that it had lasted. As for Lucianís initial kiss, that had been the result of his drunken stupor. That couldnít be taken seriously.

More importantly, he was sure that Erik was not using the word Ďlikeí in the conventional sense. He had seen and heard the hormone-charged teenagers fluttering around Carthala. He knew the slang of the times. Like implied more than mere friendship. What was the girl getting at?

"I told you, I can tell. For me, reading emotions is just like picking up an intriguing novel. You can skim through some parts and get the main gist, while others you have to really study in order to grasp their inner meaning. Tyrell and Ambrose are the skimming type, while you pose a greater challenge, Solanis. One has to look hard to find your motif. But once ones stumbles through the difficult pieces, one begins to see a whole different outlook. I could give you evidence to help you understand, but I think itís better to let you figure it out on your own. Youíll learn more that way."

"Stop that! Youíre not making sense!" Dominic shouted, retreating to the door and grabbing at the handle.

"You wanted to know why. I told you. Whatís the problem?" the blond declared, placing her hands in her pockets and taking on a presumptuous expression. "If you donít want the answer, then donít ask the question!"

"It doesnít matter. What you say is nothing more than speculation."

"Really? Howís this for speculation? Kat never fights because though she pretends to enjoy it, she doesnít want to risk the chance of messing up and disillusioning herself. Tyrell prefers the wolf because he has always chosen the world of illusion over the world of reality. That is why he has no problem with loving his cousin. He has convinced himself that they are not related by blood. You never see Angelique around the Guardians because she fears that we could discover something about her. Ambrose fights because he feels that risking his life gives him control. But I suppose he must have already told you that. Tashira allows him to live this way because she knows that without it, he will regress to his childhood persona, which is far darker than the one he shows as the Hell Guardian. And you, Solanis, you run from companionship because you fear friendship. Now, I will admit that I donít know the deeper reasons behind any of these feelings, but I think that I have given you a general idea of my ability."

Dominic wanted to get out of there. He genuinely did. But he didnít try to turn the doorknob any further. Some part of him believed what Erik was saying. Perhaps, she really was able to see the underlying sides of people. All the things that she had mentioned had merit. But she had left one thing out in her analysis.

He allowed his eyes to swerve back to the younger teenager, curious and also on the verge of fear. "You seem to be able to read people well, Erik. But there is one person you havenít read yet? You," his voice gained a more confident tone as he saw the veil of surprise fall over her visage.

"Youíre a wicked one. But youíre wrong. I have analyzed myself. And I find that I can relate to you in many ways. For example, you, like me, want to become strong so that nobody can hurt you," Erik murmured, bringing a hand to ruffle the back strands of her hair as her eyes fluttered for a fraction of a second.

"Not true. I want to be strong so I can protect those around me."

"Protecting others is overrated. People should be able to protect themselves."

A content smile formed on the older youthís face as he searched for the meaning in Erikís thesis. He took the amulet that he still had in his hand and connected it behind his throat. Staring down at it, he contemplated what it stood for. It was the symbol of his fate, his destiny. He was sworn to watch over and protect the Keys from the Chimera. Long ago, he had promised to use the amulet to guard his charges. It gave him the ability to do just that, especially with its talent for becoming an illustrious sword. With it, he could protect anyone that he wished to take care of. This was the same pattern that befell Lucian and Tashira as well as the Keys. They were able to use their amulets to satisfy their desire to defend those they cared about.

He looked back at the lifeless rose hanging from Erikís neck, suspended by the golden chain. It appeared to be the same as all the rest. When Erik invoked it, it could even summon magic such as cracks in the earth or tremors. Yet, it was ultimately different than any of the other amulets. Something was lacking. Only its owner could provide that something. But it was Erikís choice that prevented it from reaching its true potential. She willed herself to be weaker by doing this and she didnít even realize it. The boy smirked at the idea, fighting back the laughter that rose in him at realizing Erikís flaw.

Erik glowered at him, perturbed by the mirth that he was displaying. "Whatís so funny?"

"With everything you know, you still donít get it. I know why you canít summon a sword like the other Guardians. Itís because you donít have anything that you truly want to protect. You lack conviction. When you fight for the Keys, itís for your own selfish desires. There is no meaning in it to you. The swords are our means of protecting what we believe in, what we stand for. But for you, there is no such creed. Until there is, you will never be able to create your own weapon," Dominic explained as Erik gaped at him, unwilling to grasp the truth. Then, her expression changed to one of dark despair.

"It wasnít always that way. I did have someone that I wanted to protect. But I lost the person because I didnít understand reality until it was too late," she whispered, falling to her knees. When she saw the saddened look in Dominicís eyes, she waved a hand to quiet his unrest. "Itís not what youíre thinking. The person didnít die. I simply lost him. Even if he were here now, I would still not be able to reach him. The truth is that I never really could. I just couldnít see that back then. I made myself see what I wanted to see. Maybe thatís the reason that I spend so much time trying to really see people now."

"I donít understand."

"Of course, you do. Thatís just your facade so that you can get more information. Normally, I wouldnít tell you, but today proved something to me. You are devoted to the Keys. Once, I too had that devotion, but I couldnít keep it. I wasnít the same person you see before you at this time. Everything was different then.

"A few years ago, I was just like all other girls. I was pathetic, weak, and adored by all. I even had long hair that drove many guys crazy. They were all jerks anyway so I never paid much attention to them. But there was one guy who I always felt close to. He was three years old than me and had a sweet voice and a killer smile. He was also much more pleasant to be around than the other boys my age or the other girls for that matter. We grew up together and I guess you could say that we were the best of friends. For some reason, the other guys used to shun him and never allowed him to hang with them. So he hung with me. We had a great time. Even when we had to go to different schools because of our age difference, we still found time to go see one another.

"I enjoyed his company. I also appreciated the protection he gave me. Being one of the smallest of the girls, I was often picked on. My friend stood up for me every time and was able to talk the bullies out of fights. He was older than most of them so it always worked out. I used to always tell him when I got older that I would pay him back for all his kindness by protecting him. I promised that I wouldnít be weak forever. He found that endearing and told me that it would be his greatest honor to be rescued by such a devoted friend. Most guys would have been insulted by the notion of being defended by a girl, but not him. He was never like most of the guys. I think that this was their reason for ostracizing him. But as long as we had each other, he didnít seem to care.

I was young and he had been by my side for so long that when I hit fourteen, I caught a mild case of what most call puppy love. I fell for the first boy who had ever made me feel special. For the longest time, I wanted to tell him just to see if he felt the same way. Then, one day the worst thing happened.

"I made a stupid mistake and got myself involved in a quarrel with some older students at my high school. As usual, my friend came to help me, but this time he was in over his head. The students I was fighting with were some very violent teenage boys. They would not be talked out of fighting. So he was forced to fight back to protect me. Overall, it was a disaster. He was never any good at fighting. He was more into the gentler side of things like Tyrell, only more mature. The boys beat him up pretty bad and I got a tad angry. Before I knew what I was doing, I was slugging one repeatedly in the jaw after I had already broken the nose of the ringleader. Undoubtedly, my unknown strength came from my Guardian ability. I did not know that then. All I knew is that by the time, the adults managed to pull us apart, both my friend and one of the bullies were out cold and my shirt was splattered with blood.

"Everything went downhill from there. The school called my parents and told them that I was a hazard to the rest of the students. I will add that they did manage to punish the ones that started it. But since I did the worst of the damage, I got the biggest punishment. Mother was very worried about my safety in the school and father flipped, blaming me for the whole thing. He always liked to blame me. I could deal with that. But after he found out that my friend was also involved in the fight, he switched the blame to him. You see, father believed that my friend was weird because of his habits. He liked to dress what you could call stylish and he never paid attention to any of the other girls except me. Since I was younger, this was a dreadful sin in my fatherís opinion. He told my mother that such a person encouraged problems in a young girl and convinced her that she sold take me somewhere else. Mother, being so terrified about the fight situation, agreed. They were divorced by then, but father still retained his control over the household. Mother allowed him to.

"I sneaked out to see my friend and find out how he was doing since we hadnít talked since the fight. I didnít want to tell him that I was moving. But he told me that he had already heard from his parents who were good friends with my mother. I told him that what had happened was my fault and that one day, I would be strong enough to protect both him and myself. That was when he told me that he would miss me since I was his best friend. Torn by the emotions surging inside of me, I made my second dumbest mistake. I told him that I loved him. And he never said anything back. He never had the chance, my father found out that I had come to see him and the man dragged me back home. A few days later, we moved and I havenít seen my friend since.

"But you want to know what the worst part is? My confession was in vain. That boy could have never loved me as anything more than a friend or maybe even a kid sister. He was gay. I finally understand that. I figured it out later when I remembered him. When I truly thought about it, I wasnít that hard to realize. I think he would have told me had he had the change. He was nothing but honest to me.

"Soon after my move, I began to fulfill my promise to become stronger. I would no longer be a maiden in distress. I would take care of myself. I cut my hair and took on the whole masculine ideal. I learned how to use guns and how to fight. My father taught me about the weapons, but I taught myself how to fight. In a short time, most people learned the error of threatening me. I was strong and Iím getting stronger.

"So you are right, I no longer have anyone I wish to protect. I fight for myself. I do not believe in the ideals of the Keys. The only reason I am a Guardian is because it is my fate. I donít care if I canít ever produce my own sword. The gun suits me much better and I will continue to fight as I have been fighting until the enemy has been eliminated."

The older youthís forehead furrowed as he listened to Erikís tale. "Why are you telling me all this?" he questioned, gazing at the girl in an enlightened manner.

Without responding, Erik approached him and set the barrel of her gun against his chest. Dominic noticed that the safety had been replaced and the gun was not operational. Perplexed at her actions, the boy blinked at the youth pointing the weapon at him. The blond lifted her eyes so that they clashed with his own. "Because you are the only one worthy of the knowledge. You can understand what itís like to have a personal mission. When you think of it, weíre really not that different, Solanis," she joked, yanking the gun away and tossing it on the bed.

"In a way, I guess youíre right."

"Of course. Iím always right."

Dominic shook his head in disagreement. "No. You were wrong about why Iím leaving."

"I think not. The fact that you like that maniac teenager is the easiest thing to read about you. Itís constantly in your mannerisms whenever someone mentions his name. I should know. As you now know, I once cared for someone the same way. You cannot deny that you feel something for Ambrose. It would be denying your very soul," Erik stated, her eyes sincere and devoid of treachery.

"Then, itís easy to deny. Any regard that I had to my soul died a while back. Itís not Ambrose that impels me to go, itís the quest for answers," the other youth replied bluntly.

"Answers to what?"

"Iím not even certain of the questions. I just want some absolution."

This was partially true. It wasnít just because of his relationship with his old partner that he thought he should leave. He did want to find answers to the questions that had been tormenting him ever since he reassumed his human identity. Why were things starting to affect him again? He had spent so long shielding himself against those aspects of life. What did he even want out of life anymore? There hadnít been anything he deeply desired in some time. And how could Lucian be the cause of so many enigmas? Though there were many more thoughts buzzing inside his brain, these were the most prevalent. That gave them greater importance.

The younger youth peered at him with deliberation for a few minutes. Then she grabbed his hand and dragged him toward her closet. Too confused to respond, Dominic waited in her grasp as she shuffled through the void of her closet, moving aside clothes and jackets. "Iíve got just the thing for absolution," she told her guest, revealing a metal box. She popped open the lid to present him with a larger handgun displayed against a white cloth.

"More guns?" griped Dominic, recoiling from the elegant weapon. "Where do you get these things?"

"Daddy is both a cop and a hunter. The cop occupation accounts for his totalitarian attitude and the hunter pastime explains why heís so good at tracking me down when he wants me. Either way, the facts are that the man just likes to shoot things," the girl criticized, laughing at the brutality of her explanation.

"Sounds like somebody familiar."

"Sarcasm is manís greatest disease," Erik snapped, whipping the gun out of the case and shoving it into Dominicís hands. "Anyway, I have found that this has provided me with my best answers. I donít know why. Maybe itís just my affinity with power. Take it. It might help you find your answers as well."

"But I donít use guns. And if you havenít figured it out, Iím a terrible marksman. What good will this do?" the violet-eyed boy contested, handing the item back to its owner.

"I donít want it. Consider it a gift for allowing me the time to talk with you. I know it must have been such a torture session for an introvert like you."

"I canít take it. I donít need gifts for compensation. I only do things that I want to do. So technically you didnít force me to tell you anything. I donít deserve anything in return," Dominic continued to refuse the offer, but Erik held her hands up and shook her head.

"No. Iím not taking it back. But tell you what, when you find the answers that youíre seeking, you can return it. In that case, itís just a loan, not a gift. You canít refuse that," she persisted and Dominic unwillingly took the weapon.

It just felt wrong in his hand. This wasn't his style of fighting. Guns didnít require that much skill. One just had to point and bang, damage done. This was not what Aiden had wanted him to use as a Guardian. It made everything too easy, taking the challenge out of it. By taking the challenge out of it, one was essentially taking the severity out of the equation. Bang! Dead. Simple. Death wasnít supposed to be simple. It had never been simple for him.

But Erik would not take it back. She believed that it would yield him his answers. The look in her eyes told him that she wasnít kidding with him. That was what she honestly felt. For her, the gun seemed to be the answer. She thought herself weak and the gun gave her the control over people that she yearned for. With it, she could make people do anything. Also, she lacked the necessary elements to summon a sword so the gun gave her another option. Could it give him the same comfort if he gave the weapon a chance?

On the other hand, it didnít even matter. Soon, he would be Wolf again for good and he wouldnít have to worry about using a sword or a gun. Fangs and claws were much more reliable. They couldnít get taken away or run out of ammunition. Erik didnít have to know that he wasnít going to use her gift. He could just take it somewhere and hide it. That way the girl would be content and he wouldnít have to think of it anymore. It struck him as a decent plan. He would never have to talk to Erik again after this. She couldnít understand him in his animal form.

He opened the door and tossed a bored glance back at her. "Are we done yet? Can I leave? I have lost interest in talking to you."

"We are done, Solanis. Run off if you wish," Erik sighed, shutting her closet as she watched Dominic head outside. She followed after him, tapping him on the shoulder as he approached her front door. "About your ex-partner, Solanis, I will keep an eye on him for you. He is quite careless sometimes. He needs someone to see that he stays in line."

"Do what you want. Ambrose is no longer my problem," Dominic replied in a cavalier manner, leaving Erik alone in the hall.

"And perhaps, I shall rejoin my fellow Guardians since they now lack a member." She toyed with the thought, turning from the door.



After bidding farewell to the city, Dominic chose the nearest field to reverse forms and become Wolf once more. This meant that he had to hold Erikís gift in his jaws, which was terribly uncomfortable and had a dry, rusty taste to it. It was also somewhat heavy and that shortened his running spans since he had to stop every once in a while to shift the item in his mouth. He bounded through field after field, waiting to come upon his old haunt. There was a friendly pack there. Chances were good that they would remember him and not force him into a fight. He didnít plan on receiving any other injuries for the time being. His previous wounds should be allowed time to heal first.

The welcoming aroma sifted though his nose as he entered a field that lead directly into the hillside. This was his old home. A scent of pine and dew-drenched grasses drew him into the realm of the beast. Humans did not venture here often unless they were sightseeing. Even when they did, they rarely crossed into wolf territory so the area remained unadulterated and whole. It represented a sanctuary from the chaos of the world of man. This was his sanctuary.

He started to race toward the place that called to him. But the sliding of the weapon against his fangs reminded him that he couldnít enter the haven with this taint of man still upon him. It would be necessary to ditch the gun before he returned home. Turning from his course, he selected a spot near a sapling. The dirt there was loose and easy to plow through with his aching paws. He tore at the ground, digging as deep into the earth as the soreness in his limbs allowed. His pace was incredible. He wanted to free himself of the elements of his human companions as fast as he could. Occasionally, he even neglected to check on the state of his paw as he banged it against a hard rock or stubborn patch of dirt.

Having created a hole deep and wide enough for his possession, Wolf opened his jaws and let the metal object sink into the void. He then went about entombing it, layering mound upon mound of soil upon the hole so that it was sufficiently covered up. Part of his mind had blanched at the notion of burying the weapon without providing it with basic protection from the earth. It could get inside and jam the trigger or crust around the chambers. He had managed to calm the anxiety by reminding himself that he had no intention of coming back for the item again. Therefore, it didnít matter what condition it was left in. That had seemed to satisfy his logical side and he had completed his labor.

Now, he had separated almost all sign of human contact from his form. The only thing that remained was the necklace pressed against his fur. But that wasnít going anywhere. The job of Guardian still had use for it. He had told Tyrell that he was not giving up his calling just because of his departure. It should be okay to hang onto the relic for the time being. In his time with the wolves before, it had never posed a major issue. It shouldn't this time. Besides, it was the one thing that he treasured above all else. Aiden had bestowed it upon him. That made it sacred.

Yet, he hesitated before dashing into the wilderness. Was this truly the right choice? Would his fellow Guardian be able to handle his addiction with him gone? Could the other Guardians do their part in defending the Keys until his arrival on the scene? Would Erik truly rejoin them? Would they forget about him once he was gone? Did any of it matter in the scheme of things? So many queries pranced through his mind, causing him to temporarily reconsider his decision.

A distant howl echoed from the other side of the area. It brought back memories of the other night. Lucian was suffering unto insanity and he could not allow himself to aid the youth on his journey. He was tired of hurting the younger boy. It seemed all he did to anyone was hurt them. Tyrell had implied such a thing a few times before. That was why he wanted the wolf, wasnít it? Nobody wanted Dominic for himself. Although Lucian preferred the human, it was the danger he was really after. It wasnít like it should shock him. He didnít even like himself that much.

Leaving was the best and only choice. It would not only free those close to him; it would free him. All these old feelings that had started to spring up once more would fade forever. Memories that now speared through his heart would return to the abyss of his mind. He could return to the sheer principle of logic. Do his job and when not doing his job, hang with the wolves. There was nothing special to that. No games, parties, school, nightmares, or confessions. It would be true freedom. Well, he could never have true freedom. But it would be damn close.

Wolf assured himself of his decision, lifting up his muzzle and responding to the other beast with a gentle howl. He waited for his answer and then followed the source of the sound, fleeing from reality to the one place where he could be safe from the pangs of human existence.




Comments: Short chapter, sorry. Need to stick with topic this time. Other characters would just clutter it. It works better as it is. Well, now the truth about Erikís desires has been revealed. Is there more to her lust for power? Nicky and Erik really do play well off each other. She represents the bad side of the indifference toward his place in life while he represents the slightly better side. It would be exaggerating to say that Nicky represents the good of anything. Heís not the best role model. About this chapter, Erikís omniscience is the main stimuli to most of Nickyís thought patterns. Though he still manages to analyze her as well. Both are very disillusioned and dark characters. Luce is also dark but itís not as obvious with him. The other characters reclaim the story in the next chapter.