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Three Guards part one

Fire rained down from the sky, blood and oil turning the sand to thick mud. Otherworldly tracks marked the slop and dark nightmares filled the sky, ghostly wings beating silent. Three figures stood atop a small ridge that oversaw the hellish scene, each of them stranger than the last. A heavy-set young man sat in the sand behind the other two, a strange contraption crafted out of plumbing pipe held up to his cheek like a rifle. Where his right leg should have been lay a wrecked prosthetic, cracked and useless. Just slightly ahead and to his right a young woman no older than 17 loosed heavy arrows from an enormous longbow that looked to be crafted from living light.

Bat-like terrors suddenly broke the blackened sky diving towards the archer, too many for her to handle alone. The third figure, a white haired elderly man suddenly stepped forward, an ebony revolver gripped in his hand. Six shots, six creatures turned to ash. The girl bobbed a quick thanks to the marksman before focusing back on the sky. The one-legged boy pulled a lever on his contraption, loosing an orb the size of a billiard ball soaring into the sky with a heavy wump. A moment later the sky blazed white as the orb broke in a wild starburst of light. The endless onslaught of horrors reeled at the artificial dawn, buying the three warriors a few more moments. They slumped in exhaustion, the last dregs of adrenaline used up long ago. The young man dug around in a ragged pack and tossed his comrades what was left of their field rations, amounting to some jerky and half a canteen of water.

“We’ve been in tougher scrapes than this, right Jack?” The archer commented tiredly to the white haired man

“Actually, this one may take the cake River,” He answered with what was meant to be a grin

“Day?” The boy asked through a mouthful of jerky

“Sunday,” she answered offhandedly

“Two whole days in this sand box,” he grumbled quietly “If we make it, I’m moving to Ohio and I never want to see another grain of sand as long as I live!”

His companions smiled lightly at his good natured complaints, but they soon became grim again as the light began to fade from the sky.

“How many of those Lamp Lighters do you have left Charlie?” River asked the young man

“That was the last one. I’ve got four solids and a magazine of Cupids left”

“Would those things work on demons?” Jack questioned, desperately trying to form a plan in his mind

“I’ve never done it, but I don’t see why not” Charlie said hefting his strange rifle

Jack mulled the options over in his head before speaking again “Can you walk?”

Charlie tried to heave himself up but he barely got to a crouch before what was left of his prosthetic gave way.

“Ah, that’s a negative,” He said with a grimace

River slung her bow over her shoulder and grabbed the wounded sniper by the waist, hauling him roughly to his feet. “Okay, now what?”

Jack examined a worn silver ring upon his left hand “The plan is pretty simple, give all we got left and then retreat to home.”

The two youths looked at him in shock “You mean give up? We’ve never given in to a Shadow raid, it’s against our code!”

Jack just shook his head “No, the code is to do everything in our power to hinder our enemy, and we have spent every ounce of energy to slow them down. We learn from this and live to fight another day. Now get ready to move on my mark.”

Charlie raised his rifle grudgingly to the sky, the barrel humming as he prepared to fire. River gazed sadly out at the fire stained sands, wishing she could have done more. With a bark Jack gave the order and Charlie loosed every shot he had left, purple darts of energy merging into the shadows and causing frenzies everywhere they hit. The writhing masses of wraiths began to shift as they turned on each other, overcome by the power of the Cupids. Jack slipped the ring from his finger and tossed it into the sky. The silver circlet expanded to the size of a kiddy pool and fell over the three warriors, causing them to vanish from the war torn land in a flash of amber light.

Two thousand miles away Jack stumbled into what appeared to be a cluttered library, rounded wall shelving packed with worn books and every odd and end imaginable. River labored into the room behind him, Charlie clinging to her shoulder like a drowning man clutching a life preserver. Jack swiped an arm across a long table top, clearing off random books and the remnants of a half eaten sandwich. River dumped her wounded companion onto the makeshift medical bed with a grunt before collapsing to the ground. The old man deftly cut away the fabric from Charlie’s prosthetic to examine the damage. The socket was ragged and torn, the pylon of the leg jabbing deep into the young man’s skin.

“How you managed to stay conscious with this thing stuck in you, I’ll never understand.” Jack muttered as he rushed to grab the med kit from the other side of the room

“It numbed up after a few minutes.” Charlie replied weakly, the fading rush of battle leaving him deeply exhausted

An hour or so later Charlie and River where fast asleep, the boy’s wound now freshly cleaned and bandaged. Jack sat near them at one of the many worktables scattered around the room. Charlie’s weapon rested near his hand, half assembled after a quick cleaning and a box of fresh ammo waiting next to it. The elderly warrior sighed with exhaustion as he flexed his hands, aged bones creaking tiredly. With a grunt and a groan he heaved himself up from his seat and dragged his aching frame over to a modern looking bookshelf of cheap aluminum. Containers of every shape and material lined the shelves, from shoe boxes to pickle jars and coffee cans. Jack picked up a small piggy bank from the middle shelf; the porcelain bleached grungy white from age. He pulled the cork from its belly with a quick pop and shook loose the contents into his hand. Three identical silver rings dropped out, the last of his emergency escape plans. Each ring was a one use portal that took the user to the place they felt safest. Quietly he slipped one on but hesitated to return the other two to the piggy bank. On impulse he slipped the rings into his coat pocket and returned the long lived pig to its home.

Charlie twitched uneasily in his sleep, pointer finger pulling wildly at an invisible trigger. Jack smiled sadly, knowing that the poor boy was reliving the siege they had just barely managed to escape. Nightmares like this were the one thing that truly stuck with you in this field of work; a hazard of the Job Jack supposed. River lay not far from him in a sleeping bag that was just like everything else in this place; old, dusty and in severe need of repair. The fact that she was resting was a testament to the harsh battles they had just endured, as she rarely slept more than a few hours a week. Jack had been glad when he had discovered Charlie due to the fact that River, despite Jack loving her like a daughter, disconcerted him to a deep level at times. She was strange to him, just as angels should be he supposed. But even after half a century of working with them he could never quite get past the oddity of these fearless guardians. Sadly, he suspected her existence was a lonely one.

Charlie suddenly gave one of those discontented groans that every teenager has mastered, and grabbed at the wooden crutches laying by his side. He hauls himself up with a grimace, teeth clenched in pain as he jostles the fresh wound. Jack watches silently as the boy makes an unsteady path to his personal work bench, what had once been a lab table from some city side high school. Random bits of electronics and metal where scattered around his current project, an upgraded prosthetic he had been working on for months now. The lad was certainly gifted in the ways of technology, a skill that both Jack and River where completely ignorant of.

“Shouldn’t you be resting?” Jack questioned quietly

Charlie just nodded his head in the direction of the old sleeping bag “She did something to me before she went to sleep. Besides the thousand glass shards in my leg, I feel great. And besides, I’ve got school tomorrow and I aint gonna crutch it all day.”

Jack just shook his head in wonder as the young man busily added the finishing touches to his project. The boy was certainly hard pressed with balancing both school and the Job, but he had little choice. He could only work with them as long as he continued a normal life, and if he became too tangled within his work he would be ‘released’. The boy had done well so far, and with only two months of school to go, he looked set to succeed. His connection to the modern world had helped them to no end, as Jack had withdrawn from the world in the mid-70’s and River had no understanding of politics or hidden agendas. Charlie however was proving rather skilled at seeing the darker side of things.

“Just don’t blow anything up, alright?” Jack said drowsily from the old recliner he was now slumped in

“No boom, got it,” He answered, but Jack was already asleep



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