a short story series by lawton von emelen
Leo winced as he scratched at his unshaven jaw. He peered outside at the street, where the locals mingled and conversed. It was as bustling as it was going to be for a town of two-hundred in population, such as Belle Aire, with little children frolicking on porches of houses while the adults moved about, trading and purchasing as they did. Whenever anyone even looked in the general direction of the window from which Leo peered inconspicuously, he would quickly draw back and close the shutters tight. He could not risk them seeing his golden eyes.
After what seemed to be, by his count, the seventeenth time someone could have noticed his spying, Leo drew the shutters closed for the last time and stretched his legs. He was a giant of a man, at least six and a half feet, with arms like tree trunks and skin like bark. “I long for the time when I may finally shave my beard,” he muttered to himself in a upper-class British accent.
“As do I, for both our sakes,” a voice from the annexed room said.
Leo tossed a glare around the corner at Adam, who was attempting to flick playing cards at the wall with varying levels of accuracy. “You could refrain from the comments,” Leo spat.
Adam didn’t respond verbally, though he smirked slightly. He couldn’t help it; The Gambler was rubbing off on him. His smirk quickly dissipated as a card was thrown askew, fluttering mundanely to the floor. “How does he do it…?”, he mused.
Another three cards sailed past the edge of the table before falling to the floor. Adam then set the remaining cards onto the table as he rose from his chair, shaking his legs and stretching his arms. He arched his back like a cat (and yawned like one too) before finding Leo at the window once more.
“Would you stop staring out there?” Adam asked urgently. “It’s a wonder even the young ones haven’t noticed your lurking.”
“I’m looking for trouble, mind you,” Leo retorted. “I’ll serve my head on a silver platter for both you and him before I let us get ambushed by unassuming town folk.”
“Whatever satisfies you, though quit acting so conspicuous.”
“I see my refined vocabulary’s rubbed off on you,” sneered Leo.
“Yes, though you still haven’t made true on your promise to teach me how to read.”
“In due time, in due time. . . How long has he been gone? I’ve not a watch on me.”
“Two hours,” Adam presumed. “An hour longer than he said he’d be.”
“Either he’s in trouble, or there’s a woman he’s found he suddenly fancies.”
“Likely the latter.” Adam looked to the back door of the house in which they were hiding.
As far as he could see, no commotion to the back . . . He cursed himself for speaking, thinking too soon, as he noticed a figure running toward the door from the distance. From the looks of it, it was likely . . .
“He’s here, Leopold.”
“Leo,” Leo corrected, and directed his attention to the back door. “Finally.”
As quickly and quietly as he could, The Gambler opened, then closed the back door behind him, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand, breathing in exasperation.
“How much did you annoy the woman you met?” Leo asked.
“Not woman, but man, and not one man, but five of them,” The Gambler replied as he raced past Leo and Adam.
Adam looked to Leo, whose face was drained of color. “They found us.”
“They?” Adam asked. “Who?”
“Not now. Later,” Leo replied. “Upstairs!”
And so Adam went upstairs, following The Gambler and followed by Leo. The Gambler ushered Leo and Adam into a bedroom before sticking his head through the doorway at them.
“It’s that group that’s been on our tail for the last hundred years or so, Leopold,” The Gambler stated.
“Leo,” Leo growled the correction.
“Why must you always say your name wrong?” The Gambler asked, grinning afterwards. Leo huffed as The Gambler continued, “They value discretion as much as we do, so they will likely sneak around until they pick us off one by one, rather than cause a scene. If a battle is to rage on in this house, no one outside must know of it. Am I clear?”
“Fair,” Leo replied. Adam looked confused.
“Adam, hide in here. Leo and I will deal with these hooligans.”
“Completely fine with me,” Adam said, relieved. He feared the day when he would have to join Leo and The Gambler in whatever dangers came at them.
The Gambler then moved out of the way as Leo lumbered through the doorway, shuffling quietly down the stairs as the first line of defense against the intruders. Once down the stairs, he looked around the corner, and only just barely had enough time to pull his head back as a bullet whizzed past, burying itself in the wall. No sound was made; no recoil, no smoke. Leo was perplexed.
“The time travelers,” The Gambler whispered to Leo in explanation. Leo dragged his hand down his face in annoyance. “How did they find us?” he whispered.
“I don’t know. I’ll tell you what though, it had absolutely nothing to do with me, a bartender’s daughter, and four mugs of ale.”
“Great. I told you to keep away from others.”
“I couldn’t help myself. She was my type.”
“Your type seems fluid with every new circumstance. Shall we?”
“I think we shall, yes.”
Once they agreed, Leo then thundered through the hallway, making no vocal sound as he charged forward at the nearest intruder, clad in black, bulky clothing. Shots were fired, and golden blood spilt from Leo’s arms and legs, but his assault was not impeded; the figure found himself knocked off his feet and onto his back, before coming under several blows from Leo’s fists. The Gambler slipped through the breached opening, drawing golden playing cards from the depths of his cloak and flicking them toward the intruders. Two of them croaked as the cards ran through them, before they fell to the floor.
The third opened fire upon The Gambler, though the latter was far too fast; he glided across the length of the room in a golden luster as fast as sound, appearing before the third intruder and delivering a brutal roundhouse kick that buried his torso into the wall. The Gambler cringed as it made a sickening crunch. Surely pedestrians outside heard the commotion.
Leo rose from his onslaught, fists barely bruised as he stood above the dead intruder.
“One . . . three . . . four . . . where’s five?”
There was a slicing sound, followed by a quiet cry of pain, then a final thump as a body dropped onto the floor. “Five,” said The Gambler, as the card which dealt the killing blow swiftly returned between his pointer and middle fingers. He buried it into his cloak, where all his cards were hidden, and put his hands on his sides as he inspected the scene.
Leo quickly went to the front window, and peered through the crack he made in the shutters; miraculously, it was as if no one on the street had noticed. He returned to The Gambler. “I believe we’re in the clear,” he informed The Gambler. “And you promised me you’d let me have more than one this time.”
“Yes, but you looked like you were having so much fun with him, I figured I’d not disturb you and just handle the rest.”
Leo grunted in reply, meaning “Fine.” They heard footsteps on the staircase and The Gambler nearly sent one of his deadly aces down the hallway before realizing it was Adam.
“Announce yourself, dammit,” Leo implored Adam as The Gambler slipped the card back into his cloak. “We couldn’t know for sure if there were more.”
“Are there more?” Adam asked.
“I’m positive there aren’t,” The Gambler answered. “They had chased me for a good three miles. It was enough time for me to get a head count.”
“Three miles?” Adam asked. “No wonder it ended so quickly; they were likely already winded by the time they got here.”
“Though this isn’t like them,” Leo added. “They’re usually more patient than this. They would have usually studied this place for hours.”
“And we would have been gone by then,” The Gambler replied. “I led them here to get backup from you, and also to send a message to whoever keeps sending them.”
“I need you both to give me a moment here,” Adam asked. “Who are these men? What clothing are they wearing? This seems nothing like what I’ve ever seen, let alone imagined.”
“These are time-travelers, Adam,” The Gambler replied.
“Time-travelers!” Adam exclaimed. “Such a thing exists?”
“The world is, as of this year in time, not advanced enough to develop the technology. Sometime in the future, humanity obviously learns the capabilities to do so, and sends warriors such as these men back through time on various missions.”
“Why are they concerned with you two, or even me? What is it about your . . . powers . . . your gifts, or whatever these energies you possess may be? What do they want with them?”
“These energies are only the slightest glimpse into the full breadth and width of the powers of the Godsbloods,” Leo answered.
“God’s . . . bloods? What are those?”
“Well . . . he. And I,” The Gambler replied.
“So you are referred to as . . . ?”
“Godsbloods, yes. Divine warriors, essentially, though each with our own little flair.”
“I must know more.”
“You will, in time, though know always that patience is a virtue,” said Leo.
“What do they want with you?” Adam asked.
“I have no earthly or heavenly idea,” The Gambler replied. “I’d wager a guess that the Godsbloods become much more influential in the future, and in a bad way, so these warriors, or soldiers, or whatever they are, were sent back here in an attempt to destroy its roots.”
Adam clutched his head. “I don’t understand.”
“Nor do we. Welcome to our club! We could have jackets made; what’s your size?”
The Gambler laughed and then continued: “Adam, my friend, there will come a time where you must pick a side – and I do hope our time with you has influenced your eventual decision – in this time-and-space-transcending war that is being waged out of mortal sight. Ethereal forces beyond control of men and women are at work here. Immense power is to be claimed. And where there is power, there is greed; where greed grows, strife is sowed; where strife is sowed . . . catastrophe is reaped.”
“Pick a side?”
“Not that this conflict is by any means binary, no, no . . . but generally, there are those who would wish the powers of the Godsbloods be used by the righteous and just, and then there are those who would want it to subjugate those they feel are their inferiors. And then there are those who would seize the power for themselves selfishly, to use either nefariously or benevolently.”
“And which side are you on?” asked Adam.
“I would think we are on the side of the righteous and just.”
“Bah! Calling a gambler ‘just’!” Leo chimed in.
“Merely putting up with you on a daily basis makes me reconsider my alignment,” The Gambler joked to Leo, who frowned.
“I have one question,” said Adam.
“What do the Bristols have to do with it? You’ve mentioned their involvement on several occasions during our weeks together thus far.”
“Ah, yes . . . the Bristols. They play a monumentally important role in these shadowy games, so I’m told, though not in this time, but in the future. Perhaps these time-travelers are related to whatever the Bristols are to be involved in. A pity we couldn’t leave one alive.” The Gambler glared at Leo, who shrugged. “What?”
“I give you one job. Whichever one you tackle, you are to leave alive. Every encounter we’ve had with these soldiers so far, you have failed spectacularly in this simple, menial task.”
“And let’s not assume you could possibly leave one of your four, or seven, or thirteen, alive either?” snapped Leo.
“It’s not my job. I’m supposed to look cool.”
Leo grunted, which The Gambler knew meant some obscene curse thrown in his direction. He shrugged it off as he turned back to Adam. “I trust you’re with us? Not that you’ve had a choice in the matter up until now, but now that you are a bit more aware of what is at stake here, I give you these options: go live in Canada as a free slave, or live with us, less comfortably, but more fulfillingly.”
Adam didn’t have to think long on his decision. “I will be with you.”
“Splendid. Now the real work begins.” The Gambler raised his arm to lock hands with Adam, in a brotherly handshake, a jovial smirk on his face, a hopeful glimmer in his eyes. He knew, now, that things would change for the better.