01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Bluebell Kildare

July 8, 2022, Red Ages

Varg and I step inside the warehouse, but before I have a chance to take in my surroundings, a sharp blow to my knee has me crashing toward the mat. I hold my hands out, desperately trying to keep my face from smashing into the floor.

As I break my fall, another force slams into my back, pushing my head inexorably toward the mat. I resist. My arms strain with every bit of their strength and tremble with exertion, but I’m no match for the force behind me.

My elbows collapse and I’m knocked flat so hard that my breath is stolen away. I gasp for air as my attacker takes my weapons and yanks my arms behind my back.

Still determined to escape, I kick my legs backwards. To my delight, my aim is true. I hear a soft groan, and then a man’s voice requests, “Can you remove your beast? He’s wrapped his fangs around my neck.”

I grunt into the mat. “It depends. Will you let me up?”

The tense voice says, “Yes, I only intended to teach you a lesson about being caught unawares.”

“Seems you’ve been caught unawares, too,” I retort. “Varg, stand down.”

The heavy weight lifts off me, and I rise to face my attacker. Wang stands tall and sleek with well-defined abs and biceps. In contrast, his round face appears soft and sweet, especially when his dimples make an appearance. Right now, the corners of his soft lips rise in an impish smile.

His partner Yao appears at his side. Yao is the complete opposite of Wang. He reminds me of a Samurai in build; he’s of average height but solid all over. He wears a full beard, a sleeveless shirt, and the same style of flowing black pants that Wang does.

Wang and Yao are two world class warriors who Jack commissioned to train me. In addition to being partners in battle, they are also lovers, inseparable since they first came up against each other as undefeated champions of their regions in the annual Cathay Tournament. I was too young at the time to remember it, but it’s said they battled non-stop for over twenty-four hours before the tournament was finally called a draw.

Since the Dark Vampires wiped out most of humanity in the Bloody Era of the Red Ages, the majority of Earth is sparsely populated. The families who escaped to the New World fared better than the Old World, because the Vampires were slower to arrive here. So we recovered much more quickly after the Great Pact. However, in the Old World, the continents of Christendom in the West, Cathay in the East, and Africa to the south were all devastated. The few peoples remaining from those continents were true survivors, strong and swift in battle, who passed down a warrior culture to future generations.

Wang and Yao, having been raised to the Eastern warrior arts on Cathay, went on to compete in and win tournaments all over the world. When Yao and Wang retired, they moved to the New World. Sometimes they disappear from the public eye for months at a time, leaving the media speculating that the pair is working private assignments.

When Jack said he was going to find a trainer for me after I failed to fend off Tobias Blackwater’s assault, I thought he was going to sign me up for a boxing class at a local gym. Instead, he hired the two greatest warriors of Cathay. He arranged everything, provided this warehouse, put them up nearby, and gave them an unlimited budget for training equipment. So their sole focus is finding ways to torment me.

Wang hands me my knife and gun. Embarrassed that he was able to get them from me so easily, I take them back. He immediately goes into lecture mode.

“You have a wonderful advantage with your gift, but you must wake up!” he says. “Your five senses are dull. Your sixth sense is sleeping most of the time. We’ll be watching for when you’re not alert. Remember, if I were your enemy, you’d be dead right now—beast or no beast.”

I sheathe my knife and lift my chin in determination. “Then you have your work cut out for you, so let’s get started.”

Yao agrees a little too enthusiastically for me. “Yes, we’ll run six miles today.”

“Six miles! You’ve been adding about two blocks each day and suddenly you’re adding a mile?”

He steels his face. “It took you two months to run five miles easily. Now you have a strong base, so you’ll progress faster.”

I bow my head in acceptance and walk toward the locker to stow my weapons for the run.

Yao stops me. “This time, bring your weapons. You won’t always have my protection when you run.”

With a scowl I snap my holster back on, but I can’t fault his logic.

A minute later we’re flying down a mountain trail. Yao likes to go downhill first so I’m already exhausted by the uphill portion of the run. It’s just another cruelty he inflicts. Er, I mean, it’s just another tactic he employs to increase my stamina. But for now, this blessed beginning part is my favorite. We run down the east side of the mountain, thick with the shifting fog of early morning. The pink wash of dawn filtering through the mist is a glorious sight to behold.

“Stop,” Yao commands.

I immediately turn in a tight circle to my right and start uphill a few steps, letting my momentum fade until I come to a complete stop. Teaching me to stop while running at an ungodly pace downhill was one of the first lessons Yao taught me. Use the mountain, he always advises. It took just one good tumble to teach me that lesson.

“Run,” he commands, and I dutifully obey.

He has this thing about strengthening the heart, and supposedly stopping and starting quickly helps. He says the most valuable muscles in running are your heart and your diaphragm.

Yao yells for me to return. I grit my teeth and circle again to run back up the mountain. Three miles uphill is no easy feat, but he claims the most important strength you need is your determination. I suck it up and push my legs to continue despite their burning protests.

“Breathe through your nose! Use your diaphragm,” he yells from behind me.

You would think I’d remember that rule after swallowing goodness knows how many bugs, but my instinct is to gasp for breath. Yao says it’s inefficient breathing, and I can tell he’s right. I snap my mouth closed and breathe the crisp dawn air through my nostrils.

Varg zips past me, ducking under trees and gliding over brush, ignoring the path entirely. He loves the morning runs, the evil beast.

During the last mile my thighs feel as though they’re on fire, but Yao’s constant yammering from behind me keeps me going. “Use your arms and your sides to help pull your body along,” he commands.

When I start to slouch, Yao advises, “Keep your head up, and be aware of your surroundings.”

When I focus too much on the path, he commands, “Stop staring at the ground! Your enemy is not underfoot.” This one is difficult for me because we’re running uphill, and the ground is before me, but I get his point. You can’t see your enemy if your eyes are glued to your feet. Learning to keep my knees soft so I can take the impact of uneven ground was one of the hardest lessons.

We make it to the final stretch of the run. Varg stands on top of the ridge behind the warehouse watching us approach, as though to say, “Hah! I beat you.” Spawn of Satan.

When I reach the top of the mountain, Yao has me walk the perimeter of the warehouse three times to slow my heart rate. I don’t know why he allows me this cooling off period when he makes me stop and go so quickly during the run, but I’m grateful for the short reprieve. He handles all my basic strength and endurance training while Wang concentrates more on fighting and weapons. Naturally, that means I hate Yao more than Wang—but when Wang has me pinned to the floor, it’s hard to decide who I loathe most

Ready to turn myself over to Wang’s gentle abuse, I push through the warehouse doors again to reveal the expansive training room, but first, Yao has a few words for me. “You thought you weren’t able to do six miles,” he says. “What did you learn?”

I spit out through gritted teeth, “That I hate you, and I was wrong.”

He smiles broadly, stretching his beard to gigantic proportions. “Yes, and it’s fine to hate me as long as you learn that perceived limitations of your body can be overcome with a strong mind.”

Wang stands in front of me, eager for his chance to torment. “Today we begin a new challenge: you will complete half of your practice blindfolded.”


Wang grins, throwing those two gorgeous dimples into his baby-faced cheeks. “Yes, since you can sense souls, your ability to fight in the dark will be a great advantage.”

He spends the next forty-five minutes painstakingly correcting my posture and my movements as we run through a series of forms for Taekwondo and Jiu-Jitsu. After doing a set with my eyes open, he hands me a blindfold and makes me repeat it in the dark.

“In the past you’ve used your eyes to balance. Now you’ll learn to feel your center of gravity,” he advises.

At first I’m off balance, but as he corrects my posture by touch, I slowly get the feel for it, and a small feeling of pride wells up inside me.

At the end of the hour, Wang announces that I’m to wrap up my session with shooting practice. That sounds like a nice, relaxing break, but Yao wants me to spend thirty minutes rollerblading on the ramps after that to increase my balance and core body strength, followed by arm work on the obstacle course. I groan my objections, but I know I have no choice.

I take a deep breath. This is going to be a long, excruciating session. At least today’s my day off work and I can relax with a book after training. I let my mind wander, and my thoughts return briefly to yesterday’s meeting with Dragomira and this whole “destroy Lilith” business. As tired as I am, I stiffen my backbone and carry on without complaint. Well, without too many complaints.

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