June 14th, 2014
I guess since Forneus got this for me, I may as well make use of it—though honestly, I don’t see how it’ll help. I’ve never kept a journal before, so I doubt I’ll make much use of this one, now. Whatever, I guess I’ll give it a shot. Forneus is just trying to help, and considering how rough things have been for him the past few days, the least I can do is make the effort. If not for me, then for him.
It’s been nearly two weeks since we lost him…Phenex, I mean. Night time’s the worst. At least during the day I’m so busy getting my ass kicked by Chester and Lyka that I don’t think about him much…but as soon as training’s over, as soon as Forneus leaves the room…
I know I shouldn’t be thinking about him right now—Forneus will be here any minute to see if I’m ready—but I can’t help it. Every time I close my eyes, I see his face; I see him crying…I see the flames…and then nothing. Nothing but ashes and a single, golden feather. I still have it. I’ll never get rid of it, not for as long as I live.
Training’s been a good distraction…which is about all it’s been, because I’m pretty sure I haven’t made any progress for the last five sessions. But I guess it’s not just about keeping me busy, or even getting the powers the artifacts gave me to reveal themselves—I think the sessions are as much for the Fifth Unit as they are for me. And of course for Forneus, too.
He and Asclepius seem to be taking Phenex’s death the hardest out of everyone…I can’t say I’m surprised. He was like a brother to them. I never would have known it with Asclepius, not at first with the way the two of them argued—but Forneus? Well, let’s just say he’s seen better days.
It’s not just because of Phenex, though. I shouldn’t say “just”…it makes it sound like…well, it doesn’t matter what it sounds like. The point is, he wasn’t the only one the Reg. Force lost that day. I overheard Forneus talking with Lyka. Apparently thirty-seven operatives died during the battle. I only knew two of them, and not very well…but I remember seeing their bodies after the battle. I don’t know what’s worse—seeing Phenex every time I close my eyes, or seeing their blank faces staring up at me.
It gets worse, though. We still haven’t found Iris and Reeves. Even Apollo doesn’t know how they escaped the blast. At least, I’ve never gotten a straight answer out of him whether he knows or not. But after all this time, what else is new? It was bad enough having Forneus walking on eggshells around me before Phenex….well, before. Now it’s like everyone else is doing the exact same thing. I think they’re afraid I’m going to break, or snap…or something. I don’t know. All I know is I’m getting sick of it; sick of the pitying looks, sick of the half-truths and fake smiles…
I just want things to go back to the way they were…but I guess they can never go back.
If any good came from…well, from that day, it’s this: Forneus actually tells me things, now. Not a lot, really—I still get the feeling he’s holding something back—but he fills me in on what the Regulations Force has been doing. I think he’s only doing it to keep my mind off of other things, but I’m not complaining. Anyway, it looks like it’ll be a while before they finish erasing people’s memories. A lot of the people they were trying to evacuate—not just in London, but pretty much everywhere, thanks to Iris posting her troops all over the world—managed to slip away. Forneus said it was a complete mess; pretty much every television station and every radio broadcast was talking about what happened and to make matters worse, they had footage. I won’t even go into the videos posted all over the internet.
It got so bad that even the High Council had to intervene…and they still haven’t managed to undo all of the damage. Apparently Zeus has called a meeting, and everyone has to attend—except for me. I tried asking Forneus why I was being left out, but he wouldn’t really answer me...just made some excuse about how they don’t want to traumatize me further, given my already “fragile state of mind”. I don’t buy it; if Zeus really ever cared about how all of this affected me, he wouldn’t have—
A knock came at the door, interrupting Gwen mid-sentence. Setting her pen down and closing the spiral-bound notebook, she called out, “Come in.”
The marble-patterned door opened and in walked Forneus, wavy black hair reflecting the coloured lights shifting across Gwen’s bedroom walls.
Well, it wasn’t really Gwen’s bedroom—more like the quarters that she just happened to be staying in for the time being. Still, after little more than a month, she had grown comfortable enough in it that she didn’t miss her old bedroom as much as she once had, and with most of her days being spent on dangerous missions or within the Training Facility, she didn’t have much time to focus on how much she missed her parents, either.
“Are you ready?” Forneus asked, his silver eyes flitting from the book in Gwen’s hand to her face.
Gwen nodded. “Yeah, I’ll be just a minute. There’s one more thing I need to do, first.”
Forneus gave her a tentative smile and inclined his head. “I’ll wait for you out in the corridor, then.” With that he left the room, quietly closing the door behind him.
She stared after him for a moment, then heaving a sigh, got up from the armchair she’d just been sitting in, dropping her journal onto the seat cushion as she did. In four quick strides, she crossed the room from the sitting area Forneus had magicked for her shortly after she’d come to live in the Spectrum, to the nightstand sitting next to her bed. There, sitting just on the corner, was a slim golden feather accented with blue and red along its edges; the same feather she’d found just after…
Gwen gave herself a mental shake, forcing the thoughts from her head before they could take shape. Gingerly picking the feather up by the leatherette cord she’d tied around the quill, she deftly ran the tip of her finger along one edge, where the red faded to orange and then to gold. It was still just as warm as the day she’d found it—imbibed with a fraction of the warmth that Phenex himself always seemed to radiate.
Slowly she closed her hand around it, feeling the heat thrumming in her palm like a heartbeat. She didn’t realize that she’d started crying again until she opened her eyes, her vision blurring before the tears spilled over, sliding down the plains of her jaw.
Sniffling, she lowered the makeshift necklace over her head and tucked it under her sweatshirt, the feather lying flat against her collarbone. Gwen couldn’t tell if she was just imagining it, but she could have sworn the feather grew warmer still, a sense of calm settling over her as the heat spread from her shoulders down her arms.
Even with you gone, it’s like some part of you is still here…comforting me…
Swiping at her eyes to keep more tears from falling, Gwen made her way toward the door, meeting Forneus out in the pyrite corridor. The solid rock walls glittered with the large fragments of pyrite for which it had been named, soft pastel colours dancing across the ceiling from the ethereal lights reflecting through the crystal walkway beneath their feet.
Squaring her shoulders, Gwen gave Forneus the most reassuring smile she could muster. “Okay, I’m ready.”
The Training Facility had taken on the appearance of a stone labyrinth this time, covered in thick lichen and moss. A damp, earthy smell hung in the air, the humidity instantly making sweat break out on the back of Gwen’s neck.
Each time she’d been to the Training Facility, it had taken on a different appearance from the last; from a planet and star-strewn sky that seemed twice as big, thanks to the onyx floor reflecting it, to a deeply forested area filled with all manner of exotic plants and animals. It had even taken on appearances unlike anything Gwen had ever seen, ranging from beautiful and bizarre to downright terrifying.
As amazing as she found the Spectrum in general—the realm created by the gods over a thousand years ago, intended as a safe haven, military base, and gateway between worlds, all rolled into one—the Training Facility was by far her favourite place in the entire realm.
While the central core of the Spectrum was filled with shifting colours that reminded her of the aurora borealis, reflecting off of crystal walkways and spiralling staircases, the Training Facility was ever-changing, showing the level of ingenuity that had gone into its creation.
However, ever since Phenex had sacrificed himself in their last battle against Iris and Reeves—having been captured and tortured by the half-siren and Shade for information, then used as bait to lure the Regulations Force out—many of the things that had once filled Gwen with wonder no longer did. Colours lost their vibrancy, food its flavour. Everything seemed bland, or at least poorer in some way that she couldn’t quite place. Not even Forneus’ various magical talents could pull her out of the fog she’d been mired in, since; something he had commented on, in fact, though not with any resentment that Gwen could detect—just ineffable sadness, as though resigned to the fact.
Considering how deeply he had felt the loss too, it wouldn’t have surprised Gwen if some of her lack of enthusiasm was owed to Forneus’ own. He didn’t appear to be putting as much fervor into his magical displays as he had when they’d first met, and after all that had happened, she didn’t blame him.
“Gwen, pay attention to your surroundings,” Lyka’s voice snapped Gwen back to the present, catching her off-guard, “and stop looking at Forneus like a lost wolf-pup. Get a move on—we are on a time limit, you know.”
Annoyed with herself more than with Lyka, Gwen gave her head a shake and tried to focus. For today’s training session, the Regulations Force’s Fifth Unit—the unit Asclepius was commander of, with Lyka serving as his second—had split into two teams. The one that Gwen, Lyka, Forneus, and Lonali were on was the hunting party, while the rest of the unit—minus Astral, the young daemon acting as the artifact—served as the enemy forces.
The point of the exercise was to help Gwen hone her energy perception skills—a talent she came by naturally with the artifacts, but needed to sharpen when it came to other forms of energy, just the same—while also learning to sharpen her other skills on the fly.
There was little to be done with regard to her linguistic talent—a talent that allowed her to read and understand other languages without actually trying—but when it came to her persuasive power and the ethereal armour, her training was absolutely essential.
Feeling the subtle tingling of energy beneath her skin, Gwen closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. The sensation grew stronger, indicating that Astral (or rather, the “artifact”) was close by. Opening her eyes, Gwen silently gestured for Lyka, Lonali, and Forneus to branch out. The three stepped deftly, moving toward the five paths that branched off from the one they were currently on; Lonali taking the one in the middle, while Forneus and Lyka stood at the forks of the other two on either side of her.
Gwen squinted, staring as far down the separate paths as she could see, trying to determine which one she would have to take to find Astral. It took her several moments, walking lightly between her three makeshift guardians, before she finally stopped; her skin prickling when she stepped in front of the first path on Lonali’s right.
Meeting the Yakshini’s aquamarine gaze, Gwen mouthed, ‘There’, and without a word, made her way down the path, her hand running along the rough stone wall on her right while Lonali, Lyka, and Forneus followed closely behind her.
It took only a few twists and turns before Astral came into view, tangled up in a mass of vines that reminded Gwen of the Umbrian Snare she’d barely escaped during her second mission. So fixated was she on releasing Astral—the young daemon suspended in the clearing just outside of the labyrinth—that she didn’t see the tree root sneaking across the ground toward her.
The next thing Gwen knew, she was hanging upside down by her ankle, a frightened yelp escaping her as the sudden, falling sensation came to an abrupt halt.
“Your heart’s not in it, is it human girl?”
Gwen glared at the owner of the voice, Chester staring back at her reprovingly. The Irish forest spirit was nice enough when he wanted to be, but ever since her training had resumed five days ago, he’d been insufferable. Prior to the battle against Iris and Reeves’ forces, the two of them had barely exchanged a word—now Gwen was lucky if he’d leave her alone for half a session.
“This is the third time today,” Chester went on, ignoring Gwen’s scowl, “what would Phenex say if he—” He faltered, clearly realizing just what he had been about to say.
It was already too late. Gwen, without consciously having decided to do it, lashed out at Chester.
The sharp clap of her palm striking his cheek seemed to echo on forever, the rest of the unit falling into stunned silence.
Gwen found herself hurtling toward the ground without warning. Whether Chester had intentionally released her out of anger or if it had been out of shock, she didn’t know. All she knew was the sharp stab of pain that went through her right shoulder as it met the ground.
Wincing, she rose into a kneeling position, her eyes never leaving Chester as she scrambled to her feet. She had just opened her mouth to tell him off, when Asclepius cut in.
“Perhaps we should call it a day,” he suggested, glaring heatedly at Chester. To Gwen’s relief, none of his ire seemed to be directed at her. Her suspicions were confirmed when the demigod ushered Chester away, hissing in an undertone, “You and I will be having a good, long chat later.” The intensity in his deep blue eyes was enough to make Gwen shiver.
“Well, that could have gone better.” She turned at the sound of Forneus’ voice, meeting his somber gaze. “Come on, I’ll take you back to your quarters.”
Forneus settled into one of the armchairs across from Gwen, the two of them having just entered her room short moments ago. The coloured veins in the room’s walls reflected pinpricks of blue and violet across the tiled floor, providing what, under different circumstances, would have been a soothing atmosphere.
“He didn’t mean it, you know.” With a wave of his hand, Forneus conjured a teapot on the coffee table between them, steam rising from the magically filled china cup beside it.
At one time, the display of magic would have awed her, even frightened her—but after living in the Spectrum for thirty-eight days, and after all that had happened since, she didn’t so much as bat an eye. Forneus wasn’t sure how to feel about this. On one hand, he’d never wanted her to be afraid of him; but on the other, though he didn’t expect her to gush over every little trick he performed, it pained him. To him, it was a mark that a great deal of her childhood innocence had been lost to the trials she had faced and in turn, suffered through.
“I don’t care. He should have kept his mouth shut,” Gwen said, voice trembling. “You saw how furious Asclepius was. Phenex was practically his brother, same as he was to you—and he’s not the only one who misses him, either! Lyka…Apollo…me.”
Her eyes swam with unshed tears, making her already brilliant jade-green eyes seem that much brighter. Forneus remained silent, waiting for her to say more, but she didn’t. Instead she tilted her head forward, her fringe hiding her face from view as her shoulders began shaking with suppressed sobs. Silvery tears splashed onto Gwen’s lap, disappearing in the dark fabric of her jeans.
In one, silent motion, Forneus swept from his chair to crouch in front of her, pulling her right hand into both of his. He could feel the cool metal of the gold ring on her thumb; the same ring Phenex had given her during her first night in the Spectrum, allowing her to come and go without causing any unnecessary complications with the Spectrum’s security centre.
“I know, sweetheart. I know it hurts,” He said, forcing the words past the lump in his throat, “and I won’t tell you that you shouldn’t be sad, that you shouldn’t grieve. These are things we need to do, or we’d never heal. But what I will tell you is this…”
Gwen lifted her head, meeting his gaze with a questioning stare, tears continuing to trail down her cheeks, unchecked.
Forneus went on, wiping the tears from her face as he did. “No matter how much we’re hurting, we need to be strong. We need to make sure that Phenex’s sacrifice meant something, and to do that, we have to keep on doing what’s expected of us—no matter how much we may not feel like doing it. The survival of our worlds depends on our ability to see things through to the end. Now, what do you say?” He stood, offering Gwen his hand, “Should we go back to the Training Facility, and try again?”
Tentatively, she took his hand, and asked, “Does this mean I’m going to have to apologize for hitting Chester?”
Forneus felt his lips twitch into a smile. Clearly the thought of having to apologize was enough to distract her from her grief. He could see the familiar flicker of stubbornness in her eyes, a welcome sight after the sadness of the past two weeks.
“Perhaps,” he chuckled, leading her toward the door, “though with the storm Asclepius undoubtedly unleashed on him when we left, I’d be surprised if there’s enough left of Chester to receive it.”