Someone is screaming for Gwen, and it’s getting annoying, but I don’t have time to pay attention to them right now. I need to break through this ridiculous barrier! I can feel my hands tearing as I beat my fists against the wall. Why did Gwen even put this up? Doesn’t she know that this will prevent me from finding her? The traces left behind from Garret’s teleport will only be detectable for a short amount of time and I’ve been wasting that time trying to get out of here.
“Derek! Derek, stop!”
I feel someone take hold of my shoulders. They’re trying to pull me away from the barrier but I can’t let that happen.
“STOP!” I shout as loud as I can and feel a gust of wind rush past me, throwing a small group of people away from me. Good. I can get back to freeing myself now. I pull my fist back again, trying to aim for the same spot that I’ve been hitting for the past ten minutes. Not that I can be sure I’m hitting the same spot…it’s kind of invisible. It turns out that I don’t have to worry. I feel the barrier crumble and fade away before I have time to draw my arm back for the next blow. I don’t waste any time, sprinting forward to the exact spot that Garret was standing when he took Gwen but…
“It’s gone…HOW IS IT GONE?!”
Flames go up around me. It’s been a long time since I lost control like this and it’s enough to pull me out of my panic. Because that’s what I’m doing right now…I am panicking. How do I stop that? How do I stop panicking?
What now? I feel a hand on my shoulder again, but it’s not trying to drag me back this time. It’s just…there. I turn around and see Hank. He looks like shit and I’m betting I do too, but not because we’ve been beaten up. Our wounds have long healed, thanks to Gwen. He looks like hell because, just like me, he’s lost someone he cares about. At least, that’s what his thoughts are telling me. He’s pushed them into my head to try and distract me from rampaging. Interesting technique, but I suppose it worked. I nod to him, letting him know that I’m back in control and in turn he schools his expression and turns to the few hundred Warriors who look just as broken as we do. I wonder if Gwen knew how much everyone cared. That’s past tense. I refuse to use past tense! She’s not dead. We’re getting her back. She’s not dead.
“Get back to your quarters and gather your belongings. We’ll be moving onto the secondary refuge in one hour. We’ll arrange a crew to come back and collect whatever equipment and documents that are vital to the refuge at later dates. For now, take your personal belongings and anything you’ll need to move.”
People start leaving the cafeteria immediately. No one argues with the commander in chief in times like this. He could probably tell them to jump up and down while picking their nose and roasting marshmallows and they’d do it without hesitation.
“Derek?” Hank says to get my attention. I must have zoned out. “What happened here?”
“That’s what we want to know too! Where is Gwen?!”
“And who the hell are you people?!”
Shit. It’s Gwen’s friends. What did Gwen ask me to do? Tell them everything and then, if they can’t handle it, erase their memories and send them home. How am I supposed to do that?
“Wait…” Carmen steps toward me, all squinty like she’s looking at me through a microscope. “I know you.”
“How?” asks her friend Alice. There is a nasty bruise forming on her cheek from where she got hit. I watch as recognition flashes through Carmen’s eyes, and then watch again as it rapidly turns to rage.
“It’s you! You were at the sushi restaurant. You’re the guy who was stalking Gwen! What did you do to her?!”
“This is the guy!” Alice is scrutinising me. Carmen is shooting death beams out of her eyes.
“Maybe we should go somewhere and talk about this,” Anya interrupts before they can incinerate my kidneys with their laser eyes. “We’ll be in your office, is that alright Hank?”
“Yes, that’s not a problem at all. We’ll be in soon.”
Anya and Oliver lead the girls away and Hank pins me with a look that tells me he already knows the answer to the question he’s about to ask. It’s a warning, telling me not to even attempt to pull the wool over his eyes. Not that I’d try and lie to him anyway, what good would it do? It’s not like I have any secrets to keep.
“What are we supposed to do with them?”
“Gwen told me what to do before she was taken. She said to explain everything to them and then erase it from their memories.”
“Why don’t we just erase their memories? It would be easier and take a lot less time.”
“It’s not what Gwen wanted,” I say, sounding completely deflated, even to myself. It’s a weak argument, but it’s a winning one. Hank’s shoulders slump and his expression becomes one of sadness.
“There really is no trace of them?”
“It’s gone. There’s nothing left. The power faded unusually quickly so I guess Garret’s real strength is just one more secret he kept from us.”
Hank’s face turns hard again, angry. I suppose he’s trying to come to terms with his friend’s betrayal. I feel a pain in my chest, like someone’s stabbed me and is slowly using the knife like a corkscrew. Stop thinking about it Derek, at least for now. You have a lot to do before you can crash and burn…right now, just stay numb.
“Let’s go to Gwen’s friends,” says Hank, pulling himself back together. “We should probably be prepared, I doubt this will be an easy conversation.”
“Explaining what we are to them will be easy. It’s no different to what I do when I take on a new charge. The hard part will be explaining what’s happened to Gwen.”
Despite my best efforts to control my emotions I still stumble over Gwen’s name. No time to dwell on that, I turn and head straight to Hank’s office.
Gwen’s friends seem to be a lot calmer now. They’re huddled on a couch together, warming their hands on steaming cups of tea that Anya and Oliver must have given them. They look up as we walk in, and then they turn to Anya, searching for something. Anya must have gained their trust in the time she’s been with them. No time like the present for a life altering and shocking conversation and then a quick memory erasing, right?
“Hi there, do you mind if I sit?” I ask, indicating a chair near them.
They nod and, painfully for me, straighten their shoulders just like Gwen does when she steels herself against something unpleasant. I wonder, did they get that from Gwen, or did Gwen get it from one of them?
“I guess you have a lot of questions.”
“Who are you people?” asks Alice.
I take a deep breath and begin:
“My name is Derek Greene. My friends are Oliver Fynn, Anya Serena and the big guy is Hank Kayden. You don’t have to worry about your safety here. We’re friends of Gwen’s and I promise we won’t let anyone hurt you.”
“Okay, say we believe that, how do you know Gwen?” Carmen asks, hesitating slightly.
“A few months ago Gwen was involved in an armed robbery at her work, the stress of the situation caused certain hidden abilities to surface within her and, as a result, I was sent to bring her here and teach her how to use them.”
They look surprised, which is expected, but so far they seem to believe me.
“What hidden abilities?” Alice comes around first.
“We aren’t human,” I pause, waiting for them to come back down to earth after that announcement. “We’re known as Elementals, though humans know us by a lot of other names. Elves, Fairies and Angels are just a few of the things you’ve called us over time. We prefer to be called Elementals because each of us has the ability to control the elements to varying degrees.”
“That sounds completely ridiculous,” says Alice.
“It does, but…I don’t know. Doesn’t it just sound so…Gwen? We know what she’s always been like. Head permanently in the clouds, there was never an animal that was uncomfortable around her and there was no plant she couldn’t bring back to life…” Carmen trails off, clearly lost in thought. All of a sudden her head snaps back up. “Prove it.”
I expected that. They always ask for proof.
“Okay,” I stand and move to the other side of the room. I lift my hands, making a swirling motion, and send a small, controlled twister moving around the room. Then, a personal favourite of mine, I move a number of fireballs around the room and shape them into various animals. By the time I’m finished there is a rabbit, bear, cheetah, reindeer, koala and a dolphin playing catch with the twister, redirecting it as it comes towards them. Anya and Oliver add to it by setting a flock of ice birds flying throughout the room. Gwen would love it…if she were here. My distraction puts an end to the magical game of catch and I sit back down in my chair.
“Okay…okay…um…” Gwen’s friend Carmen begins but she can’t seem to find the words. She turns to Alice for help.
“We already knew you were telling the truth. Gwen is far too smart to have come here unless it was real. If you were bullshitting her then she just would have kicked your arse and moved on,” Alice laughs and the tension seems to leave Carmen as she giggles along with her friend. I give them a moment, knowing full well that a little of this hysteria can be attributed to shock. It takes a few minutes but they settle again and huddle down in their chairs.
“Where is Gwen?” asks Carmen in a quiet voice. I look at her thoughts to see why. She already knows that the answer is going to be bad. She doesn’t want to hear it but she can’t bring herself to ignore asking the question. I push past my dread and prepare myself to answer the question that I know she’s working up the courage to ask.
“Gwen gave herself over to people we know as Recruiters. They’re, for lack of better terminology, the bad guys.”
“Why did she go with them then?”
“Yeah, Gwen could never be the bad guy,” says Alice.
I hear the doubt in Alice’s voice as she says that. I see it in her mind: she’s picturing Gwen dressed in black leather pants, thigh high boots and a black leather vest, wearing dark make-up and black lipstick, surrounded by minions with flames leaping from her hands and incinerating whole cities. Surprisingly, it’s a good look for Gwen, but still a disturbing one.
“She’s not the bad guy and she never will be,” I put a stop to those thoughts. “She let herself be taken by them so that no one else would get hurt. She’s incredibly powerful and she’s only just beginning to understand the limits of her magic, that’s why they want her. We’re starting to believe that her power might actually be limitless.”
I don’t know if that last bit is true for anyone else but I’m certainly feeling like there’s nothing she can’t do…magically or otherwise.
“What are they going to do with her?”
The question hits me like a tonne of bricks and I feel like I can’t breathe. I feel the colour drain from my face and…am I having a panic attack? I’ve been trying to keep my thoughts kept locked all the way in the back of my subconscious for the last hour and then she had to go and ask that question. What are they going to do with her? What are they going to do with her?! They’re going to tear her apart. She’s going to be stripped down and remade into their ultimate weapon. They’re going to destroy her. They’re going to break her down into tiny little pieces and throw away the bits they don’t want. They’re…
I feel a sharp sting across my cheek and realise that Hank has slapped me. Yes, slapped me. “Get a hold of yourself! Gwen gave you a job to do and you don’t have time to panic right now!”
“Besides that,” adds Oliver. “You’re freaking everyone out. It’s not like you to lose it.”
Forcing myself to come back down to planet Earth, I see that Gwen’s friends are in the middle of a freak out too.
“I guess we don’t need you to answer the question to know that everything that is about to happen to Gwen is going to be h-horrific,” mumbles Alice and I feel like an absolute piece of crap. I was meant to be helping them but instead, because I’m an idiot, I made the whole situation worse. I reach out to Hank with my mind, time to get this over with
“I’ve just made this whole thing worse. We have to get this finished. I’m going to erase their minds and then I want you to organise a group of our best Guardians to erase the minds of Gwen’s family and friends. They all have to believe that Gwen moved away, say for…work. Say she got an awesome opportunity to work with Moose in Canada or something, I don’t care just make sure they believe it.”
Hank doesn’t need to respond for me to know that he’s on board with my plan. Now it’s just time to actually do it. I’d feel incredibly guilty about doing this if it wasn’t what Gwen wanted from me. Connecting my mind to both of theirs, I conjure up the images I need. In my mind; Gwen is wearing her usual black jeans, boots and a tank top. She has a jacket over one arm and a massive suit case in the other. She’s smiling, but she’s also sad. She waves to a small crowd consisting of her parents, her little sister, a few aunts, uncles and cousins and, of course, Carmen, Alice and a small group of other friends. She’s just finished checking in, she’s handing her luggage over and she’s walking through to security to head to her terminal. I let this image take over for the last three months of their memories. I watch their eyes glaze over a bit and that’s that. They won’t remember any of this. A group of Guardians walks through the door and within moments Carmen and Alice have disappeared. To them, Gwen is living a happy life with an amazing job in Canada and she calls or skypes every few days to check in. Hank must have sent a mental message out to the Guardians before I started altering their memories. I hear someone take a breath, probably about to say something, but I can’t talk right now. I’m sitting on the edges of panic and blind rage and I have no idea which way I’m going to go with it. I walk out, not bothering to look back, and head straight to my apartment to pack up my stuff. I guess it’s now my old apartment.