“I’m not interested in where we’ve been already. We already have people watching those areas in case anything happens or someone shows up. I want you to report on where we haven’t looked,” I’m almost yelling. I’m in the middle of yet another Warrior/Guardian team meeting and I’m one useless suggestion away from burning the building to the ground. It’s been three months now and so far all these people have been able to tell me is that Gwen is nowhere to be seen. It may come as a shock but I ALREADY KNOW THAT!
“Could you please go and find us another world map and as detailed a map as you can find of South America?” asks Anya. She must know that I’ve reached my limit. “Derek? Why don’t you take a walk? Even better, how about you go and get some sleep?”
Sleep is the last thing I need. Every time I close my eyes I just see Gwen’s unconscious body being dragged away by Garret. What’s worse is that, before that night, she’d spent nearly two weeks feeling as though she couldn’t trust us. She spent all that time feeling like she was completely alone and I didn’t figure it out in time. I couldn’t help her.
“I’m fine Anya, I just need some news. Anything at all, they couldn’t have just disappeared!” I slam my fist on the table, causing Oliver to jump and drop his notebook as he walks through the door.
“Christ, Derek, you nearly made me jump out of my skin!”
“Sorry,” I say immediately, feeling guilty for my outburst. “Did you find anything?”
Oliver has been the driving force of our search. He has an amazingly strong affinity for teleportation and has been running all around the world searching for any trace of Gwen. The only other person to cover as much ground as he has is me, and that’s only because I’ve all but stopped sleeping. The flashbacks of the battle and her abduction are bad enough but my nightmares are so much worse. Images of Gwen being tortured in unspeakable ways have destroyed my dreams and stolen my sleep from me. So far I’ve averaged about four hours of sleep every few days over the last two months that she’s been missing.
“I didn’t find anything,” says Oliver, his face a picture of guilt and self-loathing. “I searched all of Canada- ALL OF IT! – but I couldn’t sense her anywhere.”
He throws himself into a chair and pulls the world map towards him. He, rather violently, scribbles over Canada with a red permanent marker.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself Olly,” consoles Anya. “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy, we just need to keep going.”
“That’s easy to say An, but it’s a big world and for all we know they’ve been moving her every damn day!” he fires back at her.
“I know,” says Anya, her face falls and she looks so sad. “I know that, we’ve had this conversation so many times now. Why can’t we find her?”
Gwen became such an integral part of our lives in such a short amount of time and now she’s just not here and it hurts a lot more than any of us could have anticipated.
“I don’t know, we have to figure out a more powerful method of searching for her,” I say and I have a lightbulb moment the second I finish. It must show on my face because both Anya and Oliver are staring at me. “We need to find Jillian. We need to take her with us during our searches. She’s a master when it comes to mentalism. She’ll be able to feel Gwen’s aura and mind far more effectively than any of us!”
I see hope flare in Anya’s eyes as she turns and runs out of the room. How did it take me two months to realise this?! I need coffee and a brain transplant; we’ve got a lot of work to do.
It’s been a few days now since we enlisted Jillian and she’s been an absolute god send. We are moving much faster now. Jillian can reach out much farther than any of us and can even sense whether Gwen’s aura has interacted with any living thing within our search area. We’re searching Ireland today and having no luck at all.
“I’m sorry Derek, but she isn’t here either. I don’t think she’s ever been anywhere near Ireland,” she says. I feel the now familiar stab of disappointment and pain as I realise that we won’t be finding Gwen today.
“It’s not your fault Jill, let’s get back. We can cross Ireland off the list and make plans for tomorrow.”
She nods and steps forward to rest her hand on my shoulder and I step forward into space, picturing our new home. With the canyon refuge compromised we all had to evacuate and move on. Hank had us all travel to South America and now we’re safely hidden away in the new Amazon Refuge. The entrance lies towards the centre of the amazon rainforest, within a giant fig tree. I walk over to it and rest my palm against the cool bark, asking it to let me pass. After a moment the bark opens up and I step inside the trunk of the tree. Once we’re both inside the bark closes again and we get lowered into the refuge.
“Gwen!” She’s right in front of me, I’ve finally found her! She turns to me and fear tightens my chest and stops my breathing. She’s covered in deep, jagged cuts and whip lashes. In some places the flesh has been torn from her body in massive chunks, revealing the bone and tendons beneath. She’s standing in a pool of her own blood that’s rapidly expanding as more of her blood drips from her gaping wounds. Tears run down her bloody face and a sinister laugh echoes off the walls. The laughter is replaced by Gwen’s terror filled screams as a shadow takes her by the ankles and drags her away.
“Gwen!” I scream, sitting bolt upright in bed. My heart is thumping and there is sweat rolling down my body, causing my sheets to cling to me. I look to the clock and see that its 4:00am. I managed to sleep for a whole two hours this time. I’ve grown accustomed to this incredible lack of sleep, thankful for the recuperative qualities of my elemental body that have been preventing the horrible health effects that sleep deprivation would cause any human. It hasn’t prevented my thoughts from becoming more and more disjointed with each nightmare, but at least I’m not going insane and my body isn’t deteriorating. I get out of my bed and wonder listlessly throughout my apartment. It’s spacious and open, large windows allowing for delightful breezes to flow continuously throughout all the rooms. The floors fall away into large, deep canyons, the only places left to walk being shiny, elegant, floating stone pathways that lead to rock platforms on which rests all of my furniture. It’s not as cosy and homely as my old apartment but it has an elegance of its own. My first apartment paid homage to my fire affinity, my second to my affinity for air. I step out of my thoughts and into my shower. It’s obvious that I won’t be sleeping anymore tonight so it’s time to get back to work.
Another week has passed, bearing no results and frustrating us further. We’ve cleared all of Africa, Australia, the U.K, Russia, Asia, Canada, the Middle East, Europe, The Arctic and most of North America. We’ve also enlisted the help of the various facilities around the world to keep an eye out for unusually strong auras and increased Recruiter activity in their countries. Everyone is on high alert with teams of Guardians and Warriors on patrol night and day.
“Okay, so, we’re getting close. We only have the southern most states of the U.S and all of South America left. She has to be somewhere on these last two continents,” says Oliver, draining the rest of his coffee before collapsing into a nearby armchair.
“Don’t forget Antarctica. We need to figure out the most likely places that the Recruiters would take Gwen and hide out,” slurs Anya.
She’s only just gotten back from Russia where she and Jillian have been searching for two days, barely stopping long enough to eat, let alone sleep. I get up to make her some coffee, I know better than to tell her to go and get some sleep. I’m seized by a wave of dizziness as I make my way to the bench; I better make one for myself as well. Just as I finish making the coffee I’m struck by a second wave of dizziness, this time accompanied by a stab of pain between my eyes. I grunt and cover my eyes with my hands, blocking out the light, waiting for it to pass.
“Hey,” I hear Oliver trying to get my attention. “Are you alright over there?”
The door opens and I hear lots of footsteps, the team is here.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I reply as the pain and dizziness subside. It must just be exhaustion, but even that doesn’t make much sense. I slept for six solid hours last night. The type of sleep that is completely uninterrupted by nightmare, dream, sound or memory and you wake up to discover that you haven’t so much as twitched since you laid down. I woke up completely refreshed. I shake it off and, picking up the three steaming mugs of strong coffee, walk back to the table; we have more important things to worry about. I’m almost there when I feel the barriers that I keep up to guard my mind shatter and I hear a voice yelling my name inside my head.
“Derek!” It yells. It calls to me twice but whoever is yelling is weak and can’t maintain the connection. I hear something smash and realise that I’ve dropped the coffee mugs. I don’t care right now, the voice is sounding in my head again and realization hits me like a tonne of bricks. The voice is weaker this time, exhausted and strained by the effort it’s taking for them to maintain the connection, but it’s still her.
“Gwen!” I call out and stop fighting the voice, expanding my mind out as far as I can and pushing my power to its limits. I hear movement all around me and open my eyes just long enough to notice that Hank, Jasper, Jillian and a team of Guardians and Warriors have surrounded me.
’Jillian, good, help me. I need to boost my mind,” I say to her before retreating back into my head.
“Gwen!” I call out to her again but the connection is so weak and I realise that it’s not me that’s weakening it. It’s Gwen, her strength is fading and it’s taking all of my self-control not to panic. “Gwen! Tell me where you are, just show me an image, I just need one image!”
I feel our connection strain and weaken more but I begin to get flashes, they’re images from Gwen. She doesn’t have the strength to hold the image and the connection flickers and goes black. I’m catapulted back into my own head and stare out at the sea of faces looking down at me in alarm. When did I sit on the floor?
“No!” I yell as I lose the connection completely. I look to Jillian, who has gone pale, and feel my heart drop through the floor.
“Please tell me you know where she is,” I say.
She doesn’t respond, she seems to be frozen in shock and her face is rapidly changing from white to green.
“Jillian!” I yell to get her attention. Her eyes shoot to mine. “What is it? Did you see where she is?”
She shakes her and I dread what she’s about to say.
“I-I didn’t see w-where she was b-but…oh god!” she stops and puts her head in her hands, her whole body trembling. Hank moves to her side and it takes a few minutes for her to calm down enough to speak again.
“Jillian, what happened?” asks Hank.
When she lifts her head I see that there are tears streaming down her cheeks and a knot forms in my stomach.
“I didn’t get a sense of her location,” she says, looking grim. “I only got a sense of her and, and it was so awful. I’ve never felt so much pain before. Derek she’s in so much pain.”
She looks at me with wide, hurt eyes and tears stream down her face once more as she remembers the feel of Gwen’s aura. I reach out to Jillian, touching her mind just enough to see what she felt from Gwen, and I feel myself turn grey. I knew what Gwen must have been going through, my nightmares can attest to that, but there is a big difference between having a nightmare and having a nightmare become reality. I can’t dwell on this, I don’t have time. Gwen doesn’t have the time. I have to pull myself together!
“Jillian, Gwen was trying to show me something but she was too weak to hold the connection any longer. I was only able to see flashes. I need you to find the memory and hold onto the flash so that I can get a look at the image and find her.”
Jillian’s expression turns to sympathy, sadness and dread in equal measure as she responds;
“I’m not so sure that it will help,” she says and I feel like she’s punched me in the stomach.
“Why?” demands Anya. “Why won’t it help?”
“We need to find her Jillian!” yells Oliver.
Hank raises his hands to silence them and turns back to Jillian.
“Tell us everything,” he says, not unkindly, just sharp enough to turn her attention to him.
“Towards the end, the connection, it just stopped. That shouldn’t happen. Even in her weakened state, even if she lost consciousness, the connection should have just slowly faded out. But it didn’t fade, it just disappeared.”
“What are you trying to say?” asks Anya in a small voice.
“I’m trying to say that-” she stops and takes a deep breath. “I’m trying to say that I think she might have used the last of her strength to tell us where to find her b-body.”
There are gasps all around the room and tears start rolling down Anya’s cheeks. Hank and Jasper hang their heads and Oliver sinks to the floor, hugging his knees to his chest.
“Find the image Jillian,” I demand. My voice is steady and I don’t know how because I feel like I’m broken.
“What?” she looks at me in surprise.
“She’s not dead. She wouldn’t spend the last three months enduring whatever hell they’ve been putting her through just to make contact with us and die before we can get to her. She’s stronger and a hell of a lot more stubborn than that. So get in my head and find that image, Jillian, because we need to find Gwen.”
She looks at me with sad eyes but, lucky for her, she doesn’t argue. I feel her enter my mind and watch her search until finally she’s able to produce a shaky, almost pixelated image. She holds it steady and the more I focus on it, the clearer it becomes. It’s an image of a rundown and obviously abandoned warehouse. There are rusted sheets of corrugated iron stacked up outside, most of the windows are smashed and the roof and wall on the right side has collapsed. An image this clear and unique is all I need to teleport. Jillian lets the image go and leaves my mind. I jump into action.
“Anya and Oliver go and get your weapons and gear. I can teleport us to Gwen,” I turn to the group of Warriors, Guardians and Jasper. They won’t be able to come. “I won’t be able to take all of you with me.”
“What?” says Jasper, looking confused and a little annoyed. “You’ll need us with you.”
“I can’t teleport all of us there and you know that. I’ll only be able to take a few people and I need to be careful about who I take. They need to be people that Gwen is going to recognise. I’ll be taking Oliver, Anya and Hank and that’s final.”
They all calm as they see the sense in my decision and I turn to my three companions; it’s time for us to leave. I’m almost out the door when I hear Jillian call out to me.
“She’s in South America, almost as far south as you can go. I sensed it when I studied the image.”
I nod to her and leave. We don’t have time to waste.