Hank is by my side in seconds. With a nod I tell Anya and Oliver to go on and start packing and I stay in the hallway with Hank, fully aware of the conversation that we’re about to have.
“You don’t need to say it,” I get in first, trying to end the conversation before it begins.
“They’re going to distract you, you know that. Are you sure you want me to stay behind?”
“They can try and distract me all they want. I’m going for Gwen and, as someone who knows me better than nearly anyone, you should know that means that I won’t let anyone get in the way,” I say, looking him in the eyes to prove my resolve.
“I know,” he sighs. “But even you have to admit that your parents are going to take every opportunity they can to get at you.”
Yes, they most certainly are. Things have been tense between my parents and I since I discovered the existence of Elementals. They deliberately kept what they were, and what I am, from me. To quote them: ‘We did not believe you to be worthy of this power and so we had no intention of allowing you to acquire it. I suppose circumstances have made that decision for us.’ Even Hank was disgusted by those words. As for me, I was numb. Claire died and I was nearly burned alive all of which might have been prevented if I knew that my very existence would put people in danger. Not to mention that people have been after me since the moment I was born, which was a terrifying fact to discover at twenty-two years old. I had plans to become a cop; I was even studying criminology. They disapproved of that too, probably because any stressful situation in my career with the police could have triggered my powers, but I didn’t know that at the time. Of course, now that I’ve excelled as an Elemental and become one of the youngest Warriors in history and the fastest to qualify as both a Warrior and a Guardian, they’ve all of a sudden become vocal about their pride in their son. Nothing means more than status for the leaders of the England Institute and a successful and respected only child seems to validate them somehow. They put on quite the show when I was there a few months ago, it’ll be interesting to see what they do this time. Maybe they’ll turn the tables and go for sympathy, courtesy of the son who doesn’t speak to them.
“They can do what they want Hank, my goal isn’t to go and be their puppet. I’m going to find Gwen,” I finally say, realising that I got a little lost in my thoughts.
“You’re going to give them hell, aren’t you?” he smirks and I find myself smiling.
“Only if I have the time,” I reply and Hank claps me on the back and walks off down the hall.
It’s only a few minutes after leaving the training room that I arrive at my apartment to find Anya and Oliver waiting at my door. They’re both dressed in their gear, loaded up with weapons and looking completely bad ass.
“Is there anything specific we need to have with us?” asks Anya.
“Only the things you’ll need to fight and enough clothing to last you at least a week. I don’t plan on being there that long but we may as well be prepared. We don’t know what we’re going to find in their files,” I say as I step into my apartment, leaving the door wide open. They walk in behind me and I make a beeline for my weapons closet. There’s one in every apartment and mine is overflowing at the moment. I’ve been stockpiling since Gwen went missing and now I barely know what I might want to take. I pull down a large duffel bag and start throwing clothing into it, not caring at all for neat packing. For now, the clothes are just cushioning for the multitude of weapons that I throw in afterwards. I’m going strong until my hands brush up against Gwen’s scabbard. The one I gave to her at the beginning of the battle at the canyon, the scabbard that now contains two swords. The twin to the sword I gave Gwen was completed and given to me the day after we arrived in the Amazon. I forged the blades myself, tempering them in my own flames, but the artistry is the real masterpiece. There is incredibly fine silver filigree, vines and flowers delicately creeping across the hilt and top of the blade and elegant carvings of the same beautiful vines along the rest of the blade, extending all the way to the razor sharp point. They are perfectly balanced and as lethal as they are beautiful. There is also a second scabbard, this one made to look like an X and designed to be strapped across your back, just in case Gwen would prefer to carry them in that fashion. Both scabbards are made of black leather and have the same patterning of vines imprinted in the leather, completing the set. I push past the knot in my chest and reach further into the closet, removing the rest of my gear. It only takes a few minutes before I’m dressed and feel the comforting weight of my various blades strapped across my body and concealed within my gear. I walk out of the room, my duffel thrown over my shoulder, and extend my hand.
“Let’s go,” I say and Anya and Oliver both grip my forearm. In an instant we go from standing in the middle of my apartment, to standing in the shadow of one of the massive pillars of Stonehenge.
“Really?” says Oliver, incredulity plastered across his face. “The entrance is Stonehenge? How have we managed to remain a damn secret if all of our secret hide outs are within high traffic national landmarks? Christ, I’m building the next damn refuge. Got it?”
I’d laugh, but I’m not in the mood. The moment my feet touched down I knew that they were waiting. They’ve clearly gotten word that I was on my way, an unfortunate courtesy between refuges, and they’re waiting for me. I should probably brief the others.
“There’s going to be a man and a woman waiting for us in the entrance. They’re, unfortunately, my parents. The interaction will be brief and most likely tense and no, we won’t be discussing it afterwards,” I say, and before they have a chance to respond I walk to the Alter Stone and lay my palm flat against the cool rock. It immediately slides to the side, revealing a steep, damp, well-lit staircase, and I start walking. It’s best to get this ridiculousness over with quickly.
As predicted they’re waiting for me with false smiles on show at the bottom of the staircase. Luckily for them there are only a few people hanging around the entrance hall, so it won’t be so humiliating for their reputations when I blatantly disregard their false niceties.
“Hello Darling,” chirps my mother, a smile on her face that doesn’t by any means reach her eyes.
“How are you, Son?” says my Father, looking stern and stiff as usual. He’s not as good with a poker face as my mother.
“I need all records dating back to the last three months. Who can direct me to the records rooms?” I ask with no preamble whatsoever. I’m proud to say that my poker face trumps theirs any day of the week. My mothers’ grin falters and my father’s eye ticks but those are the only indicators that they’re already irritated.
“We can show you there soon dear,” my mother tries again. “We have a room set aside for you and your companions and the files will be located and taken to that room per Hank’s request.”
She sneers Hank’s name and I almost laugh. They’ve hated Hank, nearly as much as they’ve hated me, since he became my Guardian. Probably because they can’t deny that if it came down to them verse him, he’d win every time. They have no choice but to respect him.
“Good. Which room? I can take myself there. This isn’t a social visit,” I say.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” replies my Father, a hard edge to his smile. “Come on Son, let’s go have a coffee and we’ll let your friends go and settle in.”
“I’ve already told you that this isn’t a social visit,” I repeat, trying not to punch him at the look of disgust on his face when he looks at Olly and An. “I’m assuming that you have given me the same room that I stayed in last time so I’ll be on my way.”
The spark of surprise in their eyes tells me that my suspicions were correct and I don’t waste time in turning my back to them and walking away. Yes, it’s petty. Yes, it’s probably stupid and most people would make their disapproval of the relationship between my parents and I quite apparent. Those who disapprove never seem to understand that simply being related to someone doesn’t mean that you are obligated to love them and always get along with them. You are never obligated to compromise your own self-worth or happiness for the sake of ‘family’. I found my own family with Hank and the people I’ve grown to care about since leaving my parents behind. I have no intention of mending my relationship with my parents. As far as I’m concerned, that bridge burned when I did. I run my hand over the part of my scar that spreads across my left shoulder.
“Well, that was tense,” Oliver says, just to break the silence I think.
“That’s something you’ll both need to get used to. They’re going to try and distract you by forcing you to tell them about me and they’ll most certainly demand to know about Gwen. Don’t let them intimidate you,” I reply and walk faster, turning a corner and walking straight into a Warrior, scattering the stack of papers he had in his hands.
“Good on ya!” he shouts and then freezes when he looks up at me. “Oh…you’re the boss’ kid.”
“Unfortunately. Are those files being taken to my room?” I ask, noticing that the scattered papers appear to be unfiled reports.
“Yup, I was on my way there now. Names Ruben,” he says, offering his hand. I extend my own and we shake hands.
“I’m Derek and these two Warriors are Oliver and Anya.”
As he shakes hands with Olly and An I whip up a quick breeze and restack the scattered documents.
“Well, we’ll be on our way now,” I say, picking up the pile and stepping forward. He steps in front of me, blocking my way.
“I’ll be going with you. Your parents have told me to stick with you and help out however I can.”
Ah, I see. If I’m correct then Ruben here will be in the top 10% of Warriors here and he’s probably a yes man. He would have been the ideal favourite for my parents to choose to spy on me.
“I don’t think so,” I respond, dropping all kindness from my tone. “Let me make this perfectly clear. My parents want you to stick by me in order to get as much information as possible. They’re trying to plant you within my group as a spy and I can assure you that this is something that I will neither allow nor tolerate. Now get out of my way.”
He hesitates, clearly sizing me up, before reluctantly stepping to the side and retreating down the hallway.
“I’ll, uh, just arrange for the rest of the files to be brought to your room,” he says and disappears around the corner.
“I know you said we weren’t going to discuss it, but I think we need to know what’s going on here. It seems we have as many enemies to worry about in this refuge as we do outside of it,” states Oliver, and unfortunately I find myself in full agreement with him.
“I think you’re right, but not now. We have enough to do without getting distracted by me telling my story. Anya can probably tell you all about it anyway,” I dismiss his request and throw open the door on our right, stepping into a sparsely furnished and dusty room with a few bunk beds shoved to the side. It’s the exact same room as last time and it looks like I was the last person in it too. It doesn’t even look like it’s been cleaned. The small bathroom off to the side is exactly how I left it. I put my bag down onto the lowest bunk of the nearest bed and start unpacking my weapons, arranging them in the nearest closet.
“Derek, I know it’s not exactly the most pleasant of conversations, but since the files aren’t here I think you should take the time to explain about your parents. I could try and tell Olly about them but I barely know anything at all, so I’m not even sure what the go is here,” Anya says in a small, apologetic voice. I know she’s right; I just hate taking that much time out of my day to think about my parents. I don’t really want to let their pathetic attitudes affect my friends either. I sigh and grab a bottle of water off the counter in the corner.
“If that’s what you guys really want,” I sigh again, accepting my fate, and lean back against the bench. “My parents never told me about all of this. I imagine you’ve already figured out that they’re the head of this institute and they have been for as long as I’ve been alive. God knows how, they’re manipulative, fake and arrogant and they really don’t deserve it. Anyway, a few years ago, back when I was human and completely naïve, I met a girl named Claire through mutual friends of ours. I met her a few times, only briefly, while I was out at parties and I eventually asked her on a date. She cancelled on me three times before we ever actually went on the date and, I have to admit, the date was going horribly. She was rude to wait staff and then spent nearly half an hour talking about how and why she eventually broke up with her ex. We were walking through some park when out of nowhere we were jumped by three guys. I didn’t have time to react and, even if I did have time, I hadn’t yet gained the skills I have now and wouldn’t have made any sort of impact fighting them off. Once we were subdued a woman walked out from behind a tree and used air magic to snap Clare’s neck. It was then that my powers emerged. I felt a huge rush of energy and then a blast of air magic threw my attackers off of me, giving me a chance to get up and run. I didn’t make it far. They had me cornered in an alley and the woman was there again, but this time she wrapped me in a massive coil of fire magic, burning me down to the bone in seconds.”
“That’s why you have the scar,” Oliver says, looking like he’s solved a puzzle. “I always wondered, but I didn’t want to ask just in case it pissed you off.”
“I’m a little more interested in what happened afterwards,” Anya turns to Oliver. “He’s always been open about all of that, but no one actually knows what happened afterwards.”
Hmm, I guess that’s true. No one has ever asked and I’ve never really been forthcoming about anything involving my parents.
“What happened next is common knowledge. Hank appeared as a seven-foot-tall rage machine and annihilated the Recruiters who were trying to take me. He healed my wounds as best he could at the time but I still passed out. I’d had a pretty trying day and most of the skin on my torso had been burnt off so my body just kind of gave out. When I woke up I was in a strange room and couldn’t understand why I suddenly had a completely healed scar winding around my body. Hank was next to my bed and he got a hell of a shock when he realised that I had absolutely no idea where I was or what I was. He just assumed that I’d grown up as an Elemental and I knew everything that was happening to me. After that we marched straight to my parents’ office,” I look around the room, suddenly remembering why it is so familiar to me. “It was here actually. This was the room I woke up in. It was in much better condition five years ago, but it’s still the same place. Anyway, Hank stormed through the refuge until we found my parents and then he let loose. After about an hour of pretty loud discussion, mostly from me, my parents eventually turned to me and said: ‘we did not believe you to be worthy of this power and so we had no intention of allowing you to acquire it. I suppose circumstances have made that decision for us.’ Hank helped me gather my things and I moved with him to the canyon. He became my Guardian and trainer and now here I am, I guess. My parents were openly hostile towards me up until three years ago when I qualified. The youngest ever Warrior, Guardian and Protector seemed to them like a badge of honour and if you ask them, then they’re responsible for creating me. It gets them attention and a little more status and respect to have a son as accomplished as me. Those are Hank’s words, by the way, not mine.”
I sound so arrogant when I try and explain why they all of a sudden took an interest in me again. It’s the truth though, the only reason they have to speak my name is to try and take credit for the hard work I did to make myself into who I am today.
A knock at the door effectively ends our conversation as I open it and six people, weighed down by towers of folders, march through the door. They put them down on the long conference style table and leave without a word.
“I guess it’s time to get started,” Anya observes and we all dig into the nearest pile.