Four days. We’ve already been here for four days. I’ve managed to avoid my parents, for the most part. We’ve even managed to root out any of their spies hanging around the corridors and delivering files and food to us. We haven’t asked for the food; my parents just keep sending people and a slight touch of my aura to theirs has already told me that they’re doing it in the hopes of drawing me out. They’re hoping for a thank you or at least for me to pop out long enough to tell them to back off. I’ve done neither. The files were next to useless at first. They were the facilities most recent reports and most hadn’t even been filed yet, so it was just a mass of single sheets of paper with half filled out and unsubstantiated bullshit. We read them though, Anya getting increasingly frustrated and Oliver continually pacing while he reads. I’ve set myself up on the table. sitting cross-legged in the centre of the tabletop with a pile of reports stacked high on my left. I take a file, read it and, for the most part, put it back down into a pile on my right. Every now and then I’ll put a file down in front of me. This is the most important pile. This is the maybe pile. The pile that I have Olly and An go over to see if they think there’s anything to it. We’ve gone out a few times, after all three of us agreed that a file held a particularly useful snippet of information and investigated. Obviously, these expeditions didn’t yield any results, or we wouldn’t still be in this hell hole continually looking over our shoulders for my wayward parents. It’s been so uneventful that a sudden shout from Oliver scares me so badly that I jump and fall backwards off the conference table, landing hard on my left shoulder.
“Guys! I think I’ve got it!” He shouts, my heart pounding in my chest.
“Where?” I demand, not caring about the huge bruise that I can feel forming across my shoulder blade.
“The file doesn’t say, it’s one of those ridiculous unfiled bullshit files,” he begins, his expression furious. “But, it does say that a stronghold was found, suspected to be a Recruiter training facility, and that it has been under surveillance.”
“Who filed the report?” Anya asks. A pointless question considering she’s already taken the file from Oliver and started to read it herself, forcing her to answer her own question.
“Some guy named Blaine Eklund,” she says and for the first time since being here I feel a small sliver of appreciation towards these files. Blaine is an arse, but he’s an honourable arse. He’s probably the closest thing I ever had to a friend while I was here, and I still think he’s an arse.
“What is it?” asks Oliver, clearly noticing the change in my demeanour.
“We just got lucky. Blaine is a dick, but he’s a good guy. He’ll help us…well,” I pause, remembering that it’s been a few years since I’ve seen him. “Well, he’ll help us providing that my parents haven’t gotten their claws into him.”
Anya immediately grabs our jackets from the pegs on the wall and throws them at us, her aura broadcasting how anxious she is to get moving. We don’t have to bother with the humdrum of gathering our weapons. The three of us have been completely geared up since we got here, our weapons always strapped to our bodies, even when sleeping. Not that we’ve been sleeping much. Olly and An eventually pass out for a few hours each day but I haven’t been so lucky. I haven’t slept at all, not even for a few minutes, since the second we got here. I’m too worked up. Between looking over my shoulder for my parents and the need to work my way through these damn files, I just haven’t had any time. We step into the hallway and, after catching a reflection of the three of us, I must admit that we make a pretty intimidating trio. Oliver interrupts my train of thought as he asks;
“How are we even going to find this Blaine guy?”
“Only one place we’ll find him,” I reply, shrugging my jacket more firmly over my shoulders and repositioning my weapons. “Unless the past few years have changed his tune then I’m willing to bet he’s in the old training room on the far side of the refuge. If he’s not there then he’ll be either top side or on assignment.”
“Sounds like you knew him pretty well,” Anya says, sounding curious but also sounding like she doesn’t want to ask too many questions. They have made a point of not prying into my time here and, though I appreciate it, they already know the worst so there’s really no need to walk on eggshells anymore.
“Kind of,” I almost decide not to elaborate but there’s no need for me to remain so tight lipped with these two. “I was stuck here for a while before Hank was able to get me out and take me to the states. I ended up hanging out in the old training room a lot, mainly because my parents never went anywhere near it, but also because I could use the equipment and work off my energy. I ended up meeting Blaine. Apparently, he’d been watching me for a week or so before he ended up speaking to me. I didn’t know it at the time, but he’d sit in the corner of the training room and watch me beat the crap out of the punching bags and use the weights until I couldn’t stand up anymore. He offered to train me while I was still there and he’s the reason I managed to advance so quickly after I left. He kicked my arse for two months before I left for the states and believe me, it was no picnic. He’s a hard arse and has an attitude problem, but he’s a good guy and, for the most part, his temper is directed towards Recruiters and sketchy people within the facilities.”
They remain silent as I follow the familiar path to the old training room and I know Blaine is in there before I can even see the door. He hits so hard that his punches echo down the corridors, a sound that is oddly calming and stirs memories of my early training days. It was only a few years ago but now it feels lightyears in the past. The door is open when we get there, and I know immediately that Blaine is expecting me. He usually keeps it closed so that anyone who tries to sneak up on him must handle the loud creaking of the ancient hinges. I don’t hesitate to step over the threshold and immediately slide to the left, narrowly avoiding a 20kg hand weight. Anya and Oliver draw their weapons and adopt an offensive stance as I hear a very familiar and distinctive laugh sound from the dark end of the room.
“You bought body guards, Rookie?” I can just see the outline of his body through the shadows. It looks like his sitting on a wooden bench doing bicep curls with what looks like a small mountain. His voice comes across clear, his accent matching the one from my memory, though it has faded in the years since he changed. I remember him saying he was Scandinavian and he pretty much grew up like a damned Viking in order to survive. His human mother died during a blizzard in a particularly harsh winter and his father was not long after killed in a stand-off with Recruiters. His abilities activated solely to keep him alive as he struggled through the frozen wasteland that became his home afterwards. He had a pretty hard beginning and is now a combat god. He even uses battle axes to fight, his brute strength coupling perfectly with the difficulties of wielding a weapon of that size and weight. Though, if I remember correctly, it’s rare for him to take to an enemy with his axe. For the most part he just tears Recruiters apart with his bare hands. He even looks a bit like a Viking. Norse tattoos and markings, his hair is long and so is his beard. His chest, which is bare now courtesy of us catching him in the middle of training, has a number of long scars and I know his back is the same. All of them injuries that have occurred during battle as an Elemental Warrior.
“Your friends seem a little small to take me on, particularly the fairy girl.”
He laughs again as Anya steps further into the room, her challenge clear. I make a show of walking to the side and sprawling out on the floor, completely relaxed.
“What, giving up so soon?” he taunts from the darkness.
“Not at all,” I reply, genuinely amused at the images running through my mind. “I’m just settling in to watch the show.”
“Oh, and what show might that be?”
“You made a pretty grave mistake, B. She’ll tear you apart and beat you death with your own leg,” I taunt him back.
“If he comes at you An, don’t hesitate to hand him his arse on a platter. Got it? Do not hesitate,” I say to her mind and Oliver comes to sit by me.
It’s clear that Blaine has seen some sort of weakness in Anya, and I have no doubt Oliver too, and he’ll test them just as he did me.
A metallic bang sounds across the room as Blaine drops the weights and stands. He has a good two feet on Anya, but she holds her position as he steps into the light. She doesn’t so much as flinch as all six feet and eight inches of pure muscle sizes her up and circles like a ravenous great white. Blaine lunges at her, but she’s more than ready for him and she uses a spurt of wind power to jump high, coming down hard and perching herself on Blaine’s massive shoulders. He looks surprised for all a microsecond before he pitches himself forward and drops, causing the two of them to roll to absorb the impact. Blaine is up a heartbeat before Anya and uses his half second advantage to make the whole room shake. His strongest affinity is for earth and he’s putting it on display right now in order to cause a localised earthquake, specifically designed to throw Anya off balance. She wobbles for a moment before regaining her balance and glaring defiantly at him from the epicentre of Blaine’s earthen carnage, katana poised for action, an extension of her own arm. His mood changes in a heartbeat and the shaking stops as he laughs. It’s a short bark of laughter, but he seems to be genuinely amused by Anya’s attitude and I feel a swell of pride for my friend.
“You got a good one there, Rookie,” he says, his laughter well and truly faded. “I expected you sooner.”
I don’t say a word as he analyses me. I was on my feet the second he lunged at Anya, fully prepared to step in if either of them went too far, and I can feel his calculating gaze inspecting every inch of me.
“Done checking me out yet, B or do you need a moment?” I joke, falling into the pattern we established during those two months. He would kick my arse into next week, but at the same time we would taunt and joke with one another. In truth, it was almost as though we were acting more as brothers than strangers in a gym.
“Look like you’re all grown up, Rookie,” he fires back. “I hear you’ve moved up the ranks. It seems you’ve done well since you landed on the other side of the pond. Your parents are so proud.”
His lips flatten into a hard line. He hates my parents and their attitude as much as I do. He’s probably been the victim of a horrible ear bashing since the moment I started making a name for myself. He would have had to listen to my parents taking credit for my abilities when it was Blaine who put in the initial leg work.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt,” starts Oliver, glaring at Blaine. “But what is going on here?”
He still has his weapons drawn and I’m surprised Blaine hasn’t disarmed him already. It seems he’s learned a bit of restraint since I saw him last.
“Put your weapons away, Kid,” Blaine says, glancing at Oliver before conjuring a set of chairs from the earth and throwing himself down into one. I take the lead and sit, showing Olly and An that everything’s cool and they can relax.
“It’s been years, Rookie. What kicked you in the balls hard enough to drag your arse back here?”
“This,” I say, throwing the report over to him. He snatches it out of the air and glances at it, barely even taking notice of what it is, before he turns back to me.
“What about it?”
“I want to know where it is, I want to know who’s doing the surveillance and I want to know where to find them.”
My voice is demanding and authoritative. He won’t respond to that, I know that much, but he’ll take this much more seriously if he knows that I’m not screwing around.
“No one is handling surveillance,” he holds his hand up to silence Oliver and seems to look straight through me. He knows somethings up and I really wouldn’t be surprised if he knows about Gwen too. “Mummy and Daddy dearest decided that this wasn’t important enough to assign surveillance, so there is no team on this. Lucky for you, I didn’t fall for their shit. I’ve been watching it. Why do you need to know about it?”
I hesitate, not at all wanting to discuss Gwen, but this is Blaine and if I want his help then I know that he’s going to demand as much information in return as he gives.
“Guinevere Faye,” I say, watching his reaction. He knows her, I can tell by the flash of recognition in his eyes.
“I’ve heard that name floating about over the last few months. Her power must be truly extraordinary if she’s causing that much of a stir that her name gets all the way over to me.”
“You’ve got no idea,” says Anya.
An odd expression crosses Blaine’s face as he looks to Anya, one that I don’t recognise, but his expression softens just a bit. Not enough that the others would notice, but even after the years apart, I can still read him. Maybe he just respects her after their little tiff.
“Her magic is like nothing anyone has ever seen. I was here when I felt her power, B. She was on the east coast of Australia,” his eyebrows shoot up and I know I have his undivided attention. “She can fly, create and control storms. Her eyes glow and patterns appear on her forearms whenever she connects with one of the elements. At least that’s what we think anyway, no one knows what the hell is up with her arms. She is the strongest elemental in history, but she also has no family history at all. Not a single elemental on any branch of her family tree, which dates back over a thousand years and extends all the way over here.”
He listens intently as I rattle off all of these facts about Gwen, facts that don’t in any way do her any justice, seeming to take it all in and evaluate it on his own terms. When I’m finished, he stands and moves toward me, extending his right arm.
“Show me,” he says…well it’s more a command.
I stand and clasp his forearm, giving him my memories of Gwen from the first time I saw her up until her abduction. In his mind I can read every reaction he has to my memories and I think he’s just as captivated by Gwen as the rest of us. I drop my hand from his arm as my memories fade and he’s staring down at me. Unexpectedly, he clasps my shoulder in a sign of respect that catches me off guard.
“This is why you want to know about the stronghold. You need to know if your Gwen is being held there,” he speaks to all three us, which I appreciate because she isn’t just MY Gwen. Everyone loves her.
“Will you give us what we need?” Anya asks, her determined tone and expression making it clear that he will whether he wants to or not.
“I’ll do one better, Pixie,” he addresses Anya with a nickname that he is going to use, even if she hates it. Just like he’s always called me ‘Rookie’ and I imagine he’ll always refer to Oliver as ‘Kid’. “You better have your weapons Rookie, I’ve been looking for a good enough reason to take out those bastards.”
Holy shit. He’s going to storm the compound with us. Adrenaline rushes my system alongside my magic in a potent cocktail that is just begging for me to get into it with a few Recruiters.
“We’ve been geared up since the moment Gwen was taken,” I reply, and he nods his approval. He walks back to his weights and grabs a massive leather vest that I recognise. It has a specially designed system of loops on the back that hold his axes securely in place. Sure enough he walks over and pulls two axes from the wall, their razor sharp blades gleaming in the light, and slides them into place across his back. He takes Anya’s hand and holds his arm out to Oliver and I. We take hold and with no preamble he gathers his power and we’re enveloped by darkness.