My feet hit the ground and I’m bumped to the side…by a sheep. We are in the middle of a whole bunch of sheep somewhere along the coastline of England. I don’t even care about the specifics of our geography. I don’t care where exactly we are, it’s not like I need GPS coordinates to find my way back if I need to. I’ve seen it, and so I can zap back here whenever I want to.
“Entrance is over the side of the cliff. I hope you don’t mind getting wet, Pixie. The cave entrance is underwater,” says Blaine, a smirk lifting the corner of his mouth.
It seems he has a bit of a fascination with An, or maybe it’s just his way of showing respect to a woman like Anya. Either way, she doesn’t seem to like it. She rolls her eyes so hard that I think they might get stuck and without a moment’s hesitation, or even looking over the side of the cliff, she walks straight off the edge and plummets. She drops like a stone but there isn’t a splash and I bet I can guess why. An has a truly powerful water affinity and I imagine we’re going to jump down after her, and she won’t have a drop of water on her at all. I jump immediately after Anya, not wanting her to be stuck down there on her own just in case there are Recruiters sticking around and use the air to form a bubble around my body. I make it to the cave entrance seconds after jumping and, to my relief, barely have any water on me. Blaine comes next, not caring at all about the water or the frigid temperatures and climbs out of the water to stand beside Anya. Oliver, quite literally, pops out of thin air to stand beside me. His affinity for teleportation is so strong that he only needed the slightest feeling from Anya’s aura in order to teleport with pinpoint accuracy. I waste no time at all, unsheathing two combat knives and pushing further into the cave. It gets dark quickly, but I take care of that, willing a ball of bright yellow fire to float above each one of us. There are strange markings all over the walls. It’s almost liked a humungous battle was fought in these halls with a bunch of sword wielding brutes. There’re even a few punch marks in the walls leaving behind near perfect impressions of peoples’ fists. I nearly slip a few times on the algae covered floor of the cave, but it doesn’t take long for us to fall into a rhythm and keep moving forward. It takes a few minutes, but we finally make it somewhere interesting; an antechamber with a ceiling so high that my fire balls aren’t bright enough to illuminate it.
“Which way?” I turn to Blaine, my question also a demand.
“Easy there, Rookie. Save your high-handed macho bullshit for your soldiers back home,” he retorts, his eyes darkening with what I assume to be anger. “I’ll have to take a second to feel it out and figure out which hallways to take.”
“Feel it out?” asks Oliver.
“He means with his magic. He can’t do what Gwen can do, but he can shift the rock and see what lies where,” I explain, and then realise that I now have to explain Gwen to Blaine. With a sigh, I turn to him and continue. “Gwen’s earth affinity is so strong that she can feel, follow and interpret even the slightest vibration in the ground. She can do the same with the other elements, but it’s most impressive with earth.”
His eyebrows shoot up again and I feel a buzz in his aura indicating a lot of held back questions.
“How strong?” he eventually asks.
“Last time we had her practice she reached her mind out and told us the make and model of a car on the highway. How fast it was going, how many people were in it and even what song was playing in the car,” answers Anya, her pride obvious to all of us.
“So, what’s that? A few feet away?” Blaine adds.
“Uh, not quite,” I say, recalling the immense distance. “We were well and truly underground in the canyon and the car was driving across Great Ocean Road in New South Wales, Australia. It was a Jeep Cherokee if you’re interested and the song was Disturbs cover of the The Sound of Silence,” I finish, trying my best to shut out the onslaught of other memories I have with Gwen.
“You’re fucking with me, right?” Blaine’s incredulous tone cuts through the memories, his disbelief palpable.
I turn to him, dropping all attempts at masking my emotions, and speak in the most serious, no bullshit tone I can muster.
“Gwen is the most powerful elemental to ever exist. She has an unprecedented strength in all affinities and is capable of feats that, up until the moment her powers triggered, we didn’t even know were possible. I have seen her fly; I have seen the earth swallow her up and gently transport her across an entire refuge. She was taken from us because of her power and you know as well as anyone what these bastards will be doing to her. They’ve had her for nearly five weeks now, so stop wasting my time and go figure out these damned tunnels before there’s nothing left of Gwen to bring home.”
I had absolutely no intention of saying that much or going that far. I hear Anya’s sharp intake of breath, and feel the sorrow in Oliver’s aura, when I speak that last sentence and even Blaine’s surprise at my words shows through his usually taciturn exterior. But my outburst has had its desired effect. Blaine immediately walks over to the wall and places both palms flat against it. The whole chamber begins to shake from the sheer force of his power, but Blaine is keeping the structure together, not allowing as much as a crack to form in the ceiling.
“That’s not really what you think, is it?” Oliver asks, deliberately focusing on Blaine rather than looking at me. “That there isn’t going to be anything left of her to bring home?”
I don’t have a response for that, but it seems that I don’t need one. After a few moments of silence Oliver hangs his head and walks to stand closer to Anya. They always seem to lean on one another when they’re stressed and I’m thankful for that. At least they have someone they can share their fears with. I feel a momentary flare of jealousy as I watch them and realise that I don’t have that luxury. I can’t afford to let my emotions get the best of me. People look to me as a leader; they look to me to bring their friend home. They look to me for guidance and reassurance and my jealousy is quickly taken over by guilt as I turn back to Olly and see that I just failed him in that regard. He needed reassurance and I didn’t give that to him. Even worse, I’ve given him something horrible to think about and we’re in a situation where any distractions might get you killed. Damn it!
“Straight ahead and to the left,” calls Blaine, effectively putting the kibosh on my apology.
“What?” says Anya, seeming to come out of a daze, her sad expression telling me all I need to know about where her mind went. She was thinking about Gwen, probably trying to reassure Olly, but she just made herself upset as well. I’m such a shitty friend.
“The layout,” Blaine replies with a small frown. I can see it in his face as he looks at An, he knows something is wrong and he’s concerned, but he knows better than to poke and upset a Warrior. “I can tell you that this place is most likely empty, I can’t feel anyone but us here. I can’t be certain of course, but I’m about ninety percent sure. What I can say is that the file room is straight ahead and to the left.”
He starts walking and indicates that we follow him. I hear the familiar sounds of Anya unsheathing her twin katana and Oliver drawing a hand gun and I turn to them.
“About what I said before, it was stupid of me to say. I know we’ll bring Gwen home and I know that no matter what she’s going through, she’s far too strong to ever let them...well, uh, she’s just too strong. Okay?” I wait for the reluctant nods of agreement from my friends and then shoo them forward. “I’ll follow. Stay close behind B and stay sharp.”
Their demeanour changes immediately from worried friend to fierce fighter and they become all business.
There isn’t so much as the squeak of a rat as we follow Blaine and by the time, we reach the supposed records room the eerie quiet has managed to ramp up my stress levels.
“The door is locked,” states Blaine, taking a step back to kick the door down.
“Don’t!” Oliver says, stepping in front of the door and blocking the way. “We don’t even know if anyone is still here and you want to kick a door down? The sound would echo through these tunnels and probably bring a whole damn army down on us.”
Slightly amused, Blaine raises his hands in surrender and steps back.
“Whatever you say Kid,” this time there is a definite note of condescension as he says ‘kid’. “What would you suggest?”
It’s a challenge, but before I can step in Anya marches forward. A pint sized ball of feminine fury.
“I suggest you stop with the testosterone rush and back the hell up,” she commands and the boy’s part like the red sea. I stifle a laugh.
She reaches out to the door, and with a lot of intense water magic voodoo, flash freezes a section of the massive door. Without a second thought she punches through it, the door disintegrating with barely a sound under the force of her magic and her fist. She walks through without looking back and I follow second, making sure to look smug on An’s behalf.
Just as expected, Blaine has led us flawlessly to a massive office looking room with old books and row upon row of filing cabinets and computer desks. A plan forms easily in my mind. Oliver is a tech guy, so his job is easy to pick.
“Olly, I want every single hard drive you can find. Blaine and An, I want you going through the cabinets. I’m going to start with the book shelves and see if there’s anything worth our time,” they split immediately, not questioning my orders in the slightest, and I make my way over to the first shelf.
“Shit, we’re going to need backpacks or something,” I say, mostly to myself.
“I’ve got it covered,” Blaine responds and when I turn, he has created four stone boxes, one for each of us, and lined them up. “Don’t worry, they won’t be heavy to carry, and I imagine the Kid can pull a disappearing act pretty quick and get these top side when we need it.”
I nod and turn back, taking some books that look a few hundred years old, at least, and placing them in the nearest box. I have no idea what’s in them but usually books like these don’t get passed around and looked after like this unless they’re important.
It takes me nearly an hour, but I finally finish with the shelving and move onto the nearest section of filing cabinets and desks. I’m anxious; I don’t for a minute want to be in this room. I want to tear this refuge apart and see if Gwen is here, but Blaine is damned sure that this place is empty, and I trust him on that. I’m searching for nearly forty minutes before I come across something that has me stifling a victory cry. I open a rusty draw in one of the filing cabinets on the far side of the room, far away from where any of my friends are working, and find a stack of leather bound journals and a pile of those tubes that people stuff important documents in to keep them from getting damaged. I only need to open the first tube to know that I may have stuck gold. It’s a map; a damn old one if the feel of the heavy parchment is anything to go by. But it’s not just any map, at barely a glance I can tell that it’s a map of a system of caves. A newer piece of paper rolled up with the old map shows an updated version and so on until I have eight large pieces of paper, all different ages, showing updated and more accurate versions of the same map. I put them back in their tube and tear open a second, finding another stack of papers depicting a map of a different refuge. This time I can’t help the small excited shriek that comes out of my mouth and I shove everything from this entire filing cabinet into the box without even bothering to look in any of the other draws. At this point I don’t even care about going through it.
“Blaine, don’t bother creating new boxes,” I shout over my shoulder. This box, I will take with me and guard with my life, but I’ll get Olly to deal with the rest. “Oliver, don’t worry about going through the individual cabinets. Just start transporting everything straight to our arena at the amazon refuge. Try and place it all in the same order that it is now.”
No one questions me, they just get started. Olly takes the larger, harder to transport items and Anya and I take everything else. It takes about an hour and half, and we’re all pretty much exhausted by the end, but it’s done, and the place is cleaned out. Not so much as a paperclip is left behind. I still have the box of maps and refuge info with me, there is no way in hell that I’m letting it out of my sight.
“What now?” asks Anya, letting her confusion show. I didn’t even bother to explain why I had them package the room and ship it back out, I just wanted it done as fast as possible.
“Blaine,” I say, stalling the answer to Anya’s question and getting his attention. He looks at me and I continue. “Any other rooms you think are worth checking out?”
He closes his eyes for a moment, his power reaching out and moving through the refuge to scan it again. It doesn’t take long before he’s shaking his head, letting me know that we’re done here.
“Aright,” I say, picking up the box of maps and holding tight to it. “Let’s get back to Stonehenge, grab our stuff and get home. We have a shit tonne of work to do.”