Awen: Tongue of Flame

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With urgency, Jensen pulled away. 'Have you seen your mother Rose?' he asked hesitantly, already fearing her answer. Gazing solemnly into his child's red tear-wracked eyes, he knew that something terrible must have happened.

'She... she... she was taken away by the laughing man. She told me to hide, told me to stay quiet no matter what, but he...' Rose bumbled.

'You did very well my beautiful girl; we are very proud of you.' Jensen applauded, giving a quick silent thanks to his wife for saving their child.

Rose beamed under the due praise, and Jen took advantage of the byplay to talk to the little girl.

'Hello Rose, my name is Jen.' she said.

Hiding behind Jensen's legs, Rose shyly poke her head out. With two blue eyes sparkling like large sapphires, she watched Jen curiously. 'Nice to meet you. This is my daddy, you know?' she asked. 'Do you know my friend Kelly?' she added before Jen could even answer. Rose was a talkative one, much like her mother, it seemed.

'Your daddy saved us all Rose, and I also know your friend Kelly.' Jen replied.

Jensen flushed with embarrassment, and yet he brightened up a little at Rose's response. His daughter had gone through hell, and he had feared the worst for her. In realising that she might struggle to talk about what happened, he decided to allow Jen to continue.

Nodding at Jensen, Jen slowly approached Rose. 'Do you want to go for a little walk?' she asked. 'Okay.' Rose replied, taking her hand.

Stopping at the tree line, Jen knelt in front of her. 'You've been so brave; now I need you brave once again. Think back slowly, do you remember seeing the laughing man?' she asked calmly.

Rose shook her head. 'It was too dark.' she whispered. The little girl was terrified, and without a shadow of a doubt, hiding something.

'Anything might help us find her, even the tiniest thing.' Jen said, smiling.

'Well... he was very tall with a lot of arms, and he sounded mean.' Rose replied.

Pursing his lips, Taylor stopped eavesdropping and walked away. 'Well, that sounds plausible.' he said.

Turning to face her father, Rose ran to him again. 'I'm sorry daddy, I couldn't see his face.' Rose yelled. Burning tears rolled endlessly down her soft, fragile cheeks, and in trying to say more, her sorrow made it too difficult to understand.

Staring after Taylor with cold contempt, Jensen's face crumbled before returning to normal. 'Its okay honey, we'll get her.' he promised, wrapping her up into his arms again.

'I'm sorry to interrupt Jensen, but we'd better get moving.' James proclaimed.

'I couldn't agree more.' Jensen replied.

'Which way do we go?' Taylor asked.

'We need to meet up with Hal and Kelly.' Jensen said.

Howling wildly, Rose seemed to love the idea. 'Yay, we are going to see Hal and Kelly!' she replied.

A look of happiness turned into stunned silence, as realisation dawned over him. 'Damn it!' Jensen cursed.

'What is it, daddy?' Rose asked.

Ignoring his daughter, Jensen spoke directly to the others, whilst covering her ears. 'Hal and Kelly went west, following a blood trail.' he said.

'What of it?' Taylor demanded.

With faltering patience, Jensen snarled at Taylor. 'That blood might have belonged to my wife, you bastard.' he replied.

'Well, there's only one way to find out.' Jen said, shoving her brother to the floor.

'Exactly, let's go, everyone.' Jensen replied, stepping over Taylor.

With hooded eyes fixed upon the ground, James looked preoccupied. 'I wonder how my wife and Connor are holding up?' he asked.

'From what I can tell of Grace, she's a force of nature. Don't worry; we'll get back there soon enough.' Jensen replied.

Behind him, Jensen could hear Rose humming out of tune notes from an old nursery rhyme. It was a futile attempt to block out the noise, and yet Jensen recognised the melody right away, his wife would sing it to her all of the time.

Catching Jensen's eye, Jen knew what she needed to do. 'Rose sweetie, close your eyes and pretend that we're playing a game of 'hide and seek'. Don't open them until I say so okay?' she asked.

Still gripping onto her father's neck, Rose buried her face into his sweat-drenched shirt again. 'Okay, okay, but no cheating!' she replied.

'All aboard the daddy train.' Jensen chorused, and Rose gripped on tighter. Within a few moments, they were cautiously making their way back out through the bloodied aft compartment of the stricken vessel.

'No, peeking!' Jen prodded.

'I wasn't.' Rose chirped, swiftly lowering her curious gaze.

Rose was doing as she had been told, struggling to hold itching eyes tightly shut. She was wide awake, and quivering eyelids were threatening to pry themselves open. Tiny rays of burning sunlight began to steadily seep through the canopy of crisp burnt leaves of trees from above.

Noticing that they were all clear of the wreck, Jensen gave Jen a subtle thumbs up. 'Ready!' Jen announced to the world.

Searching for Jen like a bloodhound, it did not take Rose long to find her. 'I wonder where Jen could be?' Rose asked giggling.

Lying down within short grass, Jen held a large tree branch out in front of her. Despite the poor choice of a hiding place, she somehow managed to remain remarkably still.

'I see you, Jen.' Rose yelled.

'That's not Jen; it's a tree.' Jensen said, playing along.

With a gummy smile, Rose beamed. 'No, it's not daddy!'

Shaking the large branch profusely, Jen put on a deep voice. 'I'm miss tree, what's your name?' she asked.

The ventriloquist act was entertaining Jensen and Rose, although, Jen was met with a menacing frown and verbal abuse from Taylor, as he dropped a hefty collection of scrap onto the ground in a tantrum. 'Great, you get to fool around whilst we have to do some work!' he growled.

Shaking his head, Jensen was still howling with laughter. 'How's it coming along, James?' he asked wickedly.

James was struggling to pick up what looked like fusion battery cells for the shuttle's emergency electronics suite. The spare parts would prove to be an invaluable asset for them in the long run, and yet they were huge and incredibly heavy to lift. 'A little help would be great, Jensen.' he asked pleasantly.

Looking closer, Jensen ran over to help in a panic. 'Careful with those things, one wrong move and they'll probably explode.' he replied.

Throwing away the stick, Jen climbed back up onto her feet. Rubbing the back of her neck, she strolled awkwardly over to help.

After an hour of gathering supplies, and looting valuable scrap, they were ready to search for Hal and Kelly.

'Where are Taylor and Jen?' Jensen asked.

'Taylor went that way a while back.' James pointed.

'I did say to stay close, didn't I?' Jensen asked, taking Rose's hand.

'I don't think so... but you're right. He did mention something about clearing his head though, as for Jen, the last time I checked she was behind that heap of junk over there.' James replied, gazing up at the towering mass of rubbish in the distance.

'I see, well we need to head back that way anyway, let me help you with this.' Jensen offered, gently lowering his daughter to the ground as he moved to lift a side of one of the large battery units.

Skipping merrily by his side, Rose stayed close to them. 'I'm being good, daddy.' she said. 'That's my girl.' he groaned.

Struggling to drag the battery over uprooted tree vines, and up steep hills, they reached the junk heap. There were no signs that Taylor and Jen had ever been here, nor anyone else for that matter. 'Taylor? Jen?' Jensen bellowed.

'Where are they?' James asked, dropping his side of the battery.

'My arms!' Jensen cried, the sheer weight almost pulling them out of their sockets. Wincing at the sight, James dashed to pick it back up. 'Sorry.' he said.

'Don't; I need to take a break anyway.' Jensen replied.

Leaves of trees rattled, before tumbling to the ground. Branches creaked, and flaky grains of soil avalanched down the sun-baked hillside. The thundering of a giant gong being struck sounded in the distance.

'Did you hear that?' James asked.

'Of course, I heard it. I'm standing right next to you!' Jensen replied.

'I need to get back to my wife!' James said panicking.

Grabbing onto his shoulder, Jensen stopped James in his tracks. 'What we have to do is find our people James.

Sighing heavily, James knew the truth of it, and Grace would probably disown him if he returned without everyone else. 'Where to next?' he asked.

'Let's head west; maybe they went that way. It's okay buddy; we'll find them all and then get you back to Grace. Come on, Taylor and Jen couldn't have gotten far.' Jensen replied.

'Taylor?' James yelled.

'Jen?' Rose mimicked.

There were no traces that Taylor and Jen had even existed, no discarded belongings or any food waste either. 'They couldn't have just vanished!' James cried.

'Maybe they went back to the ship daddy?' Rose asked.

'Without them telling us? I don't know, maybe.' James interrupted.

'It makes more sense than them just vanishing James.' Jensen added sharply.

As they walked, long reeds of crunching dried grass snapped beneath sore heels. The feeling of missing a step struck Rose, and she tumbled into a large rectangular depression in the ground.

The soil clagged beneath them, and it was somehow waterlogged. Some animal or a group of them must have been wallowing here. The water began to drain, and there was a strange hollowness beneath their feet.

At first, pattering footsteps tapped harmlessly off of an unusual metallic surface. 'Strange.' Jensen remarked, lifting Rose close to his chest.

Gentle rapping sounds began swiftly evolving into a mechanical clunking of gears. A sudden shift in the soil gave way to a vast opening, and teetering on the brink of an expanding doorway, Jensen, James and Rose scrambled frantically for an escape.

Muddied hands slid through pockets of once buried grass, as they tried desperately to hold on to something. It was futile though, chalk-like beads of irradiated dirt washed down the sides of the newly formed crevasse, and once again they plummeted into the uncharted depths of Awen.

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