“Where’s Gwen?” Jonas became puzzled when he passed the checkpoint himself and found Elvia and Yue milling about aimlessly.
“She was right behind us.” Yue paced back toward the gate, but the opaque exit barrier prevented both return entry and stickybeaking.
“What’s wrong?” Whetu came through a corridor to their right, sensing the anxious tension in the air when he saw the companions meandering aimlessly. “Did Gwen get held back? She’s got an entire wardrobe in that Ring of hers. Was there something she should have declared?”
“Maybe?” Yue shrugged, feeling a little agitated that her friend had seemingly evaporated; if they counted the time since Elvia first entered, ten minutes would have passed by now. "Has anyone seen Uncle Song? He's not here either.”
The group collectively denied seeing Morye.
It became self-evident that the situation had soured. If something had happened to the two Songs, who could they hold accountable? What if the Tower was responsible?
The door to the opposite entryway opened with a hiss.
The friendly grin of a Customs Officer greeted them. A few of the party recognised the man as the one Gwen had spoken to the morning prior.
The man raised both hands to show his innocent intentions.
“Hello everyone. I am Sergeant Liu. I have a message for you from Miss Song." Liu pointed slowly to a lumen device on his chest.
In response, the military men formed up against the two girls and Whetu, shielding them against unseen dangers.
An illusory vision flickered before them as the pin on the officer’s chest began to broadcast. It was Gwen's visage, suspended midair.
“Evee, Yue, I am not in danger. My father has become involved in some trouble. I need to escort him to sort out whatever this problem may be. I will try to get back to Australia as soon as I can. I’ll contact you as soon as I am able. Tell Gunther to contact the Singapore Tower for details.”
After her measured voice died off, the illusion began to loop.
“Would you like to hear it again?” the man proposed congenially after the second play-through.
“What the FUCK did you do to Gwen?!” Yue's infamously short-fuse exploded as a gout of flame irradiated from her body, forcing the others to step away.
Yue could hardly believe what she was hearing. They’d just gotten back together! And now Gwen was taken, again?! She wasn’t about to let that happen again.
“You better hand her over to us right now, Mister!" Yue hissed between her teeth. "Or this place is going to be called the Jurong Disaster Zone.”
Liu sighed. He looked towards the military men.
“Miss Song left willingly and peacefully. Are you sure that you want to disregard her efforts to send you all home safe and sound?” Liu spoke patiently, his expression unchanged from the gentle smile he wore at all times.
"Bullshit! Where is she? How far can she be? I want to see her! Let her talk to us!"
“Yue.” Jonas moved beside the Fire Mage. “Yue, calm down.”
“Yue…” Elvia tugged her friend’s shirt, holding onto Yue' arm even though it welted the skin on her hands.
Yue stared at her companions, especially Elvia, whose eyes were large and watery and full of imploring agony.
“Where has Gwen being taken to?” Paul demanded.
“I am not at liberty to say,” Liu replied. “The Singapore Tower was not able to intervene; else we would have tried our best to delay or defer the order. Lord Gunther is one of our benefactors, after all.”
Yue’s fire glowed hotter, stoked by her rising ire.
"Ouch!" Elvia retrieved her hands, blowing them to cool her blistered skin.
“Yue, dis is not the time; it is not what Guin would have wanted.” Whetu stepped between Liu and the soon to be rampaging Evoker. “Please, you must also consider your family at home. They are waiting.”
The air between the two parties broiled as the standoff scorched the humid air, transforming the Glyph-cooled atmosphere into the dry heat. Surprisingly, the Military Police hadn't made their presence known. However, it was clear that should Yue lay a finger on Liu, black-uniformed men would suddenly materialise from the corridors.
“Put us in contact with Gunther, now,” Yue said at last. “I want to speak to him.”
Liu nodded in agreement.
“That much, I can do.”
Yue allowed the mana to drain from her body. Her inexpertly discharged mana flooded the air like helium from a deflating balloon, causing the ambient temperature to rise.
Yue placed a hand on Elvia and apologised for her emotional blunder. The wounds on the healer's hands were already mending, but they must have stung like hell for a minute.
The party delayed their boarding while Liu used his Message device to route their call through the Tower directly. After about two minutes of operators exchanging Glyphs, Gunther’s voice addressed them through the vox-Glyph.
“Liu, what’s wrong? Have my team recovered the girls and Whetu?"
“Gunther!” Yue interjected before Jonas could answer. “Someone took Gwen!”
"By which you mean a third party has abducted Gwen?"
"We don't know! We were at the customs, going through final boarding, then Gwen was gone!"
Gunther's Glyph grew silent.
"Magus Liu, are you there?"
"Yes, Lord Gunther."
“Liu, what does the Singapore Tower have to say?”
“It was an urgent matter that passed through the highest channels in the Tower, Sir,” Liu replied flatly and matter-of-factly. “We have been assured that Ms Song would remain unharmed. That and once matters are resolved, she would be allowed to leave.”
“I have sent a Message to your Tower, Sir. It should arrive soon.”
More silence as the gathering waited for Gunther to reply.
“Alright. Jonas, how long until Yue's party is back in Sydney?”
“Ten days on the Freighter to Brisbane, then a few hours from the station,” Jonas replied respectfully.
“Yes, Gunther?” Yue croaked, her voice coarse for all her anxious feelings of helplessness. She would have felt far better if a few Fire Balls had been exchanged.
“I’ll take care of it. Alesia misses you, so come home safely. Don’t delay anymore. Leave Gwen to me.”
“Alright, is Gwen going to be-“
“I’ll let you know once you’re back.”
“She’s going to be fine. I think I have an inkling where she's gone if Morye was likewise taken.”
“Okay,” Yue replied sulkily.
The device disconnected.
“Satisfied?” Liu asked them. “You better get going. You’re going to miss the ship.”
“No, I am not satisfied,” Yue replied cattily, grinding her teeth audibly. It was still hard to believe that Gwen just got shanghaied only a few feet away from returning home. “Let’s go.”
Elvia and Whetu followed Yue as she stomped away.
“Allow me to apologise for the outburst, Sergeant… Magus Liu,” Jonas intoned sincerely. It was just as well that Alesia wasn't here, else this place would henceforth be known as the Jurong Disaster Epicentre.
“It’s fine, Major. Another De Botton in the making, huh? You have your work cut out for you.”
“You know it.” Jonas made a face that looked ten years older than his actual age. His moustache was greying rapidly again now that Yue was back.
“God’s speed, Major. Do visit Singapore in more peaceful times.”
The military men exchanged final farewells and left for the freighter. Ten days wasn’t long, but knowing Yue, it could be a very, very long trip.
Jonas sighed. Was it wise to enable another battle maniac?
The girl vomited a torrent of chilli-crab, half-digested, acrid with stomach acid onto Wei’s shoes.
The MSS Red Guard had wanted to keep a tight schedule on his quarry and so hadn’t noticed her ashen face turning green the moment they passed through at the Inter-State Teleportation Circle.
The girl had been hale after the short-range teleportation, behaving as though she was used to the lurching feeling of vertigo that accompanied short jumps. By that measure, Wei had imagined that she should be fine to withstand the Long-Range Teleportation Circle, one that took them almost 3800 kilometres across the Ethereal Plane via an extended jaunt through space-time.
Every central trade hub possessed one such ISTC array, embedded at the Tower's base, well shielded and guarded, protected by layer upon layers of Glyphs from every conceivable School of Magic.
The cost of transporting three Mages that distance was astronomical, but the powers that be had decreed it done, and so it was.
Upon their arrival, the girl had immediately slumped in Wei's arms and let loose a torrent of Singapore’s choicest crab sauce all over his shoes and pant leg, painting the cobalt-silver Glyph of the Teleportation Circle red and brown.
His partner, Yung, was stifling a snigger.
“I told you we should have sedated her.” He chuckled.
His face was so annoying that Wei wanted to kick the vomit toward Yung’s face, allowing his forever-single partner an opportunity to dine with a comely lass.
“You okay?” He asked Gwen in Mandarin.
The girl replied English, but the language wasn't Wei's forte.
He pulled the Translation Ioun Stone from beside his ear and passed it over her head.
“Fo-kas,” he told her in English. “Tie to at-u-en”
The girl appeared to mastered as much of her mind as she could under the circumstances and felt the stone affix to an orb around her head, falling into place until it rested just behind her earlobe. It gave the impression that she was wearing a small opal earring.
“Better?” Wei asked.
“I am dying,” the sorceress moaned miserably.
"There's a first time for everyone," Wei assured her.
He understood that surviving a long-range Teleport was like sitting on a carnival ride - one of those topsy-turvy ones, the kind that turned upside down and sideways, delivering momentum, vertigo, and lurching, inertia all at once. The nauseating effect she felt was the same thrilling displacement, multiplied a hundredfold, magnified by the concourse of time and space.
The girl must have felt as though she'd been taken apart and then recombobulated onto a heavily warded platform glowing with quicksilver Conjuration mana.
“…” Wei motioned to one of the guards, who motioned to one of the lesser guards, who spoke into his Message Glyph for a cleaner.
A Message spell blossomed next to Yung's ear.
“I am on-site with Target 2, awaiting further instructions.”
“Extract Target to Facility Forty-Three, await handover procedures.”
“Affirmative, Control, proceeding to site now.”
“Where we headed?” Jung asked his partner.
Jung raised a bushy brow.
Wei shrugged, then turned to study the Mage caught in his arms, whose face was as pale as a ghost's. The girl was uncommonly pretty, very much so, almost like one of those idols that frequented the Vid-casts. She was Eurasian descent, her ancestry indistinct and impossible to discern, and young - far too young to be someone of note. It meant that whoever had requested her was probably after someone in her family, not an unusual task delegated to the MSS, but impressive nonetheless, given that the political and material capital they had just expended.
“Do you know anything, Wei?”
“Shut up,” Wei said coldly, shooting his partner a stern look. “Loose lips sink ships.”
Jung rolled his eyes.
They picked up Gwen by both arms and began to drag her toward the second localised Teleportation Circle.
"Don't worry," Wei supplied as much sympathy as he was allowed under the circumstances. "You'll be safe. Just remember to tell them everything."
"Them?" The girl croaked.
"You'll see," Wei sighed. For whatever reason the Secretary wanted the girl; he hoped it was in her best interest. "We'll part soon. Good luck."
Gwen raised her groggy head and tried to look around at their surroundings. The room was bright with glowing Daylight globes that lit the immense Conjuration array required to activate Teleportation across such tremendous distance. The interior architecture was geometric, simplistic, ultra-modern, giving the chamber the air of a brutalist dystopia.
The room they took her to was smaller, with Wei leaving behind puddles of dripping crab as he walked. Gwen felt impressed even in her illness. Whatever these men were, they were consummate professionals with singly focused minds. She was briefly glad she didn’t try out her luck in attempting an escape.
Another flash of gut pounding Conjuration later, Gwen felt barely capable of standing on both feet. She felt drunk and drugged by nausea. That the men's final act involved taking her through the facility without so much as an opportunity for cleaning up spoke loudly of their priorities.
They eventually reached the end of a long corridor, where she was bodily handed over to a pair of uniformed guards, now clad in dark olive khaki with red striped lapels.
“Take her to the infirmary,” Wei suggested. “Orders are to take care of this one. She's important.”
The guards saluted smartly and took Gwen by the arms. Much to her relief, Gwen soon found herself on a gurney, being wheeled through alternating sections of dimness and brightness. She listened to the clatter of the wheels echoing through the corridor, feeling like death. Wherever they were, she noted with some alarm; the walls were solid concrete.
Jesus. She thought to herself. Whatever her father had done must have made powerful men upset. Who the hell did he kill? The son of a Politburo Secretariat? Or perhaps the son of a General? Even in her diminished state, she could tell that the soldiers accompanying her were career military men. Their uniforms, the way they spoke and saluted one another, suggested that they did not moonlight a second profession.
The gurney stopped.
The room was much too bright, so bright it hurt her eyes.
She was just about to will her arm to move across her face when an alien coldness touched her thighs.
Gwen shot up from her prone position, heedless of the queasiness assailing her body. Her head grew suddenly light, feeling as though flung by a Catapult spell.
She was face to face with a woman in a white doctor’s coat. Underneath, she also wore the omnipresent olive khaki uniform. Her world came into focus. The doctor was holding a wet towel in one hand, the other hovering over a patch of her dinner. There was a red flag with five gold stars on her left lapel.
Had they come to China in that short a while? In a single charge of teleportation? How was that possible? The amount of energy it took to move mass was inverse-squared by distance. Just how many HDMs did they use to transfer three adults through to China?
More importantly, why was she back in her father's "Motherland"?
“I… I er…” Gwen tried to speak, but her stomach quickly deposited a gift of revolting liquids in her mouth.
“Restoration~” The female doctor gave her a comforting smile, happily injecting the equivalent of WD-40 for the human body. Gwen felt her disorientation fall away as the spell coursed through her body and calmed her frayed nerves.
“Where am I?” she finally asked, feeling the Ioun translation stone working its charm of Comprehend Language. The man called Wei had given her the stone without much thought. Were such magic items that pedestrian in Tier 1 cities? Gwen wondered. The simple device was at least four HDM Crystals in Sydney.
“A secure facility. That’s all you need to know for now.” The doctor beamed confidently at her. “Glad you're feeling alright. Want to get changed out of that filth? Ventilation is not good here. There’s a screen over there you can use.”
Gwen nodded and pushed herself off the gurney, balancing herself when the platform moved.
She performed a quick mental checkup of her current status.
On her hand were still her rings - a Ring of Evasion, a Storage Ring, and a Band of Contingency. Whoever abducted her here deemed her docile enough to leave Gwen her magic items. Did they take a peek at her ring, though? Not that her wardrobe would help. She wasn’t sure. At any rate, it didn’t feel like her items had tampered. If so, she could deduce that these 'people' were likely serious when they stated that they meant her no harm. After all, who could forgo the temptation of a ‘free' large-size Storage Ring? Especially one that still had thirty-odd HDM crystals and a Portable Habitat?
While she changed, Gwen obediently hid her shame behind the tri-fold screen.
“There’s going to be a more thorough inspection later, and I’ll be taking your bio-metrics and generating an identity card for you,” the female doctor said, passing over the box of body wipes.
Gwen wiped away the foul-spelling chilli sauce, then found the first outfit she had stashed on her pile of clean laundry - a pair of cut-ff white khaki shorts paired with a cropped blouse. Gwen gave her hair a quick spritz with a fresh wipe as well, allowing the overflowing bundle to cascade over her neck and shoulders. She then carefully stowed her precious Mary Janes after a meticulous wipe and materialised a pair of sneakers she had purchased in Singapore.
“Over here.” the doctor indicated to a set of scales. “I am Lieutenant Miao, but you can call me Vivian.”
“Thanks, Vivian.” Gwen followed the doctor’s directions demurely, standing upon a set of scales. Vivian looked a little older than thirty or so, with crows feet just beginning to appear near the corner of her dark eyes.
“Just under 55kg,” Vivian drew with her fingers onto a data slate. “Somewhat on the low-side for your height. Sit here.”
Vivian took measurements of Gwen’s arms and shoulders, measuring Gwen's sitting height and then the length of her legs with a tape ruler. The doctor then scratched away on her pad.
“What kind of slate is that?” Gwen asked. It reminded her of an E-Ink electronic device.
“Oh, this?” Vivian turned to show her the ‘pad’. It looked to be a carbon slate enchanted with some morphic transmutation spell. When touched, it was possible to inscribe words and numbers upon it. “Ah, you’re from Australia, no? Frontier cities are not allowed to import storage-type Magi-tech.”
“Yeah, we’re a pretty backwater.” Gwen tried to deflect the feeling of awkward inferiority. Was there such a difference? Did that mean the tier 1 cities had computation engines and modern conveniences? Did they have internet?
“Hey, I’d kill for one of your Black-Angus Aurochs steaks though, they cost a day's wage. You guys must eat it all the time over there. From what I've seen in the vid-casts, they're all over the place.”
“Yeah, we eat those a lot,” Gwen lied, feeling strange that she had never even heard of such a thing. Maybe she had eaten Auroch before? Gwen couldn’t tell. Usually, food appeared, and she ate.
“I am jealous!” Dr Miao stifled a smile. “Okay, some important questions now that your basic biometrics are finished.”
“Have you ever had sexual relations?”
"how about with Magical Creatures?"
“…” Gwen blinked innocently at the good doctor.
“I need a yes or no,” Dr Miao intoned seriously.
“Have you ever had sexual relationships with a Demi-human?”
“No. Is this a thing here? In tier 1 cities?"
"You'll be surprised..."
“Right.” Vivian studied Gwen from head to toe, not appearing to believe her. “Continuing.”
“Have you never been admitted to an institution? Such as for abuse of substances, mental illness, or temporary derangement.”
“Such as Enchantments, or Illusions.”
“Have I … ever been glamoured?”
Gwen fell silent. Did short-duration attacks count? Did Edgar count? The bastard had gotten pretty deep into her psyche, touched her Astral Soul, even. Gunther had told her that Morye killed him. Speaking of her father, how is he doing? Where could he be now?
“That’s it. I’ll have your file generated.” Vivian said. "Forgive the questions, we get all sorts here."
"Well," the doctor coughed. "You'll see."
“What happens now?”
“Now you go to a temporary place of residence.”
A Message spell bloomed beside the medical officer's face; she gingerly touched a finger to her ear.
“Yep, we’re done. You can take subject 1406 now.”
Gwen stepped into her shoes.
Vivian looked up from her seat, her legs crossed and enveloped in her dark olive pencil skirt. The doctor furrowed her brows while running her eyes over their prisoner's figure. “Miss Song, are you certain you never have..."
“No.” Gwen cut the woman off before she could suggest something scandalous. “I am only sixteen, after all.”
“Soon to be Seventeen,” Vivian said. “I hope you're telling the truth. For what's coming, telling the truth will be very important."
“Wha?” Gwen’s eyes grew large as walnuts, her hazel orbs dilating.
The double doors opened.
Two olive uniformed men presented themselves and saluted the doctor.
“Escorting Prisoner 1406 to the containment area.”
“Containment area?!” Gwen snapped alarmingly. What was she, a magical specimen? An exotic species to be put on display? What was this place, and what were they doing? “1406?!”
Did she get transported into another world? Was this Oceania? Are they now headed to Room 101?! Were there going to be rats?
“Please come with us,” one of the men professionally intoned when Gwen refused to budge from the spot.
“Vivian, tell me...”
“Let's hope we don't meet again," the doctor proclaimed. "My ward isn't usually reserved for biometric inspections."
“No— what? Wait!”
The men took her by the arms and pushed her from the room. These men were not like Wei. They had little patience and even less delicacy. They were grunts, foot soldiers, and they were here to shut up and do their duty. When Gwen calmed herself enough to observe them, she noticed something that shocked her to her core.
They were NoMs!
The soldiers were Non-Magical, normal human beings!
Could she escape? Surely she could overpower NoMs.
Gwen felt a tingle of lightning coalesce in her body, responding to her thoughts. One of the guards clenched her arm so tightly it hurt.
“I wouldn’t.” He continued to move without pause. His companion said nothing, his face entirely robotic.
They took her into another corridor, and another, then another again.
Then they pushed through a set of double doors.
A long warehouse, featureless and derelict of colour, greeted Gwen. The containment chamber's interior consisted of a row of cells with thick perspex at the entrance, possessed of no visible entry point. A total of five cells made up the entirety of the rectangular space, giving the air a cold and malicious wintriness.
One of the guards activated a hidden Glyph, and Gwen was pushed into the cell, passing between the perspex with the sensation of slipping between its molecules. Another Glyph later, the transparent wall once again became impassably solid. Inside the cell was a stainless steel bathroom throne fixed onto a drinking fountain. Adjacent to it was a foam bed clad in a white sheet. The floor was pieced together by segmented grey tiles; the rest of the room was seamless, moulded concrete.
Gwen caught herself against the wall and turned to glare at the guards, who ignored her and retreated without a word.
The transparent pane radiated cold hostility.
The walls looked especially made to resist all assault.
Then the floor began to thrum.
Gwen felt her mana drain away as unnatural fatigue overcame her body. She felt as though she'd trained for hours, that she had emptied her reserves over and over.
In a blind panic, she tried to access her Astral body but found herself incapable of turning inward into the inner realm. Even her Sigils felt diminished, barely registering against her force of will. Her enchanted rings, likewise, appeared dormant and inaccessible. She tried to summon Ariel or Caliban, but the Conjuration Sigil was silent; her Familiars remained torpid in their pocket dimensions.
Gwen felt an unbidden wave of mental exhaustion washed over her. She fell into the bunk, feeling the solid steel beneath the thin foam rap unsympathetically against her buttocks.
Her magic was gone.
She felt as though she'd lost a limb.
Even in her most desperate hour, the raging torrents of elementally charged mana had been with her, coursing through her veins. Now she was without even that.
She closed her eyes and tried to focus her breathing, which had noticeably quickened.
“Calm,” she said to herself. “Evee.”
“Evee... Evee... Evee." She pictured her best friend's smiling, guileless face, blossoming the moment she saw Gwen descend with Sufina.
Her heart rate slowed.
She felt somnolent and exhausted.
Oh, how she desired to be hot and insomniac within the cargo hold of a Triple-E Freighter ship!
Maybe her present circumstance was just a dream. Maybe when she woke up, she would be against two bulkheads, and Yue would be trying to wake her up by suffocating her with her hugs. Gwen willed herself to remain conscious, but it only made her sleepier.
Please let this be a bad dream, she said to the merciless light. Let me wake up to Evee.
Her alarm rang, a screeching catcall that may as well be the indistinct crying of babies in the night. It increased in volume until it filled her ears like tinnitus.
Her eyes shot open.
The Awakening Ceremony.
The Awakening Stone glimmered faintly.
“Hmm, you have certainly some affinity…” the instructor noted, but his expression was distant. “I don't see a sigil, though... “ His words felt like a death sentence.
Beside them, Yue celebrated her newly discovered Affinity for Fire.
At school, snotty girls and smirking boys appraised her cynically, audibly whispering that she wasted the air just by standing there. "She should just transfer to a vocational institution," they mocked her maliciously. There was a place where she belonged, and it wasn't here in the Magical Curriculum.
“Shut ya pie-holes, go fuck yourselves!” Yue’s firecracker voice blew those snide whispers away while Elvia gently held her hand. Gwen’s pale face broke into a wane smile.
“Thanks, Yue. Thanks, Evee.”
The futile training.
The Field Trip.
"You coming?" Mr Crusoe's face melted away, the illusory glamour fading until it revealed the cowled Dust Mage, Edgar. Debora was dominated, holding Gwen by twisting her arm into an impossible angle.
“Don’t hurt her, I’ll come with you,” came Yue’s voice, heavy with dread and loathing.
Gwen felt Debra’s immovable Bronze Flesh dig deep into her tender skin; the pain was sharp enough to cause her to whimper.
“See? It’s not hard to behave, girls." Edgar chuckled cruelly. “Especially with a little persuasion.”
And then they were in the cave with Almudj's egg. Gwen watched in horror as Yue’s eyes glazed over, smiling dreamily.
“That would be lovely— to be like Alesia…”
Gwen shrieked insanely, crying out as Edgar entered Yue and began to consume her friend's animus. She felt something building up within her, boiling over, spilling out. There was a burst of darkness, not unlike the discharge of a tenebrous pustule discharging its cargo of malicious, plague-ridden puss.
Edgar stared in disbelief at his displaced arm and leg, then teleported away, just as well that he had a meat shield handy to take the brunt of Gwen's attack.
After all, who'd thought the Gwen would be a Void user?
"No!" Gwen heard herself cry out.
Gwen hunched over from the weight of her guilt.
Yue's casket was kept closed for the ceremony.
Henry stood beside her, sombrely dressed in his dark tweed jacket and a grey woollen vest.
“You can be honest with me, child. I will accommodate you, for your sake, for Alesia’s sake, to the best of our abilities. What do you say?”
“I want POWER,” Gwen began. “I want the power to save my friends. If I had been more powerful…” Her eyes were dead, two hazel stones staring into the middle distance, puffed from tears ducts that had long run dry.
"You will have it," Henry intoned. "But with power comes accountability."
The old sorcerer talked of obligation, of the remorse that came with dominion. Gwen nodded. She'd agree to anything as long as Henry was willing to teach her. She was willing to give her body and soul.
Mark Chandler's quest.
Gwen woke from the aftermath of Caliban's carnage, scared and alone, whimpering and mewling like a snivelling child. She'd thought herself ready for anything, but not for this.
Gunther appeared like Apollo's visage, and Gwen sunk into his strong arms, feeling safe at last. There was nothing for Gunther to teach her, though. Nothing was left alive within the slaver's compound.
Her familiar had dined to its heart's content.
Debora's face moved from Gwen's, a silver thread of saliva parting between them. Debora's hands wrapped around Gwen's waist and pulled her closer. Gwen's heart was still bleeding from the rejection of the immovable Gunther Shultz. Debora's interest came as a panacea that she needed. Without thinking, Gwen returned the kiss and allowed the fire to stoke, flaming high in the long night of the cold Outback.
Debora's warm body.
Of her companions, only Debora gave Gwen what she wanted.
Debora said she loved her.
Gwen said nothing.
But it would do.
They kissed again.
When she opened her eyes, they were in Rosebay. A faceless companion, Yue's replacement who Gwen never liked, was skewered like a meaty kabob on a Merman's spear. Elvia rushed forward haphazardly to heal the poor sod, sobbing and crying as the mortal wound liberated her innards.
Gwen desperately incanted a Void Bolt, but her constitution was far too feeble; she was already skin and bones.
Elvia’s body fell beside her like a battered, broken doll, a toy in blood.
Alesia pulls her away. There was no time to grieve.
Her Master must return to the Grot; else, all was lost.
Debora took Gwen by the arms and tore the girl from Elvia.
"No!" Gwen moaned, trashing in Debora's arm. "Don't eat me! For fuck's sake, don't! Spare me, kill me even, but not that!"
"This is the only way we can be strong." Faceless explained to her. "You're too weak."
Gwen trashed and kicked as Faceless began her terrible work. In desperation, she channelled everything she had into her Evocation Sigil, feeling it fill with the life-draining darkness.
"You can't have it! It's mine! MINE!" she screamed insanely. She channelled everything she had, feeling the last motes of her consciousness fade away, preferring suicide over being consumed by a skin-changer.
Faceless stopped when she reached Morye's kirin necklace.
There was a moment of hesitation.
A black hole tore the sky asunder, smothering Sydney with its enervating rays, consuming everything.
Gwen shot up with a violent start.
What the FUCK was that? She thought to herself, feeling her skin slickered with shimmering cold sweat, sticky against the stifling futon.
The room was dark. Was it night time? Had they turned the lights off? What kind of a dream was that? No, that wasn't so much a dream but a waking nightmare. Was it a night terror induced by her anxiety? Gwen tried to orientate her mind. The vexing vision had felt so real.
“Gwen?” a voice came across the hall, muffled and distant, from the room adjacent to her own. A familiar voice. A voice that, at this moment, was hateful to her.
“Dad?” Gwen felt her voice tremble tumultuously; anger, gladness, fear and loathing forming a cocktail of volatile emotions. “Dad, what… what the fuck is happening? Why I am here?”
“Don’t speak… go to sleep. Everything will be okay tomorrow.”
“I don’t… I…”
“Shhhhh, the walls have ears. Tomorrow.”
Gwen tried to shut up, but her good girl persona had run out of fuel.
"What tomorrow?" Gwen vehemently spat in the dark. "What does that even mean? Tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow! To our dusty deaths! Is that what you mean? You bastard!"
"This isn't the time to wax poetry," Morye hissed next door. "Get some sleep. You're going to need it."
But how could Gwen sleep now?
"Fuck you so much."
Gwen sobbed. It was done. Now she could sleep.
Evee. Gwen chanted like a mantra inside her head. One Evee. Two Evees. Three Evees.
Slowly, inevitably, the lull of sleep came.
Thankfully, this time, without the nightmares.