“Don’t worry about me, just run! Do you hear me, Gwen? Run!”
Gwen stared at him, caught between hesitation and pure fear. The guardian’s force field flickered, buzzing and crackling in protest as the horde of monsters on the other side pounded against it, roaring and shrieking their fury. The Akuma led them, the large one pounding against the magical barrier with his fists while the female slashed at it with her sword. Only the smaller male remained immobile, his grey eyes fixed on Gwen so intently she couldn’t keep herself from looking away.
When Forneus glanced over his shoulder to shout at her to run one last time, Gwen bolted; the last thing she saw was the flash of thunderbolts raining down from the sky, the agonized cries of the monsters vibrating through her mind.
She followed the full length of the stone wall bordering the Lithaios River, her hands fumbling across the protruding rocks before she finally managed to get a solid grip, preventing herself from falling over the wall and into the swirling rapids below.
Her heart pounded frantically in her ears, the unearthly sounds of roaring and snarling far behind her urging her to keep on running, lest the monsters got past Forneus and came after her. If they caught up to her, she would most certainly die; that’s what she had to keep telling herself, or her legs really would give out under her. Fear was the one thing pushing her forward—fear for the guardian risking everything to protect her, and fear for her own life. It was the only thing keeping her exhaustion at bay now, despite the burning ache stabbing at her calf muscles like a series of small, hot needles.
Adrenaline flooded her system, her heart pounding in time with the thud of her shoes over wet ground. Gwen skidded across the pavement, making a sharp right turn onto the bridge and bolting as fast as she could toward the other side. The bridge was teeming with pedestrians. Gwen scarcely noticed them as she streaked by, their angry protests and mutters of disapproval second to the insistent prickling that had started at the nape of her neck. Hermes’ Caduceus was close by, but where?
As her gaze landed on a large building on the opposite bank with blue neon lettering in a language she didn’t understand, the prickling intensified. There, it seemed to tell her.
The mass of people on the bridge thickened, forcing Gwen to shove her way through them. She didn’t have the luxury of being courteous, not when the fate of the world was at stake.
“Why aren’t you people running?” She shouted, earning nothing but confused stares for her efforts. “There are monsters attacking your city! Run, goddamn it!”
It was no good. They didn’t understand a word she was saying.
What are they, blind? She thought, grunting as she forced her way through. How did they not see the massive horde of monsters on the opposite bank, being held back by no more than a solitary man summoning bolts of lightning from the sky? Why weren’t these people running for cover?
As if on cue, they began to do just that. It started with two or three of those nearest to Gwen, pointing toward where she’d just come from. Within seconds, every person along the bridge had started screaming, the sound of their footsteps a deafening roar as they clambered back the way they’d come, Gwen frantically scrambling out of the way as the people she’d passed seconds before came thundering behind her.
She had just reached the end of the bridge when her toe caught on something—most likely someone else’s foot—sending her sprawling across the pavement. Sharp pain shot through her arms as she landed hard on her elbows. All she could do was curl into the fetal position as people continued to hurtle past her, hands over her face with her eyes tightly shut, hoping she didn’t get trampled in the ensuing chaos.
Gwen didn’t even get the chance to peek out between her fingers before she felt a weight pressing down on her back, forcing her flat against the ground. There was a sudden explosion of pain in her shoulder, followed by the sound of cloth tearing as a very large, sharp something ripped into her flesh. Biting her bottom lip to keep from screaming, she caught a glimpse of the thick, black talon puncturing the skin just below her right shoulder blade; unable to tear her gaze away as dark, crimson blood seeped into the fabric of her sweater, the grey turning to maroon. A hooked beak suddenly came into view, Gwen letting out a startled cry as it latched onto her upper arm. The right side of her body exploded into searing agony the same moment she heard the sickening crunch of bones breaking, the pain unlike anything she had ever experienced.
The creature, whatever it was, had bitten clean through the bone, tearing through flesh and sinew alike. Blood spurted from the wound, rich burgundy pooling on the ground around her.
She couldn’t hold it back any longer; she screamed.
The pain was beyond excruciating, as if each one of her nerve-endings had caught on fire. Hot, bitter liquid rose from her abdomen and up her throat, filling her mouth before she vomited it onto the pavement. It came in one violent torrent after another until her stomach was completely empty, Gwen continuing to dry heave as the monster on her back loosened its grip.
This brought her no relief whatsoever. As she peered up through a haze of tears, she realized other monsters had gathered around her, undoubtedly coming to finish what their companion had started. A sea of glittering, red eyes stared back her, their low, savage growls carrying the promise of still more agony to come.
This is it…I’m going to die here. The thought should have instilled her with terror. Instead, a dreamlike calm came over her, the pain that racked her body fading as her consciousness began to slip away. I’m going to die here, and my parents will never know…
“Gwen!” She could hear Forneus calling her name, heard the heartbreaking tremor in his voice; but there was nothing she could do to comfort him. She wanted to reach out and let him know it was alright, that she didn’t blame him for all that had happened, that she was sorry she’d failed to fulfill her promise to him—but she couldn’t. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t get her vocal chords to cooperate. Worse still, the darkness had started closing in, pressing in on her from all sides until it filled her peripherals entirely. Very soon she would succumb to unconsciousness, and then…
There was a sudden, blinding flash, cutting between her eyelids and then fading. The last thing Gwen saw was a familiar figure haloed by a nimbus of orange light before oblivion took her, no longer able to fight the growing darkness.
For a long time, there was nothing—only the cold, unforgiving darkness. It surrounded her, penetrating every pore, replacing everything that made her who she was until finally, Gwenyth Lamelle was no more; only this twisted, shadowy perception of her remained. Unthinking, unfeeling—simply existing.
Then something broke through the darkness, slowly at first. Just the faintest glimmer of golden light, far beyond her reach; a mere pinprick in the ever-darkening void. The speck of light began to grow, and as it grew, the blackness surrounding it began to melt. It started from the furthest corners—if there were indeed corners surrounding her at all—and steadily moved closer, until only a pale silhouette remained; like a wispy, grey cocoon around her. In what seemed to be no time at all, that too had yielded to the radiant, golden light, thawing her from the inside out until she was brimming with its comforting warmth.
Am I dead? Is this the afterlife?
The warmth flowed into her, blossoming at her centre and pouring into each finger and toe. She became aware of a dull aching in her right shoulder, the pain pulsating up and down her arm until it was no more than an uncomfortable tingling—not unlike the kind she’d get whenever she slept on one side for too long. No, she couldn’t be dead. Once you were dead, you wouldn’t be able to feel anything…
When she felt a feather-light touch on her collarbone, Gwen opened her eyes. Taking in the familiar tawny eyes staring back at her, she gasped.
“P-Phenex…!” She stammered, attempting to sit up and failing. She bit back a groan as a wave of nausea roiled in her stomach, a firm hand gently pushing her back down.
“Lie still.” Phenex ordered, cupping both hands over her shoulder.
Dazed, Gwen did as she was told, not understanding what was going on at first; her thoughts hazy, muddled. Slowly, her mind began to clear, glimpses of what had happened coming back to her in fragments. Her arrival in Thessaly, Forneus beside her; the monstrous horde that ambushed them, led by the Akuma trio; the powerful force field the guardian had created to hold them back while simultaneously raining bolts of lightning down on as many of them as he could; Gwen running, stumbling, nearly getting trampled, the bird-like creature attacking her; and then, suffocating agony.
With an effort—and despite the warning glance Phenex shot her way—she craned her neck just enough to peer at him through the fringe of hair that had fallen across her field of vision, taking notice of the golden glow coming from his fingertips. It was then that she realized the light touch she’d felt before had been from an actual feather; a small, fluffy golden one in fact, sitting just beneath his hands.
Phenex must have seen her confusion for he spoke, his tone far gentler than she’d ever heard it, “Phoenix feathers are imbibed with magical properties,” He explained, returning his attention to the task at hand, “By placing them on a wound, I can heal pretty much anything, no matter how severe. The feathers act as conduits between me and whoever I’m treating, helping to focus my powers into a more concentrated area.”
Settling back with her eyes half closed, Gwen surrendered to the warmth, letting the soothing, tingling sensation saturate her from head to toe. Phenex’s gaze remained on her shoulder, both hands gently resting over it, golden-white light peeking between the cracks in his fingers. The longer she stared, noticing everything from the subtle clenching of his jaw to the way he narrowed his eyes in concentration, the more surreal the whole situation became. To think that someone like him, a being capable of great feats of strength, capable of creating flames within the palms of his hands that incinerated his enemies in the blink of an eye—could also use those very same hands to do something as gentle and selfless as heal the injuries of a human like her.
Perhaps there was more to him than being a golden-eyed jerk, after all.
That’s when something else dawned on her, the words out of her mouth before she could stop them. “Have you done this before?” Blushing, she lowered her gaze, “Used your healing powers on me, I mean.”
Her question was met with silence for what felt like an eternity, her face growing hotter each passing second.
Phenex glanced at her, one eyebrow cocked in bewilderment.
Finally, he answered. “Yes.” His gaze lingered on her for only a moment before returning to the injury that, thanks to his ministrations, no longer hurt. The crippling pain she’d experienced from the monster’s attack had been reduced to nothing more than a stiff ache. For all the pain she currently felt, she may as well have overdone it during a rigorous workout, never mind having gone on a life-threatening mission in pursuit of a magical artifact.
In all of the confusion, she’d completely forgotten about retrieving Hermes’ Caduceus. And what about Forneus; what had become of the silver-eyed guardian who had risked so much just to keep her safe?
Before she realized she was doing it, Gwen had started to sit up, only to fall back again when her stomach lurched in protest. Apparently her injuries weren’t as healed as she’d originally thought.
“Didn’t I tell you to lie still?” Phenex admonished. He returned the feather to its place on her shoulder with a sigh, cupping his hands over top of the wound once again. “You’ve suffered a fair bit of damage; it’s going to take me a few minutes to undo it all. You can at least try to stay put long enough for me to do that much…or is it that you enjoy feeling like absolute hell?” He glanced at her as he said this, his expression hard.
Oh, good, the attitude’s back. I was beginning to wonder if I’d hit my head, or something.
“But…what about Forneus?” She protested, ignoring his sarcasm, “And the arti—”
“Forneus is fine.” He interrupted her, tone gentle once again. His molten gaze locked with hers, and he canted his head to the right.
After a confused moment, she realized he was gesturing toward a group of people standing some distance away on the other side of the river, Forneus among them. Relief washed over her at the sight of him, noting that he only bore a few minor scratches, his clothing much worse off. His shirt and coat were torn in several places, revealing slivers of pale skin underneath. A man in lilac robes stood next to him, the two appearing to be deep in discussion.
“Members of the Regulations Force, Third Unit,” Startled by Phenex’s voice, she looked at him inquisitively, “The one Forneus is talking to is Mathis, their commander.”
Both figures looked up just then, Forneus’ luminous eyes brightening, lips twitching into a smile when he met Gwen’s gaze. When he saw Phenex beside her, however, the smile faded. His eyes turned a steely grey, his expression inscrutable. Phenex stood, startling Gwen when he drew away from her, both hands shoved deep within his pockets.
“There. You should be alright, now.” He muttered, averting his gaze. She thought she saw a glimmer of something in his eyes; regret maybe, but it was hard to tell. He tilted his head downward, feathery bangs obscuring his eyes from view.
Gwen didn’t budge, only stared up at him in dumbfounded silence. What had happened between him and Forneus? Ever since she and the guardian had left the Spectrum, she had known something was wrong; unable to figure out just what, she’d pushed the thought to the back of her mind. If she was to keep her wits about her and find the caduceus, she couldn’t spare another thought on the matter—whatever it might be.
Still, she recalled the sadness in Forneus’ voice when he’d said it would just be the two of them going to the capital of Thessaly; a city in the northwestern region known as Trikala. Gwen remembered how his silver eyes had lost their luster, darkening to the shade of storm clouds. His usual, ready smile absent.
She was roused from her thoughts when Forneus came forward, holding a bejeweled hand out to her. Phenex had drawn back several more paces, awkwardly shifting from one foot to the other; neither one of them looked the other in the eye. Pretending she didn’t notice the tension between them, Gwen accepted his hand, gasping when he pulled her up with dizzying speed, wrapping her in a gentle embrace. She stiffened, disoriented by the unexpectedness of it. Only once she realized that he was just hugging her did she finally relax, closing her eyes and resting her head against his chest, listening in wonder to the rhythmic beating of his heart. Given his mystical nature, it was a sound she hadn’t expected, but one that she found comforting, nevertheless.
“I’m so sorry, Gwen.” Gwen lifted her gaze to meet his when she felt the rumble of his words vibrate through her cheek, caught off-guard by the sorrow in his voice. “I promised to keep you safe, I swore that I’d protect you no matter what, and I…” He broke off, his expression pained.
“You have nothing to be sorry for.” She said earnestly, “You did everything you could, so please—don’t blame yourself. Besides, I’m okay now. Phenex healed me, see?” She pulled back from him, and gave an experimental roll of her shoulder, “Good as new.”
“So you are.” The words were spoken so softly that she almost didn’t hear him. Even if she hadn’t caught what he’d said, there wasn’t a chance of missing the turmoil in his eyes when he looked at Phenex.
Gwen jumped when she heard someone clear their throat, having forgotten all about the lilac-robed man Forneus had been talking to earlier. When she met his gaze, it was to see liquid brown eyes beneath a fringe of blonde hair dancing with amusement. It took her a moment to figure out why. Once she did, she was mortified, her cheeks growing warm as she hastily disengaged from Forneus.
Had she really been clinging to him all that time? Forneus, for the most part, had the decency to look abashed, busying himself with trying to make his frock coat as presentable as possible. It was a futile effort at best, given its ragged condition.
If Mathis had noticed any of this, he was kind enough not to show it. “While it is certainly good to finally meet you, Miss Lamelle,” He nodded courteously, and continued on, “I fear time is of the essence; we must locate the caduceus as soon as possible. Have you sensed it, child?”
He talks just like Forneus. She mused.
Gwen opened her mouth to answer, and shut it again. Now that he’d brought it up, she noted with a sort of curious dread that the prickling sensation had disappeared.
“I have,” she said, casting a worried look in Forneus’ direction, “but that was before I blacked out. I don’t know for sure, but I could swear I sensed it from somewhere over there.” She pointed toward the building she had noticed while running along the bridge, the one with the bright blue neon lettering anchored above its uppermost windows, forming words she didn’t understand.
“The Achillion Hotel…” Mathis murmured, frowning as he gazed up at the vast building. “Why on earth would Hermes’ Caduceus wind up there, of all places?”
“Does it really matter?” Gwen spun around at Phenex’s voice, surprised to hear him speak for the first time since he’d tended to the gaping wound in her shoulder. His tawny eyes were transfixed on the hotel, both hands buried deep within the pockets of his coat, “The real question is whether it’s still there, or not.”
An awkward silence fell between them, the only sound that of the Third Unit as they set to work doing whatever duties were expected of them. From what Gwen could tell, they seemed to be setting up a perimeter, only they weren’t using yellow tape, but a protective barrier not unlike Forneus’—only instead of bright green, theirs was a soft indigo. It stretched from where she and Forneus had first arrived, all the way to the hotel, covering the area in a sort of radiant bubble. Those not setting up the energy barrier were collecting what she assumed to be evidence; all manner of material being put in clear vials that were then packed into strange, iridescent crates.
As she swept her gaze over the hotel with its shining white façade, to the ramshackle apartments on the other side of the river, it suddenly dawned on her. What had happened to all of the people? No sooner had the thought occurred when a short, silver-haired man came forward, answering her unspoken question as he addressed Mathis.
“Sir, we’ve just finished evacuating the city. The Second Unit arrived a few moments ago, and Commander Lithias is having the telepathic ops perform memory wipes as we speak.” Eyes of navy blue met Gwen’s for a fraction of a second before the man, dressed in what looked like black and grey camouflage, went on. “We’ve also taken several of the entities responsible into custody, and will be transporting them shortly.”
“Very good, Kamish,” Mathis replied, clapping a hand on the shorter entity’s shoulder, “Once everything is set, be sure to report to the council as swiftly as possible.”
“As you wish, Commander,” the man named Kamish hesitated a moment. His gaze flitted between Gwen and Forneus, passed them to where Phenex stood, and back to the Third Unit commander, “Sir…?”
“Yes, what is it?”
“Begging your pardon sir, I don’t mean to pry,” His voice rose slightly, the faintest sheen of perspiration at his temples, “but several of the operatives and I were wondering about the artifact?”
Feeling Forneus shift beside her, Gwen cast a sidelong look at him, swallowing against the sudden lump in her throat. If he was worried about her inability to sense the caduceus, she shared in his discomfort. What if the bird-like creature’s attack had somehow robbed her of her ability to track the artifacts? As bad as that would be, she was certain the High Council had another means with which to locate them. No, there were far worse things than her losing her ‘artifact-tracking talent’. What if, in all of the mayhem, the Akuma trio had gotten their hands on it?
“We were actually just discussing that,” The serenity in Mathis’ voice surprised Gwen, the commander spreading his hands wide as he went on, “We’ve hit something of a snag in our search, but I’m confident we’ll find it, soon.”
Judging by his expression, Kamish wasn’t comforted by the commander’s words, and who could blame him? Gwen certainly didn’t. Still, he kept his silence. With a simple bow of his head, he excused himself to continue on with his duties.
After a moment, Gwen cleared her throat, aware of the three pairs of eyes that turned to look at her when she did. Self-consciously tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, she was just about to ask how they would find the caduceus when a painful throbbing started in the right side of her chest, building and spreading to the entire right side of her body. A wave of nausea seized her and she hit the ground, the city swimming in her vision.
“You, there—get in touch with Commander Asclepius of the Fifth Unit. Inform him that his unit is required on standby! They are to prepare to receive us within the next five minutes, unless I say otherwise!”
She could see all three of them standing around her, their faces etched with worry. But something was wrong; they were distorted, rippling like water. Their voices were equally strange, almost hollow, fading until they were nothing but white noise. Gwen gasped for air, but whether from panic or from whatever had taken hold of her, she couldn’t seem to draw in a single breath. She clutched at her chest, desperately willing the agony to stop as she rocked back and forth on her knees, convulsing as one torrent of pain after another tore through her.
Somehow through the haze of pain, she heard the sharp intake of breath beside her; felt the warm, rough fingers grasping her right shoulder and collarbone. There was a rush of heat, and then she was being moved onto her back, her head resting against something soft, yet firm. A voice swore softly by her ear. Gwen bit back the whimper rising in her throat, blinking away tears as she tried to see who it was.
At first she couldn’t see much of anything, her vision too heavily blurred. Everything bled together, forming a swirling, nauseating mass of colour. Eventually, she could make out a face framed with tousled, auburn hair, a pair of golden-amber eyes peering back at her. As the scent of leather and warmth filled her nostrils, she knew. Phenex knelt beside her, his image sharpening and then fading again, one hand over her chest, the tips of his fingers emitting a soft, golden light.
“What’s wrong with her?” Forneus’ voice sounded distant. Gwen struggled to lift her head, only to find she couldn’t. Phenex held her, cushioning her head with his free arm as he continued to work his magic.
“Whatever attacked her before, it left something of itself in her shoulder,” He answered, “If I had to guess, whatever it is, it’s toxic. I’m willing to bet all of Mythos that’s what’s inhibiting her powers.”
If anything more was said, Gwen didn’t hear it. Blinding pain shot straight through her, a scream coming unbidden to her lips as her muscles started to spasm. As the convulsions worsened, Phenex swore again, his hold on her growing tighter. Somewhere amidst the chaos of her screams and the sounds of Forneus’ dismay and of Mathis shouting orders to his unit, she could hear Phenex’s voice, a soft murmur against her ear. What he was saying, she didn’t know, but she got the impression it was meant to be comforting. She squeezed her eyes shut, gritting her teeth to hold back the rest of her cries as what felt like fiery needles continued to prickle across the surface of her skin.
“What is that?” Forneus’ voice was closer now, as if he were right above her.
“I’ve seen it before,” Mathis said from somewhere to her right, “It’s a shadow seal. No doubt courtesy of that damnable Shade.”
There was more cursing at her ear. “So I was right, then.” Phenex said bitterly, “He meant to clip our wings, keep us from finding the rest of the artifacts.”
“Yes, it would seem so. No doubt the seal was triggered to react to any foreign presence, your healing arts included. But now that you’ve drawn it out of her, you should be able to recommence with the healing.”
Mathis’ words proved to be true. No sooner had he said them did the pain subside; the sensation of having been set ablaze dwindling to a dull, throbbing ache in Gwen’s joints. Her vision cleared, warmth flooding her veins and into each one of her nerve-endings as Phenex’s healing powers took over, completely.
As she took deep, steadying breaths, she couldn’t recall the air ever having smelled sweeter than it did at that moment. The subtle scents of freshly-trimmed grass and the cold, clear water of the Lithaios River mingled with the heady perfume of flowers and the tang of leather; all merging into one peculiar, yet pleasant aroma. There was something else, too; cinnamon she thought, though she couldn’t be sure.
She looked up in time to see Phenex crush a dark, cylindrical piece of what looked like stone within the palm of his hand. Flames licked out between his fingers and vanished when he opened them, the ashes scattering in the breeze.
And that’s when it started; no more than a faint prickle in the tips of her fingers at first, growing into an overwhelming surge that encompassed her whole body. Gwen gasped, bolting upright as the sensation travelled down her spine.
“Gwen?” Forneus was in front of her, down on one knee with both hands on her shoulders. She could hear the scuff of Phenex’s shoes and the squeak of leather as he rose to his feet, backing away a couple of steps. Now that she was no longer cloaked in the ample heat generated by his body, Greece’s balmy weather felt like a winter chill to her. Gwen shivered in spite of herself.
Mathis spoke before she could answer, violet robes swishing around polished black boots as he stepped forward. Gwen glanced up, meeting his hopeful expression. “Is it the caduceus, my dear?”
By this point the tingling had become maddening, almost unbearable as it forced the hairs along her arms to stand on end. Gwen gritted her teeth, merely nodding in answer as Forneus helped her to her feet.
With his help she turned, facing the Achillion Hotel. The prickling sensation intensified, just as it had before. As her gaze fell on the rows of balconies overlooking the river, one in particular stood out—third balcony from the left, second tier.
“There…” Gwen took off toward the hotel, sprinting the short distance between the bridge and the broad side of the building, the sound of Forneus’ boots crunching over rubble following along behind her. Coming to a stop almost directly under the first row of balconies, she craned her neck, squinting against the harsh glare of the sun as it glinted off of the glass enclosures that, until then, had been invisible to her.
“Great,” She muttered, bringing both hands up to shield her eyes, “even if I could climb up, how the hell am I supposed to get onto the balcony with that glass in the way?”
She glanced around, barely noticing that Forneus had come up beside her, her gaze falling on a door at the furthest corner of the building. It didn’t look like the main entrance, but it didn’t matter. Any door would do, and since all of the people had been evacuated, getting to the room with that particular balcony shouldn’t be a problem. Or so she thought, until she tugged on the metal door handle, only to find that it wouldn’t budge; the door was locked.
“There are other entrances scattered throughout the hotel’s lower levels,” Gwen peered at Forneus when he spoke, listening intently, “Keep trying the doors. I’ll check the rest of the building, see what I can find.”
“Wait!” She called before he could round the corner, stopping him mid step, “Why not just teleport?”
He studied her a moment, his mouth forming a grim line. Gwen stared back at him. It had seemed a good idea to her, a necessary one, in fact—so why did the very prospect seem to worry him so much?
“Teleportation is hard on you at the best of times,” He stated mildly, “After everything you’ve endured during this mission already, are you certain you can handle it?”
If the question had come from anyone else or at any other time, Gwen might have been insulted. But since she was still fairly weak from the shadow seal Phenex had pulled out of her, and since it was obvious that Forneus’ intentions were sincere, she gave him what she could only hope was a reassuring smile. “I’ll be fine, I promise. Besides, it’s not like we have a choice.”
“She’s right,” Mathis’ voice came from directly behind her, making her jump, “the sooner we secure the artifact, the better.”
Half expecting to be startled again, Gwen glanced suspiciously over her shoulder, and frowned. Where had Phenex gone off to?
As if reading her mind, the Third Unit commander said, “If you’re looking for your fiery friend, he said he had some urgent matters to attend to back in the Spectrum.”
“I’m sure he did.” Something in Forneus’ words sounded bitter to her, Gwen casting a critical look in his direction, all to no avail; if he felt her gaze on him, he made no sign of it.
There will be time to quiz him about it later, she reminded herself, right now all I want to do is get the artifact and get the hell out of here.
Preferably before anything more unpleasant than what she’d already experienced happened.
“So how about it, Forneus?” Gwen turned toward him, levelling her gaze with his. “Come on, you need me to restore the seal on the artifact, right? And I can’t do that unless you take me to it.”
When he seemed on the verge of arguing, she touched his shoulder lightly. “I’ll be fine, Forneus. I promise.”
After a moment’s hesitation, he sighed. “Alright, but if you feel even the slightest bit ill—”
“I’ll let you know.” She told him, smiling.
“Very good,” Gwen glanced up when Mathis spoke, the fair-haired entity bowing courteously. “My operatives have just about finished their work. If you do not require additional assistance, then I shall take my leave.”
Forneus returned the gesture, murmuring his thanks. Gwen watched as Mathis pivoted on his heel, taking long, brisk strides toward the nearest batch of operatives. By the look of it, they had just finished packing up the last of the forensic crates she’d noticed earlier, a large procession of them standing guard around the few enemies they’d managed to take captive. Curiously enough, neither the Akuma trio nor the monster that had attacked her were among them.
She would have to ask Forneus what had become of them later. For now, she had more important matters to attend to. Not a word passed between them as both turned toward the hotel simultaneously, their gazes upward.
Closing her eyes, Gwen took hold of his hand, and after a dizzying rush, opened them to find that she had a spectacular view of the Lithaios River, the sun’s light reflecting off of the softly-lapping waters.
Okay, now to find the caduceus.
It didn’t take more than a few minutes before they were both seized in a bubble of radiant light. A winged staff, no longer than Gwen’s forearm, floated down, appearing from just below the ridge separating the balcony above them from the one they stood on. Once it was nestled in the palm of her hand, a silver-white beam lanced out from it, striking Forneus square in the chest.
Just as with the goblet, no voice resounded in Gwen’s mind to tell her whether she had gained another power, or not; but Forneus had, she knew. As soon as the light had receded, he immediately called it forth.
It being the ability to summon weapons out of thin air, or so it appeared to her as he held out his arm, a brilliantly shining long sword materializing in his grasp and disappearing with a flick of his wrist. The ‘arcane arts’, he called them, telling her that this was but one of its many uses. She told him that whatever they were called, they were about the coolest thing she’d ever seen. Forneus had smiled at that.
When they saw that members of the Third Unit were leading people back into the city—tourists and locals, alike—Forneus decided it was time to go. However, with so many people pouring into the streets, making their way toward the hotel, it would have been impossible for them to teleport without being sighted. So, they did the most inconspicuous thing imaginable; they walked out, appearing as nothing more than a couple of tourists, only Forneus drawing mild attention with his old-fashioned attire.
Once they were safely on the opposite side of the river, Gwen just happened to glance up at the hotel’s sign. Something seemed different about the blue lettering, but for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out what it was.
She was just about to ask Forneus if he noticed anything strange about it, when her temples started to throb, her vision becoming blurred. She had one last, fleeting impression that the mission had indeed caught up with her just as he had said it would, when exhaustion stole over her. Unable to keep her eyes open any longer, she succumbed to it; the last vestiges of consciousness fading as she was swept up into a pair of familiar arms.