“Once again, we have gathered here to honor the fallen,” a clergyman, who stood at the head of the ceremony room, addressed the crowded room of Rebels. “Another officer has tragically lost their life in the line of duty. It is a hurt that never gets any easier, and today, we must take a moment to let our hearts bleed for him. Losing a member of our community aches as much as losing a string to our heart. Time may heal our wounds, but the scars will last forever. We will never fully heal, but we will make sure that those who sacrificed their life for this cause did not die in vain! We will not stop until we find the cure! Only then will the perished rest in peace! Today, Kennith joins the souls who also died for the mission, and his spirit will watch over us as long as we live. In a way, he never left us. Still, today we gather to say goodbye to his Earthly presence. Let us take a moment of silence for a final farewell.” Gwynivara and the others all bowed their heads, staring at the candles in their hands. After an appropriate amount of time had passed, the clergyman went on, “Thank you, Kennith, for all you’ve done for us as well as mankind. Your efforts will not get forgotten.” A tear rolled down Gwynivara’s cheeks from both the clergyman’s words and the people who gathered here for Kennith today. Kennith was no saint, but his life meant something. The clergyman concluded, “We each hold a candle symbolizing life, and we will each take turns placing them into the fireplace. Our flame may tarnish, but it then becomes part of something greater that does some good for the world. We will honor Kennith’s life in this way and pray that our own flames within stay burning brightly to carry on the wishes of the fallen.” One by one, everyone put their candles into large fireplace behind the clergyman. The combination of his words and a growing fire left everyone feeling warm.
After the service, Gwynivara sat glumly at stone table setup outside of the kitchen. She stared at the orb, wondering why it changed from glowing purple to green. Riley and Bernadette abruptly sat down at the table in front of her. She came out of her funk just as Bernadette inquired, “Any new movement?”
“The creature never seems to visit the same place twice,” Gwynivara replied. “It’s a smart strategy on their part; if it was kept in a place over and over again, eventually someone will notice. Eventually, they’ll take it to a remote location, I know they will! I highly doubt the origin will risk leaving their stronghold to go into our territory, so eventually the henchmen will go to her. I was hoping they would go there straight after the incident, but I guess I have no choice but to stay patient.”
Riley remarked, “Don’t you hate it when the enemy is smart? Though I suppose if they weren’t, we would have gotten them a long time ago!”
Gwynivara chuckled, “Yeah, that would’ve been nice!”
Cody came over carrying a map, which he plopped in front of Riley. “I looked up the addresses you gave me in the phone book. None of them popped as businesses except for one- the Addleson Apple Orchard.”
“The apple orchard?” Riley cried out.
His response peaked Cody’s interest. “Why? What does that mean?”
“Nothing. I just love that place.” Upon seeing Cody’s crestfallen expression, Riley told him, “By the way, good work!”
Overhearing the last part of the conversation, Rebekah commented, “Oh, Cody, I didn’t know you were an officer!”
Cody was about to deny it, but Riley stepped on his foot to stop him. “Oh yeah, he’s been a huge asset to our administrative efforts! Plus, he’s in charge of weapons distribution!”
“Yeah, I am,” Cody responded bashfully. “But they make my job sound way more important than it actually is!”
“But it is important!” Rebekah disagreed in a very admiring tone. “Without our weapons, we couldn’t fight back! So, how do you decide who gets what?”
Riley took the reins of the conversation and said, “Oh, I’m sure he’d love to explain it to you! Here, you two take a seat. We gotta go do the thing…!”
“Oh yes, the thing!” Bernadette played along.
“Yeah, we gotta do the thing!” Gwynivara chimed in.
The three of them got up as Cody, who now seemed pretty pleased with himself, described to Rebekah the process of renting out weapons. Riley, Bernadette, and Gwynivara got to a spot well out of their immediate eyesight, turned back, and watched the scene unfold for a moment. Both of them were smiling broadly while maintaining constant eye contact. “Aw, they’re flirting!” Riley noted delightfully. “Is it cool that I made Cody an officer so he could pick up a chick?”
Gwynivara grinned. “It’s fine. But don’t do that again!”
“Well, obviously!” Riley saw Gwynivara’s face, which portrayed some playfulness but did raise her eyebrows. “And by that I mean yes ma’am!”
Gwynivara and Bernadette giggled. Rebekah and Cody glanced in their direction, so they all scattered to pretend they weren’t staring. At the fork, Riley had gone left towards the training room while Gwynivara went right towards her room. Bernadette fell into her footfall and remarked, “They’re so cute!”
“Yeah,” Gwynivara agreed, “They both obviously like each other. It’s about time they admitted their feelings for each other and become a couple!” After she spoke, she realized that she was walking alone. When she looked back, she saw Bernadette staring hard at her, saying without words ‘Really?’ Gwynivara, now confused, asked, “What?”
Bernadette rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Seriously? That doesn’t ring a bell of truth for you?”
“Truth about what?” Gwynivara genuinely did not understand what she had been referring to.
Bernadette made a noise of slight annoyance, and then she whispered, “When are you gonna admit you have feelings for Kierram?”
Gwynivara nearly had a heart attack from the shock of her accusation. She couldn’t understand how Bernadette even came up with that theory, but the thought of it made her feel a very awkward pressure. “Ugh, I don’t feel anything for him except for a close friendship.”
Bernadette clearly didn’t believe her. “This is a little deeper than friendship. When you talk about him, you smile-.”
“I do?” Gwynivara reacted in surprise.
“Yes!” Bernadette insisted. “And you always find reasons to get close to each other.”
“Only as part of the mission! It’s important to partner up with someone you feel comfortable enough to get close to,” Gwynivara refuted.
“I think you wanna get a little closer than that!” Bernadette said slyly.
“Closer?” Gwynivara puzzled. “We were literally standing against each other! How can we get closer than…?” She caught on to what she meant mid-sentence and blushed furiously. “No! No! No! I’ve never thought about him like that!”
“Maybe you should!” Bernadette suggested. “He is pretty handsome.”
“Well, yeah…” Gwynivara felt a slight temptation to explore the idea of it, but she halted that thought immediately. “No! I’m his superior! That’s not very professional!”
Bernadette teased her, “Your knees are getting weak!”
To her horror, Bernadette was completely right, but Gwynivara would never admit it to her. Instead, she scanned the area to find an excuse to get out of this conversation. She saw the medic coming out of the first aid station with a look of disappointment and frustration. “I should go check on him.” She didn’t look back, but she knew Bernadette was smirking from satisfaction of their conversation. She dashed away before she could say anything more.
Gwynivara approached the medic and inquired, “Are you alright?”
When the medic realized who was speaking to him, he breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, I was about to send for you. You have a difficult decision to make.”
She knew that this could mean only one thing. “No!” She ran into the first aid station to Emorick’s bedside only to see that he had lost consciousness. “No! He can’t be…!” She couldn’t finish that sentence.
“He’s not dead,” a hollow voice from behind her sounded. She turned around to see Kierram slumped in his chair and wallowing in tears. She slowly made her way over to him as he sobbed, “Not yet anyways.”
Gwynivara put a sympathetic arm on his back and pat him gently. “He could still…there’s still a chance…”
“He’s dying, you know it!” Kierram snapped a little. Gwynviara knew what kind of pai nhe was in right then, so she didn’t flinch or get offended by his temper. She continued to hold him as he wept. After a moment, Kierram lamented, “I don’t deserve any sympathy! I’m a terrible son!”
“That’s not true!” Gwynivara emphatically denied.
“I wasn’t nice to him,” Kierram went on. “I pushed him away. He wouldn’t want me here right now!” Kierram cut Gwynivara off before she could object again. “This is just like when Mom died.” Gwynivara fell silent upon hearing this. Kierram so rarely spoke about his past, so she treated this moment with reverence. “She never forgave me for following in my father’s footsteps and joining the military. She kept saying her heart couldn’t take it. Every news story about ‘Nam made her think I was hurt. Every phone call she got, she claimed she had a mini episode thinking that it was the call. I thought she was exaggerating, and she wouldn’t speak to me for years…Then one day, she had a heart attack! The doctors wouldn’t let me see her after surgery. They claim her condition was too awful for visitors, but I’m not an idiot. She told them not to let me in! I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, but maybe I didn’t deserve one after all I put her through!” Gwynivara tried to refute this, but he stopped her, “You wouldn’t understand! Your parents are still alive, and you probably have a close relationship with them. If you didn’t, you would’ve mentioned it by now, I know you would!”
Kierram had just been honest with her, so it was her turn to divulge about her past. “Actually, I’ve been avoiding the subject ‘cause it’s too painful. When I first got Venenatus Sanguis, I became a fugitive. They kept sending police to my childhood home over and over and over again. They followed them everywhere- to work, to the grocery store, the post office…They were so sure I’d meet them in secret. I couldn’t let them live like that, so I wrote them a letter telling them to change their names and get out of town. I told them not to come back until they saw a headline about the cure. They listened, and I never saw them again. I have no idea what name they go by now or where they went. I’d like ot think they went to Florida ‘cause we have family there, but really, I have no clue. That’s the whole idea though, they can’t associate with a fugitive. If I had any idea where they were, I would at least check the paper everyday just to know they’re still alive. You’re lucky you got all this time with your parents! I’d give anything just to hold them one more time!”
Kierram sniffled. “I had all this time to spend with my parents and I blew it! I pushed my mom away and then I did it again to my dad. Maybe it’s just me! Maybe I’m just too messed up! Maybe I’m just too difficult to love!”
“That’s not true,” Gwynivara stated firmly. “I…” She didn’t finish her sentence because she realized what she was about to say what she just got through denying. For a second, she wondered if it was the grief talking or if she meant it. He looked at her incredulously, and her heart raced. He was in so much turmoil, and he didn’t deserve it! She admired his character- smart, incredibly brave, so thoughtful…Her instincts wanted to shower him with affection until he healed his emotional wounds, and with that, she knew that she felt more than mere friendship for him! She didn’t say a word though, she couldn’t tell if Kierram shared this sentiment or not. Tears welled up in his eyes again, and she couldn’t help herself- she pulled him in close and held him tight as he broke down.
This tender moment got interrupted when the medic walked in and gingerly brought up, “I hate to intrude, but this is important.” Both Gwynivara and Kierram turned to face him. “Emorick probably has a blood infection. His only shot would be at a hospital. So, my question is do you wanna take a chance with an emergency room or should he spend the last of his days here?” Kierram and the medic turned to Gwynivara, who was dumbstruck. She didn’t know what to do…