“Where am I?” Gwynivara lifted her heavy eyelids, and all she could see was a dark, stone ceiling. Her body felt totally drained, and her mind struggled to regain its focus. The last thing she remembered was fleeing from a menacing adversary and a chaotic scene. She didn’t remember falling asleep, so she had no idea where she was waking up. Her strength slowly returned, her mind began to race, and her natural curiosity compelled her to find out what happened.
A very hoarse voice croaked, “You’re alive, and you’re home!”
That voice sounded so familiar to her, but its scratchy tone made it so hard to decipher. Whoever he was, he sounded sick. That thought instantly made her think she was in a hospital, but the man stated clearly that she was home. She thought furiously- she knew that voice! Suddenly, a light bulb went off in her head. She felt almost sure it was…but it couldn’t be…She bolted out of bed and whipped her head to the right. Sure enough, it was Emorick! He barely had his eyes open, but he craned his head towards her and smiled weakly.
Gwynivara’s heart skipped a beat, and her impulses wanted her to dart over there and give him a big hug, but when she tried, she found herself bound to the bed. She then realized that she had an IV bag in her, so she gingerly took it out, threw it aside, and dashed to his bedside. “I’m so glad you’re okay!” She almost hugged him, but she hesitated. He wasn’t moving much, and he emitted this overwhelming aura that something was still very wrong.
Emorick made a skeptical face but didn’t express his doubts. Instead, he asked her, “What are you doing here?”
“Well, um…” Gwynivara didn’t know how to explain it to him, especially since she had a hard time understanding it herself. She started off with what she did know, “So, you saw that the new police force has been infiltrated by pawns of the origin. We figured out that they’re trying to spread the disease faster, and our theory became clearer when they set the quarantine building on fire. Some of the victims escaped, but instead of dispersing and creating more monsters to infect more people, we intercepted them. One of them was Chief Forsythe’s daughter, and she has us pretty convinced that he is ignorant of his crew’s true intentions. There’s no way that those dirty cops are bringing the creatures back to the police headquarters, so they must be storing them wherever the origin is hiding. So, we made a goal of tracking the beasts, and Cody helped me realize that the best way to do that would be…” She hesitated at this point. She had no idea how Emorick would react to her plan. She would hate to see the look of disappointment on his face if he viewed her tactics as foolhardy, but he stared at her expectantly, so she knew she had to tell the truth. “…tracking devices.”
Emorick’s initial reaction was surprise. “Wow! Well, that certainly would work, but the only way we could could our hands on it would be to…” He saw her face twist in guilt, and he remarked, “You didn’t!”
“We did!” Gwynivara’s face flushed from her mortification. “We stated a hippie protest to distract the military supply store workers while Kierram found it in the aisles.”
Gwynivara fully expected to hear a lecture about her recklessness, but instead, to her astonishment, Emorick laughed as heartily as his body would let him. “You got guts, kiddo! It’s a miracle you didn’t get caught!”
“We did!” Gwynivara revealed. “The orderly that survived the incident at the Public Health Center is now a cop, and he threatened to kill Kierram. I couldn’t let him do that, so I channeled my Venenatus Sanguis to shoot electricity at him!”
Emorick appeared pleasantly shocked to hear this. “You did that?”
“Kierram started to teach me,” Gwynivara admitted. “We wanted to send data gathered from the tracking device to your orb to track down the origin.”
“That’s impressive,” Emorick complimented, which really rallied up Gwynivara’s spirits. “Only really strong people can fully control their Venenatus Sanguis. It takes a hell of a lot of focus and energy.”
“That’s why I’m here!” Gwynivara felt so vindicated to hear this information, but she witnessed Emorick using his enchantments without collapsing, so she thought it prudent to ask, “How do you do it without fainting?”
He weakly replied, “Black coffee helps.” He let out a guttural cough, and Gwynivara’s heart sank a little. She waited so long for him to get a little better, and now that he showed some progress, she couldn’t bear the thought of him regressing back to ill health. He feebly told her, “Your plan is solid. Keep up the good work!”
She knew what this sounded like, and she refused to accept it. “No! You’re better now; It’s your Rebellion; you’re in charge again!”
“I can’t…not right now…” Emorick coughed again. “Take care of Kierram for me, okay?” He glanced over to Gwynivara, who’s eyes were brimming with tears. “Don’t worry about me! Our people need you right now, go to them!” He noticed that she couldn’t or wouldn’t move, so he mustered the strength to tell her. “That’s an order!”
It registered to Gwynivara that the Rebellion general had indeed given her an order and she had to obey his command. “Yes, sir!” He weakly smiled at her. She requested, “Please get better!” Emorick’s fingers made the okay sign, but his face still showed a lot of doubt. It was hard to leave his side, but she knew she had to. As soon as she got out of his eyesight, she wiped the tears from her eyes. She walked down the hall trying to think only positive thoughts about Emorick’s recovery. She had to- she had a job to do!
Riley sat at the island in the kitchen and looked at notes while he ate pancakes when Gwynivara walked in. “Oh good, you’re awake!”
“Sort of!” Gwynivara poured some coffee and took a sip right away. She wasn’t used to black coffee and shuddered a little. “Now I’m awake!”
Riley laughed, and then he suggested. “You must be famished! I have some extra pancakes- help yourself!” Gwynivara didn’t feel hungry, but she couldn’t recall the last time she ate anything, so she thought she ought to eat something. As soon as sat down and took a bite, she realized that she was starving and starting wolfing down her food. Riley raised an eyebrow in surprise but smiled in amusement. “No need to ask if you like them!” Her mouth was too full of food to say anything, but she nodded in agreement. Riley chuckled.
At that moment, Cody walked into the kitchen in a sort of daze. He seemed surprised to see people in the room and looked tempted to shy away, but Riley greeted him, “Morning! Want some pancakes?”
“Alright.” Cody slumped into a chair next to Riley. Gwynivara, who was already up to get seconds, made him a plate and served it to him. Riley and Gwynivara dove right in, but Cody sighed before taking a bite. Riley and Gwynivara started at him inquisitively. Cody apologized, “Sorry! I just feel so blue today!”
Riley reacted jokingly, “A depressed teenager- how cliché!” Cody gave him a slightly offended look, so he changed tactics, “Alright, let’s hear it.”
“Well, it’s just…I…” Cody stammered. “Okay, so I think I have a crush on Rebekah!”
Gwynivara inquired, “So, why does that make you sad?”
“Because I’m a bum!” Cody lamented. “She’s a beautiful girl, why would a girl like that want me?”
“Oh, sweetie, we all feel that way when we like someone!” Riley said sagely. “We never feel like we’re good enough. But don’t sell yourself short! You have a home here, so you and her are in the same boat. But you’ve got the hero aspect going on. Tell her all about how you selflessly rescued a marine officer and she’ll be all over you!”
Cody looked nervously skeptical about that idea. “I don’t know…”
“You don’t have to propose to her!” Riley responded. “Just be her friend. Most romances start out that way.”
“Really? Okay…” Cody’s mood seem to embolden a little. “I can do that!”
“Of course you can!” Riley replied. “Now, go on, eat up!”
Cody gave him a look of admiration. “You’re a father, aren’t you?”
“How’d you know?” Riley asked.
Cody shrugged. “That’s just how I always pictured it’d be like to have a normal dad. Your kids are so lucky!”
Riley’s usual swagger diminished a little. “My son wants nothing to do with me.” Cody reacted in astonishment, so Riley explained, “I spent my whole life trying to pretend to be something I’m not. Once I turned forty-five, I realized that while I was doing good on pleasing everyone else, I spent the first half of my life unhappy, so I told everyone the truth. They all got upset, and my wife took our son and left. My son still won’t talk to me. He’s too ashamed to have a gay dad.”
“That’s terrible!” Cody exclaimed. “Who cares who your parents date- as long as they’re happy! I wish that was my biggest problem! My mom’s boyfriend won’t stop beating her, and no one cares! I called the cops a few times, but they never arrested him. She would lie and say nothing happened every time! The rest of my family would just let it happen, saying it was her choice to live like that. He almost killed her the last time! I couldn’t take it anymore and ran away. I’d rather live on the streets than deal with that. Your son has no idea how lucky he has it!” Riley was clearly touched by his speech, but he couldn’t speak. Cody suddenly felt awkward, so he clumsily tried to change the subject, “Great pancakes!”
“Thank you!” Riley said gratefully.
Gwynivara watched this scene unfold and got a little choked up herself. Before she could react, Beranadette walked in. “Hey guys, we’re ready to…Ooh, pancakes!”
Riley informed her, “Sorry, hon! Gwyn got the last ones!”
With a mix of betrayal and amusement, Bernadette stared at Gwynivara, who chomped on the last bite mockingly. The two women locked eyes for a while, but soon both burst out into laughter. Bernadette told them, “Everyone’s ready for the officers’ meeting.”
Gwynivara responded casually, “Everyone? Does that mean Kennith came back?”
Bernadette and Riley shifted uncomfortably, exchanging worried glances. Bernadette slowly revealed, “Kennith isn’t coming back.”
“He’s dead?” Gwynivara’s heart plummeted. She never liked him, but he was an officer and one of her people, so the thought made her incredibly sad.
“No,” Bernadette stated ruefully, “It’s much worse than that…”