The sarsh started out of his sleep, turning over. Clint standing a few feet away.
“What?” The sarsh grumbled roughly.
Rune groaned, climbing stiffly to his feet. He groaned, rubbing his eyes. Wren laid on the floor of the resting area, his head resting on a stack of four pillows. “We can let him sleep,” The Beacon told Clint as they climbed the ladder into the head. Keila greeted Rune with a small, nervous smile; Clint gripped her hand.
“We’re going home, Kel.” He whispered. She smiled faintly. “Home.” She murmured. “Going back to being fugitives everywhere.”
Clint was silent and Rune knew what he was thinking. Clint was considering how he could get his family onto Sulien; Rune couldn’t blame him. Sulien was a peaceful place: none of the Embers had seen the civilized part of Vale, but from what they heard from Tyrene, it was a beautiful place.
Medics and P.I. agents poured into Sariel, bombarding the Embers with questions. The Beacon stopped them with one weary glare. “Wren is below; you’re not to bother him. He’s asleep.”
Another din of voices. Frustration grew as the crowd pressed against him, trying to get past his massive frame. He pushed them back, losing his patience quickly. “Stop it! He’s trying to sleep!”
“I’m awake now.” The voice stopped everyone; Rune twisted around and saw Wren’s face peeking through the hole.
“I’m sorry, Wren. They are desperate to see you.”
The frost giant eyed the crowd and swallowed. “I can see that. Where are we?”
The leader of the Embers face the medics and agents. “Give me a minute to get him oriented.”
They protested, insisting to see the frost giant, but Rune ignored them and disappeared into the hatch, closing it behind him.
“This planet is called Sulien, and this location, Vale. This is where Tyrene and his people live, this is where Project Ignite was born. There are medics and some agents eager to meet you. Are you up for it?”
“Well, I need the medics, besides that, no.”
“I agree. Wait here, I’ll be back.” Rune stood and leaped, phasing through the ceiling, not bothering to open the hatch. The people started with a chorus of surprised expletives. “Everyone but two medics leave. Wren is not in shape to answer any questions.”
Slowly, they obeyed until all but two had left. The sarsh allowed them into the lower level and he watched as they carefully approached, asking soft questions. With the adrenaline of his mission fading, Rune felt himself falling asleep, his eyes drooping and head nodding. One medic glanced at him. “It looks like you could use some sleep.” He said, standing up to
The sarsh nodded, his whole body rocking to the side. “I didn’t sleep last night,” He mumbled. “Was that last night? I dunno.”
“Are you injured at all?”
“So just tired then?”
“Okay, I’ll help you to the barracks.”
Suddenly catching a burst of energy, Rune’s head lifted. “No, I need to make sure Wren is okay.”
“He’s going to be fine, I promise.”
“You are obviously exhausted. Wren will be fine, I promise.”
“Fine.” The Beacon forced his slumping body upright and stumbled out Sariel and onto the catwalk. The din below drilled into his weary mind and raised his heartbeat. Clint and Keila followed close behind the sarsh, their own eyes heavy and gait unsteady. The moment the Ember’s feet touched solid ground, the excited members of P.I. swarmed them. Rune impatiently pushed through the crowd, his anxiety and frustration growing.
“DISPERSE!” A voice roared over the din. Tyrene. The sarsh felt anger spark in his chest, but his weariness outweighed it and it faded. The stocky man pushed his way through the crowd, glaring fiercely at them. “I understand you all are excited, but this is unacceptable behavior. Go back to your work. Rune, are you alright? You look exhausted.”
“He is.” The medic said, appearing behind the Embers. “Where’s Loc? He’s supposed to be taking care of his ward.”
“I’m not his ward,” The sarsh grumbled.
“Right here.” Loc’s accented voice added to the rest of the group and the Caregiver sidled up next to Rune. “Come on, mate. You’re absolutely knackered.”
The medic piped in. “I would like to check on the children, I will follow you.”
Loc glanced back at the man. “Fine by me, mate.”
Each Ember’s caregiver stuck close by their wards, doing all they could to loosen the tension in the young people’s minds. The Embers were desperate to go back to their homes, but the caregivers insisted they weren’t going anywhere until they rested. Rune knew they were right; he was going into battle and there was no way he would last when he could barely stand still. But his heart and mind were at war. Forty-five days since we first arrived on Sulien, the sarsh thought. A month and a half. Too long. What if there’s nothing left when I return? If my people win, there will be no place for me. I will be running forever. Rune’s throat tightened at the dreaded thoughts filling his head. No! He forced his mind to shy away from those heavy thoughts.
Once inside the barracks, the medic headed to Rune and knelt in front of him. “Exactly how much sleep did you get last night?”
“An hour, maybe?”
“Okay, and what happened to your face and hand?”
“I was training instead of sleeping; I bruised them.”
“Besides that, are you injured at all?”
The medic chewed on the inside of his cheek, dark eyes thoughtful. “I want you to drink a lot of water and get something to eat, okay? And sleep. A lot of sleep.”
“Yes, sir.” The sarsh mumbled as the man moved to the other Embers. By the time the medic left the room, all the Embers were asleep. The caregivers left, each lingering for a few minutes by the one-way mirror before they left.
Keila’s eyes cracked open, crusty with sleep. She stretched and yawned, glancing around. Both the boys were fast asleep. The young woman twisted around to see the window behind her; the day shone was vivid red; black brows scrunched, she stood, glancing down at her sweaty uniform. She wrinkled her nose and rifled through the dresser next to her cot, producing a set of soft, dark purple clothes. Quickly changing, she settled back into her bed and let out a long breath; her mind wandered to the recent, and still festering wound of her brother’s disappearance. It’s only been two and a half months, yet it’s felt like years. He was so distant the months before he disappeared, and I’ve been so busy, I haven’t even taken time to realize it’s only been a short time since he left. She sighed. “Why did you have to leave?” She whispered.
“Who?” The voice startled Keila. It was Clint.
“My brother. I realized it’s only been two months since he left.”
“Oh. You know, you never told me his name.”
“... Well, are you okay?”
“I.. I don’t know. General Boaz told me my brother’s pod was damaged and that he died in outer space, but you’d think I would know. And I don’t. What if he’s still out there, Clint?”
“Well... I guess that could be our next adventure back home, huh?”
The young woman smiled faintly. “Maybe so.”
“Have you thought about it? Staying with my family?”
“... Clint-” She sighed, rubbing her forehead. “Do you realize what we’ve been doing for the past months? We’ve gone from searching for a lost father while running from a criminal to joining a bunch of aliens who hope to change the universe by giving children superpowers! No, I haven’t had time to think about it!”
The young man swallowed. “I’m sorry.”
Keila’s face twisted, and her shoulders shook, her trembling hands covering her wet face. Clint stood and rushed to her; he carefully sat beside her and took her hand. She wept, eventually turning and placing her flushed face on Clint’s shoulder. “Keila,” The young man murmured. “What’s wrong?”
“I want to g-go home.” She sobbed. “I want my family, I want my brother. I want to laugh and be happy. I don’t want this fear, this pain. I-” Her voice caught and dissolved into tears. Clint held her close, his own eyes gleaming. They sat in tear-sodden silence for a long time, Clint’s arm wrapped around his friend’s shoulder, his foot tapped a gentle beat as he hummed a lullaby his mother used to sing. Keila’s tears eventually ran out and she lay quietly, leaning on her friend with red eyes staring straight ahead. Her arm was tight around his waist, the other laying still in her lap. “Clint,” She whispered. “Do you like me?”
The young man swallowed, caught completely off guard. He scratched his neck uncomfortably, his face flushing dark red; then he let out a breath. “Yes. I like you. But I’m only fifteen. Don’t you think it’s too early to be thinking about love?”
Keila’s fathomless eyes peered into Clint’s face and nodded slightly. “I think we should be friends. For now.”
A huge smile crossed the young man’s face. “Okay,” He whispered, straightening up, removing his arm from the girl’s shoulder and slipped his hand into hers. “Okay.” He said again.
The two friends separated as the sudden sound of the door opening startled them. It was the caregivers and Tyrene; the stocky man nodded a greeting to the young Embers. “You have been sleeping for fifteen hours, it is now noontime. Are you all hungry?”
Clint and Keila responded enthusiastically, glancing at their slumbering friend. Tyrene followed their gazes and his brow knit together. “Still asleep; I can’t say I’m surprised. Loc, you can bring Rune something to eat, but don’t wake him yet. He needs his rest.”
“Keila, Clint. Follow your caregivers to get something to eat.”
Keila stood. “How is Wren doing?” She inquired, moving over to Aurian.
“We have treated him and he is resting. I debriefed him on most of the important things, but I’m sure he’ll have more questions.”
Keila nodded. “I can understand that.”
The two younger Embers and their guardians left the room, only Loc and Tyrene remained, watching the Beacon with thoughtful expressions. “I fear for his future, Loc.” Tyrene murmured. “He’s going into battle with an emotional war inside. I fear he can’t control his own wrath and desperate need to protect.”
Loc frowned, his large and calloused hand scrubbing at his red beard. “I fear for anyone who dares stand in his way. He could defeat an entire army.”
“When he was with Augen, Rune said not even an army could stop him from getting to his siblings. I believe him, and that’s what scares me. I plan to bring the Embers here permanently and I don’t think Rune will allow that. To be honest, I’m afraid of him.”
Loc chuckled. “And I don’t blame you. I’m just glad I’m not in your shoes.” Tyrene rewarded the man’s statement with a withering glare and both men left the room.