Warren blinked hard, forcing himself to shut his gritty eyes for a second. His eyes had stopped burning with guilt and shame a few hours ago and now he was running on a good dose of desperation. Desperation and a sizable amount of coffee. It was almost four in the morning and all of them were running on fumes. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes again. They had been combing the streets of the small town for hours and hadn't found squat. The search was beginning to feel hopeless again.
Warren's walkie talkie crackled with feedback and he snatched it up. Trask's deep, calm voice didn't sound too excited, but it was something.
"I think I see something. I could use some people again, the corner of Fifth and Maple."
Mouth dry, Warren pushed a button and said,
"Copy that, does it look like her, though?"
Even over the cheap devices they were using in case the Society had tapped their phones, Warren could hear his friend's exasperation.
"Warren, I didn't know the last two times and they turned out to be a senile old lady and a really early morning jogger."
He paused for a second.
"Whoever they are, they're moving. I'll call back."
Warren glared daggers at the road, but still dropped the walkie talkie and made a u turn.
He couldn't stay mad at Trask for long, though. He was still too angry at himself at this point.
Warren hated the town of Monmouth with its expensive manor houses encircled by cheaper more rundown ones. The street Trask was calling him to was in the poorer district of the town.
Suddenly, his cell rang. Warren jumped in surprise and then pulled his phone out of his inner jacket pocket. They had all agreed to use walkie talkies because they were easier to get rid of if the Society was listening in. If someone was calling him on their phones...
Switching the car to park, he swiped a finger across the screen, accepting the call from Trask.
"What did you find?" he asked in place of a greeting.
"I thought I told you to meet me on Fifth and Maple," Trask commented in a steely voice.
Warren pressed his lips together. He wasn't really in the mood to be chewed out by his friend.
"Did you actually find something, or just call to remind me of my mistakes?"
"Warren, that's not-" he sighed,"I found her."
Warren froze, not even daring to breathe.
"She's okay. A little tired, but-"
Warren hung up and covered the lower portion of his face with his hands. She was okay.It's your fault! She was safe. She was a prisoner! His breath was coming in quick short bursts through his nose and he could, just couldn't get enough air into his lungs. His breath was coming too fast, and he wasn't getting enough air and he was going to drown but that was okay, because he deserved it. He deserved it because he had killed his cousin and let his cousin get kidnapped and who knows what else and he couldn't figure out which was worse.
Then abruptly, he could breathe again. Greedily, he sucked in deep breaths, rubbing his watering eyes. A buzz below him indicated he had gotten a text, but he ignored it, just focusing on his breathing. This was over, he tried to convince himself. Another few texts buzzed, urgently now, and Warren picked up the phone, rubbing bloodshot eyes.
MEET AT RENDEZVOUS POINT, the first one from Trask read. The other texts were from Stan, thanking all of them for finding his granddaughter. *Of course, they wouldn't have needed to find her if Warren hadn't lost her in the first place.*
Nonetheless, he dropped his phone into the passenger seat and started the car back up.
The rendezvous point was a dingy motel on the edge of town. Warren could spot Trask's silver sedan in front of the building and Dougan's battered pick-up further down the street. He couldn't find Elise's dented two-seater anywhere, but she was probably inside already.
Warren took a deep breath and slowly got out of his parked car. Before he had time to doubt himself, he crossed the parking lot and tapped his knuckles gently on room 17.
"Password?" a muffled voice asked him.
"Dawn," Warren muttered tersely, pulling his jacket tighter around him. He was sick of these passwords.
The door swung open and Elise gave him a big smile.
"She's okay, Warren."
Warren forced a smile on his face and nodded.
Trask waved him in and gestured to the bed.
"She just fell asleep, but the first thing she was if you and Seth were okay.
Trask was watching his face carefully, as if waiting for him to break down.*Like he had before.*
"That's really good," Warren said, not even having to fake his smile anymore.
Then, he glanced at the bed and all the color drained out of his face. Kendra looked exactly as she had when she had died, hair spread lightly against the white sheets. Then her eyes popped open and all similarities flew out of the window, because she was okay.
"Warren!" she jumped out of bed and gave him a tight hug.
Dumbly, he just stood there, not hugging her back, not doing anything, just staring at how incredibly *alive* she was. She pulled out of the hug after a bit, a concerned look on her face.
"The stingbulb that they made of me. The other Kendra. Did it hurt Seth or Mom or Dad? Are they okay? Are you okay?"
"It's all okay," he soothed, "She didn't hurt us."
As if reading his mind, Kendra nodded.
"Trask told me about the funeral and everything that happened. I bet Seth would think it's incredibly cool that I've got my own tombstone," she smiled slightly.
"After he knows you're okay," Warren added, and then kicked himself for ruining the happy moment.
Trask gave him a searching look, but spoke as if he hadn't spoken.
"You'll be able to see Seth in a few days. He's been relocated to Fablehaven, given the events of the previous weeks. We'll spend the night here and then drive up. It'll take about two days, so you'll want to rest up."
Kendra nodded in agreement.
"The Sphinx sa-" she started, but Elise cut her off apologetically.
"We probably shouldn't mentions his name in town, just in case he has some way of tracking us with it. You can tell Warren on the road."
"Okay, but what now? I just go back to sleep? Isn't there anything we can do?"
"Kendra, you just broke out of the prison of our greatest enemy," Warren said, not adding the *because of me* that he was tempted to. "If anyone deserves some rest, it's you."
"I can't just rest because I was with the Society! All of you have been working around the clock trying to find me, and I've been sitting in that "prison" playing chess and getting my hair done!"
She looked around the room and then said, quieter,
"I just want to do something useful. It's not like I got hurt or anything, and all of you look more tired than I do. I know where the Society is right now. We could capture them!"
"You didn't get hurt?" Warren asked angrily, "That's right, you didn't get hurt, you died!"
"Warren-" Elise began.
"I'm not the one who died, Warren! If we don't stop the Society here, people will actually die, and that'll be on all of us!"
Trask stepped in.
"Elise, Dougan, could you two set up watch outside?" They nodded and left. Warren glared at the floor.
"Kendra, I understand your thinking, but we can't risk what we already have. And- no-"
He held up his hands as both Warren and Kendra started to speak.
"I don't mean just you, Kendra, our source in the Society is a valuable asset, and we can't risk getting them hurt. We don't have the manpower or energy for a raid, either."
Kendra nodded, suddenly looking exhausted.
"Sorry. I just don't want- I don't want to feel like I had to sit around and be rescued. It's my fault that we're here, so I wish something good would come out of it."
Warren stared at her.
"It's not your fault we're here," he muttered, "I'm the one who let you get taken."
"You weren't even guarding me when I was abducted. And there was no way anyone could have figured it out. We didn't know about stingbulbs. It wasn't your fault, Warren."
Warren felt a nervous hum in his stomach, but forced himself to speak.
"I'm responsible for you and your brother's safety. You killed yourself in front of me and Seth," Warren said quietly,"Did Trask tell you about that?"
Ignoring Kendra's wide eyes and Trask's glare, Warren stepped out of the motel room, taking deep breaths. He heard quiet footsteps next to him, but didn't turn his head to see Elise, who laid a hand on his shoulder.
"You know," she comforted quietly, "No one here hates you."
Warren laughed, even though there was nothing funny about the situation.
"I'm pretty sure Trask does. I don't blame him."
"It wasn't y-"
"Oh, please!" Warren exclaimed, suddenly annoyed and exhausted and just so so tired to deal with an obvious lie.
"If it wasn't my fault, whose was it? Kendra, for getting captured? Seth, for not realizing sooner? Stan, for putting them in that situation?"
"Or maybe it was you. After all, you were the one guarding her when she got abducted. So if it's not my fault, it's yours?"
Elise's expression shut down, as if someone had thrown a mask over it.
"I was trying to help," she said in a blank voice, then pushed past him into the room, slamming the door behind her.
Warren sighed and ran a hand over his face. He hadn't meant that at all. He couldn't blame Elise. She had done all that she could. He, on the other hand, had been so convinced that Kendra and Seth were okay that he hadn't stopped to consider any possibilities. And that was what bothered him most. Not that Kendra had tried to kill herself in front of him, but that she succeeded. And the next time that anything happened to Kendra, the real Kendra, he wouldn't be able to help her. He had failed everyone.
And that was why he hated himself most of all.
Being a Knight of Dawn wasn't something you could easily quit from. His very first assignment had gone wrong, of course. Instead of protecting and deporting the yeti that had been attacked a few times by illegal hunters, he had let the yeti trample them. In his defense, those guys had been jerks. That wasn't even touching on his worst failures, and his personal favorite, getting turned into an albino and losing years of his life. He had dreams about that, dreams of being trapped in his own mind with almost no knowledge, dreams that had him waking up in a cold sweat. He owed Kendra and Seth his life for pulling him out of that, but that wasn't why he protected them. He wasn't close with much of his family but Dale, and even though the Burgesses and Sorensons were only obscurely related, they had practically become his family.
Most other people his age woke up at the same time every day to get to their cubicle that they left at the same time every day. Of course, they could always sleep easily on their home. Warren, on the hand, didn't go to sleep some nights, and was currently freeloading off of his brother because he didn't have a job or money. Or a home.
He wouldn't change it for the world, though. It didn't matter if the biggest problem was fighting a spear wielding maniac, or getting stuck in traffic during long drive, he was a freaking magical warrior. He would give anything, he'd go anywhere to stay one, as long as the people he loved were safe. If he couldn't protect them, he would replace himself in a heartbeat. He had been grateful to Stan for putting him on the search, but he wouldn't have done it himself.
Drumming his fingers against his thigh, Warren shivered slightly, pulling himself of his trance. Everyone was exhausted, but they weren't tired enough to leave themselves unprotected in a town of the Society. After driving for an hour in the wrong direction to throw off any followers, they had stopped at a slightly better hotel. Elise had gone to grab breakfast, ruffling his hair apologetically before she hopped out of the car.
She had also woken him up, but that was okay.
Now, he leaned near the outside door of the room, guarding it. Dougan had headed off on another assignment, but Trask was outside, sweeping the perimeter. Kendra poked her head out.
"When are we going to leave for Fablehaven?" she asked curiously.
"Maybe around noon? It's going to take two days."
Kendra nodded and then suddenly asked,
"Everyone knows I'm alive, right?"
Warren furrowed his brow.
"Seth and your grandparents know."
"What about my parents, my friends? Do they know?"
Warren shook his head slightly.
"Kendra...," he began gently, "We buried you. There's no way anyone can come back from the dead. That stingbulb *was* you. The DNA checked out and everything. There's no way to prove that you're not dead, short of magic."
"But that's how it happened!"
"I know. But short of exposing the magical world, there's not much we can do."
"So what?" Kendra wiped at her eyes angrily, "I'm just supposed to be dead for the rest of my life?"
"I don't have any good answers for you, and I'm sorry, which probably doesn't help much."
"It doesn't really," Kendra admitted, "but this isn't your fault. Torina, the person who kidnapped me, told me that stingbulbs die in a few days anyway."
"So they planted a fake you knowing that it was going to die in a few days?" he asked.
A laugh burst through his lips.
"That's... Seriously twisted."
"You're telling me about it."
She motioned into the room.
"You should guard the room from the inside. It's freezing in the halls,"
Warren rolled his eyes.
"It's too warm in there. I'd probably collapse on the bed and fall asleep."
"You're as dramatic as Seth!"Kendra laughed, "Honestly though, you look like you could use the sleep. Have you slept since the stingbulb died?"
"Not really. I just- I still can't wrap my head around the fact that you're alive. I mean, I watched you die. You started choking and-"
He shook his head.
"You don't need to hear that."
Kendra plopped on the ground, crossed her legs, and looked up at him.
"There was nothing anyone could have done," she maintained, bumping her knee against his leg, "if there was, you would have done it."
"But what if something like this happens again?" Warren asked, hating his voice for shaking, "I still won't be able to save you."
"I don't think anything 'like this' is going to happen anytime soon," Kendra pointed out, " I'm not going to poison myself again. And don't worry-"
She stood up, dusting herself off.
"Sorry?" Warren asked, taken aback, "For what, exactly?"
He jumped up and followed her into the room.
"When Trask debriefed me, he told me everything that happened. If the stingbulb had died just in front of Seth, the Society would have broken him. And you never gave up. Even before the funeral, before you knew anything about the abduction, you tried to find me."
"Anyone would do that!" Warren argued, peeking into the empty mini fridge, " I was just trying to save you."
" No one else would do that, Warren. Everyone thought I was dead. But you didn't believe that once."
"More like I'd have a mental breakdown if I believed it," Warren grumbled under his breath.
"Don't you see? That's why I trust you," she smiled at him, then sat on the bed, "You'll never give up on me. Even if anything does happen to me. That's the best thing anyone can hope for."
Warren took a deep breath and shifted his weight.
"You really believe that?""
Warren gave a slight smile and rubbed his eyes.
"C'mere," he held out his arms door a hug. Kendra hadn't died, and he hadn't let her down. He would make sure those things were always a constant. He would never forget how he had failed here, but he would forgive himself. And sometimes, family is all you need to be happy.
"I'm really glad you're not dead."
This was supposed to be a fix-it, but it ended up more as a break everything and then duct tape it together. But Warren's not the type of person who directly believes everything everyone says. #BringWarrenBackForDragonwatch
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