Chapter 2 - The News

1980 Words
William sighed, putting the last of the papers on the table and slumping back in his chair. His neck was stiff from all the sitting and his eyes were dead tired from reading. He had gone over the reports for the food supplies and other small necessities, the extra clothes and blankets, and study books for the children. Their number seemed to be growing with each passing day, and he didn’t know how long they were going to be able to support such a large group without something terrible happening. Getting people over the border had become almost impossible, and with the new security systems that the humans announced two months ago, detecting Ascendants had become a daily routine. Their finances were also dwindling. He didn’t want to resort to stealing and give the humans more ammunition to attack them with, but with the way things were going, their choices were getting more and more limited. And what was worse, Damien seemed to have gone on a rampage. Just in the past month, he had leveled up several office buildings with hundreds of people inside, had his followers attack civilians in the middle of Times Square, and had two senators killed. William had to figure out a way to keep him in check since if left to his devices, he would cause irreparable damage to the already feeble relationship with the humans. But William lacked the resources. He lacked the manpower. He lacked the time. There was so much to do and all he could think about was her. A knock came from the door and William turned to look at it, wondering if he should pretend he wasn’t in. A long pause followed, and for a moment he thought they had left, when another knock followed. “Enter.” He sighed, straightening up in the chair. The door opened, and Camille stepped in, giving him a warm smile. She was a short, frail woman in her late forties, with thick brown hair that she usually wore in a ponytail. Even though she had joined him barely a year ago, her attention to detail and quick thinking had saved them a lot of trouble. She always seemed calm and collected, her smile ever-present on her face even when she was giving him an earful. “You’re here,” she said, not at all surprised. “Do you have a minute?” “Sure,” William replied, motioning toward the empty chair on the other side of the table. There wasn’t enough space for everyone in the Headquarters so he had to use his bedroom as his office and often enough even as a community room since the conference room had been converted into a sleeping space for the younger people who had come without parents or any immediate family. Camille took a seat, her eyes gliding over the mess. “How long have you been here?” she asked. William looked at his watch, surprised to see that it was already evening. “Since I woke up.” His stomach growled, reminding him he hadn’t eaten anything all day. He had been so eager to finish all the work that had piled up that he hadn’t even thought of food until now. Gathering the papers in three piles, he pushed one of them toward her. “This is the best I could do. I wrote down the other bank account you can use, but as usual, don’t withdraw too much too fast or they will flag it. I’ll figure out how to get more money.” “Great,” she said, not even looking down at the papers. “Were you able to sleep last night?” “I’m sleeping fine.” William lied, placing his hand on the other pile. “Can you give those to Peter? I went over the list of volunteers to join the Order, and I’ve marked those who I think are suitable. The others pose too high of a risk to be given any big responsibility—they all have too many prior transgressions for violent behavior or misconduct. He can pick whoever he sees fit and gather them around noon on Friday—we’ll have them take the oath then.” “And the others?” “Give them some trivial role here at Headquarters to keep them from causing trouble,” William said, craning his neck until it cracked. The tension in it lessened a little. “Talking about roles…” Camille said, leaning back in her chair and crossing her legs. “This place needs more structure. I know you’re doing everything you can, but it is chaos out there. It wouldn’t be long before fights break out and people get hurt. They need to know who is in charge and they need to be clear about what the punishments are for breaking the rules. We can’t let them do as they please just because they are in a difficult situation.” “I know, I know.” William sighed. “Just let Iris handle it. She…” William trailed off, letting his head drop. His heart sank as he remembered he couldn’t do that. Not anymore. “She isn’t here.” He licked his lips, pushing away the feeling of loss that was trying to suffocate him ever since she left. As if losing Annabel wasn’t enough. “Can’t Ariana do it? She should be more involved, so the transition can be smoother.” Camille didn’t reply, and he forced himself to look at her. Her smile had dropped, and she was staring at him with a serious expression. Her dark eyes were sharp and full of what he thought was disapproval. She usually backed him up in all of his decisions, so to see her show her discontent was surprising. “What’s with the face?” William frowned. “She is still adjusting to this world. She has been gone for seven years and a lot has changed since then. But she looks like a bright girl, so I’m not that worried about her. But,” Camille paused, pursing her lips for a moment, “there is another problem.” William watched her carefully as she picked her words, finally meeting his gaze. “I understand that Ariana was an important figure for the old Order. She was known to the old members and the human world, and she achieved a lot before her death. I don’t know what makes you believe that she could just pick up from where she left off, but you need to consider what is happening around you.” She leaned forward, setting her elbows on the table and intertwining her fingers. “Those who knew her from before are wary of her because of how she was brought back. She had been dead for seven years and nobody knows what happened to her during that time. Even if we did, it’s still unnatural so it’s not so easy to get used to. And those who don’t know her from before…well, you can’t build lasting trust and respect overnight.” Her gaze lowered to the table, and she kept it there as she continued. “The people in the new Order follow you, William. Being out of their own volition or because of the oath, they follow you. We believed in you even before you announced your plan to bring Ariana back. Even if you didn’t bring her back, we would have still followed you.” “I brought her back for you,” William’s jaw tightened. “I am not fit to lead the Ascendants. I’ve done too many terrible things and with me in charge, the humans won’t even consider peace. The plan was always to bring her back and let her take over. And I understand your unease about her, she is different from before, but I know her. She is strong, determined, and even more devoted to the cause than I am. She was born to do this.” “It’s not that simple.” “It is. It’s very simple, actually.” William insisted. “She can do it properly. But for that, she needs your support. If you don’t give her a chance, she prove herself.” “Is this because of Annabel?” Camille asked suddenly. “What?” “You’re trying to push your responsibility as a leader to Ariana, so you’re free to look for a way to bring her back. Am I wrong?” “Those are two separate things,” William said, much more defensively than he intended. “I told you. I can’t remain as the leader of the Ascendants. My reputation is no better than Damien’s in the eyes of the humans, even most of the new Order. I forced a blood oath on them. I killed their fellow members. I can’t take that back.” “But you also showed them what the Order should be all about. Think about all the people they’ve helped get to safety or escape death or imprisonment. All of Damien’s missions were about attacking others and neutralizing targets. All we’ve done since that night is save people and take dangerous artifacts off the hands of dangerous people. They’ve saved many with their own hands and achieved something admirable. People’s perception can change.” “Enough. This is tiring.” William snapped, getting to his feet. “If there is nothing else you need, I have to check on Mary.” Camille slowly rose to her feet, picking up the papers. “I’ll get those to Peter then,” she said in her usual tone, stopping next to him on her way to the door. “Take care of yourself, will you? You’ll be of no use to anyone if you collapse from hunger or exhaustion.” She didn’t wait for his reply, just moved past him and opened the door. On the threshold, she stopped, and for a moment he thought she’d say something else when she stepped aside, letting someone in. Mary gave her a hesitant smile and Camille left, closing the door behind her. Mary turned to him, tilting her head. “Gosh, I wonder what Anna saw in you. Have you checked yourself in the mirror lately?” she said wryly. A small smile appeared on his lips. Mary was the only one who didn’t avoid her name around him, the only one who optimistically repeated again and again that they’d get her back. The others seemed determined to pretend that nothing had happened and constantly changed the subject when it came even remotely close to anything related to her. It was as if they were afraid that if they mentioned her name, he’d just forget about his responsibilities and rush to the Otherworld to save her. And they were probably right if only he knew how to get there other than dying. He didn’t mind doing that, but that would be of no help to Annabel. “I was just about to come find you,” William said, running a hand over his chin. He hadn’t shaved in a while, so his stubble had grown into a full beard that made him itchy. His hair had grown too, but he couldn’t seem to find any time to cut it. “Any progress?” She pressed her tablet to her chest for a second, taking a deep breath. Her hair was pulled into a messy bun and she had deep circles under her eyes, but her gaze was shining. She looked just like Annabel used to when she made good progress on their research and couldn’t hold in her enthusiasm. A smile blossomed on Mary’s face and William’s heart jumped in excitement. “I found it,” she said, her voice shaking. “I found the Asi sword.”
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