Thomas Dekker

July 19, 2005

9 years after the invasion

Now seventeen year old Thomas Dekker sat on his knees, staring down at the grave that had aged with the years that have passed. The wooden cross wasn't as fresh and new as it had been when it was first made and marked, but he could still see the faint outline of his father's name scrawled across the middle. His real journey as the Guardian was just now starting and the pain of his father's last real words haunted him every day.

So many things had happened since that day and the images disabled him of sleep. He often told his mother that he hadn't slept since the day his father died. He had rested and maybe got an hour or two every now and then, but as far as a real night's sleep; it had been years since he could escape reality like that. Besides, he was way too busy to dream with the other children. While some may be having peaceful dreams of what Scheia and life used to be, he was haunted with the invasion every time he closed his eyes. All he could see were the bodies and graves everywhere and the sound of cries and screams of terror filled his ears while he sat alone in the dark. He could never escape it and he absolutely hated it.

Tom looked down at the permanent tattoo on the inside of his wrist, trying to get the memories of the invasion out of his mind, for now at least. He thought about the day he received such a mark. He was rather young than what humans would allow, but he was fourteen years old. That was around the same time Scheia's new, special army was founded and established: the Dekker Forces. He honestly thought it was ridiculous for this army to be named after him, the Guardian, but it was useless arguing with the others about it.

The Dekker Forces were created for special missions and supply runs, at the moment at least. Hopefully, in the near future, many believed that they would be used in an impending battle. Maggie still believed that there was a chance to bring Scheia to victory and survival even without the help of another Guardian at Tom's side. Tom wanted to believe it, but in the past, there had been so many tries and failures at fulfilling his destiny without the other Guardian, but they all ended up in disaster. It was really tempting to just fight until they couldn't fight anymore and then eventually give up when the time came. He hated the way it sounded, but he couldn't think of any more options. People were dying almost every time he turned around. He figured that coming to an agreement with the Lydirians would at least soften their blows when they attacked. Anything to prevent death and destruction every day.

"There you are! You had me running around like an idiot in the open!"

Tom sighed when he heard Justin Ross' voice booming behind him. The boy was only sixteen but he already sounded so much like his father. Commanding and authoritative. That was a good thing though; since Nicholas Ross was the father of the female Guardian he had a high-level of respect from the others. He worked in the infirmary they set up after the first invasion. Sometime after the invasion, the Forces were created and they found more wounded turning up at their doorstep. With Nicholas' medical studies, he was the first candidate for the position. That's how things were now a days. You had no time for an opinion; just whatever the Leaders decided was best.

The Leaders were like the Scheian Security, but consisted of few people. Maggie, Nicholas, Keagen Smith, Mr. Woodworth's right-hand man, Amara Dekker, and Tom himself. There were many others during the start, but as time went by, they found more and more either killed or disappeared. Tom hated being one of the Leaders, always had, but he found that he only continued to be a Guardian because of his father's words. He wasn't going to let his father's death be for nothing. He was going to avenge him; somehow, someway.

Tom sighed and stood up from his current position, wiping off the now set-in grass and dirt stain on the knee of his jeans. They were already starting to wear thin and he was worried that he was going to have to get a new pair. It's not like it was impossible, but he didn't want to waste any precious resources for the others just because the Guardian's jeans weren't looking as brand new as they had before. He hated the looks he got from the others anyway; like he was living in some fantasy land when someone treated him with respect out in public.

"Whaddya want, Justin?" He simply asked turning from his father's grave and crossed his arms, getting to business immediately so they both wouldn't waste any more time.

Justin was a little taken aback by his cold-shoulder attitude, but quickly shook it off. He knew how he could be sometimes. "He's back. Came in about thirty minutes ago with the others." He informed him casually. That's why Tom liked him better than the others in the Forces. Justin was casual and laid-back with Tom; knew he absolutely hated being treated like some official general. Although, his sister was the Guardian; for some reason, that affected the both of them. Tom found it hard to look him in the eyes though. They were the complete different color than hers –a pale hazel like his mother's— but every time he looked in his eyes, he saw a glimpse of the little girl screaming in fear for his attention. He kept her from returning with her family while he stood there like an idiot. It was his fault she was killed while trying to escape. He stalled her and she escaped way too late.

Tom furrowed his brows, shock and slight anger running through his veins at the boy's news. "What? Why didn't someone tell me earlier?" He questioned, taking a step closer to him.

Justin sucked in a deep breath before answering, "It'd be easier to tell you something if you wouldn't go running around without permission. You know we aren't supposed to be around here, around the graves. They're too far out of town from everyone else."

Tom knew he was right but said nothing. With one last look at the graves, he turned with Justin, ready to be rid of the haunting memories that quickly filled his mind every time he did see their names written on the crosses.

"They find anything useful? Mom's been saying that she could use some more fabric and even asked if they could find some more of that chocolate stuff they found before. Woman's had one taste and already obsessed." Tom said with a chuckle, trying to lighten the awkward tension he had created.

Justin grinned absentmindedly, not fully paying attention to his words. Something was obviously bothering him, it seemed to seep out of him. "He found her, Tom." He said with a hint of sorrow in his voice.

Tom felt his heart drop to his stomach at the words. That was another one of their loved ones gone, the fact brought anger and sadness in his heart. Angry that he couldn't save her, just like during the invasion. Angry that Tilek had taken another life from him and his people. Anger and sadness for his friend. There was no telling what emotional battle he was taking on right now.

"Was she…." Tom said in a cracked, harsh voice, trying to hide the sorrow in his voice with fake authority.

"I'm not really sure, but he wouldn't speak to any of us. Just walked in and Nicholas is working on him right now. He had blood all over him; I'm still wondering if it was his, someone else's or both. We were hoping you could kind of open him up." Justin explained, trying to be careful around this topic after sensing the sadness in his voice.

Tom sighed and nodded his head, understanding fully what his friend was going through at this moment. After his father's death, he really didn't want to talk with anyone about it, not even his mother. Gabe was the one who finally snapped him out of his phase and got him to open up some. It may not have been something heartfelt and over-emotional moment like some usually are, but just telling someone that he missed his father and wished he was still there with him.

He couldn't imagine how bad it must have been for him right now, though. Months after the invasion, Isla had her baby and to her and Gabe's delight and surprise, it was a baby girl. It was hard for Gabe after his sister's birth because all he could think about was his brother, Taylor, and his desire for a little sister. Isla was always so worried about him because he refused to do anything with her, even if it was just holding her.

Though, that changed when his baby sister, Isabella, was about three months old. There was an attack on Scheia again; mostly taking the supplies and things they wanted. One Lydirian saw Isla with her young daughter, immediately deciding that they were the best candidates for their new slaves. There was a small group of the older Scheians to find and rescue Isla and Isabella, but they only came back with Isabella, never finding a trace of their mother.

With Isla missing, that left Gabe in charge of his little sister. Even though he was just nine years old, he started practically raising the baby. It was hard for anyone to separate them because he was so terrified of leaving her alone; even with someone he trusted his whole life. Isabella, nicknamed Bella, was the same towards him. When she was very little, she even referred to him as Daddy until Gabe started telling stories about their parents and always referred to Daniel as Daddy and himself as Bubba until she started to memorize the difference. Gabe loved that little girl like she was his own daughter and the feelings were mutual with Bella.

So, when separation came, it was hard on the both of them. When Bella was in the Lydirian's care, Tom and the others believe that they continued their experiments on those that they had wrangled in from Scheia. Those experiments included in making their own spies camouflaged with Scheian appearance.

They had done so with a human couple, later transformed into Scheians, by taking their youngest son and mixing his blood with Lydirian blood. Lydirians could take control over a fellow Lydirian's body at any point, as long as they had the same Lydirian blood in their veins and they did so with the youngest child of the two, hoping to slip into his body and steal secrets from Scheia whenever they wanted. It was unknown if the experiment was successful because the boy's parents soon left when their child was given back and left to Earth, back to their original home and didn't want to be a part of what was going on between Scheia and Lydiria.

They had done the same, but weren't successful in fully mixing her blood. Though, with the tiny drops of blood in her system that was mixed, it led to her gaining early abilities. It was the earliest in Scheian history; Bella gained her fire-bending abilities at age five. It was hard to control her because it was a foreign ability for Scheians and she would often set things on fire accidentally when her emotions got out of control. It was a hard thing to control, but he never gave up on her or sent her to the S.S. to deal with like anyone else would've done.

When Bella was seven years old, Gabe devised a plan to send Bella to a safe place on Earth with a fellow Scheian that they all trusted. Their friend down there, Oliver Guthrie, owned a hidden home out in the woods where he kept some young Scheians safe from all the attacks and battles and Gabe didn't want Bella anywhere near harm. Especially when they were so eager to round up all their former experiments for further testing.

Lillie, Tom's youngest sister, volunteered to go with Bella so that she would have someone she knew and trusted with her in a new, scary place. She was fourteen at the time and their mother, Amara, refused to send her young daughter away from her presence. After many discussions and arguments with both the Dekker household and even the Leaders, Lillie and Bella were prepared a small, uneventful ceremony that would take place before they were escorted into the woods to the Transportation Zone.

The Transportation Zone was created by the original, two Scheians that inhabited the planet as home. The male was able to use his abilities and stretched them like a shield around a group of trees. This enabled them a portal-like area to slip in and out of Scheia. It was guarded daily by Scheian Security's best soldiers so that no threats would come in and out of Scheia. The only time there wasn't a single guard was during large gatherings, like the day when the male Guardian was chosen. That was no longer authorized, though, since the invasion followed that decision.

To travel a certain area in Earth, a full-blooded Scheian could merely touch the tree trunk of the first tree, and "tell" the portal where they wanted to go and in a second, they were there. It was quite marvelous, though it was never discovered until three decades ago. The Originals had kept it perfectly hidden and never told another soul about the Zone. It was discovered by a young man who had been hiding from his parents and leaned against one of the trees. He found himself thinking about the strange planet, Earth, and found himself there the next second. It took weeks to find him, but when they did, they knew they had made a grand discovery. The boy was punished though for leaving and hiding away from his parents.

Mr. Woodworth prepared a small speech, mostly of advice and warnings. They had gone over many rules and guidelines they needed to follow while on Earth. Earth was much different from their home and to keep their existence a secret, they had to live by these rules when visiting. Lillie had already heard them a million times from her mother when she was trying to discourage her from going, though the girl had already set her mind on this task.

Letting Bella leave was quite an obstacle for Gabriel. They were nearly inseparable from the second she was born and brought back to him and it was hard for him to give his baby sister up, though he knew that it was the best thing possible for her. After losing their father, brother, and then his mother, Gabriel never wanted her out of his sight, but he trusted both Oliver and Lillie. He just prayed that he could see his sister soon before she was older.

Though, that was two years ago and Gabriel never even spoke of Bella anymore. Thomas was honestly worried about his friend and that he was keeping certain emotions pent up that wasn't entirely healthy for him. There was even a lot of rage in him, Thomas could tell, and he now honestly worried what he was going to be like once he saw him again.

Thomas turned back to Justin, nearly forgetting about his presence as he began thinking back on those memories. "If she is, she gets a proper ceremony. I don't care what happened to her, she's going to get the respectful and honorable ceremony that she deserves. Understand?" He said in an authoritative tone.

"Of course, ain't no other way. But, Tom, there's something else along with Gabe's return." Justin said hesitantly as he nodded, mostly for Thomas's reassurance.

Thomas looked over at the younger man beside him from the corner of his eye, nervousness filling his heart. "What is it?"

Justin opened his mouth, but closed it again. Clearly, he was trying to find the right way to word his inner thoughts. "They found her body…Gabe brought her back to us." He said in a slightly softer tone, only for Thomas's ears to hear.

Thomas stopped abruptly in his tracks, surprise locking his muscles and joints in place. It was obviously the last thing he had ever planned to escape Justin's lips. "What?"

"He had her wrapped in a blanket when he came walkin' out of the woods. Tom, you should watch it with him. He had a cold glare on his face…Looks like he could crush a semi with his pinkie." Justin explained, slightly warning his old friend.

Thomas sighed and closed his eyes slowly as he rubbed his palms against his weary face. There was no telling what was going on within his best friend's heart and mind. He felt empathy for the young man and his heart broke at the news. Gabriel was his closest friend; he was there for him during thick and thin. They weren't just friends, they were brothers. It was like they shared a brain and shared the same heart. Sure, they had some differences. Gabriel believed in actions before words, while Thomas had always been the one to try and talk issues out. They both knew how to bring each other down from the desire to go on a murderous outbreak. Thomas trusted Gabriel's say and made him his right-hand man for every mission and discussion he was in.

"Okay…Thanks, for telling me, Justin." Thomas said, unable to find any other words besides those. His mind was too scrambled to think of something better at the moment, though those were his true feelings behind the matter.

Justin nodded, watching his friend carefully with his hazel eyes never leaving his face. "Don't mention it." He responded simply.

Thomas removed his hands from his face, trying to recompose himself before he started breaking down in front of him. He trusted Justin and considered him a good friend, but he would never act weak in front of him. Justin was a key member in the Dekker Forces and he was also the brother of the deceased Guardian. He couldn't act weak in front of him. He didn't need to see him like that.

"How…How are you doing, Justin? I heard you hoped once that your sister could have been there." Thomas asked, changing the subject from him to the young man beside him.

"She's dead, Tom…People need to get over it and leave her out of the conversation!" Justin barked, a glare plastered on his face as he stared ahead as they restarted their walk.

Thomas just nodded and kept silent. He knew the subject of his older sister was a very touchy subject and he would nearly yell at someone for bringing her up. Thomas knew that it was partially because he missed his big sister and the other was because he had never let himself mourn her loss. For years, he built himself on false hope of somehow finding her one day, perhaps as a Lydirian slave of some sort. He supposed that he was beginning to face reality in a harsh way. He was definitely letting everyone know that he didn't want to be reminded of it, either.

"I'm sorry…" Thomas said softly, letting his apology drift off in the wind.

They continued to walk along in the woody atmosphere of their home, silence the only thing between them. The surrounding woods smelled musky and he could feel the morning rays beat down against his back. Even though the inhabitants of Scheia have changed drastically, the planet had never changed. Tall rows of pine trees, as far as the eye could see, lined the walls of the woods. They were as green as ever, but a morning fog kissed the face of the earth and the drops of dew on the grass and leaves gave a majestic feel about it all. It always reminded Tom of the fairytales his mother used to read him when he was a small child.

He remembered when he got lost when he was about five years old. At the time, the woods had scared him and all he could think about was the mysterious beasts from those same fairytales. As he grew older, the woods became his safe house. He could always disappear behind the floral walls and be immediately transported into another world. Many battles of all sorts and all kinds of soldiers were played with Gabriel and Taylor along the wood floor. Sometimes, even though he was just a year away from being an official adult, if he stood close enough, his memories would take over and he could still hear the laughter ringing and echoing throughout the wildlife. Now, they did nothing but bring pain to his heart. Perhaps, that was why he chose to stay away from them and only enter its majestic atmosphere when absolutely necessary.

Thomas shook those thoughts away when he noticed that he was reaching Nicholas' infirmary. The infirmary was around the edge of town, where their old village had been. Thomas didn't want to, but he felt his wandering eye peek over and take in the sight. The cottages that had housed many families that used to be so bright with light and hope were now nothing but pieces of an old, forgotten memory. There was only a handful of homes left standing and even they weren't safe to be in. Besides, many couldn't bear to be in the buildings without walking away heavy-burdened. It was all too much to bear and no one was ready for it. The only reason anyone came across the old town was for the fact that the graveyard was behind the old buildings. Though, rarely anyone, besides Thomas, came to them. Not out of disrespect, but mainly that many people never made it through seeing the first building without nearly breaking down and turning around.

Thomas tore his eyes away from the dreadful sight as the memory of numerous people that were all now deceased, scurrying around with terror in their eyes and children clinging to their arms begged for safety. Some never found that safety.

At that last thought, Thomas looked down at his feet while they continued to stroll by. He sometimes wondered what Justin's thoughts were on the old town, but he knew that it was worthless asking him. The young man was cold and harsh when it came to things of the past and he'd rather tear your arm off before giving you a serious answer. His parents, Nicholas and Charlotte, were worried about him, but it was near impossible to help him. He refused to help or pity from anyone else.

His thoughts were cut short when he finally looked up from the muddy ground beneath his feet and saw the infirmary some yards away from him. There was a small group around the front, trying to see what was happening inside with Gabriel and Nicholas. Thomas knew that they were concerned about the young man that many were beginning to look up to, but he wished they wouldn't crowd around as though he were a circus act. That would only worsen things on Gabriel's account.

Thomas exchanged a glance with Justin before continuing. Justin took control of the crowd, commanding them to step aside and scurry back to their chores. Everyone had a duty in keeping their little home outside of town in good care and shape. Some of the women grabbed their children and hurried them off to begin their daily chores while some of the teenagers began skulking away into an opening of the woods.

The children over nine years of age and teenagers always hunkered down and away from their family and civilization during the days. Deep in the woods, about a three-mile long hike, was a clearing. The clearing wasn't anything spontaneous or magical as the rest of the woods. Some wildflowers, weeds, and dandelions grew in random patches in different areas of the field, but that was it. In the mornings, the lazy fog hovered over the dewy ground and the morning sun peeked hazily through the tree branches. Some of the younger children always referred to it as the "Enchanted Forest" in the mornings when they trudged through with some of the others.

When they reached the clearing, there was a hidden compartment, camouflaged with a tarp made from leaves, moss, and twigs lying around. With all the limbs that were falling from the trees, it definitely blended in with the grassy ground. Underneath the camouflaged tarp was a hidden ladder that would transport them down a long, dim tunnel.

The long tunnels throughout the underground roadways were the remains of an old mining shaft. Thomas and the others still weren't sure why they were exactly there in the first place, but they all guessed that whoever it was had wanted to add to the planet's wealth in hopes of advancing the planet's economy, perhaps. They weren't sure if they were successful or not, but there was one odd thing that gave Thomas mixed feelings about the whole location. At the end of one of the run down tunnels was a large, boulder blockade. Thomas didn't even want to think about what the creator of the blockade was trying to keep out.

In the center of the criss-crossing tunnels is where most of the Dekker Forces meetings and training were held. No one dared go any further into the tunnels after discovering the blockades and figured that the center was large enough and lit enough for them all to be in at the same time. Though, not everyone was with them on some days. Some were sent on supply runs or involved in other matters with the Scheian Security, though the latter days were very few. Scheian Security barely orchestrated anything in Scheia anymore. The Dekker Forces were the main command since Thomas took charge over it. Just another thing Thomas hated; the extra attention.

Justin glanced back at Thomas after the crowd had decreased and took in a deep breath. For some reason Thomas could never explain, Justin always acted as though he were preparing for some big speech of some kind whenever he came into his father's presence. There was definitely something troubling the young man, but Thomas knew it was impossible to get anything out of him. It'd be useless to even ask.

Justin pulled his red-white-and-black plaid shirt sleeve up his arm before reaching up and grabbing the opening of the tent and pulled back gently, careful not to rip away the delicate fabric. He still remembered the last time he stormed away during one of his rants some years ago.

After letting Thomas duck under the bend of his arm, he immediately placed the covering of the tent back to original spot and snapped it close to allow them complete privacy, though there was no telling how long that would last. Whenever someone came back from Lydiria and did their routinely check-up for any kind of harmful bacteria from the strange planet, there was already a crowd waiting to see the outcome of their mission.

The tent was fairly large, about the size of a kitchen and living room combined of an ordinary Earth home. There were several cots and tables that held Nicholas's patients and medicines and instruments. There were many different pale yellow folders scattered around the tables and Thomas could see the appearance of a small, pink doll in a red dress. Obviously the last item they had of their old life and of their young daughter before the invasion took away it all. Thomas could barely stand to look at it for long because all he could think about was the tiny girl that clutched to the doll at all times. That thought was too much for his heart right now. It already hurt just being in Nicholas's presence because of the reminder, but the doll added another dose of unwanted heart ache.

Thomas's eyes found Gabriel's figure next since he was propped up against one of Nicholas's many filing cabinets. His appearance was the exact same as he had last seen him, besides the slightly burned skin on his right arm and bloodied lip. There was no telling what Gabriel had gotten himself into this time around and he knew that he was soon to find out. There was also no telling what was going through his mind right now as he could see that he was clenching his teeth from whatever memory was going through his mind.

Thomas's friend had definitely grown in the matter of nine years. About a week after the invasion, he finally gained his abilities that he had been waiting for for so long. He found himself as one of the rare children that were able to gain multiple abilities on the day his were finally established within him.

One night, when a young Gabriel was lying down in his bed, he found himself thinking about the old toy car set that he and his brother always played with when they were younger; it was a gift from their father. The next morning, when he awoke, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked over and saw a red-white-and-black miniature version of a sport's car. He was immediately awake as he shot up from his bed like a dart and found a large chest at the foot of his bed, where he always used to put it. He immediately flipped back the lid and saw the large collection of miniature versions of dozens and dozens of models of vehicles. Even now, though he was eighteen years old and had no time for playing with toy cars, he still had them in his closet. They were waiting there for him whenever he wanted to reminisce.

Around the time he was twelve, he made his first discovery of his unknown ability. One time, he and Thomas were waiting outside the hall of the Scheian Security building during one of their important meetings. Thomas was not allowed inside this time for the subject of the matter was way over his head and needn't be falling on his young ears. Though, that didn't stop him from wanting to know what they were saying. That's when they had the idea of leaning against the wooden door and try to hear anything from the adults. At that time, Gabriel noticed that the old, wooden door began to feel different, as though it was melting against his touch, and before he knew it, he had slipped and feel straight on his face from the shock of it all.

When he finally sat up and dusted himself off, he realized that he was now in the adults' meeting and all eyes were on him. He could see Amara, Mr. Woodworth, Maggie, and Nicholas peering down on him with shock and confusion on their faces. Gabriel just knew that he was going to get a scolding and maybe even a worse punishment for eavesdropping and barging in when he knew not to, but he received no such thing. All that was given to him was a large amount of questions as Amara came over and dusted his pants off and lead him over to the adults.

It was at that time that Gabriel looked back and noticed that the door he had just been pressed against was still closed and locked as it had been with young Thomas peeking through the window, all to be seen was Thomas' nose and up. Gabriel now used that ability more than his other, since he had become rather spoiled with just taking the easy route and going through solid objects rather than walking down a hall and going through numerous doors.

As Thomas thought over his friend's ability growth over the years, it was quite obvious that his physical growth had definitely changed when he matured. The scrawny, tall boy that he used to be was now extinct and was replaced with a larger, taller version of him. His face had hardened and had handsome, chiseled features instead of boyish facial features and a round chin. The childlike dimples were still there when he smiled, which seemed to decrease with each day that went by. Years of growing up in an environment where it was survival of the fittest had definitely paid off for him. The muscles of his arms, legs, and his abdomen were hardened and tone.

His biceps and triceps had swollen over the years of exercise and regular work-outs and Thomas always thought that he looked intimidating just looking at him. Though, Thomas knew that his muscular, physical appearance was the complete opposite of the real Gabriel underneath it all. Though he may have hardened some over the years, Gabriel was still the same, sarcastic, witty boy with a sweet tooth the size of a moon. Thomas was still surprised that he had never worried about rotting teeth from all the chocolate and candy he consumed over the years, even now.

Gabriel's dark, curly brown hair was shaggy and had bits of ash and even a small, white, barren spot that wasn't there before he left. It looked as though someone had grabbed a handful of his curly hair and ripped it out of place. Once again, Thomas wasn't sure what his dear friend had gotten into this time around.

"You look like death, what happened out there?" Justin questioned as he took a seat on one of his father's cots and threw his bag off his shoulder and into the nearest chair. It had been his turn to go around and hand out supplies to the families and some of the elderly around town. Justin hated it though; it seemed there was never enough for everybody and he was forced to decide who needed it the most when he knew everyone did.

Nicholas frowned, his brows furrowing, at his son in a silent scold and Justin looked down at the ground. Nicholas then returned to his previous job of fixing the gash in Gabriel's temple that Thomas hadn't noticed when they first arrived.

"I'm sure Gabe doesn't want to talk about it right now, son. Just relax." Nicholas said in his usual calm tone. Thomas still wondered how he had managed to remain so calm during these times. Maybe it was by blocking everything else out? Seemed easier, that's for sure.

Justin just shrugged and acted as though he didn't care, though all that could go through his mind was Gabriel and what had happened to him. Though they didn't have a relationship like he did with Thomas, Justin still considered Gabriel a friend and looked up to him. Gabriel was their trainer, after all. Gabriel had learned all his fighting techniques from his father and Oliver, before he left, and from years of practice and toning his body, Gabriel was like a moving boulder.

Thomas now sat in one of the metal, folding chairs that had been lying around as he leaned over and placed his elbows on his lap, rubbing the exhaustion from his face in the process. Today had already had a long day, now he was going to worry about his friend for days. Sometimes, Thomas found, that was quite a strenuous activity now-a-days since that seemed to be all he did. There was always something or someone new for him to worry and stress over.

Gabriel remained still as Nicholas treated his wounds, finding it uncomfortable to move anyway. The burns on his arms restricted him from making any kind of motion and he really didn't feel like stressing the pain more than he already had by carrying his mother's body back to Scheia. He was sure that that did his arms no good, but he honestly didn't care one bit. He wasn't going to let anyone else touch her and he wasn't going to just leave her there. She didn't deserve that kind of grave.

The tent was silent between the four men and all Gabriel did was stare down at the ground, chocolate eyes showing that he wasn't really there at the moment as a memory continued to play through his mind. His mother's weary face. The weak smile that stretched across her face when she saw that her baby boy was there and that her baby girl was perfect and healthy. He could still feel her ice cold fingers against his warm, rough cheek before her matching brown eyes became dull as the life passed out of her.

"It went as it always did…Advance slowly, remain quiet. Victoria, Dustin, and I had the field covered, though there was no one working it at the time. They were all working inside in the caves, mining for whatever Tilek could have possibly wanted down there. It was ice cold outside, I could've sworn that my breath was icicles by the time it came outta my mouth." Gabriel began suddenly as he stared down at the patches of grass on the dirt-floor of the tent they were in. Thomas, Nicholas, and Justin just sat before him, shock and surprise at his words going as fast as it had come upon them.

"I told Dustin and Victoria to split up, but stay close while I went and searched an old shack they had out there. It looked like it used to hold crops or something, but there was a large hole blown out of it so it was practically useless. I figured maybe I could find something salvageable to bring back…But that's when I found her…"

Gabriel paused as his eyes tore away from the crack in the dirt to Thomas's eyes, the closest thing towards him. Thomas could see pain in his friend's eyes, but he tried not to react. He knew how much he hated it; people thinking he was weak or needed attention.

"She was just lying there, shivering and teeth chattering. They had her cuffed to some metal pipe like she was some kind of monster. All she had on was one of her old dresses that she wore around the house during the summer time and it definitely was suitable for that ice cold weather. It was obvious they didn't care about their workers.

"At first, I couldn't believe it was her, that she was even there. For years, I believed that she was dead, but she was right there. When I came over to her, she could barely believe it was me too. She had no idea what time it was, what year, or where she even was. About three years back, she had a bad spell and ended up passing out in the field she was working in. While she was unconscious, they brought her into the shed and cuffed her there. Said it was her punishment for slacking off on her job. Well, during the nights, it'd dropped nearly below freezing and she nearly froze to death every night. She told me that if it wasn't for the Scheian blood in her veins, she would've died the second night.

"Since she kept getting weaker from the lack of nourishment and cold, Tilek saw her of no use and practically left her there to die. What he didn't know, one of the workers Mom used to work with slipped her some stolen food in the middle of the night, trying to keep her alive. He couldn't take too much because he didn't want Tilek to notice, but it kept her going for a little while.

"By the time I made it to her, the skin around her wrist was rubbing against the cuff for so long that it was causing her to bleed and skin to peel. It was awful. No one even tried to clean her up or anything. They just left her there to die…If I hadn't gotten there when I did, they would've just tossed her body in a ditch or something.

"I got to talk to her for a little while, told her all about Bella and how she's just perfect and safe. I told her about Tom and how everyone's been and all the changes. She said that she was proud of every single one of us…Gave me some advice, told me to keep it with me always…Then, she just fell asleep. It was like the nights when she'd read to Taylor and I before bed and she'd fall asleep before the two of us…She was gone." Gabriel explained, finding it harder to speak as the memories returned with the same emotions. His throat got tighter with each word and speech grew harder with each syllable that escaped his lips.

Thomas felt an ache in his heart that dropped to his stomach. Isla had been like a second mother to him and it burdened him when she disappeared like it would have had it been his own mother. If it weren't for Nicholas and Justin in the same room, he would've silently mourned for the woman along with his best friend. Right now, he was still Thomas the Guardian. Another entry of the 'Things-I-Hate-About-Guardians' list. That list seemed to grow longer with every day that passed.

The four of them were silent as Nicholas gently placed the medical tape against his bandages on his temple to prevent it from falling off and allowing pressure on the bleeding. Even Justin was silent and shown sympathy in his eyes as they all had a moment of silence in memory of Isla Duncan.

"Well, you're not gonna go through this alone, bud. Isla was one of us and will be treated and respected as one of us. Although you've already heart it, she'd be real proud of you and how much you've accomplished." Nicholas said after washing off his hands in the water basin near a small table that held his hand towels and disinfectant wipes.

Gabriel just nodded, showing that he was listening, but nothing struck or pricked his heart like he knew Nicholas was trying to. He hoped his silent actions weren't as disrespectful as they might have seemed to his battered conscious, but he didn't feel like speaking about it any longer. All he wanted was to be left alone to process and mourn over this properly. Even Thomas's usual friendly speech and presence wasn't going to heal this brokenness he felt right there.

Nicholas picked up on this and ushered Thomas and Justin outside of the tent and left him with his own thoughts. Thomas sighed as Justin ventured off to, most likely, track his mother down. She always demanded that she come see him after a long day as this. It calmed her nerves to see that her son was as safe and healthy as she had seen him that morning. That was something of a luxury given the planet's and the people's vulnerability.

That left Tom to prepare funeral arrangements for Isla. His heart ached for both his friend and the little girl that was never blessed with meeting her mother. Bella was on Earth now, probably playing or roaming around her home, none the wiser that her mother was no longer alive. He supposed that he should be used to this pain and regret, for he felt it almost every day, but it still threatened to break and tear him apart each time it happened. It seemed to be the worst gift he could ever be given.

Remembering the date on the calendar that he glanced at upon his awakening that morning, he humorlessly grinned at the irony of it all.

"Happy birthday to me."

So, after a long break, here is another chapter of Seven Clues. It has taken me a long time to get back on the ball with this, but I hope that made it something worth reading. There was a lot of explanation going on in this chapter, so I apologize for the crazy long paragraphs that are featured here. A lot happens in nine years and I didn't want to make separate chapters and risk boring you all to death. So, I tried to make basic, overall paragraphs that would give you a, hopefully, clear explanation of everything.

I'm really excited about this story, I will not lie, and I would love, more than anything, to hear something from you guys out there! I know that I'm lucky enough to even have some readers, but I shall now beg for reviews like a toddler. Please! Okay, now that my fit-throwing is over, I will try and act adult again. Though, that's hard for me since the chair I'm sitting on is more mature than me.

Okay, I will quit rambling and let you guys get on with your lives. Please review if you have any kind of advice for me (I'm such a beginner, it's not even funny) especially with character development and advice referring to steering characters away from the Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu curse. I would very much appreciate it or any kind of feedback.

Thank you once again and have a wonderful day! :)