Elana took a slower, longer path home after her inaugural flight with Colonel Daklan, her visitation to Prometheus, and her interview with what were soon to be her future employers. That morning, she dressed in attire professional yet unsensible for the heat of Egypt–now it was the civil twilight of Essex in mid-February, her shivering barely kept at bay by her passive, stirring Anima.
She walked with her arms tightly crossed, her face twisted in exhaustion and worry as she continued along one of the many scattered roads bordering the town of Saffron Walden. It had been at least two years since she had discovered the future she was to inherit, going out of her way considerably to find it: first, there was the property her grandparents used to live in, so much dust to remove and so many memories of a life she never knew they lived; the St. Mary’s Cathedral, where they had been married, and found a place to match their colour-faded wedding photos, the only evidence they shared of themselves in her childhood; the cemetery on Thaxted Road, where they had actually been buried, leaving Elana to wonder just who was lowered into those grave sites back in Canada, and so much more that still remained out of her grasp–her best leads remained meticulously tucked away, stowed, or concealed by decades-old wards she dared not touch in her own home.
To live in an inheritance property a half-hour’s walk from a small town of 14,000 residents was what she needed to rest from each and every day’s exposure to people–all of their little flickers of mood and impulse that used to disturb her, but now only caused a gradual discomfort. Every few minutes, a shipping truck or taxi would catch Elana’s sulky walk, slowing to lower a window and shout if she was okay–Elana would turn her head, pulling out the best fake English accent she could that she didn’t need help, and if that wasn’t enough to content the driver in question, her eyes would narrow and gaze into theirs for whatever empathetically-supported reassurance or threat was just enough for them to drive away.
The moisture in the air curtailed the pleasant ozone smell that resulted from utilizing her Chaotic, emotional abilities. She didn’t know how long this particular walk would take–switching roads and paths home was a very regular thing she did at the end of most workdays. What was harder for her, in every sense of the term, was revisiting older paths, fearing what she might run into again.
But this night, the road was framed by deep woods and undergrowth in ditches that separated scattered farmlands and even larger, richer properties–she often took the hollow earth’s path of golden branches that led her to Gamage’s Wood, sneaking past the well-groomed tourist trap of Audley End before making her way home–instead, she took a main road, allowing any assortment of mundies and Templars emeriti–and there were many in this town–to take as many fleeting glances and disdainful headshakes to her as they wished.
She knew this much about herself in that moment–that she was alone, that she needed to think, that she needed more time to herself than usual to be alone in her thoughts, and that her life was about to change. The listlessness she used to carry–one that pitied her for the amount of time it had taken for her to recover from her mind’s collapse in Kaidan, was replaced now by an uncertainty for her decision to join the Phoenix Group.
She wanted a change, she knew that well enough. How many times had she complained to her friends, her brother, her employers, that she can’t be stuck in the Red’s low-priority, high risk profile anymore? Anger flashed through her thoughts as she tried to blame someone higher-up for their decision to throw her in Kaidan for counsel work; the anger left her just as quickly as she remembered very fondly that she was still new, still curious, still felt invincible and capable, and the Templars wanted answers.
She proved herself useful in her initial sequestered months at the Hall, calming down other young, green agents shaken by their first glimpses of horror. But Temple Hall and Susanoo’s were very different. It was not the safehouse her employers thought it would be–they forgot the factor nearly everyone did in the occupational hazards of empathy: nearly each and every refugee she was asked to meet was grasping onto the thinnest, most shallow membranes of normalcy and reality, and there existed one particular day in that past that she joined them in their despondence. Many hours of deep medical sedation and an airlift later, she was condemned never to return and isolated in her own headquarters for analysis, until her brother stepped in to break her out and take her on as his patient.
She blinked as memories began to slip in her mind’s eye. Silhouettes of human forms gathered in small, scattered cohorts; she was in the fetal position, he was inebriated and on his nth bottle, she was closing her eyes and savoring Akashi’s food; they were holding hands and walking in the outer limits of the property, he was on his phone….
The man on his phone. He would never stop texting on his broken phone. He apologized to his family and his God over and over. He’d scream at the top of his lungs if you tried to take it away. Elana remembered his name as it escaped her lips in remorse: “Toru.”
Toru was the pseudonym for the last client Elana saw before she collapsed in July. His pain seemed different, his coping methods of rituals and regression a spectacle. She was part of a skeleton crew that night and had to look after his instrumental tasks of eating, sleeping and hygiene.
And one night, he was inconsolable, and she had to engage her powers substantially to calm him down.
Elana stopped walking, standing still as her vision began to shake. Not one part of her rehabilitation asked her to remember what happened. But now, she was finally past that rehab, about to release herself from the administrative hell that was interfactional bureaucracy, and there was a chance at least -something- could make sense, of how she was broken.
She clenched her fists and tried to slip her self-pity away into ambition, just for the time being, channeling more Anima into her feet as she broke into a mad dash from the safety of the highway road straight into the direction of fields and trees that would lead her to her home.
A clean, expensive-looking filing cabinet contrasted against the rustic antiquity of her grandparents’ old house. Elana reached the front door, opening and closing it swiftly as she continued past the front entranceway into an open living room, where the filing cabinet stood as a jarring, red-metallic reminder of who she once worked for. She thrust open the lowest shelf, flipping through pages immediately to find the right ones.
“Toru….he’d be…this one. Perfect.” Elana grasped her hands around a worn file folder, opening onto a nearby wooden table the crisp white pages of a facsimile: Toru’s report. For what was worth the cost of work to the Templars, the cost of dropping out of grad school to swallow a Bee–alphabetizing was a small victory.
Elana’s eyes darted back and forth as memories returned in great clarity:
“44 years old. Male. On-site 27 days, recovered from third party safehouse contamination. Documents on person were a cell phone and wallet…”
“Wallet reveals personal documentation that ‘Toru’ is not a permanent resident of the Tokyo region. Client is from Kagoshima Prefecture, Okinawa. Cell phone was found broken on person. ‘Toru’ refuses to dispose of the phone.”
She knew that much already.
“‘Toru’ can be seen holding and interacting with his phone when not engaged with other refugees or staff. Client likely regresses into fixations of past events, implementing ideations into reality by the hand gestures observed on his phone.”
Hand gestures? Elana shut her eyes imagining Toru thumbing a cracked black screen in a distinctive pattern. What the hell would he be trying to say? To who?
“Otherwise, ‘Toru’ engages in repetitive murmurs to family, employers, and religious faith. Client’s grieving is erratic and primarily following a context of guilt over family and religious beliefs. Refuses to talk about himself, directly.”
Elana gasped, covering her mouth in anguish. She remembered he was so distraught that night, she had to use her Anima to put him to sleep.
Elana sat that night in one of the diner’s many tables, her hands squeezed tightly against Toru’s will as she focused in on him, channeling warm Anima between their hands. Toru was a slobbering wreck who let his arms fall limp, silently crying and shaking his head in an endless “No” gesture in front of her. She started slowly and carefully, like she always did, trying to insert any semblance of comfort his mind would take: security, softness, bravery, silence, release….
And that’s when it happened. Elana slipped from the table holding Toru’s open intel as she collapsed to the ground of her home, smacking her head on one of the table’s legs, gripping her temples and clenching her teeth.
Sliding deeper within the mind of Toru was a sensation Elana could only describe as a broken record, spewing endless chatter in a language she could not understand, something vicious, threatening, teasing, and commanding. Reluctantly, Elana crept her senses closer in, her heart quickening as she exposed herself to the unadulterated and raw madness of her companion’s trauma.
Each cold, sharp sensation translated into shivers, tears, and mumbled mantras from the outside. Mantras she eventually started repeating in unison with him. Tears that eventually dehydrated her, assaulted her head with a migraine and a river of sinuous thoughts beyond comprehension before losing her balance out of her chair and curling up in helplessness and fear.
Elana glowered as she forced her palms to ground, channeling Chaos beneath her as the aged, wooden floorboards shattered immediately beneath her hands. Breathing deeply, Elana’s vision returned to the sight of splintered wood, her bloodied skin, and patches of her hair against her knuckles. She brushed a shaky hand through her hair–an alarming number of strands came wrapped around her fingers. Hair loss, numbness and anxiety were typical signs that she couldn’t control her powers. Cursing under her breath, Elana leaned back into a sitting position, drawing her knees up to lean against her forehead, exhausted.
She knew this much about herself in that moment–that she was alone, that she needed to think, that she needed more time to herself than usual to be alone in her thoughts, and that her life was about to change…
and that she needed, beyond anything, to find out who Toru was. Any possible word or trace of where he once was or could be. Whether he didn’t mean to do it. Whether he did. Whether or not he found his family again.
And whether or not he was planted there on purpose.
Elana returned a hand to her chest and grasped at her sweater with a clumsy fist. A nervous smile came to her face–maybe this was the change she was finally looking for.