“Are we there yet?”
“No,” Erin sighed.
Whitney leaned her head against the window and stared at the scenery rolling past. “Feels like we’ve been driving for hours. Can’t we just pull over and take a break?”
“You know why we can’t,” Erin said, glancing at Whitney in the rear view with a sympathetic look.
“Yeah, I know.”
“We are going to need gas soon,” Ian said.
Erin didn’t say anything, but the van seemed to pick up speed slightly. We had been driving for more than a day straight, switching off ever so often and only stopping long enough to get gas. We had to reach Idyllium soon. We had to.
Wyoming wasn’t that much to look at either. For the last few hundred miles, everything had been basically flat and boring except for the mountains growing the distance. I’d never been to Yellowstone or Grand Teton before, but as much as I wanted it to be, this wasn’t a vacation. Nobody wanted to talk about it, but I could see worry written on everyone’s face.
“Alright, we’ll pull off up here and get some gas. We fill up and then we leave. Understood?”
A short chorus of yeses rang out as Erin merged onto the offramp. The gas station was empty except for one old man with a beat-up truck at the far pump. “This is our last fifty bucks,” Erin said quietly to Ian.
“Don’t worry, I won’t get mugged walking thirty feet to the door,” Ian said with uncharacteristic optimism. Erin nodded and handed over the money as we piled out of the van.
“God, my back is stiff,” Corey said, wincing as he stretched. I could see his wings shift slightly under his coat. I felt sorry for him, I couldn’t imagine it’d be comfortable to keep wings pressed against your back for that long.
“Come on, boys, lets get some junk food and soda,” Whitney said, hooking an arm around my and Corey’s neck and pushing us towards the door to the gas station.
“This is all our money,” Ian warned, walking past us to put money on the pump.
“Change of plans,” Whitney whispered. “We borrow some junk food and soda.”
“We can’t do that!” I whispered back.
“Why not? They won’t even miss it.”
“We have to keep a low profile, remember?”
“Nate, Argus isn’t going to catch us because we swiped a bag a trail mix. Just follow my lead.”
I glanced at Corey who grinned apprehensively. Adam stayed back at the van with Erin, keeping a watchful eye out for our “friends”. Ian pushed open the door and went straight to the clerk to pay for the gas while Whitney led me and Corey through the aisles.
“Corey, open up your jacket just a little,” Whitney whispered as she deftly plucked random things off the shelves while man at the front counter rang Ian up. I realized that this wasn’t Whitney’s first time doing something like this.
“That’s too much he’ll notice!” Corey hissed, trying to zip up his coat.
“Only if you don’t stop acting weird,” Whitney whispered.
I glanced worryingly at the clerk, but Ian was idly chatting with the guy.
“—fine, you take it,” Whitney said, stuffing the bag inside my jacket. I fumbled with it for a second, but managed to catch it under my arm after an uncomfortable amount of crinkling plastic. “Corey, go ahead and walk out—calmly. Nate, browse for a little longer,” Whitney ordered. She slunk off to a different aisle, keeping an eye on Corey as he walked out and the clerk.
This was crazy. Petty theft? I never imagined my life would come to this. I was a janitor just a few days ago, but Chicago felt like it was years ago. Did I even trust these guys? I barely knew them, but for some reason…I just felt like we had some sort of connection.
My head shot up and looked over to Whitney. Apparently, it was my turn to leave. I nodded and started walking for the door trying to not act suspicious, but I didn’t have any clue if it was working. Ian was wrapping up his conversation with the clerk as I walked out the door apparently unnoticed.
“Alright, everyone pile in,” Erin said, flipping the gas cap cover closed. “Where’s Whitney?” She asked, doing a quick headcount.
“She’s still coming out,” Adam said, looking at the storefront.
“Come on, Whit,” Erin called out, climbing back into the driver’s seat.
“I’m comin’,” Whitney yelled back, making no attempt to move any faster.
Suddenly, Adam jerked his head up like he heard something.
“What’s—” Corey started to ask before Adam cut him off.
“Adam?” Erin asked worriedly, sticking her head out the window.
“They’re here!” Adam said, producing a hidden pistol.
As soon as he said that, we heard two engines roaring in the distance, growing louder by the second.
“Go! Go!” He yelled.
We didn’t argue, diving into the van as Erin floored the accelerator. We peeled out of the gas station and onto the road towards the on-ramp just as we spotted two black SUVs roaring into view on the road behind us.
“Shit. There’s no way we’re gonna out run them in this piece of junk,” Erin said, a faint blue glow forming around her.
“I’ll slow them down,” I said, not sure where the words came from. It was like I was running on autopilot.
“Wait!” Corey said, but was too late, my energy was already flowing over me. Suddenly, I felt reality tear as my vision filled with shards light as I slipped out of reality and into the forest that haunted my dreams.
Something felt wrong. Like someone else was in control. We were in trouble though, so I pushed that out of my head, and opened another portal. I step out onto the highway, facing down the black vehicles racing towards me. Killing the agents would only make Argus come after us harder, so I had to just slow them down.
Extra energy surged to my hands as I fired two beams at the SUVs. I aimed for their tires, not sure just how much damage I would do, but hoping it would be on the minimal side. I hit the one on the right dead on; the tire blew instantly and folded inward. The second beam missed its mark and tore down the side of the vehicle, denting and crumpling the metal. Luckily, the damage to the first one caused it to swerve violently into the back of the second…and then they slid towards me as a giant hunk of steel.
I opened another portal and jumped into the Forest seconds before coming face-to-face with an accident in progress. That was insane! Why did I do that? I shook my head and sighed in relief. Now I had to get back into the van. I’d never tried opening a portal into an enclosed space like a van, much less a moving one.
“Here goes nothing,” I said, hoping the presence was listening. I took off running in the direction I thought the van was going and picked up some speed before tearing open another portal. When I stepped through the portal my foot didn’t hit the ground like I expected. The portal had apparently opened five feet in the air. As a result, my face was introduced to the pavement.
Hoping no one saw that, I clambered back to my feet and broke into a run, opening another portal to the forest and took another few steps before trying to get into the van again. I mentally aimed myself into where I thought it would be in a few seconds, really hoping I wouldn’t overshoot and end up getting run over.
That wasn’t a happy thought.
Trying not to dwell on that for too long, I steeled myself and jumped at the same instant I tore open another portal. I made it into the van, barely. While I had some momentum, the van had a lot more. I ended up slamming into the back of the trunk area, which would have hurt a hell of a lot more if it hadn’t been for my nice cushion of energy.
“Jesus!” Erin shouted as the van rocked with my impact.
“That was so fucking stupid! Are you alright?” Cory asked, turning around in his seat to make sure I was in one piece.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, letting my energy fade. That felt exhilarating, but…like déjà vu, almost.
“You could have gotten yourself killed!”
“Seems like he did a pretty good job to me,” Adam said.
“And more importantly, it worked,” Ian said from the passenger seat, looking in the sideview mirror at the traffic accident I’d caused.
Corey still looked concerned, but it looked like he didn’t want to start an argument. “We don’t need to be reckless,” he said quietly, turning back around.
What was up with him? He’d been a little off since…since…
Maybe it was the adrenaline and the sudden impact, but I couldn’t quite place when the change took place. It was just vaguely “a few days ago” in my mind. Maybe it was just the stress getting to all of us. Not many people got away from Argus unscathed, but if my visions were right, Idyllium could protect us.
After another uneventful hour and a half, the flatness of Wyoming slowly gave way to mountains and trees. The highway became a two-lane road as we started to wind through the valleys towards Monarch. It wasn’t a very impressive town; main street was lined with a half-dozen mom and pop shops with almost half as many boarded up and abandoned. The sheriff’s office had a lone police car parked in front of it. The scenery was nice, though. Tall pine trees lined the sides of the hills and mountains, haloed by a faint fog that kept from being burned away by a thick cloud cover.
It reminded me of the trips we took to Tennessee when I was younger; completely different from the rigid towers of glass and steel in Chicago. Erin’s voice pulled my attention back to the moment, “Where do we go from here, Nate?”
“How am I supposed to know?”
“It was your vision,” Ian said.
“Yeah, a vision, it’s not like it comes with GPS.”
Ian rolled his eyes and set back in his chair with an almost imperceptible huff.
“Boys, play nice,” Erin said, scanning the few people on the street. “They have to have phones or a radio, right? Can you ‘scan the airwaves’ and try to give us a direction?”
Ian cocked his head to the side, “Maybe, but I’ll still need a map or something.”
“We can get one there,” Adam said, leaning forward and pointing to a separate building at the end of main street. It had a glass front with “Visitor Center” written in bold lettering with green and gold paint.
“This place isn’t exactly meta-friendly, remember? The three guys in the hospital we heard about?” Whitney cut in.
“Then I’ll go, the rest of you wait here,” Adam said, pulling open the side door.
“Adam, wait—” Erin call out, but Adam was already walking to the door of the visitor center. “Damn it, Adam.” Erin sighed and unbuckled her seat belt. “Start trying to give us a location, I’ll make sure he doesn’t say anything stupid—or punch anyone,” Erin told Ian.
She opened her door and caught up to Adam with a few long strides, leaving the four of us in the van. “Just keep your eyes open,” Ian said as he closed his own.
“So, you guys want to play ‘I spy’?” Whitney asked, raising an eyebrow. “Guess not,” She said after we didn’t answer. “You guys are so uptight,” She said, reaching to the dashboard and turning the radio on.
Ian’s eyes opened and he reached over and immediately turned it off. “I can see EM radiation, what do you think the radio does? I’ll give you a hint: it’s in the name ‘radio’. I don’t need a flashlight in my face when I’m trying to see a lighthouse.”
Whitney’s eyes narrowed, keeping them locked on Ian as she reached over and turned the radio back on. “I don’t need to be bored when I’m trying not to blow things up. Deal.”
“Fine,” Ian grumbled.
Apparently satisfied with herself, Whitney changed the station a few times until settling on a news station and leaning back.
“—Wildfires continue to spread dangerously close to Yellowstone. Officials were concerned with its rapid growth; however, they are confident they will have 100% containment in the upcoming days.”
“That sounds like it’s getting bad,” Corey said.
“Yeah, it does…” Whitney trailed off. “I’m sure they can handle it, though. And if it gets too bad, they can call in Colossus, or Voyager.”
“I don’t think Voyager comes that far inland, does she?” I asked, knowing the aquatic hero usually stuck to the ocean.
Whitney shrugged, “Maybe, who knows?”
“Guys,” Ian said, “There are people walking towards us.”
He opened his eyes and looked out the window. “I think they’re just walking by,” Whitney said.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Ian said ominously.
There were three of them, young guys maybe our age or just a few years older. They seemed locked on our van in a very bad way. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Erin and Adam walk out with a map unfolded in front of them.
I had a sneaking suspicion Ian was right, but before I could say anything, another vision beat its way into my skull. Rapid images flashed through my mind; a glimpse of the street, the six of us facing the three of them, the glint of a knife, and then on of the guys lying on the street, me standing over him.
My vision cleared, and I was staring at the roof of the van. “Nate…” Corey said hesitantly. “What did you see?”
“This is gonna be bad,” I said, pulling open the side door.
“You mean a fight?” Whitney asked, a little bit too excitedly, following me out with Corey brining up the rear.
“What’s going—” Before Erin finished, she noticed the three locals. I saw Adam reach for his gun, but Erin caught his arm.
“Can we help you?” Erin asked, her voice guarded.
“Probably not,” The guy in front—they guy I…killed…in the vision—replied. “We’ve just had some trouble lately with strangers passing through lately, and we—”
“We’re not going to be causing any trouble,” Erin said, motioning for us to get back in the van.
“Really? A bunch of freaks like you think you can just parade yourselves through town without us noticing. I bet you’re going to join that cult up in the woods,” The local said, taking an aggressive step forward.
“Hey, watch who you’re calling a freak,” Whitney said, brushing past me. A bit of black smoke was starting to fall from her hair, removing any doubt we were metas.
“It’s illegal for you to use those powers, isn’t that right?”
“Knock it off,” Erin said, walking forward like a mother bear, towering over the local. “We’ll be going.”
“Not so fast, freak!” he said, pulling the pocketknife. “You freaks put my cousin in a hospital!”
I summoned my energy and Erin glowed green. The locals seemed to take a half step back, but they were too stupid to be afraid. It felt like we were on track for this to turn into my vision, and I couldn’t see an easy way out.
“We’re not trying to start a fight,” Erin reasoned.
“Too bad!” The local said, slashing with his knife, only for it to do absolutely nothing to Erin. “What?” He said in confusion.
Whitney looked like she was about to explode, but before anyone could do anything, an unnatural fog billowed down the street. It felt…heavier than normal fog, but it moved like it was alive. Was this a meta’s doing? The fog seemed to swallow us, cutting off my view of the locals, but then I felt the world shift.
It felt like when I stepped through my portals, but I didn’t move; at least I didn’t think I moved until the fog started to clear. I saw the vague shape of the others standing around me, and the dark shape of the van, but we weren’t standing on the street anymore. We were in…the woods?
“Haha, you did it!”
We all turned to see three new people standing a few feet away; two guys and a girl who looked like she was about to pass out. She was on the shorter side, thin frame with wavy brown hair and glasses. The guy standing next to her had a short beard of scruff and what looked like shoulder-length dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. The last guy was cleanshaven with light brown hair clipped short. Where his friend was smiling with pride, he was watching us closely.
The three locals were nowhere to be seen, just like Monarch…
“Where are we?” Erin asked, not letting her glow fade.
“Oh! Right! Kind of rude to translocate people without askin’ first. You’re a few miles from where we picked you up thanks to Luna here.”
“Hi,” She said quietly, giving a little wave.
“I’m Quill, and this is Jeremy. And, pardon our little stunt, but it looked like you could use some help. We don’t want the locals to think we’re causing any more trouble, so we did our best to defuse the situation.”
“And by ‘we’ you mean…?” Ian asked.
“Well, aren’t y’all looking for Idyllium?” Quill asked.
“Uh, yeah…how did…?” Erin trailed off.
“Savant, she kind of runs the show around here: she’s a real good empath, and she picked you guys up on her radar a few miles outside of town and figured you might need a little hand finding us.”
“Yeah. We were hoping—”
“—To find some place to lay low from Argus for a while?” Quill finished, smiling like it was Christmas morning. “Don’t look so surprised. Empath, remember? Well, she is, I’m not. Y’all can leave your van here, we’ll send someone up to move it later. Grab your stuff and we’ll see if we can’t get y’all settled.”
Quill and Luna turned and started through the woods. Jeremy stayed put, waiting for us to start walking.
“Well guys…lets go, I guess,” Erin said, grabbing a duffle bag out of the van and taking off after Quill. We followed suit, and Jeremy brought up the rear of the group. Was he the muscle to make sure we didn’t do anything to hurt Idyllium? Quill being the carrot while he was the stick?
Everyone else seemed just as disoriented as I was by the whirlwind of whatever power Luna had bringing us here. We were all quiet as we walked through the woods, no one saying anything except for Quill who hadn’t stopped talking.
“—I’ve been here about two months, and I can’t tell you how awesome it is to be around other metas and not have to worry about what people think about your gifts. And before you ask, no, we aren’t a cult or some hippie commune. I’ll be honest, that’s what I thought it was at first. Once you get used to it, you’ll love it here too.”
Quill led us into a clearing filled with an array of tents with a few wooden buildings near the middle and some more under construction. A girl was sitting on a stump about halfway between us and the closest of the tents. She waved as Quill got a little closer, and I saw her eyes were larger than normal, and glowing a solid yellow. Quill waved back and forged on into the sea of tents.
“There’s so many of you,” Whitney said in amazement.
“So many of us,” Quill corrected. “We have people from all over the States; even a few from Mexico and Canada.”
“How did they find this place?” Ian asked.
“I don’t really know that personally. Savant and Ed take care of findin’ people.”
“He’s Savant’s right-hand man. Another empath, actually. Probably why they get along so well.”
“What are they like?” Ian interrogated.
“You’re sure full of questions, but you’ll see for yourself in about five seconds,” Quill answered as we neared the wooden buildings in the center of the…of Idyllium.
It almost reminded me of a traveling carnival, except there wasn’t any Ferris wheels or halls of mirrors. There was plenty of strange stuff though. People controlling fire, moving things with their mind, even a few people flying.
“Here we are,” Quill announced when we reached what felt like the center of the buildings. It wasn’t fancy; not anything like a house, more like a wooden rectangle with windows and a door. Like a cabin at summer camp. “Come on, Savant doesn’t bite, I promise,” Quill said, walking up the steps and pushing open the door.
The inside didn’t look much better than the exterior. Simple furniture that looked like it was built by hand, and makeshift wiring. “Ah, here they are, right on time.”
I looked to see the woman who had spoken. She looked to be in her mid-thirties, with raven hair that fell past her shoulders. She was wearing jeans and a leather jacket and smiling warmly. Other than who I assumed was Savant, there was a completely average-looking guy with a hawk-like nose and piercing eyes, and an old guy with a massive grey beard.
“Did you find them alright?” Savant asked.
Luna nodded, “Right where you said they would be.”
“Good,” Savant nodded, walking around a table with a map spread open. “Well, first of all, welcome to Idyllium. I am Savant, and this is Edward,” Savant said, motioning to the hawk-nosed man.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Erin, and this is Adam, Ian, Whitney, Corey, and Nate.”
“It’s a pleasure to see so many new faces at once, but I’m afraid it’s also a little strange. We are usually the ones that find people to bring here, but you somehow managed to find us on your own?”
Savant phrased it as an innocent question, but I realized what this was; an interrogation.
“We haven’t made the nation news yet, so who sent you?” Ed asked, his voice gruff and not at all as pleasant as Savant’s.
“No one sent us,” Erin said quickly, “Nate, here is a precog, he has visions. They led us here.”
“Really?” Ed asked, sounding like he didn’t believe us.
“I’ll admit, that’s the first time we’ve heard that,” Savant said. “As much as I want to welcome you into our fold, I owe it to these people to keep them safe. I’m going to need to confirm your story.”
“Of course, we completely understand. We don’t want to put anyone at risk, but to be totally honest, Argus is chasing us, and—”
Savant cut Ian off, “—I’m aware of your situation with Argus. We can keep you safe here, but we need to know you don’t mean us harm. As you might know by now, I’m an empath; I read emotions like others read words. I won’t force you, but in order for us to allow you to stay, I am going to need to do a full reading of all of you.”
“We don’t have anything to hide,” Erin said.
“Is that true for all of you?” Savant asked.
We all nodded. I just wanted a place to be safe.
“Okay, then. Everyone, please close your eyes.”
I did, and immediately felt a strange crawling sensation in my spine. It reminded me of something, but…I couldn’t place it. Like déjà vu again. It only lasted a second, and then Savant told us to open our eyes.
She was smiling, “I’m sorry for what you’ve all had to go through, but you can find sanctuary here. I’m sorry for my suspicion, but not that this is behind us, you all can stay here as long as you like. However, we do have a few rules. You need to work in order to earn your meals, but we won’t ask you to do anything backbreaking. Quill will find you work assignments in a day or two, until then, feel free to explore and meet others like yourselves. As for housing, I’m sure you saw that we’re only just starting to build permanent structures, so you’ll need to share tents until we can find you something better.”
I think we all let out a sigh of relief we she said we could stay. “Thank you, that all sounds fine,” Erin said, speaking for us all.
“We can talk more later, but I’m a bit busy now. Quill, could you please take them to the supply building and then show them where they can pitch their tents?”
“Yes Ma’am,” Quill said, smiling and leading us out the door.
I was still reeling from everything that had happened in the last few hours, but maybe this really was it. Maybe we’d found a place to stay. People were giving us curious looks, but they weren’t creepy or worrying; they were welcoming, inviting. Friendly, even.
Quill was leading us towards another one of the wooden buildings, but I felt myself slowing down and falling behind the group. Suddenly, a pair of hands reached out and grabbed me, pulling me into an alley way between two of the buildings and shoving me against the wall.
My eyes focused on a short blonde wearing a hoodie and thick-rimmed hipster glasses. The irises of her eyes were glowing a soft pink, and she was smiling mischievously.
“Oh, come on, Soot, don’t act like you don’t remember me!”
“Look, I think you have me confused with someone, I mean, I think I would remember someone like you.”
Her smile turned to a look of utter confusion with a hint of anger.
“Nate. It’s me. It’s the Anarchist.”
I just stared at her blankly.
The glow in her pupils brightened and I felt an itch in my mind.
“They fucking screwed with your head. You don’t remember me…”