The rain pounded on the glass in brutal torrents, battering at her nerves with every piercing splatter. The woods beyond the glass were nothing but dark shadows looming beneath the ambient grey of the storm clouds. She did not worry about blinking eyes in the darkness. The cabin felt cold even though she knew the fireplace was pumping out plenty of warmth. Candles were lit all around the small living room, flickering softly against the walls. Beside the fireplace, carved into the wall, set a large pile of firewood. A tea-light chandelier hung from the ceiling, long and narrow, glittering like a hundred stars. Huddled on the couch with a glass of the creators wine, she held her breath as she let the flavor play on her tongue. It had been a long day; she could still feel each minute hanging from her joints, could taste the ash of charred morals. A very long day, indeed. She lit a cigarette. Her burgundy eyes darting to the rustling lace curtains in the kitchen. She could smell the rain on the breeze as it swept through the cabin.
Tomorrow certainly did not look much better. Complicated, troublesome - not unmanageable, of course, but irksome. She grew weary with the wear and tear of the day to day. She missed the elegance of higher life. She ached to have her wings back. To shed the flimsy human shell she'd adorned for nearly twenty eight years, to leave behind nothing but a pile of rags and unspent ammunition. But there was still work to be done, and until it was finished there would be no going home, and so there must be no daydreaming of it, either.
Dawdling would only lengthen her misery. Better to move through the pain, to press on when her body quivered with near-quitting, to stand back up when all she wanted in the entire world was to stay the fuck down. So much work left to be done.
She would enjoy one glass, she'd decided that already. One glass before thrusting herself back into the mill. She'd earned that glass of wine; every drop paid for in blood. She'd paid for a lifetime of glass after glass of wine, but she would only have one. The cigarette she rapidly had to replace, so long and harsh were her inhales. It was not a slow-smoking evening; there would be no gentle drawing in of nicotine-laden smoke, no sensual comfort, no sexy curls of discarded smoke twisting toward the ceiling. It was a night filled with fire clouds of smoke billowing from her nostrils; a night of impatience and exhaustion mingling into an acidic kind of discontent.
It was not a night for fine or lovely things. It was a night for mourning. She needed to bury the events of the day, to choke them to death with smoke and alcohol. She couldn't properly drown them as she wished, but smoking would suffice. For the time being.
Come dawn she would find Archer.
Dawn came before she was ready; she hadn’t slept off the ache of the previous day but that did not keep the sun from rising. But every dawn had been that way for a few years, and though she thought at some point she must become numb to it, she never did. It still took all of her strength to will herself onto her feet, it still burned when she stretched, and she did it anyway. She gathered her pack together using the same routine motions with which she carried out ninety percent of her day-to-day actions. She pressed a cup of coffee and drank it in a hurry over the sink, dumping out the last few mouthfuls before leaving the safety of the cabin.
Outside she had a teal BMW Z4, blood smattered and coated in mud, but the engine purred when she started it, and it was good on gas and could get up to 150 mph in nine seconds. It came in handy. Aside from her pack of weapons, having the body replaced with adamantium was the smartest thing she'd done before leaving the city. Nothing could dent the beast, no matter how fast she was going or how big a thing she hit.
Gwen navigated the roadways with a mindless ease, spending most of her time fiddling with the radio or pulling a fresh smoke from the pack she kept in her cup holder. There was an abandoned gas station less than an hour away from the cabin and she pulled into one of the vacant parking spots. The front of the building was solidly boarded up – huge planks of wood blocked off the windows, at least five or six inches thick each, and the front door had been sealed up with a metal she didn’t recognize. Around back she’d already kicked the door in months ago, but she kept it closed behind a towering stack of palettes and a few thick boards nailed across it. They were a brief inconvenience to her but enough of a problem for any looters to pass right by.
Inside, she made a pot of coffee and grabbed a couple spare packs of cigarettes. The register sat behind the counter, untouched. While she waited for the coffee, she ate a granola bar and tore off a few scratch-off tickets. The lottery was useless, had been for about a year, but she never cared – the tickets were mildly amusing and offered her enough of a distraction to waste a little time. They were usually losers, anyway.
She took inventory. Most of the box of coffee packets was still there, along with 85% of the cigarette supply. Useless as they were, the coolers still had bottles and bottles of water, pop, and sports drinks. The shelves lined with chip bags, candy packs, and cakes were fully stocked – she never touched any of it. Her organic granola supply was diminishing rapidly. The internal monitor for the gas was only thirty gallons lower than the last time she’d checked three days before. She grabbed some bottled water, a fresh supply of gauze and medical tape from one of the medical kits, and filled up two large cups with coffee before making her way out to her car.
Tracking was easy for Gwen; it came as easily as breathing, arguably with less effort. Miles could stretch for entire continents between she and whatever it was she sought, but it did not matter. She could smell it in the air, sense it in the reverberations of the world around her. Nothing could come between she and her target, and nothing ever had.