Duck, Tracker and Whisper moved as one as Candide’s scream filled the evening air.
"Magic, Cover me," Whisper yelled as he felt the familiar chill of magic and realized the source of the attack was not physical. That was all the warning he gave them, but years of teamwork kicked in as Duck and Tracker caught him as his consciousness left his body.
"I got him," Duck grunted as she eased his limp form into one of the seats. "Go."
Tracker nodded as Duck tossed him a spare Predator. They knew there was little they could do if the attack was strictly magical, but where there was one attack, there were usually others.
Whisper was barely aware of Duck and Tracker as he forced himself to Candide’s side. He knew they would do everything they could to protect him. That left him free to follow the already retreating energies.
He knew it was too late to do anything for Candide other than avenge her. Her heart still beat, but the mind was gone, and with it her spirit. As he followed the energies he recognized the signature: MindBender.
He widened his perception and could see it reflected in pockets over the city. People and places he claimed as his own, each were marked with the same darkened power.
His influence was reflected everywhere Whisper went. It was only a matter of time before they found him. He realized that he was in grave danger, but he tried to gather as much information as he could before they closed in on him. He had to learn as much as he could, and then get back to the others. He turned to leave, but it was too late.
The energies of MindBender’s associates had penned him in, forcing him close to an even darker energy. Whisper’s mind pulled back in horror as the force drew closer. It was the first glimpse he’d gotten of Briar. Now, from the looks of things, it would also be the last.
The music had changed again. He could feel it as he pulled the car over to the side of the road and grabbed his guitar. The true song was fighting to be heard as the strains of discord threatened to strangle it out. It was a desperate, painful sound.
His mind raced as he ran towards the park he’d seen two blocks earlier. He had to feel the grass beneath his feet as he played. The music had gone too far down the concrete path and he needed any edge he could get. The only hope was earth sounds. He was oblivious to the people gathered in the park, all he needed was a quite spot where he could play unnoticed.
Fire flowed from his fingers as he hit the first chord. Ian smiled as he was transported back to Seattle and that night so long ago. The music was pure then and somehow, that purity flowed through his fingers tonight.
It was as if the night sky had opened up, revealing all the stars in the sky. He road on the strains of the song above the city, to where the battle raged. He could see him, the Dark Singer, and somehow, Ian knew his name: Rahalleth, the Death Rose, Dark Briar. Rahalleth was the source of the discord Ian heard. His desire permeated everything as he tried to strangle the song out once and for all.
Ian then turned his attention to the source of the song: it was a man, or the image of a man. Ian could see that his song was in his movement, and Briar’s forces were beating him down, practically immobilizing him.. He felt the man’s pain as he realized the man was a true dancer. He was not one of those who merely heard the song’s call, but one of those who lived it. He was a brother in arms, and he was in desperate need of help.
The song welled up inside of him and with it, the words followed. Ian lost himself as the words and music flowed out around him, lashing out at the Dark Singer and his minions.
If you want to dance, let go of your fear
Reaper only takes that which is his.
The flashes of the city streets,
the beating of the drum.
If you want to fly, let go of your tears
Hatred only takes that which are his.
Mars thunders, Venus weeps,
the firing of the gun.
If you want to dream, let go of the years
Time only marks, that which is his.
Fire fills the heart for keeps
the fire of the sun...
The fire of the song.
If you want to dance, take up the song
If you want to fly, give your spirit to the wind,
If you want to dream, make the dream worthwhile.
Its the beating of the drum,
Its the flashes of the city streets,
its the fire of the sun.
If you want to dance, let go of your fear
Reaper only takes that which is his.
The flashes of the city streets,
it’s the beating of the drum.
On one level, Ian knew the attention of the battle had shifted, but everything was in the song. As he played, the music wrapped itself around him protecting him from the thorns Briar turned towards him. The battle raged as the discord tried to override the song.
Ian played, pouring his heart into the song. He was barely aware of how his fingers were sticking to the strings. His entire life became the song. He had to play, had to bring the music back where it belonged. It was like trying to turn back the tide, but he could feel the song picking up the momentum it needed.
Finally the music changed, telling him that he was safe, he needed no more than that. Even as the first song faded on the wind, a new song had started in his heart. Ian played till nothing else existed, and the discord was driven from the field.
No one could overpower the song when the singer took the lead.
Whisper steeled himself against the attack. There was nothing else he could do. He was trapped and they knew it. As the forces closed in on him he mouthed a prayer and prepared for the worst. ‘I will not surrender,’ he vowed to himself.
He could feel it now, the insanity behind the power, the complete wrongness of it. Briar was its source and his forces fed on it. They tainted everything they touched. A cold chill washed through him as he realized the worst of it: Briar was much stronger then they’d believed, and he was dangerously close to achieving the power he needed.
He wasn’t a case ‘research gone wrong,’ that would have been easier to deal with. Briar was something far older and far more dangerous. Somehow Ellingsworth had found the way to give him a foothold in the physical plane. Worse, what they’d seen to date was only the smallest portion of what Briar was capable of. Here on the astral plane, he saw Briar in his purest form. His power ate through whatever it touched, changing it, molding it. And now, he was reaching for Whisper.
Its evil wore him down, draining his will. Its venom filled his mind, blurring the images at hand, burning through to his soul. On some level he was aware that Briar was feeding on his sense of helplessness, but there was so little he could do.
Thoughts of Jen came unbidden to his mind. He forced her imaged from his mind, forced himself to think about Ange and Duck and Tracker. He could not let Briar have them. He had to warn them. He forced himself to ride out the attacks. He had to find an opening and escape: the alternative was too horrific
He turned towards Briar’s minions as they reached out for him. He pulled his remaining strength around him like a shield, but their fire forced its way through the shield and burned through him. He was losing the battle and they all knew it. Around him they gathered in for the kill. In desperation he reached out for help.
His strength faded as pain filled his mind. He tried to stand, but slipped to his knees. Then he felt it, softly at first, as it filled his mind and dulled the pain. The answer to his prayers. Music: pure sweet music.
It formed both sword and shield, fighting his attackers even as it protected him. The music cocooned him away from the pain, caught him as he fell and eased him back to the earth. He took one look at the figure that had saved him, then found himself back in the confining safety of the bus.
Ian smiled to himself as the dancer was carried to safety by the strains of his song. The music’s call had lessened to the point that he knew he could stop if he wanted to, but he didn’t want to, not yet at any rate. It was the only time he felt complete.
As he played his sagging strength seemed to be renewed by the strains of the song. It filled him and sustained him, even as he poured his heart out into it. It was all he ever needed, and all he ever asked.
As the song faded, he became aware of two things: the pain in his fingers, and the applause from the gathered crowd. Ian looked up at them in surprise. He had forgotten about everything but the song. He smiled and bowed. The applause was not really for him. He accepted that without the slightest regret. It was for song, and in the name of the song, he accepted their gift graciously.
Agony washed through his mind, driving him to his knees.
The man who had been Tredaegar turned as Briar’s voice filled his mind, he could feel the wrath that burned beneath the thought. "Master?" he gasped
You have grown careless...
The pain filled his mind until nothing else existed. He gasped as his breath and thoughts were forced out by its intensity. "What did I do?" he gasped.
The one you thought broken seems to have found himself again. Worse, you led him right to us. That was the only thing you did right. We almost had him. But his need called another to battle Now he knows our secrets!.
Bender listened as the pain lessened. Briar had a job for him.
The one he called, he is a singer of the old song. I must have him! You will find him and bring him to me. Leave those you’ve been following for now. They are mere trifles in comparison. He is the true threat, we must find him and deal with him immediately.
"Yes master," he answered, regretting that he had let his own anger control him.
You are my child.
Somehow the platitude held less appeal than it had. MindBender nodded. "I will not fail you again."
You have not failed me yet my child. Even your carelessness has served us well. BUT DO NOT SLIP AGAIN! Or you will feel my full wrath.
MindBender screamed as Briar forced images through his mind of the singer. The agony again driving him to his knees. As he whimpered, he could feel Briar’s satisfaction in his torment.
Ian smiled at the gathered people, but he could feel something nearby, something very wrong. As he made his way through the crowd he saw it. A man, in his mid thirties was sitting on the crest of the hill, staring out across the park. Something in his carriage indicated someone much, much older. As he neared, the man turned.
He was struck by the haunted look in the man’s eyes. "It wants you," the man told Ian. "It will hunt you until it has its way."
Ian tensed for a moment, then realized that the man was warning him, not threatening. He sat down next him and nodded. "I know."
"Haven’t heard the music in so long," the man stated wistfully. "It was good to hear it again."
Ian extended his hand to the man, "Ian MacAndrews."
"Derrick Wilson," the man responded as he took his hand. "My friends call me Rabbit."
"So Rabbit, what brings you to this park tonight?" Ian asked softly. He could tell something had drawn the man here, something more than the battle at hand.
"This place," Rabbit answered. "There was a place like this in my brother’s mind. It just called to me I guess."
Ian could sense something in the man, it was as if the song wanted to play, but couldn’t. ‘What happened to you my friend?’ he wondered to himself.
"Life," Rabbit answered. "Don’t worry though, some things still come in loud and clear."
Ian was taken aback for a moment then shrugged, the music played differently for other people. Something had drawn him to this place, it was time to find out what was going on.
"What do you know?" he asked.
"Its strong," Rabbit answered. "It preys on the weak, controls them. It uses them to catch the stronger ones. It wants me to get to my brother. Thinks I’m an easy mark, " he added then looked at Ian with wide eyes. "Thinks its easy to break someone that’s already broken."
Ian could sense the fear in the man, the sound of his jumbled nerves reverberated in his head. Yet, beneath the confusion, there was something pure and unyielding in the man’s spirit. It was the music in its rawest form.
"It was following me. But I started following it," Rabbit told him. "It led me here. There’s so much pain, so much fear, it all started here."
Ian listened and somehow understood that Rabbit knew the truth of the matter. He could feel it too. The dark singer had originally broken through in this very park. He also knew that they were not going to be safe much longer. As he looked around he could see the crowd drifting away from the park. "I think should be moving on," he stated.
Rabbit looked up as if he had suddenly woken from a trance. "I have to go," he stated. "My brothers, I have to meet them."
"Is that wise," Ian asked. "You said it was looking to use you..."
"Not right now," Rabbit answered as he turned towards Ian. "Right now you’re the one in danger. It wants you more than anything else. You blind sided it, and it does not like surprises."
Ian felt a chill as he looked into the man’s eyes. They were wide again, as if he was seeing more than anyone else. Ian realized he was. Long ago, the man’s madness would have been viewed as divine power. Perhaps it was. Blessing or curse, the man knew what was at stake.
Rabbit stared out across the park one last time then turned. "I think we’re working on the same problem you are. It would probably be best that you come with me. My brothers will know what to do."
Ian nodded then held his keys up. "I have a car," he offered. He didn’t like the possibility of endangering Rabbit and his brothers, yet he knew something had drawn them together. All he could do was trust the music, it had never steered him wrong before.
"Never heard it described that way," Rabbit muttered as he followed Ian to his car. "Like it a lot better than a spirit you call on or a force you control. Music flows, you give to it and it gives back. That makes sense to me."
Ian nodded. The music made strange compatriots, but they all had their part to play.
"Harmonica," Rabbit told him as he waited by the passenger door.
Ian shook his head and unlocked the door. Something told him it was going to be a very interesting evening.
"You ain’t seen nothing yet," Rabbit told him with a wink.
"Ow," Whisper groaned as he slipped back into his body. He felt as if his body was made out of lead.
"Easy hon," Duck told him as she pulled something out from under her shirt. He watched groggily as she slipped it over her head and handed it to him.
"Medicine pouch?" he asked groggily.
"Hang with the Bear, get the accessories," she told him with a grin. "Figured you need it more than I do right now."
Whisper nodded. He could feel the protective power flowing from it, surrounding him even as she took it from his hands and slipped it over his head. He tried to protest, but he was too weak.
"I know," Duck told him. "Bear ‘tuned’ it to me, but for right now, I think you need it more than I do. Once you’ve rested, you can give it back, okay?"
Whisper nodded again, then forced himself to ask about Candide.
Duck just looked at him grimly and shook her head. "He was using her, wasn’t he?" she growled.
"Yes," Whisper signed. "But she’d outlived her usefulness. She tried to protect herself, but he was already in her mind. He just destroyed it. Then he discarded her like an empty wrapper."
"What about you?"
"I followed him, then... " his head spun as he tried to find the words and couldn’t.
"Then what?" Duck prompted gently.
Whisper shrugged and looked at Duck. "I got whopped. I hurt." he signed weakly.
"Take it easy," Duck told him. "We’ll keep the area secure."
Whisper nodded, knowing that Duck and Tracker would die before they let anything happen to him, or those under his protection.
Duck eased Whisper into a more comfortable position as he fell off into a ‘magic stupor.’ Her years with Bear told her this was natural. But still, it was worrisome Duck shrugged, it wasn’t quite seven and it looked like they had another long night ahead.
Boomer tensed as a car circled the block then parked. It was far enough from the impound lot that the police wouldn’t have noticed it, but it was close enough to his location that alarms went off in his head. This was not exactly a high traffic area, and the fact they’d circled the area before parking meant they weren’t there just for the fun of it.
He eased himself back out of view as the passenger slipped out of the car and disappeared into the shadows. If there had been any doubts about the passengers, they disappeared, these two were definitely up to no good.
He didn’t like any of it. On top of everything else it was almost seven-thirty and there was no sign of either of his brothers. And now he had at least two unknowns to contend with.
‘And it just keeps getting better,’ he thought to himself as laid his weapons out around him. If it came down to a fight, he wanted the decision to be his. He scanned the area again, trying to get a grasp on the situation. It was then he spotted the movement around the van. ‘Trap,’ he swore to himself as he tried to get a line on the movement.
He counted two figures shuffling through the lot, heading towards the van. Then as if that wasn’t enough another car had pulled into the area. Boomer let his breath out slowly as the second car pulled up a block behind the first. He was about to vacate the premises when he recognized the passenger of the second car: Rabbit.
"Rabbit," he called over the comm-link.
"I see them," Rabbit answered before he had a chance to say anything else.
Boomer nodded. Something in Rabbit’s tone of voice told him that he had a firm grasp on what was going down. Probably firmer than his own.
"Got two more by the van," he whispered.
"Two in the car, two by the van, three coming up from behind," Rabbit corrected. "Oh and a friend in the van."
"Friend?" Boomer asked worriedly. "Who?"
"Don’t know," Rabbit answered. "Just know he’s on our side."
Boomer shook his head. Sometimes Rabbits ‘gift’ was more frustrating than helpful. "Any sign of Clearwater?"
"Neg." Rabbit answered, then paused as if he was listening to something.
"They’ve got some heavy mojo running down here," Rabbit warned. "Friend here, says its all bad. Better get a move on."
"Fine," Boomer stated as he gathered his weapons back up. "You say we got a friend in the van right?"
"Then I’m going to the van. I really don’t like the looks of the two in the yard. Can you deal with the kids out here?"
He could hear Rabbit let his breath out slowly as he weighed the opposition. "Muscle yeah, I can handle them, its the mage-types I’m worried about."
"You don’t take any chances with them," Boomer warned. "You cover me long enough for me to get to the van, then you book. We’ll meet at the sandbox. Clear?"
"Uh, Boomer, just how are you planning on getting to the van?" Rabbit asked worriedly.
"Leave that to me," Boomer countered. "You just keep those boys busy." Boomer added as he headed for the stairs. He was tired of waiting for something to happen, he was hoping that forcing their hand would throw them off their game, but somehow he doubted it would.
"Boom," Rabbit warned. "This ain’t the time."
"Its never the time," Boomer countered. "But we’ve got nothing to go on, and more trouble than we know what to do with."
"So, what makes this different than any other time?" Rabbit asked him.
"They’re targeting family," Boomer answered softly. "That changes everything."
"Just be careful," Rabbit countered. "I’m not going to be the one to tell Lightning that you got stupid ‘cause you couldn’t think of anything better to do."
"Then cover me, and move out once I’m clear," Boomer responded. He did not like being hunted. He didn’t like much of anything that had happened since they’d left base and it was well past time he did something about it. Even if it was down right stupid.
"What’s wrong," Ian asked as he saw Rabbit’s eyes flair in anger.
"My brother’s being bull headed," Rabbit answered. "Can you do anything about the magic?"
Ian shook his head. "The music doesn’t quite work that way. It comes when I need it, but I can’t call upon it until it is actually needed. I’m sorry. Its not all that reliable."
Rabbit nodded. "Then we’ll have to rely on mine," he stated as he pulled out a flare gun. "When I tell you to go, I want you to pull out and pass by the car up ahead."
"What are you going to do?" Ian asked worriedly.
"Improvise," Rabbit countered.
Ian gave Rabbit a concerned look then nodded. He could feel the power that was gathering around the impound lot and knew that something very nasty was about to happen. He stiffened as he felt its cold talons brush across his mind.
"Its looking for you now," Rabbit stated in shock. "We have to get you out of here!"
Ian nodded. He tried to turn the key in the ignition, but was suddenly unable to move, it had grabbed his mind and was trying to rip it open. "Move," Ian implored, he could feel it killing the song inside him, twisting it’s gentle strains into the harsh discord of the other song.
Rabbit turned and felt the pain inside Ian’s mind. "No!"
"Please," Ian gasped.
Rabbit swore as he pulled Ian into the passenger seat then slipped out from under him into the driver’s seat. He knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but he also knew that all their lives, no souls depended on it. He gunned the engine as Boomer exited the building and started to walk across the street.
"Move it Boom," he growled into the comm link. "Mage is hitting my friend."
"Peel out, I’ll deal," Boomer countered as he started to run. He could see the two in the impound lot now, and he almost stopped dead. "Oh, shit," he gasped in disbelief and horror..
"Talk to me," Rabbit demanded as he started to make a run at the lead car and the alleyway.
"The two in impound," came Boomer’s breathy reply. "Undead, very undead..."
"Shit!" Rabbit exclaimed as he veered away from the car and back towards his brother. "Get ready to jump! Hold on, steady," Rabbit told him as he felt bullets hitting the back of the car. As he neared Boomer, Rabbit jammed on the breaks and slammed the steering wheel to the right. He threw the door open as the car skidded sideways towards his brother.
As soon as he felt Boomer land in the back seat, he gunned the engine and was moving again. He headed down a side street with the car and van in pursuit. Boomer pulled out his shot gun and prepared to fire on the pursuing vehicles.