Tracker didn’t even bother to sneaking up on them. He simply lead the others to the alley way and walked straight into the lion’s den.
“You don’t want to mess with us,” Tracker stated before the first tough could say a thing. When the man tried to object he merely cut him off with a quick kick to the mid-section. “Like I said. Be nice and there will be no trouble.”
He looked around and picked out the leader of the group as several others helped the first man to his feet. “You,” he said, nodding towards the man. “A man was in this building. He had a friend of mine. I want her back.”
“We had nothing to do with that,” the man told him as he met Tracker’s gaze. His eyes betrayed only anger at the intrusions that had been made on his turf. “He’s already taken some of my boys. Thought you was with him.”
“Hardly.” Tracker was barely holding back his disgust as he looked at them.
“We missed the last crew,” the leader told him as he signaled the others to stand down. He moved to where Tracker was standing and put up his hands. “The question is, what are you going to do about it?”
“I’m going to get her back,” Tracker stated evenly. “If you have a problem with that, I’ll go through you.”
“And since I don’t have a problem?” the man countered.
“Then any information you can give me would be appreciated.”
“We don’t know much. Man came here last night, carried a bundle and took up residence on the fourth floor. Used some kind of magic to lock us out of our own digs. He staggered out of here about two hours ago. Looked like he was hurting, but when we tried to stop him, he... he did something to our leader, Fox. She screamed, told us to leave. Last coherent thing we got out of her.”
Tracker nodded sympathetically. “Then what?”
“We left a few of our guys to watch the building, little while ago a team came. Figure they were getting your friend. Three in the van, three went upstairs. Man, woman, Ork.,” he stated with a shrug. They came back down, Ork carrying a woman.”
“What did she look like?”
“Couldn’t see much, she was wrapped up in his coat. Shaved head, blue lips. Van was white. Other than that,” the man shrugged. “If it helps, I don’t think they were too happy about her condition.”
Tracker nodded. “Thanks,” he countered then paused. “Your boss, she need a doc?”
“We got it covered,” the man assured him with a nod. Then a slight smile cracked his face. “But thanks for asking.”
Tracker nodded, then handed him a card. “You see him again, you call this number,” he told him. “We’ll handle it from there.”
The man nodded, again, a smile played across his face. “You need help taking care of him, you call this one,” he countered as he handed Tracker a portable phone, and held up one finger. “We’ll be there.”
Tracker nodded then paused as the others turned to leave. “You said the last coherent thing you got out of your boss was ‘Leave.’ What’s she said since then.?”
The man shook his head. “Nothin’. She’s just been singing children’s songs.”
Tracker felt a surge of hope as he phrased his next question. “Has she been singing ‘the intsy wintsy spider’?”
The man nodded slowly. “You’ve seen this before?”
“Oh, yeah.” Tracker shook his head and smiled. “My friend tends to sing it when all else fails,” he answered cryptically.
Ranier looked up as Geoff joined him at the table. He couldn’t help but notice the man who stood behind Geoff.
“Matthew,” Geoff stated as he looked at the man. “This is Captain Ranier, Sam, I’d like you to meet Matthew Running Horse.”
“He is one of yours?” Matthew asked without looking at Ranier.
Geoff nodded. “He’s a friend of my brother Wayne’s.”
Matthew’s response was to sub-vocalize something over the comm-link. “Very well,” he told Geoff with a nod.
Geoff noticed the practiced neutral expression the man wore, but he also noticed the sly sparkle in his eyes. “Thanks.”
A wink flashed across the man’s eyes, then he turned and watched over them as they met.
“Talk to me Sam,” Geoff urged as he sat down.
“There was another explosion last night, around midnight,” Sam stated quietly. “Your brothers were holed up in a warehouse. They weren’t alone either. I was first on the scene, but then VonHicks showed up.”
Sam paused as he turned and studied Geoff for a minute. “How did you deal with him anyway?”
“I didn’t,” Geoff answered evenly. “Gran TwoBears showed up. She’s now in charge of the investigation.”
“On who’s authority?” Sam asked evenly.
“Her own,” Geoff told him with a nod. “She’ll be wanting to talk to you after we’re finished here.”
Sam shook his head. “Its a wonder we’ve gotten anywhere with this sort of power play.”
“You’ll get things done now,” Geoff assured him. “She doesn’t care about credit, or glory. All she wants is for her family to be safe. She’s a good woman, and her people are the best.”
“If that’s true,” Sam told him. “Then she’s got my vote.”
“Now, you were saying,” Geoff prompted.
“Okay, Von Hicks got me demoted and kicked off the site. When I got back to the car, I wasn’t alone. A man named Allison was waiting for me. He was working with some other friends of yours, Duck and Tracker. He started working the case by following Von Hicks.”
“So Duck and Tracker were with my brothers?”
Sam Ranier didn’t miss the hope in Geoff’s tone when he asked the question. “As near as we can tell yes. Them, one of my team and two others.”
“Do you have a head count? Any word on equipment?”
Sam put his hand up, motioning for Geoff to reign in his questions. “Lets go over everything from the beginning. After the shooting, Boomer was stopped on his way out of town. Kenny was passed out in the front seat, turns out he had Derrick in the overhead. Very nice unit by the way. Took forensics a while to find it. They also found the bullet they pulled out of Rabbit.”
He could sense Geoff stiffen at that. “From all reports, he’s fine,” he assured him, then continued. “The bullet matches the one used on our man. We found the van in a hotel, Boomer and Rabbit got away, but Kenny had been bitten by a water moccasin. Finagle debriefed him. And before you say anything, yes it was mental, and Boomer has already raked me over the coals for it. Boomer and I came here to get him out, but things got a bit hairy. Boomer knocked me out, and handled things his way. Figure Von Hicks is using that as well.”
“Yesterday they met up with Duck and Tracker and a friend of theirs at a storage facility. There was a shoot out. Again, everybody made it out okay. But last night’s attack, it was pretty bad. We haven’t heard anything since then.”
Geoff nodded. “What can you tell me about our opposites?”
Ranier let out his breath slowly. “That’s where the real story begins. According to Allison, there was a research project at Aerocomm. It got out of hand. Way out of hand. This thing is heavy on magic and is trying to get a handle on current technology. If he/it gets it, its going to be all she wrote. Calls itself Briar, and its calling card are the black roses you all have been getting. As near as we can tell, its developed a network of willing servants, and with that a lot of unwilling servants as well. The problem is, nobody really has the full picture. Allison told me some of it, but it just doesn’t all fit. You can’t program this much power. There has to be something behind it, something more than a controlled set of spells.”
Geoff shook his head. “Why don’t we meet with Gran. And this time, we all start at the beginning.”
Minh closed her eyes as she focused first on Bear and then on Kai. She drew them to her so that she could see and feel their energies. She could feel the wrongness in Bear, but she knew that only time could heal his loss: time and work. Kai on the other hand was weakening before her eyes.
As she tried to pull him to the astral plane, she felt him resist.
‘Child, why do you fight me so?’ Her thought and emotions rippled through the air between them. The answering thoughts filled her heart with dread.
‘The dark singer awaits us there.’
‘Rahalleth? ‘Her worry had shifted to rage. The Corrupter had injured one of hers gravely.
‘He walks among us, using the name Briar. He wanted... he wanted...’ Kai’s thoughts drifted off as the pain overrode his concentration.
‘NO!’ Minh’s command held him there.
‘Please, dearest lady, release me of my charge.’ His plead was simple. He knew that his injuries were serious, but he also knew that without Yung she would need all her strength to deal with the fallen of their clan.
‘I cannot.’ She answered softly, then turned gently taking him in her arms she added, ‘I will not.’
Kai felt the pain radiate down his sides as her claws reopened the wounds. As his blood began to flow, he felt a lightness fill him until he was outside his body, watching her as she worked on him.
‘Mother,’ he thought gently. ‘Do not risk these lives for mine. I am not worthy.’
‘That is where you are wrong child. You are the heir to the gate,’ her thoughts were gentle, yet unyielding. ‘You are the first of this age, and perhaps the last of our clan. You must remain.’
Her words did not entirely make sense to him, but he understood that she would not let him die. Even if it cost the Long their matriarch, she would heal him.
‘I will obey you in this dear lady,’ he answered. ‘But again, I plead, think of the others. He has already promised to make Duck pay for our... defiance.’
‘She lives,’ Minh assured him. ‘Now, you must do the same.’
Kai surrendered to her will. The news of Duck’s survival filled him with hope as Minh continued with the healing. First, she would have to draw the poison from his wounds. A painful prospect at best.
Justin stiffed as he noticed Fen staring at him. Their mother had gone out for a few groceries for dinner after making Fen promise to stay the night.
When Justin looked in his brother’s eyes, he saw the change. Suddenly, he could feel the other presence in the room.
“So you know.” The statement came from Fen, with his voice, but the thoughts behind them belonged to someone else.
Justin bowed his head and nodded.
“Very well then, I offer you a simple agreement.” The force behind the words forced Fen to smirk at him. “I will stay here the night, as the woman insists, then, in the morning, you will come with me.”
“Why?” Justin demanded.
“Because, you want to see your brother again,” it said. Then for a brief moment, Justin saw the pain and fear in his brother’s eyes. Then it took control again. “And it would be a shame if anything happened to your mother.”
Justin felt the bile well up in his throat. “Who are you?”
“Justin,” it called in disbelief. “After all I taught you.”
“Aw, you used to call me Tre, but that will have to do.”
Boomer guided the truck through the city as he tried to think of something to say. Finagle had filled him in on what they’d found in the room. Tracker had been less than communicative. After they’d picked up Rabbit and Mercury, Tracker had pulled a chip out of a carrier. Since then, he’d been plugged into the reader, reviewing whatever was on it.
Duck had been there, but MindBender had been long gone by the time they’d arrived. Worse, somebody had already collected Duck and they had no idea who. It could have been Ellingsworth’s men or somebody else could have rescued her. There was no way of knowing and the question of who plagued them all as he drove aimlessly.
It seemed forever before Tracker disconnected from the unit and looked up at them. “Some one saved her,” he announced. “MindBender left her there to die.”
“What?” Rabbit prompted gently. “That on the chip?”
“Yeah,” Tracker answered in disgust. “He was recording it. Her pain, her thoughts as she prepared to die.” his voice drifted off as he fought back the emotions the chip had evoked inside him. He reached over and turned up the heat in the truck.
Rabbit fought to keep his breathing even. Killing someone was bad enough, but recording it ... he shuddered at the thought. Tracker just looked at him and nodded. Rabbit couldn’t help but notice the tears in his friend’s eyes.
“She was still fighting, still raging, and hurt,” he whispered. The sensations from the chip were still overriding his own emotional control. “The last thought was almost and aside. It was the hope of being with Bear again.”
“Where to now,” Boomer asked gently as he eased the truck onto the interstate.
“Playful Dragon,” Tracker answered. “This whole thing has changed over night. Its time to regroup and figure out how to deal with our current situation.”
Boomer headed for the club district as everyone lost themselves in thought.
Minh paced the main floor of her club as the others reviewed what they knew of the case. That they had all managed to survive was a miracle in and of itself. But the Wilsons and their friends couldn’t show their faces until they had been cleared with the police. Then there was Tracker.
She had never seen her friend so out of sorts. She knew it had something to do with the machine he held next to him, but she did not fully understand its impact. When she’d asked him about it, he had merely shook his head.
“I will go to the hospital,” she announced. “I am a family friend. There is no reason they would suspect you were here. And even if they did, I would defy them to harm those under my protection.”
“The last thing we want to do is endanger you or your staff,” Boomer countered as he looked at the others for support. He was not prepared for the derisive snort Minh gave him.
“You have done nothing,” she stated. “Except fight a battle that is more mine to fight than yours.”
“Minh?” Tracker asked softly as he focused on her for the first time.
“Kai told me,” she answered with a slight bow. “This one you face, he is known by many names. To us he is Rahalleth. He was one of the Long, my brother. He became... corrupt. We were not able to destroy him, only banish him to another realm. It has taken him a long time, but it would appear he has returned to reclaim what was his. Now, he has grown strong enough that he will strike out at us.”
“Then everything that has happened?”
“Is part of his quest for power, nothing more,” she told him. “He cares not who or what he uses, only that he finds a way to take over, even revenge is second to the power. He needs it, craves it. It is in everything he does.”
As she finished she looked over at the injured in her care. Eclipse was seated with the others, but Bear and Kai were still stretched out on the stage. “He is far more powerful than you know, and I fear, very soon, that he will wield that power in this world.”
“Terrific,” Boomer growled. “Like he wasn’t powerful enough!”
“I am truly sorry child,” Minh assured him. “I have some friends who may be able to help, but we must... gather our resources.”
“How?” Tracker asked as he looked around.
“Bring your friends here. I will talk to the Wilsons and to the Lady of the TwoBears’ Clan.”
“Gran’s here?” Rabbit asked hopefully.
Minh merely nodded. “Together, perhaps we will find something.”
Tracker nodded then stood. “You heard the lady.”
As the others began preparing for the task ahead, Minh stood in front of Tracker, taking his hands in hers. “Will you not tell me what you have seen that has hurt you so? Please my friend, I want to help...”
Tracker looked into her eyes and she could see the pain and fear in them, then he turned away. “Its nothing you can fix,” he told her gently. “Nothing any of us can undo.”
The bitterness in his voice chilled even her heart. “Do not let this eat you up inside,” she urged as she once again tried to get him to open up.
“Its too late,” he answered. “I’ve seen too much.”
“Then tell me what you saw,” she urged gently.
“I,” he started then stopped and shook his head. “Please.”
The despair in his request made her bow her head. “We will talk of this, when you are ready,” she told him. “But until then, take heart.”
Tracker met her eyes once more, then pulled away. The look in his eyes told her all she needed to know. The machine had shown him something and its effect upon him were still too strong for him to explain.
As she watched him walk away, Finagle walked up behind her. She noticed the respectable distance he kept from her, but she also could tell he had something to tell her. When she turned he nodded towards Tracker.
“MindBender left Duck to die, but before he left, he hooked her into some sort of recording device. Someone smashed the device, but the chip itself was intact.”
Minh felt the chill in his words and shook her head. “And Tracker used the machine to put those images into his own mind?” She asked in disbelief. That was the sort of thing she’d almost expect from Duck. Tracker was the cautious one, the impulsiveness of his actions amazed her.
Finagle nodded. “I’m not sure if he was trying to find out what happened to her, or somehow, trying to make it so that she wasn’t alone,” he told her with a shrug. Whichever the case...”
“Please, keep an eye on him,” she urged. “He will hold himself responsible for all that has happened.”
Finagle nodded. “I will,” he promised, then turned towards the still unconscious Whisper. “ but, before you go, will you check on Whipser?”
Minh nodded. “He too blames himself, but it was not truly his fault either.”
“I know that,” Finagle answered. “But its hard not to blame him. And until we know for sure how and where Duck is, I don’t think either of them will be... “
“I understand,” she assured him when words failed. “Now, we have much work ahead of us,” she added as she drew herself up. “Take care of them, and yourself.”
Finagle bowed his head and nodded. In the short time he’d known these people, he knew they were loyal to a fault, more than a team, they were family, and they had taken him and made him a part of that family.
Rahalleth stirred as the memories of the human who’s shell he’d borrowed swirled around him. He was assailed by the emotions and pain until nothing else existed. He could feel the man’s soul stirring within the body as well.
It didn’t matter. He had something that had to be done, and did not care one whit about the mortal. Bigger things were at stake and if he succeeded, then the mortal would be rewarded. He gave no further thought to the prices to be paid.
As he opened his eyes, he saw the two figures watching over him, a man and a woman. ‘Gina,’ he could feel the love and longing in the thought as he accessed the man’s memories. Then he noticed how closely the man held the woman. He felt the pangs of rage and jealousy. This man was holding his woman.
Again he forced himself into the man’s memories. ‘Geoff.’ How could this mortal care so deeply for someone who would take his woman? HOW???
The rage filled him as he tried to sit up, but the body was not yet ready for such things.
“Davy?” she called to him and her voice sounded like an angel’s. Angels... How I have failed in my duties. How I have shamed my people. The thoughts were disjointed.
“Gina,” he called. “You’re alright?” It was the man’s thoughts, not his, but they would serve for now. They must not know what has happened. Not yet.
“I’m fine,” she assured him softly. There was almost a laugh in her voice. “The boys are fine too.”
He nodded, then turned towards the man, Geoff. “Geoff, I need to talk to you,” he stated. Gina merely nodded and stood. “I’ll check on the boys, then come back,” she told him. The touch of her hand in his set him on fire. She was so perfect. Then, as she walked away, she placed a hand on the man’s shoulder. He saw the look he gave her. He saw.
As she closed the door behind her, the man moved in and took her place. “Davy,” he called, his voice trembling. “We thought we’d lost you.”
“Well you didn’t,” he growled as his rage and indignation took control. “How could you? How could you touch her like that. After all I’ve done for you? You ungrateful bastard!”
He could see the confusion and hurt in the man’s eyes, he could feel the answering pain and rage from the human who’s body he’d hidden in. Pain from the look in the man’s eyes. Rage at the things that he, Rahalleth was making him say. Didn’t the man understand, this man he called brother wanted his woman.
“Davy?” the man called in disbelief.
“Go! Get out of my sight. You selfish ungrateful bastard!” He felt the pain as he forced the body to comply to his commands.
Geoff merely stared in disbelief as Rahalleth tried to sit up and strangle him. “Davy?” he called, and this time his voice sounded like a child’s. “Please you’re hurting yourself.”
The man was still trying to calm him down when the woman came back in.
Her yell brought him back to his senses, but the rage still burned inside him.
Geoff sat there, a lost expression on his face. His words had hurt him. GOOD!
“Geoff, you better leave,” she urged gently.
Rahalleth felt better as the man left and the woman, his woman, took his place. He could feel something from the human they called Davy as she took his hand in hers. Relief? That didn’t make sense. He never felt the needle slide into the human’s arm, but he saw the worry in her eyes as consciousness left him.