Minh straightened herself up as she exited Davy's room. In all the years she had roamed the earth, she had never felt as old as she did today. As she looked around, she saw Gina and Gran waiting expectantly. There was no sign of Geoff.
"How is he?" Gina asked softly.
"He will be well," Minh answered. "I have sped up the healing process."
"I will explain the wrongness, but first, I must speak with Geoff," Minh interjected gently.
Gina looked around for the first time and realized that Geoff hadn't returned after asking Gran to come upstairs. She swore to herself as she remembered the look in his eyes when he told her what Davy had said. "Minh, what's happening?"
"It is indeed a long tale," she answered. "And I will have to tell it twice, I do not wish to tell it a third time, so we must find Geoff. I also have apologies to make."
Gran nodded and turned to Niki who stood watch over her. "Dear, have Matthew bring him here."
Niki nodded as she activated her comm-link. Geoff may be trying to avoid them, but with Matthew as his shadow, there was very little he could do about the matter. Unless of course he'd managed to elude Matthew.
"Matthew," she called over the link. "Geoff's needed on seven. Davy's room."
There was a long pause before the response came. "He says it will have to wait."
"Matt, Gran says..."
"I understand what Gran says, but we've got problems of our own, get a team down to O.R. Seven, third floor. Pronto!"
As Niki relayed the message, Minh felt a rumbling inside her.
‘The doorway,' Rahalleth groaned inside her. ‘Its still open. Tell them to move away from it. Don't let anybody near it.'
Minh's eyes widened as the images of the room were fed into her mind. She could feel the worry and fear in the thoughts. ‘What is wrong?' she asked.
‘The woman, Gran, she must not go, neither should you! It's hunger is growing and soon it will be able to fill another host. The gate must be closed!'
His thoughts were disjointed enough that she was having trouble translating them. "No mages?" she stated questioningly.
‘No, none who walk the path are safe. It feeds on them.'
"Minh?" Gina asked worriedly as she stared fixedly at the wall in front of her.
"They must destroy the room. It is a gateway between worlds, and it is how IT is getting out! None who walk the path of power will be safe near it until the room is destroyed."
The emotion and fear in Minh's voice was not lost on Gina or Gran.
"O.R. Seven," Gina stated as she backed away. "That's where they operated on Davy!"
Minh could tell from the woman's expression that she had come very close to the truth. "He is in no danger now," Minh assured her. "Another used the portal to warn us. He does not fully understand your ways, but he meant no harm."
Gina nodded. She knew that Davy would never say or do the things he'd done to Geoff, but that would have to wait for now. She had to trust Minh. "Who or what?" she asked.
"He was one of my people," she answered. "Please, let us destroy the dooway, then I will tell you all I know."
"But child, if no mage can enter, how can we unmake it?" Gran asked the question softly as she tried to restrain Minh.
"They must begin by removing the etchings," Rahalleth growled inside her. "They must remove that so that the pathway is blocked. Then you can break it."
Minh relayed the message to Gina and the others, and Niki relayed the message to Matthew.
"He'll let us know when it's clear," Niki assured them, then she looked at Gran questioningly.
Gran smiled at her then turned to Minh. "Child. Can you handle this on your own, or would the meager talents of an old woman be of some assistance to you?"
Minh smiled at the comment, then laughed softly. "I am no more a child, than you are an old woman, Grandmother, and Matriarch to the TwoBears clan. There is no need for such... games between us."
"Child, I do not play games," Gran answered simply. "You are still in your prime, and those days are long since past for me."
"Then why do you continually grow stronger each time I see you?" Minh countered gently.
"One day, when we have the time, we will discuss such things at length," Gran answered.
As they waited in silence, Minh could feel Rahalleth trying to understand the comments the two women had exchanged. ‘She knows?' he finally asked.
‘She doesn't exactly know,' Minh told him mentally. ‘She suspects much. Humans are not as ignorant or fool hearty as they would have you believe.'
Even as she finished the explanation, she thought of two friends, who could be indeed fool-hearty: Tracker and Duck.
Tracker blended into the crowds with practiced ease as Finagle struggled to keep up and remain inconspicious. They were in the heart of the city now, and Tracker seemed to know where he was heading.
As he followed him, Finagle couldn't help but notice the changes in Tracker since they'd met less then two days earlier. His confidence and determination were still evident, but the bounce in his stride was gone. He knew that the situation with Duck had something to do with it, but he had no way of gauging how deeply it had effected Tracker.
Tracker moved into a small grocery store and waited for Finagle to join him. "We're being followed," he announced tersely. "Remote, high altitude, almost missed it."
Finagle shook his head. He'd missed it completely. "What do you want to do?"
"I'd love to get a tracer unit on it," Tracker stated. Finagle did not like the accompanying smile. "We can't have it following us on these rounds, otherwise we leave a lot of people vulnerable."
Finagle nodded. "Do you have a tracer unit?"
Tracker smiled as he pulled one out of his pocked and activated it. "Cover me," he growled.
As Tracker hooked into the tracer unit long enough to program it, Finagle found himself wishing they found Duck soon, If for no other reason than the fact that Tracker seemed to be losing some serious stability.
"Got it," Tracker announced as the tracer unit lifted off and flew out the door of the store.
"Now we lose it. We've got a lot of people to contact and we can't afford to give whoever their addresses," Tracker stated, then signaled Finagle to follow him back to the store room.
Once Finagle entered the store-room, Tracker closed the door behind them. "Okay, from here, we go underground," Tracker told him. "Hope you don't mind storm drains and sewers."
"Mind yes," Finagle commented. "But if that's what we have to do to get this taken care of, then lets do it."
Tracker nodded as he hefted a trap door and prepared to descend. "Mind the first step, its a doozy."
Finagle merely shook his head and sighed. "It usually is."
Finagle held his breath as Tracker signaled him to wait then moved further into the darkness. They'd been traveling for almost two hours and with no reference points, and he had no idea where they were. He realized that this was probably part of Tracker's plan. He may have trusted Finagle with his life, but he was not willing to risk the people he was seeking out.
That was fine by him. If it were his friends and family, he probably would have done the same. Or more. He tensed as he heard hushed voices up ahead. As he stretched out his senses, he could tell that he was being watched as well.
He forced himself to remain calm and non-threatening. There were enough people out there trying to kill him, he didn't want to finish the job for them by doing anything stupid.
*** *** ***
"That's far enough," a voice growled harshly.
Tracker tensed as he tried to identify the person who was now walking towards him.
"Ange?" he called softly as he recognized her stride.
"Tracker?" she called softly. He could hear the relief in her voice, relief and something else he couldn't identify.
"Yeah," he answered with a heavy sigh.
"Tracker?" she called worriedly. "You alright?"
"Tough couple of days," he answered as she moved closer. Again, she could hear the strain in his voice.
"Who's with you," she countered realizing that whatever it was, Tracker didn't want to talk about it.
"Finagle," Tracker answered. "Works with the police."
"Its about time they finally got involved," there was no missing the disgust in her voice.
"They've been investigating, but Aerocomm keeps hamstringing them," he told her. "Things have changed, and not for the better."
"I know," she answered. "Its like everybody who can's packed up and left, or retreated. Can't find a street mage now if you tried."
"Yeah, and there's a lot more," Tracker answered. "They almost killed some friends, Whisper was compromised."
Ange glowered into the darkness for a minute then let it go. It wasn't Tracker's fault. He was just telling her the score. "Sorry," she told him as she thought of the number of times Whisper had saved them. Now he was gone.
"Not as sorry as he is," Tracker answered softly. He could almost feel the questions Ange kept from asking. He owed it to her to explain, but it was so hard. "He set us up," Tracker told her. "Me, Finagle, the Wilsons, all of us. They released him once they had what they wanted."
Ange waited, but as she did she realized that Tracker hadn't mentioned Duck. She bit her lip as she thought about his partner, their friend.
"We escaped," he told her. "Duck wasn't so lucky."
"Shit, Tracker... I'm so sorry," she stated as she drew closer. In the dim light she could barely make out his features, but she could feel the tension and anguish that all but filled the man.
He drew a sharp breath and forced himself to continue. "MindBender had her, but couldn't break her," he told her. "He left her for Ellingsworth, but somebody else picked her up."
She looked at him hopefully, but she could see that there was more. As she rested a hand on his arm, he forced himself to continue.
"We don't know where she is, we don't know how she is. Only that MindBender gave her Sepherax, and when he couldn't break her, he left her to die."
"Tracker, if she was picked up," Ange stated softy, unsure how to phrase it. He knew what they were up against, but it wasn't the sort of thing you wanted to have to say about a friend.
"It wasn't Ellingsworth," Tracker assured her. She could hear the relief in his voice. "It wasn't Briar. It wasn't them."
She caught the hope and fear in his eyes. No matter who had her, she was still in danger and he was unable to protect her. Then she thought about what he'd said. ‘He'd given her sepherax and left her to die.'
Sepherax. The name brought images to mind of men and women who's minds were laid bare by the drug. The test results had looked so promising. She thought of the people in the psych wards that the doctors were joyously helping, and then the awful truth that came out. Sepherax was destroying so much more than it was helping. Too much of it was like a chemical lobotomy. She tried not to think of Duck's face among those early victims. It had been regulated. The only places that could use it legally were the courts in Quebec, and then only under dire circumstances with a physician on hand. She made a mental note to have Halifax trace the Seph.
She wasn't sure if her mundane life had come back to haunt her, or that this would finally set her free from the nightmares of her research.
Tracker watched her, unsure where her thoughts had taken her.
"Memories from a long time ago, when I was young and naive," she explained softly. Memories of a time when she had believed the corps were interested in saving mankind, not exploiting them.
Tracker merely nodded. "You take care of yourselves," he urged. "They're getting more daring and more dangerous, and what happened to Duck, is just the beginning."
"We'll keep our eyes and ears out for her," she assured him. "What do you want us to do in the meantime?"
"In the meantime, we've set up communications. For right now, if you need to get a message out, or find out what's going on, go to Sushi Ninja. They know what's going on. In a few days, we're going to pow-wow at the Playful Dragon. They'll get word to you."
Ange nodded then on impulse, pulled him into a hug. Tracker stood stiffly for a minute, then returned the hug. "Thank you," he whispered as he kissed her on to of the head. For a minute he allowed himself to be comforted. "Thank you," he repeated as she released him.
Ange nodded as she backed up and looked him in the eyes. "We'll find her." she told him. And something in her eyes told him, they would.
Tracker nodded. "Be careful," he urged her.
"You too," she answered as she walked back into the shadows. ‘You too,' she thought.
As Tracker rejoined him, Finagle looked at him questioningly. He saw the hint of something that had been missing in Tracker's eyes as he gave him the all clear. It took him a moment, but then recognized it: hope.
"One down, one to go," Tracker informed him.
"You going to be alright?" he finally asked.
Tracker looked at him a minute then nodded. After a pause he answered, "I think so, lets go."
Finagle nodded then looked around. "Which way?"
"Up," Tracker answered, with a smile. There was something in the smile that made Finagle very nervous.
‘Upstream, not above ground,' Finagle grumbled to himself. The trip through the storm drains had been bad enough, but now they were heading into the sewer system. He could tell they were moving deeper into the city by the smells. First exhaust fumes assailed him, but then the smells of human waste filled his nostrils..
"Here," Tracker stated tersely as he handed him a jar.
Finagle looked at if for a minute uncomprehendingly. "Vick's vapor rub?"
"Put some in your nostrils," Tracker answered. "It'll kill the scent."
Finagle nodded as he opened the jar and used it. "Thanks." As the rub killed every other scent, he could feel the relief.
"Let's move," Tracker urged. "We won't be here long, but it'll be more than long enough."
Finagle nodded the sewers were not to be traveled lightly. Something told him that Tracker had been here before, and for much longer periods of time.
"You get used to it," Tracker told him as he turned on his flashlight and moved through the overflow junction and into the sewer proper.
Finagle took a deep breath then followed. He saw something haunting flash in Tracker's eyes as he turned back down the tunnel.
‘You take me to the nicest places,' Duck's voice echoed in his ears. Tracker forced himself to push on. It wasn't helping. None of it was helping. They had to get the information out and check on the Wilsons. Duck was safe for now, but there were too many unknowns.
Now, instead of looking for her he was slogging through the sewers. Thoughts of Ange came to mind. ‘We'll find her,' she had assured him. He prayed they did.
He was relieved as they moved back into the storm drains. He hated the sewers and was not looking forward to the return trip.
‘Up ahead,' he signaled to Finagle who stared at him for a minute, then nodded. He could tell it wasn't always easy for the man to shift between sign-systems.
As they moved forward, Tracker waved to the surveillance camera. He watched it and let out a low chuckle when the camera moved up and down, then focused in on Finagle. ‘Friend,' he signed at the device then added. ‘News.'
Again there was a pause and the camera moved up and down. Tracker moved forward three steps and turned towards the left wall of the tunnel. As he waited he was bathed in light as the wall moved, revealing an opening big enough for a single troll to walk upright . As he started forward, he signaled for Finagle to follow, but not to touch anything. He wasn't sure if he got the message, but now was not the time to worry about it. Either he did or he ended up waiting in the tunnel. Either way, the man should be safe.
As he moved into the antechamber, Finagle waited a beat, then joined him. As soon as he stepped through, the door closed behind them. The room shook for a minute as the elevator mechanisms were activated and they were transported several levels lower than they were.
"Hold," a voice called, and the rumbling stopped. Tracker turned towards the right side of the room as the ‘wall' slipped to the side and a woman entered the room.
He greeted her with a gentle hug. "Hey there Lightning," he stated. "That was from Boomer," he added with a laugh. "Honest."
"He's okay?" she asked softly. After everything else that had happened he could tell she was worried. Still, she was a professional. She was doing her job, and making sure the others remained safe.
"We met up with him the other day," Tracker assured her. "We have word on Davy and the others. They're all going to be fine," he told her. "Davy's in the worst shape, Bear's next."
"Bear's alive?" she asked relief evident on her face. She'd known what his death would do to Duck. "Duck knows?" she asked when she noticed the tension in Tracker's shoulders.
"No," Tracker answered as he took her hand in his. "The folks behind the Black Roses, they've been studying us, testing us."
"I know," she answered curtly, then explained. "We analyzed the tape Duck sent, Rico and I," she explained.
"They wanted a tech. They nabbed Duck, then bombed the warehouse we were holed up in."
"Bombed???" he could feel the tremble in her hands as he took them in his.
"Everybody's fine. We all got out before it blew. Rabbit sensed it before it happened. Probably saved us all."
"Everybody is not fine," she countered angrily. "They have Duck!"
"Had," he told her gently. "They had her. Somebody rescued her."
Lightning narrowed her eyes as she looked at him and shook her head. "Spill it Tracker. Tell me everything."
Tracker nodded. Duck was the one who'd brought her into their circle of friends, she deserved to know. "Man named MindBender. Plays mind games, controls people. It was his job to break her. She got him back. He used Sepherax..."
The last statement brought images of Duck rocking back and forth as Gran tried to calm her down. It had driven her insane the last time, and somebody had given her more. ‘Was is cumulative?' she wondered.
"Seph," she gasped as her legs started to give out on her. She slid down the wall until she was seated on the ground.
"Lightning?" Tracker called worriedly.
"Fine," she said. "I'm F.I.N.E."
"Yeah, I can see that," Tracker told her as she started shaking. "If you were any more F.I.N.E., I'd have to worry about you."
He leaned over and gently helped her to her feet. "She's gotten through it before, she'll get through it again."
Lightning nodded, but she was holding on tight. Tracker held her until the shaking stopped. He didn't even try to hide his feelings from her. He was just as F.I.N.E. as she was. When she was done, Lightning nodded and pulled away slightly.
"When's the last time you two got some rest?" she asked, once again in control of her emotions.
"Been a while," Tracker admitted.
"Well, you're going to get some, and you're going to let us do the watching," she told him. Then she looked at Finagle. "Sorry, didn't mean to ignore you."
"It's okay," he assured her. "Any social faux pas is forgiven, especially if you have a hot shower available."
"All this and more," she told him. "I'll make sure everything's ready. Wait here." They watched her as she exited the ‘room.'
"That lady is far from fine," Finagle told Tracker matter of factly.
"Oh, she's perfectly F.I.N.E." Tracker countered, then smiled. "F.I.N.E. is Frustrated, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional."
"Ah," Finagle answered.