They only had a few hours to spare, but they were able to get some rest, and Finagle had been able to get his shower. Any guilt he felt over the time lost disappeared as they once again entered the sewers. They were almost through the worst of it when Tracker caught the movement up ahead.
“Company,” he growled as he pulled out his gun.
Finagle stiffened as he noticed the movement and recognized it. “Cotton mouth, swimming,” he stated.
Tracker nodded and moved into another overflow tunnel. “Quick,” he urged.
Finagle didn’t have to be told twice. Moving as quickly as they dared, Tracker and Finagle made their way back towards the storm drain system. Once they were clear of the water, Tracker began searching as he tried to get his bearings. Once he figured out where they were, he signaled Finagle to follow him.
They’d taken less than three steps when they heard movement in the tunnels ahead. Finagle stopped and eased up against the side of the overflow tunnel as Tracker flattened himself against the other side.
“And don’t think of running,” they heard a voice growl. Finagle could make out two sets of footsteps.
“Tre,” another voice answered softly. “Just leave Fen alone. Please.”
“Oh, but he’s so much fun little brother,” the first voice taunted. “And remember your dear, dear mother.”
Finagle could feel Tracker tense as the men continued moving away from them. They exchanged glances. Follow or rescue?
“We know everything about you,” the first voice added. “You cannot escape us, and any attempt to do so, will cost your family.”
“I’ve got the point,” the second voice answered softly. “Just get this over with.”
“You’re no fun,” the first man complained.
Tracker signaled Finagle: follow. Until they knew exactly what they were up against, it was best to find out as much as they could.
Behind them, in the darkness, the cottonmouth seemed to smile.
Wulf sat watching the woman as she rested fitfully. Visions of Nada filled his mind as she fought the after effects of drugs and mind control. ‘Attempted mind control,’ he reminded himself. Somehow, she had managed to fight MindBender, and that meant something.
There were others who’d managed to elude his control, but they had ended up under Ellingsworth’s control. At least they’d managed to spare her from that.
As he watched, she opened her eyes, and looked around slowly. He saw what looked like recognition in her eyes as she focused in on him.
“Would you like some water?” he asked gently.
She nodded. As he handed the cup to her, he saw the look in her eyes and froze. Her expression went from confused, to relaxed, to horror stricken, to a shocked kind of submission.
“Not who you expected?” he asked gently as he tried to understand the thought progression behind the expressions.
She shook her head as she took the cup and eased herself into an upright position.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked as she took a sip.
She pursed her lips then started to say something then shook her head. Reading her eyes he saw the pain and madness that threatened to consume her. It was almost as if by not talking she could keep herself under control.
He nodded then looked around the room. “If you change your mind,” he offered, but she merely shook her head. He could see, she had made the decision. Whatever it was, it was in the past and they had business to attend to. But, he could also see the price that decision had cost her.
He watched as she tentatively sipped the water and breathed a sigh of relief.
“I think we have some crackers around here,” he stated. “Would you like me to get some.”
Again she tried to answer, then merely nodded. Wulf smiled encouragingly, then went to look for the crackers.
She reached out her arms as she tried to gauge the level of control she had, then looked around the room. She’d been sleeping on the couch. The man had left to get her something to eat, and a chance to gather her thoughts. She knew there were others in the apartment, but she had no idea how many.
When she’d awakened, she’d seen him. Not the man, but Bear. She tensed as the name came to her. It couldn’t have been Bear. Bear was gone. Gone like the others. Fate had saved her from joining them, but they were gone.
‘Move on,’ she tried to tell herself. ‘Think of the others.’
She tried, but she knew that she was probably dead to them. She didn’t think she could stand seeing them right now; Lightning without Boomer; The Wilsons without the trio. Gran without Bear. Tracker... Again, she forced herself to move on. They were gone, but the war was far from over. There would be time for sorrow and regrets afterwards.
She tried to call out after the man, but as soon as she tried to speak, she could feel the madness creeping in again. She’d fought too long and too hard to allow it back into control. Anytime she tried to speak, it was as if making a sound would destroy what little control she had.
Silence was her ally.
“How she doin’ boss,” Gris asked tentatively. He still remembered the expression on their leader’s face when he made the comment about Sepherax and what it did to people. He had meant it as humor, but now...
“She’s been through a lot,” Wulf answered as he scanned the cupboards. “Looks like she took some heavy personal losses too.”
“How you figure?” Ni asked. His curiosity piqued.
“Just her eyes. She’s fighting something inside, and I think its a lot more than what Bender put her through.
“She tell you anything?”
Wulf shook his head. “Give her time,” he stated as he pulled out a box of salt crackers and a plate. “Give her time.”
When he returned with the plate, she was sitting on the couch with her legs pulled in tightly. ‘Defensive,’ he thought to himself as he handed her the plate. She took it graciously, but he could see she was still trying to get a feel for him and the others.
He merely nodded and pulled a pair of sweats off the pile of laundry he’d been sitting on. “Here,” he stated as he placed them next to her. “There’s a bathroom around the corner,” he offered.
She nodded as she forced herself to eat the crackers slowly. Then she took another sip of the water and looked at him questioningly.
“You up to this?” he asked as he stood and offered her a hand.
She merely shrugged. ‘May as well try,’ she seemed to say.
Wulf nodded and helped her stand. Her legs gave out on her almost immediately. He barely caught her and awkwardly eased her back down to the couch. He could feel her tense, then force herself to relax as his arms encircled her. This was not going to be easy.
“I could carry you,” he offered tentatively.
He saw her think about it, then nod. As he picked her up, he could feel her fighting to control her emotions. He realized that he must have reminded her of the person she’d lost and his holding her was only making the sense of loss more intense.
He manuvered her into the bathroom and eased her onto the toilette. Once he was sure she was balanced, he went back out the main room and grabbed the sweats. He deposited them next to her and then bid a hasty retreat from the room.
As he closed the door behind him, Jade and the others gathered in the main ‘living’ room. He looked at each of them as they watched him expectantly.
“Its not good,” he finally answered. “She’s lost some one close, quite possibly her entire team.” He knew the shock was more than just the after effects of MindBender’s ‘tender mercies.’ “The drugs have pretty much washed out of her system, but...”
“Did she tell you anything?” Jade finally asked. She could tell by his expression that she hadn’t. “Not even a name?” she asked.
Wulf shook his head. “And I think we’ll be luck if we get anything out of her,” he told them. “Bender worked her over pretty good, and whatever happened to her team... Its not good.”
“And you left her alone?” Jade chided as she headed towards the bathroom.
“Jade, she needs her privacy,” Wulf told her.
“She needs help,” Jade countered as she opened the door and looked inside. Their guest sat staring at the bathtub, rocking back and forth.
“Easy,” Jade urged. “Its alright. Its over.” she added gently as she noticed the horror in their guest’s eyes.
She continued to stare at the tub. Following her gaze Jade saw the roach crawling across the edge. With one swift movement, she squashed the bug, then turned towards their guest. She could see the relief in the woman’s eyes, but still, she didn’t make a sound.
“Damn,” Jade swore as she placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “You want to get dressed?”
The woman nodded with relief. Thankfulness was apparent in her eyes. “Just take it slowly,” Jade urged as she dressed the woman, then helped her wash up. “Everything’s going to be alright.”
Rabbit took a deep breath as he entered the Chessman’s club. He knew it was way to early for most of the joint’s clientele, but he also knew that Dancer would be there. He didn’t know how he knew, but somehow, he just knew.
As he entered the room, thoughts of Duck came to mind: her laughter, the mischievousness that surrounded her when she was playing innocent. Was it only a few days ago that they had sat here and met Dancer and his friends? He shook his head and moved towards the table they had occupied that fateful night.
“Rabbit?” Dancer called as he looked up from the disks he was reading. “What’s up?” he asked as he slid into the seat across from him.
“Problems,” Rabbit answered as he met the man’s gaze. “They nabbed Duck.”
Dancer practically stood in his seat at the news. “What? Gods, who got her?”
“Group, man... he/she/it calls itself/themselves Briar,” Rabbit answered. He took a deep breath as he fought to keep himself under control.
The effort wasn’t lost on Dancer. “Thanks for letting me know,” he stated finally.
“Figure she’d want you to know, so you could adjust your plans accordingly,” Rabbit answered.
“Do you need help?” Dancer asked as he studied Rabbit.
Rabbit merely nodded. “We’ve got people working on it, and from the looks of things somebody’s rescued her. We just don’t know how bad...”
Dancer nodded, not knowing was what drove you insane. That’s why he liked the matrix. It was one of the few places he felt like he was in control. “I’ll pass the word,” he promised. “There are at least two other clubs out there that owe their lives to her. They got the message about the wares in time, otherwise there’d be a few less of us out tonight. We all owe her, and believe you me, they’ll do their best. If there’s anything out there, one of us is bound to find it.
Rabbit nodded. As he stood he looked at Dancer one last time. “There’s going to be a meeting, a messenger will tell you where and when. Ask about Kemuri, if he says he’s fine, run. If he smiles at you and shows you his empty hands, that’s the real Kemuri: do as he says.”
Dancer took a deep breath as he looked at the man. Cloak and Dagger meetings always bothered him, but if they were facing something that would kidnap Duck... He realized that need pushed them on. “I’ll be there,” he promised.
“Take care kid, there’s a whole lot of trouble headed our way.”
“We have to call her something,” Ni declared as he looked at the woman, who was once again sleeping on the couch. “We can’t just keep referring to her as ‘our guest,’ or ‘the woman’. I mean, if she doesn’t have one, can’t we give her one?”
“Ni,” Meri urged gently. “If we name her, its just as bad. Its something we’ve tagged her with. Its not who she really is.”
“I don’t think she much cares,” Wulf assured them. He’d seen the look in her eyes. She was starting over. Old names didn’t matter. “And Ni’s right, we have to call her something.”
He watched them as they though about it for a few minutes, then they began tossing out suggestions.
“Fade?” Ni suggested.
“Cypher?” Jade countered.
“My lord, it sounds like you’re naming a pet,” Meri objected. “How about something... I don’t know... less ‘street’ sounding.”
Wulf shook his head as an argument ensued. Jade smiled at him when she noticed he wasn’t adding any suggestions. There really wasn’t a point. Most of the names he could think of were either variations of quiet or silence or they were names of ancient martial artists: none of which seemed appropriate for a decker.
Finally when just about everybody was tired of making suggestions only to have them shot down by somebody else, Gris stood and declared. “Shateiel.”
The others looked at him for a minute as they tried to understand his suggestion. When nobody responded, Gris looked at them, and let out a sigh.“Shateiel, dat’ de angel of silence,” he explained to them. “And dat what she look like to me.”
“Shateiel, Angel of silence,” Wulf repeated as he looked over at the woman as she slept. She looked like an angel that had been through hell. It would do for now.
Geoff tensed as Matthew signaled him to move away from the door. “Gran says we need to destroy the etchings on the floor. Then she can take out the portal.”
“What portal??” Geoff demanded as he felt something reaching for them.
“That power,” Matthew answered evenly. “You feel it don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Geoff answered. Ever since he’d seen the room, he’d known that something was very wrong. It was almost as if he could feel the hunger waiting in the shadows of the room. Now, as they tried to take action against it, he could feel the power growing, partially in defense, partially because their presence seemed to beckon to it.
“Destroy the etchings,” Matthew muttered to himself, then he turned towards Geoff, his face once again emotionless. “You ever notice how Shaman can never just tell you something straight forward?”
Geoff shrugged. “Seemed straight forward enough to me.”
“Seems to be missing the minor detail of ‘how’ if you ask me.”
“There is that,” Geoff answered as he looked around, then checked the floor. “Deep cut, floor looks like marble.”
“Great,” Matthew answered as he looked around the room. “And I left my sculpting gear back home.”
“You sculpt?” Geoff asked as he concentrated on the Marble.
“Sometimes. Sometimes I just use explosives.”
Geoff looked at him for a minute and then smiled. “What do you use on Marble?”
Matthew, catching Geoff’s grin turned and nodded. “Got a jack hammer? I see a nice fresco in the making...”
Minh stretched out her senses as she and Gran made two complete circles of the room. She could feel Gran’s growing unease as they finished and met in the middle of the room.
“I can still feel its pull,” Gran stated as she met Minh’s gaze. “And you have faced this power before?”
Minh merely nodded. She could feel the same evil she’d fought and its power reminded her of the battle that had raged when she and Yung had been forced to banish it. “It has indeed grown stronger,” she stated evenly. “Far stronger than I had supposed.’
‘It feeds on its victims,’ Rahalleth’s explanation echoed in her mind. “Now that it has ones on the outside, it is learning more and more. Soon it will be too powerful.’
She could hear the desperation and fear in his thoughts.
“It speaks to you,” Gran stated half questioningly.
Minh nodded then turned again and looked through the door where the others stood waiting. As she took a deep breath she stilled the worry inside her. It served no purpose here. Once she was calm she once again turned towards Gran.
“Lady of the TwoBears clan. Remember well this taint, for it is of the enemy,” she stated. “You will stand watch on the other side of this door, while I close the portal permanently. I am relying on you to watch over these, our friends and protect them should I fail.”
Gran nodded as she looked worriedly into Minh’s eyes. “What of you child?”
“I ask that you do not let me harm them should I fail in my task,” she answered. “You will know, for it will walk in my shell, much as my brother walked in Davy’s.”
Gran nodded. “Have care child. For the enemy is strong.”
Again, Minh nodded. “I know. It will resist, but it is still weak from taking its most recent victim. If I am lucky, I will learn who and we may act accordingly.”
“Good luck child,” Gran told her as she headed for the door. “Bear watch over you children,” she added as she remembered that Minh’s brother was with her.
Minh smiled and bowed. “May the Lords of Heaven watch over us all today,” she answered as she again looked towards the others. ‘Brother, are you ready?’
‘What am I to do?’ he asked. ‘I have no strength to give you?’
‘But you know how to fight him,’ she answered. ‘Help me resist. Aid me with your knowledge and we shall be strong.’
‘I will try,’ he answered, but she could feel his underlying thoughts. ‘It has fought me before and won. And now, I am only a thought, a memory of what was.’
‘That can sometimes be enough,’ she answered. ‘Let us begin.’
On the other side of the door, and in the observation room, they sat. Friends and family gathered to watch over her. They were prepared to stop her if need be, but she could feel their concern for her well being as well.
It was good and right that she fight this thing. And it was only fitting that these people watched over her as she did. These were the people that had restored her faith in mankind. These were the people whom she dared to call family.
Each life, though brief relative to her own, had taught her to see things she had forgotten. They had taught her and gifted her with their friendship and care. She could not in good faith do any less than give her own friendship and wisdom in return.
‘I did not know their kind could grasp the intricacies of the web,’ Rahalleth’s voice sounded in her mind as she thought of them.
‘And they have reached the understanding, that they will never fully understand it, and yet, they are part of it. Each dancing within the realms they understand. Each welcoming the next. It is not so with all humans, but it is enough to know that there are a few.’
Minh seemed to draw strength from the thoughts and then added another thread to the mix. ‘We would do well, to remember as much ourselves.’
The rumble of her brother’s laughter echoed in her ears. Thus prepared, they turned to the task at hand.