Boomer looked at Kenny as he began his system check on the truck. “What’s up?”
Kenny looked at him for a minute and shook his head. It never ceased to amaze him how Boomer always seemed to know when he was dwelling on something. “This whole thing,” he answered finally. “Davy and the others getting hurt, Duck missing, Bear.” He looked out the window then shook his head. “Way too much going down.”
“I know what you mean,” Boomer answered. “Not knowing the score doesn’t help the matter either.”
Kenny looked at Boomer and realized that he was feeling pretty much the same way. Somebody had attacked the family. Worse, Lightning, Boomer's ‘one true’ was incommunicado. At least when Tracker got back, he’d know how she was doing. Then there was the whole mess of the nightmares and the memories he’d suppressed.
Something told him that they were very important, but he had no idea how they fit in with everything else. He needed somebody to talk to and he wasn’t sure who to talk to about it. As he tried to piece it together, Boomer let out a low whistle.
“Boom?” he asked as he sat upright in the seat again as he recognized his brother’s signal for trouble.
“We’ve been tailed,” Boomer answered as he pointed towards one of the screens. “Remote, high alt, stealth mode. System’s picked up its transmissions.”
Kenny looked at the screen, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Boomer who had been watching him, smiled. “Second entry, the slight fluctuation in refraction. It’s hovering, wide angle.”
“Think they know where we’ve been?” Kenny countered worriedly. His thoughts turned to Bear and Kai who were in no condition to be moved, let alone be placed in a potential ‘situation.’ Thinking about it, he realized that Eclipse wasn’t all that much better.
“Hopefully not,” Boomer countered. “This thing absorbs noise, so they can’t hear much of anything. Plus, Rico built in some noise gens build into the engine so that should help. Plus we left it here in the garage when we wend out.” Boomer paused as he checked the readings. “No, I don’t think they know everything, but we better high-tail it out of here and warn the others when we’re clear. No use endangering the setup.”
Kenny let out a deep breath and nodded. “Never dull”
“There is that,” Boomer answered as he keyed the ignition. “But right now, dull is starting to sound really good.”
“Amen to that,” Kenny countered as he strapped in.
“They’re on the move,” Daff announced as Ni continued to head towards the club district.
Daff looked at Ni and shook his head. “They’re heading south.”
Ni nodded. “Just let me know if you need me to take over,” he told Daff as he fought to maintain the remote and maneuver their van though traffic.
Daff gave a quick shake of his head and disconnected from the van’s control box. “Take over,” he yelled as he let go of the controls. Ni barely grabbed the wheel in time as they approached the on ramp to the freeway. As he tried to get situated, he took the next right too sharply.
Jade grabbed the ‘Oh my God’ handle as the van seemed to tilt towards the left. As things settled out she glared at Ni.
“Sorry,” he stated defensively as he ducked his head. “Gris’ the only one who really understands this contraption.”
Jade shook her head. “Just follow them, but remember, we supposed to be observing only, you drive like that in front of them and they’re going to be stopping us and asking questions.”
Ni nodded. “I know, I know, I just got carried away is all.”
“Well don’t do it again!” Jade stated as she looked around and started preparing her protective spells. Something told her she was going to be needing them.
Boomer flashed Kenny a sidelong glance as he scanned the screens. “Yep,” he stated. “Its following us alright.”
“Terr-iffic,” Kenny sighed. “Its not like we don’t have enough problems.”
“On the bright side, there don’t seem to be any cops...”
“Don’t say it!” Kenny growled as he started scanning the roads anxiously. “You say that, its like slapping the fates with a gauntlet and throwing it to the ground.”
Boomer looked at him, his smiling doubling in size. “Its awfully quite...”
“Man, you’re just asking for trouble!” Kenny countered as he focused on the security cameras then back at his brother. “I hope you’re happy,” he growled as a police car appeared in the rear view mirror.
Kenny held his breath as the car followed them for a few blocks. As he was about to relax, the driver activated his lights and sirens. Kenny could feel his heart racing as he checked the area for backup and escape routes.
“Relax Brah,” Boomer urged as he calmly pulled over and let the car pass. Then turned towards Kenny and smiled. “They have a robbery at the Burger joint on 7th.”
“You bastard,” Kenny muttered as he continued to scan the area. “That was not funny!”
“I enjoyed it,” Boomer stated with a smile.
“I’m sure you did,” Kenny said shaking his head. “Think you can get us someplace safe without getting us killed?”
Boomer chuckled as he pulled back into traffic. “Trust me.”
“That’s usually my first mistake,” Kenny muttered as he shook his head.
“Gris, slow down,” Daff urged.
“What is it?”
“Got another remote, almost missed it,” Daff growled. “Somebody’s already tailing these bozos.”
Ni shook his head. “That doesn’t make any sense,” he stated as he slowed the van then pulled over to the side of the road. He knew that this would allow Daff to concentrate on the location of the remote withoug having to continually recalculate its location relative to a moving object.
“Almost missed it,” he stated as he pulled out of the remotes’ controls. “Its a high alt. Haven’t seen one like it before.”
Jade shook her head. “I don’t like this,” she stated. “I’m calling Wulf.”
“Jade,” Daff called. “We’re just observing, promise, lets give it a little while.”
Jade looked at him and saw the anger in the man’s eyes. These people had hurt Shateiel and were probably involved in what happened to Merc. He owed them big time, but she also knew that revenge tended to cloud a person’s judgement.
Against her better judgement, she nodded. Somehow Jade knew she’d regret the decision, but she figured if they were going after the truck, she should get as much information as she could. Signaling Ni by tapping her temple, Jade prepared herself for a scouting run on the truck.
“Boom,” Kenny called as he felt a change in area around them. He stretched out his senses until he caught the trail of what he was looking for. “Somebody’s following us.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Boomer answered tersely as he checked the output from the sensors and cross referenced them.
“I mean somebody else is following us,” Kenny corrected himself.
Boomer looked at him and let his breath out slowly. “Something other than the remote I found?”
Kenny nodded. “I can feel a mage, probing mostly. I’m keeping her out, but there’s no telling how long I’m going to be able to continue dodging her.”
“Which means we need to get someplace we can lose both of them,” Boomer stated as he looked around. The last thing he wanted to do was lose the truck. With the explosion at the warehouse, they’d lost everything else. Even Duck’s combat rig was history.
“On the bright side, I don’t think they’re working together,” Kenny stated.
“That could be good, or bad depending,” he muttered. “You got any details on the mage?” Boomer added as he maneuvered through the traffic.
“Woman,” Kenny stated.
Boomer gave Kenny and exasperated look out of the corner of his eyes.
“What, you want measurements?” he asked sarcastically.
“Power, backup, threat...” Boomer countered. “You sure you weren’t remedial military?”
Kenny paused as he reached out and tried to analyze their pursuer. “Woman, heavy on the offensive, she’s got company, but I can’t tell you how much or how good. High probability of serious threat.”
“Is that better or worse than a ‘serious probability of a high threat or the ‘Probable threat of a serious high?” Boomer asked hopefully. When Kenny didn’t even shake his head at his failed attempt at humor, Boomer sighed.
“It just keeps getting better,” he muttered.
Jade slammed herself back into her body when she realized that one of the ‘bozo’s’ had sensed her presence. ‘Damn,’ she swore to herself. “This is not good,” she growled. “They’ve got a mage, maybe one other guy in the truck, and they know about us.”
Ni sagged in his seat as he punched the numbers into the phone.
“What are you doing?” Daff demanded as he shifted consciousness from his control unit to the van.
“Calling the boss,” Ni stated calmly.
“But,” Daff growled.
“But nothing,” Ni countered. “They got a mage and they know we’re coming.”
“But,” Daff objected.
“We took a vote,” Jade countered tersely. “You were counted as an abstention.”
Daff glowered at her for a minute until he heard Wulf’s voice on the other end.
“What’s wrong?” were the first words out of his mouth.
“A second tail and a mage that knows we’re coming,” Jade answered.
“Break off the surveillance,” Wulf ordered. “Keep the remote on them, fall back to secondary position, we’ll meet you there in two hours.”
Daff shook his head. He didn’t agree with the boss’ decision, but he trusted Wulf’s instincts more than he trusted his own. He held up two fingers as he reconnected to the remote long enough to program it. When he finished he nodded towards Ni.
Jade let out a sigh of relief as they headed towards the fall back position. Nobody noticed the tracer unit launched by the other remote.
Minh tensed as she felt the power dance around her. She could feel the subtle changes in the power. It was feeling her out, gauging her responses. She could feel the intelligence behind the animalistic need driving it on. But more than anything, she could feel its rage. It had been found out and now someone dared to block its path.
Rahalleth cringed as it reached out and tried to pull him from her. Failing that, it tried to take him back, and through him take her. His fear turned to a rage that echoed its own. Minh merely arched her neck and took a deep breath.
‘Do not give into it brother,’ she called to Rahalleth, bringing him back to her. ‘It has no power here. It has no name here. Let it go.’
She could feel Rahalleth trying to follow her instructions, but centuries of imprisonment had taken its toll on him. ‘It will not have me.’ he growled from within her. ‘It will not have you.’
‘It will not,’ she agreed calmly. ‘We will see to that. It tries to distract us from what we are doing. Do not listen to it.’
Rahalleth fought to listen to her, but the fear and pain he had suffered only served to enrage him. Minh could feel it long before it surfaced and merely called him to her.
‘You are falling into its path,’ she told him gently. ‘You are not the young fool who let pride overcome him. Now you must not let your rage do the same to me. Concentrate only on me brother. It is not of you. The only thoughts you hear are mine. Tell me how it works.’
Rahalleth drew himself together, her serenity soothing him until he was once again able to think. She had put herself between it and him. He was safe, for now.
“At first it tried promises of the good I could do, then the power I could hold. By the time I learned that the power I gained was its, it was too late.” he paused that was his story. By Minh was not so full of self doubt or desirous of power. She was the Matriarch now, and with reason. For her sake he called for the memories of the ages he had been forced to endure. There had been one such as Minh. She came seeking protection for her people. It had convinced her that his was the path that would serve her.
“It will lie, it will scare, it will threaten. It will darken your heart with fear, or hate. Anything it can do to get its hooks into you. It will try to draw you to the astral plane, where it is much stronger. But whatever you do, do not follow it to its place, for there, none can stand against it.”
‘Brother, I fear we will have to go to the astral plane to close the gate. Otherwise it will be able to reopen it later on. It knows this. You must know it as well.’
She could feel his disbelief as he struggled against her reasoning. “Brother do not fight me so. You know that this is what must be done.”
Her thoughts were warm yet firm. There was no regret in her thoughts, she was merely telling him the path that they must follow. ‘There will be a fight, but we are strong,’ she told him. There was a tinge of laughter in her thoughts. ‘Let us finish this so that we may go home.’
Rahalleth felt something growing inside of him, a feeling he had not felt before. Calm, accepting: her thoughts joined with his. “Together, there is nothing we cannot do,” she told him.
‘You cannot defeat me,’ the power seemed to say. There were no real words to its message only the feeling of utter despair that tried to force its way into her mind.
‘Emotions,’ she thought gently. “That is how it communicates from the outside.”
‘Or through those it takes,’ Rahalleth warned. ‘It is more devious than an ancient one.’
As it’s thoughts tried to become her own, Minh felt rather than heard the drumming that began in the observation room. Unwilling to settle for passive observers, Gran’s people had begun a beat that called to her like a heartbeat, anchoring her safely in their world, holding her with their hearts, their love. The power soared through her as she closed her eyes and smiled.
‘They are not as fragile as they seem,’ Rahalleth observed.
‘They are both stronger and more delicate that you believe,’ she agreed then turned towards the force that called to her. ‘And so it begins again.’
With that she drew them to the astral plane and placed herself between IT and the gateway. Rahalleth could feel the catch in her breath as she saw it for the first time.
‘So, dear sister,’ it called to her as it solidified around her. ‘You take my weakness upon yourself and think to defeat me?’
‘It was your weakness that brought you here in the first place. The others cast you out and so you took that which you could.’ She answered calmly. ‘But you forget, I defeated you before, as I will defeat you here today’
‘Do you really think you can stop me now?’ it railed at her. ‘I have learned much since we last met, and you have learned nothing!’
Rahalleth was surprised as he felt the calmness radiate from Minh. She was no longer the child who had to be guided. Gone, and in her place was a serenity that the force seemed unable to penetrate. He could almost hear her laughter.
‘You do not understand, and you cannot, until you learn to look outside yourself,’ her thoughts filled the plane as it circled her, trying to find and exploit her weakness.
The power flowed around her, trying to penetrate her thoughts, make them its own. Failing to manipulate her mentally it shifted its attack, pulling forth the power and form that was Rahalleth. As his form appeared before them, Rahalleth saw himself through his sister’s eyes.
‘You have let yourself go,’ Minh stated as she appraised the form. ‘There is no power there, only decay.’
‘Sister, do you know what you are saying? Do you not remember what it, what I did to the child?’ Rahalleth’s thoughts were desperate. She was falling into one of its traps.
‘Fear not.’ The thought was for his ears alone. But even as he fought to understand it, he saw it rear back and strike at her. He felt the massive claws, his claws as they tried to rake her sides as it had the child’s.
Before he could react, they passed through her. He stiffened, waiting for the pain to reach him then turned. There was no pain, no bellow, no blood. He watched as it pulled his claws back, they were wet, but bloodless.
Minh’s laughter filled the plane. ‘It would seem that you are only capable of harming children,’ she chided. ‘You really should learn to control your temper.’
Rahalleth felt the ground shake beneath them as it again attacked, this time rearing back to its full height and lunging at her/them with both claws extended. This time he felt the pain, as the claws drove through Minh’s form and raked the other side of the portal. Still he could feel Minh’s laughter as her body reformed after the claws were retracted.
‘He uses poison,’ he warned. ‘Poison and spells, if you keep this up he will kill you. What are you doing?’
‘Trust me,’ her thoughts cocooned him from the pain. ‘This must be done.’ the gentleness of the thought shifted as she turned her attention back to their attacker. ‘Do you think I am a fool!’
Rahalleth tensed. He could feel the rage and pain that radiated from his sister towards the attacker, yet puzzlingly, he could not feel any of it within her. From within he felt something he had never experienced before, he prayed he would be able to ask her about it later.
‘This is my domain!’ it hissed at them. ‘And you will come to learn my power!’ With that it lunged at them again, and again, its claws ripped through Minh and scraped the gate on the other side.
Rahalleth could feel the pain, but it was not the claws that were causing the pain. He forced himself not to think, afraid of betraying Minh. ‘One more,’ her thoughts assured him. ‘One more and we are free.’
‘You have no power. You take and you pervert, but it is not yours. You manipulate, you connive, but still the power escapes you. You cannot create and therefore you must destroy.’ Her thoughts had almost a tinge of pity to them as she stood heaving between it and the gate. ‘And you will not leave through this door, except through me!’
‘SO BE IT!’ It roared as it lunged a third and final time.
Rahalleth cringed as he felt the pain radiate through out Minh’s form but as their attacker’s claws hit the gate for the third time he saw her form shimmer and reform. This time she was smiling as she pulled herself back together. Her body flowed like water until it was once again whole.
‘Thank you,’ she told their attacker as she moved away from what remained of the gate. His attacks had sealed it forever.
It bellowed in rage as it tried to attack her, but this time, Minh caught its claws in hers. ‘You will not harm my kind again!’ she bellowed as her tail whipped around and brought the creature to its knees. ‘We will finish this,’ she promised as they faded from the astral realm. ‘And you will pay for what you have done!’
Then they were back in the operating room. Rahalleth’s laughter echoing her own, Minh smiled towards her brother.
‘See brother, I have learned things,’ she told him. ‘From Duck I learned that it is easier to let your opponent do the work and merely redirect their energies, it is the principal of something she calls ‘Jujitsu’. From her uncle I learned the art of ruse, something he calls bluffing. The enemy, as you said, is far stronger, but his pride and rage, burn bright. Unfortunately, I fear it will not be more difficult to redirect his energies when next we meet.”
He could feel her amusement, but he could also feel the pain inside her. ‘I will be well,’ she assured him.
He knew she had indeed learned much; for even though it thought its claws were rending her form, she was tearing it apart in front of the claws. Her form gave no resistance, allowing the claws to pass harmlessly through her and strike the gate with their full force. By ignoring the pain she had manipulated his attacks to her purpose. In the end, she had been victorious.
Still there was enough pride and childishness in her that she had taunted it as she left. He knew it would come back to haunt them later. But it felt so good to give it even a the smallest taste of what it had done to him. He bowed his head, realizing that that was his influence.
‘Fear not,’ Minh’s chide softened by her laughter. ‘For the look it gave when it realized that it had been tricked... it was indeed well worth the cost.” Her laughter echoed in her thoughts as he continued to worry.
‘Brother, I know he will come after me.’ She told him gently, and again he could feel the laughter that filled her. ‘Truth be told, I am counting on it.’
She smiled as she drew herself up and then shifted back to the human form she’d assumed. ‘He will hunt me, but our friends will keep him off balance until I am ready, a trick I learned from Tracker.’
She let her thoughts sink in before continuing. ‘It is not the only one who can play games.’
Rahalleth’s laughter joined with hers as the drumming filled his heart making him feel whole for the first time in a very long time. And for the first time, in a very long time, he felt hope.