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“What in the name of...” Boomer growled as he saw them stared at the car.
“Relax, will ya Boom, we’re all on the same side.” Sam growled.
"Yeah, but as I remember, some body still hadn't told them that," he countered as he noticed the officers lining up on either side of the car.
"Look, a lot has changed in the past few hours," Sam told him. "The game is back in our court and those toughs that attacked you were the final straw. As soon as we get Kenny taken care of, I'll explain."
Boomer studied Sam Ranier carefully. "Dammit Boom, you're going to have to trust me on this one.
Boomer let out his breath and looked at Kenny. He knew his brother needed help and soon. He started to say something then let it go. “Alright,” Boomer answered finally.
“Lets get you two inside,” Sam urged as he opened the door.
Boomer was completely shocked when the officers gathered round started to applaud and pat him on the back. Their enthusiasm waned as he had to help his brother out of the car, but all of them continued to give them appreciative nods.
“Like I said Boom,” Sam told him. “A lot has changed.”
“I’ll say,” Boomer answered as several officers came to help him with Kenny.
Wulf saw the change as Shateiel holstered the guns Meri had given her. She was no longer the victim, no longer the injured woman trying to piece things together. Now she was completely focused on what they were doing.
He held no illusion that she was still hurting, still unsure of herself, but now she had something to concentrate on other than herself, other than what had happened to her. That focus gave her the freedom she needed to function. The question was ‘will it be enough?’ He hoped so, because something was giving him the feeling that she was a very important piece of the solution to their problems.
When she was ready, he signaled the others to move out. Gris led them out of the apartment and signaled them to wait as he slipped out of the building and headed for the car. They watched, scanning the area for movement as he climbed into the driver’s seat of an old beat-up Audi.
Once he was situated, he pushed the door release button, and the others moved in. Shateiel covered Meri as she slipped into the car and was about to follow when Wulf stopped her.
“No heroics, you hear me?” he asked softly.
She closed her eyes slowly as if to say ‘of course.’ He nodded, then shook his head as she raised her eyebrows and looked at him questioningly.
“I’ll try,” he told her, to which she merely shrugged. He wasn’t sure if that meant she expected as much from him, or that she’d play it as safe as he did. He wasn’t really sure he wanted to know. Either way, he’d know soon enough.
“Keep your eyes peeled,” he warned everybody as he leaned into the car. “There’s no telling what we’re up against.”
“You got dat boss,” Gris assured him from behind the wheel. As he pulled away from the curb, no one noticed the trio of gangers that were watching them intently.
One of them pulled out a phone once the Audi had rounded the corner ane was out of site.
‘Let Bender know that the Pak is on the move.”
Tracker and Finagle moved along the drains in silence, trying to keep the balance between enough distance to not be discovered, yet close enough to keep an eye on the situation. They had been slowly making their way out of the city, and now there were fewer and fewer places to hide. This had forced them to allow their targets to get progressively further and further ahead.
“Hold,” they heard a voice call as their targets round a corner.
“Delivery for Bender,” they heard the man, Tre, growl.
Tracker tensed as everything seemed to freeze. He could feel the spell as it passed through the tunnels, closing the distance between them. He could feel his pulse increase as Finagle slipped next to him and cast a masking spell.
Someone was checking for observers. It was almost as if they knew they were there. Tracker clenched his fist as the unseen forces met. One spell was seeking them out, the other striving to keep them from being found.
On one level he was aware of the silent battle, but on the other, he knew that it was up to him to find out as much as they could. Years of training kicked in: you trust your team to do their work, while you do yours.
You cover each other, or you die. It was that simple. What he heard next told him they’d made the right decision in following.
“Bender’s been expecting you,” he heard the sentry’s voice stated. Tracker could feel his stomach roll. If Bender wanted the man’s captive, he knew he didn’t want Bender anywhere near the man. All too vivid images came to mind from the chip. He couldn’t let that happen to another human being.
“Clear,” he heard another voice state as the magic around them seemed to dissipate. Tracker noticed that Finagle kept his spell going long after the first man’s had passed them by. Three minutes later, he was very glad he did.
He felt it coming long before it hit their area. The heat filled the tunnel as flames spread along the path, then it was past them. He found himself watching in morbid fascination as the flames seemed to form a pocket around them. He looked at Finagle and knew that it was taking all his concentration to keep the flames on the other side of his barrier.
“Paranoid bunch of fraggers,” he muttered once the had flames dissipated.
Finagle merely looked at him and nodded in agreement.
The man swayed back and forth as he staggered down the tunnel. His cloths wreaked and the smell of bourbon did nothing to hide the fact that he hadn’t bathed in half of forever. His coat too looked as if it had seen better decades. As he lurched forward, he fell to his knees in the water.
“Spuszcaz,” he muttered as he pulled himself back up. “Spuszcaz,” he laughed.
They guards exchanged glances as the drunk continued towards them. “Spuszcza!” echoing down the tunnel in front of him, announcing his approach.
“That’s far enough,” one of them challenged as the man stumbled into site.
The man’s head rocked back and forth as he tried to get their images to stop moving. “Woda sie nie spuszcza!” he stated with a big wide gesture, then he tried to explain, but all he did was enunciate the statement. “Vo-dah...” he told them with a smile. “Vo-da syeh nyeh SPOOSH-CHA!”
The guards shook their heads as the man’s eyes seemed to double in size. “SPOOSH-CHA!” he laughed again as he gestured wildly around him. “Spoo... SPOOSH-CHA!”
“Go back the way you came old man,” one of the men urged. There was something about the man that seemed to indicate more than just booze at work, and neither of them were ready to deal with a ‘chip-head.’
Neither of them was ready to deal with Tracker as he dropped his tattered coat and shot them both with a tranq gun.
“Spuszcza!” he stated with a smile as he looked at the unconscious men.
“Spoosh-cha?” Finagle asked as he secured the cuffs on one of the guards and began a cursory pat-down.
“Spuszcza,” Tracker corrected as he finished going through the other man’s pockets. When he finished he looked at Finagle who was still staring at him waiting for an explanation. Tracker grinned as he tried to explain.
“Look I had to say something they wouldn’t understand,” he objected.
“But ‘spoosh-cha?’ Finagle shook his head. “Sometimes I wonder about you man.”
Tracker laughed as he looked at the men and made sure the area was secure. “Its a long story,” Tracker answered with a grin then shook his head when he realized he was going to have to explain this one.
“Duck’s uncle, gypsy he loves to tell stories. He’s been at this game longer that you and me put together, and he’s really good at distraction. Anyway, he told me about how he was in Amsterdam once, trying to get through customs. They’ve been told to be on the look out for an UCAS operative trying to get through so they’re checking everybody, I mean everybody. Gypsy figure’s he’s safe, cause he has a Polish pass, but he doesn’t want to take any chances. He disappears into the bathroom, then gets in line. While he’s waiting he keeps saying ‘Woda sie nie spuszcza!’ only no-one understands him. They end up calling in their boss and he walks over and asks what the problem is. Again, Gypsy tells them ‘Woda sie nie spuszcza!”
Tracker paused as he pulled of the men’s boots and checked inside for any concealed items and smiled as he pulled out two security chips.
“So the Officer of the Day is trying to figure out what’s going on when somebody comes running from the bathroom, yelling ‘its flooding, its flooding!’ As several people rush to the bathroom, Gypsy looked at the O.D. and said, “Spuszcza!” to which the O.D. looked at him and said. “Well why didn’t you say so in the first place?” and waved him through
Finagle looked up at him and shook his head. “I don’t get it.”
“Neither did I,” Tracker told him with a shrug. “I think that was the point.”
Finagle looked at Tracker for a minute as the man gave him an innocent shrug. “The point is it doesn’t matter what you say, only that it confuses them whether they understand it or not.”
“But what does the Spoosh-cha thing mean?”
“The toilet doesn’t flush,” Tracker answered with a shrug. “But that’s not the point.”
“What is the point then?” Finagle asked.
Tracker merely shrugged, “ guess you had to have been there.” That said, he pointed towards the ladder.
Finagle shook his head, and again started wondering about Tracker’s stability.
Jade tensed as she felt something closing in on them. As she tried to reach out for it, she knew she had noticed it too late.
“Incoming!” she heard Daff growl as she once again focused on the world around them.
She felt something impact with the van, but even as she tried to see what was happening, the van had started to slide sideways. Ni’s cursing told her more about the situation that anything else. It was bad.
As she prepared a defensive spell, she felt something grab a hold of her mind. The scream died in her throat as she felt something pushing the van forwards. She could see Ni frantically trying to change the direction, but he had no hope of fighting off the force. It was an air elemental with a simple mission: smash the van into the light pole.
It finished it’s job with simplistic ease. As the van impacted she saw Ni go limp, his head hitting the steering wheel at full force. She felt Daff impact with the back of her seat and then, nothing. She was unable to move as several men moved in on the van and pulled her out of it.
“What about the others?” she heard one of them ask.
“Her friends should be arriving in ten minutes. Set the timer for twelve and lets get out of here.”
Jade tried to fight the power that blocked her mind from controlling her body, but it simply hung there. She felt something behind it, but there was no placing the sense. She was helpless as her attacker’s prepared a ‘surprise’ for Wulf and the others. Images of Shateiel in the tub flashed through her mind. She had to warn them, but how?
‘Dammit Jade, think,’ she urged herself. ‘Its a setup.’ She reached out with her mind, summoning her watcher spirit to her side. ‘Warn them’ she ordered it mentally. ‘Warn them about the bomb, then lead them to me.’
She felt the spirit’s acceptance of its task and allowed herself a slight sense of relief. At least they would be warned, and maybe have a chance of protecting her.
She had no way of knowing that that was exactly the response her attackers were hoping she’d have.
‘Soon Wulf will be mine,’ Briar’s voice echoed in MindBender’s mind. There was something different about the voice that he couldn’t place. It seemed angrier than he remembered, harsher. There was an almost painful tone to it. ‘Have you made the preparations?’
‘All is in place,” MindBender assured him. “What of the boy?”
‘When you finish with Wulf, bring him to our side. We have need of his skills.”
MindBender smiled as his men loaded the woman into the truck and signaled them to move out. Very soon, he would again be called upon to serve his master. He prayed he would perform as expected.
As the truck pulled away he forced himself to concentrate on the success of their venture. There had already been too many failures and he knew that his master’s patience was wearing thin.
Wulf felt his breath catch as the Audi rounded the corner and he got a full view of the van, their van. Smoke was pouring out from under the hood. “No,” he swore as Gris pulled up short.
“Stay here,” he ordered as he opened the door and started towards the van. Then he felt the presence of Jade’s ‘friend’.
‘BOMB’ it told him as if it was screaming at the top of its mind/voice. ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb. Big Cuddly and the ToyMan... Bomb!”
Wulf reacted immediately. “Pull back,” he ordered Gris as he started running towards the van. ‘Big Cuddly’, he knew was the spirits’ name for Ni, and ‘ToyMan’ was it’s way of saying a rigger, which meant Daff. They were in the van, but what about Jade? He wanted to demand the information, but he knew there wasn’t time.
He heard a car door slam as Gris pulled back as ordered. He could feel the movement behind him as he closed the distance to the van. ‘Shateiel,’ he growled to himself. As he looked in the window, he could see Ni slumped over the steering wheel. Moving to the side door he saw Daff crumpled in back.
‘No time, no time Bomb... move,’ Jade’s friend warned. ‘Move, move, move... MOVE’
As he moved to the side door, Shateiel reached the side of the van. She had her pistol in hand and was scanning the buildings. “Grab Daff and move,” he ordered as he slung the door open and stepped over the unconscious rigger.
As he started trying to pull Ni out of the van he saw the bomb. ‘Move. Move! MOVE!’ Jade’s friend was practically vibrating from the urgency.
“And I thought Merc was heavy,” he grumbled to himself as he tried to drag Ni to the back of the van. It wasn’t working. He could feel the urgency in the back of his mind. He was running out of time and he didn’t need the spirit to tell him. He also knew he couldn’t leave Ni.
He looked up as Shateiel returned to the van and pulled the driver’s side door open. He nodded as she eased his head against her chest and started pulling. Between the two of them, they were able to pull Ni from the van, but time was running out.
As they struggled to get Ni to safety, Wulf looked up. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck start to bristle. “Move,” he growled to Shateiel. They managed to get behind a dumpster just as the bomb went off.
As the debris rained down, he was already up, scanning the area. He could feel Shateiel’s eyes on him as he searched the windows and roof tops in front of him. Then he tensed as he realized that the threat was behind them. He felt the trigger click as he tried to move out of the way, he could feel the bullet as it sped towards him and he knew it was too late.
He grunted as the air was knocked out of him, not by the bullet, but from Shateiel’s flying tackle. He could tell by her weight and the way she moved, that she had ditched the ballistic coat Gris had given her. As they rolled out of the line of fire he saw why. While he had been trying to find the sniper, she had used it to cover Ni and Daff. Admirable, by suicidal. It never crossed his mind that the same could have been said about him.
“Are you alright?” he asked as he tried to catch his breath.
Shateiel nodded then looked towards the roof tops and nodded.
“You saw him?”
Again she nodded. She paused and then pointed towards her eyes. As Wulf nodded at her signal, she made a cutting motion across her throat twice, then nodded behind him.
They had set him up in a crossfire and he’d almost fallen for it. That meant that the attack had been planned for him. He had to think fast. “Shateiel, you go back and you cover Ni and Daff.”
She looked at him, then pointed at him firmly. He shook his head as he activated his comm unit and paged the others.
“Gris, its a trap. We’ve got a sniper,” Wulf’s voice announced over the comm-link
“Copy dat boss,” Gris answered as he looked at Meri. “We see what we can do here.”
Gris looked over at Meri and smiled letcherously. “Meri, we need to switch places.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet,” she growled teasingly as she prepared to climb over Gris and take his place in the driver’s seat. She could feel him refraining from making any comments as she sat briefly on his lap. Trying, but failing.
“Lot of men pay good money to...”
“Don’t even,” she threatened. “Just move over already.”
Gris smiled at her as he eased over the gear shifter and into the passenger seat. “You no fun Meri,” he stated as he shook his head. “You be careful,” he added as he called the power to him.
“You too, “Meri urged softly once she was sure he was no longer conscious of what was happening around him. “You too.”
The trance came with the usual ease. Sometimes it seemed harder for him to maintain the ‘normal state.’ Here everything made sense until nothing else mattered. As he joined the power he felt the change come over him. He was no longer Gris-Gris, he was no longer a man. He simply was. The first images that came to him were the undead that were moving in on the Audi. Ellingsworth had called them forth. Taking the minds and animating the bodies to his use.
Gris’ ancestors had performed similar acts to satisfy their needs, yet their presence had always made him uncomfortable. These more than his auntie’s servants since these were taken in their prime, enslaved to serve rather than as a punishment for past transgressions.
Gone were the old trimmings of his ancestors. Now he could call on the power directly. He felt the heartbeat of the sniper as he aimed at his friends. He had moved from his hiding place and was now aiming at Shateiel. As the cross-hairs lined up on her chest, Gris struck. He clenched his fist imagining it was the man’s mind.
He felt the man’s knees buckle underneath him as the energy dissipated in his mind. Gris pulled away, his work was done. In the old days, the man would have become one of his servants, but the whole thing gave Gris the willies. He had come to close to being one himself the last time he tried to perform the required rites of passage. He saw something in the corner of his mind but as he turned, it was gone again.
He returned to his body. His magic would not protect Meri from the undead, but then, all he required for them was his pistol and enough bullets to sever their spinal chords.
“Tell de boss, he gone, but we got visitors coming,” Gris groaned as he tried to integrate himself back into ‘reality.’
Meri nodded and keyed the comm-unit. “Wulf, Gris gives the all clear on the sniper, but he warns that we’ve got visitors coming.”
“What sort of company?” came the worried response.
“He didn’t say,” Meri answered evenly as she looked over at her companion. “You know Gris, coming back takes a little while, I’m kinda surprised he managed to get that much coherence out in one shot.”
“Point taken,” Wulf countered. “Better bring the car around and we’ll sort it out elsewhere.”
“On my way,” she answered as she put the car into drive and pulled forward. “Holy...” she gasped as she rounded the corner. She’d heard the explosion, but still, she hadn’t expected to see that much damage.
Wulf watched as Shateiel carefully finished bandaging Ni’s head. All things considered they’d gotten off easy. The spirit was still vibrating telling him to follow it, but he knew he had to see to the others before he let it take him to Jade.. Once Ni and Daff were taken care of , his signaled Shateiel to follow him.
Once they were in the living room, he turned on her. "What were you doing out there?" he demanded as turned to face her. "What were you thinking?"
He was almost surprised by the angry, almost accusatory glare she gave him. He was the one that had been taking chances, not her. The feelings were clear in her eyes.
“I gave you an order,” he countered.
She nodded then looked at the others and back at him. She met his gaze head on, as she did, her eyes narrowed. He was the one that had almost gotten shot.
He knew that if she hadn’t disobeyed he’d be dead, but she had charged into the line of fire with nothing more than fabric standing between her and the bullet.
“You could have gotten yourself killed,” he growled. “When I give an order, there’s a reason for it!”
She didn’t move as he continued to yell, her eyes met his and she shrugged.
“Dammit woman, I’m serious!” he glared at her as he tried to understand and then it hit. "You aren’t afraid of death are you?" he demanded as he finally realized the problem.
He watched as she gave a barely perceptible nod. Then she surprised him with the intensity of her next gestures. Trembling she pointed at him, then towards the other room where Meri and Gris were keeping tabs on Daff and Ni. Her breathing was ragged as she tried to get her message across. She cared about all of them, and it was their deaths she feared. As she stood there shaking, she began angrily thumping her chest and shaking her head.
Wulf gasped as he met her eyes and her message became clear. He saw it in her eyes: not only did she fear death, it haunted her. She feared losing them. She feared their deaths, but not her own. That would be a welcomed relief. But she could not, would not, accept theirs, not when there was something she could do about it.
“We feel the same about you,” he told her softly. “You have to care, you have to...”
‘Must go, must go!’ the spirit yelled as hovered over Wulf. He realized that he too didn’t fear death as much as he should. He had to go after Jade, trap or no trap, he was honor bound to do so. He had to get her to understand. He had to finish this alone. He couldn’t afford to risk the others, not even for Jade. But looking at Shateiel, he knew she was’t going to let him face it alone.
“Shateiel,” he called to her. “I have to go after Jade...”
She nodded and pointed towards herself, then him, then the door. She knew where he was headed and she was going too.
“Shateiel, listen to me,” he called to her as he grabbed her shoulders. “I have to do this alone.”
He watched as she tried to speak again, tried to tell him, and then stopped. She simply stood in front of the door and shook her head.
“Watch over the others,” he stated, trying to get through to her.
Again she shook her head, then she thumped her chest and pointed towards the door.
“NO!” he countered angrily. “You aren’t ready for this.”
As he tried to find a way to convince her, she took his hands in hers and slipped her gun into his hand. He gasped as she guided the gun to her head and looked at him. Her message was clear. ‘Kill me here and now, or let me come with you.’
“No,” he pleaded as he saw the haunted look in her eyes. “Please, listen to me Shateiel. They will kill you.”
She looked him in the eyes, and he couldn’t help but see the pain there. She couldn’t allow him to face this alone. She knew what was coming.
“Boss, this is one argument you ain’t going to win,” Gris told him from the doorway. “Take her with you.”
Wulf let his breath out and nodded. He was surprised by the sigh of relief that Shateiel gave him as she took her gun back and slipped it back into its holster.
‘We go, we go now!’ the spirit urged. ‘Quick, like a bunny!’
Wulf looked over to Gris and shook his head. “Be careful.”
“Be careful he says,” Gris grumbled to Shateiel.
Shateiel shrugged and headed for the door.
“Guess you’re right,” he answered as the two of them headed out the door.
Wulf looked from Gris to Shateiel and shook his head. Somehow it figured that they would be the ones to understand each other.