Rabbit held Duck protectively as he looked around. He suddenly wanted to be anywhere else. As Duck trembled in his arms he gave her a gentle squeeze. “We’ll be through this soon enough,” he told her. “You just hang on okay?”
Rabbit took a deep breath and let it out. He was not used to being the comforter, the calming influence. Images filled his mind as he witnessed what was running through Duck’s mind. “It’s over,” he whispered as he held her. “Its all over now.”
She began shaking her head and pushed away from him. “N-not over.” He saw her forcing the words out and could feel the turmoil making them had caused.
“No, it ain’t over,” he agreed as he forced himself to swallow. There were still too many unanswered questions and he had a nagging feeling that they hadn’t even begun the real battle. As he looked over at the others, he noticed Duck’s friend talking to the boy.
Wulf nodded, then looked at Rabbit. “You got a name son?” he asked.
“MadRabbit,” Rabbit told him. “My friends call me Rabbit.”
He watched intently as Wulf introduced himself and the others. Rabbit smiled as he shook Wulf’s hand, then Jade’s. When he reached out for Justin’s, he hesitated it was almost as if he had stepped back in time. “Justin?” he stated questioningly.
“Sir?” Justin asked. Rabbit shook his head. He was so much like Kenny was at that age, but he realized this wasn’t the time. He smiled and offered the younger man his hand.
“Pleased to meet you,” he stated as he quickly looked away. There was too much else to worry about right now. When he looked at the others, he noticed Wulf staring at Duck.
“What is her name,” Wulf asked gently.
“Duck,” Rabbit told him. “She’s the Duck.”
As he looked around, a feeling rushed through him. “We need to get out of here now,” he stated abruptly. “I’ll explain later,”
Wulf looked at him and suddenly he could feel it too. Something was telling him that they needed to get out of the house quickly.
Rabbit turned and faced Wulf. “Failsafe,” he stated as he realized what was causing the feeling. Something had tripped a countdown sequence.
“Bomb,” Wulf answered as he nodded in agreement. “Lets get a move on.”
“What about him?” Justin asked as he looked down at MindBender.
“There’s nothing we can do for him now,” Rabbit answered. When he looked down at the man, a look, somewhat akin to pity, crossed his face. “He’s beyond anyone’s help.”
“He has my brother,” Justin whispered. “We have to find him.”
Rabbit nodded. “We’ll find him,” he promised.
Justin nodded in appreciation, there was something in the man’s eyes that told him he wasn’t just trying to reassure him. He knew it was indeed a promise.
“Lets move it,” Wulf urged as they slipped through the house looking for Fen. He could tell that their time was running out by the sense of urgency that was building up in his mind. He knew the man who’d introduced himself as Rabbit could feel it too.
“Jade,” Wulf growled. “Take Shateiel and Justin out, we’ll be right behind you.”
All three of them shook their heads and continued the search. “What good is being the leader if nobody listens to you?” he muttered to himself as he checked the hallway.
“Don’ t ask me,” Rabbit countered, flashing Wulf the whites of his eyes. “I’m usually the one disobeying the orders.”
Wulf looked at him for a minute then shook his head. Something told him that Rabbit wasn’t entirely kidding. His attention was drawn to his left as he saw a man staggering towards them. He recognized the figure almost immediately. It was Fen. He was about to signal Rabbit when he felt him slipping to the side, moving into position without having to be told. Wulf took a deep breath as he tried to get the man to concentrate on him.
“Justin?” Fen called softly as he shook his head. He was still staggering forward, but Wulf could see a purpose in the movement and the seeming lack of control. ‘Almost as if he was programmed,’ Wulf thought and then realized that was exactly what the problem was.
He held his gun on the man as he moved closer, towards Justin. When he noticed the gun in Fen’s hand, Wulf’s trigger finger started to tighten. He didn’t relish the idea of having to shoot Fen, but if it came down to a choice between Justin and Fen, Wulf knew what he had to do. Thankfully, it never came to that. Even before Fen could bring the gun to bear, Rabbit was on him, applying a tranq patch with practiced ease.
There was a brief struggle as the sedative took effect, then Fen was unconscious.
“Lets move,” Rabbit urged as he slung the man over his shoulder.
Wulf shrugged as they headed towards the front door. Shateiel was reaching for the knob when he saw a flash of blue. “Don’t touch it!” he yelled as Rabbit echoed his warning.
She looked at them questioningly but backed away from the door as they moved in. Wulf grabbed a lamp off of the end table in the hallway and touched it to the knob. The room lit up as electricity arched between the lamp and the door nob. Then they were engulfed in darkness as the electrical system shorted itself out.
As the lights wend out Wulf smiled. “Ready?” he asked.
He heard Shateiel answer with a cryptic, “New Mexico.”
There was a pause then Rabbit informed him, “we’re clear.”
Tracker stiffened as he heard the call come across his comm-link, “Tracker, we’re coming out hot.”
“What have you got?” Tracker countered as he signaled Finagle to be on the lookout.
“Just a feeling,” Rabbit told him.
Tracker let out a low whistle. It had been one of Rabbits ‘feelings’ that had saved them when Briar took out their hideout at the warehouse.
“Where do you want me?” Tracker asked.
“Covering, we’re going out the way we came in,” came the answer. Tracker immediately started scanning the area in front of the house, checking sniper positions as well as traffic. “Hold on, I’ll have to move into place,” he answered as he stayed where he was.
Finagle for his part was watching Tracker and trying to figure out what was going on. He knew they were up to something, but every time Tracker said he was doing something, he did something completely different.
It took him a while, but then he realized that Tracker and Rabbit had made a very simple assumption about the radio communications: they could be intercepted. Keeping this in mind, they simply acted as if they had already been compromised.
Tracker smiled as he heard another voice on the line, a voice he’d never thought he’d hear again. “New Mexico,” Duck’s voice was shaky, but he recognized it and smiled.
“Oxford,” he answered. “Good to have you back.”
Tracker could feel his throat tightening. He could tell she was still messed up, but that would have to wait. Right now, Rabbit was depending on him to cover their egress from the house. There’d be plenty of time for undoing the damage once they were someplace safe. Until that time he would watch over his friends.
Tracker watched as the five figures ran from the house. He scanned the area as he realized that Rabbit was carrying somebody. With Rabbit occupied, that meant they were relying on the strangers more than he liked, but then again, these people were the ones that had rescued Duck. For that alone he owed them more than he could ever hope to repay.
He watched until he was sure they were clear of the building. Then he signaled Finagle to join them. He continued to keep a lookout until Finagle had made it to the street level and the others. He was about to join them when he saw movement on the streets below. Somebody was closing in on them.
“Addis Ababa,” Tracker warned. He watched them, switching from figure to figure, all the while wishing that Rabbit or Mercury were here instead of him, they were much better at this then he was. As they neared he was able to make them out. A man, an Ork, a dwarf and an elf. As he tried to focus on them, the man turned and looked right at him.
“Ali Babba!” he growled into the comm-unit. As he tried to prepare for a magical attack he heard something below him. “We got incoming,” he added as he noticed the other figures fan out across the street, taking what cover they could.
“Hold!” he heard somebody yell. As he looked he realized it was the man that had arrived with Duck. “Easy,” he added as he moved out into the open.
He was signaling those people approaching and Tracker to take it easy. Tracker started to feel something tightening in his chest as he radioed Rabbit. “Rabbit... “
His vision started to gray out as he tried to warn Rabbit and the others. He forced himself to fight the feeling, but the tightness seemed to have a steady hold on him. As felt a roaring in his ears, the pressure simple gave way.
Gasping for air, he forced himself up and checked on the others. The four that had been closing in on them were now gathered around the man. As Tracker watched, the man flashed the military sign for all clear. Taking a deep breath, Tracker nodded and headed down towards the street level.
As he stepped out onto the street, Duck was immediately in his arms. Relief shone in her eyes as she looked at him and nodded. “Duck.” he called in relief. “Fraid I’d never see ya again.”
Again she smiled at him. “Me too,” she signed.
Then the explosion hit. They were far enough away that they weren’t in danger, but Tracker could feel the heat from the blast as he watched the explosion reflected in Duck’s eyes. Then he was holding her as she sank to her knees, gasping for breath as she stared into the fire.
“No Duck. No!” he yelled to her as he realized she was still somehow stuck on the explosion. “Duck, listen to me. Everybody is fine,” he all but yelled at her. “Eclipse got Bear out, do you hear me?”
There was no reaching her as she clung to him desperately. Images from the chip drifted through his mind. MindBender had forced her to watch as the collapse replayed in her mind until it had driven her over the edge, and now she was reliving it again, he could see it in her eyes.
“Look at me!” he yelled as he guided her face to his. “Look at me Duck. Bear is ALIVE! Do you hear me??” he demanded.
She shook her head. She was screaming; she was crying; she was pushing away from him, all the while clinging to him tightly.
“Duck,” he called gently. “Easy Darlin’,” he urged as he held her tight. “Its’ all over.”
Rabbit looked at him questioningly as he checked on the others. When Tracker nodded, he moved in and applied a tranq-patch.
“Sorry,” he stated as Duck slipped into unconsciousness.
Tracker nodded, unsure if the apology was directed to him or Duck. It didn’t really matter. Soon they’d be someplace safe, then, he was going to have that drink he should have had when he was waiting for Duck back at the Playful Dragon.
Rahalleth groaned to himself when he saw the child. ‘But he is so young,’ he gasped.
Minh could feel her brother’s confusion. Kai was still an infant by their standards, physically that is, but he was born to be the next Keeper. That had given him a knowledge and understanding that sometimes exceeded even her years.
She had worked with the enigmatic young ‘man’ for so long, she’d forgotten how incongruent he was. Wisdom, knowledge and power were mantels he wore with practiced ease, but in other things he was very much a child. She had resolved this difference, by simply understanding that he was ‘Kai.’ Yin and Yang, completely balanced within, and now that balance had been all but destroyed.
Rahalleth could feel her concern, more he could feel the wrongness within the child. It had attacked him, on the physical level it had poisoned the body and torn the flesh, on the mental level he had cast doubt and fear, but on the spiritual level, he recognized something even more dangerous.
It had taken a piece of the child’s soul. He shuddered and realized that Minh felt it through him. It was trying to take the place of the missing part.
‘It is worse than you feared,’ he told her. ‘He is indeed dying, but not physically. He has not the strength to fight it now, so he fights nothing in the hopes of defeating it in death.’
Minh nodded. ‘You have the power to stop it,’ she answered softly.
‘I do not understand.’
‘We cannot reclaim that which was taken. Without it, there is an emptiness that must be filled. If the power of the Dark Singer, fills his heart, he will be worse than you ever were.’ Her thoughts were filled with a tension that marred her serenity.
‘If you knew that, then why did you bring me here?’ he demanded. ‘So I can see the fruits of my failures afresh?’
His thoughts were bitter and angry.
‘I was hoping,’ she told him. ‘That you had outgrown these rages and would be able to fill that which is missing.’
Rahalleth’s mind whirled as he fought to understand.
‘If the hole is not filled, if the whole is not whole, he is at risk. You will have to be subordinate to him, yet protect him. Watch over his steps as he travels down the road you once took. Show him the pitfalls and the traps, yet yield to his needs, to his Wisdom,’ she told him gently. ‘You will cease to be ‘Rahalleth.’ Instead, you will become a part of that which is Kai.’
Rahalleth finally understood. He had broken free of a prison, and now he was being asked to accept another kind of prison. He recoiled at the thought, but then he reached into it and recognized the pattern. The web had been damaged, and the spider was seeking to make it right again. What Minh requested was not a prison, but a commitment, a chance to make amends.
As he accepted her request he felt ... free. It was as if the world had suddenly come into focus with an audible click.
Ian looked at the Rabbi and smiled. Something had changed, they could both feel it. The song seemed to be reclaiming the night. It started out softly, but then there was a resounding clash as something clicked over from wrong to right.
The first was not a subtle change, but once it was made it was easier to feel what had been wrong before it happened. Then came the second and third changes. They were not as loud, but it was as if every player had been slightly off key and something had pulled them all into perfect pitch.
Ian smiled as his heart reached out and joined the song. Soon, very soon, he knew all the pieces would be in place, then the true battle would be joined. He prayed that in the end the music would return to its natural sweetness. In the meantime, he would practice for his upcoming part.
The song of a singer came to mind as he tuned his guitar and remembered the first time he’d heard it. It still touched him deep inside. He smiled as the chords shimmered around him and his voice melted into the sound.
He claimed he was a simple man,
Who muses never touched,
He claimed he held no power
But I knew it was a lie
For when he sang of what he’d seen.
I couldn’t help but cry.
He wrapped the tale around him
and he wore it like a cloak.
Woven of the silken chords,
and hand spun words of gold.
I sat and listened to his tales
they filled my heart with joy
though he claimed a common birth
I knew the lie would keep
For when he sang his final song,
I couldn’t help but sleep.
He wove his tales around me
And they warmed me like a cloak
Woven of the silken chords
and beauty of his words.
He claimed he was a simple man
as common as the wheat.
Were he were, and all were he
T’would be a world so sweet
For wheat grows tall, yet bows to the breeze
and nurtures those it meets.
He wove his tales around me
They formed the finest cloak
Woven from the silken chords
And hand spun words of gold
In the morning when I woke,
The storms had passed away
And though the singer claimed no power
I had finally come to see
The muses live in all of us
all songs were meant to be.
So wrap the tales around you
and wear them like a cloak
woven of the finest threads
And sweetest words of all
Make no claims about yourself
But let your actions speak
For like the singer and his cloak
The power’s in your heart
So when you sing of what you’ve seen
Each word will serve its part
So wrap the tale around them
And warm them with your fire
Weave the cloth of silken chords
and hand spun words of gold
Then like the singer of my tale
The wheat has sown its seeds,
The muses pass among us now
Like sunlight on the grain
For wheat grows best in sunlit fields
Yet it dances in the rain
Laughter filled his heart as he thought about what was to come. “Sing from the heart and you can do naught but well!” the music told him and Ian took it to heart. It was the way of things: sorrow and joy chased after each other, they fought a constant battle, but without the other each would cease to exist. Balance was being restored, but as always it was a battle. Still the answer was in all of them. He could feel the power flowing through him and smiled.
The Rabbi could feel it too.
Boomer couldn’t shake the feeling that he had missed something. Ranier was watching him carefully as the medics worked on Kenny.
“What’s happening Sam,” he asked without taking his eyes off of his brother.
“That security doornob from Aercomm you dealt with,” Ranier answered. “That’s what happened. Kicked us off the investigation on the basis of non-cooperation. Got me demoted back to Lt.”
Boomer turned and looked at Ranier for a minute. “Sorry man,” he managed to say as he gave Kenny another worried glance. “We shouldn’t have gotten you involved.”
“Boom, I was already involved. He just forced the issue. Only reason I let you three stay out as long as I did was because I knew that if anybody could handle the situation it would be the Wilsons.”
“Oh yeah, we handled really well,” Boomer answered sarcastically. “So well we nearly got ourselves killed in two or three new and exciting ways.”
Ranier shook his head, then continued. “Boom, its a lot worse than any of us thought. After the explosion at the warehouse, I met a man named Allison,” when Boomer turned towards him again he nodded. “Yeah, Duck and Tracker’s friend. He explained quite a bit. Seems he decided the best thing he could do for everybody was keep an eye on that little psychopath. Probably a good thing too. Seems he’s been acting well above his actual authority. Anyway, Allison gave me a much better picture of what we’re up against. After that, I went to the hospital to check on your family.”
Boomer looked at him, and for the first time Sam Ranier noticed the haggard look in his eyes. “How are they?”
“Everybody should be fine,” Ranier assured him. “Davy’s in the worst shape, but he’s under the best care. Gran TwoBears has taken over both the investigation and overseeing their safety. Booted Aerocomm out of the loop and says she’s going to give me a full briefing once she’s sure the hospital’s been secured. Then I got a call from Allison telling me that Von Hicks was up to something.”
“What this time?” Boomer asked as he looked over at Kenny. The last thing they needed was another surprise.
“He ordered you two picked up by his security detail. We were looking for you when the shooting report came in,” Ranier added as he thought about the truck they’d been driving and the damage that had been done to it. Boomer and Kenny were lucky to have survived. If the truck had been anything less than it was, he would have been visiting them in the morgue.
He gave Boomer a hard look then looked back towards the medics and Kenny. “Looks like I was too late.”
Boomer turned towards Ranier and shook his head. “You were there when it counted.”
Ranier nodded. “Yeah, after you’d already pulled yourselves from the wreckage.”
“Hey, Sam,” Boomer countered softly. “We Wilsons are a tough breed. We’re still here, and we’ll still be here after all this blows over.”
Ranier looked at him and shrugged. “Wish I had your confidence,” he stated.
Boomer gave Kenny a worried look as the police call came over the wire. Another ‘gas main leak’ had occurred. This time in the area where Tracker had called for back up. Kenny was still in no shape to travel, but Boomer knew he had to go. If anything had happened to Tracker... he let the thought go. If anything had happened, there wasn’t really anything he could do.
“You sure about this,” Ranier asked as he tightened up his vest. “I can handle this if you want to stay with him.”
“I want a piece of this,” Boomer told him.
Ranier merely smiled and nodded towards Boomer. “I thought you might feel that way.”
“We’ve taken a pounding,” Boomer told him. “And something tells me we haven’t even scratched the surface. ‘Bout time we start doing some pounding of our own.”
Ranier nodded. “Shall we?” he asked as he gestured towards the door.
“Let me tell Kenny what’s going on,” Boomer stated.
It took him less then a minute to explain what had happened to his brother, and another five to convince him to stay where he was.
Kenny wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of Boomer going out to a bomb site with the police, but he had to admit, if you were sending somebody to a bomb site, Boom would be the one to go.
“You be careful,” he warned his brother.
“You know me,” Boomer answered.
“That’s why I’m telling you... oh never mind,” Kenny acquiesced. “But if you get yourself killed, you’re going to have to be the one to explain it to Lightning.”
Boomer chuckled as he headed towards the door. “You be careful Brah.”