Tracker shook his head as he looked at the burning building. Memphis P.D. had arrived in less than three minutes, followed by the fire department. As the firemen laid out their hoses, the police cordoned off the area. They’d managed to find enough cover for everybody, but they were still within the cordoned off area.
He looked over at Wulf and his friends as they tried to sort through what had happened.
“I thought I told you to stay at the apartment,” he heard Wulf comment to the man ‘Gris’.
“We try boss, but these guys they had other plans. Soon as you and Shateiel left, de jump on us ‘n try to kill ol Gris.”
“Then how did you find us?” Wulf countered.
“That would be my fault,” the elven woman, Meri admitted. “We had to commandeer one of their vehicles, then I simply activated your ATTD and followed the signal here.”
“ATTD?” Wulf asked.
“Anti Theft Tracking Device. I installed one on both the Audi and the van,” she answered with a shrug.
Wulf shook his head. “Remind me never to try and run from you guys.”
Tracker listened as he tried to figure out not only what happened, but what to do next. He looked over at Duck who was still heavily sedated. Rabbit had assured him that she was going to be all right, but he’d seen what MindBender’s care had done to her, from the inside.
He tried to feel any remorse or pity over what had happened to the man, but he couldn’t. He’d hurt too many good people, and knowing that Duck had gotten off lightly didn’t help his disposition.
Then there was their other ‘guest’ in the tranqed department. When he’d seen the man he’d done a double take. At first he’d thought it was Kenny, but Rabbit had just muttered, ‘I’ll explain later,’ and left it at that.
That seemed to be the answer to everything right now. ‘Later.’
Finagle and the other woman, Jade, were maintaining their cover. And until the fire was out and the investigation was over, they were pretty much stuck where they were.
“Tracker?” he heard Wulf call. As he turned he saw the man was looking worriedly over at Duck, their ‘Shateiel.’
“What happened?” Tracker answered the question with the question he figured the man wanted answered. When Wulf nodded he took a deep breath and looked around. “We started getting black roses. At first it was mostly annoyances, but the attacks started getting more and more deadly. The explosions at Wilson Travel and Wilson Clinic,” he trailed off, then started again. “Those were our friends in there. Duck’s S.O., Bear was working at the clinic when it exploded.”
“Bear?” Wulf asked as he remembered the newscasts. “Daniel TwoBears, the one fatality.”
“Assumed fatality,” Tracker corrected. “We found him when we were looking for Duck. It was a close call, but he survived. But Duck had no way of knowing it.” He let the sentence trail off as it brought back the images and emotions from the chip.
Wulf continued to study Tracker as he tried to get himself back under control. “So, you salvaged the chip,” he asked quietly.
“You smashed it?” Tracker asked.
“Ni,” Wulf answered looking at the ork. “He didn’t like what they were doing.”
“Smart man,” Tracker commented as he looked over at Ni. “I had to look.”
“She’s your friend,” Wulf countered as he looked at his team. “If it had been one of mine, I’d probably done the same thing.”
Tracker nodded. “Thank you.”
Wulf looked at him and shook his head. “We should have gotten to her earlier. Meri picked up the distress call, I dismissed it.”
Tracker thought about what Wulf said and shrugged. “You had no way of knowing.”
Wulf nodded. “Cost her just the same though. Pretty incredible lady.”
“We think so,” Tracker agreed. “Headstrong...”
“I noticed,” Wulf sighed.
Tracker looked at him and chuckled when he saw the man’s expression. “Yeah, I’m sure you did.”
“It’s probably what saved her,” Wulf added.
Tracker merely nodded. They sat in silence as they watched as a security team from Aerocomm arrived on the scene and started pushing the others away. Tracker stiffened when he recognized the newest arrival: Max.
Max studied the scene and smiled to himself. He could almost smell the explosives that had been used. He knew that the spectrometer readings would confirm it: this had to be related to the other incidents. It just had to be. Now all he had to do was tie it to the Wilsons.
“I want this area searched,” he ordered as he assumed control of the investigation. “There may have been witnesses.”
As he looked around he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched. No, he told himself. This was their doing; Wjowski; Richards; the TwoBears; the Wilson; they were all in on it. They were the real enemy now. They were trying to keep him from his prize.
They’d tried to pull him off the case, tried to make him doubt his sanity. He promised himself that he’d make them pay. ‘That smooth Geoff Wilson, aka Tendown, aka Geoffrey Mays... the man had too many aliases to be on the level. And that TwoBears woman. She played me! I was feeling sorry for her because of her losses and she used that against me. That was my mistake, but no more. No more pity, no more concern. They’ll all get theirs he swore to himself.
Visions of Geoff gasping for breath made him smile. ‘Oh yes, they’ll pay for what they’ve done to me, Geoff, ‘Gran’... they’ll all play. Especially the illusionist that had played with my mind. Azra indeed...’
It had taken him a while but he’d finally found the reference... Azra-il, Azrael, call him what you will, his ‘visitor’ had claimed to be the angel of death. They’d gone to the trouble of making sure the illusion matched the ‘official’ picture of Azrael, both beautiful and terrible at the same time, but he knew better. “There are no angels!” he all but shouted.
‘And if there is indeed an angel of death, he will come for Wjowski and the others,’ he told himself. ‘I’ll see to that.’
He let his rage cool. ‘Patience,’ he told himself. ‘All things will come to you in time,’ another voice seemed to respond. ‘All things in time....’ he thought.
He smiled as he saw Ranier’s car pull up. ‘Another one that needs to be put in his place,’ he thought to himself. The city was full of cheap rent-a-cops. They just got in the way, and this one... he was going to love taking him down another notch. He’d been demoted once already, but the man never seemed to learn.
“Sam,” he called as he watched him get out of his car. “Did you come all this way just to bring me my coffee?” The sarcasm died on his lips as he recognized the man getting out on the other side. It was none other than Wayne Wilson. He rubbed his leg where Wayne had hit him with the stun baton.
“Guards,” he ordered as he pointed towards Boomer. “Arrest that man!”
Ranier merely flashed his badge and nodded towards two of his own men. “Maxwell Von Hicks you are under arrest for tampering with evidence, two counts of attempted murder, obstruction of justice in an ongoing investigation...” he looked up as the sentence trailed off. “I think that’ll do for now.”
“You can’t do this,” Max protested as he called for his men. “Arrest that man,” he ordered again pointing at Boomer. “On second thought arrest them both!”
“Boom, you ever notice how weasel boys seem to get really excitable when they’ve overstepped their bounds?”
Max glared at Ranier for a minute. “You’ve been talking to those two terrorists, you’re the one that’s been hiding them!”
“Terrorists,” Ranier asked, raising his eyebrow. “Duck and Tracker? Two members of UCAS military? Two people you tried to frame, possibly even kidnap? Thanks, I forgot all about that,” he commented as he exchanged glances with Boomer. “I believe those are federal offenses, but we can still hold you on until the proper authorities have been contacted.”
Boomer merely nodded then smiled sweetly at Max. “We can discuss this in more detail down at the station.”
Max was still sputtering when the police handcuffed him and he was led away. “I’m going to enjoy questioning him,” Ranier commented as he waved to VonHicks.
Boomer smiled at him for a minute then looked back at the building. “Looks like charges were places at all the load-bearing points,” he stated matter of factly.
It was all too familiar. Scenes from the clinic and the warehouse flashed through his mind as he tried to get a handle on the situation. Tracker had been here with Finagle. He knew it was no coincidence.
“What did they use on the other sites?” he asked as he scanned the area again.
“We never got the results,” Ranier admitted. “Aerocomm stepped in and picked up everything, told us it was a ‘gas main leak.’”
“Yeah, and I’m a librarian from Detriot,” Boomer countered as he moved closer to the remains of the building. As he bent down to look at the ash, a voice came over his comm-link.
“Boomah!” He smiled to himself as he recognized Tracker’s voice.
“You kids all right?” he sub-vocalized as he continued to check the ground and areas around the building.
“Got Duck! Need transpo for twelve,” Tracker informed him evenly.
“Duck?!” he asked in surprise. He looked around as he realized he’d spoken it. “Is she okay?” he added sub-vocally.
“She’ll be fine. Long story,” came Tracker’s reply. “I’ll explain later. What are you doing with the police and where’s Kenny?”
“He’ll be fine, long story,” Boomer answered. “Can you wait or do you want transpo now?”
There was a pause as Tracker weighed his options. “Think we’ll wait.”
Boomer nodded to himself then moved into the house itself. Sam merely watched Boomer and shook his head. Whatever it was, it would have to wait for now.
It was six hours later when the police finally closed up shop and left the scene. It was another two before Mercury arrived with the van. As the van pulled up Tracker looked at Wulf.
“We’ve got enough room for you and your people,” he offered.
Wulf was about to reply when he saw caught sight of the driver. “Mercury?” he asked in surprise.
Tracker looked from Wulf to the van then back again. “You know him?”
“Know him?” Wulf was incredulous. “I’d say so.”
Mercury stayed in the van as Tracker and Wulf got everybody situated. Once the van was rolling Mercury looked over at Wulf and grinned. “Hey Boss!”
“Merc?” Daff called in relief. “You’re okay?”
“I’m fine,” he answered. “But next time, could you get some friend/foe recognition softs for those damn drones?”
Daff bowed his head. “Sorry ‘bout that,” he muttered.
“It happens,” Merc countered. “Just don’t do it again!”
Tracker looked at them and shook his head. Hopefully they’d be able to piece everything together at the Playful Dragon. As he watched the city pass from the window he thought about everything that happened since he’d received Duck’s message. ‘Bad Day’ was an understatement. As he looked over at her, he bowed his head. He tried to tell himself they’d been through worse, but this time, he knew it was a lie. They’d never been up against something quite like Briar.
Tracker let out a sigh of relief as the van pulled into the loading dock area of the Playful Dragon. He kept a lookout as Rabbit took up a defensive position. Once he was in place, Tracker signaled the others to start unloading.
When it was time to move Duck, he moved in and carried her out of the van and into club. From there, he carried Duck to the makeshift infirmary on the stage. He nodded towards Rae as he climbed up the stairs.
“Duck?” she asked in disbelief.
Tracker nodded and had to force himself to swallow.
“Over here,” she urged as she tried to lead him to a cot near Bear.
Tracker shook his head. “Not this time,” he told her then turned towards Bear. The cot was designed to hold a Troll, he figured it should be enough for Bear and Duck. “Yo, Bear, move over will ya?”
Bear tried to move as he managed to focus on Tracker. “Duck?” he asked softly as he tried to focus on the bundle he was carrying.
“Yeah.” Tracker answered gently. “Just take it easy,” he urged as he slipped Duck into Bear’s arms.
Bear looked at him, tears streaming down his face. “Thank you,” he whispered. Tracker looked at him as knelt beside his friends.
“Not a problem,” he whispered. “You just rest now.”
As he knelt there, he felt as if a prayer had been answered.
Minh sat in her office as she met with each of her guests, gathering their stories. The picture that was coming together was more dire than she had thought. The Dark Singer had been out far longer than the others had realized, building his power base in the physical world.
She realized that was what had given him strength in the astral plane. With roots in both his own plane and the physical world his power was growing. If they did not rid the physical world of him, then his power would again grow. It was only a matter of time before he opened another portal and began drawing more of himself forth.
She looked up as she felt the familiar presence. As she watched, Azra appeared before her. He was still in jeans and a tee-shirt, but there was something in his carriage that told her it was not a social visit.
“No my dear, this is an official visit,” he confirmed as he looked around her office and picked up one of the decorative carvings.
“Who?” she asked sadly.
“Who?” he countered as he looked up at her with a confused look on his face. “Oh, no, dearest lady, it is not that sort of official.” he paused as he took her hand in his. As his eyes met hers she felt something spark within her. Again he smiled.
“I am merely conveying a message from Auri,” he assured her. “He said that ‘In light of the situation you are now involved in, I am to extend to you the use of the Great Hall.’
Minh laughed as he assumed his brother’s mannerisms as he delivered the message. She could almost see Auri standing there, but she could never imagine Auri in anything less than a suit.
When Azra finished, he winked at her. “Ah dearest lady, your laughter is like music to my ears, but alas, duty calls.”
Minh nodded then laughed as he struck a ‘muscle’ pose before fading from sight.
‘You do not laugh nearly enough.’ his voice echoed in her mind.
Minh smiled to herself as she activated the intercom. “Rae, will you send Tracker up here?”
Duck woke barely moving. The weight in her heart felt as if it would never ease. She started to panic when she felt something move next to her. She relaxed when she realized that someone was holding her. ‘Tracker,’ she told herself as she remembered the explosion and completely losing it. When she opened her eyes, she froze. It wasn’t Tracker, but Bear. She gasped as he smiled at her.
“Bear?” she called out, afraid that it was some sort of dream, or worse some sort of trick, but his smile only seemed to broaden.
“Ah Duck,” he called to her then kissed her forehead.
“Bear?” she asked again unable to believe her eyes.
“Yes, me Bear, you Duck,” he teased. “We’re all fine.”
“Eclipse,” Bear explained.
“Yeah,” Bear answered softly as he pulled her close. When he looked at Tracker the concern showed on his face. Tracker merely nodded as Bear wrapped his arms around her protectively.
“You okay?” she managed to ask. Her voice was muffled by his chest.
“I’ll be fine,” he assured her. “I’ve got you, nothing else matters right now.”
Tracker nodded then stood and winked at Bear. “You two take it easy,” he told them. “I’m going to have a beer.”
As Minh sat in her office waiting for Tracker she reflected on the information she’d gathered. The picture was indeed grim, but there was hope. Jade and Gris had shown her the spells that had brought IT forth into the world, and the spell they hoped would send it back. She would have to research it more to be sure, but it looked as if it might work.
She looked up as Tracker was ushered in. “Duck’s awake,” he told her, relief evident on his face.
When he saw Minh’s expression he shook his head. “It’s not over is it?” he asked as he looked at Minh.
“No. No it is far from over,” she answered wearily. “There is much we must discuss, but it must be discussed in a safer place than this. Assemble your friends. I will see to their safety.”
Tracker paused for a minute then nodded. If he couldn’t trust Minh they were dead already. “I’ll send the word.”
Minh watched as he bowed towards her, then headed for the door. “How is Kai?” he asked worriedly.
“He will be well again,” Minh assured him. “As will Duck and Bear,” she added.
Tracker nodded. “I hope so,” he answered. “‘Cause something tells me, we’re going to need all the help we can get.”
Minh nodded, “I fear you are correct my friend.”
The streets were dark as they gathered in the restaurant. Someone turned the sign around to say closed. There would be no deliveries tonight. The Sushi Ninja were required elsewhere. Each was given their assignment there was a pick up point and a delivery point, but on this night, they were not couriers of messages, but rather people.
The night was dark, and the sky was moonless. It was not an auspicious sign for most people, but for the ninja gathered, it was ideal. They would travel well in the dark.
Before being given their assignment, each member of the clan knelt before the Master and opened their mind to him. The Master, for his part would verify each heart and confer his blessing upon them. Only then were they given their route and a partner to work with. The Master was leaving nothing to chance.
Not one of the ninja gathered doubted the importance of their mission. It was the darkest of nights, in the darkest of times. Perhaps, in their sojourns they would find the path to light. They knew the risks, and they knew that more was at stake this time. The master was willing to lose the front of the restaurant in favor of this mission.
When the names and locations had been given, the men moved back into the night as if they had never been there. Once they were gone, the Master began cleaning the floors and preparing for tomorrow’s lunch crowd. Gone were the robes of his rank. Now he was simply an old man, cleaning up his restaurant after a long hard day.