Minh watched as the preparations were made. The Great Hall of the Long was rightfully hers to use, but the circumstances for which they had gathered, and the people they had gathered required the permission of the Guardians. She was glad that Auri had the foresight to suggest its use rather then wait for her request. She knew that she would not have presumed to ask.
This place was sacred amongst her people. To her knowledge, no human had ever set foot in the hall of the Long. But their numbers were dwindling, and though strangers, humans, were coming, it was to aid in a battle that was truly, theirs to fight.
She heard some grumbling from the others, but she was now the Matriarch. Her decision was final. ‘We will listen ,’ they agreed. ‘But you must convince us.’
‘Convince them,’ Minh thought to herself. ‘I am the Matriarch. I am the one who must be convinced. Self righteous old fools.’ She squelched the thought. She would not allow them to draw her from her path. If they decided that it was not their affair, that was their choice. She knew what had to be done, and she would lead as her mother led, by example.
‘We have the hall,’ she thought, calming herself. ‘That is a start.’
Here was one of the few places they were safe from Briar. The nature of the hall would not permit ITS influence. There was the chance that he had grown strong enough to break the seals of the hall, but if that were the case, then it was already too late. ‘Let's see them need convincing then,’she chuckled to herself.
Kai joined her as she stretched out to her full length and height. It had been a long time since she had taken her natural form, even longer since she walked the Hall of the Long. It was good to be home.
Kai wavered before shifting, his wings unfurling as he twisted his neck around and let out an uncharacteristic sigh of relief.
“What is your plan?” he asked her.
“I have no plan,” she answered with a smile. “Only the hope that by pooling all our information we may find that which we need to put an end to this.”
Kai nodded. “He has grown quite powerful. That which he took from me, still calls. It is lost... Afraid.”
Minh nodded. “I am truly sorry.”
Kai turned to her and arched his neck. “I am not. For it was a small price to pay for the return of Bear.”
“That is truly your feeling on the matter?” Minh asked.
Kai closed his eyes and nodded. The look of serenity on his face answered her question more than words ever would.
She watched. As each guest arrived, she breathed a sigh of relief, setting the Hall vibrating with the sound. It was good to see so many familiar faces. She remained out of view until each had arrived and taken their seat.
Then began the task of gathering the rest of the stories. With one thought, several of GranTwo Bear’s people began circling, talking to the newcomers and getting their stories. As they fed her the information, an even clearer picture emerged. Then it was time.
“You have each been brought here, for we face a common enemy,” she stated as she moved into view.
Several people gasped as Minh appeared before them. She appeared as she was. Here she was not Lei Minh, her human alter ego. She was simply Maguin, mother. Matriarch to a very old line of Long, the Celestial Dragons, servants to the Guardian Light.
“I apologize if I have startled you, but I know no other way to tell you what I must, and have you believe me. Our enemy is great, and the importance of what I say, must be understood. My agents have spoken to you, and from their stories I have pieced together a tale that frightens even me.”
Several people nodded. Ian, Derrick’s friend and the one called Sable shuddered.
“Long ago, long before even our reckoning,” she told them. “There was the Song, the One, the Spirit... there are so many names, so many faces to this being, this power. It is the heart of us. The song was given to us, it was harmony, it was war, it was healing rains, it was purifying fire. Our beginning. In the beginning we walked among you. Our songs and yours were one. But time passed and things changed. There was disaccord, which led to discord... In that discord, the Dark Singer was born. We call him Rahalleth, after one of our kin that was taken by the Dark Song, you know him as Briar.”
She looked at them as she put their stories together and shared them for the fist time. That was only the beginning. “When I was still considered young, my brother, Rahalleth, was enticed by the Dark Song;l called to the singer and enthralled.” She felt the shock that radiated from those who realized what she had told him. Their enemy had enslaved one of them, corrupted him. “We cast him out and in a great battle, between my brother, myself and Shoumenren, the Gatekeeper, we were able to banish him to his own plane. Rahalleth was lost to us, a name to be spoken in hushed voices if at all. Little did we know that the Evil we banished was not our brother, but the Dark Singer himself who was wearing our brother’s skin.”
She paused. To sum up the battle that raged for weeks on end in one sentence seemed so inadequate, but it was not something she could describe. The knowledge that she had condemned her brother to centuries of torment only made it worse. She could feel Kai reaching out for her to comfort her, but this was not the time for comfort. Great wrongs had been done, were being done, and it was her duty to explain them.
“He has remained there since, or so we had thought. Now he has resurfaced in your world as ‘Briar.’ But make no mistake, he is the same evil my brother and I were forced to face. Our clan is small and the loss of one of ours weighs heavy on us. Each of you has suffered at this creature’s hand. I need not tell you of the evil, but I cannot emphasize the danger enough. He has already attacked one of our children, and will not stop until we are all his slaves, your world and ours.”
“The spells for his summoning have existed as long as the spells for his banishment. And he has known both spells. Five years ago he put his plan into action. It began with an idea, planted in the mind of one man, a researcher named Ellingsworth. Bit by bit, Briar employed the Dark song, played in the man’s head until he craved the song, the contact. And so he tried to bring him forth. It was promises of power and of knowledge that the Dark Song made. And so through Ellingsworth, Briar began his conquest of the physical world.”
“He began by calling people to him. People who desired the power he promised, people who were of the Dark Song. And with them he formed a base of power. He concentrated on this area because of the power available here and because he sensed our ties to the area. He has spread elsewhere, but no place is he as strong as he is here. It was here that he first broke through and became Briar. It was also here that he brought forth another piece of himself.”
“In order to exist on this plane, he must inhabit the body of one who once lived. Ellingsworth tried to summon the Dark Singer into a body that had never lived, and his failure was our gain, for the one who came forth, is of the old song. But as Briar’s power waxes his wanes. It is only a matter of time before he eclipses the power of this spirit.”
“The first that was taken was a man who worked with Ellingsworth. The second was a Doctor that served him. The Doctor had prepared a patient to be the next host,” she told them as she looked at Mercury. “But he was stopped, by others. The patient was saved, but the good doctor lost his life to his master’s desires.”
“He has hurt a great many of us. And he has cost us dearly. We have however had three victories over him now.”
She smiled at them encouragingly, but some of them knew all too well how much those victories had cost.
“The gateway he used has been destroyed, but as long as part of him exists on this plane, he has the anchor he needs to draw more forth.” She told them. “This victory has only served to slow him down, and we must strike again quickly before he can regroup and form a new portal for his use.”
“The second victory was personal. For he has a deep hatred for the Long and struck at us through our friends. He has used them to injure the youngest of our clan. The child has been saved and we have great hope that the friends will recover in time.”
She paused as she mentally embraced Duck, Bear and Tracker. She could barely feel Bear now, but at least she was beginning to feel him. Duck’s thoughts were still an unreadable jumble, and Tracker was the same constant enigma he had always been.
“The third victory has drawn many new friends together and is great cause for rejoicing. For Briar’s ‘punisher’ is now his victim as well. The one called MindBender has fallen from his master’s grace.”
“They are but three minor victories,” she told them sadly. “And we must fight on, for if we do not press on, we will lose what we have gained.”
“His influence is great, and his opposition has been sparse. Along with the two bodies he now occupies, he has the support of Ellingsworth and a Lodge powerful enough to call forth and control four very powerful fire elementals. Sadly, I cannot offer you more information on others who may be supporting him. But these are the greatest threats we currently face. If we can take care of them, we should be able to prevent him from gaining the power he needs.”
She watched as they digested what she had said, then turned to the elders where they lay watching. ‘Will you help?’ she asked them
‘It is not our battle,’ the speaker declared. ‘He fights among the children of earth.’
‘He attacked Kai!’
‘Who had placed himself between the Dark Singer and his rightful prey,’ the speaker answered. ‘No, it is not our battle.’
‘You would wait,’ she responded. ‘Wait until he is ready to bring the fight to us. By that time, there will be none to help us and he will have the power he needs to destroy The Celestial Gate itself.’
‘He will not attack us.’
The speaker’s tone ended all discussion. Their minds were made up.
‘No, he will not,’ Minh answered. ‘Because I will not allow it.’
‘You are to remain here child!’
‘You are my elders,’ Minh answered, her thoughts even and sure. ‘But I am your Matriarch. I am the keeper of our lore and I understand the need even if you do not. This battle must be fought, and it must be fought now!’
‘We will mourn your loss,’ the speaker answered, then as one, the ancients left.
Tracker looked around as the hall shook. ‘The ancients have left,’ Minh told him sadly. ‘They feel this is not their affair.’
‘Even after all that?’ he wondered.
‘Even so,’ she told him with her thoughts. ‘They are old and they have watched the web too long. They forget what it is like to look upon the web with wonder, to see the patterns and the disturbances. They have become sanctimonious fools.’
Her thoughts were sad as she looked at the others. Their vitality was in direct contrast to the elders staunch complacency. ‘I must speak with Ian and Sable,’ she held him with her thoughts. As she broke contact he could feel the unasked question. ‘How is she?’
‘Better,’ he thought, hoping Minh would still feel his thoughts. He looked over at Bear and Duck. They were still considered ‘injured reserves,’ but they had insisted on coming. As he watched Bear took Duck’s hand in his and held it to his heart.
“Now that you know our enemy, we must work together to devise a way of defeating him,” she stated as she looked around the room.
“As I see it,” Tracker began. “there are four main fronts and a rearguard action that are needed. Our major problems are Briar, the Doc, Ellingsworth and the lodge.”
Geoff nodded. “My family can offer weapons and protection, but little else,” he stated as he looked around the room. “My brother Kenny had told me that he was told that he was needed and that the Serpent spirit appeared before him. He can help in the magical front, but the rest of us are simply warriors and healers.”
Minh nodded. Between Tracker, Geoff, Ange Wulf and Kemuri, they had their ‘rearguard’ that Tracker spoke of. Each would need to break up into teams, guarding the others as they fought on the four fronts.
Gran Stood and bowed to the others. “My clan will take on the lodge,” she stated. “They are many acting as one, we are many who are one.”
The others nodded. Of all those gathered, only the TwoBears clan was best prepared to deal with a group of mages acting in accordance.
Sable nodded as he realized it was his turn. “My people can watch over me, as I fight.” He told them. Briar has grown too powerful for me to do any more than feel his presence and influence, but I am still strong enough to face Ellingsworth.”
Ian drew a deep breath as he looked around and nodded. “I am a singer of the old song. I was drawn to this city by the music. I do not know what I can do in the upcoming battle, but I know that the song will be needed before this battle is over and I trust the muses to guide me to where I must be.”
The Rabbi sat there a moment and nodded. “He is two here now. He will try to draw more. I will pray for you and go where I am needed.”
That left Kai and herself. “We are Long, and the Battle with Briar must be ours. He is waiting for us, all that is left for us to do is join the battle.”
...Static on your frequency
Electrical storm in your veins
Raging at unreachable glory
Straining at invisible chains
And now you'rer trembling on a rocky ledge
Staring down into a heartless sea...
Too close. She had come too close. Too close to losing it, too close to giving in, giving up.
She let the water wash over her as she rubbed the oily salt over her arms and legs. She let the scent wash over her as she had a hundred times before when she was preparing to ship out. She allowed herself to fall into the patterns of her ritual. Normally the last step was to cut her hair. A symbolic act that indicated that she was leaving as a warrior. She smiled to herself.
MindBender had thought to demoralize her, dehumanize her with the act but it had only served to galvanize her. She was a warrior, and in this there could be no surrender. She stood under the spray for a few more minutes then cut off the water.
Reaching for a towel, she found Bear standing outside the stall, towel in hand. He smiled at her. They would not be together in the battle. He would drumming for his family as they challenged Briar’s lodge; she would be standing guard with Tracker. He held the towel open for her as she slipped into it. Gently he wrapped it around her. Breathing in the scents from the oils, he held her protectively.
We’re the dream warriors
don’t want to dream no more
We’re the dream warriors
And maybe tonight,
maybe tonight you’ll be gone.
Tracker focused on his weapon. Its function, its mechanics. In a showdown against the people that had hurt his friends, his only power against them was a gun. He knew it wasn’t enough, but it was something. It didn’t really matter: they were fighting as a unit now. All that mattered was the team’s success. As he checked his weapon he nodded to himself. ‘This ends tonight,’ he told himself.
Slowly, meticulously he pieced the weapon together again. The smell of gun oil, clearing his mind of everything else.
Togetherness their courage
Recognize the power
Make a stand before them
old ways follows the beaten track
She gathered her family to her. Calling out their names in her heart she greeted each as they moved into the circle. The drummers would take their place in the center. Traditional lodge magic against the traditional/non-traditional clan of the Bear. The enemy would not stand. They had tried to kill their brother, their cousin, their kin. They had declared war on the TwoBears clan, and tonight, tonight they would learn their mistake.
...I am the solid ground
when you are feeling down
reminding you, all you have to give...
How long have you been my light
How long have you been my night
I tried to talk and I tried to make it right...
How long have you been my life?
Boomer held Lightning as she reviewed their plans and equipment. He promised himself that this time, they would get through this unscathed. Lightning would not sit this one out, neither would he. If they were to deal with this situation it would be together. All he knew was, he never wanted to be away from her again. Slowly he picked up his gun and field stripped it carefully cleaning and oiling each piece. This time they were going to go out for dinner afterwards.
...Dreaming of Mercy Street
Where you’re inside out...
Dreaming of Mercy
In your daddy’s arms again...
She took a deep breath and let it out. For once she didn’t have to worry about Davy. But in his stead there was Geoff, Wayne, Derrick, Kenny, Joey. Their family, their friends... She forced herself to remain calm. There was nothing she could do in the upcoming battle. Only heal the bodies of those who fought. But in a battle of wills and spirits there was little she could do.
She found a quiet place and did something she’d not done in years. Kneeling she whispered a simple prayer. “Bless and protect those who we hold in our hearts.”
The words of love have been confused
The ways of love have been abused
Is this a lottery you win or lose?
I don’t know...
Ange watched as the others prepared. She, like so many others was with the reserve teams. She looked at Tracker as he cleaned his gun with sullen concentration. She tried to figure out what she was feeling, but it didn’t really matter now. It was one more thing to worry. After this was over, she promised herself, she would take the chance.
Dare, dare to believe you can survive
You hold the future in your hands
Dare, dare to keep all your dreams alive
Its time to make a stand
You can win if you dare!
Lady Jade -
Now I believe there comes a time
when everything just falls in line.
We live and learn from our mistakes
the deepest cuts are healed by fate.
Jade felt the power flow through her as she drew from the pain and rage within. Purging it from her system, a serenity filled her. Memories of Felix’s music filled her, calmed her. ‘For you my friend. For you.’
Born to live
born to fight
shoot for thrills
into the night
He filled his ears with sound until nothing existed. He was to stand rear guard with Rabbit and the others. They had no real hope against the levels of magic that would be lighting up the ether, but they could keep Briar’s muscle from cutting down the mages as they fought. This was what he had been trained for.
You could find Sanite Dede
On Rue Dumain
Stirring up her gris-gris
to easy yo’ pain.
And she says, “Conja, conja, conja ape vini
Cheeseburger in paradise
Heaven on earth
with an onion slice.
Rabbit looked around and felt his stomach growl. He headed for the kitchen. If he was going to go out, he was going to do it on a full stomach.
....Who steers the ship through the stormy sea
If hope is lost then so are we
while some would search for one to guide us
Some are staring at me...
But I’m no hero,
though I wish I could be,
Oh I’m just a boy....
Briar had taken his brother, turned his world around until he had no idea what was happening. He felt the way Rabbit looked at him and didn’t understand. Something told him to seek the man out and ask him, but when he found him, he was completely surprised. As the man he was talking to turned he felt the sudden recognition.
His brother. His other brother. Suddenly he felt the strength he needed. Serpent had told him it would happen and it did. There was still hope.
Remember all the leaves were falling
Walking hand in hand, standing in the rain
Remember distance voices calling
Whispers in the dark, I can hear them again
Kenny turned as the young man approached Rabbit. As he turned he saw it in his eyes. He reached out in disbelief. They had been united in the struggle and never known it. Serpent’s words finally made sense. Warrior and Healer, brothers standing against their common enemy, for the first time in a very long time, all the pieces finally fit. He nodded to his brothers and closed his eyes.
‘Thank you father.’
Don’t see the storms are forming
Don’t see or heed the warning
Don’t hear the sounds of Tyrants
Surrounded by the silence
Tommy grunted as he shoved the last two units together. As he reached for his tools, Rico started the first of the systems checks. Everything had to be functional by the morning. Geoff and the others were counting on having the transport unit at their disposal. It was going to be close.
Grabbing a cup of coffee from the thermos, Tommy hunkered down behind the unit and began connecting wires and testing them.
Rico took a deep breath as he began calibrating and testing on his end. He forced himself to concentrate on what he was doing, not why.
The day is breaking
now its time to go away
I’m so afraid to leave
but more afraid to stay
the sadness in your eyes.
He noticed how Duck stiffened when he arrived, but when he tried to speak, the words couldn’t come. Looking at her the guilt all but overwhelmed him. As he turned to go, he heard her stand behind him.
She pulled him around gently and looked at him. The pain and fear in her eyes were obvious as were the anger and rage. When she nodded at him, he realized the anger and rage were not for him, but for what was done and what they were forced to do. She understood that he was as much a victim as she was.
She tried to speak, but confusion and emotions all but overwhelmed her. Unable to express her feelings any other way, she reached out and hugged him tightly.
Take a stand
In the light
It’ll be alright tonight
Fire it up
Burn it bright
We can never give up the fight....
His heart beat was unsteady as he stood in the hall and fought to make his peace. He’d been beaten, broken, but this was his battle. It was a fight worth fighting. As he looked at his friends, he knew, it wasn’t only the right choice. It was the only choice.
Slowly he began the ancient moves of tai chi. Everything flows. This is the way of things.
She took her life within her hands
She took her life within her hands within her own two hands
and no one can tell her what to do now...
...Well she’s gone to meet her maker
back to where she came from
come to save her soul...
As she picked up the carving he had held only hours before she felt a pang of regret. It was something that was not meant to be, but for a moment, just a moment she wished he was there to hold her.
She drew herself up. It was time, and well past time for action. This was truly her battle. She nodded to herself as she place the carving back on its rest. She looked up as she felt something stir in the room, but there was no one there. In her mind it was Azra, smiling at her. She held the thought as she placed a letter beneath the carving.
...First the thunder, satisfied
if the past it will not lie,
to the future you and I get blown away..
‘I would spare you the pain if I could,’ he thought as he watched her. ‘But this is yours to fight.’
He held her in his heart.
He could feel his brother waiting for him now. There was no denying it. They were part of each other in a odd way. He was no longer strong enough to stop his brother, but the others had a chance. He would deal with Ellingsworth, his creator. As he gathered his thoughts he wondered if in killing Ellingsworth, would he himself cease to exist. It was an interesting thought.
For the first time since he had reached the city, Ian sat in silence, peacefully polishing his guitar. He closed his eyes and felt the smooth wood in his palm, the well worn fingerboard, rough in comparison. The feel of the steel strings beneath his fingers as he slid his hand up the neck eased his mind. Silently he began running his hands over the frets, in progressively more complicated moves until he struck the strings and followed through with the rest of the riff. Smiling to himself, he ran the soft rag over his beloved ax.
It was time.