Chapter Forty-three

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It was time. Briar could feel Minh as she prepared to cross into the Astral Plane. He recognized her aura even before she announced her presence. It was as he planned. She would strive to fight him here, while his agents and selves would seek her out on the physical plane. When they found her, he would finally have her. And she would be defenseless against him.

Once she was defeated, he would have her soul and a new body to occupy. She had tricked him once, and now he would make her pay. He would see to it that something of her remained long enough that she could be forced to watch as her beloved Celestial Gate fell. He would destroy the Great Hall of the Long, and then the Heavens would be his.

He felt the power flow through him as he called to his allies. His mages were united. They had performed the required rituals and soon, when he had her she occupied, they would join in the battle.

His servants waited for his signal. All was prepared. Victory would not be denied him this time.

*** *** ***

Minh drew a deep breath as she prepared to meet Briar on the astral plan. She knew that he was stronger there than in the physical world, but she knew there was no choice but to engage him there. Otherwise, when Gran and her people arrived to fight his lodge, they would be at his mercy.

As she looked at Gran the old woman smiled and bowed towards her. Then the drumming began. Minh felt the beat call to her. She heard the song of thanksgiving raise up from the gathered members of the TwoBears Clan. Thus prepared she shifted her consciousness to the astral plane.

As she materialized on the plane she felt his claws raking her side. Fire burned through her as they cut deep gashes across her flesh.

‘I have been waiting for you,’ Briar stated as he backed away from her.

Minh growled as she pulled herself up. She could feel his eyes upon her as he circled her. As she faced him again, she felt another wave of pain as another figure attacked her from behind.

It was Rahalleth. He grabbed at her as Briar closed in and drove his claws deep into her flesh. She reared back, flapping her wings as she struggled to break free of Rahalleth’s grasp. Rather than fight her, he merely let her go.

With all resistance gone, Minh fell to the ground. Once again she forced herself upright and backed away from her attackers. As she did she felt Kai’s presence.

It was so faint she barely noticed at first, but as she tried to locate him she gasped. It was not Kai, but rather the part they had taken from him.

Briar and Rahalleth were playing with him. ‘No,’ she cried as she realized that Kai would feel everything they did to the captive piece of his soul. She knew they could do no real damage to him, but as long as they held even a piece of him, they had the power to inflict pain upon him, and to draw him to them.

‘Forgive me child,’ she thought as she took wing. She had to put some distance between them while she recovered from their first attacks. She could feel the poison starting to take its toll. Every beat of her wings announced the depth of her injuries. She had to get someplace safe enough that she could dare to heal herself.

As she launched herself skyward, she was struck again. This time an arrow pierced her flesh as she flew away. The impact shook her as she struggled to remain aloft and failed. As she fell she turned: a wall of flames greeted her descent.

*** *** ***

Kenny gasped as he noticed that Minh was bleeding. “Kai, can you help me heal her?”

Kai looked at Minh and gasped. She was losing against IT. He felt Rahalleth stir inside him.

‘We must go to her,’ Rahalleth told Kai.

Kai looked at Kenny and shook his head. “Heal the form you see,” he answered. “I must try and help her.”

With that, Kai launched himself into the astral realm.

“Justin, watch over me,” Kenny stated as he pulled himself into a healing trance. There was no time for anything else. As he began the healing spells he could feel something trying to draw him into the battle. He tried to fight it, but it was a losing proposition. He didn’t have enough strength to fight the impulse and heal Minh.

Suddenly he was not alone. He felt Justin’s presence. His brother stood as a shield against the force allowing him to continue healing Minh. Serpent’s promise came back to him: healer and warrior standing together.

*** *** ***

Kai screamed as he saw Minh plummet into the flames.

‘Ah, little one, did you come to join your ‘mother’?’ Briar sneered as Rahalleth reared back to attack.

Kai ignored them both and launched himself at Minh’s falling form. He dodged Rahalleth’s claws as he forced his wings to beat faster. He had to catch her. He forced himself on, straining to reach her in time.

Then he felt an arrow pierce his wing. ‘Move, ignore the pain, you must move or she is dead,’ Rahalleth urged inside his head. He obeyed pushing himself on. If they survived, then he could worry about the damage.

‘I’ve got you Mother!’ Kai cried as he caught her. The added weight strained his wings to their limits as he fought first to keep them both from falling. Then he stretched them to their full length, trying to soar on the currents. Minh stirred in his arms.

‘You should not have come,’ she told him.

‘It took you and Yung both to defeat me the last time,’ Rahalleth reminded them. ‘It will take you and the Gatekeeper’s heir to do it now.’

‘What of the others?’ she asked as she noticed the flames following them.

‘They are coming,’ Rahalleth told her. “We must hold on until then.”

*** *** ***

Tracker watched as first Minh then Kai went limp. He gave them a worried look when he noticed the blood beneath Minh. ‘Kenny’s got it,’ he told himself. ‘Justin’s got him.’

“Gran, they need you,” he stated with a nod.

Gran nodded then signaled the others to begin. The drumming increased until he knew there would be no hiding it from Briar’s people. “Heads up people,” he announced. “We’re in the middle of it now.”

Bear felt the beat as the others joined together. He felt a pang of emptiness as they were able to trance into the beat. For the first time in his life, the drumming was just a series of patterns: it was just a rhythm.

‘It is the rhythm of our lives,’ his memories told him. ‘It is at the heart of all things.’ Still reaching into it, all he felt was the beat.

*** *** ***

Briar smiled to himself. The lodge had arrived and Minh was on the run. Better yet, the youngling was with her. As the lodge brought forth their Elementals he felt the power sing in his veins. Their power fed him, even as it struck out at the interlopers. Soon he would take her, but first he would destroy the child.

He drew a breath and savored the scent of blood and pain. ‘Dragon blood, and dragon pain,’ he sang to himself. ‘These are they keys the Celestial Gate. Dragon bones and dragon souls to feed me on my way.’

As he chanted he smelled her blood on his claws and tasted it. ‘Ah, so sweet, so sweet. Dragon, I have tasted your blood, and soon I will eat of your soul.’

He stretched his senses as he scanned the horizons looking for her. With her blood on his lips he followed the trace as the youngling struggled to pull her to safety. ‘No place is safe for either of you now,’ he told them. ‘I know your scent woman! And youngling, I have tasted your soul and it will make a fine meal. Tonight I will feast on your defeat!’

There was nothing that could stand between him and his prey now. Soon they would be his, and with them, he would have the keys to the gate itself. He savored the thought as he reached out to his lodge and was stopped short. He felt something coming.

Then he heard the beat as it pierced the veil between worlds. Steady and joyful, it filled the space between them until he was forced to step back.

He saw them as they arrived on the plane. They were arrayed almost as his lodge, but he could feel the difference. Where his people called upon the power and molded it to their will, these people danced with it. They were calling it to them, forming it with their celebration and releasing it with practiced ease.

He dispatched Rahalleth to deal with them as he called to his selves in the real world. ‘Find them! Crush them!’

*** *** ***

Rabbit tensed as he felt the approaching forces. He could feel them searching for targets even as they converged on the area. ‘Heads up,’ he called into the comm unit, then gave the visual signals.

He saw Boomer give him the thumbs up as he opened his control panel. Lightning moved in to cover him knowing that he needed to keep his undivided attention on the charges. As he scanned the area and matched everyone’s relative position to the charges he had placed, Lightning made a visual sweep of the area looking for their would be attackers.

“Call when you have visual,” Geoff called over the line. Rabbit turned in time to see Geoff signaling the others to fan out.

*** *** ***

Mercury stiffened as he heard Rabbit’s warning on the comm-link. Quickly he relayed the message to Wulf and the rest of the Pack. Then he opened his senses, ready to identify those searching through the wrecking yard.

It was their job to identify and isolate Briar, the Doc and Ellingsworth so Gris and Jade could try the banishment spell. If it failed, they were to contain them until Gran’s people were ready to join in.

Hopefully Gran TwoBears and her people would be able to help them cast the spells. Something told him they were going to need all the help they could get.

As he scanned the area, he could feel her people as they danced around the fire. He could feel their power they were unleashing and knew they were still fighting Briar’s mages.

He offered a quick prayer and began scanning the area in earnest. As he felt the familiar pull of magic, he heard a yell from the left, one of Ange’s people.


He prayed that Ange, Whisper and the others would be safe.

*** *** ***

In the circle, Bear watched over his family, joining his wishes to the power of his family. He looked over at Niki, the only member of his generation who could not join with the family. Suddenly he understood the emptiness she must have felt.

As their eyes met and she smiled. She began dancing to the beat. She could not join their spirits, but she could and would join in the dance, lending her thoughts and wishes to the battle at hand. Understanding came to him in the flash of that smile.

The beat and the dance were part of life, it mattered not whether the others could feel his presence. It was there. That was all that truly mattered. He allowed the beat to wash over him as he joined it wholeheartedly.

As he did, he saw the briefest flash before his eyes. A woman with flaming hair looked at him, at first he thought of Duck, but then he realized that her eyes were coal black with irises of flame. The image nodded respectfully before vanishing.

*** *** ***

Four pillars of fire descended upon the circle. Their power licked at the walls that protected them in their dance. Gran was barely aware of them as visions of Bear filled her mind. She was about to react when BEAR raised himself up before her.

‘They are not your concern,’ he told her. ‘Fight the lodge, your circle is safe.’

She didn’t understand his plan, but she accepted his message. As the dancers whirled around her, Gran TwoBears drew strength from their dance. Suddenly she was no longer a frail old woman. She appeared as she had the first time she set foot in the middle realm. The power sang through her veins as she directed it towards the opposing lodge.

Her attack took the form of a storm cloud on an otherwise open plane: dark clouds, laced with arcs of lightning. As it drifted away, Gran nodded. All was ready.

As it drifted towards them, the opposing Lodge increased the power they were feeding to their leader.

She could feel his will molding the power to his use. A cone of sheer power formed as he aimed it at her through the shielding. His intent was plain, punch a hole in the shield to allow the elementals in and perhaps do some damage to her.

She smiled as the cloud moved closer. It was all a matter of time now.

*** *** ***

Minh watched as Kai struggled to keep them aloft until he could find a place to land. She let out a gasp when she saw Rahalleth closing in on the TwoBears’ circle.

‘Kai, we must stop him,’ she called worriedly.

You must heal,’ Kai answered evenly. ‘Until you have, you will have no hope against them.’

‘I will heal,’ she told him. ‘Let go, and cover them.’

She could feel the turmoil as he was forced to choose. ‘Be well mother’ he told her as he shifted her weight so that she could catch a current.

‘Be well sister,’ she heard Rahalleth add. Then they were gone, flying towards Briar’s Rahalleth.

‘Be well children,’ she thought as she caught the current and began circling. She had to find Briar before he could attack again.

*** *** ***

Kai drew his wings in tight as he angled his attack and dove at Rahalleth. As his weight impacted with the once proud Long he stretched out his claws and grabbed the tender flesh underneath his enemy’s wings. As Kai pulled away Rahalleth bellowed in pain. Inside he felt an echoing scream from the deep within. The piece of Rahalleth that was within him experienced the pain he inflicted on what remained of his body and soul.

As he started to feel the pain, he almost let go, but Rahalleth was with him. “No, move through the pain. I must be stopped. It must be stopped. This all must end!”

Kai swallowed against the pain and he forced himself to continue but the pain he inflicted was quickly becoming his own.

‘I own you,’ Rahalleth declared as he attacked the piece of Kai’s spirit that he held. Kai felt the pain as everything went black.

‘NO!’ Rahalleth bellowed. ‘Kai, listen. It is not of you. It is not of me. We are one. We must be one if we are to survive.” But Kai was lost in the blackness that surrounded them.

In desperation, Rahalleth forced himself into control.

*** *** ***

Kenny shifted his weight as he felt the change in Minh. He had done what he could for her and was about to return to his body when he heard Minh’s warning.

‘Kai, you must help Kai.’ The pain in her thoughts radiated through him as he reached out towards the youngster.

He knew it wasn’t good even before he made contact. When he did, he understood the need. The pain was so great that Kai had all but shut himself down, and yet the damage was not physical, but spiritual. He pulled out of the trance and signaled Tracker.

“Get Ian,” he gasped.

Tracker nodded, but before he could say anything Kenny had forced himself back into the trance. Kai’s life depended on it.

*** *** ***

Ian turned as Gran TwoBears fell to her knees in the circle. He was about to go to her when he saw Bear shaking his head. He was not a part of the circle and therefore had to work outside it. He nodded and felt the song building inside of him even before Tracker gave him the signal. As he strapped on his guitar he felt larger than life: as if he was standing on a stage that passed through all places at once. With the first chord he understood the feeling. Suddenly he was everywhere and nowhere. The music flowed around and through him and so he joined in the battle.

I am alive with the heartbeat of the distant shore
I am running through the forests of your dreams
I am walking in the shadows, I am dancing in the sun.
I’m everywhere, I’m nowhere, I’m within.

I am singing in the sunset of a vast forgotten sun
I am calling to the children who’ve been waiting for their time
I am dancing in the shadows, I am walking in the sun
I’m nowhere, I’m within, I’m everywhere.

I am traveling through the memories of a long forgotten race
I am following the footsteps that never leave a trace
I am walking the in shadows, I am dancing in the sun
I’m within, I’m everywhere, I’m nowhere...

in between

I am nothing in a heartbeat
I am nothing in the wind
I am nothing you can hold onto
I am everything you want

in between

Between the darkness and the shadows, I am the brightest light
Between the purest and the corrupt, I am the solid wall
Between the hopeless and the Damned, I am the ray of light
Between the fires and the water I am the guiding hand

In between

I am nothing in a heartbeat
I am nothing in the wind
I am nothing you can hold onto
I am everything you want

In between

I am the keeper of the flame that never truly dies
I am the singer of the song that fills your heart
I am the whisper of a promise, I am the promise of the dream
I’m everywhere, I’m nowhere, I’m within.

I am the voyager that fills his sails with dreams
I am the warrior who calls the dogs of war
I am the promise of a promise, I am the whisper of a dream
I’m nowhere, I’m within, I’m everywhere.

I am the music that fills your heart with untold dreams
I am the silence of the forest after the rains have ceased
I am the whisper of a promise, I am the promise of the dream
I’m within, I’m everywhere, I’m nowhere...

I am between.

He felt the song as it pulsed around him, but there was very little change. There was too much power, too many players. He realized he had to pull them together if they were to survive. He drew himself up and began again. Slowly at first he began weaving the song with the power that flared around him, molding it, shaping it into something that could be used to defend them.

It had to work. There was no other option.

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Copyright 1998 - M.T. Decker

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