Chapter Forty-six

*** *** ***

Duck looked around the receiving area as people were processed through. Ni, Daff and Jade were watching the comings and goings as they worried about their fallen comrades, but Gris was too agitated to sit still.

Gris shook his head as he tried to explain his experience with Ellingsworth. "It like he not even dere," he exclaimed. "He tell Wulf that they switch places and none 'a us know."

Duck cocked her head as she listened to him. "I don't get it," she told him softly.

Gris turned and faced Duck head on. "Dat man Ellingsworth, he ain't a man! You understand that girl?" he asked. "He's Briar."

Duck nodded as everything became clear. She knew there was no way they could face off against three of Briar. Gran had been dubious about using the banishment spell against two, but three tipped the scales into the realm of the impossible. It also meant that Minh was in even more danger than she had realized.

"Three..." she sighed as she exchanged worried looks with Rabbit and Whisper.

"There has to be something we can do," Whisper stated as the next group of transportees arrived.

Duck turned and watched as the evacuees were guided off the pad. Suddenly her eyes lit up and she let out a snort.

Whisper and Rabbit cringed when they heard the sound. They knew all too well that Duck was about to come up with something inspired, risky and totally insane.

"All right Duck," Rabbit prompted. "You might as well share, cause otherwise me and Whisper are going to have a coronary waiting to see what you're thinking."

Duck bit her lip as she looked at her friends then concentrated on Whisper and Gris. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but a banishment spell would basically take the subject of the spell and send it someplace, a place that's determined by the spell."

Whisper nodded slowly. "Kind of a simple description, but yes, that's pretty much it. Usually though, banishment doesn't really send something to a place so much as tells it 'you can't stay here'."

"And you can't banish Briar because..."

"Because his will too strong," Gris answered.

"The spell boils down to a battle between the caster's willpower and skills against the banished's will," Whisper explained.

Duck nodded. "And with Briar, you'd have to deal with the combined strength of all three pieces, right?"

"Try multiplied," Whisper told her. "Each part augmenting the other. The will of two would have taken Minh, Gran, the entire TwoBears clan, Ian and everybody else here to stand a chance against it... with three now..." he shook his head.

"He just too strong," Gris agreed.

Duck nodded as she pieced it all together. "But inanimate objects have no will, right?" she asked.

"Duck, I'm really not following you," Whisper told her.

Duck turned back towards the pad and then looked at Whisper. "Could you send something like this back to Briar's plane?" she asked as she held up one of the transpo-unit's transceivers.

Whisper gave her a side long glance as he tried to understand her. "I suppose," he stated warily. "But what good would that do?"

Duck merely smiled at him and stood. "I'll be right back," she told him. That said, she headed over towards Tommy and Rico.

When Whisper looked at Rabbit, he realized that Rabbit was laughing.

"What?" Whisper asked.

"It might just work," Rabbit answered, his eyes flaring. "But somebody's going to have to get close enough to Briar, The Doc and Ellingsworth to tag them with a couple of one way transceivers... That's going to be the difficult part. Then actually activating the system... it may take time, but it's a possibility..."

"What is a possibility?" Whisper demanded.

"Using the transpo unit," Rabbit stated with a smile. "If we can place transceiver back on Briar's plane, basically banish the transceiver, then we can use the unit to hot-link Briar back to his own plane. One instant high tech banishment."

Whisper thought about what Rabbit had said and shook his head. "Sometimes," he told Rabbit. "You two scare me."

Rabbit merely widened his smile. He looked at Duck as she talked to Tommy and nodded evilly at Whisper when he saw Tommy's eyes light up. He knew his brother was already trying to figure out how to make it work. In spite of everything they'd been through, he just a had to laugh.

"A lot!" Whisper added.

Rabbit's smiled at Whisper as he shook his head.

"He sayin' what I tink he sayin'?" Gris asked Whisper.

Whisper shook his head in disbelief. "I'm afraid so."

"Girl crazier den ol' Gris," Gris muttered to himself.

*** *** ***

Sable froze as he heard the conversation between Rabbit, Whisper and Gris. He'd been stacking boxes, but something about the conversation drew him in.

Suddenly Gris' words echoed in his mind. 'Crazier den ol' Gris.' Crazy, insane... in ancient times the insane were considered 'touched by God.' The thoughts rolled around inside his head until he finally understood.

There was an order and structure to things as he understood them, more importantly as his brother understood them. Normal people followed normal thought patters, all nicely ordered and structured. Duck and Rabbit didn't. On a hunch, Sable looked at Gris and nodded to himself. The man registered as a blank, just like Duck and Rabbit.

"Gentlemen," Sable stated as he moved past them and headed towards Tommy and Duck.

Rabbit looked at him a minute and then smiled, his eyes lighting up. "It just might work," Rabbit told him with a smile. "It might just work."

Sable turned and stared at Rabbit for a moment in shock. "You understood my thoughts?" He asked evenly.

Rabbit merely shrugged. "It happens."

"I'll go talk to the others," the man stated as he continued towards Duck and Tommy.

"What was that about?" Whisper asked.

"I'll explain in a minute," Rabbit answered as he looked at Gris.

"You read the man's thoughts?" Gris asked as he stare at Rabbit intently.

"Probably," Rabbit answered. "Why?"

"You a LaBeau non?" Gris asked as he studied Rabbit.

Rabbit stiffened for a moment, then realized that Gris wasn't threatening him, but simply asking who he was. "I was, a long time ago," he finally answered. "But not since I was ten."

'I hear 'bout de LaBeau, my auntie say dey all swamp rats, but de got the gift," Gris added, oblivious to the worried look Rabbit gave him.

*** *** ***

'There is nothing but the world around you.' Rahalleth told Kai. 'They cannot hurt you. They cannot hurt us.'

Kai tried to concentrate on what his 'other self' now told him, but it was hard. He could still feel the pain they were inflicting on the captive piece of his soul. It sang through his veins like a song he couldn't ignore.

'Just a little while longer,' Minh told him. The poison was starting to take its toll on her, but at least she was functioning.

'How much longer?' he finally managed to form the thought.

'When they enter the void,' Minh thought. 'Then they will have accepted our rules for engagement.'

Kai closed his eyes and waited for the pain to subside.

'You must be prepared,' Rahalleth added. 'When you fight, you will feel the damage you do to me. I will try to protect you from it, but if you let it, it will override everything else. You will have to take control.'

Kai nodded as a wave of nausea washed over him.

'I am sorry,' Rahalleth told him.

'It is not your doing,' Kai answered with forced calm.

'But it is,' Rahalleth countered sadly. 'It was my rage that brought me to him, my pride that enslaved me.'

'You were its prisoner,' Kai stated as he drew himself up.

'Only part of me was its prisoner. Part of me truly enjoyed what I became.' The shame was obvious in his thoughts.

'Children, it comes!' Minh's warning silenced their mind.

*** *** ***

Briar smiled to himself as he looked at his protege. Rahalleth had served him well, but now it was time for a sacrifice. Perhaps the piece of the child's soul was not enough to call him to them, but the escaped portion of Rahalleth was with him as well. It would be a small price to pay if it gave him the Maguin of the Long.

'Rahalleth, come to me,' he ordered as he drew forth the energy he needed. As the once proud dragon looked at him, Briar smiled. 'My friend, I have a job for you.'

*** *** ***

Kai let out a shocked gasp. He fought the pain and terror as he watched his friend and master turn on him. It was Rahalleth's visions, his emotions, his pain that Kai now felt.

He was defenseless as the Dark Singer filled his mind with the song. The power increased until it devoured everything in its path. Everything that made him Rahalleth, everything that made him Kai, vanished in a flood of hell fire. He felt his own death in the surge and fought it until it overwhelmed him.

'No!' Rahalleth managed to cry. 'Maguin, avenge us!'

Then everything went black.

*** *** ***

Minh felt the pain and terror go through Kai's mind. She knew the feeling all too well. It was the call of loss, the song of death. Unable to control Kai and the renegade portion of Rahalleth the Dark Singer had opted to do away with them both. In killing his Rahalleth, he was killing Kai.

Minh knew all too well that death here, meant death on the physical plane as well. Worse, the immortal soul would be lost. Briar had destroyed his own protege, but in doing it he had all but succeeded in killing Kai.

She could smell the death surrounding them as both parts felt the loss of self. As Kai fell, she felt the void around them disappear.

She willed Kai back to the physical plane. There was nothing here for him but death. 'They are free of him!' she told herself as she prepared to fight. The void was gone. 'This will end here and now,' she swore.

The Dark singer stood before her smiling. 'You are alone,' he told her.

A voice echoed in her mind. 'You are never alone, Maguin of the Long, Minh, Minhaillreth...'

She drew strength from the voice, knowing in her heart who the words came from. 'Thank you my friend,' she thought.

'Thank you, my love,' the thought was soft and gentle, but she could sense the sorrow behind it. 'I will wait for you,' he promised softly. 'No matter what.'

"Mother," Briar taunted. "Did you lose your children?"

Minh drew her breath in slowly. "I have lost nothing," she told him calmly.

"You don't really believe that do you?" he asked. "They are lost and so are you. You just haven't realized it yet."

Minh drew herself up. "I know what I am and what I have. And that is something you can never take from me," she answered.

"That is where you are wrong," he told her. Let us finish this," he added.

"Let's," Minh answered coolly.

*** *** ***

Azra clenched his fist as the Dark Singer closed in on Minh. He knew the pain she was suffering now. He could feel the poison as it flowed through her veins. If she did not finish this quickly, it would be too late for him to save her.

"You shouldn't be doing this," he heard Auri tell him softly.

"What would you have me do?" Azra asked bitterly as he turned towards his brother. "Let her suffer this alone."

"I wasn't talking about her," Auri answered gently. "I was talking about what its doing to you."

Azra looked at Auri and shook his head. "I can't not watch," he explained. "Can you understand that?"

Auri nodded. "Would you like me to keep you company?"

Azra bowed his head and turned back towards the battle. "I'm not really fit company right now," he answered in a controlled tone.

Auri nodded. "Still if you want, I'll stay."

Azra looked at his brother for a minute and nodded. "It would be so much easier if we knew the exact outcome."

Auri studied his brother for a minute and nodded. "Too many possibilities?"

Azra stared at the screen and answered softly, "and most of them are not good."

"They'll manage," Auri told him. "They'll manage."

*** *** ***

Gran felt the surge as it passed through the circle's shielding. Their opposition was hitting them almost continuously. Still, most of its force dissipated as it crossed through the wall of fire. She forced herself not to think about what that power was doing to Daniel.

There would be time to worry about that later, right now she had the rest of her clan to worry about. The dancers were slowing, as if they sensed something happening on the physical plane.

'Listen to me children,' she told them. 'We are the children of the Bear. Our clan has served him since the beginning and will continue to serve him 'til the end. It is time!'

'It is time.' Three simple words. The simplest call to arms. As she spoke them, she understood what she had to do.

"Daniel," she called. "Do not block their energies. Filter them through to me."

She could feel the worry and concern her request caused, but Daniel honored her wishes. Slowly he began feeding the energies to her.

*** *** ***

It wasn't going well, not well at all. Tracker looked around at those who had made the fall back point and let his breath out slowly. Ian blew on his fingers then looked up at him.

"They are almost here," he told Tracker. "And they only seem stronger."

Tracker nodded. "Do what you can," he urged as he checked his pistol.

"It was a good run," Boomer commented as he looked over at Tracker.

Tracker was about to agree when he heard something come across the comm-link. A tight encrypted message from Duck filled his mind.

"Bases loaded, Casey at bat," she told him then added, "Recessional."

Tracker shook his head as he looked over at Boomer. "Duck," he explained. "Be careful what you wish for."

"Uh boy," Boomer sighed as he checked his weapons. "What does she want us to do?"

"Fight," Tracker told him. "Keep on fighting no matter what."

Boomer nodded, then looked at Ian.

"Looks like I'm on," Ian stated with a shrug. As he slipped his guitar strap over his shoulder he felt an odd kind of hope.

*** *** ***

Standing in the ruins,
in the middle of the storm,
hard to see, hard to believe,
harder still to accept...

The storms will fade,
the price repaid,
the sun will rise again...
Keep fighting until then.

In the middle of destruction
there's a golden ray of light
hard to see, harder to believe,
but always growing in our hearts..

The storms will fade,
the price repaid,
the sun will rise again...
Keep fighting until then...

As he played Ian felt the music in everything they did. The music in Tracker's movements, the music in Boomer and Lightning's gestures of concern... it was all around him ... it was what made them strong. He called the song to him and played it anew, feeling it with his heart and then sending it out to all who would listen.

The storms will fade
the price repaid
the sun will rise again...
Keep fighting until then...

*** *** ***

As the Dark Singer lashed out at her, Minh felt something stir in her heart. Something that filled her with an odd sort of hope.

The storms will fade
the price repaid
the sun will rise again...
Keep fighting until then...

The music set her heart on fire. 'The price repaid,' she told herself. 'We have all paid dearly, but this one, Briar, has not...'

As he tried to rake her with his claws Minh smiled and began humming to herself. It started out low, just a slight rumble, but it was growing. As she joined in singing, she felt the power of hope.

"You cannot win," he told her.

"I don't have to," she answered with a sudden insight. "For you cannot win either. It is not about winning, but about balance," she told him.

*** *** ***

Gran felt the power shift. The drumming had changed. It was steadier now, steadier than it had been for a long time, then she heard the message the music sent.

The storms will fade
the price repaid
the sun will rise again...
Keep fighting until then...

She nodded as she prepared to use the energy that Daniel had been feeding her. It was time.

*** *** ***

"It's time," Duck stated as she stood on the pad.

Tommy gave her one last look and nodded. "Be careful," he urged as Rabbit and Gris joined her.

"We're not even sure this will work," Whisper argued.

"It'll work," Duck told him with a wink.

"How can you be sure?"

Duck shrugged. "It has to."

Whisper shook his head. "At least let me go with you," he urged.

Duck shook her head. "Sorry," she answered wistfully. "If it doesn't work you have to come up with something brilliant. 'Sides crazy section's full."

Whisper nodded and bowed his head. "Tread safely," he told them as Rico activated the unit.

"Now it's just a matter of time," Tommy told him, then asked, "you ready?"

Whisper nodded as he prepared the slightly altered banishment ritual. There were too many unknowns for his liking, but Duck was right. It was their only chance.

"Tell me again how this is going to work?" Whisper asked.

"If I understand the physics of thaumatology enough, we should be able to compensate for the fluctuations in resistance and residual..."

"Tommy," Whisper interrupted. "Please, let me rephrase... 'Tell me again that this thing is going to work'."

Tommy shrugged. "I guess so."

*** *** ***

Tracker tensed as he felt the pressure building up behind his temples. Briar, the Doc and Ellingsworth had some sort of barrier spell they were using now. Ian's song seemed to be holding them back physically, but then the mental attack had begun.

'Keep fighting,' he told himself. 'Duck needs us to keep them busy.'

He felt the pressure shift and realized with horror that Briar was reading his thoughts.

'So, this is not the real assault is it?' he demanded as he forced himself into Tracker's mind. 'What does her message mean?'

Tracker laughed to himself, with Duck, he was never sure what anything meant.

'TELL ME!' Briar demanded as he exerted his will over Tracker.

Tracker passed out from the pain.

"You broke him," Ellingsworth complained.

"Find the one in charge," the Doc told him.

"I think that was him," Ellingsworth answered with a smile.

"Find the one they call Duck," Briar ordered. Then towards his men. "Bring me the Duck and anyone that is with her."

He backed up his words with the images of Duck he'd gotten from Aerocomm's files.

*** *** ***

Boomer looked at Lightning as Tracker went down. "Looks like you and me," he told her as he gave her a worried look.

"Just a typical Saturday night," she answered.

"Sushi?" he asked.

Lightning laughed. Their first date had been for sushi. It was also the first in a long line of dates that had never happened. At least this time they were together.

"Sushi!" she agreed.

Behind them they could hear the refrain of Ian's song.

The storms will fade
the price repaid
the sun will rise again...
Keep fighting until then...

Keep fighting. It was the only thing to do.

*** *** ***

Duck looked at the others as they prepared to 'tag' their opponents. Rabbit had already moved off to the side. "Wish I had a Coup-stick," she told them.

"I thought that's what these were," Rabbit countered over the comm-link as he held up one of the one way units.

"Question is, how do we get close enough?" Gris asked as he and Duck moved further to the left.

"I'm working on it," Duck answered. "Just give me a minute."

"Hold it right there!" a voice ordered from behind.

"I think that's your answer," Duck stated as she palmed her transceiver. Looking away from Rabbit, she called him over the comm, "Luck."

Rabbit faded into the wreckage as three of Briar's men stepped forward. Their leader moved forward: his gun aimed directly at Duck's head. "We've been waiting for you," he told them. "Now move!"

Duck drew a deep breath as she and Gris were guided through the yard towards Briar.

"I don' like this," Gris muttered.

"Join the club," Duck agreed. "But at least it gets us where we need to be."

*** *** ***

Briar allowed himself a smile as he saw his guards approach with the woman, Duck. Aside from a few pockets of resistance, she and Ian were his last true obstacles before taking the Maguin. He had her now, and soon, he would take Ian as well. The man could not play forever.

He forced himself to remain calm, but one thought kept surfacing no matter how hard he tried to resist it: soon the Celestial Gate would be his.

'Briar and the Doc are with me,' Duck sub-vocalized through her comm-link. 'Ellingsworth is to the left.'

'On it,' came Rabbit's reply. 'Hang in there.'

"On your knees," Briar ordered as he men shoved Duck and Gris towards him.

"Can't." Duck answered as she gave him a 'Rabbit' look. "Bad knees," she explained.

Before Duck could react, the Doc had grabbed Gris in a choke hold. "Kneel, or his neck is broken."

Duck turned and gave Gris a worried look. Gris winked at her as he winced in pain. She noticed his transceiver floating into the Doc's pocket and nodded. 'One down,' she stated to herself.

Duck glowered at Briar as she knelt before him.

"Did you really think you could defeat me?" he asked haughtily.

"That was my hope," Duck answered with a shrug.

"Pitiful," he commented as he looked around.

Duck followed his gaze as she looked out at her friends. They were close to the heart of the wrecking yard now. She could see the circle and the wounded, and she realized that the only thing stopping Briar now, was Ian. They had to act fast.

Then she heard the message from Rabbit. 'Tagged.'

She smiled as she looked back up at Briar. "Anything but pitiful," she countered defiantly.

Briar bellowed in inarticulate rage as he reached down and picked Duck up by her shoulders. "Look around you," he ordered as he grabbed her neck and forced her to look at those who had fallen. "What do you have to say for yourself?"

Duck slammed her hands down on his collar bones, in an attempt to break free. The attack did little to harm Briar, but she did succeed in placing the transceiver. She smiled at him. She'd done her job.

Her relief was short lived as he began shaking her. Enraged by her defiance, he continued to shake her until she cried out in pain. Then he slammed her to the ground. She landed next to Gris with a thud.

"What do you have to say for yourself now?" Briar demanded as he towered over them.

"Now," Duck groaned as she gasped for breath. "NOW!"

Copyright 1998 - M.T. Decker

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