Chapter Forty-seven

*** *** ***

Whisper began by placing a ring of five candles around him. Then he added two more, forming a triangle at the top of the circle. Seven candles total: one for each of the five elements, one for his guardian and the seventh was a representation of his goals. Before him a bundle of sage burned.

Slowly he lit the candle to his right. "Fire," he stated as he named the element it represented. Slowly he took the sage bundle and drew a sigil over the candle. He repeated the process until the first four candles were lit, calling on Earth, Water and Air. Then he lit the candle in front of him. "Spirit," he stated once again drawing the signs over it. The five elements of the Celts had been called.

Whisper lit the candles before him as he finished casting a protective circle. He took his time concentrating on every symbol, every word, every power he invoked. There would be no second chances and the last thing he needed was to be attacked while casting the banishment spell. He could feel his guardian watching over him. Everything was ready.

Nodding to himself, he carefully placed the transceiver between the three candles that formed the pyramid: a ward within a ward. He could feel the power surrounding him. In his heart something told him this would work.

It was like Duck said. It had to. He reviewed the spell, knowing that once it began, he would have to finish it. Otherwise, he could very well end up being the one banished to Briar's realm. He said a quick prayer for himself and the others.

Duck, as always, had taken the most dangerous aspect of the mission as hers. He knew in his heart that it had to be Duck, Rabbit and Gris, but it didn't make it any easier. He looked over at Sable as he monitored their progress. It was going to be close, he knew that much.

"NOW!" Whisper heard Duck's voice over the comm-link.

He could feel the pain in her voice. They'd accomplished their part of the mission. Now it was up to him. He took a deep breath and set aside his notes.

Drawing from the power in the circle, he began the incantation. Word for word, gesture for gesture he performed the required ritual. He could feel resistance, not from the transceiver, but from the plane itself. It was as if Briar was resisting the invasion into his realm.

Whisper felt the evil brush his mind and pushed it away. He drew strength from the sorrow he'd felt, his pain became an additional offering added to the banishment spell. It became a battle between his will and the power behind Briar. Hate, pain and loss swam around him as he tried to find the key to Briar's power. Then he realized the key. With the simple thought of peace, he fed the rest of his strength into the spell.

He felt the sudden drain of energy as the unit vanished from its place between the candles. Then there was nothing.

"Tommy?" he called weakly.

There was a frightening pause as Tommy adjusted his controls, trying to lock onto the unit's signal. As his vision wavered, Whisper felt his heart begin to race.

"We've got a signal," Tommy finally confirmed. "We've got a signal!"

His job was done, it was now up to the others to see this through. Whisper nodded as he blacked out from the exertion.

*** *** ***

"Now," Ian heard Duck's cry. He stepped into the music and became part of it. This was truly the moment he'd been waiting for. He ignored the pain in his hands, the ache in his throat ceased to exist. The only thing that remained was the music. Nothing else mattered.

As he struck the first chord, the world swirled around him. It became the music as he smiled to himself. There was a change, something unforeseen, and he could feel it. It was a light descant of mischief over the somber sound of the battle.

He smiled as he joined his voice to the song. The rhythm from the TwoBears Circle formed the perfect balance to the song.

We stand,
In the shadows of tomorrow,
We fight,
For the dreams of yesterday.
We live,
For the heart and the heart will lead us on.

We are the children
We are the dream
We are the chosen
We are the way.

We dream
Of that which is tomorrow,
We live
In the dreams of tomorrow's past
We fight,
From the heart and the heart will lead us on.

We are the singers.
We are the song
We are the chosen
We live the way.

We fight
for the dream that is tomorrow,
We live
In the path of righteousness
We will
fight from the heart, and the song will lead us on.

We are the music
We are the key
We are the hearts
That fire cannot tame.

We live
From the heart, and the heart will lead us on.

As the music passed through him Ian smiled. This was the way the song was meant to be. The music of others, combined to make the one true song. For it was not one sound, but many complementing one another, and spreading through the singers until it was a chorus of point and counter point.

He saw the muses smile at him as the others joined in the song, each in their own way.

*** *** ***

Gran felt the roar of the wind in her mind as she gathered the energy to her and reshaped it. It passed through her people, it passed through her, it flowed around the circle and then back into her. It was joy and pain. The sheer weight of it filled her until she knew nothing else.

She heard Coyote's laughter around her. In surprise she looked and saw the Bear spirit smiling at her as Coyote chased his tail and laughed.

'You have them now,' Bear told her. 'You will know when it is time.'

As she puzzled over his message, Gran heard Ian's song and suddenly understood. They were the chosen. Each chosen by their guardian to fight for their people, to fight for their world. She nodded towards them and joined her song to Ian's. Not in harmony, but in counterpoint. Laughter rained down on her as she finally understood.

As she looked at her family she saw that they too knew, They were not one voice. They were not one mind, but many. They were, however, one heart and one dream. They were the dreamings of the spirits, even as the spirits were theirs to dream.

"The circle is complete," she told them with a smile.

'Now,' the music sang to her. She released the energy in a flood of water and earth and directed it towards the opposing lodge.

She ignored the surge of power that sliced through Daniel's shield and stabbed at her. The power sang within her until nothing else existed. Even their attack strengthened her now. She let the power pass through her, transforming it, feeding it through the world, and then taking it back again.

"They never learn," she sighed as she looked at Bear.

'Teach them daughter,' Bear answered.

Coyote howled for joy.

*** *** ***


Boomer looked at Lightning and gave her a lop-sided smile. "Hope you like lots of Wasabi," he told her as he pulled back the slide on his pistol.

"You know it," Lightning exclaimed as she mirrored his actions.

Briar and the Doc were still being kept back by Ian's music, but the gangers were starting to swarm their position. It was up to them to cover the circles.

Boomer winked at Lightning as he remembered their first meeting: standing over a bomb trying to defuse it, with Lighting holding onto the deadman's switch. They'd been through a lot since then and now they would face this together. As he prepped his demo, he froze. Behind him he heard the all too familiar sound of somebody chambering a round.

Boomer and Lightning exchanged looks, and then turned in unison. Boomer checked his gun when he realized it was Joey standing behind them, gun in hand.

"You sure about this brah?" Boomer asked.

Joey gave them a determined nod and then winked. "Geoff couldn't make it, figured somebody had to keep you from getting yourself shot."

Boomer laughed. It was the kind of comment he'd expect from any of his brothers. "All right then," he stated. "Lets do it!"

*** *** ***

"Go!" Tommy urged as Rico's fingers flew across the console.

He was processing the signals, matching them up, and performing the calculations even as his brother checked the power supply. As he prepped the equipment, Rico could tell something was wrong with the system, it was running too hot. 'Have to check that later,' he made a mental note. If it survives the battle, we're going to have to take it apart and re-work it.

Rico nodded to himself as the system reports came back, they were ready to try the hot link. He said a soft prayer as he prepared to send Briar back where he belonged.

*** *** ***

Rabbit held his breath as everything seemed to slow down to a heartbeat. Ellingsworth was moving towards Briar and the Doc. He moved closer. Then he realized that Ellingsworth's target wasn't his other 'selves' but rather Duck and Gris.

He strode towards them, spear at his side, ready. Rabbit could sense the purpose in his stride and realized the spear had been keyed for something.

"Your mind," Ellingsworth growled at Duck. "What are you planning?"

Rabbit screamed as Ellingsworth raised a spear over his head and prepared to kill Duck. Ellingsworth's thoughts filled his mind. She was to be a sacrifice and a new vessel for his power.

Rabbit screamed over the comm-link. "Tommy activate!"

Ellingsworth turned and glared at Rabbit. "Another one," he stated as he moved closer to Rabbit. "You'll have to wait your turn."

Rabbit suddenly felt the ground reach out from under him and take hold. He struggled against the solid form as it started to squeeze him. As his vision started to blur he saw Ellingsworth waver in front of his eyes. They system had been activated.

Rabbit smiled. "Gotcha," he growled. To his horror, Ellingsworth re-solidified in front of him.

"You were saying?" Ellingsworth asked as he brushed the spear against Rabbit's arm.


*** *** ***

Tommy tensed as he heard Rabbit's scream. He moved towards the controls and began checking the unit. He could tell that Rico was doing the same from inside the system.

They reached the same conclusion at the same time: there wasn't enough juice left in the batteries. They'd have to switch to the main power grid.

"Ranier's going to love this one," Tommy muttered to himself as he waited for the green light from Rico.

Rico had no time to think about the consequences, the only thing that mattered now was what would happen if they did nothing. He opened the system and gave Tommy the signal to switch from the batteries to the main system.

Pain surged through his mind as the unit drew too much current. He felt the power like a battering ram as it pushed through the system in all directions at once. He could feel the circuit breakers giving way under the current. Clenching his jaw he forced the main circuit to remain open. He had to get the power to its target. Guiding it through the system Rico rode the surge as it fused the system together. His last thought was of his brothers as the power blew the fuse in his datajack.

Then everything was black.

*** *** ***

"No you don't you, soulless sorry son of a..." Rabbit screamed. He barely felt the spear as it brushed against his arm and then disappeared.

A smiled played across his face as Briar, the Doc and Ellingsworth vanished from sight. He looked around and realized it was over. No longer held there by Briar's power, the earth elemental gently let go of Rabbit and vanished.

"Yes!," he yelled. "That'll show you!"

Smiling he walked over to the others. He reached over and helped Duck and Gris to a sitting position.

"We came, we saw," Rabbit quipped happily.

"It kicked our butts," Duck countered weakly.

Rabbit looked at her worriedly. He could feel the pain in her mind, pain and an odd sort of relief. He nodded.

"Now all we have to do is deal with his cronies," Rabbit told her.

"Terrific," Duck answered as she forced herself to stand.

Gris tried to get up and failed. "I think I sit this one out. You go kick some butt for me, non?"

"You got it," Rabbit told him as he handed Duck a pistol. "Lets go kick some butt for Gris."

Duck shook her head and regretted it immediately. "I'm going to kill something," she muttered then followed Rabbit into the fray.

*** *** ***

Gran sagged against the barrier as the energy flared around them. She could feel something happening, but it was talking too long. She could feel Daniel's pain now as the shielding flared and wavered.

Slowly she began channeling the remaining energy into the shielding, into Daniel. As the power passed between the circle and Gran, she could feel her strength returning. But as she channeled it through to Daniel, she could see that he had little strength left. Then the elementals closed in.

She could feel their strength as the tried to push through. Stretching her senses she could also feel their reluctance at performing their assigned tasks.

She nodded. This was not what they wanted: they simply had no choice in the matter. "Brothers," she called to them. "Soon, it will be over."

They seemed to understand, but they could not resist their masters' orders. As they pressed their advantage she heard the music. It roared like the wind around them as the stockpiled energy finally hit the enemy's lodge. She tried not to mourn the souls that were lost, but it was not easy.

"Theirs were lost long ago child," Bear told her as the sphere shimmered and disappeared. "You have set them free. Surely, it is a time to rejoice."

The four elementals still closed in on the circle. Dancing around Daniel until he dropped to his

knees. She was about to call on the water when they turned to her and bowed.

"His injuries will soon fade," the first one told her.

"We are forever in his debt," the second added.

"As we are in yours," the third stated as he too bowed.

"When you need us, we shall come," the fourth said and then bowed.

Gran bowed towards them. "On behalf of my clan, and my grandson, I thank you."

She felt an odd sensation as they bowed towards Bear and then were gone.

"You have done well daughter, but now it is time to return home."

Gran nodded. "Thank you father."

"Thank you child."

*** *** ***

"NO!" Briar screamed as he felt it all slipping away. Somehow they had managed to banish him from their realm. He could feel his power weakening. With nothing to anchor his power to the physical world, his strength in the astral plane was quickly fading.

Soon, he would have no more power to use against his target. 'The Maguin,' he thought to himself. 'They think they have defeated me. FOOLS!'

He drew on the reserves of his strength. Retreat was the only option, but he would not go alone. If he was to go back to his realm, then he would take the Matriarch of the Long with him. Here she was his equal, but there, she would be at his mercy. He smiled to himself.

They had beaten them for now, but he would have his revenge. The Maguin would do nicely as the first step in punishing them. 'Very nicely indeed,' he thought to himself.

Without further thought, he launched himself at her.

*** *** ***

Minh could feel the change immediately. One minute Briar's power was waning, the next it surrounded her. It forced itself into her mind and held her to his will. Somehow he had managed to take her spirit back with him to his own plane.

She realized that must have been what had happened. There was no other way of explaining it. Pain filled her as she tried to resist his thoughts. She tried to rear up, only to find herself chained.

'Struggle all you want,' he told her. 'There is no escape from here, save through me. And I have plans for you my pet.'

She tried not to panic, tried to think, but his thoughts overrode everything else. He showed her his plans for her and she cringed.

'You are truly alone now,' he told her.

*** *** ***

Duck tensed as the drumming stopped. There had been no shift in the rhythm that she always associated with the circle's return. She breathed a sigh of relief as she heard a joyous cry fill the circle. They were returning victoriously.

She smiled as they moved out of the circle and began helping with the physical confrontation. With the added forces, it took very little time to route the rest of the attacking gangers. Once she was sure the perimeter was safe, Duck joined Boomer and Lightning.

"Tommy!" Boomer called over the comm-link. "You copy?"

Static was the only answer. "Tommy?" he called again as he exchanged a worried look with Kenny and Joey.

"Boom?" Tommy's voice finally answered.

"What happened?" Boomer asked worriedly.

"Power surge," Tommy answered. "Backup generators just kicked in."

"Good," Boomer stated with a relieved sigh. "When can you start transporting?"

"Boom," Tommy answered softly. "The surge fried the transport unit."

There was something in his brother's tone that made Boomer stop. "Talk to me brah," he urged gently.

"The unit's fried," Tommy answered. "Rico... he was linked in..."

"Damn!" Boomer swore. "How is he?"

"Gina's with him now," Tommy answered. "It doesn't look good."

"Hang in there kid," Boomer urged. "We'll get some folks who can help over there as soon as we can."

"Copy," Tommy answered, but his response was almost mechanical.

Lightning took one look at Boomer and pulled him into a hug. "We'll get through this," she told him.

"Just when I think it's over," he muttered. "Something else happens and..."

His sentence trailed off as he noticed the man kneeling between Minh and Kai. "Who the hell?" he asked in disbelief.

"Azra," Duck stated with a gasp as she watched him bow his head.

*** *** ***

Kai's skin was cold to the touch. Worse, there was little to no response as Azra took Kai's hand in his own. He felt for a pulse and shook his head.

"Kai, listen to me," he urged. "You are not dead. Do you hear me?"

'I hear,' Kai's thoughts struggled through the pain. Thinking was difficult, but he could not ignore the plea in his friend's voice.

"What Briar killed, it was part of you, but only a part of you. You are alive!"

Kai forced himself to breathe, but the breaths came in harsh, raspy gasps. Finally he formed the next thought, 'What of Minh?'

"I will check on her next," Azra told him softly. "But you would be her first concern."

Kai groaned as the loss washed over him a new. "Let me go," he pleaded.

"I cannot. It is not your time!" Azra growled. 'You will live. You must live.'

Kai tried to hold on, but when he reached out for Minh, he found nothing. 'Go to her,' he gasped. 'Find her!'

"I will find her, but you must promise me that you will wait," Azra all but yelled.

'Who am I to argue with death?' Kai answered with a hint of his old humor but the pain was evident in his thoughts.

"Rest now," Azra urged as he turned his attention to Minh.

He could feel her life dwindling, but there was no response from her mind. He searched and found the faintest of trails, a cord between her body and that which was Minhaillreth.

'Minh?' he called with all his heart, but all he felt was emptiness. A cold chill washed through him as her body vanished. He stared at the spot where she had been in disbelief. Then the reality of what had happened hit him.

"No!" he growled. His eyes were blazing when he looked around for anything to disprove what he feared. Then he saw Auri standing beside him.

"He took her!" Azra raged.

Auri nodded. "I am afraid so," he answered quietly.

Azra tried to remain calm, remain in control, but he couldn't. "He took her!"

"He has taken her to the realm of the Dark Sphere." Auri agreed, then asked gently, "What are you going to do about it?"

"I'm going to take her back!" Azra answered as he narrowed his eyes, glaring at his brother. "And don't you dare tell me it's not my affair."

"Brother," Auri countered. "I know how you feel, but you cannot go without my blessing.

Azra glared at Auri for a minute, but before he could say a word, his brother smiled at him. "Go my brother. Go with my blessing. Do not return without The Maguin."

Azra looked at Auri for a minute and nodded gratefully.

Auri bowed his head. "I will take Kai to the Great Hall, meet me there when you have returned."

Azra closed his eyes and was gone.

*** *** ***

Minh looked at herself in the reflection. He had pinned her to the wall, almost like a butterfly on display. Her wings ached. When she tried to move a pain shot through them until she relaxed her muscles again. It became obvious to her that Briar had studied the anatomy of dragons when he had Rahalleth as his prisoner. The spears that held her to the wall had been carefully placed. Placed in such a way as to immobilize her yet do no permanent damage provided she did not struggle.

"Such a beautiful specimen," he told her, admiring her form. "But I must teach you your place."

Minh raised her head as she felt a familiar presence. 'Azra,' she thought to herself. Then a form of dread latched onto the thought. 'He should not be here.' Her heart ached with the thought of the danger he was in merely by coming to the realm of the Dark Sphere.

"I do not belong here," she stated in controlled tones. "And you had no right to bring me here."

"I have every right," he countered. "Spoils of war my dear, you are mine by right of conquest."

"She is no one's but her own!" Azra growled as he stepped out of the shadows. "In case you hadn't noticed, you lost."

"I have the Maguin," Briar offered. "I consider that a win."

"Except she did not come willingly," Azra countered. "You may only claim those who come to you willingly."

"You came willingly enough," Briar told him as a smile played across his face. "An interesting proposition, no?"

Azra tensed slightly at the tone in Briar's voice and the chill in his offer. He prayed it would not come to that.

"I have come to take the Maguin home," he answered evenly, refusing to be baited.. "You violated the rules by taking her. It is my right to intervene."

"Death, intervening on behalf of a dragon?" Briar sneered. "Some how I doubt your true concern here is fair play."

"Believe what you want," Azra told him. "I am here to bring her home. If you offer no resistance, I will not harm you. But if you do," he added as his eyes started gleaming in the half light. "I will finish this!"

The threat in his voice was clear. Briar stepped aside. He knew he had overstepped his bounds, but he had hoped it would go unanswered.

"Everything will be accounted for when the time comes," Azra told him as he moved towards Minh.

"In that case," Briar growled. "No time like the present."

Azra saw the shock in Minh's eyes before he felt the spear go through him. He fell to his knees, Minh giving voice to his pain.

"How was that?" Briar asked. "A little too real for you?"

He grabbed the spear and pulled Azra to his feet with it. "Spent too much time worrying about fair play, not enough on tactics BOY? Never turn your back on an opponent!"

"I will keep that in mind," Azra answered in forced, even words. He clenched his jaw and steeled himself against the pain.

Minh struggled blindly against the 'pins' that kept her bound. She couldn't let this happen, not for her sake. "No!" she screamed, her rage transforming her. The pain from the spears only added to her fury. There was no reason in her eyes, only a blind animalistic rage.

"No please Minh," Azra pleaded to her, "don't. You'll injure yourself more."

Something in his tone reached through the rage that filled her. It was soothing, almost patient. She looked at him and nodded.

"How touching," Briar taunted. "I'd love to explore the depth of your feelings for each other, really I would. But I can't afford to have both of you here. Sorry 'wing-boy,' you lose."

"I...don'," Azra countered. He grabbed a hold of the spear and pulled it through his body. "Assaulting the Ref, is an automatic expulsion from the game!"

Minh could see the pain in Azra's eyes, but she also saw the fire there and knew, that he would not suffer Briar to live after everything else he had done. When he turned to face Briar, Minh gasped. She could see the trail of blood seeping into the floor.

"I have had enough," Azra declared as he drew the spear back.

"Do you really think you can take me," Briar countered, meeting Azra's thrust with another spear. "In my realm?"

Azra grunted as the impact of the spears jarred his arm. He was oblivious to the flames that flared up behind him, following the trail of his blood. His only thoughts were of Minh.

As Briar jabbed at him with his spear, Azra planted his feet firmly on the ground and moved to block it with the spear's shaft. When Briar's spear contacted his own, it vanished.

Briar laughed as his spear connected and sent Azra reeling. Again Minh screamed in pain and frustration. Azra forced himself to stand, his breath was coming in heavy gasps.

He fought to control his emotions. Rage would give Briar the control he needed. Azra knew he had to keep his thoughts pure. He forced himself to concentrate on one thing and one thing only: The Maguin.

He stood, a staff of light appearing in his hands. There was a serenity and power in his gaze as he focused on Briar. "Care to try again?" he asked raggedly.

Briar smiled and lunged at Azra again. This time, when he blocked, the spear was cut in two. Following through with the block Azra gritted his teeth the staff connected with Briar. The impact did more damage to him than it did to Briar.

"You'll have to do better than that Wing-boy," Briar taunted. Another spear appeared in his hands. "I can keep this up all day. Can you?"

Azra drew a deep breath and turned once again towards Minh. He could see the pain and fear in her eyes. Already she was starting to strain against the pins again and he knew she would not last much longer. Soon, she would give into the rage and even he would not be able to reach her. There was only one other way to end this. He bowed his head, afraid to see her expression when he spoke.

"Release her, and I will stay," he offered quietly

"No!" Minh cried. The room reverberated with the pain in her voice. "No.."

"It has to be," Azra told her softly. "He must not have you."

Briar smiled. "How heroic," he sneered. "But I already have you both."

Azra knelt before Minh. "Forgive me dear lady, for I have failed you."

"No," she cried as she once again began pulling at her bonds. Then she saw the look in his eyes and stopped. She realized that her state had hurt him more than Briar ever could.

'You have not failed me," she whispered. "Never."

Azra smiled at her then bowed his head. When he opened his eyes noticed the bloody spear point, at his knees. It was coated in his own blood. He looked back up at her, an almost wistful look crossed his face. "I wish we had more time dear lady, for there is much I wish to say. Now, all I can say is that I have cared for you deeply," he told her then picked up what remained of the spear. "I always have."

"No!" Minh gasped, but this time she did not struggle.

"Do not give into the rage." he urged. "Do not become what he wants."

"A touching scene, boy," Briar laughed. "You do realize, you're only making this harder on her?"

"You will never have her," Azra answered. Once again forced himself to his feet and faced his tormenter. "She is her own, and no one else's. She is The Maguin"

"Very soon, she will be mine," Briar gloated. "And you will be dead."

That said, Briar lunged at Azra with yet another spear. Azra side stepped the blow, then sliced at Briar with the spear point. Briar screamed as it connected and Azra's blood mingled with his own.

"You will never have her," Azra told him as he pulled Briar closer. "I make this offer one last time: let her go and I will take her place!"

"You are dead," Briar growled as he lashed out at Azra. "I will kill you and she will be mine."

Azra closed his eyes as Briar jabbed at him again. When he locked eyes with Briar, there was no mistaking the fire in his eyes.

"You really believe you can kill me?" Azra asked in disbelief. "You can't kill death!"

"I have you!" Briar growled.

"You have nothing!" Azra yelled as he thrust the spear point into Briar's side.

Briar's scream echoed throughout the area. Azra pulled back, chest heaving as Briar glared at him. "You will pay!" he screamed. Another spear materialized in his hands. "This time, you will pay."

"Do not move."

Azra turned to the source of the voice, but all he saw was a shadow moving along the wall.

"Chiltred," Briar called to the figure. "I have brought the master gifts."

"You have brought him destruction," the shadow replied, "nothing more."

Azra backed up protectively towards Minh. He knew the situation was changing but he wasn't sure if it was for the better or not. Anything was possible within the Dark Sphere's realm

"You have shed the blood of the pure here," the shadow continued. "This will not please the master."

"But he has agreed to stay," Briar countered.

The shadow snorted. "An offer, made under duress. An act of sacrifice, for one he values. Accepting such an agreement would destroy us all."

"No, he came willingly," Briar objected. "He came here willingly!"

"After you had taken the woman. He came not to you, but for her."

"He offered himself. You must accept. He must suffer for what he has done," Briar demanded.

The shadow turned, seeming to study Azra for a moment. "Guardian, why do you come here?" the shadow hissed. "This is not your realm."

"I am sorry if I have overstepped my bounds," Azra countered evenly. "But your servant took that which was not rightfully his."

The figure bowed his head. "That is true enough," he stated. "But your arrival and offer to trade have complicated things. I'm afraid we have no choice but to accept. Did you mean what you said when you offered to stay: that you would take her place?"

Azra looked at Minh one more time and nodded. "Yes."

"Damn," the figure swore then looked back at Azra. "So be it."

With a simple gesture Minh was freed from the wall. Azra rushed to her, but was restrained before he could get closer.

"Now, tell me why you came for her."

Azra looked at Minh as she pulled her wings in close to her. He could see the pain in her eyes, but at least she would be freed.

"Because she is the Maguin and she does not belong here," he answered calmly.

Chiltred nodded. "I thought as much."

Azra stared in shock as Minh vanished from sight. "Minh!"

"She is safe," Chitlred told him. "But now, you must face the consequences of your offer."

The force that held him suddenly whirled him around until he was facing Briar and the shadow, Chiltred.

"Guardian, answer me truthfully, for if you lie, I will know and your suffering will be great. Why did you come for her?"

Azra thought of Minh, and for the briefest moment, the longing shone in his face. "Because," he stopped unable to say the words. He bowed his head: it could never be.

"Because I love her," he answered softly.

A smile played across Chiltred's lips as he listened to Azra's answer. When Azra finally responded, there was pity in Chiltred's eyes. "That's better," he declared. "Truth hurts. I like the truth."

Azra steeled himself for whatever was to come. But nothing happened. The figure merely studied him for a long while and then nodded.

"Thank you guardian for the truth... Now go!"

Azra looked up at him in confusion and surprise. "What?"

"Get out of here," Chitred answered. "Briar had no reason to take her, so I had to release her. You on the other hand, came here willingly. And therefore, he had the right to keep you here. Because of his... indiscretion, I could only set free the one that was wrongfully imprisoned."

Chiltred paused as he tried to explain. "Your offer was to stay if we let her go. You ransomed her back. Now you were here in her place... and we could not keep her to begin with. Your admission, was all I needed as proof of you sincerity and the suffering that Briar demanded. Now I can release you, as he should have released The Maguin, or more to the point, never taken her in the first place."

He shrugged then turned towards Briar. "Even we have rules that must be obeyed."

"What of him?" Azra asked worriedly.

"The Master shall punish him," he declared.

Azra paused for a minute and nodded. "Thank you."

"He will not bother you again."

Before he could respond, Azra found himself back on the physical plane, once again kneeling beside Minh.

*** *** ***

Duck watched in horror as first Minh then Azra disappeared. She bit her lip and gave Auri a worried look.

"He's gone after her," he assured her then added, "I must take Kai to his people."

Duck nodded slowly. "Is there anything we can do?"

"Pray," Auri answered as he picked Kai up. "I will send word when I know anything," he assured her, then vanished.

Duck let out her breath slowly as she offered a simple prayer for Minh and Azra. 'Protect them.'

A silence fell over the wrecking yard as the others milled around the yard looking for the injured. The silence was broken by an anguished cry from where Minh had laid. Duck gasped as Minh reappeared, but there was no sign of Azra. Again she heard the cry and realized it had come from Minh. It was the sound of utter despair.

"Minh," Duck called to her, but there was no comforting her. She turned as she felt some one standing behind her. It was Azra. His skin had grayed slightly, and his t-shirt was stained and torn.

Minh looked up at him and smiled. "You're here," she stated in disbelief. "I thought..."

"Shh," he answered as he gently picked her up and stood. "Everything is fine."

Duck saw the pain in his eyes and realized that the dark spots his shirt were blood stains. As he stood, he held Minh protectively then looked around him.

"Thank you," he said then looked tenderly at Minh. "All will be well," he assured her.

For a minute, Duck could have sworn she'd seen wings wrap around them both, and then they were gone.

"That was impressive," Rabbit commented as he moved to Duck's side.

"It was beautiful," Duck agreed.

*** *** ***

Copyright 1998 - M.T. Decker

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