Kenny let out a soft sigh as he rolled over. The bed was so warm and comfortable that he didn't want to move, but something told him he needed to move. As he opened his eyes, he was startled to see metal rails on the bed.
"You're in the hospital," a man told him bluntly.
Kenny turned and looked at the man who'd spoken. "Snake bite," Kenny acknowledged. Then he added, "you scanned me."
The man nodded. "I'm sorry I had to do that to you."
Kenny nodded. He remembered it now. The man had walked through his mind, but he avoided everything except what had transpired the night before. "What time is it?"
"Eight o'clock," the man answered evenly.
Kenny looked around worriedly then noticed the guard at the door. "Am I under arrest?"
"No," the man answered. "He's here for your protection."
Again, Kenny noted that the man kept his voice even and calm. "What happened?"
"How much do you remember?"
Kenny shook his head then gave a derisive snort. "You know, we could play this all night, but I'm just too tired."
The man rewarded him with a wry smile. "Sorry, I'm too used to dealing with the criminal element. I figure I get more information by not letting them know how much I've actually pieced together. But in your case, I do want you to try and remember what happened without me putting my spin on things, in case I may have missed something."
Kenny nodded. "Where do you want me to start?"
"Start with the Black Roses," the man prompted.
Kenny looked at him in surprise. He had expected something about the shooting, or about the mind scan, not the black roses.
"Not too much to say about them," Kenny told him. "Within the last few weeks some of our clients were attacked. We managed to pull them out, but when it came to their attackers, all we found was a black rose. We weren't sure what to think then it happened again."
The man nodded and waited for Kenny to decide how much to tell him. "We checked with some associates. They seemed to be having even more problems than we were. The only thing in common was a black rose found at each incident. Last night they disappeared."
"The shoot out at the Playful Dragon?" the man asked.
"Same," Kenny answered as he thought about what had happened.
"So you went to investigate?" the man prompted.
Kenny nodded. "Me, Boomer and Rabbit. Rabbit was supposed to check out the sniper positions, once he gave us the all clear, we were going to check the route they took out of the club district, see if we could find anything."
"Then what happened?"
"Rabbit saw a sniper targeting us," Kenny answered softly. "He waited, gave him every opportunity to leave us alone, but he didn't. He wouldn't have shot if there was any other choice," Kenny added defensively. "He did what he had to do to keep us safe, and because he waited, he was shot."
"Easy," the man urged gently. "We know all that. Ballistics matched the bullet you pulled out of him with the one that killed our officer. I just need your statement as to what happened. I'm sorry for everything you had to go through as a result of this."
Kenny watched the man intently as he spoke, especially when he made his apology. He wasn't just talking about last night. He knew about the memories as well.
"It had to happen sooner or later," Kenny answered evenly then smiled. "It was long past due."
The man nodded. "Still, it's a heavy thing to carry around."
"Or bury," Kenny countered stiffly. He wasn't sure he liked having somebody know that much about him.
"Your brothers should be here soon," the man told him effectively changing the subject. "You should rest while you can. Once they're here, I'm going to need to get their statements, and then we're going to have to get you out of here before anybody's the wiser."
Kenny looked at him warily with that last statement. "It's not over yet is it?"
"Not by a long shot."
Gris stiffened as he felt the pull of several different magical forces at work in the hospital. Two bore the scent of Briar, the third was locked into a struggle of its own.
"Gris?" Wulf called anxiously.
"There's a battle going on, " he stated. "You must be ready or all will be lost. "
Wulf's eyes narrowed as he watched Gris. Something was very different about him and it took him a minute to realize what it was. Gris-Gris's speech pattern had shifted. He watched as Gris stared straight a head. A cold chill went down his spine.
"Gris," he called.
"Ting's ain't well with Merc... The taint of Briar is strong here. I feel dem comin' You are in grave danger. You must think of the greater good." Gris' words shifted as he seemed to drift between what he saw, and the knowledge that was slow in coming. "There is nothing you can do for your comrade. That is out of your hands. You have done all you can, now you must leave. Staying here only leaves the others at risk. "
Jade and Meri leaned closer as Gris spoke.
"The focus has changed. All other acquisitions have been suspended. One man is the target. Briar he want dat man, bad. And he will strike at any who stand in his way. If you do not interfere, he will leave you alone. But that will only last until he's caught his quarry. If he succeeds, he will be far too strong for any of us to deal with. "
Jade looked at Wulf and shook her head. "I don't feel anything from him," she told Wulf in a low monotone. "Its like he's not even here."
"He's not," Wulf told her softly. "Just listen to what the man says."
"Listen well," Gris continued. "If you stay, you will be lost. This is not the time. This is not the fight. Only Gris is safe here, and even he may not withstand the onslaught. He must not take you," he added as he focused on Wulf.
Wulf looked into Gris eyes and growled. "Sable!"
"I am sorry, but there is no other way. If you stay, all will be lost. Come back to where it began, I must talk to you before he refocuses. Before it is too late, hurry, it is later than you think. "
Wulf's jaw twitched angrily as he contemplated what Sable had said. He knew the man had expended way too much energy in getting his message through. It was testimony to how serious Sable thought things were, but he was needed here as well.
"You cannot save everyone and win the war," He stated through Gris. "Do not make their sacrifice be for naught. "
Wulf clenched his fists as he looked around at the others and nodded. "Let's move people," he growled then strode towards the door.
As the others pulled themselves up and followed him, Jade took Gris' arm and pulled him to a standing position.
Gris focused on Jade as he stood. "Where we going?" he asked wearily as he noticed the others moving out.
"Follow the Boss," Jade answered as she propelled him towards the door.
"We got work nes pas?
"Yeah, now move it gumbo head," she growled affectionately.
Kenny woke with a start when the man placed a hand on his shoulder. "Corps' coming up," he whispered. "We need to get you out of here."
Kenny nodded as he tried to get up and found his head swimming.
"Drek," the man swore as he caught Kenny. "Hold on," he stated then disappeared.
Kenny managed to stand and take two steps towards the closet before he fell. He had no idea how long he lay there, but the cold floor felt good against his forehead. Then the man was back helping him into a wheelchair. "Dammit, I told you to wait," he chided. Kenny nodded as his stomach churned.
"Sorry," he managed to gasp, as he fought to keep himself from retching.
Fortunately, the man noticed and tossed a trash can in his lap. "Sorry, but there's no gentle way of doing this: we have to move, and we have to do it now."
With that said, the man wheeled him out of the room. The guard carefully looked down the hall as the man opened the door. "You'll have to take him out the back. He's already made the elevator," the guard stated.
"Thanks Matt," the man stated. "Until I get back, the team is yours."
"Thank you sir," the guard answered with a nod. "We'll be waiting for your signal."
"Copy and out," the man stated as he started wheeling Kenny down the hall.
The next two minutes were a blur of misery as Kenny fought the waves of nausea as he was rushed through the hallways. The man was fighting to keep out of the way of the corporate security detail's scrutiny.
Kenny was fighting to control his rebelling system. By the time they stopped, Kenny had lost the battle.
Surprisingly the man placed a comforting hand on his shoulders as he retched. "Sorry about that," he stated. "Believe me, we have to do this, if they got hold of you, they'd think nothing of reading you completely. drugs, mind scan, the works. They'll sacrifice anybody if it means a chance to get a hold of Briar."
Kenny tried to nod, but ended up leaning over the trash can again.
Finagle held onto Kenny as his body dealt with the after effects of the medicine.
"Look, it's me they're after," Kenny gasped as he realized that the man was facing as much if not more danger by helping him run from the security detail.
"Too late to worry about me," the man told him. "It was just a matter of time anyway. I've been on the corps' hit list for quite some time."
Kenny looked at him and shook his head, then gasped as another wave of nausea hit.
"Most of this should wear off in a few minutes," Finagle told him. "Just try not to move too much till then."
"Thanks for the advice," Kenny groaned.
Finagle snorted. "Yeah, a little late I know... Hang in there."
As he looked around, Finagle realized that it was time for him to do some reconnaissance. "We need to know what we're up against," he told Kenny. "I know you aren't in too much shape to watch over me, but do the best you can will ya?"
Kenny started to nod and thought the better of it. "I'll do what I can," he promised.
"That's all I can ask," Finagle told him. "Hopefully I'll be able to find Reiger and your brothers."
With that he sat on the floor and crossed his legs. As his breathing slowed, he stretched his senses outward trying locate Reiger and the others.
He stiffened as he felt the powers converging on the hospital. There was no way he was going to be able to hide Kenny from that many prying eyes, he'd have a hard enough time just hiding himself. They had to move, and quickly.
As he stretched out his senses, he recognized the common feel to the powers. It was feel he had learned to associate with the Briar. Already there were two such presences in the hospital. Soon, he knew, there would be more. He had to find the van and soon.
Scanning the hospital he found the local sources. The first was in one of the operating rooms, on the third floor. He felt the second in the waiting room on the same floor but that signature all but it vanished before he'd had a chance to identify it.
As he stretched his senses to their limit, he could feel other such signatures. At first it felt as if they were converging on the hospital, but he could feel their direction shifting. He traced down one of them then followed its general path. Once he had an idea of where it was heading, he skipped ahead, trying to find their target. His pulse rate increased as he found their target. It was van he'd been looking for.
Inside it were Reiger, Kenny's brothers and a fourth man whose power radiated like a beacon. As he scanned the van, Finagle realized that he was the target of Briar's forces. Even semi-conscious, there was no missing the man's power.
In a sudden flash he saw not only Briar's forces, but what they would do to the stranger once they caught up with him. He posed a threat to the Briar as long as he was alive, enough of a threat that Briar was expending a great deal of energy in his capture.
They would capture him if they could. Finagle somehow knew that if they succeeded in turning him, nothing would be able to stop the Briar. His power alone would be enough to free Briar from the forces that held him back. Finagle shuddered as he realized the implication. Briar wasn't even at full strength yet. His thoughts turned back to the man inside the van as he realized that if they couldn't turn him, Briar's men would slaughter him and anybody that was with him, as a matter of principal.
He had to warn them. He tried to reach out to Reiger, but there was no connection. In frustration he sent a general warning to the van, hoping someone would feel it.
There was nothing else he could do. Realizing this, Finagle drew his consciousness back to his own body.
He shook his head as he came out of the trance. Things were worse than he'd thought: a lot worse.
Max was feeling more like himself as he strode down the corridors of the hospital. He was in command of security now. Just let them try to stop him! He knew his backers had stuck their necks out by recommending him for the job, but they knew that he was the one who could handle the job at hand.
At least his experience with Briar had put him in good stead with the company. If it hadn't he had no doubts that he would be the one cooling his heals at the base instead of Masters.
The matter of Duck, Tracker and that turncoat Allison would have to wait for now. The company had too many assets on the line, and Briar had to be recovered. That was what had brought him to the hospital: two patients, one in emergency surgery, the other in a private room under police custody.
Two men with one thing in common: they'd been marked as Briar's. The first was a former Recon man, the other a combat medic. Both were magically active and just the sort Briar wanted.
He posted guards outside of surgery where the first man was, then headed towards the other man's room. He figured he had just enough time to 'debrief' the man before he'd use him to capture Briar. As he strode down the hallway, his second in command began reading the man's profile they'd retrieved from the police over their secure-comm.
"Name: Kenneth Wilson. Age: approx. 28. Former Medic, 58th infantry. Trained Norfolk school of med on a hermetic scholarship. Wanted for questioning in police related shooting. Black roses were involved," the man droned on as he closed in on the man's room.
The police shooting would give him the leverage he needed. The police wouldn't care what he did with him and that would pretty much give him carte blanc. He smiled as he showed his badge to the police officer at the door.
The officer shook his head and pointed down the hall. "I'm sorry sir, you'll have to talk to go to the command post. I can't let you in without my superior officer's approval."
Max sneered at the man. "This is not your jurisdiction. Now move."
The guard continued to block his path. "I'm sorry sir, but until I hear from my people, this is still our case. As such, I cannot allow you past this point until I have talked to my superior officer."
"Fuck with me and you'll never work in this town again," Max growled at the man. He was not used to having his orders ignored.
"Yes sir that may be the case. But I know I'd loose my job if I let some two bit private sector security drone bully me out of my assigned station," the officer answered calmly. "Now, if you will step aside sir I have a job to do."
Max glowered at the man as he activated his secure link back to Aerocom. "This is an internal matter, to be handled by Aerocom security."
"Until I hear it from my superior officers, I can only assume that you are exceeding your authority," the officer replied. "Now. If you want to get into this room, you will follow proper procedures, or I will be forced to respond according to the rules and regulations as established by the force."
"I'll see to it that you're directing traffic," Max yelled as he turned on his heels.
"You do that, sir." The officer, Matt, answered in the same even tone he'd used throughout the conversation.
"Don't think I won't," Max added as he turned and glared at the officer.
With that he headed down the hall to the room the officer had indicated. As he entered the room he began chewing out the first person he saw. Then he proceeded to endear himself to Central's chain of command as he worked his way through them, one man at a time.
The officer guarding the door on the other hand sent a quick sub-vocal message to both Finagle and the watch commander. "Man's here, wants in."
Finagle shook his head as he received the message. "We got to move," he told Kenny as he forced himself off the floor. He looked at Kenny and shook his head apologetically. "Look, up until I met you, I thought I knew everything that was going on, but I don't. I need to fill you in on what I know just in case, and I don't know any other way than to repeat what I did before.
"What's happening?" Kenny prompted.
"The folks who've been leaving you the roses, they call themselves "the Briar." They're bad news all the way around. We've tracked them as much as we can, but every time we get close we run afoul of Aerocom. They claim it's an internal matter."
"Aerocom," Kenny asked warily as he recognized the name.
"You know them?" Finagle asked urgently.
"Not personally, a friend's had some run-ins with them."
Finagle nodded. "We'll you're about to have something in common with your friend, chief of security is here, demanding to see you."
Kenny shook his head. "Terrific," he grumbled.
"You don't know the half of it," Finagle sighed as he locked eyes with Kenny. "Look, the way things have been going, you're going to need a score card to get through most of this. The only chance you and your brothers have is knowing everything we do..." he trailed off when he saw the expression in Kenny's eyes.
Finagle waited as Kenny thought about what he'd said. Going into anybody's mind was serious business even under the best of circumstances. He had a feeling that a lot of Kenny's apparent illness was related to the probe as much as everything else the man had been through. He was asking a lot. But again, there was no other way.
Kenny for his part thought about it and kept coming back to the same conclusions. Do it." he urged. "I'm tired of being in the dark."
Finagle nodded. "Tell me when you're ready."
Kenny took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He had almost recovered from the original scan, and now Finagle was asking him to submit himself to it for a second time. "Let's get this over with," he managed to state.
Finagle looked at him and nodded. "I wish there were another way," he stated as he moved in.
"Boom," Rabbit called worriedly from the driver's seat. "We've got multiple sources homing in on our location."
Boomer looked at Rabbit and scowled. "Run a trace and burn routine," he suggested.
"Already done, plus an internal incase somebody planted something on one of us. We got nothing. What ever they're using it ain't tech."
"Magic?" Boomer asked in disbelief as he looked around.
"Feels like," Rabbit answered as he mulled over the idea for a minute. "Kinda makes me wish Kenny were here."
Boomer nodded then looked at Ian. "What about your friend?"
Rabbit thought about it then winced. "He's got the magic, but..." Rabbit stopped as he looked around. "Damn. It's him. They're tracing him."
"Why?" Boomer asked.
"There's something about him," Rabbit answered. "I don't think he even understands it. And I know they want him. They were following me since the hotel, but when he showed up, they forgot all about me. I followed their hunter to him."
"Great," Boomer swore. "We take him in we lead them straight to Kenny. And there's no way we're going to be able to protect them both. Not at this rate."
"Want more bad news?" Reiger asked as the message came across his comm-system. "Corp's taking over. We've got to get Kenny out of there before they get a hold of him."
"It just keeps getting better," Boomer sighed. "What are the chances of getting them to turn Kenny over to us?"
"Not bloody likely," Reiger assured him.
"Hasn't he been through enough?" Boomer asked as he stared at Reiger pointedly.
"Boom," Reiger growled. "This ain't the time. I told you we did what we had to, but yeah, the corp's just as likely to burn him out before they use him to get to Briar. He's just one more loose end to them. They get him, all bets are off. We can't let that happen."
"You're right," Boomer reluctantly agreed. "Rabbit, you drop us off, take your friend over to the Rabbi's. Any body can protect him, it's his folks."
Rabbit nodded. "Be careful," he told them. "There's something very wrong at the hospital."
Boomer nodded. "Nothing new there," he sighed.
Kenny felt the waves of nausea increase as Finagle's mind once again merged with his. This time however, instead of reading his mind, Finagle had opened up his own, feeding him everything he knew about Briar.
Pain ripped at his mind as the knowledge was transferred. He could tell Finagle was struggling to slow the flow of information. He could tell that anything more intense would probably kill them both. He barely had time to process what he'd received before the next wave of information ripped through him like a knife.
He saw it with cold clarity. Briar was more than corp knew, more than even his companion, Finagle, had realized, and it was growing. Its wrongness screamed at him as he tried to absorb everything. It swept through him until all he could feel was the pain.
Even as he fought to control his own pain, he could feel the pain inside the other man's mind. The information was feeding back on them now, and Finagle was having a harder time controlling it. Kenny forced himself to endure the pain and draw more of the information inside him. He could feel the urgency as Finagle lost control of the flow. There was no more time: Finagle was at his limits.
Kenny broke the contact, half supporting the man as he fought to keep his footing. "Now, you understand," Finagle gasped.
Kenny nodded. Images of men, of death and fire filled his mind. He could see the darkness that wound around this city, and several others. He could feel the age behind what Finagle had shown him. Briar was far older than he had thought possible.
Then he saw the images that the other man had seen. One thought went through his mind. 'If we don't end this, it's only going to get worse'
Finagle nodded. 'The big question is 'how?'
Reiger hit the ground running as he and Boomer bailed out of the van. Once they cleared the rear fender, Rabbit pulled away, hopefully taking Ian to safety.
Boomer waited until his brother had cleared the area before he led Reiger to the safety of the shadows then stopped.
"Boom, let me lead on this," he urged. "These corp types see you they're going to grab you before we have a chance to say boo."
Boomer looked at Reiger and nodded. "You better not cross me on this," he growled.
"Boom," Reiger countered as he met Boomer's gaze. "Have I ever crossed you?"
Boomer thought about it for a minute and shook his head. "I'm sorry I've just seen what happens to people who get 'read.'"
"Kenny was hurt, we had to keep things from getting worse, there's only so many ways I can apologize. If there'd been any other choice, don't you think I'd take it? And if I'd known about the roses..."
Boomer glared at Reiger again as they neared the hospital. "What do you know about them?"
"They mean you're into something a lot deeper and nastier than you can imagine. And if we don't get Kenny out of there now, he's liable to be the next victim. And what they would put him through..."
"So what's the plan?"
"We've got the corp people tied up in red-tape, but that's not going to last long. Finagle's already gotten your brother out of the room, but as soon as Aerocom talks to our bosses, they'll have access to the room. Once they know your brother's AWOL and Finagle's with him... they're going to be swarming the building, which means we've got to get them out before that happens.."
Boomer thought about what Reiger had told him. If Aerocom was involved, things were going to be very interesting indeed. He felt a slight chill when he realized that the corp may have been involved in Duck and Tracker's disappearance. "What do you know about the Corp people involved?"
"From what I've heard the guy running the show is young and hungry. Man's got something to prove."
"How'd he run it?"
Reiger thought about it for a minute then gave Boomer a look of disgust. "If he has Kenny, he'll probably leave him all but gift wrapped for Briar, the black rose people. If you get away, he'll probably re-institute the APB on all three of you, bury the evidence before anybody know's what's what. Then he'll let the police wear you down, do his dirty work, in the end, he'll have you."
"Then after we get Kenny out, it's up to you to get those forensics reports and keep them safe. We'll deal with the rest as it comes but we have to get to this Briar before to Corp does."
Reiger nodded. "I'm really sorry 'bout this Boomer."
"Me too Sam," Boomer replied as he knocked Reiger out with a sucker punch then took his comm-unit. "Me too."
"Rabbit?" Ian called softly as the van slowed.
"Take it easy," he answered as he concentrated on the road. "They're still looking for you, but we aren't going where they figured we would."
"What about your brother?"
"Don't worry about him. Right now we need to get you someplace safe. Just take it easy, you've been through a lot."
"No," Ian objected. "They'll take you too."
Rabbit shook his head. "They'll have to catch us first," he assured Ian. "Trust me, where we're going, they aren't going to be able to find you."
"There is no such place," Ian countered. He'd seen the enemy now, there was no escaping Rahalleth. "You cannot hide from them."
"No, but we can go where his people can't," Rabbit told him. "We'll be safe enough where we're going. It'll give us a chance to regroup."
"Where?" Ian asked, afraid to hope that Rabbit was right.
"Someplace out of his reach," Rabbit assured him. "Well out of his reach."
Boomer looked around as he tried to get his bearings. If the corp handled things the way Reiger figured, he'd have to assume that the hospital security detail had been alerted. He found himself wishing Sam was with him as he slipped into the laundry room and pulled out a set of surgical scrubs and put them on. He realized that it would make getting Kenny out easier, but, providing they did escape, they still needed somebody on the inside.
Being unconscious while his prisoners escaped seemed like a pretty good alibi to Boomer. He adjusted Reiger's comm-unit then put it to his ear. Most of the sounds he was getting were normal chatter.
'Great,' Boomer thought to himself. 'Should have asked Sam for the frequencies.'
He slipped out of the laundry room and started heading towards the elevators. Then he heard the transmission.
"Commissioner's due back from dinner in five, I repeat, five minutes."
Boomer shook his head as he realized the significance of the message. He had less then five minutes to find Kenny and Finagle and get them out of the hospital. He also realized it was going to be close as he headed down the hall and towards the elevator.
As the elevator doors opened, Boomer discovered that things were going to be even closer than he'd originally thought: a seven man security team was waiting for him inside the elevator.
"I thought you might be stopping by to see your brother," the leader of the team stated as he signaled Boomer to raise his hands. As the man shoved him into the back wall of the elevator, Boomer let out an agonized scream as he grabbed his ears and fell to his knees.
"What the..." the man managed to gasp before Boomer brought a flash-bang into play. The man's surprise was short lived as Boomer threw him into the other guards. Amidst the noise and confusion, he saw Boomer wrest a stun baton from one of his men. The whole incident took less than a minute, and only one of his men managed to even try and get off a shot. He saw them fall in quick succession before Boomer turned the baton on him.
"Bet you didn't expect that," Boomer told the unconscious man as he rifled through his pockets. He pocked the man's ID and stripped the guards of their weapons. He had a feeling he was going to be needing them very soon.
"Gentlemen," Boomer stated as he pressed the door button and stepped out of the elevator. As the doors closed behind him, Boomer was trying to figure out his next move.
Finagle shook his head as the message came across the wire. "We've got five minutes," he informed Kenny.
Kenny nodded as he slowly looked around the room. Most of the nausea had gone, but there were sill traces. "So did you have a plan?"
Finagle snorted. "Yeah, but it kind of involved having some kind of backup."
"I was afraid you were going to say that," Kenny grumbled then let out a slow breath. "Okay. Hospital... Guards check people coming and going right?" he waited for Finagle's nod. "That means we're going to need a gurney."
"What do you have in mind?" Finagle asked worriedly.
"They're going to be checking everybody they see right? Especially people trying to leave the building."
Finagle nodded, still not quite following Kenny's reasoning.
"Okay, they're a lot less likely to check a body bag on its way to the morgue. Person's not going anywhere, and fortunately people are still a bit superstitious when it comes to dead bodies."
"Fine." Finagle countered, "but once we get there, then what?"
Kenny smiled at him and shrugged, "At least we won't be here..."
"Look, the way things have been going the last 24 hours, we're probably going to end up there anyway it just doesn't make sense to push it."
Kenny looked at him and shrugged. "The morgue is designed to keep unauthorized people out. There's usually very little done about keeping people in. At least there wasn't until ghouls started showing up..." Kenny stopped as he realized, it may not be all that good an idea. "Guess I should stick to being a doc. Tactics were never my strong suit."
Finagle shrugged. "It has merit, but we've got members of the Briar to contend with, and they will search everywhere especially if they have your signature."
Kenny nodded. He'd forgotten about the Briar. "So, all we have to do is avoid the Corp Security detail, the hospital security, the police and Briar's men..."
Finagle nodded. "And preferably, not get anybody hurt."
Kenny thought for a moment then nodded. "Diversion?"
"Well, that's what I was hoping Reiger and your brothers could provide," Finagle answered with a nod.