Kenny pulled up short as Mercury signaled a halt. The steam tunnel narrowed up ahead and there was no way they were going to fit the hamper with Boomer in it through the passageway.
"Any sign of Aerocom?" he asked softly.
"Can't feel anything," Mercury answered. "But that doesn't really mean much. Why?"
"I'm going to have to try and heal him," Kenny answered as he looked at Boomer. "We can't go on like this and if I don't do something soon, it'll be twice as hard."
Mercury nodded and signaled Finagle to watch their backs. "You take care of business," he told Kenny.
Kenny nodded as he dedicated the area to serpent. It wasn't something he normally did, but with all the forces out there looking for them, it didn't make sense to advertise. By performing the small ceremony, his energies would be absorbed by the area. It would benefit them all in the long run.
'The long run,' the phrase ran through his mind. This was the long run, any doubt he'd had about the power involved died in the operating room. Anything questions about what was at stake were laid out in front of him: Boomer. The doc could have easily killed him. Even now he could feel the force the man had turned on his brother.
His brothers: Boomer, Rabbit, and Geffen. He allowed himself to think the name, added like a prayer. 'Watch over my family and see them through this safely,' he prayed.
Your family is great, you must believe...
'Serpent,' Kenny thought. 'Father.'
And mother. All things. There is not much time here. Proceed child.
Kenny nodded. As he drew the power to him he felt the acceptance that flowed from the area. Slowly he began the dance in his mind as the power wove its way around him.
Boomer lay in front of him. So frail, he could barely believe that this was indeed his brother. His spirit was weak, drained by the attack. His heart beat fiercely, but Kenny knew that it was sheer stubbornness that kept it going. He could almost hear Boomer's voice.
'What's a matter Brah,' the phrase ran through his mind.
Kenny banished everything from his mind. The only thing that mattered right here and now was his brother. He wrapped the power around him, weaving it around Boomer's spirit, as the power had woven itself around him. It flexed and coiled, cocooning him away from the things that had hurt him.
He called and Serpent answered. The power pulsed between them, in an array of color and light. He'd never felt it so strongly. The power had always been there, but he had been unable to reach all but a small part. As he watched, he saw the darkness.
At first he thought it was more damage, but then he realized, it had managed to taint Boomer's spirit. The malignancy of Briar's power was there, laying in wait. He realized he would have to check Mercury out as well, once he took care of this one.
'Damn it,' Kenny swore to himself as he drew a sliver of the power to himself and formed it. The shape swirled as he bent it to his will. He felt the power sing within him as he drew it forth from the river of power: a sword with which to destroy the abomination.
It fought with the blind ferociousness of an animal. He could hear Boomer's scream as it tried to bury itself deeper in his mind, but Kenny wouldn't give it the chance to hide. He felt Boomer's spirit as it clung fiercely to the power he'd wrapped around it. He was trying to make it easier on Kenny, protecting him even as Kenny fought to him. How like Boomer.
Kenny drew the strength he needed from that. He would not let Boomer down. He would not let Briar win. He thrust the sword through the darkness and it shattered around him in a thousand shards of broken glass.
"Kenny...Ken?" he hear a voice call.
He looked around. Boomer was kneeling beside him, watching him worriedly.
"Boom?" he asked groggily.
Boomer rewarded him with at lopsided smile. "Yeah brah, it's me."
Kenny nodded. He could see the pain in Boomer's eyes, but he also saw the knowledge there. It had to be done. "Sorry brah," he croaked, mimicking Boomer's greeting. It was a mere shadow of what he felt.
"No worries," Boomer told him. It was the same reassurance he'd given his brother when he first joined the Wilson household and would wake up screaming. Boomer was always there watching over him. Protecting him from whatever nightmares stalked him.
Kenny nodded and gave a half smile before he passed out.
Mercury looked back when he heard Boomer speak. It was a voice he hadn't heard. As he identified the speaker, he swore to himself as Kenny slumped forward.
"Great," he grumbled. "We've just traded one unconscious man for another."
Boomer rewarded him with a shrug. "He's lighter than I am," he offered before turning to Finagle. "What did I miss?"
"Bad mojo, a slide through the laundry chute, running from the police..." Finagle stated with a shrug. "You know, the usual."
Boomer looked at him for a minute and stiffened. "How would you know what the usual entails?"
"I've read your jacket," Finagle offered.
"That all you read?" Boomer asked as he looked down at Kenny.
"I read him," Finagle admitted without flinching, "had too to save his life."
Mercury watched as Boomer tried to get his bearings. The man was still not all that stable and probably not much use in a fight right now.
"What's the score?" Boomer asked as he pushed himself up.
"Doc's dead. He did a serious number on you before hand," Finagle told him. "We rescued Mercury over there," he added as he nodded towards the sniper. "Aerocom took over the investigation, my team's been benched, no word from Reiger. We're out of the hospital, but in the steam tunnels. Oh, and they have mages scanning for us."
As Boomer took it all in, Finagle looked over at Mercury. "I leave anything out?"
"Not really," Mercury answered then grinned evilly. "Except that we've got company coming."
He watched as Boomer shook his head and reached for his coat. Instead of checking the weapon he pulled out, he stared at the handle for a minute and swore to himself. "Tracers on the guns. Check your weapons," he growled as he pulled out another brace of pistols.
Mercury looked at his guns and shook his head, "mine are clean."
"Here too," Finagle answered as he checked his gun.
"Damn Security Doorknob," Boomer swore as he looked around the tunnel and then back at the pistol. "You're on point," Boomer stated questioningly. "Which way they coming?"
Mercury nodded as he held up his hand. 'Ahead,' he signaled.
Boomer nodded then looked around. "How far back to the hospital?"
"Excuse me Mr Wilson," Finagle countered. "Are you daft? We just escaped from the hospital."
Boomer just looked at him and smiled.
Mercury shook his head as he stifled a laugh as he headed back towards the others. He took the hamper and pushed it as far as he could then put a hand on Boomer's shoulders. "I like the way you think," he stated as patted Boomer's shoulder
Then he moved past Finagle, effectively taking the point again.
Boomer tossed the offending gun into the hamper then eased Kenny into a fireman's carry. "You coming?" he asked Finagle as he headed back down the tunnel.
'Why do I bother?' Finagle wondered to himself.
Maximilian Von Hicks was not a happy man. He'd had two of Briar's targets in his hands, and a third had all but delivered himself to his security detail. But that one man, Wayne Wilson, had turned the tables on him.
Worse, Finagle, one of the Star's mages had turned on him. Together with Wayne's brother Kenny, the three of them had freed the man in surgery. At least he had them on murder charges now. No need to frame them, they'd already done that work for him at least.
A smile played across his lips as he thought back to Duck and Tracker. They were guilty of murder as well. He'd seen it with his own two eyes. They'd pay for that, they'd pay for humiliating him. But right now they'd have to wait their turn. He had bigger fish to fry.
The Wilson's would be made to pay for their crimes, this he swore. He'd use them to get Briar. A smile played across his lips. He'd make sure he would be too late to save them. If he played it right, Briar would take care of everything for him. And what Briar didn't handle, he'd let the star take care of.
"Jerry," he called into his radio. "Give me known associates of Wayne and Kenneth Wilson."
"Yes sir," the voice responded.
"I'll hit them where it hurts," he swore as he checked the tracking unit he held in his hands. Twice now his gun had proven more useful once it was confiscated. They'd made it out of the hospital, but his men were closing in on them.
"Sir," one of his mages called. "We've found something."
"What?" he asked sourly. The mages had been even more useless than his security detail.
"Looks like Captain Reiger," the mage answered. "Somebody clocked him but good."
"Patch him up then bring him to my command center," he stated regally. "I'll need a statement from him."
At least he wasn't the only one the Wilsons had made a fool of.
Reiger groaned as he felt the throbbing in his skull.
"Easy," a voice urged. "You had a pretty nasty concussion."
"Had?" he asked groggily.
"Had," the voice assured him. "Do you remember what happened?"
"Wilson," he swore.
"I'm afraid they escaped," the voice informed him. "When you're ready, our boss will need to talk to you."
Reiger nodded. 'Good going Boomer,' he thought to himself as he thought of ways of paying Boomer back. One thing was certain though it wasn't going to be by turning him over to Aerocom.
"Tell him to take a number," Reiger growled. "I've got a couple of felon's to apprehend."
"Sir, do you really think that's wise?" the voice asked.
"Wise, hell no," Reiger stated as he pushed himself up and looked at his 'healer'. "But I've got a job to do, and security drones just get in the way."
He saw the hint of a smile play across the mage's face. "I will have to tell him I tried to stop you," the man informed him.
"Of course," Reiger answered. "And thanks."
"No charge," the mage assured him. "Just get that bastard thing before we do," he added quietly. "Nobody will be safe unless you and your friends stop it."
Reiger looked at him in surprise then nodded. There was hope for the world yet.
Finagle shook his head as they regrouped in the laundry room. At least the trip back had been uneventful. Boomer let out a deep breath as he eased Kenny back to the ground.
"I better check the area," Finagle stated with a sigh. "Mercury, you sense anything?"
"Nothing," he answered. "I think they're looking elsewhere."
Finagle nodded as his consciousness shifted to the astral.
As his consciousness shifted he saw the others gathered round waiting, watching. He could feel their tension. Then he began his inspection of the floors above. He was relieved to find no trace of the evil that was Briar. That danger had passed at least.
He could still sense the security team from Aerocom, but their concentration was directed elsewhere. That was enough for now.
As his senses returned, Boomer offered him a hand up.
"From the looks of things," he stated. "We're clear."
Boomer smiled then looked back at Kenny. "Problem is going to be getting him out of here."
Finagle nodded. They were almost right back where they'd started.
"No worries," Mercury stated as he pulled up another hamper. "We just take him out with the laundry."
Boomer nodded. Mercury held the hamper as he picked Kenny up and deposited him in it.
"Let's go," he urged as they headed for the loading dock.
Boomer tensed as he surveyed the area outside the hospital. He couldn't shake the feeling that someone or something was watching him. He signaled the others to watch Kenny as he slipped into the shadows.
He found himself wishing Eclipse were here. He had a knack for slipping in and out unnoticed and he needed that right now. He moved further away from the others then stiffened as he heard a stick break behind him.
He wheeled around to see Sam lighting a cigarette. He was leaning up against the building casually, but Boomer knew he'd been waiting for him.
"Sam," he said as he walked up to his old friend.
"Figured you'd be back," Sam stated. "I got the evidence you wanted."
"Thanks," Boomer answered apologetically. "How'd you know we'd be coming out this way?"
"Stood to reason," Reiger answered. "Especially after what you pulled over at the impound lot. Glad you got away."
"Kenny's out of it," Boomer told him.
"Figured," Reiger answered. "Figure you'll need this too," he stated as he handed Boomer a set of keys. "Take care of it," he added. "My wife'll kill me if anything happens to her car."
"Aren't you divorced?" Boomer asked as he took the keys.
"Good point," Reiger answered. "Take care of yourselves."
"Thanks," Boomer answered. "We'll be in touch."
"You better," Sam answered. "You better."
With that, they went their separate ways.
Rabbit was getting tired of all the secrecy and games. He knew the Rabbi liked his sanctuary, but this was getting ridiculous. They'd been forced to change vehicles three times, walk four blocks through an alleyway, only to end up back in the van heading out of the city.
When they reached a turn around, the vehicle he was following flashed its headlights once. Rabbit shook his head as he took the turn around and headed back into the city.
"What are they doing?" Ian asked as they reached the city limits for the third time.
"I think they're trying to see how long we put up with this before we just drive off and find him on our own," Rabbit answered as he stopped at a stoplight. As he waited, a man staggered along the crosswalk. When he reached the van, the man slammed his fist on the hood and glowered at Rabbit.
"Look where you're going!" He swore.
Rabbit tensed as the man rushed to his door and pulled it open. Then he recognized the man. "Rabbi?" he asked softly in disbelief.
"One and the same," the man answered with a smile. "Now move over and let an old man drive!"
As Rabbit obliged the old man smiled confidently at Ian. "So you're the one that has the city in an uproar. 'Bout time you got here."
Ian looked at the man and smiled. He could tell that the man was of the song. For the first time since he'd arrived in the city he felt somehow protected. As he thought about it, a sudden flash came to him. The man had been born outside the song, yet he had accepted its way, more importantly, it had accepted him.
"You aren't quite safe yet," the man told him. "But you will be shortly."
Ian nodded as the man drove into the older section of the city. As they drove, Ian tried to get a fix on where they were in relation to where the night's journey had started. When the man pulled up in front of an old style church he realized they were four blocks from where he'd parked his car when he went to play in the park.
"Sorry I wasn't there," the man told Ian. "I'd like to have heard it. This is it though," he added as he nodded to the church. "Inside, you'll be able to play to your heart's content."
Ian didn't understand it all, but as he stepped out of the van, he felt the protection from the building stretching out to welcome them.
"You will be safe here," the man told him. "It's power is not yet strong enough to breach the barriers here."
Ian looked at him questioningly.
"The prayers of the faithful have been made here for over 200 years," the man told him with a smile. "That is what will protect us until we have learned how to fight this demon."
Rabbit turned and stared at him for a minute.
"Yes Derrick," the man stated as he locked eyes with Rabbit. "You heard me right. The man you face is no man, but a demon. He has gotten a foothold here in our world, and his minions are working towards freeing him. Even they do not understand his fullness, or they would run in terror. For now, all they see is the power, the have not stopped to count the cost."
Rabbit looked back at the door. His family was on the other side of it, left to fight this thing.
"They are safe for now," the man told him. "And you will join them soon enough. Until then lad, rest here in safety. The young singer and I have much to discuss."
Rabbit allowed the Rabbi to guide them to the sacristy. "There is a bed in there," he urged Derrick. "I will talk to you once I have seen to your friend."
Rabbit nodded and went resignedly into the room the Rabbi had indicated. It never paid to argue with the man: he always won anyway.
"Whisper?" Duck called softly as she checked his pulse and breathing. "Whisper darling, I know you're in there somewhere."
Whisper groaned softly then complained. "I left strict instructions that I was not to be disturbed until at least 2:00."
"Sorry Babe, it is 2:00."
"Gods woman, I meant in the P.M." he grumbled as he sat up.
"Well, you know how service is here in the boonies. You take what you can get." Duck said softly. "Ange brought us some food. Figured you might want some while it's still warm."
Whisper nodded carefully and took the cup Duck offered. "What it is?" he asked warily.
Duck shrugged and let out a soft snort. "Don't ask. Just drink and be glad it's warm."
"Oh," Whisper answered as he carefully took a sip.
Once he'd finished the soup Duck helped him into a more comfortable position. "You just take it easy hon," she told him.
"Yes mom," he answered before falling back into an exhausted sleep.
She scanned the area but things had been still for the last two hours. She looked over at the other occupant of the bus and swallowed. Ange had sent a detail to bring Candide there, but there was nothing anybody could do. Physically she was fine, but there was nothing inside her.
"Duck?" Tracker called from the front of the bus.
"Hey," Duck called back.
"Switch," he told her.
"Sure, wait till I've fed him and put him down for his nap," she groused, but her heart wasn't in it. She pushed herself off the seat and headed towards the exit.
"Very funny," Tracker countered. She could hear it in his voice: it was one thing when you were in a battle situation and it was your job, quite another when most of the combatants and casualties were civilians. She placed a hand on his shoulder and nodded. "Go," he urged.
Duck nodded. "Try to get some sleep," she told him.
"I'll spell you in two," Tracker promised.
"It's going to take you two hours to spell 'you'?" Duck asked with a half grin. "Sheesh, you must be tired."
Tracker looked at her and let out an exaggerated sigh.
MindBender shuddered as the reports came in. The singer had all but disappeared. His men had followed the signal Briar had given him, but it was as if the man had disbursed himself across the city. There was no true signal to lock in on: it was as if he was everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
He knew that Briar would be angry. For the first time since he had begun serving Briar, MindBener felt dread. He had failed in his mission, yet it wasn't his fault. He looked at his prisoner, Fen and smiled.
'Perhaps a little more time inside your mind will cheer me up,' he thought to himself. 'Soon you will serve the master and bring us your little brother, but until then...' the thought drifted from his mind as he felt another presence in the room.
The voice filled his thoughts till there was nothing else.
"He is gone master," he gasped. "We can find no sign of him."
It does not matter. He will come to us soon enough.
MindBender felt the serenity in his master's voice. All was still well.
Is this one ready to serve us?
MindBender nodded. "I believe so master, but after the girl, I thought it wise to verify the control."
Very well. Enjoy yourself. I will have another mission for you soon enough.
MindBender smiled. "Anything to serve you," he answered as he felt Briar's thoughts. Soon he would have a new mind to twist to the master's bidding.
Soon, when I am done studying the ones you call deckers, you will take the woman. You will turn her to our way of thinking.
"How my lord? The decker is strong and resourceful."
None the less according to our information, she is a criminal, one they call a Blackmailer. It will be easier to turn one such as she. Easier than the crusader that travels with her. He is dangerous and willful. She would have been ours long before if not for him.
"As you command," MindBender answered. He knew it would not be that easy. The woman, Wjowski, was stubborn.
She will come around, but before she does, you will destroy that which gives her strength. She will not last without the ones she calls her family, especially the crusader. Yes, the crusader, and the one who holds her heart. With them gone, she will already be defeated.
MindBender bowed to Briar's wisdom. Breaking Wjowski would provide a challenge. He knew he would not be able to dominate her mind as he usually did. Her mind must remain whole if she is to serve the Briar as his decker. It would be trickier and the losses would have to be real, but her pain would be that much sweeter.
I reward those who serve me. You will punish those who do not.
Once again, MindBender's heart was filled with joy. He looked at Fen and smiled. "Soon you will go into the world and do our master's work," he told him. "But in the meantime, lets see what secrets dwell in you mind. Wait I forgot, you don't have any secrets from me, do you Fen?"
There was nothing left inside the man to cringe at the thought. MindBender had taken everything. Fen stood in silence as MindBender walked through his mind, the mind he'd re-created. It was a twisted mockery of who he once was, but Fen no longer cared. The pain was something to be endured, a condition of his life; something that had always been there.