Wulf looked at his friends as he weighed their options.
Meri had been able to narrow down the source of the S.O.S., to a small area on the South side, but it was not their prime concern. They had to find and stop MindBender, not get sidetracked by some rescue mission that probably wasn't even necessary. The military tended to take care of their own. The only problem was, every time he tried to dismiss the signal, something inside wouldn't let him. Sable had given them the original source of Briar's power, and a warning as to what they were really facing. They had to keep him from finding a new host.
Jade and Gris had reviewed the spells Meri had pulled from Aerocom's database. There was some information on the summoning spell, but the prime spell they were working on was the one Sable had given him. It was the Banishing spell he hoped they could use on Briar once they got a hold of him.
Currently, stopping MindBender was still his prime concern. Without his recruiter, Briar's progress would be halted until he could find another to take his place. But, according to Sable, Briar was looking for a new host body for his power, an additional host to double his power. They had to move fast.
As he weighed his options, there was only one way he could go. Looking at Gris he nodded. "See if you can get a fix on MindBender."
Gris nodded reluctantly, and then handed a tranq gun to Jade. "Anyting 'appen wit me, you shoot, you hear?"
"I hear you," she promised. "Just be careful."
"Thanks," he answered, then reached out.
Gris drifted between worlds as he tried to get a fix on MindBender. As he entered the astral plane, his body and the madness left him. He could still feel the impulses from this body, but it was easier for him to see what was real and what was illusion.
Suddenly he felt emotions he had never associated with MindBender. He felt them as if they were his own, and the feelings made him feel somehow unclean.
Frustration; desire; satisfaction, the emotions flowed around him, but they were the darker aspects of each emotion. Frustration turning to an abusive rage, desire overriding everything until all he could feel is the need to control the latest focus of his attention and finally a sense of satisfaction in knowing that his work satisfied his master's need.
As he tried to focus on the source of the emotions, he found them reflected around the city: reflected and amplified. Someone was sharing his feelings, something other than him: Briar. He felt its eyes upon him, felt the pain as its hatred burned through him.
Gris pushed himself away from the thoughts that tried to take hold of him. He fought his way back to his body and shuddered.
"It ain't no good boss," Gris groaned as he tried to separate himself from the thoughts he'd shared with MindBender. "He know I there... he show me what he do..."
"What's he doing Gris," Wulf urged gently. "Tell me what you saw."
Gris looked at Wulf and shook his head. "I no see nothin."
"You got to help her," Gris groaned as he forced himself to explain. "Bender, he gonna hurt the girl. He want her bad. Briar want her more. I tink dat de only reason she not his already. Briar, he want her skills, and MindBender he can't break her hard... got to do it slow. But dat change now. Now he play with her. It bad... and he enjoying 'isself."
Meri let out a slight gasp and shook her head. Her eyes said it all. 'No decker should have to suffer that....'
"Do whatever it takes," Wulf ordered. "We have to find him now. If we can't get to him, try getting inside his victim. If we can't save her from him physically, at least we'll at least put an end to this. Make it happen people."
He watched as they broke into groups. The techs would work their end. Jade and Gris would conduct the search their way. That left him and Ni to watch their backs.
Again he thought about the S.O.S. and again, he dismissed it.
Geoff looked up as Reiger strode towards them. As the man approached, Geoff nodded signaled towards Joey then looked at Gina.
Joey nodded, and moved over to take his brother's place as he stood. Gina took Joey's hand as Geoff met Reiger then guided him towards the far end of the waiting room.
"How are they holding up?" Reiger asked.
"There's nothing definite on Davy," Geoff answered. "Rico's got three cracked ribs and some serious burns. Tommy's slightly worse, with a fractured skull to boot. We'll all be better when we know about Davy. You?"
Reiger nodded. "Somebody tried to kill your brothers tonight."
"Tell me something I don't know," Geoff answered. His tone was cool, almost dispassionate, but Reiger knew better. He'd seen Geoff in action once, and once was all it took. Geoff was a master of controlling his emotions, but when the time came to act all that energy was released on the focus of his attention.
"I'm talking about Boomer, Rabbit and Kenny," Reiger answered, then added, "they got out," when he noticed the sudden intake of air.
Geoff nodded as he let his breath out in a controlled sigh.
"That I'm afraid is all the good news I have." Reiger told him evenly. "There's a Security Team on their way here to 'debrief' you on what's happened. Their Chief's name is Maximilian Von Hicks. Man is bad news all around. He's setting up Boomer and the others as pawns in an attempt to catch something known as Briar. I'll tell you more after he's gone."
"I understand," Geoff answered. Again his tone was controlled and even. "Where can I contact you?"
"I'll be down in the cafeteria," Reiger told him. "Don't let him push your buttons the man's an expert when it comes to that."
"I have no more buttons to push," Geoff answered. "If he gets in my way, he's going down."
Rainer wasn't sure he liked Geoff's expression, but he understood. The Wilsons were never ones to take something like this lying down. Hurting Rico was bad enough, adding Tommy to the mix guaranteed a fight, but with Davy in critical condition, there was no doubt that Geoff was not going to take anything from Max.
He wasn't sure exactly what Geoff would do, but he knew, he was very glad he wasn't Max.
As Geoff prepared for Max's arrival he noticed an old woman getting off the elevator. He stood as he felt her presence surrounding them. It was Gran TwoBears. Seven hours after the explosion and she had arrived with her own team to handle the situation.
"Geoff," she called softly as she rushed over to greet him. He noticed the respectful distance her 'companions', all TwoBears, kept as she took charge.
"Oh my poor dears," she added as she took Gina and Joey into her arms.
They stood there, all four of them bound by the shared grief. Geoff sensed the protective spell the old woman wove around them as she held them close. She was taking no more chances. As she pulled away, he knew that Gina and Joey had sensed it as well.
Gran merely smiled at them. "Something I should have done ages ago," she told them. "Now, what is being done about the investigation, and why have I not heard anything from Duck?" she asked as Joey led her back to the seats.
"You haven't heard from Duck?" Geoff asked worriedly. He knew her well enough to know that one of the first people Duck would have contacted was Gran. That she hadn't, meant that things were much worse than he'd originally thought.
Gran caught his worry and gave his knee a soft pat. "We will worry about that next, dear boy," she told him. "In the meantime, if you will allow us, my children will watch over your brothers, so that you may worry about those things that must be dealt with."
Geoff took a deep breath, as if he could breathe for the first time since he'd gotten the news of the explosion. "That would help immensely," he told her. "How much do you know about what's been going on?"
"Only what Bear has told me," the woman answered gently.
Geoff couldn't help but notice the wicked gleam in the woman's eyes. His heart skipped a beat when she mentioned speaking with Bear, but then he realized, she was talking about the spirit 'BEAR'. Gran would have called Bear by his given name, Daniel.
"I must warn you, we're up against some very tough customers," Geoff shook his head. "Including the acting chief of security for Aerocom who has taken control of the investigation."
"Dear boy, when your mother made our Daniel part of your family, did you not think we did the same for you in out hearts? You leave the bureaucrat to me dear, you just protect your family and stop this insanity before I lose another child."
Geoff smiled realizing that she included the Wilsons in that concern. "Thank you dear lady."
Gran patted his knee and smiled. "There are so few things a frail old woman can do, I am glad to do this for you dear boy."
"Frail and old, are two words that will never describe you grandmother," Geoff countered. "Thank you."
Maxwell Von Hicks rode the elevator to the third floor waiting room. It was his second visit to the hospital in less than 24 hours. He hoped this one would work out better. He knew he had to play this one carefully.
He cursed his support staff for not giving him the full details on Kenneth and Wayne Wilson. If he'd known how big and influential their family was, he might have tried something else. He realized it was too late to really do anything about that. Besides, according to all his information the Wilsons were intelligent people, and intelligent people knew that sometimes you had to sacrifice a few for the greater good.
He was totally unprepared for the reception he received. As he approached Geoff and Gina Wilson, Two Pueblo Force officers blindsided him.
"You will come with us," one of them stated as he pointed back towards the elevator.
"You are interfering with an official investigation," he growled as he tried to push his way through them.
Both men stood their ground and he was incapable of moving them. "You will come with us, and you will keep your tone civil," the second officer told him.
Looking up he saw their name tags for the first time. Both tags read 'TwoBears'.
"TwoBears?" Max asked in disbelief.
"Yes sir," the first Pueblo Force officer answered. "And you will come with us now."
Max started to protest, but to his surprise, each man merely took an arm and escorted him bodily back to the elevator.
Max grinned as his men made room for the two guards in the elevator.
"You were saying?" Max asked snidely as his men looked at the two officers flanking him.
"Push 'L'," the first TwoBears told the man standing closest to the elevator controls. Max felt his blood pressure rise as the man said nothing and did as he was told.
As the elevator car reached its destination, the guards nodded towards the security detail then disembarked with Max in tow.
"You can't get away with this!" Max growled as his escort half led, half carried him down the hall to the main chapel. "I am a duly appointed law officer and you interfering with the ..."
"Ah, Mr. Von Hicks, so nice of you to come and visit an old woman in her hour of greif," a gentle voice called from the chapel. "I'm a truly touched by your concern."
Max was stopped in mid-rant as Gran TwoBears stepped out of the shadows and took his hand in hers. He was still trying to understand what was happening as she led him to a pew and sat down with a heavy sigh.
"You do understand my concerns," she stated as she patted the wood next to her. "My grandson has been murdered, and there seems to be some sort of conflict on just who's jurisdiction the case falls under."
"There is no conflict ma'am," Max answered as he sat down next to her. "My team and I are hand..."
"I knew you would see it my way," she stated, ignoring his mention of his team. "In co-operation with your government, my people will give you a full report when the situation has been resolved."
Max stared at her in disbelief then raised his voice in objection. "You over estimate..."
"Your authority dear," Gran stated. "I know, actually we will sending our report to Mr. Masters, of your organization, but I'm sure he'll pass it on to you when he's finished with it." Her tone was one of complete innocence tinged with a slight over tone as if she was addressing an errant child.
"That's is all dear," Gran stated, then nodded towards him in dismissal. As he started to object, he felt a slight pressure in his mind as he was forced to stand and genuflect towards the cross.
"It is always good to show respect," the old woman told him.
Max started to scream something, but the sound died in his throat as the woman turned and looked him in the eyes.
"I have lost a grandson," she told him gently. "Your corporation holds no power over me or my people, and we have your government's blessing. Sometimes child, it is very good to be the Matriarch of such an influential clan."
"Justice," Gran informed him. "You will leave the Wilsons alone in their grief, and I would personally appreciate it if you would crawl back under what ever rock you have been hiding behind and stay there until this is over. If you do so, you might just survive."
"Threatening you child?" Gran finished with a slight growl. "I am merely advising you. Oh, yes, that's right there was a small promise I wanted to make... now, what was it?"
Max stared at the woman as she tried to remember her train of thought. The biggest case of his career and he was being forced to listen to the rambling of a doddering old woman.
"Oh, that's right," she stated with a smile. "If any more black roses appear, they will adorn your casket. Are we clear?"
There was something in her expression that left no doubt in Max's mind. The woman was completely in control and had played him perfectly. Something also told him that staying here would be very bad for his health.
"There's a good boy," she stated as he retreated from the room.
*** *** ***
Niki TwoBears listened to her Grandmother as she dealt with the security man. If the situation weren't so terrible it would have been humorous. Very few people were able to wrest control from Gran once she'd taken it. Even fewer were able to hold onto it afterwards, especially when it mattered, like this case did.
Instead of laughing, all she could think of was the trip to Memphis. Gran had called them in and told them of the explosion. There was nothing else to stay. Gran's eyes, usually bright with mischief were red with crying. Niki had no way of knowing how much more the woman could take. She had already seen her grandmother age over the last seven hours. She mourned her cousin, but more worrisome than his loss was the complete lack of response from Duck.
There had been no communications from her. None of the possibilities bode well for any of them.
Had Duck taken that step back into madness, or was she still fighting those who had taken Daniel from them? She had no way of knowing, and that only made it worse.
Even if Duck was in hiding, she would have found a way of contacting them. Niki knew something was very wrong where Duck was concerned.
Duck cringed. The voice was back in her head, but now she could feel something different. As she tried to figure it out, she felt someone picking her up and pulling her from the tub. At least she was away from the bugs.
Her relief was short lived as she felt a needle slide into her arm. Something cool washed through her veins.
You won the first round
She was surprised by the tone of the thought. It was more relieved than anything else.
Now we get to do this my way
As the thought finished she felt a wave of pain flash through her mind. 'What have you given me?' she thought, knowing that MindBender would hear the question.
Ah, so you remember me. Well my pet, I've just given you the first dose of Sepherax. I believe your record is three?
Duck's pulse rate increased reflexively. It had taken her a good month to learn how to control herself after the last time the drug had been used on her. It was designed to cut through a person's defenses against magic, the only problem was any more that two doses could and usually did cause some sort of permanent damage.
Worse, the last time, she was being questioned by a Mage trained in mental censure. The line of questioning had led her to what could only be defined as the lowest level of hell, and the terror there had stayed with her until well after the drug had worn off.
I can give you the rest, or you can stop fighting me.
'You need me sane,' she thought with relief. 'You do this and I'll be damaged goods.'
You're already damaged goods, pet. You see, that was part of the first round. Since you wouldn't co operate, we had to change our plans. I guess you could say, you lost more than we did. Now we get to do this my way.
As Duck tried to steel herself against the new information, she could hear MindBender laugh.
Pet, even if you some how manage to beat me; you lose. Because if I can't break you, Ellingsworth will have you.
Images of the zombies she had faced came to mind.
That's right pet. And imagine what that will do to any surviving friends you might have. Oh, wait, that's right. They're all dead aren't they? So sorry.
Duck bit back the bitter rage, but the pressure in her mind and the drugs were starting to take their toll. 'You bastard!'
MindBender's laughter filled her mind.
Too bad there weren't enough pieces of them left, Ellingsworth might have been able to do something with them. No matter, if it comes to that, you wouldn't be anything more than a puppet then anyway. Although they do say that a part of you remains aware of what is happening. I like to think so.
Duck fought to control her breathing as the footage she'd seen from the news report began playing in her mind. The images flashed as MindBender began narrating
Now you see him... The image of Bear, straining to keep the area supported flashed through her mind, then focused on his face. Now you don't ... Time unfroze as the wave of debris buried him as his strength finally gave out.
Isn't this fun?
Anger and pain filled her mind until nothing else existed. She tried to force him away from her, but she could still here his mental voice chanting away in a sing-song voice.
Now you see him, now you don't...Now you see him, now you don't
The images and voice repeating until her mind was filled with one thought: ENOUGH!
Darling little Duckie, it hasn't even begun.
And should there finally come a day,
when no more songs are left to play,
and in my heart the music fades...
Then up from the ashes, like Phoenix arising
The song will be born again.
For music never really fades
It echos in the way we live
and though the shadows block the view
We know the music plays somewhere
and we all join in song.
And should the music fade away,
And all my dreams just turn to dust
There is one truth in which we trust.
That up from the ashes like Phoenix arising
the song will never die.
And should my hands refuse to play,
Should my voice just fade away,
Still even then it doesn't end
. For up from the ashes, like Phoenix arising
the song will be born again...
Ian looked out over the city. It felt like the aftermath of the storm's rage. Destruction everywhere, and yet light and hope were being revived. Things had changed. He knew some for the worse, but somehow, he also knew many had changed for the better.
"You will be leaving us soon," Rabbi stated. It was not a question somehow, he knew that Ian's time of convalescence was near its end.
Ian nodded. "The song must be shared. It does no good if it is locked away from those who need it. It is just a question of keeping it pure until it is needed."
"And until then?"
"Until then, we watch, we pray and we listen."
The Rabbi nodded as the both looked out over the city. He could feel it now. Ian had to answer his calling. He couldn't turn his back on those who needed him. He bowed his head. He had turned his back on them so long ago that it became easier to divorce himself from their needs. Rabbit and Ian had dragged him back into it.
But the 'good fight' had to be fought, and it had to be fought everyday. Not just when you felt like fighting. There was no true vacation from this, and he was needed. A simple prayer formed in his mind. Simple, but it said everything it needed to say.
'Lord give me strength.'
Ian's answer was a song. The music surrounded them, filled the church until it could hold it back no more. It played along the rafters, shined along the glass until even the Rabbi couldn't help but smile.
Cub, you must listen to me.
"Father?" Bear called out. When he looked around, he saw nothing but darkness. But he could hear the urgency behind BEAR's message.
Yes cub. Soon, very soon, when you awaken, you will not be able to see me.
You burned yourself out cub. You used the last of your strength, the last of your power. There is nothing left inside of you child.
Bear could hear the sorrow in the spirit's thoughts.
'Is this the end?'
I don't know cub. You are dear to me, but even now, it is getting harder and harder for me to reach you.
'I am always your servant,' Bear stated sadly. 'Even if I cannot see you, or hear you, I will follow what you have taught me.'
I know cub. That is why you will be missed. Even your family cannot feel you, and they are searching.
'They don't know?'
No cub, I had to stay with you until I was sure. I will tell them when you wake. When I know that the youngster's magic is strong enough to keep you in this world, to help you through the struggle that is to come.
'The youngster? Kai? Is he one of your children?'
No cub. His kind keep to their own. You must learn to do everything again. Your mind, your body, your spirit... they must learn to live together in the same house. Bear could feel the spirit's regrets as he watched over him. 'I will return,' Bear promised. 'And we will dance the song of healing as we have in the past.'
I hope so cub. I look forward to that day son. Until we meet again, tread safely.
Bear nodded, unsure if he had heard the spirit or simply dreamed the conversation. It didn't matter. All that mattered was getting well enough to find Duck.
Copyright 1998 - M.T. Decker (edited 2010)