Tracker hugged the wall as he and Finagle took point. They were getting close to the river now, but the tunnels were still relatively dry. Tracker signaled a halt as he listened for signs of movement.
"Take a look around," he signaled Finagle by making a 'V' with his index and middle fingers, then pointing them towards his eyes.
Finagle nodded, then pointed towards his forehead questioningly. It was a risk checking astrally, but they needed to get a fix quickly.
Tracker held his breath and nodded. MindBender had managed to get Whisper on a brief encounter, but then he already had Jan. It was a chance they had to take if they were going to get to Duck before anything more happened to her.
Finagle leaned against the wall and reached out. It took the briefest moment, but it felt like forever. As he came back to 'real', he smiled and held up three fingers towards Tracker, then pointed the way.
Tracker nodded, signaling Finagle to watch his back. They moved into position, Tracker could hear them now. They weren't moving around, just waiting. When Boomer and Kenny moved into position he gave them a three count, then they rushed into the room.
Eclipse tensed. He could hear movement in the tunnels again. He wasn't sure how much more of this he could take. The closest thing he had to use as a weapon was a rock, and he knew, there was no way a rock was going to take care of what was coming down the hall.
He could tell by the footsteps that this was a trained attack squad, not a bunch of marauders. Although at this point, he was pretty sure he couldn't even protect his charges from them if they decided to come back.
Bear was doing better, but Kai was slipping further and further away. And, if that weren't enough, he knew he didn't have another spell left in him. In the dark, he clenched the rock tightly. They were very close now.
As he tensed, four men rushed into the room, two facing him, the other two sweeping the room then turning their guns to the outside. Their lights flashed across the room, then focused on him.
As he prepared himself for what was to come, he heard one of them call out in disbelief.
"E?" It was one of the sweetest sounds he'd ever heard.
"Tracker?" he called out in relief. "How the hell did you know to look for us here?"
He wasn't ready for the disappointed tone that Tracker returned. "We weren't looking for you," he answered gently. "How did you get here, and what do you mean, "US?"
Eclipse shook his head. "Ported blind," Eclipse told him. "Reflex brought me here, but by then I wasn't in any shape to leave. Right now, what we need is a medic, Bear's in pretty bad shape."
"Bear!? Kenny," Tracker called as his light focused on Bear, then he saw the third figure. "Who else?"
"Kai," Eclipse countered. "I passed out, when I came to, Bear was healed, but Kai'd been hurt. Been trying to keep them safe until I had enough strength to get us out."
"What have you got," Kenny asked as he eased behind Tracker.
"Eclipse, Bear and Kai," Tracker answered. "We need to check on them and get out of here."
"Bear's alive?" Kenny asked in disbelief. It was a miracle!
Eclipse looked at Tracker and the others then tensed. "If you weren't looking for us, who were you looking for?"
"Duck," Tracker answered with a slight growl. "She was captured almost a day ago."
"Damn," Eclipse swore. Then he realized that they, like everybody else, must have assumed that he and Bear were dead.
Tracker nodded. "Get 'em ready for transport," he told Kenny, then activated the comm. "Rabbit, Merc, we've got three to transport, make sure we're clear."
"Three?" Rabbit asked worriedly.
"Eclipse, Bear and Kai," Tracker told him.
"Bear?" Rabbit asked in disbelief. "He's..."
"He's alive, Eclipse pulled him from the collapse," Tracker answered tersely.
"What about Duck?"
"She ain't here Rabbit." Tracker told him softly.
Rabbit looked at the medicine pouch he'd given to the Rabbi to aid in his search and clenched it in his fist as he started crying. He hadn't thought about the fact that Bear had made the pouch for her. The Rabbi's spell had worked. They'd found Bear alive, and that should have been enough, but he knew he'd blown their chance of rescuing Duck.
Kenny swore as he checked out Bear and Kai. Bear was in bad shape, but transportable, but Kai was nowhere near stable enough.
"What you got?" Tracker asked.
"Bear should be fine," Kenny told him. "He's been drained and exhausted, but somebody's done some serious work on him already. My guess is Kai. He's the real problem. We can't move him, not the way he is right now."
"How long you need?" Tracker asked tersely.
"It's probably going to take me the better part of an hour," Kenny answered, knowing that that was time they needed to find Duck. "Leave me here with him," he urged. "Do what you can to find her."
Tracker let his breath out slowly and shook his head. "No." When Kenny looked up at him he saw the pain that decision had cost his friend. "We stay together. You get Kai ready for transport."
Kenny nodded then remembered that the clinic was gone. "Where do we take them?"
"What about the no trouble policy?" Kenny objected.
"It doesn't apply to Kai," Tracker stated. "And I have a feeling Minh's the only one that can really help him now."
Kenny closed his eyes as he called upon Serpent to aid him in his work. As he changed his level of consciousness, Kai's form shifted until he was no longer human.
'What the?' he thought as he started to look at Kai.
Kenny turned, it was Serpent. 'To be honest, yes.'
We will not be able to heal him. His wounds were caused by one of his kind and must be healed by one of his kind.
'Father, what exactly is his kind?'
After all this time, you still don't know? Look at him child, what does he look like?
'A serpent with legs?'
Kenneth, You still can't say it can you? A man who communicates with the Serpent Spirit, walks the path of power, still can't believe he lives in a world where the ancient ones once again walk the earth? Although this one is hardly what you'd call ancient.
Why do you think your friend wishes to take him to the 'Playful Dragon?' Are you really one of mine? How can you doubt your senses so?
'It takes time...'
Time you do not have. Kenny was surprised by the shift in tone. Your brother is in danger, and none of those who walk the path are safe. If you cannot believe that, then look at your friend. The one you call Bear. It has taken the power from him. I can barely see him, and only through your eyes.
Kenny nodded. 'What can I do to help Kai?'
Ask him child, I don't know the first thing about their kind .
He could feel Serpent's power flow around and through him as the image vanished. He focused his concentration on Kai. When he was ready he called out to the young man.
What? Kenny! Bear, you have to help Bear...
'Easy,' Kenny urged as the thought and images swirled around him. He tried to understand, but the only thing he did was that Bear was in danger.
sorry. must get help. must stop Ra... Rahall...
'Kai, listen to me!' Kenny all but yelled. 'We have to get you out of here. We need to get you to Minh, but we can't move you until we do something about your wounds.
He could feel the struggle inside the spirit he was facing. He had been through something horrific, that much was obvious. 'I need to know what to do.'
Kai's spirit, if that was what it was called stared at him as he spoke, as if watching him would bring meaning to his words.
No, please, it would take too much.
'Kai,' Kenny swore. 'Stop arguing and start showing me what to do!'
It will be enough for you to heal the form you see. Minh must be told.
Kenny shook his head, it might not be what Kai meant, but it made a lot more sense than anything else he could think of.
'I'm bringing the mountain to Mohamed,' he told Kai. 'Just hold on.'
I don't think she would like that description. But I understand.
Kenny heard the laughter in Kai's mental voice as he forced himself to return to the present. "Tracker," He called then signed, "He's not going to make it. We need to get Minh here."
"You sure?" Tracker counter-signed.
Kenny nodded, the message clear: It's that bad.
Tracker pulled out a wrist unit and dialed the Playful Dragon.
"Rae? T. Patch me through to the lady." he stated then paused. "Now...Yes..."
He looked worriedly at Kai and Bear as he waited. Finally Minh's voice sounded on the phone.
"Why do you disregard my rules?"
"Kai." Tracker answered.
That one word brought the response he'd expected. The phone went dead in his hands, but he still heard her voice as if she hadn't broken the connection.
Bring him to me.
"Can't" Tracker stated, knowing that Minh would understand his words. "Kenny says he can't help him."
"Yeah, he tried to heal him, but it's a little beyond him."
I am coming.
MindBender growled as Duck again slipped away from his control. She had managed to resist his efforts to control her, and time was running out. He eyed the needle and decided it was time to exert complete control.
Here Duckie, Duckie, he called mentally as he plunged the needle into her arm and delivered another dose of Sepherax. Now show me what the nice mind mage saw...
Duck tried to fight the Sepherax, but she had no control. Pain filled her till there was nothing else. It was a mindless pain and in it there was no memory of loss. Only pain.
A peace came over her as every thought of resistance left her. If he wanted a glimpse of hell, she would give it to him and more... MindBender reached into her mind and was surprised as the memory grabbed hold of him and wouldn't let go.
Duck smiled as MindBender's screams filled her mind. 'Be careful what you wish for,' she thought with a smile. 'You may just get it,' the thought made her laugh as her madness held MindBender in his own trap.
'Did you really think after something like that you could do any better?' Duck ranted inside her own mind. 'You should have just left me alone. You should have left us all ALONE!' Her thoughts were not entirely sane, but they were clear, he had hurt her and she was going to make him pay.
'Welcome to my nightmare.'
Wulf swore as he slammed his fist against his open palm. They had nothing. Jade and Gris had practically wasted themselves and all they got for their troubles was the magical equivalent of a hangover. Daff's remote hadn't found anything and Meri'd been plugged in almost non-stop. Sable for all his abilities was less than useless, since Briar could detect anything he did.
He was running out of options, and he was feeling completely useless. Thoughts of the S.O.S. drifted through his mind and he almost dismissed them. But then he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
"Meri," he called. 'That S.O.S still going?'
Meri looked at him for a minute then nodded. "It was the last time I checked."
Wulf began pacing as he tried to figure out if he was just reacting to the futility he was feeling, or if it was that 'sixth sense' that was telling him to go. "Can you check it again?"
"Already on it," she answered as she focused in on the signal. "Still there, but it's not as steady. Like the signal's losing power or the sender's slipping away."
Wulf felt a cold chill. This time he couldn't ignore it. "Can you get a fix on it while we're mobile?"
"I wouldn't count on it," Meri told him. "We were lucky to have caught it in the first place."
"The signal is bouncing all over the area," she told him. "It's a scanner junkie's dream and nightmare all rolled into one. Atmospheric conditions, transmission frequencies... It can be clear as a bell here, and non-existent next door. It's that hit or miss."
"And you have it pinpointed?"
Meri let out an exasperated sigh and shook her head. "Wulf, it isn't that easy. I know the vicinity. I've triangulated it, but that's one dimension of a location, I can't tell you this room, hell, I can't even tell you which floor."
"Room. Floor... but you have a building?"
"Of course, you want the address?" Meri asked.
"Yes," Wulf answered vehemently.
The others watched the exchange in varying levels of interest. "Boss, you got someting?" Gris finally asked.
"I don't know," Wulf answered. "More of a feeling than anything."
"Boss," Meri called as she pulled a pair of earphones closer.
"What have you got?"
"Message is changing," she stated. "Clearer on the sending, but the words...they don't make any sense..."
"Meri, talk to me," Wulf urged.
"You aren't going to believe this one," she stated. "It's ..the lyrics to 'the intsy-winsy spider'."
Wulf thought for a moment then nodded. "Let's go people."
Meri shrugged as she gathered her gear together. At least things weren't dull.
Geoff turned as he felt Gina tense. He was ready for almost anything, but not for the expression on the doctor's face. He was smiling.
"Doctor?" Gina asked hopefully as she rose to her feet.
"He's going to make it," the man assured her as he put a reassuring hand on her arm. "He gave us quite a scare, but he's stabilized. I'm pretty sure the worst is over now."
Gina took a deep breath and nodded. Then she looked the doctor in the eyes. "Can I see his chart. And those for Tommy and Rico Wilson?"
The Doctor gave a step back then nodded. "Sorry, it's not the usual request, but then again, you all aren't the average patient. Come to think of it, I was rather surprised to find out they'd brought Kenny in."
"Kenny's here?" Geoff asked worriedly.
"He was," the Doctor told him. "Police brought him in, then some security guys tried to take over. Reports we get from there are conflicting."
"I couldn't tell you if I tried. Security Team says that Kenny killed a Doctor, but none of our Docs are dead or missing for that matter. Besides, we all know Kenny, we know how he fights..." the Doctor shrugged again. "It just doesn't add up."
Gina looked at Geoff and nodded. "You check with Reiger, I'll look in on the boys."
Geoff nodded then looked over to Joey who had joined them. "I'll stick with Gina," Joey stated answering his brother's unasked question. "You take care of business."
Geoff nodded. He didn't like leaving them alone, but there was work to be done. Then he noticed the three men who'd been watching over them; each wore the uniform of Pueblo force, each name tag read 'TwoBears.' As he headed for the elevator one of them detached himself from the group and followed.
Geoff turned and looked back at Gina and Joey. "Please, stay and keep an eye on them," he urged.
The TwoBears that had joined him simply shook his head. "You each get one of us shadowing you," he informed Geoff. "The injured get two."
"This isn't necessary," Geoff objected.
"Take it up with Gran," the man answered gently. "But between me and you, I don't think she'll go for it. And I'd much rather fight you on this then her."
Geoff nodded. He knew the TwoBears well enough to know that if Gran ordered something, there was nothing he could say that would get them to disobey her.
"It takes some getting used to," his guard stated in agreement.
"So, what's your name?" Geoff asked as they entered the elevator and pressed 'L'
"Matthew," he answered with a smile. "Matthew Running Horse."
Geoff turned in surprise, "But your name tag..."
The man smiled at him. "Yeah, it makes life easier on the tourists," he stated.
Geoff watched the man's face as it lit up with the smile, but as the doors opened on the ground level, his face once again assumed an emotionless mask.
The intern nodded towards the orderly as he started to move their patient out of surgery. The man, David Wilson had been very lucky. His heart had stopped twice while they worked on him. Worse, there had been a period where his EEG had seemed to flatline. He realized that that must have been a glitch in the machine. Still with all the damage done, the prognosis was good.
As the orderly wheeled the gurney out of the O.R., he noticed the markings on the floor. He had never noticed them before, but they gleamed under the lights. As he tried to trace the pattern, he heard a voice inside his head.
They do not concern you.
The intern turned and started stripping off his scrubs. It had been a long day. Their patient, Davy Wilson had been very lucky...
Very lucky indeed.
Briar was happy. Things were going according to his plan. Very soon his new host would be strong enough for him to begin the next phase. Very soon, there would be no stopping him. His power base would be secure and then, those who had held him back would be made to pay.
He allowed himself a satisfied sigh as he felt the power of the world flowing through his veins. Those who had banished him from this world would learn the error of their ways. Soon, his power here would equal that which he held in the astral plane. Even that was but a shadow of his true power.
Once he'd taken care of his enemies, he would turn his forces to research. They would find the key that eluded him. The key that would give him access to the power he possessed in his own plane. Once that was done, no one would be able to stop him.
'Patience,' he told himself. 'You must learn to walk before you take over this world.' He looked forward to facing his enemies in the body of his new host. 'They'll never see it coming.'
"You stupid mother-fraggin' witch!" MindBender raged as he pushed Duck's head under the water then pulled her back up. His mind echoed with the pain she'd forced him to endure as he pushed her back under again. He held her there for a moment then pulled her head back up.
"No, this is going to be slow. You don't get away that easy," he yelled as he shook her violently. "You hear me? You're going to know its coming, and there's nothing you're going to be able to do about it."
His throat was raw from yelling. His head hurt from the agony that the woman had held in her mind. No wonder she had been able to fight him. She had been through something so inconceivably worse that his mind games were child's play in comparison. He had much to learn when it came to inflicting pain, real pain. But for now, the only comfort he had was that she would die. 'Put her on ice,' Briar had told him, and that was exactly what he was going to do. Enough ice to keep her head above water until it melted, enough that her blood would slow, that her body would freeze... It would have to be enough to satisfy him, but all he wanted was something for the pain.
Duck heard his words, but it didn't matter. She'd been through worse. She tried to convince herself that was the case, but she knew it wasn't, she'd survived the other incidents, somehow she knew, there was no surviving this. She felt him drop something into the water. It was cold.
"You lose again," he told her with a growl. "It will be interesting to see which kills you first, the water or the cold..."
Duck shifted her concentration as she heard something on her radio. A clicking that answered her's. Morse code! Somebody had heard her signal. As MindBender tried to gloat she held onto the thought. As the cold filled her till she could think of nothing else, she concentrated on the morse code... On... OFF... click...
B...e...n...d...e...r... M...i...n...d...B...e...n...d...e...r... C...o...l...d... H...u...r...r...y
Meri concentrated on the message, holding the earphones close to her ears as she tried to translate the clicks into letters, and the letters into words. Wulf watched anxiously as Gris drove the van through the city.
"MindBender. Cold. Hurry," she stated as she looked up from her notes and met Wulf's eyes. "It could be a trap," she warned.
"I don't think so," Wulf answered as he checked their location. "Gris, ETA?"
"Step on it," Wulf told him. Something told him they were cutting it way too close.