Ashes of Fate - Season 1
Copyright © 2015, 2016 by Cynus
All Rights Reserved
All Rights Reserved
"So that's your real face. I was wondering when you were going to show it to me," Tristan mumbled groggily as the dark-haired teenage boy joined him at the breakfast table. Icy blue eyes flashed dangerously in Tristan's direction, and he could feel the outrage behind the stare pouring into his soul. While he hadn't meant any offense to Micah by his observation, it appeared he had struck a nerve with the shape shifter.
He had been doing nothing but that the entire time they had known each other. It had been three weeks since the Icarus Confederacy had first come and rescued him from the North Wer Alliance, and he had found it difficult to make friends with Micah, no matter how many times he tried. Micah just wasn't interested in his friendship.
And Peter wasn't helping. "He doesn't have a real face, in fact he might not even be a real boy at all. We're all still waiting for the fairy to come and make Pinocchio's dreams come true," the doctor said from his position at Tristan's other side. He was just finishing off an omelet that had been delicately crafted by the complex's computer system and would soon leave the table. Even though that meant Tristan would have to face Micah without support, he preferred that Peter did leave. There was less drama without the two of them together.
"At least I actually can become a real boy, princess," Micah said testily as he stuck his tongue out at Peter. He glanced back at Tristan and said, "She's right though. I don't have one, so you might as well get used to the fact that you'll never see it. Stop trying to pretend we're friends too. I don't need you, and you don't need me, got it?"
"That's enough you three," Kurt said firmly as he rose from his own table where he had been chatting away with Jacob and Luke. The cafeteria was one of the largest rooms in the underground complex but even it was hardly large enough to fit four eight-foot tables. Tristan was honestly surprised that Micah had chosen to sit with them at all instead of taking one of the tables to himself, but then again he could never guess at Micah's motives either.
Thankfully Kurt was one of the only people Micah listened to, and the boy grumbled his assent to the elderly man before returning to his own tray of food which contained a basic peanut butter sandwich. Tristan sighed as he watched Micah tune everything else out. This wasn't what he had expected at all from the crew. He had thought there would be less in-fighting in a group that considered themselves to be a small army, but he had found that they treated each other more like a dysfunctional family.
That at least was something he was somewhat familiar with, though only between his brothers. He was starting to go stir-crazy in his new surroundings, and always being underground didn't help. He had spent his entire life on the surface, wandering from place to place in search of food and shelter, and avoiding the soldiers that had been hunting him. This was not the life he would have chosen, but Jacob had managed to convince him that it was necessary, and he would do what it took to see it through.
Since his first day in the complex he had spent the majority of his hours in training with one of the other members of the group. Jacob had suggested that he train with Ethan to learn more about unlocking his latent abilities, but for reasons that remained unexplained to Tristan the others thought that was a terrible idea. Instead he had been passed from one of them to another for weapons training and history lessons about their opponents. Having never been to school in his life it was an incredible experience to learn so much over so little time, but by the end of the day his head just ended up hurting. He wanted fresh air more than anything, and that was the one thing that the others just weren't willing to give him yet.
Which was why it came as such a surprise when Hayden's voice came over the intercom and announced that everyone's presence was requested in the briefing room, including his own. The others didn't bat an eye at the message with the exception of Micah who was rolling his eyes at Peter.
"You're coming on this one? I was hoping there wouldn't be a need for medical personnel on the next mission," Micah growled at Peter as he rose to his feet. He took one final bite of his sandwich before returning it to the tray and stepping away from the table. "I was hoping that I'd be able to go another day without seeing Sir Boobies the Tigress."
"Let it go, dude," Tristan said, coming quickly to Peter's defense. "What the hell is your problem anyway?"
It was the first time that Tristan had actually snapped at Micah over the issue, but he had finally had enough. Peter had proven to be a friend, and he wasn't going to let Micah continue to berate him when he had done nothing wrong.
"Ah, you're finally starting to learn…" Micah replied with a sneer. "Seems Princess Petra has finally found her knight," He taunted as he walked away laughing. Peter opened his mouth as if he were about to call some snide remark after Micah but Tristan stopped him with a shake of his head.
"It's not worth it. Don't worry about him, alright?" Tristan said with a disarming smile. Peter's features softened almost immediately and he forced a smile onto his face as he rested his hand on Tristan's shoulder.
"I don't know why you're so nice to me," Peter said as he turned away with a blush. "Aside from Kurt and Jacob who are nice to everyone, you're the only one who treats me well. All the others barely tolerate me, even Luke, and he's generally easy for people to get along with." He sighed as he turned back to Tristan and let the youth see his embarrassment as he added, "I for one am glad that you're here, and that you're coming with us."
"Peter…" Tristan began, but he paused as he found himself unable to find the words he had been going to say. He had intended to rise to Peter's self-pity and assure him that nothing was wrong with him, but something didn't feel right about that line of thinking. Knowing that he had to say something he started again cautiously, "You've been nothing but nice to me, and that's something I can also say is true only of Kurt and Jacob. Come on, let's get going."
Tristan gestured toward the hallway that the others had already headed down and Peter nodded before starting in that direction. Neither of them felt inclined to continue their conversation and they proceeded toward the council room in silence, wondering what the meeting was about. The council room was at one end of the complex while the cafeteria was at the other, though it was still a short walk to reach their destination, and the silence hardly became awkward by the time they had entered the room to find everyone but Ethan waiting for them.
Tristan had asked if there were other members of the confederacy that he hadn't met yet, and Jacob had informed him that aside from their small crew there were very few they still had contact with. At the beginning of the war there had been more, but most of them had died in the conflict. There were, however, others working in more remote locations, the eyes and ears of the confederacy, though they rarely became involved in any of the fighting. This small group was all that was left between the Alliance and total dominion over North America, and Tristan was suddenly humbled to be a part of them, though he didn't expect that feeling to last for long.
Hayden sat at the head of the table. He didn't appear pompous by the way he sat, though there was always a certain level of paternal arrogance that Tristan felt under Hayden's gaze, as if the man was sure he knew better than Tristan about everything. Hayden and Micah were the two that Tristan had the largest problems with, but he had hope that those problems would fade in time. He smiled in greeting to the others in the room as he took his seat with Peter likewise pulling out the chair to his left. Seeing that Tristan and Peter had arrived, Kurt, Luke, Jacob, and finally Micah moved to take their seats as well.
"We believe that we've found your brother, but there's a problem," Hayden explained as he looked to Tristan as soon as the others had taken their seats.
Tristan sat forward in anticipation as he waited for Hayden to continue, but a snort from Micah interrupted the discussion. "Are we still looking for him?" Micah said with a roll of his eyes. "Why do we care anyway? We already have the phoenix."
"The phoenix? He has a name, Micah," Peter growled as he leaned in dangerously.
"Enough!" Hayden yelled, causing both of them to slink back into their seats sullenly. "We care because Zach Langster can prove to be a powerful ally if we can convince him to join our ranks," he continued in a level tone. "The more people we have that we can trust the better."
"I hate to be a spoil sport here, but are we sure we can trust him?" Luke said calmly, though he glanced between Micah and Peter with an encouraging smile. "I know that Tristan here will vouch for him, but we don't really know anything about his brother."
"I'm for trusting him, and as you well know I have the least reason to trust a Langster," Kurt said quickly. Tristan's eyes widened at the claim, but before he could ask what Kurt was talking about the older man went on, "I think he'll be fine unless the Alliance gets to him first."
"Where did they sight him? And who sighted him?" Jacob asked, stealing the ability from Tristan to ask any questions. Now the Jacob's questions had been posed Tristan forgot what he had been going to ask Kurt and turned his own inquisitive eyes on Hayden.
"He was sighted fifty miles Northwest of Ashburg, near Seattle," Hayden explained cautiously. "It wasn't one of our operatives, but rather a member of the Nine Dragons."
"Oh, so we trust the Nine Dragons again? Well that's lovely! I'm out on this one." Micah said as he threw his hands up in the air in exasperation. Once they came back down he pushed off of the table and stood up from his chair, walking toward the exit of the room.
"Micah!" Kurt called after him, but Micah hardly slowed and a second later he was gone.
"Let him go, Kurt," Jacob said when Kurt rose to his feet to follow after the youth. "He has reason to be upset, and you know full well that it's completely justified."
"Will someone tell me what the hell is going on?" Tristan finally snapped, drawing everyone's attention to him immediately.
"The Nine Dragons are another resistance group, and one of our allies from the early years," Luke explained with a pleasant smile. "They are one of the only groups operating on an international level, and the reason they've been able to fly under the Alliance's radar is because there are so few of them. If one of their members falls they recruit someone else to take their place, so that they can return to their normal operations as quickly as possible."
"Each one of the Nine has an area of the world that they oversee," Luke continued. "Unless there's something going on that we don't know about, I'm going to assume that the one that contacted us is the one operating in the Pacific Northwest, Indrus Krane."
"As far as I know this is Krane's doing, but he didn't leave his name," Hayden interjected. "The only reason I know it's from the Nine Dragons is because they used an encryption code that we only use in our correspondence with them."
"And they sighted my brother?" Tristan asked with excitement. "Why would they even be looking for my brother?"
"As you well know, we've been looking for you for a long time, which means we've been looking for your brothers as well," Kurt explained quickly. "Since we haven't made it common knowledge that we've found you yet, I'm sure that the Nine are still keeping an eye out for you and your brothers."
"Okay, that makes sense," Tristan replied with a nod, "but why is Micah upset about it?"
"Micah claims that one of the Nine Dragons betrayed his parents and got them killed near the beginning of the war. We've never been able to confirm it, but then again we haven't been working as closely with the Nine since Micah joined the Confederacy," Jacob explained with a shrug. "He doesn't even know which one did it for sure, but he's still convinced that it was one of them, supposedly because of a conversation he overheard before his parents were killed."
"And so now he doesn't trust them…" Tristan replied thoughtfully. "I can understand why."
"Even if one of the Nine did get his parents killed, chances are it's not one of the current members," Kurt said with a smirk. "They've lost six of their number since that day, which means if whoever betrayed them is still alive it would have to be one of three, though it's true that Krane is one of those. Jan Trobar in Central Europe and Damien Salazar in South America are the only other two it could be, and except when they've recruited a new member from North America neither of them have been in the country in over a decade."
"So you're saying he has reasons to hate them but those reasons are unfounded?" Tristan asked.
"Precisely," Hayden said impatiently. "Either way, we can't afford to waste any more time with this discussion. We have to act now or Zach Langster may give us the slip. We'll have to go without Micah, though I'd rather we had his skills to help us out."
"Great, so when do we leave?" Tristan asked with a smile.
"You're not coming with us," Hayden replied firmly. "I only called you into this meeting because we were talking about going after your brother."
Tristan's eyes widened in outrage as he stood up and said, "What are you talking about? That's exactly why I'm going!"
"No you're not," Hayden replied as his eyes narrowed. "We can't have you out there where the Alliance can find you. You'll slow down the operation. You want us to find your brother, don't you?"
"Fine. Then I'll find my own way to Seattle," Tristan said as he crossed his arms over his chest and stood up.
"You're staying here," Hayden said as he took an aggressive step forward.
"You said I wasn't a prisoner," Tristan replied with fire in his eyes. "I'm going to leave now." He turned and started to walk toward the exit to the room. Feeling the eyes of everyone on his back.
"Wait…" Hayden said, stopping Tristan in his tracks. "I'm sorry," he apologized, but then Tristan smirked as Hayden shook his head and added, "It's just too dangerous."
"You don't get to determine what is dangerous for me and what isn't," Tristan replied coldly. "I decide what to do with my life, not you." He turned and took another step toward the door, though Hayden called after him again.
"We have the fate of the world to worry about!"
"I don't care," Tristan replied without hesitation as he lay his hand on the door handle.
"Can't we just discuss this?" Luke interjected, and the plea in his voice was enough to give Tristan pause. Tristan turned back to regard the others, noting that everyone except Peter was standing and watching him, looks of desperation in their eyes. Peter seemed sad to see him go, but that would not be enough to stop Tristan.
"No, there's nothing more to discuss," Tristan replied firmly. He pressed down on the handle and the door cracked open, but before he could step through there was a loud buzzing signaling the activation of the intercom.
"Hayden," A voice spoke that seemed to reverberate through the room. Ethan.
"Ethan…" Hayden whispered in shock. "What is it?"
"Let the boy go," Ethan's voice said encouragingly. Tristan turned away from the door in awe at the sudden command. He hadn't expected support from anyone, least of all from Ethan whom he hadn't seen since his first day in the complex.
"Ethan…" Hayden began dangerously but was cut off by Ethan again.
"For once let go of your overprotective nature and let someone grow up." Ethan growled.
"What?" Hayden replied in disbelief. "You don't command the Confederacy, Ethan."
"Neither do you," Ethan reminded him pointedly. "Last I checked we do better as a council."
"Last you checked?" Hayden echoed as if the statement was the most absurd thing he had ever heard. "No, I'm not letting Tristan leave," he insisted with a shake of his head. "You know how long we searched for him, the resources it cost us, the companions we lost…"
"Fine." Ethan cut off Hayden again, but this time when he resumed speaking he directed his comments toward Tristan. "Tristan James Rembrandt, or Tris Langster if you prefer, you are hereby banned from this complex. I hope you know that I do this in your best interest."
Tristan smiled at Ethan's words. He could hear the slyness in the tone; the way Ethan gave away that he knew more of what was going on than anything else. Hayden seemed less impressed as he replied incredulously, "You can't be serious…"
"This is my home, Hayden," Ethan reminded him without skipping a beat. "I can allow whomever into it that I want. Would you like to be banned as well?"
"What!?" Hayden replied as he took a step backward, reeling under the weight of the question. Tristan enjoyed seeing Hayden so unbalanced, and he was glad he had stayed around long enough to enjoy the show.
"I thought not. Moving on…" Ethan continued with a smile in his voice. "Tris, you may regain entrance to the complex if you bring me a piece of the rubble from Seattle. I've never been to the city, and I wouldn't mind adding it to my collection. Consider it a means of earning your keep around here."
"Well, I suppose then if I want to stay a part of the confederacy I have to find my way to Seattle then," Tristan replied with a chuckle.
"I would suggest taking the fastest route possible," Ethan recommended casually. "I have already had the computer prepare the jet. Will you be taking anyone else with you?" Tristan turned to regard the others and saw that the reactions were mixed among his peers. Kurt had a sly smile that Tristan was sure matched Ethan's, and Jacob was practically beaming with delight at the turn of events. Peter appeared to be in a state of shock as he looked between the parties involved in the dispute, and Luke had a serene look that left no doubt that he considered this to be the best course of action.
Hayden was the only one who still appeared to be against the suggested course of action outright. "Ethan!" he shouted angrily. "This is insanity!"
"I think I'll take everyone with me who wants to come, though I'm not sure we should take Hayden with us…" Tristan answered Ethan with a grin.
"Pretty soon he'll be out of a home," Ethan replied quickly. "I suggest you take pity on him and let him tag along."
"Alright, but only if he keeps his mouth shut," Tristan agreed as he glared dangerously at Hayden. "I don't want him to give away our position. I hear it's dangerous out there."
"Fine! We'll all go…" Hayden said as he slammed the table with his fist, "This is getting ridiculous. All this work for you and you can't show us any respect at all." He walked quickly toward Tristan and the open door, and for a moment Tristan thought he would need to defend himself. But Hayden merely shook with anger as he declared, "You're as bad as Micah!"
And then Hayden stepped through the door and was gone, leaving the others to watch in silence. When the moment finally stretched on too long it was Peter who broke the rest of them from their stupor as he muttered, "No one is that bad…"
The group split up to prepare for the mission ahead, returning to their rooms or to the armory to acquire the gear they would need. Tristan was giddy. With Ethan's support he finally felt like he was making headway in the Confederacy, and as he stepped through the door into his small room he sensed something he hadn't before. It suddenly felt like home.
He let the feeling sink in for a moment before changing his clothes for those that would be more appropriate to Seattle's climate. Along with the room the Confederacy had supplied him with a simple wardrobe. He had spent almost his entire life wearing only one outfit at a time, only changing out pieces as they became too worn to offer him adequate protection from the elements. It was one more reminder that he had come to a good place, though that thought led him to thinking about Hayden and Micah, and that there were still obstacles to overcome.
With a sigh he left his sleeping quarters. As he looked down the hallway he saw Peter's back disappear around the corner. Tristan quickened his pace to catch up to Peter's longer stride and fell in step alongside him. Peter glanced over at him with a half-smile as Tristan said, "You're looking quite eager, but yet squeamish at the same time."
"Truth be told I'm not all that fond of flying…" Peter admitted quickly, as if it were a rehearsed response. Tristan wondered how often Peter was asked that question. Over the few weeks he had been a part of the Confederacy he had only been in the aircraft once, and that was when they had rescued him from the North Wer Alliance.
"This is only my second time," Tristan replied with a short laugh, "and the last time I was unconscious."
"Fair enough," Peter replied quickly. Neither of them spoke for the next few minutes as they arrived at the hangar where the aircraft was kept. As they walked, Tristan observed Peter's movements noticing that he was walking differently than before. He wasn't picking his feet up as much as normal, as if his confidence had taken a blow, though the look in his eyes spoke of determination. It was a strange combination, and one he wasn't used to seeing in Peter.
"Are you alright, Peter?" Tristan asked as they stepped into the hangar. "You seem… off."
"Yeah, I'm fine," Peter said dismissively as they approached the aircraft. The engines were already fired up and no one else was in sight, though the hatch on the side of the aircraft was wide open. "I guess you can say that Micah unsettled me a bit in there. I'm really getting sick of his crap."
"It must be getting to you," Tristan observed with an encouraging smile as they walked toward the ramp that led to the hatch. He could see now that Kurt and Jacob were waiting inside, and could hear muffled shouting coming from the area of the cockpit. "Normally you don't talk so openly about it."
"I don't know…" Peter replied with a shrug. "I'm just having a bad day, but I'm ready to get out there." As they boarded the craft Peter looked to Kurt and asked, "What are we waiting for?"
"Hayden and Luke are arguing about who's going to pilot," Kurt explained while Peter and Tristan situated themselves in two of the seats. "Luke doesn't think Hayden should go because of what happened with Ethan. He thinks Hayden should stay and try to patch things up. Hayden of course doesn't think that Luke should ever go, because of his leg, but that's just Hayden for you."
"You mean he's like that with everyone?" Tristan asked with a roll of his eyes.
"Yeah, you're nothing special…" Peter chided with a grin that almost seemed a sneer.
"With Peter here, we shouldn't have a problem with Luke should things go south," Jacob said with an encouraging smile in Peter's direction. "Peter knows how to upkeep Luke's prosthetic, so I agree that Hayden doesn't need to come. The problem is Ethan."
"How so?" Tristan asked.
"Ethan thinks Hayden should come," Jacob explained with a helpless shrug.
"Why hasn't Kurt offered up his opinion in all of this?" Tristan asked Jacob even as he glanced to the older man with a questioning eyebrow.
"You know Kurt…" Jacob answered with an eye roll. "He doesn't like to budge in on the drama unless he has to break up a fight. He thinks he's too old for it." Kurt elbowed Jacob in the side, which simply earned him another roll of Jacob's eyes in response.
"And what do you think?" Tristan asked Jacob.
"I think I would rather we left an hour ago," Jacob replied dryly. The shouting from the cockpit stopped and the door creaked open, as if in response to Jacob's remark. Hayden stepped through and closed the door behind him firmly before raising his eyes to meet those of the others in the room. He glared in Tristan's direction as he stepped through the hatch and left the air craft. Apparently Luke had won the argument as was going to be heading the mission and Hayden would be the one that stayed behind. Tristan wondered how often that happened between the two of them, and if Luke was normally the one who won. He hoped that was the case, as Hayden was starting to become a problem for Tristan.
Over the course of his life he had never faced much authority. His brothers had both allowed him to get away with a great deal provided he had a reason for it. It was rare that they ever insisted he do something their way, and when they had he knew it was because of something important, like the day that Zach had ordered him to stay at the camp while he went in search of wood. That day it hadn't mattered that Zach had been right to protect him. Tristan had been captured anyway.
He would be able to talk to Zach about that when he saw him later, and his excitement began to grow as the engines on the aircraft began to roar and the hatch door started to close, signaling that they would soon be taking off. It would only be a matter of time before they landed near Seattle and could look for Zach. Once they were together Tristan would make sure that they weren't separated again.
He glanced at Peter and smiled, showing his excitement, but once again Peter seemed withdrawn. Determined to bring his friend out of his stupor Tristan asked, "Do you know anything about the Nine Dragons? You were awfully quiet in the meeting."
"Actually it was one of the Nine Dragons that brought me here." Peter replied with a bitter tone, though his words were drowned out slightly by the engines as the ship took off through the door in the hangar ceiling.
"You don't sound too happy about that," Tristan observed, fishing for more information. He wasn't fond of seeing his friend so distraught.
"That time of my life was unpleasant," Peter offered in explanation.
"I can imagine. Running away from home like you did…" Tristan replied as he tried to envision what it had been like. "You really didn't care much for how the Alliance was running the show, did you?"
"No…" Peter replied with a shrug. "Things were messy."
"That's a little vague," Tristan pressed with a grin.
"I don't really want to talk about it," Peter replied dismissively. He looked away from Tristan and stared down at his hands which were clenched into fists. "This whole mission is bringing up unpleasant memories for me. I'm sorry, Tristan."
"Alright…" Tristan replied and let it go. Something was definitely wrong, and it was more than just the mission, though he couldn't piece together what it was. Even though Peter could normally be quite reserved, over the past few weeks he had been incredibly open with Tristan about nearly everything.
He wrote it off as being something deeply personal that Peter didn't want to risk Kurt or Jacob overhearing. He could understand that, and he would have to respect it. After all, Peter was a friend and that's all there was to it. He would have to accept if Peter wanted to remain aloof. He did his best to put the thought out of his mind and focus on the mission before him.
Zach. There was no one in the world that Tristan was closer to. Corban had been the leader, and though Tristan and Zach had both loved him deeply, it was more a matter of respect than of emotional connection. With Zach it had been completely different, and Tristan had felt the void strongly as soon as that connection was gone. Zach had been the only one until recently to call him 'Tris', with the recent edition of Ethan in his life being the only other person to have done so. He had missed hearing the nickname, which is why he put up with Ethan using it.
And now, as they flew over the countryside with incredible speed, he would be able to hear it again from the one who had always been there for him. It was all just a matter of time, Tristan was sure of it. As if the thought were prophetic he felt the aircraft slowing down, and he knew that they were about to arrive. This was it, the moment he had been longing for, for three weeks. Almost.
The aircraft landed in a small clearing that was barely large enough for it. They were still some distance from Seattle, and it would take them the better part of the day to reach the city. To come any closer to the city would have been a mistake that they would have soon regretted, as it was a guarantee that Alliance soldiers would be present in such a population center.
But that meant that a long trek through the wooded hills of the Okanogan Forest awaited them. Since the upheaval that followed the war, the forest had grown considerably and extended almost all the way to the city's limits, and it would provide them with excellent cover as they made their approach. Despite that fact there was an air of caution that settled on the group, and whenever one of them would speak it was in a whisper, and then only for a second before they resumed their silence.
It wasn't until they had traveled nearly ten miles that Luke finally stopped them, citing that he needed to rest his leg for a moment. As he took a seat on a large boulder he turned to address the group, "Stay alert. We're getting close to the city now and we want to avoid trouble at all costs."
"Thanks, captain obvious," Peter replied with an eye roll.
"Peter!" Jacob said in shock.
"What?" Peter replied with an unapologetic smile. Noticing that everyone was staring at him he sighed and turned to Luke and said, "Sorry, Luke… I don't know what came over me."
Shaking his head in disbelief at what had just occurred, Tristan turned to Luke and asked, "Where are we supposed to meet up with…" He trailed off as he sensed a presence in the woods. Stepping into the clearing was a man in a long black trench coat, and a black wide brimmed hat that kept his face in the shadows. He carried a bow in one hand, and a quiver full of arrow on his back and another on his right hip. On his left hip sat an old fashioned pistol, though its ornate design gave the impression it was more for show than use. As the man stepped into the clearing he removed his hat and bowed, revealing his long white hair which was pulled into a neat ponytail that settled just beyond his shoulder blades.
"Indrus Krane," Kurt said as he approached the man with open arms. "It's good to see you again." Indrus Krane leaned his bow against a tree and embraced Kurt warmly. The two parted and stared into each other's eyes for a moment as if they were having a silent conversation with their stares. Jacob cleared his throat awkwardly and the two finally parted, though neither seemed ashamed by what had taken place between them.
"It's good to see you too, Kurt," Indrus said with a nod. He turned his gaze on Peter and said, "Peter, is that you?"
"Yes it is," Peter replied politely. "How are you doing, Master Krane?"
"So humble…" Indrus muttered. He opened his arms and waved Peter forward as he said, "Come here and give me a hug."
The request made Peter obviously uncomfortable, but he rose hesitantly and walked toward Indrus until he finally embraced the older man. Tristan couldn't make out what was said between them, but Indrus whispered something in Peter's ear before they parted that made Peter's eyes widen in shock. More pieces of the puzzle for Tristan to reason through.
"Hayden told us that you think you've found Zach Langster," Luke said, ignoring the strangeness of the exchange between Indrus and Peter.
"Yes…" Indrus replied cautiously before glancing in Tristan's direction. "But I see you already have Tristan Rembrandt with you. I was under the impression that they were to be found together. I must admit that I'm surprised to see you here," he directed at Tristan, "considering what I saw this morning."
"What's that?" Kurt asked, alarmed by Indrus' tone.
"Tristan Rembrandt was with Zach Langster at the slum market this morning," Indrus replied as he stared at Tristan. "They were asking questions about their brother Corban."
"What are you talking about!?" Tristan asked, confusion and alarm causing his voice to rise.
"He looked identical to you. A perfect duplicate actually," Indrus answered thoughtfully. "Perhaps too perfect."
"Are you saying they have a shape shifter working for them?" Jacob asked. The questioned seemed to put everyone on guard.
"Indeed they must," Indrus replied with a nod. "Shape shifters are a tricky lot."
"So what do we do?" Tristan asked worriedly.
"We'll have to get the real Tristan to Zach and remove the doppelganger," Indrus replied with a knowing smile.
"You make it sound so simple," Luke muttered with a sigh.
"It isn't?" Indrus asked with a grin.
"If anyone can pull this off, it's Indrus," Kurt interjected as he clapped the man on the shoulder. "We've known him for a long time and I can assure you that his skills are up to the challenge."
"Then what are we waiting for? Lead the way!" Tristan replied with enthusiasm as the others nodded their assent. And then they were off, once again headed in the direction of Seattle with Indrus at their head and Peter bringing up the rear.
Instead of the feeling of caution which had surrounded the group before, there was a different tension now, and it was centered on Indrus Krane. The looks the others gave him differed from person to person, but there was one common feature to each one of them. Not one, not even Kurt, trusted Indrus completely. Peter, whom Tristan had assumed would be the most trusting of Indrus, instead proved to be the least, though he could not determine what had caused the extreme amount of anger hiding behind Peter's eyes.
Despite the tension, they arrived at the outskirts of the city without delay, and entered from a path that Indrus assured them would not be watched. It was a residential path that only those who lived there used, though Indrus explained that it eventually fed into the market place. Security would become tighter the closer they came to where the locals set up shop, but for the time being they would be safe from being detained.
The group followed Indrus' lead until the streets grew a great deal busier. People were walking, running, or riding bicycles everywhere around them, and the group began to spread out in order to stand out less in the crowd. Jacob especially was careful where he walked to avoid bumping into anyone and give away his true nature. Everyone was careful to keep Indrus in their sights, and when he finally stepped off the side of the road and into the back yard of a small suburban house they moved to follow him. Leading them around the back, they eventually arrived at the bottom of a wooden deck that led up to the second floor of the building. Though the wooden structure appeared to be in need of repair, the group continued up the steps and were rewarded with an open view of the market.
Indrus went through a quick lecture on where the soldiers were likely to be located, and to just act natural should they pass by any of them, showing their positions through the lens of a spyglass he had retrieved from one of his pockets. He then directed their gaze to a simple building where his information said Zach and Tristan had been spotted.
As they continued to watch the building for any signs of Zach, or Tristan's doppelganger, they formulated their plan of action. Kurt, Jacob, and Indrus would separate the pair by catching Tristan's doppelganger while the real Tristan would then approach Zach and convince him to follow as they made their escape. Tristan would rendezvous with Luke and Peter and would immediately start to head back toward the aircraft, and the others would follow as soon as they were able.
Peter had been the only one to object to this plan, citing as his reason that if anyone was injured facing the shape shifter than he should be there to assist. Indrus responded that he knew how to handle shape shifters and would be able to handle this one without much difficulty. For some reason this response only seemed to annoy Peter further, but he offered no rebuttal, and the plan was finally agreed upon.
It wasn't long before they caught sight of Zach and the doppelganger through the spyglass, which was immediately handed to Tristan to confirm the sighting. One look told him everything he needed to know. It was definitely Zach, down to every detail, and it filled him with excitement to finally see his brother. He had missed Zach greatly, but until seeing him now he hadn't realized how deep the longing had actually been. There was a driving need within him that almost forced him to run toward the market as fast as he could, but he knew that they had to stick to the plan or things would become complicated quickly.
"It's him," Tristan confirmed as he handed the spyglass back to Kurt.
"Alright, get out there," Jacob said with an encouraging smile. "We'll grab the other you and run. Wait a minute after we're gone and then approach him."
Kurt, Jacob, and Indrus left the deck after handing the spyglass to Luke. They disappeared through a hole in the fence of the back yard and continued toward the market while the others watched. Peter looked as if he were going to follow them but then sighed as he turned back to the others, tapping his foot impatiently.
"Hayden would have never approved this tactic," Tristan said as he started down the steps.
"It's a good thing I'm here," Luke replied with an encouraging smile. "If we can avoid the Alliance soldiers I'm sure we'll be alright. Are you ready for this, Tristan?"
"I think so…" Tristan answered with a nod when he reached the bottom of the stairs and looked back up to where Luke was waiting.
"Then do it. We'll rendezvous here once you have Zach with you, and then we'll head for the ship. I'll keep my eye on you the best I can from here." Luke replied.
And then Tristan was off, walking quickly toward the marketplace. He felt like running, but he knew that would draw undo attention to himself and would hardly serve to his benefit if the Alliance saw him. Gritting his teeth as he stifled his impatience, he eventually found his way through the crowd and toward the spot where Zach and the doppelganger had been spotted.
He was surprised to find that it hardly took any time at all to locate Zach. His brother was standing atop a low wall, searching through the crowd. Tristan smiled as he realized that Zach was probably looking for him, and seized the opportunity to approach him.
"Tristan!" Zach said as soon as he came into sight. "Where did you disappear to so suddenly?"
"Zach!" Tristan replied, trying to downplay his excitement. "Come with me, there's something I'd like to show you."
"What, what is it?" Zach replied with a suspicious smile, but he hopped off the wall and started following after Tristan as he made his way back through the crowd and toward the house where Luke and Peter waited. "Tristan, you sound strange," Zach observed. "And what are you wearing?"
Tristan hadn't thought of that potential question. In all of his excitement he had missed the obvious that the other Tristan was wearing clothing that matched what he used to wear. He allowed himself to be jostled by the crowd for a moment to give himself time to think of a response. As they neared the edge of the market Tristan said with a shrug, "I found some clothing in an abandoned house. I was getting sick of the old ones so I switched out."
"Whatever," Zach said dismissively. They continued in silence until they reached the edge of the market and Zach finally asked, "Alright, what would you like to show me?"
"I made contact with some new friends," Tristan replied as he quickened his pace now that the crowd was thinner. "And they'd like to help us."
"New friends?" Zach echoed in disbelief. "What the hell are you talking about? You've been gone five minutes!" There was something off in his voice as he went on, "Tristan…"
"Zach…" Tristan said, cutting him off as he turned to face Zach. He finally realized what was wrong in the way Zach was speaking. "Why do you keep calling me Tristan?"
"Cause that's your name…" Zach replied with a raised eyebrow as if the question were absurd.
"Right," Tristan replied cautiously. He turned away from Zach again and started down the street. He could see Luke and Peter coming toward them with looks of alarm on their faces. Knowing it would be better to rendezvous as quickly as possible, Tristan continued forward as he called back, "Come on then."
"Oh I don't think so…" Zach replied with a sinister laugh. Tristan spun around in alarm to see Zach coming at him fast, his eyes filled with malicious intent. Despite the fact that he had already begun to suspect that something was wrong with his brother, Tristan was stunned by the sudden reversal in attitude, and simply stared as Zach came closer.
"It's a trap! Move!" Luke shouted from behind him, and the sound cleared Tristan's head enough to step to the side and prepare to run. The second he moved the sound of a gun shot rang through the air and a large hole appeared in the middle of Zach's forehead. Tristan screamed as Zach collapsed to the ground and turned around to see Luke and Peter running up quickly.
Tristan took a threatening step toward Luke, his hands balled into fists. It didn't matter that Zach had been trying to hurt him, he was still Tristan's brother and to kill him outright was outrageous. Before he could take a second step, a long tentacle reached out from behind Tristan and pulled Luke's legs out from under him, throwing Luke heavily to the ground. Luke got another quick shot off with his pistol, and Tristan turned in horror as the bullet grazed Zach's shoulder. No, it wasn't Zach. It was a shape shifter, and the same shape shifter was now swinging its tentacle arm toward Tristan. Luke shot it again from his position on the ground, driving it backward and giving Tristan time to get out of its reach.
Tristan glanced back quickly to see that Luke was still on the ground, and didn't look like he'd be able to get up anytime soon. His prosthetic leg had been detached and mangled by either the fall or the tentacle. He had to give Peter a chance to get Luke back on his feet. "Peter! Help Luke," Tristan shouted as he started running toward the city, leaving Luke and Peter to watch as the shape shifter followed after him.
"Tristan, wait!" Peter shouted and started after them.
"No, you have to help me up," Luke called out, causing Peter to hesitate and turn toward him. "Tristan can survive for a while. Remember, they want him alive so they won't kill him. Get me up and moving so that we can get the help we need to kill that thing."
"It's not a 'thing', Luke…" Peter replied testily, "And I can't fix your leg."
"Peter?" Luke questioned suspiciously. "No…" he said as Peter's form shimmered and he quickly assumed the visage of the black-haired youth from breakfast. Luke's eyes widened in shock and outrage, but despite the venom behind his stare he was met with no sign of emotion in Micah's blue eyes as he asked, "What have you done, Micah!?"
"I had to find out if that bastard Krane killed my parents," Micah replied with a growl, "And now I'm sure of it."
"Micah," Luke said, shaking his head in disbelief, "What the hell were you thinking!?"
"I don't answer to you, Luke." Micah growled.
"Fine. We'll deal with this later," Luke replied, forcing his voice to remain calm. "You have to get help from Indrus so that we can save Tristan. We need a weapon that can kill the shape shifter that's after him."
"You want me to kill one of my own kind to save him?" Micah scoffed.
"No, to save us all," Luke corrected.
"I'll handle this in my own way…" Micah said as he turned and ran into the city.
"Micah!" Luke shouted, but even if Micah heard him he didn't respond. A moment later he was gone, and the bystanders who had watched the altercation returned to their business, leaving Luke to figure out how to save them all.
Tristan bolted down the street, knowing that he was attracting more attention at every turn. There were people working on a myriad of tasks in this section of the city, and each one watched him as he ran past, finding his haste unusual. He growled as he heard an elderly voice start calling from behind him, and glanced over his shoulder briefly to see that the shape shifter had changed its form again. He only knew that it was the same one since it was still wearing Zach's clothes, but otherwise it no longer bore any resemblance to his brother. It was now wearing the face of an elderly woman who was struggling to chase after him.
He rounded a corner and saw two muscular men, standing shirtless in the sun. They appeared to be taking a break from repairing the roof of the building they stood in front of. Tristan started to move around them when the voice of the old woman cried, "Stop! That boy stole my food! Stop him!"
The two men quickly stepped in Tristan's way, and though he tried to dash around them they were surprisingly quick and one of them clutched his arm and held on tight, pulling him backward. "Hey now, give the old woman back her food," the one who had caught him demanded firmly.
"Woman? What? I didn't steal anything!" Tristan was flustered by the demand, and he could hear his heart pounding in his chest as he glanced back at the old woman and said, "You have to let me go! She's trying to kill me!"
"What are you talking about? That old lady…" The second man replied with a laugh of disbelief. "You're crazy."
The old woman reached them a moment later, catching her breath as she looked at the two large men with gratitude. "Thank you for stopping him," she said breathlessly. "I thought I would die trying to chase him down."
"You're welcome, miss," The first man said with a nod. "What you like us to do with him?"
"I can take care of him," She replied as she reached out and took ahold of Tristan's ear, pulling on it roughly. "Just let me get my hands on him!"
"Now listen here, punk," She continued as she indicated the men could let him go. She lay her hand on his arm and elongated her fingernails slightly to become jagged claws which she dug into his arm. The two men didn't appear to notice the subtle shape shift, and they simply bowed in farewell as the shape shifter led Tristan away. "You're going to show me where all the food you stole is hidden!" She shouted in his ear as she left the men behind.
"You try to run again and I tear your ear off, got it?" She whispered once they were out of earshot. Tristan nodded and allowed himself to be led through the streets. The shape shifter maintained its grip on Tristan's ear and every time Tristan even thought about trying to escape the shape shifter gave a sharp tug to remind him of the consequence. Eventually Tristan found himself being shoved him through the doorway of a small suburban house. The large window which had once overlooked the street was boarded up, and the stairs which led out of the room had collapsed, leaving Tristan with no exit except the door they had entered through.
"You won't kill me…" Tristan said as he climbed to his feet. "I know that you're working for the Alliance."
"That's right, but that doesn't mean I won't maim you," the shape shifter replied as it resumed the form of Zach. "No one said that you had to be intact. This is a contract, and I'm a mercenary. Do you have any idea how much you're worth?" He continued in Zach's voice.
The change unsettled Tristan, but he tried to not let it get to him as he forced his bravado and asked defiantly, "So you're doing this for a paycheck? How cute…"
"Yep. And I don't really care what you say about it, so you can forget about going off on me about the morality of what I'm doing," the shape shifter said with a sneer. "We do what we have to in order to survive."
"Whatever…" Tristan replied with a shake of his head. He knew that there would be little chance of him escaping against such a powerful enemy, especially with the fact that the shape shifter stood between him and the only exit. He would likely just be caught up by a tentacle and maimed for his trouble. He didn't see any other alternative than being rescued, and his eyes lit up as he saw someone come through the door and face his captor.
His hope fell as he saw who it was. Micah.
"Let him go," Micah said to the shape shifter as he stepped into the room.
"Huh? Who the hell are you?" the shape shifter said with a growl. "Can't you see I'm disciplining my brother? He got caught stealing again."
"Oh really?" Micah asked sarcastically. "I happen to know for a fact that he is not your brother."
"Oh great. You must be another bounty hunter or something," the shape shifter replied with a snarl. "Are you here to collect on the prize? You don't know who you're messing with," He added with a chuckle as he elongated his fingers into cruel looking claws.
"Neither do you…" Micah replied as he shifted his facial features to match those of the predatory cat he usually used.
"Oh-ho! Another shape shifter!" the shape shifter replied with surprise. "Well that was unexpected. There aren't very many of us. Say…" He continued as he lowered his voice conspiringly, "I have a partner around here somewhere, though he's probably gotten himself into trouble. Why don't you work with us? We can split the profit three ways…"
"Why would I do that when I could claim it all for myself?" Micah replied with an unreadable expression.
"You really think you could?" the shape shifter replied with a smirk. "Come on, our kind should stick together…"
Micah stared at the shape shifter for a moment, keeping all emotion out of his gaze, but by the end he was nodding slowly as he said, "You do have a point."
"Micah! What are you doing?" Tristan asked in despair as he realized what was happening. "How did you even get here?"
"Sorry, Tristan," Micah replied, though he sounded anything but apologetic, "But he is making me an offer I can't refuse."
"You're not serious…"
"Micah…" the shape shifter said quietly, testing the name on his tongue and cutting Tristan off. With more animation in his features he looked to Micah and continued, "Micah! Your name is Micah!?"
"Yeah…" Micah scoffed, "What's it to you?"
"My name is Kyle, and my partner's name is Mark," the shape shifter replied with growing excitement. "We're your parents. We thought you were dead!"
"What!" Micah said as he took a stumbled backward in disbelief. "But I saw you…" he sputtered, shaking his head to clear his thoughts. "The Nine Dragons!"
"They burned down our house with us in it…" Kyle said with a sad nod. "Yes. We hid in a bunker beneath our home that we never showed you."
"Impossible!" Micah said, shaking his head again, though there was so much hope in his voice Tristan knew that Micah was buying the story. "How can that be?"
"We searched everywhere for you, but someone told us you had been killed the next day. We didn't want to believe it at first but when we never found you…" Kyle explained with a grim expression. His eyes lit up as he said excitedly, "We have to find your father."
"The people I came with are probably interrogating him by now…" Micah began.
"Micah!" Tristan shouted, interrupting Micah's betrayal of their comrades.
"This no longer concerns you, kid. You're a trophy and nothing more. Shut up," Kyle ordered Tristan before turning his attention back to Micah. "What do you mean by 'interrogating'?"
"I came with the Icarus Confederacy…" Micah answered without hesitation. "Indrus Krane is also with us."
"Indrus Krane!?" Kyle echoed. "That's the man who tried to kill us!"
"I knew it!" Micah declared as he clenched his hand into a fist in outrage. "Alright… let's go get him."
"Micah, stop…" Tristan pleaded, but was interrupted when Micah crossed the distance of the small room and threw him up against the wall.
"Next time you open your mouth I'll cut out your tongue myself," Micah said with a snarl. "You're now my enemy, Tristan. I suggest you keep that in mind."
Tristan closed his eyes and nodded, no longer wanting to stare into the wrathful eyes of Micah. This had all been too convenient from the very beginning, and he wasn't convinced that Micah had the story correct, though Tristan knew that his words would do little to convince him of that. Micah was far too consumed by vengeance to listen.
And so he soon found himself being led again, this time with Micah taking point while Kyle held tightly onto his arms which had been bound with steel wire. He had been gagged as well, and Kyle had made sure it was sufficiently tight to prevent him from making any sound, though that also meant it was hard for him to breathe. Micah led them toward the hole in the fence of the backyard which had served as their earlier observation point, but stopped as soon as he could hear Kurt's voice in the distance.
"If you just answer our questions we'll let you go…" Kurt was saying loudly. Tristan considered making a break for the fence but Kyle seemed to sense his plan and threw him up against the wall of the building they were next to.
"You'll stay here," Kyle said with a growl as he reached for another piece of wire to bind Tristan's ankles. "Try to avoid struggling if you don't want to get hurt."
"Hang on, I've got a plan," Micah said as he laid a hand on Kyle's arm to stop him from binding Tristan's ankles. "Hold him while I strip him."
Tristan's eyes widened in shock and he attempted to get away, only to have Kyle slam him even harder against the wall, this time causing him to hit his head. The force of the blow nearly made him black out, but he managed to retain his consciousness as Kyle slid him down to the ground and undid the wire on his wrists so that Micah could start taking off Tristan's shirt.
Tristan tried to resist as Micah started to forcefully undress him, kicking out with his legs as well as he could, but Micah barely reacted at all. Instead he took the blows as they came as he patiently slid Tristan's shirt over his head and arms while Kyle assisted Micah by holding as much of Tristan down as he could. As soon as the shirt was off Micah slid off Tristan's boots. Tristan managed to get one quick kick off that hit Micah squarely in the chest, but Micah hardly even groaned in response.
The maneuver did manage to draw the ire of Kyle again, who elongated his fingers into claws and dug them into Tristan's left bicep. The pain was immense, and Tristan could barely hear the threat Kyle whispered, "Stop struggling or I'll make sure you never use this arm again."
Tristan did as he was told; willing every muscle in his body to not react as Micah slowly slid the pants from his legs. Micah gathered the clothing he had removed and started to strip Peter's clothes from his own body. Kyle pulled Tristan's hands behind his back and bound them together with the same wire so tightly that it dug into his flesh. Kyle threw Tristan up against the wall again and grabbed Tristan's ankles, preparing to repeat the binding with another piece of wire.
Before he started tying Tristan's ankles together Kyle looked up at Micah who was now standing naked in the fading sunlight. "What about his underwear?" Kyle asked with a grin.
"I don't need that to complete the look, why would I take it?" Micah replied as if the question had been absurd.
Kyle shrugged and resumed tying Tristan's ankles. As soon as he was done he looked up and met Tristan's eyes and saw the defiance that was there. Tristan still had hope burning inside of him that the others would rescue him, and he made sure Kyle knew it. He refused to be broken. Kyle grinned as he stared into Tristan's eyes, and without warning he slashed out with his clawed hand, tearing Tristan's underwear to shreds and slashing into the skin across his hips and thighs.
Tristan continued to look at him with defiance even as tears welled up in his eyes from the pain. He growled through the gag in his mouth, and followed Kyle's smirk as he glanced up at Micah. What Tristan saw in Micah's face was something he hadn't expected. Micah was obviously conflicted by what had happened, a mixture of shock and shame in his eyes. But there was also determination and anger, though neither of those was directed at Tristan.
He continued to stare at Tristan even as he slipped his legs into Tristan's pants, and upon finding that they didn't fit his longer legs he began to shift his form. Tristan almost looked away as Micah's features became his own, but he managed to keep looking until it seemed as if he were gazing into a perfect mirror. As much as everything had unsettled him thus far, this was the point which threw him off the most. Not only was Tristan a prisoner, but now Micah was going to betray his friend's wearing Tristan's skin. It made him sick to his stomach, and he almost threw up against the gag as he finally looked away.
Despite his resolve to see Indrus pay for what he had done, Micah was starting to feel ill as well. Going against Indrus would mean making enemies out of the only people who had ever been kind to him. Kurt, Jacob, and Luke were all waiting on the other side of the fence. Up until now they were the three who had influenced him more than anyone else.
"This is a waste of time. I say we just tie him up and leave him here." Micah heard Kurt say. Typical Kurt, always willing to give a person a fair chance. "The Alliance can deal with him."
"Really? I think we should kill him." The sound of Indrus' voice made the hairs on the back of Micah's neck raise, and the thought of him killing one of his parents reinforced why he was about to betray his friends. He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he hardly even registered Indrus' next words, "He killed a good friend of mine six years ago."
Micah growled and slid through the hole in the fence without making a sound with Kyle right behind him, though with all their sneaking abilities they were still noticed almost instantly by the men in the back yard. Indrus Krane had an arrow trained on the Tristan's doppelganger who sat restrained to a chair by a metallic cord, glaring back at Indrus defiantly. Kurt stood in front of the bound shape shifter, interrogating him. Jacob stood by the side, and it was he who looked up and noted the presence of Micah and Kyle.
"Hey, Luke sent us to get you. We're ready to go," Micah said in Tristan's voice.
"Zach Langster!" Kurt said pleasantly as he smiled at Kyle. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you. I trust that Tristan filled you in on what's going on?"
"Yes…" Kyle replied in Zach's voice.
"Hold up!" Came a shout from the front yard. Everyone turned in surprise to see Luke hobbling toward them with a make-shift crutch under his arm, and his pistol trained on Zach.
"Luke, what are you doing here?" Jacob asked with surprise.
"Neither of them are Tristan," Luke explained, gesturing between the bound shape shifter and Micah with his pistol.
"What…" Kurt said as he glanced between Micah and Kyle. Jacob appeared to enter a meditative focus as he seemed to ignore the group altogether for a moment.
Indrus glanced at a device on his wrist which showed several flickering dots. He looked back up to the group and explained, "There are three shape shifters here…"
"Four," Jacob interrupted with a pointed look at Indrus as he came out of his focus.
"Four." Indrus conceded with a nod.
"What the hell is going on here?" Luke demanded as he looked at Micah, whose expression of rage which he directed at Indrus looked foreign on Tristan's face. "Micah…" Luke continued in exasperation, "What are you doing?"
"Micah…" Jacob whispered. "So it wasn't Peter."
"There's no sense keeping up the charade…" Micah growled as he dashed toward Indrus faster than anyone else could follow and pounced on him, catching the man off guard. He threw Indrus into the ground as he shifted his features to become more cat-like. His fangs poised to rip into Indrus's throat he challenged the man in a voice dripping with vengeance, "You're the one that tried to kill my parents, aren't you?"
To his credit Indrus remained composed as he asked, "You're Micah? Child of Mark and Kyle Nordstrom?"
"Kill him, Micah!" Kyle shouted even as he started to back away from the group.
"That's right," Micah confirmed with a growl.
"I'm Kyle, you're father!" Tristan's doppelganger shouted from where it was bound to the chair, drawing a look of total confusion from Micah. "Kill him!"
Micah turned his attention toward the source of the expletive, the shape shifter who had convinced him that his parents were still alive. The shape shifter which had convinced him to betray his friends and who had almost certainly played a role in the death of Kyle and Mark Nordstrom. He would kill the imposter, the doppelganger, no matter what it took.
The shape shifter saw the fury in Micah's eyes and dashed back through the hole in the fence with Micah on his heels as the boy shifted into his cat form, the tatters of Tristan's clothing falling from his feline body as they ruptured through his shift. Jacob's form flickered and he also disappeared from sight, and Kurt hurried after them all while calling out, "We're got this, keep your weapons trained on that one."
"Come any closer and I'll kill him," The shape shifter said as soon as Micah rounded the corner. His claws were wrapped around Tristan's neck, and he was backing away slowly. Kurt rounded the corner then, and Jacob flickered back into sight just behind the shape shifter. The movement was not lost on the shape shifter as he backed up against a wall, shifting his glance between all three of them.
"You won't kill him," Jacob said simply. "Your employer wouldn't be very fond of that result."
"I serve myself first," the shape shifter replied easily, tightening his grip on Tristan's neck, causing the boy to gasp against the gag in his mouth. "This was about money, now it's about survival. If you really don't think I'll kill him to save my own skin, try me by coming closer."
"Is that why you killed my parents?" Micah asked as he took a step forward, meeting the eyes of the shape shifter.
"Killed your parents? Is that what they told you?" The shape shifter replied as he gestured with his other hand to Jacob and Kurt. "We didn't do anything."
"You seemed to know an awful lot about them," Micah continued as he took another step forward. "You knew their names, and about what happened. Too bad you couldn't keep your story straight. You should pick a better partner."
"If you keep this up, you'll kill your friend," The shape shifter warned as he took his other hand and carved a deep furrow in Tristan's cheek with a claw he grew from the end of his finger.
"So you admit it then?" Micah asked with a growl.
"I admit to nothing," the shape shifter replied with a growl of his own.
Micah's form began to shift to a human's as he stood up on his hind legs. As the transformation continued he said, "So, you're saying you never killed me?" As the transformation completed a naked man in his mid-twenties stared down at the shape shifter. He had long, platinum-blonde hair, and blue eyes that seemed to sparkle despite the shadows that covered the alleyway. Large, white feathery wings sprouted from his back and seemed to capture the light as well as his eyes did. "You're saying that you never killed Kyle Nordstrom, my father?"
The look in the shape shifter's eyes was one of horror as he stared at Micah, and that was enough to give Micah his answer. Everything that happened next seemed to occur in one instant. Jacob flickered to Tristan's side and manipulated the steel wire, unbinding Tristan's wrists, allowing Tristan to elbow the shape shifter hard in the stomach, causing him to bend over forward, which put his head directly in line for Micah's sudden charge forward, aided by a powerful push from his angelic wings. Micah slammed the shape shifter into the wall, causing him to lose his grip on Tristan.
Instead of falling to the ground, Kurt was there to catch Tristan and pull him away from the battling shape shifters. Micah had the upper hand, and was tearing into the other shifter's flesh with long claws and fangs, but the shifter was healing the wounds just as quickly. Kurt picked Tristan up and carried him away and back through the hole in the fence where he quickly passed the responsibility of guardianship off to Luke after untying Tristan's ankles.
"Micah's fighting the other one right now, though I can't tell who's winning," Kurt explained quickly to Luke's questioning gaze. Kurt glanced over at the shape shifter still bound to the chair, which looked considerably less smug than he had before.
"Neither," Jacob said as he popped back into view, "Though I doubt his friend will be coming back for this one. He just shifted into a snake and ran away, though Micah is chasing after him, the damned fool… I say we take this one prisoner."
"Are you saying that you are done interrogating this one?" Indrus asked with an unreadable expression. His arrow was still trained on the one in the chair, who was beginning to shift about nervously.
"I doubt he's going to tell us much more. But what else are we going to do with…" Jacob started to answer, but then stopped as the twang of the bowstring being released cut through the air, and the force of the arrow penetrating the shape shifter's chest knocked him to the ground, screaming in agony.
Tristan watched the shape shifter writhe about in his confines with a dead look in his eyes. He was sure he was in a state of shock, as he couldn't tear his eyes away from the image of the dying shape shifter. He wasn't alone in that either, and the others all seemed to be sharing in his confusion except for Indrus Krane.
"I don't understand," Tristan observed with a whisper. "I've watched a shape shifter take bullet after bullets, get slammed hard against a wall, and nothing seems to do more than make them flinch. Why is that arrow causing him so much pain?"
"It's tipped in a virulent poison designed to kill shape shifters," Indrus explained solemnly. "I've been hunting this pair for six years, ever since they killed Mark and Kyle Nordstrom." He turned to look Tristan in the eye as he added, "Kyle was my nephew."
"So that makes you…" Tristan started, but lost it as he started to shiver. Night was starting to come on, and he was naked and injured. He doubted that he would last for much longer if he didn't get help, but he couldn't think of how to ask for it. His thoughts were starting to get fuzzy.
"A shape shifter and Micah's great uncle?" Indrus replied with a mirthless chuckle. "I forget how those things work, but yes, we're family."
"You should tell him…" Tristan began, but then he collapsed to the ground, his energy fading quickly along with his consciousness. "Family is important…"
"Here, take my coat," Indrus said as Tristan felt the thick leather fall around his shoulders. "You're going to need it. I'll let you have my boots too or you'll get frostbite as you head back home."
"He got away…" Micah growled as he returned through the hole in the fence in his feline form. "The bastard got away."
"Micah, I respect your need for vengeance but there are more important things to worry about," Indrus said as he gestured down to Tristan who was still shivering despite the coat.
"You… should… tell… Micah…" Tristan whispered between shivers, "Micah… is… family." The last thing Tristan remembered as he faded out of consciousness was the sound of everyone calling his name.
"You've got to stop waking up here. People are going to talk."
Tristan's eyes fluttered open as he stared up into Peter's face. He was warm, and his head hurt. That was certainly nothing new. He tried to sit up but his head groaned in protest, as did his wounds around his thighs, wrists, ankles, and throat. They had started to heal, but he definitely wasn't out of the woods yet, and the look of concern in Peter's eyes told him that it had likely been a battle he might not have won.
"Thank you, but I don't mind waking up here. I suppose I have you to thank for me waking up at all," Tristan said with a grin that he forced through the pain. At least he was no longer naked. That was certainly a plus.
"I can't take all the credit. Everyone worked to keep you alive," Peter explained with a smile. "Luke apprised us of the situation as soon as they started the trip home, and Hayden and I made sure we were ready to handle you when you arrived, but otherwise the credit for your survival goes mainly to the others."
"Even Micah?" Tristan asked with a smirk.
The question struck Peter like a lightning bolt, and Tristan raised an eyebrow at this unusual response. Peter shook his head in disbelief as he replied, "I don't know if I can really believe it, but since I've experienced some of it myself I suppose that I have to. They told me that Micah carried you the entire way back to the aircraft, and then he carried you here to the infirmary. He wouldn't say a word to anyone until he was sure that you were getting treated, and then the first thing he did was apologize to me. He apologized, Tristan…"
"Is that all?" Tristan asked in a tone of wonder.
"Micah called me Peter…" Peter replied with a hearty laugh.
"Maybe there's hope for him after all," Tristan replied with a grin.
Thanks for reading Ashes of Fate. I'd love to hear your thoughts, good or bad, on this chapter or any of the future. A writer cannot improve without feedback, and I hope to one day become a master of the craft. Please, share your thoughts, and I promise I'll give them the respect and consideration they deserve. You can email me at Samuel.D.Roe@gmail.com, or you can visit my author page on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Samuel.D.Roe.Cynus/?ref=bookmarks.
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