Ashes of Fate - Season 1
Copyright © 2015, 2016 by Cynus
All Rights Reserved
All Rights Reserved
Episode 7: Hindsight
The door to the cafeteria opened slowly as Kurt and Jacob walked through, hand in hand and thoroughly entranced by each other. Luke was the first to address them as they came into the room. "I'm glad to see that the two of you made it back safely. Did you have a nice trip?"
Kurt glanced back and blinked several times before he blushed and replied, "You could say that. But it is good to be back. These old bones can only take so much time camping in the woods, and three weeks was pushing it."
Jacob snorted at the comment, not embarrassed in the least as he added, "Old bones? Your old bones were full of plenty of energy, and don't you deny it!"
The others laughed as Kurt blushed an even deeper shade of red. "Are you all going to poke fun at me or can I get some dinner in peace?"
"Whatever, old man," Micah said with a grin. "We all know that you're probably ravenous after all that 'energy' you used up."
This comment brought on another chorus of laughter but Kurt and Jacob were left alone once it had subsided. Kurt quickly ordered some food before they took their seat at the same table as Luke, Hayden, and Nevala. Tristan was glad to see that Kurt and Jacob had returned happy and well. They had been through a painful separation when Jacob had been exorcised from the knife that Kurt carried with him, and had taken a vacation to some nearby woodland in order to recover from the stress they had endured prior to being reunited.
That same time had been put to good use by Nevala, who had been training Tristan nearly every moment. Although Tristan hardly thought that he was making any progress, Nevala said that it would take time, and Tristan was already doing remarkably well. He then admonished Tristan that comparing the two of them would do him little good, as Nevala had far more experience than Tristan and it would be a long time indeed before Tristan acquired such a mastery of fire. If it had been anyone else, Tristan would have deemed the comment arrogant, but having seen Nevala's skill firsthand he knew it to be the truth.
Still, Tristan had been able to see some of the progress himself. He was now able to regulate his own body temperature to some degree, which meant that he no longer grew cold within the walls of the complex, or even while eating ice cream. He had produced his first flame the day before, though it was only a small flicker from the tip of his finger. He was proud of it all the same, though he did find the process particularly draining. How Nevala managed to immolate his entire self was something Tristan still could not quite fathom.
He had seen very little of either Micah or Peter over those weeks, and only when they had come to view his training. Nevala refused to allow him break times except for meals, and this evening was no exception. He took the time to sit with them, away from his teacher so that he could finally have some peer support. As close as Nevala looked to Tristan in age, Nevala simply didn't understand being a teenager any more.
"How's training going today, Tristan?" Peter asked just as Tristan took a bite to eat of his pasta. Tristan looked up at Peter and covered his mouth with his hand as he chewed, annoyed at the timing of the question.
He swallowed and replied, "It's alright, but I'm frickin' tired. I learned a new trick last night, though. I've been practicing it all day." When Peter looked at him expectantly Tristan sighed and put his hand face up on the table so that Peter and Micah could get a good view. He then concentrated and produced a small flame from the end of his index finger, and then proceeded to pass the flame across his fingertips.
Peter was transfixed by the fire, and though Micah gave it the same degree of attention, Tristan noted that there was definitely fear in Micah's eyes. Tristan put the fire out and looked at Micah cautiously until he met Tristan's gaze. "I'm sorry, Micah," Tristan said sincerely, "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
"What makes you think I was uncomfortable, Tristan?" Micah replied with a smirk. He went on with a roll of his eyes to conceal his fear, "If that's all you've learned so far then maybe you should find a better teacher."
Tristan was startled at the response and knew that it was showing in his face as Micah immediately looked guilty. That guilt was replaced by an emotion that Tristan could not define a moment later as Micah said, "You can't change who you are, Tristan. None of us can. If you want to keep learning the best way to kill me then by all means keep studying."
Before Tristan could rise to the remark Micah had already stood and was walking away. He was just about to step through the door when Ethan entered the cafeteria and said with a voice that left no room for argument, "Micah, hang tight for a moment. This concerns everyone."
"Ethan," Hayden said with a smile. "I'm glad to see that you decided to join us for dinner."
"I'm afraid I didn't come to eat, Hayden." Ethan replied grimly. Tristan was surprised at the tone of voice. Since the day they had been reunited with Jacob in Ethan's lab, Ethan had been much more approachable than before, and had joined them more often than not for meals. His reclusive nature was starting to subside, and it finally seemed like he was becoming one of the crew again instead of the shadow in whose home they lived.
"What's going on?" Luke asked.
"I received a transmission fifteen minutes ago from one of our old operatives," Ethan explained, "She rushed all the way to Nevada to contact me through one of the old transmitters we used back in our government days, and said that the news was urgent. The transmitter only had enough power for her to give me a set of coordinates and to tell me that the North Wer Alliance is looking for something there." Ethan paused for effect as he added, "Something that could win them the war once and for all."
"Where did the coordinates place the Alliance?" Hayden asked, after sharing an urgent glance with his comrades.
"In North Eastern Arizona," Ethan answered quickly, "Smack in the middle of the Navajo reservation. A place called Canyon…"
"… de Chelly," Nevala finished for him as his complexion paled. He turned to the others and said with a grimace, "I know exactly what they're looking for. Skinwalker has been talking about tracking it down for several years now. Shiva, the Nine Dragons representative in India and China, told me about their quest. Ethan's correct, this is urgent. We need to contact the Nine Dragons and tell them what we've learned and then head down there immediately. If they're close to finding the artifact we are all in danger."
Kurt turned to Nevala and asked, "What are they looking for."
Nevala grinned without mirth as he answered, "Something from a time long ago, when magic ruled the world. A time before even many myths and legends, though this artifact rears its ugly head from time to time. To the Navajo it is known as the Eyes of the Yee Naaldlooshii, or Eyes of the Skinwalker. It is only fitting that the organization within Skinwalker would be hunting such a thing."
"Why are they seeking it?" Luke asked, but Nevala simply shook his head.
"We need to go, and I do mean 'we'," He said as he rose to his feet. "Anyone who is willing should be down there making sure they don't get the artifact. I'll explain on the way."
Kurt, Hayden, Luke, Jacob, and Ethan seemed to communicate silently for a moment before they each started nodding. Tristan and Peter shared a look of their own, eyes wide with shock and a bit of fear. This was going to be an interesting trip.
In the end, Luke decided to stay behind, but atypically Ethan chose to join them instead. The aircraft was fuller than it had been in a long time, and the tensions were high amongst the crew. Everyone waited on baited breath for Nevala to continue, which he only did so once the aircraft had left the hangar and was heading west.
At Nevala's urging they had made contact with Indrus Krane, and found that he already knew about the artifact and was already on his way south. The Nine Dragons members in Central America and the East Coast had been contacted even earlier and were already in Arizona. They agreed to pick up Indrus Krane and give him a ride south with them, even though it would take them a bit longer to get there with the detour.
Time enough for Nevala to explain about the Eyes of the Yee Naaldlooshii. It was an artifact created by a powerful shaman, several thousand years before. It hadn't been called by that name then, but its original name had been lost to time. It wasn't the first time Nevala had come in contact with the item, though he hoped it would be his last, for the power of the artifact were nearly unmatched.
It was a silver chain, studded with small lapis lazuli stones along its entire length. Like most items made of the precious stone, Nevala explained, this one enhanced the psychic abilities of the wearer, making it powerful in any shaman's hands. But that was not the end to its powers. It had once fallen into the hands of an incredibly powerful shaman of the Anasazi people. That shaman used the necklace to ascend to the highest point of power among his people, and then led them to many numerous wars with their neighboring enemies.
And he bathed it in their blood, performing even darker rituals to increase its power. Every warlord he fought, he dipped the necklace in their blood and recited the incantation that would bind the soul of the warlord to the necklace and grant the warlord's power and influence to wearer of the necklace. In time the necklace became so strong that it could command the minds of men with but a gaze, and dominate them completely. The shaman now had endless armies under his command; soldiers willing to lay down their lives at all cost in the service of their master.
Until the shaman faced a battle he had never imagined; a battle which proved to be his ultimate undoing. He came into a valley where he found a lone wolf waiting for him, a wolf with human eyes. The wolf stared at him, unmoving, allowing the shaman to come as near as he dared. The shaman feared the wolf, despite his immense power, for there was something unearthly in his gaze, as if the wolf were not a wolf at all.
All at once the wolf charged him, shifting into the form of a man as it did. The shaman, caught off guard but not defenseless, lashed out at the man with all of his magical might. The man fell to the ground, as dead as anything could ever be, but still the fear stayed with the shaman. Despite the warnings in his head, he had to have the soul of this fearless wolf man become a part of him. With trepidation, he soaked the necklace in the blood of the man and recited the incantation once again. He felt the power of the soul enter the necklace, and he knew that the necklace had finally had its fill. The wolf man, the skin walker, would prove to be the final soul that the necklace would ever take.
The shaman returned to his people, but even as he did the madness began to sink in. He knew what had to be done. Once again he led his people to war, but his madness caused his people to lose their lives in great numbers as they marched on orders he should have never given. They continued to fight battles, always outnumbered and always on the run. Not even the shaman could determine what had changed until his people were on the brink of extinction. He had been ordering his soldiers to fight each other, to slay their own villagers; their women and children. He had ordered the men under his control to consume their own dead, feasting upon the flesh of their fallen comrades.
He realized with horror that he had done all of these things himself, and that he could not stop what had already begun. The madness was too thick, too consuming to end. He tried to remove the necklace but could not find the mental power to do so. Instead he continued to give the orders, continued to lead the Anasazi to their doom. Bit by bit the Anasazi killed each other off, ate the dead and then moved on to the next victim; each one a prisoner of the madman that their shaman had become. The twisted mind of the skinwalker he had consumed had taken over the shaman completely, and only when he had finished eating the flesh of the last of his tribe did it finally begin to relax its hold on him.
Seeing what he had done, he left the lands of his people behind, now desolate and unforgiving. The great cities they had built into the sides of the cliff walls now devoid of all life. He, first by his greed and then by his insanity, had destroyed his people until there was nothing left. He wandered from place to place, seeking for the sweet release of death.
And then he entered the valley, the same valley in which he had met the skin walker which had been his doom. At the center of the valley he found a wolf, a wolf with human eyes who stared at him as he approached. The shaman begged the wolf to kill him, to end his miserable existence. With a wicked canine grin the wolf descended upon him, tearing the necklace from the shaman's throat as it tore into the flesh beneath it. The shaman's blood spilled over the necklace as his soul departed. The necklace was full, and it would never drink again.
Nevala finished the story amidst wide-eyed stares. He was expressionless as he avoided their eyes, though Tristan noted that there was considerable pain within Nevala's fiery orbs. No one spoke as they digested the words that Nevala had said. While it sounded as nothing more than legend, Tristan somehow knew that it was all true, or at least that Nevala was a very convincing liar. He had recounted the entire tale as if he had been there and witnessed the whole thing for himself.
Not everyone was convinced however, and Micah was the first one to challenge the authenticity of the tale. "Are you saying that the North Wer Alliance is after a magical amulet that can control people's minds?" He asked with disbelief. "Are you completely crazy?"
"I assure you that the whole story is true, Micah," Nevala said as he met the shape shifter's eyes. "I was there. I saw it happen in another life."
"Not that I disbelieve you, Nevala," Kurt said, taking the opportunity away from Micah to make another rude comment, "but how come we've never heard this story before? If the Anasazi perished in such brutal manner, you would think that we would have some inclination about it."
The aircraft descended to the ground as Hayden announced, "We're about to pick up Krane, and then we'll be on our way to Arizona."
"I'll answer your question once Krane is on board," Nevala said with a smirk. "Why don't you ask him what happened to the Anasazi and see what he tells you."
Kurt nodded and agreed to wait. After a warm but quick series of greetings between Krane and the rest of the crew, the aircraft again ascended into the air and changed direction, heading toward Arizona. As soon as Indrus Krane was settled, Kurt turned to him and asked, "Krane, what do you know about the Anasazi?"
Krane looked between Kurt and Nevala before settling on Kurt and saying, "I see that Nevala has already been filling you in. The Anasazi were an ancient tribe of Native Americans who rose to power near the beginning of the last millennium. They were destroyed by a massive war instigated by the rise of a powerful shaman, driven by madness and delusions of grandeur. They literally destroyed themselves."
"And how did you come to this information," Jacob asked, following up on Kurt's suspicions.
"Two sources," Indrus Krane replied smoothly. "The first was Jackson Phillips, archeologist turned founding member of the Nine Dragons. He was also trained as a shaman by the Navajo. Later, we learned of an artifact that Skinwalker was in pursuit of and by happenstance one of our other operatives, who goes by the name of Shiva in China, mentioned it in passing to Nevala here." Krane smiled encouragingly at Nevala as he went on, "Nevala then recounted the tale that I'm sure that you just heard. It's hard to argue when it comes straight from…"
"That's enough, Krane, thank you," Nevala interjected smoothly, though for a brief moment fear flickered across his features. He turned his gaze around the room as he asked, "Now do you believe me?"
"I suppose we have to," Micah said, rolling his eyes. "After all, the infallible Indrus Krane said it so it must be true."
"You know that if you shape shift it's easy to get the stick out of your ass, right?" Indrus Krane said as he smirked at Micah.
"What's it to ya' old man?" Micah growled, showing his agitation. "This guy Nevala is always thinking he's so cool with his 'holier than thou' attitude. I'm sick of his shit, and I'm sick of yours too." Nevala looked as if he had been struck, and his eyes widened in surprise, but not outrage. If anything he showed pain at the words flung in his direction.
"Micah!" Tristan scolded, but the shout only earned him a dangerous glare before Micah set his sights on Krane again.
"I've only been here for a few minutes and you're already stirring up trouble again," Krane said with a glare as he stepped in front of Micah. "You're so used to being the center of attention that you can't bear the thought of someone else taking it away from you, even when their reason is justified. Nevala was giving a mission briefing you dolt! Didn't your parents teach you anything about respect?"
Tristan spoke again, this time rising to Micah's defense as he saw the sudden anguish in Micah's eyes. "You have no right to say that, Indrus Krane. You weren't there for him when his parents died, and you should have been."
"Stay out of this Tristan!" Micah growled as he rose to his feet. "You don't know anything about my parents! You weren't there at all… how dare you speak of them as if you knew who they were!? You…" His anger cooled for a brief moment as Tristan's words registered in his head. "Why should he have been there, Tristan? I was nine when they died and I never saw this man."
Tristan looked between Krane and Micah with a look of confusion before finally settling on Krane. "You mean you didn't tell him? Admittedly I slipped into unconsciousness before you had the chance, but I could have sworn that I made it clear you should tell him."
Indrus looked outraged at first, but then ashamed as he tore his gaze away from Tristan's, unable to answer Tristan's words. Micah on the other hand had nothing stopping him from asking dangerously, "Tell me what?"
Sighing, Indrus Krane turned back toward Micah and said, "I'm your uncle. Great uncle to be exact, on Kyle's side of the family. You were born after the war had begun, and I was already fighting the Alliance. I never made it back to your parents' home before they were killed, but we are family."
Micah stared at him as if he was crazy, and then he started laughing. The laughter soon became a cackle, which had everyone in the room sharing unsettled looks. Micah stopped abruptly and scanned the entire room before finally settling his gaze on Kurt and Jacob. "The two of you knew about this, didn't you?"
Kurt remained expressionless but Jacob nodded slowly and said, "Yes. That's why we always tried to convince you that it wasn't the Nine Dragons who had killed your parents."
"Why didn't you tell me the truth about Krane? You could have saved me a lot of trouble…" Micah said without emotion as if he was waiting for them to answer before he decided how he should feel about it.
"He didn't want you to know," Kurt answered, glancing between Micah and Krane. He shrugged and said, "We asked if we could tell you on several occasions, but he always denied us." Krane sighed at the answer and finally turned to face Micah again, as if he were waiting for his fate to be determined.
Micah ignored him and turned his gaze on Peter. "Did you know about this?" He asked with the same expression and tone he had used with Kurt and Jacob. Peter responded with a shake of his head and Micah nodded slowly. "I believe you. I already know why Tristan didn't tell me; he thought Krane had. As for Nevala, I don't care at all whether he knew or not, he's new. What about you, Ethan?" Micah asked as he turned toward the man who was watching him with a sly smile. "Why are you smiling, Ethan?"
Everyone turned toward Ethan as if drawn by a magnet, but his smile did not waver despite being the center of attention. "You have always been an enigma, Micah. Quick to anger and fiercely loyal to those you call friends. At the moment you're feeling slightly betrayed, and you're trying to assess what's going on. For the first time ever, you're not rushing to conclusions, and I think it's fascinating. But you want to know if I knew?" Micah nodded and Ethan continued, "No. It's not something that Kurt and Jacob ever discussed with me, and I'm pretty certain that neither Luke nor Hayden knew before Tristan did either. Luke would have told you despite Krane's wishes, as for me?" He paused as he shook his head helplessly. "Micah, I've always kept my distance from you, but I hope you know that it was never because I thought anything less of you. I could kill you with a touch, and that's the last thing I want to have happen. This is actually only the second time I've ever met Indrus Krane, and the first time I nearly killed him on accident. I think it's only fitting that the two of you are family."
"Ethan, you know everything. I'm to believe that you didn't know this?" Micah asked with a quirk of a smile, finally breaking through his emotionless façade.
Ethan shrugged and replied, "You can believe what you want to, Micah. That's always been within your power. You hold onto anger really well, but it is you who chooses to do so. While it's true that I do pay careful attention to things and often see from perspectives that others cannot seem to reach, I truly did not have the points of reference necessary to see this. I may know a lot about you," He continued with a full grin, "including why you disdain Nevala so much, though I will keep that matter to myself, but I did not know this."
Micah's eyes widened in shock and then narrowed suspiciously before Micah finally turned his gaze back to Krane. He studied the man's face for a while as his smiled faded. Just as Krane cleared his throat to speak Micah jumped in and said, "Alright. Since you want to claim that you're my uncle, I'll give it to you. But I'll make one thing clear. You and I are not family. Tristan said something as he slipped into unconsciousness in Seattle, something that unsettled me a great deal but also made me think. Since then he's also helped me understand a few other things, though I'm still a bit confused on some issues." His gaze flickered to Tristan for a moment before coming back to Indrus again. "Tristan said that I was family. Now I realize that he meant you and I were, though that really isn't the case. You and I should have been, but you abandoned me. Kurt and Jacob are my uncles. Ethan is like my reclusive grandfather who I only see on special occasions. Luke and Hayden…" He smirked as he said their names. "Luke tries to be my mother, and Hayden my abusive father. Not that they come even close to what I had, but they try. Peter and Tristan," he winked at Peter and then his eyes glazed a bit in confusion as they rested on Tristan. "They're my brothers, who I sometimes bicker with. But that brings me back to you."
His eyes grew cold and his tone was deathly as he went on, "You think that you are part of my family. You have never been there, and you will never be there. You never tried, not once. Even when Tristan gave you the option, and I may have taken it then," he added with a smirk, "you refused to own up to the responsibility. You took the easy route, rather than dealing with the responsibility of being a part of my family. I don't need you, Indrus Krane, and I don't want you. You think I have a stick up my ass? Why don't you make sure that yours is clear first before making a fool of yourself?"
Indrus paled at the question and started to speak, denial in his eyes but Micah turned to Nevala and interrupted Indrus. "I apologize. Indrus may be a liar, but I don't think he lied about your story. I didn't trust you because of other reasons unrelated to your story, but the rest of my family does. If they believe it, then I'm sure it's true."
"Thank you, Micah," Nevala replied after sparing a glance at Krane who now seemed at a complete loss for words. "I would like to earn your trust if you'll let me. Hopefully you'll see that I am sincere in working with you."
"I suppose we'll see," Micah replied with a nod. He left his seat and walked over to where he could activate the intercom and contacted Hayden. "Hayden, are we almost there? I'm already sick of this trip."
"Yes, Micah," Hayden replied with a groan. "Don't make me turn this thing around. You're lucky enough to be here at all, after your outburst at dinner."
"Yes, I am," Micah whispered back.
"What was that?" Hayden asked testily. "You better not be mumbling again. I'm going to smack you when we land if you keep this up."
"See," Micah said as he turned back to the group with a mischievous grin. "Abusive father!"
They had landed at twilight, and after some brief preparation which included Ethan stripping his rubber suit and Micah shifting into his feline form, they ventured out into the sparsely wooded hills that would eventually lead them to Canyon de Chelly. This was the first time that Tristan had been this far south, and he admired the unique rock formations that seemed to abound in this region. It was almost like an alien world, compared to the heavily wooded areas in which he had spent most of his life.
"I'm sure that all of you are wondering why I asked Ethan to come with us on this particular venture," Nevala said as they walked forward. The others kept their distance from Ethan, knowing that without his suit he could harm them easily, but Nevala walked up to Ethan and lay a comforting hand on the man's shoulder. "He has a skill that no one else can match, and it will be useful in determining the exact location of the artifact. I'm hoping that we can use his power over electricity as a sort of divining rod for the lapis lazuli crystals in the necklace. If we can, we'll be able to reach the artifact before the Alliance does."
"How are you going to do that, exactly?" Tristan asked, intrigued by the suggestion. Nevala had been attempting to teach him some degree of general magic on top of his training as a phoenix, but as of yet he was still struggling to grasp some of the basic concepts. This sounded like something more advanced than anything he had been taught so far, but that didn't mean that his want to understand it was any less.
"Although Lapis Lazuli is not particularly conductive of electricity, there is something about magical artifacts that gives them their own EM field," Nevala explained patiently. "I'm hoping that I can quickly train Ethan on how he could sense that EM field."
Tristan accepted the answer with a nod, and the group proceeded to walk through the twilight toward the canyon. All was silent except for Nevala and Ethan who were engaged in a lesson about sensing magic. Kurt and Jacob became involved in the conversation for a short duration as Kurt handed Nevala the knife from his belt for Ethan to practice sensing. By the time that Nevala returned the blade to Kurt, Ethan was certain he had figured it out.
Although he was quiet, Indrus Krane was the other person that Tristan continued to watch out of the corner of his eye. The man was completely conflicted, and not once did he take his eyes off of Micah's back as the youth plowed on ahead in his usual determined stride. Tristan doubted that even if Indrus tried to make an attempt at befriending Micah now that Micah would accept any apology, and he didn't really blame Micah for that either. If he had found out that there was some long lost family member who had willingly stayed away, then he wouldn't want to reconcile with them either. Indrus Krane was a man that Tristan simply could not understand.
Darkness descended upon them as they reached a trailhead which would lead them deeper into the canyon. There wasn't a soul in sight, but Jacob was quick to tell them that he could sense them up ahead. He flickered out of sight for a brief moment, and then returned with the information that the Alliance had a camp approximately one mile up the trail and around a bend in the rock. Ethan indicated that he also sensed something up ahead, though it was far more powerful than Jacob's knife and difficult to pinpoint exactly.
"We should probably split up to cover a bit more ground and to make ourselves less noticeable," Nevala announced when they stopped to determine how to proceed. "There are numerous caves in this part of the canyon if my memory serves me well, and it normally does. I suspect that if the Navajo skinwalkers had decided to hide the artifact in here then they would have surely done so underground." He turned to Ethan and said with an encouraging smile, "Ethan, why don't you, Hayden and Peter take one group and head along the south side, while Tristan, Tavi, and I take the north?"
Ethan nodded and gestured for Hayden and Peter to follow him. The south side would not take them as close to the Alliance camp as the north side would, which meant that Nevala would take the more dangerous path for his own. Although that meant that Tristan would be going with him as well, there was no safer place for Tristan to be than with Nevala.
"What about the four of us?" Kurt asked, and Micah, Indrus, and Jacob all looked equally interested in the answer.
"We need scouts to keep an eye on the enemy, and we need to know exactly what they're doing," Nevala explained quickly. "Micah and Indrus, both being shape shifters, should be able to avoid detection. I know that your particular talents lie in scouting, Kurt, and Jacob should be able to serve as messenger between the three of you and us as well."
"That seems like a reasonable plan," Kurt agreed with a nod. He turned to Micah and Indrus and said, "I'll take the middle then, so that Jacob is well within range of both of you. Micah, you take the north side of the camp and Indrus, you take the south side. If we're all in agreement, that is."
"Whatever," Micah said with a shrug of his feline shoulders. He glanced between Kurt and Tristan as he went on, "As long as you call me when there's a fight, I'll be a scout for now. It seems like a dangerous mission to be going off on your own."
"It is a dangerous mission," Nevala agreed, "Which is exactly why I need you in a position that you can see everything and help where needed. You're arguably the best fighter we have, and I would much rather put you in a centralized position."
Micah shrugged again and trotted off to the north, his soft feline paws making almost no sound across the dry rock. Nevala sighed and looked to Tristan before inclining his head in the same direction as the one Micah had gone in and asking, "Are you ready to go?"
Tristan nodded and they departed while Kurt and Indrus went their own ways. The night was young, but it could take them a great deal of time to find what they were looking for, if they even found it at all. Their only hope lay in the possibility that the Alliance would not find it first, but from the look of determination on Nevala's face as Tristan followed him up the canyon wall, he knew that they had a good chance of succeeding.
It was as if Nevala had been in the canyon only yesterday, and it didn't take them long to find the small mouth of a cave that had been virtually invisible from the canyon floor. As they stepped through the entrance, Nevala engulfed his hand in flame, lighting the place as a torch and giving Tristan a perfect view of the petro glyphs which adorned the walls. These were unlike any glyphs that Tristan had ever seen before, almost as if they had been drawn by the hands of madmen.
Depictions of great battles between fierce beasts and men armed with spears covered nearly every surface, but the beasts were surely winning. At the center of it all stood a prominent figure, a wolf man standing on two legs with lines drawn from his eyes toward all of the other nearby wolves. The wolf man's face, although lacking in detail, somehow carried the impression that he was insane, and that his insanity was giving him power over the others.
"If I'm not mistaken, that is a depiction of the Yee Naaldlooshii who gained control over the necklace after the shaman fell," Nevala said as he came to stand beside Tristan. His eyes were not staring at the painting however, despite the fact that he was looking in that direction. Instead they had a glazed look, as if he were lost in memory.
"What role did you have in that story, Nevala?" Tristan asked as he considered his teacher's face. Nevala turned toward him and blinked several times as he registered the question.
He sighed as he turned away and started further in, waving Tristan forward. "You should probably have your own light, too. Just in case we miss a turn off. It's been a long time since I've been down here, and it's possible that the cave has changed some."
Tristan nodded and focused for a moment on summoning a small flickering flame to the end of his fingertips. It wasn't much, but in the near total darkness of the cave it added a great deal. He followed after Nevala and was tempted to ask his question again when Nevala stopped and stared at him long and hard.
"I've played many roles in many stories, Tristan, but this is one I wish I didn't remember," Nevala explained with a distant look in his eyes. "I think I may have neglected the most important lesson that I could ever teach you about what it means to be a phoenix. We have a responsibility that others don't. When we remember the past, we have to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes that we made. Sometimes, we fail at that, and it can lead to terrible consequences."
"What exactly are you saying?" Tristan's eyes narrowed as he considered the implications of Nevala's words.
Nevala met those suspicious eyes with a haunted expression of his own, but he continued without hesitation, "Sometimes we do terrible things with the knowledge we have accumulated. Tristan, I am one of the oldest phoenixes still alive, if not the oldest dependent upon whether or not those who came before me are now completely dead. I remember clearly times that human history barely even remembers existed, much less what it was like."
Tristan noticed a rustling in Nevala's kimono as Tavi poked his head out from where he had been sleeping and said groggily, "Nevala's done a lot in his life, and he doesn't share it with everyone. You should feel honored." He crawled out the rest of the way and climbed up to Nevala's shoulder and added, "This is a lesson you should really listen to."
"What happened?" Tristan asked with renewed focus. Tavi was as smart as any human he had ever met, and Tristan realized that if the small creature could forgive Nevala of his crimes than Tristan surely could as well.
"I was the shaman who led the Anasazi to their doom," Nevala explained as he turned toward Tavi and pet the mongoose soothingly. "I had become driven by the need for power, and I had the knowledge necessary to obtain it. The problem came in the fact that I was naïve of other things, and that those who seek power are easily corruptible. When I felt that madman's soul within the necklace, I knew that I had made a mistake, but I was convinced that I could learn to control him as I had everyone else. The sad fact is you can't control insanity."
"So we're looking for the item that allowed you to destroy an entire race of people? Are there no other reasons why you want to find it?" Tristan asked, trying to keep the suspicion from his voice.
"You think I would want to use it again?" Nevala asked as his eyes widened. And then he started to laugh, his whole body shaking with the throes of his amusement until tears came to his eyes. "Tristan…" He said when he finally caught his breath. "I honestly hope I never see it again. If I do, then I will do exactly what I should have done the last time I saw it in this cave. I'll destroy it, so that it won't cause pain to anyone ever again."
"Good," Tristan said with a satisfied nod. "Let's find it then, and make sure the Alliance never gets it. I don't want to find out what they'll do with it, even if they do end up destroying themselves."
"If whoever is leading this contingent is a Yee Naaldlooshii as I suspect then they won't have a problem controlling the necklace," Nevala replied with a grim expression as he shook his head. "No, this is not going to be good for us at all if they get their hands on the artifact. A lot of people are going to die. We may be reborn but there is no concrete proof that humans ever are. After all, even a phoenix can be permanently killed."
"We can be killed permanently? I thought that…" Tristan stopped short as Tavi jumped from Nevala's kimono and scurried down the tunnel. Without waiting for Tristan to finish his sentence, Nevala quickly followed after him. They quickly came to a fork in the tunnel and Tavi stopped and sniffed the air for a moment before taking the right path over the left.
They followed Tavi for another minute until the mongoose finally started to slow down. He was sniffing even more often, as if he were trying to figure out a scent that seemed familiar but one he couldn't place. "What is it, Tavi?" Nevala asked.
Tavi scrambled up the side of the cave wall and breathed in more deeply. All at once his face lit up and then his eyes narrowed before snarling, "There's an Elfee in here. I can smell him."
Nevala raised an eyebrow as he replied, "An Elf? Interesting… I wasn't aware that there were any Elves working for the alliance. They're remained largely neutral in the conflict, and the few that haven't have been on our side."
"What's an Elf?" Tristan asked as he looked around, his pulse beginning to quicken. The sound of the word 'Elf' triggered something in his memory, and he was certain that he had come across the term before in some of his books, though the meaning of the word escaped him. "Is it anything like a Wer?"
Nevala chuckled as he shook his head. "No, they are drastically different. Elves are pretty much human, and certainly much more human than Wers are. They broke off of humanity several thousand years ago, in the pursuit of nature magic. Once…" he trailed off as he noted the glazed look in Tristan's eyes. This was neither the time nor the place for this discussion, regardless of the presence of an Elf. "No, never mind," Nevala welt on as he stifled his grin. "We don't have time for a history lesson. Suffice to say that they decided to keep themselves separate from human dealings for a very long time, but they do pop up from time to time."
"Are they dangerous?" Tristan asked as he glanced down the tunnel with wide eyes.
"Not inherently," Nevala replied. "They can be if they've honed their skills, but not usually. I think we should try to trap this one and get some information out of him or her."
"How do you propose to do that?" Tristan asked.
"How far away is the Elf, Tavi," Nevala asked instead of answering the question, "and which direction is it headed?"
"It's about three hundred meters deeper in than us if you can trust my nose," Tavi replied with a nod that seemed to be directed at his own comment. He sniffed several more times before turning back with a confident smile and adding, "And it's coming toward us."
"I think the best option would be for us to lay some bait," Nevala said with a mischievous glint in his eye. He glanced down the tunnel briefly before returning to stare at Tristan. "Let's go back to where the cave forked, and I'll hide down the other passageway. You'll lure the Elf out and I'll surprise it from behind."
Tristan swallowed his fear and nodded, before turning and heading back the way they had come. Nevala followed after for a little while, and Tristan could sense his presence until he passed the fork, and then Nevala's presence was gone.
His heart began to race again as he turned around and faced the dark passageway. A moment later the flame in his hand started to fade as the fear crept in and caused him to slowly lose control. He forced himself to calm down with several deep breaths as he watched the darkness below him, and sighed in relief as the flame flickered back into existence.
The silence seemed eternal as he waited for some sign of the Elf, but there was no one. He couldn't even make out any light from where his Nevala waited down the other passageway, but then he realized that Nevala had probably done that on purpose. If Tristan had been the one trying to hide, he would have made sure that he was as undetectable as possible, and fire would have done him no good in that regard.
Tristan considered taking a step closer to that corridor when he heard the click of a rifle being prepped to fire. He turned slowly as he looked back toward the other tunnel and saw a man he had hoped to never see again. He was tall and slender, and his short brown hair was neatly cut giving him a more professional appearance. His blue eyes watched him with the deathly gaze of a hawk considering its prey. Having once been this man's prey, Tristan knew that the man had the skill to back up that gaze.
This was the man who had finally captured him in the streets of Ashburg and made him a prisoner of the North Wer Alliance. The rifleman who claimed to never miss, and now that rifle was pointed at Tristan's chest.
"Well, well…" The rifleman said with a sneer, "If it isn't Tristan Rembrandt."
"You…" Tristan snarled back, but forced bravado compelled him to add, "I see your hands are better."
"No thanks to that beast who rescued you," The rifleman growled back, spitting as he mentioned 'the beast' which could only be Micah. It had been Micah who had pounced on the rifleman when they had made their escape into the woods on the night that the Confederacy had rescued him.
"Perhaps you should have never held me captive in the first place," Tristan replied, dryly. The rifleman was still too far back for Nevala to gain any advantage for coming out of the other tunnel, and so Tristan took a step back. He hoped that the move would draw the rifleman forward rather than give the man cause to shoot him.
"Oh?" The rifleman replied with a wry chuckle. "I was only doing my duty, kid."
"Your duty?" Tristan echoed as he took another step back. The rifleman wasn't moving to follow. "How is it anyone's 'duty' to kidnap a teenager so that he can be executed by the North Wer Alliance?"
"What has the Confederacy been telling you, kid?" The rifleman scoffed. He shook his head and took a shallow step forward, but was still some distance back from where Nevala was hiding.
"They didn't have to tell me that," Tristan replied, "Faust did." Another step back, this one matched by the rifleman.
"He did, huh?" The rifleman asked and bit his lip. His eyes stopped tracking Tristan for a moment and Tristan took the opportunity to move a couple more steps.
"Yeah, why don't you ask him about it if you don't think that's what's going on?" Tristan replied as the rifleman's eyes met his again. He made sure that the suggestion carried as much weight as he could put behind it, and for a brief moment he was sure that the rifleman was considering the request.
But then a crooked smile crossed the rifleman's face as he growled, "Do you really think I'm going to trust your word over his? Faust told me that you're a fugitive, and you're supposed to stand trial, and I intend to ensure that you do." He took a step forward, putting him just at the edge of the corridor that led toward Nevala, and raised his rifle at Tristan.
Tristan caught movement in the shadows but didn't look Nevala's way. They were slowly coming up the corridor and would be on the rifleman in any moment. "What if I just run?" Tristan asked as he took another step back. "What will you do then?"
"Remember the last time you ran?" The rifleman asked with a sneer. "I never miss, kid, and I'll make sure you never walk again."
Tristan opened his mouth again as if he were going to challenge that claim, but then he shook his head and raised his hands in surrender. "I suppose I have no other choice then," he said with finality, "If you won't listen to reason about Faust, I suppose I'll just have to prove it to you by letting you take me in."
The rifleman looked at him as his eyes narrowed, but then he began nodding slowly as he bit his lip again. He took another step toward Tristan, but then turned abruptly and pointed his rifle down the corridor. "Raaaaaaahhhh!!!" Came Tavi's screech, and just before the shot left the barrel of the gun, the mongoose landed on the rifle and moved it down and to the side, but the painful grunt from Nevala told Tristan that his teacher had still been hit.
Nevala threw himself back against the wall while he launched a spout of flame from his hand toward the rifleman, but missed him badly. Tristan rushed forward while the rifleman tried to shake Tavi from his rifle as he shouted obscenities at the mongoose. The rifleman was clearly winning the small scuffle, but at the moment was also completely distracted. Tristan looked between Nevala and the rifleman and then made a decision. He dashed up to the rifleman and punched him hard in the face.
The rifleman screamed much more loudly than Tristan had expected and dropped the rifle at his feet as he pulled away. He stumbled backward for several feet before tripping and falling over, clutching at his smoldering eye socket. Tristan stared at him dumbfounded before glancing down at his fist to see that it was completely enshrouded in flames. Flames which had just burned the sight out of the rifleman.
Stumbling out of the corridor, Nevala took quick stock of the situation and then approached the rifleman quickly. He delivered a swift kick to the side of the rifleman's head which dropped him to the floor, unmoving. Nevala looked as if he were considering kicking him again when Tavi ran up his side and perched on his shoulder. A second later the mongoose was on the ground again and Nevala was wincing painfully as he stared at the shoulder.
"Well, he's right about one thing," Nevala growled as he kicked the rifleman in the stomach. Despite the rifleman's unconscious state, he groaned at the blow. "He never misses. Man that hurts!" He glanced back at his shoulder and the damp spot on his kimono which could barely be seen in the dim light. With only one arm working on the task, Nevala began to remove his kimono.
"Are you all right, Nevala?" Tristan asked as he took a step toward his teacher.
"I will be," Nevala said with a nod as he managed to get the kimono off of his shoulder, revealing a large gaping wound and a great deal of blood. "He shot my shoulder," he said as if it were not already obvious. He glanced down at Tavi who was regarding him with concern and added, "Thanks, Tavi, I owe you one." Tavi nodded and watched Nevala work as he held his hand over his shoulder and engulfed it in flames much hotter than any Tristan had ever felt. He actually felt warm for a moment, but then the flames were gone and Nevala's wound was cauterized. Nevala wiped sweat from his brow before turning to Tristan and smiling weakly.
Tristan decided to ask about what Nevala had done at some later time. For the moment there were more important things that needed to be attended to. He nodded toward the rifleman's body and said, "I thought you were planning on interrogating him?"
"Yeah, well I wasn't exactly planning on him shooting at me," Nevala said dryly before glancing down at the rifleman with dark eyes and teeth bared. "I thought I'd been quiet enough, but his damned Elvish hearing caught me."
"So what now?" Tristan asked.
"He's going to be out for a while, and we can take his rifle…" Nevala paused before looking up and meeting Tristan's eyes. "I say we leave and the next time Jacob shows up we ask him to keep an eye on our friend here until he wakes up." Tristan nodded and picked up the rifle, but then stared hard at the rifleman for a moment before stepping away.
"You seem troubled by something, Tristan?" Nevala asked.
Tristan blinked several times as he looked back at Nevala before glancing down at the rifleman again and said, "It seemed like he didn't know what they wanted me for. Why wouldn't he know?"
"You're not telling me that you think the Confederacy has been lying to you, are you?" Nevala replied with wide eyes.
"No… I know enough to trust them," Tristan assured Nevala with a shake of his head. "But what if the North Wer Alliance hasn't been telling the truth about why they want me captured to their troops?" He went on while gesturing toward the rifleman with his empty hand. "I wonder if they'd be so keen on catching me if they knew I was going to be sacrificed to give their leader eternal life."
"It's possible," Nevala said, but the look in his eyes gave away the fact that he didn't believe it. "This guy is pretty well known as far as Alliance members go. His name is Nurim, and he's Faust's son. I bet he knew what was going on and was just trying to get you to drop your guard so that he could catch you."
"You may be right…" Tristan replied with a shrug.
"You don't sound convinced," Nevala said with a small smile. Tristan met his eyes and saw nothing accusatory within them, and he knew that Nevala was open to the possibility that Tristan was right.
"Something in his voice…" Tristan said with another shrug. He glanced down at Nurim and went on with his eyes widening slightly, "He was honestly surprised by what I said."
"Who knows…?" Nevala asked with a shrug of his own, "He was still trying to kill you."
"Maybe…" Tristan said, but he had seen the look in Nurim's eyes when he had been confronted with the news of Faust. Nurim hadn't been trying to kill him, of that Tristan was sure, but regardless of what the truth was, Tristan no longer had time to figure it out.
"Shit!" Indrus whispered as he acquired his first view of the encampment below them. There were several familiar faces down there, most of them high ranking enemy officers, but there was one which stood out above all others. Ferdinand Damascus.
The large man was tied to a stake by course rope, and positioned in a place where during the daylight hours he was sure to be burning in the hot Arizona sun for most of the day. From this distance Indrus wasn't even sure if Ferdinand was still alive, considering the exhausted manner in which he hung from the stake, but he needed to find out. Ferdinand Damascus was the member of the Nine Dragons who had been operating in Central America, and it was Indrus' duty to his comrade to attempt a rescue.
Before he could jump over the edge of the rock and start down toward the camp to get a closer look, he heard the sound of a foot sliding against a pebble. Turning around quickly, he brought his bow up with an arrow nocked and at the ready, shifting his eyes into those more suited for fighting close range in the dark.
He lowered the bow a moment later as the woman approached him. She was wearing an outfit which was both formfitting and sleek, but it was not to accentuate her figure but rather to allow her greater freedom of movement. The cloth was all black, which helped her blend into the shadows when she needed to, which was often in her line of work. Kathryn Monet was the most skilled assassin that Indrus Krane had ever met, and he was glad to have her on his side.
"Indrus!" Kathryn whispered as she stepped forward and embraced him. "So it is you. Who is with you?'
"The Icarus Confederacy," Indrus replied as they pulled away. "They called me about what was going on and I was already headed this direction. I hitched a ride with them."
"How did they find out?" Kathryn asked, her eyes narrowing.
"They had an operative in the area," Indrus replied dismissively, "Why are you so concerned about them anyway? We need to focus on rescuing Ferdinand!"
"I'm sorry, I was just hoping that they would be able to help us," Kathryn replied quickly. Her voice was emotionless, and Indrus just wrote it off as her professionalism, despite her unprofessional wording. "They're not far away, are they?"
"We have one on the ridge across the way," Indrus said as he indicated Micah's position, and then turned to where Kurt was positioned behind a pillar of rock and said, "And one over there."
"Too far," Kathryn replied with a shake of her head. "I was down there a moment ago and I heard them say that they were planning on executing Ferdinand within the hour. We have to rescue him now."
Her insistence came without the tone that would normally attach to such a claim, but Indrus nodded and accepted it. There was no reason to believe that Kathryn would be lying. She was one of his closest friends, and had been since she joined the Nine five years before. If she said that Ferdinand was in immediate danger, then he was, and nothing was simpler than that.
"You know the layout better than I do, what would you like me to do?"
Micah switched his eyes to those more accustomed to the dark and stared out across the canyon to where the soldiers were busy going about their tasks for the evening. He noticed movement beyond the camp and soon noticed Indrus was making his way down the side of the canyon and toward the small circle of tents. The fool was moving in closer than he should, and was going to get himself noticed if he wasn't careful.
Either way, this wasn't in the plan; he couldn't let it slide without bringing it up with Kurt. From the pace that Indrus was setting, Micah didn't have time to wait for Jacob to appear to find out what was going on. If they needed to act, they had to be ready at a moment's notice, and that meant that he had to reach Kurt as soon as possible. With a snarl in Indrus' direction, Micah shifted his form into that of a night hawk and flew off toward Kurt's position.
He landed lightly and regarded Kurt curiously for a moment. Kurt was in a good position, almost completely out of sight from the camp, though with a small crack in the rock which he could use his spyglass through. He was watching Indrus and cursing, and Micah had his answer that this was definitely not something that Kurt had known about. Indrus was acting on his own.
"What the hell is he thinking?" Micah said, causing Kurt to spin around in alarm, drawing his knife as he faced off against Micah. As soon as Kurt saw that it was Micah, he sheathed the knife and returned his attention to Indrus' activities.
"He's thinking that he knows what he's doing," Kurt muttered as Indrus stepped toward the perimeter of the camp, and motioned behind him as if he were giving direction to someone else. Micah and Kurt watched him nod and then step forward into the camp, moving stealthily toward the man tied to the large wooden stake in the ground.
All at once the camp seemed to come to life. Lanterns were lit and the entire canyon floor was bathed in bright, bluish light. Indrus raised his bow defensively as he dashed back toward the perimeter but he was met by a woman dressed entirely in black who sent Indrus flying back into the camp with a swift kick to his chest.
The maneuver seemed to catch Indrus off guard, but he recovered quickly and rose to his feet, firing an arrow at the woman who took the missile in her thigh. She went down and Indrus rushed to get past her, but there were already others rushing to meet him. Half of their number appeared human while the other half were large wolves, some of which were walking on their hind legs. Indrus fired off a quick series of arrows, each one finding its home in one of his opponents, but they moved in anyway as if they were unafraid of the danger their foe presented.
And then a large werewolf entered the light of the lanterns, and suddenly Indrus was on his knees, clutching at his skull. His bow fell to the ground, forgotten as he cried out into the night. And then he stopped moving as the large werewolf came up to him and barked some order that Micah couldn't hear from this far away.
Indrus rose to his feet and started to speak, gesturing toward Kurt's position, and then toward where Micah should have been. Almost immediately the soldiers started to move toward them, their movements robotic but swift. Indrus had just betrayed them all.
"This is bad… Go warn Nevala and Ethan," Kurt ordered as he lowered the spyglass and stepped away from the crack in the boulder.
"On my way," Micah said with a nod as he prepared his wings to take off. "I'll be back in a moment."
"Don't. Rendezvous with them and I'll move to a safer position to watch this unfold," Kurt ordered as he started moving down the slope. "They're looking for both of us, and I don't intend to let them find me."
"Agreed," Micah replied. "Don't join him down there."
"Do you think I'm stupid, Micah?" Kurt asked with a smirk.
"Not at all," Micah answered with a nod of his head as he extended his wings. "Take care of yourself, Kurt."
"Micah! What the devil are you doing here?" Nevala asked as they stepped out of the cave and saw Micah land and then transform into his blue feline form which then dashed across the rocks toward them. Micah's speed revealed his urgency and started to make Tristan anxious.
"Indrus Krane, that bastard, totally just gave us away!" Micah growled between panting as he slowed his approach. He came to a rest in front of them and glared up at Nevala as he continued, "He went down into the camp and tried to rescue a prisoner, but they ambushed him and took him prisoner instead.
"It gets worse," Jacob said as he flickered into view beside Micah. "They're coming this way, and they already made a play for Kurt's position. He's in hiding, but it's in such a tight spot that if I went to him they'll catch him for sure. With their noses I'm not convinced that they won't catch him anyway, but at least they'll take him alive," Jacob added with a grimace. "They also sent men to Ethan's position, and I've already warned them, but who knows if they'll make it out in time."
"Shit! This isn't good at all," Nevala said as he clenched his hands into fists. "Whatever possessed Krane to do a thing like that?"
"He's a jackass?" Micah offered dryly.
Jacob was shaking his head as he replied, "No… There was someone else with him; a woman dressed all in black. I thought it was Kathryn, but she appeared to lead him directly into the ambush as if she were in on it."
"No, that was her, I'm sure of it," Nevala replied with a look of horror. "She was probably under the artifact's control, which means they already have it. I can't believe they found it already and have been camped out here, waiting for us! They must have caught Ferdinand and Kathryn."
"Then why was Nurim in the cave?" Tristan asked. "If they already found the artifact then they had no reason to be there."
"Except for the fact that they should have found the artifact in there," Nevala reminded him with a smirk, "If they thought that another person was coming, then they probably assumed it would be best to guard the place where they found the artifact. That way they could catch whoever came by. No matter now, we have to handle this situation as best we can. Jacob, go back to Ethan and tell them to get back to the airship. At the very least they should get to safety."
"Understood. I'll be back in a moment," Jacob replied before disappearing from sight again.
"As for us, I have a spell that should help us out," Nevala said as he motioned for Tristan and Micah to step closer and then began to chant. It was a deep, tonal chant, which seemed to resonate off of the nearby rocks. Tristan glanced between his companions and the terrain, as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. His eyes settled back on Nevala and he gasped as his teacher became outlined in blue flame. Micah took a step back as his eyes filled with fear, but Nevala grabbed him and held him there, which quickly told Micah that the flames were heatless.
Tristan inched closer as Nevala reached for him as well, and the chanting grew even louder. The blue flames spread out from Nevala's hands and enveloped both Tristan and Micah, and it seemed for a moment as if the chanting were not only being heard in his ears but also from inside his own mind.
Micah and Tristan shared a wide-eyed look before returning their attention to Nevala, who was still chanting. They gasped together as they realized that Nevala's mouth was no longer moving, but they could still hear his voice in their heads. All at once the chanting stopped, and Nevala looked at both of them with a smile that could barely be considered one at all.
"What was that?" Micah asked, glancing down at his skin as if expecting the blue fire to return at any moment.
"I've linked our minds on a very primal level," Nevala explained. "We can't hear each other's thoughts, but to some limited degree we'll be able to sense each other's emotions, if they're powerful enough."
"And how will that help us?" Tristan asked as he glanced toward the canyon floor. He was certain that he had just seen something move in the distance, but it could have just as easily been his nerves.
"As far as the amulet is concerned, we'll be like one very big entity. Since whoever is using it is bound to be new at doing so, I doubt that they'll be able to command enough power at once to dominate our minds linked together," Nevala explained, alternating his gaze between Micah and Tristan. "The domination effect of the artifact requires the wearer to extend all of their mental will to bring someone under their control, though retaining that control afterwards is not difficult or taxing."
"So you're sayin…" Micah stopped his question and stared out toward the canyon floor before growling, "They're here."
Jacob flickered back into view and said, "I was just about to tell you the same thing. Ethan and the others are making their way to safety."
"Good. See if you can get Kurt out of here as well," Nevala replied, and Jacob was gone as quickly as he had come. One less person for them to worry about.
Tristan glanced off to the side, swearing that he had seen movement again, but there was nothing apparent in the moonlight except for his own shadow. He blinked and shook his head, reminding himself to focus and not let his fear get the better of him. Tristan turned back toward Nevala just as a form darted past his peripheral vision to launch itself at Nevala. "Watch out!" Tristan cried a moment too late.
Nevala turned just as the werewolf pounced and he raised his hands to shield himself from the snarling jaws that descended upon him. He immolated his hands and the air filled with the scent of burning fur. The sheer weight of the animal bore Nevala to the ground and a sickening pop was heard amidst the pained growling of the werewolf. The sound seemed to come with an increase in Nevala's fury as the wolf became enshrouded in orange flames and its charred corpse fell to the side.
Tristan was at Nevala's side a moment later, helping Nevala to his feet. "Bastard just dislocated my shoulder, probably because it's weakened by the bullet still being in there," Nevala said with a grimace as he gripped his arm tightly. He nodded ahead of them and said, "Up the trail, let's move. Micah, you take point."
Micah nodded and started up the trail with Tristan close behind. They moved as fast as they were able, but stopped a moment later when Tristan realized that Nevala wasn't following. He was startled as he felt something run up his leg but then when Tavi's face appeared next to his own he relaxed momentarily and asked, "Where's Nevala?"
"Buying us time, you dimwit!" Tavi said with a snarl. "Let's go. Nevala can handle himself."
"But…" Tristan protested, but then felt something pulling on his pant leg. The motion ceased as he looked down into Micah's eyes.
Micah nodded toward the trail and said, "Come on. The longer we wait, the more time Nevala has to buy us." Without waiting for Tristan's answer, Micah turned and started back up the trail, though he maintained a pace that Tristan could easily keep up with.
Tristan hesitated only a moment longer before turning and running after Micah. He remembered well how Nevala had handled the werebears up in Canada, and the others were right, Nevala could definitely hold his own. Although he still felt guilty for abandoning Nevala, he would try to escape and rescue his teacher once they were safe.
He glanced back over his shoulder to see if he could see Nevala only to come face to face with a werewolf in midair as it pounced toward him. Tristan spun and lifted his arms in defense as the wolf bore him to the ground. Tavi shrieked and scurried away as Tristan guarded his face against the snapping jaws.
Micah turned on his heel and dashed back toward the werewolf that had pounced on Tristan, and jumped for its throat. The werewolf jumped off of Tristan as it faced off with Micah's snarling feline visage. Tristan climbed to his feet as quickly as he could manage while Micah stood protectively between him and the werewolf.
They were running out of space, and they both knew it. Tristan glanced up the trail they had been following and saw that it ended at a large pile of boulders that would block him from ascending with any ease at all. There was only one option left, they had to fight.
He moved up to Micah's right and tried to summon the flames to his hands, and surprised himself by doing it on his first try. When he had done it instinctively in the tunnel with Nurim, it unlocked something within him that had been preventing him from doing it before, but now it was as if that wall had never been there. He was one with the flames, at least for now. The adrenaline pumping through his system was a possible contributor as well, and as long as his fight or flight told him it was time to fight, he knew he'd have the power to defend himself.
"You should try to get over the boulders, and I'll distract him. He can't kill me," Micah said as they circled around with the werewolf. The werewolf was glancing between them both with only a small semblance of sanity. At least it was more than the madness which had been there before. It knew that it wouldn't be able to take on both of them at once, and it wasn't about to try.
"No, we can take him, and then we'll have one less enemy following us," Tristan whispered back, hoping that Micah's feline hearing would pick up the words. He saw Micah nod slightly, and that was all the answer that Tristan needed. With a primal yell to bolster his own courage, he rushed to the side with his hands stretched in front of him, mimicking a maneuver he had witnessed Nevala perform before, and attempted to will the flames from his hands to leap toward the werewolf.
Though it was not as powerful as he had seen Nevala unleash before, he sent a small ball of fire hurtling toward the creature. The werewolf saw the attack and jumped out of the way, but the brilliance of the flames coming toward him had distracted him away from the other combatant. With his powerful stride Micah easily closed the distance between himself and the werewolf and as it landed its evasive dodge from Tristan's flames, Micah's jaws wrapped around the werewolf's throat.
The werewolf growled and thrashed into Micah with its claws, but the wounds healed almost as soon as they appeared, and soon the werewolf stopped struggling altogether.
Tristan used the time to look back down at the canyon floor and see that there were several more men headed their way, and their enemies had gained considerable ground during the small scuffle. As the werewolf breathed out his last, Tristan was already headed back up toward the boulders that blocked the path.
Micah reached him just as Tristan was starting to climb, and gave him a quick nudge before shifting his claws into a form that would make it even easier to climb. Before his claws could touch the stone, however, he was pulled back violently by a werewolf who pounced on him from behind. Micah shifted in the werewolf's grasp so that his jaws could easily bite into the creature, but then his eyes widened in surprise as his teeth did nothing to dissuade the werewolf from tearing into him.
There's no way that they could have caught up to us already, Tristan thought as he jumped off of the rocks to get a better angle on the two combatants. He noticed then the tatters of black cloth that hung around the werewolf's shoulders, and the color of his eyes which seemed so utterly familiar. It was no wonder that this one wasn't fazed by Micah at all.
Tristan knew what he had to do, despite the fact that he bore no ill will toward the shape shifter. He reached out with his immolated hands and grasped either side of the werewolf's head who screamed in pain and agony as its flesh began to burn. The werewolf released his grasp on Micah and tore itself away from Tristan, pawing at its fur to put out the flames.
"Indrus…" Micah growled as he stared hard at the werewolf. Indrus looked up at the name with dead eyes and snarled back, and even though a small bit of flamed still lapped at his skin it charged for Micah again. "Tristan!" Micah called out as he wrestled with Indrus again. "Get out of here while you can! I'll hold him off!"
This time Tristan listened to Micah's advice, and started his climb again, only to have a powerful force enter his mind. The surge of emotional dominance entered him like a flood, seeking to control his movements; to steal his mind from him completely. Over and over again he heard the words repeated in his mind, 'There is no escape. There is no escape. There is no escape.'
Tristan turned toward the source of the onslaught, a large werewolf stood before him, a necklace of gold and lapis lazuli girded about his neck. He stared at Tristan expectantly as the phrase continued to float about within the youth's mind, dragging him down into dominance. Tristan blinked several times, and then took his hands off of the wall of boulders. It was true, there was no escape.
Micah watched Tristan step away from the wall with horror, but then quickly regained control of his senses and pushed Indrus off of him. He had heard the voice in his head as well, and knew that Tristan had succumbed to the effects of the necklace. Nevala's spell had failed, and it would only be a matter of time before the werewolf turned his dominating gaze on Micah.
With a growl of primal desperation, Micah dashed away from the scene with as much speed as he could put into his legs. He had to get away, he had to escape. He was the last one left, and the only one who could save them all.
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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