Castle Roland

Ashes of Fate: Season 1

by Cynus

In Progress

Episode 8

Posted: 13 Oct 16

Ashes of Fate - Season 1

Copyright © 2015, 2016 by Cynus
All Rights Reserved

Episode 8: Hindsight Part II

They had been hunting him all night and well into the morning, and despite his fortitude he was starting to tire. Micah had kept himself flying until Indrus had taken to the skies as well and tackled him to the ground, forcing him to once again fight with his great uncle who had become possessed by the artifact. Micah had escaped that exchange, although just barely, and had managed to lose Indrus in one of the cave complexes. Only then had he been able to find a small patch of ground to set down and rest.

And now it was midday, and he could smell their cook fires in the distance; roasted meat of some sort, probably cattle, though he couldn't tell for sure. Although he could shift his nose to one that could pick up the faintest hint of a scent, it didn't always tell him what the scent was.

What he couldn't figure out was why they were still there. If they had already found the artifact then they had no reason to stick around, unless they really felt the need to hunt him down. Or perhaps it was Kurt they were hunting? Ethan and the others had surely escaped or been captured by now, unless they were planning some daring rescue attempt against the entire camp.

He was sure that between Nevala and himself that they had only been able to kill a few of their enemies. By his reckoning there were still thirty to forty soldiers in the camp, and the death toll could not have been more than ten. As long as they had Indrus, Nevala, and Tristan under control, it would be dangerous for Micah to attempt a rescue against such forces, and definitely not without backup.

He sighed and rolled over on the hard ground, his body aching from the rocks that had lain beneath him all night. He had never been fond of the desert, and now he had a new list of reasons as to hate it. Even the time they had spent in Canada hadn't seemed as cold as that night had, and then the morning had quickly become blazing hot; he couldn't wait to leave it all behind.

Stretching out his tired muscles, he closed his eyes momentarily. It was then that he heard the sound of a soft, pawed foot shifting the pebbles beneath it. He sprung to his feet just in time to meet the werewolf's charge, and felt its teeth sink into his neck. Micah felt the pain, but it was hardly more than a nuisance, and he shifted his form into that of a large constrictor and wrapped himself around the werewolf's body and began to crush it.

The werewolf dug its fangs in even deeper but Micah barely noticed, and continued to squeeze the werewolf until it began to whine, though it maintained its grip. Soon the whine was joined by the creaking and cracking of bones breaking, and then the werewolf started to loosen its hold on him.

"Release him."

The order brought Micah's now serpentine head to look squarely at a man holding a large barreled gun which reeked of propane and was pointed directly at Micah. The large tank on the soldier's back surely held enough of the gas to immolate Micah and the werewolf completely should the man decide to pull the trigger. Micah preferred to not make that decision for the soldier, and he quickly unwound his body from the werewolf and let the creature slide to the ground, barely breathing.

"Good, now you'll come with us or I'll burn you to a crisp," The soldier said with a smug grin. When Micah didn't move the soldier's eyes narrowed as he released the catch and spread even more propane into the air between them. "Now!" He said much more forcefully.

Micah nodded and slithered forward, trying to decide if it would be worth it to try and lash out at the soldier with his body when he smelled even more gas in his face. "No, you'll walk as a human," the soldier said with a sneer.

After giving the soldier a quick glare, Micah shifted into his human form and stood naked in front of the soldier, not bothering to attempt to hide anything from him. The soldier looked him up and down appraisingly before resting lustful eyes halfway down Micah's body. "You're going to walk in front the whole way, if you make any suspicious moves, you burn," The soldier promised.

"If you insist," Micah said with a shrug and started walking in the direction the soldier indicated with the barrel of his flamethrower. As Micah passed by, he gave the man a seductive wink and said, "I know you just want to watch my ass."

"You just keep telling yourself that, kid," the soldier said gruffly. "I don't have any interest in young boys."

"Oh, you'd prefer I was a bit older, more your age?" Micah said as he turned around slowly, now wearing the skin of a man in his early twenties. He ran his hands over his lean torso, first across his sculpted pectorals and then his toned six pack, slowing down as he started to glide lower, taking his time on his thighs as he thrust his hips forward just enough to accentuate his manhood which stood half erect, but promising to be more should the soldier wish it to be so.

The soldier was definitely aroused, but his discipline kept him in control, and he muttered under his breath, "If only." Micah's hearing still caught it, despite the soldier's sudden change in expression as he went on gruffly, "I thought I told you not to shift."

Micah's seductive smile widened as his eyes caught movement behind the soldier, and he decided to step up his game in case the werewolf was stirring. He shifted again, slowly and sensually, as his body shifted to a female with curves and voluptuous breasts which Micah accentuated by resting his hands on his hips and thrusting his chest forward slightly. There was no doubt about the soldier's state of arousal now, as he took one hand off of the barrel of his flamethrower to adjust himself subconsciously.

Micah almost sighed in relief at the reaction. He had been gambling that the soldier was simply horny and hetero, and that was why he had turned down Micah before. Now he hoped that even if he couldn't convince the soldier to let his guard down, at least he'd have someone in the camp that he might be able to manipulate into helping him escape in exchange for sexual favors. Although Micah wasn't overly fond of the idea, he'd always do what he needed to in order to survive.

"What you said was that you wanted me to remain human…" Micah replied as he took a step forward, "you never said anything about not pleasing you. Do I please you?"

The soldier licked his lips, shook his head, and gripped the flamethrower more firmly. His eyes narrowed though they never lost their lust as the soldier said, "Doesn't matter. I've got to get you back or they'll kill me. Let's get moving, or I'll fry that pretty little…"

He never got a chance to finish his sentence as Kurt dashed out of the shadows and placed his knife to the soldier's throat from behind. The soldier started to struggle and that was enough for Kurt to pull the man's head back and slice across, severing the artery and spraying the area in front of him with blood. The soldier instinctively dropped his hand from the trigger as he clutched at his throat in disbelief. A moment later he had collapsed in a pool of blood and Kurt was stepping over him to greet Micah, who had already begun to shift back to his feline form.

"There's a werewolf over there as well who may or may not need to be finished off," Micah said as he looked at the man still trying to put his throat back together. "I know I already broke a lot of his bones, but we should be sure."

"Already did so. Sorry to kill your plaything, but I thought saving your life was more important," Kurt said without sounding apologetic at all. He wiped his knife clean on the soldier's uniform without a second thought, and then spat to the side, his expression cold but his eyes were soft, as if he were grieving for the life he had just taken. Micah knew the truth, of course. Kurt was never fond of killing, even when he felt it had to be done.

"Thank you. I'm glad that you did, but we better get out of here quickly." Micah turned to look at the desert that stretched out ahead of him toward the canyon. All that sand and rock between him and his friends seemed almost insurmountable, though at least now he had an ally. "They're going to start looking for these two eventually, and it would be best if we were far away when that happens."

"Agreed," Kurt replied with a nod. "We'll rendezvous with Ethan, Hayden, and Peter, and then we'll figure out how to rescue the others."

"You mean they're still around?" Micah asked as his heart quickened with excitement. "Jacob told us they left!"

"They wanted to make sure that if you were captured the enemy wouldn't be able to get their whereabouts from you," Kurt explained as he started walking parallel to the canyon. "After what happened to Indrus, Jacob viewed it as a sensible precaution."

"Understood," Micah said, nodding his head as he stepped along with Kurt. "Lead the way."

He was mean, and he smelled twice as bad, but the worst part about him was that Nevala couldn't even think about immolating the bastard without having his mind overloaded with the controlling force of the artifact. He gritted his teeth and stared at the large werewolf with simmering eyes, hoping that at least his penetrating gaze would do something to unnerve the man who held him mentally bound.

It had no effect. He was stuck, and he would be until he was either killed or rescued. He prayed it was the former, for that at least meant that the others had gotten to safety; Micah, Hayden, Peter, Kurt… Ethan… He couldn't seem to stop himself from thinking about Ethan specifically, which forced him to admit the feelings that had been stirring within him since he had laid eyes on the man. He had fallen in love with Ethan almost immediately, and now it was likely he would never see Ethan again.

It was just as well. Nevala would be lucky if he survived this ordeal even if he were somehow rescued. Both of his arms had been broken, and one was completely unusable. His legs were in even worse shape, he wasn't even completely sure if the reason he couldn't feel them was because he had become numb to the pain or if they had broken his back as well.

When the soldiers had first learned that he could not be dominated by the artifact, they had thrown everything they had at him, wearing him down physically as the Yee Naaldlooshii leading the band had torn at his mind through the artifact in an attempt to force their way past the spell that protected him. With the addition of the pain from his wounds, they had almost succeeded in allowing the artifact's influence into his mind, but he had reaffirmed his resolve and the spell held fast, albeit barely.

But it had done enough. He couldn't afford to allow his mental control to drop at all or they would get him. That meant no spells, no flames to fight back with. He was beaten, and it would only be a matter of time before he was dead as well. The leader knew this, and he made it clear with his eyes as much as his words every time he came to torment him, which was often. That wasn't the worst of it either. The leader knew the truth.

"Every time I see you there, I have to laugh," the leader said with a chuckle. "You, the one who made all of this possible. If you had never enchanted the Eyes of the Yee Naaldlooshii to this extent, we would have never been able to capture you and your friends."

"Do you really think that I am unaware of that?" Nevala replied as he spat to the side, "I can destroy it as well, and I will the moment that you slip up."

"You will never get the chance, Yanza," the leader replied, using the name that Nevala had gone by in his days leading the Anasazi. Nevala winced at the name, and then again as the leader continued, "You have lost to me now, just as you lost to my ancestor all those years ago. Do you really think you will succeed this time? You're even more broken than you were then."

"You will not win," Nevala growled, "Even one as dark and corrupted as you can lose his mind even further. It will consume you, and you will fail."

The leader rushed to Nevala and grabbed his throat roughly as he stared into the phoenix's eyes. "I have already succeeded, it is you who has failed," he said with simmering eyes. And then he released Nevala's throat and turned his attention elsewhere, stomping down on one of Nevala's legs. The bone snapped even further than it already had, and Nevala felt the immense pain. At least he had his answer about whether he was paralyzed.

And then the leader walked away, but not before throwing the energies of the artifact Nevala's way with greater intensity than ever before. Nevala felt his mind beginning to slip, his control slipping away, and so he did the only thing he could do. He shut himself down completely and forgot about the world.

"This is not exactly the way I thought things would go," Peter said as he ran his fingers through his hair, glancing from Jacob, to Hayden, to Ethan as he hoped that they had some idea of how to proceed. They had secluded themselves in one of the caves in the canyon walls while Jacob played lookout all morning. It was now midday, and now that they were well rested and had eaten a small breakfast of trail rations they were finally discussing how to proceed.

"Oh?" Hayden replied, rolling his eyes. "Yeah I don't think the rest of us did either. We need a plan."

"Nevala told us to leave…" Ethan began, but was cut off as Hayden snorted.

"And you think we'll just abandon them?" Hayden scoffed with his eyebrows raised.

"You didn't let me finish, Hayden," Ethan said patiently, though his eyes narrowed slightly. "I was going to say that if they mind controlled Nevala they'd know what he knows. Maybe they'll think that we've left. We should have surprise on our hands."

"Do you really think that the Alliance will be that stupid?" Hayden said with a shake of his head, "I don't."

"Well maybe there's a way that we can play off of it?" Ethan said with a shrug.

"What are you suggesting?" Peter asked when Hayden snorted again.

"What if we send Jacob in to talk to one of our captured friends?" Ethan suggested, which earned him a blank stare from the others and so he continued, "We could have Jacob explain that we've left for reinforcements or something. Then hopefully our mind-controlled friend will relay that message and make them think that we're gone."

"That's not a terrible idea," Hayden admitted, nodding slowly. He turned to Jacob and asked, "What do you think, Jacob? How's your acting, these days?"

"Well, as far as I'm aware, they won't be able to mind control me, so I think that much of the plan will work," Jacob said with a shrug. "I'm willing to give it a shot at any rate. Who should I speak to? Indrus? Nevala? Tristan? Ferdinand or Kathryn maybe?"

"Nevala seems to still be putting up a struggle. I would go with him," Peter offered.

"I disagree," Ethan said as he smiled warmly at Peter to show that he meant no offense. "Nevala is being watched constantly. I think that Tristan would be the better choice, or possibly Ferdinand."

"Why is Ferdinand tied up anyway?" Hayden asked a suspicious smirk. "Why isn't he under their control?"

"He's a druid, old magic," Jacob explained with a shrug. "I doubt that the necklace can dominate him easily, much like Nevala appears to be resisting its power."

"He could be a good choice, but I bet they are watching him as well," Hayden said with a sigh. "Also, what if he really is under their spell? Wouldn't he be the most dangerous person for you to be around down there? I really don't want to see you go through another exorcism."

"Noted," Jacob said with a smirk. He didn't like that possibility either. "I guess that narrows us down to Tristan or Indrus, and personally I'd rather go with Tristan. It seems that he's completely under their spell, and also has the freedom to move around down there, which means he'd be the most likely to tell them that we left."

"Good enough for me," Ethan said with a nod. "Whenever you're ready, Jacob."

"I think we should wait until nightfall," Kurt said as he entered the cave with Micah on his heels. "Jacob isn't invisible, you know."

"Micah! You made it!" Jacob said with delight as he moved to his friend and grinned. "I'm glad that you're all right."

"I feel the same about you guys. I thought you had all left," Micah said as he came in and sat down on the cave floor, looking at the others. "So you guys are sending Jacob in? What's the plan after that?"

"The voice of wisdom from the one we were missing!" Ethan said with a grin at Micah. "We must all be frazzled if we forgot that detail. He's right, we still have more work to do."

"Agreed," Hayden said with a nod. "All right then, when Jacob goes in at nightfall, this is what I think we should do…"

He had no physical body to harm, but Jacob maintained caution in his approach on the camp. If need be he could disappear from sight at will and move to another nearby location, but that didn't mean he couldn't still be spotted. There was always a risk when he was scouting that he would become too complacent with his abilities and end up giving away his position, jeopardizing their entire mission.

In matters of life and death such as this one, it was important he kept a level head. While it was unlikely he'd suffer any ill effects, the last thing he wanted to do was to bring down the wrath of the North Wer Alliance onto his allies, who were hiding nearby and waiting for the soldiers' alertness to slip. They were also waiting for his signal that all was well, but first he needed to accomplish the task at hand. Finding Tristan and using their tactics against them.

He had the ability to sense the true nature of those around him; a skill acquired from his own supernatural entities which allowed him to determine humans from nonhumans. The problem he faced was that he had to be within close range of his targets to discern that, otherwise he could simply meditate for a brief moment and find Tristan's location by sensing the phoenix within him. Instead he had to act much like the living would, going from tent to tent and searching them one by one until he sensed Tristan's phoenix essence inside of one.

This was a particularly diverse group of human and nonhuman soldiers, though most of those that were nonhuman were werewolves, with a few other lycanthropes mixed in. He passed by the largest tent and sensed something he didn't understand at first, but then realized it was something different, and surprisingly registering as even less human than the lycanthropes. Their souls had been twisted by something foreign and maddening in their makeup, and he knew suddenly that these were the true danger in the camp. Each one was surely one of the Yee Naaldlooshii that Nevala had warned them about. As soon as he was sure that Tristan wasn't in the tent with them, Jacob quickly moved on to the next one. Creatures such as those had an uncanny ability to sense him, and he didn't want to test that ability.

Three tents later he sensed Tristan's presence and cautiously stepped through the wall of the tent to see what he had to contend with. The tent had four bedrolls within it, three of which were occupied. Two of the occupants of the bedrolls were snoring, but the third was staring at the wall of the tent with wide eyes. Tristan.

Jacob's form flickered and he traveled through the Aether before ending his flight immediately behind Tristan. He reached out a comforting hand before realizing that his instincts had gotten the better of him again. No matter how many years had passed he had never gotten used to the fact that he could only touch the person holding his knife, and no one else. In life he had usually been the one to give out comforting touches to his friends when they were in stress, but he could no longer serve in that capacity.

He withdrew his hand and whispered instead. "Tristan." He made the name sharp despite his volume, and Tristan immediately spun around to face him.

"Jacob?" Tristan said with confusion. His eyes widened as they met Jacob's and for a moment Jacob thought that Tristan was going to raise the alarm then and there.

Knowing that he might not have enough time to relay the message if Tristan alerted the camp, Jacob began speaking quickly. "The others have escaped, and only Kurt and I are left. Kurt didn't make it to them before the ship took off. We're going to try to help you escape. Kurt's hiding to the south, ready to come in as soon as you're prepared. Get to the south as quickly as you can. Hurry."

"Jacob, wai…" Tristan began speaking but Jacob hadn't heard him. Instead Jacob was already traveling through the Aether again until he was outside the tent and his chest was heaving up and down as if he were catching his breath. He had no need, but the instinct to breathe was still there. He smiled at himself and rolled his eyes before beginning the next stage in his quest, though this time he already knew his destination. He would have to hope that Tristan would tell his captors everything that Jacob had just said, and that they would soon be heading to the south and away from the northern border of the camp. Kurt was waiting to rescue Tristan and the others, but they would not be found on the southern side.

His form flickered out of sight again and a few seconds later he was standing next to Ferdinand and grimacing as he inspected the man's broken body. The old bearded man hung limp against the stake in the ground, and his skin was badly burnt by the sun. There was no movement in his limbs, and his chest was just as steady. It was evident that Ferdinand had been dead for some time, which made what had happened here all the more tragic. Jacob doubted if Indrus would have ever entered the camp if Ferdinand hadn't been alive and in need of rescuing, but even if they had managed to get Ferdinand away from the camp he wouldn't have survived.

"Well this is useless then…" Jacob muttered under his breath. He had hoped that Ferdinand might still be able to use some of his druidic magic to aid their rescue operation, despite the fact that the others had already considered him a lost cause. Realizing that he had already wasted more time than he should have, he flickered away again, this time arriving near another stake in the ground and the broken man attached to it. Nevala.

He stayed behind a nearby tent and observed Nevala for a moment, wondering how he should proceed. There were several guards nearby, though they were only glancing toward Nevala occasionally. Jacob could understand why. Behind where his comrade was being held captive was a natural wall of stone that would have been difficult to climb from any direction, but for a man in Nevala's condition in would be unlikely he could even begin the climb. He wouldn't have any chance of escape, and so the guards were positioned in a manner that would help prevent a rescue. Jacob needed that information as much as any other. At least now that he knew that there would be only two men guarding Nevala they could expect little resistance in getting to their friend.

But the problem would lie in what came after that. Nevala had been badly beaten, and even without inspecting him more closely, Jacob was sure that at least one of Nevala's legs was broken. His arm was not in any better condition, and his clothing had been completely ripped to shreds, revealing the large number of wounds that covered his body from head to toe. None of the wounds were overall serious beyond the broken bones, but added all together Jacob knew that his comrade was in a great deal of pain.

Nevala leaned against the stake with his eyes halfway shut, staring out into the camp. He had a glazed look to those eyes, and Jacob wondered if Nevala had been drugged, or if it was simply the pain that had caused such a despondent demeanor in him. Either way, Nevala was in no condition to move on his own, and he would have to be carried if they managed to rescue him. That would slow them down considerably, and make it almost impossible for them to get out at all if they made their incursion overt. They needed to sneak in, and be just as good at sneaking out.

He could only hope that Nevala would have some idea of how that could be accomplished, as he was the only man inside the camp that Jacob knew he could trust. Jacob closed his eyes briefly to travel through the Aether once again before flickering into view beside Nevala's broken body.

The world was distorted, like looking through a window that had been plastered with raindrops. He could remember rain, cold and oppressive, or warm and soothing. He remembered so many things, many good and many bad, but they were each a part of him, each memory a building block of who he was, the demon of fire and magic.

"Nevala!" The name was whispered harshly in his ear. It seemed familiar somehow. Nevala… Yes, that was his name in this life, this existence that was merely an extension of all the lives before. It wasn't even the name he had been born with, but that hardly seemed relevant now. It's not like any of the names he took had any real meaning. They were merely attempts to fragment his reality, make him less than he was. No one understood that fire's name changed by the second, and it could never be named by something as imperfect as mere language alone.

"Nevala!" Again the whispered name sounded in his ear, and this time he turned toward the sound, but could barely make out that something was there at all. Even at this close range the image was a distortion of reality. There was certainly something though, for he could sense that there was almost a supernatural quality to the being before him, but wasn't his whole life built in the supernatural? Hadn't he always been able to sense the things that others couldn't?

No, not always. There had been that time when he had been a foolish young shaman who thought he understood the world. That time when he had succumbed to the drive for power and thought that he could triumph over all things natural and supernatural. There was the time when he thought that absorbing the soul of a Yee Naaldlooshii would not harm him at all, but rather strengthen him. What a fool he had been! One becomes what they choose to take into themselves, as pollutants ruined the water supply, so had he become sullied in those dark days.

"Nevala! It's me, Jacob!" Now there was a new name, the name of someone he should be able to remember. Who was Jacob again? Was that also his name from the past? No, it didn't feel that way; he had never been a Jacob. But yet Jacob was tied to that young shaman somehow, who had absorbed the Yee Naaldlooshii into his necklace that gave him power over all men. Yes, Jacob was tied to the necklace… but how?

"Jacob…" Nevala whispered in response, intending it to be a question, though it came out like a distant thought instead. There was no emotion behind the name, as Nevala had nothing to tie it to. He could remember times from ancient Harrapa, his life among the Anasazi, or that time he drove his old model-T into the river, but what had he done yesterday. Was Jacob part of that recent past, and did he have the answer to why the world was so hazy? Did Jacob know why he couldn't move his left leg, or for that matter his arm?

"Nevala, we're going to get you out of here, all right? But first I need to know a few things," Jacob whispered as he leaned even closer. Nevala found it strange that there was no breath upon his cheek, or a sense of warmth emanating from Jacob's body. People were always warm, but Jacob wasn't. Perhaps Jacob was dead? Nevala shook his head, unsure if that made any sense. Perhaps I am the one that is dead, he thought as he met what he thought were Jacob's eyes.

"What… can… I tell… you?" Nevala's speech was slow and pained, but he managed to get every word he intended out of his mouth. Speaking seemed much more difficult than he remembered it. He had never had a problem speaking before, and it was the strangest experience he had ever had.

"Do you know how to get past the guards?" Jacob asked. His voice sounded patient on the surface, though there was an underlying urgency that told Nevala that he needed to answer the question as quickly as he could manage.

"Guards?" Nevala said groggily as he looked out to where two more hazy forms stood some distance away. "I don't remember any guards."

The silence stretched on for a moment before Jacob continued. "Nevala, we're going to get you…" Jacob stopped and looked deeper into the camp before shaking his head and saying, "No, they're coming. I have to go, but we'll be back for you."

"Jacob?" Nevala asked, but Jacob had already left him. There was something else coming his way, something that felt just as unnatural as Jacob had. Unlike Jacob, the being who moved toward him now was one that Nevala had become greatly acquainted with in his recent memory. This was the shaman who controlled the camp, the Yee Naaldlooshii who had mastered the artifact and had used it against everyone else.

A large form stopped in front of him, and for once Nevala could see it clearly. The haze had been caused by the full attention of the artifact being thrust upon him, and it could take away that haze just as easily. Now he stared at the man dressed in nothing but a wolf skin around his shoulders and the necklace around his neck, and he was given back his full mental capacities.

He almost wished that they hadn't been so generous, for with the return of his mind came the return of the pain. Suddenly all the broken bones they had recently given to him were able to be felt again. All the bruises, the cuts, the swelling… everything they had done to him came back in a torrent of agony. Despite his years of mental training to resist the pain, he cried out as it hit him, his body screaming at him that it was broken and in desperate need of repair.

"Where did your spirit friend go?" The leader asked. He spoke in Navajo, but Nevala understood him perfectly. Not because he knew the language so much as because the words that he didn't know were explained to him empathically. There had been a time when that wouldn't have been necessary, and he would have preferred if it had not even been possible.

"What spirit friend?" Nevala asked once the pain had subsided enough to allow him speech. He vaguely remembered speaking to Jacob, but that had been a dream, hadn't it? Or had Jacob really been there? He couldn't remember. He had just woken up.

"It doesn't matter," the leader said with a sneer. "The shamans are all following him now. In a matter of time we will have apprehended your friends."

"And then you'll have no more use of me, huh?" Nevala replied with a mirthless smile. "What are you planning to do with us? Why haven't you left yet? Isn't Ivan expecting you?"

"So many questions..." The leader said as he began walking slowly toward Nevala. He looked away from Nevala and started inspecting his long, claw-like fingernails as he continued closing in. He stopped when he reached Nevala and turned toward him with a sneer. His hand lashed out quicker than Nevala's eyes could follow and raked across his face, drawing deep scratches in his cheek. Nevala cried out in pain, though not from the scratches as much as from the fact that it made him twitch and trigger every other broken piece of his body.

"You'll stay alive for awhile longer. I haven't caused you nearly enough pain, yet." The leader said as he lifted Nevala's chin with his index finger and stared him in the eye as the blood from the fresh scratches began to run down his face. "But I suppose there is little harm in telling you what I have planned. Your friends, the ones I can control, will serve me and my army. We will take control from Ivan, and I will become the leader of Skinwalker. Most of the men who are here are loyal to me anyway, except for Nurim." The leader purred as he continued, leaning forward as if he were going to kiss Nevala but stopped just short as he grinned and said, "Thank you for taking care of Nurim for me."

"Do you really think you can control the Eyes of the Yee Naaldlooshii, just because you are a Yee Naaldlooshii yourself?" Nevala scoffed and rolled his eyes. He was trying a new tactic this time. If he could get the leader angry then the leader might loosen his control of the artifact, and then Nevala might be able to fight back. "You really think you're strong enough? You're pathetic," Nevala goaded further. He could feel the leader's emotional control slipping away, and just out of reach was Nevala's ability to use the flame. He only had to press the buttons a few more times. "No wonder you're an outcast from your people! Your kind isn't strong enough for anything. You think the wolf can outwit the man?"

"How dare…" The leader began, and pulled his hand back for another strike at Nevala's face, but Nevala continued unabated.

"Hah! Or maybe that's not it at all! Ivan is a true werewolf, and you're nothing but a farce! A shaman who tries to pretend to be something he's not!" Nevala said with a wicked grin. He was met with a swipe across his other cheek, but Nevala came back around with his same sneer. The leader growled and kicked Nevala in the chest. Nevala gritted his teeth and winced but kept his smile going. He could almost feel it, the fire at his fingertips; enough power to immolate the bastard once and for all.

"Master!" A voice shouted from beyond them, and Nevala cursed under his breath as the leader's control snapped back into effect and Nevala could no longer sense the fire. A young Navajo, completely naked and seeming to be completely at ease despite the condition, had trotted up to join them. Nevala sensed the same unnatural quality to this newcomer and knew that he was as much a Yee Naaldlooshii as his leader in front of him...

"What is it?" The leader asked as it turned away from Nevala to look at the youth.

"We've found them, and we're ready to attack." The youth replied with an evil grin.

"Excellent," The leader replied with a chuckle. "Then by all means, let's end this."

"I relayed the message to Tristan," Jacob reported as he rematerialized next to the others. "Nevala is completely out of it, though. When we rescue him we're going to have to carry him out."

The others grimaced at the news but started nodding along anyway. They would find a way to get Tristan, Indrus, and Nevala all out of there. The Icarus Confederacy wasn't accustomed to leaving anyone behind if they didn't absolutely have to, and that had happened rarely. Nevala had become as much a part of this crew as anyone, and there was no turning tail and running just because it would be difficult.

"So we should expect them to be moving toward the south edge of the camp and starting to look for us," Ethan said quickly, reaffirming the plan in his mind. "We should get moving then. The quicker we move, the quicker we can get in and out."

"It's not quite that simple, we…" Micah stopped mid-sentence as his ears perked up at the sound of pebbles rolling across the ground. "Something's out there. Jacob, do you sense it?"

Jacob stopped and concentrated for a moment, closing his eyes and sending his energy out into the distance. As soon as he had done so he realized that he had made a mistake. Suddenly the energies in the distance honed in on him and started toward him like he was a beacon. "Yes. Shamans coming our way. Werewolves that are not normal werewolves. Get ready, they've found us."

"So much for the plan," Hayden muttered as he checked his pistol one last time to make sure that it was ready to go. He had been checking it nonstop for the last few minutes, but now that the danger was eminent he only needed one more check to know that he was as ready as he'd ever be. "Micah, you take point. We're going to need your fighting skills keeping the rest of us safe. They're not going to be able to kill you that easily."

"Agreed." Micah nodded and dashed out into the open, he searched about briefly before finding a hiding spot behind a boulder that would give him a prime position to cut off whoever reached them first.

"I'll see about luring them into the open between our position and Micah's," Jacob said with a grimace. Without waiting to see if the others agreed with his logic or not he flickered out of view and then rematerialized in the middle of the open area halfway between the two positions. He then closed his eyes and started to concentrate again, hoping that at the very least he'd be able to distract the Yee Naaldlooshii for a minute by drawing them to him.

Peter sighed and shifted into his bipedal tigress form, feeling the fabric stretch uncomfortably around his shoulders and waist. For a moment he thought about switching into his full tiger form, but then forgot about that idea entirely. He felt like too much of a killer when he was fully engaged with his inner beast, and he had never liked killing. Also, it was a longer shift between his human form and his tiger, and he needed to be able to become human as quickly as possible if one of the team were in trouble. He couldn't perform first aid very well with just his paws.

"Are you ready, Peter?" Ethan whispered. His voice was calm and reassuring, despite the white knuckled grip he had on the boulder in front of him. Peter met Ethan's eyes and nodded, though he didn't feel ready at all. This was completely different from how he had felt when they were in Canada. He had known then that if he didn't act then Micah was going to be killed. This time he had a sense that one of his friends was going to die regardless of what he did, and that was a thought that refused to go away no matter how many deep breaths he took.

Ethan looked like he was going to say something more, but the sound of snarling beasts drew their attention back to the direction of the camp. There were several low forms crawling toward them in the darkness, and the camp seemed to be bustling with activity. Soldiers could be seen moving about in the light as lamps were lit and the men shouted to one another about what was going on. Although several of the enemy had been killed between Micah and Nevala the night before, and a few from Kurt, there were still more down there than the group had a prayer of defeating. This was not going to end well for any of them.

The first few werewolves darted past Micah's position as they made a line directly for Jacob; only to find Micah come at them from behind and dispatch one of them before they even knew he was there. They turned around to face him, and Hayden and Kurt both moved to step out to assist when a gun shot rang out from behind them. Hayden screamed and clutched his leg as he tripped and fell while Kurt turned toward the shooter.

Peter glanced that way only briefly to see Kurt tackle Kathryn to the ground as she fired off another shot, this one causing a cloud of dust as it hit the boulder next to Hayden's head. Knowing that with Kurt on top of her it was unlikely that he'd be in any more danger, Peter dashed to Hayden's side and helped him to a better position up against the boulder while he took a quick look at his leg. He then shifted back to his human form so that he'd have the finger dexterity he needed to work on the wound.

"I need to protect Micah," Hayden stammered as he tried to get to his feet, but Peter held him down firmly as he quickly tore a strip of cloth from his shirt and wrapped it tightly around the wound.

"Not until this is bandaged. Ethan and Kurt have things under control." Peter felt like he was lying about the last part, but there wasn't anything he could do about it. He glanced to the side to see that Ethan had rushed forward to help Micah, and though the pistol seemed unnatural in his hands, the few shots he got off hit their targets accurately.

"All right," Hayden said with exasperation, "But as soon as you're done… Get down!" Peter listened to the command and ducked as Hayden raised his pistol and let off a quick series of shots that rang loudly in Peter's ears. He heard the sound of a body crumpling to the stone and looked back to see that Kathryn was on the ground with three bullet wounds in her chest. Kurt was just getting back up and nodding his thanks to Hayden before retrieving his knife from the ground and heading toward Micah's position.

Peter worked as quickly as he could while glancing only occasionally to where Ethan, Micah, and Kurt were fighting with the werewolves. Hayden would ask him to duck every now and then when he had a clear shot, and Peter complied immediately, though he was sure he would go deaf by the end of it all. Micah had been shot a good dozen times already, but as of the time that Peter was done with Hayden's wound Ethan and Kurt both seemed unscathed.

Then everything seemed to happen at once, and the tide began to turn against them. Micah was pinned beneath two wolves at once which allowed a soldier to run past his position and level his rifle at Ethan. Kurt dashed out from behind his own position to tackle the soldier to the ground, wrestling over the rifle. Another soldier took aim at Kurt's exposed back to have Ethan step out and shoot him in the chest. This put him in range of one of the two wolves on top of Micah who decided to go after easier prey and jumped onto Ethan, his biting jaws looking to clamp down on whatever piece of flesh Ethan offered him.

Ethan threw his arm in front of him and yelled in pain when the wolf bit down, but then a sound like thunder ripped through the entire area as the wolf was thrown back ten feet, its body sizzling and smoking. Peter glanced back from the wolf's body to see Ethan crumple to the ground, unconscious, and he dashed away from Hayden to see what state Ethan was in.

Kneeling over his friend he checked him for a pulse and then withdrew his hand quickly as a static charge traveled up his arm and made it numb from the shoulder down. Ethan's entire body was crackling with energy, making it difficult for Peter to determine of Ethan was alive or dead. He reached forward again, this time knowing to expect the shock, and then pressed his fingers against Ethan's throat while taking the electrical jolt. He withdrew a couple seconds later, once he was certain that he had felt a pulse. And then he noticed Ethan's chest rise and fall just a little.

He sighed in relief, but then he heard a sound that he hadn't heard in a long time. The sound of a bowstring being drawn from only a few feet away. Peter looked up at Indrus, unblinking. Indrus had clearly just arrived to the battlefield, but he looked as if he had been through several in the last few days. His clothing hung in tatters, all except for the quiver full of arrows which was slung over one shoulder. He had a single arrow nocked and ready to fire, and it was aimed directly for Peter's chest.

Peter met Indrus' eyes and saw that there was no emotion behind them. For a brief moment Peter considered trying to reason with Indrus, in an attempt to plea for his life, but he quickly realized that would be pointless. Indrus had been completely taken over by the artifact's control, and there was nothing that could be done to save him. Peter closed his eyes and prepared for death.

"Snap out of it, old man!" Micah screamed as he tackled Indrus to the ground, spilling the arrows from his quiver and causing him to drop his bow. He maintained his grip on the arrow he had been about to nock, however, and tried to stab it into Micah's neck. Micah dodged and rolled away, but Indrus chased after him, the arrow leading the way.

"Micah! Don't let the arrowhead touch you!" Kurt shouted as he wrestled with one of the soldiers. He was losing the exchange, and he was unable to rush to his friend's aid. "It's coated in a poison that will kill you!"

Peter looked at Kurt with alarm, and then at Micah and Indrus. He had known Indrus for some time, but he hadn't thought of the poison that Indrus had always carried with him; the poison designed to kill shape shifters. Micah had just saved Peter's life, but now he was in even greater danger than Peter had ever been in. He watched Indrus tackle Micah and try to stab him with the arrow again.

Micah narrowly dodged to the side, as the arrow sunk into the ground beside him, and he slashed up at Indrus' face with his claws, but that hardly deterred Indrus from pulling back his arm and snapping forward again. This time only a quick shift of Micah's facial structure sent the arrow past him instead of into him, but it would only be a matter of time before Micah's tricks ran out of their effectiveness.

Peter knew what he had to do. He dashed out from his hiding place behind the rock and to where Indrus' bow lay discarded on the ground. He hadn't fired a bow in years, not since he left Korea, but it had been taught to him since he was a child. He lifted the bow and then bent to retrieve one of the arrows from the ground. He nocked it against the string, drew back, and fired.

The arrow pierced Indrus' naked lower back, near where his kidneys would have been if he had any, but the location hardly mattered to the poison. Indrus stopped struggling almost immediately as the poison began to course through his system, his aggression becoming convulsion as he screamed in agony. Micah pushed him away and Indrus collapsed to the dirt as his life faded. In a matter of seconds it was over, and he stopped moving altogether.

Peter watched it all with astonishment, unable to tear his eyes away as his former mentor died before him. As soon as Indrus stopped screaming, Peter collapsed to the dirt as the guilt overcame him. He had never killed someone he had known personally before, and even though his friends still fought the enemy around them, he couldn't bring himself to care.

He didn't notice as three separate soldiers leveled their guns at him at different times, only to have each one in turn be pounced on by a wrathful Micah, who tore at their throats and chests with his claws and teeth. Peter didn't fight back as a werewolf pounced on him from behind before being immediately thrown off by Micah's powerful jaws latched around the creature's neck. Peter kept his eyes glued on the corpse of his dead friend, unable to process anything beyond the fact that he had been the one responsible for that death.

"Peter!" Micah shouted for the fifth time, and it finally registered in Peter's mind that Micah was shaking him, his clawed forelimbs momentarily becoming hands that rested firmly on Peter's shoulders. "Peter!" Micah shouted again, and this time Peter looked away from Indrus and into Micah's eyes, seeing the concern rooted deep within them.

"Micah?" Peter said numbly.

"Peter, get to safety. We can handle this here." Micah said, before gently pushing him backward and then shifting his hands back into claws. He turned and jumped at another soldier that had just come around a boulder and took a shot in his abdomen as he flew through the air. Undeterred by the bullet, Micah shredded the soldier's face before turning back to look at the others.

Peter stood slowly and then moved behind a boulder, putting his back up against it and taking several deep and calming breaths. It didn't seem to change anything. The sounds of violence continued and he was kept in the moment, up until the sound seemed to lessen enough for Kurt's voice to be heard over the din.

"Micah! It's now or never, go get Tristan and Nevala as well if you can!"

Micah dashed across the rocks as his shape shifting powers pushed the bullets from his body. He was sure that they made a loud enough clatter against the stones that they could be heard for miles, but he didn't care. The enemy already knew he was there, and it was now pointless to try to conceal his approach.

The question of what to do when he arrived at the camp still remained. He would have to find some way to drag both Tristan and Nevala from the camp. One would be resisting and the other would be dead weight, and he'd have to compete with the soldiers left in the camp in order to do it. The question also remained as to why Tristan hadn't been sent to fight him along with the others.

He received that answer as soon as he reached the area that Nevala was being held, and he was struck from the side by something that quickly wrapped around his midsection and bore him to the ground. As he hit the rocky ground he felt another cord wrap around his forelegs. He started trying to shift out of them but they tightened as his form shifted, and he ended up becoming even more stuck than he had been before. He lifted his head to see what was happening as the same type of cord was quickly wrapped around his hind legs. A large werewolf, wearing a necklace of lapis-lazuli was staring at him and grinning. This was the second time that Micah had seen the leader of their enemies, and somehow he was worse off than the first time.

"Before I became a shaman, I was a hunter, though I admit you're only the second shape shifter I've ever hunted. The first was your friend Indrus, and these cords were among his gear," the leader explained as he patted Micah on the side.

"Bastard!" Micah shouted after snapping his jaws at the leader's extended hand. The movement only made the cords tighten further and caused the leader to laugh loudly.

"I knew that you'd be the one they sent in. You're the one who resisted me, somehow. I bet that's Nevala's doing, isn't it?" The leader said as he glanced over at Nevala who was watching the exchange with murder in his eyes. Laughing again, the leader turned back to Micah and said, "It's no matter. I'll just kill you instead, though a creature of your power is someone I would love to have under my command. A pity really."

"And how do you plan on killing me when your entire army has failed?" Micah said with his eyes twinkling with challenge.

"Oh, I learned from Indrus that your kind don't like fire much. I intend for your friend to kill you," the leader explained with another chuckle, then glanced over at Nevala.

"Nevala? He doesn't look like he's in shape to kill anyone," Micah replied dryly.

"No? Well then, I'll just have to use the other phoenix, the one who is under my command. Tristan!" the leader shouted deeper into the camp, and Tristan rushed forward, his face eager and ready to please. Micah saw Tristan and winced before looking away briefly. He didn't like seeing Tristan acting against his own will. Tristan had always been free spirited, and the thought of him being dominated by this creature was something that upset Micah more than anything.

"Yes, master?" Tristan asked as soon as he closed in on the group.

"You will kill this shape shifter," the leader said, gesturing down at Micah. "Take your time and do it slowly."

Tristan moved toward Micah with purpose in his stride, every movement almost robotic as if he was forcing legs that did not want to move. Micah watched it all with grim determination, unwilling to tear his eyes from Tristan's face. He knew that he was as good as dead. Even the small amount of flame that Tristan could produce would be enough to slowly destroy his body, piece by piece. It would be torture, and he would succumb eventually no matter how much he thought of struggling.

Micah smirked at the thought of what was about to happen. Tristan was the first person he had started to feel comfortable around since Kurt and Jacob, and now Tristan was going to be the one that killed him. Even though he knew that it was against Tristan's will, he still found it ironic. He had spent his entire life knowing that he couldn't trust anyone, and now that he had finally done so it was going to end.

Tristan was now approaching ten feet away, and he was passing in front of the large werewolf who wore the Eyes of the Yee Naaldlooshii proudly around his neck. The leader was grinning at Tristan, safe in the knowledge that his pet was about to kill his friend. He then turned to Micah to let that sadistic grin bore into the shape shifter's soul, and that was when he made his final mistake.

As the leader turned to look at Micah, Tristan darted toward him and ripped the necklace from his neck. The leader turned toward him, startled as he reached up for the necklace that was no longer there, before growling and chasing after him. Tristan hadn't planned on going far, and before he had taken more than a couple steps, he threw the necklace with all of his might to where Nevala still sat bound against the stake.

"Destroy it!" Tristan shouted as the leader bore him to the ground. Tristan expected to be ripped apart but the leader left him as soon as he had tackled him, darting toward the necklace. Nevala had closed his eyes, and his body was encased in flames which tore apart his clothing and the ropes which held him bound to the wooden stake. With the artifact no longer under the control of the Yee Naaldlooshii, Nevala had his full power back, but he still couldn't move.

And so he did the next best thing, and Tristan felt it before it happened, the sudden surge of magical energy racing toward his teacher, and he knew what was about to happen. He pushed himself off of the ground and rushed toward Micah before diving on top of him and shielding him with his body.

The last thing Micah saw before Tristan covered him was the leader picking up the necklace triumphantly, and then there was nothing but Tristan's chest in his view. Then there was heat. Tremendous heat, like standing in the middle of a furnace. And there was light, brighter than the sun and powerful enough that Micah had to bury his face in Tristan's chest to keep himself from being blinded. And then he suddenly had to roll away as flames began to lap at his skin, but for a moment Tristan held him there as he burned before releasing him and letting him get away. His whole body strained against the cords as he fought to put out the flames, though a second later he felt someone furiously trying to help him.

In a moment the flames were out, and the heat had begun to dissipate, and Micah finally allowed his eyes to open again. He stared into Tristan's face for a moment, seeing the concern therein, and wondering what had happened. His eyes travelled lower, and saw the last few remnants of Tristan's charred clothing disappear in the light breeze, revealing his untarnished flesh beneath. Micah's eyes made note of the cords in Tristan's hands that had come from Tristan desperately trying to free him. And then Micah noticed the scene behind Tristan; what had once been a mixture of sand and rock that formed the canyon floor had become a mesmerizing sheet of beautiful glass and bright red rock. The tents and any people which had been left inside of them were gone, burnt to ash. But there was something even more mesmerizing in the middle of it all. The place where Nevala had sat broken and beaten now held an egg that seemed to be made of molten rock, lying in a bed of ash.

"Tristan, look!" Micah said in wonder, directing Tristan's gaze. Tristan stared at Micah for a moment longer as if he were out of his mind before slowly turning and gasping at the sight. His eyes settled on the egg, and the pile of ash in front of it that had once been the werewolf, marked now by the crystalline dust and molten precious metals that lay glittering in the ash. The leader had surely been beaten now, and the artifact destroyed, but Nevala was also nowhere to be seen.

"Are you okay?" Tristan asked as he turned back to Micah briefly. Micah nodded and Tristan stood, walking toward the egg, across the heated glass and molten stones without any hesitation. His naked feet seemed completely unaffected by the terrain, and he made it to the egg quickly. It was about the size of his own head, and required him to lift it with both hands, but once he had inspected it, he tucked it under his arm and returned to Micah's side.

"What happened?" Micah asked, once Tristan had extended his hand to help Micah to his feet. Micah put his forepaw in Tristan's palm and took the offered assistance, surprised at how week he felt. He then realized that he had been burned extensively, and those wounds took much longer to heal. He hobbled along back up the path to where the other may still be fighting. He would try to help them when he arrived, though he knew that Kurt and Hayden had probably either won or lost by now.

"Nevala used every bit of power he could find in order to destroy the artifact, and that meant sacrificing his physical self for additional fuel. I don't know what this is," He said, holding up the egg, "But I think it's better to hold on to it than not."

"How did you rip the necklace away from him?" Micah asked as they started to ascend toward the others. "Weren't you under his command?"

Tristan smiled a mischievous smile, though one look down at the egg and Micah's condition erased that smile completely. "As soon as he hit me with it yesterday, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to escape, and I also knew that you wouldn't leave me if you thought that I was still free of its control. I chose to act as if he had won instead, and that gave me the opportunity I needed. I tried to tell Jacob that when he came to tell me the plan, but he left too quickly."

"You were acting this whole time?" Micah asked in wonder, "But that's something…"

"…You would do?" Tristan finished for him with a quirky grin. "Yes, I thought so as well. Where are the others really? Aren't we going the wrong direction? Shouldn't they be to the south?"

"Actually, we decided to tell you that so that you would feed them false information," Jacob said as he materialized next to them. "It's good to see that you're all right, Tristan. Where's Nevala? Oh… I see…" He trailed off as he saw the egg under Tristan's arm and then added, "We need to rendezvous with the others. Ethan's awake, and between Kurt and Peter they're moving, although slowly."

"What about Hayden?" Tristan asked with alarm. "Is he all right? Or Indrus?"

"Indrus is dead, and Hayden got shot in the leg," Micah explained with a grimace. "I'm glad that everyone else is all right, though. It's going to be a chilly night, and we've got several miles back to the aircraft. Do you think we're going to make it tonight?"

Jacob shook his head and shrugged. "It's hard to tell, but with what we've been through, I think we can make it. We're survivors, Micah. We'll make it, we always have. Besides, I think we'd all rather put some distance between this canyon and ourselves. I'm assuming you destroyed the artifact?"

"Nevala did, yes," Tristan confirmed with a nod.

Jacob nodded and explained, "When it was destroyed, all of the remaining soldiers stopped fighting for a second, which was more than enough for us to dispatch or disarm the rest of them. There are only two of them left, and we tied them up in such a way that they'll be able to get themselves free after a while, but we should be long gone before then."

Micah and Tristan shared a look that left no doubt that they agreed with the sentiment. It was time to go home.

He could feel the sunlight upon his face but he couldn't see it. He had felt the cool walls of the cave but hadn't been able to see them either. On occasion he would reach up to his face, expecting some sort of blindfold to be there, but there was nothing, only the scarred tissue of his burnt flesh, telling him that he had lost the most important thing in the world.

He would never see again. He was sure of it. He crawled down the canyon wall, taking his time, though no matter how slowly he went, he still stumbled several times. He had thought that in the cave his light had simply gone out, and that was why he had been left in total darkness, but he knew the truth now. That bastard child had stolen his sight and rendered him useless.

At the end of his climb he was tired, and he sat against a boulder, catching his breath. It was hot, and he didn't know where he could go to find shade. He stood and tried to walk, feeling his way along the boulder until he couldn't feel it any longer, and then he stumbled and fell, his knee colliding heavily with the rocks beneath him. He yelled in frustration, but then he felt a strong hand grip him from below.

"Nurim, get up."

"Faust?" Nurim said in disbelief. Faust wasn't supposed to be anywhere near the canyon.

"Son, what happened here?" Faust asked as he helped Nurim to his feet and then to a seat on a different boulder. "Tell me everything."

"You're right, father," Nurim growled and spat, "Tristan Rembrandt is very dangerous indeed."

Author's Note:

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