Castle Roland


by Kyle Aarons


Chapter 11

Published: 8 Apr 14

Josh finally found Rex's crumpled form in the snow, but even as he knelt, he could see his best friend stirring slightly. After a few attempts to examine Rex, he shook his head in frustration, "Hey, someone get me some light!"

Rex groaned and managed to flop over onto his back, "Oh, come on! Stop all the yelling. My head is killing me!"

About the same time Garret appeared out of the almost pitch black snickering; "I think he'll live."

Josh nodded, "Yeah, but I can't see a blasted thing. You got anything to help?"

"Sure, but won't we stick out if I throw up some magical light?"

Skye's voice came out of the darkness, "Uh huh. But think about it rookie. What better way to invite the guy with glasses to come play."

Garret shrugged, "Good point." He paused in concentration and a few seconds later a bright glowing glob appeared next to Rex and Josh.

Both Josh and Rex had to turn away as the intensity of the light was almost as blinding as the previous darkness. Josh was the first to speak, "Um, Garret, the idea is to let me see to check out Rex and bring anyone close to us back this way, not to blind me and send up a spotlight letting everyone in the four surrounding counties know where we are at!"

Garret cringed slightly at Josh's harsh words, but quickly shrugged and refocused on the magic glowing sphere. It took a few more seconds to dim the light to a reasonable level. "Sorry…"

Skye snickered as she slammed her stony fist in the ground next to Valda, finally smashing the hardened snow enough to allow the other girl to pull her feet free, but forcing her to leave her snow shows still incased over a foot and a half down. Satisfied Valda could finalize her own extraction, she turned to Garret, "How much can you do with your sorcery powers? I have never seen anything quite like what you seem to be able to make."

"So far, I have been able to make anything simple I think about. Dad has tried to work with me to make stuff with moving parts, but with the exception of simple stuff, like pliers, scissors, pulleys, and other stuff with only one or two moving parts, I am limited to hunks off stuff. Dad did finally get me to make Nunchakus so even when unarmed I can make may primary martial weapon, but those take me a couple of minutes and don't last as long without me refocusing more energy into them as the stuff like my shield take."

"Pretty awesome, rookie." Valda stated seriously. "So how long does your simple stuff last?"

Garret exposed the palms of his hands as he half threw up his arms, "It varies. Much of it depends on how much time and effort I take into putting it together and how used to I am at making each thing. It also depends on how long I take to… well my dad says polish the magic."

Valda scanned the snow looking for any signs of trouble as Josh started working on Rex's bleeding ears, "Polish?"

"Uh huh." Garret nodded, "It's kind a hard to explain, but once I use magic to make something I can spend more time to make it better, stronger… um, well like dad says, more polished. The more time I take, the better the thing I make is. I can make a shield real fast if needed, but I take extra time since it is my primary defense most of the time. Besides, if I just do a fast job a single bullet will shatter it kind of like what happened when the guy hit me with the… whatever the glob of dark junk was."

Skye nodded, "I think your shield could have handled the black bolt thing, but it weakened when you threw your sorcery bolt thingy."

"It did?"

Skye nodded, "Yeah, the glow of your shield actually went down when you tossed the sparking glob."

"Another new augment?" Rex asked as he once again annoyed Josh by trying to shake some of the ringing out of his ears rather than let Josh's healing pinpoint the problem so his body could start to repair any damage.

Garret managed a weak grin, "It was kind of cool to watch, but I need to learn how to aim it better. I must have missed him by a full foot!"

"We're going to have to really work with you once all this is over so you can learn how it all works with each other." Josh stated with a warning tone, "If you weaken one ability to use another, then you better know how it all interacts before you depend on everything working together. You have busted out a huge amount in the last few hours, but you should only use what you really know until all of us can see how they affect you."

"He isn't done yet." Skye stated, "If I hadn't nailed the dark energy guy…"

"Colt said the same thing." Rex interjected then looked around, "Speaking of Sparky, where is he?"

Josh grabbed his radio, "Colt, you OK?"

"Fine." A frustrated voice came back, "In the open ground I'd have had him already, but this guy must have some super eyesight and balance or something, because he can maneuver though these trees way better than I can! It is taking all of Jade Witch's training just to stay close to this jerk! Making matters worse, there is a kid about our age with a spiked tail who keeps tossing them at me. The second he does so, he appears, but then vanishes again, so I am forced to keep up this new electrical field, and it is making it harder to maneuver with it up."

"Stick with him." Josh commanded. "We'll move to assist."

"What about the guy with the glasses you were talking about, Josh?" Valda asked.

Colt responded, "The guy I am chasing has glasses."

"Dark hair?" Josh snarled.

"Yeah, but be careful. He throws dark colored lightning, kind of like me, only not near as powerful. He also fired off some really powerful globs of dark junk. One snapped a huge tree and did damage to another behind it, but after he tosses it he slows, so I don't think he can do it very often."

Josh's whole posture hardened as he pointed to Garret and Skye, "You two take point since I don't think there is much of a chance of some kid with a spiked tail being able to do much to either of you. Valda, you are on guard while I finish up on Rex's ears. I think we left a couple hurting pretty bad, but they may not be out of the fight yet."

Valda nodded, "No problem." She then turned to Skye, "Try to get the speedster to come through those two pines." She pointed to a pair of firs standing just over a yard apart, both just visible thanks to Garret's glowing magical light.

"Why?" Garret asked while looking at the two eight foot tall evergreens with confusion.

Skye lightly nudged Garret to get him moving. At the same moment her stony face became truly sinister in appearance, "Just wait and see what a good class two can do to an unsuspecting class three or four."

As Garret moved toward the woods with Skye, he frowned and used his sorcery abilities to make a new shield. Once satisfied, he glanced over at Skye, "How do you know the guy is a class three or four?"

"Because he is running almost as fast as Colt can fly, he fires electrical bolts, has a very high coordination, and some kind of augmented eyesight, and since none of them appear to be below a class three, he is up there. Add in the big blast of dark junk and he is way up there" She paused, "But I don't think he is on par with us, unless he is holding back a big boom. If he is, he may be like me. If he uses it, it will all but wipe him out for a bit."

Garret gulped, "What if he does have one."

"Then one of us may get badly hurt, but the rest of us will pound him into a puddle."

Garret cringed, "I'd prefer we pound him before he does pull out a big bang."

Skye grinned as she forced the pink shards of stone to get a bit bigger over her knuckles, "Me too. So let's make him run toward the trees Valda pointed out."

Garret glanced back at Valda with a slight shake of his head. At the same time he activated his radio, "Hey Colt, can you do anything to let us see where you are at?"

A few seconds later a pair of electrical bolt blasted out of the sky striking the ground a couple hundred yards into the tree line. To the kids from BEARS 97, the only signs of the twin strikes were the cracking sounds of trees being hit and a dim glow of bluish gold flashes, barely visible through the snow.

Skye pointed to Garret, "Break left, I'll go right; we'll try to push him back this way."

"He'll just run around us."

Skye frowned and moved up to Garret, "Look, rookie, you have done good by all of us tonight, don't start whining like Gwen now. We didn't want one eleven year old, but A.T. convinced us you would fit in. Don't prove him wrong now!"

"What'd I do?" Garret asked, clearly stung by the comment, but not really backing down. "I just don't see how we can stop a guy who is moving fast enough to where he can run on top of the snow without special shoes, when the rest of us are forced to use these stupid things," he pulled up his left foot to show his snow shoe, "or are having to use our augmented strength to plow though snow way above my waist, and almost up to my neck in spots!"

Rex motioned for Garret to move out of his line of sight as he growled at Skye. "He is one of us and he has proven himself, so back off." He let those words sink in for a moment before he lowered his tone a bit. "Don't forget he got here right at the start of the school year so his only outings with us have been the weekend ones. He doesn't know how to work with us yet, especially you girls. Besides, he is a rookie, and has the right to ask when he doesn't understand what we want!"

Josh stood and held up his hands barking a very loud "Enough!" He then pointed at both Rex and Skye, "Jade Witch would be working us bloody right now if she heard this!"

Josh paused to take a couple of deep breaths before turning to glare at Skye, "I know you are sick of Gwen, but don't take it out on Garret or any of the rest of us because she was moved up to squadron level too soon. Remember, she chose to do so. No one forced her, and without her, we might have lost our squadron and been forced to go with BEARS 96 or BEARS 99. We should be giving her some credit for helping us keep our squadron!"

Josh paused and took a deep breath before directing his attention to Garret, "Rookie, this isn't real fair, but you are kind of caught up in an ongoing problem of many of us feeling like we have to babysit a fellow squadron member. Even worse the girls haven't got to really see you aren't even close to needing the babying we have to give Gwen. Now, we know you can't possibly catch someone moving as fast as the jerk with the glasses, but you can use your augments to alter his path."

Garret kind of tossed up his arms sounding very frustrated, "Guys, I know what you want, but I don't see how to do it!"

Rex again shook his head, stuck a finger in his ear and wiggled it. Finally he pointed back at Josh, "Do your stuff, my head is still killing me." As Josh put his hands on both sides of his head, Rex turned to Garret. "Go be bait. The guy couldn't have gotten a good look at you and, like it or not, you look like a nice cute kid who couldn't harm a fly."

Josh nodded, "Rex is right, Garret. You would look like an easy target and what I saw in the screamer's mind makes me think the guy would love to capture any BEARS augment he could get his hands on. Remember, we have the senator's kid. The way to find him is to take down one of us and make us talk. Just get out there. Once he tries to take you, open up a can a hurting on him the likes of which a school of piranha would find terrifying."

Garret let out a long sigh, "I can't wait till I'm not the rookie."

As Garret trudged toward the trees, looking a bit dejected, Valda glanced back at Rex and Josh. She waited until Garret was out of earshot before speaking. "Gwen would be balling her eyes out if you guys had talked to her like…"

Rex snorted, "Girl, He ain't nothing like Gwen. As a matter of fact, the rookie even managed to impress Colt tonight."

Valda's eyebrows shot up in astonishment "Seriously?"

Josh managed a nod as he focused in on Rex's eardrums and checked for damage, finding nothing more than inflamed nerve endings; it took only moments for him to correct the problem. As Rex sighed in some relief, Josh stared at Valda, "Unless we are all way off, we are the only squadron in the U.S. currently with 3 class fives."

"You think he is a Five?" Valda gasped, "But BEST…"

Rex stood and shook his head one last time, "The BEST guy tested him before he recovered from A.S. and he had it bad." He glanced over at one of the ruined snowmobiles next to the trashed FEMA hovercraft and pointed. "From what Colt said, Garret flattened one of those with a single punch and then threw it with one hand after he got shot. He is every bit as strong and tough as I am, and from what Colt says he has some kind of self healing ability."

"OK, so maybe a class four, but…"

Josh shook his head, "Nope, almost all of us have seen him almost use a big bang, a really big bang, unless we are totally off. If we keep getting pushed like this, it will come out and will probably be directed at someone or something. When it does, I recommend we all dive for cover and pray to God we are not between Garret and whoever he is pissed at. To be honest, I seriously doubt we would want to be behind whoever ends up on the receiving end."

Valda managed a light whistle though her wood form armor coating, "You think it's on order of Skye's magma ball?"

Josh kind of shrugged, "Maybe worse, cause when I saw it almost happen, he had his glowing arms pointed at one of the bandits. It looked like it was about to be fired or shot, not thrown. With any luck we'll get some support from USDT 19 before we have another big fight, cause whatever the rookie is packing needs to happen in training so he can learn what it will do to him and others. Unfortunately, after everything we have heard, there is a very real possibility we will be hit again before help arrives, and if it does, we all need to do our best to calm Garret before he goes off. So far we have been able to talk him down, but…"

Rex clenched his fist. "So why exactly are we sending him out to be bait?"

Josh kind of snorted, "Because if the guy we are after does hurt him, he will end up splattered all over the forest and the kid I left stuck up in the trees over there," He pointed, "Will be safe."

"You really want to kill the guy?" Valda asked in a slightly squeaky voice.

"After what I saw in the screamer's mind, I don't want to kill him. I am going to kill him." Josh hissed.

"Are you sure you can really kill someone?"

Rex cringed, "Unless I miss my guess, we already have tonight. I know I had to have taken one and Colt probably has two." He glanced into the woods where Garret's glowing shield could barely be seen though the snow, "And, like it or not, believe it or not, he probably has at least two kills."

Valda clenched her fists, "I sure hope A.T. gets us some help before I have to kill someone. I'm not really ready to live with someone's blood on my hands."

Arctic Trooper angled his snowmobile toward the group of kids making up the bulk of BEARS 99. All 14 kids were near exhaustion and it showed. Even before the machine came to a full stop A.T. jumped off and glanced over at the very green adult commander of BEARS 99 and waved him over to prevent the kids form overhearing, "We need to get these kids into shelter and get them fed. They look like they have had more than they can take."

Azure Wave kind of tossed up his arms before pointing to the flipped over and burnt hover transport. The insignia of BEARS 99 could barely be seen though the scorched sides of the craft. All around it were signs of a fierce fight, with dozens of knocked down and seared trees, "We lost just about all our gear, and barley made it out of there with all the kids. As it is, Dark Omega had to take our other transport since Keith has some bad burns and Bernice's shoulder is busted…"

Arctic Trooper looked over the group of shivering kids and back at Azure Wave, "Look, I know this has been a nasty fight, but at least we have three adults up here to organize a resistance and hold the line from whoever is pushing us from Canada."

"It's the Woodsman! It has to be!"

"My kids don't think so." Arctic Trooper countered, "The information they have passed on to me says there is someone else. They say it is someone who has taken most of the Woodsman's camps, beaten down most of the Woodsman's forces, and is in direct conflict with him. Besides, the Woodsman has never purposefully targeted civilians before. He hits military, Government, and anti-Augment groups. These attacks against small towns are not his style."

Azure Wave looked at the kids in his squadron then back at A.T. "Give me a break, who is going to stand up to the Woodsman, let alone beat him in his own back yard?" The commander of BEARS 99 paused, "Look, don't get me wrong. Your kids are really making a name for themselves. They managed to gain control of the idiot senator's son, and give those operating in Flathead a solid pounding. By the sounds of USDT transmissions, they are doing it again right now, but they are not on the front lines! We are!"

A.T. shrugged, "Maybe we are maybe we aren't. If the senator's brat is the primary target of all this, then the ten kids in BEARS 97 are on the front lines and all of this is nothing more than a massive distraction."

"At least your kids have a pair of Class Fives!" Azure Wave countered, "I only have one class four and three Class Threes. The others are all Twos!"

A.T. frowned, "And you are a Class Four and I am only a Class Two, but I could kick your butt one on one out here. Classification is not nearly as important as what you do with the Augments you have. Now these kids don't need a leader, especially a new one, looking down on their abilities because of a classification. They need someone who can motivate, encourage and bring out the best in them.

"Just look at them! They won a major fight and all of them look like they just got beaten down and tossed to the curb! You were in the Middle East and had to fall back with your squad after getting hit with a whole company of insurgents. You inspired those men, gave them hope, and got them all back to friendly lines. You should be doing the same thing here!"

"But these are just kids!"

Arctic Trooper snorted, "These kids could kick the snot out of a squad of normals. You are still looking at them as helpless children. Well, they aren't. Besides, think back to your time in some of those desert villages. Kids the age of most of these here are kids in size and age only. Many of them are the bread winners for their families since women can't earn a fair wage and the men are dead or out fighting for or against us.

"Put aside the traditional view of a spoiled American child and see these kids for what they are, capable young men and women who are under our leadership to learn how to turn into outstanding men and women. They don't need a gold star and a trophy for participation like so may nut jobs think kids do. No, they need a push when things get tough and a pat on the back when they have done something deserving of one.

"Right now they need both. First a shove to re-motivate them and then a large hug for defending the 1,000 inhabitants of Troy from a wave of separatist Augments. As a BEARS Commander, your mission is to learn how to do both."

Azure Wave's shoulder's dropped as he nodded, "Point taken." He then looked at Arctic Trooper, "So who is going to give your kids guidance?"

"Right now…" A.T. let out a long breath, "a 14 year old with a heart of gold. I am just hoping I'll be able to remove any tarnish caused by all this when I get back down there."

"Can't USDT find a Teleporter…"

"Even the best Class Five we have could kill herself trying to port into an unknown area in a storm like this. The drifts make photographic pinpointing useless and we don't have any who has spent enough time in the area to be even casually familiar. Josh is all we have, and well, he is the 14 year old who is in command down in Flathead at the moment."

"So your kids really are on their own?"

"I got a green light to get help from the Red Leaf Defenders, and they are dispatching a team of reservists from Lethbrige. Even with hover transport, which I am not certain they have, this weather makes the trip a tough one. This is especially true since the pass over Glacier National Park is closed. They'll have to wrap all the way around to highway 93. Making matters worse, they won't even depart until a team from Calgary is in position to defend Lethbridge in case the fighting spreads north, which it very well could, since most of the separatists seem to be coming form Canada. Best estimates are five to six hours before the RLD team even head out. Then figure 250 miles at a speed of at best thirty miles an hour, and thirty is really pushing it in this crap. So we are still looking at another eight to ten hours or so of travel time. Even if things go perfectly it is twelve to fourteen hours before any adult support gets to them, probably closer to twenty-four."

"You could…"

"No." Arctic Trooper stated firmly, "We have at least a couple of score of hostile augments up here and Jade Witch has even more to the southeast and with the 96th XO out of the country and the Commander on emergency family leave, she has to hold the line down there. My kids are stuck in the middle and will have to hold out or go into hiding with the senator's brat until real forces arrive." He paused and his eyes hardened, "One thing I can absolutely assure you of…If any one of my kids get seriously hurt, whoever is behind this is going to die."

He forced the thought out of his mind as he turned his attention back to the kids of BEARS 99, "Right at the moment, we need to get these kids fed and make some shelter. They have used a vast amount of energy in the last fight and will eat more than most adults could hope to stuff into their guts. Remember, they haven't learned how to control their powers enough to ration how much food they burn up yet, so you best figure on feeding each of them three normal meals worth."

"What a time to take over as a squadron commander, I feel like I am one of the students..."

"You're doing better than most new commanders, and from what I have seen the kids already look up to you. This trial by fire will make all these kids extremely loyal to you, if you play our cards right, A.W. By the time spring comes you will see many of those you are looking at now as sons or daughters and they will certainly see you as a second father. It is the most rewarding yet terrifying thing I have yet to deal with."

Arctic Trooper managed a slight smile. "I bet by the time the USDT 19 Summer Camp comes around, they will be every bit as protective of you as they are their own families."

Garret moved deeper into the tree line using his glowing shield as a light source. The howling wind and blowing snow cut down visibility to only a few yards. The deeper into the trees he went the creeper the surroundings became, as trees seemed to appear out of the blowing white curtains of snow. After 10 minutes, he paused and closed his eyes, speaking softly to himself, "This is crazy, I am getting freaked out by a dark forest when I could take on a grizzly and probably win." He shuttered lightly, "Man, how do normal kids deal with the forests up here?"

Clenching his fists he opened his eyes again and forced himself to push on. After another five minutes he keyed his radio, "Colt, am I going the right way?"

Colt responded with an anxious sounding grunt, "I have no idea rookie. I lost him a few minutes ago when the kid with the tail tried to jump off a tree into me. It turns out it was a freaking girl! She took me to the ground hard, but this electric armor thingy I have tossed her off me and I was able to hit her with two good streams of electrical bolts, so she is down and out. I left her smoking at the base of a tree almost buried in a snowdrift, but lost fast-foot in the process. Is your shield up?"

Garret gulped, "Yeah. You can't even see a glow from it?"

"No. I'll stop following the trail the guy is making and head up…"

"Stay with speedy's trail. He can't get away!" Josh commanded. "I got Rex fixed up. The two of us will start tracking Garret's tracks…"

Skye entered into the conversation, "Josh, I'm in the woods with the rookie. We need to keep some of us close to our hovers. We have civilians in ours, and there is no way they can protect themselves."

Ajax's projection suddenly appeared next to Rex, "Point the way my new friend, I can… um, tail his snow tail?"

Rex snickered, "Close enough." Won't you hurt your leg more though?"

"No." Ajax responded, "I can make this form vanish and appear at any spot I can see through it, so I can… well the Woodsman called it 'bounce'… So I will bounce until I catch up with Garret."

Valda's head jerked as the boy appeared next to them. "Thanks for helping me, but who are you are where did you come from again?"

Rex motioned toward Ajax's projection, "He is my new friend, Ajax. I trust him." At the same time he gave a slight nod toward Josh.

Josh's eyes arched in some surprise as the boy's projection appeared, but upon hearing Rex and seeing his friend nod his direction he focused in on the weird incorporeal body for a few seconds before nodding, "Pretty awesome ability. What range does this image of yourself have from where you are really located?"

"Several kilometers. It gets harder to move once I get beyond 15 kilometers, but the Woodsman made me push it a few times and I managed to get it out to just over 40 kilometers once, but I didn't … he pointed to his ears… listen… through this form and the eyes started to blur at about 35 kilometers."

"Fifteen kilometers," Josh made a quick mental calculation, "slightly more than 9 miles, about 591 yards more than nine miles to be a bit more exact. Plenty of range, but can your projection do anything to help if Garret gets into to trouble?"

"Yes, but… um… it burns… hurts my head and…" The boy blushed madly, and the projection hung its head, "and if I am more than a couple of kilometers from my body I tend to wet my pants because of the hurt."

"Just catch up to him and keep an eye on him." Josh stated softly, showing his understanding. "If waned of danger, I am betting he will be able to deal with anything or anyone wishing to do him harm." Josh then pointed to a trail in the snow, "Those tracks are from him, but they are vanishing…"

"I will get to Garret before the tail he left goes away." A moment later Ajax's projection vanished and appeared at the edge the area lighted by Garret's sorcery light. A moment later it vanished again as it continued to fade in and out along the tracks left by the BEARS 97th newest member."

Rex watched with his heightened eyesight for a few seconds, thoroughly impressed by the sped which Ajax's apparition was able to move. It kind of reminded him of Josh's ability to do sight to sight teleportation, only at a much faster interval between each appearance and disappearance. Finally he turned to Josh, "Could you get any kind of reading form Ajax's fake body?"

"As a matter of fact I could. It is not much different than if he was standing right in front of me." Josh shook his head in some astonishment. "I've never even heard of an Augmentation like he has. It's kind of cool!"

"So?" Rex asked.

"So?" Josh frowned, totally distracted on thoughts of the boy's strange Augmentation.

Rex growled. "Is he on our side, or what?"

"Oh, yeah, sorry." Josh managed a bit of sheepish grin, "I would never have asked him to help cover the rookie if he wasn't." Josh turned his full attention to Rex. "I mean, he wants us to win and not get hurt. He also hates those fighting us, and the hatred runs very deep. To find out more I would have to do a deep scan which would be very painful to both of us, even if he fully opened up. However, after talking to the COUGAR kid I left up in the tree, I have a good idea of why he hates those he came with so much.

"Anyway, he is with us, but is still doubtful of your promise to help him and not send him back to where ever he is from, but he wants to believe. He definitely has a genuine like for Garret, Colt and especially you. Even better, he is willing to risk just about everything in an attempt to show us, you really, he can be trusted. All in all, he would be a great addition to the squadron, but I don't see how we could make it happen, even with A.T. backing us."

Valda balled up her fists, "If Rex gave his word then he stays or I quit BEST."

"Me too." Rex stated firmly.

Josh nodded slowly, "I'm with both of you, but at the very least we'll have to find someone to take him in. He'll need a guardian or an adoptive family of some sort."

Rex let out a long breath, "I gave my word."

Josh gave his best friend a hug, "I can always ask my parents, we have the room and more than enough money for one more kid. Besides I wouldn't mind having a brother, even a step brother, with Augmentations. My parents still get nervous when I play with my older brother and sister…"

"Same here, but at least my youngest sister is one of us." Valda joined in with a smile. "Having a brother would be kind of nice, and I know after having five girls, my dad would love to have another male around."

Josh took a deep breath of the cold air which caused him a brief coughing fit as he accidently inhaled a great deal of snow. After clearing his throat he slid his snow mask over his mouth and glanced over at his friend. "One way or another we'll find him a place, as long as the government and BEST says it's OK, Rex."

Valda put on a sly smile. "If we have to, we'll bounce him from house to house until they give up trying to find him."

Josh nodded, "We will do whatever it takes, but first we have to live though this and get the senator's kid back to Washington DC safely. Besides, if we manage to get the kid back to his jerk father, the U.S. senate will owe us a favor too."

Valda giggled, "Blackmailing the Senate, wow, your large brain is really thinking big time!"

Josh flashed an evil grin, "They keep saying I should work more on using my superior intelligence and focusing less on sheer force, so all I am doing is what BEST has been asking me to do."

As Rex and Valda snickered at Josh's facial expression, Garret continued to move deeper into the woods. Walking became even harder as the drifts were wildly uneven and in weird ribbons since the trees broke up the wind and snow in odd, unpredictable ways. Facing into the wind was all but blinding, so he started zigzagging so he didn't create a large blind spot in his scouting."

As he paused to glance around, he caught sight of a strange swirling of snow. Out of reflex and countless practice hours from BEST trainers in Florida, he brought his shield up in the nick of time. A high powered bolt of dark colored electricity slammed into his shield, deflecting it, but it was still enough to knock him down. Growling, he stood up, only to find the snow bank he was in was almost up to his neck. Even as he used his new found incredible strength to wade out of the snow bank, he could see a man with dark clothing and even darker glasses advancing on him.

Having felt one of the bolts the man could shoot though his shield, Garret had no desire to feel another. He started to throw a sorcery bolt like he had earlier, but Josh's warning about sticking with what he knew echoed in his hind. With a gulp, he reached down and keyed his radio, "He found me!"

Josh's voice came over the radio a moment later. "Make some kind of bright light! Colt, go high and see if you can assist!"

The man continued to move toward Garret, "You can scream of help all you want. If you don't tell me where the kid form the helicopter is, you'll be dead before your buddies can get to you!"

Another voice came from behind the man, "I would not bet on it Dark Raven!"

The man spun, only to see Ajax's form. "So the one Woodsman called Ghost Shadow has switched sides. Your ghost form can do nothing to me, and when I get back, your two young friends will die a rather awful death by my hands!"

Garret snarled and pushed hard though the snow toward the man, "Not if we have anything to say about it!"

"Careful, Garret." Ajax waned, "Dark Raven can drain you with a touch and heal himself like a… um…. Brykolakas. He can die you if he holds on long enough and even steal your powers for a while."

"It's Lord Dark Raven to you and the word you want is vampire." Dark Raven grinned, spun and launched a massive dark bolt at Garret, only to see it deflected by the boy's shield. Only this time, Garret was ready and had a chance to brace against the onslaught. The results of the man's powerful blast was it pushed Garret back several yards and sent a jolt of pain thought Garret's shield arm while causing a few cracks in the shield, which Garret was able to repair before the guy's very wide and astonished eyes. It also clearly weakened the man. Still the guy started to advance with an outstretched hand toward Garret.

An instant later Ajax's face became a mask of anger mixed with pain. His arms came up, "Keep your filthy hands off my friends here and there!"

As the man spun to face Ajax's projection, Ajax's hands started to glow then fired off a pair of incredibly hot light bursts. The first missed and slashed into a tree, causing it to start to burn. The second one hit the man's left leg burning through his snow pants and scorching his leg badly. The man howled in pain.

Above and a good quarter of a mile away, Colt saw the twin flashes, "I've got your back rookie, just hold a bit longer!"

Skye's voice also came over the radio, "I'm moving in too!"

Even as Colt spun and banked in the direction of the light flashes and Skye dropped her stone form so she could run faster, Garret forced the shield to slide back on his arm some so he had both hands free and pulled a pair of nunchakus from his belt. "Hold? No way! This guy is going down now!"

Even as the man realized the small boy behind him had basically been unaffected by his dark bolt, Garret was on him like a cornered wolverine. He used the path he had been pushed back in as a jumping track. He sprinted and jumped, nunchakus spinning. The first strike from a Nunchaku stuck the man's hand as he extended it toward Garret, snapping three fingers. The second hit less than half an inch from the first, causing the man's ruined finger bones to poke though his fingerless gloves.

Even as Colt used the glow from the burning tree to zero in on Garret's position, he could hear blows land. So fast did Garret spin and strike with the wooden weapons and so often did the sticks connected with a chain land on the man, to Colt it sounded much like a drum roll on a snare drum."

The man screamed in agony as his fingers, hands, wrists, arms and even chest were pummeled by a virtual rain of augmented strength blows. Even the man's enhanced toughness and endurance where no match for what he was facing. Several bones snapped within moments of each other. With no possible way to reach out and touch his small ferocious attacker and in total desperation, he managed to start pumping his legs. Before Garret could work on the man's lower extremities, the man was out of striking distance.

Ajax's projection fired off another pair of searing lights, but they were not as powerful as the first two and both missed, but did cause a couple more trees to start to burn giving the area around them more light.

Above, Colt spun and fired a couple of low powered electrical bolts, purposefully missing with both. As the figure below changed course to avoid the bolts, Colt's face broke into a wicked grin, "I'm on him am going to bring him right to you Valda. The rookie messed him up real bad! He is even dodging my smallest shots."

"Is the rookie OK?" Josh shouted into his radio.

"I'm fine thanks to Ajax! Just don't let him touch you. Ajax says he can drain others and heal himself!" Garret responded, then glanced over noting Ajax's projection was leaning over with tears rolling down his face. "But someone needs to check on Ajax, I think he's hurt!"

Skye moved up on Ajax and Garret. "I'm almost on the rookie and some other kid." She shouted into her radio. As she moved up to Garret, she her arm went up to Ajax, to check on him only to find he wasn't really there. She glanced around wildly as she stumbled through his projection.

"He's a friend and you are only seeing his image." Garret shouted as he moved up to look at Ajax.

She knelt looking at the face of the boy she had just walked though, "Are you OK?"

Ajax shook his head and leaned over, as if gasping for air. "I never did one of those before and they really hurt through this form. I think I am going to be sick!"

She quickly activated her radio again. "I'm with the rookie and we're secure here, but he's right. It looks like the new kid is in some serious pain or something! And guys, if what I just heard is correct, the guy is none other than Dark Raven and, man, did the rookie really mess him up! You're all right and I was wrong. Garret is one of us!"

Josh's eyes went wide as he glanced over at Rex, "Go check on Ajax. Valda and I have this end covered. You are an up-close fighter and he could drain you."

"Just keep him off of us, Josh. It doesn't sound like Ajax will be able to defend himself." Rex responded as he jumped up and raced toward the mangled FEMA hover. Behind him a quartet of electrical bolt blasted downward, marking were Colt was guiding the man with the glasses toward the spot Valda had pointed out.

Valda saw the four bluish gold bursts streak downward with a satisfied snarl on her face. Her brow crinkled as she went into deep concentration. A hundred feet away the pair of trees stirred and their braches wiggled, getting rid of the heavy snow holding them low to the ground.

A few seconds later the man came into view, only to find yet another pair of bolts from above forcing him off his chosen path, making him to go toward the twin trees. Another bolt was all it took, he turned and angled to go through them.

Valda's eyes narrowed with a glint of victory as the man made toward the small opening between the two trees. An instant before he got there, she forced the trees to extend braches toward each other and then made them intertwine.

At the speed the man was moving, there was no chance he could avoid the braches even if he had realized the fact they had wrapped themselves around each other, which he didn't. Making matters even worse, his hands, wrist and arms had multiple breaks from Garret's pounding meaning he couldn't even put up his arms to protect his face. He smashed into the dozen or so branches at well over three hundred miles an hour.

Josh cringed badly and turned from the ghastly sight as the man slammed into the netting of tree branches. A few tree limbs snapped a couple others cracked, but a few others didn't do either. Blood exploded outward almost thirty feet and the guy totally lost his right arm and the left side of his face as his body literally shredded under the impact.

Valda's face took on a look of horror as the man's feet and legs continued to pump up and down for a few moments before finally stopping. As the gruesome display ended, what was left of the guy fell lifelessly to the ground. She paused and finally let go of control over the two trees.

Above, Colt tired to fight off a wave a nausea, but failed badly. Finally he had to land next to Josh and Valda, puking as he did so.

From up in the trees, not far away, the voice of the kid Josh had stuck up in the tree cheered, "You did it! You killed Lord Dark Raven!"

Josh's head spun in the kid's direction as the words registered, "So he really is Dark Raven? Isn't he the one who murdered of most of Calgary's Red Leaf reserve team two or three years ago?"

"Yes!" the boy once again cheered. "The guy broke out and freed like two dozen Augments as they were being shipped to the island! He is a legit Lord too, a Class Five! You guys took down a wanted Lord and should get the bounty offered by Canada and the RLD too!"

Josh glanced back at the mangled body then up to the line of trees astonished they had been able to take down anyone who qualified for the title of Lord. Only Class Fives could gain the title of Lord or Lady before their Augment nick name. Many, like Battement, chose not to use it, but in formal settings he was still known as Lord Battlement. However, like many others who didn't like it, no one in their right mind pushed the issue or called him Lord to his face. Finally Josh turned his attention back to the kid in the tree. "So you're now free and they shouldn't be able to track you. Do you want to go it alone or join us and help?"

The boy clenched his fists, "With Lord Dark Raven dead, the big guy is going to come looking for who did this… Lord Dark Raven was his number one field commander. I don't want to get captured again, but if I run now, I…"

"None of us are going to think less of you if you run." Josh responded. "If Dark Raven was an underling to the mystery guy, then the guy must also be a Class Five."

"Maybe you won't look down on me, but I wouldn't be able to live with myself. Let me help. If you can let me have a snowmobile and compass, I can head back into Canada and get you help from my cousin's squadron. His old commander was one of those killed by Dark Raven!"

"How close to the boarder are you from?"

"I'm from Kelowna, but my cousin is just over the border in Fernie. I briefly thought about making a break for it when we passed though there a few days ago, but I knew I'd be killed if I did since they would track me down.

"I know we are like fifty miles or so, maybe seventy-five. They aren't a big squadron, but once I show them I'm alive and tell them what you all are doing, I am sure I can convince them to help and I know their Commander is a Class Four!"

"Let me back into your mind." Josh commanded.

"Go for it." the boy eagerly responded.

Josh paused, found the boy, and entered his thoughts once again. After nearly a minute he pulled back out, leaving both the kid in the tree and himself with a slight headache. He turned to Valda, "His name is Gregory, and he's telling the truth. Can you help him down and get him a snowmobile?"

"But he took down Rex!"

"And the kid Rex is checking on shot him earlier tonight. This is not a clear cut us versus them. The guy behind this attack is ruthless and evil. If he is really going to come after us for taking down…" Josh glanced over at the bloody mangled mess stuck between the two trees and forced down some bile. "him…" Once again Josh cringed, "Look, Valda, all I can say is I have felt and seen what these two have been through, and I trust them to do what is right. Besides, if we don't get more help here, the ten of us are going to be hard pressed to hold the line and protect all the normals in one town, let alone the whole county."

Valda took a deep breath, "OK, fine. I'll get him down and help get all my thorns out of him, but you'll probably have to do some healing on him before he heads out. I put more into him than I do most targets Jade Witch puts out during training."

"Sounds painful."

"I hope it was."

Josh managed a brief humor filed grunt, "No wonder you and Rex are so close. You two are way too much alike."

"Either one of these two new kids hurt him again and what I did to him," Valda pointed to the bloody mess, "will seem mild compared to what I will do to them." She straightened up and gave Josh a hard stare, "and for the record, I am pretty sure I will be able to sleep just fine tonight knowing I helped kill him!" She pointed to what was left of Dark Raven. "One of the kids I got to know from the Red Leaf program lost her mother and two brothers to those who broke out with Dark Raven."

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