Ashes of Fate, Season 1

by Cynus

Episode 6


Cheers erupted from the crew as the aircraft's engines roared to life. It was the third day of being stuck in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, and they were all ready to leave. For some, the time had been well spent, but for others it had been agony.

Kurt watched the others with resignation and great impatience. While he understood that it would take time for Nevala to conduct the research he had promised to do in order to find Jacob, he was having a difficult time waiting. Jacob had been his constant companion for fifty years, and Kurt was feeling the absence much more strongly than he would have imagined. Even at other times when Kurt had been captured or imprisoned while facing the North Wer Alliance, Jacob had managed to tag along as long as the knife stayed nearby.

But this was entirely different. Jacob had disappeared without warning, gone with the flames that had exorcised him from the knife which had been his home for so long. There had been no closure, no promises that he would return. One moment they had all been together, and the next there had been nothing at all. It had sent Kurt into a spiral of depression from which he was certain there was only one way to recover, and that was the return of Jacob.

He knew that the others felt the loss as well, but he had rejected all of their condolences. He couldn't put up with their optimistic remarks about how it would all be okay. It simply wouldn't be okay until Jacob was back and that was that. Only Peter had been tightlipped about Jacob, and had not approached him once on the subject since the bears were beaten back. Kurt found this odd. Despite Peter's normal introverted demeanor, he was often the first one to offer comfort, but instead he seemed every bit as despondent as Kurt felt, and he couldn't fathom why.

Peter was being introspective, though that descriptor was hardly unusual to be applied to the young doctor. Peter was always one to be thinking about himself and his situation. Not in a narcissistic sense by any means, but rather out of a need to understand who he was, and the role he had to play in the world. It was a fact that Kurt had always admired about Peter, which was why he had vouched for Peter to join the confederacy in the first place, despite coming from a wealthy family of Wers. But his introspection had taken a sour turn, and like Kurt he didn't seem to want to talk to anyone.

That didn't mean that his thoughts did not make themselves known in his body language. Kurt noted that Micah was often the victim of Peter's stares, though Peter made sure he was staring only when Micah wasn't looking. Something had happened between them that made Peter reconsider their relationship, and it was waging a war within him that Kurt imagined was causing Peter great emotional distress.

Ironically enough that fact connected Peter even further with Micah, considering how the young shape shifter was acting. Micah was every bit as torn emotionally as Peter, though his was obviously of a different sort. The only thing that had caused Kurt to smile at all through what had happened was the way Micah blushed sometimes when he glanced at Tristan. It seemed to Kurt as if Micah had finally found someone worth his time, and Kurt had to admit that Tristan was certainly a worthy candidate for Micah's interest. It was about time that Micah had found a friend, though it seemed as if Micah would gladly pursue that relationship further. Though there was one problem that seemed to get in the way of that thought, and made Micah twitch with annoyance whenever the problem became apparent.

Nevala. Tristan was spending nearly all his time with the newest members of the crew, the phoenix Nevala and his furry friend Tavi. From the moment they had recovered from the conflict with the werebears Tristan had been bombarding Nevala with question after question, and Nevala had dutifully answered every single one. They would grin and laugh at something the other had said, and each time Micah would fume. It was clear that Micah was jealous of the newcomer and it was more than his usual need for attention this time. Micah desired Tristan's attention specifically, and Tristan wasn't seeing it. That fact was almost enough to draw Kurt out of his antisocial self and give Tristan a hint.

Almost, but yet not nearly enough. Instead he helped Hayden where he could while favoring his broken arm, and now Hayden's hard work had finally paid off. The engines were humming, and the aircraft was about to take off. To take them home, to Ethan and Luke. It wouldn't really be home though… If home was where the heart was, then Kurt no longer had one.

Although Hayden had been the most focused of the group, even he had started to worry by the second day. They had tried to contact Ethan and Luke several times, but had yet to receive a response. Hayden had written the strange circumstance off as it simply being another side effect of what was wrong with the aircraft, but Kurt could see in his eyes that he didn't believe that for a second. Kurt was sure that there was nothing wrong with their communications, and he knew that Hayden was aware of that fact as well.

But they would still return to the complex, but they would be cautious. It was possible that there was interference on the other end, but it could be something much worse. The Alliance had been searching for them for years, and it was possible they had finally found the complex. If that were the case they wouldn't know until they landed, and possibly had to face Alliance soldiers. That fact hadn't been passed on to the others yet, but either Kurt or Hayden would have to tell them before they landed that they might have a fight waiting for them.

He wouldn't be the one to ruin their mood yet. They had finally left the ground and were once again heading south, and the look of joy shared amongst the rest of them was one he would rather see remain on their faces for as long as possible. If he was lucky, their happiness would rub off on him.

Not for the first time since Jacob had been exorcised, Kurt attempted to sleep as the aircraft continued its journey. There wouldn't be much time for it, but his body ached for even an hour of rest. He had yet to find any, and it was starting to wear on his mind as well. It surprised him when the hum of the engines had the desired effect, and he found himself drifting off as his head rested against the hull.

He bolted awake after what seemed to be only an instant of time. Though it hadn't really been an instant, he realized as he thought back to the dreams he had been escaping. He had seen Jacob, consumed by green flames as he howled in pain and anguish. Kurt had tried to reach him but no matter how hard he tried he had been restrained; kept away from reaching the boy he loved. He had been kept away from dying with him.

"Kurt, I was just about to wake you."

Kurt turned at the sound of Peter's voice, and met the young man's eyes while trying to conceal his feelings. He was sure he had failed when he saw the look of empathy in Peter's eyes. In order to avoid the chance of Peter bringing it up Kurt asked quickly, "What's going on?"

"Hayden just informed us that he still hasn't been able to establish contact with Ethan or Luke," Peter explained, confirming Kurt's original conclusion about Hayden's plan of action. "He doesn't think it's a problem with the aircraft either."

"I know," Kurt replied as he sat up straighter in his chair. "What did he suggest as a plan of action?"

"He says that according to radar there aren't any military vehicles nearby, so he doesn't think that it's The Alliance," Peter continued with a look of relief. He gestured back to the others who were watching Kurt cautiously. "We took a vote before you woke up as to how to proceed. Most of us are for heading in and seeing what's up, but making sure we keep our weapons handy. We're just waiting on your vote."

"I say we go in," Kurt replied after weighing the options for only a moment. He had already made this decision a long time ago based on this potential course of action, but he wanted to make sure that the others knew that he was giving it some thought. "The Alliance has a tendency to leave a mess wherever they go. If there's no sign of them yet then it's probably not them that are behind this."

Peter nodded and pressed the button for the intercom and spoke to Hayden. "It's a go, Hayden. We're all in agreement. Let's go home."

"Glad to hear it," Hayden replied through the speaker. There was a shift in the aircraft that was a telltale sign of their descent. Kurt realized with surprise that they must have been hovering over the doors to the hangar while they discussed what to do.

The descent halted abruptly, jostling everyone inside for a brief moment. "I don't understand," Hayden said. "The remote access isn't working properly. It's not accepting my commands to open the hangar doors. I'm going to look for another place to la… never mind, the doors are opening now."

Once again the aircraft began to descend and this time ended with the sound of the landing gear touching down on the floor of the hangar. They were inside now, and it was time to find out what was wrong. Peter was already standing, and the others were not far behind as they unbuckled their seat belts and stretched their tired muscles. The past few days had taken their toll on everyone, and Kurt knew from looking at his comrades that they were hoping to find their beds waiting for them.

Kurt was the last to leave his seat, and by the time he had, the others were already waiting beside the hatch and ready to go outside, all except for Hayden who was just leaving the cockpit. Hayden had a pistol his hand, ready to put to use if he needed it. The only other person carrying a weapon was Tristan, though the gun still looked unnatural in his hands. Micah, Peter, and Nevala were all weapons in their own right, and it would have looked even more out of sorts for them to be carrying any other means of defense. Kurt alone would be proceeding unarmed. Though he could fire a pistol with his one good arm, he had never cared for guns, and wouldn't even use one if his life depended on it. He simply didn't like the feel of them in his hands, and usually that had not been a problem. It wouldn't be this time either. If they did come across Alliance soldiers then Kurt would fight as well as he could until they killed him, and it was as simple as that.

"It's really strange out there," Hayden remarked, gesturing toward the window. The first thing Kurt noticed when he looked through was that sunlight was still pouring in from above. The hangar doors were still open, and from Hayden's original comment about how they had refused to open in the first place, Kurt was sure that it was not intentional. The next thing he noticed was how the electric lights were flickering in erratic patterns, as if there were a problem in every single one of the bulbs.

"That's odd," Peter remarked, sharing Kurt's sentiment.

"What is? Maybe they had a power failure?" Tristan offered with a shrug.

"You don't seem to understand, Tristan," Micah replied with a worried grin. "Ethan's complex doesn't have power failures. The man is a living battery, and his residence matches him perfectly. There is so much power in this place that the lights should never behave that way."

"Alright everyone, let's be careful out there, and stay on your toes," Hayden ordered as he laid his hand upon the button that would open the hatch. "We can't rule out yet that this isn't somehow the Alliance's doing."

The others nodded their assent and Hayden pressed the button. The hatch opened slowly and the group moved through cautiously, searching every corner of the hangar for any sign of enemies. Finding none they regrouped at the exit from the hangar into the rest of the complex. There they received another admonition from Hayden about being careful before proceeding through the doorway and into the hallway. They went room by room, searching every corner for a sign of Luke or Ethan, but they continued to come up short. What they found instead was more flickering lights, and other strange anomalies; computer monitors in abandoned rooms were on, displaying blank screens; the computer in the cafeteria which was busy making a chocolate milkshake, while forty or so of them were discarded in melted puddles in front of the machine.

"Well, at least Luke has been in here somewhat recently," Hayden observed with a smirk upon seeing the milkshakes. "Chocolate is his favorite."

Kurt shared the smirk as he thought about the strange occurrence. Chocolate milkshakes had been Jacob's favorite desert as well before he had died. He couldn't blame Hayden for jumping to that conclusion, though it was obvious that something else was out of sorts. This was clearly a computer malfunction of some kind.

They continued on until they reached the infirmary, where they found the first clue to the puzzle. Luke. The man was laying on one of the beds, machines buzzing beside him, among them a respirator. It suddenly became a race between Peter and Hayden to see who could reach the man first, but both arrived at nearly the same time. While Hayden made his focus on checking over Luke physically, Peter examined the monitors and checked Luke's vitals.

"I think he's just unconscious, but the fact that he's attached to a respirator shows that he wasn't doing so well before, otherwise Ethan wouldn't have used the machine," Peter said as he laid a comforting hand on Hayden's shoulder.

"Ethan… You're sure it was Ethan who took care of him?" Hayden asked, sounding a bit crazed.

"Of course!" Peter replied as if any other idea was absurd. "Who else would it be? They were the only two here."

"What happened to him?" Hayden asked a moment later. "Can you discern that?"

"If I had to guess from looking at him…" Peter said as began a quick examination of Luke's body. He stopped a moment later as his complexion paled. Hayden's stare told him that if Peter didn't speak up he was going to make him talk, and so Peter hurried on in a whisper, "I'd say he suffered an electric shock."

"Ethan," Hayden said with a growl. He turned away from the table and toward the door to Ethan's lab that waited for him on the opposite side of the infirmary. With his face contorted in rage he started down the hallway with everyone but Peter and Kurt following after him.

Kurt shared a look with Peter before taking a few more steps in that direction and stopping. It would be futile to step in Hayden's way now, not when he was this enraged and this determined. Instead he would have to sit back and watch, and only intercede if it was absolutely necessary. A second later Hayden rested his hand on the door knob and pulled.

The door was locked, but that hardly deterred Hayden from trying to open it. He threw his shoulder into the heavy wood several times but the door did not budge at all. Micah lay a hand on Hayden's shoulder and tried to pull him back, but Hayden threw him off in a rage. The next instant his pistol was in his hand, and he fired it point blank at the door knob, blasting it to pieces.

"What the hell are you doing!?" Peter shouted from his position at Luke's side. Kurt shared the sentiment, but he wasn't about to challenge Hayden either. His ears were still ringing from the noise of the gunshot, and he didn't feel like following it up with an argument.

Tristan and Nevala shared a look of concern, and Micah tried once again to pull Hayden away from the door only to have Hayden turn his gun on him. "Back off or I'll shoot you!" Hayden shouted, and when Micah hesitated for a brief moment, Hayden made good on his threat. A second shot echoed through the steel walls of the complex as a bullet collided with Micah's leg.

Micah shouted in pain as he collapsed to the ground and Tristan rushed to his side while shooting daggers up at Hayden. "Are you out of your mind?" He shouted as he helped Micah to his feet. Micah was already starting to close the wound in his leg and force the bullet out with his shape shifting powers, but his face still showed the pain he felt.

"I'm getting answers. Don't interfere," Hayden replied angrily before throwing the now broken door open. Without another word he took a step into the next room, only to find himself thrown back by a powerful force to slam heavily into the wall.

The lights flickered. They weren't supposed to flicker. Something was wrong. Ethan looked up from his worktable and glanced around his lab. There was no one else in the room, which was hardly unusual. No one entered his lab, his sanctuary away from the world. He hadn't had true company in a long time, though on occasion he did venture out into the rest of the complex and meet with the others. It had been a long time since he had done so.

The flickering lights forgotten, he decided it was time to stretch his legs again, though that would require wearing his damned suit. He hated that thing, but it was the only way he could interact with another human without risking killing them. He sighed as he looked at the thing, but determined to have some human contact for the first time in weeks he slowly began to put it on.

He couldn't stand the way the rubber felt against his skin, even though the suit was a second layer everywhere but on his hands and face. He almost never wore the mask. It interfered with his sight, and that was something he simply could not abide, no matter the risk to anyone else. The whole thing was heavy, and still smelled sterile despite its years of use.

Once he was suited up he opened the door to his lab and stepped into the infirmary, noting that its lights were also flickering. More oddities to consider. In the twenty years that he had called this complex home he had not once had an issue with power, though he had always wondered when the solar energy collectors he used would finally stop working. According to his last survey they were all in prime condition, but such things did have malfunctions from time to time, despite this being at the height of human technology.

He paused as he considered that line of thinking for a moment. This may very well remain at the pinnacle of human achievement if the Alliance had their way. Technology did not mix very well with the beast, or at least that was how many wers and other monsters saw it. It had been advances in technology that had originally given power to the mundane humans over their monstrous counterparts, and so they feared it. Rightfully so, Ethan admitted to himself with a wry smile as he considered his own condition. Technology was certainly something to fear if used improperly.

But he was certainly not afraid of its benign uses. After he had been changed he had gone into hiding for many years until the United States government had finally tracked him down. They had offered him a position in the only organization in which he fit in, a subdivision of Area 51. Somehow they had learned of his skills in Biology and Physics, and his later dealings with engineering, and they knew he was already used to the idea of not giving away his secrets. He had worked for them for another decade before all hell started to break loose as Ivan Tsela Adakai managed a brutal takeover of the United States government. Area 51 had been one of the last places cracked, but Ethan's superiors had thought it best to burn the place to the ground rather than allow the technology hidden there to fall into that hands of Skinwalker and The North Wer Alliance.

Ethan hadn't agreed with the plan, though there wasn't much he had been able to do about it. He confided in two of his colleagues; Hayden, a brilliant aeronautical engineer, and his partner Luke, one of the greatest pilots the world had ever seen. He told them what their superiors were planning, and they stole the aircraft that same day and headed toward the bunker where Ethan had hidden for so many years before. Together they had cleared out the complex and expanded it while they waited out the first few years of the war.

They had only left a few times during those early years. The first time was in an attempt to rescue Hayden's mother, which ended tragically in her death and the loss of Luke's leg. That had been a trying time for all of them, but they had managed to get through. The other times they had gone in search of materials to expand their operation, and in the process ended up finding more people interested in joining them. Since they had the space and needed more workers, they had conceded and let others join them.

And then they met Kurt, Faust, and Jacob. That was when the Confederacy started to become what it was today. A merging of minds focused on ending the North Wer Alliance. They were looking for steel to upgrade the hangar when they came across Kurt and Jacob. They had been scouting out, looking for signs of Alliance activity, and had come across the aircraft, thinking it was the Alliance's new weapon. After several tense moments of diplomacy, Kurt and Jacob eventually agreed that Ethan, Hayden and Luke were not their enemy, and they decided to work together.

Upon returning with Kurt and Jacob to where Faust and the others were headquartered, they learned that Faust had betrayed the Confederacy to the Alliance, and had kidnapped the infant son of two of the Confederacy's most valued members, the phoenix couple Elaine and Timothy. Elaine and Timothy Rembrandt had already left to retrieve their son, and Kurt and Jacob were itching to follow. Ethan, Hayden and Luke had all agreed that they would serve as transport to aid in the rescue, but they were unwilling to risk themselves further.

Looking back now, Ethan was surprised that they hadn't been more involved. If they had, Tristan might not have ended up with Abigail Langster and escaped their notice for almost sixteen years. If they had, the Rembrandts might not have died, and they might have successfully killed Faust. In the end, that wasn't how it had worked out. Elaine and Timothy had been killed, and Faust had lived. Kurt and Jacob barely escaped with Ethan, Hayden, and Luke, and they had returned to the bunker together. But they had been convinced to fight, and the bunker changed overnight. Gone were the days when they could sit on the sidelines. They would do their all to end The North Wer Alliance once and for all.

Ethan had only one way to contribute. He was not a fighter, nor would he ever be one. He had always been obsessed with the preservation of life, not the destruction of it, but he could still participate. He worked overtime in his lab, coming up with new inventions to aid the Confederacy. They didn't know how much he did for them, they just expected him to keep the lights on and he did. Until now at least, he thought with a smirk as the lights turned off completely for a moment before coming back on full force. And then they resumed their flickering. Odd indeed.

There was only one other person in the complex. Luke. The others were up north, in Canada, tracking down a phoenix named Nevala. Why they hadn't called home yet was a question he did not have the answer to, but if Luke had not come to him with any problems then it was likely they had a good reason. Although it was unlikely that the weather was interfering with communications, it was a simple enough answer for Luke's easy going mind to accept. Ethan was sure that if there was actually something wrong then Luke would feel it. Lovers had a tendency to do that with each other, after all.

He finally found Luke in the cafeteria, where he was busy standing in front of the computer, and the mess of a chocolate milkshake on the floor in front of him. Luke seemed to be incredibly annoyed, though Ethan couldn't tell if it was because of the computer or the mess.

"Come on you piece of shit, what the hell is wrong with you?" Luke asked as he smacked the side of the machine with his hand.

"Talking to it like that won't make it work," Ethan observed. His voice startled Luke for a moment until the younger man turned and regarded him with a pleasant smile.

"I forgot you were an animist, Ethan," Luke replied. "A strange philosophy for a scientist such as yourself to espouse."

"Why is that? Does not Jacob offer proof that the soul exists?" Ethan asked with a smile. They had had this conversation before. "Or even your own guardian angel? Why then can computers not have souls? We may have evidence that the soul exists, but we don't have evidence that it is exclusively tied to life."

"Point taken. Well maybe you can figure out why this machine isn't working," Luke said with a glare at the machine. "I ordered chocolate pudding and it gave me a milkshake. Then it threw it at me."

"Have you checked the side panel yet?" Ethan asked with a grin. "Maybe one of the switches is out of line."

"Really?" Luke asked with a dumbfounded expression. "You're going to make me crawl back there with my leg?"

"I didn't bring my work gloves, just the ones that go with the suit," Ethan explained with a shrug. "If I tried to do anything back there I either wouldn't have the finger dexterity or I could short out the whole machine."

"Oh, you're going to play the 'I can't touch anything card' are you?" Luke said haughtily. The twinkle in his eyes said that there was no venom in his words, but Ethan already knew that Luke had meant no offense.

This was why he turned around and said with an uninterested shrug, "You played the cripple card first." Luke laughed heartily at the comment and Ethan smiled sadly. Even when he had had legitimate moments of happiness, his smiles were always sad, but he was glad that he had made Luke happy again.

"Luke, if you want me to go get my gloves, I will," Ethan said a touch apologetically. "You know that I'd do anything for any of you if it's within my power." "Of course," Luke replied with a grin, laying a hand on Ethan's shoulder. "No, you don't have to do that. I was just bitching. I can handle this."

Ethan nodded and Luke took his hand away before turning back to the computer. It was a massive machine which took up a large section of the wall, but it had a side panel a few feet back from the front which served as its override controls. On occasion the machine would screw up, and the best answer was usually to turn it off and on again. Ethan still thought it was hilarious that even on the most advanced machines the simplest answer could solve the most basic of problems.

This machine had originally been integrated into the aircraft's circuitry, but they had moved it in here for logistical reasons. The aircraft wasn't home, the bunker was, and it was far more useful to their cause if it stayed where most of the crew stayed. The irony of the thought process which had brought it here was not lost on Ethan. Now the crew was small, and they were often on missions leaving only one or two of them in the base. All the others had died in skirmishes during the war or of various other causes, which means it now served very few of them, but it still got the job done.

It was built to use nutritional supplements and recreate them into food, similar only in concept to the replicators of Star Trek fame from Ethan's childhood. The nutritional packs had to be replaced from time to time, but they had a generous supply of them in the storeroom and they wouldn't run out any time soon. Only he, Hayden, and Luke knew how to maintain the machine, but it was probably about time to show the others how it was done. One never knew when his time would come and he'd no longer have the chance to pass on the information.

Luke was starting to climb up on the counter and open the panel on the machine, and Ethan settled back to watch. He had always been impressed by the way Luke worked. Luke was a man who always did what was necessary to get the job done, even if it meant working long hours or in uncomfortable conditions. In this case it meant bending over machinery in order to get to the panel and awkwardly fiddling with it in order to get it right.

"Alright, I've got the panel off," Luke called over his shoulder. "Looks like there's nothing wrong but I'm going to turn it off anyway. Let me know what happens to the machi…" Luke's sentence ended abruptly as he cried out in pain and his body jolted backwards. He slid off the counter and into Ethan's arms as Ethan tried to catch him.

The first thing he noticed was that Luke was unconscious, but then he noticed that his chest wasn't moving either. Despite the fact that he risked shocking Luke even further he pressed his fingers against Luke's throat. As soon as he felt a pulse he pulled his hand away. Luke wasn't dead, but he wasn't in good condition either.

Ethan slid his hands back onto his sleeves and picked up his friend before making haste to the infirmary. Although Peter had taken over all medical duties, it had first been Ethan who had borne that responsibility, and he knew his way around the equipment. As soon as he could he put Luke down on one of the examination tables and wheeled the respirator over. As out of practice as he was, It took him far longer than it should have, but he kept his cool and soldiered through it. A moment later he was rewarded by the sight of Luke's chest moving up and down.

Letting out a sigh of relief, he rested for a moment to weigh his options. He had to contact Hayden and let him know what had happened, if the aircraft could even receive messages. There was another problem as well; the machine in the cafeteria shouldn't have done what it had. Like the lights flickering in the complex, there was no reason why the electronics should suddenly be on the fritz.

He resolved to look into that problem as soon as Luke was on his feet again, or at least was in a more stable condition. Ethan let out a sigh and instinctively grasped Luke's hand to give it a comforting squeeze but then recoiled as he shocked Luke instead. Ethan's eyes flicked open and he gasped as his gaze rested on the man standing over Luke and across from him. He bore a strong resemblance to Hayden, and if Ethan didn't know better he would have thought it was at first, but he had seen this man once before. This was the spirit of Hayden's father, and the guardian angel that watched over Luke in times of distress.

And now the spirit's eyes were focused on Ethan, and they promised vengeance for the state that Luke was in. Ethan backed away slowly, toward the nearest exit from the room, his lab. If he didn't make any movements against Luke there was the possibility that the spirit would not attack him. As soon as his hand rested against the doorknob, he turned around to step through only to have a violent force push him forward, causing him to trip and land heavily against the floor on the inside.

He turned back to see the spirit charging toward him, but before the spirit reached him the door slammed shut, and Ethan heard the click of the lock. Ethan moved back to the door and tried to unlock it but it wouldn't budge, no matter how hard he tried. The spirit had trapped him, deeming him a threat to Luke. That meant there was only one option left to him. He had to try to contact Hayden again.

He spent hours in front of his computer, searching the system for any indication of why his messages were not being sent, but the only thing he became convinced of was that the problem was definitely within his own system. Every so often he would rise and check the lock, only to find that the door was still sealed. The spirit had done its work well, and Ethan was sufficiently trapped. With a sigh he slumped into the chair in front of his computer and began to meditate. He had already exhausted all of his options on the surface, and he needed to delve deeper if he was going to find the solution to this problem.

Sleep found him instead. He hadn't realized that he had been so tired, but the exhaustion of the stress caught up to him and lulled him to a deep slumber. In his dreams he saw the others, coming home and facing the spirit, not knowing that it was there. He could see them wrestling with it, trying to overcome it but failing, until Jacob stepped in. Jacob was the only one who had a chance against this thing, since he could face it on the spirit's terms. He had to hope that Jacob would realize what was going on early and rise to save the others.

A shot rang out, startling him awake. He turned his gaze toward the door and saw that there was a hole in the door where the doorknob had been. Angry shouting from the other side of the door indicated that Hayden and the others had arrived. Ethan jumped to his feet and rushed to the doorway just as it was opening. He saw Hayden, waving his gun about angrily and then the man was suddenly flying backwards. The rest of the group followed the flight of their friend, but Ethan could see all of them, including the spirit of Hayden's father that was now entering his lab.

Ethan didn't have time to think about how odd that was, that the spirit had waited to come after him if it had intended to do so the entire time. Instead he removed his gloves and stood to face the spirit. While electricity was not as effective as fire against spirits, it would at least give Ethan a chance.

~ ~ ~ ~

Kurt watched Hayden fly backward only for a moment before turning back to see the source of the violent throw. His eyes widened in surprise as he saw the spirit fighting Ethan. He had never seen the spirit of Hayden's father before, but Jacob had told him what to expect if he ever had. Jacob could see spirits whether they were invisible to the living or not, and had described this spirit in detail.

"Everyone, we have to help Ethan!" Kurt shouted as he started toward the door, instinctively reaching for the knife so that he could call Jacob to him. He drew the knife but instantly sensed its cold dead steel and stopped as he realized he was now useless.

"Why? Wha…" Tristant replied as he turned toward Ethan's lab. He saw the spirit facing off with Ethan and gasped. "How can Hayden be in two places at once?"

"He's not," Micah explained, "That's Luke's guardian spirit. Hayden must have been right."

Nevala stepped into the lab and started to chant in Chinese, each syllable resonating off of the walls as if his voice were ten times louder than it actually was. His hands were glowing fiery hot as he approached the spirit and Ethan. The spirit appeared to be being electrocuted by Ethan's hands, but it also had its arm pressed through Ethan's chest where his heart would be, and Ethan's face was contorted in pain.

As soon as Nevala was within a few feet of the spirit, it looked at him as if in sudden recognition and turned on him with wrathful eyes. Nevala did not pause at all, but instead increased the volume of his chant as he thrust his hands toward the spirit, making a strange pattern with his fingers. Fire flew toward the spirit and engulfed it, and within a few seconds it was gone.

Ethan collapsed to the floor, and Kurt quickly moved to help him as best he could, sheathing the knife in his belt and then dragging Ethan over to his chair. He helped Ethan up into the chair and then stepped away when Ethan indicated that he was alright.

The click of Hayden's pistol drew their attention back to the doorway, where Hayden stood with his gun pointed at Ethan and a look of pure wrath on his face. Kurt looked at him with surprise and stepped between Hayden and Ethan. "What the hell are you doing, Hayden? Ethan nearly died a moment ago, and now you're threatening him again? Can't we get answers without threatening him with violence?"

"Look around you, Kurt. Have you ever been in this room?" Hayden replied with venom in his voice. Kurt complied and gave the room a once over, noting the vast array of scientific equipment; the tables covered with inventions and other projects in differing states of completion. It certainly had the look of a mad inventor's lab. "I never have either, and how long have I lived here?"

"No, I never have, and you've been here a long time. What's your point?" Kurt asked, stubbornly holding his ground.

"Ethan. He is my point," Hayden replied, gesturing with his pistol toward the man sitting behind Kurt. "Ethan is always holding back from us. He's always keeping his little secrets, and making sure we don't know half of what he does. I have grown tired of him keeping me in ignorance. Haven't you? And now my husband is lying there having suffered from an electrical shock, and I'm not sure I can trust whatever explanation comes out of Ethan's mouth. He's just going to feed us a half truth again."

"Hayden…" Ethan began, but was cut off by a growl from Hayden.

"I don't want to hear you defend yourself," Hayden said testily, "I want to know what happened to Luke."

"Well you're going to get that chance," Peter called from his position beside Luke. "He's waking up."

"If I find out that you did this to him, we're through, Ethan," Hayden growled before lowering his pistol and stepping out of the lab.

Kurt turned back to Ethan and asked with concern, "Are you alright?"

Ethan nodded slowly, though there was considerable pain in his eyes, and Kurt couldn't determine if it was the result of the physical trauma he had suffered or because of Hayden's words. "Let's go see about Luke, shall we?" Ethan asked with a forced smile. He stood on shaky legs and Kurt moved to support him but found Nevala already coming in to do the job.

"I've got him, Kurt," Nevala said with a smile. He turned toward Ethan and said, "It's a pleasure to finally meet you. I have heard much about the mad scientist of the Icarus Confederacy."

"Oh really?" Ethan replied in surprise, "I wasn't aware that I was any form of celebrity like yourself."

"You knew a good friend of mind, Jackson Phillips. He always spoke very fondly of you," Nevala explained as the two of them left the room.

"You knew Jackson?" Ethan asked in wonder. "That must have been years ago that you knew him. He died almost a decade ago. How old are you?"

"I'm thirty six, though I don't look a day above seventeen," Nevala replied with a disarming grin. "A product of Taoist sorcery, not my phoenix heritage. I'm not a firsty like Tristan."

"I wasn't aware they had magic for that," Ethan asked. "Are you immortal?"

"Not at all, but I do age considerably slower. Anyway, we'll talk more about this later. It looks like we have something else to deal with," Nevala said as he nodded toward Luke who was stirring on the examination table. Peter was busy removing the respirator since Luke was clearly breathing on his own again, and as soon as he did Luke groaned as he stretched his tired muscles.

"All I wanted was chocolate pudding…" Luke said groggily, and despite the tension in the rest of them they smiled at the remark. Luke was clearly alright if he could crack a joke this quickly. With the tension lessened Kurt urged Luke to tell them what had happened while they were gone.

Luke slowly began to relate what had occurred since the others had left the facility. It was largely a boring lecture until he reached the point of discussing what had happened with the machine in the cafeteria. He explained that there hadn't been any warning, but as soon as he reached inside the circuitry he had felt a shock travel up his arm and the next thing he knew there was only darkness until he woke up in the infirmary.

Hayden listened to the story with growing guilt in his eyes, and he avoided meeting everyone's gaze except for Luke's, but in particular Micah's, Ethan's, and Kurt's. Each one had their own reaction to the news; Micah was pissed, despite the fact that his leg had already fully healed and he was in prime condition once again; Kurt's expression left no room for doubt that the guilt Hayden was feeling was probably payment enough.

Ethan on the other hand seemed overcome by profound sadness whenever he glanced at Hayden, and as Luke finished his side of the story he had to swallow several times before he could begin speaking to explain what had happened next. Eventually he managed to get through the rest of the story, though he delivered the facts only as brief notes, not once pumping himself up for having saved Luke's life or of how he continuously tried to reach them. For those who watched him they could see the emotions in his eyes as he stared at the back of Hayden's head, willing him to turn around and face him. He felt betrayed, but there was no anger, only sorrow.

"Ethan," Hayden said slowly when Ethan had finally finished speaking. "I'm sorry for what I said. I'm sorry for everything." He kept his gaze on Luke's face while the others looked between him and Ethan, waiting to see what would come of the strange occurrence.

When Ethan didn't immediately respond, Hayden sighed and said, "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like a moment alone with my husband." He finally raised his eyes and met Kurt's, who saw the deep pain and guilt the man was struggling with.

Kurt nodded solemnly and gestured to the others as he turned to Ethan and said, "I know you don't normally entertain in your lab, but it is the nearest place we can all fit somewhat comfortably. Would you allow us to visit?"

Ethan blinked several times to let the question sink in and then nodded slowly in response. He gestured that Kurt should lead the way and then took that position for himself an instant later. Kurt smiled coldly as he fell in step behind him, not waiting to see if the others would follow.

He was glad to see that they had when he finally turned around and saw that the rest of them were now in the lab. Peter was the last one in, and despite its broken state he tried to close the door as best as he could to give Hayden and Luke some privacy. It rested awkwardly on its hinges now, but it stopped in place where it normally would, blocking the others from view.

"I've been trying to figure this out since we arrived, but why are the lights flickering, Ethan?" Kurt asked as soon as the group was settled into their new surroundings.

Ethan shook his head helplessly as he answered, "I honestly don't have the slightest idea. It's slowly been getting like this for two days or so, and it's only getting steadily worse. I imagine it's the same reason that Luke got shocked, which means it may have actually been my fault."

"I don't think so," Kurt replied without hesitation. "I have a theory, and maybe Nevala can back this up for me," he went on as he glanced at Nevala. "You did have a spirit rampaging through here not ten minutes ago, and what's going on seems like the beginning of a poltergeist."

Nevala was already nodding as Kurt finished his sentence. "I would agree that these things are symptomatic of a poltergeist, though we'd be seeing a lot more activity if it actually were one. Are you suggesting that the spirit I banished into Luke may be evolving into a poltergeist?"

"What's the difference in all these spirits?" Tristan interjected. "Isn't a ghost a ghost?"

Kurt shook his head and explained, "Not exactly. There are different types, different classifications of ghosts; some haunt objects, some haunt people, some haunt locations. Even then there are differences in how they act. Some are fragments of the person in life, while some retain their full consciousness. Jacob is…" Kurt stumbled for a moment and continued with a tight expression, "Was… haunting the knife I carry. It used to belong to him, and he used it to defend himself on the day he died. He retained his full consciousness which is why he was able to communicate with us as if he were still alive. He also has the ability to interact with whoever holds his knife. The spirit that protects Luke is only a fragment of who he was, his protector side, and he died protecting Luke. He has the power to effect those who would try to harm his charge. A poltergeist almost always haunts a place, and is usually even less of a fragment than the guardian spirit. Usually they retain only the nastiest of anger, and use that to kill anyone who dares to desecrate the place where they live, usually by manipulating objects found within that area."

Peter spoke next, his voice trembling at the prospect, "So you're saying that Luke's guardian spirit is trying to kill all of us? Speaking of which, how are you feeling, Ethan?"

"I'm doing much better, thank you, Peter," Ethan replied with a slight smile.

"Alright, how do we kill it?" Micah asked with an eager growl.

"We don't. It's already dead," Nevala answered with a grin that seemed to infuriate Micah. "But there are ways of dealing with it. We could try to exorcise it from the complex, which most likely would simply force it back into Luke."

"I think that would be a solid plan," Kurt agreed with a nod. "Can you do that?"

"Probably, but only because it's a young poltergeist," Nevala said with confidence. "'Young' meaning it hasn't fully developed yet. I doubt there's incense or ritual paper for me to use, so I'll have to improvise."

"I do have incense," Ethan said quickly as he stood up and walked to the other side of his lab before rummaging through a pile of odds and ends against the wall. He returned a moment later with several sticks of incense and said with a shrug, "As for the paper, you're on your own."

"This will do nicely then," Nevala said with a grin. He touched Ethan's hand warmly before he pulled away, surprising the scientist as a shock traveled through Nevala that seemed to do nothing to the younger man. "You wouldn't happen to have a small table or even a step stool that I can use as an altar, do you?"

"I'm sure that there is one in storage," Kurt replied. "Micah, would you mind having a look?"

"Now let me think. I suppose I could use normal paper and try to enchant it…" Nevala muttered as he sat down to think.

"Would Buddhist prayer scrolls help?" Peter asked, causing Nevala's eyes to light up as he regarded the doctor curiously.

"I think those would probably get the job done," Nevala answered with a nod, "Why, do you happen to have them?"

"When I left Korea my sister snuck some into my bag," Peter explained with a shrug and a nostalgic look in his eyes. "She knew I was running away from my parents and thought I could make use of them. I've never used them, but I still kept them."

"Bring them to me, if you're okay with me burning them," Nevala replied.

Peter nodded and left the lab, just as Micah was returning with a step stool. "Will this do?" Micah asked as he set the object in front of Nevala."

"I think so," Nevala said with a nod.

"Anyway I can help?" Tristan asked eagerly. With all the activity that had been happening around him he was feeling increasingly useless.

"Definitely," Nevala answered with a grin. "For the moment you can hold Tavi. He's been sleeping since we arrived. Once I start the ritual though it would be useful for you to observe. Phoenixes have a natural talent for magic, so you might as well get a lesson."

Tristan nodded and held his hands out for Tavi as Nevala retrieved the small mammal from within his kimono. Tavi stirred for just a moment and looked around before settling comfortably into Tristan's arms. As soon as Tavi was no longer in his care, Nevala began to ask Ethan for various other objects from around the room; a cloth to cover the stool and something with ink. He then asked if it was alright if he destroyed both the cloth and the pen and Ethan nodded his agreement. Nevala used the ink from the pen and his finger as a brush to inscribe Chinese characters onto the cloth before finally laying it across the step stool. He then set the incense upon the makeshift altar and lit it with a small flame sprouting from his fingertip.

The sweet scent of the incense filled the room by the time Peter arrived with a small bundle of paper covered in characters that resembled those on the altar. "It took me awhile to find them," he explained as he handed the bundle to Nevala. "They were buried."

"I'm glad that you found them just the same. I should have saved the pen, however. Now I have to write on these," Nevala said with a wry chuckle, but was quickly handed another pen by Ethan. Nevala thanked him graciously and then proceeded to write on the prayer scrolls before looking up at Kurt and saying, "Alright, one last thing. Someone has to go tell Luke and Hayden what we're doing. I need Luke to be sitting in the center of the circle if this is going to work."

Kurt nodded and said, "I suppose that's me then. I'll be back with Luke." He stepped through the doorway and into the infirmary, where Luke and Hayden appeared to be in a quiet but testy discussion.

Luke looked up as Kurt approached and said with a smile that concealed his anger, "Look, it's Kurt; another welcome release from Hayden's guilt-ridden monologue."

"Luke…" Hayden said dangerously, but Luke didn't even give him the courtesy of a glance in his direction.

"We think we figured out the problem, and we'll need Luke's help to stop it," Kurt explained as he came up to them. The next minute was spent explaining how they had arrived at the conclusion that the spirit of Hayden's father was becoming a poltergeist and that they wanted to seal him back inside Luke. It took a moment to sell Hayden on the idea, but by the time Kurt had done so Luke was already off the table and hobbling toward Ethan's lab.

"If you're wrong then there's no harm in trying it anyway," Luke said in explanation as he stepped into the lab. "Why not go for it?"

Luke looked at where Nevala had arrayed a circle of prayer scrolls on the floor and asked if he should step inside of it. Nevala nodded and when Luke was inside Nevala indicated that Luke should sit down. He then turned to Tristan and said, "I'm going to begin. Watch carefully and try to sense the energy flowing through the room as I chant. Being able to sense the energy is the first step in learning how to control it. If you can sense it easily, then focus on what the energy is doing, and you'll learn how it behaves."

Tristan nodded and Nevala looked around the room to make sure that everyone was ready to begin. Before he started the ritual he offered one final word of warning. "Things might get really ugly for a moment. Try to keep a cool head. No poltergeist wants to go back to inhabiting its former vessel. They are content where they are."

Nevala closed his eyes and started to chant, and immediately an ominous presence came into the room. The others shared a look that spoke volumes of their shared fear about what was about to happen. Tristan did his best to maintain his focus on Nevala and the ritual, but he too looked up in fright as the room seemed to start to shake. It wasn't the room itself, however, but rather the many objects scattered about the table tops that rattled and rolled about. The lights began to flicker rapidly and Ethan's computer whirred to life with a mind of its own.

The chanting became deeper and the shift was felt by everyone as an atmosphere shifted to one of pure wrath, like the feeling of oppression one would feel from an abusive father come home to find his children had disobeyed him once again. The others beside Nevala and Luke dove for cover as objects began to fly about the room, propelled by an unseen hand; a veritable tornado of steel as metal spun above their heads, threatening to crash down upon them at any moment.

Tristan was no longer able to pay any attention to the ritual at all, though he surely felt the energy around him. Boundless amounts of pure fury and hatred, swirling in a tight vortex around Nevala and Luke, but centered on the circle itself, where Luke waited like an empty vessel, waiting to accept its treasured companion, the spirit which had resided within him for so many years.

Except the energy did not enter Luke at all. Where it made contact with Luke's skin it rebounded as if Luke were protected by some divine shield which prevented him from harm. The chanting reached a new level of urgency, as if Nevala were starting to lose control of the energy, and Tristan could see why. The energy seemed to be battling with Luke's shield for dominance, as if there were a war raging between two separate entities.

Something was wrong. Something was dreadfully wrong. Tristan shouted over the chanting, hoping that Nevala would hear him. "It's not working! We have it wrong! It wasn't Luke's guardian!"

Nevala did not cease his chanting, but a different voice answered him. Kurt, struggling to stay low against the ground and to keep the knife tight against his body which had been pulling to get away from him for the entire ritual heard Tristan's cry. "Then who else could it be?" He shouted back, but then he realized the truth of it all.

"Nevala! It's not Luke! It's Jacob!" Kurt shouted, but he could not make his voice heard over the sound of the chanting. He slid the knife from his belt, using most of his strength to retain control over it as he pulled himself across the floor, slowly gaining on the circle and Luke waiting inside. Each inch he moved seemed to take an eternity, as the chanting throbbed within his ears. Slowly but surely he crawled to the circle, and at long last thrust the knife inside. The chanting reached a climax as Nevala seemed to sigh with relief.

Tristan sat in wonder as the energy quickly subsided, the tornado being channeled down and into the knife held tight in Kurt's hand over Luke's bowed head. All at once the whole room exploded as the objects flew to the far corners of the chamber, smashing into the walls with tremendous force and a noise like that of several giant gongs being struck at once.

The lights flickered and died, and so too did Ethan's computer, casting them into sudden darkness. The silence was as oppressive as the gloom, and for a brief moment no one dared pierce it for fear of bringing back the turmoil they had just endured, but then a voice spoke, soft and youthful and the sound made Kurt's breath catch in his throat.


The next sound that escaped Kurt's lips was a sob he could no longer repress. Jacob's voice became soothing as Kurt's sobs increased. "It's alright now. I'm back. I was in a dark place, and I was hurting people, and I didn't want to… but it's alright now. I'm back, and I'm here to stay."

Relief was expressed by the others as they sighed in unison, and then repeated the action as the lights came back on to see Jacob embracing Kurt and holding the old man's head tightly against his chest. No one dared speak and ruin their moment, but quietly they all rose, and left Kurt and Jacob to each other. The last one to leave was Ethan, who stared around his lab that had served as his home for so many years, his sanctuary away from all the others where he could be at peace.

It was fitting that as his delusions of solitude had been shattered by his friends; his comrades with which he had shared his home for so many years, it had also become the place where they had been reunited when they thought all was lost. As he watched Kurt and Jacob console each other in the dim light, he learned again the truth which he had been concealing for so long.

There truly was no place like home.

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