Ashes of Fate, Season 1

by Cynus

Episode 11


Only the crackling of the last few embers broke the silence of the night. There wasn't anything moving beyond the flickering flames in his vision, the last remnants of destruction wrought by the Alliance attack on the small fortress that had been erected by a small resistance group only a few months before. They had thought their base would be remote enough to avoid detection, but they had been found, tracked down by the noses of the werewolves who would stop at nothing to tear them apart.

They hadn't left any survivors. None. Zach had failed to make it there in time to help them, and he shook his head in sorrow as he surveyed the carnage. Bodies burnt beyond recognition were scattered across the beds of ash, except for the few who had managed to escape the fire which lay torn to shreds across the snow. The Alliance hadn't even had the decency to bury the dead, and he knew why; they wanted to leave this as a shrine for what happened when people opposed them.

Like Corban had. Like Tris. Zach shook his head and held back the tears that tried to form in his eyes. Crying about it didn't help anyone. They were dead and gone, and he was alone, and that was all there was to it. He needed to keep moving on and trying to help others if he was going to get past their deaths. But no matter how many times he thought he had found a group he could join, they were dead before he made the trip to where they were located. It had happened in Oregon, then Montana, and now in Tennessee.

If only he could make contact with the Icarus Confederacy, then maybe he would be able to find a way to fight the Alliance. They were elusive, and though he knew that they were currently still active, they left an area as quickly as they entered it. He knew that they had been present in Seattle while he had been in Oregon, and that they had also made a recent appearance in Arizona, but so far he had been completely unable to make contact with them.

With a frustrated growl he kicked away a piece of charred timber and watched it crumble to dust as it rolled across the snow, leaving a short, black trail. This was all futile, resistance was an impossible goal, and he would never make the alliance pay for what they had done.

Zach heard them before they reached him, but even with his senses preventing him from being caught off he knew he had been caught. He hadn't thought that the Alliance would still be around, and he didn't know the area well enough to make an escape. He dashed into the bushes, knowing that they were right on his tail, but not sparing a glance to see what exactly was following him. He had always had a sense for when he was in danger, though he had never really known why. Corban had had the same ability, but it hadn't served him in the end, and from the way Zach's heart was racing he was sure that it was about to fail him as well.

He tore through the woods with as much speed as he dared, leaping over fallen logs and boulders while trying to land in patches of soft undergrowth of snow. He missed a landing and felt his ankle twist underneath him, but he grimaced through the pain and kept going. He scraped his other leg against a tree trunk, and the jolt caused him to stumble on his bad ankle, taking him down to one knee. Rising as quickly as he could, he started running again, only to hear the click of a rifle behind him.

Zach turned around slowly, raising his hands in surrender, but when his eyes fell upon his pursuer he almost fainted. Instead he lowered his hands as he choked out in disbelief, his complexion paling. "Dad?"

"You're saying that something is moving around in there?"

"Well yeah, it's an egg… Of course there is."

"It may be shaped like one, but it's completely different from any egg that I've ever seen before." Tristan reached out to touch the lava-like egg that sat on the scanner in Ethan's lab. It had been nearly two weeks since Nevala had disappeared in Arizona, leaving behind the egg as the only remnant of his existence. Ethan had called him into the lab that morning, excited by something he had discovered.

"So, what made you scan it for life?" Tristan asked as he pulled his hand away. When Ethan didn't answer, Tristan looked up and stared at Ethan to see that he was avoiding looking at Tristan or the egg. "Ethan?" Tristan pressed.

"I don't know how to answer that question without sounding crazy, Tris…" Ethan began.

"Tristan, go to Ethan's computer." Hayden's voice interrupted from the intercom. I glanced at Ethan who shrugged and gestured that I should take a seat before the large console. I walked over and sat down, and Ethan followed after, jiggling the rubber insulated mouse to get the screen to come to life.

"Ethan," Hayden continued, "There is a sound file in your inbox. Play it for Tristan."

Ethan clicked on a small icon on the screen, bringing up an emailing system. The first message in the inbox was labeled "*URGENT: Must read immediately". Ethan clicked on the message and then when the email was open he clicked on the sound file that appeared on the screen, causing it to start playing. At first there was static, and as the static played Ethan read the short message that had accompanied the file.

"It looks like this was sent using a Nine Dragons encryption code, which is strange since the message originated in Tennessee and all of the North American Dragons died in Arizona…" Ethan said as the static began to clear. "We need to…"

A familiar voice began to speak, and Tristan reached up to silence Ethan before he said anything else. "Zach…" Tristan whispered, his complexion paling as he leaned toward the speakers.

"Icarus Confederacy, my name is Zach Langster," Zach's voice was formal and direct, and almost devoid of emotion. "I've been looking for you for some time, and an associate of yours put me in touch with you and gave me this code. His name is Tavi, and was a prisoner of the North Wer Alliance until I managed to escape with him. I would like to join your resistance if you'll have me. I will be at these coordinates for the next two days, but I can't wait any longer than that. We look eagerly to joining you."

And then it ended, and Tristan was able to breathe again. "We have to go there. Now."

"Hold on, Tris," Ethan said, laying a hand on Tristan's shoulder. "There are other things to consider here."

"He said that he's with Tavi. That's Nevala's familiar! Isn't that reason enough?" Tristan insisted, his eyes pleading.

Before Ethan could answer, Hayden's voice came over the intercom. "I've been listening to this the whole time, and already sent it to Luke, and Kurt and Jacob. We're all in agreement that we should pursue this, but we've come up with a plan already, if you'd like to hear it."

"Oh? Made the decision without consulting me, huh?" Ethan said with a grin to which Tristan rolled his eyes and muttered something about feeling the same way. "Let's hear the plan."

"We're going to let him stew at those coordinates for a day, that way if it is a trap, they'll start getting anxious. At least then we'll have them on their toes," Hayden replied with a confident tone.

"But…" Tristan started to protest but Ethan silenced him with a raised hand.

"It's as good a plan as any, Tris," Ethan said with a chuckle, "You already spent several months without your brother, what's another day?"

"There he is! On that ridge!" Kurt whispered sharply, gripping Tristan's shoulder tightly and pointing up the slope toward a rocky outcropping. Zach was standing prominently, scanning the area with a pair of binoculars. He shuddered against the cold wind but then resumed his position, watching carefully for any sign of movement down below. Tristan moved to step out but Hayden caught his arm and pulled him back.

"Have you forgotten Seattle already?" Hayden scolded, digging his fingers into Tristan's arms with enough pressure to hurt but not enough to cause damage. "We discussed it this morning."

"That's him, I'm sure of it," Tristan insisted, ripping his arm away from Hayden.

"He's right," Jacob confirmed as he flickered into view behind Kurt. "That Zach is human. If he's not the real Zach I don't know what he could be."

Hayden sighed and looked to Kurt for support. Kurt shrugged, and Hayden sighed, but then was surprised when Micah spoke up from behind him. "Hayden's right. We need to be careful. Why don't I go out there looking like you," he glanced at Tristan and grinned. "And then we can trigger the trap if there is one."

Tristan was about to protest when Kurt jumped in and said, "That's an incredibly reasonable proposal. Let's get into position and let Micah do his thing."

Tristan looked at each one of his companions in turn and saw that they were all in agreement on Micah's plan. Though he still disagreed, all he could do was to sigh and nod before gesturing at Micah, letting him know that he should proceed out into the open.

Micah smiled reassuringly, and then began to shift.

It had been nearly a day since he had sent the communication to the confederacy, and Zach was starting to worry that they hadn't received it at all. His father, Richard Langster, had told him that he was sure they were still an active resistance cell, and had provided him with the encryption code and the code name of Tavi. Though the senior Langster had been tightlipped as to what had happened between him and the confederacy, Zach was certain that it would only be a matter of time before he had the whole story.

Richard Langster was waiting nearby with several of his companions, ready to help if things went sour. He had warned that sometimes the messages were intercepted by the Alliance, and it was necessary to take precautions should they arrive unannounced. Zach had noticed the anxiousness in his father's face but hadn't felt that there was much fear in his eyes, only determination. He wasn't worried, but there was a level of uncertainty that was contagious, and he was conscious of everything around him as he stood out in the open on the outcropping.

Which was why he was surprised when he didn't hear the footsteps behind him until they were barely ten feet away. He spun around, drawing his knife as he did so, cursing for not having brought his bow. But when his eyes fell on Tristan, he nearly dropped his weapon in shock.

"Zach!" Micah shouted, showing surprise as he took another step toward Zach. "I thought you were dead!"

"Tristan!?" Zach replied, gaping in disbelief.

"Yes!" Micah said as he rushed forward and gave Zach a hug.

"Tris!" Zach said as he returned the embrace, pulling Micah tightly to him. "God! Where the hell have you been? Have you been with…" He pulled away and shook his head, his eyes wide and the corners of his mouth turned upward. "Have you been with the Icarus Confederacy this whole time?"

"Yes," Micah answered with a grin, "And we were looking for you."

"This is unreal, this is…" Zach's eyes were moist as he choked out the next few words. "Tris… I thought I had lost you forever." His smile faltered as he added gravely, "Corban's dead."

"I know…" Micah replied, allowing a tear to form in his eye.

Zach pulled Micah in close again and whispered in his ear, "I had expected the confederacy, but not you… I'm so glad you're safe."

"That's it…" Tristan said from his position between Kurt and Hayden. "I'm going out there." He started to scramble up the rise when Hayden reached up and pulled him back."

"What are you talking about?" Hayden whispered harshly. "You'll just freak him out!"

"And what happens when Micah doesn't know the answer to a question that I should know the answer to?" Tristan asked as he ripped his arm away. "Fuck you. I'm going up there." Though Hayden grabbed at him again, Tristan batted the hand away quickly and was up the rise before there was a second thought.

"Tristan!" Hayden called, keeping his voice low enough that he hoped Zach and Micah wouldn't be able to hear him.

"Something's moving…" Jacob said with a worried glance toward the others. "I didn't notice it before somehow but…" His eyes widened in fear as he turned to Kurt and exclaimed in alarm. "Shit! Elves!"

"Where?" Hayden asked, but then felt the barrel of a rifle nestle between his shoulder blades. He gritted his teeth and dropped his pistol, raising his hands in surrender as he glanced to where Kurt had been sitting moments before. Somehow Kurt had managed to put the boulder he had been crouching next to between him and the enemy who was now chasing after him. Despite the fact that the men dressed as hunters had rifles, for some reason they had yet to fire off a shot, which Hayden knew would serve to Kurt's advantage. He had already begun to outdistance them, and he was headed straight for Tristan who was still moving toward Micah and Zach. No one moved better in the woods than Kurt did, even at his age.

"So… to whom do I owe the pleasure of my capture?" Hayden asked, trying to turn his head enough to gain a bearing on the man who had the rifle to his back. As soon as he caught a glimpse of the man's hand however, the butt of another rifle collided with his face and all he saw was blackness.

"Tristan. Run!" Kurt shouted as he arrived at Tristan's side. Tristan glanced back at Kurt and then saw the men moving through the forest behind them. He didn't need to be told twice, and he started moving into the woods on a different path than Kurt. While Kurt had veered off to the side and into the thicker brush, Tristan continued his path upward to Zach and Micah.

"Micah! Zach!" Tristan called out, causing the two up on the ridge to look down toward him just as someone landed heavily on his back and bore him to the rocky ground. His head exploded in pain as his face collided with a sharp rock, dazing him for a brief moment before he had any thought of struggle. By the time that he began to move there was a distinct feeling of a gun being placed against his skull that told him that any amount of struggle would not be tolerated.

But then Micah was there in an instant, tearing the large man off of Tristan's back as his sharp feline teeth dug into the man's neck. Tristan struggled to his feet, reaching up to feel the wetness on his scalp and then putting his hand in front of his face to see the blood that was now coating his fingertips. He then glanced at Micah, who stood over the man's body in full feline form with tatters of cloth hanging about his body at odd angles.

Micah glanced back at Tristan and said forcefully, "Tris get out of here! I'll slow them down. Get Zach to safety." He then turned and charged the man standing over Hayden's body, getting shot in the process. Once the first shot rang out across the valley, all hell broke loose and several more shots were fired off in the woods where Kurt had disappeared. Tristan glanced that way in concern before turning his gaze to where Zach had stopped halfway down the rise, staring at him with eyes wide and body trembling.

"Zach!" Tristan called out, and Zach snapped out of his stupor and waved him forward emphatically.

"Tris, let's go!" Zach shouted, and Tristan complied, scrambling up the slope as quickly as he could manage until Zach clapped him on the shoulder and they began to run side by side. A growl from Micah sounded behind them followed by a shout from a woman and then a gunshot which blasted away a small rock next to their path. Zach pushed Tristan toward some trees for cover and then followed afterward.

Tristan spared a glance toward Micah to see that he was engaged in combat with three of the hunters and was clearly winning. Micah had one down, a woman, while the other two fired shots into his hindquarters which didn't slow him down at all. Elongating his arms into tentacles, Micah ripped their legs out from under them, pulling them to the ground. While they were still recovering he jumped from the women to one of the downed men, putting a swift end to his struggling, and then moved on to the third, biting at the hunter's leg as he started to rise.

"Keep moving, Tris!" Zach said harshly, grabbing Tristan's arm and pulling him forward. Despite his concern for his boyfriend, Tristan didn't look back, and instead followed Zach into the woods.

They continued along at a run for at least a mile before they slowed and realized that there was no pursuit. Thinking this strange, Tristan slowed down and began to watch his surroundings more closely. Zach followed suit, and they were glad that they had when Tristan took a peek over a ridge before crossing over it and saw the long line of soldiers waiting for them at the bottom.

"Shit! There's more of them past that ridge," Tristan said with a growl of frustration as he dove behind a bush. Zach followed after him and they skirted along the bushes, moving slowly around to a position where they could just peer over the ridge without being seen, and with bushes behind them that could conceal them from anyone in pursuit as well.

"Maybe we could just wait them out," Zach offered with a shrug. He shook his head and mumbled something unintelligible before looking back at Tristan and saying, "This is totally fucked up."

"Did you know that they were going to ambush us?" Tristan asked, forcing all emotion out of his voice. Despite the fact that he wasn't trying to accuse Zach, his brother's eyes were immediately hurt by the question.

"Of course not!" Zach whispered with a growl. "I'm still trying to make out what even happened. What was with that shape shifter pretending to be you? Let's start there. I mean, if you really are Tristan Langster."

Tristan gave him a hard look and then sighed before glancing warily at the soldiers on the other side of the ridge. "Do you really doubt that?" Tristan asked, and when Zach raised a questioning eyebrow Tristan sighed again and began to relate his story of what had happened since they had been apart, starting with his arrest by Nurim on the streets of Ashburg. As he spoke they continued to keep an eye on the soldiers below them, watching for any indication that the soldiers were going to be moving.

By the time he had finished relating his experiences with the Confederacy more soldiers had shown up and the escape route was even more closed off than it had been before. As he finished talking about the activities of the morning which had brought them to Tennessee, Tristan growled in frustration at the soldiers below and said, "And that's how we ended up in this mess."

"Wow…" Zach said, clucking his tongue against his teeth as he digested the information. "So now you know the truth, huh? You know that we aren't really brothers."

"What do you mean? Of course we are!" Tristan replied with a roll of his eyes.

"Tris… you need to know something about me," Zach said, looking Tristan in the eyes. "When I lost you and Corban, a part of me died. I didn't know how to live, except that I somehow had to make the Alliance pay for what they did to you… knowing you're alive…"

Tristan could see the tears running down Zach's cheeks and repressed the urge to reach out and wipe them away. While he and Zach had always been close, there were some boundaries that they had never crossed, and Tristan wasn't about to step over that line unless he was sure it wouldn't be misinterpreted.

Zach, however, had other ideas. "Tristan… I've know that you weren't my blood brother for the entire time, but I also knew we had to protect you from the truth, which made it so much harder," Zach said with a sob as he wiped his own tear away from his eye. Tristan looked at him curiously until Zach turned his teary eyes back to Tristan and said, "I wasn't able to tell you what I wanted to for years."

"Which is?" Tristan asked, smiling supportively.

Instead of answering Zach moved forward suddenly, kissing Tristan passionately. Tristan at first began to recoil from the kiss but then he relaxed and took it for the expression of love that it was. He pulled Zach into him and made the kiss a proper one, but then after a moment he finally pushed him away softly. Zach looked confused and hurt, but Tristan smiled with support and said, "I'm sorry, Zach. You're too much of a brother to me, and I already have someone I'm in love with."

"Who?" Zach whispered. "Who have you met in the time we've been apart?"

"Remember that shape shifter?" Tristan replied with a grin.

"No… Really?" Zach asked in surprise.

"Yes, and I'll have to tell you all about it… I'm sorry. I love you, but not like that," Tristan said softly.

"It's okay…" Zach said, trailing off as he looked away, "I guess it's my fault for waiting so long anyway, I mean…" Zach gasped as he peered over the ridge. "The soldiers are moving off," Zach whispered, his eyes wide and his tone astonished.

"What!? Why?" Tristan asked, leaning forward out of the brush to confirm Zach's observation. Sure enough the soldiers were moving, and they were no longer watching the woods. Whatever they had come to do, it had apparently been done. Tristan gasped and put his hand over his mouth as he saw what it was. Micah had been captured.

Each one Micah killed brought two more, and he was starting to get worried the entire Alliance army was in these woods and chasing after his friends. He was certain that he had managed to cut off all pursuit on Tristan and Zach, considering the amount of dead bodies that now lay at the bottom of the ridge, but there were more things to consider than that. Hayden had disappeared, and Kurt was still being chased, with the occasional shot ringing out in the distance to mark their location.

It appeared that Kurt was leading the elves in wide circles, much as a fox would to escape his pursuers. Micah had moved in to assist whenever Kurt had been nearby, and had managed to take on a few of Kurt's pursuers, but every attempt to rendezvous with Kurt had failed. It was almost as if Kurt were trying to avoid Micah, though Micah couldn't figure out why Kurt would ever use such a tactic.

The brief moments that he has seen Jacob had brought him no closer to learning what was going on, as Micah was beginning to become frustrated. The more time they spent out in the woods instead of trying to make it back to the ship, the higher the chances were that they would eventually be surrounded and killed. Micah needed to get Kurt out of there, and Kurt wasn't playing along.

After nearly two hours of being unable to reach Kurt, Micah chose a different tactic. Instead of trying to chase the old man down, he climbed a tree and waited for Kurt's next circuit, hoping to drop down and join the fight as soon as Kurt was nearby. He had just missed Kurt, and knew that it would be some time before Kurt and Jacob made it back to that position. Some of Kurt's pursuers, however, were soon to pass beneath him, and Micah prepared to pounce down on them but stopped short when he heard them speaking.

"Lord Khrys says that we need to corner this one as soon as possible," a lithe woman said to her companion, a broad shouldered man with an otherwise slender build. "Have you had any word from the soldiers who are set to intercept Tristan Rembrandt?"

"Not yet, but they'll close in soon," the man replied with a firm nod. "Neither Tristan Rembrandt nor Zachary Langster will get through the perimeter, I'm sure of it."

"Good, report in to…" Micah stopped listening as the two disappeared into the forest. Tristan was in trouble, and he didn't even know how much. At least one thing was certain, however, and that was the fact that Zach was definitely not on the enemy's side, which was the only point that stopped Micah from panicking. Instead, he climbed slowly down from the tree and returned to the bottom of the rise where he caught Tristan's scent, and then started the process of tracking his boyfriend. As he neared the top of the rise, he noticed Zach's backpack still sitting by where Zach had been standing, waiting for them. Assuming that it contained survival gear that would help in the event that Micah met up with Zach and Tristan and helped them escape, he retrieved the backpack with his teeth before setting out again.

The trail was easy for his nose to follow, though he was forced to put the backpack down periodically to get a lead on Tristan's scent, and it didn't take his quick form long to catch up to a point where he could surmise that Zach and Tristan hadn't gone far. Micah assumed that they were still waiting for a break in the perimeter of soldiers that he could also smell just beyond them, and he slowed his pace so as to not attract the attention of the enemy. His nose led him to a small collection of bushes where he could just make out Tristan and Zach hiding within. They were talking in whispers, low enough that even Micah's superior hearing couldn't make out the sound. He stalked forward carefully, making sure that he kept a watchful eye on the soldiers, and glanced at them to make sure that they were still in their position before turning back to Zach and Tristan and stopping in his tracks.

Zach and Tristan were locked in a kiss as passionate as any Micah had ever seen, and suddenly all thought of escape fled from Micah's mind. As his jaw dropped the backpack fell to the ground and opened slightly, revealing some of the contents inside. Micah ignored it for the moment as he continued to stare through the brush and Zach and Tristan. Tristan was pushing Zach away, and Zach stopped and stared back at Tristan, confused and hurt, but Tristan's eyes, full of compassion and warmth told Micah everything he needed to know. Tristan hadn't wanted the kiss, Zach had, and Tristan was about to let him off easily. Tristan, as always, was about to sacrifice himself to help a friend.

Micah glanced away for a moment and considered the soldiers who were standing nearby, waiting for any sign of Tristan. They weren't going to go anywhere until they had their prey, and that prey was the boy Micah was desperately in love with. That left Micah with only one option; if Tristan could sacrifice for his friends, then it was Micah's duty to do the same.

He glanced down at the backpack and an idea quickly formed in his mind. He could see the long sleeve of a shirt inside, and hoped that there was more where that came from. He quickly shifted his forelimbs back into arms and hands so that he could get easier access to the backpack, and then dumped the contents on the ground. Along with first aid gear, a pocket knife, a small hatchet, and some fishing line, there was a full set of extra clothing and shoes. Micah grinned and began to shift the rest of the way until he had assumed his desired form, and then he got dressed in Zach's clothes. With a quick ruffle of his hair to give him a wild and frightened look he took off through the woods toward the soldiers, ready to turn himself in.

Kurt felt like he had been running for hours, though in truth more of the time had been spent hiding and stalking the enemy. When it came to surviving in the forest he was normally unmatched, but these were elves, not humans. Elves had a knack for tracking which humans did not, and Kurt knew it would only be a matter of time before they found him. He had to be ready for when they did.

He had caught glimpses of Micah from time to time, but Kurt knew this enemy was not to be trifled with. As soon as they realized Micah's true nature, he would be in serious trouble. The elves knew more about the different denizens of the world than any other group of people, and that included shape shifters. The moment they learned that Micah was of that classification, they would burn him alive until he dropped his pursuit. For that reason Kurt had refused to let Micah catch up to him, and since he knew the young shape shifter's tactics, he could avoid him easily. The elves were after Kurt every bit as much as they were after Tristan, and that meant it was Kurt's responsibility to keep Micah from getting hurt.

Jacob ran interference whenever the elves were close. When the elves were almost on top of him, Jacob would dash out from another location and start tearing through the woods in the opposite direction, giving Kurt time to escape and hide again, but that tactic was only going to work for a limited amount of time, and by the end of the second hour, he decided to change his strategy.

The next time they closed in on Kurt's position, Jacob darted out of the woods, drawing one of the elves away while the second fired a shot in Jacob's direction. Kurt seized the opportunity to dash out from behind the tree he had been using as cover to slide silently behind the second elf and slit his throat. By the time the first elf heard his companion's body slide to the ground Kurt was on him, stabbing the knife in between the elf's ribs. Unlike the first kill however, this elf had a chance to cry out before he fell, and Kurt cursed his luck as he turned to run back into the forest.

He didn't try to kill any more of them; it was too risky. Instead he changed his focus to getting as far away as possible, but when he came into a small clearing an hour later he suddenly knew that he had made a mistake. This clearing was too silent, and he sensed a trap. Jacob called out a moment too late as he heard the click of a pistol preparing to fire behind him.

"Kurt." The voice stopped him in his tracks. He hadn't heard that voice in months, and that had been in the middle of a tense situation, but this time it was different. This time the voice pierced the silence of the forest and sent shivers down his spine. It was spoken like a sweet caress, though haunting and mournful at the same time. Faust had finally come for him.

Kurt turned around slowly, and everything came into focus at once. Jacob standing to the side, a panicked expression on his face, with Faust staring directly at Kurt, ignoring Jacob entirely as he looked down the sight of his pistol at Kurt, his eyes full of more emotions than Kurt could possibly name, though he could count regret and anguish among them. Kurt couldn't help but smile at the fact that despite the path Faust had chosen the old man still had doubts that it was the right one. Gods willing, Kurt knew there might be hope for Faust yet.

"Faust… please," Jacob begged, and Kurt could see Faust struggle not to look at Jacob. There was definite pain in those eyes then, and when Jacob spoke again, that pain tripled in intensity. "Please… don't do this."

"I have to, Jacob," Faust replied, his voice firm though his hand began to tremble. "There is too much at stake, and no matter how many times I tell you not to, you keep getting in the way."

"That's because you're wrong, Faust," Kurt said with a smile. It came naturally to him, despite the fact that he was facing his own death. He felt relaxed and sure with what was about to happen, though there was one thing that did unsettle him. Jacob's fear battled with Kurt's calm, and even though Kurt was ready to accept his fate, he knew that Jacob was not prepared for what was about to happen.

And that almost made Kurt willing to fight to the last. Almost.

"Tristan Rembrandt has to die. It is the only way," Faust insisted. The shaking in his hand subsided as he reaffirmed his position, and a dangerous glint came into his eyes. "Oberron has decreed, so shall it be done."

"You said that same thing sixteen years ago. It was wrong then and it's wrong today," Kurt replied, shaking his head. He chuckled and looked at Jacob and said, "But I guess it doesn't matter who's right or not, it ends now anyway. I can see that your resolve is unchanged. I guess yours is stronger."

"Kurt, what are you saying?" Jacob asked, taking a step toward his lover. Faust fired his pistol, the shot resounding through the clearing and echoing into the distance as Kurt fell backward, a hole in his forehead already beginning to seep out blood. Jacob stopped in stunned silence as Kurt's body hit the forest floor, and then he began to scream. In an instant he appeared by his lover's side, trying to cradle Kurt in his arms, but there was no life there, no soul to form the connection with the knife held lovingly in Kurt's hands. There was nothing to connect Jacob with Kurt any longer, and Jacob's form went right through Kurt's flesh and into the earth beyond. In desperation Jacob tried again but achieved the same result. There was nothing. Kurt was nothing. Jacob was nothing.

"You bastard!" Jacob shouted, turning his fuming gaze on Faust as spectral tears ran down his cheeks. He grabbed at the knife in Kurt's hand, the only physical object he could now touch. He desperately tried to get it out of Kurt's fingers, but Kurt held it in a death grip so tight that Jacob made little progress. The knife held firm in Kurt's grasp as Faust continued to stare at Jacob in silence, his cheeks as stained by tears as Jacob's.

"I'll kill you! I swear I'll kill you!" Jacob screamed at Faust, leaving the knife behind and rushing forward with his spiritual form, summoning all of the energy he could to throw at Faust, but not even his tremendous fury kept him from passing straight through Faust and out the other side, where he collapsed to his knees, panting though he had no breath. Jacob's eyes were wide as he stared into the forest, his eyes settling on the large group of men who were slowly and cautiously approaching the clearing, as well as their one prisoner who was blindfolded and restrained by shackles. Tristan.

"Jacob," Faust whispered, "It will all be over soon. And when it is I'll come back and let you make good on your promise, but for now…" He stepped past Jacob toward the edge of the clearing as he holstered his pistol. "For now I have more important things to deal with than either you or I. Tristan has to die. That's the only way to save us all."

"You mark my words, Richard Faust Langster," Jacob said with a growl as he spat out Faust's full name. Faust stopped walking, though he did not turn around, but Jacob knew that he had Faust's full attention. "You will die by my hand, and you will never see it coming."

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[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead