Ashes of Fate, Season 1

by Cynus

Episode 12

Reunion Part II


Hayden spun around at the voice, recognizing it but unable to place it, but there was no one there. The sudden movement was enough to send his head spinning, and he reached up to his eye expecting to see blood again. When he pulled his hand away there was no blood. It was as absent as the speaker. He began to doubt if he had in fact heard a voice at all when he heard it again, again from behind him.

"Very impressive indeed."

This time when Hayden turned around there was someone there; someone who had his slender hand resting against the aircraft and stroking its smooth surface; someone whose eyes were closed as he experienced the aircraft through his sense of touch rather than sight; someone whose rifle was lowered in his other hand, but who from Hayden's experience could have it ready to fire in an instant should Hayden make any aggressive move. Nurim.

"What's impressive?" Hayden asked, reaching his hand for his pistol only to find that the holster was empty. He had already been aware of that fact, though his instincts told him that the holster should have been full. Whoever had knocked him unconscious had also disarmed him, but then had left him alone as they went after Hayden's companions. The entire reason Hayden had returned to the aircraft was to retrieve another weapon to go back and assist his friends, but now it looked as if he had completely played his hand.

"This aircraft is the main reason why you've eluded us for so long," Nurim replied as he continued to glide his hand across the metal exterior. "Every time we thought we had you, when we were certain that we had you caught, somehow you managed to escape. You're the pilot, aren't you." The last part wasn't asked as a question, and so Hayden remained silent, waiting for Nurim to continue as he analyzed Nurim's movements. Nurim had yet to open his eyes, and Hayden could not quite determine why.

"You're probably wondering why I haven't tried to arrest you yet for treason against the North Wer Alliance," Nurim continued taking a step away from the aircraft and resting his second hand on his rifle. "The truth is, up until a few moments ago I had every intention of doing exactly that, but now…" Nurim lifted the rifle in both hands before tossing it to a surprised Hayden and raising his hands in surrender.

"What the hell?" Hayden said as he caught the rifle in one hand. He stared at Nurim for a few moments before training the rifle on him and saying in a voice thick with distrust, "What's your game, elf?"

"No game. No tricks," Nurim said as he raised his arms high, "Just an honest surrender."

"What is going on?" Hayden said with a snarl. "Start talking."

"Kurt's dead. My father just shot him," Nurim replied in deadpan. Hayden gasped and took a step back at the news and then raised the rifle angrily, threatening to pull the trigger on Nurim in the sudden rage that filled his heart, but then Nurim continued and Hayden heard something in the man's voice which made him hesitate. "I can no longer stand beside a man who would shoot his best friend unnecessarily."

"Why?" Hayden didn't trust himself to say anything more.

"There is a lot you don't know about that's going on, and perhaps it's time that you finally did," Nurim replied.

"Then by all means, tell me," Hayden said, gesturing with the rifle to indicate that it was not a suggestion.

"There was a time when the elves had withdrawn from the land, under the guidance of our king, Oberron. We had hidden ourselves away in a protected kingdom, obscured to human senses, known as Avalon. Over the centuries we grew distant, removed from the politics of the human world, and uncaring of the plight that befell most of the world." Nurim shook his head as he smirked at the thought. "The elves became one with the natural world, greatly extending our life spans and increasing our physical capabilities beyond those of the humans we had once been."

"How we accomplished this task was something known only to the highest officials in Oberron's court, though all of the elves reaped the benefits of Oberron's leadership," Nurim continued. He turned toward Hayden though his eyes remained closed as he spoke in a firm tone, "I, Nurim Khrys, have always been a respected member of Avalon's elite army, but I'm not nearly as well thought of as my father, Faustair Khrys, has been. Faustair, or Faust Langster as he came to be known by the humans he later infiltrated, was one of Oberron's most trusted advisors."

"My father was born with the gift of foresight; the ability to perceive the future based upon the ripples of the present, though what he saw was not always as easy to interpret as he would have liked. When the ripples of political change began to spread throughout the human world, they reached even into the heart of Avalon's court behind its protective wards. Faust knew that something was coming, and petitioned Oberron to allow him leave to investigate the matter. With great reluctance King Oberron agreed, and Faust left Avalon behind to join the human world."

"Detaching himself from the energies of Avalon caused Faust to suffer gravely. He was no longer ageless as the elves were, but rather progressed in age as a human would. His body which had been frozen in time at maturation similar to that of a thirty-year-old would become that of a man in his mid-sixties by the time his mission was complete. Outside of Avalon his power of foresight was diminished, and he could not see as clearly, though because he was closer to the ripples that were triggering his gift, the sight came more and more frequently as the time of change approached. The change began to drive him mad until he found some solace first in a good man named Kurt and his deceptively old counterpart Jacob, and then later in the love of a woman, Abigail Langster."

"Unbeknownst to the elves in Avalon, Faust fathered two children with Abigail while he watched the world begin to fall apart, my half-brothers Corban and Zach. He knew what was coming, but was under strict orders not to warn the humans of what fate was about to befall them. He was there as an observer only, and was only to take action if it were absolutely required in order to preserve Avalon and its people. At least, those were the orders before Faust learned of the Rembrandts and what potential for destruction their offspring would have on the world."

"When Tristan was born, Faust perceived that the greatest destruction of all would follow in his wake. His foresight showed him that the world would be in great peril if he were allowed to fall into the hands of Ivan Tsela Adakai, the leader of Skinwalker who wanted the power of the phoenix for himself. When the revelation of Tristan's nature was relayed to Oberron, the King decreed that Tristan was to be brought to him and summarily destroyed, that he never be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy."

"Though it pained him to betray his friends, Faust was no fool, and he knew that when his King spoke it was with wisdom and understanding of things beyond what mortals could ever know. With a heavy heart Faust kidnapped the infant Tristan and made a pact with the Alliance, telling them that he would give them the boy as long as he was allowed to care for it during their journey. His intention was to betray the Alliance once he had gained their help in getting Tristan away from his parents, but Kurt and Jacob learned of the betrayal and followed him along with the Rembrandts. They managed to rescue Tristan and get him safely to Abigail Langster who was entrusted with his care and to keep him safe from Faust."

"Faust, having sacrificed everything for the word of his king, became obsessed in tracking down Tristan. He called upon the resources of Avalon, and was given soldiers and weapons to aid in his cause. Avalon's forces infiltrated the North Wer Alliance with Faust at our head, and though we were not loyal to Ivan, we followed his orders as if they had been delivered by Oberron, for that was what Faust commanded us to do. I, being Faust's son, was sent to be second in command under my father, and together we searched for Tristan until we finally met in the streets of Ashburg."

"So what made you change your mind?" Hayden asked when Nurim stopped to take a breath. He had stopped pointing the rifle at Nurim, but he still kept it in his hands, ready to use it if he had to. Nurim had made no aggressive movements at all, but neither had he relaxed his position.

"About helping kidnap Tristan?" Nurim questioned, but he did not continue when Hayden nodded.

"Yes. Why are you giving yourself up?" Hayden clarified.

"Tristan. When I met him in Arizona, he accused my father of lying to me. I found out from Faust himself that such was the case," Nurim explained with another smirk. "You see, Oberron didn't tell us why we were coming to help Faust, and Faust didn't tell us the real reason we were hunting Tristan. He told us that Tristan was a fugitive and needed to be caught. Nearly a week ago, my father told me the truth."

"And so now you're switching sides?" Hayden asked, dumbfounded. "You really expect me to believe that you're willing to give up your position with this King Oberron because you've been hunting an innocent man? What about all the innocent friends of mine you've killed in our skirmishes over the years?" Hayden growled and leveled the rifle at Nurim again, resting his finger on the trigger. "Do you really think that I can let you live after what you've done to us?"

Nurim held his ground, standing tall in the face of the weapon aimed at his chest. "If that is your decision, then so be it. I have lived for centuries, Hayden, and that is enough if my time is now. Don't forget that we were at war, and you have killed friends of mine as well. I was willing to give you my life to end the conflict, but would you really kill me with my own weapon? I had thought you were a bigger man than that."

Hayden's hand rested on the trigger for a moment longer before he chuckled and lowered the rifle. "I suppose you're right, killing one more of you, especially one that isn't even fighting me anymore, is not going to make that much of a difference. But there is still one thing that bothers me."

"What's that?" Nurim asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Why haven't you opened your eyes? I can't trust a man whose eyes I can't look into," Hayden replied with a grin.

The grin faltered as Nurim's face clouded over, and his smirk became a frown. "One of the things this war has cost me has been my sight, and at the hands of Tristan no less. If I were still a part of Avalon my sight could have been restored, but now…?" He shook his head and added in a hopeless tone, "Now I am destined to be forever blind, and it is a fitting reminder for how I was blind to the truth of my father's motives. I'm sorry, but I cannot give you what you asked for."

"Then in your case I will have to make an exception," Hayden replied as he began walking forward. When he reached Nurim he clasped the man's shoulder and said with more conviction than he felt, "Will you help me rescue Tristan?"

"Of course," Nurim answered with a grin.

"Are you sure this is the best idea, Tris?" Zach whispered as they stepped into a break in the trees as they followed the soldiers that held Micah bound. They had decided to follow after a quick deliberation and had kept pace with the soldiers, though they had stayed far enough back to avoid detection.

"What else are we going to do?" Tristan asked with a raised eyebrow as he glanced at Zach. He shook his head and turned his attention back to the path ahead. "We have to help him."

"I know but, maybe we should rendezvous with your friends or som…." A shot rang out from nearby, cutting off Zach's suggestion, the sound so loud that Tristan and Zach both thought it had been aimed at them. They dove behind a pair of boulders, breathing heavily as they waited for another shot. There was some distant shouting that neither of them could make out, but otherwise they heard no signs that they had been discovered.

"I don't like the sound of that gun shot," Tristan whispered once the yelling had stopped. It was more than just the sound that had him unnerved. There was a sickening feeling in his gut that told him that something terrible had just happened, and he was scared to find out exactly what it was. He pressed his back up against the boulder, attempting to slow down his racing heart, but it did little good.

The next thing he knew, Zach was shaking him and calling his name softly. "What's wrong?" Tristan asked as he came back to reality. The sickening feeling was still there, though it had subsided somewhat.

"I've been trying to get your attention for over a minute now. You've been completely unresponsive," Zach replied. Tristan saw the worry in Zach's eyes and felt the way his hand seemed to shake a little as it continued to hold on to his arm.

"I'm sorry for making you worry," Tristan said with a forced smile. "Let's get a move on. We need to find out where they're going."

Zach poked his head over the boulder and then reported, "It looks like they're headed south, though they're coming from the west. Whatever they were doing in those trees, it looks like they're done now."

"We need to investigate that first…" Tristan said as he took Zach's offered hand and rose to his feet. Zach gave him a questioning look and Tristan explained, "Like I said, I didn't like the sound of that gunshot. One of my friends may be injured."

Zach nodded and they started toward where the trees started to thicken again. There was a dead calm within those trees, as if all life had fled from the scene, and each step they took filled Tristan with a sense of dread. As they came through into a small clearing he found out why. Laying on the cold ground was the body of a dear friend.

"Kurt!" Tristan shouted as he ran forward to Kurt's body, reaching to his neck to feel for a pulse. Kurt's skin was still warm, but the heat was fading quickly. It was then that Tristan noticed the hole in Kurt's forehead.

"It's no use, Tristan…" A shaky voice said from the side of the clearing, "He's dead."

"Jacob?" Tristan said as he looked up and then glanced toward where Jacob sat with his back up against a tree, his eyes glazed and his cheeks pale. Although Jacob had never truly appeared dead before, Tristan had no doubt in his mind now that the boy who sat before him was a ghost of who he once had been. "Jacob! What the hell happened?"

"Faust shot him," Jacob murmured, his eyes staring at some distant point that was beyond either Tristan or Zach's vision. "Shot him without any warning; he just pulled the trigger and Kurt was gone, just like that…"

Zach gasped, drawing a look from Tristan. "Faust? Oh no…" He said, putting his hand over his mouth and shaking his head as he glanced first at Kurt's body and then up at Jacob. His eyes were wide and moist, and he started to tremble.

"What? What is it?" Tristan asked, he rose to his feet and took a step toward Zach.

"Do you mean, 'Richard Faust Langster'?" Zach asked of Jacob, ignoring Tristan's approach.

Jacob closed his eyes and sighed before turning to look at Zach. "Yes… I meant your father."

"Oh god…" Zach said, covering his mouth again. He looked back at Kurt's still form and whispered, "I'm so sorry."

"For what?" Jacob snapped. "You didn't pull the trigger."

"Yes but…" Zach sobbed. "I called you out here. I didn't know that my father was one of them. I thought he had been caught in the crossfire like us… I assumed we'd meet up later."

"Zach…" Tristan said, taking another step toward him.

"If I had known…" Zach continued, wiping his eyes with his sleeve. His hand came away clenched in a fist as he growled, "God, I'm such an idiot! Those men with him, they weren't resistance then?"

"No…" Jacob answered with a shake of his head. "Every last one of them is an elf. Every last one of them is loyal to Faust and Faust only. They were here to capture Tristan."

"Zach," Tristan said firmly. "It's not your fault."

"Yes it is, Tris!" Zach roared, turning on Tristan with enough anger to make Tristan take a step back.

"No it isn't," Jacob countered. He rose to his feet and came to stand before Zach, drawing Zach's attention. "No it isn't. Faust has been hunting us for a long time, and Tristan even longer. It was only a matter of time before he won that exchange. His resources are greater than ours, they always have been. Kurt knew it too…" He glanced down at his lover and whispered, "He always knew that Faust would be the one to kill him."

The silence stretched on for a moment, drawing them all into solemn respect for Kurt. Kurt's dead eyes continued to stare up at the sky, and Tristan walked over and slid them shut. He then removed his jacket and lay it over Kurt's face, barring the grisly scene from being viewed any longer. He shuddered as he stepped away, not knowing exactly what to do anymore, and then he looked up and saw Jacob who was watching him carefully, analyzing each of his movements, and he knew that Jacob had a plan.

"What do we do now?" Tristan asked. "Where's Hayden?"

"Wasn't he captured along with you?" Jacob asked, confused.

"What do you mean?" Tristan began, and then remembering the group that had led them to Jacob and Kurt he shook his head and continued, "Oh… no, I wasn't captured, Micah was."

"Micah?" Jacob started. He shook his head and a slight smirk turned up the corner of his mouth. "That sly rascal… that gives us some leverage, at least they don't have who they want."

"Yes, and Micah can take care of himself," Tristan said, nodding. "I'm sure he's just biding his ti…"

"No," Jacob interrupted sharply, "it's not going to work like that."

"What do you mean?" Zach asked, finally recovered enough to trust himself to speak again.

"They're going to figure out what he is if he tries to escape, and then they'll have him," Jacob explained, "Elves know more about the denizens of this world than anyone. As soon as they know he's a shape shifter, they'll be able to keep him and also kill him. Micah's in serious trouble."

"We have to rescue him!" Tristan said forcefully.

"My thoughts exactly," Jacob replied with a firm nod, "but I need some help…"

"What can we do for you?" Zach asked.

"I need someone to get my knife from Kurt…" Jacob answered grimly, "I can't get his fingers to let it go."

"Jacob…" Tristan whispered, his eyes beginning to water as he looked at his friend, feeling the sadness emanating from the ghost.

"Tristan… I'll be all right," Jacob countered, forcing a smile to his face which quickly fell as he went on, "let's focus on rescuing Micah, and then we'll deal with Kurt. I'm… I just need to see this through."

"Luke." Hayden sat in front of the transmitter on the aircraft, Nurim right beside him listening to Hayden intently. "Ethan," Hayden said with a bit more insistence. "God dammit! Peter! Is anyone there at all?"

"Shit, Hayden, calm down!" Luke replied, his voice firmly taking over the airwaves of the transmitter. "I was in the bathroom. What is it you need? What's the problem?"

Hayden took a deep breath and calmed himself before jumping into a quick explanation, "There isn't much time to go into details, but I need you to know what happened. Kurt's dead and Tristan has been captured by Faust." Hayden paused only briefly as he heard Luke's sharp intake of breath on the other end, and then continued, "As to the whereabouts of Micah, Jacob, and Zach Langster, I do not know. I have a prisoner who is willing to tell me anything I need to know."

"Shit. Shit… SHIT!!!" Luke shouted, and Hayden could hear the sound of him pounding the desk with his fist. "Okay. What is your plan of action? Are you going to try to track down Micah and rescue Tristan, or are you going to come and pick us up first?"

Nurim motioned for Hayden to stop transmitting and then said, "There's no time for that… If we do that we'll lose them entirely."

"Hayden." Ethan's voice was calm and collected as it came over the transmitter, despite the situation, and suddenly everything seemed to slow down. "You are the only one who can help him now. We know Faust, and now that he has Tristan he's not going to wait around while he knows that some of you are still out there."

"I'm aware of that, Ethan," Hayden replied dryly. "But you need to know, just in case… Luke… I love you."

"Don't you dare!" Luke snapped back.

"Luke… This might be the last time we talk to each other. Don't be angry like that," Hayden said softly, his voice surprisingly calm. "You need to understand that I'm doing this for you, and the rest of the world."

"Bastard..." Luke growled back. "No, you're coming back to me, and I don't want to hear anything else, got it? Just as it was when you used to go off on your flights to test new aircraft, this is just another risky mission that lucky Hayden will see through, okay?"

"Luke…" Hayden began again.

"Both of you, this is bigger than all of us," Ethan interrupted. "I don't mean to diminish what's going on here, but tell us there's some way that we can help, or get moving. The more time you waste talking about this, the more time they will have to defend against you."

Nurim motioned for Hayden to stop talking again and said, "He's right. But I have a plan."

"What is it?" Hayden asked.

"Ethan! How dare you… No… you're right, we…" Luke continued to speak over the transmitter, but Hayden was no longer listening to his husband, and instead was focused entirely on Nurim's words.

"Tell them to transmit a message to The Alliance. Give them the same coordinates that Zach gave you, and then inform the Alliance that Faust has found Tristan," Nurim explained assuredly.

Hayden's jaw dropped as he stared back at Nurim. "You want me to do what!? "

"Hayden, are you there?" Luke asked, his voice rising in pitch.

"The Alliance will immediately contact Faust and tell him to stay put and that he will be collected." Nurim stood and rested his hand under his chin, stroking it as he continued to reveal his plan. "Faust will panic, knowing that his cover has been blown, and he will take refuge nearby. There is an old quarry in the area that he'll take Tristan to, and he'll try to kill him there. There can't be more than a dozen of our soldiers left after what Micah and Kurt did to them, and we should be able to get past most of them with my influence. After all, they don't know I turned on them yet."

"So we're going to try to force his hand, making him more reckless?" Hayden clarified, and as Nurim nodded Hayden turned back to the transmitter, interrupting a frantic Luke as he said, "I have something for you to do. You're going to think I'm crazy, but you have to trust me."

"Those bastards…" Faust muttered to himself as he gestured for the two soldiers holding Micah to fasten the young boy down to the ground. The Alliance had somehow found out about Tristan already, and was already sending troops. In a matter of hours, the entire countryside would be swarming with Ivan's soldiers, and there would be nowhere for Faust to hide.

They had made camp at the quarry the day before they had met up with Zach, and he had prepared a room specifically for his own meditations. It already had a rune circle drawn out for his mental focus to draw upon, and with a few modifications the room was easily made ready for the task at hand. He had sent two of his soldiers ahead to fit the iron rings into the floor, and then had followed afterward as two assistants had taken over the task of preparing the boy for his execution. Although it would not be in Avalon, Oberron would have to be satisfied with the knowledge that the phoenix had been slain.

While his assistants had been gone, Faust had hastily changed the runes drawn on the floor to the ones that he needed for the sacrificial spell. He had done all the work that he could to prepare for this moment, and though he had run out of time, he intended to make the best of the time he had.

Micah was dragged into the room, still maintaining Tristan's visage, though it was not as much a choice as he would have liked it to be. He knew that he had to keep up the disguise long enough for Tristan and Zach to escape, but there was a secondary problem. The cords that bound his wrists and ankles were tight and form fitting, and Micah wasn't sure he'd be able to get out of them. More testing was required.

It had been an interesting moment for him when the assistants had been preparing him. They had stripped off all of his clothing, cutting off what they couldn't get past his restraints, and then they painted numerous runes onto his skin. He didn't recognize any of them, but he had also spent most of his time focused on keeping every detail of his body as perfect to Tristan's image as he could manage. He was thankful that he had recently gained additional insight into Tristan's body, for at least then he could be more convincing.

He struggled as the assistants began to strap him down to the floor, but they were experts at their craft, and within a minute he found himself completely at their mercy as he lay sprawled on his back, staring up at Faust who stood furiously studying a large, leather-bound manual on a nearby table.

"So this is it, you're going to kill me now?" Micah asked as he once again tested the cords that had his wrists and ankles bound spread eagle to the iron rings in the floor. They held fast, and he knew that no amount of shifting was going to get him out of this one. These were designed to hold anything, even a shape shifter, and Micah was no exception. The cords were intelligent, but like the ones that Indrus Krane used to capture his prey, and they adjusted instantly to his slightest movement.

Faust turned toward Micah, his face frozen in a mask of resolution. "Yes, Tristan Rembrandt. This will be your end. Even though I can't get you to Oberron, I will make sure that you will not fall into the hands of the enemy."

"You're really so certain about all of this, aren't you?" Micah growled and then released the air from his lungs in a primal roar, shifting his vocal chords slightly to amplify the effect. The two assistants looked at each other and then at Faust, clearly unnerved by the sound.

Faust, in contrast, only hardened his features. "Do you feel better?" He asked bitingly. "I know this must seem incredibly unfair to you, but the future of the world depends upon your death."

"Why?" Micah asked. He looked Faust in the eye and then repeated the question. "Why? You have yet to explain your motives to me. What makes you trust that my death is the only option?"

"Because Oberron has decreed it to be so, and Oberron has never led his people astray," Faust replied immediately, his voice powered by conviction. He stepped toward the edge of the circle, his eyes locked on Micah's as he decreed in a tone filled with righteous fury, "It is not for us to question the will of Oberron. It is not for you, mere mortal, to think that you know better than the will of the King of the Elves, Lord of Avalon, who has kept our land in perpetual summer, giving life and sustenance to us all! You cannot question the immortal king!" By the time that Faust had finished he was shaking, his aged form looking frail and weak despite the fanaticism in his eyes.

Micah stared back at Faust for a brief moment as he let Faust's energy settle, and then he started to laugh; howling laughter that filled the room and echoed off the cold cement walls, reverberating throughout the complex. The two assistants shared a look, and the bigger one shuddered as the laughter continued. Faust simply stared back at Micah until the cackling had subsided, and let Micah offer his one final word on the subject.

"My death has been reduced to a necessity because of your fanatical dogma ?" Micah scoffed. "You're a fool… Only a fool would assume that there is only one possibility in life and you…"

"Begin the ritual," Faust stated, interrupting Micah as he turned around to grasp the large tome from the table behind him. He flipped open to a page that had been held by a yellowed bookmark and then took a deep breath before he started to chant.

All thought of retort fled from Micah's mind as his body began to burn with a cold fire, tearing into every inch of his flesh. His consciousness began to fade as he thrashed about on the cold floor, his screams echoing through the complex.

"That's our cue," Hayden said as he took a step forward and out of the tree line as the guard stepped outside. Nurim followed close behind, the barrel of his rifle pointed between Hayden's shoulder blades. Every few steps Hayden would walk a tad too slowly and Nurim would poke him hard with the rifle to send him stumbling forward.

"Lord Khrys!" The soldier greeted Nurim with a low bow. He remained that way as Hayden and Nurim approached, and did not suspect a thing as Nurim led Hayden past, nor did he expect the butt of Nurim's rifle to collide with his lowered skull and drop him with a low thud to the dirt beside the set of concrete steps that led into the processing center of the quarry.

"Think he'll be any more trouble?" Hayden asked as he picked up the man's rifle from the dirt and gestured for Nurim to lead the way inside.

Before Nurim could answer the sound of someone screaming from deep within shook Hayden to his core. "Doesn't matter, we don't have time to make sure," Nurim said as he stepped inside, and began a run down the corridor.

They turned a corner and were immediately met by a pair of elves who noticed Nurim first and then Hayden behind him. As soon as they saw Hayden they lowered their guns and pointed them at Hayden's chest, but Hayden's shot came first, blasting one away while Nurim quickly jumped between Hayden and the second, making the elf reconsider his shot to avoid hitting his friend. While he was considering the unique turn of events, Nurim spun his own rife around and whipped the barrel across the elf's face. He then followed the strike up with another quick jab of the butt of the rifle, rendering the soldier unconscious.

"Good moves," Hayden said with an appraising look, but said no more as the sound of approaching footsteps filled the corridor. The sound of the gunshot had attracted the rest of the soldiers, and they had barely made it anywhere inside of the complex.

"Fall back to the last bend in the hallway. We'll fight them there," Nurim called out.

Hayden growled in frustration as the screaming from deeper inside the complex filled his ears, but Nurim was right. He couldn't do anything to help Tristan if he was dead.

They had made it to the roof of the structure, hoping for another way in other than the front door, but had quickly realized that the roof entrance was guarded as well. Zach, Tristan, and Jacob sat huddled behind the ventilation duct as the guard patrolled a small circuit in front of the service door that would lead them down and inside.

Jacob made several motions that he was going to move out and distract the guard when screaming from beyond the door filled their ears. Tristan knew the voice well. Micah. He jumped up, Jacob's knife in his hand as he prepared to charge the guard when Zach pulled him roughly back to the rooftop.

"Not yet," Zach mouthed and then waited for Jacob to flicker out of sight. As he disappeared, a shot rang out in the distance, and in their haste to take advantage of Jacob's distraction, Zach and Tristan jumped out from their hiding spot, only to see that the guard had torn the service door open and was calling out to his companions below. Jacob was standing behind him, staring at the guard as if he were insane.

Tristan and Zach rushed forward, Zach leading with his knife as Tristan reached within himself to summon the fire as Nevala had taught him to do. The guard heard their approach and spun around to meet them, but only in time to catch a blast of fire to his uniform that had him screaming in agony as he tried to desperately put the flames out, which gave Zach ample opportunity to stab his knife into the guard's stomach. The guard collapsed and Zach retrieved the rifle from his hands.

"Are you ready?" Zach asked, indicating the open doorway. Not having to be asked twice, Tristan stepped through quickly, finding himself at the top of a ladder which led all the way down to the ground floor. He swung himself onto the ladder and began climbing down, no longer concerned about what fate awaited him at the bottom. There were sounds of fighting in the distance, but his focus was elsewhere.

His focus lay in the agonized screams of his lover who was being tortured at the hands of the man who had killed his parents, his brother, and one of his dearest friends. He was so consumed by his emotions that he did not even have the time to notice that Jacob had disappeared.

"The ritual is working!" Faust shouted triumphantly, pausing his chant momentarily to gaze at the sight of the youth's writhing form in the center of the circle. His body was convulsing with wave after wave of violet energy, pulsing from the outer ring of the circle and into the boy's body. Faust was momentarily mesmerized by the sight, but then the sound of a gunshot brought him back to the present.

He nodded to his two assistants. "Go and help the others. I will complete our work." His assistants bowed in response and left, leaving Faust alone with Micah. He stared down at Micah as he pulled out the small blue crystal from around his neck. Inside the crystal were waters from the pools of Avalon, and though Faust had been unable to bring the phoenix to Avalon, this would be nearly as good. After all, Avalon's domain was Avalon's domain, no matter where in the world it was located.

With his arm extended over the rune circle, Faust released the crystal and watched as it floated toward the center of the circle, suspended in the air above Micah's chest. In a matter of minutes it would pierce the boy's chest and destroy him utterly, that he would never be reborn again. Oberron had assured Faust that such was to be the fate of the phoenix, that the powers of the phoenix would never be used for evil. The phoenix was too powerful to allow to run free.

The screams grew louder as the energy flowed up out of Micah's body and arced into the crystal. Faust knew that the boy was enduring tremendous pain, and he was surprised at the fact that he had not been rendered unconscious yet. It would have done him much better to have given into the pain already, but the boy was a fighter, and Faust had to respect that fact at least.

"Your suffering will end soon, young Tristan," Faust promised, as he raised the book again and opened his mouth to begin chanting.

No words came out; his breath was gone, and his chest exploded in pain. He glanced down to see the tip of a rusted old knife poking through the front of his chest, covered in his blood. The tome clattered heavily to the ground, and the energy in the rune circle began to dissipate. Micah stopped screaming as his body fell to the floor, but then growled sharply as the crystal dropped from the air above him and collided with his naked chest, though the crystal had become brittle through its use in the ritual and shattered upon impact with Micah's skin.

Faust tried to draw breath again, but without his heart to power the movement, he found himself gasping as he slumped to the floor, turning as he gazed up into the eyes of his killer. He found Jacob's eyes blazing back at him, superimposed over the eyes of the young phoenix, Tristan Rembrandt. Jacob's form was merged perfectly with that of Tristan's, his own hand resting on the hilt of the bloody knife they both held.

"I promised you," Jacob and Tristan spoke in unison, "I promised you that you would die by my hand."

Faust gasped one more time, his strength spent as he collapsed the rest of the way. There was nothing left for him to do. He had failed.

"Hayden, I have some bad news," Peter said grimly. "You and Luke are going to match."

"Shit, the arm's that bad?" Hayden sighed as he growled through the pain.

"No, you'll be keeping it," Peter replied with a grin. "But you're going to have to wear a brace on it for at least a few weeks."

"I can live with that," Hayden smiled weakly. "How's Micah?"

"I wish I could say that I know, but I really don't. I know he's never had worse, but it seems like his body is doing its usual job of repairing itself," Peter said as he glanced over at where Micah sat on the other examination table, talking quietly with Tristan. Tristan's face was still pale, and his eyes were dark. "I'd be worried about Tristan if I were you."

Hayden nodded slowly. "What Jacob did to him was unforgiveable, if understandable."

"Understandable? He took possession of Tristan's body in order to kill someone! Not exactly the best way to treat a friend, especially a friend who's never killed someone before," Peter remarked incredulously.

"No, you're right, but I would have done the same if I had been in Jacob's position and had just watched Luke die," Hayden said with a smirk. "But I think Tristan will be all right. He has both Micah and Zach to watch out for him now."

Peter put his hand on Hayden's good shoulder and gave it an appreciative squeeze. "You're right, of course. He has us all to watch out for him now."

"Yes… quite the dysfunctional family we have here isn't it?" Hayden replied with a grin.

"Indeed. I'm glad you made it back safely." Peter grinned and winked as he added, "Has Luke forgiven you for saying goodbye to him yet?"

Hayden shook his head and sighed, "I got a welcome back kiss, a bear hug, and then a stern reminder that he wasn't going to talk to me for at least a month, but that's not the worst part about it all."

"What's worse than that?" Peter asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Someday it's going to be the last time I say goodbye to him, and I can't shake the feeling that it will be sooner rather than later," Hayden replied in almost a whisper. His eyes were locked on Tristan as he continued a bit more firmly, "Faust was just one piece of the puzzle, Peter. We have more enemies out there, and they won't stop until they get what they want."

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