Ashes of Fate, Season 2

by Cynus

Episode 1


The room was cold, despite the fact that the complex in whole was kept reasonably warm with the power thrumming through its wires. It seemed as if The Confederacy had neglected to send more than minimal power to this lonely storeroom that had been converted to serve as his cell. Nurim Khrys understood that he was not exactly a priority, and he also understood why he was being kept prisoner, but that didn't stop him from longing for the warmth of the Summer Isle, his home of Avalon.

Of course, no amount of longing would ever allow him to go home again. He had made his choice when he had betrayed his father. It had been the right one, morally, but the emotional consequences were hard to swallow, especially considering the fact that he faced the reality of spending the rest of his days a prisoner. If that were to be his end, then he would accept it.

He was startled from his thoughts when he heard the sound of a key in the door, and he struggled to his feet on cramped legs, making sure to stay far enough away from the door as to appear non-threatening. The door opened, and though he couldn't see the person who had opened the door, he knew that he had yet to encounter them. The sound of the person's step and the clean scent in the air told Nurim that the person was neither Luke with his prosthetic leg nor Hayden who smelled like machinery.

"You've been summoned," A light voice said. As light as it was, it was also deep enough that there was no guarantee that the voice belonged to a female, and there was also the faintest hint of an east-Asian accent which implied that English was not the speaker's first language.

"What have I been summoned to?" Nurim asked, though he did not expect an answer. Prisoners were generally only given information when their captors found it necessary.

"They're going to vote on what to do with you," the voice replied. Nurim was startled to hear the pleasantness behind the words. Whoever belonged to the voice was smiling, Nurim was sure of it. "I'm Peter, by the way."

"Peter…" Nurim echoed, mulling the name over in his mind. A man's name, at least he had some sort of bearing on the speaker's appearance now. "You have a kind voice, Peter."

"Thank you," Peter replied, and again Nurim could hear the smile behind the voice. "If you'll please step out of the room, I'll direct you where to go."

Those words implied that Peter was armed, and Nurim smirked at the thought. They didn't trust him enough that they would let him walk without an armed escort. Not wanting to make a bad impression worse by making The Confederacy wait, Nurim moved into the corridor, using the sound of the floor beneath his feet as his guide to avoid running into the walls. Although his senses were not as good as they had once been, they were still far superior to those of a human, and a simple task like walking was not hampered much by the loss of his sight.

"Keep walking. Straight ahead," Peter said. Even though the words were meant as an order, the pleasantness in Peter's voice completely removed the edge, and Nurim found it easy to comply. He considered making conversation with Peter, but decided that his attention would be better served by focusing on the coming meeting.

As far as he knew, the Icarus Confederacy was led by five men. Hayden he had met just days before. Luke had been the one to deliver his meals since Nurim had arrived. Kurt and Jacob's profiles had been drilled into him extensively ever since the day that Nurim shot Faust in the shoulder due to Nurim's lack of knowledge on Jacob's true nature. The one leading member of the Confederacy that Nurim knew almost nothing about was Ethan Holmes. With Kurt now dead, and Jacob likely out of commission from grieving, Nurim was sure to meet the elusive Ethan. Luke had already made it abundantly clear to Nurim that he did not think Nurim should walk free, and Hayden was fighting for Nurim's freedom with everything he could. That meant Ethan would be the one that he had to convince of his reformation.

He continued to mull over how to go about the process as he followed Peter's direction. It wasn't long before Peter told him that they had arrived, and he heard the sound of knocking. The door opened and he felt warmth on his face as he was directed by Peter to enter the room, afterward Peter excused himself and Nurim used his other senses to get a feel for everyone else in the room. He heard the click of Luke's prosthetic as he shifted his weight, the heavy sound of Hayden's angry footsteps as he paced across the floor, and the shifting of rubber on rubber that was coming toward him.

"Nurim Khrys," the rubber clad man said with a pleasant tone. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you." The voice was mature, definitely masculine, and had an ageless quality to it.

"Ethan Holmes," Nurim surmised. "The pleasure is all mine. I have studied you as extensively as our intelligence has allowed, though I must say that it has not been as extensive as I would have hoped. You are the enigma in the files."

"If we were meeting under better circumstances, I would perhaps enjoy getting to know an elf," Ethan replied with a dark chuckle. "But these are interesting times, and I'm afraid it has not been decided yet what we're going to do with you."

"I say we roast him alive," a voice said that belonged to none of the other three. There were no footsteps, no sounds of movement or scent of his approach, but the hairs on the back of Nurim's neck began to rise as soon as the first word had been spoken.

"Jacob?" Hayden asked in a neutral tone, "What are you doing here?"

"I'm a senior member of the Confederacy," Jacob replied testily. "I have a right to be here."

"You gave up that right when you possessed another member of the Confederacy to fulfill your own path of vengeance," Hayden growled. He took several angry steps toward Jacob and added, "Tristan still has not fully recovered from the shock of having you in his body…"

"Hayden…" Luke scolded. "You don't have to be nasty about it." Hayden stopped moving as Nurim heard the clatter of a tea cup being set against a table from Luke's position. "Besides, Jacob is absolutely correct about Nurim. You may think that the man has changed just because he helped you infiltrate Faust's facility, but that doesn't stop the fact that he has personally killed friends of ours."

"I'm not willing to make my judgment off of that alone, and I believe that you should hold back on making that judgment as well," Ethan interjected. "Have you forgotten that you have also personally killed friends of his, Luke?"

"Coming from the man who never gets his hands dirty…" Jacob muttered. "We're the ones that go out and risk our lives every time, Ethan. What gives you the right to make any judgment on this at all?"

"You're making this about us when it should be about him, we need…" Ethan replied, the movement of the rubber telling Nurim that Ethan was shaking his head.

Jacob snorted and said with a snarl, "What we need is to throw this bastard into a flaming furnace and end his sorry existence. His father killed Ku…"

"What does his father's crimes have to do with him?" Hayden asked as he took several steps toward Nurim. "He was a soldier, we're soldiers…"

"No, we're rebels, Hayden," Luke interrupted, his voice steadily rising in volume as he continued, "We've been fighting against the evil tyranny that has been oppressing people since this war began. What the hell makes you think that we can excuse him for helping that tyranny?"

"Why don't we ask him?" Ethan asked.

"Ask him what?" Jacob spat. "So that he can tell more lies about how he never meant to let things get out of hand? So that he can make more excuses about how he was just following orders."

"No, so that we can…" Ethan continued, but Nurim had heard enough.

"I did it, Jacob," Nurim said. His confession silencing the room as he felt their eyes on him.

Jacob was the first to recover, and in an uncertain voice he asked, "What?"

"You're right," Nurim continued, his voice calm and steady. "I helped my father kill your lover. I helped end Kurt's life. I take full responsibility."

"You bastard," Jacob growled, his voice growing louder as he closed the distance between then. "How can you even say his name?"

"Jacob. Hold off, why don't you let him finish?" Ethan asked, taking a step between Nurim and Jacob. "He's confessing, isn't that what you wanted?"

"What I want is the love of my life alive and well. Can he give me that?" Jacob asked, and when no one rose to challenge his question he continued. "No? Then I want him dead so that he can make it up to Kurt in the next life."

"You're also correct, Luke," Nurim continued as if Jacob had not spoken at all. "I killed many of your friends. This is not an excuse, but you did kill many of mine as well. This is war, and we all do ugly things. My crimes are ugly, and I accept whatever fate you decide to give to me."

"Interesting," Luke replied. "You're not going to plead for your life?"

"I gave up immortality on Avalon to enter your world, where I was summarily betrayed by my father. I could have still served to the end and returned to Avalon, but I didn't. Instead my mind was opened to the possibility that I had been fighting for the wrong side all along, and so I turned myself in to Hayden, and he accepted my help," Nurim explained emotionlessly. "While this hardly makes up for the death of your friends, I will point out that had I not helped Hayden then he, Tristan, Micah, and even Jacob would all be gone. Micah would have been killed by the ritual, and the others would have died in their attempt to rescue him."

"So that's your plea?" Luke asked.

"No. It's a fact," Nurim answered without hesitation. "Again, I gave up immortality to side with Hayden. It doesn't matter when death comes, for I will suffer it. If you decide to kill me now, what difference does it make?"

"Immortality is not the greatest thing in the world," Jacob said bitterly. "You have to watch your friends die."

"That is true, Jacob," Ethan agreed, but then added, "I too know that feeling, but I see the logic in Nurim's words."

"You can't be serious…" Jacob said.

"I vote that Nurim should be…" Ethan began, but was cut off by the buzzing of the intercom.

"Ethan," Peter said in a panicked voice. "There was an explosion in your lab a few seconds ago. You should get down here immediately."

"What the hell!?" The rustling of rubber and the sound of a door opening indicated that Ethan had left the room, and Nurim was left to wonder what his vote was going to be.

"The meeting is adjourned," Luke announced, and then directed his voice toward Hayden's position. "I'll take Nurim back to his room, you and Ethan go check out the lab."

Hayden's reply was quick as his footsteps headed toward the door. "Agreed."

They had been hiking for nearly an hour, and had been taking it slowly as Zach had taken in the vast views of the surrounding mountains. He had always enjoyed the majesty of nature, and the area around the complex where the Icarus Confederacy was headquartered was practically untouched. He had asked Ethan about the area and Ethan had told him that when it was built the nearest town was fifty-seven miles away, and was a small mining community. There had been a few settlements started since then, but nothing had invaded this particular portion of the Colorado Rockies because the government kept them out.

Although Zach had never known a government other than Skinwalker and the North Wer Alliance, he was glad that they had preserved some areas such as this for their own uses, allowing him to explore the terrain without fear that he was going to run into some run down ruin of what had once been the American culture. The nature of avoiding notice for Tristan's sake had kept him and Corban from spending much time in any settled areas, and those that they visited on occasion where always run down, but still carried with them the stench of too many people living in cramped conditions. He had never understood the need to stay in one place. It made sense to move south when it grew cold and move north when it grew hot. His legs were strong enough to get him where he wanted or needed to be.

Of course, the facility was nice too. There was a certain level of awe that he held for the artifacts that existed within the complex. There were so many things that he had only read or heard stories about that actually worked inside of the Icarus Confederacy's headquarters. The most impressive thing he had seen so far was the aircraft which the Confederacy had arrived in. After he had gotten over the initial shock of the device, he had finally been brave enough to look out the window and see the tops of the trees far below them. It was like being on a mountaintop that moved across the land, allowing you to survey grand vistas all at once. It was altogether mesmerizing, and he couldn't think of another physical experience he had appreciated more.

And then they had crossed into the mountains, headed for home, and he was blown away by what lay below him. Snow covered fields of evergreen, striking in their majesty. He had nearly stopped breathing as he had taken it all in, and then when they finally arrived and the air craft landed in the hangar beneath the surface, He had immediately cornered Hayden and begged to be taught how to fly. Hayden had promised that he would teach Zach, and Zach had immediately made plans to explore the nearby region.

At first he had rested, recovering from the journey that had brought him there. He had spent that time with Tristan as they swapped tales of their time apart. He had also gotten to know some of the other members of the community, most notably Micah who was at Tristan's side at all times, and Peter, who seemed close to Tristan in other ways, almost like another sibling. Ethan and Luke had welcomed him with open arms, and he had spent some time with both of them, but he had not yet formed a true connection with anyone beyond Tristan, though Micah was starting to grow on him.

The three of them had spent the second day together as well, going on a hike up the mountain so that Zach could see the view, and he had loved nearly every minute of it. Revitalized and ready for more, he had asked if they could go out again the next day, and they had readily agreed, though this time Tristan had asked if they could go somewhere that he hadn't already explored.

"This is such an amazing landscape," Zach remarked to Tristan who was walking directly ahead of him. He had said the same several times, though he couldn't contain himself. They were just about to crest another rise, and Micah had gone on ahead at a quick pace to ensure that the way was still smooth for their hike. "I'm still surprised that you haven't explored it all yet."

"Well, for the first little while I was basically a prisoner," Tristan replied with a chuckle. He stopped and turned around, meeting Zach's eyes as his face grew more serious. "They were afraid that I was going to sneak out and go look for you. I was pretty set on finding out if you were alive or not."

"I thought you were dead or I would have been doing the same thing," Zach said, wincing. "I was pretty certain that once The Alliance got their hands on you I wasn't ever going to see you again."

"I know, you told me." Tristan nodded and took a step toward him, laying a cautious hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry you had to go through that, Zach."

"It's over now…" Zach said with a smile. He saw the look in Tristan's eyes, mixed with the body language, and he tried to keep his composure. Ever since Zach had kissed Tristan there had been a wall between them, a wall that Zach desperately wanted to break down. "We're together again, and that's what matters." Zach saw the uncertainty in Tristan's eyes fade slightly, and for the briefest of moments Zach thought that a crack might have appeared in the wall, but then the sound of Micah coming toward them broke the moment.

"Hey you two, one of my favorite spots is just over the ridge," Micah announced, nodding toward the rise. His grin was wide, and his voice was full of enthusiasm as he explained, "It's a nice private area where the stream enters a small lake. We should go swimming!"

"You just want to get me naked again," Tristan replied, rolling his eyes.

"Well, you do see me naked way more often than I get to see you…" Micah said without a hint of embarrassment.

"Not my fault you strip down every time you want to shift," Tristan shook his head and chuckled, but his eyes were warm and inviting, and Zach felt his heart leap a little as he watched them interact, and then it sank back down as he realized that he would never be included in that aspect of their lives. He had loved Tristan for years, but he had missed his chance to do anything about it a long time before. He wasn't sure he could take watching them interact in such an intimate fashion for much longer.

And as much as he would have loved a skinny dip in the mountain waters, there were other factors to consider. "You know, I'm not sure I'm down for swimming," Zach admitted. "It's kind of cold. This whole winter thing, you know?"

"Oh come on, Zach," Tristan said, his eyes filled with a challenge. And there was something more hidden in those fiery eyes; an invitation. Zach felt a glimmer of hope, his first in a long time. "I'll build a fire and everything. It'll be fun."

"All right…" Zach said slowly, then turning toward Micah he said with a grin, "Lead the way, Micah."

Zach received a matching grin in return, and Micah sped back up the ridge, scrambling over rocks and fallen trees amidst the melting snow like it was nothing. Tristan looked back at Zach and nodded after Micah, indicating that they should follow, though he said with a snicker, "We don't have to keep up. He'll dash back and forth like a dog, waiting to see how much progress we've made."

"Did you just compare your boyfriend to a dog?" Zach raised an eyebrow and nearly stumbled over a rock.

"I suppose I did. Though he's generally more feline in truth, especially in…" Tristan began, only to be interrupted by Zach.

"If you're about to finish that sentence with 'in bed', I'd rather not hear it."

Tristan gave him a hard look and stopped moving forward. "I was going to say that he's more feline in situations where he needs to be at his best, but I suppose we can talk about my relationship with him if that's really on your mind. I know that you have feelings for me, and we haven't addressed them yet except for the first time you told me, so maybe we sh…"

"No. It's fine. I get that the two of you are together, all right?" Zach replied testily.

"Fine. But we're not going to heal from this until you trust me enough to talk about it…" Tristan said with a sigh. He started moving up the incline again, but this time Zach had stopped, and when Tristan had only made it a few feet he turned around to look at Zach again. "Are you coming or not?"

"Why do we need to heal from this?" Zach asked, his voice cold as the rocks around him. "Do you think it's that easy for me? Tris, I loved you for years…"

"Zach, we're brothers. I only found out a short while ago, and you knew this whole time? Do you really think that I can push that thought aside so easily?" Tristan shook his head and kicked at the snow in front of him. "I still have to get over the fact that you and Corban lied to me for so long."

"It was to protect you…" Zach began.

"Don't…" Tristan interrupted, glaring at Zach.

"Now who's avoiding emotions?" Zach returned with his own glare.

"Am I interrupting something?" Micah asked as he popped back into view from the top of the ridge.

"No!" Zach and Tristan shouted in unison, before sharing another glare with each other.

"Oooookaaay then…" Micah replied. He shook his head and then waved them both forward. "Come on, we're almost there." He disappeared back over the ridge and Zach released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

"Maybe I should just go back…" Zach began, but Tristan shook his head. "You don't think so?"

"Zach, I want you in my life. I can't love you the way that you love me, but you're my brother. I really hope you'll take that for what it's worth and learn to accept things as they are," Tristan said with a half-smile. "I really hope you can be a part of mine and Micah's life together."

Zach stared hard at Tristan for a moment and then shook his head, chuckling bitterly. "You know, Tris, you're a real piece of work. I'm glad you can treat me so callously after all we went through together. Enjoy your swim." Without another word he turned to walk away.

"Zach!" He heard his name but didn't respond; it was Micah's voice and not Tristan's. The call came a second time, and then a third, but then it was silenced, and Zach kept walking, unable to contain the angry tears that were rolling down his cheeks.

He walked for several minutes, his cheeks beginning to freeze as the tears solidified. He was pissed, certainly, but he knew that he was being every bit as stubborn as Tristan had been. For a brief moment he considered turning back and apologizing, but he found that thought fleeting. He had to think about it more, he had to…

He spun around, searching the trees. There was something there, or there had been. He couldn't make it out now, and nothing was moving. A bird chirped nearby, but he knew that wasn't the presence he had felt. There was a stench in the air of something burning, and Zach wondered briefly if Tristan had built the fire that he had promised Zach. He smiled despite his inner turmoil at the thought, and wrote off his senses as having been misled by his beating heart and anxiety over his circumstance. With a lighter step he turned back to the direction of the complex and his new plans on how to make things right with Tristan.

"It looks like the fire suppression system is in effect. I hope there isn't too much damage," Ethan announced as Hayden arrived at the door that led to Ethan's laboratory. Ethan had a small scanning device in his hands; a portable computer that had a matching attachment, a thermometer which Peter used on his patients, but Ethan had it shoved under the door frame as he looked at the readings the attachment was feeding him.

"What the devil were you cooking up in there?" Hayden asked, looking at the door in wonder. There was a small bit of char around the edges of the heavy wooden door, as if it had been on fire sometime recently. Hayden reached out and touched the door and found that it was cool to the touch. Whatever fire there may have been, it was definitely out now.

"Nothing," Ethan replied, a puzzled look on his face as he stared down at the scanner. "I had no experiments currently running. I can't think of a single thing that could have triggered an explosion, unless someone got into my lab without me noticing, but there's no one here to do that."

"Hmmm…" Hayden glanced down at the instrument in Ethan's hands but was immediately lost in the data presented on the screen. "What's the reading on the conditions in there?"

"It says that it should be good to open in a minute," Ethan explained. "There's still a lot of residual heat according to the thermometer. Damn!" Ethan pounded his gloved fist against the door which trembled under the impact. "My computer is probably destroyed, that means…"

The room was suddenly dark as the flickered and died. Ethan sighed and Peter gasped from back in the infirmary, then there was a loud thumping sound accompanied by a yell of pain. "I'm okay!" Peter called out. "I was just walking when it happened and ran into the table." Several of the lights flickered back on and Hayden and Ethan glanced back together to see Peter rubbing his shin and looking embarrassed.

"You had to start thinking it, didn't you?" Hayden smirked and rolled his eyes. "Dammit, at least there's emergency power,"

"Can't control it anymore though," Ethan muttered. "I might be able to rebuild the computer from spare parts of the old ones but we're going to be without main power for a while. Shit…" He pounded the door again. "What the hell happened in there?"

"Ethan," Peter said as he moved up the hallway to join them, "I'm sure it wasn't your fault."

"What do you mean Peter?" Hayden asked, startled by the assessment.

Peter's face was flushed and his eyes were wide, and as he spoke his voice trembled. "I didn't want to say it earlier, because I thought I was crazy but… I swear I heard someone screaming in there just after the explosion," He took a deep breath and met Ethan's eyes, his voice gaining some degree of confidence as it lost itself in the memory. "Sounded high-pitched, child-like… I thought it might just be some of the equipment that happened to get set off by the explosion, but the more I think about that noise…" He shook his head and shuddered. "I can't deny it, it was definitely alive."

Hayden turned toward Ethan, his expression blank but his eyes carrying a dangerous promise that if he didn't like what he heard, there would be hell to pay. "Did you have any… other kinds of experiments, Ethan?"

"No, but…" Ethan replied, his eyes lit up as he gasped and covered his mouth. "No… could it really be?"

"You have some idea of what we're going to find on the other side?" Hayden asked as Ethan stood, looking at the door. Instead of answering, Ethan pushed the scanner into Hayden's hands and pointed down at the screen. Hayden followed the direction, but Ethan was no longer there to explain what he was pointing at.

"The room is cool enough, I'm going in…" Ethan said as he gripped the doorknob and opened the door, stepping inside and out of view as the smell of burnt rubber assaulted Hayden's nostrils, and a wave of warm air made him stagger. He coughed as he dropped the scanner and tried to peer into the room but couldn't see as his eyes stung with smoke.

"Ethan, wait!" Hayden coughed out, and then was handed a surgical mask by Peter who was wearing one of his own. He used his other hand to help stabilize Hayden while Hayden slipped the mask on over his nose and mouth, allowing him to start breathing a little better.

"It's too late now," Peter said, gesturing toward the open doorway. "We need to go with him!"

"Right," Hayden said with a nod. "Follow me."

He stepped across the threshold and into the laboratory. The room smelled awful, and was much warmer than it had ever been before. Black char streaked the floor, and the rubber matting was melted and warped. Hayden's eyes first settled upon the computer, which had what appeared to be a curved chunk of rock embedded in the tower. Glancing behind him he saw that Peter was investigating the door, where a similar object was lodged in the wood, and the area around the object the most blackened and burnt of the whole door. The walls and ceiling were similarly littered with the fragments, and wherever they were placed, the metal was warped and charred.

"Over here! Guys…" Ethan's voice called to them from deeper in the lab. The call came from the other side of one of the work tables, the surface of which was warped and mangled. Ethan kept explaining even though they couldn't see him as they began moving toward him, "It's the egg that we brought back from Arizona… It's…" He trailed off as they came around the corner, and Peter gasped while Hayden's breath caught in his throat.

Ethan knelt on the floor with a small boy in his arms, or at least Hayden thought it was a boy. Naked and appearing to be around five years old, the boy certainly had the proper appendages to indicate his gender, but his humanity was another thing. His skin was the color of copper, and his hair was a bright orange, not like the redheads that Luke had once had a weakness for, but almost as if the boy's hair were made of fire itself. At certain points the boy's skin was mottled and scaly, particularly in places that would protect vital organs in a human, his chest and abdomen, and around his outer joints. The boy's facial features seemed familiar somehow, though only one name came to mind, and Hayden wasn't sure he could believe it, though it escaped his lips all the same. "Nevala..."

"That would be my guess," Ethan agreed as he cradled the boy. "Though this is something that's not in any of the books I've ever read," He looked up to meet Peter's eyes. "Do you recognize this from any of the lore you learned in school Peter?"

It took a moment for Peter to register the question, but when he did he cleared his throat and answered, "No, but maybe we should ask Jacob? You know that he and Kurt studied more than anyone else on the subject of supernatural entities."

"I'm not entirely certain I can even be in the same room as Jacob right now…" Hayden muttered.

"Would you just forgive him already!?" Ethan snapped. "Tristan has, and he's the only one that should have to."

"Have you ever been possessed, Ethan?" Hayden replied, glaring at Ethan. He shook his head and growled in frustration. "Fine, you call him. You do the talking."

"I heard you anyway, Hayden," Jacob said as he stepped through the nearby table to join them in the aisle between the tables. "It's not like I wasn't going to investigate the explosion myself. I came in earlier and I've already seen him." He turned to Ethan and said, "I'm pretty certain the estimate is correct, and that is Nevala, though there is insufficient evidence for me to say for certain that he is what I think he is. I mean, we know that he's a phoenix, so it makes sense, but…" He sighed when he realized he was rambling and cleared his throat to begin again. "The stories say that when a phoenix dies they rise from the ashes after a certain period of time. The legends have always varied as to how long it takes for them to rise, but they always make a point of saying that they do. Of course, we've always discounted those tales because we know that phoenixes can be killed permanently; we've seen it happen several times and this has never been the result before." He shook his head and chuckled dryly. "We assumed that those tales were just an exaggeration of the fact that the phoenix remembers his past lives and is able to put that memory to use in his next life, but maybe we shouldn't have been so quick to disregard that thought."

"Are you saying that Nevala has risen from the ashes?" Ethan asked. "What exactly does that mean? Why now? Why haven't other phoenixes that we've known done that?"

"Those are all excellent questions, and I assume that the answer lies in the how of Nevala's demise, rather than the fact of it," Jacob replied as he eyed one of the curved fragments of rock that was embedded in the nearby table. "Perhaps it was the way he spent all of his energy to destroy the artifact. Or maybe it was the energies of the artifact that merged with his soul and created a combination of energies that we know nothing about?" He shook his head and shrugged as he looked back down at Ethan. "I would guess that Nevala is the only one that can answer any of these questions, and we're probably going to be helped the most by trying to revive him."

"Peter?" Ethan asked, and Peter moved past Hayden to kneel down and begin examining the boy. He checked his pulse and the level of his breathing, and then began an examination of his skin and bones for any sign of injury.

"He seems to be all right," Peter reported when he had completed his examination. "I'm guessing that the strain of whatever happened to him is what put him out. I imagine that rest will bring him out of it, but of course, I don't even know if I'm dealing with a human host at all here…" He shrugged helplessly and then looked back up to Ethan's eyes. "He certainly looks different. For now let's get him to the infirmary…"

"Where there is no power to do anything…" Hayden interrupted. "All right. We'll see about making sure you have the power you need, Jacob…"

"Oh, you're going to talk to me now, Hayden?" Jacob said with a sneer and a bow. "To what do I owe this great honor?"

"Go find Tristan," Hayden said coldly. "He needs to know what's going on."

"Figures that all you want to do is get rid of me…" Jacob replied as he disappeared out of sight.

"Would you…" Ethan began, but was cut off by Hayden's raised hand.

"Don't even say it, Ethan…" Hayden growled. "I don't want to hear it."

"He already lost Kurt," Ethan said anyway. "Don't be an ass."

The water was cold, but Tristan easily managed to push the chill away with the training he had received from Nevala. His control over his own body temperature had originally been a difficult trick to master, but he had been working on it on his own ever since Nevala had sacrificed himself in Arizona. Now, it came naturally, and whenever he felt his body dropping below safe levels he burned some of his inner energy to stave off the cold.

Micah was different, though the cold had no more effect on him than it did on Tristan. Being a shapeshifter, he had many ways in which he could fight the chill. He could either grow fur to insulate himself or he could simply change the genetic makeup of his skin to be more resilient. In this case he chose the latter option, and Tristan knew why whenever his slick skin poked out of the water. Micah was showing off his youthful body and trying to get a reaction out of Tristan.

Tristan would have been lying if he didn't admit that Micah was getting exactly what he wanted. He felt his arousal as a particular pocket of heat in the surrounding chill of the water, and when Micah had his back turned as he swam away, Tristan hurriedly caught up to him and wrapped his arms around Micah from behind, nestling his erection between Micah's cheeks. Micah moaned and pressed back against it.

"Hold on tight," Micah said and then indicated the small island in the middle of the lake. "Let's move to somewhere shallower." Tristan nodded and locked his arms together around Micah's chest as Micah began moving them through the water toward the island. Once they could walk Tristan pulled off of Micah's back and they walked hand in hand until they moved up to a thick patch of dead grass on the shore.

Tristan sank to his knees and pulled Micah toward him, his mouth hungrily heading for the prize. Micah leaned his head back as his hand moved down to entwine itself in Tristan's hair, and then he fell backward, landing heavily on the ground.

Staring down at him in shock, Tristan did not see the hole in Micah's head at first, but once he did he screamed until Micah launched himself off of the ground and put himself between Tristan and the direction of the shot. Tristan felt Micah shudder several times as more bullets collided with him, but then Micah was picking him up in his arms as he started moving further onto the island. Nearly silent bullets continued to follow them as they raced for cover, but cresting the ridge in the center of the island they found nothing but open rock on the other side.

Micah jumped the ridge and the two collapsed against the other side, catching their breath as they recovered from the shock of the sudden attack. Tristan set his mind to work as he scanned their surroundings, looking for an answer to their predicament. The boulders that surrounded them would only give minimal cover, and as soon as their enemies found a way to surround the island they would be useless. The opposite shore of the lake was thirty meters away from the shore of the island, but there was no guarantee that there wouldn't be more enemies waiting for them on that side of the lake either.

But in the end it was the better choice. The island was indefensible. "We have to get to the other shore and try to lose them in the woods. We're sitting ducks right here," Tristan panted as he looked at Micah with panicked eyes. His heart was racing as he tried to get himself under control, but he was haunted by the image of Kurt's dead body, and the fate that briefly he had thought Micah had shared. Although he consciously knew that bullets wouldn't kill his shape-changing lover, his instincts had told him otherwise.

"Agreed." Micah nodded and pulled away, but Tristan held him fast and kissed him hard but quickly. When they pulled away, Micah cocked an eyebrow and asked, "Are you all right?"

"I thought you had died," Tristan explained, but then forced a smile to his lips and went on, "Let's get out of here and then we'll talk about it."

Micah nodded and began to shift, settling down on all fours as his body elongated and morphed into the form of a large predatory cat, built like a tiger but with the coloration of the water in the lake. He turned to Tristan and nodded toward his back. "Grab on and hold tight, and we'll be across in no time."

Tristan followed Micah down to the water where he gripped the fur behind Micah's neck, and then Micah began to swim forward, his legs pulling them quickly through the water. Tristan stayed low against Micah's back, and there was no indication that they were still being fired upon. Before long they reached the opposite shore and climbed up quickly, Micah shaking his fur to clear the water from it. Tristan closed his eyes to avoid getting any of the flung water in his eyes, and then opened them again when he heard Micah growl.

Glancing first at Micah, he followed his gaze to a trail of muddy boot prints on the shore. They were fresh and led into the forest. Tristan pulled himself up against a tree as Micah crouched low, sniffing the air with his feline nostrils, his fur standing on end as he scanned the area in search of the enemy. "I'm going to hunt them down," Micah announced, and when Tristan didn't immediately respond, Micah turned back to him and asked, "Are you going to be okay?"

Tristan took a deep breath and focused his energy into the palm of his hand, and though it had still been slick from the water in the lake, it was instantly dried as his hand burst into flame. Tristan nodded, his wet hair spraying droplets of water all around him that quickly evaporated into steam as Tristan's body began to heat up to dry himself off. "I'll be fine. Go get those bastards."

Micah nodded and sped into the woods, and Tristan kept his back to the tree as he watched the nearby area cautiously. Everything was still and silent, except for from the direction that Micah was moving, and Tristan quickly realized that there was too little sound, as if the wildlife had all been scared away. Something was definitely still watching him, and he began to feel vulnerable as he stood naked in the cold air. There was more to it too, he was hungry, and his energy was quickly depleting, and he felt the chill begin to set in as the flame in his hands began to flicker.

He saw a flicker of movement ahead of him, and he stepped away from the tree and tried to strafe around to get into a better position defensively. His knees felt weak as he tried to move, which resulted in poor footing, as he stepped on a broken stone a few feet in front of the tree. He stumbled and fell, but felt a strong hand grip his arm, preventing him from hitting the ground.

His skin grew cold almost instantly, and the fire in his hand went out. He tried to summon it back again, but then he felt the blade of the knife pressed up against his throat, and all thought of moving was gone as a strong voice whispered calmly but firmly, "If you struggle, you're dead."

Micah darted toward the shadow that moved behind the tree. He couldn't quite make out what it was, but it bore a human shape. He couldn't smell it; his nostrils worked fine but whatever it was had no scent at all, and all that he could smell were the scents of the forest around him, and Tristan's scent back from the way he had come.

By the time that Micah arrived at the tree, the shadow was gone, and Micah looked up to see if the form had disappeared above him. The vibrating branch indicated that Micah had guessed correctly, but there was still a problem. The source of that vibration was missing. He heard the crunch of the underbrush to his left and his head swung in that direction, but there was nothing there.

He took a step in that direction when something heavy collided with the back of his head. As he reformed his skull and flesh, Micah turned to regard the rock curiously before looking up to see the shadowy figure running into the distance. Micah started after the figure when another rock hit him from the other side. He spun around and stared angrily at the spot where he had heard a sound from before, now seeing a low form crouched in the bush.

He felt another rock collide with his now exposed back but he paid it no heed, instead making a direct line for the form in the bush at the top of his speed. He growled as he charged, his lips curled back to reveal his sharp teeth, eager to taste the flesh of his tormentors. With one final push of his hind legs he leapt into the air, sailing straight for the man in form-fitting black combat gear, a masked helmet obscuring his features, and a long metal rod with a forked head held in his hands.

A metal rod which he calmly extended toward the jumping cat and pressed a button on the shaft, making it begin to crackle with electrical energy as it collided with Micah's face. Micah howled as his momentum carried him onto the rod, sending jolts of electricity running through his entire body. He could feel himself dying quickly, but he couldn't get his appendages to respond. The black-clothed man pushed Micah off of him and Micah slid to the ground as the man reactivated the rod and stabbed it toward Micah's side.

Expecting the tactic, Micah put all of his willpower behind a desperate slash at the man's leg with his claws, growling in triumph as they hit home and the man screamed as he fell to the ground, clutching at his leg, though the sound was muffled by the mask. Micah panted for a moment as the effects of the electrocution began to wear off, and then he stood slowly, murderous eyes settling on the man who was backing away as quick as he could while clutching at his leg, red blood seeping out to stain the forest floor.

Micah staggered forward as a bullet shot into his head, followed by three more in quick succession. By the time the fourth one hit, Micah was ready for the fifth, but it never came, and instead as Micah turned around, he saw another man coming toward him, though this one was definitely human. Instead of the helmet and mask combination, this man's head was completely visible, displaying his dark skin and his Mohawk proudly, bright blue and seeming to mock Micah with its audacity. The man sported a single earring in his right ear, shining silvery in the sunlight filtering through the leaves above him.

Although Micah was able to take in the man's features in an instant, his focus immediately shifted to the rod held in the man's left hand, an exact double of the one that had been used against Micah seconds before. Micah pulled back defensively as he watched the man close in on him, circling around him as he drew near. There wasn't a trace of fear in the man's eyes, nor was there the slightest indication that he was not in perfect control of his movements. He cleared the uneven ground with ease, not looking down even once, but when he pulled up to Micah he pulled up short.

"What are you waiting for?" Micah hissed. "Are you going to fight me or what?"

The man did not acknowledge him at all, and instead kept staring, not even blinking as he circled around with Micah. All of a sudden he lunged forward and to Micah's left, an easy move for Micah to dodge, and when they had returned to their original positions the man resumed his earlier tactic of maintaining his distance, though this time they were circling the other direction. He lunged forward again, this time to Micah's right. This time he struck low, aiming for Micah's leg, and Micah danced back several feet, only to charge back in and snap at an arm that was no longer there. The man withdrew again, and once more resumed circling, switching the circle to the original direction.

As Micah's view passed the same trees behind the man for a third time, he caught on, and just in time as he spun around and lashed out at the man behind him; a third man masked like the first had been and with his right hand holding yet another rod, and his left resting on a holstered pistol. Micah caught the stunned man's arm between his teeth and pulled down, throwing the man over him just as the unmasked man stabbed forward with his own weapon, catching his comrade with it instead. The masked man howled in pain as the electricity shot through his body, but the noise quickly subsided as the unmasked man stepped over him in pursuit of Micah.

"You're senses are good," the unmasked man said calmly. "I'm impressed."

"Why do you just keep avoiding me!" Micah roared as he charged at his opponent, jaws snapping at that the arm that held the rod. The unmasked man dropped to his knees, leaning backward as Micah's jaws snapped at where his arm had been. Now beneath Micah, the man reversed the rod and crossed it over his chest, ramming it into Micah's chest and activating it.

Micah roared as the unmasked man used the distraction to pull out from under him, and then he released his hold on the button when he was a safe distance away. Micah limped to his feet and turned back toward him snarling. "I did more than just avoid you. Feel better now?" The unmasked man said with a raised eyebrow.

"Stand down, Colonel Turner," a commanding voice said from behind Micah. "It's over now." No sooner than the words had settled in Micah's ears, the unmasked man pulled his arm back and slid the rod into a loop on his belt, though he kept a readied stance as he continued to watch Micah.

Micah danced back and to the side several steps, allowing him to keep the unmasked man in his peripheral while taking in the sight of the newcomer. He growled as he saw Tristan's naked body held at the man's mercy, a knife up against his throat. But then he gasped as he looked up at Tristan's captor.

He was tall and broad shouldered, Tristan looking nearly half his size against the big man. There was a definite strength in his wizened features, a nearly ageless face framed by white hair pulled back in a pony-tail and a neatly trimmed white beard. He wore gear similar to the black-garbed men, though his was of a more regal cut, a subtle demonstration that he was their commander. Standing behind him were four more men dressed in the same manner as the three that Micah had already fought, and each one was masked. They were at the ready, watching the man who held Tristan with patient eyes.

Micah's piercing blue eyes clashed with the icy orbs set deep in their sockets. Those eyes were famous, and Micah had seen them before in his early childhood of watching the news before society was completely torn apart. The man who stood before him holding Micah's lover, was none other than Ivan Tsela Adakai, the leader of Skinwalker and the mortal enemy of the Icarus Confederacy.

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