Ashes of Fate, Season 2

by Cynus

Episode 2

Enemies Part 2

There was only one more direction to go, and Jacob was beginning to get frustrated, but as soon as he headed toward the east he sensed a human not far from the complex, and it was heading toward him. Without any further hesitation, he traveled the rest of the distance toward the human and popped into view in front of Zach, his excitement getting the better of him.

Zach stumbled backward as he raised his hands defensively, preparing for a fight, but when he realized that it was Jacob he clutched at his chest and caught his breath, glaring at Jacob. "Jacob! Don't do that to me!"

Jacob waved the thought away as if it were not important and addressed the issue he had come to speak about. "Zach! I've been looking all over for the three of you, but I don't sense Tristan or Micah anywhere near you. Where are they?"

"They found a new swimming hole, apparently," Zach grumbled, letting Jacob's lack of tact slide. "Not really my cup of tea in the middle of winter."

"Well, Micah can grow fur and Tristan can ignore the cold," Jacob said with a shrug. "But there's something Tristan needs to see. Do you think that you can get back to them and tell them to return to base? I can't go out much further than this without straining myself, and it would take forever for me to find them if I had to do it alone," he explained with a chuckle. His eyes lit up with excitement as he bubbled, "It seems as if Nevala is back!"

"Nevala?" Zach echoed, gasping. "Tristan's teacher? What…" unable to find the words to ask the question in his mind, he stopped trying, and focused instead on the bitterness growing within him. "You mean I have to go back there?"

"Is that a problem?" Jacob asked, his excitement fading as it was replaced with concern.

"No…" Zach said hesitantly. He shook his head and forced a smile to his face. "I'll go get them."

"Great," Jacob said with a fresh grin.

Zach nodded and turned around, beginning to walk back the way he had come. "I'll be back soon."

Jacob flickered into view in front of him. "Zach…"


"Do you want to talk about it?" Jacob asked. "I know that I'm not someone you know very well, and you'd probably rather talk to Tristan about anything but…"

Zach interrupted Jacob with a snort, rolling his eyes before he looked up to meet Jacob's gaze. "Actually Tristan is the one person I can't talk to about this. I missed my chance a long time ago to have that conversation with him."

"I see…" Jacob said, nodding slowly. "You have feelings for him."

"Is it that obvious?" Zach asked with an embarrassed grin.

"It is when you're nearly a century old…" Jacob replied with a chuckle. "How about you and I sit down for a nice long chat once you're all back home, okay?"

"I'd appreciate that." Zach nodded and started walking away again. "Thanks, Jacob. I'll see you soon."

"I'll be waiting here for your return. See you in a little while," Jacob called after him. And then Zach disappeared from view and Jacob was left alone again with his thoughts, a dangerous place for him to be. He considered following after Zach but then realized that the boy needed to be alone. He was clearly dealing with demons that required introspection rather than Jacob's constant chatter.

But who did that leave for Jacob? He kicked against a stone on the ground, his foot passing through the stone as if it were not there at all. With Kurt gone he no longer had anyone to talk to, except for Ethan and occasionally Luke when they weren't on Hayden's side of the issue. Peter was too busy and Micah hadn't forgiven him yet for possessing Tristan. And Tristan…

Jacob growled in frustration and leaned up against a tree. Although his body should have passed through it, he knew how to balance himself so that it gave off the appearance of leaning even if he were doing no such thing. He had practiced so long at pretending to still be alive that some things were second nature, including using the mannerisms he had been accustomed to when he had still breathed air. No matter how much he pretended, however, he would never again feel the feeling of his own flesh, and he doubted he would ever feel another's either.

Just as Jacob needed to explain to Zach about Tristan, he had to realize the truth for himself; Kurt was gone, and perhaps it was time for Jacob to move on as well. He would need to find an exorcist, and not even a good one if he decided to go willingly. There were ways to let himself go into the Great Beyond, where Kurt was surely waiting for him, but they still required that his connection to the world be severed. He had been thinking along such lines for a long time, but he knew of no exorcist in his circle of friends.

Until Nevala had been reborn that morning. He was now Tristan's only hope, the only one who could do what Jacob required and help him move on, provided he ever woke up; provided that boy was actually Nevala and not something completely different. If that wasn't the case then he'd have to convince one of the others to help him, and he doubted that anyone would do it willingly. Even Ethan who understood the pain of immortality would be difficult for Jacob to convince to help him end his own life.

Of course, there was always Zach. Zach was new, and young, and Jacob found him friendly. If all else failed, he could make friends with Zach and use him to get what he needed. It was a good contingency if Nevala wasn't available, and he would have to manipulate Zach into it, but… He shook his head and grimaced as he firmed up his resolve. Whatever it took to get him back to Kurt he would do. It was that simple.

"Jacob!" Zach's frantic voice drew him out of his thoughts as the young man came barreling down the trail toward him, panting as he pulled up short and clutched at his chest, his eyes wild as his face dripped with sweat. "Something… bad… has… happened…" He took several deep breaths as he straightened, "Tristan and Micah… they've been captured by Skinwalker, and Skinwalker has set up camp down by the lake."

"Keep an eye on them," Jacob replied with a deadly calm. "I'm going to go warn the others."

"If you take one more step I'm going to kill him," Ivan said coldly as Micah continued his approach. He pressed the blade directly against Tristan's skin, and Tristan went rigid as he pressed himself up against Ivan, trying to push himself as far away from the knife as possible but finding nowhere to go.

"No you won't," Micah said calmly as he continued his approach. "You want him alive…"

"Ahhhh!" Tristan screamed as the blade cut into his flesh and he felt his blood begin to drip down his neck and onto his chest. Ivan didn't cut deep enough to pierce the artery, but he definitely drew blood, and the pain was far more than Tristan had been expected. The wound burned as if it were full of venom.

"Tristan!" Micah shouted as he pulled up short. Tristan could no longer see his lover, closing his eyes against the pain as they began to water despite his best efforts. He was scared, and there was nothing he could do.

"Believe me, changeling," Ivan said with authority, "you know far less than you think you do."

"What do you want?" Micah growled.

"I want The Confederacy. I don't give a shit about young Tristan Rembrandt," Ivan replied as Tristan's blood began to trickle down his leg, reminding Tristan of just how true that statement appeared to be. "Stand down, Micah."

"You seem to know a lot about us…" Micah deflected.

"What a pointless observation," Ivan said in an exasperated tone. "Sit down child, and cooperate."

"What if I don't?" Micah challenged.

"Do you really have to ask?" Ivan replied as he applied the blade of the knife against Tristan's fresh wound again, making him gasp in pain. Tristan looked at Micah with pleading eyes, and Micah glanced down briefly before returning his gaze to Ivan.

"Fine. Let him go," Micah insisted.

"Why would I do that?" Ivan asked.

"If Tristan means nothing to you then let him go and take me instead," Micah replied. "I'll go willingly."

"I'll take you on your honor then?" Ivan asked. "You won't resist if I release him?"

Micah nodded and Tristan felt some of the tension in Ivan's arms go away. He watched as Colonel Turner began giving directions to some of the other soldiers who were closing in on Micah's position, one carrying a large coil of the thin rope that Faust and his elves had used to restrain Micah before. "You will be restrained first," Ivan said to Micah who glared back at him but did not resist. All four of his ankles were summarily tied together and Micah was forced to lay on his side.

Once Colonel Turner nodded toward Ivan, Tristan felt the knife pull away from his throat and Ivan pushed him away before pulling out a small black cloth and cleaning Tristan's blood from the blade. "Watch him. Make sure he doesn't run," Ivan said without looking at Tristan at all. Tristan reached up and felt the wound at his throat which was no longer burning and then pulled his hand away, his eyes widening in surprise at the lack of blood. Looking down at his naked flesh, the blood that he had felt trickling down his skin was likewise absent.

"You said you'd let him go!" Micah growled as he struggled against the bindings, finding them every bit as strong as the elven rope had been before. Tristan, hardly noticed as he felt his senses return to him the rest of the way. He no longer felt cold, and he felt the fire at the edge of his consciousness again. Whatever he had been feeling before had been an illusion, and he was determined to know why.

"I said I'd release him, and I did," Ivan replied with a sneer. "I won't let him leave the camp and warn your comrades. You are always sacrificing yourself for your comrades. Do you really think I didn't know your ploy?"

"Why are you doing this?" Tristan asked, drawing Ivan's full attention. Although Tristan was still standing naked and surrounded by enemies, his feelings of vulnerability were fading fast. Nothing was as it seemed, and that he was certain of. When Ivan's blue eyes met his own fiery ones, he began to understand. Those were not the eyes of malicious intent as he had expected to see, but rather they were filled with cunning and even a hint of compassion and amusement. Ivan was enjoying himself, but there was no sadism behind that enjoyment.

"Ah, finally a question that has substance," Ivan replied with a wry smile. "I can tell who wears the brains in your relationship."

"Bastard…" Micah spat.

"The reason I'm doing this, Tristan," Ivan continued, emphasizing Tristan's name, "is because I am intrigued by how well your little band has been able to resist my army for so long, and the way that you've been able to avoid the advances of Faust as well…" He chuckled, but his eyes narrowed and became dark, but Tristan knew somehow that the change had nothing to do with him. "I've recently learned something knew about my deceased general. I assume you already know, since Nurim Khrys is now your guest."

"Tristan, don't tell him anything…" Micah began, but Tristan wasn't listening. His focus was entirely on Ivan's face, and the sincerity that he saw within the expression.

"The fact that he's an elf?" Tristan asked.

"Tristan!" Micah shouted.

"Silence the changeling, will you?" Ivan shouted, and amidst protests from Micah, Colonel Turner managed to get a gag into Micah's mouth. Ivan nodded as he returned his attention to Tristan.

"Why are you not killing me?" Tristan asked. "What changed?"

"While the idea of gaining immortality intrigues me, it is not high on my list of priorities. I could simply imprison you until such a point that you are no longer useful to me for any other reason, and then sacrifice you," Ivan explained with a shrug, but Tristan could see that there was something more that he was holding back.

Tristan considered pressing the issue, but knew it was likely to get him nowhere, and rather than chasing something he wasn't likely to obtain he instead shifted his focus to a different line of questioning. "You're awfully confident. What makes you think that our comrades won't be able to rescue us? We've been in worse positions."

"Because if they make the attempt I'll simply kill you, and I'll make sure they're very aware of that," Ivan answered with a dangerous sneer. "Press your luck and I'll send them a finger. Do you understand?"

"I get it," Tristan said with a smile, reading the eyes behind the sneer and coming to understand that the words were nothing but bravado. Forgetting his caution from seconds earlier he asked, "What is your other reason?"

"Have you ever heard of Avalon, Tristan?" Ivan replied.

"Only through brief conversations with Nurim since he arrived." Tristan shook his head and grinned up at Ivan. "I've been told that Faust has been acting under orders to take me to Avalon to be sacrificed. Did you know that he was going to betray you?"

"Of course," Ivan said with a wave of his hand and a snort.

"I'm not sure I believe that," Tristan challenged.

"You don't have to," Ivan said with a wry chuckle. "You have an intriguing mind. What are you doing with Micah?" He gestured at the tied shape-shifter and added, "He's nothing but a beast."

Tristan's eyes narrowed as he replied, "Leading Skinwalker, could you be said to be anything more than a beast yourself?"

"An interesting point," Ivan conceded with a short nod, "but you failed to answer the question."

"Micah is smarter than you believe, Ivan, regardless of what you seem to think of him," Tristan explained with a growl. "While he may lack tact, he's certainly proven his intelligence time and time again. He is one of the most fundamental reasons behind why you have never succeeded in beating the Confederacy." He felt his eyes burn with his inner conviction as he added, "I'm sure of it."

Ivan shared a look with Tristan that lasted for nearly a minute as he digested the words, but by the end he was nodding and he glanced Micah's way before continuing, "You may be right. So you're saying that you stay with him because of his intelligence? I still find that difficult to believe."

"No, I stay with Micah because I'm in love with him," Tristan replied without hesitation. "He's a fighter and a lover all at once. I couldn't possibly do better because there is none better than he."

"Interesting…" Ivan murmured and then left it at that.

Tristan studied him for a moment before observing, "You are very different than I expected, Ivan."

"As are you, Tristan," Ivan replied with a wide smile. His eyes twinkled as he added, "I understand that you also spent time with Nevala, the Mongoose."

"Yes…" Tristan was startled at the amount of feeling in Ivan's eyes as he said Nevala's name. "You know him?"

"He and I have…" Ivan paused, though he made no indication as to the fact that he was searching for a word, merely extending the moment for effect, "history…"

"You've answered everything so far," Tristan remarked with a puzzled expression. "Why do you hold back now?"

"I suppose there is no harm in you knowing," Ivan said with a bitter laugh. "You and I have something in common, Tristan." His eyes were dark and bitter, and they carried a level of sadness beyond anything that Tristan had ever felt before. "Nevala was once my teacher as well."

Tristan's eyes widened as he asked, "What did he teach you?"

"All in good time, Tristan," Ivan said sadly, "All in good time. We're going to be spending a lot of it together, so you might as well get used to the idea."

Tristan nodded and accepted the answer, and then he glanced at Micah and asked, "So, what do you want from me? If Micah is a valuable enough hostage, what do I mean to you?"

"I intend to pardon The Confederacy, Tristan," Ivan replied without hesitation. Tristan gasped as he looked back at Ivan's eyes to see the sincerity once again present in his expression. There was no doubt in Tristan's mind of Ivan's words, though that did little to reduce the amount of shock he felt. "If they'll work with me then none of them have to die, but the condition is that you will remain as my guest, along with Nurim Khrys. I have much use for Nurim Khrys."

"Micah must come with me," Tristan replied when he had finally regained control of his mouth. "That is non-negotiable. My brother as well. I won't have you separating me from my family."

Micah began growling and sputtering around the gag, and Ivan quickly gestured for the soldiers to release the cord in his mouth. "Let him speak."

"Where Tristan goes, I go," Micah growled and glared up at Ivan. "And I will not be restrained."

"If you agree to our terms," Tristan added immediately, "then I will agree to yours."

"Why are you so hasty to agree?" Ivan asked as he turned his attention back to Tristan. "I had expected more resistance."

"How did you find this place, Ivan?" Tristan asked with a shake of his head. "It's fairly irrelevant, but you wouldn't have come to the middle of nowhere if you didn't already know exactly where we were located. We don't stand a chance if we resist, judging by the numbers you have with you. You've left us with no other option other than surrender or death. I for one choose to live."

"Wise beyond your years, Tristan," Ivan replied appraisingly. "Very well. I agree to your terms. Release the changeling."

Colonel Turner set about releasing Micah's bindings and when he was finally done, he stepped back and Micah shifted into his human form, walking slowly to stand beside Tristan as he glared at Ivan, daring him to harm his boyfriend. Tristan acknowledged Micah's protective stance and smiled appreciatively, though he felt that it was unimportant. He knew that Ivan had no intention of harming him at all.

"Now," Tristan began, "What do you want from me?"

"Nurim may be able to give me intelligence on Avalon, but you're the one that Oberron wants," Ivan replied with a dry chuckle. "I intend to use you as bait."

"You can't!" Micah roared as he took a step toward Ivan, putting himself between Ivan and Tristan.

"You may be allowed to be my guest, Micah, but your vote counts for nothing," Ivan said dismissively. "In exchange for your silence, I will guarantee the safety of your beloved. It is Avalon that I want, not your precious young phoenix."

"You…" Micah growled, but then Tristan's hand on his shoulder had him turning back in surprise.

"Micah. Don't worry about it," Tristan said with a reassuring smile. "This will all work out. I trust him."

"Why?" Micah whispered in surprise. "You do realize who we're talking about here, don't you?" Ivan Tsela Adakai is one of the main people responsible for the world falling apart. He's our enemy, Tristan."

Tristan looked at Micah's eyes, bright blue like tropical waters, and then up at Ivan's icy orbs which were watching the exchange with curiosity and compassion. He understood who Ivan was, perhaps better than Micah ever could, just from one look in those eyes. There was so much going on, but one thing was certain above all others. "Something in his eyes tells me that I can," Tristan admitted calmly, "Besides, we have no other choice."

Zach surveyed the mountainside with careful eyes, unmoving on the slope as he kept his coat pulled tight around him. He couldn't go back to the complex, and he couldn't go after Tristan either. Jacob had told him to stay put, and that was exactly what he was going to do until he knew more. For now he was in a position where he could watch Ivan's camp below him from a small scrap of brush.

He was glad that he had worn the white and grey coat that helped him blend in with the snow covered rocks directly behind him, but he was still worried that one of the snipers below would make out his position and take advantage of the fact that he was basically defenseless.

Tristan and Micah appeared to be safe, and were even moving freely about the camp, though always with a guard watching over them, their weapons clearly loaded and ready to fire at any point. Jacob couldn't get far enough away from the complex to get a good look inside the camp, and had left that task to Zach, hoping that the young man's experience in the art of non-detection would keep him out of trouble.

Once Zach realized that Tristan was in danger, he had readily agreed. His feelings were starting to change, however, now that night would soon be falling. In a matter of hours he would be forced to head inside or risk dying of exposure and lose the ability to help anyone. Ivan seemed to be waiting for something, and was keeping some distance away from the complex.

"Zach, I can't stay out this far for more than a few seconds. Come back two hundred yards." Jacob's form flickered back out of sight as soon as it had appeared. Zach looked back down at the camp, making sure that none of the soldiers had made note of Jacob's appearance, and then slowly began making his way across the rocks toward the complex. He took it slow, making sure that he kept his eye on the soldiers and only moving then they were looking the other way, but eventually he made it around the slope and out of sight from the camp.

"There you are," Jacob said as he leaned against a boulder. "How are things looking down there?"

"They only move out to a certain point, like they're afraid of crossing some invisible line though I don't know what it is," Zach said with a bewildered shrug. "Tristan and Micah appear unharmed, at least they're moving around fine, but they're being watched very closely."

"They're not restricted at all?" Jacob said with a start.

"No, it seems as if they're given free range of the camp. I haven't seen them tied up at all this whole time," Zach replied, shaking his head. "Don't ask me to make sense of it."

"What else have you noticed?"

Zach shook his head again, "They appear to be ready for anything, but they seem so relaxed. One of their perimeter guards was even smoking a cigarette last I checked. It's so strange. These aren't like any soldiers I've ever seen."

"Well, if Ivan's down there like you said, than it's guaranteed that these are his elites. The only reason we've managed to keep Ivan from destroying us is because he didn't know where we are," Jacob muttered. He whistled through his teeth and looked back at Zach with eyes full of concern. "I think we need to run."

"Run? Run where? And do you mean you vote to abandon Tristan and Micah? I'm not going to do that, even if it means I die trying to rescue my brother," Zach insisted, glaring at Jacob.

"Not abandon, just regroup. We can't stay in the complex, especially since they're obviously waiting for something. We need to get to safety and then figure out a rescue plan," Jacob explained. "Do you really think we can take them? How many soldiers did you say they have down there?"

Zach continued to glare at Jacob until he reviewed the numbers he had seen. There were over fifty men and women down there, easily, and they were Ivan's finest. There was no way they'd win in a full conflict. He sighed at looked down, ashamed at the fact that he'd be leaving his brother behind. "I guess you're right. We need to have the time to think of a plan, and we won't get it as long as they're out there."

"Agreed. Now come on, we need to get you inside. Hayden's on his way out to scout them from below, and you need to get warm," Jacob said as he gestured to the path that led back to the complex before flickering out of view. Zach sighed and started down the path, glancing over his shoulder every few minutes toward the nearby valley where Tristan lay in the hands of the enemy.

"Peter, he's starting to wake up," Ethan said excitedly, grasping the small boy's hand and giving it a squeeze as the boy's eyes fluttered open. Ethan had only left the boy's side when biological needs forced him to, but otherwise he had kept his vigil over the boy he could only assume was Nevala. Even if the boy turned out not to be Nevala, there was a paternal instinct that had been buried deep inside of Ethan that had been suddenly activated when he had found the boy in the lab, and he refused to go anywhere until he was sure that the boy was okay.

"Hey there," Peter said as he came up to the boy's other side. He touched the boy's bare shoulder gently as he met the boy's eyes, so much like Tristan's own fiery red that Peter was momentarily startled. He covered it up quickly with a warm smile as he began looking over the data displayed on the nearby monitors. "I'm just going to look you over and make sure everything is working okay?"

"How are you feeling?" Ethan asked, drawing the boy's attention to him, giving Ethan a chance to see his eyes clearly, though he was not startled at all. They reminded him of Nevala's eyes, sure enough, and there was no longer a doubt that the boy was a phoenix. Every bit of lore told him that.

"Uh…" the boy coughed, clearing the hoarseness from his throat a bit before answering, "Good, I guess?" The boy twitched as Peter began feeling along his arms and legs, and he looked back to Peter in alarm.

"Is there any soreness?" Peter asked with a disarming smile.

"No," The boy answered as he smiled back.

"Can you move everything for me?" Peter asked as he tickled the boy's exposed stomach lightly. The boy giggled and squirmed, his fingers and toes moving as he tried to get away from Peter's fingers. Peter stopped almost immediately and the boy looked up at him with a bashful grin.

"Can you sit up?" Peter asked, and the boy nodded as Peter and Ethan helped him bend up and scoot back along the examination table.

"That's good. Very good," Peter said as he took out his stethoscope and placed it against the boy's chest. "Take a deep breath," He ordered and the boy readily complied. "Exhale."

Peter went through several more quick experiments before stopping to look at the monitors again. With a satisfied grin he turned back to the boy and said, "Everything checks out except for your temperature, which is at the moment resting at five degrees higher than normal for a human, but I suppose that's to be expected."

"So I'm okay?" The boy asked with a hopeful smile.

"Yep. Now let me go see if I can get you some clothes. I don't think we'll have much in your size but I'll do the best I can," Peter said as he turned to walk away.

"Okay," The boy giggled. He then turned to Ethan and asked with a serious expression, "Why do I need clothes? It's not cold."

Ethan smiled and explained, "It's more because people might grow uncomfortable if they see you naked all the time. Besides, you may find them more comfortable too."

"Are you uncomfortable if I don't wear clothes?" The boy asked, looking down at his nakedness.

"Let's just say that we're all from places where it's inappropriate for people to be naked unnecessarily," Ethan replied with an embarrassed grin. "We don't need another Micah on our hands."

"Oh. Okay," The boy said as he started playing with some of the wires attached to his skin.

"I was wondering when you'd be back," Ethan said as his eyes began to moisten.

"What do you mean?" The boy asked as he looked up to Ethan and cocked his head to the side.

"When you left us… I was…" Ethan stuttered and then broke down into sobs as he squeezed the boy's hand again.

"Why are you crying?" The boy asked as he cocked his head the other way.

"Nevala…" Ethan said through his sobs.

"What does that mean?" The boy asked.

"What?" Ethan replied, not sure he had heard the boy correctly.

"Who are you?" The boy asked and then looked around and down at himself. "Where am I? Who am I?"

"You don't know?" Ethan asked as his sobs subsided.

"No… But I feel like something terrible is about to happen…" The boy replied as he stared out toward the east. "I can sense him, on the other side of that wall."


The boy shook his head, his eyes gaining the faintest hint of recognition. "Someone I once knew."

He still had half of his cigarette left. It was a nasty habit, but it helped take the edge off of the missions. They could turn ugly at any moment, and he needed to keep it cool if he was going to make it through. There wasn't really any other answer to the question. Survival was the most important thing. He had promised Max he'd make it back. If that meant he had to sacrifice a bit of health to keep his brain cool, he'd do it.

The snow was watching him; he was sure of it. The patch right in front of him felt like it was alive, like there was some soul trapped inside of it that wanted nothing more than to reach out with its icy fingers and rip out his blood, letting it spill across the powder that it could drink the essence of his life.

Of course, it was just snow, and had no such power, but that didn't mean that he couldn't feel its presence. The snow was angry at him, but it wouldn't get the chance to do anything to him at all. He would walk right over it, seemingly unaware of how it felt as he crushed it down into the rocks beneath it. All of nature wanted to kill mankind, but no matter how it tried, mankind seemed to keep coming out on top.

It was the way the world worked, and Finn understood that better than anyone. He had seen the other side of the coin, and had interacted with many emissaries from both sides of the equation. Some members of the spirit world understood that the humans were survivors, and they had helped mankind in the past. He smiled as he thought of Jack, remembering his first encounter with such a being. So much of his life had been shaped by that moment in the cornfield when he had encountered the old harvest god. What a turn his life had taken.

His cigarette was dwindling. Almost down to a quarter now, as he plucked it from his lips to let a puff of smoke and ash spray through his lips and out toward the field of snow. It would eventually settle, carrying those particles down to the snow and polluting its purity. One more reason for the snow to hate him. One more reason for the snow to ache for his blood. If it was lucky, if might cause him to slip and bang his knee on a rock hidden beneath the surface, perhaps draw a drop or two, but then he would slide on through, ignoring the snow for the threat it wasn't. He would survive. He always survived.

"Colonel Turner, come in," a voice spoke through the small device in his ear. It was tiny, almost unnoticeable unless one knew what they were looking for, but it was a relic from the age before Skinwalker took over North America. Skinwalker had since put it to good use, and only in Ivan's elite guard, but there weren't many of them to go around. It allowed the small circle of soldiers that protected the Grand Shaman Ivan Tsela Adakai to communicate across short range with great ease.

"I'm here," Finn replied, hardly a sound escaping his lips, but more than enough volume for the device in his ear to pick it up. It was fine tuned to his own speech pattern, and the subtle vibrations of his tongue was enough for it to pick up on his speech. "What's going on?"

"Ivan wants to know if you think it's time to move," Lieutenant Greenwood replied. Finn smirked at the use of Ivan's first name instead of his title. Greenwood thought that he was on good terms with Ivan. Little did the young man know that the only reason Ivan kept him so close was so that he could keep his eye on Greenwood. He spoke down to Finn, regardless of Finn's wealth of experience and superior rank. One day Greenwood would learn, and Finn would smile as the snow ate him alive. The world had no sympathy for fools.

Finn tapped off the end of his cigarette. It still had a little more use to it, though it wouldn't be long before it was gone. "Not yet," was his casual reply. "Lieutenant Greenwood, tell the Grand Shaman that the wind hasn't shifted yet, and I will let him know as soon as it does." It was code, but Greenwood wouldn't know that. Finn had been working for Ivan for years before Greenwood had even dreamed of joining the Alliance, and he still used the old code whenever he wanted to communicate something to Ivan and simultaneously wanted to piss Greenwood off.

There was no response on the other end, and Finn knew there wouldn't be. It would have been irrelevant. Ivan trusted his judgment explicitly, and Finn had never given the slightest indication that Ivan's faith was misplaced. Ivan had too many enemies for him to start second-guessing his friends, and Finn had always been Ivan's friend.

Another drag on his cigarette and it was almost completely gone. He blew out the puff of smoke and watched it float through the air, dissipating into the air like the memories of all the years he had left behind him. So many things had happened to bring him to this exact moment, a moment of standing at the edge of a field of bloodthirsty snow on a lonely mountainside, waiting to end one of the last pockets of resistance against Ivan's designs. He didn't retain many memories that didn't pertain to that path.

Memories, like ghosts, were meant to be appeased, and once appeased one could move on from them. He had always been sure of the path he was taking, and he held no regrets. His ghosts were all haunting him because they wanted to remain to continue doing what they had always done, not because they had unfinished business. Pleasant memories held on to be appeased much like a child held on to playing with his toys before bedtime. His memories of his days with Max in upstate New York, learning the skills that would take him on a path few humans had ever dreamed of were some of those. Others were of his first days working for Ivan, learning secrets from the Shaman of Shamans.

All memories were ghosts, but some ghosts were important to keep around.

He put the cigarette back to his lips and took the last drag before tossing the used butt out into the field of snow. The snow screamed as the heat bored into it, and the snow savagely leeched the heat the rest of the way out of the burning paper until it finally lay dead, buried beneath the surface. It then returned its malevolent focus to him, calling even more hungrily for his life. And then all at once its focus turned to the other direction, aiming to the west as it sensed another target for its hatred.

"The wind has shifted," Finn reported to Lieutenant Greenwood, and then started into the snow. Even as the snow began to hungrily try to eat away at his body heat, he ignored it and began to look for further signs, reaching into the nearby trees and feeling their spirits. It took more effort than the snow. The more complex the mind of the life form was, the more difficult it was for Finn to read its intent, but trees and plants in general were not much more complex than those of the collective mindset of a patch of snow. They were a collective as well, their intelligence largely a result of their connectivity with each other through the root system, rather than one individual power guiding them all.

The trees told him that there was another, moving swiftly through the nearby woods, but beyond the perimeter that Finn had originally set to keep them out of range of the security cameras that were set in the trees. The trees had told him about those as well, even though they hadn't wanted to. It seemed as if, unlike the snow, the trees wanted to protect The Confederacy. Finn understood, but had needed the information, and had forced it out of the trees. This was no different, and by force of will he could suddenly sense the man running silently through the woods toward the southern edge of Ivan's camp. A scout from the Confederacy.

Finn began approaching the scout's position from behind as he contacted the Lieutenant again. "Tighten the defenses on the south end, but make sure that you do not venture out into the woods. Make it look as if you expect an attack from that side."

"What's going on, Colonel?" Lieutenant Greenwood asked. It sounded like an order, and Finn smirked as he began strafing from tree to tree, keeping the scout in his senses.

"Do as I order, Lieutenant. No questions," Finn replied firmly as he began to close in on the scout's position. There was silence on the other side, and Finn took that as a sign that Lieutenant Greenwood had decided to be smart for once and bite his tongue. Whether he listened to the orders or not was something else entirely, but it didn't matter too much; he would catch his quarry either way. His hope would be that his prey would be agitated and anxious as he saw the troops ready to defend the camp, and that it would force the scout to be rethinking his plans when Finn came across him.

He was a hundred yards away when he first caught a hint of movement in between the trees. The scout was good at staying out of sight, though not nearly as good as he thought he was. Either that or the scout was making mistakes because of his haste, but there was a definite trail of movement through the underbrush that any trained tracker would catch in a moment, not to mention the way the bushes screamed at the scout for the agony of their broken branches left in the scout's wake.

Finn moved carefully along that trail, following the faint memory of the scout's footsteps that still remained in the stones and dirt that lay across the ground. There were occasional patches of snow as well, but this time Finn ignored the snow, letting its cries fall on deaf ears as he listened to the earth instead. As silent as the scout had been, his steps had made an impression upon the earth that it would not forget until the rains came, and spring was still several months away. Each step was a symphony in Finn's mind; coming together to form a musical portrait of the path the scout had taken.

Fifty yards apart, the scout had stopped moving, and had taken up a position in the underbrush, watching the camp. The trees could sense the man's anxiety, much as they could sense the beating heart of a deer escaping the snarling jaws of a cougar, and Finn knew that his plan had been put into effect.

Twenty yards. Finn stopped, watching the scout from behind. He couldn't make out the man's face from this distance, not with the leaves of a bush between them, but he had enough information to begin narrowing down the possibilities. It had to be one of the three remaining leaders, Luke, Hayden, or Ethan. Luke had a prosthetic leg, and could be ruled out. Ethan was not trained as a combatant, and it was unlikely he would be the one sent out to scout, and that left…

Finn's mind quickly worked through everything he knew about Hayden Elliot. The man was a pilot who had once been a member of the United States Airforce, though his hand to hand training was minimal. Hayden had disappeared off of the public record several years before the war, and had suddenly reappeared as a leader of the Icarus Confederacy along with his husband, Luke. Those years were lost, though it was supposed that he had been part of a secret government project of some sort, possibly working out of Area 51 or another secret training site.

By all accounts, Hayden was an expert marksman, and if he had a firearm of any sort, Finn would be in trouble if he gave away his position too early. There would be little that Finn could do except to have his soldiers surround Hayden if it came to a fire fight, but Ivan had made it abundantly clear that capture was the ultimate goal.

Starting forward again, Finn looked for any sign of nearby wildlife that might give him a better view. There was a bird overhead, and a squirrel running up a nearby tree. Both would take his focus off of Hayden, and neither was in a position to give him the angle he needed to see Hayden from above. Finn cursed his luck and started forward again, stepping as silently as a ghost while keeping his eyes on Hayden.

At ten yards, Hayden shifted his position and looked as if he were about to run back the way he had come. Finn swore inwardly and began dashing through the trees, pushing off of the stones on the forest floor to give him additional leverage to increase his speed. At five yards Hayden turned around at the sound of Finn's approach, his eyes wide in shock. At three yards Hayden raised the pistol in his hand, sighting along the barrel, aiming for Finn's chest.

At one yard, the pistol discharged. Finn fell forward, carried by his momentum as he pushed Hayden's arm out wide with his left hand, while his right hand collided with Hayden's face. Hayden fell backward under the force of the blow as Finn quickly formed a pin with Hayden's left arm, forcing Hayden to drop the pistol in the process as Finn rolled him onto his back, keeping Hayden's left arm in the air and twisting as he leaned down into Hayden's shoulder.

Finn smiled as he grinned down at the man pinned beneath him. "Shall we continue this inside?"

"We just lost contact with Hayden," Luke reported as he walked into the infirmary. Ethan looked up and blinked several times, not registering the urgency in Luke's voice initially, but Peter was quicker to pick up on the emotion. He immediately dropped what he was doing and laid a hand on Luke's arm as he came to stand by where Peter and Ethan stood over the boy as he was undergoing more examinations.

"Luke…" Peter said consolingly, but Luke heard none of it and simply continued his report.

"I don't know what happened," Luke said with a tremble in his voice, "He just cut out…" He took a deep breath as a sob broke through his composure. "It could be interference."

"No, Ivan's out there," Ethan said quickly, his eyes growing serious when moments before they had been playfully engaged with the boy. "We need to shore up our defenses."

"What defenses?" Luke cried. "Hayden was our best defense! After he got a look at the enemy camp he was going to try to get us full power through the emergency backups, and he didn't make it," He shuddered as another sob went through his body. "We're sitting ducks in here!"

"What is your plan then?" Ethan asked, throwing up his hands in defeat.

"We have to run, Ethan," Peter said suddenly. Luke and Ethan turned toward him as one, seeing Peter completely composed and sure of the words he had just said. Luke found himself nodding along, but Ethan's eyes widened at the suggestion.

"Peter…?" Ethan began, but Luke laid a hand on Ethan's arm to stall him from continuing the question.

"Yes, Peter is absolutely right," Luke said with a firm nod, feeling a sudden burst of hope. "If we take the ship, we might be able to fight our way out and rescue the others. We know that it's the one thing we have that they can't take on in a fight."

"I don't know if running is going to work either, but I agree that it's probably our best option," Jacob said as he flickered into view next to them. Ethan, Luke, and Peter were all momentarily startled by his sudden appearance, and only the childlike innocence of the boy on the examination table accepted Jacob's sudden appearance as nothing extraordinary.

"Jacob?" Luke asked, desperate for news on Hayden, "What do you know?"

"Zach's on his way back inside right now, but there are some things that are very unusual about what's going on out there," Jacob explained with a grimace. "They know our perimeter. Even though the power isn't working, they know where the cameras can see and where they can't. They have an intimate knowledge of the place somehow, and I can't figure out any definite source that could have possibly given it to them."

"What does that have to do with whether we can run or not?" Peter interjected. "Shouldn't that imply that we should get out of here as fast as possible?"

"They're ready for us already," Jacob replied, shaking his head. "They know the facility, what's to say they won't know our tactics? They have an insider, and we don't know who it is, but someone has told them very intimate details about this place."

"Nurim," Luke reasoned, clenching his fist as he considered going to Nurim's room and interrogating the elf.

"Possibly," Jacob replied, shaking his head. "Though I have my suspicions that it may be someone else."

"Who?" Luke asked, surprised.

"That's irrelevant," Jacob said, putting his hand up to stall further questioning. "I just watched them take Hayden. He's alive, but we need to decide now."

"I vote for leaving," Peter said quickly.

"As do I," Zach said as he walked in through the door, panting. He looked to Luke as if he had sprinted his way there, and judging from how far out he had been, he very well could have.

"If we can get out, sure," Ethan said with a grimace back toward his lab. "I don't think we can though."

"Can or not, we have to try," Luke said, and Ethan turned back to him and nodded. "Very well," Luke said as he turned to the others. "Let's go."

Luke headed for the armory after directing Zach to the storage closet for additional provisions should they be stranded somewhere and be unable to hunt for fear of detection. Peter busied himself in gathering extra medical supplies while Ethan gathered communications equipment. They rendezvoused in the cafeteria and then formed the next stage of the plan, agreeing that they would head straight for the hangar and make a quick attempt at a rescue. Failing that they would hide out on the next mountain over until they could come up with a better plan for a second rescue attempt.

The group rushed down the corridor toward the hangar, Luke leading the way, his prosthetic clicking angrily against the metal floor. Ethan followed immediately after, holding the boy in his arms, while Peter and Zach brought up the rear. They rounded the corner that led to the hangar when Peter pulled up short.

"What about Nurim?" He asked, as he glanced back the way they had come.

"What about him? He's alliance anyway," Luke said as he spun around quickly. "We leave him here and they'll take him. We should have executed him when we had a chance."

"Come on, no time to worry or argue about that now, let's get out of here," Ethan insisted, and though the look that passed between Luke and Peter showed that the argument was not done between them, they nodded and resumed the run toward the hangar.

"All right, Ethan and Peter," Luke said as he opened the door to the hangar. "I'm going to need your help on preparation for launch. Zach, make sure the boy gets situated while we wo…" Luke's words were cut off as a fist collided with his face, dropping him to the ground as the door opened the rest of the way to reveal a trio of black-clothed soldiers, one of which was standing behind a kneeling Hayden with a gun pressed to Hayden's head.

Colonel Turner stepped forward and addressed the group, smiling politely as he bowed toward them, a fresh bandage wrapped around his bicep that was stained dark with red blood. "You have two options. Surrender or Hayden dies, most assuredly followed by the rest of your deaths."

Luke left his rifle on the floor as he slowly stood, wiping his mouth from where Finn had struck him, then looked back at the others with pleading eyes. "Do as he says, please."

Zach and Peter through down their weapons after only a moment of hesitation, and Colonel Turner nodded with a satisfied smile. "You made the right choice, and I hope you'll see that in the end." With a nod to one of his men who quickly began restraining Luke he spoke quietly, addressing Ivan directly, but Luke heard him clearly, the words sending shivers down his spine. "The wind has stilled. We have arrived, Grand Shaman."

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