Ashes of Fate, Season 2

by Cynus

Episode 3


Luke leaned against the wall in the council room, and then slid down to where Hayden was resting while holding an icepack to his head. Ethan looked up from where he was standing nearby and watching over a sleeping Nevala, who was now wearing one of Peter's lab coats. "They're being awfully reckless with us," Luke observed with a stage whisper, eyeing the pair of guards that were standing by the door. "I wonder why they're keeping us together."

"Easier to watch, I suppose," Ethan said as he left the boy's side to come join Luke and Hayden at the wall.

"That makes sense, I guess," Luke replied. "I wonder where Tristan and Micah are."

"I suppose Ivan has them locked up in another room," Ethan muttered. He followed Luke's example and sat down on Hayden's other side and asked, "How's your head?"

Hayden winced as he pulled the ice away and looked at the ice pack, as if the ice could somehow tell him what condition his head was in. He had been surprised when Peter had been allowed to prepare the ice pack at all, but Colonel Turner had been incredibly accommodating, a fact which Hayden was still trying to digest. "I've had worse. I have to tell you though, that man knew exactly how to take me down without causing serious damage. He's good. Much better than I am." Hayden shook his head in disbelief and added, "I even shot him in the arm and he still managed to get me."

"Well your hand to hand was never legendary," Ethan remarked with a dry chuckle.

"That's true," Hayden said with another wince as he reapplied the ice to his face. "I doubt Peter could beat him either though, and Micah…" He trailed off as his eyes widened at a sudden realization.

"What about Micah?" Luke asked when Hayden failed to continue.

"He had to be captured somehow," Hayden replied. He shook his head, unable to believe that anyone could beat Micah, despite the fact that someone had. "If anyone was going to do it, it was probably that soldier."

"You really think he's that good?" Luke said in awe, but before Hayden could answer the question the door to the council room opened, and Colonel Finn Turner entered along with two other soldiers, one of which was masked, the other one had neatly cropped dark brown hair, and a stern expression. His blocky features made him appear almost stony, and when his dark eyes which were filled with contempt settled on the trio against the wall, Hayden felt a chill run down his spine.

Of all the enemies that Hayden had interacted with so far, he knew this one would be the most trouble. He could tell from the way Finn moved and fought, not to mention the look in his eyes when he regarded the others, that he was an honorable man. Even though he was an enemy, Hayden had respect for Colonel Turner, but the look in this new soldier's eyes told Hayden that there was no sense of honor in him at all. He was the type to kill for pleasure, and he was also the one that seemed to be in charge out of the three.

"The boy," The dark-eyed one said with a sneer, locking his eyes on Nevala. "Bring us the boy."

The two soldiers who had been standing guard in the room moved toward Nevala quickly, and Ethan was on his feet and standing in their way just as fast. Nevala started to stir as the soldiers leveled their guns at Ethan's chest, daring him to continue to obstruct their path. Colonel Turner and the dark-eyed soldier also moved up to either side of the two soldiers, and Colonel Turner raised a cautioning hand to stall the soldiers from taking any action against Ethan.

"Why do you want him?" Ethan demanded as he crossed his arms defiantly over his chest.

"That is none of your concern, Ethan Holmes," Colonel Turner replied with a calm smile. Hayden noticed that Finn's arm was still bandaged from where he had been shot, but he seemed to be moving fine and was ready to act at a moment's notice. Hayden's bullet must have only grazed him.

"It is my concern, it is…" Ethan began, but the dark-eyed soldier stepped up with one of the electrical rods in his hand, crackling with the current running through it and thrust it against Ethan's neck. Ethan dropped to his knees and screamed as his body convulsed.

Nevala bolted awake and stared at the dark-eyed man with alarm. "What are you doing to him!?" Hayden and Luke were also climbing to their feet, and Peter, Zach, and Nurim all looked ready to charge the soldiers as well from the other side of the room. The soldier that remained at the door pointed his rifle toward them, while the two soldiers that had initially walked forward turned their guns toward Hayden and Luke.

"Lieutenant!" Finn shouted, stepping forward and pushing the rod away from Ethan's neck. Ethan collapsed to the ground, groaning as Finn growled at the dark-eyed soldier, "That is enough!" The dark-eyed soldier shot him a dangerous look but stepped back, deactivating the rod. Hayden noted the exchange, realizing now that he had been wrong about who was in charge, though he questioned the logic behind Finn letting the lieutenant act above his rank. It seemed sloppy, and Hayden hadn't expected anything that Finn would do to be sloppy.

"Don't resist," Finn insisted, turning to look down at Ethan, and then glancing at the rest of the members of the Confederacy with pleading eyes. "Everything will be better if you do not resist." His request was met mostly with silence, as the others watched Ethan slowly rise to his knees, continuing to stare defiantly at the soldiers.

"It's okay," Nevala spoke up suddenly, drawing a surprised look from Ethan. "I'll come with you." Ethan opened his mouth to protest, but Nevala smiled at him disarmingly, and before any of them knew it, Nevala was walking out the door, the Lieutenant and the Colonel walking closely behind. The third soldier relieved one of the guards that had originally been stationed in the room with them, and the two remaining soldiers again resumed their position by the door.

"Has Nevala grown some?" Hayden asked when the room had settled again. He kept his voice low enough that he doubted the soldiers would hear it as little more than a murmur.

"I think so…" Luke replied with a touch of wonder in his voice.

"It's only been a day," Hayden said, shaking his head in disbelief, and then instantly regretting it as the movement made his sore head ache even more.

"I know," Ethan interjected without emotion. "He must have grown a few inches at least." He was staring at the door that Nevala had been taken through, and didn't seem to see anything else.

"Ethan, you all right?" Luke asked.

"That electricity actually felt kind of good. It recharged my energy levels," Ethan replied with a dry chuckle. "Something else to use if we're going to get out of this mess, however, I wouldn't say I'm all right," He added with a grimace, looking up to meet Luke's eyes. "But I will be once Nevala comes back."

"Who knew you were so paternal?" Hayden chuckled.

"Yeah…" Ethan replied, trailing off as he returned his gaze to the door.

"Wait, there's more. What is it?" Hayden pressed, his voice showing some of the concern that he had masked beneath his outer calm.

"Ethan," Luke added, "you know that you can tell us anything…"

Ethan sighed and looked down. "Do you remember be telling you about Aiden Phillips?" He asked in almost a whisper.

"Of course," Luke replied, sharing a look with Hayden. "Not to mention the fact that we've read Shaun's memoirs."

Ethan laughed nervously and admitted, "I think Nevala was Aiden…"

"What!?" Luke and Hayden said in unison, sharing another look. Before either of them could ask for clarification, Ethan continued.

"I can't really explain it, but there's something in there…" Ethan trailed off, searching for the words that didn't seem to be willing to come. "Something familiar," He added with a shrug. "I have to take care of him."

"I understand," Hayden replied, laying a hand on Ethan's shoulder. "We'll get through this all right? We've been in worse."

Ethan's eyes were cold as he turned to meet Hayden's. "Have we?"

"What are those three talking about over there? And why did Ethan react that way?" Peter asked, bewildered. "The electricity shouldn't have done anything to him."

"I have no idea," Zach replied, giving Peter a dumb look. "You've known them for longer."

Peter blushed and shook his head. He reached out and touched Zach's arm, squeezing it gently. "I'm sorry, Zach. I know that. You probably feel like an outsider right now."

Zach's eyes widened at the observation, but he found himself nodding as he sighed, "Especially since Tris isn't here, yes."

"We have a lot in common, you and I…" Peter began, and Zach raised a questioning eyebrow. Peter was the appearance of refinement while Zach was born to the wilds, and although they were similar in age, Zach had to stretch to find more that they could possibly have in common. Before he could question, however, Peter saw the incredulity in his face and explained, "At least in terms of how we relate to this group. I was the outsider for a long time."

"I suppose that's true," Zach replied with a thoughtful expression, "But weren't you born into an Alliance family?"

"Indeed, though that has little to do with it," Peter said with a gigle. Zach smiled at the laugh. Perhaps there was more than one thing they had in common; at least Peter laughed in a natural manner. "I never liked the Alliance," Peter went on, "and I left at the first chance I could get. They," he indicated the trio standing against the wall on the opposite end of the room, "Didn't see things that way, though. Except for Hayden. Hayden plays tough all the time, but he's more forgiving towards his enemies than most are." Peter smirked as he added, "He understands war very well."

"So even Ethan rejected you?" Zach asked, shocked by the possibility. Of the three, he had viewed Ethan to be the warmest and inviting of the three, though Luke had not been far behind. Hayden had always seemed rough around the edges, and to hear that he had been the most welcoming was not what Zach had expected.

"When I first met Ethan, he was a very bitter man, and also very aloof," Peter explained with a wry grin. "I helped alleviate some of that bitterness in time as our own friendship developed, but he remained aloof until Tristan came along."

"Tris…" Zach muttered, "I don't know what's happening with him."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Peter asked, giving Zach's arm another squeeze.

"Not really, but…" Zach sighed, looking away and staring at the door. "I suppose I have to. Jacob asked me about it earlier and I wasn't able to say much of anything." He chuckled dryly and added, "He hit the nail on the head though."

"That you love him?" Peter asked.

Zach's eyes widened and he threw his hands up in defeat. "How does everyone see that?"

"Zach, everyone loves Tristan, he has that way with people," Peter explained with a soft smile. "I love him as a brother, even though we come from such different lives. He was an instant friend when he first came here."

"I see," Zach muttered, looking away.

"But you love him differently…" Peter pressed gently. "Don't you?" Zach continued to look away for a moment until he found himself nodding involuntarily, his eyes beginning to moisten against his will. As much as Zach was starting to like Peter, he also hated him at that moment, the way Peter so easily saw within him.

"Can I offer you some advice, Zach?"

Zach looked up in surprised to see that Nurim had walked closer to them, and he wondered how much of the conversation Nurim had managed to overhear. It had been a surprise to find Nurim had been put with them at all, considering the fact that he had been one of Ivan's soldiers before, but it seemed as if Ivan's men didn't trust him anymore than The Confederacy did. "I'm not entirely certain we have much to say to each other, Nurim," Zach replied coolly. Although he had learned that Nurim had been blinded by Tristan some time earlier, Zach tried to bore into Nurim with his glare.

"This is hardly related to the war, or our shared lineage, Zach," Nurim replied with a half-smile.

"Nu…" Zach began, but stopped when Peter put his hand on Zach's arm again.

"Zach," Peter said with a gentle smile, "is there any harm in listening to him?"

Zach stared hard at Peter, raising an eyebrow and shaking his head. While he didn't like Nurim for a variety of reasons, Peter had a point, and there wasn't going to be anything that Nurim said that could really cause any damage. Even though Nurim couldn't see him, Zach gestured for him to keep talking.

Nurim somehow seemed to sense the gesture, or otherwise took the continued silence as an indicator that he should continue, and so he started speaking in a wistful tone. "I was in love once, Zach, with a very close friend. She and I had trained together since we were very young, and we knew each other intimately in more ways than one. I could never deny my feelings for her, no matter how hard I tried, but I also desired to maintain the integrity of our relationship." He smiled sadly as he explained, "We were perfect as friends, and I didn't want to ruin that."

"What happened?" Peter asked.

"When Oberron sent me out to aid my father, I knew I would be gone for a very long time, and that I would change and age out in the world where she would remain in the same physical condition she had been for centuries. I resolved that I would tell her once and for all the depth of feeling I had for her; that I would make sure she knew the last secret I had kept from her," Nurim paused, and there was a faint hint of emotion threatening to take over his voice. He cleared his throat and continued in a calm and easy manner, "I didn't want to leave without having given it a shot."

"So you told her," Zach reasoned. "How did she react?"

"I think that if fate exists, it is truly a cruel concept," Nurim replied with a bitter laugh. "Of course, once I had firmed up my resolve to tell her, I went to her, only to find her in the arm of another of my dearest friends. They greeted me warmly, invited me in to her home for a drink and refreshment. I accepted their invitation, suddenly unsure of how to proceed. It was clear that they were enjoying each other's company immensely, and at the same time enjoyed my own. They didn't know the feelings hidden within me, the way my heart was tearing as I watched her eyes filled with love directed toward another…" He stopped speaking as his voice broke, but he coughed and added quickly, "They didn't know, they were simply happy."

Nurim paused to gather his thoughts, and Zach used the time for some thinking of his own. It was a very similar setting to his own relationship with Tristan and Micah. As much as Zach wanted to deny it, it was obvious that the two of them were in love, and to try to break that up would be foolhardy. Of course, Zach had already started down that road unwittingly in telling Tristan how he really felt, and he wasn't sure that he could come back from that. Now that the feelings were out there, he didn't know what to do with them.

"I didn't tell her, Zach," Nurim admitted, drawing Zach back to his story. "I was fortunate enough to know that she was happy with someone else before I told her. I didn't know what I was supposed to do with my feelings at that time, but I did know one thing; I couldn't cause her pain, no matter how much I desperately wanted her eyes to be looking at me when she spoke of her love." He let out another bitter laugh and then explained, "And so, I left, wishing them all the happiness in the world, and I came into your world to join my father."

"So what then?" Zach asked. "What are you trying to say, that I should just give up?"

"Do you love Tristan?" Nurim asked.

"You don't need to answer that, Zach. I can tell from your eyes that you do," Peter said before Zach could respond. "If you want Tristan to be happy, then there is only one course of action, and that is to let him be happy."

"But what about my happiness?" Zach replied, his voice anguished.

Peter sighed and moved his hand to Zach's shoulder. "The interesting thing about our happiness is that it's a choice. I've spent my life chasing a dream that, unfortunately because of biology I cannot currently achieve. The fact is, that as much as I hate the fact that I can't achieve that dream, I am happy. Or at least I was before The Alliance burst down the door this morning." Peter glared at the two soldiers standing by the door before turning back to Zach with a grin. "In fact, I think even then I'm still happy. I know that I'm being as true to myself as I can be, and that's enough."

"Wouldn't I be lying to myself if I denied my feelings for Tristan?" Zach asked Peter.

It was Nurim who answered. "That isn't what I was trying to tell you, Zach. I never said that I denied my feelings for the woman I loved, what I did was make that love work for me rather than against me. I allowed that love for her to guide me into wanting what was best for her, and that in turn eventually made me happy." Nurim smiled and nodded his encouragement as he added, "It was difficult at first, but eventually I was able to keep my love for her burning strong while also reconciling with the fact that I would never have her for myself."


The whispering of his name startled him, but Zach turned toward the sound and found Jacob's head poking through the wall. Peter glanced at Jacob but otherwise didn't react, and Nurim appeared to have not noticed at all. "Jacob?" Zach questioned, and then pointedly looked back at Peter as me made sure he was in the proper position to block the soldier's view of the ghost.

"I tried to reach Ethan, Luke, and Hayden, but the guard is watching them much more closely than the two of you," Jacob explained hastily. "I need you to tell the others that I'm going to run interference in an hour. Get them ready to move, and I'll meet you at the hangar. One hour, don't…" He paused and his face disappeared momentarily, reappearing a second later as he added, "I have to go, someone is coming from the other side of the wall."

And then he was gone, and Zach turned back to Peter and Nurim as he asked, "Did you both catch that?'

"Of course," Peter said with a curt nod. "All right, we have to be subtle about telling the others. I'll move over there slowly and pass the word along, you stay here with Nurim."

"Got it…" Zach said as he leaned against the wall, letting Peter move past him. The guards watched Peter as he moved, but he gave them no indication that he was doing anything other than stretching his legs. When it seemed as if Peter was going to make it successfully, Zach turned back to Nurim, studying his face and noting the similarities between him and Corban.

He and Corban were both Faust's sons, and though they had a different mother, that meant that Nurim was also their brother. Where he had struggled to find similarities between himself and Peter because of their different upbringing, he had wanted to connect with Peter. In Nurim's case he had no such compulsion, and he hated the fact that aspects of Nurim's features reminded him of his dead older brother.

Unfortunately, though Nurim seemed to sense that Zach was studying him, he was apparently unaware of the thoughts running through Zach's mind as he said suddenly, "You know, Zach, we don't have to be enemies."

Zach's anger rose in an instant as he asked without skipping a beat, "Did you kill Corban?"

Nurim hesitated, surprised by the tone of Zach's voice. "… No."

"Why can't I believe you?" Zach asked, his fists clenching subconsciously. He was fighting back with all of his willpower to keep from striking Nurim as hard as he could.

"The truth is I'm not sure," Nurim answered, shaking his head.

"How can you not be sure?" Zach asked incredulously.

"Who is Corban?"

Zach was struck hard by the question, and it took him a moment to recover, but when he did his words were as cold as arctic ice as he asked, "Do you remember the day that you captured Tristan in Ashburg?"

"Clearly," Nurim said with a nod.

"Do you remember the archer on the rooftop?"

"Yes, he was taken down by a couple of my men," Nurim said with a nod. He grimaced as he asked, "Was he a friend of yours?"

"More. He was your other half-brother," Zach spat, a primal growl threatening to escape his lips as he turned away from Nurim, knowing that if he didn't then he'd end up attacking Nurim and causing a scene.

"Oh no… Zach, I'm so sorry," Nurim replied. He was shaking his head, and there was obvious sorrow in his voice as he explained, "Faust didn't tell me that either of you were his children until much later."

"Nurim, I don't think you and I will ever be anything other than enemies," Zach said bitterly. "It's just one more thing for your heart to ache for that you'll never obtain. Reconcile yourself with that."

"What the…" Micah's words completely left him as he laid eyes on the young boy that walked into the room. By his estimation the boy could not be much older than six, and he was dressed in one of Peter's lab coats. He was completely unrecognizable, except for the burning fiery eyes that glanced around at each person in the room. Micah turned to see Tristan's reaction, and saw that his boyfriend's mouth was hanging open in shock and his eyes told a tale of confusion and a bit of uncertainty, though they also carried hope and excitement.

"This is Nevala?" Ivan asked, glancing up at Finn though his eyes immediately returned to the boy that was following after him.

"They keep calling me that, yes," the boy answered. Micah shared a look with Tristan, who was shaking his head in disbelief. They started moving toward Nevala and the others, though the Lieutenant at Finn's side shot them a dirty look that slowed their approach. Over the brief time they had spent in Ivan's company, they had come to realize that not everyone was as enthused about Ivan's plan to pardon the confederacy as the Grand Shaman was. Lieutenant Greenwood was still following orders, but some of his remarks had been bordering on insubordination.

"Interesting…" Ivan mumbled. He smiled wide at Nevala and asked, "You're not scared of me?"

"I was at first, but I know you from somewhere," Nevala admitted. Micah noted how his language seemed so advanced for such a young boy, but then he received a second shock as the boy turned toward Micah and then Tristan, blinking several times as he said, "Sort of like I know Ethan, and… Tristan?"

"Yes?" Tristan asked, shocked by the recognition that flashed across the boy's eyes.

"Tristan!" Nevala shouted, darting around the legs of the soldiers to jump into Tristan's arms. Tristan continued to stare at Nevala in confusion as the boy said excitedly, "Oh Tristan! Finally someone I completely recognize!"

"Nevala?" Tristan questioned.

"I guess so…" The boy shrugged. "If that's what you know me by…" The boy giggled and let Tristan put him back down on the floor. "Tristan, can we get out of here? I'm kind of sick of this place."

"This is fascinating," Ivan remarked, studying the interaction with a thoughtful expression. "I haven't seen a true phoenix in…" He trailed off as he got lost in some distant memory, and when he returned to the present and noticed that everyone was looking at him expectantly he said, "Colonel, Lieutenant, please leave us and make sure a guard is placed at the door. I need to speak with Tristan and Nevala alone." Micah opened his mouth to protest when Ivan added quickly, "Micah can also stay."

Even as Micah shut his mouth, Lieutenant Greenwood opened his and said, "I protest, Ivan. You want me to leave you in a room alone with three of our enemies? You need protection, you need…"

"You presume much, Lieutenant," Finn said calmly. "Listen to your leader's orders, or I will have you taken in for dishonorable conduct." Lieutenant Greenwood turned hateful eyes full of contempt on Finn, which was met with a stony stare and the words, "If you really think that The Grand Shaman cannot handle himself, then you do not know much at all. Go check on squad C. They are investigating Ethan Holme's laboratory, and I'm sure they could use some direction."

The lieutenant saluted Ivan and then turned on his heel without another word, though there was definite anger in his step as he left the room. Micah was filled with regret that the Lieutenant was not one of the soldiers he had fought; he would have loved to have sunk his teeth or claws into the lieutenant's flesh.

"Grand Shaman, I believe I have also located the library," Finn said with a salute of his own. As rigid as Lieutenant Greenwood's salute had been, Finn's was far more sincere. "I will set about accomplishing my other task while you have your meeting. I will take care of setting the guard at your door, and I will make sure that the Lieutenant does not interfere."

"Very good, Finn. And you may relax in the presence of these three. They are to be trusted explicitly," Ivan said with a bow of his head, acknowledging the salute.

"Very well, Ivan," Finn said with a chuckle, immediately becoming at ease and losing whatever rigidity he had. "Then I'll go take care of business and make sure that bat-spanking ass-monkey doesn't get any bright ideas about his position in life."

"See that you do. He's going to make a move on your position soon enough. Be ready," Ivan said with a nod, and Finn grinned as he turned around and headed for the door. Micah admired the grace in Finn's movements, even the way he walked indicated his martial prowess. Finn seemed to be one subtle shift in his footwork away from an effective fighting stance at all times, and he had perfect balance and posture as he moved. It was mesmerizing.

Finn's face resumed it's normal stoic calm as he reached the door, and as he walked through he was the perfect image of the professional soldier yet again. As the door closed behind him, Micah turned his attention back to Ivan who was once again staring at Nevala and Tristan with curiosity.

"How are you feeling, Nevala?" Ivan asked, taking a step toward Nevala before crouching down to look him in the eye on his level.

"I'm doing okay. I feel fine, though I can't remember much," Nevala admitted. He pursed his lips thoughtfully as he explained, "Mostly I just see images of people, and sometimes I have names attached to them. Your eyes are very familiar, but the name I have attached to you is different than the one that they use now. Tristan was the only one I knew instantly."

"The name you used could have been one of several," Ivan admitted with a grin. "Though I wish I could say that you've always used favorable ones with me."

Nevala grinned but didn't respond, and Tristan took the opportunity to interject his thoughts. "Ivan, the way you speak it makes it sound like you're a phoenix as well. I know that phoenixes are only supposed to have eyes like mine in their first life, so I know that there is no other indication for it, and I admit that Nevala being in this state adds to that confusion…" Tristan trailed off and shook his head in wonder, then glanced down at Nevala with a look of complete befuddlement. "Though he did have eyes like mine before as well…" He turned his eye to Ivan and pleaded, "Ivan, could you possibly shed any light on this for me at all?"

"First of all, I am not a phoenix, but I'll explain more in a minute," Ivan answered, and when Tristan nodded he continued, "I take it that Nevala never explained his eyes to you then. Nevala is the oldest phoenix currently active, as far as anyone is aware. His memories stretched as far back as Mohenjo Daro in India, which is when he was first born. It was known as a different name then, and only Nevala could tell you what it was, assuming he ever regains that memory."

"What does that have to do with eyes?" Tristan asked, scratching his head.

"Patience, young one," Ivan said with a laugh. "You're lover appears to be rubbing off on you and making you impatient," he added, glancing at Micah who growled at the slight. "Nevala, being as old as he is, has learned a few tricks that other phoenixes don't know. One is the ability to change his eye color to bring out his soul heritage. It's really a simple thing for him, once he understood it."

"Okay. So, what does he have to do with you?" Micah asked. As much as he hated the way Ivan talked down to him, he was starting to get as curious about this as Tristan was, and for a moment he forgot his distrust of Ivan.

He was rewarded by a raised eyebrow and a half-smile from Ivan. "Well then, a question with actual merit from Micah. Perhaps you can learn after all." Micah growled again, earning him another laugh from Ivan before he continued, "Nevala has been an associate of mine for a little over two thousand years, and we've shared a number of adventures together. He has fulfilled the role of teacher to me more than once, and has also been my friend. We have also been enemies, and up until recently we still were."

"I don't feel that way when I look at you, Ar… Ivan," Nevala said, stumbling over Ivan's name and leaving Micah to wonder what Ivan was going to say. "I see you as stubborn, and maybe a bit arrogant, but I don't think of you as my enemy."

"Well that's good to hear!" Ivan said with a roar of laughter, "And all this time I thought you had a target for my head."

"In all fairness, I don't remember enough to know that either way," Nevala countered with a wide grin. "I know that killing you isn't off of my list yet."

"Never has been," Ivan said with another chuckle. "I was always an annoying child."

"Okay, you've got to explain this to me. How does this all fit together?" Tristan interjected. "If you're not a phoenix, what then?"

"I'm what lore would call a Djinn, or a Djinni, or the bastardized English pronunciation of Genie," Ivan shuddered at the sound of the last word leaving his lips, but he recovered quickly and said, "Sorry, we Djinn are naturally predisposed toward things being 'proper', and I hate the way the English say that word."

"Djinn?" Micah questioned, glancing at Tristan for help. "I've never heard of a Djinn."

"The word rings a bell, probably from something I've read in the past," Tristan said with a shrug. "What does it mean?"

"Djinn and phoenixes are related. We are both elemental beings, though the Djinn is born from the air while the phoenix is born from fire. Djinn remember their past lives much like phoenixes do, and so you could say that we are cousins; we share a common ancestry," Ivan explained.

"So, are Djinn as rare as phoenixes then? Is that why I've never heard of one?" Tristan asked.

"Indeed. Djinn can only have offspring that carry their traits if they mate with other Djinn, just as the same is true of phoenixes. Well, that isn't entirely the case," Ivan paused and shared a knowing look with Nevala.

"What do you mean?" Tristan pressed.

"As rare as it is for two phoenixes or two Djinn to have an offspring, there is an even rarer family member, a hybrid between our two races; the Ifrit," Ivan paused and shared another look with Nevala. "In fact, that process is why the three…" he glanced at Micah briefly, "four of us are meeting right now. For your information, I would have never sacrificed you to gain immortality, but I let Faust believe that so I could use him to get closer to you."

Tristan's eyes widened in confusion, "What does any of that have to do with our current circumstance?"

"Avalon," Ivan replied simply.

"Avalon…" Nevala muttered, shuddering and looking away. "I don't remember why I hate it, but I know that I hate it."

"Avalon is the reason that Oberron wants to get his hands on you. It's the reason that I seized power in the first place, and it's the reason Nevala has been hiding out in Asia for so long," Ivan continued, seeing the persisting confusion in Tristan's eyes. "You see, you are a very powerful person, Tristan. You're a phoenix in his first life, and that is something extraordinary, but take a look at Nevala here, and notice how he is different. You still look human, but he is a different creature altogether."

Micah and Tristan turned to regard Nevala as he giggled and let the labcoat slip a bit to reveal the top of his scaly chest. "I'm not human, not at all," Nevala said with a grin. "You, however, have human blood, Tristan."

"The phoenixes and djinn that are alive and walking around today are all human hybrids, at least as far as I am aware. The reason they can't produce offspring that carries their elemental traits is because their human blood is too strong, which is why it requires both parents to be hybrids," Ivan explained. "The progenitors of our race were different. They were like Nevala here, and they give birth to us by mating with full-blooded humans, but then they all but vanished, or at least most of them did."

"So what happened to Nevala then?" Tristan asked.

"Nevala has spent all of his years as a hybrid trying to figure out how to unlock his heritage more fully," Ivan said, glancing at Nevala briefly. "Looks to me like he finally figured it out. There was a time when we worked on that problem together, and now it seems that during our time apart he's managed to accomplish it." He laughed at some private joke and then shared it with the rest of them, "Dying will do that to you sometimes."

Neither Tristan nor Micah felt like laughing yet, and Micah was beginning to wonder if Ivan was insane. There was a lot of information to digest, and then Tristan asked for even more. "And Avalon?"

"We discovered the way that Oberron managed to create Avalon some time ago," Ivan answered with a grimace. "Avalon is ancient, though when Oberron took the elves there he gave them a different impression. Avalon's power, the thing that grants its denizens immortality, comes from the progenitors of the Djinn and the Phoenix. He uses their souls as a tool for his own gains."

"Why would someone do such a horrible thing?" Tristan asked.

"Because Oberron is an Ifrit," Ivan replied, and then opened his mouth to continue the explanation when the door opened and a masked soldier stepped in, saluting Ivan.

"Grand Shaman," the soldier said when Ivan acknowledged the salute with a bow of his head. "Colonel Turner has just sent us an urgent message."

"I'm afraid there will be more time for questions later," Ivan said as he gestured toward the door. "We have to move. Let's go."

Finn was blown away by the amount of knowledge contained in the small room. There were books and tomes all round him, drawings and diagrams. It was neat and orderly considering the sheer volume, and he had no trouble seeing what was contained within the collection. Finn had been aware that Kurt was an occultist, but he hadn't planned on the extent of Kurt's study.

Not for the first time Finn found himself wishing that Faust hadn't killed Kurt. Finn could have spent a lifetime picking his brain and now he would never get that chance. Instead he would have to settle on the next best thing, and that was tapping into Kurt's library. He selected a tome simply titled Apparitions, and settled down in the comfortable chair that was set behind a large wooden desk.

He gasped in delight by the time he had opened the cover, finding handwritten notes in the first few pages. It looked like he was in luck and would be able to learn from Kurt after all. He leaned back in the chair when he felt a chill travel down his spine, and suddenly there was someone standing next to him. A boy in his middle teens with a knife in his hands that was pointed at Finn's throat. Jacob Walker.

"You're never going to get away with this," Jacob growled. Finn eyed the knife with respect, feeling the chill emanating from it. Jacob was good; better than he had expected.

"What's this?" Finn replied calmly. "And who might you be?" Although he knew full well what Jacob's identity truly was, that wasn't something he wanted to communicate to Jacob.

"The Confederacy will never fall to The Alliance," Jacob said as he pressed the knife up against Finn's neck. "Even if we do, the spirit of rebellion will live on." Finn was impressed. The knife almost felt real, though it was definitely a manifestation of the real knife, and not the blade itself. There was a great deal of anger behind the weapon but it was otherwise harmless.

"That's an interesting assessment," Finn replied with a smile, "Did you come up with that all by yourself?"

"I'm here to kill you, and you sit there regarding me with little to no interest," Jacob spat, "What's your deal?"

Finn shrugged slightly. "Perhaps I just prefer to engage in conversation with my executioner."


"If you're so set on killing me, what difference does it make whether your do it now or in a few minutes?" Finn asked with a chuckle. "Either way, I'll be dead."

"Whatever. Make your plea for your life if you want. It won't change anything," Jacob replied, pulling back slightly so that the ghost knife was no longer resting against Finn's throat. "I admit that I'm surprised you haven't called for help yet."

"What would be the point?" Finn snorted. "You can kill me with a thought, can't you? You have a knife at my throat, and surely I can't possibly do anything without you slitting my throat."

"I see, so you've accepted your fate and now you're going to die without even trying to fight back? How weak. You coward…" Jacob challenged, pulling the knife even further away. Is he trying to give me an opening? Finn wondered as he watched Jacob's stance shift. There was no doubt about it, Jacob was preparing to withdraw.

"I've been called worse," Finn said coolly. "Why do you fight The Alliance? You cannot hope to win. In the last year what has happened to you and your allies? The Nine Dragons have lost half their number, Nevala The Mongoose was destroyed in Arizona," Finn's eyes grew dark as he added, "And one of the leaders of your own Confederacy was slain in the hills of Tennessee…"

"Don't you dare…" Jacob growled, but Finn would hear none of it and stood so suddenly that he passed through Jacob's arm and knife, and caused Jacob to take a step backward in surprise.

"What? Talk about your fallen lover, Kurt?" Finn challenged, leaning toward Jacob as he closed the book on Kurt's desk firmly. "I didn't kill him, what is it to you? Are you after me for vengeance, Jacob Walker?" Jacob's eyes widened as he took another step back. "Yes, I know who you are. It's funny that you didn't think that I would. Of all people, do you realize who you just approached?" Finn chuckled darkly as he took another step toward Jacob, forcing Jacob to move backward again.

"No…" Jacob whispered, seeming to see Finn for the first time. He looked down and saw the gloves on Finn's hands, a signature piece of clothing that any ghost as knowledgeable as Jacob should have noticed instantly. "You can't be…"

"Though I must admit it is interesting to note that you can manifest your knife like that," Finn observed as he started his approach again. Jacob would nearly be at the wall, and he's be able to run, if Finn hadn't already taken measures to ensure that the room would be inescapable to a spirit. "That was somehow left out of your files," He continued as Jacob's back hit the wall, and he glanced back in alarm. Finn continued speaking calmly as he closed the distance between them. "You don't do that very often, do you? It's a pity. If you had honed that skill you might have eventually been able to do some real damage with that thing."

"The Hunter…" Jacob whispered in fear, "You're The Hunter…"

"Quite right, Jacob. I've been dealing with malevolent spirits for a very long time, and you're certainly not the first ghost of your power I've tangled with," Finn said with a sneer. "How interesting that you walked in here of your own accord. I thought I might have to track down your knife myself. And you can't even touch me!"

"No…!" Jacob shouted as Finn reached out with his gloved hand, small white runes suddenly glowing from where they were embroidered into the surface.

"But I can touch you…" Finn said with a grin as he reached up and touched Jacob's face with the glove. The room filled with light and the sound of Jacob screaming as his form began to distort. Finn closed his eyes and increased his focus as Jacob resisted the pull of the gauntlet, a tool that Finn had specifically created for exorcisms, though it had more than one application.

As soon as Jacob had disappeared, Finn addressed his soldiers. "To all troops, this is Colonel Turner. The Confederacy is going to try to escape. Squad A and B, withdraw to the residential halls. Squad C, remain where you are until you receive further instruction. Squad D, secure the hangar and execute operation Jaguar."

Finn cast one more forlorn look at the library of knowledge he would be abandoning and then left the room, closing the door quietly behind him. And then he began walking calmly through the complex, knowing that Ivan would be needing him soon.

"It's just about time. Jacob said an hour, and by my estimation that should be right about now," Ethan whispered to Zach. "Let's see what happens."

Communicating their plan without attracting the attention of the guards had taken a lot of careful movements. Peter had originally moved to join Hayden, Luke, and Ethan, and after a brief discussion, Hayden had left to join Nurim and Zach. Hayden relayed half of the plan to Zach and Nurim, and then Zach was sent to join Ethan who had distanced himself slightly from Luke and Peter. Once he was standing with Ethan, Zach was given the rest of the plan as he leaned against the walls and watched the soldiers closely.

They had agreed on a pair of signals, one that would be used by Hayden if Nurim did not agree to assist in the plan, and another which would be Nurim's action. When Nurim began to walk toward the soldiers, Zach held his breath, hoping that it was a sign that he was cooperating with Hayden's presentation of the plan and not working against it, and when Nurim started speaking his heart began to race.

"These men are planning to escape," Nurim announced, drawing several gasps from the others. He pointed back at Hayden and said, "He's their leader, and he was trying to get me to cooperate. You need to increase the guard in here."

"Nurim Khrys, we do not answer to your orders," The soldier said firmly. "You are no longer a part of the North Wer Alliance, and we…" Nurim's hand was around the soldier's throat as his other hand gripped the barrel of the rifle and forced it to aim toward the floor. The second soldier already leveling his rifle at Nurim when a knife blade sunk into his forearm from Luke's direction and the soldier turned toward Luke in surprise as he backed up toward the wall. Peter was already moving toward the soldier as Luke closed the secret compartment that was open on his leg, and the small click of the compartment sliding shut was masked by the clatter of the rifle as it was kicked out of the soldier's hand by Peter.

Ethan and Zach moved up to either side of the soldier that was wrestling with Nurim. Zach wrestled the rifle out of his hands while Ethan slid the electric rod off of the soldier's belt. Nurim, no longer struggling for control of the weapon, went full offensive and in a few quick movements he had his arms wrapped around the soldier's neck, cutting off his air supply.

Hayden dashed forward, past Nurim to slam into the other soldier from behind as he fought hand to hand with Peter. The soldier sensed him coming and tried to intercept as Hayden's shoulder slammed into him, but it had been the opportunity that Peter had been waiting for, and he slammed his palm into the soldier's face then fell back and kicked him hard in the stomach, causing him to bend over forward. Hayden followed up the maneuver with a blow to the back of the soldier's head, crumpling him to the floor.

The soldier in Nurim's arms collapsed as well, unconscious as he dropped, and Nurim straightened as the others looked at him appraisingly. "You did well, Nurim," Hayden commended as he reached down to pick up the rifle the soldier at his feet had been holding. Peter was kneeling down beside the soldier and sliding his other weapon out of his belt, another one of the electric rods.

Nurim nodded and indicated the door in front of them. "Let's get out of here then, shall we?" He said calmly. "There will be guards on the other side, and they surely heard us fighting."

"Indeed. That's why we need the element of surprise," Luke replied with a smile. He turned to Ethan and asked, "Have you figure it out yet?"

Ethan looked up from the electric rod in his hands, a small panel near the base was open and he was fiddling with the circuits inside. "I think so. Just a small adjustment and we should be good to go." There was a loud click and then Ethan grinned at his companions. "There it is. Stand back, everyone."

Everyone but Ethan moved back from the doorway as he stepped up and turned the device on. The arc of electricity broke through the dim lighting, and steadily grew brighter. When the device started to shake in Ethan's hand, he rammed it underneath the crack in the door and then dove for cover. The device exploded in a flash of energy that had everyone but Nurim covering their eyes, and the resulting force exploded the door outward, spraying the hallway beyond with wooden shrapnel.

Hayden and Zach charged through the resulting cloud of smoke, rifles at the ready, and where they had been expecting to meet their enemy, they instead were greeted with the sound of distant shouting as if it were headed toward the residential side of the facility. Hayden and Zach shared a look and then waved the others forward and into the hall.

"It seems like whatever Jacob was planning, worked out. They're headed away from us, and the hangar isn't far away," Hayden observed as he took up the point position. They pressed forward, sliding along the hallways quickly but keeping a wary eye out for the enemy. Hayden put his hand up as they neared one of the crossways that lay in their path toward the hangar, hearing movement, but the soldiers that ran past in the other hallway paid them no heed. They stepped forward cautiously, looking down the direction that the soldiers had gone before stepping across to the other side.

They had encountered no resistance by the time they reached the hangar, and Zach was starting to get suspicious about how quiet it was. From his position watching their flank, he could see that the others felt the same way. They had expected to have to fight their way out at least part of the way, no matter what Jacob's plan had been. But whether they were walking into a trap or heading toward their escape, they elected that it was still there best chance to press forward.

Upon entering the hangar they found no one in sight, and though this only increased their agitation they crossed carefully to the aircraft and opened the door. Hayden hesitated and stepped through, finding the passenger area to be likewise empty. He moved quickly to the door to the cockpit as the others entered the craft.

"All right everyone, I'll blast through the doors of the hangar if I have to, but let's get out of he…" Hayden began as he opened the door to the cockpit, only to find a small pistol instantly leveled at his head as Ivan stepped out, forcing Hayden back with the pistol. Two more soldiers stepped out from behind Ivan, and the door to the small medical bay of the craft opened as well as three more soldiers came through and pointed their weapons at the members of the Confederacy.

Zach spun around and tried to fire the rifle in his hands that he had retrieved from the earlier guard, only to find that it held no ammunition. He looked at it in disgust as more soldiers started pouring in through the open door to the aircraft, led by Finn Turner.

"Thought you'd try to escape, did you?" Ivan said with an amused smirk.

"The spirit has been taken care of, Grand Shaman," Finn announced as he stepped up to join Ivan's side. "We are ready to proceed."

"Excellent. I really didn't want to have him hanging around while we left," Ivan said with a chuckle. "I know that ghosts have a reputation for interfering with machinery." He turned his full attention back to Hayden and gestured with the gun back to the open cockpit door. "Mr. Elliot, would you please take the controls? Don't let me interrupt."

"What?" Hayden asked in surprise.

"It's either going to be you or your husband," Ivan explained. Hayden glanced back to see that a soldier had Luke's chest in his sights, but he wasn't ready to give up yet. As far as he was concerned, he was already dead.

"I'm not taking this thing anywhere with you on it," Hayden replied defiantly.

"Is that your answer as well, Mr. Elliot?" Ivan asked, inclining his head at Luke.

"Indeed it is," Luke answered with equal resolve.

"Then I'll just have to kill one of you," Ivan said with a shrug and nodded toward the soldier standing beside Luke. Hayden heard the soldier shift as he prepared to fire and dropped his own rifle, raising his hands in surrender.

"Fine. I'll do it," Hayden said with a sigh. "Where are we going?"

"You will find the coordinates waiting for you," Ivan explained with a cheerful grin. "As you step into the cockpit, you will also find one of my soldiers waiting to give you further instructions."

"I'm getting a little sick of not knowing what you want, Ivan," Hayden said as he stepped around to do as he was told. "What is your game?"

"Game?" Ivan echoed. He shook his head as he gestured toward the cockpit again. "There is no game here, I assure you this is all quite serious."

"Where are Micah and Tristan?" Luke asked, then glancing at even added, "And Nevala?"

"We're here…" Tristan said as he stepped up into the aircraft, followed immediately by Micah and Nevala. Escorting them was a stony faced Lieutenant Greenwood. "And we're all right!"

"Jesus!" Peter exclaimed as he greeted his friends with a relieved smile. "We were so worried about you."

"Likewise…" Micah muttered, glaring at Ivan.

"Wait, why aren't you restrained?" Luke asked, narrowing his eyes.

"Because I'm working with Ivan, now," Tristan declared. His proclamation was met with gasps of shock and confusion from his friends.

Ethan was the first to recover, and he spat out a quick, "What?"

"Tristan!?" Zach shouted in surprise.

"What my new associate is telling you is that I wish to extend to you a pardon," Ivan explained. "We are going to the capitol, where you will all be my guests."

"Tristan, how could you?" Luke asked, shaking his head in disbelief.

"It was the only way to save us all," Tristan said with conviction. "Besides, I believe that Ivan's offer is genuine."

"Strangely, so do I," Micah muttered, drawing another round of surprised gasps.

"As do I," Nevala added with a giggle.

"This doesn't end here, boy," Hayden said with a growl, "Whatever you think you're doing…"

"Is the right thing for all of us," Tristan finished for him. "Hayden, take us out of here."

"This isn't over…" Hayden promised.

"That hardly matters now," Tristan replied dismissively. "Where we are and where we're going are two different things. I promise that I'll explain everything when we arrive."

"They killed Jacob, Tristan," Ethan said with a glance at Finn. "How could you help them?"

Tristan was struck hard by the revelation as the words sunk in. A low growl from Micah told him that he was similarly affected by the news. He turned new eyes on Ivan, the man who had promised that he was not here to hurt his friends. "Is this true?"

"He had nothing left to stick around for," Finn said, deflecting Tristan's attention from Ivan to him. It did the trick, and Tristan picked up on the small smile on Finn's face, telling him all that he needed to know. This was Jacob's killer.

Tristan took a step toward Finn, his eyes blazing with fury as he coated his hands with flames. "Then neither do you…"

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