Ashes of Fate, Season 2

by Cynus

Episode 6

What Is Real

"So, tell me more about this Elven maiden you left behind on Avalon," Peter said with a grin. He was starting to get comfortable and he could sense that Nurim was doing the same. He hoped that now that things had been settled between them that Nurim would start to open up.

The door opened suddenly and Peter spun around to see the large guard entering before shutting the door quietly behind him. "What's going on?" Peter asked as he stood and faced the guard.

"There are enemies in the mansion," The guard replied smoothly. "I'm here to protect you, but I wanted to keep you apprised of what was going on."

"Enemies? You mean we're being attacked?" Peter asked in surprise. He glanced toward the window and into the moonlight, taking a step forward to see what was out there. Now that he was paying full attention, he could hear distant shouting. "Shit! I've got to help the others."

"Peter, watch out!" Nurim called, and Peter ducked reflexively just in time to avoid the swipe of a clawed arm that passed over his head. Peter spun back with his leg in a roundhouse into the soldier's side, and then snapped back for a side kick that connected with the soldier's chest, sending him backward to collide into the door.

Peter stood and looked at the guard as he settled into fighting position. The guard had shifted into his werewolf form, with the tattered remains of his uniform hanging around his muscled, furry form. The soldier growled and dove at Peter again, slashing forward in a quick series of swipes with his claws. Peter dodged back and to the side, letting the first few swipes fall short, and then he suddenly stepped in and around the next attack, leading with his fist to collide with the werewolf's face.

The werewolf howled and clawed at him again as he pulled away, and this time Peter wasn't as lucky as the claws grazed his forearm, cutting thin lines in his flesh that burned like fire. Peter growled and clutched at his arm and he stepped back, feeling the primal energies in him surge and fight for release. The tiger was calling to him, begging to be let out to fight the wolf. Glancing at the wolf who had barely been fazed by his attacks, he knew that he had no other choice.

He felt his tight clothing strain and then rip as he let the tiger free. The werewolf saw him begin to shift and pounced while he was transforming, his clawed hands aiming to pin as his jaws snapped toward Peter's throat. Peter let the claws grip into his shoulders as he reached up with his hands to catch the wolf's snout and neck with his hands. The werewolf dug in with his claws, scratching deep furrows into Peter's shoulders.

Peter growled as his body completed the shift and slid his knees up toward his chest, bringing his clawed feet up to rest against the werewolf's abdomen before pushing the wolf backward with all of the force of his legs behind the push. The werewolf crashed first into the low ceiling before sliding down the wall, a dazed expression on its face. Peter jumped to his feet and pounced on the werewolf, his tiger jaws biting into the wolf's shoulder as he raked into the wolf's chest with his claws.

The wolf tried to struggle back but only managed a few kicks before Peter's more powerful claws brought him to the brink of death. Peter released him and stepped away while he was still breathing, though he knew the werewolf wouldn't last for long in his present condition. He stepped back and looked at Nurim still trapped behind the bars, and then down at his paws which wouldn't allow him to open the door with the keys on the werewolf's belt. He considered shifting back, but knowing the vulnerability he would feel if he took his human form naked, he hesitated. The gasp from the werewolf as he faced his mortality was all that Peter needed to push him back the other direction.

He shifted back to his human form, cursing as he felt the stinging in the wounds on his shoulders and naked thighs, and cursing further when his breasts sprouted out from his chest, no longer held tight by the binder he normally wore. He was naked and very aware of his femininity, a thing he rarely faced unless he was bathing. He snatched the keys from the guard's belt and moved quickly to the cell door to unlock a waiting Nurim. Once the lock was undone, Peter returned immediately to the werewolf's side.

He still couldn't shift back. He needed his hands, not his claws. He reached for the scraps of his own clothing and began to make the best makeshift bandages he could manage while trying not to be distracted by his own wounds. He felt Nurim's hand on his arm suddenly, and he snapped it away, glaring up at Nurim's face until his features softened just a bit. "Sorry, I need to work. I have to save this man's life."

"Why?" Nurim asked as he knelt beside Peter. His eyes were as unseeing as always, and Peter drew some comfort from that, and his vulnerability lessened a little. Now calmer, he found his hands moving with greater skill.

"Apply pressure here, and here," Peter directed, ignoring the question as he grabbed Nurim's hands and placed them on the werewolf's chest. Peter had placed a piece of cloth atop each wound first and then began working on bandages again. "We need to keep him alive."

"As you wish," Nurim said calmly, doing as he was directed.

Peter kept himself busy, tying off bandages and wrapping wounds where he could, and eventually he managed to forget his nakedness. "I can't let him die," he explained suddenly. "I've already killed more people in my life than I would ever care to kill. I need to save a lot more to make up for it."

"Sometimes killing seems necessary," Nurim offered as Peter directed him to move his hands so that he could wrap the set of wounds that Nurim was putting pressure on.

"Yes, but is it ever?" Peter asked. "That's the real question. Besides. If we save his life, we might be able to find out why they're trying to kill us."

"Then let's do this. Whatever you need, I'll help you," Nurim said with a determined smile. "But afterward you have to let me check on your wounds, okay? They can't be good."

"I'll be all right," Peter replied cautiously, glancing down at his breasts and knowing there would be no way to hide them from Nurim if he let the elf look over his wounds. "Let's just focus on saving him, shall we?"

Nurim turned to regard him curiously, but in the end Peter found him nodding slowly. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it then. He said there was an attack. Where do we go from here?"

"I say we barricade the door and wait," Peter replied grimly. "The others can take care of themselves, I'm sure of it."

Micah settled down on his side and rested his head in his hand, continuing to watch Tristan. There was a definite allure to this setting that he could not deny, though his tiredness was beginning to catch up to him. He was drifting off to sleep, and a tired groan escaped from his lips. When he blinked himself awake again, he found Tristan staring at him, a look of alarm on his face. Micah had been caught.

"Why'd you stop reading?" Micah asked with a disarming smile. "You can keep going, you know?"

"Micah, I wasn't trying to…" Tristan began, but before he could get anywhere, Micah rose up and leaned toward him, planting a long and deep kiss on Tristan's lips. Tristan relaxed under the kiss and when Micah pulled away Tristan asked, "You're not mad?"

Micah snorted and said, "I can kiss you again." When Tristan didn't respond he made good on his words and gave Tristan another kiss that was every bit as strong as the first. "Why in the world would I be mad? Tristan, you shouldn't have to feel like you need to hide from me to get some alone time, you know. I'll survive if you want to take some time to read."

Tristan glanced down at the book in his lap and then tucked in the ribbon bookmark that was attached to the binding. He set it down beside him and then jumped on top of Micah, smashing their lips together as their naked bodies quickly entwined with each other. While his mouth was mashed to Micah's, Tristan trailed his hand up Micah's knee and then onto his thigh, gliding slowly upward while his other hand rested forcefully against Micah's chest as he pressed him down to the floor.

Micah wrapped his legs around Tristan's lower back and then pulled Tristan's neck down to his mouth, biting down lustfully, but not hard enough to pierce his flesh. Tristan moaned and ground his cock against Micah's. Micah growled and shifted backward along the floor, putting his ass in position for Tristan to enter.

"Do you want to do this now?" Micah panted, looking into Tristan's eyes with his own full of love. He felt Tristan tease up against him and he knew that he was ready. "I want you," he added hopefully."

Tristan grinned, glancing back at the book before looking back to Micah. "You're the only fairy tale I need," He said with a chuckled. And then there was no more teasing as he thrust in, his eyes locked with those of his true love.

"Lieutenant, let's talk about this," Finn said carefully, glancing down at Max's fearful eyes again. He tried to transfer his own strength to Max through his eyes as he had done so many times before. Max nodded slightly to indicate that he appreciated the gesture and took a deep breath, calming his nerves.

"Talk about what? The two of you are responsible for this attack, aren't you?" Lieutenant Greenwood asked, his eyes narrowing in disgust. "You've been planning to betray Ivan all along."

Finn's eyes widened in surprise. "If that's true, why do you think we're sitting here, talking to you instead of being out there, trying to subvert Ivan's forces? I'll tell you why we're in here, because you're keeping us from doing our job." He saw something in the Lieutenant's eyes that gave him hope. Lieutenant Greenwood was genuinely surprised by Finn's attitude. Finn took a chance and turned around, calling over his shoulder, "Come on, let Max go so that we can stop this invasion."

The silence was maddening, but Finn kept his back turned as he tried to come up with another plan. He doubted that the Lieutenant would shoot Max while he wasn't looking. The lieutenant had too much of a need for power to do it any other way. He wanted Finn to watch as he killed Max, and that was what would keep him out of harm. Finn counted to ten in his mind and then slowly started walking forward. He made it a few steps when he called over his shoulder again, "We're all on the same team, Lieutenant. Let's go stop this before it gets out of hand."

He started walking again, and he heard a frustrated growl erupt from the Lieutenant's throat and then a surprised shout from Max. Finn spun around just in time to catch Max as he was pushed forward roughly, and watched as the Lieutenant returned his second hand to his pistol. "All right, we can go. But you two walk first, and then we'll sort this out when we get to Ivan."

"I can agree with that," Finn said as he let Max go. Max straightened out his suit as he glared at the lieutenant. "The invaders breached on the North side first, and Ivan should presently be with Nevala The Mongoose," Finn continued, watching the lieutenant's eyes widen with surprise. "I suggest we make our way straight there to defend him."

"Very well. After you, Colonel," The lieutenant said, gesturing toward the door with his gun. Finn nodded and turned toward the door again, moving slowly but purposefully. Max followed immediately after him, matching him stride for stride.

"Jabberwocky," Max whispered, loud enough that Finn could hear. Finn nodded and filed away the word for later, but Lieutenant Greenwood wasn't as ready to let it go as Finn was.

"What did you say?" He demanded as he put the gun to Max's head again.

"I said you're a jack ass," Max replied with a growl. "I'm glad you answer to your name."

"Fuck off, Derringer," Lieutenant Greenwood replied, "And keep moving."

"All troops, rendezvous at the quarters of Nevala the Mongoose," Finn said under his breath, knowing that the Lieuntenant wouldn't hear the call. By using the word 'Jabberwocky', Max had communicated something to Finn that he needed to ponder. 'Jabberwocky' was a code word they used to establish that something was not as it seemed, and this time Finn was sure of what Max meant. The Lieutenant hadn't heard the earlier communications between the soldiers, or if he were telling the truth he would have already been trying to defend Ivan.

Instead, the lieutenant was unaware of Ivan's whereabouts, and Finn had just promised to take him to Ivan. Lieutenant Greenwood was not lieutenant Greenwood, and as Finn glanced back occasionally to watch the man move, that fact became more and more clear. He didn't walk the same as the soldier did, and he seemed unfamiliar with the halls they moved through. Whoever this imposter was, they had made a perfect likeness, but their acting skills were sloppy.

"It's just around here," Finn said as he rounded another corner, he glanced back to see the Lieutenant nodding as if the information were new. With his suspicions confirmed, he began to make his plans to expose the imposter, but not until Max was out of danger.

Before he continue his planning, a form darted out of another intersection of hallways ahead of them, a werewolf carrying a limp and naked human. "Change of plans! They aren't here for Ivan!" Finn said as he started running down the hallway and after the werewolf. The sound of footsteps following after him was enough for him to know that Max had started running too. He glanced back only once to see that the lieutenant, although confused by this development, was also following them, though his pistol was still held at the ready.

A cry from a wide-eyed Max brought his attention back forward just in time to meet the rush of an oncoming werewolf. Finn skidded to his knees, ducking the slashing claws that had aimed where his throat had been. Reacting purely on instinct, Finn pushed off from his knees, wrapping his arms around the werewolf's midsection as he tackled him to the ground. The werewolf was stunned by the sudden reversal, but seemed even more stunned when Lieutenant Greenwood walked up calmly and put a bullet in its forehead. It went rigid and then collapsed in Finn's arms.

"Thanks," Finn said as he stood and straitened his uniform. He started running again as he called over his shoulder, "Let's keep going."

As he ran, Finn began to wonder what exact game the imposter was playing, or if the Lieutenant had really been telling the truth all along.

Jacob pulled away from Zach, glancing toward the wall as he sensed something moving beyond it; something inhuman. Zach looked at him curiously, but Jacob offered no explanation as he focused inwardly and closed his eyes, sending his senses out beyond the door. There were several beings in the hallway, all of which were Wers. They were taking up position in front of the next room over; Tristan and Micah's room.

"What's happening?" Zach asked with concern.

"Be ready to move as soon as you hear conflict. I think Tristan and Micah are in danger," Jacob said with a nod as he pulled away from Zach. Zach opened his mouth to question, but Jacob was already on his way to the wall that separated the rooms. He heard Zach draw the knife from his belt again as he stepped into the plaster, and then onto the other side.

The sight that greeted him was one that made him cover his eyes in embarrassment. Between Micah and Tristan's moaning and grunting, they didn't notice him at first. He cleared his throat, which was met with a groan from Tristan. He cleared it again, and heard Micah growl. He cleared it one more time, louder than the first two times, and suddenly the gyrations stopped.

Although he couldn't see them, he knew that they were scrambling to separate and cover themselves as they shouted at Jacob. When the shouting finally subsided, Jacob trusted himself to uncover his eyes and look at the two boys who were sitting on the bed, wrapped in the blanket.

"Do you mind?" Micah asked testily, while Tristan looked anywhere but at Jacob, his face completely red with embarrassment. Jacob met Micah's eyes and nodded toward the door, putting a finger to his lips to show that they needed to be silent. He then held up three fingers and pointed at Tristan and Micah, and then made a throat-slitting motion.

"Oh," Micah said, nodding. He slid off the bed and shifted into his feline form, then moved across the room to stand near the door, rising up on his haunches as he prepared to pounce. Tristan caught on to what was happening then, and stood, his concern over his nakedness forgotten as he enveloped his hands in flame, moving around to the other side of the door, behind where it would open. Jacob nodded to both of them and started to move toward the center of the room, knowing that once the door was opened, he'd be the first one to be seen, but before he got into position the door shuddered as it was hit with a powerful blow.

Jacob turned toward the sound in time to see the door fly open, nearly broken off of its hinges as three werewolves charged into the room. Micah pounced on the first one, bearing him to the ground, while Tristan immediately ignited the second in his flames. The first went down growling while the second dodged back, rolling to get out of the flames. The third, however, pounced on Tristan and took him down. Instead of biting for his throat as Jacob had expected, however, the werewolf, gripped the front of Tristan's head as he squirmed to try to get away, and then lifted it up before smashing it down hard into the floorboards.

"Zach!" Jacob screamed, as the werewolf lifted Tristan's head and then smashed it again. The flames on Tristan's arms flickered and died. Micah tried to dive toward the wolf on Tristan once he had finished tearing out the throat of the first werewolf, but the second werewolf jumped to his feet, the flames on his fur extinguished and tacked Micah back to the ground. Unlike the first werewolf, this one was not as much of a novice at combat, and Jacob realized it would be some time before Micah would be able to get to Tristan.

Jacob moved forward and made a rush at the werewolf holding Tristan, hoping to distract him, but the werewolf didn't even acknowledge him as Jacob charged through. He heard a sickening smack as he moved past, however, and he knew that Tristan's head had hit the floor again. As Jacob landed in the hallway on the other side, he started screaming Zach's name again, but Zach was already rushing past him, Jacob's knife leading the way.

He rounded the corner and immediately sunk the knife into the back of the werewolf with all of his force. The werewolf shook off the attack, the knife still lodged within him as he turned around briefly to growl at Zach. Jacob glanced briefly that Tristan was completely dazed, but still conscious. The werewolf picked Tristan's head up one more time and slammed it down again, and Tristan's eyes closed. Zach shrieked and jumped on the werewolf's back, reaching for the knife to give it a twist. The werewolf growled and threw him off.

Zach hit the ground heavily, and the wind was knocked out of him. He tried to recover but couldn't before the werewolf scooped the unconscious Tristan off the floor and started running down the hallway. Jacob followed, warping through the aether as he kept pace. With the knife still buried in the werewolf's back, he knew exactly where the wolf was at all times, but it was moving much faster than a human could move. It paused only once, at an intersection of hallways where two more werewolves greeted it.

They spoke to each other in grunts and mumbled words in a language that Jacob was unfamiliar with. It sounded like a relative of German to his ears, but it was so low he couldn't make it out. One werewolf was sent back the way the first had come, while the other werewolf was sent down a conjoining hallway. The werewolf holding Tristan then continued forward, and Jacob was dragged along again. He briefly glanced down the hallway as they passed through, seeing Colonel Turner and Max Derringer and Lieutenant Greenwood battle with the werewolf that had been sent to engage them. They made quick work of it, but by the time they were done, the werewolf holding Tristan had already far outpaced them.

Jacob glanced back to see that Micah and Zach were busy dealing with the werewolf that had been left to stall them when he felt the pull of the knife again. He lurched through the aether to where the werewolf was climbing a set of stairs labeled 'Roof Access'. Jacob groaned in frustration as the werewolf quickly reached the top and burst through the single door that led him out onto the flat roof. All he could do was watch as Tristan was slowly taken further and further away from him. All he could do was continue to be pulled away by the knife which held him bound. The knife.

He zeroed in on the knife embedded in the werewolf's flesh, feeding himself into the blade, possessing the item and becoming it. He had only done once before what he was about to attempt, but the last time it had worked flawlessly. With the werewolf as his wielder, Jacob lashed out into the werewolf, attempting to overpower his mind. The werewolf stumbled and slowed, but he kept moving forward. Ahead there were soldiers waiting for him on the rooftop, who seemed to be encouraging him to move forward. A helicopter waiting to take him away. But the werewolf stumbled again, his mind lost to Jacob's influence. Tristan tumbled from his arms to the roof.

The werewolf's mind was bolstered by bestial instinct, and he was too strong for Jacob to gain complete control, but Jacob didn't let that stop him from trying to drive the werewolf to madness. The werewolf began to claw at its skull as it attempted to break free of Jacob's clutches, not realizing that it was the knife that still protruded from his back which gave Jacob the ability to enter his mind. The soldiers that had been waiting for him were suddenly moving forward, and Jacob uttered a silent prayer to the universe that Micah would make it on time to stop them from getting to Tristan.

When the first soldier laid his hand on the unconscious body of his friend, Jacob nearly gave up the fight, but instead he was emboldened, and with a surge of ghostly power he attacked the werewolf's mind with everything he had. The werewolf relented, intimidated by the sudden show of strength, and Jacob looked down at his new body in awe.

His claws gleaming the moonlight he looked at the soldiers picking up Tristan from the roof, and roared.

Zach was covered in blood from head to toe, having been soaked in the liquid as it sprayed from the throat of the werewolf whose throat Micah had just torn out. Micah didn't waste time wondering about Zach's condition, however, and instead he was running again before the werewolf had even hit the ground.

He pulled up short when he nearly ran into Finn, Max, and Lieutenant Greenwood. Their gazes met for a moment, and then Micah was charging directly at the lieutenant, being the only one who was armed. The lieutenant brought his gun up and fired, the shot tearing through Micah's feline skull like it was nothing, but Micah was hardly phased by the bullet. He pounced on the Lieutenant, who raised his arm to defend his face. Micah's fangs dug deep into the Lieutenant's flesh, but they did not taste blood. They tasted something much more familiar to Micah's tastes. The Lieutenant was no human, he was a shape shifter.

"Micah! We are not your enemies!" Finn shouted as Micah took the Lieutenant down. The lieutenant's eyes were wide with alarm, but not at the fact that Micah's teeth were in his arm, but rather at the fact that Micah suddenly knew his identity. When their eyes met there was no doubt that the lieutenant knew that Micah had him. Hands began pulling on Micah, trying to get him to release the lieutenant.

"Micah! They aren't fighting us! We have to save Tristan!" Zach insisted from his side. Micah spat out the Lieutenant's arm and dashed backward, glaring at Finn and Max before he moved to follow Zach who was rushing down the hallway again after the werewolf. He had only gone a few steps when he realized that Finn and Max were right behind him.

"Do you require assistance?" Finn asked as he fell in step beside Micah. "We can help you rescue Tristan!"

Micah growled but otherwise didn't respond, which Finn seemed to take as an affirmation that his assistance was required. They quickly caught up to Zach, who was at the bottom of the staircase that led to the roof. Micah tore past Zach, taking the stairs five at a time in giant leaps, and Finn was right behind him. Max and Zach followed up immediately afterward.

Micah had decided that the shape shifter was irrelevant as long as Tristan was still in enemy hands, but he knew that danger still lay behind him. He glanced back at the others once, noticing the lack of the lieutenant's presence, but when he turned his attention back to the staircase and the door that led out onto the roof, he put all thoughts of the missing enemy to the side.

The werewolf stood on the rooftop, straddling Tristan's unmoving body, as bullet after bullet tore into the werewolf's flesh. He charged forward, to attempt to fight the soldiers, but a hail of bullets drove him back to once again stand over Tristan. Micah dashed forward, confused at the turn of the events but fully aware that the werewolf was the same which had sent his lover into his present state. He dove for the wolf's back, taking him to the ground as he ripped into the back of the wolf's neck with his teeth. Bullets collided with his flesh but he shook off the temporary pain as he made quick work of the werewolf, and then he charged the first line of soldiers that had been shooting at him.

The soldiers retreated under his charge, but then were met with a spray of bullets from behind. Soldiers swarmed the helicopter from the other side, and a familiar face jumped into the helicopter itself, putting the tip of his rifle to the pilot's head. Hayden.

With the helicopter suddenly secured and in the hands of his ally, Micah charged into the ranks of his enemies with renewed focus, biting and clawing at whatever limbs he could get at. Finn joined him and between the two of them the few remaining soldiers were soon laying on the ground, moaning in pain or dead. Max joined them a second later while Zach went straight to Tristan and immediately began checking him over for wounds.

Seeing that no more enemies were readily apparent, Micah turned his attention to Tristan while the soldiers that were with Hayden quickly made their way to Finn. As Micah focused on Tristan he kept one ear open to listen to what Finn had to say to his troops.

"What the hell happened?" Finn asked. "How did they even get in? That helicopter couldn't have held all of them."

"Some of them are our men," one of the soldiers reported. "We lost six getting here because one of our squad turned on us. The only reason why we survived was because of the Elliot's. Luke Elliot is a sharpshooter if I ever did see one, and he saw exactly which one betrayed us. Once he had a gun in his hands we got it under control and made it here as quickly as possible."

"Luke Elliot?" Max asked as he addressed the crowd. His eyes settled on Luke who limped forward, the strain on his artificial limb being more than usual, he looked more than a little worse for wear. "Thank you for aiding us this evening. I'm amazed you got here quick enough to help us."

"Hayden has a knack for this sort of thing," Luke offered neutrally. "He saw the helicopter move in and engage in a firefight with your men stationed on the roof. We were out the door a second later. Thankfully you had a car waiting to bring us here quickly. I admit that scaling the wall to get to the roof was something I haven't done in a long time, and I'm quite tired now."

"All the same, thank you…" Micah lost track of Max's words as Finn laid a hand on his shoulder. Micah turned toward Finn in alarm and snapped at him with his teeth as a warning shot. Finn got the message and released him, but he remained where he was.

"How is he?" Finn asked, nodding to Tristan as he looked at Zach.

"He took some good blows to the head, but he's breathing and appears stable," Zach replied with an edge.

"Max will make sure he's taken care of," Finn said with a tight-lipped smile. "I was hoping that you could assist me, Micah, while Max gets everything sorted out."

"With what?" Micah growled. "You expect me to trust that Tristan will be all right?"

"I came to help you rescue him, didn't I?" Finn replied with a smirk. "Come on. I may need your help to rescue someone that I care deeply about."

Micah looked down at Tristan and then up at Zach as he hesitated. Zach showed something in his eyes that Micah knew he could trust. There was no way that any harm would come to Tristan as long as Zach was around to look after him. Micah nodded, and Zach nodded slightly to acknowledge him, but Micah felt the need to add one more promise before he agreed to go with Finn.

"Okay, but if anything happens to him while I'm gone, I promise that I am holding you personally responsible."

"Understood," Finn agreed as he started walking back to the door that would take them into the mansion again. Micah fell into step beside him as he continued, "I wouldn't be asking you to come at all if I didn't need your help fighting a shape shifter."

"You mean you already knew?" Micah asked with surprise.

"I suspected, but when you bit him I knew for sure; no man faces teeth like yours and refuses to cry out in pain," Finn replied with dark eyes. "We have no need to hurry. Ivan can handle him until we arrive but… capturing him will be a different story."

"Very well. I will do the best I can to help you," Micah said resolutely, though he cast one more nervous glance at Tristan. "Doesn't seem I'm very good at protecting him anyway."

"Ethan, what exactly happened to give you your powers?" Ivan asked with curious grin, but before Ethan could answer there was a frantic knock on the door to Nevala's room. Ivan turned toward the door and frowned as he added, "Now who could that be?"

The door knob rattled and then the door shuddered as if something were being thrown heavily against it. The door knob turned again, and suddenly the door was flung open, and a very disheveled Lieutenant Greenwood was standing in the doorway, with the smoking corpse of another soldier laying at his feet. Ethan jumped to his feet in alarm while Ivan and Nevala both turned toward the lieutenant with curious eyes.

"Ivan, we have to move now. There are enemies all around us, and they're here for you," The lieutenant said as he stepped into the room. "Sergeant Miller was trying to get in here to kill you. He's one of them."

"Lieutenant, if that's the case, then Colonel Turner should be here any minute. We'll wait here for him," Ivan replied with a calm tone. He then turned to Nevala and asked, "Would you mind warding the room to ensure that we'll know if anyone else tries to drop by unannounced?"

Nevala nodded and closed his eyes, resuming his earlier meditative position. Ethan looked down at him and then at Ivan with bewilderment, but he stumbled back, startled when another form appeared in the doorway. Lieutenant Greenwood, though this lieutenant's left sleeve was torn to shreds, and his eyes were wild as his gaze settled on the first Lieutenant.

Ivan smiled wide, a knowing smile that caught Ethan's attention almost immediately. And then all hell broke loose. The first Lieutenant Greenwood shifted into his werewolf form and charged Ivan, raising his pistol at the same time and launching a bullet at Nevala and then another one at Ethan. The bullet aimed for Nevala was burned and melted before it ever reached him, but Ethan dropped backward as the bullet dug into his shoulder.

Ethan heard a clamoring of curses and bodies rolling around on the floor as he picked himself up off the floor to survey the scene, clutching at his shoulder. The werewolf was on top of Ivan, tearing out his throat, while the other Lieutenant Greenwood watched with muted horror, seeming paralyzed by the scene unfolding in front of him.

Nevala seemed unconcerned, and took another drink from the bottle that had been resting in his lap. He glanced at Ethan and saw that Ethan was clutching at his shoulder and said around the werewolf's grunting and growling, "You're okay. Close your eyes and focus on my voice."

Ethan's eyes widened rather than closing, but Nevala smiled widely and mouthed, 'Trust me', and Ethan found himself doing as he was told. "This is not reality," Nevala said soothingly, "Focus on my voice and let go of the pain. This is not reality. Focus on my voice. There is no pain. There is no pain. There is no pain." As Nevala chanted, Ethan felt the pain in his shoulder slowly dissipate and then disappear altogether. He opened his eyes and looked down at his hand that should have been covered in blood and found it clean, and then he glimpsed up at Nevala in wonder.

He found himself looking past Nevala at the werewolf that was viciously mauling the floor, while Ivan sat several feet back, watching the werewolf with an amused expression. The other Lieutenant Greenwood continued to stand in the doorway, and he looked torn between wanting to run and wanting to stay. He made his decision a second later as he glanced out into the hallway and apparently saw something that scared him more than what was happening in the room. He dashed out into the hallway and ran away quickly.

"Micah! Chase him down!" Finn yelled, and a blue feline form rushed past the open doorway and after the departing Lieutenant. Micah burst in through the door a moment later, and the werewolf looked up and growled at him. Finn glanced at the real Ivan and raised an eyebrow, and the werewolf charged him. Finn delivered a quick kick to the werewolf's face which sent him spinning around to face a grinning Nevala who snapped his fingers.

Ethan had to shield his eyes from the violent flames that engulfed the werewolf. The howling stopped quickly, the werewolf dying nearly instantly from the power of the flames that destroyed its flesh and melted its bones. The heat seemed less intense than it should have, and Ethan was reminded of how the room had felt when he had first entered, and realized that all of the heat in the room must have been channeled into that pillar of flame.

The bright light disappeared, and Ethan trusted himself to view the pile of ash that remained of the werewolf as it settled to the ground. His mouth hung open in shock as he stared at Nevala, who looked at the ash with a wide grin. Ethan shuddered at the look of sadistic glee in Nevala's eyes, hoping that it was a passing emotion, but he was not given long to ponder it.

"Is everything all right, Grand Shaman?" Finn asked, drawing Ethan's attention as well as Ivan's.

"Yes. Quite," Ivan replied with a nod. "We have everything under control. I assume this one was the real one?" He said, gesturing to the pile of ash. "Perhaps you should go pursue the other one?"

"Micah is on it, and I'm sure he won't get away," Finn replied with a quirky grin. "You may be interested to know that the Confederacy helped us quite a bit this evening. Hayden and Luke Elliot blocked off their escape, and I have recently had soldiers check on Nurim and found a surprise waiting for us. It seems that Peter subdued another of our attackers for us. He's still alive, and we could question him."

"Is he one of ours, or an invader?" Ivan's eyes narrowed at the prospect of it being the former.

"One of ours," Finn replied grimly. "We knew this was going to happen, especially among our nonhuman soldiers. Lieutenant Greenwood must have been given intelligence from The Alliance and told to act if we did not."

"We'll just have to see what comes from…" Ivan stopped as the other Lieutenant Greenwood was thrust into the room, nudged forward by Micah's snapping jaws. "Well what have we here?"

"Come clean, whoever you are," Finn demanded. "We already know you're a shape shifter."

The lieutenant swallowed and then nodded. His face shimmered as he took on the image of a girl around the age of eighteen. Her skin tone and hair color marked her as being of South Asian descent. She had lost some height and bulk, and the clothing she was wearing suddenly hung loosely on her. She looked around the room, fear in her green eyes and youthful face.

"I was just sent here to observe… I didn't intend for any of this to happen," She said meekly. "This was my first assignment."

"First assignment. Do you serve the North Wer Alliance?" Ivan asked calmly. "If so, can I ask why you seemed surprised when Lieutenant Greenwood attacked me?"

"I am surprised to see you alive at all, Grand Shaman," She replied with a touch of awe. "It appeared to me that the lieutenant had ripped out your throat."

"Well, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve," Ivan replied cautiously. "Still, you haven't answered the question of whom you serve."

"I serve the Noh Kitsune." She said with a bow. "My name is Amaya, and I'm the seventeenth daughter of Shiva the Many."

"The bastard shape shifter who serves The Alliance?" Micah growled from behind Amaya. "No wonder I don't like you." Amaya winced but did not respond, keeping her eyes locked on Ivan.

"If you were just here to observe," Ivan asked with a gentle smile, "Why did you interfere?"

"During my stay here I have grown accustomed to your style of leadership," Amaya explained. "When I overheard Lieutenant Greenwood talking about the coup, I had assumed that Colonel Turner and Max Derringer were in on it as well. I tried to cut the head off of the snake, but it appeared I did more harm than good. I wanted to protect you from Nightshade."

"Is that the position of the Noh-kitsune or the position of Amaya?" Ivan asked with a raised eyebrow. "Are they my allies, or are you the only one with that distinction?"

"I'm afraid that the Noh-Kitsune have not yet decided what to do about the Alliance decision," Amaya replied with a shake of her head, "though they are aware that you intend to resist. This decision is being pushed by representatives of Nightshade, not ours."

"Interesting. And what will you do now?" Ivan asked.

The question seemed to catch Amaya off guard, and she replied hesitantly, "Am I not your prisoner?"

"No. You are free to go, though I would like you to carry a message to the Noh-Kitsune for me," Ivan said with a toothy grin. Amaya smiled back and nodded, and Ivan continued, "Tell them that regardless of what they decide, I consider it dishonorable to kill all the humans purely on the basis that some of them have resisted us, and I will resist the North Wer Alliance's orders on this matter until the last day I draw breath."

"Is that all?" Amaya asked, nodding as she memorized the message.

"Remind them that I'm immortal," Ivan added with a sickening smile. "You may go, Amaya. And for the service you have rendered to me today, you are welcome back into my home at any time."

"Understood, Grand Shaman," Amaya said with a bow. She turned and found herself looking down at Micah, who was still glaring at her through snarling teeth. "Until we meet again, Micah," she added, bowing to him as well as she stepped around him. Micah's guard dropped at the curious words, but before he could react, she was gone.

Ethan shook his head at the exchange, realizing that there was more going on than he would ever be able to wrap his head around. "Clearly you have a lot more going on than you let on, Ivan," he said with a chuckle. "Are you sure that you need us?"

"I am a master of illusion and trickery, Ethan Holmes," Ivan replied carefully. "In order to get anything real done, I need people with actual skill. The question remains as to whether or not you are willing."

"We'll see, Ivan," Ethan said with a thoughtful smile. "We'll see."

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