Ashes of Fate, Season 2

by Cynus

Episode 10

Episode 10: Pain

He tried to quicken his pace, but he felt like he was walking toward the end of everything. Max had grown very tired of saying goodbye to Finn and not going with him, but he knew that this time he had to. With Ivan gone, it was Max's duty to stay behind, no matter how much Max wanted to climb into the aircraft with him.

The country needed him, and that was all there was to it.

He stepped through the door to the roof and found Finn waiting for him, taking a draw on a cigarette. Max hated it when Finn smoked, but he also understood why he felt he needed to. He was about to go into battle; about to risk his life again for the cause of Ivan's world. For some reason the occasional cigarette seemed to cool him down and get him ready to face the world with a level head.

But it sure made kissing him a nightmare.

"You're not coming," Finn observed, looking at Max who wore his suit and tie and had no other belongings with him. Max smiled weakly and kissed Finn hard on the mouth, ignoring the taste of the smoke on Finn's lips.

"No. I want to but I can't. Ivan needs me here, and we both agreed to see this through to the end," Max replied with a solemn nod. "No matter what it takes, we have to be strong at this time."

"You know that you don't need to make a speech for me, Max," Finn said with a dry chuckle. "It isn't going to change anything." He threw the cigarette to the ground and stomped on it, and then pulled Max in for another kiss.

"You still had half of your cigarette left," Max said with surprise. "You always finish it."

"You're the only drug I need," Finn replied, wiggling his eyebrows. Max laughed and wrapped his arms tightly around Finn, squeezing their chests together and holding it for a moment.

"You're cheesy but I love you," Max said as his eyes began to fill with tears. "I know that we don't have a lot of time, so you have to go, but… Make sure you come back to me, okay?" Mas whispered in Finn's ear. Finn held him tighter and ran his hands down Max's back.

"I promise, and I'll bring him home too," Finn replied. "This will all be over soon. This is the beginning of the end of everything. We're at war for sure, now."

"Was that supposed to make me feel better?" Max asked as he pulled away and raised an eyebrow when he looked into Finn's eyes.

"No, it's supposed to give you hope that we'll soon be done, and we will," Finn answered without hesitation. "We're going to win this Max, and sooner rather than later."

"Whatever," Max replied as he let go of Finn completely to wipe his eyes. "Just come back, and we'll work from there."

Finn nodded and retrieved his pack from where it rested against the wall. He slung it over one shoulder as he started toward the aircraft and then turned back to Max. "You know, having hope isn't a bad thing. Even when it seems like every time you do it doesn't come back to you. Have some faith in me, Max. I promised I'll be back, one way or another."

Max didn't respond, and instead just waved Finn onward. He didn't have any more to say about the matter. Hope was a fool's game, no matter what Finn said about it. He had been hoping for years that this would resolve, and he had always been disappointed. If there was any chance that Finn wouldn't come back from this mission, Max had to prepare himself for that, because the worst case scenario seemed to be the way things always ended up.

The aircraft took off and Max watched it disappear into the sky before turning back to the door that would take him back inside. Instead he was met nothing but darkness as his eyes rolled back and he fainted to the rooftop below him.

"What makes you think I'm going to kill you, Jacob?" Faust asked. Jacob snapped his eyes opened and looked down at Faust, a much younger Faust than he had seen a moment before. Or had it been different at all? Was it just an illusion?

The door opened and Jacob spun around, gasping in surprise and delight. "There you are, sexy," Kurt said as he stepped into the room and immediately kissed Jacob before turning to Faust. "Things are going perfectly. Elaine and Timothy are ready to proceed, and I spoke to Trisha and Vance as well. It seems to me that we're going to be able to make it on time."

"Good," Faust said with a laugh, clapping his hands together as he stood. "That is truly splendid. I'm so glad that they're getting married. It's been long enough, really."

Jacob paused, scratching his head as he was lost in sudden confusion. This didn't feel right. It was as if he had been through this before, though he couldn't quite grasp why. He and Kurt had spent the last few years working with Faust, a knowledgeable occultist who seemed capable of always pointing them in the right direction on where ghosts were located. Kurt had spent his life trying to free ghosts that were trapped in their memories, haunted by deeds left undone, and Jacob had been by his side ever since they had left Oak Shadows.

Over the course of their travels they had met others who were similarly inclined at facing the supernatural. The Rembrandts, Elaine and Timothy, were one such couple; a pair of phoenixes which had fallen in love and desired to make the world a much better place to raise their child in. Kurt and Jacob had been behind them one hundred percent from the very beginning, and they were to be married in less than an hour, assuming that everything went smoothly.

Their crew consisted of others as well. A werewolf named Trisha and a young priest named Vance who had a unique view on his theology. They followed Faust's lead on nearly everything, though there were times recently that Jacob had begun to question Faust's motives. He was watching the Rembrandts closely, particularly Elaine's growing womb that held their unborn child. He didn't know why, though he suspected something as sinister as Faust being the true father of the child. He hadn't wanted to believe that such would be true of either of his friends, but… Faust hadn't exactly been making it easy.

"Is Abigail going to come?' Jacob asked as he turned back to Faust. He felt Kurt's hand try to slip into his own and quickly latched onto it, holding it tight and giving it a squeeze.

"No. Corban's got a cold and we don't want to get any other children sick," Faust said with a grimace. "He should be all right, but a father worries, you know?"

"Of course," Kurt said, nodding in understanding. "I'm sure that they'd understand if you couldn't make it as well."

Faust snorted. "Please. They'd never let me live it down. Besides, the wedding is in an hour, isn't it? I might miss the reception, but I have time for the wedding."

"Don't forget that this wedding is doubling as a baby shower as well," Jacob said with a grin. "You can't forget your gift for unborn Tristan, either. If you think that they'll never let you live the wedding down, imagine what they'll think about you ignoring the birth of their child."

"Don't worry, Jacob," Faust said with a smile that didn't touch his eyes. "I won't forget about Tristan. I wouldn't even imagine that such would be possible."

Jacob and Kurt left Faust then, walking arm in arm toward the hall where their friends were to be married. Despite the assurances that everything was going according to plan, something felt incredibly off about the entire setting. It wasn't only Faust that unsettled him anymore; the place, the time, Kurt's hand in his… it all felt wrong somehow, like something out of a dream.

They entered the hall and took up their positions in the first row of pews. Kurt and Faust were to serve as witnesses, while Vance would be the one performing the ceremony. They had all arrived ahead of schedule, and Trisha would be there soon with the wedding cake. It was to be a small ceremony, including only their tight circle of friends, though the reception was set to include a great deal more. Words were to be spoken by Vance that Elaine and Timothy did not want their non-supernaturally inclined friends to hear, and that would endanger their lives if it came across the wrong ears.

Timothy entered with Faust a half an hour later, and the two of them were speaking quietly. Whatever Faust was saying had Timothy in hysterics, which was good to see considering how nervous Timothy had been earlier in the day. Jacob and Timothy had become good friends over their time together, though Timothy had resisted all attempts from Jacob at trying to put his nerves to rest. He was glad that someone had managed to do so.

He felt a pang of guilt at having suspected anything malicious on Faust's part. There was no reason to doubt his friend's intentions, especially considering the way that he looked out for everyone else. There were many things that Faust was, but disloyal was not one of them. Whenever there was a mission, he bent over backwards to make it succeed, and he was always the last one out whenever they were in danger; well, unless Trisha threw him out and insisted that she be the last one to leave. Faust was the best friend that any of them had, and he made sure to live up to that reputation.

Trisha had still not arrived but the time for the ceremony did, and everyone assumed their positions. Vance started the ceremony while Faust started the music playing on an old CD player. Timothy looked out at the door at the end of the chapel, waiting expectantly for Elaine to arrive. When she stepped through the doors in her sparkling white dress, Jacob couldn't help but gasp. Elaine was not known for her elegance, and it was as if Jacob was seeing her for the first time. She was radiant and beautiful in every way, and she walked with feline grace down the hall to meet her soon to be husband.

The ceremony proceeded, and Jacob became enraptured by the scene from beginning to end, pleased to be a part of such an act of love between his friends, but as they kissed and prepared to leave the chapel, he glanced over at Faust who was frowning at Elaine and Timothy. He raised an eyebrow and considered confronting Faust as soon as the Rembrandts left when the doors to the chapel burst open with a panting Trisha leaning against one side, her left arm covered in blood as she clutched it with her right hand.

"Trisha, what the hell happened to you?" Timothy asked as he left Elaine's side to approach their wounded friend. Elaine, though forced to move more slowly due to her pregnant status, joined him as quickly as she could, and was suddenly all business, dropping the elegance entirely. She ripped into her dress and formed a quick bandage, asking Trisha to offer her arm so that she could wrap it up.

Jacob, Kurt, Faust, and Vance all joined them then, and it was then that Trisha decided to speak. "There's a war going on outside. Something big has happened, bigger than anything we've ever seen. There are were-creatures everywhere, and they're fighting with the police. I saw the army moving in just as I came inside."

"How were you injured?' Elaine asked, her white dress now completely covered in Trisha's blood. "You were shot, but by whom."

"I had to shift in order to get past a pack of werewolves. They let me walk right through as soon as they saw me, but then I ran straight into a police barricade," Trisha explained with a low growl. "They weren't as understanding."

Jacob backed away slowly, realizing that he had been saying every single word that had come out of his friend's mouths before they were spoken. He had definitely lived through this before. He had known that Trisha was going to show up, and that the war was starting all around them. He also knew that there were werewolves about to break through the front door of the building in an attempt to kill them all.

"We have to go, now!" Jacob announced to the room, but as soon as the words left his mouth the world began to shimmer around him, and a few seconds later he was in a new place altogether. No, not a new place; He had been here before.

Or had he?

Tristan slid into the seat next to Zach, knowing that Zach would be too preoccupied with the view out the window to notice him. He had been watching his brother for a while, trying to piece together how he should approach him. The last time that he had tried, Zach had told him to go away and let him pack for the trip they were taking now, and Tristan had been left to wonder if reconciliation would ever be a possibility at this point.

He glanced back at Micah who nodded his approval and gave him a thumb's up from across the cabin. They were flying over the ocean now, and everyone else was sleeping, except for Hayden who was flying the aircraft. He and Luke had just switched off, signaling that they were midway through their journey. Micah had only woken up for a moment when Tristan had risen to go speak to Zach.

Now that Tristan was across the cabin, Micah indicated that he was going to go to sleep again by leaning up against the wall. Tristan sighed and reached out to touch Zach's shoulder to get his attention. Zach stirred and looked over, rolling his eyes when he saw that it was Tristan.

"Oh, it's you," Zach mumbled before returning his gaze to the window. "What do you want?"

"To apologize, for one," Tristan said gently, resting his hand on Zach's arm, but it was quickly shook off. He sighed and looked down at his hands, realizing that he was trembling. "I'm sorry for pushing you away when you said that you loved me. I didn't mean to hurt you."

"It's fine," Zach replied quickly, and without looking back at him. "Let's just go rescue your friends and then I'll leave and you won't have to worry about me coming on to you again."

"Zach, don't say that. I want you to stay, I need…" Tristan began, but stopped immediately when Zach snapped his head back toward him with a menacing glare.

"Don't you dare talk about needs, Tris," Zach growled. "You had others to help you during the time that you were apart. You had support. I had no one, Tristan! No one. And every time I closed my eyes I saw Corban getting shot, and then I saw you running off with soldiers chasing after you… I needed my brothers, and I had nothing. You can survive without me."

"Listen to me!" Tristan insisted, and grabbed Zach's arm again. Zach shook him off more violently and Tristan threw his hands up in frustration. He stared across the room at his lover who had already managed to fall asleep against the bulkhead. Micah, as rough around the edges as he used to be, always seemed so peaceful when he slept. It reminded Tristan of a distant memory of his mother, or more accurately Zach's mother, and how she had held him once when he was scared of the dark.

After Abigail Langster had died, Tristan hadn't stopped being scared, no matter how many times Corban had told him that he had to be strong or they wouldn't survive. He had learned to rely on them for strength, and as a five-year-old boy he had spent many sleepless nights avoiding the shadows that crept around their campsites. Some nights had been less successful than others, and he had sometimes cried out in the middle of the night. Corban had always ignored him, but Zach…

"Zach," Tristan said as his trembling became more severe. "I'm scared."

"What?" Zach asked. The anger was still the dominant emotion in his voice, but there was now a hint of concern that Tristan latched onto. Feeling that there was nothing that would push him any further away from his brother, he went for the last hope he had of reaching Zach. He stood and climbed into Zach's lap, wrapping his arms around Zach's neck as he snuggled up against his chest. It was a position he hadn't been in since he was ten, the last time he had been scared of the dark, but it felt as natural as if he had been doing it the day before.

Zach protested and began to push him away, but Tristan just snuggled tighter into his chest. "Zach, I'm scared of losing you. Don't leave me," Tristan said, clutching on tight to Zach's shirt. "Do you remember when you used to hold me like this? When I was scared of the dark or had a nightmare?"

"Yes, but we're older now," Zach grunted, "And you're a lot heavier."

"Doesn't change the fact that you're my big brother, Zach," Tristan replied with a chuckle. "I need you. You're here. Don't leave."

"Tristan, how do you expect me to bury my feelings?" Zach asked.

"Stop calling me Tristan," Tristan growled. "To you I'm 'Tris' and I'll always be Tris. If you don't start calling me 'Tris' again, I'll bite you."

Zach laughed at the threat. "You haven't said that to me in years. Okay, you win, Tris. I know I don't want to get bitten by your little demon teeth."

"Apparently I'm not a demon, but a phoenix. Did you know that part about my childhood?" Tristan asked lifting his head from Zach's chest to look at Zach's face, and smiling when he saw the contentment there.

"No. I knew that you weren't my brother by blood, but I had no idea of your true nature," Zach replied, meeting Tristan's eyes. "If I had known I would have prepared you better. I don't think Corban knew either."

"Zach, this right now feels correct to me."

"It feels pretty good to me too, Tris."

"Yeah, but this for me, is you being my big brother. I can't love you the other way, but I love you like this. I love my brother who protected me from the nightmares, and taught me that it was okay to be afraid of the dark sometimes." Tristan nestled his head against Zach's chest again. "You treated me as a brother should have, and that's the only way I can see you."

"Tris, I get it now," Zach whispered softly. "I am in love with you, but you're right. This feels better than anything I've had in a long time. I love being your brother, and somehow I lost sight of that."

"So we're good now?" Tristan asked, raising his head again. "I don't want to hear any more talk about you leaving, okay?"

"Okay. I'm here for you, Tris. And you don't have to be afraid of it anymore," Zach replied, finally wrapping his arms around Tristan and pulling him in tightly. "I'm glad you've found true love, brother. I hope it's out there for me too."

"It is, Zach," Tristan replied as his eyes closed and he began to drift off to sleep. "There is definitely someone waiting for you, and you will make them very happy. They'll do the same for you. You'll see."

"I don't know what to do, Jacob," Kurt said as he paced the small distance between his window and the wall next to his door. Since Kurt had retrieved Jacob's knife from the woods, they had spent large portions of their time together in this room, and now it seemed as if they would never see it again.

Kurt's father had found them together, several hours before, and he had not been pleased to see his son in bed with another boy, especially one that by all appearances was several years younger than Kurt. Jacob had left quickly, running out as if he were still human, though he had then traveled into the Aether to watch the scene unfolding in front of him.

There had been a great deal of yelling and cursing, and Kurt had stood up to his father. All that had earned him was a slap across the face and a threat that if he wasn't gone by morning then Kurt would be escorted out by the cops. Since Kurt was now eighteen, his father had full rights to evict him, and Kurt was now left without a home.

"We've got to leave. It's the only option," Jacob said simply, staring at the blank wall as if it could somehow give him a different answer. It was clear that there was no other way around the issue. Kurt's father had said to leave, and so Kurt had to leave.

"It's not that simple, Jacob," Kurt said with a sigh of frustration. He looked back to the duffle bag that was half-packed with his belongings. There really wasn't much in there beyond a few sets of clothes and a couple of personal items. Jacob had noted very quickly that any pictures of Kurt's father had been summarily ignored.

"Of course it is. Your father wants you out, so you get out," Jacob said with an impatient shrug. "There's nothing difficult about that at all. If you stay you'll be in even more trouble."

"Oh, like you're the shining example of how great it turns out for people who run away from home because they're gay," Kurt snapped. Jacob's eyes widened at the remark, and he stood and faced away from Kurt, crossing his arms as he stared out the window with tears coming to his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Jacob, I didn't mean that," Kurt said as he came up to Jacob's side and laid a hand on his shoulder. Jacob shook the hand off and glared up at Kurt, who backed away with his hands raised in surrender. "Jeesh, I didn't mean to start a war here. I'm just frustrated, you know?"

"Yeah, I get it. But seriously, I'm trying to support you here, so don't take it out on me," Jacob growled. "What do you want to do? Do you want to stay and try to work things out?"

"I don't know," Kurt said with a shrug. "That's the whole problem. I mean, what is my mother going to do?"

"Your mother didn't exactly seem keen on defending you when your father threatened to kill you," Jacob reminded Kurt with a steely glare. "I don't think she's worth the trouble."

"I can't just walk out of here like the last eighteen years meant nothing," Kurt protested.

"What, you mean like the way your father did when he hit you in the face?" Jacob asked with a roll of his eyes. "Seriously, Kurt. Be reasonable here. They don't want you here. The only thing you're going to do by staying is put yourself in danger."

"Fine," Kurt said with finality. "I'm done arguing about it. We'll go. But where? Can't stay in town, either. The sheriff has been after me since I started digging up bones in the woods. He'll have me locked up as soon as he sees me. Chances are, my dad will probably send him after me anyway."

"It's going to be okay," Jacob said gently, rising on his toes to kiss Kurt on the cheek. "You know how to survive on your own. Why don't we head straight for the woods first and then onto the town on the other side? We can hunt and forage for a bit. Bring your bow with you."

"I don't have a license," Kurt replied, shaking his head.

"We have to do what we can to survive. It's the only way, Kurt," Jacob said solemnly. "We're going to get through this together. I promise I'll never leave you, okay?"

"Yeah. I promise too," Kurt replied and then sealed his words with a kiss. Jacob was suddenly assaulted by sadness as the words settled into his thoughts, though he couldn't understand why. Those were the words he had wanted Kurt to say, after all. He started to pull away when Kurt's lips turned icy cold, and when he pushed off of Kurt he saw Kurt laying on the ground with a hole in his head, dead eyes staring upward.

They were in Tennessee, the place where Faust had shot and killed Jacob's lover. He looked around and saw Faust leaning up against a tree, grinning at him. Jacob stood slowly, his hands clenching into fists as he stared at his former friend turned bitter enemy. "What do you want from me? Why are you torturing me?"

"You're doing this to yourself," Faust replied, his voice thick with mirth. "These aren't my memories after all, they're yours. All I'm doing is bringing them back to you. Still, it is quite entertaining to watch you squirm as you remember all the unpleasantness in your past."

"You're not Faust. Faust is dead," Jacob said with a growl. "Who are you, and what are you doing in my head?"

"They've called me many names over the years," Faust replied with a shrug. "Why not call me Faust?"

"Because you're not him! I killed him!" Jacob answered, crossing his arms over his chest and staring at Faust with a death glare. "Showing me his face is only going to make me angrier."

"Oh? Would you prefer this one?" Faust said, as his face shimmered to that of Kurt's, dead eyes staring with the bullet wound still fresh and oozing blood from his forehead. The rest of the face was dead and still, and the mouth moved awkwardly as the man continued speaking, "Does this make you more comfortable?"

Jacob roared in anger and dove at the man, one fist leading toward his face when he disappeared, as did the tree that was behind him. Jacob stumbled and slammed into a solid piece of wood, and his face collided with something smooth and cold. He peeled away to see a Star Wars poster, tattered around the edges from the years it had spent hanging on the door to his bedroom.

He peeled away from the door and spun around, knowing the sight he was about to face. His father, Bret Walker, stood before him, his belt cracking against his hand and his face a mask of fury.

"You wanted to see a different face, huh?" Bret Walker asked as he took a menacing step toward Jacob. Jacob closed his eyes and braced himself for the beating he knew was about to come. Memory or not, he was terrified.

Micah was jolted awake as the aircraft landed on the mountainside. He knew the feeling well, and had accustomed his body to it long before, though this was the longest flight he had ever been on. As such he had slept longer than he had intended, and was instantly beset by grogginess. He looked across at Zach and Tristan who were waking up with Tristan in Zach's arms.

His first instinct was to be jealous, but he knew Tristan better than that. He also knew the way that Tristan felt about Zach and that the way he was holding onto Zach was entirely fraternal. He glanced over at Finn who was awake and blinking away sleep, while Luke was stretching and yawning. Finn had brought four other soldiers with him that were in similar states of waking up. The group was in enemy territory now, and it was time to begin the next phase of the mission. There was no time for Micah to worry about anything developing between Tristan and Zach; they had friends to rescue.

Glancing back to Finn, Micah realized that his teacher was already beginning his next phase. He was kneeling on the floor of the cabin, controlling his breathing as if he were trying to enter a trance. "Are you going after Jacob?" Micah asked, and Finn nodded quickly but did not speak. Deciding to leave him to his duty, Micah rose and then moved to the nearest window to look outside.

They were in the middle of a forest clearing that was lightly dusted with snow. Tall fir trees surrounded them on all sides, though he could make out the peak of a mountain rising up near them between the trees. He looked back as Hayden stepped out of the cockpit to greet his husband with a hug and a good morning kiss, and then felt Tristan's arms wrap around him from behind.

"Did you sleep well?" Tristan asked as Micah spun around so that he could embrace his lover.

"As well as I can on this thing, yes," Micah replied with a grin, stomping the metal floor of the cabin. "How about you?"

"You were absolutely right," Tristan said, turning to look at Zach who was now investigating the window as Micah had been moments before. "We're brothers again. I wouldn't say that it's going to be like it used to be, but… we're definitely a lot better off than we were yesterday."

"That's great to hear," Micah replied, giving Tristan another squeeze, and when Tristan turned to face him again he was greeted with a long and passionate kiss. "We'll have to celebrate once we get the rest of our friends back."

"Oh…" Tristan moaned, "I like the sound of that."

"Hey, you two lovebirds," Hayden snapped, drawing their attention. "We've got supplies to unload. Come over here and help me."

Micah rolled his eyes but let go, and Tristan followed him over to where Hayden was assisting the soldiers in clearing out their backpacks from the cargo hold. Everyone except for Finn assisted and the job was done quickly, but that just left time for everyone to stare awkwardly at Finn as he continued his trance. Zach seemed the most unnerved by Finn's continued silence. He stroked Kurt's knife in his hand as he watched Finn nervously, his eyes filled with concern.

The soldiers left through the door, making it known that they would scout the nearby area before the group moved on. The others watched them go and then returned to watching Finn, no one wanting to leave until they knew Jacob's fate. The silence stretched on for several minutes as the remaining members of the group shared nervous glances with each other. Micah began to pace, Tristan tried to meditate, Luke and Hayden joined hands, and Zach simply continued to watch Finn.

Finn shook his head suddenly and rose to his feet. "I can't find him," he announced, "Something is blocking me. We'll have to get closer in order to find out what it is so that I can break through it."

"You can't find him?" Zach asked testily. "This was your idea! How could you send him in there without knowing how to get him back? You sent him on a suicide mission, didn't you?"

"Hold off, Zach," Finn replied with a raised hand. "Jacob knew the risks. He's been at this business for a very long time. Trust me; he can survive this if anyone can. We just have to get over there and help him get out."

"So… you don't think he's dead?" Zach asked nervously, glancing down at the knife that he had instinctively drawn. Micah was watching him with a deadly calm, realizing that he had taken a step toward Zach and was ready to pounce on him to defend Finn if he had to. He quickly realized that the thought was silly, however, considering he had fought Finn himself and knew without a doubt that Finn needed no protection.

"I believe he is still with us on this plane, yes," Finn replied with a nod. "As I said, we just need to get closer so that I can get through whatever warding is keeping me from him."

"Then what are we waiting for?" Zach asked as he walked toward the door and then through it. Finn watched him go with a sigh and then stood, sliding his own backpack over his shoulder before looking back at the others.

"Are you certain he's okay?" Luke asked.

"No," Finn replied honestly, "But I think he has time. If anyone caught him, it would be Sparrow, and Sparrow likes to play with his food before he eats it. We need to make haste, however, if we're going to stop that from happening."

The others shared several nods with each other and then it was a race to see who could get out the door the quickest. They found Zach waiting for them once they reached the outside, but none felt the need to communicate to him the possibly dire situation that Jacob could be in. Instead, they waited for Finn to lead the way, and then fell in line as he set them off on a cross-country trek toward the west.

The belt cracked across his back, making Jacob cry out in pain, though he knew that was the worst possible thing he could do. Crying out in pain just egged his father on and made him want to hurt him more.

"Quit screaming, fag," Bret Walker growled as he let the belt hit Jacob across his buttocks. This time Jacob wisely grit his teeth and bore the pain, hoping that his endurance would hold out before he opened his mouth again. The belt came down a third time, hitting him against the back of his thighs and he toppled over onto the floor. "Pansy! Stay still and take your punishment like a man!"

Jacob gritted his teeth and stood, turning to face his father for the first time. He caught the belt as it swung toward him and ripped it out of his surprised father's hands. The last time he had been here and faced his father's wrath, he had let himself be beaten, but this time he wouldn't let that happen. He remembered everything he had endured in the eighty years since that day, and he was not about to let it happen again.

"You're drunk, and you just beat my mother," Jacob growled, sliding the belt into a better position for him to wield it as he stepped toward his father. He let the belt crack out toward his father's face, and was surprised at how good it felt when the leather connected with his skin. Bret Walker fell back onto Jacob's bed, and Jacob stepped forward again, letting the leather fly forward again.

"And because of this beating, I run into the woods and get killed by a lunatic pedophile," Jacob growled as he again came down with the belt. Bret didn't even try to defend himself and just let the leather hit him. "And I wasn't even able to save the boy he was raping at the time!"

"Do you feel better, Jacob?" Bret asked with a sneer as the belt collided with his face again, strangely undeterred by the pain. "Do you feel better now that you're taking care of some of your unfinished business?"

"What are you talking about? How dare you speak to me about my unfinished business!" Jacob screamed as he attacked his father with a flurry of blows from the whip. "You are my unfinished business you old bastard! You're the reason I'm dead!"

"Yes, unleash your anger on me, that's it," Bret coaxed. He arced his back and spread open his shirt, offering his bare chest for Jacob to lash into. Jacob didn't hesitate and took the offered opening, hitting the flesh with a sickening crack of the belt over and over again. "Yes!" Bret screamed in ecstasy. "Hurt me! Kill me!"

Jacob continued relentlessly, taking the urgings of his father and transferring all of his pent up rage into each successive strike. His father's skin became bloody and broken, every inch of it that was open to Jacob's view became a target for his malevolence. He continued to beat until there was nothing recognizable about his father at all, but merely a bloody mess that lay on the bed in front of him. Only then did Jacob toss the belt aside, panting, staring down at the remnants of his first tormentor, the man who had ruined his life and driven him toward his eventual death.

"Now do you understand, Jacob?" a voice said from behind him. Jacob turned and found himself back in the office that he had initially followed Faust into before. Instead of Faust, however, he was staring at a sharply dressed man with several days of scruff on his face and dark, slicked-back hair. Jacob had seen the man before, and as his eyes turned yellow Jacob knew the man's identity for certain. Sparrow.

"Understand what, trickster?" Jacob asked, his hands suddenly trembling with rage. "What did you show me all of that for?"

"So that you could have the chance to right your wrongs, Jacob Walker," Sparrow answered with a sneer. "So that you could finish your business and move on. I wanted you to have a chance to resolve your past."

"You've only succeeded in pissing me off," Jacob growled, "And I'm going to find a way to make you pay for this."

Sparrow's laughter filled the room and he disappeared from sight as the sound began to echo and reverberate from wall to wall. And then it slowly began to dissipate as if it were growing more distant, and almost in a whisper Sparrow said, "I'd love to stay and chat, Jacob Walker, but I have visitors. So do you. Tata!"

Jacob was left in silence, and an almost irresistible urge to tear the manor apart.

"The building looks awfully quiet for a place that they'd be holding Ivan," the soldier reported as he came back over the ridge to join the group. They had been watching the manor house for several minutes while Finn's soldiers checked around the perimeter and looked for the positions of the guards. There were very few of them visible from the type of the ridge, but the manor was large enough that it could easily house a hundred soldiers.

"Whether it's quiet or not is irrelevant," Hayden muttered. "We're going to have to pretend that we're facing an army; otherwise we're just asking to get killed."

"Agreed," Finn said with a nod. "Don't worry, Hayden, these may not be your soldiers but trust me they are just as well trained as any you've ever served with. They know what they're doing."

"Of course," Hayden said with a slight bow, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to overstep my bounds."

"This is the first official joint operation between Skinwalker and The Icarus Confederacy," Finn replied smoothly. "It's to be expected to have a bit of confusion about who is in command. I understand, of course. I'm going to try to reach Jacob again, now that we're closer." He paused and closed his eyes, and then they opened wide with surprise as he said, "Wait a second…"

He reached up with his hand, muttering a string of arcane words and then his glove began to glow with a white light, and then he waved Zach forward, then pointed emphatically at the knife that was belted onto his waist. Zach stepped up and handed the knife to Finn, who took it in his gloved hand. It too began to glow, and then became enveloped in smoke. The smoke quickly began to gather and form into the shape of a human standing next to Finn, until finally Jacob stood next to him, his eyes smoldering with anger.

"Jacob!" Zach said with delight as he stepped up to greet his friend, asking for the knife from Finn, who handed it over quickly. He slid the knife into his belt and then embraced Jacob, though Jacob took a moment to return the gesture. Zach pulled away, a puzzled expression on his face. "Are you all right? Have you come back in one piece?"

"Yeah… Just, Sparrow was messing with me right when you arrived," Jacob said, smiling briefly. "It's good to see you guys arrived safely. I haven't been able to make contact with the others. Their cells are warded, but they're in there. Sparrow is too."

"We'll just have to…" Finn began, but then he was suddenly gone, vanishing into thin air. The group erupted into motion, with Finn's soldiers immediately looking around for some threat in the immediate area and were quickly joined by Hayden and Luke. Zach was still staring at Jacob and did not immediately notice Finn's disappearance, though at the sound of Micah and Tristan's gasp of surprise, he quickly turned and made a similar sound. Only Jacob seemed to be handling the disappearance with any sense of calm.

"Sparrow took him," Jacob announced with a grimace. "He knows we're here, and so do his soldiers. They're going to be ready for us."

"How many are inside the house, Jacob?" Hayden asked with an air of professionalism, though his eyes were filled with concern.

"Enough to cause trouble, but thankfully, I can tell you where they all are," Jacob said with a sadistic smile. "Come on. We'll rescue the others, and kill a few bad guys on the way."

"Jacob, are you sure you're all right?" Zach asked, patting Jacob on the back. Jacob shook his hand off and glared at Zach.

"Of course I am. Why wouldn't I be?" Jacob replied with a growl. "Now come on. Let's get them before Finn gets himself killed. We need to get to Sparrow as quickly as possible, and end that miserable creature's life."

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