Ashes of Fate, Season 2

by Cynus

Episode 12

Malevolence Part II

Peter heard the sound of growling and scratching, though it seemed muffled and distant. He couldn't put his finger on it, especially since it seemed quite odd that the sound would continue with such regularity considering the distance they had traveled already. But then as he paused briefly to consider the noise, he realized that it was coming from inside his own skull.

And then he sensed a direction that the noise was pulling him, and he took an involuntary step in that direction. He paused and shook his head, and then realized that the others had stopped and were looking at him curiously.

"What is it, Peter?" Ethan asked. Peter opened his mouth to respond when he felt the scratching again and then found his feet moving in the direction of the sound. He shook his head and tried to turn back, but became lightheaded and dizzy and he collapsed against the wall, breathing heavily.

"We need to get out of here," Ivan said impatiently, glancing at Tristan and Nurim who were both directing their attention to Peter with concern. "We need to carry him if he can't walk."

"Hold on," Tristan said as he approached Peter and laid a hand on his arm. "Peter, what is it?"

"There's something here that's pulling me in that direction… something…" He paused, and his eyes widened in surprise as he realized where he had heard the growl before. He had thought that he had escaped that sound, but he knew without question what it belonged to. "It's her," he added in a whisper. "It's the tigress."

"Your former other half?" Ethan asked with a raised eyebrow, looking back at Ivan. "She's here?"

"Definitely," Peter said with a nod. "And she's trapped. I can sense it."

"This is a bad idea, but we need to go free her if she's here," Ivan said. "It could have drastic consequences for you if we don't. If she's connected to you…" he trailed off and shook his head. "Come on, let's hurry."

Peter nodded and started down the hall, leaning on the wall for support until Tristan took his other side. Once they reached a fork in the hallway and he could head more directly toward the scratching and growling, he found his strength increasing and was able to move more quickly. It did not take them long until the others were able to hear the growling and scratching themselves, and they were all able to increase their speed as they hurried toward a door near the end of the hallway.

Peter tried the door and found it was locked. He jostled the handle angrily for several seconds and then threw his hands up in frustration. As he turned away to ask for help, however, Nurim was already there and delivering a solid kick to the door just beneath the handle. The door shudder and held firm, but Nurim followed up with two more kicks that were carefully aimed for the same spot, and the door burst open.

The room on the other side was dark, but the light from the hallway was enough for them to see the large metal cage that dominated most of the room. Pacing the cage was a large orange and black tiger who looked at them and growled loudly as they stepped through the door. If there had been any doubts before about what had drawn him here they were there no longer. Peter moved up to the door of the cage and saw that it was latched and locked securely with a combination lock.

"This is great," Peter said in exasperation, letting the lock fall heavily against the bars of the cage. He looked back at the others and shook his head helplessly. "What am I going to do now? I'm naked, without tools, and I can't just leave her here. Nurim can't break this lock…"

"No, but I might be able to," Tristan said with a supportive smile. He stepped up to Peter's side and grabbed the lock, holding it in his hands as he tried to focus. "I can't say that I've ever attempted this before, but first time for anything I suppose."

Peter watched in amazement as the lock began to glow red with heat in Tristan's hands. Tristan began to pull on the lock, and the warm metal warped and bent quickly. In less than a minute Tristan managed to snap the lock away from the bar that kept the cage locked and threw it to the side where it landed on the hardwood floor, scorching the surface.

"I would advise that I be the one to open the cage," Tristan said, nodding at the lock bar that was almost as red as the lock had been from the heat that had transferred to it. "However, before I do so, does anyone want to tell me why I am setting a tiger free from a cage? I know that I normally trust you guys, but setting a predator free for no reason seems a little… odd."

"I was wondering that myself," Nurim said with a chuckle. "What exactly are we doing here?"

"This is Peter's other half," Ethan said casually. "When we separated Peter's female half from his male half, it looks like we separated the tiger from the human as well."

"Wait, so Peter's no longer a woman?" Nurim asked, startled as he turned toward Peter. "No wonder your voice sounded different."

"Well, if you could see, you would be able to tell from what's now hanging between his legs," Tristan said with a wink at Peter who blushed at the comment. "I'd also like to know why you, Ethan, and Nevala were all naked."

"Sparrow didn't give us a chance to dress before he teleported us here, and he wasn't too keen on giving us clothing either," Peter said with a shrug, "We…"

"Can we give you the full story after we get out of here?" Ivan interrupted, and Peter shut his mouth and looked at the cage. The tiger had been watching him the whole time, and seemed quite peaceful considering the ferocious predator she appeared to be. Her eyes held a vast intelligence that Peter was sure rivaled his own, and there was more emotion that he could not identify, though if he had to pick a name for it he would have chosen contempt. The tiger, as connected as he seemed to be to her, did not seem to like him one bit.

But that didn't seem to matter. She needed to come or Peter would not be allowed to leave. That much Peter knew for sure. "Open the cage, Tristan," Peter said, and Tristan nodded before obeying the command by throwing the lock bar up an then sliding it to the side. He then stepped back, keeping the door of the cage between him and the tiger while opening it wide and letting the tiger through.

The tiger eagerly stepped through, and the others gave it a wide berth, but once it had walked toward the door and sniffed the air, it turned back and looked at them expectantly. Peter looked at the others and shrugged as he said, "I guess she's friendly. Let's go. I've got nothing else to wait for."

Zach was flung back hard enough to daze him as his body smashed into the wall. His shoulder burned with the bullet wound that was seeping blood into his shirt, though he had no idea where he had gotten it from. Standing directly in front of him was Hayden, no… it wasn't Hayden. Hayden was lying on the ground in a puddle of his own blood, and Luke was lying on top of him, raised up as he clutched at his own wounded stomach and howling in pain, his fingers coated in blood.

Jacob was standing in over them, his face clouded in rage and holding the knife in his hands. Zach took a moment to glance down and saw that his own hand was empty. He was sure he had been clutching the knife before, but somehow Jacob had managed to get it away from him. Their attempt at subduing Jacob had failed, and now Hayden and Luke were paying the price for their attempt.

It seemed to Zach that he was about to share their fate, as the spirit who stood in front of him reached forward and rammed his arm into Zach's chest, clutching at his beating heart. Zach screamed in agony as the spirit tried to stop his heart from beating, kicking at the ghost's formless body to no effect when suddenly he was released and allowed to fall to the floor.

The ghost of Hayden's father, Luke's guardian angel, had his attention diverted back to Jacob as Jacob raised the knife again and prepared to drive it down in Luke's chest. The guardian angel disappeared from in front of Zach and just as suddenly was next to Jacob, gripping the other spirit's arm and preventing the knife from descending. Jacob turned toward the guardian angel with eyes of wrath and pushed against him, aiming the blade now at the guardian's chest.

The guardian used Jacob's momentum and threw Jacob past him, and then pursued, charging forward with a burst of brilliant energy. He collided with Jacob and the two combatants disappeared from sight with the blood-covered knife clattering to the floor where Jacob had been standing.

Zach used the opportunity presented by the ghosts' disappearance to start moving forward, shambling across the ground until he reached Luke and Hayden. It only took one look at Hayden's glazing eyes to tell that Hayden was no longer among the living. Zach fought back tears with a growl of resolve as he focused on trying to help Luke, who was gasping as he reached up to Zach and clutched at his hand.

"Zach…" Luke rasped, and then breathed sharply as his body convulsed, "You need to get out of here. I won't be alive for much longer, and my guardian can only hold him back for so long…"

"Stop talking," Zach ordered as he knelt down beside Luke. "Conserve your strength and let me have a look at your wound."

"Zach!" Luke growled, and then started coughing, splattering blood around his mouth and chin. Zach held him steady until his breathing returned to normal, and then Luke started speaking again. "Zach, you have to get out of here. Now!"

"Zach, Luke, Hayden!"

Nevala rounded the corner and sped toward them, though he skidded to a halt as he seemed to see something beyond them. Zach glanced that way but saw nothing, and Nevala cautiously began moving closer until he went down to one knee on Luke's other side.

"This is bad…" Nevala said, looking down at Luke's wound. "I don't know if I can do anything to help this," he said, shaking his hand. "From the position of the wound…"

"Stop!" Zach hissed, "We need to get him to safety."

"Zach, I'm not leaving Hayden," Luke said quickly, squeezing Zach's arm weakly. "And it's useless to try, Nevala. Stop Jacob. We thought that we could keep him calm before you arrived, and we fai…" Luke's body was wracked with coughing again, and Zach's tears could no longer be held back as blood began to dribble down Luke's chin, and his eyes began to cloud over. "Stop… Jacob…" Luke said as his eyes rolled back in his head and his neck lost its strength, rolling his head to the side.

"No!" Zach shouted, as he grasped Luke's hand which was already beginning to grow cold. He glanced at Nevala who was no longer looking at Luke at all, but rather at the knife that was laying on the ground several feet away. He dove for the knife as the two ghosts suddenly came back into view. Jacob's triumph was obvious as he wrapped his fingers around the guardian's throat.

While Jacob's form seemed substantial, the guardian's form was semi-transparent and slowly beginning to fade even more. As Nevala's fingers touched the knife, the guardian disappeared in his entirety, and the knife was suddenly flying through the air to Jacob's waiting hands.

"That isn't yours, Faust," Jacob said when he turned to Nevala, the bloody knife held menacingly in his hand. "How many times do I have to kill you before you understand that?"

"Zach, run!" Nevala shouted as Jacob descended upon him. Zach took one last look at Luke and Hayden before he did what he was told. He felt like a coward for doing so, but he had no choice. Just like always, he would only get in the way and make things worse.

Micah paused at the sound of footsteps headed in their direction and sniffed the air cautiously. It was a familiar scent, and one that was welcome to him. He quickly turned the corner with Max on his heels, and nearly toppled over Tristan as he pounced on him.

"Thank God you're alive," Tristan said as he rubbed Micah behind the ears. "And… Max?"

"What are you doing here, Max?" Ivan asked cautiously. "And where is Finn?"

"Sparrow captured me after the others came to rescue you, and Finn is helping Nevala deal with the situation with Jacob."

"In that case we should all get out of here," Ethan interrupted. "At least, that's what we were planning on doing before we were sidetracked by the furball."

"Furball?" Micah echoed, and then looked behind the main group to see Nurim and Peter bringing up the rear with a tiger plodding along calmly between them. "What the hell?"

"No time to explain," Ivan said quickly. "Lead us out, Tristan, if you can still remember the way."

Tristan nodded and the group turned as one as Tristan took the lead with Micah falling in step beside him. They continued cautiously, looking for any signs of living enemies as they bypassed the carnage that had been left behind by Jacob and Micah's descent into the dungeon. In a matter of minutes they reached a door that seemed as if it led outside, but Micah felt the hairs rising on the back of his neck and a low growl from the tiger told him that he was not alone in recognizing that something was wrong.

Nurim yelped and Micah spun toward the sound, though he was not the only one to do so. Nurim was nowhere to be seen, and the group shared confused looks between them. The tiger was the only one that didn't turn, and instead it sprinted toward the door, drawing Micah's attention back the other way, where Sparrow stood in front of the doors with a blade pressed up against Nurim's throat.

"I had thought you would come this way. Glad to see that I can still predict your every move, Ivan," Sparrow said with a sinister grin. "Isn't it great to have the whole gang back together again?"

"What do you want, goblin?" Ivan said calmly, not even bothering to glance at Nurim. His eyes were locked with Sparrow's and were filled with an icy fury.

"Oh? You're going to behave like Finn, are you? Not in the mood for games?" Sparrow said with a dry chuckle. He pressed the knife hard against Nurim's throat, drawing blood. "Don't worry, this game won't take long. What I want is to turn you over to my master, now that I've managed to whittle down your number a bit so that only the interesting ones are left… Well, interesting ones and Peter."

Peter snorted and the tiger growled, and Sparrow looked down at the tiger and raised an eyebrow. "I take it back, you are still interesting," Sparrow said with an amused grin. "Still, I had to get rid of the humans. They really are a nuisance."

"What do you mean?" Micah demanded, taking a step forward. "What did you do to Luke and Hayden?"

"What did you do to Zach?" Tristan added, stepping up beside Micah and glaring at Sparrow. "You're responsible for Jacob, aren't you? You're controlling him!"

"Hardly," Sparrow scoffed, "I simply nudged him along his path that he was inevitably going to take anyway. He's doing this all of his own volition. All spirits eventually become malevolent, and they all believe they're going to be different. It's quite tragic really."

"What are you talking about?" Micah demanded, "Jacob would never hurt any of us!"

"You're naïve," Sparrow replied with a roll of his eyes. "The phoenix next to you doesn't believe that."

Micah glanced at Tristan and saw the resignation in his eyes, though he was surprised to find it there. Tristan gave an almost imperceptible nod but then began shaking his head. "No, I don't believe that he would do so willfully. You must have done something to him."

"What do you really want, Sparrow?" Ivan asked. "The longer we delay this…"

"What? Are you in a hurry, Ivan?" Sparrow asked. "Do you truly want to meet my master?"

"I've been wondering why you haven't taken me to Odin this whole time," Ivan growled. "What game are you playing? Who do you really serve?"

"There are few ways in, and even fewer out," Sparrow replied cryptically, and Ivan growled as he started to move forward, moving with tremendous speed, but to Micah it almost seemed as if the world slowed down so that Sparrow could keep speaking. "But one way into Avalon is the blood of an elf, which I happen to have." The knife in Sparrow's hands glowed with an eerie blue light as Sparrow plunged it into Nurim's throat.

The world seemed to return to normal speed, and Sparrow was gone along with his knife as Ivan reached Nurim as he hit the floor and tried to catch him. Nurim collapsed, clutching at his neck but his blood was quickly draining from the wound and onto the floor, but instead of pooling normally, the blood seemed to have a mind of its own and streamed toward the doorway. Nurim's body began to convulse as his blood began to glow as it pooled at the base of the door, and then began to climb up the side of the doorframe.

Peter was at Nurim's side a second later, inspecting the wound and then looking at the blood in horror. "What the hell is happening?" He asked Ivan as he stared at the blood. "He's being completely drained!"

"Sparrow just opened a gate to Avalon," Ivan whispered. "Come on, we have to find another exit, now!"

Every movement Nevala made had to be precise, for those that weren't found Jacob's blade piercing his skin. Even though his skill at hand to hand combat was legendary in its own right, Jacob was like no one Nevala had ever faced before. His strikes were straightforward and easy enough to dodge, if one removed the fact that Jacob could teleport through the Aether at a whim and reappear on Nevala's other side.

He could tell that Jacob was becoming frustrated however, and that at least could be turned to his advantage eventually. Jacob had tried to reach out and kill him with his other powers by crushing his heart, but Nevala hadn't even flinched. Nevala's studies as a Taoist Exorcist had given him his own fair share of tricks, and he had made sure to ward himself completely before facing Jacob, though from the looks of the two dead men laying in the hallway, those extra seconds he had spent on his way to the conflict had had their consequences.

But at the same time, the warding was the only thing keeping him alive. Without it, Jacob would have already ended the fight, and Zach at least would be dead, if not the rest of the group. Ivan or Finn might have had the skill necessary to defeat Jacob, but if Nevala could manage to get his hand on the knife he would be able to do the job as well. So far, however, all he had managed to do was hit Jacob's spectral form with fire, which only banished him for a moment; unfortunately with the number of souls that Jacob had killed on his way in, he had become powerful enough to take the knife with him into the aether.

As much as Jacob was getting frustrated, Nevala was beginning to tire, and he knew that Jacob would not suffer from that affliction no matter how long the battle lasted. It was a race to see who would slip up first, and Nevala wasn't certain that he would come out on top in that competition.

He made his next move, hoping that it would help to even the playing field a little and make Jacob more hesitant to attack him. He ignited every inch of his skin in flame, becoming a living torch. Jacob stepped back for a moment, evaluating the fire with wary eyes, but Nevala could read his intent. He was just looking for an opening, but his desire to kill Nevala was no less than it had been before.

"Jacob! You have to let go of your anger!" Nevala insisted, but Jacob did not seem to even hear his words at all. His mind seemed lock in a perpetual loop of anger and hatred. He could not be reached through his malevolence.

Jacob stabbed forward again, and when Nevala dodged to the side and grabbed for Jacob's arm, Jacob disappeared from sight. Nevala anticipated that Jacob had moved behind him, and spun around with a quick roundhouse kick which collided with Jacob's side. The fire bit into Jacob and made him disappear again, but Nevala knew it wouldn't be for long.

He searched the aether with his senses, and found Jacob behind him again, and turned back to face him as he reappeared and slashed at Nevala's neck. Nevala ducked the strike and sent a fan of flames out from his palms to engulf Jacob's midsection and send him back to the aether again. This time he waited for Jacob to appear in front of him, but then he sensed something he hadn't expected as Jacob darted away from him.

His first instinct was that Jacob was going after Zach who had only recently left the scene, but then he realized that Jacob was headed in the wrong direction. Confused but unwilling to let Jacob leave the range of his senses, Nevala followed after Jacob as quickly as he could, rounding a corner and then increasing his pace as he found Jacob engaged in combat with Finn, who seemed every bit as taxed by Jacob's tactics as Nevala had been.

Well, perhaps not quite as taxed. Finn seemed to be keeping up with Jacob's movements quite easily, though he did seem every bit as incapable as Nevala at grabbing the knife. Jacob was guarding the possession of the knife jealously, and every time that Finn reached for it, Jacob flickered out of sight again and reappeared at a different angle.

Nevala sped toward the combatants, ready to assist Finn in any way that he could, when Jacob suddenly turned the tables on them. As Finn reached for the knife with his gloved right hand, the white runes glowing brightly, Jacob shifted his aim and did not retreat, instead slashing out with his knife against Finn's glove, slicing against it directly. The runes stopped glowing immediately and Finn dashed backward, suddenly doing everything he could to avoid the knife rather than grab at it.

Finn was now compromised, and Nevala knew it was up to him again. There was nothing that Finn could do against Jacob without his glove, at least not unless Jacob was otherwise contained. A ghost of Jacob's power required one to be able to work quickly, and Finn's glove was prebuilt to exorcise ghosts.

But then Finn started speaking, a difficult task to maintain while he was dodging Jacob's attacks, but Nevala knew what he was attempting even though he did not recognize the words. The language was an ancient Native American one, but the energies of the exorcism were every bit as strong as a Taoist one would be. If Jacob were kept occupied Finn would be able to separate him from the knife.

The problem lay in the fact that Jacob knew it too; Nevala could see it in his eyes in the way his rage intensified. With Finn distracted and Jacob's desire to kill him doubled, it would only be a matter of time before Jacob's knife found its home in Finn's flesh. Nevala joined the battle then, throwing his flames at Jacob wherever he could, trying to stall Jacob from hitting Finn so that he could finish the exorcism, but Jacob ignored his attacks and kept his focus on Finn.

Finn grunted as Jacob's knife slashed across his collarbone, but kept the exorcism going. He dodged to the side as Jacob stabbed at him from behind again, and then almost lost his focus on the words as the knife blade grazed his side. Nevala managed to blast Jacob again, sending him away temporarily, only to have him reappear in the same spot and slash Finn's cheek as Finn tried to evade again.

Nevala suddenly knew what he had to do, and the next time that Jacob appeared he was there, stepping between Jacob and Finn with his forearm quickly moving in place to block rather than evade Jacob's next stab forward. The blade sunk deep into Nevala's forearm, but he gritted through the intense pain and used the sudden full contact with the blade to impose his force of will upon it. He uttered a single word, an ancient word of power meant to temporarily suppress Jacob's connection to the blade.

He then unleashed a torrent of fire at Jacob that ignited the ghost entirely, and which sent him screaming back to the aether. As soon as he was gone, Nevala ripped the knife from his arm and started chanting while keeping an eye out for Jacob's return. He felt Finn's back slide up against his own, and glanced back to see that Finn was sliding on a new glove, a copy of the original. Finn nodded at Nevala, and when Jacob reappeared in front of Nevala and attempted to grab the knife from Nevala's hands, he quickly turned against Finn's shoulder, matching Finn's footwork perfectly to put Finn in Nevala's original position.

Finn stepped forward then with his gloved hand and gripped Jacob around the throat, holding him firmly as he thrust him against the wall. Nevala continued to chant, his voice beginning to grow in intensity. Jacob began to convulse as the knife glowed in Nevala's hand, and the anger slowly began to dissipate from his eyes. A short time later it died down completely, and Jacob was looking at Finn with a raised eyebrow as he glanced down at the arm that was holding him.

"What the hell is going on?" Jacob asked. He then looked at Nevala and the knife held in his hands. "Nevala? Where did you come from?"

"Jacob…" Nevala said with a sigh of relief, "We need to talk."

"Zach!" Tristan shouted as they rounded a corner and found Zach stumbling along slowly. He seemed dizzy and disoriented, and as he turned toward Tristan he lost his balance and fell to the floor. Tristan rushed to him as quickly as he could and tried to help him to his feet, though he nearly screamed as his hand came away covered in blood.

"What the hell happened?" Peter asked as he joined Tristan at Zach's side. "Holy shit, you've been shot!"

"Yeah, though I don't remember when," Zach muttered, "It's good to see you guys made it out. I was afraid that Jacob had gotten to you as well."

"We need to get him up," Ivan said, glancing nervously behind them, "If we don't then we're all dead. Micah, Tristan, carry him if you have to, but we have to go, now."

Tristan nodded and lifted Zach up the rest of the way, sliding one arm underneath him to support him from his uninjured side. Micah moved to assist as well as he could, beginning to shift back into his human form, but before he did he made one more sniff of the air.

And his nostrils were immediately filled with the scent of Goblin. Micah turned and looked the direction they were headed and sniffed again, and then shook his head violently. "We can't go this way. Sparrow was herding us… This is the way that he intended us to go!"

"But what about the gate to Avalon?" Ethan asked. "What about killing Nurim?"

"I should have realized," Ivan muttered. "It was an illusion… That's why the blood behaved as it did even when he didn't stay to complete the spell."

"Quite right," Sparrow said from behind them. Before they had even turned they heard the sound of a body hitting the floor and turned to see Nurim laying at Sparrow's feet as he stood in front of an open doorway. "And Ivan, I'm surprised that your knowledge of the spell didn't tell you that it had to be performed at an open door. Critical mistake."

The doorway behind Sparrow burst into blue light as Sparrow touched his bloody knife to the doorframe. And then the image behind the doorway that had previously shown a furnished study suddenly held the image of a meadow surrounded by wooded hills. The grass was green and beautiful, and the sky above was bright and blue. There was a man waiting on the other side of the portal, crouching in the grass, and when Sparrow stepped through and shouted at him, the man took off running in the distance.

"Oberon will be with you shortly," Sparrow said with a sneer. "Don't go too far. It's not wise to keep him waiting." He finished the sentence with a cackle and then disappeared from sight, likely to reach Oberon long before the runner ever would.

"Listen up, you all have to get out of here, now! Max, you have to get them to safety," Ivan said pointing back the way they had come. "There's no time. Oberon will be here in minutes."

"What are you going to do, Ivan? You have to come with us!" Max said with a look of panic. "I can't abandon you now!"

"Finn asked me to keep you safe, and I intend to keep my word," Ivan growled. "Go! Now!"

"But…!" Tristan began to protest, but Ivan cut him off with a glare.

"Go!" Ivan roared.

Max shook his head but then bowed and turned on his heel, "As you command, Grand Shaman. Come on, let's get out of here." He began walking away, and kept speaking though only Peter, Ethan, and the tiger followed him initially. "We'll rendezvous with the others in the forest and then make for the aircraft. If we're lucky, Hayden or Luke will be a good enough condition to fly us out of here."

Tristan kept his eyes on Ivan for a few seconds longer, until Ivan smiled and winked at him. "Don't worry about me. I've faced Oberon before, and I know that he won't kill me, at least not yet. I'm the only one who can keep the rest of you safe from him. Go, please."

Micah shifted into his human form, though a sturdier version of it than normal and hoisted Zach into his arms. "Come on, Tristan. Ivan's right," Micah said with a nod toward Max who was quickly outdistancing them.

"We'll find a way to free you. You and the others," Tristan said with a resolute nod.

"I know you will, Tristan," Ivan said, and a single tear slid down his cheek. "Now get out of here. I'll see you again."

As Tristan turned away and started to run after the others, he didn't even bother trying to fight the tears that came to his eyes. He knew that Ivan didn't intend to see him again in his current body, but he had to hope that he would see him again in the next life. Either way, he felt nothing but guilt for running away from the fight, and it took every ounce of willpower to keep him running instead of turning back to die alongside his friend.

"No… I did this?" Jacob asked as he stood over Luke and Hayden's bodies with Nevala and Finn standing next to him. Nevala reached out and lay a consoling hand on Jacob's shoulder as he collapsed to the ground, his eyes filling with guilt. He leaned his head back and let out a scream of tormented grief.

"It was Sparrow who did it to you," Finn said consolingly, "He's the one who corrupted you and made you reach the point of malevolence. Their blood is on his hands, Jacob."

"But I'm the one who held the knife!" Jacob said bitterly. "I killed my friends! I killed them!" He looked down at Hayden's dead eyes again, and he could suddenly remember the look that had been in them as Jacob had slid his knife into his stomach. He had seen Hayden as an enemy then, though a piece of him had still known his true identity and remembered.

The anger was beginning to return, though it had only one target then. There was only one who deserved the full extent of his wrath, and that was Sparrow. He would stop at nothing until the goblin paid for his crimes. His rage began to boil within him, quickly seething to the top and threatening to consume him again when he felt Finn's hand against his other shoulder.

He felt the calm begin to settle on him again, though it did not remove his grief for what he had done to his friends. The malevolence was the only piece that began to fade, though it did not disappear entirely. He could still sense it just out of reach; the reservoir of spectral power by which he could destroy all of his enemies.

"Jacob… You know what we have to do," Nevala said cautiously. Jacob looked up and watched his eyes as Nevala shared a look with Finn.

Yes. Jacob knew. It wasn't difficult for him to know what they were planning, and he also knew that they were right. He had been surprised when he hadn't ended up as a malevolent spirit when Kurt had fallen, and he had begun to think that he was different. Still, all spirits eventually fell apart; all spirits eventually lost their humanity, piece by piece. He had been deteriorating, slowly, and Sparrow had merely accelerated the process that had begun when Faust had killed Kurt.

"You're going to exorcise me completely," Jacob surmised, suppressing a sob. "Yes… I can understand why you would feel the need to do that."

"We'll take care of that after we take care of Hayden and Luke," Finn said, glancing down at the two lovers. "Were you aware if they had any particular religious beliefs?"

"No. As far as I ever knew, both were agnostic. We've all seen too much to be anything else," Jacob said with a bitter laugh. "After Kurt, they were my best friends. We shared so many times together. That it all came to this…" Jacob trailed off as he began to lose himself to a memory of the time that he had first met them, but then he felt Finn shaking him and turned to regard him with a quizzical eyebrow. "What's going on?" He asked, confused by Finn's look of concern.

"Jacob…" Finn began, but then he shook his head and sighed. "If there are no specific beliefs then…" he placed his hand on Luke's chest, and his glove glowed briefly, and then he repeated the gesture on Hayden's.

"What were you doing?" Jacob asked.

"I was releasing their spirits into the afterlife," Finn said with a sad smile. "Wherever that may be. All I know for certain is that ghosts that linger tend to have a hard time. We need to give them a final rest."

Nevala nodded and then gestured for the two of them to stand back. "I agree," He said as Jacob and Finn complied, and with a flick of Nevala's hand a large cloud of flame engulfed the two bodies and burned for several seconds. Jacob covered his eyes against the brightness, but when he turned back to look again the flames were gone, and Luke and Hayden's bodies were nothing but piles of ash that were nearly indistinguishable from the scorch mark on the floor. "Ashes to ashes," Nevala whispered reverently before turning to face his friends. "I think we should be leaving now. The others are probably wondering where we are. Jacob… It's time."

Jacob looked down at the piles of ashes and then up to meet Nevala's eyes. He nearly broke at the level of compassion and empathy that he saw there. With the long life that he knew Nevala had lived, he was sure that Nevala had made his fair share of tragic mistakes, and if he hadn't understood the phoenix before, he certainly did at that moment when faced with the ultimate end to his own existence.

"Did you want us to say anything to the others?" Finn asked. Jacob turned toward him and saw a similar level of compassion in Finn's eyes. But then he saw the cut on Finn's cheek that had been caused by the knife only a short time ago, and he was certain that he didn't deserve the compassion one bit. Sparrow or no Sparrow, he was responsible for his own actions.

"There's nothing I can say that can erase what I did," Jacob said with a shake of his head. "You can tell them goodbye and good luck, and that for what it's worth I'm sorry, but…" he paused and sighed before continuing, "Perhaps it's better if you didn't say anything at all. I suppose that wherever Hayden and Luke are, provided there's no difference between where we all go, I'll get to tell them that myself."

"Let's hope so," Finn said as he returned his hand to Jacob's shoulder. "Though if the phoenix is any indication, we're all reborn in the end. Perhaps you'll get a second chance to make it up to them. The entire symbolism behind the phoenix is about rising from the ashes of a tragedy and having a new chance at life."

"But what if I'm always fated to make this mistake?" Jacob said with a shake of his head. "I think I'd rather it was all just over." Finn met his eyes and nodded slowly, and then he looked at Nevala gave a single inclination of his head. It was time.

"Okay, Jacob," Nevala said with a nod. "We'll set you free now."

Jacob sighed and hung his head, which gave him a full view of the ashes of his friends. His first instinct was to look away from the reminder of what he had done, but as Nevala began chanting his exorcism, Jacob found the sight fitting. It would serve as a focus to help him let go of the life, no, the undeath which he had used to such devastation.

Finn's voice joined in as he laid his gloved hand on the knife and added his energies to strengthen the exorcism. He had felt this feeling before; the shaman who had unstitched him from the knife had done something similar, though this was different. This felt more complete. Last time it had been done in fire, but this time… it was like light was dissolving his soul, and taking it piece by piece to somewhere else.

He was slipping away, and he spared a glance at Nevala and then at Finn, both who seemed so focused on sending him on. He was grateful to them, that despite what he had done under Sparrow's influence, they were still serving as his friends in his final moments. And then the light enveloped him completely and he was gone almost in an instant.

The knife stopped glowing in Nevala's hands, and he looked up at Finn as they both stopped chanting. "Is it done?" Nevala asked. His own senses couldn't find Jacob, but it was always useful to have a second opinion.

"I think so," Finn said with a nod. "Now we need to get out of here. I sensed something a second ago that has me worried."

"A gateway?" Nevala asked with a grimace. "I agree. We need to go as quickly as possible. Here, take this with you," he said, handing the knife to Finn.

"What for?" Finn asked, though he took the knife and slid it into his belt as he started moving down the hallway. "It's just a knife now."

"Not to the others. They'll want to know the full story, and we can't deprive them of that," Nevala said with a sad smile as he fell in step beside Finn. They picked up their pace and were soon running. Neither was any good at looking back, but if they had they would have seen Jacob watching them sadly and waving as they turned the corner and left him behind.

There was still unfinished business to take care of.

Ivan stood a ways down the hallway, looking at his nails as he inspected them for cleanliness. If he was going to be facing Oberon he was going to be at his best. The portal shimmered and the first elf scout stepped through, an arrow drawn in his elegant bow and pointed at Ivan's chest. Ivan raised an eyebrow at him and chuckled, and then leaned casually against the wall as the next elf stepped through.

"Where's your master?" Ivan asked impatiently, "I'm not going to wait here all day for him."

"You would if I wanted you to, Arthur," a deep voice said as the portal shimmered again and Oberon stepped into view. It was the first time that Ivan had seen him in centuries, but he looked exactly the same as he had then. He was tall and lean, and his ears came to sharp points, the trademark of the Elven heritage, though in truth only Oberon bore that distinctive trait as far as Ivan was aware. His green eyes locked on Ivan's almost immediately, and the way they burned with emerald fire was something that Ivan had always found threatening.

Oberon's long, silvery hair was held back by a single silver band studded with emeralds that matched his eyes. He was dressed in his armor, a fact which Ivan found intriguing in itself. It wasn't as if Oberon would actually have any chance of harm coming to him. Ivan knew that Oberon was far stronger than he was, and if it came to a contest of power, then there was no question who would win. There was also the fact that Ivan's weapons were rarely physical, and the shining breastplate of blue metal was hardly necessary in protecting Oberon from Ivan's mind games.

But the metal was polished, and all the light in the hallway seemed to collect on its surface and make him shine like the radiant champion of good that he was supposed to be for his people. The foolish people who would follow him to the end without believing the truth if it were shoved in their face. Oberon dressed as he had for morale, to show his people that he was still the god that they thought he was.

"So, are you going to add me to your collection then?" Ivan asked with a bored expression, though his eyes held a seething fury that was kept just below the surface. Only the knowledge that rushing Oberon would do nothing for him but get him killed quicker kept him from charging forward and making the attempt anyway.

"My collection, Arthur?" Oberon asked with a laugh that reeked of arrogance. "As if you were pure enough to become part of my esteemed collection. You're a half-blood, perverted by humanity. What makes you think that you'd fit in with them?"

"Your followers are human, and yet you sit here and insult them," Ivan scoffed, and then he held back his next remark as Oberon instantly traveled the short distance between them and somehow managed to draw a sword from nowhere in the same moment and put it under Ivan's chin, forcing Ivan's mouth closed unless he wanted the blade to cut his throat.

"My followers left their humanity behind. They are elves now, fool!" Oberon said through gritted teeth. "Do you remember this blade, Arthur?" Oberon asked, and when Ivan didn't look down, Oberon slid the blade up to Ivan's cheek and slid it across, cutting a thin line in Ivan's skin. The blade was razor sharp and Ivan knew it would never lose its edge. He had held a blade that was similar a long time ago, though he knew for a fact that it was not the same one.

"This is the companion to the sword you stole from me, Arthur," Oberon growled. "The only use you have for me is getting that blade back. That and information on how to find your friends. I assume that they are around here somewhere. Merlin would never abandon you once the two of you were together again."

"You'll get nothing from me, Ifrit," Ivan spat. "And I know nothing." He glanced past Oberon to see that more elves had come through the portal, and the first two were giving orders to the rest of them to spread out and search for other survivors. "Your elves are not going to find anything either. They're long gone now."

"That's not what Sparrow told me," Oberon said with a wicked grin. "Sparrow, get over here!" He shouted, and immediately Sparrow appeared at Oberon's side.

"Go find the others, they can't have gotten too far," Oberon ordered with a grin. "Make sure that Merlin and Tristan are returned to me unharmed. The others' lives are irrelevant to me." Sparrow nodded and disappeared as quickly as he had come. Oberon turned back to Ivan and grinned broadly. "This was significantly easier than I had thought it would be. Arthur, when will you learn that you cannot beat me? Why don't you just join me and help me like I offered to you centuries ago? You could have a taste of my power, I could make you into a true Djinni and not this sham with human blood."

"That's not my path, Ifrit," Ivan replied. "You've destroyed our bloodlines, and for what? Because of the way they treated you as a child? Being bullied is your reason for destroying everyone?"

"You shut your mouth, human!" Oberon growled, returning his blade to Ivan's throat. "I am going to make your life hell like it has never been before."

"I'm not afraid of anything you could…" Ivan started, but was cut off as he heard Tristan's voice cry out from behind him. "You idiot! Why did you stay?" Ivan asked, turning his head slightly as Tristan was dragged into view.

"I couldn't just leave you here," Tristan said angrily as he was thrust forward by a pair of elves to collapse at Oberon's feet. He immediately had six arrows pointed at him as he tried to stand. "Not after what you told me about Oberon keeping the phoenixes and the djinn prisoner. I had to help you."

"Did you bring the others back as well?" Ivan growled. "How could you?"

"You're not getting out of here alive," Tristan said as he locked eyes with Oberon.

Oberon glanced down at Tristan and then back up to Ivan as he laughed loudly. "Didn't you tell him anything?" he asked when his laughter had subsided. "He doesn't know that I'm immortal, does he?" He looked back at Tristan and then to his soldiers. "I can take care of anything he might try. Go find the others. If one stayed then there is a good chance the others did as well."

The elves nodded and ceased pointing their arrows at Tristan. Tristan used the opportunity to make a run for it, but one of the archers spun around and put and arrow in his leg, dropping him to the ground as he screamed in agony. "On second thought," Oberon said, raising an eyebrow. "Take him back to Avalon and I'll deal with him there." Two elves stepped forward and hoisted the screaming Tristan up between them, and then dragged him across the floor toward the portal.

"You've really done a number on your friends," Oberon said as he turned back to Ivan. "What are they going to say when they find out it's all your fau…" He stopped at the surprised shout from the elves behind him, turning toward the sound. Ivan spun into action then and gripped the sword in Oberon's hand and flipped it around as he forced Oberon to plunge it into his own stomach. Oberon grunted in pain and then backhanded Ivan across the face, sending him spiraling into the nearby wall. He then withdrew the sword from his stomach which came out almost completely clean.

"Don't tell me that you forgot I was immortal as well, Arthur?" Oberon said with a shake of his head. He then called back to his elves at the portal, "What happened?"

"The boy just disappeared, my liege," The elf reported glancing at the portal with surprise. "As we pushed him through he just… vanished."

Oberon turned back to Ivan and gave him a hard look. Ivan shrugged and grinned, "It was worth a shot. I had to distract you somehow."

"Sparrow is going to find them, you know," Oberon said with a sigh. "I should have known it was an illusion. I'll have to keep that in mind in the future. You won't get away with that again."

"It doesn't matter if I do or not, what matters is that they got away from you this time," Ivan replied as he climbed to his feet and dusted off his clothing. "Now, I believe you were taking me to Avalon where you will torture me and attempt to break my spirit. Might as well get on with it."

Oberon gestured toward the open portal with his sword and said, "After you, Arthur. I'm in no rush. I have all the time in the world."

"I doubt that." Ivan muttered as he walked toward the portal, painfully aware of the sword perched between his shoulder blades that was sure to pierce his flesh should his step falter. He had to hope that his stalling had been long enough to help the others get away; otherwise they would all share his fate.

Sparrow was moving quickly, far quicker than any human or other being who lived solely on the physical plane could track, but then he slammed into a wall that he hadn't been expecting. He recognized the structure; it was one he had built himself, though he distinctly remembered dispelling it before he had left for Avalon.

He tried to dismantle it but found that for some reason he could not. There was something blocking him, and he had to wonder if it had been Finn Turner's meddling that had done it. The shaman had certainly proven to be more resourceful than the last time that they had faced off against each other, but to be able to reconstruct Sparrow's spiritual block on the building was something he had not expected at all.

Of course, it could just as easily have been Nevala. Although Sparrow had never faced Nevala before, the phoenix had a reputation for dealings with the spirit realm that approached Finn Turner's. He didn't know which of the two had survived the altercation with Jacob, but when he had been traveling on his way to leave the building he had noticed the residual energies from an exorcism. His plan had gone off perfectly, all save for the fact that Nevala and Tristan managed to get away.

He returned to the physical plane, his feet landing gracefully on the floor in front of the heavy wooden door. The walls placed on the spiritual would not prevent him from leaving the building physically. He reached for the doorknob and turned it, but the door refused to budge. He tried again, putting his shoulder into it, but he made no more progress.

There was something wrong; dreadfully wrong. He turned around slowly as he sensed the presence behind him. It was a familiar presence from recent interactions, but was one he hadn't expected at all. Jacob was standing several feet away, watching him with eyes filled full of rage and hatred.

"I don't know how you managed to dodge your exorcism, but…" Sparrow began, hoping to distract Jacob by talking while he figured a way out of his mess.

But Jacob was onto him, and cut him off quickly. "I didn't dodge my exorcism. I let them separate me from the knife, but then I rooted myself here. I have you to thank for that, Sparrow."

"Oh?" Sparrow questioned, "Is that because…"

Jacob stepped forward and put his hand against Sparrow's throat, surprising Sparrow by the fact that Jacob's fingers felt so substantial. "It's because you tied me to this place emotionally. I realized it as they were trying to send me away. I realized that all the rage and anger you put in me could anchor me here. As soon as I was free from the knife I let Finn and Nevala think that I was gone."

"You're sure…" Sparrow began but was cut off as Jacob's fingers dug into his throat.

"You're probably feeling pretty odd right now, aren't you?" Jacob said as Sparrow's eyes widened in surprise. "I'm sure you've been trying to use your powers against me this whole time. You've probably found them suppressed and unusable. You're facing the consequences of what you did to me."

Sparrow tried to teleport away but found himself unable to even touch the spirit realm. Jacob was blocking him completely. He tried to pry Jacob's hand away from his throat but found Jacob's strength to be at supernatural levels. He knew the knife on his belt would be ineffective against Jacob, but he was quickly losing his ability to think rationally. He drew the knife and attempted to plunge it into Jacob's arm, but instead the knife passed through as if it were hitting nothing but empty air. Sparrow gasped as he felt his consciousness begin to slip away and his eyes rolled back in his head.

But then his lungs were filling with air, he felt the urge to cough and instinctively tried to move his hand up to his mouth to cover it but his arm did not respond. He attempted to force his eyes open but they did not respond and Sparrow was left in darkness. It only took an instant for him to realize what had happened, though he was dumbfounded that it had occurred at all. He had been possessed.

"I've learned a few tricks since we last met. I've killed a lot of people in the last few hours, and boy do I know things now I never thought were possible," Jacob said with Sparrow's voice. Sparrow watched in horror as Jacob took over his arm with the knife and then pressed it against Sparrow's other wrist. "I have to admit, I'm looking forward to possession induced suicide. Killing you is something I've been looking forward to all day."

Sparrow wasn't even allowed to scream as the knife bit into his flesh and his blood began to pour onto the ground, but he felt every cut as Jacob tore him apart with his own body. Every time the knife entered his flesh, Jacob would taunt him laughing like it was the greatest joke in the world. Despite all the pain he was feeling, Sparrow had to agree. He only wished it had been his idea, and that he was not the one feeling the pain.

"Finn!" Max shouted as Finn and Nevala climbed over the ridge to join the group. He rushed over and wrapped Finn in an embrace that lasted only a few seconds, but which seemed like an eternity to him. "Thank God you're alive!"

"Yes, but we need to get out of here as quickly as possible," Finn said, glancing at the group. "How confident are you in your ability to fly us out of here?"

"I could probably figure it out, why, where are…" Max said, and then his breath caught in his throat. "Hayden, Luke…?"

Finn shook his head and Max looked away, fighting back tears. Tristan nearly collapsed at the sudden revelation, and from the look on Peter and Micah's faces they weren't far behind. Zach was unconscious, though Peter had managed to bandage his wounds temporarily with pieces of Tristan's shirt while they were on the move. Ethan was the only one who seemed to bear the news stoically, and he was the first one to ask, "And what about Jacob?"

"He's free now," Nevala said with a grimace. "We will give you the full story later, but for now we really must get going."

"You're injured," Peter remarked as he regained control of his own emotions. He stepped up and reached for Nevala's forearm but Nevala pulled it away and shook his head.

"No time, and I'll be all right," Nevala said with a weak smile. "It's superficial really compared to what will happen if Oberon's forces catch up to us; not to mention Sparrow."

"Where is Ivan?" Finn asked, but when Max returned his eyes to Finn's the soldier was already nodding along as if he understood perfectly what had happened. He turned back to the majority and said, "If everyone is ready…"

Ethan took control of the situation then and was the first one moving down the path, urging the others to follow him with an air of command that Tristan had never heard him use before. Nevala and Finn were quick to follow him, and Max fell into step beside Finn. The rest followed after, with the tiger taking the last place in the line, following dutifully on Peter's heels.

The only time that any words were spoken was when directions were given to Ethan on which direction he needed to move, and they made quick time considering their condition. By the time they reached the aircraft it was painfully aware to Ethan, Peter, and Nevala what the consequences were for not wearing shoes, and they limped inside with bleeding feet, though they sighed deeply in relief when they were finally able to sit down and find some reprieve.

"Put Zach in the medical bay, Micah," Peter directed, "I'll come and check on him in a moment."

"Understood," Micah said with a nod, and then turned to the group and said, "I don't know who is leading us anymore, but is there anything else I can do to help out? Tristan and I appear to be the only ones who are uninjured."

"And me," Max added.

"Yes, but you're our pilot," Ethan reminded him with a gesture toward the cockpit. "At least, I hope that you are."

Max nodded and stepped into the cockpit, though he left the door open as the others heard him begin to fiddle with the controls. Micah did as he was directed by Peter and put Zach in the medical bay, but by the time that he returned to the cabin they still hadn't taken off. "I'll go see if I can assist Max," Micah announced. "I've at least been inside the cockpit before. Maybe I can figure out where he's lost."

As if in response to Micah's words, the engines roared to life, and the entire aircraft shook as Max shouted in triumph. "Never mind," Micah said with a half-smile, "looks like we're in business."

Tristan looked at Micah and shook his head, amazed at how calm and collected he was. They had lost four friends over the course of the day, and he could not get any of their faces out of his mind. Hayden, Luke, Jacob, and Ivan were all on that list, and even Nurim's face flashed across his vision several times. The only thing he was certain of at all was that he would never forget any of them, and that their lives would never be the same.

He looked around the room, watching every single one of his companions process what they had just been through. Micah was already beginning to bury it behind a wall until he could deal with it later. It was his way, and Tristan couldn't fault him for it, though Tristan knew that he would be the one that would get to hold Micah as he faced the emotions later. For now he was strong because he needed to be, and that would be enough.

Finn was as quiet as ever, and Tristan had to wonder if Finn had even been effected emotionally at all, but then the soldier rose to his feet and moved to the cockpit, entering and speaking quiet words of encouragement to Max as the aircraft began to experience some turbulence. The ride became smoother, though the turbulence did not disappear entirely. Tristan knew then that Finn was much like Micah, and would deal with the emotions when it became convenient, and Max was probably used to dealing with things in much the same way, though Tristan remembered well the tears that had come to his eyes when he had learned of Luke and Hayden's fate.

By all appearances, Ethan was numb to the news. He was now the last surviving member of the original crew that had started the Confederacy, and Tristan had no idea what impact that knowledge would have on Ethan. At the moment he seemed resolved to do nothing but stare at the bulkhead as he sat, lost in thought and possibly memories of times he had shared with the others.

Peter had already sprung into action again, and was digging through an emergency kit for medical supplies before he rushed into the medical bay to work on Zach. Tristan started to get up to follow him but before he could move, Micah was already on it, eager to help out in any way that he could. The space in the medical bay was small, and Tristan knew that if he joined them he would just get in the way. Although Tristan wished it was under different circumstances, it was good that he had something to occupy himself. His eyes had belied his wild and frantic emotions, but his expression had been determined, and Tristan knew that he would not be beaten.

That left him with Nevala, and as Tristan turned his attention on his teacher he was surprised to find Nevala moving toward him and then taking the seat next to him. "This isn't new to you, is it?" Tristan asked when Nevala had settled into the seat. "This isn't the first time you've been on a mission and left others behind?"

Nevala shook his head and looked at Tristan with thoughtful eyes. "Certainly not, though that doesn't mean it's any easier. I suppose that I have a unique perspective on things, however, considering how long of a life I've lived. People die; it's the only inevitable thing in the world, and the only thing that we all go through. Some people are never even born."

"You're so casual about it," Tristan muttered. "How can you act like death is nothing?"

"I don't mean to," Nevala said with a sigh. He didn't press the matter any further for the moment, and Tristan spent the time to gather his thoughts. He wasn't sure how he was supposed to feel about the loss of his friends. He wasn't sure what was proper, or whether he should be angry at Nevala or not for the way he was handling it. After all, if Tristan didn't know how to feel, how could he expect others to do any better?

"I just want this to end," Tristan said with a sigh as he closed his eyes and leaned his head up against the bulkhead behind him. "I just want to spend the rest of my life free from conflict and free from pain. Why did any of this have to happen? Why did they have to die?"

Tristan's eyes flashed open as he felt Nevala's hand slip into his, and he turned toward his teacher with surprise. In all the time that they had known each other, he had never seen Nevala show any amount of affection toward him. Then he saw Nevala's eyes and realized that it wasn't just to give Tristan strength that Nevala was holding his hand; his teacher needed Tristan's strength as well.

"It really doesn't get any easier, Tristan," Nevala said in a whisper as he turned toward him, his eyes filled with moisture. "No matter how many times I've lost someone, the pain is the same. All I can do is remind myself that our cause is good, and it's the right one as best as I can see it." He squeezed Tristan's hand hard, and then continued, "Our friends died doing the best that they knew how, and we have to go on living our lives the exact same way. It is the duty of the phoenix to rise from the ashes of tragedy and forge ahead without fear of death. It is our fate to be stronger than death; it is our curse to continue to live when others do not."

Tristan shook his head and whispered as tears began to stream down his cheeks, "But how can we keep doing this?"

Nevala was silent for a moment, but when he spoke, his voice was full of conflicted emotion, though one shown out above all the others; determination. "We keep moving forward, we don't look back except to learn from our mistakes, and then we make the best of what the world has to offer us. That's all we can do."

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