Authors Notes:

This is a work of fiction – a bit of science fiction and fantasy mixed together in fact.  None of the characters, names or personalities, are based on real people.  Any resemblance to a real person is entirely coincidental and not intentional.  I do live in the Atlanta area and use a lot of places I’ve been in the story.

If you are offended by sex between adult men don’t read any further.

If you are not of legal age don’t read any further.

If this type of story is illegal where you live, for whatever reason, don’t read any further.

This story is copyrighted to me and cannot be reproduced without my express written consent.

If you have any comments you can send them to btaoc1963@gmail.com  I appreciate anything that anyone has to say good or bad.  If you have bad things to say please at least be polite.  I’ll try to respond to anyone who sends me an email.  I'm astounded by how nice everyone has been, and I really do feel like I've made some great pen pals.  I check my in box all the time now hoping to see new messages.  I don't care if they are about the story, I just enjoy the conversations that some of us have started up.  You guys are awesome!

I used to say that I’m rusty at writing.  I did some writing back in college in the mid to late eighties but this is the first thing I’ve tried to write of any length or complexity since then.  Man did I jump into it feet first lol.  I should have started with something shorter and less involved.  I’m not so much rusty anymore but I do consider myself inexperienced as far as being a writer.  I’m sure my story comes across as nave to many people – but I’m having so much fun writing it and overall the feedback has been good and positive.  I would write it anyways even if no one enjoyed it – I’m writing it for myself. However, with that being said, if you have any ideas you want to share please email me.  A few ideas in the story were sparked from emails from readers.

I am not in nor ever have been in the military, so I apologize for getting anything incorrect.  The characters are all Navy SEALS in the Prologue, where the story starts.

The email notification list for new chapters has been building and seems to be working well.   As great as Nifty.org is in many ways, sometimes it's difficult to find new postings when the stories aren't put out on a set schedule (like mine *cough cough*).  So if you are interested in getting on a mailing list send me an email and I'll create a group so I can let you all know when I post a new chapter.

I said this last chapter, but I hope most of you are sitting down again because yet another six months didn't go by between chapters lol.  I had a good head of steam built and pushed through Chapter's 28 and 29... however I ran out of time on Chapter 30, which is of course the grand finale for this story line.  I have discovered that this semester is a little lighter than I anticipated so I might be able to work on Chapter 30 some.  If I can't I will have to tackle it over Christmas break.  I hate that, particularly because 29 ends as a total cliff hanger.  Sorry about that spoiler but you'll find out soon enough.  I have made good notes and I have everything in my head but I need to get it down on paper and then do my best to make it as epic as I possibly can.  This is cosmic level stuff and I don't want to wimp out and not do it justice.  So I'm putting all kind of pressure on myself to make Chapter 30 EPIC.  .  

It's been a really weird four years for me since I started writing The Order.  The story helped me get through a few tough times and some major changes in my life.  Sometimes it was a burden to keep it going, or it seemed that way, until I started writing again.  I can't tell you how much this story lives inside me.  I make up scenes in my head all the time that usually make it into the chapters.  I hear conversations between Brad and Ken, or some of the guys... I tweak the conversations and dialogue to make sure Bryan sounds like Bryan (i.e. he calls everybody Fucker for example lol)... Ken drops his 'g's'... the doctor never uses contractions..  I want the characters to be as alive and as real as possible for you guys just like they are for me.  I cry a lot when I write certain scenes, thinking about the pain the characters feel, or sometimes the incredible joy and peace of being together the way they can be.  OK I'm rambling so I need to get back on track haha.

I know I've mentioned the sequel before and it is my plan to continue The Order once I'm out of school and employed again.  The working title will be called "The Gifts" - the general idea being that the guys need to find the remaining eight Gifts forged by Allenor so they will be able to take on Luke.  That will be a little over a year away and I'm not sure if I will post chapters as I write them or try to get most of it written so I can post on a regular schedule.  If any of you have opinions on your preference feel free to let me know.  I have another story in mind that is not science fiction/fantasy about a Navy SEAL veteran with PTSD that comes back to the US and has a bit of an adventure with his father, who is a retirned Marine.  It has an element of incest to it but that's not the focus of the story... but I'm not sure if I want to tackle that first or just continue on with The Order.  

I have a few links for this chapter.  Nothing special... no music but I make a few references that depending on where you live and what part of the world you are in you might not get.  

Kentucy Fried Chicken (KFC) uses something called a Spork.  It's the combination of a plastic spoon and fork.  Tag uses one when he's eating his strawberry short cake.  It's not a typo lol.

I mention two cartoons that Lane has Drew watching on the Cartoon Network.  I watched these as a kid and they are two of my nostalgic favorites:

Space Ghost Intro

The Herculoids Intro

I said no music but I will put in this link.  This is the song Taliesin is listening to in his car when things start ramping up: Mad World

Thanks as always to Stephen for his hard work and editing magic.  His commentaries are priceless.

And now on to Chapter 29!

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<>< Prologue to Chapter 29 – 80,000 Years Ago ><>

 

            Creation sang as the first human Soul was born into the Physical Realm.  The Hall of Wings in Heaven, full of unborn Souls since the beginning of Time, was one less.  A male child, the first of his kind, bridged the gap in Mankind from having an animal Spirit to a human Soul.  He was the first Original Man; animals did not fear him, and would not attack him, and would obey his Will.

          The second human Soul was born soon after, and the First Born had a brother. Their life on Earth was harsh, made more so because the two boys were different from the rest of their tribe.  Their Minds were Awake, and they were able to see inside others – they saw the thoughts and feelings of the primitive race that spawned them. The two boys were smarter, and as a result they were shunned and feared as outcasts. 

          Because the two brothers were so alike, they understood each other and spent time in each other’s company so they wouldn’t be alone.  They were close, at first inseparable and a great love grew between them.  Their tribe lived in the Valley of the Tree of Life and food was plentiful, so they were able to live even as outcasts at a young age.

          Language of the tongue did not yet exist, but with their Minds Open it was easy for them to communicate with one-another.  They felt special, being so much smarter than their tribe, and even as young as they were, they managed to survive.

          One day the First Born heard something inside his Mind he had never heard before – a voice that spoke words!  The sounds were strange, and at first he was terrified, but with his Mind Open he understood the meaning behind the sounds, and before long he was able to speak them in his Mind as well.

          The voice warned him not to speak the language aloud, saying it would be dangerous.  It insisted he not tell anyone of what he heard, especially his brother.  The voice spoke to him often and told him many secrets, and he grew in strength and Power.  He began to spend more time alone, and his brother became sad and hurt by his behavior.

          One day the First Born and his brother fought, which they had never done before.  The voice whispered in the First Born’s ear that his brother was jealous and wanted all the secrets for himself.  Over time the voice twisted and bent the First Born, eventually planting a seed in his brain, suggesting that his brother needed to be killed.

          At first that thought was inconceivable.  Even though they fought they were still close, but more and more the voice predicted the behavior of his brother and convinced the First Born that his brother was plotting to take his secrets and kill him.  The voice whispered to him constantly, guiding him and shaping his thoughts, corrupting him, and deceiving him.

          The seed took root and the plan of the Dark One, the source of the voice, began to grow.  The voice taught him how to hide his thoughts, shielding them from his brother so he would not see the plan to kill him. 

The First Born waited until they needed to begin collecting food to store for the approaching winter and called his brother to go gathering together as they used to.  His brother seemed happy, and they entered the deeper part of the valley, close to the water that fed the Tree of Life.  As part of his plan the First Born became separated from his brother.

          He found a stone, the size of his fist.  It had jagged edges on it and he used it to cut his own leg, then he lay on the ground and howled in pain, pretending to have fallen off a ledge.  His brother, unsuspecting, came running and saw him lying on the ground, bleeding. 

          The sky overhead, sunny only moments before, filled with clouds and wind.  Thunder rumbled across the Valley, but the voice told him not to be afraid.

          The Second Born never had a chance.  The stone struck his temple even as he rolled his brother over in concern.  The blow stunned him and while he was dazed, his brother’s fist, gripping the stone, struck again and again.  His brother only cried out three times before he fell silent.

          The First Born let the primitive rage inside him lose as he struck his sibling and a feeling of power and strength rushed through him.  He lost himself in the violence of the act, and when he came back to himself he looked on his brother in dismay.  Suddenly, he felt fear and was ashamed.

          His brother’s face was nearly gone, crushed and caved in by his brutal attack.  Blood was everywhere, covering both of them, still hot and sticky.  The body still twitched and pain unlike anything he ever felt hit the First Born’s Heart.  The blood on the stone started to steam and smoke.

What have I done!?  I take it back!

He had no words, but his Soul shouted the meaning of his thoughts out to the voice.  The voice tricked him!  It said he would feel powerful! He did for a moment… then he saw his brother’s broken and lifeless body and the stone in his hand that performed the deed.  Loneliness washed over him… his brother was gone.  His brother, who had spent so much time in his Mind and Heart was absent.  He sensed the finality of his action and knew it could not be undone.

Thunder and Lightning filled the skies.  Rain began to pour as the Heavens wept.  Creation groaned, and the laughter of the Dark One echoed throughout Creation.

The violence and betrayal of his act changed everything.   The wrath of Heaven came down and Cursed the First Born, and all of Mankind through him.  He gripped the Stone, now steaming with Power and covered in his brother’s blood, and fled.  He was ashamed of his act and filled with self-loathing and regret.

The First Born fled into the caves beneath the Tree.  He found the pool of the Water of Life and tried to cleanse the blood off his hands, but the stain would not go away.  He wanted to be rid of the Stone, as if by its absence his shame and guilt would go with it, so he flung it into the depths of the Water of Life.  The Magic of the Water infused Power into Stone, feeding and strengthening the Curse, and altering it.

Uriel appeared to collect the Soul of the Second Born, but it was nowhere to be found.  At that precise moment, by the Power of the Water of Life through the Stone, the Soul of the Second Born was birthed into a male child in the tribe, beginning the Cycle of Life and Death of the Second Born.  Uriel wept, thinking the Soul lost forever, sucked into the Curse as it was brought into Being.

The Stone rested in the Water of Life, hidden away for tens of thousands of years until the Veil was called into existence.  When the Physical and Spiritual Realms were separated, the Stone slipped between the two Realms into the Pale, where it lay on the ground in the barren rocky landscape, seemingly a common stone among many.

Every seventh year, on the anniversary of the Second Born’s death and rebirth, the Stone would glow briefly, evidence of the Curse and the tragic Cycle of Death surrounding it, as it called to the Second Born when he re-entered the world. 

Eighty thousand years later, on the day Drew Hastings was born, the last vessel of the Second Born’s Soul, an Eschphene child saw the Stone on the ground where he was playing.  He saw it glow briefly, and curious, picked it up and smelled its Power...  and so the Stone came into the hands of the Eschphene, whose current Leader believed it was the Balance asserting itself by giving him the means to accomplish something always thought impossible - identify the Second Born.  He vowed to use the Stone to break the Curse and restore Balance to Creation, and more importantly to him, restore the position of his People as a preeminent race in Creation.

 

 < The Present >

 

          The Master woke with a start, his harsh breath hissing through crooked yellow teeth. He detested that sound, as much as he detested his physical appearance.  Once, he attempted to have his teeth straightened, but the Curse would not allow it.  Another time he had his legs broken and set so he could walk fully upright, but again the Curse would not allow it.  It prevented him from change, trapping him in his original form.

          The primitive ugliness of his body made him hate the physical beauty of the New Warriors of The Order even more.  Their perfection mocked him, and he wanted them dead; he wanted the flesh of their Avatars to adorn his new Throne.  The final Confrontation with them was approaching, and he would kill them himself and strip the flesh off their perfectly muscled shoulders.

          He wondered at the significance of his Dream. Memories shut away for eons were haunting him, becoming more vivid with each reoccurrence.  He realized the presence of his brother was responsible, yet he also knew there was more to it than that.

          The Master rose and lumbered, naked, to his throne room.  The seat of his Throne, upholstered with the flesh of his enemies through the ages, was comfortable and reminded him of his strength and the promises of The Dark One.

          Dominion of the Physical Realm was to be his forever, once he defeated The Order and quenched their Light from the world.  His final victory was approaching; he could feel it in every fiber of his being. 

He was only seated a moment when a servant came to the entrance of the Throne Room, hovering and awaiting permission to enter.  The Master could sense his excitement.  Not fear or anxiety as had been the norm recently, but excitement, perhaps over good news for a change.

          The Master wanted solitude to ponder and meditate upon the meaning of his Dream, but he knew the servant would remain until given permission to speak. 

The irritation in his voice was evident as his deep voice rumbled, “Enter.”

          The man could hardly contain himself as he nearly shouted, “Master, we found it!”

          He knew instantly what his servant referred to, and his heart leapt in his massive chest. He sat up, immediately tense.  The Valley!

When the Veil was called into existence and the Physical and Spiritual Realms separated, the Valley had been moved and hidden by the archangel Michael, and The Master had searched for its location ever since. It was the place of his birth, but even more importantly it held the Tree of Life.  Unimaginable Power resided in the Tree if he could tap into it… or destroy it and deny its Power to the Light.  He wondered if Life could continue without the Tree and if he would die too, or if the Curse would Protect him even from that?

Aside from the Tree, the Valley was a sacred place that held many secrets; deeper things he would uncover.  He had hunted its location his entire life, and it eluded him.  If he destroyed it, along with the New Warriors of The Order, the Light would truly be vanquished forever on Earth.

It brought him great pleasure and satisfaction that the New Warriors of The Order were the reason for his discovery. When he called the Blood Curse down upon Kenneth Habersham, his Teammates took him to The Valley to slow its effects.  At one point, Brad Wilson summoned a considerable amount of Power, surprising even The Master at its strength and intensity, trying to reconnect his Soul with Ken’s and stave off the effects of the Blood Curse.  It was a futile attempt and showed his foolishness, but it was strong enough that The Master felt it.  Brad Wilson’s Power touched him across the planet.  It was enough for him to get a general idea of where they were, and he dispatched Servants to explore the area.

          Excitement ran through him.  Yessss!  He knew there would be protections, but he would overcome those.  The Order did not know his true power.  He rarely invoked the Curse directly, because he did not need to.  The strength of his Soul and the Arcane Power he wielded through knowledge gained over his long lifetime was impressive by itself, but the Curse was an Elemental force and tied to the fabric of Creation.  If he invoked its Power directly, it was unstoppable.

          He sensed the Confrontation coming, and his victory would come with it.  He would destroy the Valley and the new Warriors of the Order in a two-pronged attack.  He would call all the armies of Darkness at his command.  He had called them four years earlier on the morning Ken Habersham and Brad Wilson underwent their final Transformation, Awakening their Nephilim Heritage.  On that day the Four Corners Protected them, additionally receiving unexpected assistance from the Bard Taliesin.   The Bard had resurfaced recently, and The Master’s servants were under orders to discover his whereabouts and capture or kill him. 

Without the Four Corners to Protect them from the full Power of the Darkness, the Nephilim abominations would be obliterated.  He had studied their Avatars and garnered some of their Secrets.  When all ten of them were together, their Avatars locked by Ken Habersham, they were incredibly Powerful.  Their Avatars were unique and grew in Power as needed to be equal to any challenge.  It was possible, though unlikely, they could match the Power of the Curse for a short time, but not indefinitely, and then only if they were all together.

He would make sure they would not be together.  He would divide them, and force them to defend the Tree in the Valley and Drew Ross in Atlanta.  The Master would destroy his brother, The Tree, and The Order on the same day, and his victory in the Physical Realm would be complete and irrevocable.  The realization of The Dark One’s prophecy would be at hand.

          It would take time to summon all his Servants.  Many demons and creatures of Darkness fell under his Dominion, scattered across the infinite universe of the Physical Realm.  Even though the Dark One had been forced to withdraw his direct influence, The Master still controlled many supernatural beings not of Earth.

          He felt the signs of the impending Fight.  This would be the decisive Battle, the results of which would be final and unalterable.  Darkness would rule forever and with his victory the Light would finally be eradicated.

          He lounged on his throne, one leg draped over the arm of the chair, with his grotesquely muscled body on full display.  The news of the Valley’s discovery and his thoughts of victory over The Order excited him, as was evident by his towering erection.   With a wave of his clawed hand a group of whores came forward and began pleasuring him with their hands and mouths.

          Almost as an afterthought he addressed the servant that brought him the news, “You have done well.  Leave me.”

          The servant left and when the echoes of The Master’s deep voice stopped, the only sounds in the room were women using their hands and mouths working him to release, and the harsh sound of his breathing from the pleasure he received.

         

<><  Chapter 29 ><>

<>  Mid-October <>

 

Ken hit the remote control to open the garage door just as they turned the corner of their street.  There was a small window of opportunity to hit the button, or the signal bounced and failed to reach the house.  If it didn’t work, he had to wait until they were in the driveway.  It was a challenge to him and one he didn’t like to lose, and he had been playing it ever since they moved into the house.

          Ken and Brad pulled in the driveway and the garage door was already open as the two men got out of the Explorer.  Ken got that little kid grin on his face and pumped his fist exclaiming, “Still got my touch!”

          Brad smiled as he shook his head, still amazed sometimes at how the smallest things made Ken happy.

The sky looked grey and overcast; the first chill of fall was in the air.  As the two men looked around, leaves and twigs covered the yard; the grass needed mowing and edging, and the hedges needed trimming. 

          Brad slowed down his perception of Time as he watched the leaves blow, feeling the chill wind on his face.  The day looked much colder than it was and seemed to be effecting his mood.  He wasn’t depressed or sad exactly… he just felt ‘blah.’

          Ken seemed unaffected as they silently entered the house through the laundry room into the kitchen.  Brad flipped on the lights in the den and kitchen and looked around.  It took him a moment to finally realize what was bothering him – the house no longer felt like home.

          His thoughts wandered back to a day nearly four years prior when he and Ken had made out; it started out the same as most days during that time in their lives, but that particular day was significant.  In his memory he stood right where he currently was, putting groceries into the refrigerator when Ken came home from his workout at the Lab.  He remembered Ken calling out, “Hey, B!” and him replying “Hey, sissy!”

          He hadn’t called Ken ‘sissy’ in ages, and it made him smile.  It was a temporary term of endearment he used for Ken at that time.  He thought it funny because Ken was so rugged and manly, and it made them both smile.  He loved Ken’s smile – seeing it, especially when he was the cause and it was directed at him, sent a warmth deep down into his Soul.

          The scene in Brad’s head came as much from his memory as from his Avatar.  The part of his Avatar that came from Bill was Reading the impressions in the house.  He wanted it to feel like home again – he needed to feel that there was some place, some life, outside the Lab that he had with Ken and his Brothers; something more than just the Battle they were in.

His thoughts continued as he remembered Ken trying the new bonding technique – it was that night, looking back, that sparked the events of Ken’s rescue from the torture by Dr. Cromwell and the Awakening of their Nephilim Heritage.  The part of Brad’s Avatar that came from Lane saw the ripples that started that night nearly four years ago and were still moving and effecting the present right up to the very second he stood in.

          While Brad stood in the kitchen lost in his thoughts, Ken moved out into the backyard.  Brad watched his husband move around, picking up a few twigs and tossing them into the fire pit.  He and Ken arranged for time out of their rotation to come winterize the pool and check on the house.  It seemed trivial with everything going on, but it needed to be done.  Ken had brought it up in their meeting a few days before, and all the guys needed to do the same thing.

Brad had a fleeting thought, wondering if they should just sell the house but realized quickly enough they couldn’t.  With all the modifications to the structure the doctor made for their safety, it was too risky.  They would have to destroy it themselves if it came down to it.  Besides, their Tree was in the backyard; their personal defense against the Darkness.  It was tied to their Avatars and one of the most potent defenses they had besides the Runes in the Lab.  Not living in their houses though, made the Trees seem useless.

          He moved to the sliding glass door and watched his husband.  Ken had pulled out a net and was skimming leaves out of the pool. 

          Brad: Why are you doing that?

          Ken:  I don’t know B.  I miss doin it.  It’s somethin to do that feels normal.

After a slight pause, Ken chuckled a little:  Not much feels normal anymore.

          Ken wore one of those tight body hugging knit workout shirts – the kind that didn’t leave anything to the imagination.  It was long sleeved and had a hood on it, and it accentuated his physique to an almost criminal level. Seeing him in that shirt and shorts with a day’s worth of scruff on his cheeks and wearing his baseball cap, Brad thought: Fuck, was he always this handsome?

          Ken picked up on Brad’s thought and turned to look at him and smiled. Again, Brad slowed down his perception of time so he could just look at his husband and soak in the sight of his smile. Ken’s smile faded slightly when he felt the unease in his husband. He set the net down and moved over to him.  Brad felt Ken’s hands on his shoulders, gripping him gently; his big warm strong hands.

          B, what’s the matter?

          I don’t know… I just feel…

Brad paused and after a heavy sigh thought: I don’t know.

          Come here.

          Ken pulled him into their signature full-bodied hug.  Their chins rested on each other’s shoulder as their arms wrapped around each other.  Brad buried his face against Ken’s neck and breathed in the scent of his man.  He soaked up Ken’s strength and solidity, feeling his warm rock-hard body against his own.  They both started to get hard and they both chuckled.

          Fuck, Ken. I’m not sure what’s up with me today.  But looking at you… God you’re more handsome and desirable to me than ever. 

          Ken grinned thinking it was just the new shirt.

          It’s not just the shirt, you douche.  I was thinking back to four years ago when all this started.  That night you tried the bonding technique.  I thought you were the best looking man on the planet back then, but now… just damn.

Ken was unassuming about his looks, but he was also very aware of the effect he had on his husband; Brad had the same effect on him, and being inside of each other so much and sharing a Soul made it evident.  Ken blushed from Brad’s thoughts and squeezed him a little tighter.

Ken activated the pairing of their nervous systems that Brad was talking about and gently started grinding himself against Brad.  

          He got that little kid grin on his face:  Which bonding technique? That one?

          Brad chuckled:  Yeah, that one.

          Fuck, I want you so bad B.  We came here to work on the house, but I don’t think we can until we both get this out of our systems.

          Red fire erupted out of their Core Energy Centers, and their libidos ignited.

          Let’s go back to the bedroom.   We can take care of the house after.

          Even as big and muscular and Brad was, he jumped up and Ken caught him as if he were a child.  He cupped Brad’s ass in his hands as Brad’s legs wrapped around his trim waist.  Their eyes closed and they kissed.  It was gentle at first, even tender, but it was like pouring gasoline on the fires inside them.

          With Brad wrapped around his upper body, Ken walked them back to their bedroom.  Brad stripped Ken’s shirt off him and then his own, but they continued to hold each other and kiss.  Feeling each other’s body, the warmth of their skin, Brad’s hairy chest against Ken’s mostly smooth one; it was all so comforting and perfect.  They couldn’t get enough of each-other

          A bright yellow ribbon of energy came out of their big bare chests, connecting them, as Brad brought their Souls together and sweat popped out across their skin.  They continued to hold each other tight, occasionally releasing their hands enough so they could caress each-other, or touch a special place they knew would drive the other crazy.  With the bond going, it drove them both crazy.

          They both climaxed in their shorts before they even got undressed, but they didn’t stop.  Their first orgasm just warmed them up, and then they both became ‘that guy’ for the other. 

          Three hours later, Ken lay trembling on top of Brad, his eyes squeezed tightly shut.  He was still entwined with Brad’s Soul and didn’t want to come back to himself, wanting to stay lost in his husband forever.  Brad held Ken and caressed his sweaty muscular body, giving him as long as he needed, or wanted, to recover.  They were both fulfilled by the other in every way. Ken was still hard and inside Brad, and both of them were in each-other’s Mind, Heart, and Soul.

          It took a while, but they finally separated from one-another but remained cuddling.  The close physical intimacy was still too comforting to stop.

          Brad:  Do you think we’ll ever come back here to live Ken?  Even once we defeat The Master?  We’re so used to living in the Labs, and being merged with the rest of the guys.  I don’t know if we can come back to this.

          Ken:  Do you want to, B?  I want whatever’ll make you happy, you know that.  As long as I’m with you, I don’t care.

          Brad fell silent again, listening to Ken’s strong steady heartbeat.  His head rested on half of Ken’s solid chest while he slowly caressed the other half, circling Ken’s nipple every now and then.

          I honestly don’t know Ken.  I want to want it, if that makes sense.  We’ve all felt so much pain – it’s changing us.  We knew there would be costs to pay, and we’re paying them.  We’ve come so close to losing almost every one of us at some point, but we’ve all managed to survive.  We always manage to pull a win out of our asses, even when it seems hopeless. 

          Images of Henry being brutalized by the Eschphene Leader in the Pale ran through Brad’s Mind.  The pain of that encounter was the most recent, less than a week old.

          Ken reached down and felt around Brad’s solid ass like he was feeling for something.

          What are you doing?

          Checkin for a ‘win.’  I hope there’s some left in there!

          The absurdity of Ken’s statement made him laugh, which is what Ken wanted.

          Ken knew Brad was feeling the effects of the war they were in.  Brad’s Compassion made him more susceptible, and Ken was acutely aware of that.  He shielded Brad and filled him up with his own presence, walling off and putting up a barrier around what Brad was feeling until he was strong enough to fight it off on his own.  Brad was an incredibly strong man, both inside and out, but he needed a reprieve once in a while to get his bearings.  Ken didn’t see it as a weakness, in fact he loved his husband all the more for it, and saw it as a strength.  It was a part of his Avatar and what made him Brad. 

Every one of them faced a downside to their Avatars in some manner, and Compassion and Empathy were Brad’s.  Similar to Patrick’s, Brad’s Avatar wore on him all the time; it wasn’t something he could turn off.  Lane’s or Loy’s Avatars usually hit them hard all at once, and Bill’s was a blend of both and seemed the worst of all of them. 

With Brad, Ken used the analogy of holding a glass of water at arm’s length, seemingly weightless at first, but after a while the pain in your arm becomes intolerable, and you need to set the glass down for a few minutes to recover.  If repeated often, the length of time the glass could be supported becomes less and less without some type of longer rest period.  Brad was in a mode of needing a longer rest period.

          The two men lay together for a few more hours, talking quietly, and after a while Ken had Brad laughing.  They would laugh, then kiss, then cuddle, and then be quiet… not always in that order, but the process repeated a few times until the practical side of Brad asserted itself.

          Thanks, Ken.  I love you.

          Ken kissed him and got that little kid grin and thought: We’ve been over this.

          Brad grinned back: Shut the fuck up, and let me say thanks.

          Ken tweaked one of Brad’s nipples, making him jump.

          Brad:  Let’s get up.  It’s almost dark outside now.  That will make taking care of the yard easier to cover in case Gladys Kravits is spying on us.

          They referred to Leslie their neighbor as Gladys Kravits, from the old TV show Bewitched.  She was a great friend and neighbor and helped them with their mail and newspapers that collected in the driveway while they were away, but she was also very nosey and liked to peek through her curtains to see what they were up to.  Brad was convinced she really wanted to catch a glimpse of them naked.

          Ken:  I’ll make Bry proud.  I’ll take care of the yard, if you get the leaves and crap out of the pool and filters.  We’ll slide the cover on, and then we can head back to the Lab.

          They two men reluctantly got dressed and went back outside.  Ken used the part of his Avatar that came from Bryan to give the yard a makeover. He had put his shirt back on, and his Avatar shone brightly on the ball of his shoulder through the thin material.  The shirt muted the colors somewhat, but it was still bright.

 It took him a few minutes of intense concentration, but the yard looked immaculate when he was done. He retracted the growth of the grass and the hedges until it looked freshly mowed and edged and the hedges trimmed.  Brad double-checked to make sure none of their neighbors saw anything suspicious, especially Leslie.

           In the backyard, Brad used his Mind to pull all the leaves, bugs, and twigs out of the pool and the filters.  He put everything in a pile and Ken caused it all to decompose.  They pulled out the pool cover from the shed and had it secured in a few minutes.  What would normally have taken them all day only took them about twenty minutes.

          Ken:  Not bad!  If all else fails, we can open a pool and lawn service to get by.

          Brad:  Yeah, if you wear those box cut swim trunks I got you, and you go shirtless we’ll have more business than we can shake a stick at.

          Ken got that little kid grin on his face and asked: Are you objectifyin me again?

          Brad:  Hell yeah, if we ever have to make a living that way I’ll do way more than that to you.

          Ken raised his eyebrows:  I don’t even know what you mean, but it sounds hot!

          Ken’s stomach chose that time to let out a cavernous rumble.  He managed to look chagrinned, and Brad shook his head and smiled.

          Brad: OK sorry, that’s my fault… we took so long here because of me.  I’ll do the chivalrous thing and spring for dinner on the way back to the Lab.  Let’s head out.

          Ken:  Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve had P.F. Chang’s? 

Ken paused for a second and then laughed when he realized whom he was talking to: Wait, don’t answer that.

          Brad grinned and said:  That sounds perfect.  Just like old times.

          The two big men closed up the house, set it in ‘vault mode’, and headed out.

          Ken held Brad’s hand as he drove like he always did, rubbing his thumb over the back of Brad’s hand, or fiddling with his wedding ring. He knew Brad felt better, and that made him feel better too; making Brad smile was his second favorite thing to do with his husband; well, really his first favorite if he was honest.  Sex with Brad was over the top, but ever since the first time they merged, the emotional and spiritual wellbeing between them became the emphasis for fulfillment in their relationship.  Sex made them stronger as far as their powers and abilities, but their true happiness came from each other and their Brothers through the intimate bonds of their shared Souls.  He smirked to himself at his thoughts and added - but the sex sure didn’t hurt!

          Brad felt Ken’s thoughts and grinned too:  Yeah, the sex sure doesn’t hurt.

 

<><><> 

 

          Drew’s eyes fluttered open when a tremor ran through Henry’s body.  They had fallen asleep together, still sitting up in bed while Henry read “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” to Drew.  Henry was trying to read a chapter a night before Drew’s bedtime, if both of them could manage to stay awake.  Drew loved it when Henry read to him; it was one of Drew’s favorite things his mom used to do for him, and he missed it.

          When Lane found out they were reading that particular book, he told Drew to start calling Loy and Rick Mr. and Mrs. Beaver.  The look on Loy’s face was priceless the first time it happened, and then he told Drew there would be serious repercussions in the form of a tickle monster every time Drew called him Mr. Beaver from then on.  The other half of the joke that went without saying was that Rick was Mrs. Beaver, which got no end of laughs out of everybody but Rick.

          At first Henry wasn’t very good at reading Drew bedtime stories… his reading voice used to be flat and monotone.  It was Drew’s Grandpa Tag that taught Henry how to really read a story.  Tag put so much life into the characters, he could make Drew giggle, or scared, or sometimes even cry. 

          Now Henry was almost as good as Grandpa Tag.  Tag taught Henry to get over his embarrassment, and how to get into the story and make it good for Drew.

Drew loved the story they were reading; Doctor Aaron suggested it, but it could be any book and Drew would love it because of the one-on-one time with his dad, and getting to snuggle together in bed.    Drew would recline against Henry’s big body, and Henry would keep an arm around Drew, and Drew would hold onto his dad’s arm.  He never felt scared or alone with Henry, even when the stories should make him that way; even when he thought about his brother, The Master.

          Drew felt Henry’s trembling get stronger and it snapped his thoughts back to the present. He wondered again if he should try and wake his dad up.

 

<><> 

 

          In his dream, Henry again faced off against the Eschphene Leader.  The Magic that created the dome over the arena was complete and would only open when one of them was dead.  Every detail in his dream was the same as he remembered, except for an overpowering sense that he failed his son.

The fight started, and at first Henry fended off the giant creature.  He used every ounce of skill he learned from Ken, his Brothers, and Albrecht.  He was grace in motion and at the height of his Power; his movements physical perfection.  He re-lived every second of the fight; the pain, the sweat, the blood, and the desperation to save Drew from the Eschphene plan to turn his son into a monster.

He fought with everything in him; he was a Wall between Drew and the Eschphene.  In the Leader’s Mind, Henry saw the creature they intended to turn Drew into – aging him prematurely and by their magic transforming his son into one of them. 

The image Henry saw in the Leader’s Mind showed Drew’s deformed body.  It was unrecognizable as his son except for his eyes.  His body was massive, covered with sigil-covered bone shards with the Stone embedded in his heart, fueling the magic that would create him.  They were going to merge every incarnation inside of Drew into One creature under their control with the sole intent of destroying The Master.  They didn’t care one whit for Drew or his life; to them, he was an end that justified the means.

          Seeing that image kept Henry fighting, and he continued to fight, but he wasn’t enough… every blow he received ripped another piece of his Heart out as he failed his son.  He knew Drew’s greatest fear was being abandoned and left alone, and after Liz’s absence in his life, Henry vowed to always be there to Protect him. He knew Ken and the others would take care of Drew if anything happened to him, but it wasn’t the same as having his father.

          Every time Henry was knocked down he got up, but each time slower and more damaged.  His body was bloody and bruised; covered in lacerations over his arms and legs where his skin was exposed.

          Finally, a blow landed that knocked Henry senseless, and he knew it was over.  His bones were shattered, and his body broken. He tried to drag himself up, but he was too slow.  He failed.

          Through the pain-filled fog, Henry heard a deep guttural growl.  The sound filled the dome and drove the fog out of his Mind.  The Wolf-Spirit appeared in front of Henry, between him and the Eschphene Leader.  Henry had never heard the sound that came out of her before… it was terrifying.  Her eyes glowed brightly, and her form grew until she dwarfed the Eschphene Leader.  The nape of her neck, where her hackles were completely raised, reached the top of the dome.

          With a brutal attack she grabbed the Eschphene Leader in her jaws and tore him in half.  She savagely shook her head from side to side, tearing him apart.  Henry heard all the bone shards in his body crunch and splinter as she bit him in half; black blood sprayed the inside of the dome and dripped from her muzzle.

          He looked on in disbelief, even as relief flooded through him.

          He knew the Wolf-Spirit didn’t have the gift of speech, but they were in the Realm of Dreams where anything was possible, and she was powerful there.  That was the reason Loy bound her to Drew.  Her voice was soothing, and he felt her Spirit wash over him.

          You were enough Henry Ross, and you vanquished your foe.  You protected your cub, and your pack.  Do not let fear or despair into your Heart.  It will weaken you and your ability to defend the child. 

You were victorious.  You were the Wall, and you held.  Do not tell yourself you failed.  You are alive, and your enemy is dead. Your cub is safe once again.  You are strong Henry Ross, and worthy of his Love.

Henry felt more of the lingering trauma leave his Mind and Heart, as if she took it away.  He also felt a warmth from the white lock in his hair.  He felt and understood the wisdom of her words, and his unconscious Mind incorporated it all into his psyche.

 

<><> 

 

          Drew sat up and put a hand on either side of Henry’s face, cupping his cheeks; he felt the roughness of the day’s growth of facial hair.  Henry was sweating from his Dream and his skin felt damp.  Drew brushed the short hair off Henry’s forehead like his dad did for him when he was upset.  It always made him feel better.

          He saw the white lock of hair on Henry’s head; it was bright in the dark of the room and easy to see.  As Drew reached to touch it, he heard the Wolf-Spirit let out a deep guttural growl, and Drew felt the trembling in his dad stop, but he was still worried.

          Henry was a heavy sleeper, but Drew’s touch woke him up as the Wolf-Spirits words echoed in his Mind.  You are worthy of his Love. He started and when his eyes opened, he was looking directly into Drew’s, whose face was close to his in the dark.

          Henry’s voice was heavy with sleep, “I’m sorry honey, I was having a bad dream.  I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

          “Are you OK, Daddy?”

          He yawned, “Yeah, I’m fine.”

He grinned and said, “You know what?  I’m better than fine, because I got my boy looking out for me.  Come here.”

          Henry pulled Drew’s little body against him, wrapping him up in his big arms.

          “I love you so much Drew.  Do you know that?”

          Drew shook his head up and down saying, “I do, Daddy.”  His voice was muffled because his face was pressed against Henry’s chest.

          “Do you know how much?”

          Drew sat up and held his arms out as wide as he possibly could.  It was a game his Uncle Tag had started with him, and it stuck.

          “That’s right, but even more than that.  Now let’s try and go back to sleep.  We have a long day tomorrow.”

          Henry leaned forward and repositioned the pillows on the bed, fluffing them, so they could lay down.

          Henry lay on his side, and Drew spooned back against him.  Henry had one arm around his son holding them against one-another.  As he drifted back off to sleep he whispered, “You’re such a good boy, Drew.”  He kissed the top of Drew’s head, and then he immediately started quietly snoring.

          Drew was still wide awake.  Normally, the sound of Henry’s snoring lulled Drew to sleep.  It wasn’t loud, but it was a sound he became accustomed to, and it proved beyond any doubt his dad was with him and he wasn’t alone. It was a comforting sound he had come to rely on.

          Drew glanced at the foot of the bed and saw the Wolf-Spirit, translucent and barely visible in the dim light of their room.  Her eyes gleamed as she looked back, watching him.  He had come to love and rely on her too.

          Drew snuggled up against his dad, resting his head against Henry’s warm chest.  He turned over, wrapping his arms as far around Henry’s thick torso as he could reach.  He was in one of his ‘adult modes’ and knew the Wolf-Spirit had somehow helped his dad.  He knew she had helped his Uncle Kevin too, after his brother Archie’s death.  The Wolf-Spirit talked to him in his own Dreams and told him many things.

          Drew’s thoughts wandered as he lay wide awake; all the others inside him were awake too, and restless. He felt sad, and missed his Grandpa Tag and Auntie Olive.  Images of Henry getting brutalized and almost dying in front of him a week ago kept flashing through his mind, and tears fell down his face onto Henry’s ribcage from the memory and trauma of that day.

          Drew felt he had to protect Henry from The Master; the urge inside him to do so was overpowering.  He had to! Especially after the words of the birdman.  He watched his dad and his Uncles, and listened to them.  They joked and teased each other, but Drew saw the love between them.  To him it was palpable and sometimes he felt he could almost touch it.  It was strong and powerful between them, and they would do anything for one-another.

          He watched his dad beaten by the Eschphene Leader, and even die for a few seconds.  He had seen some of his Uncles come close to dying as well, and knew they lost many people they cared about - all because of Drew and who he was, and his brother, The Master.

          Drew watched and learned from their example.  He knew Henry and his Uncles were there to protect him, but he couldn’t bear to see any of them get hurt again because of him.  He would do anything for them just as they would for him.  He had to find a way to do what he needed to do on his own, and remove the threat to them.  He had to.  He had to protect all of them from his brother.

His mind went back to the conversation he had with the Birdman at the wedding in Scotland.  He distinctly remembered the voice in his Mind saying:  Come.

                          

<><> 

 

He knew right where to go to find the man.  He was waiting in the grass and smiled at him.  Drew stopped a few feet away, unsure if he should get closer.  Drew only ever heard him as a voice in his head, and had never seen him in person.

When his arms extended in an open invitation of a hug, Drew rushed forward and threw his arms around the man’s neck.  The man wasn’t as big as his dad or his uncles, but Drew felt how strong he was.  His hug was like warm sunshine and a cool breeze at the same time on Drew’s Soul.  He smelled like nothing Drew had ever experienced before; sunshine, and grass, and aftershave, and sweat, and Love… it was one of the most soothing and comforting smells ever, and it washed through him along with the hug.

“Hello, Drew.  It’s nice to see you in person.”

Drew nodded his agreement.  He was crying, but his tears were happy tears, and he couldn’t help them.  It was like his eyes couldn’t contain the joy that bubbled up inside him by being with the man.

“Have a seat.  We don’t have a lot of time to talk, and there are some things I want to tell you.”

“OK.”  Drew sat down on his knees with his legs folded under him right in front of the man.

They looked long and hard at one another.  Drew saw so many things in the man’s eyes, and they became misty as his face turned serious.

He finally said, “I’m sorry Drew for the life you’ve had.  I know it hasn’t been easy.”

He paused for a moment, as if choosing his words carefully and then continued, “I sent Henry to you, and I think you approve.”

“He’s the best dad in the world.  I love him more than anything.”

“Yes, I know you do, and that makes me very happy for both of you.”

“The time is coming Drew when you will meet your brother.  You know what has to happen.”

“Can you help me? He’s mean and strong.  He wants to hurt me.”

“Yes, he does Drew.  He is everything you say.  He doesn’t really remember himself, when he was like you.  That’s the part of him you need to find.  It’s deep down inside him and will be very hard to get to.  He will do everything in his power to keep you from doing that.

“You know, you two were much alike in the beginning.  He was older by almost two years.  You were the first two human Souls, born in the Valley.  You played together, and laughed, even hunted and gathered food together. Life then was not pleasant, and the fear of death constant, but you had each other.  You learned to survive against all odds.”

He paused again for a moment and then continued, “You are still alike in some ways, you know.”

Drew didn’t believe him and asked, “How?”

“Do you know what his favorite drink is?”

“No.”

“Grape Nehi, the same as yours, but he won’t tell anyone, and he won’t drink it because of how he thinks it would be seen by his servants.  But deep down it’s his favorite.  He also likes Count Chocula, but he won’t eat that either.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. He buries those things… me must, or he would not be who he thinks he needs to be.  That is at the heart of it all… who he thinks he needs to be, rather than who he is.  Another of my children helped your brother to forget all those things.”

“The other bad man?”

“Yes, him.  You know of him as well.”

“I do.  Some of the voices told me about him.  I remember him too, but I don’t know how.”

“You remember many things you haven’t mentioned to your father or your uncles.  You know how to do many things you haven’t told them about.”

Drew looked chagrinned, “Yes sir.  I don’t want them to be disappointed in me.”

“Drew they love you.  They have nothing but your survival and best interest at heart.  You should trust them.  They will not be disappointed in you. They couldn’t be, any more than I could.”

Trying to change the subject Drew blurted out, “Can you help with my brother?”

“No, Drew.  I am simply telling you more about him.  I am stretching things by saying as much as I have.  What you do has to matter, and it has to be on your own and of your own volition.”

Drew started to cry, “But, I can’t.”

“Believe in yourself Drew.  Your father does.  Your uncles do.  Doctor Aaron and Mister Albrecht do.  Miss Sally does.  Your Grandpa Tag and Auntie Olive do.  The young soldiers in Australia do.  You see?  Everyone who cares about you believes in you.  I do too.”

“My Uncles told me they can’t beat him until I win.”

“No they can’t, and it’s very important Drew that Henry not be a part of what you have to do.  You know he will want to.  He will want to stay by your side and Protect you, but he cannot be there.   You mustn’t tell him what we’ve talked about.  If you say anything to him about what we have talked about here, there is a good chance you will lose him forever.”

His words stung deep and Drew cried.  He didn’t understand why he had to be alone to confront his brother.  His deepest fear was of being alone, and he knew the Birdman was aware of that; Drew told him every time he prayed.

He was terrified of losing Henry, especially after losing his mom.  That thought was the scariest part of everything he heard.  Scarier than fighting his brother.  He almost lost his dad when he fought the Eschphene Leader, and he was still traumatized by what he saw his dad go through and the terror of those moments when he thought his dad was gone forever.

“I can’t do it by myself!”  He was starting to hiccup from the intensity of his crying.  The fear he had repressed ever since he first learned of his task bubbled up.  He suddenly wanted his dad; he needed his dad.  He reverted back to a six-year-old boy that was terrified and out of his depth.

The man’s warm hand reached out and cupped his cheek, “Be brave Drew.  I’m so sorry that this falls on your shoulders.  That was never my intent.  I did not plan on any of this, and I helped to fashion your Uncles to help correct it all.  They are random and not tied to me.  That is something I have never done before, and I took a great risk in their creation, but I have faith in them.  It pains me what you have gone through and what you still must do.  I will be with you every step of the way, but I will not be able to help you.  You must do it on your own.”

“I don’t know how!”

“You will know the way when you see it.  You are a very smart young man.  You are loved so much by everyone around you, and that makes you strong, much stronger than you know.  Believe in yourself.”

Drew heard Henry calling for him, and he called back.  He wanted his dad to meet the birdman.  Henry’s reaction wasn’t at all what he expected though; his dad seemed afraid.

Drew wasn’t sure how to interpret the expression on the birdman’s face as they parted.  He looked sadder than before, and Drew wondered if he had done something wrong.  He wanted to ask, but Henry was very upset and picked him up, afraid for him, and they ran away.

 

<><> 

 

The emotions from his recollection of the memory ignited a fire among the incarnations inside Drew.  The fear of his task, of confronting his brother The Master, and what he had to do, the terror of almost losing his Uncle Darren in Thomin’s cave, his Uncle Ken when The Master called the Blood Curse down on him, his Uncles Loy and Rick in Africa when they found the creature in his pocket dimension, and seeing his dad so brutally beaten and watching him die, even if it was only for a few seconds; all of those feelings hit the incarnations and were magnified and reflected back at him. It started as a wave that slowly built, and would quickly become unstoppable.  The incarnations were already restless from his worry over Henry’s nightmare, and Drew’s emotions triggered a tsunami inside him. 

He sat up, rigid and wide-eyed, paralyzed from the intensity and suddenness of it.  He grabbed at the Centering Flame, but they snuffed it out faster than he could focus on it.  Something changed in them after the Eschphene etched the sigils on the Stone; their efforts were more coordinated than before.

When he was calm and practicing with his dad or Mr. Albrecht, he could talk to them one at a time, but if they got upset, especially all together as they were at the moment, they were learning how to overwhelm him.

He tried to draw breath but hiccupped.  Tears spilled down his face as his eyes squeezed shut, trying to hold the wave back inside his Mind.  He reached towards Henry in desperation.  Henry didn’t have much hair on his chest but Drew’s fist clutched some, and when his fist tightened it pulled hard waking Henry up.

 

<><><> 

 

Drew opened his eyes and stood alone on the rocky plane just outside the Valley of Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life.  The sky was black and clouds boiled and seethed as lightning stretched as far as he could see.  The wind was cold and blowing so hard it nearly knocked him over.  Thunder cracked and Lightning ripped across the sky.

All of the incarnations were there, off in the distance, rushing towards him across the plane; it was the same as when Henry and his Uncle Brad were with him in Africa.  He panicked and could only stand and watch as the storming mob came to overwhelm him.

The Wolf-Spirit appeared in front of him, her hackles high as she faced the coming tide.  He put his hand on her back, and her rough fur felt comforting.

He was almost blinded by the Light of his father as Henry’s arms suddenly wrapped tightly around him from behind.  Henry’s deep voice whispered in his ear, “I’ve got you Drew!  You’re safe!”

The Wolf-Spirit howled and summoned her pack.  They appeared around Henry and Drew, surrounding them, adding their strength to Henry’s.  The rushing tide hit the Wall of Henry’s Shield hard. They were stronger than before, and Henry was surprised.  He steeled his Will, as they beat against the Wall, pushing with relentless pressure.  They were an out-of-control mob ruled by emotion and there were over eleven thousand of them.

The closest of them were only a few yards away when Henry noticed something new; their eyes had a red-orange gleam in them that was the same color as the Eschphene Sigils in the Stone. 

Henry’s Mind connected the dots… the Eschphene operated under a ‘hive’ mentality.  The incarnations inside of Drew were similar in that they were all a part of him, except he wasn’t in control of them.  The incarnations were susceptible to Eschphene magic, and that was what the Stone must have done when they altered it!

The pressure on his Shields continued to mount.  Vortices formed and began dropping from the sky as tornados were born in the clouds.  The Spiritual Storm the incarnations were invoking was manifesting around them.

Henry knew Loy and Rick were just down the hall.  He wondered why they hadn’t felt anything and then realized it was part of the Eschphene Magic still working through the incarnations.  He called to Loy knowing the triggers in his Mind would wake him.

Loy!  Rick! We need you!

Because they were in Drew’s Mind, there was a slight time differential.  Immediately his two Brothers filled him up, becoming One with him and bolstering his Soul, but it took a few seconds for Loy and Rick to appear.  His Shields brightened and he felt the pressure against them lessen as Loy and Rick added their strength to his.

Loy and Rick moved to either side of Henry and Drew, their arms outstretched, back to back, keeping their Brother and his son between them, ready to defend them from anything that might happen.  A white ribbon of Power flowed and crackled between the two men, encircling Henry and Drew and the Wolf-Spirit.  White tendrils flowed off the ribbon and through her pack, strengthening them as well; they grew in size and Power as their Steward filled them with his Presence.  Loy’s Avatar shone bright on the ball of his muscled shoulder in the dim, grey landscape.  The hot wind of their Power counteracted the cold air of the place they were in, making Drew feel even safer.

A few seconds later, the rest of the Team appeared, shining towers of strength and Light.  They added their Light to the bright ribbon as they all came to be One, and the events of the last few minutes became a part of them.

Lane was the Seer and Oracle of The Order, the Dreamer, and what was happening in Drew’s Mind fell under his Province.  While all the men formed a Wall around Henry and Drew, Lane knelt down inside the circle in front of Henry and Drew.

Henry felt one of Ken’s hands on his back, touching him and affirming his presence.  All of them added to the white ribbon as it became thicker and more potent with their combined presence.  They were One and greater by far than the sum of their individual selves, and Henry made them even more so.

Lane didn’t merge completely with Drew, but he went deep with him, pulling him down with all of the men.  By Lane’s Will, the wind died down as he exerted his influence, offsetting the incarnations.  The pressure of the storm and wind lessened.

The hysteria inside of Drew was painful to all of them, and they wrapped Drew up in their Power and strength.  Once Lane saw some semblance of recognition in Drew, he cupped Drew’s face in his big warm hands.  Henry still had his arms around Drew holding him tight against his body.

The comforting presence of all his uncles, and the touch of Lane and his dad began to calm him.  The Wolf-Spirit stood beside Lane, pressing her body against his.

“Hey, Tiger.  Look at me.” Lane’s voice was calm and soothing; it echoed with Power, and cut through everything that was happening.  The only thing that mattered to Lane in that moment was Drew and his wellbeing, and Drew knew that.  He felt it.

Drew’s face moved slightly, turning towards Lane, but his eyes were still glassy.

“Look at me, buddy.  It’s me, Uncle Lane.  We’re all here with you, kiddo.  Come back to us.”

Henry felt it first… the hysteria was still there, but it changed.  The grip the incarnations had on Drew was pushed back, and Henry knew when it was just Drew in his arms.  The connection with the broken fragments of his Soul was undone and he was Drew again but in the middle of a breakdown.  The chaos in his mind was still overpowering; it was the most severe attack he had yet, and Henry wondered why and what had set it off.

Henry had tears running down his face and he looked pleadingly at Lane:  Do something Lane!  Please help him!  I don’t know what to do for him!

Lane:  You’re doing exactly what you need to be doing Henry.  Hold him.  Hold him with your arms and your Heart, as tight as you can.  We’ll figure this out. 

It took time as each of the men added their voices to Lane’s and Henry’s. They all talked to Drew in his Mind and Heart, calming him and bringing him back to himself.  The incarnations did not go away, but they began to calm down, and the red-orange light of their eyes faded until they eventually stood motionless, looking at Drew.

Pat saw everything with his Understanding and knew what needed to be done.  Pat had not encountered the incarnations directly before, so he had never seen what he Understood at that moment. The issue wasn’t with Drew; it was with the incarnations themselves.  Eschphene Magic was potent and subtle, and very different from Nephilim Magic – unbeknownst to any of them, the Stone had altered the incarnations like a virus.

Drew finally turned and grabbed Henry around his neck, crushing his face against his dad as he sobbed and hiccupped.  Henry ran his hand up and down Drew’s back soothingly and continued to talk to him, along with all of them.  They felt Drew’s pain, they carried it with him.  They wanted so badly to merge with him but knew how dangerous it would be to him, so they refrained.

Where they were, in Drew’s Mind; they were all naked, just like their Souls.  Everyone plus Henry was fully merged, and Lane held Drew on the fringe of them, not fully merged, but as deep as he thought safe.  The naked warmth of his dad’s body against his own comforted Drew.  It wasn’t sexual, but Drew pressed himself against Henry, feeling the strength of his body, the warmth of his skin, and his big arms around him.

Inside their own private Link, Ken pulled them together.  They felt Henry’s helplessness.  They also saw Henry’s revelation about the Eschphene plan to use Drew and how the Stone had altered the incarnations.  Pat’s Understanding confirmed it all.

Pat was beating himself up over not seeing it before, but Brad interjected:  There’s no way you could have seen it Pat.  Don’t feel like it’s your fault.  You know we aren’t supposed to Merge with Drew.  We’re pushing it being as deep with him as we are right now, but there’s no choice at the moment.  The only way you would have seen them is in this circumstance.

They felt the Puppet strings and Henry went ballistic inside.  The white lock of hair blazed in the dim muted colors of the barren landscape.  His voice railed out to God:  Did you cause this just so Pat would see what’s going on!?   Did Drew have to go through this!?  Do you want to destroy him before he even has a chance to do what he needs to do!?

None of them had felt Henry so angry, and it was frightening. Ken said long ago in a conversation he had with Brad that with their capacity to Love so vastly increased by who and what they were, their capacity for the opposite was also increased.  Henry had so much love for Drew in him, so much more than a normal human father.  He was Awake and an Original Man, he lived inside his Nephilim Brothers, and he had been touched by God Himself.  His capacity for anger was stretched just as much as his capacity for love, and he never realized just how much until that moment. Brad shielded Drew from the strength of it even though it wasn’t directed at him or any of them.

Brad:  Henry!  Tone it down!

Brad’s words were like a glass of cold water in Henry’s face, and he immediately pulled Drew back enough to look him in the face.  Henry’s face softened, and he put one hand on the back of Drew’s head, cupping it and pulling their heads together forehead to forehead.

Drew felt the tension in Henry’s body; his muscles were hard as steel under Drew’s hands, but it was still a comfort.  The warmth and strength Drew felt just by his dad’s presence helped to calm him.  Surrounded by his Uncles, hearing their voices, and feeling their hands on him worked their own magic.

They stayed with Drew until he calmed down.  The Wall of Henry’s Shield was still bright and Powerful, and the incarnations stood outside it looking in; they were like ghosts, real – but not real.

Ken had his arms wrapped around Henry and Drew both, Willing them to calm down and filling them with a sense of well-being.  The Wolf-Spirit sent her pack away so as not to scare the incarnations.

Bill set up a private Link with all of them but Drew:  Guys, I need to Read one of them.  Just like Pat didn’t see them until he was here, I need to touch one of them and find out what the Stone did to them. 

Lane:  I See this happening again and again.  Drew will be torn apart before his next birthday if we don’t find a way to stop it.

Ken: Henry, I know it’s a lot to ask, but we need Drew to focus and pull one of them in here, and we need to stay Shielded from them as a precaution.  Do you think Drew’s up to that? 

Brad:  I know he’s been through the ringer tonight, but I think it would be best to get this over with.  In your practice sessions, the incarnations are calm, and whatever effect the Stone has on them seems to be dormant and undetectable. It would be best to handle this now while it’s clearly visible to us.

Bryan:  He’s strong Henry.  You know I’m not just saying that.  The little guy is just as strong as any one of us in his own way.  He can do it with your help, and you know we’re with you both.

Henry sniffed and nodded his head, “Hey Tiger, look at me a second.”

Drew slowly raised his head off Henry’s shoulder.  His face was red and splotchy and he still had spittle running down his chin.  Henry had a big wet spot on his shoulder from it.

          He cupped the top of Drew’s head, and he smiled at him, “There’s my boy.  Are you feeling better?”

          Drew didn’t say anything, but he nodded.  Ken was still close, and he leaned in and kissed Drew on the cheek.

          Henry continued, “Drew, I need you to do something for me.  It’s very important.  I need you to grab your Centering Flame and call one of them in here with us.”

          None of them felt any anxiety spike or harsh emotions; there was a numbness, a resignation, inside of Drew after all that had just happened that worried them.  They had all felt it as soldiers, but seeing it so clearly inside of Drew at his age was heartbreaking.

 
          “Can you do that for me, honey?”

          Drew nodded and swiped at the tears in his eyes.  Lane summoned a warm damp washcloth.  He moved up and Drew scrunched his face up, knowing what was coming.

          Lane got a smile out of him, and he looked a little better, “Thanks, Uncle Lane.”

          “You’re welcome, Tiger.  You got this; no sweat.”

          All of them were surprised at how fast and steady the Flame was that appeared in Drew’s Mind.   Suddenly, there was a small Pakistani boy standing among them inside Henry’s Shield.  He looked around at the tall powerful men and felt the Light radiating off them.  His eyes were big and Soulful and filled with wonder. 

          He smiled and held up his arms, wanting to be picked up.  Bill took the opportunity and he lifted the boy up by his armpits and brought him into a hug.

          His name was Rhavi, and Bill’s eyes closed tightly as he Read the boy’s entire short life.  It was pure misery, and more tears leaked out of the corners of Bill’s eyes as he fell to one knee in reaction to what he experienced.  The breath caught in all their chests as every moment of Rhavi’s wretched life was made known and became a part of them. 

          Brad’s Compassion flared and filled them all, and Bill’s pain and Rhavi’s suffering were pushed back.  They let their Love shine on this one child as it had only one other time in his existence, when Henry held him just as Bill was.

          What drove home the severity of the Curse and the weight it put on Drew, was the fact that Rhavi was only one of over eleven thousand children who suffered just as much, and each and every one of them was a part Drew.  Drew had his own suffering under his father Doug, but what he carried inside him was staggering when they were so starkly confronted with it.

          In the middle of their thoughts, Bill saw how the Eschphene Magic infected Rhavi and the other incarnations.  It was deep and subtle.  Now that they knew what it was, Kevin’s Avatar flared, and his eyes blazed white.  It happened so fast, he barely caught himself to hold it back; just as Loy’s Avatar took him to Africa when it reacted to the Elephant, Kevin’s Avatar tried to react to what he saw.

          Ken made the decision at the speed of thought:  Do it Kev.  Get that fuckin infection, or whatever the hell it is outta that kid, then we’ll get the rest.

          Kevin moved up behind Rhavi as Bill held the boy, so he was sandwiched between the two big men.  A wave of Light came off Kevin washing over Rhavi, and Kevin felt a slight resistance as the Eschphene Magic was washed out of the boy.

          Rhavi was calm and wanted to stay where he was forever.  Bill felt the desperation in Rhavi’s arms when he didn’t want to let go as Bill set him down. He kept hopping up and down and holding his arms up, wanting to be held again. As painful as it was, they couldn’t hold all of them; there were just too many.

          The cleansing Kevin effected caused no discomfort to Rhavi, so they pulled as much Power as they could hold.  They called on all the sources of their strength and Power; the Tree, the Veil, the Music of Creation, the Spirits; they channeled it all, and Kevin became the vessel for all of them.  Ken locked their Avatars together and the Light than came out of Kevin was a silent explosion.  A Powerful wave of Light flowed out of him.  There was much more resistance because there were so many children, but Ken steeled Kevin’s Will; he was a Wall behind all of them.

          Ken learned so much about being a Wall from Henry, he made sure Henry knew it as they were One and helping to wash the Eschphene Magic out of his son.  Ken wanted to reiterate to Henry how much a part of them he was, and how important.

          In seconds it was done.  Kevin was drenched in sweat and breathing heavily, but he smiled.  They didn’t know exactly what it meant for Drew, other than the incarnations shouldn’t mob up on him or try to control him anymore, and he should find it far easier to deal with them moving forward.  The gratefulness in Henry was apparent, and the shit talk began as they razzed him about saying thanks.

          He gave as good as he got, and the banter helped lighten the mood.

          Less than a few seconds passed in the Physical Realm.  Brad sent them all back to their bodies, but not before Ken said:  Alright ladies, take an extra few hours in the morning and sleep in.  Take care of yourselves; you know what I’m talkin about.  Be ready to start trainin at 1000 EST, no matter where in the world you are, unless you’re on ZEUS.  If you are on ZEUS… well, we know what you’ll be doin.

          Drew was still in bed with Henry and about to pass out.  The entire ordeal had completely exhausted him.  As tired as he was, Henry had a hard time going back to sleep.  Every time Drew went through such a harsh trauma, it killed Henry a little more inside.  He lay awake holding Drew, just loving him.  Drew was still and slept like a rock as Henry watched over him.

          It wasn’t even an hour later when Henry heard Loy in his Mind:  Henry, you want to come in with us?  I can hear your thoughts spinning from here.  You need your rest, too.  Open invite.

          Henry grinned and asked:  No peeing or any of that shit right?  Just sleep?

          Loy burst out laughing in his Mind:  Nothing pervy…Unless we can help you with your tantric exercise in the morning.  You know I’d love to feel that hard dick of yours in my hand.  My ass is yours too if you want it.

          Henry’s eyes about bugged out of his head, and Loy and Rick burst out laughing.  There was a seed of truth on both sides about the possibility of it happening one day.  The curiosity was there in Henry, and Loy and Rick were both open to it, but there was no pressure. Their offer of sleep was genuine, and out of care and love for Henry and Drew.  Henry needed the comfort, and they were offering it.  The offer of sex was an undercurrent that they might act on one day, but not that night.  It was all said as shit talk, and they knew it.

          Henry:  You fuckers.  You wish!  You need to ask Sally how it feels to hold the python in her hands.

          Loy:  Python?  Damn Henry that’s throwing down the gauntlet for me.  But we promise not to touch you that way tonight.  Tonight we just want you to be with us so we can all sleep better.  Grab Drew and get in here.

          Henry:  Be right there.

          Henry picked up Drew, who never woke up, and padded down naked to the room Loy and Rick were in.  Rick had pulled another bed in, and even then it was snug for the three big men and the boy, but it was also a comfort to hold each other in their arms; to hold and be held as Brothers.  They had each-other’s backs.  Loy had great hands, and he rubbed Henry’s back and shoulders soothingly until he fell asleep.

          Drew woke up some hours later and had to pee and realized he was with his Uncles.  Rick felt him moving and got up with him to use the bathroom.  Rick didn’t have to go himself, but he didn’t want Drew to be alone even for a few minutes.  He carried Drew, who almost fell asleep on his shoulder as he walked through the Lab.  Rick chuckled to himself as Drew swayed and almost fell over as he relieved his bladder.

          When he was done and cleaned off, Rick took him back and they crawled into bed.

          Rick kissed Drew on the top of his head and whispered, “Sleep tight, Tiger.”

Drew kissed Rick on his cheek and his, “I love you, Uncle Rick.” was barely audible as he immediately fell back asleep.

          Drew snuggled back against Rick’s hairy muscled body, sandwiched between Rick and his dad.  Drew felt like he had two walls around him and slept safe the rest of the night. 

          Between Loy, Rick, Henry, and Drew, there was no room for the Wolf-Spirit on the bed.  She never slept so she sat guarding them all, watching over their Dreams.

 

<><><> 

 

          Taliesin heard his doorbell ring.  The last time he had visitors it was Aaron, Albrecht, and Giovanni, so he was curious as to who it might be.  Cavall was at the door in a heartbeat, but made no noise, looking expectantly at the door.

          Taliesin was surprised to see Lane on the security camera.  Lane knew he was being watched, so he waved and smiled.

          Taliesin rushed to the door and opened it, “Hello Lane!  This is a surprise!”

          “Hey, Tal.  I hope I’m not interrupting?”

          “No!  In fact, you just missed a tutoring session.”

          “You tutor?”

          “Yes, after the wedding… so many things are different for me now.  I thought I would give it a try.”

          Lane’s mischievous grin was there, “And….”

          “Well, I only just started, but you might need to Heal the bleeding in my ears from the young lady who just left.  As long as I have lived I have never heard a violin make such a noise.”

          They both laughed.

          Cavall sniffed at Lane briefly as his tail wagged ninety miles an hour.

          Lane knelt down for a face lick and scratched Cavall’s ears, “Hey boy, it’s great to see you!”

          It struck Taliesin that Bryan was not with Lane, “Where is Bryan?  I’ve never seen you two apart.”

          “Well yeah, I’m breaking a bit of a rule by being here.  I promised him I’d be right back.  He and I are on ZEUS today and tonight.  I wanted to drop by and see if you wanted to join us? Orophir is there too.  I think the doc and Albrecht filled you in on who he is.  Anyways, if you don’t have anything going on and want to join us, I thought we could play some.  I can have you back anytime you need to be here.”

          A strange look passed over Taliesin’s face.  Lane wasn’t sure exactly what it was… some remnant of his former self perhaps.  The look vanished quickly, replaced by a warm smile that lit up Taliesin’s face, “That sounds marvelous!  What do I need to bring?”

          “Well, we swim naked, and we have plenty of towels.  You might bring some shorts and whatever instruments you want.  It depends on how serious you want to get about playing versus chilling out.”

          “Come give me a hand.”

          They moved down the hall to an extra bedroom that was more of an office.  There were two large armoires.  Taliesin opened one of them and Lane saw a number of instruments on hooks. He had leather cases for most of them, but he couldn’t find the case for his lute.

          Lane asked, “Is it in this other cabinet?”

          Tal said, “You can look, but be careful when you open the doors.”

          Lane opened it and was stunned.  An incredible array of bladed weapons was arranged in the cabinet.  It looked like a secret ninja assassin locker you would see in a movie.

          “Damn, I didn’t know you had these!”

          Taliesin smirked and said, “Old habits die hard.  I like to keep in practice.  It was ingrained into me for so long it’s a part of me.  I put that together since the wedding. edn seems to like to keep in practice too.”

          Lane gave him a raised eyebrow at his comment.

          “It’s strange having a part of him in me now.  He doesn’t exactly talk to me, but it’s like I have some of his thoughts.  It’s very comforting, and a little unnerving at the same time.”

          “I see.  I don’t want to overstep any bounds here, but if you need help with that you can come to me.  You know that, right?”

          “Yes Lane, I know, and thank you for that.  Aaron is aware, but this is new territory, even for him.”

          They found the lute case, and he threw some clothes in a pack and was ready to go in a few minutes.

          Lane powered up and took the two of them and Cavall halfway across the world to ZEUS, where Bryan breathed more easily when he saw his husband.

          Bryan was quiet around Taliesin at first, although not because of any hard feelings.  He had worked through everything when they merged with Taliesin at the wedding.  Bryan, basically a shy man, was more reserved being around his new friend.

          As the day moved on, Bryan opened up more, and he and Taliesin gained a deep and newfound respect for one another.  Bryan was as surprised as Lane had been when he realized Taliesin was well on his way to being a good friend.

          Lane had a great day, and Bryan loved seeing his husband in ‘music mode.’  He and Taliesin became engrossed in some deep discussions on musical theory, they took breaks, and played together.  Lane knew all the songs from Taliesin’s past through their merge, and they performed some beautiful duets together.

          Orophir and Cavall became fast friends as well.  Orophir was not used to animals; in the Pale most creatures would attempt to kill you on site, so such a friendly dog was a surprise.  After his interactions with Cavall, Orophir felt a harsh sense of sorrow at the animals he had ordered killed when he was in Syria and still under his father’s direction.   Cavall stayed by his side most of the time when he was in the main cabin and kept nudging Orophir’s hand to continue scratching his ears if he stopped. 

          Orophir was enraptured by Lane and Taliesin’s music and Bryan was always happy when Lane was happy.  It turned out to be a fantastic day, and they were sorry when it was time for Taliesin to return home.  The last thing Lane did before taking Taliesin home was heal his sunburn into a nice tan.

         

<><><> 

 

          The next few weeks seemed to go almost normal. Well, as normal as it gets for ten half-Nephilim hybrids and their extended family. 

          The doctor was surprised at the resilience Henry showed in his recovery over his fight with the Eschphene.  He had concerns about it, and voiced them to Henry, wondering about his interaction with God as well as the Wolf-Spirit in his dreams.  There was more to what happened to Henry than they were aware, but Henry seemed to come out on the better end of whatever it was.

          Henry was different in subtle ways… the white lock of hair had no inherent power they could detect, but Henry saw things differently.  Reading Albrecht’s books made more sense… it wasn’t that he was smarter, but he had a depth of wisdom he didn’t have before.  Aaron was sure that was what allowed him to see through the illusion of Liz crafted by Eschphene Magic.

          The doctor made Ken and the rest of the men aware of it in his meetings with them.  If anything, Henry seemed to be stronger and more self-confident, and Ken was happy.  He was concerned about the unknowns, but he saw the changes in Henry as they trained together, and inside him when they merged. 

          Brad summed it up best when he said Henry seemed more… Henry.  Everything that made him Henry, their Brother, seemed more solid and sure.  He wasn’t stronger or faster because of the change, but he was more of himself, and that made him stronger as a man, inside.  He was Brighter than before, his Light stronger, and he was even more of a comfort to his Brothers when they merged than he was previously.

          Time passed and they were down to six months before the Confrontation.  There was no nervousness, but there was restlessness, and some apprehension for Drew and what he faced.

          Drew’s training proceeded rapidly.  With the Eschphene Magic washed out of the incarnations, Drew’s progress accelerated far more rapidly than expected.  At the same time, there was something else wrong that none of them could put their finger on.

          Drew expressed an ambivalence towards his training that was uncharacteristic and unnerving. He excelled at everything they taught him, both physically and psychically, but something was wrong.  He applied himself to his lessons with Miss Sally and was soon ahead of Brett and even Tommy on his reading and math lessons.  He didn’t brag; he simply did his work and pressed on, even pushed on like he was a sponge and couldn’t get enough knowledge, but he was entirely unenthusiastic about it, as if it was a duty.  He rarely seemed to have fun anymore.

          Henry and his Uncles praised him, and he would smile, and laugh when they blew raspberries on his stomach, but his smile faded quickly and often, even when his face smiled, there was no happiness in his eyes to go with it.

          He absorbed anything and everything he thought could help him against his brother, The Master, and everything else was unimportant.  He stopped watching Thomas the Tank Engine.  He stopped coloring and making Hot Wheels tracks.  The only thing he didn’t give up was his reading time with Henry or one of his Uncles.  That was when he was most like his old self, and he seemed to live for those moments.

          None of them merged with him and he learned how to hide things from them in his Mind when he was in a Link with them.  He learned the year before how to hide his presence from The Master or even The Dark One, psychically.  He learned how to do it with his thoughts as well, not just his presence.  It was like when his Uncles put ideas for presents in a box in their Minds except his box was invisible.

          In his adult-like moments he thought long and hard about his dilemma. In the times when he was a six-year-old boy and out of his depth and terrified, he cried inside and prayed to God.

          His young Mind sought to formulate a plan where he could defeat his brother and not endanger his father or his Uncles.  The Stone was set as a trap, he just needed to figure out how to face his brother alone and use it.

          The idea of Henry or any of his Uncles being out of his life, just like his mother, was incomprehensible to Drew, and he pushed himself harder than ever to get stronger so that wouldn’t happen.  Brad was aware of what Drew was doing; it pained them all that Drew learned what he was doing from them.

          When the men merged together and they talked about it, their eyes were bright and some of them shed tears for Drew’s plight.  He was a little boy and they were supposed to Protect him, yet he saw it the other way around, and the pressure he put on himself was immense.  No child should have to bear what he did or what he faced, and their Hearts ached for him even more.  It ate them up inside, and none of them knew what to do about it.

          At the same time, they were proud of him; his actions to them were already heroic, and he showed more courage and resolve than most adults ever exhibited in their lifetimes.  He was turning into a soldier before their eyes, and there was nothing they could do about it.  In fact, it was what needed to happen if he was to have any chance of survival, but it didn’t change the fact that they cried for him every day in their Hearts. 

          Drew felt even more pressure over the following weeks about coming up with a plan.  It was his uncles once again that solved his problem, but this time without their knowing it.  He overheard a conversation between Henry and Brad about using their unconscious Minds to ‘incubate’ an idea.  It sparked a thought in Drew about the incarnations inside of him and all the combined experience they had; many of them had been thieves and street urchins in the times they lived.

          He began to let them talk to him, one at a time, at night when Henry was asleep.  The incarnations talked with one another and once they collectively knew what Drew wanted to do, with their assistance a plan began to form.  He hated being deceitful, and he cried thinking of how everyone he loved would be disappointed in him, but he steeled himself against those thoughts and began his preparations.

 

<><><> 

 

          Halloween was almost on top of them.  Time seemed to move faster and faster as the Confrontation approached.

          Drew seemed unexcited about Halloween and hadn’t mentioned anything about the holiday or a costume.  Henry assumed he would want to wear the Iron Man armor Lane cooked up for him the year before.

          That afternoon, as they finished Drew’s Mental exercises with Albrecht and were in the locker room cleaning up for dinner, Henry asked, “So Drew, Halloween’s a little over a week away.  Do you want to go as Iron Man again this year?”

          Drew’s response was so quiet Henry couldn’t hear him.  The shower was on to get the hot water flowing and the noise of the water drowned out Drew’s response.

          “What was that honey?  I didn’t hear you.”

          “I don’t want to go this year.”

          “What?  Drew why not?  Halloween is your favorite holiday besides Christmas!  You had a blast last year.  Remember all the candy you got?”

          Henry was surprised and shocked at Drew’s response, and it worried him. 

          Drew lowered his head and said, “I just don’t want to.”

          They were both naked and getting ready to get under the spray of the showerheads.  Henry knelt down so he was at eye level with his son and gently said, “Drew, look at me, honey.”

          Drew kept his head lowered and Henry saw tears starting to drip down his cheeks.

          He softly cupped Drew’s chin and raised his face up.  Drew’s breathing was starting to get faster and Henry recognized the signs of a major episode.  It seemed so clear to Henry what the issue was.  Before, he would have pressed Drew and asked him questions, which would upset him more.  With his new insight and wisdom Henry simply picked up his son and hugged him tight and he whispered, “It’s OK honey.  You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, OK?  We can talk about this more later.”

          When Henry picked him up Drew clung to him like a spider, and by the tightness of his grip Henry knew how upset he was.  Henry continued to hold him and let him cry until he calmed down.  While he held Drew he moved them under the hot water, knowing it would be soothing and distracting.

          Henry held back his own tears, not wanting to upset Drew any more than he already was.  Neither Henry nor Drew’s Uncles put any pressure on him directly, but their entire mission, day after day was to defeat The Master, and Drew saw that as pressure on him to do what he needed to do – his Uncles couldn’t succeed unless Drew did his part first. 

          Henry wanted to merge with his son so bad, and shower him with love and support Soul to Soul, and help carry the burden, but it wasn’t allowed and could even be detrimental, so he refrained.  He couldn’t imagine the pressure Drew put himself under – he was smart and listened and watched everyone for the last few years.  He heard everyone talk about the consequences of their failure to the world; there was never any intention of that pressure directed at him, but he took it that way.  Fuck!  He’s only six years old!  How can he deal with this?

          All Henry could do was hold him, and tell Drew how much he loved him, and hoped it made a difference.  Once he felt it was OK to do so, he set Drew down and said, “Let’s get cleaned up for dinner Tiger.  You hungry?”

          Drew nodded his head ‘yes’ but didn’t say anything, and Henry began washing his son.  He soaped up his hands and washed Drew’s body and his hair.  Drew let him, and his father’s big hands soothed him.  Drew seemed to have reverted back a few years to a time when Henry did everything for him, just as he did immediately after Liz’s death.  That happened occasionally, when he was upset. 

Henry focused on his son, and kept talking to him about nothing.  He had picked up a number of tricks from Ken and Loy about how to talk about nothing to keep a conversation going.

          He wanted Drew to relax and not focus on what was bothering him, and bring his emotions back to normal.  He planned on having a discussion before bed when he knew Drew would be more receptive.

          Lane and Bryan were in Atlanta that night along with Darren and Pat, and Henry sent them a private thought about not bringing up Halloween at dinner.  Henry merged with them and they helped with his apprehension; he shared his take on what he thought was happening. 

          They weren’t surprised in the least and were impressed with Henry’s insight into the situation.  For never having been a father, and not even wanting or liking kids until Drew came into his life, Henry had become the epitome of fatherhood.

          Henry wrapped a towel around his own waist, and bundled Drew up in another, and he took Drew back to their room to get dressed.  He noticed Sally eyeing his towel-covered ass as he walked through the kitchen on the way to his room.  He winked at her, and she blushed.  Bryan noticed, and winked at Henry, giving him a Mental fist bump.

          As Henry and Drew finished getting dressed and were about to head back to the kitchen for dinner, Henry ruffled Drew’s hair and said, “Mr. Lane needs to give you a haircut soon; you’re getting shaggy again. Maybe he can do that tonight if he has time.  Do you want to ask him?”

          “Sure, Daddy.”

          They made their way back to the kitchen where everybody was gathered and chatting, waiting for dinner to finish cooking.

          All the men high-fived Drew and complimented him on what a great job he was doing with his exercises.  They focused on him without focusing on him, and tried to keep him engaged so he wouldn’t withdraw into himself and go quiet.  With their Avatars, Lane and Darren saw that he was on the verge of pulling back into himself emotionally.

          It was Bryan who was the star of the night.  All the guys were great, but Bryan had cooked up something completely new for Drew, and he made a big deal of needing help with a name for it. 

          Bryan was in the kitchen wearing sweat pants and his “World’s Greatest Uncle” t-shirt while he made dinner.  The shirt stretched over his chest, shoulders, and arms snugly; he looked like he was poured into it.

          Bryan picked Drew up, making a seat for him out of his crossed forearms.  Drew sat facing him and he put his hands on Bryan’s upper chest for leverage. 

          Bryan got a serious look on his face and said, “I really need your help, Tiger.  I got a huge problem.”

          “What’s the matter Uncle Bryan?”

          “Well, ya see, I made up this new dinner tonight just for you.  But we have a problem.  One of the number one rules in the Navy with food is you can’t eat something that doesn’t have a name, and I’m all out of ideas.  We gotta figure it out before we can eat, or we all go hungry.”

          Drew knew it was a game; his Uncle Bryan was trying not to smile.

          “Ya see, Drew.  They aren’t corn dogs, and they aren’t hush puppies.  They have cheese in them too, your favorite kind by the way.  What do you think we should call ’em?”

          Bryan took pieces of hot dogs, cut up into small squares, dipped them in sweet cornbread batter, and deep friend them.  Drew loved corndogs and this was a basic variation on that, but Bryan wrapped the hotdog pieces in cheese first.  They were bite sized for Drew and Bryan knew he would drown them in ketchup and devour them.

          Drew came up with the name “Hush Dogs” since they were half Hush Puppies and half Corn Dogs. 

Bryan wiped his forehead like he was sweating, “You pulled my butt outta that fire, kiddo.  Thanks!”

Bryan’s antics had the desired effect, and Drew seemed more himself as he smiled and giggled.  He gave Bryan extra hugs and kisses for making him a special dinner and got a few raspberries on his bellybutton in return.

          Lane gave him a haircut and everyone complimented him saying how handsome he looked.  Once the kitchen was cleaned up, and after-dinner coffee imbibed, it was time for Drew and Henry to go to their room for the night.  Drew was allowed to watch one television show and then Henry would read another chapter in “The Lion, The Witch, & the Wardrobe” to him.  Once Drew fell asleep Henry had his own reading assignment from Albrecht to work on.

          As they were heading back to their room Bryan called to him, “Hey, Henry!”  An unopened box of tissues was tossed his way.  Bryan winked and through their Link he felt Bryan’s support and encouragement.  He felt it from the rest of them too; their hands were on his back and shoulders.  They were with him and available if he needed any of them, for any reason, in any capacity.

          Lane held up his hand before Henry started to form the word ‘thanks’:  Don’t say it!

          They all chuckled, and Henry moved down the hall to his room.

          As Drew hugged all his Uncles goodnight, his mood became increasingly somber.  He was going to miss their arms around him.  They all made him feel special and loved in a way he could never have imagined only a few years before.  With all the weight on his shoulders, their constant Love and affection was a barrier he wasn’t even consciously aware of.

          He remembered the day in the Mall of Georgia when his Uncle Brad beat up Doug, Drew’s real father.  Doug was sent off to jail that day.  He remembered Brad holding him, and whispering into his Mind and Heart for the first time.  He felt safe that day in a way he never had before.  He remembered poking Ken’s chest when Brad told him Ken was Iron Man and had his armor on under his t-shirt.  That joke had faded, but in Drew’s Mind they were all Iron Man and his heroes, especially Henry.

          He wanted to cry, but he stopped himself.  He pulled back his emotions even more, determined to proceed with his plan, as painful as it would be.

          Henry wasn’t surprised when Drew didn’t want to watch television.  Normally he was all about The Cartoon Network.  Lane had turned Drew on to some of the vintage cartoons the network played in the evenings and Drew was in love with Space Ghost and The Herculoids.

          They got undressed and crawled into bed together.  Henry fluffed up their pillows so they could sit up and read.  Before Drew could snuggle up against him he said, “Sit on my stomach for a minute, so we can look at each other.  I want to talk to you before we start reading.”

          Henry was already having a hard time with what he was about to say, but he karate chopped his inner cry baby.  He was sure he knew what Drew was doing, and that Drew needed his dad very badly, even though he didn’t realize it.

            Drew sat on Henry’s lap, and Henry looked at his son, the wonderful little boy that came into his life.  Through all the pain and suffering in Drew’s life, and the additional tragedies of his past lives, he trusted and loved Henry enough to be his father and to care for him; to love Henry back especially after he lost his mother.

          Henry looked into Drew’s eyes and remembered his statement just a short time ago about Halloween.  I don’t want to go.

          Henry smiled and said, “Come here, Tiger” as he pulled Drew forward to lay across his warm solid chest.  He wrapped his big arms around his son, wanting nothing more than to Protect him and keep him safe, but right now Drew was pulling back; and that was the last thing he needed to do.

Henry pulled Drew into a fairly deep Link so his Love would wash over his son and reinforce what he was about to tell him.

Henry replayed Drew’s memory from the shower earlier so it was fresh in his mind.  Drew nearly panicked, but his dad never saw the invisible box that he hid his plan behind.

          Don’t pull back, honey.  Please don’t pull back from me, or your Uncles.  Don’t pull back from the people you love and the things you love doing that make you happy.  You need those things; you need me and your uncles, or you won’t be able to stand against everything that’s coming.  You have to keep living and loving and not shut out everything that makes you strong. 

God I love you so much… you’re the best and bravest boy in the world.

As Henry spoke in Drew’s Mind he rubbed his hands up and down Drew’s back and kissed the top of his head.  Every now and then, he would just hug him; God, he wanted to squeeze him to death to let him know how much he cared.

Drew was quiet; he simply rested against his dad’s body, feeling his warmth and strength.  Henry let him be for a long time, and then he asked him:  Does that make sense honey?  Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?

I think so, Daddy. I’m sorry.

There’s nothing to be sorry for, honey.  Don’t think of it that way.  It’s just that I know it seems that pulling away will make things seem easier, but it won’t.  You only hurt yourself when you do that.  You can’t cut people or things out of your life that care about you and make you strong.  I’ll never leave you, honey.  I’m with you to the end no matter what, good or bad.  You know that, right?

Drew nodded his head, knowing Henry meant every word, but it was breaking his Heart that Henry couldn’t be with him; and if he said anything to Henry it would be worse.

Drew knew Henry couldn’t be with him when he faced his brother, or he would lose his dad like he lost his mom.  He wanted to tell Henry that so bad but he couldn’t; he had to protect his dad.

He was in one of his adult modes, and he understood everything Henry was telling him.  It was a difficult concept for a six-year-old to grasp, but Drew understood fully what Henry meant. What he heard, though, was tearing him up inside; and Henry’s words, as well-meaning as they were, caused him more pain. He realized he had to behave more normal around everyone, or he would draw too much attention to himself.

          Let me be clear, honey.  I won’t make you go Trick-or-Treating, if you really don’t want to.  I just don’t want you not to go because you’re pulling away from something you care about.  I think if you didn’t go you would regret it afterward, and the chance would be gone.  I know Tommy and Brett will be happy if you go.  I think the three of you would have a great time together.

Drew’s mental voice was a whisper:  I’ll go, Daddy.  I want to go.

          Drew put his hands on Henry’s upper chest and pushed himself up and kissed Henry on his cheek and then lay his head back down and let himself be held.

          Henry had to chop his inner crybaby again.  He had to hide from Drew the fact that this could be the last Halloween he would ever have, and he wanted it to be a happy memory.  He knew Christmas was going to be the same, and Henry had to make it special.

          Through his own pain, Henry smiled at Drew, glassy-eyed from the conversation and his own thoughts and pain, and he gave Drew an Eskimo kiss, rubbing their noses together, making him smile.  He tickled him just enough to get a giggle and lighten the mood.

          So do you want to go as Iron Man?  Or do you want to change things up and do something different?  You can be anything or anybody you want.

          Do you think Brett could go as Bumblebee?  Could Uncle Lane do what he did for me?  Tommy and me want to have us all be Avenger’s, but Brett wants to be Bumblebee.

          I don’t know; we’ll have to ask him, but I bet he can. 

          Tommy wants to go as Captain America.

          That’s cool.  I’m not sure what I’ll go as.  I’ll see if Kevin and Bill have any ideas since we’ll all be going together.  I’m sure all the guys will want to go, just like last year.

          Drew was quiet again for a few minutes, content to lay and be with his dad.  Henry didn’t want Drew to remain in a melancholy mood, so he thought:  You ready for me to read another chapter?  We need to find out if Aslan is going to show up.

          Drew repositioned himself against Henry like he always did when his dad read to him. Henry’s arm went around him and Drew put his little arms around his dad’s big forearm.  Henry held the book in one hand and Drew turned the pages when he needed to.  In that position, it was easy for Henry to lean over slightly and kiss the top of Drew’s head.

          The emotional stress of the night wore on Drew physically, and only a few pages into the chapter, as much as he was into the story, he fell asleep.  The warmth and strength of his dad’s body and his loving care, was too relaxing and comforting.

          With Drew asleep, Henry delved into his Brothers.  Pat, Darren, Bryan, and Lane all appeared with him naked in the place where their Souls-were-One.  Henry cried and they cried with him, and reassured him they were all doing everything possible to ensure Drew’s safety and success.  Henry knew it; there was no doubt in him about their efforts, but their words still gave him comfort, just as their arms around his shoulders did.

          Taking the idea from Loy & Rick, Bryan & Pat pulled a few beds together.   After the renovations, the rooms were mini-apartments, and there was room for two beds.  The four big men welcomed Henry, who brought Drew with him.  They surrounded their Brother and his son, their adopted Nephew.  They let their Auras shine bright, warming their Souls, as they held each other.

          Drew felt it in his sleep, and he basked in it.  The incarnations inside him felt it and were soothed, feeling the Unconditional Love of the men towards them through Drew.

          Henry still lay awake for a while.  Darren was spooning him, his arms wrapped around Henry and their legs partially intertwined.  The physical intimacy was so comforting, they both started to become erect.  They both laughed; it was their bodies reacting, coupled with the emotional intimacy they shared while being merged.  It was as if their bodies wanted to merge as well.  Darren pulled Henry closer against him in a brief hug and then rested his forehead against Henry’s shoulder in a contented sigh.  Pat was on the other side of Darren doing the same thing; Henry felt Pat’s hand that was around Darren’s waist, against his lower back. 

          There was no embarrassment, but there were a few jokes.  The ease and comfort of their friendship, and their ability to be so open and honest with one another, became stronger every day.  They felt blessed with and within each other, and were fulfilled.  There were no secrets between any of them… except for Drew and his plan to save them by running away.

 

<><> 

 

          The only problem with sleeping together was the morning wood they all woke up with and the private time they needed to prepare for the day.  Henry woke up early and moved Drew back to their bedroom and then went to the exam room to perform his tantric exercise.

          Bryan and Lane went back to their room, and the two of them – along with Pat and Darren – had fantastic morning sex.  Sleeping with Henry and each other definitely had an effect on their libidos, and they used that extra energy to their advantage.  The intensity of their already mind-numbing orgasms were even stronger.    The love they felt for one-another fueled everything, and it charged them up.  No one was embarrassed about it; in fact, it made them all smile and even hotter to one-another.  There was still a deep-seated root of sadness over Henry not having a woman in his life, but that wasn’t something any of them could do anything about.  Once everything with The Master was resolved, and then Luke, they hoped and prayed someone would come into his life to fill that hole.  Until then, though, he had his Brothers to hold and care for him when he needed it.

 

<><><> 

 

          Halloween arrived and Drew went as Iron Man, Brett was Bumblebee, and Tommy was Captain America.  With Brad’s help, Lane fashioned external constructs for all of them.  There was some concern about Bumblebee being too realistic, but they decided not to worry about it. 

          The guys would keep up a Compulsion around the three children, so there would be no pictures or recorded videos of their costumes.

          The Team left everything up to Lane and Brad, who after the previous year were named the ‘costume gurus.’  They wanted Drew, Tommy, and Brett to get as much candy as possible and they weren’t above pimping out their dad’s bodies to do it.  The weather was colder than the previous year, but with their extra body heat Henry, Bill, and Kevin wouldn’t feel it all that much.

          Lane and Brad took the boys and the fathers into the gym and told everyone else to wait outside until they were done. 

          It wasn’t long before everyone in the Lab heard:  OK, everybody!  Come in and check these out!  Hold onto your skirts, and don’t run screaming like little girls.  The boys are going to have more candy than they can shake a stick at!

          Everyone knew how creative Lane was; they lived inside him, and he was a beautiful Soul; and Brad’s ability with Constructs was unparalleled. Lane had a flare about his efforts and details that were sometimes touching, like carving the elephant sculptures for Loy, or the drawings he did for everyone the previous Christmas.  Brad brought Lane’s imagination into the world; the two men made a great team.  It wasn’t that Lane couldn’t have done it, but Brad excelled at it, as Lane did with Healing, and their combined efforts were better than either one of them doing both tasks by themselves.

          The guys were blown away when they all filed into the gym.  Lane had the boys and their father’s posed for the maximum effect and his grin ran from ear-to-ear.

          “What do you all think?!”

          For a few seconds, everyone was too stunned to react, and the looks on their handsome faces were priceless.  Even with everything they had seen in their journey thus far; Demons, Eschphene, Allenor… they were still blown away by what Lane managed to come up with.

          Kevin, physically the largest and beefiest of the guys, was Colossus from the X-Men.  He only wore the bright red and yellow briefs, leaving the rest of his muscular physique bare.  His metallic body gleamed in the bright light, and his musculature was accentuated by the articulations of the metal his body was now made of.  He was stunning to look at.

          Henry stood, feet wide apart, holding a gleaming golden trident.  He was Aqua-Man.  He had on the bright orange scaled bathing suit with gold wristbands and armbands accentuating his huge biceps.  His body was lightly oiled, and his deeply tanned skin glistened perfectly.  The white lock in his dirty-blond hair was evident and made him devastatingly handsome.   His eyes were the color of the deep green of the ocean, and he was perfect.

          Bill, the tallest of the three, was He-Man.  He had the leather harness across his chest and the Sword of Grayskull strapped on his back.  The three men were comic-book characters brought to life through Lane’s imagination.

          Tommy was Captain America, and Lane padded his suit to make him look very muscular for his size.  He created the traditional skin-tight comic book costume rather than the contemporary body-armor style from the movies. The gleaming red-white-& -blue shield was on his arm, and he was striking a heroic pose.

          Drew was Iron Man, and he hovered just off the floor in a classic Iron Man pose as his boot jets and Repulsor rays stabilized his flight; Brad and Lane were holding him up, but Darren took over once he went into the gym.  The Constructs for Iron Man, Bumblebee, and Colossus included sound effects; and as Drew, Brett, or Kevin moved, they made the same sounds as from the movies. Brett was an exact replica of Bumblebee, except he was only four feet tall.  He was perfect!

          As one, the Team cheered and clapped, and whistled.  Now that they were in the gym and all together, Brad pulled them into a Link and everyone felt the excitement in the boys.

          A private Link was set up with the adults, and the shit talk started flying about Henry, Kevin, and Bill. 

          Nice glass-cutters there, Henry!  Where’s Skeletor?  Can Loy be Battle-Cat?

          The jokes started flying and Henry, Bill, and Kevin milked them for all they were worth.  Drew had his facemask raised and Henry watched him smiling.  His face seemed happy, but his eyes didn’t have the sparkle they usually had.

          Brad noticed it too:  Something’s not right, Henry.  I see it too.  We’ll figure it out.  Let’s make tonight as fun for him as we can.  For all the boys… you included, smoking hot Aqua-Man.

          Henry grinned:  Thanks, Brad.  Help me keep an eye on him.  I’m worried but don’t really know what to do for him.  We had a talk and he said he understood what I meant about not pulling away, but something’s still not right.

          Brad spread the word with everyone.  No facial expressions changed, but all Drew’s Uncles became more attentive.  They were all worried about him, but didn’t let on.

          Darren:  OK guys, the D Express is boarding!  I’ll take everyone to Kev and Bill’s house so we don’t have to pile in the Suburban’s and caravan over.  Then we’ll all come back here and join the party.

          The three dad’s and their boys made the rounds in Kevin’s and Bill’s neighborhood, and as Lane predicted got more candy than they could ever have imagined.  The mothers, and even some of the dads, couldn’t help but stare at the bodies of Henry, Bill, and Kevin, who kept their muscles pumped and swollen by using their Core Energy Centers.  It also kept them warm against the chill of the night.

          Drew, Tommy, and Brett had an absolute blast.  They were polite and loved the attention they got over their costumes.  When Brett talked, his voice came out as the radio voice just like in the movies, and it was a big hit. 

          Tommy and Brett had never experienced a real Halloween night of Trick-or-Treating.  When they got back to the Lab and Lane dropped the Constructs the two boys couldn’t stop talking to their dads, or anyone who would listen, about all the other costumes they saw and what a great time they had.

          The other men felt how happy Bill and Kevin were for their sons, but also the worry in Henry over Drew.  Everything was shared and carried between them: the joys and the sorrows, the pain, and the concern.  It was the way they survived, and truth be told, they would not have it any other way.

 

<><><> 

 

          The rest of the Halloween party was a huge success.  Darren pulled the young soldiers from Australia along with Kelly and Chloe to Atlanta.  Kent and Marge Peterson came and the other wives, but once again Glenn Hampton and the other fathers declined.

          Taliesin was not able to attend; he said he had a school function he could not get out of.  Lane was disappointed, but understood completely and said he would take a rain check on getting together to play again soon.   Even he was surprised at his newfound friendship with the ancient Bard, and he was sorry Taliesin wasn’t able to attend.  

          Giovanni was in the middle of everything; for a former Monk, he knew how to have fun.  He was quick-witted and deadly with his dry sense of humor, and never failed to make whoever was around him laugh.

          The young soldiers were grateful to have a night out.  They didn’t want to go Trick-or-Treating with the kids, they just wanted a change of scenery and looked forward to the beer. 

          Sally had ordered a pumpkin costume for Chloe and she looked like a big orange ball the entire night with a vine hat on her head.  Every man on the Team made a point to play with her and hold her.  Many of them held her and danced to the music.  They adored her, and she was all smiles most of the night.  She got a little cranky near the end because she was so tired, and Kelly had Darren send her back to Australia.  Kelly insisted Jacob stay with his brother and family, but he bowed out and went back with her.  She didn’t seem unhappy at all with his decision.

          The doctor and Albrecht were scarce the entire party – neither cared much for large gatherings, and they stayed in their quarters.

 

<><><> 

 

          Drew was patient… the thought of protecting Henry and his Uncles gave him the resolve to carry through with his plan.  Doctor Aaron had given him, Tommy, and Brett iPads to use for their school lessons; and he used his to gather information and organize his plan. 

          No one thought it odd that he carried the tablet around with him wherever he went.  He was a kid, and kids loved electronic gadgets.  He was careful and meticulous, and sometimes it took him days to get even one thing he needed.  Some of the incarnations taught him how to do things, or arrange circumstances, to facilitate getting everything he needed.

          Inside himself, deep down, he cried almost all the time, but he hid that part of himself in the way he had learned to do, so the outside Drew everyone saw appeared normal. To Henry and his Uncles, he expressed a stoic resolve in the face what was approaching.  Everyone noticed it, and they were all worried about him, especially Henry; Drew could tell. 

His dad and his Uncles picked him up more often and held him, and he got more hugs and back rubs.  Their touch was comforting, and his resolve wavered sometimes in the face of their fierce love for him.  He felt wretched inside at deceiving them, and he prayed to the Birdman asking, begging him, for his Uncles forgiveness, and especially Henry’s for what he was about to do.

          Finally, he had everything he needed, except the courage to start.  He knew on the next night he and Henry were on the rotation in Atlanta he would have to execute his plan.   

          He felt the stirring around him, the ripples and the constant vortex that encircled him in the Spiritual Realm.  He was at the center of a Nexus, a point that could potentially change all of Creation depending on the outcome of the Confrontation with his brother, The Master.   He also knew it was soon; sooner than his next birthday.  He felt it was on top of him, perhaps only days away instead of months, and he had to get far away to protect everyone he loved.

          He was so scared.  The one thing above all else that mattered to him was not being alone, and the only way he could carry out his plan and protect everyone was to leave and be alone.  Of all the pain and tragedy he’d already faced in his young life, leaving everyone he loved behind would be the hardest thing he had ever done.

          Deep down Drew realized he was probably not going to survive.  He would have the Stone, and he had to do his part.  He would do what he needed to do, but after that, he suspected he would die and join the incarnations, and take them with him to Heaven.  He was a compassionate boy, far more compassionate than he should be for his age, and he had the experience of over eleven thousand tragic souls inside him.  

The incarnations were not compassionate; in fact, most of them were spiteful and hated his brother, and he had to shield that part of them.  They wanted Henry to be their dad and to love them; they were unbalanced and bent; many of them were close to being insane.  A few of them were like him, like Rhavi, and Ferguson, and the first version of himself, but not many.

          In his Heart, Drew had already forgiven The Master.  After his talk with the Birdman he realized his brother had been tricked and used by The Dark One.  It wasn’t his brother’s fault, and through his own suffering Drew could never blame him for being out of his depth.  With the Stone he would be able to get inside his brother.  He would have to go deep and find the part of his brother the birdman spoke of.  It would be dangerous, and his brother would fight him the entire time.

          Once Drew found that part of his brother, if he still even existed, he would have to convince him to ask for Drew’s forgiveness for killing him.  Then, his Uncles could step in and stop his brother.  Once that happened though, and Drew was in front of him, the current version of his brother was sure to kill him.  Drew wasn’t afraid to die… he had died over eleven thousand times, and each time brutally.   This time would be the last though, if he succeeded, and he would go to Heaven; the incarnations inside of him would finally have peace.

          He cried inside over the fact that his mom wouldn’t be there waiting for him.  He would get to see Henry and his Uncles eventually, when they got to go Home, but he had no idea how long that would be, because they could live forever.

          Finally, the day arrived.  It was a Friday in Atlanta. Throughout the day, he did horrible on his lessons with Miss Sally.  He was glad that Tommy and Brett were on ZEUS and not with him.  Sally knew something was bothering Drew; he was acting very out of character.  She tried her best to cheer him up and changed her plans midafternoon because of how he was acting.

          He was quiet all through dinner.  He hung on every word from Henry’s mouth as he read another chapter out of “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” before bedtime.  He felt like Edmund, the bad brother in the story, who betrayed his brother and sisters.  He was wailing inside, but to the outside world he put on the best face he could. 

          He had a headache from masking his emotions all day while he was Linked with his dad and his Uncles Lane and Bryan.  Henry, Lane, and Bryan asked him a number of times during the day if he was alright.  He nearly broke down when Bryan picked him up and told him he loved him and what a good boy he was.  Bryan made cheesy spaghetti for his dinner that night, and it was the best it ever tasted.  He even put the yellow cheese he liked on the bread instead of the white powdery kind.

          That night he never went to sleep.  He waited until it was late and he heard Henry snoring.  He crawled out of bed and stopped by the Wolf-Spirit whispering, “My tummy is upset, and I’m going to the bathroom.  You don’t have to come with me.”

          He knew she could understand him, and she stayed on the bed with Henry.  As soon as he closed the door to their room tears started dripping from his eyes.  He went to the bathroom, but continued through to the locker room.  He quietly opened his locker; his uncles made sure he had one in the middle of theirs so he would feel included.  Lane had put a piece of masking tape on the locker and wrote ‘Drewmeister’ in big black letters.

          He looked up at their lockers.  He could smell them.  The locker room was filled with the smell of their musk and sweat and deodorant; it was like they surrounded him even then, protecting him.  It wasn’t a part of his plan, but he opened Henry’s locker and grabbed a still damp workout shirt that Henry hadn’t thrown in the hamper. 

          Pulling out the clothes he had in his own locker he quickly put them on.  He only had a few non-superhero t-shirts and jeans, but he didn’t want to wear anything easy to spot.  He had a plain red hoodie he never wore that was practically brand new.  His backpack was Marvel, but he couldn’t help that.

          He quickly double-checked everything; he had been taking snacks from the kitchen and had a small stash of food.  He had a water bottle he could refill.  He had clothes.  He almost panicked when he didn’t see the small bundle that his entire plan rested on.  Frantically he searched his backpack feeling around for it. 

He breathed a sigh of relief when he finally felt it.  He put it in the side pouch so he wouldn't lose it and then forget.  One of Lane’s favorite phrases came to mind:  Think, you dumbass, think!  He knew it had a bad word in it, but it made him smile anyways.  His Uncle Lane was so funny.

          He unwrapped the Amulet, and hung it around his neck. It was one of Orophir’s Amulets that the Enemy used to avoid detection.  It was the one that his Uncle Brad’s friend Tony had around his neck when The Master killed him.  Doctor Aaron and Mr. Albrecht had it and a few others like it stored in a Vault in the Lab. 

          Drew’s plan rested on that Amulet because it would keep anyone from finding him or talking to him in his Mind.  He was lucky to have gotten it… while he was formulating his plan Doctor Aaron had taken Drew into the Lab’s vault when he had summoned the Stone for testing.  Doctor Aaron was mapping the sigils the Eschphene Nmeth had etched into the Stone as the trap for his brother.

          Drew was so nervous he almost threw up when he took it.  There were three Amulets, but he only took one.  They were in a small black velvet pouch.  Doctor Aaron had to use the bathroom and had Drew stand outside the room until he returned.  Drew had to be quick and he felt awful; the doctor trusted him, and he betrayed that trust.  He was betraying the trust of everyone he loved by running away, and it was eating him up inside, but he didn’t know what else to do.

          Along with the Amulet he had one of the special bank cards he stole from Miss Sally’s desk.  Sally kept the PIN on a post-it note attached to the card in her desk.  Most important of all, next to the Amulet, he had Doctor Aaron’s security code for the door out of the Lab.  It had taken Drew weeks to figure out the numbers because the doctor punched them in so fast, but he got them.

          He had only been gone from his room for a few minutes, but he had everything together.  He made his way to the door but stopped to look around.  The comfort and familiarity of the Lab wrapped around him.  The Lab had been his home most of the last few years, and now that the time was upon him, he didn’t want to leave.  The Lab was his home, where he felt safe, with everyone and everything he cared about.  He had never been out in the world on his own before.

          Using his iPad, he pulled up a list of things he had to do fast, so they wouldn’t find him.  He used his iPad to find the places he needed to go first, and drew a map on a sheet of printer paper.  He couldn’t take his iPad, because he was sure his Uncle Bryan or Doctor Aaron could find him if he kept it with him.  He also used it to make and leave a message for them and hoped they found it.  He ran back to the locker room and put his iPad in his empty locker, knowing they would find it there and ran back to the main door.

          He carefully punched in Doctor Aaron’s code and heard the very light ‘click’ of the magnetic locks releasing.  He opened the door and moved out into the cool Atlanta night.  It was cold and windy outside of the heated building, and he was glad he was wearing his hoodie.  The sound of the door closing was so final.  He saw the light turn red as the door re-sealed.

          He was now on his own.  He hurried down the steps and through the parking lot, hot tears spilling down his cheeks with every step.

 

<><><> 

 

          After ten minutes the Wolf-Spirit cast her senses out to check on Drew.  Her head snapped up when she didn’t find him.  She quickly moved through the entire facility, and the boy was nowhere to be found.

          Her howl of fear and anxiety for Drew filled the Lab and echoed in the Spiritual Realm.  She called to the Steward.

          Lane and Bryan shot out of bed as they heard the Wolf-Spirit howl and Loy’s voice filled their Minds immediately:  What’s wrong!?  Where’s Drew?

          Lane activated Henry’s trigger, and he woke up with a start.  An icy ball of fear hit him hard when he realized he was alone in his bed.

          Henry:  Drew! 

          Every bit of Power inside Henry went into his call, but there was no response.

          Lane and Bryan rushed into his room.

          Henry’s eyes were filled with tears, “Where is he!?  He has to be in the Lab somewhere!”

          Henry ran to the gym and saw that Drew’s locker was empty.

          The presence of all his Brothers filled him as Darren teleported them from all over the world in the blink of an eye.

          In a matter of seconds, they knew Drew was gone.  They were speechless and terrified, almost to the point of being debilitated, but they forced themselves to be calm, and operate as Soldiers, and do whatever needed to be done to find him.

Sally was up when she heard the commotion, and Darren brought the doctor and Albrecht from Australia.

          Henry could hardly breathe, and the guys were just as upset.  Brad pulled them all down into the place where their Souls-were-One.

          Ken took command before emotions ran too far too quickly.

          Guys!  Listen!  There’s no way he was taken from the Lab.  That means he left on his own, and he can’t be far.  Bill, Read the entire Lab.  There’s gotta be an imprint you can pick up on.  B, start skimmin anyone around the area outside the Lab, and see if anyone’s seen him.

          Everyone stay focused.  We can’t panic – we have ta find him and get him back here, ASAP!

          They stayed together, their Souls tightly knit.  Ken locked their Avatars so they would operate at the maximum of their abilities.  Brad, Lane, Loy, and Bryan drew from their sources of Power, filling them up.

          Sally put on coffee, thinking it was going to be a long night no matter what happened.

          Ken moved to Henry and gripped his shoulders, “Don’t worry, Henry.  We’ll find him.”

          Henry’s voice was quiet and trembled as he said, “God, Ken why did he leave?  Why would he do that?”

          Bryan’s deep gravelly voice broke the short silence that fell after Henry’s question, “Because the little fucker loves us so much.  He’s trying to protect us.”

          After another slight pause Brad said, “You’re right, Bry.  He watches us, and he’s learned how we interact.  But there’s more to this than just that, I’m sure that’s the main reason, but I feel like there’s a piece we don’t have.”

          Henry’s expression turned to a scowl, saying, “It has to be whatever God said to him at the wedding.  Drew got upset every time I pushed him to tell me what they talked about.  This has something to do with that!”

          Bill’s eyes had been white the entire time as he Read the Lab.  As they went back to normal he said, “OK guys, get ready.”

          An image formed in their Minds from Bill of everything that transpired.  They saw Drew’s movements up until the time he put on the Amulet, but by then they had the full picture.  They heard his words to the Wolf-Spirit and saw Drew going to his locker.  They saw his iPad, the debit card from Sally’s desk, his clothes, and food.  He had been planning this for some time.

          Henry’s gut clenched when he saw Drew open his locker and take out his sweaty t-shirt and stuff it in his pack.

          Sally was in tears, thinking she should have seen it coming.  Drew acted so differently during the day, and she saw it but she didn’t mention it to anyone.

          Henry was beside himself.  As long as Drew wore the Amulet, they couldn’t sense him or reach him.

          Loy cast his presence into all the animals for miles around, and the Wolf-Spirit had her pack out roaming, but after an hour they still came up empty.

 

<><><> 

 

          Drew ran as fast as he could.  Three blocks away was an ATM machine; he found it in on his iPad when he was planning the details.  He pulled out as much cash as the limit for that bank allowed, $1000.  He stuffed it in his pack.

          He waited until he saw a car coming and sent a Compulsion to the driver:  Stop.  I need a ride.

          He made the driver go to two more nearby ATM machines that she knew about and he pulled out more money.  He then switched drivers, making the first one forget everything.

          He had never used his powers in that way, and it felt wrong.  He felt dirty inside and he cried, but he had no choice, if he was going to keep his dad and uncles safe.

          An hour later, he was thirty miles away, down in Buckhead.

          He made the driver drop him off at a Hotel, and then forget everything.  He controlled the agent working at the front desk of the Courtyard Marriott, making her put him in a room that he paid cash for; she used her personal credit card for room incidentals and she put the room in her mother’s name.  He made her get him change so he could use the vending machines for Cokes.  He didn’t want to use the ATM card again unless it was an emergency.

He had to read the Mind of a man in the hallway outside his room to figure out how to use the door key; they were different from the ones in the Lab.

          He went to his room, and when the door shut, he cried again.  He prayed to the Birdman to keep everyone safe and have them not worry about him.

          He fell asleep on the bed, still in his clothes, wanting nothing more than to feel Henry’s big strong body protecting him or sleeping between any of his Uncles.

         

<><><> 

 

          Lane saw Drew’s iPad in his locker.  Henry checked the locker, and Drew’s backpack was gone, but the iPad was still there.  He Read the device and got Drew’s lock code.

          His stomach went cold when he saw the video icon.  His chest tightened and a chill ran through him.  His Avatar glowed softly, and he knew what it was.

          Henry sat in the area by the kitchen on the couch with his head in his hands, surrounded by everyone.  Ken was beside him with an arm over his shoulder, but there was no consoling him.  His son was missing, and he would be hunted by The Enemy, either killed or captured if he was seen.

          As Lane came in with Drew’s iPad, Ken was saying, “We’ll find him Henry.  He’s smart, and he planned this.  He has somethin in mind; we just need to find him before he can do whatever it is he’s doin.  If he can hide from us, he can hide from Them too.”

          Lane interrupted, “Henry… I found this in Drew’s locker.  He left a message.”

          Henry’s head came up and his eyes were bloodshot.  He looked pale, and his body was tense.  He stared at the iPad, dreading what he was going to hear, but at the same time he knew they all needed to find out what was on it.

          Lane flipped the case over and set it on the coffee table; he double tapped the icon.

          The video started, and it was Drew’s face up close as he started the recording.  The camera moved around for a few seconds while he repositioned it.  He made it in the room he and Henry lived in.

          “Hi, Daddy.” 

          He said those words and then he started to tear up.

          “I’m sorry for running away, but I don’t want you or any of my uncles to get hurt because of me.”

          He was in an adult mode when he started, but he quickly broke down and was more his normal self.

          “I love you, Daddy.  I love Uncle Ken & Brad and Bryan & Lane and Rick & Loy and Pat & Darren and Kevin & Bill.  I love Dr. Aaron and Mr. Albrecht, and Miss Sally.  You all protect me, but I know how mean and strong my brother is.  He’ll hurt you if you fight him, so you can’t do that.”

          Henry was crying so hard he could barely breathe.  Ken and all the men had tears running down their faces; their hearts were wrenching from what they saw and heard.  Drew was terrified, but he was doing what he thought best to keep them from being hurt.

          Drew started crying heavily, “I’m sorry, Daddy.  I don’t know what else to do.  You have to be alright.  You’re the best daddy in the world.  I know you’ll be mad, but I’m trying to do the right thing.”

          Drew’s voice cracked, and Henry lost it

          “Please don’t be mad at me.”

          There was a noise in the background that sounded like Henry’s voice laughing, coming down the hall and getting louder.  Drew started, not wanting to get caught and the image filled with Drew’s tear ridden face as he leaned forward to turn off the video.

There was a long silent pause; the only sounds were heavy breathing and sniffling.

Henry finally broke the silence, “I remember that.  I was coming back from the shower, and when I walked in, he was crying.  He told me he was upset about his training.”

There was another pause, and then Henry whispered, “He’s never lied to me before.”

Ken could hardly talk and had to clear his throat, “Guys everybody get on this.  Any ideas you have run with ’em.  We know Drew’s smart, but he also learned everythin from us.  If he left any breadcrumbs, we need ta find ’em fast before they go cold.”

B, pull us all down quick.  Take us deep.

They appeared naked to one another and their Souls merged into One.  They shared their pain and anxiety, and carried one another, especially Henry.

Ken:  Henry, there’s no blame here.  Before that thought takes root in you, or any of us, nip it in the bud.  This isn’t your fault, or any of ours.  Every one of us is gonna try to figure out a way to blame ourselves, and I want none of that.  This was an inside job, and Drew pulled the wool over our eyes.  He got away with this because we trust him.  He didn’t betray our trust either... he’s desperate.  He’s so desperate not to lose you or any of us that he’s willin ta do whatever it takes to stop us from bein hurt or gettin killed.  He’s bein a hero, just like his dad.

We need ta focus on gettin him back safe.  Then we focus on his part of the fight.  We’re ready for our part, once Drew’s done his.  Then this SNAFU of a situation will be over.  It won’t be a cakewalk after that, but it’ll be one giant fuckin step in the right direction.

          You gotta be strong here Henry.  Don’t fall apart… fallin apart isn’t gonna help get Drew back.  I’m sorry if this sounds harsh to you, but you can’t fall apart on us, or him.  You’re strong.  You’re a Wall.  You need ta keep bein that Wall, even through this, do you understand me?

          While Ken was talking everyone surrounded Henry.  They pressed in close and their arms went around him and each other.  He heard Ken’s words, and at first he was scared; then he was angry.  They were One and everything he felt, they felt with him.  At first, he wanted to punch Ken to shut him up.  His emotions were a father’s instincts to save his son.  As they rested in one another he calmed down, and then his anxiety and fear took over.

          Henry: He’s never been alone like this, Ken!  It’s the one thing he’s more afraid of than anything in the world!  And he runs off without us!  I feel so helpless!

          Darren: He faced his fear Henry.  He’s brave!  He learned it from you and from us.  I know this sounds weird, but I’m also proud as hell of him.  He’s standing up for what he thinks is the right thing to do. He’s trying to save you and us.

          Brad:  I think I know what God said to him Henry.  At the wedding.  Not exactly, but I think the gist of it… it has to do with you.  I think he said something will happen to you if you fight The Master.  I think Drew is so scared of that happening he’s willing to do what he is to save you.  Maybe this is God’s way of trying to save you too, so when we defeat The Master, Drew will still have you.  Even if we won but you were gone, what kind of a life would Drew have?  He would have all of us, and you know we love him as our own.  We would take care of him, but it wouldn’t be the same as you being in his life.   You’re not replaceable.  Especially not after he lost Liz. 

          Henry:  Fuck me.

          Loy ruffled his hair and asked:  You change your mind on me?

          The sudden and irreverent question shocked Henry, but it did the trick. It snapped him out of his dark thoughts.  Loy pulled him into a tight hug and thought:  Never forget we’re in this with you Henry.  You’re One of us whether you like it or not.  This will all work out somehow.  It won’t be easy, but have confidence in yourself and in us. 

          Ken:  That’s right.  We have to be confident we’re gonna win.  Losing is not an option.  So let’s get movin and find the little shit.  If we win, he’s still grounded for the next year.

          Henry managed a smile:  How about grounded for life. Fuck me, if I didn’t have this white mark in my hair I’d be getting grey from this stress. 

          The time together helped to purge the worst of their initial reaction, and they were more able to focus on the mission.  They were soldiers and on target to get Drew back.

 

<><><> 

         

          They didn’t find Drew that night or the next.  Or the next.  Soon, a week went by, and there was no sign of him.  Two weeks went by.  Every one of them tried to keep hope alive inside them, but it was dwindling slowly.

          Ken called off their training and everyone focused on trying to find Drew, but all their ideas were exhausted.  As long as he wore the Amulet, Lane couldn’t Dream about him, and none of them could contact him.  He was smart and was being careful.

          Thanksgiving came and went, uncelebrated.  None of them felt like it, and a somber air hung over the Lab and all of them.  They took care of each other, helping to fend off the negativity, worry, and anxiety.  They clung to one another as they made love; they had to keep their abilities at their peak, but it was more than that; the bonds between themselves as husbands and Brothers were all that could keep the situation from tearing them apart.  They stayed strong in one another, and they supported Henry. 

          Twice, Bryan found a glimpse of Drew on security camera footage, once in Decatur, and once in Norcross.  Both times they were there in an instant, Reading the area and the people, but Drew was long gone.  The camera footage was hours old.  Brad found evidence in a few Minds of Drew’s tampering with their memories, but there wasn’t enough to do anything with other than sense his presence.

          Orophir was upset that one of his Amulets had been used.  He had come to like Drew very much in his short time with him on ZEUS and he felt a rift between him and his Nephilim hosts over the matter.  He could offer no assistance; the Amulets were powerful and designed well for their Purpose.  There was no way to circumvent them.

          Late one night, Ken went into the gym to try and work off some of his anxiety.  Brad was in the Yoga room, meditating, scrying for Drew in case he slipped up and took off the Amulet even for a few seconds.  As he made his way into the gym, Ken found Henry passed out on the floor beside a destroyed punching bag.  

          He was white as a sheet and had dark circles under his eyes.  He woke up as Ken picked him up and carried him into the shower.  Brad rushed into the gym, aware of everything through Ken.

          Henry was a mess.  His hair was on end and he smelled.  He was physically exhausted and had barely slept since Drew ran away.  He tried to stay strong, but he was slowly losing hope.  He took his frustrations out on the destroyed bag and collapsed from exhaustion.

          Brad started the hot water and the two men washed their Brother.  Henry’s body was hard as a rock from the tension in him, but they managed to sooth him. Brad put all his therapeutic training to work and he worked over Henry’s body, rubbing the stress out with his hands. Henry’s bloodshot eyes looked at them pleadingly and they tried their best to comfort him.  He was losing hope that he would ever see his son alive again.

          They took him to bed and stayed with him while he slept, holding him, not knowing what else to do.  They took turns with the guys staying with Henry around the clock after that, no matter what time of day or night.

 

<><><> 

 

          Lane slept; he and Bryan had made fierce love to one another.  It was their way of fighting off their fear and anxiety over Drew and what they were all going through.  They couldn’t imagine what was going through Drew’s Mind and Heart.  They knew it wasn’t easy for him to be doing what he was.

          He was being brave; they taught him that without even realizing it, but he was also a very young boy and faced with something inconceivable.  Their thoughts were with him constantly even if he couldn’t feel them.  There was no way Drew could feel the hole he left inside of them when he ran away, and even if he did, it would have made him feel worse, because he would have run away regardless.

          After Lane and Bryan exhausted themselves they lay together, sweaty and recovering, resting quietly in one another, bound so tightly together as One they were inseparable.  Eventually they slept, with Lane’s head on Bryan’s solid chest, Listening to his husband’s heartbeat and the Music of his Soul.

          Only seconds after he fell asleep, Lane’s Avatar flared and he began to Dream. He Dreamt of Darkness… not The Enemy, but of the Nothing before Creation.  After Allenor’s Creation but before his own.  He watched as the archangels came to be.  Luke was there before his Fall, content with himself, the Morning Star and the Brightest of them all.  

Lane witnessed the Big Bang, the implosion of Nothingness that brought Creation into Being.  He saw Luke’s Fall and the infinite Hosts split, starting the War of the Rebellion, and he watched as Michael, Uriel, Gabriel, Raphael, Barachiel, and many others fought.  He saw countless angels and demons die brutally at the hands of one another; they had been brothers before they were enemies, and it tore at his Heart to witness their deaths.

He watched as the Universe formed: gas clouds condensing and cooling, forming planets and moons.  He saw the Laws of the Physical Realm assert themselves.  He lived billions of years and saw everything through the eyes of God. 

He saw and felt the ache in Creation as Luke’s Fall changed everything.  Free Will was the root of the Fall.  God knew all of this, being outside of the Arc of Time.  He knew and planned to correct what he foresaw would happen.  He planned for the creation of new Beings, part Nephilim and part Original Man, to be the saviors of his Creation.  He made them Random and Unfettered so even he could not see everything around them.  Their Free Will would counter what Luke had done… or so he hoped.  He had to have faith that his Creation was worthy and righteous enough to survive. 

Lane was lost in the years he lived.  The grip his Avatar had on him was so powerful he could not wake up.  The loneliness of the years he lived was Soul-crushing, but he had no choice other than to suffer through it.  His unconscious Mind knew he was asleep with Bryan, the other half of his Soul, and when his loneliness became unbearable the part of him that was Bryan would pour itself over him and give him the strength to continue.

More time passed and Creation settled.  Lane witnessed many secrets and mysteries that were hidden from mortals.  He saw the birth of the First Born; the first Human Soul.  He saw the Second Born, the Second Human Soul.  He witnessed Luke’s interference and the death of the First Born that brought the Curse into Being.  He saw and felt the groaning and agony of Creation in the Heart of God through all of it.  He saw the Curse and understood it, following the pattern and Cycle of the Second-Born’s reoccurring deaths.  He saw how small seemingly insignificant happenings or objects could change cosmic events and the Pattern of how everything was connected.

He saw the morning he and Bryan and all his Brothers planted the Seeds of the Tree of Life in their backyards.  He watched when Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael moved The Master’s body through Time, hiding it to give Lane and his Brothers time to complete their task and plant the Seeds.

He saw the Arc of Time between Drew’s first Birth and his most recent.  He saw the compression of Time from the various events.  It was small by the standards of the Universe, even miniscule.  But to Time in the Mortal World of the Physical Realm of Earth the discrepancies of those compressions magnified to became days, even weeks.

He saw the Vortex around Drew and the Master.  He watched as the Ripples from both Sides effected Reality and Events trying to sway the Balance to Its own side.  He saw the time of the Confrontation, and it was upon them!

He saw a Time, only a few short days away, when Drew would stand before The Master, all alone!  His Dream stopped, as if Creation itself didn’t exist beyond that point… and he realized it didn’t.  His earth was the first of all worlds in the multiverse; what transpired there would affect all the reflections.

He saw Drew, small and frail, standing a short distance from his brother, The Master, whose grotesquely muscled body towered over him.  Time stopped in his Dream with that image frozen in Lane’s Mind and Heart.

 

<><><> 

 

          Lane shot out of bed.  Bryan felt his trembling; it lasted all night and that had never happened before.  Time moved differently in Dreams and Lane travelled farther and longer than he ever had.  Remiel carried him to places few had ever gone, even among the High Hosts. 

          The terror inside Lane ran all the way down to his Soul.  He was tense and drenched in sweat as his body reacted.  They were nearly out of Time!  They had at most a week before Drew would die or face The Master!  His birthday was months away, but events and corrections over the last eighty thousand years had altered the present!

 

<><><> 

 

          Lane screamed in his Mind.  He was so full of Power and emotion that his thoughts were heard around the world by all his Brothers, and they were instantly with him.

          They all appeared together as One, naked to each other physically and emotionally.  Everyone became aware of Henry and what happened in the gym and they closed around him once again.  The strength of their arms and their Hearts held him.  They were all suffering inside, as badly as they ever had. 

          They knew and had experienced the anxiety of not knowing if one of them was going to live or die.  They had been through it twice with Ken, the first time when he was captured and then when he was under the effects of the Blood Curse.  They felt it with Darren, when he was trapped by Luke in the cave of Thomin’s Vault, and when Darren and Pat faced off against Trenton Ashemore in Australia. They felt it when Loy and Rick were trapped in the pocket dimension of the Djinn in Africa and before when they faced the Master’s Amalgam in Augusta, and when Bill was trapped in his own Mind to escape the evil of the Skull of General Mstislav, and Kevin had a bullet lodged in his spine.  They felt it with Henry most recently in the Pale as he fought the Eschphene Leader.

          Their suffering was far-reaching, and because of their bonds and how deep they ran, it affected them far more than normal humans.  Their capacity for emotion was stretched so far beyond what they were born with; as their Nephilim Heritage unlocked, and they began their trials, they grew in unimaginable ways that made them stronger.  Being who and what they were made them powerful, yet vulnerable.  They were beautiful and strong in one another and yet as Ken surmised, they were also fragile in certain ways because of how much they loved and cared for each other.  Living inside another’s Soul had that effect.

          Lane’s Dream became a part of them, and Henry groaned.

          They were all full of Power, calling on all the sources available to them as soon as they heard Lane’s call to them.

          Their Avatars flared instinctively, and Ken’s locked them all into the Master Rune.  They were more than the sum of their individual selves, and Henry added to them even more.

          What were they going to do?  They had exhausted all the ideas they had so far.  They all felt like they were failing the little boy, especially Henry.  How could they have not seen this coming?

          Ken’s words about there being no blame echoed through them.  Brad brought that memory out and emphasized it.

          Brad pulled the Doctor, Albrecht, and Sally in with them.  They were a Team and everyone needed to be in and together if they had any hope of finding Drew.

          There was a pervasive feeling of helplessness running through them.  Unless Drew made a mistake or contacted them, there was little chance of them finding him in time.  They would not stop trying, but it didn’t look good.

          The doctor’s voice came into all their Minds:  My sons, do not lose hope.  I have watched you all grow from young men into who and what you are today.  I have learned that with you, nothing is impossible. Stay focused, move forward, and persevere.

          The love and confidence he had in them flowed through their Link along with his words.  Albrecht’s confidence was with them through Aaron’s.

          Ken’s Avatar flared brightly, and it effected Rick’s, Kevin’s, Pat’s, and Bryan’s; his Will and Conviction strengthened.  He pushed it to the forefront, and it infused all of them.

          We’ve come too far guys, through too much for us to give up.  We can’t give up on Drew.  We owe him that.  He has a Plan, and if we can’t find him or get to him in time, then we do what we can ta still help him succeed with whatever he’s got up his sleeve.  We’re with him, no matter what.

          We need ta focus on trackin any Enemy movements around the city.  If the Confrontation is gonna happen, we need to be ready.  We watch and stay alert, and at the first sign of anythin unusual we need to be there.  If we see anythin start, my bet is Drew will be in the middle of it.  It will be last minute, probably last second, so we stay alert and focused, and be ready. 

          Brad interjected:  We still have some time left.  It’s unclear based on Lane’s Dream exactly how much time we have, but it seems to be a few days at least.  If we slow down our perception of Time we have the equivalent of years to work on this.  Ken’s right, we can’t let Drew down.  All our efforts have to be on either getting to him, or helping and supporting him.  We don’t know his specific plan other than he will have to face The Master.  He will have to summon the Stone, and the Stone will have to be in The Master’s hands for the trap to go off.  We have no idea how long that will give us, but we only need a few seconds.  We can’t track Drew, but we can track that ugly bastard.

          Ken:  Henry… stay focused and stay with us.  We gotta be ready.

          Henry:  I still feel like this is my fault Ken.  I can’t help it, but I’ll be ready.

          Ken:  The only thing you might be guilty of Henry, is that you love him too much.  You did too good a job after Liz was gone.  That little boy loves you so much, and us, that he’s doin this to protect us.  He’s terrified, but he’s doin it anyways because he loves you and us.

          Henry:  But he’s just a kid.  He doesn’t understand.  When it comes down to it, and he faces The Master… he’s going to be so scared.

          Bryan:  I think he does understand Henry, and he’s doing it anyways.  The little fucker is scared shitless, but he’s doing this anyways.  I think he’s going to surprise the fuck out of The Master.  That doesn’t mean he still doesn’t need our help, especially yours.  So all of us need to do what we can and be ready so we can be there when he needs us.  And we’ll be there.  Nothing can stop us from being there when he needs us.

          The doctor moved up to Henry and cupped his face with both hands.  He had tears in his eyes:  My boy, you are as much my son as everyone else here. Do not think of Drew as only a boy… he is much more than that.  Having all of us in his life, especially you Henry, has made him much more than just a six-year-old boy.  He is a hero, and he learned being a hero from you… from all of you.

          Ken:  You too, Doc. Don’t deal yourself out of this.  We won’t let you.  He’s learned as much from you and Albrecht as any of us. 

          Ken’s Avatar drove all their optimism into Henry and he heard them.  He was still terrified for Drew, but they were right.  He wouldn’t… he couldn’t give up on Drew.   He would be ready and had to hold his shit together. 

          Before he could think ‘thanks, guys’ Lane’s arms encircled Henry from behind and he thought ‘you’re welcome, Brother.’ 

 

<> Coden, Alabama < just south of Mobile > Mid-November<>

 

          Tag and Olive sat in their recliners in the living room watching TV after dinner.  Bullet was upside down between Tag’s outstretched legs, his soft pink tummy ready and available for any rubs that might come his way.  He squirmed regularly to remind Tag he was there, and he pumped up his cuteness factor, trying to get Tag’s attention.

          Tag held back a grin that threatened to show itself despite his efforts, teasing the puppy.  Every so often he would pretend to fall asleep and stop rubbing, and Bullet would watch him intently for any sign he was faking.  It was a game they played nearly every night after dinner once Tag retired to his recliner.

          Bullet had stolen their hearts the minute he came into the house, and they were glad of Loy’s gift of him.  Bullet was a gift in every sense of the word, but he was also a means for Loy to keep tabs on the elderly couple that didn’t break their security protocols.

Bullet was growing like a weed and wasn’t exactly a puppy anymore; he was a mutt and wasn’t going to be a huge dog, but by the size of his paws he would probably be a solid fifty or sixty pounds at full growth.  He was already getting heavy, but Tag loved having the dog in his lap.

          Loy used his Avatar to alter Bullet, making him smarter, and the older couple could tell sometimes when Loy watched them through Bullet’s eyes.  Sometimes Olive could tell when Loy watched them, and it made her homesick for the Lab that had been their home the last few years.  Olive and Tag missed their ‘boyz’ something fierce, and Drew not the least.  It was a hard decision for them to move out of the Lab and get back on their own, but they felt it was the right one.

          They were happy in their new home.  Tag went fishing nearly every day the weather and tide permitted.  Olive was thrilled when she found a market that sold half-gallons of milk in the older rectangular paper containers.  She went every week to get one and saved the cartons.  When Tag brought home a mess of fish she would freeze them in the paper containers and make bricks that stacked nicely in the extra freezer in the garage.  Her mother had taught her that trick.  She was saving all the fish in hopes one day of having a huge fish fry for all the boyz if they came for a visit, even though it was unlikely.

          Olive was working on her needlepoint, listening to, but not watching Wheel of Fortune.  Tag loved his game shows.  He was so excited when he realized they got the ‘Game Show Network’ on their cable plan.  She was sure the doctor had arranged that.

          The dishes were in the dishwasher, but she still had two pans soaking in the kitchen sink.  She didn’t like to let them soak too long, so she put down her needlepoint and got up to go into the kitchen.

          She glanced over; Tag’s head was lolled to one side, and he was lightly snoring. Bullet had finally fallen asleep too.  The dog woke up at her movement, but she patted his soft pink belly and whispered, “Go back ta sleep sugar.  I’m gonna go in the kitchen and finish cleanin up.  You just sit there with Papa.”

          It was slightly after dusk, and with the light over the kitchen sink Olive couldn’t see outside the window into the front yard.  Once she finished and flipped off the light, she noticed a man across the street looking at her.  He paced and moved oddly, as if he was hurt.

          A trickle of fear ran down her spine.  The man kept looking towards her and there was something about him that caught her attention, and attention was not good.  She moved into the living room, not hurriedly.  With the lights in the house on at that time of the evening anyone outside could easily see her movements through the windows, and she didn’t want to seem panicked.  He might just be a man, and no more than a man, but with everything she and Tag knew about the world and the Battle between the Light and the Darkness, she couldn’t take a chance.  She and her husband had become a part of the Battle for a while, but were now hidden, trying to live normal lives again.

          She moved back into the den and turned off the TV.  The sudden silence woke Tag up, and he knew something was wrong as soon as he saw her face.  Before he could even ask her what was going on, she put a finger to her lips to indicate silence.

          Bullet picked up on their tension and jumped down, running to the door.  They had a fenced-in front yard and a dog door for Bullet, and he took off like his namesake through the door and towards the man.

          She hollered, “Bullet, git back here!” but the dog ignored her.  Bullet moved to the fence, but wasn’t barking.  He ran to the edge of the fence and abruptly stopped, standing tense and still as stone.  The man knelt down and Bullet shoved his snout through the fence to lick the man’s hand.

          That made her feel somewhat better.  She and Tag stepped out onto the front porch.  The man was under the street light and now that they were outside they got a better look at him.  He was large and powerfully built and he was sweating profusely.  They had a wooden picket fence and his hand gripped the point of one of the slats so tightly he broke it off.  They saw blood dripping down the white paint where his hand rested.

          Olive started forward, but Tag held her back whispering, “Momma, it might be a trap!”

          “He’s hurt Taggart!  Bullet thinks he’s alright, and that’s good enough for me!”

          They old couple rushed out to the man, who seemed on the verge of collapsing.

          Olive said, “You need help mister.  Come inside quick!”

          She opened the gate and Bullet scuttled out and around sniffing at him and whining encouragement.

          The man looked at Olive and Tag and they got lost in the depth of his Ageless eyes.  He was an Angel in human form – they had seen one before and they were frightened of what his presence meant.

          “You are Taggart and Olive Keenan?”

          Tag replied, “Yes sir.  We is.  You need to come with us so we kin help you!”

          The man’s voice was strained, and he gasped as if intense pain, “I cannot.  Unfortunately, your house is warded against my kind.”

He seemed about to collapse but steeled himself, “You must flee.  Now.  Take nothing with you and tell no one you have left or where you are going.  Your friends will desperately need your help soon.”

          Tag reached for the emergency cell phone in his pocket.  The doctor had given them one and told them never to be without it.

          “No!  Do not contact them I beg you!  You will endanger them and ruin everything!”

          Olive said, “We don’t understand, mister.  Let us help you and then you can explain.”

          “I am paying the price for what I have done; what I have seen.  My Kind are not meant to travel where I went, but it allowed me to See – it should not have been possible except for the Remnant’s presence.  I will cease to exist in a few moments as a result. You must leave immediately.  There is no more time to explain.  Go please... I beg you, do as I say.  You must get there in time to help them!”

          He held out a scrap of paper that had blood smeared on it.  Olive took it with shaking hands and looked; it had an address written on it.

          “Run! Now!  You need to be as far away from here as you can in the next few moments!  I am not sure what is about to happen, but it will not be pleasant.”

          Tag said, “I’ll git the car.”

          “No!  Listen to me!  You must go on foot!  Now!  You must be at that address in two weeks’ time, or your friends will die!  No one can know, especially your friends! It is imperative!  If you tell them, the ripples will be too severe… it will be catastrophic.” 

          The desperation and urgency in the angel’s voice convinced them.  He was sucking in breath and was losing his battle with the pain.  As he moved, Olive saw his shirt was soaked in blood.

          Tag believed the angel.  If his friends needed his help, he would be there no matter what.  The circumstances were strange, but no stranger than his leg growing back, or the fact that Drew was supposed to save all of Mankind.  It seemed the Battle was not done with them.

          Tag took Olive’s hand and said, “Come on, Momma.  We gottsta git.  Bullet you stay with us you little bugger.  I’m not playin!”

          The angel seemed relieved and closed his eyes saying, “Thank you.  Go now with what you have with you.  Do not go back in the house.  Leave and be sure to be at that address in two weeks’ time.  You must go on foot.”

          Bullet let out a low growl and the angel said, “It is almost time.  I will try to hold another few moments to give you time to get away.  Do not look back, mortals are not meant to see what is about to happen.”

          The angel made a gesture and Olive and Tag felt something strange in their Minds.  Bullet yelped in surprise, “Go with what Blessing and Protection I can bestow upon you. Now flee!”

          As they moved away, the last thing Tag saw was the angel collapse on the ground.  His form began to glow and his wings appeared.  He rallied what strength was still in him to give Tag and Olive the chance to leave and save everyone they cared about.

          Olive knew more about the Bible than Tag.  She knew if an angel told you not to look you didn’t look.  She smacked Tag on his arm hard enough to make him jerk his head around, “He said don’t look!”

          Tag saw real fear in Olive’s eyes.  He took her hand, and the old couple and their dog ran.

          They had only been in the house a few months and called it home.  It wasn’t the same as having the boyz and Drew and Henry in their lives on a regular basis.  They were old, and one of the reasons they decided to leave the Lab was they didn’t want to become more of a liability than they felt they already were.  The boyz needed to focus on the Battle and not be worried about them.

          Ken and the others had done so much for Tag and Olive; they felt blessed to have known the men and to have had them in their lives. Loy and Rick led Tag out of a dark place in his life, and all of them together Healed him in more than just his Body by regenerating his leg.  They healed his Soul and his Mind – he was clear of his PTSD and his drug addiction that had plagued him since the war he fought in and losing his leg.  They didn’t keep score, but that was a saying from his days in the Army that had a reverse meaning.  By saying it didn’t matter it meant it did, in fact it meant everything, and Tag and Olive would lay down their lives for their friends if it came down to it.  They hoped it didn’t, but if it did… well they had lived a long time and counted themselves blessed.  If it was their time to go, it was their time to go.

          They made it a few blocks away when they heard a strange ripping sound, accompanied by a flash of light that filled the sky and they felt a pervading sense of otherness that was disturbingly uncomfortable.  They hid themselves in an open garage for a short time until the feeling went away.  Once it stopped, they continued moving, headed on foot back to Atlanta, with no food or water, and only a few dollars in Tag’s pocket.  His wallet and her purse were back in the house.

          They had nothing but each other, their faith, and their Love for their friends to give them the strength to do what needed to be done.

 

<><><> 

 

          Raphael appeared even before the light faded.  Whatever happened was as wrong as anything he had ever felt.  A large area of the Physical Realm simply ceased to exist.

          He felt residual Power where the house used to be that was at the center of the anomaly.  He was sure the Power he felt was what remained of an angel.  He knew the house that was gone was where their grandchildren had relocated the old black couple, Taggart and Olive Keenan.  The house was protected by Enochian Runes and there was only one Power in Creation that could have accomplished what seemed to have happened.

          Gabriel appeared beside him.  Then Michael.

          Gabriel whispered, “How can this be?”

          Raphael, “I do not now.  What was here is now gone.  Not disintegrated or atomized, but gone.  Unmade.  That should be impossible.”

          Michael, “Could the Dark One be responsible?”

          Raphael, “This is beyond Him, or any of us. I must go Home and seek an answer to this.”

          The archangels all transformed into balls of Light and slipped out of the Physical Realm.  They were unnerved, and had no answers as to what happened; it should have been impossible.

 

 

<><><> 

 

          Lane’s Dream effected all of them in many ways.  As scared as they were for Drew and what he faced, it strengthened their resolve to be ready.  As always, they would be whatever they needed to be for him.  They just had to be ready to react within seconds. 

          The soldiers in Australia, Kent and Margie, and Kelly all insisted they would be fine and for the Team to stay together in Atlanta. 

          Ken insisted that Albrecht stay in Australia anyway, and the doctor and Giovanni stay on ZEUS with Orophir.  The rest of the guys would stay in the Atlanta Lab with Henry and Sally.

          Lane still had no idea what role Taliesin would play, but knew the Bard had some significant role to fill.  He contacted Taliesin to let him know of Drew’s absence and about his Dream.  Taliesin was well aware he had a role to play, but he was as clueless as Lane at to what form that would take.

          Taliesin learned over the centuries of carrying the Gift, that sometimes he needed to let the Universe guide him, and if he was open to anything, he would end up being wherever he needed to be, and he would do whatever he was called upon to do.

          As long as they were in the Lab, Ken insisted everyone stay suited up.  Bryan and Bill continued to monitor the internet and satellite feeds.  Sally maintained her lessons with Tommy and Brett, although they were scared for their cousin and distracted.  Mainly, she wanted to keep them occupied so Kevin and Bill could stay focused. 

          She kept food ordered around the clock to relieve Bryan from any responsibility of cooking.  All of them hugged her and gave her a kiss on the cheek many times during the day for her presence and help in keeping everything moving.  She enabled them to maintain an even sharper focus on Drew without minor distractions.  She marveled more than ever how much coffee they drank when they were uptight.

          Sally also found time to help Henry relieve some stress.  Her approach was awkward, and she made sure he realized she was asking him for his benefit and not hers.  He needed to maintain his Tantric practice so his Powers would be at their peak all the time.  She knew how the guys operated – they were all highly sexed, and it was a stress reliever on top of enhancing their powers.

          Surprisingly, Henry took her up on her offer.  He was distracted, but she tried to sooth him and was successful.  She helped him with his Tantric exercise, but after that she just wanted to help him relax.

          He was very wound up and ended up surprising both of them how many times he came.  She would walk funny for a while and they both managed to get a laugh out of it.   Henry was truly grateful to Sally for her offer and made sure she knew it.

          Right after lunch, Sally started a new reading assignment for the boys when her computer chimed with an alert.  The doctor’s new operating system had distinct notification sounds and that chime indicated something critical.

          She clicked on the alert and it was a communication error with the system at Tag and Olive’s house in Alabama.   Seconds later, the doctor’s face appeared in a window on her screen.  The doctor had his own secure video chat system for use between the bases.  She could see Giovanni and Orophir behind the doctor on ZEUS.

          “Sally, did you see the notification?”

          “I just did, doctor.”

          “There are many levels of redundancy to that system.  For it to fail, something must be catastrophic.  Alert Kenneth immediately please, and keep me informed.”

          “Yes, sir.”

          Sally told Tommy and Brett, “Keep reading guys.  If you finish before I get back, keep reading into the next chapter, alright?

          She rushed to the conference room immediately.  Brad saw her coming through the glass and had the door open for her.  His Intuition and her body posture said something was wrong.

          “Guys, we just got a notification from the system in Tag and Olive’s house.  The doctor said it has to be something really bad for that to happen.”

          Bill switched one of the video feeds over to CNN Headline News.  The monitors had been switched to feeds that were being used to scan security camera footage using facial recognition software for all the hotels in the metro Atlanta area looking for Drew.  Bill and Bryan had it running on every available computer in the Lab.

          The current headline marque, read “Mysterious event in Coden, AL – at least two people suspected missing.”

          On the video an aerial shot of the neighborhood around Tag and Olive’s house showed a large crater where the house used to be.  They were stunned and a smattering of ‘fuck me’s’ and ‘oh shit’s’ were heard around the room.

          Brad moaned, “No… not them.  They can’t be gone!  Why didn’t we feel anything?!”

          The moment hit them hard, and another blow to their Hearts widened the many cracks already present from all the recent troubles. The old couple had seen so much together, had touched all their lives so deeply… they couldn’t just be gone!

          Looking at the screen Brad asked, “How?”

          Ken exclaimed, “Fuck!  B, skim the people down there and find a place to teleport.  Dar send me, B, Bill, Kev, Lane, and Bry as soon as B gets you a clear shot.  Dar, you Pat, Loy, and Rick stay here and keep things moving on looking for Drew.”

          Darren had to wait for Ken to finish speaking, as Brad had already cast his Mind across the state to Alabama and found someone at the scene.  The house was still roped off and investigators present.

          The six men, in their black Kevlar Assault Suits, appeared within a hundred feet of the roped off area.  Brad was emitting a Compulsion to ignore them, effectively making them invisible.

          Ken, Kevin, and Bryan moved to the edge of the crater in a matter of a few seconds, vaulting over many of the Police cars forming a perimeter of the property.

          Ken’s mental voice was controlled and intense:  Bill, see what you can Read in the area.  We need to find out if there’s any chance Tag and Olive are still alive. 

          It went without saying that there was little hope of their friends being alive.  There were too many backup systems and ways for them to contact the Team in any emergency.  Ken hoped Bill could shed some light on what happened.  Brad had already tried to find their Minds and there was nothing.

          Brad, Lane, and Bill moved forward past the police tape, ignored by everyone as if they weren’t there.  People unconsciously moved out of their way to make it easier for them to move around.

          Bill:  Guys, something Powerful happened here, but it’s odd… I’m reading nothing.  And by that I mean like there’s nothing here, not even these people around us, or where the house used to be.  It’s like there’s a huge blank spot we’re standing in where nothing exists!

          Lane got a sense of Vertigo as he moved forward.  It only lasted the length of a heartbeat, but he knew what it was.  He had a similar sensation in the cave with Allenor when they freed him.  It was how his Gift reacted to the energy of the previous Creation.

          Lane:  Fuck!  This is bad.  Bill use me to look through.  Sync us all up, even Loy and Dar in Atlanta, and Look again, but focus through me.

          They were merged, and Bill realized as soon as Lane felt the strange sensation what he needed to do.

          He synchronized their Avatars and when he Read the area through Lane he got a vague picture.  It was fractured, but with great effort and concentration, along with Brad’s help, they got an image.  An angel in human form, injured, stood at the edge of the Protection of the Runes in Tag and Olive’s house.  He held onto the fence trying to stay upright, but he fell.  His Aura started to disintegrate as he screamed; Energy from the previous Creation seemed to be destroying him from the inside out.  In a blinding flash of light, he ceased to exist and the explosion took out the house and a large area around it.

          There was no visible sign of Tag or Olive, or their dog Bullet.  They had no idea what an angel would be doing at their house, or how he could have died in the manner he did.  Allenor said he would seek out God and ask to be Unmade.  The existing Creation fought against him as if he were a contagion, and the Energy of the two was incompatible.

          If Tag and Olive were in the house, there was no chance they survived.  Their Souls would have been obliterated along with their bodies in the reaction of the previous Creation’s energy.  Grief hit them hard once they saw the vision.  Tears filled their eyes at the thought of the old black couple being gone from their lives forever, not even later in Heaven.  It was another blow to their Hearts they didn’t expect, and their deaths made no sense. 

          If Tag or Olive had survived or managed to escape they would have contacted the Lab by now.  Brad cast his Mind out, searching again; unable to believe they were gone.  Unfortunately, the angel shielded them along with Bullet to protect them and Brad couldn’t sense them.

          Fresh tears filled their eyes, and silence fell among them.

          Even though they were back in Atlanta, Darren, Pat, Loy, and Rick were with their brothers. All of them had tears in their eyes, and as soon as Sally saw them her hand went to her mouth.  Henry sat stunned as another piece of his Heart was ripped out.  His eyes went red, and hot tears spilled out of them.

          His voice was a whisper, “God… not them. What am I going to tell Drew?”

          Kevin was still recovering from his brother’s death and it hit him hard too.  Bill put his arms around his husband, holding him tight.

          Ken didn’t know what to do.  Their deaths didn’t make any sense or seem in any way connected to Drew or what was happening.  Luke couldn’t be responsible.

          Almost distractedly, Ken said, “B, let the doc and Albrecht know.”

          Brad:  Lane is there any residual Energy here you can detect?  If there’s a danger to the people who live here, we need to get them away.

          Lane:  No.  None that I can sense.

          After another brief pause Lane continued:  There’s no Sound here.  There’s nothing.  Pat needs to be here and look at this.

          Ken:  Dar, get the rest of you here.  Henry stay there with Sally and the boys.

          Darren, Pat, Loy, and Rick appeared immediately.  Pat synchronized the Avatars of the Bodies, and his handsome face had an intense look of concentration.  They all saw through his eyes and his Avatar.

          A piece of the Physical Realm was gone.  It didn’t disintegrate.  According to the Laws of Physics Matter existed, and could change form, but could not be created or destroyed within the Physical Realm.  It was a primary Law of the Conservation of Energy they all learned in Physics.  Other Realms had different rules, but that was a Constant in the Physical Realm.  What they saw seemed impossible.

          The residual Energy of the other Creation was the key, but how could it come to be here?  The excess energy from the shackles they broke to free Allenor he absorbed to replenish himself.  He left them to seek God and ask to be Unmade.

          They all wondered if there was some catastrophic side effect of freeing Allenor they were unaware of.  Were they ultimately responsible for killing Tag and Olive?

          Brad heard their thoughts:  No.  Even if Allenor is responsible, or us freeing him, there’s no correlation between that and Tag and Olive living here.  There has to be another explanation.

          Ken squared his shoulders:  If there’s no more danger here, Dar take us back to the Lab.  As sad as it is, we can’t be distracted by this until the issue with Drew and The Master is resolved.  Box this up fellas, as much as it hurts.  There’s nothing we can do about it. 

          It was painful for Ken to say that, but as their Leader he had to keep their focus on Drew.  They would have to delay saying their emotional goodbyes to their dear friends until after the Confrontation.  It hurt, but they were soldiers, and did what they had to do.

          The Team vanished, and to the police investigators and the bystanders they were never there.

 

<><><> 

 

          Tag and Olive decided to walk at night when it was cooler.  The heat of the day in southern Alabama, even with fall approaching, was too much.  With the few dollars in his pocket Tag bought three bottles of water they could keep and refill when they could.  One of the bottles was for Bullet.

          Olive was a strong woman, but she wasn’t used to living outdoors or walking for hours at a time, and even at night the temperature in southern Alabama was hot and muggy.  Tag pulled from the memories of his days living on the streets, and he told her how to take it easy.  They didn’t make good progress the first night, and by the next morning they were both starving.  Bullet stayed close to Olive, inherently knowing she was not feeling well.  He was hungry too, but he knew his humans would feed him at some point.

          “Try not ta think about yer stomach momma.  It just makes it worse.”

          Olive laughed and said, “We got used ta the good life livin with the boyz. We got fat and lazy Papa.”

          “Dat we did.  We shoudn’ta left.  But who knows what woulda happened if we stayed.  Everythin happenz for a reason, right?”

          She squeezed his hand but didn’t reply.  She was thankful that her husband had some life experience to get them by.  No matter how he came by the knowledge it saved them.  She wasn’t above believing that his days living in that box prepared him for this, but she would never tell him that.

          Tag knew how to scavenge dumpsters for food, and how to tell if any food they found was safe to eat.  Sometimes the smell of the dumpsters put off their appetite, but Tag would save the food for later.  Restaurants threw away a lot of food because of government regulations, and it was usually still edible.  What they managed to collect was enough to keep them going.

          They stopped in a KOA Campground midweek and used the showers and rinsed out their clothes.  They had to put them back on wet and they chaffed some at first, but they quickly dried in the heat.

          After the first few days, they had both lost weight and were ill.  Olive was feverish and they had to stop often and rest.  Tag thought long and hard about what to do.  They were not making good progress.  The trip was over four hundred miles, and the angel said they had to be at the address on the paper in two weeks. 

          There was no way to get to Atlanta on foot in two weeks, especially at their age.  They had been on the road half that time and weren’t even at Montgomery, AL yet.  The angel said to go on foot, but there was nothing for it but to try and hitch a ride or they would never make it, especially with Olive feverish and exhausted.  Tag was tired too, but his years in the military helped, and when the Team regenerated his leg they healed his body, and he was in much better physical shape than she was.

          He was worried, and tired, and scared; for himself and Olive and his friends.  They needed him, but he couldn’t leave Olive, not even for them, and he knew they wouldn’t want him to. He didn’t know what happened at the house, but he figured by now they knew he was missing, and he wondered why they hadn’t contacted him yet.  The angel said something bad was going to happen to them, maybe it had already started.

          He asked Bullet to try and contact Loy, but the dog stared back blankly.  He either didn’t understand, or it simply didn’t work that way.  He hoped maybe Loy would take a peek at them through Bullet at some point and realize the pickle they were in. 

          It would be easier to catch a ride in the day, so he had to find a place for them to sleep.  They were in an area called Hope Hull just outside of Mobile, a few miles north of Interstate 65.

          “Momma, stay put for a bit.  I’m gonna go find us a place to sleep.”

          Olive was too tired and exhausted to argue, even though she knew they needed to keep moving.  In her Mind all she could think about was needing to be back in Atlanta in time to help the ‘boyz.’ She owed them her marriage and her husband’s life and couldn’t bear the thought of failing them if they needed her.  Bullet stayed with her without Tag saying anything.

          A half an hour went by and Olive fell asleep on the bench.  Tag was worried, she looked so pale.  Her complexion was chalky and she was sweating.  When he returned he woke her up and gently said, “Come on, Momma.  I found us a spot.”

          She didn’t say anything but took his hand, and he led her a few blocks away, to a big department store parking lot.  He made sure no one was around, and he led her behind the building by the delivery doors.  There was a large trash collection area with two giant dumpsters; there were also a number of large appliance boxes from deliveries.  He led Olive over to a large refrigerator box.  It was one just like he used to sleep in when he was in downtown Atlanta.

          It was the best he could do on short notice.  He led her over to the box and with a last glance around he knelt down and crawled inside.

          “It’s not the Ritz, but it’ll do ’til tomorrow.  Come on in, Momma.”

          Olive knelt down and crawled in and asked, “How did you…”

          “Never you mind, Momma.  Never you mind.”

          Olive moved down to the end of the box that was against the wall and leaned her back against it.  The box was big, and she was a small woman.  Her head didn’t hit the top when she sat up.  Bullet crawled in and curled up by her side.

          “Momma, I’m gonna go try to git us sumptin ta eat.  You lay down and rest.  It’s Sunday, and the store’s already closed, so no one should be messin ‘round back here.  It should be quiet ’til morning, and we’ll be gone by then, anyhow.”

          Before he finished talking, he heard her snoring softly.  He was worried about leaving her, even for a few minutes, but he was more worried for her if he didn’t get her something for her fever and some food in her.  He knew Bullet would stay with her and that gave him a small semblance of peace.

          Tag was ashamed of what he had to do.  He went to a supermarket and got a handbasket.  He put in some liquid Tylenol for Olive’s fever, a loaf of bread, some peanut butter, a coffee cake, and three bottles of Gatorade. He set the basket down on the floor by the men’s restroom and went in to pee and wash his hands.  He took a roll of toilet paper that was half used up from the restroom and stuck it in his pants as an afterthought.

          He knew he probably looked suspicious when he entered the store.  He smelled and was dirty.  He looked almost, but not quite homeless; he hoped he looked like a laborer buying groceries on his way home from work.

          The big doors were electronic, and he waited until they were open as someone was leaving and he made a mad dash out the door.  Before anyone realized what he was doing, he was down to the corner of the building.  There were only a few cashiers and a floor manager working, and the manager was an overweight woman.  She tried to run after him, but soon gave up.

          He snuck his way back to Olive quickly, before any Sherriff or Police showed up at the grocery store and looked around.  They stayed in the box, hidden and out of sight.  He woke Olive up and she was grateful for the food and the Gatorade.  She drank some of the Tylenol and made a face.  She didn’t ask Tag how he came by any of what he got.

          The old couple fell asleep together.  Tag had Olive wrapped up in his arms, trying to comfort her and Bullet was against her legs to help keep her warm.  She slept fitfully, but he felt her fever break in the middle of the night.

          She was overjoyed about the toilet paper the next morning.

 

<><><> 

 

          A few miles down the road, the sun was bright, and it was already hot.  The night got chilly and they woke shivering, but once the sun was up and they were walking it became hot.  Tag knew they were never going to make it back to Atlanta on time if they didn’t hitchhike, there was just no way around it.

          He took them down to Interstate 65, hoping that someone would stop to help an elderly black couple walking along the road.  No one stopped the first few hours.  Olive was still not fully recovered, and they walked slow.  They stopped and ate another sandwich and finished the last of their Gatorade.  Bullet stayed very close to Olive, never leaving her side.

          After lunch, it was just too hot, and Tag needed to find some shade for them to rest.  There was construction on the interstate, and there was no good place to sit or get in the shade.  The woods off the road were dense and thick and he wasn’t sure Olive could crawl over the concrete dividers to get to the trees anyway.

          Tag wasn’t panicked, but he was anxious for his wife.  He was angry at the entire situation; not at the boyz, but at the angel who told him to leave his house and at God for not providing a way when Olive was sick. 

We doin what we wuz instructed ta do, damnit! Make me suffer all’n you want, but don’t make her suffer too!  She’s a godly woman and don’t deserve that from you!

          Almost in response to his rant, Tag heard a horn and as he turned to look, a large panel van was pulling off between the barrels.  A young Hispanic man rolled down his window and said, “You folks need a lift?”

          Tag said, “Do we ever.  We headed to Atlanta, and if’n you ain’t we’ll go as far as you kin take us in the direction you’re a’goin.”

          “Hop in.  It’s too hot for you guys to be out.  Hey! You’re in luck!  I’m headed to Atlanta.”

          “Mighty obliged son.  Momma here’s not feelin well, and the hot sun ain’t no place for her ta be.”

          “I got plenty of cold water if you want some.  Get her in here where it’s cool. I got the AC on high.”

          Tag helped Olive up, and she was so tired she didn’t say a word.  The truck had one bench seat that went all the way across and Tag sat her between him and the young man.  Bullet curled up on the floorboard at Olive’s feet.

          Once Tag got Olive situated he held out his hand, “Taggart Keenan, Tag for short.”

          “Raphael, but you can call me Raph.”  They shook hands and Raph had a firm grip.

          “This is my wife Olive, and that mutt there is Bullet.”

          “Bullet, huh?  Great name!”

          Bullet’s ears perked up at the mention of his name.  Raph held his hand over, palm facing down, and let Bullet sniff him.  Bullet nosed at his hand for a head scratch.

          “Nice to meet you too; Bullet, and nice to meet you too, ma’am.”

          Raph pulled back out into traffic and they headed for Atlanta.  The AC felt wonderful and Olive soon fell asleep with her head on Tag’s shoulder.

 

<><><> 

 

          Drew was good at hiding.  He knew his Uncle Bryan was good at finding people with cameras and there were cameras everywhere, so Drew used Compulsions to make people buy him food.  He gave them money, so it wasn’t stealing, but he still felt dirty inside for making them do things.  That was the way his brother did things, and his uncles and Doctor Aaron told him over and over that it was not right to hear people’s thoughts or make them do things except in absolute emergencies.  He also knew looking inside people hurt, especially Brad, Lane, Bill, Darren, and Loy.  It didn’t seem to hurt him like it did his Uncles, but he didn’t understand most of what he heard or saw.  He realized it had to be because they were part angel, and the ugliness inside people hurt them.  It scared him to think he was ugly inside now too, and would hurt them if he Linked with them.

          He used people to do practically everything for him and he hated it.  It made him feel icky, and he didn’t like what he saw in their heads.  He was used to Linking with his Uncles and his Dad, or Doctor Aaron, or Mr. Albrecht; their Minds and Hearts were so kind and warm and loving... and clean.  The world was not a nice place, and he didn’t want to be in it.  He liked it better before his Mind woke up.

          The incarnations were restless.  His own worry and anxiety made them that way, and they missed Henry’s presence, and his Uncles.  Drew didn’t realize how much it calmed them down when he was Linked with everybody at the Lab.

          Everything he was thinking and feeling drove home how much he missed them all.  The previous day, Drew decided he wanted to go back home and realized he didn’t know how.  He didn’t know where the Lab was, and he panicked.

          He didn’t have a phone and didn’t know a number to call if he did.  He had a meltdown and cried so hard he couldn’t breathe.  He wasn’t thinking straight; all he had to do was take off the Amulet and he knew they would find him; then he remembered how much danger they would be in because of him, and his momentary lapse passed.

          He was miserable and wanted his dad.  He clutched the rings around his neck and remembered, but for the first time ever, his mother didn’t sooth him.  He knew it wasn’t really her, and only his memories.  He pulled out the shirt he grabbed from his dad’s locker and smelled it.  It smelled like Henry; his deodorant and sweat.  It made him cry again, and he wanted his dad’s arms around him to make him feel better.  He wanted his Uncle Ken or Loy or Bryan or any of them to hold him so he could feel their warm, solid strength.  His world was cold and empty without them and he realized even more acutely what Henry had tried to explain to him. 

          I feel you.

          Drew sat up on the bed and his eyes flew open.  He heard his brother’s voice.  He was wearing an Amulet that shouldn’t allow that!

          We will meet face-to-face soon, and I will destroy you completely.  I will consume your Soul, so you can never return again.  I will end you, and defeat the Nephilim, and my reign in this Realm will be complete.

          The adult part of Drew’s Mind woke up and he knew his brother couldn’t sense him; he was just throwing his thoughts out over the city so Drew would hear him.  Drew felt the tug of the Confrontation, the same as his brother; they both started feeling it days before.  The vortices that funneled around them were constantly pulling them together.

          He knew his brother was mean and wanted to frighten him.  Anger hit him from out of the blue.  Anger at his brother for making him scared, and for wanting to hurt everyone in Drew’s life that he cared about.

          He would have to run just to be sure, but he threw his thoughts back at his brother:  Shut up!  I know you like Grape Nehi!  I know you like Count Chocula!  I’m going to stop you, so you can’t hurt anyone else ever again!

          He grabbed his backpack and ran out of the hotel room and down the street.  He didn’t stop running until he couldn’t breathe anymore.  The Amulet should keep anyone from finding him, but just in case he wanted to be away from where he shouted.

 

<><><> 

 

          Brad and the other Mentalists heard The Master’s voice in their Minds as he sent his thoughts across the entire city.

I feel you. We will meet face-to-face soon, and I will destroy you completely.  I will consume your Soul, so you can never return again.  I will end you, and defeat the Nephilim, and my reign in this Realm will be complete.

Their eyes nearly popped out of their heads when they heard Drew shout back!

          Shut up!  I know you like Grape Nehi!  I know you like Count Chocula!  I’m going to stop you, so you can’t hurt anyone else ever again!

          They reached for Drew with all their strength, but they couldn’t find him.  Henry’s heart was about to burst in his chest.  Drew was OK!  But he threw out his challenge to The Master and his words confirmed that they had guessed his plan.  They didn’t know the details of what he was going to do, but he confirmed what they thought.

          Henry shouted out in the Lab, “Oh God!  Drew!  Honey, no!  Don’t talk to him!”

          Ken was closest and he stood up and grabbed Henry, “Henry, we know he’s OK!  That’s good news!  He’s out there, and he just threw out a challenge yeah, but I bet The Master just stopped dead in his tracks from what Drew said.  Think about it!”

          Bryan chuckled, “How in the hell did that little fucker know The Master likes Grape Nehi and Count Chocula?  Way to go, Tiger… all his Servants that just heard that now know what cereal he likes and that Grape Nehi is his favorite soda.  So much for being badass.”

          Darren interjected, “Henry, listen to what Ken just said.  We know he’s OK!  He’s still out there and ready to fight.  Yeah that scares the shit out of me too, but we know he’s OK at the moment.  He’s made it on his own this far.”

          Henry calmed down and sighed, lowering his head, “Yeah I get it.  Hearing his voice… it hurts.  On one hand I want to grab him and hug him so tight he can’t breathe, and on the other, I want to spank his bottom so hard he won’t be able to sit down for a month!”

          Kevin chimed in, “Me and Bill know that feeling all too well, Henry, but take this as a positive.  We’re all scared for him, but we’re ready.  Sounds like he’s ready too.”

          Henry said, “I know what you’re saying guys, but I know him too well. He was mad, and he lashed out; but right now, just after that outburst, he’s scared again.  His temper is like that, and I’m not there for him to hold on to.” Henry’s voice was quiet, “He needs me.”

          Brad came up and put a hand on Henry’s other shoulder, “He knows you’re with him and thinking about him Henry.  I know it’s not the same, but he knows how much you love him.”

          Henry sat down with his head in his hands, “Fuck, this is killing me!”

          Brad took them all down to the place where they were naked together and their Souls-were-One.  They formed a ring around Henry and spent as much time as he needed.  No one thought him weak, or that he was over-reacting, or being a baby; they were all still worried sick about Drew and the fact that he was all alone and on his way to face his brother The Master.

          Their loving support helped calm him, and their arms around his shoulders, their tears, helped to carry him until he was strong enough to carry on again.

 

<><><> 

 

          Drew stopped, breathless.  He didn’t know what direction he ran in and he didn’t know where he was.  Henry was right; he was terrified.  The small adrenaline rush he had from his outburst wore off fast, and he felt exposed and vulnerable.  He wanted the safety of the Lab more than ever and to feel the presence of his family around him.

          He continued down the street and saw a Burger King sign.  He saw cameras but when he looked into the Mind of the lady wearing a headset behind the counter he knew that only two of the cameras were real and the rest were fake.  He sat at a table where he was out of the line of sight of the two real security cameras.  There was a man two tables away eating by himself, and Drew gave him some money along with a Compulsion to buy him lunch.

          Drew didn’t notice a tall well-dressed man on the street that just happened to catch sight of him running and going into Burger King.  It was purely by chance, and at first the man didn’t think it could possibly be the boy his Master sought. 

          The man’s finger went to his temple and his eyes turned white:  Master, I see the boy!  He is unguarded and by himself.

          Bring him to me alive!

          His Command went out to all the ‘suits’ and Protectors in Atlanta.  There weren’t many in the immediate area, but there were more than enough to catch the boy if he was by himself.

 

<><> 

 

          When Drew realized the toy in the kids meal was from the Penguins of Madagascar movie he Commanded the man to go buy five more kids meals so he could have the complete set of toys.

          By the time the man came back, Drew was finished with his own meal but wanted a milkshake, and he sent the man back one more time.  Later, when the man returned to work, he couldn’t remember why he spent his entire lunch hour ordering food for a little boy.  He was in a horrible mood the rest of the day, because he was starving and had a headache.

          Half an hour later, Drew stuffed the toys in his backpack and walked back onto the street.  He didn’t notice the six black Escalades parked on the street, or the well-dressed men and their Protectors getting out.

 

<><><> 

 

          Tag’s dream bordered on being a nightmare.  He was back in his box in Atlanta four years ago, strung out on meth.  He heard Rick and Loy’s voices.  His Dream was hazy and unfocused, and he heard other voices too.  One of them sounded very familiar, but he couldn’t place it.

          The truck lurched forward, jarring him awake.  Traffic was heavy and moving slow through the construction.

          Tag’s voice was sleepy as he asked, “Sumptin wrong?”

          Raph had a scowl on his face, “Yeah.  I need to pull over and check.”

          Raph pulled off the interstate and raised the hood of the truck and spent a few minutes checking the engine.  Tag stayed in the cab with Olive, who woke up when they pulled over.  She seemed to be feeling a little better after her sleep, but she was still tired, and she put her head down on Tag’s shoulder and closed her eyes.

          After a few minutes, Tag heard Raph cursing in Spanish and the truck rocked when Raph kicked the front end.  He came around and opened the door, “Bad news.  The transmission line has a leak and the fluid drained out.  I need to call a tow truck.  Depending on how long it takes we might still be able to make it by tonight.”

          Tag wasn’t happy, but he didn’t have any options, other than trying to find another ride.

          Raph saw his concern and said, “Look Tag.  I’m going to Atlanta anyways. I promise I’ll get you there if you want to hang with me.  It may just take a little longer than I thought.”

          Tag only thought about it for a second and said, “If’n it’s alright, we’ll stay wit you.  You was good enough to give us a ride, and we’re grateful.”

          Raph smiled and said, “OK, good deal.  I’ll call a tow truck and make sure we can all get a ride.”

          Bullet’s ears perked up and Raph looked at him saying, “Yeah, you too.”

          Tag let Olive rest, and Raph stayed outside the truck most of the time on his cell phone.  He called for a tow truck and then called his boss to fill him in.  The conversation didn’t sound good for Raph, but there was nothing he could do about it.

          Two hours later they were at a service station on the outskirts of Montgomery, AL.  The news wasn’t good… they had to order a part.  It would arrive first thing in the morning, but it meant spending the night.  There was a cheap hotel right beside the service station.

          Raph said, “OK Tag we’ll have to bunk here for the night, and we should be on the road no later than mid-morning.  That will put us into Atlanta late tomorrow afternoon.”

          Tag was embarrassed but told Raph, “Look son.  Me and momma don’t have any money for a room.  You go ahead and we’ll figure out sumptin and meet you back here in the mornnin.”

          Raph didn’t blink an eye and said, “Well if you don’t mind sharing a room, you can stay with me.  My company is paying for a room, I can chip in a few bucks and make it a double.”

          A tear came to Tag’s eye; he was so grateful for the young man’s generosity, and it touched him deeply, “Thank you, Raph.  That’s mighty generous of you.  If Momma wasn’t feeling so poorly I’d probably not do it, but I appreciate it.  I’ll pay you back when I can.”

          Raph replied, “Don’t worry about it, Tag.  I’ve been in a tough spot before, and some strangers helped me out.  This is my way of paying it back… or forward… however the hell that works.”  He was chuckling some by the time he finished mixing up the phrase.

          Raph not only paid for the room, but he bought a family dinner at the Kentucky Fried Chicken next door to the hotel.  It was the first real meal Tag and Olive had eaten in days.  It was greasy, and they loved it.  Bullet ate all the biscuits that were left and lapped up the gravy, but was upset about not getting any chicken bones.

          There was a thought nagging in the back of Tag’s Mind.  After his dream, there were some dots that needed connecting.  He opened one of the little strawberry shortcake desserts that came with the meal and dug his spork into it.  He loved strawberry shortcake, even the processed kind jammed into the little plastic container.  He remembered Bryan’s though, and it brought a grin to his face.  Once Bryan found out strawberry shortcake was one of Tag’s favorite desserts, he made it on occasion just for Tag.

          Raph, making small talk asked, “So Tag, what takes you two to Atlanta?  You got family?  Is there someone waiting for you I can leave you with?”

          “No blood family, but we got some friends who are closer than blood.  We heard they is in trouble and need to help ’em out.”

          Raph laughed, “No offense old-timer but you two have no money and no ride.  How are you gonna help?”

          Tag laughed and said, “We’ll just hafta see when we git there won’t we?  I just know it’s important we git there by tomorrow night.”

          Tag’s voice went serious, and Raph looked at him.  Raph seemed smart and was observant.

          Nodding his head, Raph said, “Yeah, I know about family and friends and hard times.”

          Tag’s eyes squinted slightly as the dots started to connect, “You said someone helped set you straight?”

          Raph sighed and sat back, patting his full stomach, “About four years ago I was in a gang.  I was young… well younger,” he laughed, “and stupid.  I got mixed up with the wrong people.  I was lucky to get out alive.  Two men I tried to kill kicked my ass and set me straight.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I owe them my life.”

          The final dot slammed into place and Tag shrewdly asked, “Was them two men named Loy and Rick, by chance?”

          Raph’s eyes went wide and said, “Holy shit!  Yeah!  Do you know ’em?”

          “They’z two of our friends we’re goin ta help.  They is gonna need our help bad really soon, and we gotta get there.”

          “Fuck!”  When Raph realized he used an f-bomb he apologized. 

          “I’ve never talked to Loy or Rick again, but I remember that morning like it was yesterday.”

          Tag knew the story from Loy and decided to take a gamble, “If they helped ya, you know they’z special, right?”

          Raph’s face got serious, “What do you mean?”

          “You know what I mean.  Did they talk inside your head?”

          Raph got spooked, “Tag what’re you getting at?”

          “Calm down, sonny.  Am I right?”

          “Yeah, you are.  No one else would believe me if I said that but yeah.  Loy showed me all kinds of things in my head.  He’s the main reason I turned my life around.”

          “You remember what you were doin there that morning?”

          “Yeah there was an old black man, a homeless dude, who was living in a big cardboard box.  Some men paid me and my boys to chase away anyone who might be asking questions.  Loy and Rick were there, and we tried to kill ’em.”

          “That old black homeless dude was me.”

          The strangeness of the situation hit him, and a chill ran down Raph’s spine.  “What the fuck is goin on here?”

          Tag held out his hand, “Calm down, Raph.  I don’t know neither, but I don’t think it was chance dat you picked us up.  We is headed back because an angel told us Loy and Rick and the rest of our friends needed our help.  We gotta get there or they is gonna die.”

          “Jezus Tag!  If anyone else told me that I’d drop them and run, but something weird’s going on here!”

          Raph sat up suddenly as Tag’s words just hit him, “What do you mean they’re going to die if you don’t get there?”

          Tag sighed, “I don’t know how.  I just know what I was told.  Loy and dem boyz has the Light of Heaven in ’em.  They gave me a new leg. They changed the way you see me and Momma, but to us we look da same as always.”

          Olive had been quiet, but she was feeling better, “Thank you Raph for helping us.  The boyz mean the world to us.  There’s a lot more to ’em that you don’t know.  You barely scratched the surface with ’em.  But they need our help, and we can’t let them down.  We owe them our lives, too.”

          Raph looked shaken, and even a little pale, “I used to not believe in stuff like this.  But Loy went in my head, in my memories, and showed me things.  He showed me all the bad decisions I ever made, and how they effected not only my life, but my family’s.  He told me to be a man, and to stop pretending to be a man.  I was a dumbass kid in a gang, trying to feel important by holding a gun.

          “It still took me months to figure it all out.  Turnin my life around wasn’t easy.  Some of the people I was mixed up with don’t let you just walk away.  Some of my friends didn’t make it.  I was lucky, and finally got out.  Ever since, I’ve tried to be on the up-and-up.  As funny as it sounds, I feel better about myself.  Earning a living rather than steeling one from strangers is… well better.  I feel better about myself.  I don’t know how else to say it.”

          Tag smiled, “You is doin right by Loy and Rick, Raph.  They’d be proud of you if they could see you.  If we help ’em, you’ll get the chance.  I don’t know what’n the world you or us’ll see when we get there.  We’re walkin into some kinda hornets’ nest.”

          “Well, I’ll gladly take a sting or two, if they need me.  I’ve still got chills from thinking about this.  Meeting you and Olive and the connection we have we didn’t even know about until we started talking, that’s just spooky.”

          Olive laughed and patted his hand, “You’re a good man, Raph.  Loy and Rick will be proud!”

          The conversation turned to lighter matters.  Once the decision to help them was made, Raph didn’t want to continue talking about it all and spook himself even more.

          Tag turned on the TV and they found a show they could all watch until it was time to turn in.

 

<><><> 

 

          Taliesin was in a foul mood.  The young girl he was tutoring in violin didn’t tell him until after the lesson was over that she didn’t have a ride home.  Her parents expected Taliesin to drive her down to Buckhead to their home.

          He couldn’t throw the child out of his Condo and wish her a good day, but he would have a serious talk with her parents as soon as he had the chance.

          Part of his mood was worry about Drew and everything that Lane shared with him.  The Enemy would be hunting for the boy, and that also put Taliesin more at risk of being seen if he was out and about.  The girl and her parents didn’t know that of course, but their actions affected his safety.

          After Lane told him about Drew, he hid a number of weapons in his car.  He had weapons within arm’s reach all through his Condo, just not visible to the naked eye.  He had weapons on his body under his clothes.

          “Come on Chelsea, let’s get you home.  Cavall!  Come boy!”

          Cavall bounded out of the bedroom.  The dog stayed in the back bedroom during the girl’s lessons, and Taliesin called him a coward in ancient Gaelic, but he knew his companion was lucky to escape the dreadful noise the girl managed to coax out of a most exquisite instrument.  Her parents, typical of a wealthy family, bought her an instrument far beyond her skills.  Truthfully her skills would never be worthy of the instrument.  When she eventually failed, or became disinterested in her lessons, he would offer to purchase the instrument at a greatly reduced price and add it to his own collection.

          Cavall trotted out and hopped in the back seat of the car when Tal opened up the door for him.  He loved riding in the car.

          Chelsea sat up front, and he drove through horrific mid-afternoon Atlanta traffic down to Buckhead.  Taliesin, being a Bard and performer for thousands of years around the world, was a good entertainer.  He made Chelsea feel comfortable while trying to find subtle ways to discourage her from continuing on her musical path.  It became clear shortly into their conversation that it was her parents pushing her in that direction.  Her mother was a failed Cellist and was trying to live vicariously through her daughter, who of course must be a child prodigy because the mother herself was so talented. 

          After he dropped Chelsea off, he ran into more construction on West Paces Ferry Road, and he diverted in frustration.  He had no idea where he was, but he was moving even if it wasn’t entirely in the right direction.  One of the most fabulous inventions of the twenty-first Century according to Tal, aside from air conditioning, was the GPS.  He brought up the in-dash GPS and hit the ‘Home’ button and the car began talking to him and telling him where he needed to go.  Taliesin, like Aaron, embraced technology and was, admittedly a tech junkie.

          He hit another detour and the car was practically screaming at him to do a ‘legal U-Turn.’  He was getting frustrated and began to curse in ancient Gaelic. When he looked in the rearview mirror Cavall’s deadpan expression looked back at him and he was sure the dog was laughing at him.  His eyes said so, anyway. Taliesin called him a mangy mutt in ancient Gaelic, but the hound ignored him, sticking his nose out the window into the breeze from the moving vehicle.

          Ever since Lane and Bryan and the others put half of edn’s Soul inside him, his life turned around.  He felt the love that edn had for him all those years ago that he never knew about; not in the way that mattered.  Taliesin picked up the habit of speaking to edn directly, and had conversations with himself.  edn never talked back in words, but he felt emotions that he interpreted as responses.

          Taliesin’s step had a bounce to it that he hadn’t had in a very a long time… he couldn’t remember being as happy or content as he currently was.  The love he felt from edn, and the love edn felt for him, finally washed away the ugliness of what Charissa did to him.  He felt in his Heart that he no longer had feelings for her, and he was free of her webs and manipulations.

          To pass the time he played a game with Cavall, something edn used to do.  Tal noticed many mannerisms of edn’s that he had picked up.  Instead of being weirded out by them, they were a comfort.  They were a part of the man he loved who was inside him now.  He was happier than he had been in his entire lifetime, happier than he ever thought he could be, and he owed it to Lane and the other members of the New Order.

          To stop the GPS from continually yelling at him, he turned on the satellite radio in his car.  The number of stations available to him were astounding, yet there were few he actually liked to listen too.  “Mad World” by Gary Jules was playing on one.  It was an odd song from a dark movie titled “Donnie Darko.”  The lyrics were sad, yet they always resonated with him.  As many songs often did, whether intended or not, this one spoke too much of his life.

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad, these dreams in which I’m dying, are the best I’ve ever had…

          Taliesin was lost in his thoughts, singing the lyrics and making random turns trying to avoid more traffic when he noticed a little boy running down the street.  The boy seemed in a panic, and it caught Taliesin’s eye.

          Memories of his own life as a street urchin before Albrecht found him flashed in his mind.  He knew fear when he saw it, and the boy was clearly running scared.

          Taliesin’s training as an Agent of The Order, one of the best in their long span of years, took over.  His unconscious Mind picked up details around him, ever on guard for his own safety.

          He noticed four well-dressed ‘suits’ and a dozen Protectors of The Enemy following the boy.  What surprised him even more is that he recognized the little boy as Drew Ross, the brother of The Master.  The boy who could break the Curse on Mankind.  The boy who was missing and about to be captured by The Enemy if Taliesin didn’t act quickly!

          There were too many of The Enemy around to collect Drew and escape by car.  Now that he was alert, he saw how many Escalades were in the area, and he didn’t know the area well enough, especially with all the traffic.

          “Cavall be ready!  We have to save that boy!”

 

<><><> 

 

          Drew realized he was being chased and panicked.  He was smart for his age, but he was also six years old; eleven thousand times over, but none of his incarnations ever lived past their seventh birthdays.  Drew didn’t know the area any more than Taliesin did, and he was simply running away from them.

          Horns honked as Taliesin dodged oncoming traffic and jumped his car over the curb.  Cavall went flying in the back seat with a yelp of surprise.

          “Sorry Cav!  Hold on!”

          In one fluid motion Taliesin slid the car sideways and opened his door.  He rolled out, grabbing the hilts of the swords that were hidden in the upholstery of the seats, drawing them out as he rolled.  The familiar sounds of the blades leaving their scabbards was a music he never tired of hearing.

          Cavall jumped out behind him as Taliesin rolled to his feet and took off running.

 

<><  A few minutes earlier ><>

 

          Drew walked out of the Burger King and stopped, not sure which direction to go in.  He was excited about having the entire collection of the Penguins of Madagascar toys.  He held one of them in his hand, looking at it.  Not paying attention to where he walked, he bumped into a big man and nearly fell down.

          Looking up in surprise, he started to apologize.  The man was big just like his dad and his Uncles, and he had a leering grin on his face; Drew’s Mind was Open and he saw the man behind the mask of his smile.  Drew saw through him, and the man was evil.

          Blindingly fast, the man grabbed him.  He was a Protector of The Enemy.  They found him!

          Drew didn’t panic, but adrenaline born of fear hit his little body.  Let me go!

          He hit the man with a strong Compulsion and it struck Shields covering the man’s Mind.  Drew was strong and the Shields shattered, but they stopped most of the strength of his Command.

          The sneering grin faded, replaced with a look of conflicted confusion.  All of Drew’s training, learning to be a slinky, running and flipping, and his Mental disciplines – it all came into play.  His dad and his Uncle Ken told him if he ever faced one of the Protectors, he had to fight dirty and hard to get away.

          The man’s hand gripping his shirt relaxed and Drew threw himself backwards, onto the ground. As he fell he brought his leg up and the momentum of his fall sent all the strength in his lithe body through his leg and into the man’s balls. The backpack absorbed most of the impact and kept Drew’s head from hitting the hard concrete of the sidewalk.  He executed the maneuver flawlessly. 

          “Get him, you fool!”

          Drew heard the shout directed at the Protector he had just kicked, but the man’s face was purple as his hands moved blindingly fast to clutch at his aching balls.  Protectors didn’t feel pain as normal men, but their balls were vulnerable and Drew’s training maximized the effectiveness of the blow.   Drew nimbly rolled to his feet and took off running.

          He ran as fast as he could, but there were more ‘suits’ following and more Protectors.  They were herding him and driving him where they wanted him to go.  The Amulet would protect his Mind from any attacks, but he was vulnerable to the strength and speed of the powerful Protectors.  If all the Protectors had Shields, he could be in trouble, and more and more of them were showing up.

          Drew was beginning to panic.  It wasn’t time to face his brother yet.  He knew it – he could feel the forces pulling the two of them together, and they were strong, but they weren’t finished yet.   He briefly considered pulling off the Amulet so Henry and his Uncles could find him, but without it, he would be more vulnerable to their attacks.  He didn’t want everything to escalate and cause The Master to face off against his Uncles too soon, or they would surely die.

          He stopped when he saw more of them in front of him.  There were too many, and he seemed surrounded.  The incarnations were beginning to push against him, agitated and unrestful.  They distracted him from thinking and he yelled: Stop it!

          Oddly enough, they quieted. Not completely, but it gave him some respite to focus on his escape.

          The Protectors were extraordinarily fast, faster than any human, but they were holding back in public.  People were staring and Drew saw iPhones being pulled out by bystanders, recording what they saw, but not willing to help a little boy being chased by dozens of big men.

          One of the suits shouted, “Never mind the cameras, just get the boy!”

          “Drew!”

          Drew’s head whipped around when a familiar voice shouted his name.  At the mouth of an ally between two storefronts stood Taliesin, a sword in each hand, and Cavall by his side.

          “Drew, this way, quick!”

          The Protectors slowed, unsure of the new development.  They all recognized Taliesin; he was wanted by their Master almost as much as the boy, and they knew he was dangerous.  This would be a great day for The Enemy to kill the Bard they had hunted for centuries, who had killed countless of them over the years, and to capture The Master’s brother.

          Drew ran as fast as he could and threw his arms around Taliesin’s waist in a fierce hug.  Relief washed through him – a friend was here to help, and he wasn’t alone anymore!

          Taliesin saw the tears on Drew’s face.  As the Protectors halted, Taliesin knelt down to be at eye level with Drew.

          “I will do my best to keep you safe.  Come with me!”  Taliesin winked at him and grinned, hoping he put Drew at least somewhat at ease.

          Drew sniffed and nodded and followed Taliesin.  The alley was a dead end for traffic but it had a few doors; probably rear exits from businesses. Taliesin wasn’t looking for an escape route for himself, only for Drew. 

The entrance of the alley was narrow and would allow no more than two or three Protectors to come at them at a time.  It was the most defensible position he could find on such short notice.  With the reach of his weapons he could form a barrier they could not cross to get to Drew.

          Cavall stayed slightly ahead of them, his hackles high and his teeth bared.  The low guttural growl coming out of him was a clear warning not to come any closer.

          Taliesin spoke in a low tone so the approaching Protectors wouldn’t hear him, “Drew, there are some doors further in.  If you see your chance, run, and I will hold them off.  You must escape if the opening presents itself, do you understand?”

          “I won’t leave you!”

          “You will have to if you wish to survive, child.  If the fight drags out too long you know He will arrive and unless you want to face your brother today, you will have to flee.  I am not trying to be cruel Drew; I am being honest.  If you wish to survive to meet your brother on your terms, which I assume you do since you ran away from everyone you care about, you must run if you get the chance.  I will do my best to give you the chance to carry out your plan.”

          The smile on Taliesin’s face was one of remorse, “I know all about running to survive Drew. Trust me on this, child.”

          While they spoke all the ‘suits’ and Protectors gathered at the entrance to the alley.  There were perhaps thirty in all, at least two Protectors for every ‘suit.’

          Drew realized in that moment that Taliesin wouldn’t survive, and he knew Taliesin’s death would be his fault for running away and needing help.  The impact of that fact hit Drew hard, and the weight of it was a hurt he didn’t expect. 

          He reverted to a little boy out of his depth and cried.  He didn’t wail, but he couldn’t talk from breathing heavy and hiccupping.  His vision blurred with thick tears.  He felt a rough tongue on his face as Cavall turned and licked at his tears, as if he was telling him everything would be alright.

          “Watch for your chance, and be ready.  Be brave Drew, and bring all of this to an end.  You are the only one who can.”

          Taliesin took up his stance.  His goal wasn’t to survive, it was to kill and maim as many of The Enemy as possible to give Drew a chance to escape. 

          His stance, he noticed, was more edn’s than his own.  edn fought with a double-edge long sword, but Taliesin preferred the single edged Katanas that he now wielded.  They were the weapon of a samurai, and Taliesin was a blade master, however edn was arguably the best swordsman who ever lived.  edn had often teased him about the ‘willow wands’ he fought with rather than a real sword, and that thought made him smile.

          Taliesin found the Centering Flame, and his Mind calmed.  He could not slow down his perception of Time any longer, and he missed that ability.  He could use the Gift right now – if he still carried it, he could easily destroy all of them.  It was the first time since Lane Accepted the Gift from him that Taliesin wished he had it back.

          His Centering Flame didn’t waver, but he felt a strange tugging at his Mind.  It was the familiar presence of edn, and his eyes widened in surprise.     

 

<><> 

 

          Deep inside, where his Soul resided, Taliesin appeared naked.   edn was there waiting for him.  Taliesin couldn’t speak at first – he could only stare at the naked body of the man he loved; the man he now shared a Soul with. edn’s handsome face and muscular body had never looked so virile or desirable; he almost looked otherworldly, he was so beautiful and manly. 

          Over a month ago, Taliesin had looked on edn’s face as he lay entombed in Avalon, preserved by The Mantle and the enchantment Charisa had spun.  His heart leapt in his chest at the sight of the man he loved, and hadn’t seen in fifteen hundred years. 

That moment was harsh and beautiful.  At the time, his Mind and heart were in chaos as the emotions of centuries caught up with him.  He cried when he looked upon edn’s body, so lifelike he could have been asleep.  Taliesin’s Heart shattered as a single tear caused edn’s body to fall to dust. 

          Taliesin didn’t understand what was happening, and his brow furrowed questioningly.  His handsome face broke into a smile when edn’s deep voice, speaking ancient Gaelic filled his ears.  The sweet music of his voice that Taliesin hadn’t heard in 1500 years.

          “I’m with you Tal, but I do not see a way out of this one.  It has been long since we danced in War together.  Let us fight and dance one last time in a Battle so glorious we will be remembered for eternity.”

          Taliesin’s voice trembled as his own hot tears began to spill from his eyes, “I only just found you edn, I don’t want to lose you so soon.  I can’t!”

          The two men embraced, feeling the hardness of their muscled bodies press together; it was a blissful feeling they never experienced in life. edn wiped Taliesin’s tears away with his thumbs, and they smiled at one another. edn kissed him and they both became hard.  Taliesin had longed for that kiss, and when it finally happened it was in his Mind, but it was real enough to touch his Soul.

          “You will not lose me Tal.  We are bound as One and will go Home together.  We must do what we can and give the boy a chance.  Too much rests on his survival.”

          Taliesin knew the moment of Lane’s Dream was upon him.  The Purpose that Taliesin still had to fill to bring about the defeat of The Master.  He had to give Drew a chance to live and escape so he could fight his brother on his own terms.

          A final sense of completion washed over him; there was no better way for him to die than in Battle against The Enemy, side by side with the man he loved, fulfilling a Purpose that would affect the Fate of the World.  If Drew escaped and won, and his new Brothers were able to revoke the Curse and bring Mankind back to what it was meant to be, it would rest on his act of bravery, and in his mind he felt that would finally atone for all the years of his life.  He knew he had been forgiven, but his actions through the centuries still weighed on his Soul.

          “I am with you Tal.  Let us dance.”

 

<><> 

 

          Taliesin put a fist against Drew’s chest and firmly pushed him back. Drew wasn’t sure exactly how, but something in Taliesin changed.  Cavall sensed it too.  He felt edn, his old master.  When he looked with his silver eyes, he saw both his masters standing as One before him, in the same body.  edn smiled at him once again, and the unconditional love for his first master filled him.

          edn gave him the command to aggressively defend their position and Cavall bared his teeth again in a savage snarl; the growl that came out of his body reverberated through the Physical and Spiritual Realms.  The ‘suits’ were shocked at what they heard, and it sent a chill of fear through them.  That was something they had not encountered before.

          Cavall was unique among animal kind; blessed as a puppy by the angel Ariel, his silver eyes saw the Wind.  He saw both the Physical and the Spiritual Realms as One, and he was powerful in each.  Raphael never knew the Purpose of his Instruction to dispatch Ariel to bestow her Blessing on the single pup out of an entire litter, but it was to Protect Drew Ross centuries later.

          The dog grew and was discovered by edn, and they became fast friends.  Cavall was always a loyal companion and never just a hound.  He lived and hunted The Enemy with his master, and his entire life, across fifteen centuries, led him to this one point in time to defend Drew Ross by the side of both his masters.  Cavall saw the vortex surrounding Drew and the connections from it to all of them.

          Loyalty to their Master overrode the fear of The Enemy Agents, and they moved forward, not realizing it was edn Mac Artur of legend they faced, alongside Taliesin the Bard of Avalon.  They did not know what to make of Cavall, with his silver eyes that saw everything.

          The ‘suits’ attacked in unison, sending a bolt of Mental energy at all of them.  Drew’s Amulet protected him, but Taliesin no longer carried the Gift inside him and had no Shields.  Brad had protections over his Mind that would divert any attacks to him, but Tal had no idea if they would survive a concerted attack against so many.

          Cavall let out a howl that pierced their Minds and ears and he stopped their attack, shattering it with his own Power.  The hound had been the Companion to edn, and now to Taliesin, but his role was ever to defend Drew at this moment in Time.  Raphael watched from the Heavens, and saw the end result of his instruction all those centuries ago.

          Taliesin smiled grimly, and he took up a fluid, graceful stance. Like Ken and his brothers, edn and Taliesin had both studied with Albrecht, the greatest warrior in human history, and were his best pupils. 

          With the Mental attacks of the ‘suits’ blocked by Cavall, Taliesin and edn would have to defend Drew from the Protectors; inhumanly fast genetically enhanced beasts of men, with an incredibly high tolerance to pain.  The Protectors were far faster than Taliesin, but Taliesin had thousands of years of experience, and edn was the best swordsman who ever lived.  With the two men One, their skills blended perfectly together.

          To deal with an opponent faster and stronger, he had to predict where they would be and not where they were.  The narrow alley allowed only a few Protectors at a time to attack and restricted their movements, making that prediction easier.   

Taliesin knew what to do through edn and he began to whirl like a dervish, his blades flashing so quickly they were nearly invisible.  He watched the approaching men and with edn’s guidance he swung his blades precisely along the trajectory of where their arms would be a fraction of a second before they were.

          The Katanas he wielded were honed razor sharp, the metal folded uncounted times, honing the edge nearly to the width of a few molecules.   Drew was stunned when the arms of the two Protectors attacking Taliesin separated from their bodies and fell to the ground.  Their faces registered surprise when they realized their arms no longer obeyed their will as they were no longer attached to their bodies; a fraction of a second later their arms fell to the ground, cleanly severed.

          Taliesin’s face hardened upon drawing first blood, but it was edn who threw out the challenge in ancient Gaelic.  None of The Enemy present spoke the ancient dialect, but the challenge was clear.  To Drew, whatever he said was impressive and gave The Enemy pause.

          “Come face my blades you filth of Darkness!  I cleansed the world of your Kind in my lifetime, and I will do so again!”

          Cavall howled and the ‘suits’ grabbed their heads, screaming in pain as the hound attacked their Minds, preventing them from aiding the Protectors. 

          For a moment, Drew had hope that Taliesin would hold them off, but similar to when Henry fought the Eschphene Leader, he was ultimately overmatched.  As good as Taliesin and edn were together, the strength, speed, and numbers of The Enemy overran them.  The telling factor was the willingness of The Enemy to sacrifice themselves for their cause.

          Some of the big men towards the rear threw others over and behind Taliesin, so they faced him on two fronts, forcing Drew to get closer and hamper Tal’s movements.

          Taliesin was beautiful and terrifying to behold, his blades a whirlwind of death around him and the bodies piled up, but it didn’t take many blows to critically injure the Bard; the Protectors were just too strong physically.  Once he was knocked into the side of the ally wall and his face came away bloodied.  Soon after, he was struck a blow that fractured a leg, further impeding his movement.  They whittled away at him, yet he continued to fight.  Taliesin was successful in his goal of attrition; there were far fewer of the Enemy than when the fight began; their corpses and body parts lay around the entrance to the alleyway. It was already a Pyrrhic victory for The Enemy, and he wanted to make it even more so.

          Taliesin’s bravery was absolute, but he knew he was overmatched.  He took another intentional blow to clear the way behind Drew.  He saw one of the doors cracked open, hiding a man watching the fight. 

          Through Taliesin, edn spoke in Gaelic to Cavall, “Stay with the boy and defend him to the last.  I love you my faithful Cavall, and I will await you in Heaven.  Go now and protect him with your last breath, as do I!”

          Immediately after his command to Cavall, Taliesin spoke to Drew in low tones, hoping he was not overheard, “Run Drew.  Cavall will protect you as long as he can, but you must escape.  Run through that door at the rear of the alley.  Hide yourself well.  It has been an honor to know you child.  Much rests on your shoulders.  Honor your father and his Brothers by not failing them, as I have you.  Go now, and run!”

          Drew was crying hard, as he watched Taliesin get beaten down.  He was covered in blood and sweat, and his clothes were torn.  Taliesin fought as hard as Henry had against the Eschphene, but he was not enough.  Drew realized the sacrifice Taliesin made for him, and it made his Heart want to burst.  Drew wanted to tell him he hadn’t failed – his bravery and sacrifice touched Drew and ignited the fire inside him to want to succeed and honor what he saw.

          Cavall growled to get his attention and he turned and ran down the alley.  The sounds of fighting continued behind him.  As he got closer Drew saw the door was cracked and a man was peeking out, watching everything wide eyed and afraid.

          As Drew reached the door he glanced back and wished he hadn’t. Taliesin was on the ground being torn apart by the remaining Protectors.  All but three Protectors were dead and most of the ‘suits’ were unconscious.  A few were still Shielding the Protectors that remained, trying to defend their Minds against Cavall.

          The three Protectors stopped and looked down the alley; Drew made eye contact with them.  Their Minds were shielded, and he thought he was strong enough to break them, but his main goal was to escape and run away.  He couldn’t dishonor Taliesin’s sacrifice by disobeying.

          The man tried to close the door, but Drew used a Compulsion on him:  Let me in!

          The door opened and Drew started to run, but Cavall didn’t follow.  He would defend the door, barring it from The Enemy, to give Drew a chance to escape as he had been commanded to do.  He would fulfill his Purpose, or die trying.

          The man slammed the door shut and locked it as Drew heard Cavall’s howl of defiance.  He heard one scream cut off and then a yelp of pain from the dog.  Drew’s eyes filled with more tears, and his small body jerked at the sound.

          He looked at the man:  Show me a way out that they won’t see!

          The man shuffled Drew through the storage area of the building and through a few more doors.  There was another alley on the far side of the building that faced the other side of the block, away from everything that happened.

          The sun was bright again and Drew squinted his eyes as he exited and ran.  He didn’t hear anything, but he didn’t stop running.  He ran for blocks and blocks, with a constant Compulsion around him:  You don’t see me!  I’m not here!

 

<><><> 

         

          Everyone was in the Lab taking care of various tasks.  Bryan was still reviewing security footage from hotel computer systems he hacked into.  Bill was monitoring satellite feeds.  Brad was scrying for Drew, hoping he would take the Amulet off at some point.  Loy was inside animals all over the city, looking through their eyes.  It was slow and painstaking, as it had been in Arizona because of the sheer number of animals and the different species.  He had to be thorough and not miss something critical.

          Darren was monitoring social media outlets, and he almost jumped out of his chair in surprise when he got a hit.

          Guys!  I got something!

          Henry was the first to reach his side, rushing to look over his shoulder and see what it was he found.  Everyone else was right behind him.  

          “I’m throwing this up on the Ops Board so it will be easier to read.  Shit!”

           A dozen Tweets all hit within seconds of one another, showing pictures of a large mob and rumors of a sword fight going on at Peachtree Road NE in Buckhead.  There were two pictures of a large number of well-dressed men and muscled Protectors; there was no mistaking them.

          Before Ken formed his thought Brad was in the Mind of a bystander and Darren had a visual.  They all disappeared from the Lab, appearing on the sidewalk.

          Bodies and blood were everywhere.

          Brad sent a Compulsion out in a wave for everyone to clear the area.  Ken and the Bodies heard police sirens in the distance headed their way.

          In a blinding flash of Light in the alley Uriel appeared.  Taliesin’s body lay at his feet, torn apart by The Enemy.  Body parts of Protectors littered the area around him.  Pat saw the connections and there were seventeen Enemy corpses in the pile, and Taliesin.

          Tears filled their eyes as they rushed over, but Uriel already held Taliesin’s Soul.  It was beautiful, and the men saw edn and Taliesin in it, two men yet One.

          Lane’s voice caught in his throat as he moaned, “No! Tal! No! Not you too!”

          Uriel rarely spoke when fulfilling his Province, but he looked at Lane, his deep voice gentle and said, “He is finally at Peace, Lane.  He died gloriously, in Battle with The Enemy, as he and edn wished.  He fulfilled his Purpose and Drew escaped.  Drew lives because of his sacrifice.”

          Lane knew Uriel’s words were true, and his Heart found some comfort in them, but Taliesin’s music was now gone from the world, and it would be a lesser place because of it.  Taliesin finally found happiness, and it showed in the way he played with Lane on ZEUS that day.  He was sad that another strong Light in the World was snuffed out, but more than that to him, another friend was gone out of his life, one that he only recently found.

          Before Bryan could respond to Lane’s thoughts, it was Loy who said:  Lane, his Light isn’t out of the world Brother.  It’s inside of you now.  We all merged with him, but you’re the one who can keep his Music alive in the world.  Do that, and it’s not really gone.  Make him matter, and we’ll all remember him.

          Henry fell to his knees in relief at Uriel’s words about Drew.  He had been searching among the bodies of the Protectors, praying he didn’t find his son among them.

          A crack of thunder was heard all across the city as Uriel’s wings turned raven black and swept across the bodies of the slain Protectors, collecting their Black Souls.

          None of the ‘suits’ were dead, and the three still conscious were attempting to flee, but Brad grabbed their Minds, holding them.  As painful as it was to do, Brad delved into their recent memories.  Ken came up behind him, and wrapped his arms around Brad, filling his husband with his essence to fend off the worst of the pain.

          Bill Read the area.  The violence and intensity of everything that occurred made impressions clear to his Avatar.  Drew himself was fuzzy because of the Amulet he wore, but with Bill’s Avatar synchronized with all his Brothers, and the Power of what happened, he was able to discern everything.

          At the edge of his hearing, Ken picked up another sound.  At first he wasn’t even sure he heard it, but it happened again.  It was the whimper of an animal!

          He rushed with all his enhanced speed to the back of the alley.  By a doorway, under the bodies of three more dead Protectors, lay Cavall.  His sides were barely moving and his body was crushed, but the throats of the three Protectors were ripped out and they were nearly beheaded.  As his master commanded, he defended the boy with his last breath.

          Loy!

          They were One, and before Ken even called out, Loy appeared at his side.  Instead of Ken lifting the bodies off the wounded dog, Loy teleported Cavall into his arms.  White Healing energy enveloped Cavall, washing over him and restoring him to full health and wellbeing.  He wiggled and thrashed as he was Healed, trying to escape Loy’s arms and return to edn and Tal.

          Loy set him down and he ran over to Taliesin’s corpse sniffing him.  His head hung low for a moment and then he howled.  The sound he made was filled with both honor and grief, and was a farewell to his two beloved masters.   The sound echoed in both Realms, and the sorrow in it tore at their already battered Hearts.

Loy felt a pervasive feeling of loneliness in Cavall; his intelligence was near human, and his Heart was broken by the loss of the two men; his best friends in life.  He lay down and put his head on Taliesin’s bloody chest and lay still as tears ran down from his silver eyes. Loy moved to him, scratching his ears, and filled the dog with his comforting Presence.

I’m with you, boy.  You were so brave.  Drew escaped because of you.  Your masters were brave too, and I’m sorry they’re gone.  I’ll keep you now, if you’ll have me, and that is what you wish.  I will love you.

          Uriel launched himself into the sky, transforming into a ball of Light.  In honor of Taliesin and edn’s sacrifice their Soul appeared as a shooting star for anyone to see in the afternoon sky as he shot back to the Heavens.

          Brad took them all down deep where they were naked together and their Souls-were-One.

          All of them were crying.  There was tremendous relief in them that Drew escaped and was still alive, yet after gaining Taliesin as a Brother when they helped him on their wedding day, losing him was another blow to their Hearts they didn’t expect, and it was brutal.  Lane especially felt the hurt; he discovered a kindred musical Soul in Taliesin and they were well on their way to becoming good friends.

          Taliesin had been a tragic figure through all his many years, but they finally helped him find peace - even happiness.  Yet sadly, Taliesin’s happiness was intense but short-lived.  They felt puppet strings around and through Taliesin’s life, which added to their anger and frustration over his death.  Lane Dreamed years prior about Taliesin, and it was the only Dream he ever had that remained unclear over Time until that moment.

          Seeing Taliesin’s Soul in Uriel’s hands, it dawned on him why his Dream was never clear; edn’s Soul was the reason.  Because they were free and unfettered, their lives were mostly invisible to the High Hosts.  The spontaneous attempt to travel back in time and collect half of edn’s Soul caused an ambiguity with Taliesin once his Soul was merged with edn’s.  Lane himself, and his Brothers were what caused the lack of clarity in his Dream.  There were many paradoxical ripples around those events, and his Avatar’s lack of clarity on that Dream was one of them.

          It was not lost on them that Taliesin was the one person, aside from themselves, Albrecht, or the doctor, that could have done what he did and save Drew.  Without the Gift, his Mind Closed and no longer Immortal, he faced and killed seventeen enhanced Protectors that were accompanied by ten ‘suits’.  They were astounded at Cavall’s ability; he was unique in all Creation, and his bravery was no less than that of his two masters, he just happened to get lucky and live.

          They sat down together forming a circle, sitting side by side, with arms around each other, holding and carrying one another.  It seemed as if they spent more time than ever in their special, private place, supporting one another. It was the only way they survived and found the strength to continue.  They all wondered when the tears would stop, and in a moment of weakness if they ever would.

          They were strong, part Nephilim, and soldiers; but they began as men, and their Hearts and Souls hurt and became bruised from each blow when they lost someone in their lives.

          The Battle raged around them.  Drew was still gone, but alive.  Tag, Olive, and now Taliesin were dead, taken most recently.  Not forever, because one day, perhaps millennia away, they would see them in Heaven.  Loy’s half-brother Alarial was another hole in them, especially in Loy.  Greg Rawlins, Ken’s brother Richard & his mother Gladys, Kevin’s brother Archie & his entire family – the list had grown so much in the four short years since they became aware of who and what they were, and their Purpose.

          Liz was the most tragic loss of all – she was gone forever, and they would never see her again.  She sacrificed her very Soul to give Drew a chance to live and face The Master.  She made them all promise to look after Henry and Drew, and prevent the Eschphene from turning her son into a monster.  They held to their promise, but Drew’s fate was still uncertain as he ran to face his brother.

          Feeling the sorrow and loss of so many of their friends and family wore on them.  They were still strong and weathering the storm as soldiers do, but it didn’t mean they weren’t suffering.  They carried the burden and the cost of what they signed up for when they joined The Order.  They did so willingly, telling the doctor they felt it was what they were meant for, and none of them stopped believing that, even for a moment.

          One thing they never expected though, with their capacity to love and to be hurt so much greater, was to feel the losses as acutely as they did after their changes.  Ken wondered just how high their capacity for pain was and hoped they never discovered that threshold.

          At the start of it all, before everything, they had each-other as Brothers in the Navy as SEALS; they were now husbands, and Nephilim, and their bonds ran deeper than ever; now they were more than Brothers and lived inside each another.  There was no way they could survive without one another.  As painful as their losses were, if any of them died or were lost, the rest of them weren’t sure if they would be able to carry on.  If they failed Drew and Henry, they weren’t sure if they could carry on.

          Henry felt their thoughts; they were his because he was One with them.  He never thought he could have Brothers as he now did, living inside them.  He didn’t have ties to Taliesin as they did, but he felt the loss as strongly, and this time he carried them.  Even through his own worry over Drew, he was strong enough for them.

          The strength of his Soul and personality, of ‘Henry’, had grown so much since he met all of them.  He was a gift to them, and he wrapped them up in his arms, as well as his Mind, Heart, and Soul, giving them comfort.  It was special with Henry because none of the men grew up with fathers, and Henry offered a sense of that to them; they were all far older than Henry in years, but the maturity that came from being a father changed him and made him stronger in other ways.  He offered his strength and comfort to them, and it helped to fill the emptiness they felt from the loss of another Brother of The Order, and a friend.

          Brad had them so deep, no Time passed in the Physical Realm, and they felt no pressure to leave. There was no embarrassment that they needed each other, and they stayed in each other as long as necessary, as they processed and honored Taliesin’s sacrifice.

          Once they were able to move forward, Bill Read the area and saw everything that transpired.  Drew was visible to them, and he was upset and scared, but he did what Taliesin told him.  He ran instead of fighting, honoring Taliesin’s sacrifice. 

          Because of the Power of Bill’s Avatar, they saw both edn and Taliesin in the fight.  edn was a master swordsman, and he and Tal killed all the Protectors but three.  Cavall was a shock; even with Pat’s Understanding, they never realized how Powerful the dog was until they saw him in action. 

          Cavall was all alone now, and Loy vowed to take him back to the Lab with them.  They could not abandon the dog after everything he had been through.  Cavall was willing to sacrifice himself for Drew just like Tal and edn, except he lived.  Loy wanted Drew to keep him once everything was settled, but if not, then he would keep Cavall himself.

          Finally, there were no more words or tears.  They got to the point where they were able to laugh at some of their frustrations over Taliesin.  They talked of their journey with the Bard, and his connections to them.  He was responsible, on the day of the first Awakening of their Nephilim Heritage, for saving their lives; it was his aid that changed the tide and gave the Four Corners the extra Power to fend off the Darkness that day.  The threads of their lives and his had been intertwined from the beginning, for thousands of years because of the Gift.  He saved their lives on the day of their first Awakening as he had saved Drew’s life presently.  His impact on them all was profound.

          The next time they had a casual get together, whenever that might be, they vowed to toast their lost Brother with a beer in his honor and remember him.

          They finally separated, and Brad took them back up to their bodies.  There were still a number of unconscious ‘suits’ and the three Brad held with his Mind.  Having just been so deeply inside one another, they were full of Power and their Auras flared turning the ‘suits’ to dust.  There was no mercy or sympathy in any of them for willing servants of The Enemy.  The bodies of the Protectors, all the pieces, burned to ash from the Strength of their Light, clearing the evidence.

          Brad erased the memories of everyone in the area that witnessed the fight.  The few people that Tweeted, he Commanded to delete their messages.  The doctor had an application that could root out all the re-Tweets and scrub the internet.  There would be people around the world that saw the images, but there would still be no proof of the event once the digital trail was gone.  The conspiracy theory hackers would have a field day, but there was nothing to be done. 

          Bryan moved to decompose Taliesin’s corpse, but Lane thought:  Bry, wait.

          Lane looked at Darren:  Would you help me cremate him?  I want to save his ashes.  I want to go back to where Avalon stood and scatter them there, so they can mix with edn’s.  I think he’d like that.  I know Uriel took him Home, but I still think it’s the right thing to do to honor him.

          More tears flowed at Lane’s request; it was insightful, beautiful, and thoughtful.

          Darren hugged his brother and kissed Lane on his cheek:  You don’t have to ask.

          They were filled with Power and Darren became the vessel.  His Avatar flared and a thick white ribbon flowed through them all.  A hot wind blew the hair on their handsome faces as they poured themselves into Darren. 

          It took a moment, but Taliesin’s body was reduced to ashes, and Darren collected them with his Mind, keeping them together in a ball until they could get back to the Lab and find a proper container.

          Ken picked up Taliesin’s Katanas, not wanting to lose them. 

 

<><><> 

 

          Michael felt it the moment The Enemy set foot in the Valley.  He was the Defender and Keeper of that sacred dwelling… the place humans referred to as Eden.  It was a part of his Province. 

The Valley had rested, hidden, since the Veil was called to separate the Physical and Spiritual Realms.  He moved the Valley to a place he thought impossible for humans to find.  Humans thought themselves clever with their growing technology, but it was easy to keep the Valley hidden, even from their satellites.

          Michael felt it was inevitable, after the Creation of their Nephilim grandchildren, that the Valley would eventually be discovered.  They travelled there often, and were careful, but it was bound to happen.  Uriel’s Nephilim grandson Bryan was the Earthly Protector of the Valley, the Tree, and the Midgard Serpent, and it was his duty to Protect the Valley from Man and The Enemy under the Dominion of The Master.

          The discovery was not intentional but it happened, and could not be undone.  The timing was terrible, on the threshold of the Confrontation over the fate of Mankind, but at the same time appropriate in terms of the Balance, as the birthplace of the Curse on Mankind.

          Uriel appeared by Michael’s side, responding to his call.

          Gabriel and Raphael appeared as well, and soon the other six – Barachiel, Raguel, Remiel, Saraqael, Selaphiel, and Jegudiel.

          Raphael spoke, “It does not surprise me that the presence of The Enemy in the Valley occurs on the eve of their Confrontation with The Master.  Without Luke’s involvement, we cannot aid them.  The Four Corners cannot be Summoned this time.  They must stand on their own.”

          Michael looked sad, “Great times are upon us Brothers, and the future of Mankind rests on the shoulders of our grandchildren, the Second Born, and his father.  We must be ready – even if they fail, the Oath forced upon The Dark One will no longer be Binding, and he will strike swiftly.  Gather all your forces and be ready.”

          Raphael: “I have faith in them.  Even though we cannot See, I believe they will succeed, but at what cost remains to be seen.  They have suffered much, yet I feel there will be more losses still.”

          Uriel: “Such is the way of War, among our Kind or humankind.”

          Gabriel: “Shall I warn Bryan of The Enemy encroachment?”

          Michael: “No Brother.  I will speak with Ken; your Voice is needed elsewhere.  We will all be hard pressed with what is coming.”

          Raphael: “Even though we are Blind to their actions, we know what is in their Hearts.  We must have faith in them, and trust.”

          Michael: “You are right of course.  Sometimes your Wisdom vexes me Brother.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to be correct throughout Eternity.”

          The two archangels smiled; their banter was a reflection of an unexpected side-effect of their grandchildren. It was nice, and a comfort, and something they quickly became accustomed to.

                                                                       

<><><> 

 

          They had only been back in the Lab for an hour.  They processed the major part of their grief over Taliesin and what was left was a quiet sense of… something.  Ken searched for a word… not calm… not unease… not trepidation… he sighed and gave up thinking about it.

          The doctor and Albrecht were devastated at the news of Taliesin’s death, and retreated into their rooms to process their grief, leaving the men to continue their efforts of finding Drew.  They were available if needed, but if not they preferred solitude.  They had known Taliesin for thousands of years and their lives were intricately intertwined.  As when Charissa and Jonathan and the other Elders of The Order died, the impact on the two mentors was significant.

          Drew was still missing, but they knew he was alive.   Cosmic events were on top of them and they had days, maybe only hours, before The Master and Drew would meet, and the events they had been training for, for the last four years, the first Purpose of their existence, would occur.

          None of them were nervous for themselves, but there was a deep thread of anxiety and worry over Henry and Drew.  Ken didn’t want Henry involved because of what they were sure God told Drew.  If Henry helped Drew in his part of the fight with The Master he would most likely die.  None of that was certain, but Brad put the pieces together and that made sense based on Drew’s actions.

          Henry was a steamroller in park at the moment, ready to fly to his son’s side the moment they discovered his location.  It didn’t matter if The Master was there or not, Henry needed to be there.  Ken was torn, because he knew how much Henry wanted and needed to be with his son, but as the Leader, and keeping everyone’s best interest in Mind, Ken didn’t want Henry anywhere near The Master.

          His tactical side and his Heart were battling and he was conflicted on the best course of action.  Brad was with him, letting his thoughts process before he interjected his own opinion.

          The beep of the proximity alarm in the back parking lot pulled Ken out of his thoughts.

          Fuck!  What now?

          Sally was at a monitor and switched the feed over immediately.

          “Ken, it’s Michael!”

          “What the hell?”

          He got up and opened the door, Brad right behind him.  Everyone else was with him in their Link, but stayed inside.  They were ready if Ken called or needed them.

          Ken moved down the steps and rushed across the parking lot.  Michael was standing just outside the influence of the Runes and was as close as he could get.

          Ken embraced his angelic grandfather and Michael hugged him back.

          “It is good to see you, Ken.”

          He looked at Brad and smiled, “You too, Brad.”

          The two men separated, but Michael kept a hand on Ken’s shoulder, “I bring grave news.”

          Ken’s smile disappeared.

          “I am aware of your losses Ken.  Right now my Brothers and I cannot be involved because Luke is no longer a part of what is happening.”

After a short pause he continued, “I am very proud of you, though.  You know that I understand the loss of Brothers and allies in battle.  You are standing strong in the face of incredible pain.  I want to acknowledge to you that I am aware.”

          Ken knew Michael existed before Creation and as the Leader of the High Hosts he had lost more Brothers than Ken could imagine.  What Ken was going through seemed paltry in comparison, yet he appreciated Michael’s words deeply.

          Don’t think like that Ken.  You know Michael and the others don’t feel emotion like we do.  I’m not saying they don’t hurt, but until recently, and how they have changed because of us, it hasn’t been the same.  It’s not about who hurts more anyways.  And I love you, you handsome bastard.

          Ken blinked at Brad’s last words, and his expression lightened.

          I love you too, B.

          Bryan interjected:  Are you two making out in the parking lot in front of your granddad?

          Ken and Brad both laughed inside at his comment.                

          Ken asked, “So what is it grandfather?”

          “The Enemy knows where The Valley is.  I felt it as soon as they attempted to enter.  Those who tried are dead.  There are heavy Protections, but now that they know where it lies, it is inevitable that they will try to destroy it.”

          Ken felt the tension inside of Bryan from Michael’s statement. 

          Michael continued, “There is no need to be concerned at the moment, but I wanted to alert you immediately.”

          Ken felt the pressure on his shoulders increase with the news, and at the same time he felt the support of all his Brothers increase with it. 

          “I am the Defender and Keeper of the Valley.  My Province is against The Dark One, who is removed from the Battle for now.  Bryan is tied to the Tree and is Protector of the Valley, the Tree, and the Serpent.  If The Master, or his servants attack the Valley it will be up to Bryan to stop it.  If Luke is not involved I will not be able to intervene.”

          Ken’s jaw tightened.  The Rules of the High Hosts sometimes grated on his nerves.

          “Thanks for lettin us know.  Do you know how they discovered it?  It’s been hidden for a few thousand years.  Why now? And how?”

          Michael hesitated as if he didn’t want to respond.

          Brad knew why and said, “It’s my fault.”

          Ken, “What!?”

          Michael nodded his head.  “It is Brad.  Not intentionally, but yes.”

          Brad continued, “It was the Blood Curse Ken. When you were in the Valley, I attacked the Curse, and The Master must have felt it because he was the Summoner.”

          Michael said, “I doubt that was part of his plan with the Blood Curse.  His anger at your survival confirms it. The Dark One is capable of such subtlety and layered deception, but The Master is not.”

          Ken sighed, “Alright.  Anything else?”

          Michael squeezed Ken’s shoulder, “It always seems darkest before the storm Ken.  You are strong.”

          Michael glanced at Brad and nodded, “You all are.  You are Random and Unfettered, unpredictable.  You will prevail.  You must.”

          Ken lowered his head, nodding, and said, “Yeah.”

          Michael said, “I must go now.  Be well Ken.”

          Ken embraced his grandfather one last time, “I love you.  Be careful out there doin whatever it is you do.”

          Michael turned into a ball of light and vanished, leaving Ken and Brad standing in silence.

          They both said, “Fuck me!” at the same time.

          Ken said, “When it rains it fuckin pours.  One more thing to worry about.”

          Brad said, “We’ll deal with it.  We don’t have a choice, but we’ll make it.  Like he said, we have to.”

          Ken asked, “Did I sign up for this?  I thought this was the Army that had the cushy condo’s and six week vacations.”

          Brad laughed, “I’d say you got taken.”

          Ken managed a grin, “Speakin of taken, I could use a little stress relief after this.”

          Bryan’s voice came back in their minds:  Fuck I knew you ladies were gonna manage to make it about fuckin.  You two fucker’s are amazing… and predictable.

          Ken and Brad both stuck out their middle fingers towards the building.

          I saw that.

          As stressed as Bryan was about Leroy being in danger, and the Tree, he cared for his Brothers and wanted to lighten the mood of Michael’s news.

          Ken put his arm over Brad’s shoulder and kissed his cheek.

          “Come on, B.  Let’s go be predictable.”

         

<><><> 

         

          Tag was worried, and Olive kept squeezing his hand.  She had faith that things would work out, but was trying to comfort her husband.  Bullet sensed his unease and occasionally nudged his other hand wanting his ears scratched.

          Raph was frustrated and upset over the delay on the truck repair.  He was enough of a mechanic to know the service station was trying to hook him in to additional repairs and delaying everything in hopes of milking him out of more money.

          What should have taken at most an hour and a half took half a day, and they weren’t back on the road until after lunch.  They were still a good two hundred miles out of Atlanta, and with construction on top of heavy traffic it would take them at least four hours or more.

          Raph knew Tag was nervous about arriving on time.  He felt the same thing… after he met the old couple something inside him changed.  The chances of them all knowing Loy and Rick, and running into one another in such a seemingly random manner so far away from Atlanta… Raph wasn’t a religious man, but he didn’t see what happened as random.  He felt it was meant to happen and that scared him.  The idea gave him goosebumps.

          It made him think even deeper about not only what Loy did for him but how he was able to do it.  Loy walked with Raph inside his memories, through most of his life, and showed him lovingly where he went wrong and what he did right.  Raph was ashamed that the ‘right’ list was appallingly short compared to the ‘wrong’ list.  He didn’t understand how Loy could do what he did, but Raph took it to heart, and it changed his life.    

Tag told Raph stories to pass the time as they drove.  Since Raph was now involved, Tag explained, in a very general manner, about the Battle between the Light and the Darkness, The Order & The Enemy, and how Loy and the rest of the Team were part angel – beings called Nephilim.

          Raph believed every word of it.  Tag went on to tell him about Drew… who he was, and the importance of the young boy.  Everything he heard terrified Raph – there was an entire world overlapping and coexisting with his that he was, for all intents and purposes, unaware of.  He thought about how the world just seemed to ignore all of that, while an epic Battle was occurring just under the surface, over people’s rights to be assholes and watch reality TV.  He thought about how such a cosmic event was about to take place and the world seemed to ignore it like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand.

          Something about it all didn’t set well with Raph.  It made him angry in a way he didn’t really understand.  Once they got on the outskirts of Atlanta, Raph used Google Maps on his phone to enter the address on the scrap of paper Tag handed him.  The map came up and he thought it had to be wrong.

          “What?  This can’t be right.”

          Tag asked, “What?”

          “This address.  It can’t be right.”

          “What’cha mean?”

          “It’s a Waffle House!”

          “Oh Lord!.  Yeah I believe it!

 

<><><> 

 

          It was Time. The vortex surrounding him was almost visible in the Physical Realm, a tangible feeling.  The connection between him and his brother was complete and the pull overwhelming; he wasn’t sure he could deny it even if he wanted too. 

          The Master stood, casting his thoughts across Creation:  Come my servants!  It is time for us to annihilate the Light!  The Order will fall by our hand today!  Take the Valley!  Destroy the Tree and anything else there!

          To his earthly servants he commanded:  Sow the seeds of chaos across the Earth!  Draw The Order out to stop you!  Distract them until I have slain my brother, and then I will deal with them myself!

          He stood up off his Throne, naked except for the Amulet.  He wore it to prevent any interference by The Order until his brother was finally destroyed. 

As much as he hated the sight of his grotesque body, he would embrace his primitive nature and pull on all his savage strength to destroy the new Warriors of The Order.  His brother was inconsequential; a boy of little or no meaning. 

He was confident of his victory over The Order as well, but he knew they were powerful, and he would need all the Power of the Curse and his followers to vanquish them. 

          The smoky Darkness covering his face swirled and seethed.  The black points where his eyes should be were as Black as ever, windows into his Soul.  The temperature in the room dropped, and ice crystals formed as his Darkness manifested around him.  He Unveiled himself for the first time in ages.

          He lumbered out to his Escalade as his driver, loyal but still terrified, opened the door.  Shifting his Sight, The Master saw the swirling vortices around him.  They were chaotic and added to his already considerable Power.  A thick translucent thread emerged from his chest.  His eyes followed it until it was out of sight, but he knew his brother was at the other end of it.  They were literally tied together until the outcome of the Confrontation.

          His hot breath steamed around his chill aura, and his deep rumbling voice said, “Drive. I will tell you where to go.”

          “Y.. y…yes, sir.”  He wasn’t sure if his servant was terrified or simply chilled by his Aura.  It didn’t matter; it made him smile, showing his crooked sharp yellow teeth.

 

<><><> 

 

          All through Atlanta, and all over the world, ‘suits’ and Protectors of The Enemy emerged from hiding and wreaked havoc across the globe.  They killed normals, started riots, and set fires.  The entire planet was covered in dark boiling clouds; lightning and thunder filled the skies in response to the Event that was about to occur.  The Physical and Spiritual Realms were reflecting the conflict, and in a state of flux until either the Light or the Darkness won.

          The Curse on Mankind was more evident than ever.  The servants of The Master started the violence and chaos, but it was simply throwing gas on fumes.  The fumes of the Curse rested inside Man… the ‘fucked-upness’ was there and waiting for the match.  People went berserk… the thin veil they kept over their inner selves was pulled back and set loose. 

          Not all men were dark inside… many still tried to be good, but the Curse was still in them.  A very few tried to help stop what was happening, while others locked themselves away, not participating and trying to stay safe.  All humans felt the rushing tide of the Confrontation, even though they didn’t know what it was, or understand it.  They stood on the edge of a precipice, waiting to either be pushed off by The Master, or pulled back by Drew, Henry, and ten Men who were One, a Paradox; part angel and part Original Man, created to give them another chance and restore Balance to Creation.

          All the High Hosts stopped and watched.  The Confrontation was at hand.  Mankind’s Fate would be determined in the next few moments.  All of Creation paused, holding its breath, waiting to see what would unfold…

 

<><><> 

 

          Across the Cosmos the Dark Cloud formed again.  Four years prior it was pushed back and dissipated by The Four Corners, with the help of Taliesin and Istariel and his three cousins.

Formed again, it was all the Power of the Darkness spread over Creation, under Dominion of The Master and manifested into one vessel.  All the Powers and Principalities The Dark One granted to him, to establish his Rule over the Physical Realm he Called, and they obeyed.

          The Cloud undulated and grew, blotting out stars and suns in its immensity as it sped towards Earth.  The Four Corners would not be present to prevent it this time, and the Valley holding the Tree of Life would be devoured.

          The Dark One watched events unfold.  He desired nothing more than the destruction of The Order, but he wanted it to be by his own hand.  He wanted revenge. He wanted their suffering… and the only way for that to happen was if The Master failed.  He was powerless to interfere though, bound by the Oathstone, forced to watch events unfold rather than affect them.

 

<><><> 

 

          Drew lay in bed in a hotel room watching Television.  His eyes went wide and he sat up suddenly.  Looking down, he saw a thick clear thread coming out of his body.  It went through the door of his room and into the hallway.  Instinctively he knew it tied him to his brother, and that the time had finally arrived.

He started at the loud crack of thunder outside. His eyes misted over; now that the time was at hand, he wanted his dad badly.  He pulled out Henry’s shirt, covering his face with it, and inhaled; smelling it and drawing strength from it.  The smell of his dad’s sweat and aftershave was the same as Henry’s powerful arms around him, and he felt his dad kiss his cheek.  He had to be brave, and knew he had to do it alone.

          He climbed down off the bed and left his room.  He walked through the Lobby up to the front desk.

          “I need a ride please.”  He sent a Compulsion along with his request and the Hotel Shuttle pulled around in a few minutes.  A few other people were checking out and moved to get in, but he stopped them:  Stay here so you’ll be safe.

He climbed up into the front seat.  He wasn’t sure where it was he needed to go but he felt the tug of the Vortex.  It wasn’t the same place that the thread led to, but that was fine.  He knew his brother would find him.

          The driver asked him, “Where to, son?”

          Drew pointed, “That way.”

          As they pulled out of the parking lot, Drew heard and felt the chaos start in the city around him. Screams and explosions and gunfire erupted everywhere; he watched it through the window of the van as they drove.  The sky was dark and Drew felt the violence spreading out like a plague around him, ordered by his brother.  He saw car wrecks and fires and people running around acting crazy.  It was as if his brother let the insanity inside normal people loose.

          Drew Shielded the driver and Commanded him to ignore everything and drive.  

          Twenty minutes later the van pulled up into the parking lot of the Waffle House on Buford Drive, across from the Mall of Georgia.  Drew recognized the Mall, and it gave him a small sense of comfort to see someplace familiar.  The memories of meeting his Uncles Ken and Brad there for the first time, and shopping last Christmas with all his Uncles and Lane helping him with his Christmas presents; they were good, happy memories.  He couldn’t bring himself to smile though, he was too scared and nervous.

 

<><><> 

 

          The entire Team felt it as One; Darkness throughout Creation was gathering and they heard echoes of The Master’s Servants causing chaos around the world.  It started quickly and built into a storm of unparalleled magnitude.  Many people thought it was Armageddon; the end of the world – and it might be, depending on the outcome of what was happening.

          Henry’s gut went icy cold.  The fate of his son was unknown, and the feeling he should be by Drew’s side was overpowering.  Drew was alone by his choice, thinking he was doing the right thing, but Henry’s instincts told him his son was going to need him very badly, and he felt helpless.  His chest was so tight he could barely breathe.

          One thing the men did not expect to feel, amidst the chaos inside humans that was running rampant, was a glimmer of hope at the edge of people’s thoughts.  There were some people, not many, but some, who were opposed to what was happening.  Perhaps it was the Veil being so thin that let them hear and feel their prayers.  It was a small Light amidst the vast Darkness, but it only took a small Light for there to be no Darkness at all.  It gave the men hope that there was something still in Man worth fighting for, and that they were doing the right thing.  It gave them strength.

          Calmly, they all stood up and filed into the gym.  Ken put his arm over Henry’s shoulder as he walked with them. They placed themselves at the vector points of the Master Rune of their Avatars.  Ken kept Henry by his side, holding him tight with his arm, but all their Souls wrapped around him as tightly as ever. 

          Sally, the doctor, and Albrecht watched them.  Their eyes were bright and the men felt the thoughts and prayers of their beloved mentors.  Albrecht and the doctor were arm in arm; the culmination of their lives, their fight against The Enemy on Earth in the Physical Realm, was upon them.

          Ken:  This is it guys. Power up.

          He didn’t have a speech; no words were necessary.  They were inside each other, their Souls One.  They were more than the sum of their individual selves, and in the moments ahead they would fulfill the first Purpose of their Creation, or fail.  But failure was not an option; even the remote concept of that thought hit the Wall of Ken’s Will and Conviction and smashed against it into nothing.

          They were soldiers, Navy SEALS, Brothers… they were confident in their training and their abilities.  They trained endless hours to be ready for anything, to be anything they needed to be to fulfill their Purpose.  They would be whatever they needed to be for Drew, and then for Mankind once Drew was successful, no matter the cost to themselves.

          They were towers of Light, and handsome beyond words.  Their Auras were bright and Powerful; their very existence the antithesis of Darkness, and it was by their choice.

          A ghostly image of Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life, formed over and around them.  It was more tangible than ever before, as the conflict between the Spiritual and Physical Realms was on top of them. Spirits from all over the planet swam in the air. The Wolf-Spirt was by Loy’s side and her pack swam among the other Spirits filling the room.  Brad fluttered their Souls back and forth across the Veil, and it was almost effortless.  The Veil wasn’t gone, but it was thinner than ever.  Lane Listened and turned the discordant chaotic noises he heard around the world into something beautiful, filling them with Power.

          Loy felt Cavall pressed against his leg and with a mighty howl he sent a cry of challenge to the Darkness.  They felt his Power, not inconsiderable, join theirs, unexpected, but welcome.

          They were tall pillars of Light, filled to the point of pain.  Their muscular bodies stood tall, and their angelic Heritage was fully apparent.  They stood ready to face the Darkness, the Ten of them plus Henry, with Cavall by their side, against everything The Master was throwing at them.

          The White Ribbon of Power that flowed and crackled through and around them was thicker than ever, and the doctor and Albrecht had to shift their Sight back to the Physical Realm to keep from being blinded.

          Ken:  B, hit ’em.

          Brad’s eyes flashed white and he threw his head back, his muscular neck thickening. The veins at his temple and in his neck were visible from the effort he put forth.  A hot wind blew the hair on their handsome heads as a White burst of Power came out of Brad, fueled by all of them, like a nuclear bomb.  It stretched out and around the globe, shattering the shields of the ‘suits’ and knocking out normal humans.  People that were in the throes of committing violent acts dropped like rocks.  People driving, or flying aircraft, received a Compulsion to park or land safely and then to fall asleep.

          It felt good to unleash his full Power against the Darkness.  It felt right, and there was no telling how many lives his act saved.  It was their first blow and challenge to the Darkness, and The Master felt their Power.

 

<><><> 

 

          Raph, Tag, and Olive saw the chaos start and begin to spread.  Traffic stopped as cars hit each other.  Their truck was rammed, but they locked themselves inside.  People exited their cars and ran around screaming.

          They saw fires and explosions in the distance, and heard gunfire.  The old couple knew what they saw and were terrified.  The sense of urgency inside them grew stronger.

          Suddenly, they saw everyone fall down unconscious. They felt Brad’s Compulsion, but the angel who sent them on their task had protected their Minds and they were unaffected.  Bullet yelped slightly, but he was protected as well.  Tag looked over and Raph was unconscious.

          “Momma, help me switch places with Raph.”

          They set Raph between them, and Tag pulled off the road to drive in the emergency lane.  The scene looked like a combination of The Walking Dead and Mad Maxx.  Bodies lay everywhere, most alive and asleep, but some were corpses, killed by other people.  The skies were black, and lightning filled the sky reflecting the Confrontation and clash of the Powers.

          Uriel was already hard at work, his wings sweeping the globe and collecting Souls.  With the protections on their Minds they were able to see into the Spiritual Realm as the Veil thinned, and they were both terrified.  They were human and not intended to witness the Confrontation in both Realms, yet they did.  It wasn’t the first time they saw through the Veil, and Tag kept his wits about him, even though he was scared.

          Tag and Olive saw a glow in the distance and knew it was their boyz.  Their Light was bright enough to see even as far away as they were.  They were fighting back, and Olive knew all the people falling asleep was their doing.  Tears fell down her face at what she saw; she felt an elation in seeing their Light shine forth and them exerting their Power against the Evil she knew existed.  She prayed for them, their wellbeing, strength, and success.  She prayed for Drew and Henry too, knowing what was about to happen.

          Tag drove as fast as he could, speeding to where the angel told them they needed to be.

 

<><><> 

 

          Drew saw and felt the wave of White Power that swept through the world.  His Amulet protected him, and it washed through him, but it felt nice.  It felt like his Uncle Brad.

          The shuttle driver pulled over and went to sleep, and Drew had to wake him up.  He knew it was his Uncle Brad.  In fact, he felt his Uncles not too far away; their Aura was so strong and Bright.  He knew his dad was with them.  He felt another thrill when he heard Cavall’s howl of challenge to the Darkness.  Cavall was alive!  Drew’s breath caught, and his eyes misted over as it struck him that not everything or everyone had to die fighting his brother – Henry had lived through impossible odds, and Cavall too.  Many did not, but some did, and maybe Drew didn’t have to die either, or Henry.

It wasn’t long before the van pulled in to the Waffle House and Drew hopped out.

          Go across the street and park, and go back to sleep.  You’ll be safe there.

          Drew shut the door and the van drove off.

          He thought it odd when he saw a woman standing inside the restaurant staring at him.  She was a waitress, and he didn’t know why she wasn’t asleep with everyone else.  Her nametag, that he couldn’t read from so far away, read “Lula.”

          Now that everyone was asleep it was eerily quiet outside.  There were noises in the world; occasional explosions and rumbling thunder and the wind, but no human noise, physical or psychic.  The quiet Drew felt was deep inside; it was the quiet before the storm, as all of Creation stopped, and the High Hosts watched from above, waiting to see what happened.

          Drew heard the sound of tires on pavement as the black Escalade pulled into the parking lot. He felt his brother; he felt the Darkness, and saw the thick transparent thread linking the two of them together.  It looked like water the way images distorted and refracted through it. 

         

<><><> 

 

          The Black Cloud made its way through the Universe to Earth.   The boiling and seething clouds over the Valley parted as the Black funnel descended.  A massive Emerald dome lit the sky as the Darkness struck the Shield protecting the Valley.

          Bryan’s head whipped up, and his Avatar flashed Emerald Green.

          The Valley was under attack!

          Ken knew immediately that The Master wanted to separate them, thinking they were weaker apart.  He didn’t realize the Paradox of their existence and how they lived inside one another when they were merged and One.  Distance didn’t matter and was irrelevant.

          Ken:  Fuck!  Bry go!  You and Lane go, and do what you can!  The Tree can’t fall, and he can’t wake up Leroy!  Call us if you need help!

          In an Emerald flash, Bryan disappeared and Lane used his husband’s eyes to follow.  In the blink of an eye the two of them were across the planet at the base of the Tree.

          They looked up and saw the gigantic tail of a black funnel cloud striking the Emerald canopy.  The Shield over the Valley withstood the initial attack, but The Master called all his servants throughout Creation, and Bryan saw with his Understanding how powerful the Black cloud was.

          Bryan was in the Heart of his Power in the Valley and at the Tree.  Lane’s Avatar was different.  Music was the source of his Power and as long as there was Music he was strong.  The music of Bryan’s Soul was right next to him and he knew he would need every ounce of Power he could muster to add to his husband.

          The clash of the Emerald Shield and the Black funnel over the Valley caused a massive storm to appear.  Lightning filled the skies, and the rain was almost horizontal.  Bryan and Lane stood together, holding each other tight, rooted in one another and their Brothers.  Their Avatars had never shone so bright on their muscled shoulders, shining through the Kevlar of their Assault Suits. Lane asserted his Will, and the rain and wind lessened around them. 

          Bryan raised his arms while Lane’s wrapped around his thick torso.  He called on the Life Energy of all Creation, channeling it into the Shield over the Valley.  Lane augmented Bryan’s Power with his own, with the Music of Bryan’s Soul, and their Avatars made them equal to the task.  The green of Bryan’s eyes matched the Emerald canopy of the Tree, and Lane’s brown eyes were filled with the Light of Bryan’s Soul.  Their eyes were ringed with the color of the other’s, in the outward expression of their perfect blending.

          They held.  They were enough.  It wasn’t easy, but they were enough.  Lane looked up though, and the Black cloud seemed endless and he wondered how long they could hold against it.

 

<><> 

 

          Ken smiled grimly when he felt Lane’s and Bryan’s defense of the Valley and the Tree.  He only sent the two of them, knowing they would be enough.  They weren’t alone, and never would be, even though they were the only two physically present in the Valley.

          Bryan felt Ken’s hands on his back, supporting him, along with Lane’s strong arms around his chest.

          The two men felt Ken’s confidence in them, and it helped to fuel their defense.

 

<><> 

         

          Across the planet, in the Valley, amidst their defense of the Tree, Lane’s eyes flashed white.  His Avatar flared, and Visions filled his Mind.  He saw Drew in a parking lot, wind whipping his hair, wearing a bright red hoodie, jeans, and a t-shirt.  His Marvel back pack was over his shoulder.  He looked small and frail and alone.  His cheeks were red and splotchy, and Lane knew he had been crying.  His heart ached for Drew and what he must have gone through the past few days and what he was about to face.

          Lane’s unconscious Mind wondered how he could see Drew when he wore the Amulet.  The thought occurred that the severity of the Cosmic Event that was occurring charged the Ether so completely it allowed his Avatar to see through the area of the Amulets.  He cast a thought to Drew, and he wasn’t surprised when Drew didn’t hear him.

          Lane’s stomach lurched when he saw the black Escalade pull into the parking lot.  In the background of his Vision he saw the chaos that surrounded the area and all the unconscious bodies Brad knocked out or put to sleep.  Drew was a good fifty feet away from the vehicle, and he looked so alone.

          The door of the Escalade opened, and Lane saw The Master’s naked clawed foot step out on the pavement.  The rest of his massive body came into view and he was naked; his grotesquely muscular form, ruddy skinned and covered in the brownish-red course fur, looked immense.  It was as if he grew in size once he got out of the vehicle.

          Lane’s vision panned around and he saw the Silver Amulet around The Master’s thick neck.  Fuck!

 

<><> 

 

          Lane’s vision filled all their Minds.  As long as The Master wore that Amulet they could not touch him or Teleport to him, and a tremor of fear ran through them.  There was no one nearby to piggy back off of because all the normals were unconscious.

They watched Lane’s vision, happening in real time, as The Master lumbered over to stop only a few feet from Drew.  He stood alone, looking up at his brother, as The Master’s grotesquely muscled form towered over him.  Drew only came up to mid-thigh on the giant.

Drew backed away a few feet, and they saw the expression on his face. 

          The Master’s deep voice echoed through both Realms, and all the Powers heard his words: I told you the next time we met I would destroy you.  I will eat your Soul and use its Power to destroy the Nephilim Abominations!

         

<><> 

 

          Deep down inside themselves, where they were naked and their Souls-were-One, Henry blurted out, “Darren send me there!  The Amulet won’t stop you from sending me!  Just like when I got Ken’s brother!”

          They all knew, especially Henry, that Drew thought Henry would die if he was a part of what was going on.  They also knew Henry was willing to sacrifice himself for his son.  He made that apparent when he fought the Eschphene. 

The thought echoed in Brad’s Mind: But he lived; against all odds, Henry lived… and he had grown even more since then. 

          Time wasn’t moving, and the image of The Master towering over Drew filled their Minds.  They only had seconds to act once they decided on a course of action.  With one clawed hand The Master could end it all if Drew wasn’t fast enough.  He wasn’t holding the Stone yet and they didn’t know why.

          Ken grabbed ahold of Henry, pulling him into a fierce hug.  His throat was so tight he couldn’t talk, but Henry heard his thoughts: I’m sorry Henry, I don’t know what else to do. 

Even Ken’s mental voice cracked from the harsh emotions hitting not only him, but all of them.

          Their thoughts were One and Henry knew Ken was likely ordering his death if Darren sent him in, but there were no other options.  Once things started, they would have seconds, if that, to react, and the Amulet limited their options.

          A knife cut through Ken’s Heart when he thought the words: Send him in Dar.  Henry, Drew is your first priority, you know that, but if you can get that Amulet off The Master do it.

 

<><> 

 

          Back in their bodies Henry took off running across the gym with all the speed in his enhanced body as Darren used the image of Lane’s vision to send him to his son.  He reached his maximum velocity as he started to dematerialize…

 

<><><> 

 

          Drew was alone, just like he feared.  His brother seemed a giant, and he froze for a moment, even though he thought he was prepared.   The Amulet Drew wore would prevent his brother from attacking his Mind, but he could crush Drew with one clawed hand.

          The adult-like part of his Mind wasn’t present, overrun by the terror of a six-year-old boy.

          The Master raised one clawed fist.  His arm was thick with muscle as he swiped it down to rip his brother’s body in half…

          … only to have his fist pass through empty air.

 

<><> 

 

          Henry appeared, moving as fast as he could.  As he materialized, Darren changed his trajectory slightly for better advantage, but not his velocity.  Henry’s perception of Time slowed until he was almost frozen so he could utilize every bit of precision and skill.  He saw through Pat’s Understanding exactly what he needed to do, and how to prevent any injury to his son. 

          Drew didn’t even have time to be surprised.  The next thing he knew he was on the ground, fifty feet away, wrapped up in the arms of his dad.  The voice he wanted to hear so bad, and the arms he wanted around him more than anything were there, and he felt safe again.

          He felt Henry’s warm breath in his ear as he whispered, “I’ve got you, Tiger.  I’m with you!”

          Henry snatched the Amulet from around Drew’s neck, and the chain snapped as he tossed it away.  Without the Amulet as a barrier he merged with his son and took them both down deep inside one another.   They appeared naked to one another and became One.  Henry soaked in the presence of his son, as his own presence washed over Drew.  He knew the doctor said it was dangerous, but he felt he had no choice.  The love they had for one-another was a comfort beyond words.  They both cried as Henry grabbed Drew against him in relief.

          Time wasn’t moving as Drew’s arms flew around Henry’s thick neck, and Henry’s arms wrapped tightly around him.  Drew clung to Henry like a spider, and he started to cry as all the pent up emotions of the last weeks came pouring out.

          “It’s OK, honey.  It’s OK.”

          Everything Drew had been through was there, and Henry saw it all.  His reasons for leaving, and how torn up he was inside over it all.  Every lie to Henry and his uncles and Doctor Aaron and Albrecht and Sally; they all ate at him.  Using his powers on people to buy him food and drive him around; the dirtiness he felt inside for acting the way he did was there.  Aside from that, his greatest fear over his actions was that everyone would be disappointed in him.

          Oh God, Drew!  I’m not disappointed, honey!  Never that!  You were brave, and everything you did was to protect me and the guys.  We love you so much… it hurt when you left, but we all understand why you did. 

          Drew saw the pain he caused Henry and his uncles, and it almost made him hysterical.  All he could do was cry and beg Henry to forgive him.

          With the Amulet gone, the presence of all his Uncles followed as Henry pulled them in with him and his son.  He wanted Drew to feel their love and know there was nothing to forgive, and he wanted all of his Brothers to see everything he just had.  He also wanted Drew to feel them.

          All the familiar voices he missed, their strong arms and warm bodies, Drew felt all of it at once as his Uncles wrapped him up with their Hearts and Minds.  They formed a Wall around his Soul.  The relief in all of them that Drew was OK and with Henry washed over him too.

          It took a long time before either Henry or Drew was ready to talk.  The intensity of their emotions finally ran their course.  After the initial relief of feeling Henry with him, Drew pulled back in a panic.

          Daddy, you can’t be here!

          I know what the man said Drew.  We figured it out. You didn’t tell me what you weren’t supposed to, so that part doesn’t matter anymore!

          Henry spoke the truth, but the birdman still said Drew might lose Henry if he fought The Master.  They saw and heard the exact words in Drew’s memory now that they were together.

          He said you might lose me Drew.  Not that you will.  I’m taking the risk honey, but we’ll be extra careful, and you and I are gonna do this together, alright?  Don’t fight me on this!  I know we can do it.  You can do it! I wasn’t supposed to live when I fought the Eschphene Leader, but I did.  I lived because I had too.  I can’t leave the most wonderful boy in the world, the boy who I love more than anything, alone.  I’ll do whatever I have to Drew, to get us both through this safe and alive.

          The relief in Drew was overpowering.  Henry’s rock-solid presence filled him and washed away his fear.  Henry was a Wall and right now that Wall was backed by Ken’s Avatar, synchronized with all his Brothers, and their ten mighty Souls wrapped them up.

          Drew sniffed, and Henry wiped his tears away with his thumbs.  They looked at one-other intently, and Henry cupped Drew’s face in his big warm hands.

          OK?

OK, Daddy.

          Good boy.  Now let’s get this over with.

          Henry hugged Drew against him one more time and kissed the top of his head.

          You’re such a good boy Drew.  I know I said it before, but I don’t know what I did to deserve you.  I know why you ran away honey, and I’m not mad.  I’ve never been so scared, knowing you were all by yourself.  You should know by now you’re never by yourself.  You will always have me with you.  Don’t run away from me again, and together we can do anything.  Do you understand?

          Drew smiled and this time he cried happy tears.  The sincerity and the depth of Henry’s love for him was clear.  They were One, and Drew saw Henry’s confidence; it became a part of him.

          Ken and each of the men had their own words for Drew, telling him how much they loved him and how confident they were in him.  Each one held him and hugged him as long as he needed them too.  The adult-like part of Drew returned and he realized how foolish he had been to pull away.  How could he have run from them?  From the love they had for him?  He should have trusted them from the beginning.

          Drew didn’t know how everything was going to work, but whatever happened they would face it together.

 

<><><> 

 

          The Master screamed his rage, “Betrayer!  I will kill you both!”

          Henry shouted, “The Stone Drew!  Summon the Stone!”

          Drew held his hand out and the Stone appeared as it had so many times before.

          Make this look good, honey.  He can’t suspect anything, or he won’t grab it.

          Holding the Stone, Drew thrust his fist in the air in the same defiant gesture his first self did in Thomin’s cave when Drew was there to rescue his Uncle Darren.  A bolt of Power shot out hitting The Master square in his chest and knocking him back nearly twenty feet.  The smell of singed hair was brief before it was blown away on the wind.  The burned and blackened skin on The Masters body healed and filled in as The Curse exerted itself.

          The Master bellowed, letting his primitive rage loose.  His whole body flexed as he threw his arms out to his sides and he bowed his body.  He invoked the full Power of the Curse, and his form started to grow as Power swelled into him.  Raphael said that the Curse was tied to Blood Magic from before Creation and it was powerful.  Henry felt all that Power burning against his Shields, but he held.  It burned, but he held because he had too.

          The nimbus of Darkness around The Masters face expanded to cover his whole body, engulfing him in Darkness, and the ground trembled with his footsteps.

          Drew thrust the Stone out again and another bolt of Power shot out, but this time The Master stopped it with a clawed hand.

          Do you think that paltry Stone gives you the power to defeat me!?

          He moved forward, seemingly unaffected by Drew’s attack.  He lumbered forward slowly.  He had grown so large and heavy the ground shook with every step.

Henry had his hand over Drew’s as The Master moved right over them and his clawed fist covered theirs, moving to crush the Stone and their hands with it.  Henry had his body wrapped around Drew, to shield him from any physical attack.  Drew turned their hands over, palm up exposing the Stone as The Master’s huge clawed hand covered theirs.  As soon as The Master’s fingers wrapped over their hands, the Stone touched his flesh.

          The Eschphene Sigils ignited, and Henry and Drew vanished in an orange-red flash of Power.  As soon as they vanished, their Souls disappeared from the merge, leaving the Team stunned and not understanding what happened.

          The Master blinked, looking around, thinking he had been tricked.  He held the Stone in his hand and somehow his brother and the Betrayer were gone! The primitive rage he embraced filled him and he went berserk.  His clawed hands ripped into the pavement, tearing up chunks of concrete.  He struck a nearby car, sending it flying back into the dumpster.  He moved over and pounded his fists into the dumpster, pummeling it and crumbling the massive steel structure like it was tinfoil, screaming the entire time.

          Consumed by rage, he ripped off the Amulet and shouted out with all his Power, his voice echoing across all the Realms, “FACE ME!”

 

<><><> 

 

          Lane’s vision was still showing them everything, and they saw Henry and Drew disappear.  They had no idea what happened.  The She-Wolf let out a howl and disappeared from the Lab. 

The Amulet flew through the air.  Their perception of time slowed and it seemed forever before it was far enough away for The Master to be out of its influence.

          Light erupted as eight bolts of lightning struck around him and Ken, Brad, Pat, Darren, Rick, Loy, Kevin, and Bill appeared.  Cavall was with them at Loy’s side.

          The Master screamed at them, “WHERE IS MY BROTHER?  I WILL DESTROY HIM AND ALL OF YOU!”

          There was an undercurrent of nervousness over what happened with Henry and Drew.  The way they were severed from the Link so abruptly was startling, and their absence left a hole in them. 

          Ken:  B?! Bill?! Pat?! Where’d they go?

          Bill Read the area, and Pat watched through Bill with his Understanding.

          The Eschphene sigils opened a Portal to The Master’s inner Psyche through the Realm of Dreams.  Nemeth learned many secrets in the eighty thousand years of his Exile, and gleaned much Wisdom. His Magic was truly powerful, and he did something none of them thought possible; he sent Henry and Drew into the Master’s Mind in their physical forms. It was a Paradox and should not have been possible, but possible and impossible didn’t seem to matter much anymore.

Henry and Drew were inside The Master’s psyche, where Drew had a chance to reach the part of The Master he needed to.  Time worked differently in the Realm of Dreams, and they had no idea how long it would take for Drew and Henry to do their part.  They knew enough to know that if either of them died there, they were dead in the real world too.

 

<><><> 

 

          As Lane’s Vision gripped him, he and Bryan were hard-pressed maintaining their Shield over the Tree, as Ken and their Brothers faced off against The Master, who had invoked the full power of the Curse.

          Sweat poured off the two men as the Light of their Power shone brighter than ever, holding the Darkness at bay.  Looking up, they saw through the clouds in the sky and the Dark Cloud seemed endless, and its attack relentless.

          Apart from the Cloud, the entire Team felt the strength of the Curse and their Avatars flared in response.  The Powers of Light and Darkness clashed, but the Light could not prevail until Drew managed to find his brother in the Realm of Dreams.  Even once he and Henry had found The Master, he had to willingly ask Drew’s forgiveness for killing his first incarnation eighty thousand years ago.  Drew had already forgiven his brother, so that part was done.  But without the first part it was meaningless, and Henry and Drew were on their own.

          Ken braced himself, backed by eight of his Brothers’ present with him and two from across the world, as The Master turned to face them. 

 

<>< To be continued><>



 

  ************************************

Ok that’s it for Chapter 29… I hope you enjoyed it!  I'm really sorry about the cliffhanger... well no I'm not lol.  Chapter 29 was all about setting the stage for Chapter 30.  A few very significant things still occured but it was more about getting everyone into position for the final Confrontation.  Everybody has a part to play, big and small,  and everyone had to be just where they are.  Can you say puppet strings? *grin*  I can't say that too loud or Ken will punch me haha.

I promise I will get Chapter 30 out as soon as I can but I won't rush it just to get it done.  It has to be right and I hope it will be worth the wait.  It still won't be as long as the gaps you've dealt with in the last year and a half.  I'm also not sure but I might post an 'appendix' after Chapter 30 ... sort of a who's who of The Order.  I had a character notes file around Chapter 11 or 12 that had the basic info of the characters names and powers but a LOT has changed since then and the cast of characters is also expanded.  I know it can be difficult to keep everyone straight and that might help.  My hesitancy is that it would contain a LOT of SPOILER information if someone is new to the story and looks at it first, but I can't really help that.  I'll cross that bridge after I get Chapter 30 finished and posted.


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