The Guardians

By Rilbur

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Chapter Thirty-Four

"You," Jason snarled, "are a dead man."

"Pity," Breslau sighed. "With you dead, he would have fallen to pieces. I could almost certainly have enthralled him readily."

"You," Jason repeated more angrily, "are a dead man."

"I wonder, it was clear how much you loved each other..." Breslau mused. Jason picked Ronan's sword up and stood slowly, rage simmering in his heart. Lightning cracked across the sky in time with the beating of his heart, and the rain hammered down with a fury he'd never felt from the weather.

He didn't care about limits. He didn't care about what he could, or could not do. He didn't care about what was 'safe' to do. Jason pointed Ronan's sword at the sky, and kept his own pointed straight at Breslau. "Strike," he ordered in a voice colder than a blizzard and implacable as a glacier. Energy built and built and built, a second that seemed to last an eternity. Earlier he had called lightning down out of the sky. This time what he called down was too strong, too powerful, and too directed to be called 'lightning'. Raw electrical energy coursed down from the heavens, a blast of white fire that arced along the swords before jumping straight at Breslau. Jason called and then channeled an unstoppable torrent of power, a strike fit to level cities. Breslau couldn't possibly hope to stop it, Ronan would be avenged.

With a word and a gesture, Breslau scattered it, shattering it into a thousand lesser strikes that bent around his defenses and laid waste to the entire area around them. "Now that that's out of the way," Breslau sighed, "lets try this." Jason, panting from exhaustion, tried to think his way around the problem while Breslau recited a mouth-twisting sequence of nonsense syllables, his entire body twisting through a sequence of poses as energy built up around him. A dark energy that Jason recognized.

Jason smiled, and reached inward. Power flowed to his fingertips, and when Breslau pointed at Jason, he was ready. Inky blackness leaped out from his fingers, reaching for Jason to strangle his soul into submission. Jason met it with raw power, the strongest Light he could call.

The light struck into the blackness, and was swallowed completely. Jason fell to his knees, barely able to keep the flow of Light that was all that shielded him from the darkness from failing. The light just wasn't as strong as usual, it looked almost anemic, pale. He refused to lose, refused to be defeated...

But he was broken, inside, just as Ronan had warned him not to be. Ronan's death had ripped a hole in his heart, and he simply wasn't as strong as he needed to be. Too much of him was already in mourning, unable to respond to the rage he felt, to the battle he was in. He wanted Ronan back at his side, desperately, at any cost... even joining Ronan on the other side.

"What the..." Breslau started, glaring at Ronan's body. Jason turned his head with effort, and saw a white mist escaping from Ronan's mouth and nose. Slowly it began to build in size, as more mist began to erupt from the massive hole burned straight through Ronan's chest. Ronan was quickly cocooned in a blaze of white light, not unlike what Jason was calling forth. Only where Jason's Light was anemic compared to it's normal self, pale and weak in comparison to the blazing light he would normally call, this put his brightest brilliance to shame. It's impossible strength hurt the eyes, and seared away the very concept of shadow.

Jason managed to rise to his feet, and the glowing brilliance shifted. He was still pinned, unable to move lest the shield of Light he was holding fail. It took all his strength to hold it, so he simply waited as a streamer of that light drifted along the ground, making it's way to him. It reached his ankle and began to climb upwards. Jason gasped in shock as it touched him, it's gentle strength warming him. As the light began to wrap around his chest he felt his body relax, and his own Light began to fade. As the darkness hammered in, it encountered the light coming from Ronan's body, and was consumed. Finally, the light reached Jason's mouth and began to push in.

Jason breathed it in, and almost gagged as the nearly physical force of it made its way down his throat. "What is going on?!" Breslau shouted, aggravated.

The light was moving quicker now, more and more of it entering Jason, who stood taller, more resolute, and stronger than he could have imagined an hour ago. It didn't negate his sorrow. It didn't counter his loss. It didn't lessen his anguish. It didn't diminish or belittle anything he felt. It simply made him more. No longer was his grief crippling, for he could feel Ronan inside his skin. No longer was his loss overwhelming, for he hadn't lost as much as he'd thought.

Ronan was dead, but he wasn't gone. And his power flowed into Jason in an unstoppable tide. Not just the power he could wield, but the greater power that underlies every human being, that pumped the blood in his veins and moved the breath in his lungs. And past that something more. Jason could feel Ronan, unimaginably distant but holding his hand out, and Jason reached out and grabbed him. And the power Ronan could never bring himself to touch, the power he'd walled himself away from in shame, roared across the link. Tempered by Ronan's will and love, it didn't have the harsh, raw edges that made it dangerous to channel 'too much' of the Lord's Power.

Jason was down. But he wasn't out. Ronan's final gift insured that. Jason stretched, slowly, enjoying the feel of suddenly well-rested muscles, the vanishing of the small headache of sleep deprivation, the sense of well being that came from waking from a deep slumber, fully refreshed.

But to every thing there was a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. And this wasn't a time to love, it wasn't a time to plant, a time to heal, a time for peace. This was a darker moment. A time to reap, a time to rend, a time to hate, a time of war. A time to kill. A time for Breslau to die.

Jason reversed Ronan's blade, swinging it around to run along his forearm, the better to defend.

"'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' saith the Lord," Jason said, voice as cold as a glacier. "But for the moment, I don't care. This is a time for blood. Your blood."

Breslau shook his head. "Youngsters, they never understand." Swift as a striking serpent, Breslau's hand snapped forward, fingers clenched tight as he screamed, "Drelnak-ta!"

Jason's arm snapped down, blocking the stream of muddy blue-violet fire that rushed at him. It broke upon his shields, decomposing into veins of blue and violet, each marbled with a deep, disgusting brown, that seemed to crawl and seek out every weakness. Jason poured more power into his shield, unable to believe the sheer strength his opponent could wield. Even with the Lord's Power flowing into him as fast as he could channel it, he could barely match the power being poured at him. It wasn't possible! He and Ronan were as strong as anyone, and this Breslau was easily stronger than the both of them combined could ever have hoped to be!

As Breslau gathered more of the inky blackness with his other hand, Jason tasted the unpleasant truth. He and Ronan had been children playing at games they didn't understand. They'd never held the power this man did, even at their best they'd been mere children before him.

"No," Jason snarled, shaking his head. It was more subtle this time, an effort to coerce him into submission not through brute force but by subtle persuasion, but this was another attack. The facts of it were true; Jason was over matched, and overwhelmed. Victory was not possible.

But the emotions were false, and he rejected them. "I will stand true," Jason roared.

Bringing his own sword down, he slashed into the roaring stream of fire, cutting his way a foot forward before it stopped him. The flames licked past his shield, crawling over his body and searing the leather. The pain was unimaginable, but he fed it into the furnace of his resolution. "I will keep the watch!"

Jason was forced to bring his weapon back, and focus on rebuilding his defenses. The flames poured on even stronger now, and it was hard, oh so hard. But he poured his determination into it. "I will protect the innocent!"

This time Jason didn't slash out, breaking the fire to let him advance. He twisted away, parrying it. Again it licked past his defenses, scorching his flesh, and again he refused to let the burning pain halt him. His wounds healed, slowly, but they healed. "My blood before theirs!"

The power was more than he could handle. He fell to his knees, shouting, "My life before theirs!" But it was futile. He couldn't reform his defenses, and they were slowly crumbling. Jason simply didn't have the strength to hold.

"You may die in their service," a strange voice commanded, "but not today!" A strange magic rushed in from on top of the rubble behind Jason, one stream of power knocking Breslau back while another reinforced his shields, the energies somehow synergistically combining to form something that was immensely stronger than the sum of it's parts. Despite the similarities to Breslau's magic, it wasn't the same. It felt as fair as Breslau's felt foul, a shining light to the inky blackness.

"You!" Breslau shouted, shocked. "How?"

"Did you really think I wasn't paying attention to the events here?" the newcomer shouted. Jason stared up at him, awestruck. "I have survived over six thousand years, and some on the council are even older!"

"But how did you find us?" Breslau shouted. "I was so careful!"

The newcomer laughed, a terrible, though wonderful, sound that shook the very earth with it's power. His soft gray robe twitched this way and that, drawn by the wind to dance. He stood firm on the rubble, a staff formed of gleaming wood, shining metal, and glowing gems helping to support his weight. His face was old, lined with worry and care, but undiminished. Despite being unbound, his shoulder length white hair lent him a distinguished look at odds with the grim, angry set of eyes more suited to laughter than rage. Jason couldn't believe he hadn't sensed the man coming, but at the same time he understood it. His and Ronan's power was great, but it was a young strength, a strength that stood on a table and shouted 'here I am!'. This man's power was old, so old you could almost call it ancient. Except ancient all too often implied weak or worn, and this power was anything but. It had grown over the ages. Slow, subtle, deep, and powerful.

Slow to stir, but not slow to act. Even as the echoes of that terrible laugh faded, Breslau tried a sneak attack, and the newcomer didn't even move. He mouthed a single syllable, and the air itself shifted. Jason felt his gut wrench at the power of that word, as it shattered the attack.

Breslau snarled as a bolt of violet fire marbled with green smashed into his defenses, and the two began to fight. Jason was forced to step away from the conflict, unable to imagine such power. The two threw weapons he didn't even begin to understand at each other. "You're tired, Merlin! The future is here, and you will not stand against it!"

Jason gaped in sudden understanding. So this was Merlin. He understood now why Ronan had always seemed so strangely respectful of the man. "You never understood anything, Elorand," Merlin chided him. "I never dreamed that you might be such a fool, though."

"Fool!" Breslau snarled. "I am not the fool here!"

"I suppose you're right," Merlin agreed sadly. "You aren't the one that failed to see the snake in the garden, the traitor clutched to their bosom."

"And now you die!" Breslau snarled. And this time when he attacked, it wasn't with the rigid, mathematically precise energies they'd been using. It was fluid, shifting, and it smashed through Merlin's defenses with ease. Jason recognized, instantly, the mystic arts perverted by whatever darkness had taken Breslau's soul. Only quick action saved Merlin, who threw himself to the side at the last instant. Jason leaped into action, sheathing his swords as he flew and landing halfway up the pile of rubble. Catching Merlin in his fall, he helped the man stand back up.

"If we work together, we have a chance," Jason told him.

"Agreed," Merlin said flatly. "I never dreamed he might hold such power, such darkness."

Merlin offered Jason his left hand, and Jason took it, drawing his own sword in his left. Breslau sent another bolt of fury at them, and Jason battered it aside. Merlin parried with a lance of energy not too terribly unlike one Jason might throw, only to have it turned back to shatter on their own shields. Jason stretched his mind and imagination to the limit, forcing himself to keep up with the battle. Merlin and Breslau had lived for centuries, had striven for millennium to come up with new defenses and attacks. Jason was completely outmatched. Breslau tried to suck the very air from around them, and Jason countered, mystic energies wrapping around and breaking the arcane framework he'd formed. Merlin tried to break the earth open beneath Breslau's feet, only to have the chasm twist awry, forming a ring around the man instead of dropping him into the earth.

Breslau called the rain down even harder, focusing it on the two beleaguered men opposing him, forming a giant fish bowl out of his power. Jason struck at it, only to find his power somehow melt into it, making it stronger. Merlin snarled, and with a swipe of his staff turned the energy against itself. Moments before the water was over their head, it began to crack and fail. As Jason pressed against the top of the dome sealing them in, desperate for another breath of air, the cracks shattered wide open. Breslau greeted their emergence with a spell that drew the water from the area, strengthening a similar spell Merlin had enacted to buy them time. Jason gasped as the parched air began to draw the water from his body to fuel the demands of the twin spells, then slashed with his will at the coupling between them, breaking it and shattering the spells.

And on it went, until finally Breslau had had enough. He pointed his finger, and said a single word that made Merlin gasp in shock. What Jason could only call black fire formed around his finger, and then leaped forward in a beam of deadly destruction. Jason answered the fire in kind, only to feel his strength melt away into nothing. The black fire didn't even acknowledge his attack, growing stronger and faster as it raced towards them. Merlin howled a single word, something that Jason would have sworn could never come from a human throat, and pointed the tip of his staff at Breslau.

The black fire scattered, shattered into a million sparks of darkness that drank in the light and seemed to deny life. Slowly, they faded, and both Merlin and Breslau were panting.

Jason felt the same way. This fight had dragged on too long, and all the participants were exhausted. Breslau hadn't simply stood the two of them off; he'd worn them down. Jason was almost down to nothing, and he could feel that Merlin was at the same desperate point. "You dare use that black magic," Merlin snarled. "You fool! You know what destruction it causes!"

"Fine thing for the master of balefire to speak of!" Breslau taunted back. "You know full well how dangerous that is!"

"And you will note that I haven't used it," Merlin answered, "yet."

"Ooooh, I'm scared," Breslau mimed shivering in fear.

Merlin nodded. "Jason, get behind me," he ordered, releasing his grip on Jason's hand. Jason obeyed instantly, not sure what was happening. Merlin began snarling a new incantation, a strange, angry sound that resonated deep in Jason's bones. In his left hand something began to glow. Slow at first, then faster, an orb of pure white fire formed, burning so bright that Jason couldn't look at it. He could feel it, though. See it through his eyelids. It grew as bright at the sun itself, then brighter. Jason stepped back, horrified by the power he felt. A pale cousin of the starstone attack this might be, but even a pale cousin was more than he could imagine facing. Merlin threw the orb physically, and it flew threw the air to shatter against Breslau's defenses.

Where Ronan had used his powers to contain and focus the blast, Breslau simply deflected it away. The detonation lit the sky and shook the earth, and the damage done to the city landscape finished those few buildings left standing. All that was left was rubble and ruin. Jason felt the power of the attack rip through every exposed inch of his flesh, hurting him on a level so deep he couldn't have sensed it without his powers. Merlin seemed to block the force of it, shielding most of Jason, but Jason hadn't understood why he'd been told to step behind Merlin, and hadn't been completely in his shadow when the blast went off.

Thankfully, he could feel his powers already at work, restoring the damage. "Is that what I think it was?"

"That," Merlin snarled, "was balefire."

"And what is balefire?" Jason asked. "Because I think I am standing way to close to ground zero of a nuclear weapon."

"Nuclear weapon?" Merlin asked, surprised. "Well, I-" Merlin shook his head. "I suppose that's possible," he nodded. "I simply know it as balefire, a weapon so terrible I use it only when I must."

"And it didn't work," Breslau shouted, blasting away the rubble that had fallen on him.

"Light help us," Merlin sagged. "I am spent."

"Old fool," Breslau laughed. "You could never have defeated me!"

"I had to try," Merlin said. "We gave it a good try. Perhaps the Light will still prevail in the end."

"I have won," Breslau laughed. "The Light will fall, and the Dark shall reign anew!"

"I don't intend to go out like this," Jason shook his head. "Breslau," he called, "I give you one final chance. Stand down."

Breslau laughed, deep and long at the absurdity of Jason's statement. Eventually, he stopped. "And now you two die," Breslau snarled.

"I think not," a new voice trumpeted into the air. "Guardians!"

Jason smiled. "What was it you said, Breslau? Even you could not face the assembled might of the Guardian order? Well, they're here. And they'd like a word with you."

Out of the mist and the smoke and the ruin, Guardians stepped into view, weapons drawn and ready, black leather turning bright as they dropped their stealth. Breslau whirled around as they showed themselves, ready for battle. "No more second chances," Jason called. "No more opportunities for redemption, no more mercy. This is the architect of our despair, the puppeteer of our horror. This is the murderer of our fallen, the killer of innocents. It ends now."

"You heard my brother," Paul said into the night air. "Jason, where is Ronan?"

Jason bowed his head. "With the Lord."

"Ronan..." Paul staggered. "Ronan is..."

Everyone looked shocked, disbelieving. Paul pulled himself upright. "Cost be damned. Kill the bastard. Now."

The Guardians closed in, and Breslau turned his powers on them. They may have been granted magic powers, but they were mortal men and woman. Human beings pushed too far. Breslau killed them by ones and twos, but they didn't hesitate. They charged in, heedless of the cost. At last they came to grips with the one who had cost them so much, at last they faced the monster that had haunted their nightmares for so long.

For all their bravery, for all their power, mortal. Breslau would have killed them all, except Paul wasn't like them. His red anger lashed out at Breslau time and time again, knocking him back a step and forcing him back to the defensive. It reached out and touched all the other Guardians there, strengthening their will and their power. Even Jason, exhausted though he was, felt it. He was too tired to join in this fight, and knew it, but he took that red rage and forged it into an attack. He couldn't harm Breslau, but he could distract him, be the straw that broke the camel's back.

They knew going in it was their death. But they didn't care. So many of them fell, so terribly, terribly many. But in the end they bashed their way past Breslau's defenses, they hacked their way past his power. Glowing a deep, malevolent red, Paul's ax slashed in, slashing through Breslau's upraised arms to lodge deep in his chest. Yanking the bloody weapon back and forth, Paul widened the wound enough to pull the weapon out. Breslau was still screaming in pain as a final strike severed his head from his body, ending it.

"It's over," Paul said. "Finally, it's over."

"No, it's not," Merlin said sadly.

"Never again," Jason said softly, ignoring them. There was nothing left, he had no strength. But never again. He wouldn't allow it. There had to be justice, there had to be vengeance. "I curse you Breslau," Jason snarled. "I curse you!"

The surviving Guardians parted before Jason as he drew on the ambient energy around him. He had nothing left, but while they were tired, they weren't exhausted. And they were Guardians. They were linked, and he drew on that link. Normally there wouldn't be enough there to do anything, but tonight wasn't normal. Ronan was dead, and all of them felt it. All of them wanted vengeance. Not justice, not anymore. Not what was right, but what was rightfully theirs. Vengeance. Raw, bloody, violent, and permanent.

Jason couldn't give them that on his own, but... Lord, if ever you do me a favor, let it be now!

"No more, Breslau. Let what you were be scattered and sundered, divided across the whole of time and space never to be reunited," Breslau's body shimmered, turning into motes of light that exploded outward, traveling to infinity. "Let what is be as dust," A glowing figure appeared where the body had sat, a man struggling with the invisible chains that bound him. "Let it be undone and sundered." A column of glowing light streaked up the heavens, and in it the glowing figure of Breslau's soul began to melt. It wasn't a quick process, it was slow, and clearly painful. "Let what might have been be unraveled and forgotten. Be not."

With a final clap of thunder, the column of light vanished, and Jason collapsed, exhausted. "Paul, we need to get to safety," he managed before the darkness took him under.

"Clean up," Paul sighed. "Why do I always get the clean up jobs. Alright, you heard him. Did anyone check the injured to see if they survived?" he asked. "You, you, you, handle that. The rest of you find Ronan's body, I want it. I'll go grab a few stretchers, just in case we need 'em." Everyone nodded and ran off to their tasks. It didn't take Paul long to make it back to the safe-house and grab a few extra stretchers. The wounded were ready to move, and their watchers nodded respectfully to him.

"What happened out there?" one of them asked, concerned.

"Ronan," Paul began. "He fell. We got his killer -- the one who started all of this."

Everyone bowed their heads. "It doesn't seem real," someone said "He can't... Ronan can't be dead."

"He is," Paul shrugged. "My brother wouldn't lie. We need to be ready to move."

"Agreed," someone nodded. "I take it you have wounded?" he asked. Paul was too tired to remember his name.

"Yeah," Paul nodded. "Not sure how many survived, but there have to be at least a few."

"You got the bastard," it was as much a question as a reassurance.

"Yeah, we did," Paul nodded. "At too heavy a price."

"He was the one behind all this?" one of the wounded asked. Paul nodded. "Then no price is too high."

Paul sighed. "Probably. I need to get moving."

"I'll help you move the stretchers," someone offered.

"No," Paul shook his head. "Get the wounded ready to move. Those bastards must have noticed what just happened, so they are almost certainly on their way."

As Paul left, a trio of stretchers tucked under each arm, making moving difficult, the place was a beehive of activity as his orders were carried out. They couldn't move the wounded on their own; there were just too many people injured. Hell, with the casualties they'd just taken Paul wasn't sure if they had enough people to move all the casualties at once, period. But they'd try. Some of the wounded would probably have to be upgraded to 'walking wounded', but...

Paul sighed. They'd manage, somehow.

"Alright, how many wounded?" he asked as he bounded onto the battle scene.

Quinton just shook his head. "The bastard knew what he was doing, and he struck to kill."

"Dammit," Paul swore. "Fine, fine. How is Jason?"

"Exhausted," a stranger told him.

"Who are you?" Paul asked angrily. "I'm not in a particularly trusting mood at the moment."

"With Ronan dead, I don't blame you," the stranger shook his head. "My name is Merlin."

"Merlin?" Paul asked, shocked. "As in... the Merlin?"

"You've heard of me? Good," Merlin nodded. "Yes. I've been in contact with Ronan for a while. Right now, we need to move."

"Agreed, but-" Paul looked around. "That isn't thunder," he said, concerned.

Brilliant light speared down from the sky as a quartet of helicopters suddenly popped up from behind the surrounding buildings. "Shit!" Paul swore as he dove for cover. Everyone else followed suit, finding nooks and crannies to hide in. But there wasn't much, and the spotlights sweeping over the area clearly showed the dozen or so surviving Guardians.

Merlin waved up at the copters, his staff a glowing beacon. "They're friendly, by the way," he told Paul. "And you can't really hide; they've got night vision to go with the spotlights.

"Great," Paul snarled. "You brought reinforcements?"

"Oh no," Merlin shook his head. "They aren't mine."

"Then whose are they?" Paul asked as another helicopter flew in and started circling. This one was different, larger, and with less weaponry on board.

"His," Merlin pointed at the new copter. Using his staff as a signaling device, he called the chopper down to a relatively flat circle of ground. "Hello," he nodded to the man who jumped off.

"Hello," the man said, a bit bemused by the casualness of the greeting. "I'm looking for Ronan, or Jason."

"I'm afraid he's the best you'll get at the moment," Merlin said, pointing at Paul.

"And you are?" the newcomer asked.

Paul crossed his arms. "Seeing as how you sought me out, why don't you introduce yourself, first."

"Makes sense," the man agreed. "My name is Jeremy Derek Young, and I'm a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy."

"I'm Paul..." Paul hesitated. He didn't want to be known as Bester, not anymore. "I'm Paul," he repeated after a moment, "and for the moment I'm in charge here."

"Then I guess you're the man I need to talk to, for the moment," Jeremy nodded. "My commanders would like to know what the hell is going on here."

"They can watch the five o'clock news if they want information," Paul told him.

"Listen, so far they haven't moved against the Guardians, but they really want to know what is going on, who is doing it, and all that fun stuff," Jeremy told him. "You can either answer to me, now, or there can be a lot of trouble when they come for answers themselves."

"Isn't that what you're here, doing?" Paul asked angrily. "I need to get my people ready to move out, and I do not have time to talk."

"There are wounded," Merlin told Jeremy. "And the opposition is undoubtedly already on its way."

Jeremy nodded. "Fine then," he said, pulling out a radio. "I can call in a flight of black hawks, and you can evacuate your wounded right out of the city," he offered. Paul hesitated for a moment. Suddenly the radio squawked.

"Sir, we're seeing movement on the perimeter," came the terse warning. "South by southwest, three and a half clicks out. Large group of heavily armed individuals, moving at... way faster than they should be on foot."

"Understood," Jeremy answered. "Sounds like your guests are on their way," he told Paul.

Paul nodded, looking around and trying to orient himself. "South by... oh hell!" Paul swore.

"It's too late, I'm sorry," Merlin told him with a sigh. "I would have warned you if I'd known how it would happen."

"What the hell does-" Paul began. "No, we'll talk about that later. For now, we need to move."

"What's wrong?" Jeremy asked.

Paul glared at him for a moment as he gestured for the Guardians to form up. "Our safe house, complete with our wounded, is about a mile south and a bit west of here. They are going to stumble right over it on their way here."

"Wounded?" Jeremy asked, face going hard. "Will they hurt them?"

Paul glared at him. "Yes," he went, the 'duh, that's obvious' left unspoken but very, very clear in his tone.

"Apache flight, engage that group now," Jeremy ordered. "Fire to kill."

"Understood, engaging," came the calm reply.

"Be aware they are approaching a field hospital filled with wounded, and that they will engage the wounded," Jeremy added.

The cold anger that filled the reply this time surprised Paul. "We'll deal with it."

"Be careful, they can shoot those choppers down," Paul warned.

"Be careful Apache flight; enemy has AA," Jeremy added. "Anything else?" he asked Paul, who shook his head.

"We can confirm with visual, RPGs and shoulder mounted SAMs," the radio crackled.

"I need to move," Paul said.

"Give us directions, we'll pick up your wounded and evac them," Jeremy offered. Cocking his thumb over his shoulder to point at the helicopter behind him, "I've got more than one Black Hawk to evac with."

Paul sighed, unable to decide for a moment. "What are your orders?" he asked after a moment.

"Gather intel on the situation, and support any friendly forces already on the ground," Jeremy said. "That would be you, by the way."

"Fine," Paul shook his head. "At this point, I'll take any support I can get."

"Wise decision," Merlin commented as he lifted Jason to his shoulder. "Might I suggest, strongly, that our next one be to leave?"

Jeremy glanced over at Merlin and then nodded. "He's right." Pulling his radio back out, he started giving orders. "I need two more Black Hawks on the ground now, and I'll want more of them in the air and on standby for medevac soon!" Looking at Paul, he continued, "How many will we need to evacuate?"

Paul bit his lip. "Four who can walk out on their own power, and another thirty three or so on stretchers."

Jeremy looked around. "You've taken a lot of casualties."

"Your point?" Paul asked angrily.

"Not now," Jeremy shook his head as two more helicopters landed. "Come on, we should probably get moving," he walked towards the chopper he'd landed in. "You'll have to direct us to your safe house," he told Paul as he held a hand out.

Paul took it, and let himself be hauled up into the craft. "I'm coming too," Merlin commented as he hopped on board with Jason. "No time to argue," he cut Jeremy off before he could argue.

"Fine, tour group it is," Jeremy groused as he banged on the hatch to the cockpit. Pulling on a headset, he tossed one to Paul and Merlin. "You'll have to give us directions," he said after they'd gotten them adjusted.

Paul peeked out the still open door. "Head south, about three and a half blocks," he ordered. A few minutes, and a couple of extra instructions later, and Paul had them at the right place. "I'll order them to move out," he said.

Jeremy nodded. "I've already called in a second wing of black hawks; we'll have stretcher space and medics for everyone."

Paul quirked a small smile. "We won't actually need the medics... but thanks," he told Jeremy as he jumped out even before the helicopter could finish landing.

"Paul," Merlin called out in warning, "don't open the door! Those beyond it are lost!"

"What was that supposed to mean?" Jeremy asked. Paul tore his headset off and tossed it back onto the helicopter before he could hear the answer. Behind him Merlin was shouting something urgently, but he couldn't quite hear it. There would be time later to find out what was so important, so he didn't turn around.

"Kevin!" he bellowed as soon as he was in the door. "We need to move out, now! Get everyone upstairs!"

"Alright," Kevin nodded. "I'll just call the tunnel sentries in then."

"I'll come with you," Paul nodded as they dashed down to the basement. Paul paused halfway to the door. "What is that smell?"

"Probably sewer gas," Kevin grunted as he fumbled with the chain sealing the door. "Don't worry about it, just help me open the-"

"Gas!" Paul shouted in shocked understanding. "Don't open the-"

Kevin turned the knob and started opening the door. Paul wasn't certain if there was a device rigged on the other side, or just opening the door had triggered a fatal spark. But either way the result was the same.

The door exploded inward, shattered into a thousand lethal shards propelled by a column of fire. Paul was thrown backwards by the force of the explosion, as the fire ripped through the room like it had a mind of it's own, setting everything around him ablaze.

Again, let me remind you that your e-mails are the only payment I recieve, and please do send them in to me at -- I enjoy the positive responses, and negative responses are invaluable for a chance for me to develop my skills! All it takes is a simple one line e-mail telling me I did a good job to make my day for a good five minutes, so please take the time to send it in!

This story is also available at Castle Roland, courtesy of 'Lord' Roland, and additional stories by this author can be found there, not all of which will make it to Nifty. I also maintain a presense at GayAuthors, and additional stories may be found there not available elsewhere. You can also visit my website, for information and a selection of my works. If you wish to purchase a copy of this work, provides both a print and e-book edition, and you can find additional copies of my work through various other self-publishing websites. Thanks to my editors for helping sort out all the many typos and other stupidities that creep into my writing!