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btaoc1963

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About btaoc1963

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    Fantasy
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  1. btaoc1963

    Prologue

    Hope you enjoy it, Will! Thanks for taking a chance on it :-)
  2. btaoc1963

    Chapter 15

    One thing I hope comes across, if not as much now, then at least by the end of the story, is how much things like what happened effect Loy. I love his connection to animals... and it evolves later on, which makes it even more special. Each of the guys has a downside to their Avatar's and even though Lane and Bill seem to have it bad, sometimes I think Loy's can be just as severe. But on the other hand, he can be in all the animals on the planet too, and I think that would be indescribable :-)
  3. btaoc1963

    Chapter 12

    Who knows? You might even see Ely again! There's one other dog related scene but I can't remember which chapter off the top of my head. It's sort of an epilogue type scene with Loy that I wanted to put in. Totally different than the Ely situation but it made me cry when I wrote it haha. Thanks for the comment, kbois, it's great you are enjoying the story so far. 🙂
  4. btaoc1963

    Complete Appendix

    (This is a reference for after you’ve read the entire story! If you look here too soon, you will see spoiler information!) A Note from the author: The Order, as you know by now (at least I hope!) is a long story with a fairly complex cast of characters. The story has many twists and turns and it’s easy to get confused on who is who, and who goes with who. I put together some references to try and help make things easier. I hope it’s helpful. If you have any questions or wish to discuss any details on something I missed in the Appendix, feel free to shoot me a message. Most of you probably don’t know but The Order, at least for a time, was available on Amazon in eBook format. The version you are reading here are the chapters from those eBooks. I’m writing a 2nd Edition (more of a heavy edit than a re-write) and will publish that at some future time. I also plan on writing a sequel, with the working title of “The Gifts.” I have no idea how long that will take. It took me nearly four years to write ‘The Order’ but I was also working at the time, and the story was interrupted for a number of months in the middle before I was able to get back to it. For those of you who have completed the story, thank you so much for reading it and sticking with it. I know it’s long! In its original incarnation, I only intended it to be a five to ten-page short story. As you can see that didn’t happen lol. The story literally took on a life of its own. When I started writing it, I never had any intention of publishing it, but through a brief interaction with another author (Peter, who wrote “A Marine Called Jason”) he convinced me to try it. I wrote it in a serialized manner, with each Chapter being an installment, within a greater, overall story arc (that’s why many of the chapters have their own prologue). I intended to keep it going indefinitely, as long as I continued having ideas. After a few years I felt the need to bring it to a close, and planned out the last few chapters. I always knew how it ended, I just needed to get everyone in place and advance the main plot. What you read is the result of that journey. I laughed and cried a lot while writing it, and I hope you did while reading it. I’m not saying that to brag, but some of the sacrifices in the story really got to me. I know it’s a bit ‘gritty’ in some places, but wars are never pretty and I wanted the pain and sacrifice of the characters to be real. The characters live inside me, and are still there. I think about them all the time, and I have many ideas already for the sequel. Thank you again for reading! Brad Complete Appendix for The Order Chapters 1-5 made up the first book entitled: Vitruvian Man Chapters 6-10 made up the second book entitled: Heritage Chapters 11-15 made up the third book entitled: Nephilim Rising Chapters 16-20 made up the fourth book entitled: Revelation Chapters 21-25 made up the fifth book entitled: Sacrifice Chapters 26-30 made up the sixth book entitled: Redemption The Team Original/Birth Name Rank /Current Name Lt. Commander Bruce Dutcher (Captain) Kenneth (Ken) Habersham Lt. Alan Whetherson Bradford (Brad) Wilson Lt. Don Elenburg Bryan (Bry) Gunter Lt. Jim Barton Lane Weaver Lt. James Schrader Patrick (Pat) Manning Lt. Dan Shogren Darren (Dar) Wilcox Lt. Keith Abrams Kevin (Kev) Ayers Lt. Fred Martin Willian (Bill) Brennan Lt. Paul Tibedeaux Richard (Ricky) Crawford Lt. Gary Bolin Loy Barton The Couples Brad/Ken Lane/Bryan Darren/Pat Bill/Kevin Loy/Ricky Their Mentors Dr. Aaron Thomas Albrecht The Bodies (Ken, Bryan, Pat, Kevin, Ricky) At the inception of the Program Ken, Bryan, Pat, Kevin, and Ricky (under their original names of Bruce, Don, James, Keith, and Paul) had their physical bodies changed by Dr. Aaron Thomas, altering their genetic structures into a ‘perfect state.’ They are the pinnacle of human physical potential, immune to viruses and diseases, and their skin is smooth and blemish free. As a result of the genetic alternations the men stopped aging, and while they can be killed, they are effectively Immortal. Their muscle and bone density are nearly four times that of a fit, human male, vastly increasing their weight. When pushed they are able to bench press close to one thousand pounds. To compensate for the extra muscle tissue, bone and muscle density, their bodies contain a much higher level of oxygen, helping with buoyancy and fueling their muscles. Their body fat percentage is fixed at 6.5%, making them lean and vascular, similar to a bodybuilder a number of weeks out of a competition. While they are large and muscular, they are not grotesquely so. They stay fully hydrated so some veins show even at rest, particularly on their forearms and biceps, and shoulders, but when they are pumped or straining their vascularity ‘pops’ and becomes much more visible. Their body temperature is five degrees higher than a normal human and coupled with their natural charisma it makes them very comforting to be around. They radiate health and strength. The Minds (aka 'Mentalists) (Brad, Lane, Darren, Bill, Loy) At the inception of the Program Brad, Lane, Darren, Bill, and Loy (under their original names of Alan, Jim, Dan, Fred, and Gary) had their physical bodies and Minds changed by Dr. Aaron Thomas into a ‘perfect state’ just as their counterparts, the Bodies. They are also the pinnacle of human potential, immune to viruses and diseases, and their skin is smooth and blemish free. They stopped aging, the same and the Bodies and are also Immortal. Their bodies were altered somewhat but not to the extent of their partners. They do not have the bone or muscle density of the Bodies, rather their Minds were altered and they now have perfect recall and photographic memories. Their intelligence is extremely high, with their IQ’s approaching 200. They keep in exceptional physical shape, mainly to perform the physical exams on their partners and keep their bodies in alignment. Their body fat ratio is not fixed as it is with the bodies, but their metabolisms are efficient, and their bodies respond well to regular exercise and a healthy diet. The most powerful aspect of their change is their Empathic ability, enabling them to read and project emotions into others. Physical Characteristics and Upbringing Ken Habersham: Ken is 5’10” and weighs 420 lbs. He has dark brown hair and green eyes. Ken is one of those men who has a perpetual five O’clock shadow on his face. He is physically the most muscular of the group, although Kevin has more mass. Ken has a light dusting of hair on his chest, arms, legs, and under his arms. Ken had no knowledge of any living relatives (until later in the story). He was placed in foster care as an infant, and then transferred to an orphanage at age twelve when his foster mother died and the father could not handle having an extra child in the house. Ken stayed in an orphanage until he graduated high school. He left, got a job, and entered a community college, managing on scholarships and financial aid. He was able to transfer to a four-year university and attained a degree in Criminal Justice before joining the Navy. Ken met Kevin in the Navy and they went through BUDS together. They are the only two men that knew each other before the Program. Brad Wilson: Brad is 6’2” and weighs 245 lbs. He has light blond hair, almost golden, and light blue eyes. Brad has a hairy chest, arms, and legs, but no hair on his shoulders or back. He does occasionally trim his body hair but rarely shaves smooth. Brad has no knowledge of any living relatives. He never knew his father and his mother passed away when he was eleven. He was passed between three separate foster homes until he graduated high school. Brad went straight to college, attaining a degree in Mathematics before joining the Navy. Bryan Gunter: Bryan is 6’0” and weighs 425 lbs. He has light brown hair and green eyes. He has minimal body hair and does not trim or shave (other than his face). Bryan was raised in a foster home from the time he was infant. His foster family died in a car accident and the State of Georgia tracked down his natural grandparents in Savannah, GA. He lived with them through high school but they passed away from old age and infirmity just after he graduated. Not knowing what path in life he wanted to take, Bryan worked for a few years before joining the Navy after his grandparents passed away. As a result of not having a college degree Bryan was forced to pass additional tests before being accepted into the BUDS Program. Lane Weaver: Lane is 5’11” and weighs 235 lbs. He has dark brown hair and eyes. Lane has some hair on his chest, arms, and legs, but is otherwise smooth. Lane’s mother died giving birth to him, and when he was four his father abandoned him. He was fostered temporarily and passed between a number of families until he graduated high school. While in high school he was notified of his birth father’s death by a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Lane joined a community college and achieved a two-year degree before transferring to a major university and finishing a dual degree program in Music and Fine Arts. Unsure what to do with his degrees, Lane joined the Navy hoping to travel the world. Patrick Manning: Pat is 6’0” and weighs 430 lbs. He has light brown hair and light brown eyes. Pat has thick, dark brown hair on his chest, stomach, arms, and legs, but his shoulders and back are smooth. He occasionally trims his body hair. When he was six years old Pat was the only survivor of a horrible car accident, where his entire family was killed. He almost died himself and was in a coma for weeks before waking up. He was catatonic for days and it took him almost a year to start speaking again. He had troubles through school and was passed from family to family until he graduated high school. Pat went to a four-year college and attained a degree in History before joining the Navy. Darren Wilcox: Darren is 5’10” and weighs 240lbs. He has dark brown hair and green eyes. Darren has very little body hair and doesn’t trim or shave. When Darren was three years old he was the only survivor of a house fire. With no known relatives, he became a ward of the state. He was fostered through three different families until he graduated high school. Darren went to a local university and attained a degree in Business Administration before joining the Navy. Kevin Ayers: Kevin is 6’1” and weighs 450 lbs. He has jet black hair and dark brown eyes. Kevin is very hairy but keeps himself trimmed, shaving his shoulders and back (with Bill’s help). Kevin has no knowledge of any living relatives (until later in the story). His mother gave him up for adoption at birth, and any knowledge of her was kept from him. He lived in an orphanage until he was five, when he joined a foster family. There was trouble with other fostered children in his home and he was passed to another few families as a teenager, until he graduated high school. Kevin stayed out of school for two years before going to college and getting a two-year degree in English before joining the Navy. Bill Brennan: Bill is 6’4” and weighs 265 lbs. He has brown hair and blue eyes. Bill is naturally smooth. Bill was literally left on the doorstep of an orphanage and has no knowledge of his parents or any living relatives. He was fostered as an infant up through grade school where his foster family had to turn him back over to the state for financial reasons. As a teenager Bill found out they were killed in a plane crash. Bill stayed with another foster family temporarily but was eventually put back in an orphanage where he stayed until he graduated from high school. Bill went to a major university where he attained a degree in Computer Science before joining the Navy. Rick(y) Crawford: Rick is 5’10” and weighs 425 lbs. Rick has brown hair and blue eyes. Rick has a moderate amount of body hair which he keeps trimmed. Rick’s father was in the Army and died in a training accident when he was nine years old. His mother went into a deep depression and a year later committed suicide, leaving Rick on his own. He was fostered, but troubled, and his foster family put him back in an orphanage until he graduated high school. He had a few run ins with the Law and ended up in the Juvenile Justice System. He was lucky that a guard took him under his wing and kept him out of any serious trouble. The guard was former Navy and convinced Rick to go to college and join the Navy. While Rick was in College the guard was killed in a car accident, but to honor his memory Rick continued on the path he promised. Loy Barton: Loy is 6’1 and weighs 245 lbs. He has dark brown hair and eyes. Loy is very hairy but trimmed and keeps his shoulders and back smooth. Loy was born to a single mother and never knew his father. His mother was killed in a robbery when he was seven, and he witnessed her getting shot in front of him. He was troubled and often ran away from his foster families. Eventually he ran away and managed to live on his own. He dropped out of school but got his GED before going to a community college and getting a Vet Tech degree. He was never able to settle and wanted to travel, so he joined the Navy in hopes of seeing more of the world. Angelic Ancestry Ken/ Michael Brad /Raphael Bryan/ Uriel Lane/ Gabriel Rick /Raguel Loy /Barachiel Patrick/ Saraqael Darren /Remiel Kevin /Selaphiel Bill/ Jegudiel Avatars At their first Awakening, when their Nephilim Heritage activated, each of the men gained a Primary Avatar, represented by a tattoo on their right shoulders. The tattoo is very colorful and intricate, written in the Language of Creation over a mosaic design. The tattoo glows brightly when activated, or if it is responding to some situation or the presence of The Enemy. After their last Awakening the Bodies share all their abilities, with whoever is Primary being the strongest. The same holds true for the Minds. When they are together they can synchronize their Avatars and magnify their abilities. On the passive abilities like Ken’s or Patrick’s their Avatars naturally synchronize when they are together. With the Avatar’s that must be activated, such as Darren’s ability to teleport, the synchronization is a matter of Will. Ken Ken’s Avatar represents aspects of Strength, Conviction, Will, Courage, Leadership, Bravery, Confidence, Inspiration, and Justice. As with all of the men who represent the Body, Ken is extremely muscular but not grotesquely so. He is the strongest of the five ‘Bodies’. After his last Awakening he is nearly twice as strong physically as any of the other four and can lift nearly 2500 lbs. He is also physically tougher (e.g., more resistant to being cut or shot with low caliber weapons). Ken’s Avatar is always active, but as a matter of Will he can affect others intentionally. Ken was a naturally charismatic leader before his first Awakening, but after his first Awakening he is even more so. He brings out the best in the people around him, inspiring them to push themselves and excel in whatever they are doing. His Avatar is the Key that locks all the others together when they are One, pushing them even further into the state of being more than the sum of their individual selves, magnifying all aspects of their personalities and abilities. Brad Brad’s Avatar represents Wisdom, Empathy, Intellect, Compassion, Intuition, and Strength of Mind. Brad is the strongest of the Mentalists. He is a master at creating Constructs and is the most powerful telepath. His Avatar also allows him to Cross the Veil between he Physical and Spiritual Realms. Bryan Bryan’s Avatar represents all aspects of Life, Healing and Growth. His Avatar is perhaps the narrowest in scope but is also one of the most Powerful. He is tied to Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life and is now its Protector, and can draw on the Life Energy from all of Creation. He is also the Protector of the Midgard Serpent who sleeps under the roots of the Tree, which he affectionately named Leroy. Lane Lane’s Avatar represents Music, Art, Creativity, Healing and Dreaming. In addition to his Avatar, he carries a Gift that makes him the Seer and Oracle of The Order. The Gift compliments and magnifies his Avatar, making it far more potent. A drawback of Lane’s ability is how the Dreams affect him. He doesn’t simply witness the Dreams as an observer, he experiences everything revealed as though it happened to him. The nature of the Dreams makes him extremely powerful but usually at an extreme personal cost. Patrick (Pat) Pat’s Avatar allows him to see and Understand relationships and connections between everyone and everything. He visually sees the Laws of Physics and the underlying connections of how everything relates, regardless of how big or small. His Avatar is always on but he has learned to control it to some extent and can focus tightly or ‘back out’ to see large patterns. Darren Darren’s Avatar is unique among all the Team in that he is the only one who can affect the Physical Realm. Darren can teleport himself or others as well as objects. His limitations are related to his physical strength as far as the weight of objects or people. In extreme circumstances he can teleport Pat or Ken or one of the other Physical partners. Without assistance from Lane, Loy, or Bryan to boost his energy level, he will pass out from the strain. Darren can also heat or cool substances with enough time and most importantly, although it is a strain, and he can transmute elements. This last ability is partially dependent on Pat’s Avatar to give him an understanding of the atomic structure of the object he is changing and the atomic structure of what he wants to change it into. Kevin Kevin’s Avatar allows him to be a ‘sink’ for mental powers, setting up a small area around himself where psychic powers don’t work. He can narrow the focus to just an individual as well, and in the case of someone extremely powerful he may not be able to completely block their abilities but he can severely weaken them. He can ‘cleanse’ an object, area, or person of psychic impressions. Perhaps the most paradoxical power among the entire Team is Kevin’s ability to reset objects or beings to an original state. Lastly, he can make himself or his Teammates invisible and undetectable to psychic perceptions. This is one of the most useful of his abilities, allowing him to make himself or his Teammates undetectable to The Enemy. Bill Bill’s Avatar allows him to read the psychic impressions/memories of a person, object, or place. It is an extremely powerful form of Psychometry not only in the knowledge he receives, but also because it cannot be Shielded against. Anything he touches, or any place he visits, his Mind and Body absorb the information. Similar to Lane’s Dreams, his ability is a two-edged sword. The information his Avatar shows him becomes a part of him and takes a toll on his psyche. Ricky Rick’s Avatar represents Truth and Freedom. Lies and deceptions tend to unravel around Rick and people have a hard time lying to him or around him. He is an emotional anchor and people tend to trust him. He can make people see and believe the truth about themselves. He can open doors inside people that they have shut or that are normally closed from an emotional perspective, and he can break down barriers that people have put up inside themselves. His Avatar is extremely subtle but very powerful, especially as it relates the Curse over mankind. His Avatar see’s through the Brokenness in people and will be extremely instrumental in lifting the curse if the guys manage to defeat The Master. Loy Loy’s Avatar makes him the Steward of all animals and animal Spirits in Creation. All of the guys as Original, Unfallen Men, have a special relationship with animals and nature. They exist in a Pre-Fallen state, and animals don’t fear them and will obey their Will. Animals and their Spirits love all of the guys unconditionally. Loy, though, fills a role in Creation that animals and animal Spirits have inherently waited for since the Curse was brought into being. He calls on the strength of animals and free roaming Spirits who are waiting to be reborn, tapping into their energy for himself and the Team. He has to be careful because the animals and spirits are willing to give up their lives for him, so he has to be careful not to draw too heavily on them. Similar to Bryan, the amount of Power Loy can draw from is immense, although it takes time to build up. Loy also carries a Gift, which allows him to become any animal. The Gift is paradoxical because it allows him to change his mass along with his size, becoming as large as a humpback whale or as small as an insect. List of Characters outside of the Team Aaron Thomas: Mentor to the guys and responsible for the genetic enhancements that started their journey. He is essentially a surrogate father to all the guys and has guided their growth for decades. His exact age is never disclosed but there are hints that he is at least 5,000 years old if not older. He is Immortal and Awake and has been fighting The Enemy his entire life. At one time he bore The Mantle of The Order, making him it’s Leader but he passed it on to another. Albrecht: Partner and lover of Aaron Thomas. Also Immortal, and at one time bearer of The Mantle. Albrecht is without question the best fighter in hand to hand combat who has ever lived. Áedán mac Artur: The man legend named King Arthur, and King of Avalon. In life he was the greatest human ally of The Order, but never joined. There was much friction between himself and Charisa, who was the leader of The Order at that time. Secretly in love with Taliesin, he never expressed his live. Áedán succumbed to wounds from a hunting accident, but his body was preserved along with Avalon by a powerful enchantment cast by Charisa. Half of Áedán’s soul was later taken by the Team and put into Taliesin, in their attempt to help restore and heal him. Allenor: The last being from the previous Creation. Allenor forged the ‘Gifts’ to augment the Avatars of the main characters at God’s command. He was imprisoned for billions of years by others of his kind for forging the Gifts. He was freed by the guys and he seeks Origin (God) to unmake him. Sally Bisel: Originally the Administrative Secretary at TGH Securities, the company the guys started under their new identities after faking their deaths back in 1992. After she was kidnapped by The Master and rescued by the guys, she lived with them in the Atlanta Lab for protection. Eventually she became part of their team, working with Dr. Thomas and helping to teach Drew, and later Tommy and Brett. Taggart Keenan: Retired Army Veteran. Loy and Rick met Tag when they were searching for Ken after his abduction. Later Tag was taken by the Enemy and imprisoned in his Mind in a Construct of his time in the war where he lost his leg. A few years later the guys restored his leg and altered his appearance, along with his wife Olive, moving them out of the Lab into a house in southern Alabama. Tag ended up sacrificing himself, giving up his Soul in the final fight with The Master to give Aaron and Albrecht the power needed to fight The Master. Olive Keenan: Tag’s wife. She contacted Loy when Tag was in the hospital when he was trapped in the Construct. Olive also sacrificed her Soul in the final fight with The Master, to give Aaron and Albrecht the power needed to fight The Master. Henry Ross: Originally a Protector of the Enemy who was ordered to kill Loy and Rick by one of the ‘well-dressed’ men. Loy freed him from The Enemies influence and The Order took him away to try and help him. Henry planned to marry Liz Hastings, Drew’s mother, before Liz sacrificed her Soul to try and save Drew from the Eschphene. Henry later had his Mind Opened by Brad and the guys, making him Immortal and an Original Man. Using a tantric technique taught to him by Albrecht, Henry vastly increases his Mental and Physical strength, making him equal in Power to the guys. Liz Hastings: Mother to Drew, the little boy Brad and Ken encountered in the Mall of Georgia when he was being abused by his birth father, Doug. Liz planned to marry Henry, but ended up sacrificing her Soul to save her son from an Eschphene plan to use him to stop The Master. Drew Hastings: Son of Liz and Doug Hastings. Drew is the second oldest human Soul and brother to The Master (the first human Soul). His death brought the Curse on Mankind into being. Caught up in the tragedy of the Curse, Drew was reincarnated but died on his seventh birthday, bound to the Curse until it can be lifted from his brother, The Master. TO break the Curse, The Master had to ask Drew’s forgiveness for killing his first incarnation in the Valley, eighty-thousand years ago, and Drew had to grant him that forgiveness. Doug Hastings: Abusive father to Drew. After his encounter with Brad and Ken, Doug was sent to jail. Later Doug was used by the Eschphene in an attempt to get a blood tie to Drew, and use him in their plans to break the Curse over The Master and restore Balance to Creation. After their second encounter with Doug, Brad trapped Doug in his own Mind, making him a vegetable and fully dependent on others to keep him alive. Brad put a trigger in his Mind to find Doug in twenty years and see if he changed as a human being. Greg Rawlins: the man Ken and Brad ran into at Waffle House who was going to commit suicide. At Greg’s memorial service, he was sent back from Heaven to reveal the secret of how to break The Curse over The Master. Ely: Greg Rawlins dog, a black Labrador Retriever. Taliesin – an ancient Bard, who was once a member of The Order. He originally carried the Gift before Lane accepted. He was responsible for the success of the ritual that awakened the Nephilim Heritage of all the guys. Taliesin was the Bard of Avalon and is thousands of years old. Taliesin’s fate was intertwined with the guys, and ultimately sacrificed himself to save Drew’s life, allowing Drew to Confront his brother and end the Curse. Thomin – the Archangel who Protects The Vault, which holds powerful treasures and artifacts of Heaven and earth safe from both mankind and The Enemy. Glenn Hampton – originally served in the Navy with the guys. Leader of the ‘Goon Squad.’ Kent Peterson – another member of the ‘Goon Squad’ and father to Jacob and Craig. Kent died of a massive heart attack. He was given a dispensation by Uriel, who attempted to convince Kent to ask for forgiveness so he could go to Heaven. Kent refused and Uriel took him to his personal Hell. Kent spent the equivalent of two hundred years pondering his life. Kent’s son Craig died in a fight with the Eschphene on Drew’s seventh birthday, and asked Uriel to take him to his father. Craig convinced Uriel to take them both back, and the father and son returned from death, to rejoin the guys in their fight against The Enemy. Margie Peterson – Kent’s wife and mother to Jacob and Craig. Craig Peterson – youngest son of Kent and Margie Peterson. He met Bill and Kevin while they were out jogging when he was collecting toys for the USMC ‘Toy’s for Tot’s’ program. Craig is in the ROTC Program in college, intending to enter the Marine Corp as an officer. Craig died in a fight with the Eschphene, and asked Uriel to take him to his father, Kent, who was in a personal Hell. Craig convinced Uriel to take him and his father both back, and they returned to life to continue their fight against The Enemy. Jacob Peterson – Lt. Cpl. in the US Marines. He was captured by the Enemy and held hostage in a trap set for Ken, Brad, the guys. Jacob is Craig’s older brother and practically raised him. Rich Hampton – son of Glenn Hampton, leader of the ‘Goon Squad’ from Ken and Brad’s past. Rich is a Private First Class in the Army as a cook. He was captured by The Enemy as a trap for Ken, Brad, and the guys. Guy Caulfield – Private First Class in the US Army. He was captured by The Enemy as a trap for Ken, Brad, and the guys. Caleb Donaldson – Private First Class in the US Army. He was captured by The Enemy as a trap for Ken, Brad, and the guys. Nathan Cochran – Demolitions Specialist in the US Army. He was captured by The Enemy as a trap for Ken, Brad, and the guys. Leroy – The Midgard Serpent (or Dragon) who sleeps under the Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life, in the Valley (Garden of Eden). Sired by Luke before his Fall when he was still the Morning Star, Leroy was originally intended to sleep until called upon by God to destroy the world and all of creation. It is unclear whether his original intent was misunderstood by the Archangels or if exposure through Bryan to the Avatars of the guys changed Leroy. His Fire can consume Creation, or Purify it, turning it into something entirely new. Németh – Leader of the Eschphene people who reside in the Pale. Németh exiled himself on the day the Curse was called into being, and wandered homeless for 80,000 years. Henry dueled Németh’s descendent for the right to return as their Leader. The Province of the Eschphene is to maintain Equilibrium and Balance in Creation, and Németh aided Ken and the guys in Drew’s fight against The Master.
  5. btaoc1963

    Chapter 24

    That's one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. I wore out two CD's of it, so now I just stream it lol. It's also an incredible movie with some amazingly intense emotional scenes. Good luck on learning it! 🙂
  6. btaoc1963

    Chapter 30

    (** Prologue **) Forces set in motion before the beginning of Time and Creation were in play. Allenor, the sole survivor of the previous Creation, freed from his imprisonment over billions of years, sought the one he called Origin. He asked to be unmade but Origin was silent, and so Allenor continued his unintentional influence on Creation. The Dragon, named Leroy by Bryan, whose Purpose was initially thought to be an instrument of destruction, created by God to one day annihilate Creation, slept in the Valley. It was still unclear if his Purpose was misunderstood, or if the ripples of the hybrid Nephilim’s existence altered Leroy in some fundamental way. Bryan and his Brothers deduced that Leroy’s Fire could destroy Creation or Cleanse it and make it new again. One of the ten Avatars, the Avatar of Renewal wielded by Kevin, drew from Leroy’s Fire as its Source. The Dark One, who plotted the downfall of the High Hosts since his Fall and expungement from Home, spun his plots both inside and outside of Time. His most prominent thread in the Physical Realm was The Master. The Master’s thread spun into existence eighty thousand years ago and was about to come to fruition or be severed from the Tapestry altogether. The Dark One, however, was helpless to intervene or interfere with the outcome of The Master. Due to ripples of the Hybrid Nephilim and their cleverness and might, he was bound by the Oathstone of Heaven and unable to influence events. The vortices and turbulence from the multitude of forces were felt everywhere in everything, and all led to the moment at hand, as a little boy named Drew Ross faced his brother, The Master, a being of immeasurable Power and Evil. Drew was the Key to Mankind’s Redemption, yet his task seemed impossible. He must convince The Master to ask his forgiveness for killing the first version of Drew in the Valley of the Tree of Life eighty thousand years prior; the action that sparked the Curse on Mankind, stripping them of their Immortality and achieving their potential as Original Men. Humans were meant to be Stewards of the Earth, yet under the Curse they were Broken, slaves to entertainment, their Minds closed and their attention turned inwards to self-absorption and self-indulgence. They were the Dark One’s playground, and his grip on them was firm and tight. There were some humans strong enough in themselves to resist those traits and slip through The Dark One’s fingers. A small number of them were drawn to the Light of the Hybrid Nephilim and joined their cause. The two forces, the Light and the Dark, were on a collision course, and the impact would decide everything. (** Beginning of Chapter **) Waffle House, Buford Drive, Buford, GA The Nexus of Events The scene was surreal. Miss Lula stood at the window watching Drew standing by himself in the parking lot. His red hoodie appeared bright under the dark skies, and he seemed terrified and utterly alone. She was with him nonetheless, keeping her promise, even though he was unaware of her. She wept at the state of his Soul and the tragedy of his life, but he was also a shining star that changed her tears to hope. He was compassionate beyond the span of his six years, his harsh life tempered by the unconditional love of his adoptive father and uncles. Unconditional love was at the heart of the encounter; it was the reason for existence and if Drew was successful it would be because of the love shown him by his father Henry, his Uncles, his mother Liz, and Aaron and Albrecht. Even the young soldiers in Australia were a part of Drew’s journey, adding their touch to his damaged and tortured Soul. Sally was there, as well and his Grandpa Tag and Auntie Olive. Each in their own way enveloped him, but Henry and his uncles touched his Soul in ways the others couldn’t. They weren’t the reason for his Compassion, but they nurtured it. As with everyone who encountered Ken and Brad and their Brothers, Drew and Henry grew into their potential; in their case the potential to save Mankind. While Miss Lula watched Drew, unconscious patrons slumped in their booths or rested their heads on the counter, put to sleep by a Compulsion from Brad that spread over the entire planet while the fate of Man was about to be decided in the parking lot of the small greasy Diner. Drew stood alone. It was his greatest fear, yet he orchestrated events to be alone in an attempt to save his dad and his beloved uncles. His bravery, driven by love for the men he cared for so much was profound beyond words, yet also simple; it was the pure, unconditional love of a child. Drew lost his mother and vowed in his own way never to lose anyone else in his life. The thought was unbearable, so he orchestrated events to confront his Brother alone. The Master seemed a giant and Drew froze for a moment even though he thought he was prepared. A smoky black nimbus covered his brother’s face, and he radiated pure Evil. The Amulet Drew wore prevented his brother from attacking his Mind, but he could physically crush Drew with one clawed hand. The adult-like part of Drew was absent, overrun by the terror of a six-year-old boy. As Drew stood still, petrified with fear, The Master raised one clawed fist, his arm thick with muscle, and swiped it down to rip his brother in half. Henry appeared out of thin air moving blindingly fast, grabbing his son a fraction of a second before the clawed hand would have eviscerated him. If The Master’s hand connected Man’s fate would have been sealed. Lula breathed a sigh of relief that Drew was still alive. Her ‘nudges,’ what the Team called ‘puppet strings’ were done. They were necessary to bring events to where they were, but now everything must play itself out with no interference. If she interfered at this point, it would take all meaning from the pain and sacrifice everyone endured to bring events to that point. The success of Drew, Henry, and her newest Children must rest on their Free Will, or everything was meaningless. It had to matter. As Henry appeared, he wrapped his son, not only in his strong arms but in his Soul, comforting and Protecting him. Lula watched and Listened. She, Frank, and the Birdman heard everything. They were everywhere, in everything. They were the Trinity, three beings yet One, a Paradox. Brad’s Compulsion made Earth quieter, yet while conscious thoughts were silent, she heard the Souls of everyone. Many Dreamed as their unconscious Minds, even Closed, were aware of the tumultuous forces buffeting them. Even though she heard everything, Miss Lula Listened particularly to what was happening before her. <> Henry appeared, moving as fast as he could. As he materialized, Darren changed his trajectory slightly to 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. One with his Brothers, he saw through Pat’s Understanding precisely what he needed to do, and how to prevent any injury to Drew. Drew didn’t even have time to be surprised. The next thing he knew, he was on the ground, fifty feet away, wrapped in the arms of his dad. The voice he wanted to hear so much, the strong arms he wanted around him more than anything were there, and he felt safe again. Henry’s warm breath tickled his ear as he whispered, “I’ve got you, Tiger. I’m with you!” Henry snatched the Amulet hanging around Drew’s neck, snapping the chain and tossing it away. Without the Amulet as a barrier, Henry merged with his son and took them deep in one another. They appeared naked to one another in that special place where their Souls became One. Henry basked in the presence of his son, as his own presence surrounded Drew. He knew the dangers the doctor spoke of about merging with Drew at such a young age, but he felt he had no choice. He would deal with any consequences once they were finished. The love they had for one another was comforting beyond words. They both cried as Henry held Drew against him in relief, cradling his small body against his big, powerful frame. Time wasn’t moving as Drew’s arms flew around Henry’s neck, clinging to his dad as tightly as he could. Drew started to cry as all the pent-up emotions of the last weeks came pouring out. Henry held him, whispering soothing words while stroking his head and back. “It’s okay, honey. It’s okay. I’ve got you.” Everything Drew had been through was there, and Henry saw it all. His reasons for running away, and how torn up he was inside over all of it. Every lie to Henry, his uncles, Doctor Aaron, Mr. Albrecht, and Miss Sally 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. Drew was afraid he was now ugly inside like normal humans and that he would hurt his uncles if they looked inside him. Aside from that, his greatest fear was that everyone would be disappointed in him. Oh God, Drew! I’m not disappointed, honey! None of us are! 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 understand why. The pain he caused Henry and his uncles struck Drew, and it nearly made him hysterical. All he could do was cry and beg Henry to forgive him. He prayed to the Birdman over and over that his uncles would forgive him too. With the Amulet gone, the presence of his Uncles followed as Henry pulled them in with him and his son. Henry wanted Drew to feel their love and know there was nothing to forgive, and he wanted his Brothers to see everything he did. The familiar voices Drew missed, their strong arms and warm bodies; he felt it all at once as his Uncles wrapped him up in their Hearts and Minds, forming a Wall around his Soul. The relief in them that Drew was okay and with Henry washed over him too. It took a long time before either Henry or Drew were ready or able to talk. The intensity of their emotions finally ran its course, and after his 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! You did what he told you to! You didn’t break your promise! Henry spoke the truth, but the Birdman still said Drew might lose Henry if he fought The Master. Now they were together, Henry and the guys heard the exact words in Drew’s memory of his conversation with the stranger Drew called the Birdman. He said you might lose me, Drew. Not that you will. I’m taking the risk honey, and we’ll be extra careful, but you and I are going to 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 to. 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 alive and safe. The relief in Drew was overwhelming. Henry’s rock-solid presence washed away his fear. Henry was a Wall and right now that Wall was backed by Ken’s Avatar, synchronized with his Brothers and their ten mighty Souls. Drew sniffled, 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. Okay? Okay, 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 understand 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 depth of Henry’s love were tangible to him. They were One and Drew breathed in Henry’s confidence. 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 to. 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 he would face it with Henry, together. <> Time stopped momentarily while Miss Lula turned to put on a fresh pot of coffee and called out a new order. “Drop one hash brown! Scattered well, smothered, covered, capped, and diced! Drop one bacon, medium! Raisin Toast! Three egg omelet, old-fashioned, with cheese and mushrooms!” As Miss Lula called her order, Frank collected the items from the refrigerator beside the grille to start the order. A loud sizzle followed, and a mouthwatering aroma filled the diner as he dropped the hash browns and bacon on the hot greasy surface. A man appeared in one of the booths by the front window so he could also watch. He saw the same things in Drew as Lula. He was Drew’s Birdman, who met Henry and Drew both, and spoke to Drew on occasion. He was the Dove. He smiled, saying, “Thank you,” nodding his acknowledgment to Miss Lula, knowing Frank would cook his order to perfection. The corners of his Ageless eyes crinkled on his careworn face. His eyes had stars in them, just like Miss Lula’s and Frank’s. Their eyes held all of Creation, and they watched together, and Listened, three as One, a Paradox, as the fate of Mankind, their Second Children, played out before them. The jukebox, silent until that moment, lit up. The song that played should have been impossible. Lane never published or recorded any of his music, yet his voice filled the diner as the start of his hauntingly beautiful melody, The Humbling River, came over the speakers. If Drew was successful, and Ken and his Uncles defeated The Master, they would face the decision to guide Man across the River, or not. The decision would be theirs with no interference or influence by God. However, they needed to win the first of their Battles before that possibility was even on the table, and in order for them to win, Drew and Henry had to be successful in their part and remove the Curse on The Master. Creation paused with the First of all Realities, while God cooked, served, and ate his own breakfast at a greasy short-order diner in Buford, GA. As always, Frank’s hash browns were perfect. No wonder Ken loved them so much. Raphael’s Pocket Dimension The Archangels gathered to witness unfolding events. This was the time of their grandchildren, the first Battle they were born to fight. The Archangels witnessed the glory and beauty of the men they called their grandchildren, both their physical forms and their Hearts and Souls, and were proud. The tension in them was high, though, not from lack of confidence, but because they knew the depth of the Curse and what their grandchildren faced. Their only Hope rested the Paradox of their Nephilim offspring and their Free and Unfettered existence. The Ten men, joined as One, more than the sum of their individual selves, formed the only possible defense against the might of the Curse. By the nature of the Curse, they could not defeat it; their goal was to fight it long enough for Drew Ross and his father Henry to be successful in their task of breaking the Curse over The Master. The Archangels were aware of the changes in themselves; the ripples of their grandchildren’s existence were much farther-reaching than they ever planned or expected. They had their own conflicts and run-ins with their Nephilim offspring, yet they truly loved them and were afraid for them. The Archangels stood in full battle regalia, knowing that regardless of their grandchildren’s success or failure, Luke, The Dark One, would be free of his Oath the second there was any sort of resolution, good or bad. The ten Archangels – Michael, Uriel, Gabriel, Raphael, Barachiel, Remiel, Jegudiel, Saraqael, Raguel, and Selaphiel – held hands. They seldom prayed. They seldom needed to pray, but the fate of so much rested on the shoulders of their grandchildren, and if successful, an even bigger task ahead. The Dove, Miss Lula, and Frank smiled when they heard the prayers of their First Children. Even they were changed by the ripples of Ken and Brad and the rest of their Third Children, and it was good. The Master’s Psyche Henry felt different; there was a transition when The Master’s hand touched the Stone. He felt the rough, ruddy skin of The Master’s clawed fist as it clamped down, trying to crush the Stone along with Henry and Drew’s hands. According to their plan, the Sigils etched into the Stone by Németh ignited with the red-orange glow of Eschphene Magic as soon as The Master touched it, and Henry and Drew were physically transported into The Master’s Mind. Drew was still tight in his arms, but something felt… odd. They were in the parking lot of the Waffle House, but at the same time he knew they weren’t. His eyes bright with emotion, Henry pulled Drew back so he could look at his son and asked intently, “Drew, are you okay!?” He cupped Drew’s face in his warm hand, wanting to touch him and know he was alright. It was eerily silent, and everything seemed muted, like when he was under the Magical Dome during his duel with the Eschphene leader. Drew threw himself forward, putting his arms around Henry’s neck, nodding his affirmation of Henry’s question. Drew’s voice sounded muffled against Henry’s thick neck as he sniffled, and Henry felt the remnant of his son’s tears on his skin. “Yes, Daddy. I’m okay.” Drew’s warm breath on his neck and the soft skin of his cheek caused Henry to choke up. The last weeks of Drew being gone, and the helplessness and anxiety that followed, the fear for his son… it was all still there. Holding Drew in his arms was a relief, but they were in more danger than ever. Henry merged with Drew before they transitioned to wherever it was they were and worked through the worst of their emotions. The intense feelings from that connection still ran through father and son, but they were together and would face everything as such. The Master screamed his outrage at their disappearance, but the sound was heavily modulated and garbled as though heard from a distance, or through some sort of filter. Drew looked up. The Master still faced them, towering menacingly, and began tearing up chunks of concrete in his frustration. He seemed to move in slow motion. Oddly, for the first time ever, they saw his face through the smoky Black nimbus covering it. They were in his Mind and saw him as he saw himself, ugly and misshapen. Henry was surprised as a wave of Power came off Drew. You don’t see us. We aren’t here. Henry remembered Drew saying he could hide from The Master. He had no idea how Drew knew how to do that. Henry was sure The Master wasn’t aware of them at the moment but Drew masking their presence surely couldn’t hurt. The Master, enraged at their disappearance, turned and ripped off his amulet, throwing it away as he bellowed his challenge. As soon as it was far enough away, eight bolts of lightning struck around him in the parking lot, and Ken and the Team, minus Bryan and Lane, appeared. Cavall stood with them, at Loy’s side. Intent on watching his Brothers, Henry started as the Wolf-Spirit appeared in front of him. Relief immediately followed his initial surprise; her presence was comforting, and their chances of success were much better with her by their side. Loy’s wisdom in calling the Ancient Spirit and binding her to Protect Drew proved more far-reaching than any of them could have imagined. Drew seemed to take her being with them for granted. As Ken and the guys appeared, Henry saw them as the shining beacons of Light and Power they were. He had come to love his Brothers so much; he owed them his life. They always spoke of ‘never keeping score,’ but after everything they did for him, and continued to do, he owed it to them to succeed. He wouldn’t allow himself to fail them, any more than he would allow himself to fail Drew. He would be a Wall for them too. His voice quiet but intense, he said, “Hang tight guys. We’re on this.” Drew lifted his face from Henry’s neck, watching his uncles. He knew they couldn’t beat his brother until he and his dad were successful and he was scared for them. Then he looked at Henry. His handsome, wonderful dad who made him feel safe and loved. Drew smelled Henry’s aftershave and sweat, the distinct smell of Henry, his father. He put a hand on Henry’s cheek so he could feel the rough stubble and his father’s warm strength. The intensity of Henry’s love touched Drew’s Soul, but he needed to feel it physically as well. Henry smiled as they made eye contact and asked, “Are you ready to do this kiddo? Together?” Drew smiled back, nodding his assent. Henry rubbed their noses together and got the giggle he wanted to lighten the mood. Drew turned, looking at Ken and the Team, and said, “I love you, Uncles. We’ll hurry!” As The Master turned to face his Brothers, the Wolf-Spirit pulled them away. <> Henry felt another transition, and suddenly they were in a house. It felt cold. The Wolf-Spirit sat looking at them with her unnatural intelligence. In that place she was corporeal, and it seemed odd because he was so used to seeing her translucent. Henry looked around and whispered more to himself than her, asking, “Where are we?” Inside The Master’s Mind; in his Psyche. This is where your journey begins. You and the cub are present. That should not be possible. Henry remembered the Wolf-Spirit speaking to him in his Dreams and based on where they were, he wasn’t surprised to hear her voice. He was thankful she could talk; it would make things easier. Drew loosened his arms around Henry’s neck and slid down to stand on his own, but he kept a hand firmly in one of Henry’s. He rested his other hand on the Wolf-Spirit, wanting to feel her too. Recognition hit Henry as he glanced around, and he knew where they were. It was the main house The Master lived in when he stayed in Atlanta. Henry had been there numerous times in the three years of his coerced servitude. He knew The Master’s Throne Room was just down the hall. Memories of blood rituals Henry was forced to partake in were still in the back of his Mind. The place was evil, just as The Master was. Henry asked the Wolf-Spirit, “Do you know where we need to go?” Surprisingly it was Drew who answered. “We need to find him. The first him, like my first. The one who killed me.” Henry couldn’t help the “fuck me!” that slipped out. It pulled at his heart how casually Drew spoke of his first death. It compounded Henry’s need to protect his son from any more pain if he possibly could. Drew giggled at Henry’s F-Bomb, and Henry winced, saying, “Sorry, Tiger.” Henry looked at the She-Wolf. “Can you help us find him?” It will be a long journey and not easy. His Mind has traps, and he will fight us once he realizes we are here. Henry was oddly calm. He was there for one purpose, to Protect Drew and help him complete his goal. The Wall inside him was firm. His own trials and tribulations honed him, and his suffering made him stronger in unimaginable ways, preparing him for what was about to happen. He was touched by God, and his Wisdom as well as his Heart, had grown because of it. Henry was unique among men, starting out as a physically enhanced Protector, but now an Original Man with his Mind and Heart Awake. He was not part Nephilim like his Brothers, but he was Powerful in his own right and had grown into himself through their influence and his own experiences. Living in their Souls affected him just as it affected the Archangels and helped him come into his full potential. Drew felt oddly calm as well. His dad and the Wolf-Spirit were with him. He wasn’t alone as he feared he would be, and he no longer believed Henry had to die. Drew still realized the price he would most likely pay for success, and he didn’t want to let his dad or the Wolf-Spirit know that. He kept that thought boxed away in the secret place in his Mind, and it was the only secret he withheld from Henry and his uncles when they merged. He could face whatever would come if they were with him. As long as he saved the people he loved, any cost to himself would be worth it. He learned of sacrifice through his uncles and father, and especially his mother Liz, and about doing the right thing no matter the personal cost. When Drew merged with Darren in Thomin’s Vault, he saw everything about Darren and his uncles and how they lived in one another. Their experiences were laid bare to Drew, and he saw their SEAL training and watched them running missions together in Desert Storm. He experienced the bonds between them and knew they cared as much for him and Henry as they did each other. He saw the times when some of his uncles nearly died in the fight against his brother, and the fortitude that kept them from giving up. He saw their trust for each other and their love, and he was part of it. He could do no less for them than what they had been doing for him all along. As we go deeper, the danger will increase. Be on guard. Henry: We need to hurry. The guys can’t hold out forever. Time is not the same here as in the Physical Realm. As we go deeper in The Master’s Mind, the difference will be more extreme. There will be time. The house was a maze and their first obstacle. They would have to find their way out, and then move deeper through The Master’s Mind into his past through eighty thousand years of memories until they found the version of him Drew needed to confront. Henry squeezed Drew’s hand in encouragement, and they started their task together, father and son, following their Companion. The Physical Realm – Waffle House Parking Lot Light erupted as eight thick bolts of lightning struck the ground around The Master as Ken, Brad, Pat, Darren, Rick, Loy, Kevin, and Bill appeared. Cavall was with them at Loy’s side, adding his feral strength to theirs. The Battle was happening on both sides of the Veil, and The Master saw them as the shining towers of strength and Light they were. Their angelic Heritage as Nephilim made them inhumanly handsome and charismatic. Their powerful bodies fit their uniforms perfectly as if molded to their physiques. They looked hyper-masculine and every inch the weapons and soldiers they forged themselves to be; they were the Defense against The Enemy who wanted to subjugate Mankind. They were Purity and Light against his Corruption. The Master screamed at them, “WHERE IS MY BROTHER? I WILL DESTROY HIM AND ALL OF YOU!” Ken braced himself, backed by seven of his Brothers present and Lane and Bryan from across the world as The Master turned to face them. Even without Pat’s Understanding, Ken could tell from The Master’s body language how pissed off he was, and the corner of Ken’s mouth smirked slightly. Well, this is a good start. He’s gonna make it easy on us. Let’s keep him pissed off and not thinkin’ clear, ladies. Keep him off guard. You know the drill. As Ken’s thoughts were heard by his Brothers, The Master’s physical form grew, filling with the Power of the Curse Unveiled. The smoky black nimbus always covering his face thickened and spread, enveloping his grotesquely primitive, muscled body; the strength of his Aura was evident as they watched him grow even stronger. Alright, guys. We have ‘ta buy Drew and Henry whatever time they need. Lane and Bry, stay strong, we’re with you too. All you fuckers are the best. You know that, and you know what we’re here for. Ken’s voice spoke in their Minds and Hearts, but more importantly, his Will and Conviction backed them up. He believed in them with everything in his Heart. They were One, and their bonds unbreakable. In their Hearts and Souls, Ken’s arms were around the shoulders of each and every one of them, pushing them to be their best and boosting their confidence. He was their Leader, their Captain, and even aside from his Avatar, he had a way about him that brought out the best in each of them. They understood the secret of their Avatars, the runic symbols that represented their abilities from the Language of Creation. They would become equal to the task but would have to dig deep within themselves to push beyond equal to win. However, the Paradox of the fight was they knew it was impossible to defeat The Master until he asked Drew’s forgiveness for killing him eighty thousand years ago. As powerful as they could become, by the nature of the Curse, they couldn’t be enough until it was broken. Because they were One, each of them saw Drew’s plan when they merged with Henry and Drew in the seconds before they entered the Psyche of The Master. Not his secret, but his plan to find the first version of The Master in his memories. The Master was still unaware of his own danger and possible defeat, and they wanted to keep it that way as long as possible. In recent years after discovering their Nephilim Heritage, as a Team they accomplished near impossible tasks; resetting the Demon Azaziel, freeing Allenor, the last survivor from God’s previous Creation, temporarily trapping Luke, The Dark One, and fighting the Eschphene on three separate occasions. However, they hadn’t yet pitted themselves against anything so strong as The Master with the full Power of the Curse Unveiled. Their Avatars shone brighter as the Power needed to fight their opponent filled them; they became the vessels necessary to contain what they needed to be, not only physically but Spiritually and emotionally. The shimmering translucent form of Yggdrasil appeared over and around them, its canopy high in the sky amidst the lightning. Animal Spirits swam in the air, called by Loy, their Steward. Brad fluttered their Souls across the Veil, empowering the dual nature of their Physical and Spiritual existence as Nephilim and Original Men. They Listened to the Songs of their partners’ Souls, even as Lane did in the Valley with Bryan. All the sources of their Power filled them, and just as importantly they filled each other; the unconditional Love they had for each other tied them together in ways normal humans couldn’t comprehend. Their ties ran back decades, from their time together as SEALS, through war in the Physical Realm up to the present, where they were enmeshed in the Battle with The Enemy over the fate of Mankind. They were Brothers in every way imaginable, living in one another, and the threads of their Souls woven so tightly together they were unbreakable. Lane learned through Taliesin that individual strands could be broken, but when braided together into a rope they could become nearly indestructible, and the threads of their Souls woven so tightly were what made them so powerful. Never had they felt the blending of their Avatars so fully and completely as in that moment, the Province of each of man fully apparent and magnified by the presence of each other. The full Paradox of their existence was evident, ten men, five couples, yet One; more than the sum of their individual selves, stronger together by far. In the presence of the Curse, the intangible ‘something extra’ the doctor spoke of was more evident than ever before. Even though Bryan and Lane were across the planet in The Valley, they were present in their Brothers, and their Brothers present in them. Ken’s Will filled them, honing them into the Warriors they were; Brad’s Intellect combined all their tactical expertise, Lane’s Creativity added to their ability to interpret everything they saw, Pat’s Understanding, Darren’s connection to the Physical Realm, Bill’s Knowledge… each man added something special and unique as all their training and focus came to bear. They were the Warriors of the New Order facing the first Purpose of their existence, fighting The Master, the earthly servant of The Dark One, over the fate of humankind. They glowed so brightly they were blinding to look at in the Spiritual Realm. Their White Light opposed the Curse, and thunder and lightning ripped through the Heavens from the clash of Powers. The cold icy chill of The Master’s Aura bit at their Shields, but he felt the White-Hot Light of their own in turn. Ken’s voice echoed with Power as he said, “Alright, you fucker. You aren’t destroyin’ anyone. Prepare to get your ass kicked!” In reply to Ken’s statement, The Master threw his arms back, bellowing his response and belching forth a vortex of Black Power from his mouth. Hold it together, guys! We’re not givin’ an inch! The Black Power hit their Shields, and they felt the impact down to their Souls, but they were enough. Barely. The Valley of Yggdrasil Bryan’s Body felt like granite under his Kevlar assault suit. Lane gripped his husband tightly from behind, his arms crisscrossed over Bryan’s thick torso as he brought all his Power to bear, aiding Bryan in his Defense of the Tree and the Valley. Often, in times of conflict or significant events between the Light and the Dark, severe weather reflected the confrontation, and Lane had never seen the skies so volatile. As Elemental creatures, nature echoed their emotions, and Lane exerted his Will to calm the wind and rain directly around them. Lightning continued ripping through the skies as the immense Black Vortex, the physical manifestation of The Enemy’s Power, struck the canopy of the Tree. Bryan, at the Heart of his Power, let the Life Energy of the Tree fill him. It was a tide he normally had to hold back when physically present, but now he needed all of it if he wished to have any chance of holding the Darkness at bay. Just as the time of his Second Awakening, his awareness of Life expanded, filling him with Power, from the grubs in the soil underneath his feet to every plant, animal, and being throughout Creation; the Roots of Yggdrasil touched all Life in all Realities. The pain that came with that Power from gaps in the Pattern where species of plants or animals were now extinct or missing was buffered by the bonds of his Brothers and the unconditional love they had for one another. The knowledge that once they won their fight, as One, they could replace those gaps and make the Pattern whole again was a comfort. As Loy did once before, Lane called on specific Animal Spirits from extinct species to soften Bryan’s pain. Lane’s strong arms surrounded him, along with his Heart and Soul. His husband, the grandson of Gabriel the Archangel, Herald of God, was Powerful and added his own strength and might to Bryan’s. As Powerful as they were together, even at the Heart of Bryan’s Power, they were barely enough. At the time of their First Awakening, when The Master called his Dark servants in his first attempt to destroy them, Istariel Summoned the Four Corners - the Archangels Michael, Uriel, Gabriel, and Raphael - to defend them. This time the Four Corners were unavailable. Lane and Bryan and their Brothers had come into their Nephilim Inheritance, and Bryan’s Province was Protector of the Tree and the Dragon, hidden and asleep beneath it. With the Dark One bound and unable to interfere, the Four Corners could not be Summoned, so Bryan and Lane Protected the Valley while their Brothers faced The Master. As the Black cloud writhed and seethed, tendrils split from the central funnel, striking the Shield Bryan maintained. Both men felt the blows on multiple levels; with each impact, the Blackness burned their Minds as well as their Hearts and Souls. The emerald Shield over the canopy flared with each blow, but it held, fortified by their Will and Power. Lane, who’s Province fell in the Music of Creation, Listened. He was in his husband and heard the crystalline Song of Bryan’s Soul. It was the most potent Source available to him, but he didn’t draw from it as Bryan did the Tree. Rather, Lane Listened and let the Music flow through and become part of him. He wove the two halves of Bryan’s Soul together from the half that resided in each of them, and the Music made him powerful like nothing else could. It also gave him an extreme sense of comfort amidst the pain and effort he put forth. Lane poured himself into Bryan, squeezing in a physical expression of affection at the same time as his Soul wrapped around his husband. Their eyes were White and reflected the lightning in the sky. The wind blew the hair off the foreheads of their handsome faces. Each felt the rough cheek of the other as Lane buried his face against Bryan's neck, bringing every bit of strength he could muster and adding it to Bryan’s. Their Hearts, Souls, and Minds were bound together as tightly as their bodies, but the physical sensation of holding one another brought additional strength and comfort. In their Minds, they whispered encouragement and support to each other, their eyes shedding fresh tears from the intimacy between them. The exquisite and powerful sting of being so fully immersed in each other and knowing that no matter what, they had each other and their Brothers despite their faults always brought tears to their eyes. With Bryan’s Understanding, he saw how powerful the black cloud was. He and Lane could hold it at bay for a time if they put all their strength to the defense of the Tree; however, they would need to dig deep inside themselves to have any chance of mounting an offense to drive The Enemy back. The tendrils were relentless, and the ground shook from the force of their blows. In the darkened skies, through the rain and wind, the two men looked up to see dozens of black shapes break off from the Blackness, cloven-hooved, with leathery wings keeping them aloft. They were Demons of the Pale, under servitude to The Master. Bryan: Fuck! The Demons descended, and even over the din of the wind and lightning, Bryan heard and felt the vibrations at the impact of their landing. They scattered themselves around the Valley and began destroying anything they came in contact with. As much as he hated doing it Lane’s Avatar flared, and he called the animals of the Valley to defend it. He knew the animals couldn’t stop the Demons but hoped they could slow them down. The Valley had not been so desecrated since The Master killed his brother the first time, eighty thousand years earlier. The anger of that thought ran deep in the two men, especially Bryan, and they channeled their anger, letting it fuel their defense. <><> Deep below the Tree, the only sounds in the immense cavern were the occasional bubbles of lava bursting if one managed to reach the surface through the thick, viscous substance. Random fires burned when gases released from the bubbles ignited; their light, coupled with the soft glow of the lava, illuminated the large cavern. Leroy slept fitfully, sensitive to the forces of the Battle taking place in the Valley above him. His Protector, Bryan, the man who loved him like no one ever had, was in danger. The ring on Bryan’s finger, a Christmas gift from Lane the year before, was charged with Dragon Fire from Leroy and the dragon fire agates Albrecht placed on the ring resonated magic connecting the Man and Beast. Unlike the Leroy of the alternate reality Brad and Lane had traveled to, the Leroy of the first Reality had never woken up. Occasionally the Dark One, his Sire, would visit him and cause no end of torment in his sleeping Mind. The Rage within Leroy always burned stronger when The Dark One was near. Bryan soothed Leroy by his very presence and helped drive the Rage away, or at the least hold it at bay. Leroy’s unconscious Mind sensed Bryan nearby, and the tumultuous emotions coursing through his Protector. Bryan’s deep-seated fear for Drew and Henry and what they faced for his Brothers in Atlanta as they fought The Master, touched the great beast. Leroy also felt the unwavering strength of character and Love Bryan had for everyone in his life, and his anger over the danger they were in that drove him to be the man he was. On top of all that, Leroy felt the cold presence of the Darkness against his Fire. Leroy knew nothing of events in the world, only the emotions in Bryan, complicated yet simple, and the Dark Power on the fringes of his awareness. Bryan was a man of loyalty and the gentlest of all his Brothers. The Dragon was far more intelligent than any of them realized, and many of Bryan’s qualities bled into the magnificent creature through his connection to Leroy. He had never been awake, but he was created for a Purpose and born with traits necessary to complete it. No one knew the full reason for Leroy’s existence except God, who commanded Luke to sire him. Even Luke was unaware of Leroy’s secrets and how much he had been affected by the ripples of the hybrid Nephilim. Leroy sensed Bryan’s need. It called to him in a way Bryan never would. Bryan would never wake the great Beast intentionally so Leroy would wake himself. Exposure to Bryan and Lane and the rest of Bryan’s Brothers changed him. Just as the existence of the Hybrid Nephilim changed the Archangels in ways they never expected, the ripples of their existence touched all Creation. They were Random and Unfettered, perhaps even Chaotic in that they didn’t realize, and were unaware of, how their presence changed those around them, especially those they cared about. That effect, while subtle, was perhaps the most potent aspect of their existence. Deep in the cavern of his birth where he slept since the Earth was formed, Leroy’s eyes opened, and the Light of his Golden Orbs lit the cavern. The Physical Realm – Waffle House Parking Lot The eight soldiers, Warriors of The New Order, surrounded The Master. The reach of his arms was long, and he swung inhumanly fast, trying to claw them and rend their flesh. The agility and dexterity of their muscular forms were glorious as they fluidly and gracefully avoided his attempts to kill them. Each man brought every aspect of his training to bear, moving as One and executing every maneuver flawlessly. They landed strikes of their own while The Master never touched them. Their blows were ultimately ineffectual; even if they broke a bone the Curse healed him, restoring him to his original state. They felt the impact on their bodies as they landed blow after blow, but a constant flow of Healing arced from the Mentalists, keeping them in top form. Just as in their training, they used each other as weapons, and shielded each other when necessary. Their training and conditioning were manifest, their bodies grace in motion. The pressure of The Master’s Dark Shield was relentless and wore on them, but their Light never wavered as they confronted his Evil head-on. Holding the image of Drew and Henry foremost in their Minds and Hearts gave them the impetus to persevere and not waver in their resolve. Other than taunting The Master, their usual banter was absent. Occasional comments were made, but they conserved their strength and kept their focus and concentration on task. The fate of the world and two of their own was at stake. Even with their voices silent their Wills backed each other, and emotions were evident between them. Their goal wasn’t to maim or hurt yet, it was to occupy and delay. Each man conserved his strength, making their attacks precise and efficient. Their efforts were convincing, taking any opportunity that presented itself to strike so The Master would not become suspicious. The Master had more skill than they expected, but by goading him and continuously stoking his anger he became increasingly erratic, vacillating between natural savagery and a combination of various fighting styles. The men, however, were masters of The Quintessential Dance, taught to them by the Archangel Michael, Ken’s angelic grandfather. The fighting techniques they employed, coupled with Albrecht’s training, made them far superior to The Master in hand-to-hand combat. The fight wore on; first seconds, then minutes, frustrating The Master. Rage took hold in him as they planned. No one had ever withstood his Power for so long! He hurled chunks of concrete at them followed by Black Talons, relentless in his attacks; yet they withstood him. Darren deflected the concrete, or if it was in small enough pieces, he changed their path sending them back at The Master. He teleported fragments high above, using Pat’s Understanding to see the trajectory back towards The Master, pelting him from above. They hurt him repeatedly, but the Curse restored him as quickly as any damage was done. They used every shred of knowledge and experience the doctor shared with them on how to use their Powers to full effect with minimal effort. They deflected attacks, rather than blocking them, Understanding exactly how much force was needed and at what angle, whether it was physical or magical. Pat’s Avatar allowed them to see the Laws of Physics and the relationships between everything. They faced The Master’s brutal, savage strength with staunch precision and training; they met his Darkness with their Light. On every level they equaled him, but could not overcome him. Their forms were grace in motion as Heaven and the High Hosts witnessed their bravery and glory. Their handsome faces shone with the Brightness of their Souls; serene and confident, they were what they needed to be for Drew. They sweated and breathed heavily, but did not tire, drawing oxygen through their Core energy center to fuel their bodies. The grueling training Ken put them through over the years paid off. The Mentalists kept up the Psychic and Spiritual pressure as they assisted the Bodies, maintaining their Shields and attacking The Master on all fronts, not giving him any reprieve. They played the game of cat and mouse, not knowing how long it would take Drew and Henry to accomplish their goal. It didn’t matter; they would be what they needed to be for as long as necessary, confident in their training and Powers. The Master’s Psyche Holding Drew’s Hand, Henry followed the Wolf-Spirit. He knew getting out of the house wasn’t going to be as simple as walking out the back door. She led them inwards and down to the places where the Darkest Magics and evil rituals were performed. They resided in The Master’s recent memory and witnessed what was foremost in his conscious and unconscious Mind. Henry worried about Drew seeing something that might freak him out, but remembered the atrocities his son had been subjected too, not only in his own life but across the ages. Many of the incarnations within him were insane from abuse they suffered while alive, and Drew remembered much of his past lives after interacting with the Stone. Regardless of what his son had seen, Henry didn’t want to subject him to any of what they were most likely going to see. The unfairness of it all broke Henry’s heart, and he tried to be a buffer against the hurt in his son. They were Linked enough for Drew to feel Henry’s surge of protectiveness, and Drew, in the adult-like manner he sometimes exhibited, squeezed Henry’s hand and whispered, “It’s okay, Daddy.” Henry’s breath caught at Drew’s words, and his eyes watered. No, it’s not alright! It wouldn’t be alright until everything was behind them and Drew could live a normal life! The life every six-year-old boy should live! Henry quelled his anger, instead choosing to remember how grateful he was to have such a wonderful little boy in his life who loved him. He had no idea how Drew overcame everything to be who and what he was, and Henry didn’t realize how much he was responsible for much of it; easily as much, if not more, than Ken and Brad and his Brothers. Not wanting to get too serious Henry smiled, and with a wink ruffled Drew’s hair. His action got him the grin he wanted, and they continued to move slowly and cautiously, not knowing what to expect. The Mind of a being as old and Powerful as The Master was a dangerous place, and his unconscious Mind would react if they weren’t careful. The Wolf-Spirit said there would be traps and triggers placed as protection against psychic attacks. They bypassed most of those by already being in his psyche, but there were sure to be some. Henry stopped when a deep guttural growl came from the Wolf-Spirit. The temperature dropped to icy cold in a matter of seconds, and her breath steamed when it came out of her muzzle. Her eyes glowed in the dim light of the hallway as her hackles rose. The entrance to Master’s Throne Room stood just ahead, and they were wary. The Wolf-Spirit led them, and Henry brought up the rear, keeping Drew between them. Drew remained calm in the wake of Henry’s fearless determination and unshakable presence, as they made their way to the open doorway. The acrid stench of blood hit them as they approached the threshold of the room. Drew, if anything happens, stay close to me, honey. Don’t run unless I tell you to. After a short pause, Henry reasserted: I’m right here, Tiger. Henry’s fatherly instincts told him what Drew needed to hear. They were deeply Linked but not merged, and Henry increased his presence around Drew. Cautiously, they entered the room. It was dark, the smell overpowering, and they knew immediately they weren’t alone. Shades of Souls The Master consumed, many his own servants, were trapped in the room of their demise. For decades in that house, The Master killed countless adults and children, even animals, devouring their Souls and Spirits to fuel his Dark Magic. The entities that remained were like the incarnations in Drew, real but not real. They were trapped in the place where they died as part of The Master’s memories and sensed the warmth and Life in Henry and Drew. They yearned for that warmth, instinctively wanting it as though it could ease the pain of their horrific existence. They were insane, driven to such a state by constant torture in The Master’s Mind. Their cold, frozen Souls hungered for the Light and warmth of Henry and Drew and swarmed toward them like moths to a flame as soon as they crossed the threshold. Instinctively, Henry slowed his perception of time, taking Drew with him. Surprisingly the Wolf-Spirit stayed with them. Henry wasn’t sure how she did it but was surprised and pleased she was able to do so. Drew’s initial terror ran through the Link as the Shades rushed towards them. He didn’t like scary movies, and the place they were in was far worse than any movie Hollywood could ever think of producing. The sight of the Shades was horrible enough with their outward forms exhibiting the torture of their Souls, but Drew and Henry sensed the hunger in them, and their desperate yearning to feel alive again even for the briefest of moments. Don’t be afraid, Drew! We won’t let them get you! Be brave, honey! In that place, the shades had physical form. They were strong, many of them Protectors and ‘suits’ whom The Master had killed, but his victims knew no bounds and Henry was sure some of them were from The Order. He recognized several faces from his time of forced servitude. Angelo, the ‘suit’ who kept Henry’s Mind imprisoned was among them. Henry’s Shields strengthened, flaring brightly, and Drew added his own Power to his dad’s. The Wolf-Spirit Howled, causing the Shades pain and slowing their advance. Henry moved forward, inhumanly fast, keeping himself between the Shades and his son, and as he promised none of them came close to Drew. Henry used every bit of his skill and training, and he was a whirlwind. Henry’s Power wasn’t only Physical; his Spirit shone bright, and with Drew’s support their combined might decimated the creatures. The Shades they didn’t engage, the Wolf-Spirit savagely ripped and tore apart. Seeing her ferocity, Henry was grateful the shades didn’t bleed. The white lock in Henry’s hair practically glowed in the dark room. Henry grunted, much like Bryan, when shades he and the Wolf-Spirit ripped apart begin to reform. Well, that sucks. Free them with your Light. It is stronger in you than ever before. You and the cub together can free them from the torment of this place. It will alert The Master of our presence, but there is no other way forward. When Brad and his Brothers Opened Henry’s Mind and Heart making him an Original Man, he remembered Albrecht telling him his Heart would be the weakest of his three Sources. Since that time, through his sacrifices for Drew, even dying and meeting God face to face, Henry’s Heart grew in unimaginable ways. It had to expand to encompass the Love he held for Drew and his Brothers and the thousands of incarnations residing in his son. Ken and Brad and his Brothers filled him with their Light over and over, holding him up and supporting him, and his Heart, like a sponge, absorbed it all. Similar to how their capacities stretched, Henry’s did as well. Through his exposure to them and his own experiences, his Heart had grown. He grinned, knowing Lane would have a smartass comment to make, and he clearly heard Lane’s voice in his Mind. And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say, Henry’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then, the true meaning of Christmas came through, and Henry found the strength of ten Henry’s, plus two! His eyes watered at the thought of Lane and the guys, of how much they meant to him and Drew and what they sacrificed and continued to do, even at the moment they were in, to make everything possible. Perhaps his Mind and Heart used Lane’s voice to send him the epiphany, but Henry truly was much more powerful than when they first Opened his Mind and Heart. When Taliesin sacrificed himself to save Drew, Henry had the strength to hold his Brothers up when they needed him, and in reflection he realized how much he had grown into himself. He wasn’t a Nephilim, but he was a father and an Original Man, fighting to Protect and save his son. He realized in his training emotional strength was just as important as physical in the Battle over humankind. He also recognized the truth behind what Albrecht, Aaron, and the guys taught him; Unconditional Love was the Heart and Strength of their Power. Drew, merge with me, Tiger. Let’s show these guys what we can do. Henry didn’t have to pull Drew in. Drew practically threw himself into his dad. He wanted to be in Henry’s Heart. where he was loved. Drew was the second oldest human Soul in existence and Powerful in his own right. He trained with Aaron Thomas and Albrecht, and Brad and Ken and his uncles. The constant love and support they showed him made him even stronger, fueling his Compassion and healing his Soul to the point where he was able to understand his brother’s plight and forgive him for killing him that first time all those years ago. Drew dove into Henry and their Centering Flames merged. Together, as father and son, they became One and the Light of their Souls reflected the Love they had for each other. Both of them were broken before they met the guys, but now they were whole and knew what it was like to both love and be loved unconditionally. Henry sank into the feeling, breathing it in and letting it fill him up, and their merged Souls shone like a star inside The Master’s Dark Mind. The white lock of hair on his head shone as the Shades burned up from the combined might of their Shields. Suddenly the room was warm, and the Shades gone. Never in eighty thousand years had a Light so bright shone inside The Master’s Mind. Never, in eighty thousand years had The Master felt so much pain as his brother’s Soul, combined with Henry’s, burned into him from inside his own Mind. Henry grinned again, knowing Lane would find some way to make a Tolkien reference out of what he and Drew just accomplished. I swear if we make it out of here alive, I’m going to read the books just so I can understand Lane’s references. The Physical Realm – Waffle House Parking Lot In the midst of the fight, The Master unexpectedly stumbled, clutching his head and screaming in pain, and for a brief moment the black nimbus faded. They saw his eyes, the same color as Drew’s, and his ruddy skin, his pronounced forehead, high cheekbones, and his crooked sharp yellow teeth. His eyes expressed shock, and then immediately narrowed in understanding, as he realized where Drew and Henry were! “HOW!?” The Master shook his head, and the smoky nimbus returned over his face. Ken exclaimed, “Fuck! Now I know why you keep that ugly mug of yours covered up!” The Master spoke, but his words were directed at Henry and Drew, “I don’t know how you can be in my Mind, but now I know you are there, I will destroy you!” Ken smirked, wanting to keep The Master focused on them. “I told ya you aren’t destroyin’ anybody! You keep sayin’ it, and it keeps not happenin’! You’re just a big, ugly, red pussy! Hey, while you’re busy not destroyin’ anybody, can you do anythin’ about the smell?” What Németh accomplished had never been done before. Henry and Drew being physically present The Master’s psyche was uncharted territory. If The Master slowed his perception of Time he could focus on Drew and Henry, and Ken knew they couldn’t let that happen. B! Guys! On it, Ken! The fight up to that point had taken place in the Physical Realm, but Brad and the Mentalists, backed by their Brothers, took the fight to The Master in the Spiritual and Mental Realms. They had to keep him occupied and distracted so he couldn’t focus on Drew and Henry. They had never fought from the place where their Souls were One. It was always a place of peace and refuge for them; a sanctuary. It was another Paradox of their Nephilim heritage; they were so Deep inside one another Time stopped, yet they attacked The Master. Thick White ropes of Power arced out of Brad and the other Mentalists striking The Master’s shields. The Darkness around him seemed impenetrable, yet the force of their attacks caused him considerable pain. Their offense did exactly what was needed, and The Master came back to himself as his feet left the ground and he was thrown back against one of the large metal dumpsters in the parking lot. They needed to keep The Master off his feet and focused on fighting them. Brad and the Mentalists stayed on the offensive, not allowing The Master to focus on Henry and Drew. If he did, Brad and the Mentalists were ready and forced him back up. Ken saw an old ivy-covered telephone poll at the rear of the parking lot that had no power lines or transformers attached, and an idea came to mind. Hey Dar! Darren saw in Ken’s Mind what he wanted. Darren’s dimples appeared at the idea. You got it! Darren sliced through the pole with little effort, honing his telekinetic force down to the width of a few molecules. The pole divided into three even pieces and each teleported into the hands of Ken, Rick, and Kevin. Batter up! With inhuman speed Ken leapt, twisting his body mid-air, avoiding the clawed hand swiping at him, and as he landed he swung the pole with all his strength right into the stomach of The Master, sending his immense body up in the air, only to have Kevin swat him again before he landed. Rick followed up, and they juggled The Master in a three-way aerial beat down. The fight became visibly stuttered as they altered their perceptions of Time, speeding up or slowing down to maximize their efforts and coordination. They exhibited perfect control of every move, every act, and every motion, even their breathing was precise and efficiently planned, coordinated through Brad and executed by all of them. They pushed every button they could to infuriate The Master, embarrassing him, teasing him, and mocking him, intuitively knowing what would dig the deepest. Brad deduced, after numerous discussions with the doctor and Albrecht over the last few years, that while The Master was borderline brilliant and incredibly knowledgeable, he was still a primitive man, and the Curse kept him in that state. The Curse did not hamper his intellectual capacity, but his basic physiological and emotional makeup were locked into his genetic code, and he was still hard-wired as a ‘primitive’ man compared to a modern human. They spoke at length about the nature of the Curse, after thousands of years of study and research. The Master was born as the first Original Man and was still in that state, Immortal aside from the Curse. But by the nature of the Curse and the interference of The Dark One, he was isolated and alone. Much like Luke isolated Orophir to control him, he did so with The Master as well. Long ago, the doctor realized Immortality was a dual-edged sword, which is what inspired the concept of splitting a Soul with another human to make the years bearable. The Master had been alive forty times as long as the doctor or Albrecht, and in all that time he was alone and unloved while being manipulated and isolated by Luke. The effects on his psyche were horrible and made what happened to Taliesin look minor in comparison. Brad and the other Mentalists took that knowledge, discussed it at length, and incorporated it into various strategies. Thus, Ken knew how to make his insults more effective. They took no pleasure in taunting the creature they saw as pitiful, who had little chance to be anything other than what he was. His life was a tragedy, yet he was also the closest thing to pure evil besides The Dark One, and they had to do whatever necessary to stop him, even if it dug at their Hearts. The words of Ken and the rest of the guys, their taunts and the feelings they purposefully invoked in The Master were just as much a part of their strategy as the Physical and Spiritual aspects of the fight. It was, perhaps, even more effective because the Curse couldn’t defend The Master from their words. The Master’s memories and emotions stirred, perhaps even more because Drew and Henry were inside him and delving into those areas of his Mind. When he was a small boy, The Master had been maltreated and hurt by the male tribal leader who sired him. His treatment at the hands of the Team, abominations in his Mind, brought back the terror of being hurt and out of control. The Dark One, as a voice in his young Mind, vowed he would never be hurt or afraid again, and promised him complete and ultimate Power and Authority over the Physical Realm! The fact that his brother, whom he considered inconsequential, and the New Warriors of The Order, his inferiors, were causing him embarrassment as well as pain was inconceivable, and drove him to embrace his primitive rage; the rage that drove him to kill his brother the first time. His arrogance, of who and what he was, would not permit him to be mauled or treated in such a manner! His jealousy of their perfection added to the sting and the well of rage inside him, and his emotions fed into the Curse. In essence, he cracked, just as they wanted him too. HE was the FIRST Soul! HE ruled the Physical Realm! They should BOW to HIM! He was their MASTER! Brad’s Intuition, boosted by the Avatars of his Brothers, warned him. They were One, and his awareness was theirs. Lane felt it too, on the other side of the planet. Something was about to happen, and his gut ran icy cold. The Dark nimbus surrounding The Master spread out, covering them. Ken yelled: Dar, get us outta here! Darren’s Avatar flared under the Kevlar on his muscled shoulder… and nothing happened. The dark shroud of The Master’s Power held them, blocking Darren from teleporting them to safety! Darren: Fuck! He’s blocking me! Something terrible was about to happen; the Intuition of Brad and the other Mentalists sent a signal so intense they felt it physically. They also felt a brief conflict in Loy, but his decision was made as soon as the thought formed in his Mind. His eyes flashed White, and his Avatar glowed so brightly under his Kevlar it became visible. He sent his Call across the Spiritual Realm – Come! His Will was in the Command, and the Spirits would come to his bidding even if it meant their demise. He only wanted to use the Spirits in a direct attack as a last resort. However, his Intuition told him whatever was about to happen was extreme, and the fight needed to continue. Many Spirits were already present as he and his Brothers drew from their strength, but his call went across all Realms. As they trained themselves to do, all attacks immediately stopped, and they diverted every bit of Power to their Shields. This time, however, they were not enough. The Curse, fully invoked and backed by The Master’s rage, driven to near insanity, was too much. They knew The Master was Powerful. His Soul was the oldest and strongest in existence, and he had tens of thousands of years to hone his powers under the tutelage of The Dark One. Those qualities alone made him formidable. They had a glimpse through the Blood Curse that almost killed Ken of the strength of the Curse, but they had no idea how powerful the Curse was in and of itself. What they couldn’t account for, even though they were prepared, was how strong and deep it ran. Its Power ran back to the beginning of Time, before Creation, and even held God’s original plan at bay. The Master’s scream shook the area and would have shattered the glass of the Waffle House windows if God had not prevented it. The Black explosion of Power that erupted out of him ripped through their Shields, shattering them, sending all eight of them flying back, unconscious. He drove the Darkness of the Curse into them, covering them with a Shroud so they could not recover. As the echoes of his scream faded, an eerie silence followed. In the aftermath of his effort, The Master stood still, his chest heaving, recovering from the eruption of Power. He shook his head, attempting to regain a semblance of clarity to his thoughts, but the rage would not let go. He saw Ken on the ground, helpless. He lumbered forward, almost stumbling, the pavement rumbling with each step. He looked at Ken’s handsome face and perfect form, prone at his feet, defenseless. Ken’s perfection was difficult to look at, and The Master’s anger surged back almost the point of losing control again. His lips pulled back savagely over his crooked yellow teeth, and he hissed, spitting his hatred at the Leader of the New Order. The Master reached down and picked Ken up by his neck as if he weighed nothing. Ken’s 400-lb. body hung limp, dangling helplessly. The Master pulled Ken close enough his hair moved with the force of The Master’s breath as he spoke. “I told you I would destroy you, yet you still came against me. You have plagued me for the last four years. Your existence is an abomination. With your death, my reign on the Physical Realm will be supreme and uncontested as I was promised. I have longed for this moment, and it is sweeter than I imagined. Die, Ken Habersham, Leader of the New Order. With your death, The Order, Old and New, dies too. The flesh of your Avatars will adorn my new Throne, evidence of the finality of your downfall, proof for eternity that there is no Hope of opposing me.” Lula, Frank, and the Birdman heard The Master’s words as his voice echoed throughout the Physical Realm. As his words fell silent, the only sound remaining was his harsh, raspy breathing. Then a clear and distinct ‘crack’ was heard across the globe and all through the Heavens as Ken’s neck snapped in The Master’s clawed hand. It wasn’t just his bones breaking, The Master drove his Darkness and Hate into the act, invoking the Curse, making the wounds impossible to Heal. His Darkness drove a wedge into Ken, extinguishing his Light. The hope of the world died in that instant. The Master threw Ken’s body down with all his might, breaking him even further. He savagely stomped on him, roaring his primal, savage dominance as he did so. Breathing heavy, he stopped and looked at the remaining Warriors, sprawled about and helpless. Under the black nimbus covering his face, his lips pulled back in a smile. Turning, he reached for Kevin, who was the next closest. He would kill them one by one. The Valley of Yggdrasil The destruction of the Valley gnawed at Bryan as the Demon’s uprooted and burned everything within their reach. The animals barely slowed them down, sacrificing themselves to little effect. Lane was inside the animals, and through his Avatar it was as if his own Soul and Body were being savagely ripped apart. Lane, go! I’ll hold here! The animals aren’t enough. Go stop those fuckers! I can’t leave you, Bry! You have to! I’ll hold here, Little Buddy. Those Demons will tear the Valley apart if we don’t stop them! I love you, Bry! I’ll be back! Lane slowed his perception of Time to collect himself. Momentary anxiety over leaving Bryan struck him, but he quickly compartmentalized it as he was trained to do. His SEAL training was as much a part of him as everything else. He took a deep breath, focusing himself, and recited his usual mantra. Don’t be a wus, Lane! Think, dumbass think! His tried and true intonation worked, and his Avatar glowed brightly. Lane looked through the eyes of the closest animal and vanished, using its eyes to teleport to the Demon it fought. Lane came in hot, filled with Power from the Music of Bryan’s Soul and all the other sources available to him, his movements efficient and precise. There was no banter, his face was grim, and his usual mischievous grin absent. He steeled himself and became what he needed to be; Ken’s hands were on his shoulders and back, along with his Brothers’ in Atlanta as they fought The Master. The Demons were powerful, fallen Angels from Heaven, sundered from Home, their Power now rooted in Darkness and Evil. Lane’s Shields flared bright, and he honed his White ropes of Power razor-sharp, shredding the Demon in front of him, ending its existence and sending it into oblivion. His attack was authoritative and swift, without mercy. He was visible for less than a few seconds before he vanished again. His efforts were methodical and calculating, staying down in Time to allow him the chance to look through the eyes of the animals and determine his next target. Fuck! Loy makes this look easy! It makes me cross-eyed! He was drenched in sweat from his efforts, and after vanquishing five Demons he had to slow down and recover. Even though it would mean more damage and loss of life, he would not compromise himself by overextending and being impatient. During his brief respite, he allowed his conscious focus to look towards Atlanta. He grinned to himself when Ken called for Darren to cut up the telephone pole, watching through their eyes in the back of his Mind as they swatted The Master around like a woofer ball. Suddenly Lane felt the same sense of impending wrongness as Brad and the others, and he heard Ken’s voice from across the planet. Dar! Get us outta here! Lane’s Avatar synchronized with theirs as Darren tried to teleport them to safety, but it didn’t work. Fuck! He’s blocking me! Lane felt the shock against their Shields as The Master, enraged to the point of insanity, hit them with the full Power of the Curse. Lane was with them as their Shields shattered and their conscious Minds went quiet. He felt the blanket of Darkness cover them, and his stomach lurched as they were severed from the Link. Immediately, their shared Power lessened and Bryan dropped to his knees with a groan. His face turned purple with the strain, and the veins in his neck distended, ready to burst. Lane’s eyes turned White, and his Avatar glowed. The Vision of Ken’s body dangling helplessly in The Master’s clawed fist filled Lane’s Mind, and his voice echoed throughout the Physical Realm. “I told you I would destroy you, yet you still came against me. You have plagued me for the last four years. Your existence is an abomination. With your death, my reign on the Physical Realm will be supreme and uncontested. I have longed for this moment, and it is sweeter than I imagined. Die, Ken Habersham; Leader of the New Order. With your death, The Order, Old and New, dies too. The flesh of your Avatars will adorn my new Throne, evidence of the finality of your downfall, proof for eternity that there is no Hope of opposing me.” Lane watched The Master snap Ken’s neck and heard the crack that followed. He felt it in his Soul. He saw the wedge of Darkness driven into Ken, extinguishing his Light, and the shroud covering his Brothers keeping them from being Healed. Lanes eyes flooded with tears of disbelief at the implication of what he witnessed. It was as if his own neck snapped. He and Bryan both stumbled at the realization of Ken’s death, and their Hearts sank in their chests. NO! The Master hurled Ken’s body to the ground, stomping on it. The image of Ken, his Brother, dead at The Master’s feet nearly incapacitated Lane. He had seen the image before… in a Dream The Master sent him when his Avatar was first Awakening. The scene wasn’t exactly the same, but it was similar enough. Another image he saw in that Dream was Bryan, impaled on the charred and burning stump of Yggdrasil. He suddenly felt an overwhelming urgency to get back to his husband. Frustration and anger mixed with the other emotions raging inside him. He took the Gift from Taliesin to change the outcome! He did everything he could to alter events! This should not be happening! The devastation in Lane and Bryan was incapacitating. One of their Brothers, whose Soul they so often lived in, was just ripped away. They knew the possibility of any of them dying existed, but they always avoided death and managed to come out on top of things. They weren’t cocky, but they were confident in themselves and their abilities and the suddenness of the loss caught them off guard. Emotions hit and hit hard. They were soldiers, trained and battle-hardened, but they were also men and much more than human. Their capacity for love, as well as pain, was much higher than when they started the Program, and the emptiness in them and the thought of what Ken’s absence would do to Brad as well as the rest of them stunned both men. It wasn’t possible! Lane quickly realized his thoughts about Brad were irrelevant. The rest of the Team was unconscious and defenseless, and would all be dead in a matter of seconds. Brad would be gone just like Ken, their Light extinguished from the world. The Master would consume their Souls, and they would be gone, and Uriel would be unable to take them Home. The Will behind the Black Vortex sensed their weakening and pushed harder. Lane appeared beside Bryan, yet the conflict inside him at the decision he faced was unbearable. If he teleported to Atlanta to try to save his Brothers, Bryan would fall. If he stayed, he and Bryan had a chance to preserve the Valley and save the Tree, but it would cost them the lives of their Brothers. His mind was numb with the decision and with Time standing still the pain was constant and consuming. How could Ken be dead? Lane’s own Power diminished with the sorrow that his Brother who was so much a part of him was gone and the rest of his Brothers soon to follow. His heart wailed, and he fell to his knees as he wrapped his arms around Bryan. Lane remembered when he chose to die to save Bryan in Taliesin’s Construct and how that decision turned out to be the wrong one. Bryan wouldn’t have been able to survive without him. Comprehension dawned that everything they worked towards was now over. Lane chose to stay with Bryan, as his heart broke over what he knew was about to happen. He waited for the next sound, futilely trying to brace himself as The Master reached for Kevin. <><> Bryan's eyes widened, and he screamed when Ken’s neck snapped. They were One, and it was as though it happened to him, except it broke his Heart as well. Ken, his Brother, such an integral part of him, was suddenly gone. His own Power diminished as his Brothers were severed from the Link, and he fell to one knee at the sudden massive increase in pain and pressure. His agony over Ken was every bit as Soul-crushing as when Lane died inside Taliesin’s Construct. The tears were so thick his vision blurred, and grief covered his handsome face. You can’t be gone, you fucker! You can’t! Bryan tried to dig deeper within himself amidst the pain, but his heart wasn’t in it. Without Ken, their Avatars couldn’t be completed. Regardless of Drew and Henry’s success, without Ken they couldn’t remove the Curse from Mankind even if they managed to kill The Master. Lane appeared by Bryan’s side and fell to his knees sobbing. He clung to Bryan, immersing himself in his lover, trying to give and receive comfort and share their grief. Defeat was never an option, and Ken’s optimism and faith in them never wavered. Now he was gone, and they faltered for the briefest of seconds. With desperate strength, Lane held Bryan as they struggled to compartmentalize their grief. This time it didn’t work. When they were SEALS, still human and Unawake, they learned to do that, but over years of living in one another and becoming so much a part of one another… this time they just couldn’t do it. Their bonds ran too deep. Ken’s absence in their lives was unthinkable, and the rest of their Brothers were about to follow. His face red and eyes filled with tears, Bryan raised his face and screamed to the heavens. FUCK! The seething Blackness, driven by the Will of countless Dark Servants, sensed Bryan’s weakness and struck again with its full might. Four years ago, The Enemy’s first attempt to kill the abominations failed, but now their leader was dead, and the Enemy knew their chance to defeat The Order once and for all was upon them. One massive Black rope whipped back, a clawed Talon forming at its tip, and struck Bryan directly in his chest. Their Shields shattered, and the column of Darkness impaled itself through Bryan and Lane. Bryan’s eyes went wide in shock and surprise as he looked down at the gaping hole in his chest, glowing with a black nimbus. Lane was fully merged with Bryan as the Black spear went through their Bodies and their Souls. His eyes went wide in disbelief as the realization hit him they failed and were going to die too. Still on his knees, Lane buried his face in the small of Bryan’s back, unable to grasp what just happened. Blood trickled from Bryan’s mouth. Handsome, gentle Bryan, the man he loved more than anything, was dying in his arms within seconds of losing Ken. All of them were about to be gone forever, obliterated by The Enemy. The Black rope split in two and started to lift Bryan up to fling him about, but Lane sliced through it with his dwindling strength. Without the Black rope supporting him, Bryan fell on the roots of the Tree, taking Lane down with him. Again, the image was similar to Lane’s Dream; not identical, but close enough. Lane did everything possible to divert events from that conclusion, yet it was coming true regardless! The brunt of their failure rested on his shoulders, and his Soul cried for Bryan and Ken and the rest of his Brothers who would surely be dead in moments. His thoughts turned to Drew and Henry, their last hope to break the Curse, praying for their survival. The Dark Cloud sensed its victory and pulled back to coordinate one final attack on the Tree and destroy it along with the two abominations defending it. Bryan’s Soul was weakening rapidly, the Music inside his husband fading as Lane Listened. Lane went down in himself and took Bryan with him, appearing naked to each other where their Souls were One. They were together with Bryan’s head cradled in his lap, the gaping hole visible in his chest. Bryan was so weak he could barely take Lane’s hands. Lane was scarcely conscious, the same wound in his chest, as the last of his Light faded. He used what strength he had to hold Bryan as they looked into each other’s eyes, One being, their sorrow and remorse over everything overtaking them. Lane’s tears spilled, mixing with Bryan’s, as he looked at his husband. Bryan’s deep, gravelly voice was barely audible. “I…Love... you… Lane. I’m ...sorry.” Lane’s tears were so thick he could barely see, and his throat so tight he couldn’t form words. He actually laughed in his Mind, and a grin crossed his face at his throat closing so tightly; everyone teased Ken about his inability to talk when he got emotional. Lane’s grin faded as his wounds overtook him, and his vision began to darken. Lane didn’t have the strength to hug Bryan, but he wanted to feel their bodies touching one last time. He drew strength simply by holding Bryan and loving him so much. Everything went still in the Time between breaths where he and his husband were dying together. He went quiet, straining to Listen and hear the last heartbeats of his husband. Lanes heart was with his Brothers as well, unconscious in Atlanta. They tried! They tried so hard! Hopefully, Henry and Drew would succeed, and the doctor could figure out some way to carry on the Program. The place where their Souls were One began to dim as they started to slip away. This time Uriel could take them to Heaven together, yet both men wondered how, even in Heaven, they could ever find happiness and contentment without their Brothers. The Eschphene High Temple – Beyond the Pale Németh carefully observed the Nexus of Balance in the Eschphene High Temple. Balance and Equilibrium were the Province of his People and being their Leader, he followed events leading up to the Conflict, attuned through the High Temple to everything transpiring. He ambled slowly through the mystical representation of Creation floating in the air around him, observing everything. He followed the myriad intricate threads and knew who and what each one represented. He saw Drew and Henry and the Wolf-Spirit inside The Master’s Psyche. His own Magic made that possible, and he sent a silent prayer to the Balance the boy would be successful. He was surprised to see the bright threads of the Hybrid Nephilim, the brightest of any he had ever seen, brighter even than the Archangels who sired them. They were typically hidden from him, but with the culmination of events their threads were too bright to hide. He saw The Master and all his servants, especially the massive Vortex of intertwined Darkness as Bryan and Lane fended them off in the Valley of Yggdrasil. He watched Aaron and Albrecht in Atlanta, and Tag, Olive, and Raphael as they drove towards The Master. There was something attached to Tag and Olive he had never seen before and would have to ponder. They had been touched by something he was unfamiliar with it was gravely disturbing. Németh saw the Dragon, named Leroy, awake in his cave, and his heart lurched. Németh watched as Ken’s Thread snapped, and his heart lurched again. One thing he learned in all the long years of his exile was not to rush to conclusions. The ripples of the Hybrid Nephilim were so Random and far-reaching there was no way to predict any outcome. He would remain patient and wait for events to unfold, yet he still prayed for Ken Habersham. The Tapestry was brought to life by the Sigils embedded in the stone floor of the Temple. The same Temple where the human Henry Ross recently killed Németh’s last descendant, restoring his rightful place as Leader of his People. Eschphene Magic was potent, and the High Temple one of their crowning achievements. It allowed Németh to see anything related to the Balance, and as he observed all the events occurring simultaneously, he noticed minute gaps. His knowledge and wisdom ran deep, and he knew there was at least one piece still not in play. He saw a tiny gap in the threads and the frays that needed to be woven back in. The forces keeping the Balance swayed so long towards the Dark resisted with all their might. Németh’s thin lipless mouth smiled as his thoughts formed. He would patch the visible frays, not to sway the Balance in favor of the Light, but to give the Light an equal chance. He reached out and plucked the brightest of the seven tiny threads, and watched the vibrations lead back to their Source. He plucked the others, and they led back to the same place. There was something odd about two of the threads in particular. Once present, he was confident he could discern the reason. His Mind called forth Sigils to take him to the Physical Realm, and he vanished as his Magic took him to the humans whose threads he touched. Uluru, Australia Lab Everyone was on edge, gathered in the common area. Sally let everyone know they found Drew and the confrontation was happening much sooner than expected. Everyone in the Uluru base was Shielded from the Compulsion Brad sent across the world that put everyone into a deep sleep. Jacob, Guy, Nathan, Caleb, and Rich were soldiers and wanted to help. Craig stood with his older brother against Jacob’s better judgment even though he knew Craig wanted to help. However, there was no way in or out of the base except by teleportation, so they were climbing the walls. When Sally’s message arrived, Jacob called everybody into the common area of the Lab. Kelly was there with her daughter Chloe, along with everyone else. Chloe, usually a very calm and quiet infant, was fussy and irritable. Glenn Hampton and the other fathers, except Kent, didn’t hide their irritation at the sounds of the crying baby and the fact they were all pulled out of their beds. Jacob held Chloe, bouncing her in his attempt to quiet her. As Jake gathered his thoughts to speak, Glenn Hampton cut him off. “Who put you in charge, kid?” Jacob calmly handed Chloe to Kelly and turned to face Glenn, saying, “Excuse me sir, but you need to sit down and be quiet. You know what’s happening, and I think it would be safer if we all stay together. We have no idea what to expect, good or bad, and we need to be ready for anything.” Glenn puffed up like a rooster, wanting to assert his dominance. Rich sighed and said, “God, dad, give it a rest. Jake’s right, we need to stay together until we figure out what’s going on.” “I’m not taking orders from a snot-nosed punk!” Kent saw red and was about to tear into his old friend, but before he could say anything Rich shot back, “How about you do it because it makes sense, dad?” Glenn, incensed his son who used to be a total pushover was standing up to him and embarrassing him in from of his friends, grabbed Rich by his shirt collar and yelled, “Don’t talk back to me!” The next thing Glenn knew his face was pressed down on the kitchen table with his arm painfully twisted behind his back. “You’re never touching me like that again, dad. You’re a total dick.” Rich glanced at the other fathers, “All of you are, except for Mr. Peterson. You know what we’re involved in. If something goes wrong, we need you to be ready, not pissing your territory. Now do as Jake says, or I’ll kick all your sorry asses.” Jake stifled his initial “Oh shit!” at Rich’s action, and almost laughed. He winked at his friend and nodded. Glenn’s face was purple, and he screamed, “Let me go!” Rich asked, “Are you going to behave?” Rich gave an additional twist of his dad’s arm, and Glenn practically spit out, “Alright! Alright!” Rich let him go, backing off quickly and ready for any retaliation on his father’s part, but Glenn was too overweight and out of shape to do anything but pant and sit down. His hair was disheveled, his eyes full of rage and embarrassment, and he wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone. Before tempers escalated any further, they were all shocked when Craig let out a yelp of surprise as Németh plucked his string. Kent Peterson shuddered and groaned too, doubling over like he had been punched in the stomach. Jacob, Caleb, Guy, Nathan, and Rich felt it to a much smaller extent. They all looked at each other with surprise and not a little fear in their eyes. Before any of them could say a word one of the mothers screamed, pointing towards the gymnasium doors. None of them were prepared to see the massive form of Németh crouched over to fit in the room. The Lab – Atlanta, GA Aaron and Albrecht were tense. The event of their lifetimes, the final confrontation with The Master was at hand. Their adoptive sons, born to finish that fight, disappeared moments ago from the gym to confront The Master in an unwinnable fight. There were many reasons why Aaron and Albrecht never fully merged with their young charges. Both men had done things they were ashamed of in the thousands of years of their lifetimes, but that wasn’t the main reason. Both men garnered certain arcane knowledge they didn’t want their adoptive sons exposed to. It was inevitable in the fight against Evil that they would learn much that scarred their Souls. “Know thy Enemy” was a phrase often used, but not necessarily wise when dealing with pure Evil. Aaron and Albrecht knew the power of the Curse and how far-reaching it was, altering the foundation of Creation and holding God’s original plan at bay. That was what their sons were up against. Aaron’s original Plan to implement New Warriors of The Order had been hijacked by the Archangels of the Higher Order, and only in the last few years was Aaron aware of their manipulations. The men he considered his sons, through the intervention of the Archangels, and even God as he now understood it, were far, far greater than he ever hoped they could be. He felt blessed by the men who came into his life. It might have been fate, but regardless of the tests and interviews, he knew immediately when each of them walked into his office they were the ones he sought. Even then, decades before their first Awakening when they were still fully human, there was something about them that reached out to him. It was subtle, but he learned to trust his intuition. He came to love them as his own early on, though he seldom showed it outwardly. At that time in his life, he still struggled with Albrecht’s absence, but they embraced him in their lives, wrapping him up and already affecting him. They made his life bearable in a dark time, and he came to love them even more. Just as importantly, he came to not only trust them but to trust in them and their potential. It tore at his Heart to keep information from them, but once he revealed his true purpose for recruiting them, they didn’t flinch and faced their destiny head-on with him by their side. There were still times, in the quiet of the night when Albrecht held him, he teared up over of how much he cared for them. The main reason, though, that Aaron never merged with his sons, and made Albrecht promise not too as well, was that he never wanted them to see the seed of doubt that existed in him about their ability to win. It was small and rarely in his conscious Mind, yet it was there, and he knew it could cripple their ability to succeed. Aaron hated himself for that doubt. He knew so many things they did not; in fact, he wished he could forget many things he knew. He believed in them with all his Heart, yet in the farthest corners of his Intellect, he knew what they faced; a force powerful enough to change Creation against the Will of God. He was, perhaps, the only person who truly understood the Curse and what it was. His unconscious Mind fought that doubt every second of every day, and he prayed his sons would find a way to win. In their lifetime of study and fighting the Battle against The Enemy, Aaron and Albrecht gleaned many secrets Mortals were never meant to know. Both men wore The Mantle at some point in their lives and delved into the mysteries of The Enemy. They knew how powerful the Curse was and how formidable The Master was, even without the Curse. If the Curse wasn’t in the equation, there would be no doubt of their sons’ success, but it was, and it changed everything. The secret of their Avatars, which Brad gleaned on more than one occasion, was that they would be equal ‘at the moment’ to any challenge. The Achilles Heel of that strength was ‘at the moment.’ How many moments could they maintain that level of Power and sacrifice? Even for them, as brave and stoic as they were, it seemed an impossible task. The Paradox of their existence was his final hope. He knew they could accomplish impossible things; he witnessed it repeatedly. He never wanted his seed of doubt to be planted in their Minds and Hearts about their ability to succeed, so he kept from merging with them so they would never see it in either of their mentors. We should go, Aaron. They will need us. No. As painful as it is, we should stay here. Our ways failed. They are the New Order, and it is their fight. What difference can we make? We would only hinder them. Aaron, listen to me! Perhaps our ways did fail. The Mantle and Charisa… there was Corruption, but Charisa’s faults did not stem from you! We cannot let them face The Master alone! You have studied the Curse your entire life, and even you are not sure what its Power is capable of. Their Avatars are strong, but until Drew and Henry are successful, the fight is unwinnable. Even then, we don’t know. I trust them, Aaron, more than you. We have seen them perform impossible tasks. I believe in them, and you must too. Cast the seed of doubt from your Mind once and for all. You must, or your lack of faith in them will be their undoing. Albrecht’s words were harsh and painful, and it was a discussion they often had of late. Aaron was a great man, one of the greatest who ever lived, and the world owed him a debt of gratitude it would never know. In the quiet of the night, though, when he was simply Aharon, Albrecht’s lover, he was a man with his own doubts and fears. Aaron recounted a discussion he had with Brad recently about how, even after the thousands of years he and Albrecht lived together, Albrecht managed to teach him things about himself. As usual in his self-deprecating way, Aaron wasn’t aware he had the same effect on Albrecht, and he would sometimes forget until they merged and were One, sharing everything. The love they found when Aaron split their Souls all those years ago laid the foundation for what their sons now were. Aaron wished he had merged with them, just once, to see them as they truly were. He vowed that if they survived this fight, he would do that and take the chance of them not accepting him once they saw everything in his life. You know they will, Aaron. Don’t make them less than they are. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. They are above you and I, even though they will never see themselves as such. They are greater than you and I could ever be, yet it was you who made them that way. It was your Plan, even before the interference of the Archangels, to make them so. It was your wisdom, against the wishes of Charisa and the Elders, that guided them and allowed them to grow without interference. The High Hosts might have improved on your plan, but it was your plan. You did it for a Purpose, and sacrificed your life to make it so, even to the point where Charisa mandated our separation, knowing how much pain it would cause us. As usual, when words ran dry, the two men quietly rested in each other as One. They stayed in that state more often than not, a refuge for one another, a sanctuary, where they could work everything out. They promised each other early in their relationship never to separate angry or at odds with one another. Sometimes it was difficult because they were both strong-willed and intelligent, yet they always managed to figure things out together. They were more than the sum of their individual selves, just as their sons were. That Paradox was the hope Aaron needed to have in them. Albrecht pushed Aaron to embrace that hope despite everything he knew, and believe their sons would be successful. Albrecht reminded Aaron even God acted through people more often than his Angels. We must be there for them, Aaron. You and I. It is fitting, and I think they will need us to win. Aaron sighed as his massive intellect took in his lover’s words. He knew Albrecht was right and set aside his pride and doubts. His guilt was the last thing he let go, and the hardest. He would not allow himself to be the reason his sons failed. He would not… could not fail them. He loved them too much to fail them. He remembered when he started to fear them and what they were becoming. When he first realized their potential and saw the Pattern of their Avatars emerging, doubts crept into the back of his Mind. It was Brad and Ken who showed him how groundless his fears were, and how much they loved him as a father. He saw their humility even then, and their unconditional love for him as their surrogate father. Aaron laughed deep inside himself as he recalled how Brad cast his ego and pride aside to grasp his full potential. On the day Brad and Ken were in the bank robbery, Brad had an epiphany, having to surrender and shed his ego and the pride that held him back. My sons, like Albrecht, continue to teach me. Albrecht felt the courage it took for Aaron to exorcise the seed of doubt that followed him about their inability to win. Aaron was a scientist, a mathematician; hope and intangibles were always difficult for him, even with all his spiritual and arcane knowledge. He faced the fact his sons were a Paradox, outside normal boundaries, and touched everyone and everything around them in inexplicable ways. Let us go. Albrecht smiled, and Aaron’s heart warmed as it always did. His smile altered into a smirk. I’ll drive. You drive slower than my mother. Aaron’s immediate analytical response was that cars hadn’t existed when Albrecht’s mother was alive. However, she would have most certainly driven an animal cart of some kind, most likely an Ox. That’s my point! You drive slower than an Ox cart. We will never get there in time. Albrecht continued to smirk as he grabbed the keys to one of the Suburban’s. The Physical Realm – Waffle House Parking Lot As The Master reached for Kevin, a deep-throated guttural growl echoed through the Physical and Spiritual Realms. He heard the growl in his Mind and Body and recognized it for the challenge it was. The sound gave him pause, but it was the Power behind it that stopped him. Not only was it strong, it was wild and savage… not human, and he turned to face it. He turned and saw a dog, bloody and wounded, standing defiantly and defending the unconscious Warriors. The Master looked directly into Cavall’s silver eyes and realized the dog saw through the Black nimbus surrounding him. Recognition immediately followed, and he wondered how Cavall could be present. His servants told him of the animal when they killed Taliesin, and he speculated it might be Cavall, somehow come back. A strange chill ran down The Master’s spine at the sight of the dog… too many things were happening outside his control, too much opposition he did not expect. The Balance was pushing back harder than expected. Cavall’s ears lay flat, his fangs bared and hackles high. His silver eyes saw everything, and Cavall knew who it was he faced. He saw lightning ripping through the skies, and how thin the Veil was at that moment. He saw the two Realms reacting to the Battle he was in the middle of. He saw the turbulence and vortices around The Master and what they meant. Cavall realized the creature in front of him was the Source of the Evil his masters fought against all the long years across Time. A sudden warmth spread through the hound as he heard both his Master’s voices. Delay him, Cav. You’re the only one who can, Braveheart! Fearless, Cavall knew he would most likely be reunited with his masters soon. He would give up his life to protect the Steward and his Brothers and delay the Evil before him with everything he had in him. With his silver eyes, Cavall also saw Henry and Drew inside the vile creature. Cavall still protected the boy as instructed, and he instinctively knew he had to keep the focus of The Master on him to give the boy more time. He bared his fangs at The Master in a feral smile, making his challenge clear. You must pass me to get them, Evil One. Cavall was fearless; another Defender of the Light against the Darkness. Blessed by the Angel Ariel at Raphael’s behest, he had already saved Drew so he could face his brother, fulfilling his first Purpose. Now he faced off against the Evil One himself, willingly giving himself up to complete the last command of Áedán and his beloved Steward. He had no hope of winning, but he would delay the creature as long as he drew breath and make his masters proud. The Master’s Psyche Henry knew the moment The Master became aware of them. The difference was manifest as soon as he and Drew burned up the shades, subtle but noticeable. He didn’t say anything to Drew, but Drew’s hand tightened around his. The Master’s focus was on them, searching for them. Drew squeezed his eyes shut, scrunching up his face. You don’t see us. We aren’t here. The same wave of Power Henry felt when they arrived came out of Drew. Henry squeezed his hand back in recognition of his sons’ efforts. The Master’s presence got stronger, but it seemed to move over and through them, and Henry breathed a sigh of relief. “You’re awesome, Tiger.” Henry ruffled Drew’s short hair and Drew grinned. There was a door on the far side of the Throne Room. A new sense of urgency passed through Henry, and even with the time differential, he knew they had to hurry. “Come on, let’s keep moving.” The Wolf-Spirit moved forward and sniffed at the door. She nudged it open with her muzzle, and there were stairs going down. A breeze blew through the door, bringing a smell of dampness, mold, and memories. This way. The stairs began as polished wood but soon turned to stone. The temperature dropped as they went down, and Henry had an odd sensation of going backward in Time. Waffle House, Buford Drive, Buford, GA – The Nexus of Events Ken started. Searing pain wracked his Soul as The Master hit them with the Curse… and suddenly he was seated at a table in the Waffle House on Buford Drive, surrounded by the familiar smells of his favorite greasy diner. Frank, his favorite cook, stood behind the counter at the grille. He recognized Miss Lula although she rarely waited on him. Another man he didn’t recognize sat across the table from him, but Ken knew him immediately from Henry’s description. His Ageless eyes were filled with stars and held all of Creation in them; he was Drew’s Birdman. Aside from suddenly and unexpectedly finding himself there, the scene through the window shocked Ken. He saw himself at The Master’s feet, his body crumpled, and his head turned at an impossible angle. The rest of the Team lay unconscious, scattered about the feet of The Master and covered by a Black Aura. Cavall, fangs bared and hackles high, stood between The Master and his Brothers, bravely defending them. The scene was still, paused in Time, and Ken’s stomach lurched as he remembered the agonizing pain as The Master unleashed the full Power of the Curse on them, shattering their Shields and rendering them unconscious. He saw Brad on the ground, defenseless with his Brothers and couldn’t sense any of them. He was terrified for them and reached for Brad with his Mind and Heart but felt nothing, and that scared him as much as anything. Ken’s throat closed, thick with emotion, and his eyes filled with hot tears. He put a hand on the window, wanting to be with them. His deep voice was barely discernable as he squeaked out, “Oh, God, no!” A feeling of sudden and intense desperation gnawed at his Heart. They needed him! It wasn’t conceit or cockiness on his part. They needed to be together! He needed to be there for them! The cold pressure of anxiety in the pit of his stomach at what they faced without him made him want to throw up. He sat, looking entirely out of place. His muscled frame wearing the Kevlar Assault Suit designed by the doctor, soaked in sweat and dirt from the fight, his short dark brown hair plastered to his head. His emerald green eyes were red with tears running down his handsome face at what he saw. He kept his hand on the window, trying to Will himself back into his body. “Hello, Ken.” Ken turned, his throat so tight he could barely talk. His voiced sounded pleading, “Send me back! Please… I have to go back!” “That’s not up to me, Ken. Nothing is going to happen for a while. Sit with me.” Quickly, Ken’s Mind took in his situation. He knew Uriel couldn’t take his Soul to Heaven without the half residing in Brad. However, there was nothing to prevent The Master from consuming the half in his body to make himself even stronger, and if that happened Ken would cease to exist, and he and Brad would never be together. It would most certainly cause Brad’s death as well, and his fear was more for that than his own. Ken’s handsome brow furrowed, and he quietly asked, “Who are you?” His eyes darted to Lula and Frank and widened when he saw Frank’s eyes. A look of disbelief crossed his face, and Frank grinned and winked at him. With his enhanced sight, Ken saw stars and all of Creation in them, and he whispered, “Fuck me.” He saw the same in Miss Lula’s. “You should eat, Ken. Maybe it will calm your nerves. Nothing is set in stone, and even I don’t know the outcome. I do, however, know everything that is happening. All is not lost yet.” Ken was sure he sat in the presence of God at the Waffle House, just as Henry did when he died. He couldn’t shake the thought he failed. He failed Drew and Henry, Brad and his Brothers, and the doctor and Albrecht. He failed everyone who mattered to him, and the world when he was needed most. Another voice shocked Ken back to himself. “Hey, fucker!” He turned to see his brother walking towards him. “Rich?!” Ken flew out of the booth and grabbed his brother, burying his face in Richard’s shoulder as the two men hugged. Ken squeezed his brother as tightly as he dared. Rich’s big arms wrapped around Ken, clapping him on the back as he said, “That’s Dick to you, hombre!” Rich held him for a minute, hugging him back, knowing the emotional turmoil Ken was going through. There were tears in Rich’s eyes as well while he held his younger brother. Rich released the hug. Taking Ken by his shoulders and holding him at arm’s length, he said, “Fuck, let me look at you. God, what a stud! And still better lookin’ than me!” Rich glanced down at the man in the booth and said, “Sorry!” Ken’s eyes were bloodshot, and his cheeks were wet with hot tears and his own sweat. Ken started to stammer, “I failed, Rich. I… I don’t…” “Shut it punk. You haven’t failed shit! Not yet, anyhow. I’ve been watchin.’ You didn’t have a chance to stop what happened. The Curse… it’s too strong. The kid and his dad need to do their thing, and then you can kick the hairy guy’s ass.” “But I’m here…” “I got no idea how that’s gonna work little bro, but you got a badass guy out there and all your fuck-up Brothers still in the game. It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings, right? Let’s grab some chow and see how things play out.” Ken sat back down. Rich was right, he had to have faith in Brad and his Brothers. He had to trust them. “Mom said to tell you hello. She wasn’t allowed to be here, but I sweet-talked you-know-who into letting me come.” Ken was grateful for Rich being there; his brother calmed him down, just as Brad would have. Rich reached across the table and lightly smacked Ken on the cheek. “Suck it up. I didn’t come all this way to eat by myself, plus I wanna see what all the fuss is about these hash browns.” Ken took a deep breath, forcing his anxiety down. It was hard. He missed Brad’s presence, and his Brothers’; he was never really alone anymore, and the feeling was intensely uncomfortable. However, his flesh and blood brother Rich, who was dead and in Heaven, sat across the table from him. Like so many things in his life it was impossible, yet it was real and happening. Miss Lula was done with her ‘nudges’ as far as events were concerned, but she didn’t think one more to help relieve Ken’s anxiety would hurt. It wouldn’t affect anything one way or the other. Suddenly, Ken’s stomach let out a colossal rumble of hunger. Rich’s eyes widened at the sound, and he guffawed, “Damn! That was impressive, even by my standards!’ Ken sheepishly grinned back. Maybe some hash browns wouldn’t be so bad, especially if Frank was cooking them. The Master’s Psyche The Wolf-Spirit led Henry and Drew further back through The Master’s memories. They moved down the stairway after burning up the Shades, and the temperature dropped as they descended. At some point in the darkness, the steps turned into cold, wet, slippery stone. We are fortunate. The cub hides us well, and this path circumvents many traps and will take us closer to where we must be. If not for the cub masking our scent, we would be in far more danger than we are. The Wolf-Spirit sounded pleased with herself and Drew, and Henry was more than grateful for her presence and guidance. He was also proud of Drew and made sure he knew it. Henry watched her as she guided them, occasionally stopping to sniff cautiously before continuing, and he would often feel a slight transition as she moved them in whatever manner she did, avoiding traps or other dangers. After what seemed like hours roots and vines appeared, hanging from the dark ceiling. They were wet and annoying, slapping Henry in the face and forcing him to hold an arm out to keep them at bay. Drew and the Wolf-Spirit were short enough the vines didn’t bother them. As they descended, Drew started shivering, and Henry paused to pick his son up and hold him, using his body heat as well as their combined Shields to keep the cold at bay. The place they were in was cold and damp, but there was also a cold that wanted to work its way down to their Souls. Henry zipped up Drew’s hoodie and covered his head. The fatherly care he showed his son unconsciously made Drew less afraid and love his dad all the more. A deep guttural growl suddenly echoed around them, not just in the area they were in but throughout The Master’s Mind. It was loud and shook everything, yet at the same time it bolstered their Shields. Drew recognized the growl from when Taliesin died. “Daddy! That’s Cavall!” Henry stifled his immediate thought that Cavall didn’t stand a chance against The Master. Drew would be devastated if the dog were hurt or killed. For the first time, the Wolf-Spirit’s voice held a sense of urgency as if she knew something. Follow! It seemed another hour at least before the steps came to an end, opening into a hallway. The walls and ceiling were stone, and it was filled with heavy wooden doors, many with glowing Black Runes. Faint wails and other muffled noises came from behind the doors. Henry wondered at the doors and the appearance of the place they were in. They were between The Master’s memories, guided by the Wolf-Spirit. His insight told him his Mind altered the presentation into something he could comprehend. Brad spoke of that happening when they went to the place where their Souls were One. It wasn’t an actual place, yet they perceived it as so. He didn’t focus on it, accepting it and grateful his Mind worked in his favor. As soon as Henry stepped into the hallway, a brief but intense sense of vertigo came over him. He felt as if he was falling into himself and went down to one knee. “Daddy!” Their Shields flared brighter at Drew’s emotional surge over concern for Henry. Henry tightened his grip on Drew and managed to say, “I’m okay, honey. I’ve never felt anything like that.” Where we are now is before you were born. The first such crossing is always the most difficult. It will lessen quickly and become easier each time. The Wolf-Spirit sniffed at the air, pacing back and forth a few times with her hackles partially raised. We are deeper here and further back. Behind these doors are memories he has locked away. After a short pause, her voice continued… I smell danger. It is close. Henry had no idea how the Wolf-Spirit knew where they were but trusted her implicitly. “So, we’re getting closer?” Yes, but the memory we seek will be the deepest and oldest of all, and will be protected. “Well, we knew this wasn’t going to be easy.” They started moving again, and as they passed the first few doors, the noises in the rooms became louder. There were screams of pain and suffering and even some of ecstasy. Many of the voices begged for an end to their torment, be it pleasure or pain. Like the Shades in the throne room, the Souls behind the doors sensed the Light in father and son and Drew jumped when a door thumped as whatever was inside tried to get at him. Henry turned Drew’s head against his neck and whispered in his ear, reminding him he was safe. “I’ve got you, Tiger. Nothing’s going to hurt you.” Drew’s arms tightened around Henry at his comforting words, and his dad’s rock-hard body beneath the Kevlar coupled by the Wall of his Will calmed him. Time and distance were difficult to measure, but it seemed the tunnel ran on for miles. Henry remembered Brad talking about how travel worked across the Veil; direction mattered, but distance had no meaning. They didn’t have a choice in the direction they moved in at the moment as the tunnel only went one way. A few minutes after Henry had that thought, they came to another opening. As they approached the threshold, he could tell the area beyond was a large open space. Tunnels like the one they were in lay all around the periphery, like spokes of a giant wheel, but also from above and below as they approached the center of The Master’s memories. The place reminded Henry of an Escher print as each hallway that fed into the large area was on a different plane. Be wary. There is a trap here. I smell it but cannot discern its nature. Henry immediately became more alert and set Drew down in case they needed to fight. He felt disoriented again as they moved out from the tunnel. They seemed to be walking on air, but their footing was solid even though he could see all the other hallways above and below him. He felt like he wanted to throw up from the disorientation when he heard the Wolf-Spirit’s voice. Focus on me. As soon as he did what she said his orientation settled, and after a moment he adapted to the oddity. The white lock in his hair glinted in the darkness as he discerned the nature of where they were and how to traverse it. The air was damp and there was a faint echo of dripping water, but the direction and source were indiscernible. There was no floor or ceiling, only the small lights of the hallways similar to the one they came from. As they moved further in, the tiny lights from the corridors looked like stars in a night sky. A strong smell of saltwater permeated the air, and it reminded Drew of Thomin’s Vault but much, much larger. He shivered in his hoodie, not from the cold but from the memory of his time there and his Uncle Darren’s torture. The Wolf-Spirit cautiously led them towards the center of the room. Henry gave up on trying to remember which way they came from. If they needed to backtrack, he hoped the Wolf would know the way. “Daddy, I see something.” Drew pointed ahead towards the center, and Henry saw a small stone structure about as tall as his son. The sound of dripping water became louder as they approached. It appeared to be a ring of moss-covered stones, stacked roughly in a circle, with a metal grate across the top. The entire structure was covered in a network of thick black iron chains with many large, heavy locks. It was old, and Henry felt another wave of vertigo as they moved up to it. It was the well inside The Master’s Mind… the place he shoved the memories of his brother down tens of thousands of years ago. This well is the doorway to The Master’s deepest memories and fears. All that made him human lies inside. Your journey ends once you enter that well. Drew stared at the stone structure, and Henry was surprised to see no fear in him. What Henry did see bothered him deeply. It was the same indifference Drew exhibited before he ran away, and Henry masked his reaction over what he saw. No six-year-old should ever have to deal with what Drew did, or what he had in his life up to that point. It ignited the anger in Henry once again at the injustice of it all, but he stifled his emotions. Henry walked up to the well and visually examined it. When he got to the edge, another sound mixed with the dripping water. Henry’s breath caught at the faint echoes of a child screaming. He knew without question the screams were from the first version of his son that was so brutally murdered. Drew’s words shocked Henry when he said quietly, almost to himself, “That’s me.” Henry was at a loss for words. Even with his newfound wisdom, he didn’t know what to say, so he grabbed Drew and pulled him close. Henry fought the tears that wanted to come; they were from anger as much as hearing the pain of the echoing cries. Drew, in that adult-like tone he sometimes used, hugged him back and whispered in his ear, “It’s okay, Daddy. Don’t cry.” Knowing what the sound did to his dad, Drew wanted to comfort him. It took everything Henry had to act normal. He knew if he was upset it would upset Drew, so he braced himself and became the Wall Drew needed him to be. He squeezed Drew one last time, rubbing his back, and said, “I love you, Tiger.” Drew said, “I love you too, Daddy.” Henry got up and turned to look at the well again, trying to ignore the sounds. “We know there’s a trap here, but this is the only way forward. Everyone get ready. Drew, hold on to me, honey.” Henry channeled oxygen through his Core energy center, and his body swelled slightly as his muscles were pumped full of oxygen and blood. A light sheen of sweat covered his body, and whatever skin was exposed felt the chill air. “Here goes nothing.” He grabbed the chain but pulled his hand back quickly. The black iron wasn’t just cold, it burned with the evil Will of The Master who placed the protections, chains, and locks to keep anyone from entering. Henry put on the gloves he had tucked in his belt. It would help with the cold and roughness of the chains, and his Shields would have to protect him from the Darkness. He knelt at eye level with Drew and said, “Alright kiddo, your old man needs your help again. We need to burn through these chains. You think you can help me do that?” Drew nodded his head, and his eyes turned White as he delved into Henry. They were once again together in that place where their Souls were One, naked to one another, entirely comfortable with the sharing and exposure. It was never sexual between them and always a comfort. In that place Drew instinctively climbed into Henry’s lap. He nuzzled against Henry’s warm bare torso and wrapped his little arms around Henry’s thick neck. Henry wrapped his powerful arms around his son, holding him tightly for a few seconds, resting his chin on top of Drew’s head. They breathed in each other’s essence. You ready, Tiger? Yes, Daddy. Alright, let’s do this. Henry bolstered his Shields against what he knew was coming and grabbed two of the chain links in his gloved hands. His physique swelled, and some of the Velcro bindings started to stretch. Sweat popped out on his forehead as he gritted his teeth, twisting the links apart. It was an effort, but he bore down with all his physical and Spiritual strength, augmented by his son. White Light shone around him and in his hands as he burned through the Black links. It took a few seconds but the first link snapped and dissipated into smoke. As soon as the link disappeared, sounds broke out everywhere, echoing and reverberating around the chamber. The doors in all the tunnels flew open, releasing the memories contained within. It was impossible to tell how many doors opened but based on the hallway they came through and the multitude of similar corridors, there could potentially be tens of thousands. Henry let out a ‘Fuck me’ under his breath and started breaking chains as fast as he could, but knew he would never get enough cleared before whatever was behind the doors reached them. He and Drew glowed brightly in the darkness putting forth everything they had, trying to go as fast as possible. Drew pressed against Henry’s leg as he watched the rushing tide of Shades swarming towards them. The deafening noise they made was the worst. Henry knew he wasn’t going to get the grate open in time, so he turned, putting Drew behind him, and faced the oncoming tide. Henry was shocked when the Wolf-Spirit moved through them and outside his protection. Her voice was quiet and calm in his Mind, even soothing, and he heard her through the deafening sound of the shades. Go! Take the cub and flee. You no longer need me to guide you. I will hold them and give you time. Drew shouted: No! It is the way of the pack, child. Feel no remorse for me. I love you, Drew Ross, as one of my own, and I will do what I must to keep you safe. Honor me with your success. Be brave little cub, as I know you are. Her form grew as she turned to face them. Just as she had grown in Henry’s nightmare when he fought the Eschphene Leader, she filled the chamber, and the Light of her form illuminated the eyes of the shades. Her massive jaws opened, and she spun ferociously as the first Shades reached her. Her howl, much like Cavall’s, slowed them down, and she ripped the first part of the wave to shreds. Her ferocity and Power held them at bay as Henry desperately broke links until there were enough missing to pull the chains from over the grate that capped the well. Henry cringed when he heard her yelp in pain as she was overrun. They swarmed over her and she writhed under them, clawing and biting any that came within reach. Drew was almost hysterical as he hugged Henry’s leg, his desperation clear through the strength of his grip. Drew! Come on, honey! We can’t leave her daddy! We can’t! The indifference in Drew vanished at the sight of the Wolf-Spirits plight, and his emotions were running wild. White fire shot from his hands and blazed through the Shades, obliterating the ones he hit. It gave the Wolf the respite she needed to get back on her feet. The wave inside of Drew smothered his Centering Flame, and the incarnations appeared, manifesting around him. His own rushing tide, his former lives, memories, and fragments of his Soul, flooded out of him to meet the tormented creatures bound to The Master. The Power Drew exerted was considerable, and the Wolf-Spirit’s only slightly less. Inside his Mind, The Master became aware of the fight and knew where they were. He still did not understand his own danger, but he knew where they were trying to go. He was forced to fight on two fronts, his enemies using the same tactic to separate his focus. Rage bellowed in his Mind, and Black Power filled the shades. DESTROY THEM! The Wolf-Spirit looked directly at Drew with a wolfish grin and let out a howl that shook the entire area. She called The Master’s attention to herself, as she turned to run. Henry knew what she was doing, though he wasn’t sure Drew understood her intent. The Master’s voice echoed over the din of the shades. You were foolish, Spirit. You have haunted my Dreams, and if you had stayed in that Realm you would have been safe. Now you are mine! You will pay for your insolence and interference! Without your aid, my brother and the Betrayer will have no chance! I cannot feel them yet, but once I kill the rest of the abominations, I will turn my focus inwards. Hear me, brother! I will kill you again, and this time I will eat your Soul so you can never return! Drew was frantic to save the Wolf-Spirit. He loved her as much as he loved his uncles, and it tore at his young heart, knowing she was going to die because of him. He carried the burden of the lives his Brother took because of him, Taliesin the most recent and still fresh in his Heart. Henry grabbed Drew around his waist with one arm as he kicked and screamed, and with his other he tossed the grate aside. With the well uncovered, the screams became louder and clearer. They were Drew. Henry heard them before; right after Liz died, those screams woke him up as Drew dreamed of his first death. The sounds of his son in such pain were almost more than Henry could bear, but he had no choice, and he intended to make it so his son would never have to know such torment again. The Wall inside Henry firmed as he used the emotions listening to Drew’s cries invoked in him to make it stronger. It hurt every bit as much as his own death at the hands of the Eschphene Leader, but like then, he persevered and became what he needed to be. Drew was frantic to get it to the Wolf-Spirit and help her. There was no way he could break Henry’s hold around his waist, so in his desperation Drew sent a Compulsion to the incarnations. Save her! A massive wave of Power came out of Drew. He had never called on all of his other selves at once in such a manner, but they obeyed him. Most of them were close to insane from their lifetimes of abuse, yet they loved the Wolf-Spirit as much as Drew because she brought them comfort and protected them. With the multitude of incarnations out of him, he felt empty. The tide of The Master’s memories met with the wave of Drew’s manifestations, the two fighting over the Wolf-Spirit; one trying to save her and the other destroy her. The Wolf-Spirit drew both forces away with her, further from Drew and Henry, and they quickly lost sight of her in the darkness. The horrifying sounds of her snarls and yelps grew distant, tearing at both father and son. With all his enhanced speed Henry turned and rushed to the Well and as Drew’s screams blended with the screams from the Well Henry jumped, sending them down into The Master’s deepest, darkest memory. The Physical Realm – Waffle House Parking Lot Cavall leapt, immediately on the offensive, surprising The Master and biting savagely into the flesh of his leg, gnashing while clamping down with all his strength. The Master howled more in surprise than pain and swiped a clawed hand to kill the hound. Cavall was a cunning fighter and killed many wild animals much larger and stronger than himself. Amazingly fast for a dog of his size, he was already away and positioning himself behind his opponent, ripping at his hamstrings. The Master’s left leg went out from under him when his tendons severed, and as he dropped Cavall leapt for his throat. The Master had never fought a creature like Cavall, whose teeth bit through his Dark Shields. The beast’s Power came from both sides of the Veil, its attacks potent in both, and The Master felt them. For minutes Cavall pressed The Master in a savage flurry of attacks, defending the unconscious Warriors, Brothers to his most recent Master and the Steward among them. The Curse healed The Master, but the constant barrage renewed his anger. Rage fueled his unearthly speed, and he finally caught the dog in his massive clawed hand. Cavall struggled and writhed to break free, tearing at The Master’s hand as much as he was able. They made eye contact, silver to black, and The Master knew the dog saw through his Darkness. It startled him and made him uncomfortable. One thing he absolutely detested was anyone or anything seeing him for what he was. He raised the squirming dog above his head, intending to slam him against the pavement and crush the life out of him when another sound caught his ear. He turned just in time to see a black Suburban glowing brightly with runes, racing towards him. Albrecht floored the gas pedal on the big vehicle, aiming straight for the giant form of The Master. The runes etched in the metal of the frame glowed brightly as soon as they were within proximity of The Master’s Dark Aura. The crushing impact of the multi-ton vehicle was substantial and backed by the Magic of the runes it dealt The Master a serious blow, knocking him back nearly twenty feet and onto his back. Cavall went flying and yelped as he hit the pavement, stunned but alive. Albrecht and Aaron leapt out at the last second, rolling to safety and nimbly coming to their feet. What they saw, though, shocked them to their core, confronted with Ken’s body, broken and twisted, along with the other unconscious men. The abruptness of the image, of Ken’s handsome face staring at them with his neck at the odd angle, was something they weren’t prepared for. Inside one another, the two men wailed at the scene before them. Even as they looked and the tears flowed, Ken’s Soul lifted out of his chest hovering over his body, a beautiful orb of liquid yellow light. “Oh, my son!” The whispered sound of grief in Aaron’s voice tore Albrecht’s heart. Albrecht shared Aaron’s emotion; they were One, and loved their adoptive sons with all their Heart. The warrior in Albrecht knew they could not delay pressing their attack if the other men were to have any hope of survival, and he poured their sudden emotions into their Centering Flame, fanning it white-hot. In all their long years together, Albrecht had never before seen the look that crossed Aaron’s face at that moment. It was terrifying, a mix of profound grief and anger beyond anything he had ever felt. Even when Charisa was killed by The Master, he hadn’t felt such pain. “YOU WILL PAY FOR THIS!” The Master heard Aaron’s cry in with his Mind and ears. His age-old enemy, Aaron Thomas, was at hand. He shook his head, clearing it, and smiled beneath the cloud of Darkness covering his face, baring his crooked yellow teeth. “How I have longed for this moment, Aaron Thomas. You finally dare face me! You and your lapdog priest!” Fresh lightning ripped through the skies as Aaron unleashed a Mental and Spiritual attack on The Master such as had never been seen. Aaron’s rage fueled his Centering Flame, and all his years of arcane mastery and mental disciplines were brought to bear. Ken made a comment years before about what Aaron might be capable of. His exact words were: “You’re right. But I tell ya B, I don’t think we’ve seen what the doc is capable of. My guess is if it comes down to a fight, he’s gonna be like Yoda and whip some ass like we’ve never seen.” The sheer ferocity of the doctor’s attack took The Master off guard. His Black Shields absorbed most of the attacks, but many made it through. Albrecht attacked as well, and the two-pronged engagement kept him occupied. Cavall recovered and rejoined the fray, howling and snarling, pressing against The Master’s Shield with his own Power, ferociously rending his flesh. Again, for a short time, The Master was held at bay, but Albrecht soon realized their efforts were futile. Aaron did as well, and knew they were most likely going to die with their sons. They were like ants against The Curse. Its Power was unlimited while theirs was entirely finite, and the emotional charge that fueled their initial attacks was already fading as reasoning reasserted itself. The Master stood back up and bellowed his rage, strengthening his Shields. His Blackness deepened, and their attacks became inconsequential. He turned, ignoring them, and saw Ken’s Soul bobbing softly over his chest. The Valley of Yggdrasil Lane and Bryan drifted in the darkness closing around them, Lane holding his husband, as their bodies breathed their last. Their emotions were spent, and all that was left was their love for each other, and red for their Brothers. They would be reunited in Heaven at least, and the troubles of the Physical Realm would be behind them. Then… who knew? As Nephilim they were Spiritual beings, and their existence would continue; they had been assured of that, but what roles they would play in the grand scheme of things they had no idea. If he had the strength, Bryan would have chuckled at the thoughts in Lane’s Mind as they lay dying. What would they do in Heaven? Play strip poker all day? Make endless love to one another? Would they have to mow the grass? Would Tolkien and C.S. Lewis let him ask all the questions he ever wanted to? Their eyes were closed as they lay together. The Black Vortex screeched its victory as one massive Talon drove down to obliterate the two Warriors. Neither man saw it coming with their eyes, but they felt the cold approaching. With their sense of Time nearly still, the cold started slowly. They had never felt cold in the place where they were One. Their naked bodies always felt perfect together, neither hot nor cold, unless it was sweat from the heat of their lovemaking. A sudden warmth, profoundly comforting, washed through Bryan, counteracting the cold Darkness about to strike. It tugged at his Heart first but quickly turned into an irresistible pull. A voice like mountains grating filled his Mind and Heart, resounded through his awareness. Lane, One with his husband, heard it as well: “IT IS NOT YOUR TIME TO SLEEP, ABBA. I AM WITH YOU. MY FIRE IS YOURS. BURN THEM.” In their Minds, Bryan and Lane saw Leroy in his cave, wide awake and looking at them. It was unlike anything Bryan had ever felt. His eyes popped open, now Golden Orbs with slitted pupils. The Light of Bryan’s Soul, now matched by the color of his eyes, gently bobbing inside the hole in his chest, exploded. Dragon Fire erupted from his body a fraction of a second before the Black Talon touched him. His body bowed with the Power exploding out of him, and the Black Talon turned to ash. Lane’s arms tightened, and he almost lost his grip as Bryan’s powerful body tensed and bucked. Bryan became a conduit for Leroy’s Fire, and because they were One, Lane did as well. It was a harsh Healing, but Lane wove a thick thread and thrust it into their bodies. There was so much Power they didn’t know what to do with it all. The holes in their chests closed, and their bones and organs regenerated; the only evidence of their wounds were the tattered holes in their Kevlar Suits. The skin of their muscular chests and backs, exposed by the holes, shone with a heavy coat of sweat from the Healing and the heat of the Fire around them. An image of Leroy’s head formed in the Fire exuding from Bryan, and as Lane added his own renewed strength the image shot upward, consuming the Black Cloud and turning every part it touched to ash. Their sudden and unexpected relief was overwhelming, knowing they were alive and together at least. The tears and sweat on their handsome faces mixed. Lane hugged Bryan tightly from behind and kissed his neck, whispering in his ear, “I’ll be right back.” Lane’s Avatar brightened, and he once again put his presence into the animals of the Valley. Those that had fallen to the Demons he restored, Healing their broken bodies and reconnecting their Spirits. The Demons of the Pale, in the midst of destroying everything, paused as they witnessed the new and unexpected attack on the Black Cloud. Lane teleported from Demon to Demon, ready with his razor-sharp chains of Light and shredding their existence. His attacks happened so quickly they were nearly simultaneous. Black tendrils that before attacked the Tree, now writhed in pain as their Darkness was rapidly burning to nothing. In desperation, the Will behind the Black Vortex threw its remaining strength into its Shields, but Leroy’s Fire burned through even that. Bryan knew his Avatar could alter the Fire into a purifying Light that would reset the Darkness. With that thought, Bryan’s Avatar lit up, and the sparks of color from it were visible in the Dragon Fire bursting forth from his body. The Light of the Dragon Fire turned liquid and started splashing against the Black Shields. The terror of that possibility shattered what Will was left in the Cloud and it broke apart, vanishing back to the corners of Creation from whence it was called. Once again, the Darkness was broken and thrown back, but this time much diminished and would take longer to reform. Seconds later, Lane was back with Bryan, who stood bathed in Dragon Fire. It licked over his form in a manner Lane had seen once before. The Fire magnified everything in Bryan; he exuded virility, and his form was so perfect Lane started to tear up. Mere seconds ago they lay dying, and now they were whole, and their goal accomplished. The relief in both men at being alive and together again was intense, and Leroy felt the connection between them and their gratitude for saving them. The great beast was also aware of the fierce hole in both men where their Brothers should be. Bryan turned, reaching for his husband, and they hugged each other tightly. Their relief washed over them, and the Fire dimmed to a low pulse. Lane, also filled with Leroy’s Fire had the same effect on Bryan; the Power running in them was Primal and a force of nature. It ignited their libidos, and they both laughed at the thought of how Bryan always gave Ken and Brad shit for getting turned on by each other in a fight. Bryan couldn’t think of anything else to say and yelled out, “GOOD DRAGON! I LOVE YOU, YOU BIG FUCKER!” He sent his love of the great beast with his words, wrapping his Heart and Soul around Leroy. Lane was Listening, and what he heard made his smile just as bright. Bryan heard it through his lover; the cavern where Leroy rested was filled with the sound of his purring. Tag, Olive, and Raphael Raphael, still unconscious in the front seat, sat slumped between Tag and Olive. His head rested on Olive’s shoulder, and she occasionally had to close his mouth to stop his snoring and keep him from drooling on her. Bullet sat on the floorboard, curled up on Olive’s feet. She was stiff and wanted to resettle herself, but she was pinned by the man and the dog and murmured, “I swear I kin hardly move!” Tag leaned forward, holding the steering wheel, and looked up at the sky. “Mamma, will you look at dat?” The sky ahead was black as night, covered with boiling clouds. Lighting rippled continuously, and they began to feel and hear the thunder. The image of Yggdrasil filled the sky with lightning dancing among its canopy. Small balls of Light, Spirits called by Loy, swam amidst the branches with the lightning. At the base of the Tree was a mighty glow, and they knew it was ‘their boyz’ fighting the Darkness. There were flashes there too. Whatever the angel did to them before he expired enabled them to See into the Spiritual Realm. They were witnessing the Battle between The Order and The Master, something humans were not intended to see. Driving was difficult with all the cars blocking the roads, so Tag mostly drove on the gore, or the shoulder if it was wide enough. He still estimated they had a few miles to go when there was an enormous explosion of Darkness, and the Tree began to fade. “Oh, no. That don’t look good!” “Hurry, Papa!” Whether it was fate or good chance, the road opened up. Most cars were off to the side, and Tag sped up, desperate to reach his friends. He had no idea what he could possibly do in such a fight, but he was a soldier like they were, and would do whatever he was called to do. Olive prayed, and was heard. She had no idea Lula, Frank, and the Dove were waiting for them at the Waffle House. The Master’s Psyche – His First Memories Henry and Drew landed on soft grass. The sun was bright in the blue sky, and the air fresh and clean. They were under a canopy of giant ferns, and the sounds of birds and animals surrounded them. The place felt strange, but in a good way. Henry scrambled and moved to Drew immediately. “Honey, are you alright?” Drew rolled over, seemingly fine, but his face was red, splotchy, and wet with tears. Henry didn’t want to stay where they were, not knowing if anything could come after them through the Well. He picked Drew up, hugging him tightly, and Drew’s arms and legs went around his waist and neck. He buried his face against Henry’s neck, sobbing. Henry rubbed his back but didn’t say anything yet, not wanting to make it worse. Henry stood and looked around. The humidity was almost overpowering. He was already sweaty from his efforts in breaking the chains, but in seconds he was soaked. His Kevlar suit was designed to breathe and help sweat evaporate to keep him cool, but it couldn’t keep up with the heat and humidity of wherever they were. Henry said, “Come on, Tiger, I don’t want to stay here. Let’s find someplace higher up so we can see where we are.” Without the Wolf-Spirit to guide them, Henry felt at a loss as to where to go. His Mind wandered, and he wondered how the guys were faring in the fight with The Master. He wondered what Cavall’s growl meant, and hoped it wasn’t a bad sign. The Master said, ‘once I kill the rest,' and he prayed to God none of them were dead. Cautious, Henry quickly moved away from the spot where they landed. He noted the area, trying to remember it in case they needed to find their way back. He wasn’t sure he could regardless; they were inside the Mind of a powerful deranged maniac, and anything could change. He moved towards some rocks and saw a ledge too sheer to climb, with the top shaded by other rocks. “Drew, get on my back Tiger and hold tight. I’m going to jump.” They practiced the maneuver in the gym many times, and Drew was good at holding on. He didn’t say anything and did as he was told. With his enhanced speed and strength, Henry took off and leapt. The muscles of his legs bunched and his quads thickened, propelling him up and onto the ledge. The rock shelf was large, half sunny and half shaded. A slight breeze felt soothing over his sweaty face. Moving back from the edge to be less visible, Henry looked around. He saw the Valley in the memories of his Brothers, and from his vantage point he recognized Yggdrasil from their description. He marveled at its size and beauty, but he was more concerned about his son at the moment. Henry moved into the shade and knelt so Drew could slide off his back. Drew stood with his head down, breathing heavy and sniffling. Drew sweltered in the heat from the heavy material, and Henry pulled back the hoodie and unzipped it “Let’s get this off you, Tiger.” Drew’s face was red from crying, but he was also hot and sweaty just in the few minutes since their arrival. Henry removed Drew’s t-shirt as well and rolled his pant cuffs up as much as he could so they were more like long shorts. He rolled up the t-shirt and stuffed into the front pocket of the hoodie and tied the hoodie around Drew’s waist, not wanting to leave it in case they needed it again. Henry stripped off most of his gear down to the basic shorts. He didn’t expect he needed to be bulletproof in the Valley. He would rather fight freely with no restrictions if it came down to it, rather than sweat to death in the uncomfortable suit. He folded the sections he removed and used a Velcro strap to attach them to the band that served as a belt around his trim waist. When he was done, he knelt at eye level with his son. He gently cupped Drew’s chin, raising his face. Fresh tears spilled as Drew threw his arms around Henry’s neck. “Sh..she’s gone, Daddy.” Drew barely got the words out he was sobbing so hard. “I know honey, I know. Let it out. I loved her too.” “I’m going to miss her.” “Me too, Tiger. But right now, we have to be big boys. We need to keep moving. I know how much she meant to you, but your uncles are fighting to give us time.” Drew moved his head, resting it on Henry’s shoulder. Henry leaned his face down and kissed the top of Drew’s head. Drew’s voice was so quiet Henry almost couldn’t hear him. “Do you think they’re okay?” “I hope so, honey. We have to trust them, like they trust us.” Henry pulled Drew into his Heart, giving comfort to his son. He felt his own grief over the loss of the Wolf-Spirit. She was a loyal and trusted companion, and guarded Drew’s Dreams. He owed her his son’s sanity, and probably his own. He loved her too but Drew loved her in the way little boys love all dogs. Henry felt Drew’s pain at losing her; he felt he abandoned her, and it tore him up. It also tore at Henry to see such hurt in his son. Aside from his grief, Drew was afraid Loy would be mad at him. Honey, uncle Loy won’t be mad at you! She sacrificed herself to save us and let us move on so we can do what needs to be done. She was heroic and did exactly what uncle Loy wanted her to do; protect you! Loy loves you as much as I do. What Drew saw in Henry caused fresh tears too. When Henry stripped off his Kevlar, and stood with most of his virile, muscular body revealed, sweaty and shining in the sun, it affected Drew. The musky aroma of his body as he knelt down and the feel of his hot skin, wet with sweat over hard muscle, did something to Drew. It was the manliness of his father that affected him, the solidity, and Henry’s ability to Protect him. It wasn’t sexual and reminded Drew of the Lab, in the gym with his dad and uncles. He loved to work out with them, and he was used to their sweaty, warm bodies holding him tight. The smells and feeling of being safe and protected permeated his being. He remembered the night he ran away, at his locker and surrounded by the smell of them. Henry’s appearance helped drive the fear out of him, and even some of the grief over losing the Wolf-Spirit. He trusted his dad and his uncles implicitly. He saw their faith in him, and returned it tenfold. Father and son basked in each other, where time didn’t move. Henry held Drew until he felt better and then took them back up. Henry asked quietly, “Are you feeling better? Ready to go?” Drew nodded ‘yes’ and leaned in to give Henry a big kiss on his cheek. Henry walked back to the ledge and looked around, saying, “I’m not sure which way to go, Tiger.” Henry shifted Drew’s weight to sit on his hip. Drew twisted his torso to look around, and it was then he noticed it. He didn’t see it at first because Henry held him close, but the tether was back. It came out of his chest, and the other end was at the Tree. Drew pointed towards the Tree and said, “That way.” Henry was hesitant but decided to ask. He always promised Drew he would be honest. “Do you sense him, honey?” Drew nodded. “Do you know if he can sense you?” “I don’t know, daddy. He could before we came here when I was in the hotel, but that was the real him.” “Okay. Well, let’s see this as a good thing. We know where to go, right?” Drew nodded his head. Henry set Drew down and knelt again, so he was at eye level. “Okay, Drew. We know where to go. This valley isn’t all that big so it shouldn’t take us to long to find him. If anything happens… if there’s another trap… let me take care of it. If that happens, I want you to run as fast as you can to him and do what you have to do, alright? Can you promise me you’ll do that?” “But, daddy…” Henry gripped Drew by his shoulders and looked directly into his eyes. “No buts. I promise you, Drew, with all my Heart, I will be alright. I will do whatever I have to, to protect you so you can do this. I’m strong honey, just like you. Together we’ll do this so your uncles can do their part. Are you with me on this?” Drew looked into Henry’s green eyes. He put his little hands on Henry’s big shoulders. They felt like granite to him, and he felt Henry’s strength. “Okay, Daddy.” Henry grinned and said, “Good boy!” Henry tickled Drew’s stomach, getting a giggle, and he smiled at his son. Once again, Drew’s laughter faded too quickly, but he was still able to laugh. Henry ruffled Drew’s hair and stood up. “I know I’ve said this a lot, Drew, but I love you, and I’m very proud of you.” “I love you too, Daddy.” Henry glanced down to gauge the distance. “I’ll get us down, and you can stay on my shoulders until we get closer. Sound like a plan?” Drew nodded and exclaimed, “Sounds like a plan, Stan!” Henry laughed, saying, “Let me guess. Your uncle Lane taught you that, didn’t he?” “Yes, sir.” Henry shook his head in amusement as he picked Drew up and jumped down the thirty or so feet. He slowed his perception of time and absorbed the impact with precision, rolling his body while encapsulating Drew against his torso with his powerful arms. He sprang to his feet and then flipped Drew onto his back. Drew held up his part of the maneuver flawlessly. He sat on Henry’s shoulders with his legs draped around and crossed at the ankles and his arms wrapped loosely around the top of Henry’s head. Henry held his fist up and Drew fist-bumped him at their success. As soon as Drew was comfortable and secure, Henry took off at a brisk pace, faster than Drew would be able to keep up. Henry was careful because he didn’t know the rules of the place they were in. He wasn’t sure if animals would really act like animals. If anything they met was a memory, it might ignore them. On the other hand, if it was a trap, he had to be fully prepared. <><> Drew guided Henry, keeping him pointed in the right direction. It seemed odd to hear animals and birds all around them, yet not see anything alive. Henry listened to the doctor talk about how sounds relate to memory and he assumed the noises of the area were a comfort to The Master when he was a boy. Henry had a difficult time thinking of The Master as a boy before he turned into the monster they knew. Drew had to resettle himself frequently because the humidity had them both sweating heavily, and he slipped periodically from Henry’s movement. Henry thought it odd that neither one of them felt thirsty after sweating so much. He remembered the pocket reality in Africa Loy and Rick became trapped in; it seemed some of the same odd rules applied to the imaginary place he and Drew were in; it was real yet not real. Since they were physically present it had to be real, yet it was inside the Mind of The Master. Rather than give himself a headache thinking about it Henry let it drop, thankful they didn’t need to worry about food or water. Henry and Drew moved quickly for over an hour. The Valley hadn’t looked that big from the rocky ledge he used to survey the area, but it proved to be larger than he thought. Again, direction mattered, but distance had no meaning. After a while, Henry set Drew down and climbed a tree, and let out a ‘fuck me!’ when he realized the Tree was just as far away as it was when they started, only from a different vantage point. He wasn’t sure if that was a trap or some kind of protection mechanism The Master put in place, or if it was just how the place worked. He thought hard, trying to remember everything Brad or any of the guys said about traveling across the Veil in the Spiritual Realm. “Drew.” “Yes, Daddy?” “I want you to try something for me. Think about the other end of that tether, of your brother on the other end, and hold that image. Can you do that for me?” Henry stopped moving so Drew could concentrate. Drew’s centering flame was calm and steady, and Henry gave his leg a light squeeze of encouragement. Drew hugged his dad’s head, pressing his cheek against the top of Henry’s sweaty hair. He exhaled, and rested in the strength of his dad, letting the image come he feared for so long. The first time the Eschphene showed themselves on Earth, they used Drew’s birth father Doug to kidnap him. While Drew hung suspended in the air amidst a ring of sigil-covered rocks, the Stone, the instrument of his first death, orbited his unconscious body. The Eschphene Leader used the Stone in a Ritual to reveal the connection between Drew and the Stone, proving he was the Second Soul. During that Ritual Drew’s unconscious Mind relived the memory of his first death at the hands of his brother. Early on it came in flashes, mostly dreams, and often nightmares. The Wolf-Spirit kept those dreams at bay after Loy summoned her, but before her protection Drew often relived the act of his first death, or one of the subsequent deaths from the thousands of Soul fragments that lived within him. In in first memory, he knew what his brother looked like as a young boy. As time went on, Drew consciously remembered more of what happened, but he suppressed those memories, hiding them in that secret place no one could see, not even his Uncle Brad. Later, the Wolf-Spirit helped hold them at bay because he Dreamed it over and over, but the first images were safely hidden. He knew one day he would need them, and that day finally arrived. Drew was conflicted, wanting to obey Henry, but also wanting to delay the inevitable. Drew realized his uncles were fighting his brother in the real world, and he and Henry needed to hurry, but he was still afraid. Resigned, Drew called the image of his brother, holding it firmly in his Mind; large for his age and muscular, with his ruddy skin and crooked teeth. His teeth weren’t yellow yet, and his body was covered with coarse hair, almost like fur. Drew’s vision tunneled through the translucent tether, and he saw his brother drinking water from the stream flowing by the roots of the Tree. The same stream where Luke introduced himself to Ken and Brad on their first visit to the Valley; the place of his first death. Henry sensed a shift, and suddenly they were in a large copse of ferns with the lower branches of Yggdrasil looming overhead. The sun shone down at an angle, and it seemed mid-morning. Drew tapped lightly on the side of Henry’s neck, the signal for him to get down. Henry silently reached back and flipped Drew over and set him on his feet. He’s close, Daddy. He’s drinking water right over there. Drew pointed through the ferns towards a rocky outcropping. Good boy, Drew. You’re awesome, Tiger. Let’s get a little closer. Together they moved as quietly as they could. The area was still filled with the sounds of birds, and occasionally a breeze picked up, rustling leaves and giving a brief but welcome respite from the heat and humidity. Henry and Drew saw him at the same time, squatting on two feet, almost froglike in his posture, splashing water over himself. He wore a happy expression and made sounds of pleasure as the cool, fresh water ran over him. Henry watched and wondered how the young boy he saw could transform into the monster he was destined to become. He steeled his Will, knowing what he saw was a memory and not the real boy… yet he was real enough to change the fate of the world. Henry tensed as Luke unexpectedly appeared, perched in a branch not far from the boy. Luke was clearly visible, but the young version of The Master seemed unaware of his presence. Henry knew it couldn’t be Luke; the Oathstone kept him bound to his promise not to interfere. He deduced it must be a shade of Luke, a representation of the Voice that spoke to the young Master in his Mind. All through The Master’s childhood, Luke whispered in his thoughts, planting the seeds of his downfall and laying the groundwork for his later ascension. Daddy! That’s the bad man! It’s not really Him, honey, just a memory of him, but I’m sure that’s the last trap protecting your brother. As they watched, Luke spoke to the young Master, telling him how clever and smart he was, how special. In the Master’s memory, he heard Luke’s voice, so Drew and Henry heard it as well. You know he wants to be like you. He wants to become stronger than you, so he can kill you and be the only one who is special. You must kill him first. You know this is true. Look into his eyes the next time you see him, and you will see the truth of what I say. The young version of The Master shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. His smile faded and he hugged his knees tightly, hiding his face. He had no defense against Luke, knowing nothing about the Power of his Soul or how to Shield himself. He never stood a chance. Henry’s anger surged at the injustice, much like he railed against the injustice of Drew’s situation. How could the lives of these two boys, both so utterly tragic in their own way, control the fate of Mankind? Henry and Drew continued to watch and listen. Luke’s words were relentless and masterful in how he played on the boy’s emotions, knowing just what to say, and how to play him like a fiddle. Henry pulled Drew into his Heart, and they became One. Okay, honey, this is it. Are you ready? Drew’s face was impassive, but Henry sensed his nervousness and a little fear. He pulled Drew snuggly against him, his eyes bright, knowing his son was scared but willing to continue. His bravery was staggering, and to see it and feel it humbled Henry. Drew hugged him back just as tight, his small arms around Henry’s solid shoulders. I’m so fucking proud of you Drew. You’re the bravest little boy in the world. Drew giggled at his F-bomb, which is what Henry wanted. Promise not to tell on me? I promise. Drew’s smile faded faster than Henry would have liked, but it was to be expected. Okay, Tiger, I’m going to get Luke away from him so you can do your part. You know what you have to do, right? Yes, Daddy. He needs to tell me he’s sorry, and for me to forgive him. Henry thought of a thousand things he wanted to say. What a good boy Drew was… How lucky Henry was to have him as a son… How brave he was… How he didn’t deserve any of the life he had… How he wished Liz was still alive and they could just live their lives together being happy… The thoughts continued, but he said none of them. The white lock in Henry’s hair shone brighter in the sun. Even with all the thoughts running through his Heart and Mind, Henry felt it wise not to say anything, knowing it would only upset Drew, and he wanted to keep his son focused. The Wall in Henry trembled for a fraction of a second as his Heart wailed against it, but he pushed his thoughts back, not letting Drew hear them. He would share them later once Drew was successful so his son would know how much he cared. His eyes bright, Henry leaned forward and kissed the top of Drew’s head. I love you, Tiger. I’m going to sneak away and attract Luke’s attention. When he’s gone, you’ll be clear. Drew nodded his assent and Henry slipped into the bushes, leaving Drew alone. The Physical Realm – Waffle House Parking Lot The Stone lay on the ground, discarded by The Master after he flung off his Amulet and bellowed his challenge to his Brother and The Order. As he tore up chunks of concrete the Stone rolled about, bouncing here and there, ending up just outside the window of the diner. Miss Lula saw it on the ground, and its image reflected in the depths of her Ageless Eyes. Throughout the Battle between The Master against Ken, Brad, and the Team, the Stone acted as a witness to final events. It was the Instrument that brought the Curse into being, and it was fitting it be present at the End. So many Endings ended up back at their Beginning. Just as the Stone remained lost and out of sight for tens of thousands of years, unnoticed by anyone but God, it vanished from the parking lot, but its reflection stayed in her eyes, once again covered in blood. Drew and The Master Drew kept still, waiting. When he was sure Henry was gone and he was alone, fresh tears spilled down his cheeks. His Heart swayed back and forth between that of a six-year-old boy, and the wisdom of an eighty-thousand-year-old Soul. He knew what he needed to do, but he was terrified. He felt the arms of his dad and his uncles around him, letting their love hold him up. Drew remembered their bravery and steadfast courage to do whatever they needed to do to keep him safe, and it strengthened his resolve. His brother soon stood up and moved down the path, quickly vanishing from sight. Luke dropped nimbly from his perch, but as he landed a White rope of energy shot through the trees, grabbing him and yanking him back. Drew’s words were barely legible, “I love you, Daddy. I’m sorry.” Drew channeled a small bit of Power, and his form shifted into the image of his first self. He was no longer wearing his jeans with his hoodie tied around his waist. He had the same ruddy skin and fur as his brother, but he was smaller and leaner. In his Dreams, he saw his first self often enough to have the image locked in his Mind. Drew remembered everything that transpired the day of his death. He knew his brother would call him to gather food like they used too. The memory they were in was a loop, repeatedly playing in The Master’s Mind. The torture of it became too much to bear, so he locked it away in the Well in the deepest part of his Mind, blocking it and hiding it from his conscious Mind. As Drew stepped out from the cover of the ferns, he was startled when an image of himself appeared by the water as the memory continued. With another trickle of Power Drew held it, and he moved forward and merged with it. He didn’t feel the same vertigo Henry did. He belonged to the time of the memory, even though he was physically a child of the twenty-first century. As he remembered, his brother’s thoughts entered his Mind, not in words but meanings, and he knew the intent. Brother? I’m here. The sorrow of his own memories came foremost to his Mind; he remembered being alone and ostracized by his brother. They had been so close as they grew up together, the first two Souls communicating Mind to Mind. Their Power was raw and unchanneled, and they knew nothing of Merging or becoming One. I’m sorry I haven’t spent time with you. Would you like to gather food together, as we used to? The elation of his first self at his inclusion washed over Drew. Maybe things would go back to normal, and they could be close again! Yes! His brother stepped out of the woods, beckoning him. As soon as Drew moved towards him, his brother took off into the foliage and Drew quickly lost sight of him. Drew followed, curious as to why he didn’t wait. He remembered all of it and calmed himself in his Centering Flame. Holding out his hand, he Summoned the Stone. It appeared in his hand, pulled from the Physical Realm as Miss Lula saw it vanish. It was tied to him. He loaned it to Thomin, the Archangel of the Vault for his Collection, but Thomin knew the Stone was bound to the boy. He was happy to let Drew have it occasionally, as long as he always got it back. Drew didn’t realize the reason Thomin didn’t mind him ‘borrowing’ the Stone was because he knew, as part of his Province, the Stone had more of a role to play and would be of even greater significance soon. Drew moved down the trail and dropped the Stone on the path so it would be clearly visible, and then hid himself. Thunder rumbled through the Valley echoing the impact of the Stone hitting the ground. The sky, bright blue and cloudless before, began to darken. Creation watched the events that had repeated for eons. This time, however, was different; an opportunity was present that had never happened before. The greatest wrong since Luke’s Fall had a chance to be corrected and reset the course of everything. The young Master doubled back, thinking his brother was in the woods looking for him while the words of the Voice replayed in his Mind. You must kill your brother before he kills you. Only then will you be safe and special. He stumbled on a rock and picked it up looking at it, and an idea entered in his Mind as though it was a seed. The stone had jagged edges and fit nicely in the palm of his hand; it would suit his purpose perfectly. He moved to the water’s edge, below the rocky ledge. Bracing himself, he used the stone to gash his leg. Bleeding, he lay on the ground with the Stone hidden beneath him, crying out in pain. As the young Master ripped the flesh of his leg, lightning flared in the sky, and the thunder became louder. The upper branches of the Tree began swaying as a strong wind picked up. Drew hesitated. Now that it came down to it, he faltered. He wanted his mom Liz. He wanted Henry to hold him. He wanted his uncles around him. In his Mind, they kept him, but he wanted to touch them physically and feel their love. They loved him so much! He felt it through their touch every time they picked him up, or when he sat on their laps or climbed on their strong backs. It took working with Doctor Aaron a long time before Drew felt he deserved to be Loved. After the abuse of his father Doug, he believed he deserved to be punished and feel pain. To willingly go back to the place where he felt such pain was the only way he knew to identify with his brother. That was how he felt Compassion for The Master; he knew the pain his brother was in. His brother never had a dad like Henry, or a mom like Liz, or angelic Uncles whose Souls touched him in ways he could never have imagined. His brother was tricked by The Dark One, the being Drew instinctively knew as the bad man. Drew’s thread in the Tapestry tied him to The Master and through him to Luke; that was how Drew knew about The Dark One. He worked himself up and rushed forward, acting out the memory, telling himself it would only hurt for a few seconds and it couldn’t be worse than the cigarette burns or broken bones. He remembered the pain though, and it did hurt worse, because this pain would take him away from everyone he loved for a very long time, perhaps forever. Rushing to his brother’s side, he knelt down and turned him over. A powerful feeling of déjà vu hit Drew; he had done this before. Just as in his memory, his brothers’ arm swung swiftly and savagely, and the Stone hit his temple. Blinding pain shot through his head. He knew another one would follow, and it did, and bones in his skull shattered. It hurt as much as he remembered; even more because he did it willingly, for everyone he loved. The crack of thunder accompanying the impact of the first blow was heard in all Creation and the laughter of The Dark One with it. Heaven heard the malice in Luke’s voice. An even louder crack of thunder followed with the second blow, not only the sound but a tremble throughout the Earth. Thunder and Lightning filled the skies. Rain poured as the Heavens wept over what was happening. Creation groaned, and the laughter of the Dark One echoed through the Valley, the world, and the Heavens. Even though it prolonged his pain, Drew slowed his perception of time while he still could. It was hard, the hardest thing he’d ever done, but he held on because he had to, just like Henry. He had to, in order to say the words he needed to say in his brother’s Mind, to let him know he had been tricked by The Dark One. Y.. you didn’t have to d…do th…this. I always l… loved… you. You al.. always… were, a… and… always…will… be spec…special t..to… me. He sped up his perception of time and steeled himself for the final blow. Drew remembered Henry’s last thoughts as his dad lay dying in the fight with the Eschphene Leader; how courageous and stoic Henry was, and it gave Drew the bravery to push through. He matched Henry’s courage and the courage of his uncles. He saw it in them, and he could do no less. They fought so hard to save him, but this time he would save them. I…it’s okay. Y..you…didn’t h..have … to.. do ..this. Y..you.. were… tricked. The V..Voice lied. I…love… you…. The Master heard his brother’s words, this time not as feelings and emotions but as words, just like the Voice. He understood them because they were Mind to Mind, and from Drew’s Heart. The young Master felt his brother’s love in his words, and he realized how wrong he had been. He had been tricked, and the agony over that realization hit him hard. He knelt down and grabbed Drew in his arms, crying, and cradling his brother’s body. Drew’s last thought, not in words, brought him comfort. As Drew lay with his brother’s arms around him, he knew he wasn’t alone at the end like he thought. He was with his brother. The young Master smelled something, and he looked down to see the Stone covered in his brother’s blood, smoking. His brother twitched, startling him, as the nerves in his body fired even though he was already dead. He knew the body in his arms was lifeless. There was some intangible difference; he knew his brother was gone, and the irrevocable nature of his action washed over him. It was final, and he would never see his brother again. The Voice lied to him! He had no words, but his Mind shouted out to the Heavens. What have I done!? He cried and wailed and hugged his brother to him. I want him back! God was silent, and the young Master heard no answer. Nature reflected the violence of his act as rain, thunder, and lightning filling the skies. The Voice was gone, and he was alone. The image of his brother in his arms changed back to Drew, the illusion fading with his death. The young Master looked to the Heavens and cried as he rocked Drew’s body in his arms, filled with regret. Waffle House, Atlanta, GA – Aaron, Albrecht, Tag, and Olive Amidst their attacks on The Master, Aaron and Albrecht reached for the Minds of their sons but the Black Shroud covered them, preventing access or aid. The Master wanted them dead, and he kept them unconscious and defenseless until he was ready to kill them. Ken’s Soul continued to bob softly over his chest beneath the Shroud, its Light a constant reminder of everything occurring. Albrecht knew it was only a matter of seconds before he and Aaron were done for. So far, they had managed to dodge or deflect his attacks, but neither of them was strong enough to survive a direct hit. The Curse was invoked, and the Power he wielded nearly limitless. Yet, in desperation, they still attacked with everything in them. There was no plan, only grief-driven ferocity as the two men, the oldest partners in the history of man, fought their age-old Enemy with every bit of skill and Power they could muster. It wasn’t enough, but they were desperate to try and save the world and more importantly, to them, their sons. Their adoptive sons were the key to everything, opening possibilities by their very existence. The love they could generate between other humans and the wisdom and leadership they exhibited in the fight, made it clear they were too important to lose. Even unconscious, they sent out ripples affecting events. Albrecht was arguably the greatest human warrior who ever lived. He held that unofficial status in hand-to-hand combat and with most weapons. Áedán Mac Artur was the only human who ever lived that was Albrecht’s superior with a sword. Even though most people never knew it, because he was so unassuming about his abilities, Aaron was near Albrecht’s equal. Albrecht often teased him, saying if he practiced more, and ate less Long John Silver’s, he might be his equal. As a trained warrior, Albrecht was always aware of his surroundings; he constantly looked, aware through his peripheral vision and fighter’s instincts. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye and was surprised to see a small panel truck racing towards them. Aaron! Cav! Keep him faced towards the building! They both moved, coordinating their efforts so The Master wouldn’t see the truck. As it got closer, he and Aaron were shocked to see Tag behind the wheel! He was supposed to be dead! Olive was beside him and another man, unconscious between them whom he didn’t recognize. Even through their grief over Ken, their hearts were filled with wonder at seeing Tag and Olive alive. It was a miracle, and both men wondered how it could be so. Their house was inexplicably destroyed by residual energy from Allenor, the last being from God’s previous Creation. Their house wasn’t merely atomized, the Physical Realm around their house ceased to exist! There was no way they could have survived if they were home. Albrecht reached for their Minds, and again was surprised to find them Shielded. The Shield was Angelic, Powerful and distinct. There was obviously a story there, but there was no way to talk to them Mentally. For the second time in only a few minutes, The Master was rammed by a vehicle. The panel truck didn’t have runes and did little damage to him, but the momentum dealt him a solid physical blow. The airbags deployed, and while shaken, the occupants were alive. They heard the crunch of bones in The Master’s body, but the Curse knitted him back together. The absurdity of the relentless attacks against him caused another explosion of rage. They wouldn’t die! As Powerful as he was, they still managed to fight him. The insanity driven by his primitive rage burst forth again. Be ready love! This is going to hurt! They were ready, and only by Aaron’s vast experience and knowledge did they live. He layered multiple Shields, each with the purpose of deflecting part of the incoming explosion. It was another principle of physics; he dampened the energy in steps until what was left would not kill them. It would hurt terribly, but it wouldn’t kill them. The Shield covering Tag, Olive, Bullet, and Raphael shattered, but they were alive, and with the Shields over their Minds gone, Aaron pulled Tag and Olive into his Heart along with Albrecht. <><> Tag and Olive appeared naked in a dark place. Aaron and Albrecht were with them, also naked. Tag spun around, startled and scared, asking, “Is we dead?” Olive shrieked and immediately tried to cover herself, quickly moving behind her husband. Her eyes wide as saucers, she blurted out, “Lord have mercy!” Aaron: We are in each other’s Souls, and time is nearly standing still. Our bodies are still above, where you just crashed the truck into The Master. In this place, we are naked to one another, in our Minds and our Hearts. This is the way Brad, Ken, and the others usually communicate. There is no need to be embarrassed. “So, we ain’t dead?” Tag didn’t sound convinced. Albrecht: No Tag, but we might be in another few seconds if we don’t come up with a plan. We need to break that Shroud over the men and give them time to recover. None of us are strong enough to do that. Aaron looked at his friends, knowing what a traumatic transition they just endured. Neither Tag nor Olive had merged with any of the men. They had Linked with them on a few occasions, but never more than that. Aaron: We are so glad you are alive! We were devastated when we thought you dead! Tag grinned, saying, “We got our own story ‘ta tell. It’s been a hard couple a’ weeks, let me tell ‘ya.” Aaron: In this place, just think your words. Your feelings and emotions go with them, and it’s a much better way to communicate. Tag started to move, but Olive wouldn’t let him. Dag nabbit, Momma settle down! You got nuthin’ ‘ta be ashamed of! Albrecht: Tag’s right Olive. You are a beautiful woman, and there’s no need for you to be ashamed here. It’s not right! Albrecht: Let me show you how I see you, Olive. Perhaps that will ease your discomfort. Albrecht moved to Olive and cupped her cheek. With his touch, he gently showed her the beauty of her Soul as he saw it. Hers didn’t have the strength and majesty of the guys, but it was beautiful nonetheless. It was a warm, golden ball of liquid light, and her inner and outer beauty were evident. You see Olive? This is what I see when I look at you. Please be at ease. Her eyes were wide, and her hand went to her mouth as a tear fell down her aged cheek. Her reaction sounded just like the doctor when she thought: Oh my! Aaron: I know this is sudden, but we need time to talk and strategize. We also need to understand how you are alive. All of us thought you perished in whatever happened. Albrecht: Would you mind if we look into your memories? It will be much quicker that way. If you are uncomfortable with that, we can simply talk. Tag started: It was an Angel. He was hurt bad, bleedin’ at the edge of the front yard. He couldn’t come in, on account’a the Protections on the house. He paused for a second and then continued. Yeah, why don’t ‘ya just take a peek. Albrecht: Thank you, Tag. It won’t hurt. The two men entered Tag’s Mind, pulling Olive with them, to get the account of their story from both perspectives. Olive and Tag shared everything with them. The presence and comfort of the two men were a balm to the old couple, especially after all they had been through on their journey back to Atlanta. Both Aaron’s and Albrecht’s faces looked grim when they finished. Tag: Sumptin’ wrong, doc? Aaron: There is a great mystery in what happened, Taggart. The words of the Angel are alarming. Where he went, and what caused his death… after what our sons discovered in Africa… this does not bode well at all. Albrecht: It may not matter if we don’t figure out a way out of this. We have no way of knowing how much longer Drew and Henry will be in their task. We simply don’t have the strength to break the barrier The Master has over our sons and hold him off long enough for them to recover. If they were functional again, we would at least stand a chance. Sometimes Aaron hated his Intellect. Most often, Intellect was not a friend to Compassion and Love, and this was one of those times. A solution popped into Aaron’s Mind, as clear as day. Albrecht immediately saw it and shouted. NO! Aaron, no! Tag and Olive knew it must be something terrible by the sound of Albrecht’s voice. They had never heard him frightened or scared before, and his voice expressed both. Aaron’s Mental voice was barely a whisper as he intoned the ancient phrase. A Soul freely given, a willing sacrifice, has a thousand-fold power of one taken. He repeated the same words Raphael spoke to Liz Hastings before she sacrificed her Soul to save Drew. Aaron: It would give us the Power we need. You cannot deny that. Albrecht: Then it should be me! You can wield the Power better than I. Aaron: But I could not stand to live without you. Albrecht practically screamed at him: You think I could!? The emotional tension was so thick between the two men, it was tangible in that place. Tag and Olive, in the time since Tag’s rescue, lived in the Lab with the doctor, Albrecht, and ‘their boyz.’ They knew the story of the Battle, the War between the Light and the Dark, The Order and The Enemy. They had come face-to-face with The Master when he kidnapped them and held them hostage in a basement in an attempt to hurt their friends. The old couple owed their friends so much; Tag’s life for starters, their safety, regenerating Tag’s leg, and finding them a new home. They had come to love everyone in their lives; Drew, Henry, Ken and Brad, and their Brothers, and the doctor and Albrecht. They witnessed firsthand the grief and sacrifice the men suffered, and watched them push themselves with their training. Few humans knew the Truth about existence and the Balance, but Tag and Olive were firsthand witnesses to all of it and were warriors in that fight. Olive knew why the Angel told them to be in Atlanta and why their friends would need them so desperately. Her soft, quiet voice cut through their argument and silenced both men. Take me. The three men turned to stare at her. Tag’s face turned grey when he realized what she said, and a second later his eyes showed his understanding. Me too. There is two of us, and two ‘a you. One fer each of you. That’ll give you what you need to save the boyz, right? Aaron paled. We cannot ask you to do such a thing. Olive almost sounded angry. You isn’t asking! It’s the reason we is here! That Angel sent us for a purpose and dis is it! Tag: You know it can’t be either’a you. You is too important to the boyz and the world. Me and Momma, well… we’ve had a good life, and we is blessed to have known all’a ya’ll. But this is something we can do. Aaron: You have no idea what it truly means! Olive had tears in her eyes, but she stood firm. I know exactly what it means! I’ll never see my husband agin! I won’t be in Heaven, workin’ on my knitting and cookin’ chitlin’s for Taggart Keenan. Ever agin! Tag: I’m wit Momma. I don’t wanna go on without her, and she don’t wanna go on without me… an the boyz… well, they’s the Light a da world! They gotta survive. They gotta carry everybody after all dis mess is settled! Aaron: But Kenneth is gone! They cannot do that without him! Tag: Can’t you use what we give’s ya to fix him? Albrecht: No, Tag. Healing is not an ability Aaron or I have. That is related to their angelic Heritage. Olive: Then fix them up so they can fix Ken. Silence fell among the four of them. Aaron and Albrecht were One, and the groan in each of them over what Olive and Tag offered, for their sons and for the world, was deep. They had already lost Ken and might lose Brad as a result, and to find Tag and Olive alive only to lose them again so suddenly would be devastating. Private conversation between Aaron and Albrecht They think they understand Albrecht, but they do not. They are brave but can we let them do that, even with what is at stake? I know, Aaron. The strategist in me says we must accept because the consequences of everything are too severe and it will give us what we need… a chance. To think that such a sacrifice would only give us a chance… and even that may be in vain. They must understand, Albrecht. As painful as it will be, if they do it knowingly, with full understanding… I am weary of the fight, love. All the sacrifices over the years by so many. I feel it should be me this time. Only if I do it with you, but then no one would be present with the knowledge to wield such Power. I will show them the full consequences of their offer. They have to know the extent of their sacrifice. <> Aaron put his hands on his chest forming a diamond pattern, and a memory sphere emerged, floating gently in front of him. He concentrated, and it split into two separate spheres, one each for Olive and Tag. Do not be afraid. The orbs moved forward and went into the foreheads of the older couple. Their eyes went wide and reddened with fresh tears, as the reality of what they were offering was revealed to them. Olive spoke the truth when she said she understood. She was a wise woman, Godly even, and had a grasp on everything that was going on and what was at stake. Tag had a grasp on most of it, but much of what Aaron showed him hit him hard. Yet in his Mind, instantly, he resigned to keep his offer. There was too much at stake for him not to. He was a soldier, like Ken and the other men, and he had a duty to protect innocent people. Aaron: This goes far beyond that Tag, you know this. Tag: I do, but it’s all the same ‘ta me. We gots ‘ta give da boyz a chance! They kin do this! Olive: They can! I have faith in ’em. Olive stepped out from behind Tag, and he took her hand in his own. The brown, leathery, skin of their faces wrinkled as they smiled at one another, at peace with their decision. Tag spoke out loud, “I’m sorry, Momma, that we won’t be together like we planned.” “Me too, Papa. I love you, Taggart Keenan, with all my heart.” Tag lifted her hand and kissed it, his tears dripping across her knuckles. “I love you too, Momma. Always have, always will.” Tag straightened his shoulders and said, “We’s ready. Git on wit it.” Aaron still hesitated, wanting to talk them out of it, but Albrecht caught his eye and shook his head slightly. They have made their decision Aaron. Do not dishonor their choice. Aaron sighed, and his shoulders slumped. You are right. Raphael’s Pocket Dimension For the last few moments, once the sound of Ken’s neck snapping reached them, Michael stood silent. He continued to watch with the rest of them as their Nephilim grandchildren lay unconscious. Michael’s shoulders were like granite under his armor. He gripped the pommel of his sword so tightly it creaked. Raphael knew to keep silent but stood with his Brother, standing with him in his grief. They were as surprised as Aaron and Albrecht when Tag and Olive drove up in the panel van, hitting The Master and knocking him back. Raphael’s inhumanly handsome brow furrowed at their appearance, and he wondered how they came to be spared from the devastation that occurred at their home on Earth. He sensed some profound significance was kept hidden from them and turned his attention to seeking what that might be. Once again, they were surprised when two human voices cried out Uriel’s name, Summoning him to the Physical Realm. Waffle House, Atlanta, GA – Aaron, Albrecht, Tag, and Olive Albrecht: We will not have much time when we go back to our bodies. Cavall and I will attempt to distract The Master while Aaron prepares you. When he is ready, I will know, and it will happen. Olive only nodded. The tears in her eyes expressed the many emotions inside her. They ran thick through her Heart; hope for Ken that he would somehow survive, Drew and Henry, the rest of the men, Aaron and Albrecht. Her last prayer was for the World. She felt sorrow, resignation, and even a small touch of pride for her act of selflessness. Tag felt much the same in his own way. Albrecht saw the hardening of his eyes and knew he was braced for what was about to happen. Albrecht nodded back and said everything with his eyes that Tag needed to hear. The Physical Realm – Waffle House Parking Lot Suddenly, there was noise again, and smells, and movement. Mostly though, there was the cold feeling of The Master’s Aura. Albrecht shouted in his Mind to Cavall in ancient Gaelic. Cav! We must distract him, only for a few seconds, but it must be done. Cavall’s response was a howl that echoed around them, hitting The Master’s Black Shields as he moved to the opposite side, trying to force The Master to face him. Albrecht leapt and rolled to be with him, launching his own attack. Aaron rushed to Olive and Tag, and from an ankle strap he drew a short silver dagger, honed razor sharp. He ripped open Tag’s shirt and the top of Olive’s dress. He regretted their exposure, but there was no time for modesty. Not wishing to cause either of his dear friends even the slightest physical discomfort, he cut across his palm and used his own blood to trace the necessary runes on their bodies. The Master, in his arrogance, ignored them and faced Albrecht and Cavall. The man and dog had fought and hunted together centuries ago and fell back into their routine as though no time had passed. They danced around their foe, dodging attacks, and landing a few of their own. Though it seemed forever to Albrecht, it was less than a minute before he heard Aaron’s voice. It is done. The two men, lovers and partners, once again delved into each other. As One, their voices echoing with Power, they sang Uriel’s name in the Language of Creation, Summoning the Archangel of Death. They could not bend his Will or Command him in any way, other than to make him appear by using the most sacred and powerful form of his True Name. Uriel appeared in a blaze of Light, right behind Aaron, Tag, and Olive. He hovered off the ground, his commanding form barely discernable in the brightness of his Aura. He did not arrive in his true form, lest he destroy the humans present. Uriel’s deep voice spoke to Aaron. I would have come regardless, for my grandson’s sake. I am not your enemy, Aaron Thomas. It is a profound thing you do, and I understand the cost. The Master spun, “What is this?! You cannot be here!” He took up a defensive posture, unsure of what was transpiring. Aaron’s Mental voice quivered as he begged Uriel. Please make it painless for them as you did with Liz Hastings. Of course. Their sacrifice is enough, and it will be peaceful. They will simply go to sleep and never wake up. Tears flowed over his face as Aaron whispered, “I am sorry, dear friends,” as he and Albrecht empowered the runes on Olive’s and Tag’s bodies. They glowed brightly as Uriel’s wings enveloped them. He accepted the sacrifice of their Souls, so seldom offered. Liz Hastings was the last one, and there hadn’t been another for millennia. It did not escape Uriel’s notice that three Souls had been sacrificed within a short period of time as he counted it. Such things mattered. As he had with Liz Hastings, Uriel wrapped Tag and Olive in the comfort of his wings, and their offering was painless and swift. Olive and Tag were gone in a blaze of Light, and Uriel with them. Aaron already felt the weight of their absence, even as his eyes glowed White. Albrecht’s eyes did the same, as the two men became vessels of the Power of a thousand Souls each. The look of anger reappeared on Aaron’s face; anger at his age-old Enemy who forced him to make such painful decisions and killed so many of his loved ones over the centuries. The cruelty and evil The Master inflicted on the human race that tore at Aaron’s heart rose up, fueling his anger. Free our son’s Albrecht, they must get back in the fight if we are to have a chance. With the Power of Tag and Olive’s sacrifice, The Master now felt their attacks. The two men spent thousands of years gathering their knowledge and honing their skills. They called upon spells and abilities never before used because the Power to complete them had been lacking. They utilized every scrap of knowledge either of them had ever learned. Aaron sliced through The Master’s Dark Shields, crippling him and rending his Mind, Heart, and Soul in devastating attacks, yet the Curse was always present, restoring him to the state he was in when it was brought into being. Albrecht, confident in his lover’s knowledge and abilities, turned to look on the men, his sons, scattered about the ground, unconscious and imprisoned under the Dark Shroud of the Curse. He knew the Shield was strong, but he had no idea how The Master maintained it. It seemed as though the Curse was doing it on its own. He threw his newfound Power against it, but it didn’t break and he frowned in confusion. Aaron’s attacks were penetrating The Master’s Shields, yet his did not? What was the difference? He did not have much time to find out! Their Power would only last so long, while the Curse was virtually unlimited. Motion in the sky caught his attention. Lightning and thunder ripped across the Heaven's nonstop since the fight began, but a new disturbance began to take shape. A vortex was forming, but not one he expected. It was composed of small wraiths of Light, thousands upon thousands of them. They were Animal Spirits, called by Loy before he lost consciousness, coming to the Call of their Steward! Much like the Black Vortex Lane and Bryan fought, the Spirits formed a vast funnel, concentrating their strength. Their individual shapes were lost as they merged with one another, their Will guided by the older and wiser Spirits while Loy lay unconscious. It took them time to gather in sufficient numbers and strength, but now they attacked The Master at the Command of the Steward. Albrecht bent his Will on them and focused his attack with the Spirits, yet the Shield over the men still withstood their attack. He soon realized what the problem was. Just before The Master unleashed the Curse on them, they threw all their Power into their Shields. Their Avatars were more Powerful than ever, attempting to be equal to the attack, and the Curse still overmatched them. The two Powers remained in conflict, and their strength was responsible for the Power of the Shroud. He would have to overcome both the strength of their Avatars and the Curse to break the barrier. With a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach, Albrecht realized even with the Spirits and the Power he wielded it would not be enough. The forces in play were unimaginable, yet they still weren’t enough, and they never could be until Drew and Henry were successful. As difficult as he and Aaron knew it would be, he still had no idea how far things would go. He realized why Aaron had that seed of doubt. He studied the Curse more than any other scholar through the Ages, and Albrecht reluctantly admitted his lover may have been right. Albrecht shook his head, refusing to believe it was impossible. No! He would not despair! The Paradox of their existence meant they would find a way! It had to be possible! The forces driving the confrontation made it possible for the Conflict to occur, and there had to be a chance for them to be victorious, or everything was futile and meaningless. His thoughts turned to Lane and Bryan in the Valley. Typically, he would not have the Power to reach across the planet, but with Tag and Olive’s sacrifice, the distance was now inconsequential. The Valley of Yggdrasil Lane Listened, and Leroy’s purring filled his senses. The sound was vibrant and unique, adding a distinct mix of frequencies he was unaccustomed too. Leroy’s Fire licked over their bodies, and they had never been filled with so much Power. The full Power of Leroy’s Fire, the ability to cleanse and re-write Creation, flowed through them. Lane and Bryan embraced, their emotions reeling from the sudden turn of events. Not even seconds before they had both been on the brink of death, knowing their demise would mean the destruction of the Valley and the Tree. Now they stood, thoroughly enmeshed in one another, two Souls, One being, alive and whole. The relief in both of them was nearly overpowering, yet they both knew their Brothers needed their help desperately. Lane!? Bryan!? Lane: Albrecht! The relief in their mentor was palpable as he Linked with them, sharing the current state of events in Atlanta. Bryan and Lane heard and felt Ken’s neck snap, and the pain in their Souls cascaded into what almost became their own deaths. The two men fell to their knees again when they saw in Albrecht’s memory the sacrifice of Tag and Olive. They thought the old couple dead and then lost them again in the same breath. The blow was another bruise to their Souls they would feel for a very long time. Albrecht’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when he felt the Dragon Fire in his young charges. They shared with him their own memories of everything that transpired in the Valley. The one thought in Albrecht’s Mind was Leroy’s Fire was their only hope to break through the Shroud imprisoning the rest of the Team. The smile on Bryan’s face faded quickly, replaced by a grim look, and the Rage that accompanied Leroy’s Fire built once more. Few things could anger the gentle spirit residing within the big gruff man, but endangering and threatening the ones he was closest to was one definitive way. The sacrifice Tag and Olive made to save them all crushed the big man. Fresh tears filled the golden orbs of his eyes, making small trails of Light down his face mixing with the sweat on his skin. Lane looked through Albrecht’s eyes from across the planet, and suddenly Lane and Bryan stood in the parking lot of Waffle House on Buford Drive. The Physical Realm – Waffle House Parking Lot Lane and Bryan appeared silently. Bryan masked their Auras, preventing The Master from sensing them. Aaron knew through Albrecht as soon as his sons appeared, and it renewed his Hope. He pushed The Master all the harder, keeping him occupied, aided by Cavall. As the Curse healed The Master, Cavall continually tore and sundered his flesh. Lane and Bryan saw the White Vortex of Animal Spirits and felt them dissipating as they gave all of themselves towards the defense of Loy and their Brothers. Albrecht brought all his newfound Power to bear on the Shroud at the same point as the Spirits, but the Shroud remained unaffected. Seeing their Brothers laid out and unconscious, with Ken among with them, his neck broken and his Soul floating over his body pushed them over the edge. They were soldiers, but they were men, and the bonds between them were stronger than anything. They embraced the Rage that came with Leroy’s Fire over what they saw and the unconditional love of the men that were so much a part of them. They also pulled from and embraced the traditional sources of their Power; the Tree, the Veil, the Music of Creation, and Animal Spirits. Just as The Master was driven near to the point of insanity, Bryan and Lane were as well. It wasn’t insanity as much as a breaking point for the two men. Albrecht and the doctor felt it. The image of Leroy formed around Bryan and Lane; their golden slitted eyes glowed bright, and the full force of Leroy’s fire was unleashed for the second time that day. Aaron diverted his own strength, adding it to Albrecht’s. Cavall howled, and between the hound, Aaron, Albrecht, the Spirits, Lane, Bryan, and Leroy, the Shroud shattered. Even though Lane and Bryan’s Auras were masked, The Master sensed the buildup of everyone else, and he spun, witnessing Leroy’s form in the Fire as it obliterated the Shroud over his enemies. The New Warriors of the Order were free again. Dragon Fire flowed through the men, restoring them. The Healing Lane sent was harsh, as it had been with him and Bryan moments before, but it was unavoidable. Their eyes opened, and all of them felt the gaping hole were Ken should be. Brad could barely breathe as he saw Ken’s handsome face, staring blankly back at him, his neck and body at odd angles and his Soul floating over his chest. The fear and sorrow that hit Brad were crushing, and it ran through all of them. Waffle House, Buford Drive, Buford, GA – the Nexus of Events Ken watched along with Rich, Miss Lula, and the Dove. Frank seemed oblivious and went about his tasks of cleaning the grill, mopping the floor, and restocking the egg trays. Ken’s emotions were a rollercoaster, and Rich was with his brother the entire time. The scene outside started moving again, and Ken witnessed it all. Relief hit Ken when he saw Tag and Olive alive, only to see Uriel appear and accept the sacrifice of their Souls. He knew how painful that decision must have been for his Mentors, and in the middle of his own hurt, his heart ached for them as well. Ken stood stoically through it all, but his throat was closed tightly, and tears ran down his face in a constant flow. His throat had never hurt for so long or as painfully as his emotions ran the full gamut. He wondered once just how far their capacity for pain had grown, and he was finding out. Seeing his Brothers, and Tag and Olive… their sacrifices and effort, the blood and sweat, the Souls lost forever; it tore at him, wrenching his Heart. The absence of Brad and his Brothers made it worse because he bore the pain in isolation. Rich soon stopped talking and stood beside his brother, a hand on his shoulder, just being with him. Ken’s overwhelming desire and urge to be out fighting The Master was unbearable. He watched everyone sacrificing and fighting with everything they had in them against impossible odds, struggling to delay and occupy The Master so he wouldn’t turn his thoughts inwards against Henry and Drew. Ken had no idea what transpired in the Valley, but his heart leapt in his chest as he saw Bryan and Lane appear, alive and bathed in Dragon Fire. He heard Rich’s intense outburst, “Fuck, yeah!” A second later Rich realized Ken was gone, and he smiled. It was the same little kid grin Ken often got that melted Brad’s heart. “Kick that hairy ape’s ass, little bro. Fuck his shit up like there’s no tomorrow.” Rich turned to the Dove, Miss Lula, and Frank and said, “Sorry!”, but he still couldn’t keep the shit-eating grin off his face. The Physical Realm – Waffle House Parking Lot For the first time in his life, Brad was stunned and debilitated to the point of not knowing what to do. The other half of his Soul floated in the air a few feet from him, over the dead body of his husband. Brad knew Uriel would not be able to convey Ken’s Soul to Heaven without the half residing in himself. That left the part he could see vulnerable to The Master, and if it were destroyed or consumed, Brad would never see Ken again in any form of existence. That thought was unimaginable. He stared at Ken’s face first, and then his eyes roamed down over his neck and shoulders, taking in every detail. His short brown hair was plastered to his head from sweat, and his face smudged and dirty. His five o’clock shadow was already at ten. Brad could smell him; the musk of his sweaty Kevlar mixed with the cologne he wore because it was Brad’s favorite. He pulled the image of Ken’s little kid grin from his perfect memory, but he couldn’t hold it. The image was too painful, as much as he wanted to see it. Brad wasn’t sure how long he stared at Ken. It might have been a second, but it felt like years – and it might have been, he was so deep in his own Mind. He gave himself the luxury of his pain as long as he could, but everything that made him Brad, everything Ken loved about his husband asserted itself. The soldier in Brad, his Intellect near equal to the doctor’s, and his powerful Mind, refused the emotional pain. A wall built inside Brad that would not accept what he saw before him. His Avatar glowed so brightly it was visible through his Kevlar suit. His Intellect, already formidable, was boosted by the Avatars of his Brothers. In Lane’s memory, Brad saw the Darkness that surrounded the wounds of Bryan and Lane when the Black Vortex impaled them. Ken was killed by The Master when the Curse was Unveiled, and he made it impossible for Ken’s wounds to be Healed. He drove the Light out of Ken, damaging him both physically and spiritually. Similar to when Ken was under the Blood Curse, their Healing powers had no effect. Lane’s eyes flashed White for the briefest of seconds, and his eyes went wide. He wasn’t sure if Remiel sent his Vision, or if it was Creation itself pushing towards Balance. Lane’s Vision went back in Time to the day The Master killed his brother, the murder that started the entire chain of events that led up to the moments they were in. His Avatar spanned the eighty-thousand-year gap, connecting it to the present. He saw the Stone in the young Master’s hand. He watched it rise, and strike Drew’s first self. Once… twice… and the third and final time, driving the life out of him. Lane felt the Thunder that rumbled with each blow, and the tears of Creation as rain fell. He felt the rip throughout everything as the Curse was called into being. He felt it all as it happened again in The Master’s Mind, although he didn’t realize it. He thought he was looking into the past; he was but also the present – a Paradox. He watched as the young Master held the Stone, smoking in his hand. Lane watched the boy flee to the cave of the Water of Life and try to wash the blood from his hands that would not come off. He saw the young Master throw the Stone into the Water of Life, trying to rid himself of the guilt of his actions. And Lane watched as the Water of Life infused the Stone with even more Power, altering and strengthening the Curse into what it now was. Realization and Understanding came to Lane; the Water of Life did not birth the Curse, but it altered it and made it stronger. If it was that powerful, it might save Ken! It might weaken what the Curse did to him enough for their Healing to work and save him. He knew Ken only had one chance, but it would take seconds they didn’t have. Lane’s Vision, his journey through Time, took no Time in the present, and the knowledge of what he saw was inside him and therefore his Brothers. Renewed Hope ran through them. It was only a chance, but it was something they didn’t have a moment before. Bryan: Go, Lane. Take Ken and Brad. I’ll stay with these fuckers, and we’ll hold until you get back. You and Brad are the only ones who can save him. The look of desperation and Hope on Brad’s face was all Lane needed to make his decision. Every one of them - Kevin and Bill, Pat and Darren, and Rick and Loy - fanned the flames of hope in Brad, infusing his belief Ken could be saved. The parts of their Avatars that came from Ken filled Brad with Conviction. This time it was their arms around his shoulders, pushing their Will, Conviction, and Hope into him. They would persevere and be what they needed to be, to hold The Master at bay while Lane and Brad took Ken to the Valley. We’ll be right back fellas. Hold tight, and don’t go lifting your skirts and screaming like little girls, at least not until we get back. Despite the seriousness of the situation, their handsome faces broke into grins and smirks at Lane’s comment. Their bravery never wavered, and the hope running through them gave them the resolve to do what needed to be done. They were doing it for Ken, and the World, but Ken definitely came first in their Hearts. Darren synchronized their Avatars, and Lane and Brad, with Ken in his arms, disappeared back to the Valley. Leroy was still with them through Bryan, and Darren used the clear picture of the Dragon’s cave in his Mind. While Brad held Ken and Lane received his Vision, they felt the same impending buildup as before. The Master, harassed by Aaron and Albrecht, aided by Cavall, went berserk. He expected to bowl them over, and the resistance he received was unimaginable to him. Kevin and Bill, Pat and Darren, Rick and Loy, and Bryan stood tall, once again pillars of Light, recovered, ready, and standing together. Their handsome faces, dirty and sweaty, eyes red with tears over the losses already incurred in the fight, were grim. However, there was a new Light in their eyes. Their resolve was just as strong as before, but now there was anger… part of it was the Rage that came with Leroy’s Fire, but mostly it came from the loss of their loved ones and their Captain. The hole where Ken should be fueled their rage and determination. Even amidst everything going on, their Minds and Hearts were still with Henry and Drew. They were soldiers, trained for a life of Battle and hardships, but Henry and Drew were not. They could not imagine what their Brother and adoptive nephew were going through in their part of the fight. This time when The Master unleashed the full Power of the Curse, they withstood it. They dug deeper because they had to, for Ken, but Leroy’s Fire backed their resolve, and the added Power of Aaron and Albrecht made the difference. All the sources of their Power were clearly visible. Once they were conscious again Yggdrasil appeared, the Spirits Loy called to their defense were present, and the other Mentalists Listened and fluttered their Souls across the Veil. Their Light met the Curse and this time held it at bay. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was the hardest thing they had ever done in all their trials. The pain that hit their Souls was numbing, but they held. Their Avatars shone brightly through their Kevlar. They were a Wall, as their Brother Henry taught them to be. If The Master’s eyes had been visible, the men would have seen them widen in surprise. What he witnessed was impossible. The Valley of the Tree – Leroy’s Cave As Brad and Lane appeared, they were met by the fully Awakened Leroy. The cave was immense, yet it barely contained his head and part of his neck. The heat was nearly unbearable, and both men immediately broke out into a fresh sweat. They were visible for a fraction of a second, only long enough for Brad to turn his head to the cave mouth that led to the Roots of the Tree. They needed a visual image of where they wanted to go, and Brad coordinated his Avatar with Lane’s, and they jumped by sight, traversing what would have taken minutes in a matter of seconds. They were still merged with Darren, and his Primary Avatar boosted theirs making Ken’s body weight a non-issue. The blistering heat of Leroy’s cave was replaced immediately by the icy cold dampness of the cavern containing the Water of Life. The sounds of the water cascading over the massive roots of Yggdrasil would have been pleasant if not for the urgency. The two men jumped into the shimmering water, glowing with the potency of the Power contained within it. The clash of Powers as Brad submersed Ken into the Water was visible. Brad held Ken’s body, feeling the weight of his husband in his arms and forcing his anxiety down. This has to work! Please let this work! His prayer went out to God or the Universe… pleading to whatever Powers might be Listening, his desperation empowering his cry. Miss Lula, Frank, and the Dove heard him. Brad situated Ken so his head was just above the Water, and Lane gently scooped some into his mouth. Lane Listened to the two halves of Brad’s Soul, using that Music, knowing the significance it would have to Ken, and thrust the strongest, thickest Thread of Healing he ever generated into Ken’s body. Similar to when Ken was under the Blood Curse, his Healing dissipated before it touched him. Lane expected that, and his handsome brow furrowed in concentration. His own love for Ken was no less than Brad’s, and he pushed harder. He reached deeper inside himself and reached out to Brad; there was no margin for error on what he wanted to do. He opened his mouth and intoned the Rune of Healing from the Book of Loagaeth. With Leroy’s Fire still in them and their own Love of Ken driving their efforts, they empowered the Rune with just the two of them. The Rune took shape in the air before them, hovering over the Water as their own Avatars had in their final Awakening. The two Brothers pushed until their bodies ached with the Power they channeled. It was almost imperceptible, but Lane soon felt resistance as the influence of the Water made itself felt. Eighty thousand years prior, mere feet from where they were, the Stone had been altered by the Water of Life after the young Master cast it into the depths trying to rid himself of it. The Water touched the Curse then, empowering and altering it, and it was strong enough to do so again. As the Water worked its way through Ken’s body, his Nephilim Heritage absorbed its ambient magic, and the Curse become more and more perceptible; it gave them something to push against. Once the Curse was tangible, Lane and Brad attacked it with a vengeance. None of the men could imagine their lives without Ken; he was their leader, their Brother, and their Soulmate. The emotions running through Lane and Brad were harsh and overpowering – anger at the situation, and not a little fear – but they let all of it fuel their Centering Flame. Still One with their Brothers in Atlanta, they ran the gamut of emotions together and held each other as always, supporting one another, making each other strong. In their Souls, their arms were around each other's shoulders just as Ken’s would be, holding that place until he returned to them. The rugged individualism of each of the men – their tenacity, their intense love for one another as Brothers and men – it all gave them what they needed to become more than equal to the task. Images and feelings from their past, the jokes, the shit-talking, the highest highs and the lowest lows of their lives were clear and present, making them who they were. The skies over the Valley once again filled with seething clouds, and fresh lightning filled them as Brad and Lane called unimaginable Power against the Curse, driving it out of Ken and reigniting the Light within him. Brad hugged Ken against him, their heads pressed together as he brushed Ken’s short hair off his forehead. The two men, their Avatars fully functional again, drawing on all the sources of their Power, augmented by Dragon Fire and the Water of Life, Healed Ken. His Soul returned to his body, and with Lane’s Healing, he breathed again. They used their Minds, backed by Darren in Atlanta, to set his broken bones before they knitted back together. Brad’s heart leapt in his chest as Ken’s body twitched, then bucked from the strength of the Healing running through his powerful frame. The control he had over his physical body was perfect and he quickly settled his muscles, not wanting to hurt Brad unintentionally. His eyes fluttered open, and the first thing he saw was Brad, crying uncontrollably. Ken’s arms reached up, grabbing his husband, and they delved into one another in the special place where their Souls were One. <> Oh God, Ken, I really thought you were gone this time! I didn’t know what I was going to do! I’m here, B. You guys did it! I knew you would! Inside themselves, where their Souls were One, they were naked. The dirt and the sweat were gone, but not the tears, and Brad held Ken’s muscular body cradled in his arms. He pulled Ken’s face against his chest, squeezing with all his strength. He became ‘that guy’ Mentally and Spiritually, holding Ken as tightly as he possibly could as he sobbed like a baby. Ken couldn’t talk either, and they laughed as his arms went around Brad squeezing back. They reveled in the close intimacy of their intertwined Souls and bodies. After a few minutes Ken repositioned them, so they were sitting up with Brad between his legs, his arms wrapped around Brad’s waist, resting his chin on Brad’s shoulder. They rested in each other in silence, until the reality that they were both alive and still together was real to both of them. Time wasn’t moving, but they knew their Brothers were holding The Master at bay and their training asserted itself. Lane’s voice piped into their Minds. If you two lovebirds are finished, there’s a fight going on, in case you forgot! You can make out like rabbits later. Ken’s face broke into that little kid grin. Damn straight. When we’re done, I’m gonna light you up like never before. I’m so horned up for you I can barely stand it. Do you know how hard it’s gonna be to kick The Master’s ass with a raging hardon? Brad reached down and felt precisely how hard Ken was for him, and it started his own fire. He grinned. I can’t wait. Lane: I’m about to dump a bucket of this ice-cold Water on you two studs. You selfish bastards are NOT going to make out in the middle of this! Brad took them back to their bodies, still in the Water. <> Lane’s eyes held just as many tears, and Ken embraced his Brother as tightly as he had Brad just a moment ago. Thanks, Lane. All the words Ken wanted to say were expressed through his Heart and Mind as he hugged his Brother. They both laughed as they clapped each other on the back because even Ken’s Mental voice sounded choked up. Lane, making light of the situation, replied: I know how much Kevin hates stepping up to the plate when you aren’t around. We’re like a herd of cats. I just didn’t want to listen to him whine. It was easier to have you back. Ken ruffled his hair, and they both smiled. Everything Ken wanted and needed to say to Lane was in his eyes and his Heart; they were One, and both of them felt everything in the other. Alright fellas, let’s get back in the fight. The Physical Realm – Waffle House Parking Lot The Master continued hammering at their Shields. He was out of control and proceeded to throw attack after attack at them in an animalistic rage. Even with Leroy’s Fire backing them the blows hurt. His Black Aura, fueled by the Curse, burned them continuously. Most of them were down on one knee, bracing themselves with arms around the shoulder of whoever was closest, supporting and encouraging each other. Their powerful bodies heaved and strained, exhibiting the effort they put forth physically and spiritually. Their suits were soaked through and began to chafe as the swelling of their muscled bodies pulled the Velcro straps apart, and over time all of the guys pulled off the arm and lower legging pieces to lessen their discomfort. Every piece of exposed skin was slick with sweat and shone with the effort. Veins showed in their muscular arms, and their Avatars shone brightly on the balls of their shoulders. Their conditioning was evident, they breathed heavy, and they hurt as their bodies ached from the blows against them, yet they persevered and pushed on. They continued taunting The Master, driving his rage as he continued his relentless assault. It seemed like forever since Brad and Lane vanished. They were One, and the men in Atlanta felt Ken’s presence when he was whole again and back with them. His presence flooded into their Hearts, Minds, and Souls, even their Bodies. His Will and Conviction filled them along with his personal strength; all the things that made him their leader. The relief inside them was immense as none of them could begin to imagine a life without all of them together. Even if they failed and survived, it was unthinkable to continue without all of them living in one another. As his presence filled them, every one of Ken’s Brothers felt his arms around them, on their backs, ruffling their hair, whispering encouragement in their Minds, Hearts, and Souls. Whatever they needed to hear, he knew, because he was their Brother and Captain, and knew them intimately. He had a knack for knowing people better than they knew themselves, and he used it for their benefit. As soon as he was with them again, their backs straightened, pushing up from their knees, and their Light brightened even more. There were red eyes and tears from the fact that Ken was with them again, but there was even greater joy when Ken appeared along with Brad and Lane. The tears in the doctors’ eyes showed how much it meant to have his son back. Ken sent the doctor and Albrecht his own private greeting, hugging both men in his Mind and Heart. The Master’s face was still shrouded in Darkness, but his body posture showed his shock when Ken appeared alive and well. “You can’t get ridda’ me that easy asshole. Not when these fuckers got my back!” After his initial shock, The Master’s rage lessened when he saw Ken. The surprise of seeing the abomination he killed, driving the Curse into him, proved how mighty his opponents were, and he needed to change his tactics. He let his rage drive him, thinking he could simply overpower them, but the hybrid Nephilim were more resilient than he ever thought they could be. There was still no doubt of his victory, but they were going to make him work for it. He paused for a moment, breathing heavily. Sweat covered his grotesquely muscular body under all the hair, and he stank. The Bodies, in particular, smelled him. Many of them found male scents a turn on, but the smell coming from the Master turned their stomachs. The Master wondered at their resilience and what they hoped to gain. Even though The Master had the volatile primitive rage inside him from his origins, he was brilliant. He wondered why they continued to fight when they knew there was no chance of victory. He wondered at his brother being in his Mind, and how that was accomplished. Yet even with those thoughts the possibility never crossed his mind that there was a way to break the Curse. The Dark One told him it was all-powerful, Eternal, and unbreakable. The Master came up with another idea. He enjoyed seeing them in pain; their pain and suffering made him stronger. Seeing their tears brought him pleasure. He knew they wanted to protect mankind. Fools! They couldn’t understand that under the Curse, humans would never choose the Light over the Dark! The idea of them killing the very humans they swore to protect was enticing. His lips pulled back into a smile as he turned, sending out a Black wave of Darkness, rolling outward, continuing to gain speed until it spread over the Earth. It washed over their Shields and didn’t affect them, but they felt its purpose. As the wave touched the unconscious people Brad Compelled to go to sleep, they woke up, and The Master Commanded them to attack the New Warriors of The Order first, and if not them, each other. He knew the humans couldn’t hurt the Warriors, but it would occupy them while he devised another plan to destroy them, and the deaths of so many would add to the pain they already felt. Brad’s eyes flashed White, and he unleashed the same Compulsion as before, but the Shroud of the Curse prevented it from working. Brad: Fuck! Their Minds are Shielded by the Curse! We can’t break through, and there are going to be too many here to deal with in a little while. Ken: Until they get here, keep the pressure up on big ugly here. We have ‘ta keep him occupied and not focused on Henry and Drew. We’ll have ‘ta figure out somethin’ once they start showin’ up. Ken glanced at the window of the Waffle House and saw Miss Lula and Drew’s Birdman watching. The humans inside the building seemed unaffected by The Master’s Command, and he was grateful for that. Suddenly their vision blurred for a brief second with the now-familiar distortion effect of Eschphene magic. They were surprised to see Németh, but they were even more surprised to see the young soldiers from Australia along with Craig and his father Kent, wearing combat gear and loaded down with weapons. Jacob called out, “We thought you could use a little backup, so we hitched a ride!” Ken raised his eyebrows, and every one of the men had a questioning look on their faces. Jacob grinned and admitted, “Okay, he came to pick us up. He said we needed to be here.” Ken grinned and thought: B, Link ’em up. Already on it. Ken: You’re timin’ is perfect guys. Big ugly here just woke all the normals up, and they’re headed this way. They’re under a Compulsion to attack and kill us and each other. You need ‘ta keep ’em away so we can focus. Think Zombie apocalypse, and you’ll be close. After the experiences the young soldiers had been through, and Albrecht’s training and teachings, none of them batted an eye at Ken’s ‘zombie’ reference. They took it in stride and looked ready for whatever might come their way. They survived coming face to face with the Demon Azaziel and witnessed his restoration to an Angel; dealing with possessed humans would be a walk in the park! While their discussion took place, the fight with The Master continued. Darren’s form flitted around, the Bodies attacked and grappled, and the Mentalists sent out White ropes of Power. Brad: Don’t attack The Master guys! You don’t want his attention on you, believe me. We’ll Shield you, so stay focused on the humans. Do everything you can to slow them down without seriously hurting them. If you have to take lives, make it clean. Do what you have to do. You know what’s at stake here, and we have to win. Ken: Protect each other and watch your backs. Jacob winked and made the hand signals for the unit to fan out. “Alright, you heard the man. We have a job to do.” He glanced back at Ken, and with a sharp salute said, “You can count on us, sir.” The same thought ran through the Team; they were grateful for the presence of the young soldiers but would be devastated if anything happened to them. Still, they were in a war and needed soldiers. Ken glanced at Németh: Thanks for bringin’ ’em. I don’t like puttin’ ’em at risk, but we need ’em. How’d you know? Németh: All things related to the Balance are my Province. From the Temple, I saw their threads, and they were needed. Every power involved in the Conflict is now in motion, and victory or failure rests in your hands. Restore the Balance, Nephilim. Do not fail. Németh vanished with the same distortion of the area. While Ken conversed with Jacob and Németh, the rest of the Team pressed The Master, and the comments started flying as Ken turned to rejoin the fight. Nice of you join us, buttercup! Are you all nice and rested now? Wait, you had hash browns? While we were out here getting our asses handed to us, you ate breakfast? Unlike the first part of the fight, the banter and shit-talk flowed as they fought. They hung shit on one another, and the bonds and support between them carried them forward. The strain was incredible even with Leroy’s Fire, yet they were One again and more Powerful for it. The Master would occasionally attack one of the young soldiers, but the Mentalists were ready and Shielded the young men, diverting the attack back to themselves. Ken, Brad, and their Brothers were the pillars of Light mankind needed. They were a defense against the Darkness and held firm. All of them together, their Souls One, defied everything The Master threw at them. They had never been as hard-pressed for such a long time, but they held because they had to. It sounded so simple, but it was a profound lesson Henry taught them. The doctor, Albrecht, and Cavall fought alongside them, adding their knowledge, skill, and Power to the fight. Every one of the Team was wide-eyed at some point seeing their Mentors fight as One. It was apparent how both of them survived against The Enemy for the thousands of years they did. The doctor rarely used his abilities overtly but filled with the extra Power from the sacrifice of Tag and Olive, he fought alongside his adoptive sons as fiercely as any of them. The hurt in them at the loss of their dear friends was another force that drove them and kept them from giving up. They would not dishonor Tag and Olive’s sacrifice by failing. The fight continued, and every second felt like an eternity as they dug deep within themselves, keeping Drew and Henry foremost in their thoughts and Hearts, but praying for them to hurry. Finally, the doctor and Albrecht started to fade, exhausting the Power received from Tag and Olive’s sacrifice. At the same time, more and more humans were showing up from the Mall and the surrounding area, and the young soldiers were hard-pressed to maintain the perimeter around the Team. Ken: Doc! Albrecht! Fall back and help Jacob and the others! Without question, their two mentors did as instructed. The fight was still unwinnable, and the best they could hope for was a stalemate while they prayed for Drew and Henry to be successful. Eventually, they started to falter. Their attacks slowed and weakened, and their defenses became erratic. Red Fire ignited around them, sucking oxygen into their Core Energy Centers to fuel their bodies. The flow of Power through them took its toll, and the Healing flows Lane kept up started requiring more and more energy, diverting it away from their offense. Unexpectedly, The Master started fighting erratically, shouting, “HOW CAN YOU BE HERE?” startling everyone. They assumed he was talking about Drew and they renewed their attacks, throwing White ropes of Power at The Master, burning him and pulling him back into the Physical Realm. He seemed to be struggling, fighting on two fronts. They took advantage and pressed their attack until they utterly exhausted themselves. Their Hearts ached, BUT THEY HAD TO BE ENOUGH! They gritted their teeth, sweat pouring off them, their bodies trembling with fatigue, and pushed on. Blinding pain shot through the Minds of the Mentalists, yet they couldn’t give up. Whatever strength they had they threw at The Master. Loy and Rick had been there before when they were trapped in Augusta fighting the Master’s Amalgam. The Creature pummeled them beyond their ability, and if not for their Brothers, they would have perished. There was no one else this time; Németh said all the forces were in play. They heard the fighting of the soldiers and the doctor and Albrecht, who were beginning to be overrun by the mob that steadily built over the last minutes. Every one of them gave everything they had for Drew. They fought the Curse, but it was too Powerful. The Master felt their waning strength and knew he was on the brink of victory. He would destroy The Order first, and then deal with the Betrayer and his brother inside his Mind. Henry in the Valley Henry waited until the young Master moved away. He was sure the boy couldn’t see Luke, but with his Mind Open he might see or sense Henry’s use of Power. Henry slowed his perception of time, not entirely, but enough to be precise when the right moment came. As soon as the boy was out of sight, Luke dropped from his perch to follow him. When Henry saw his chance, he lashed out, sending a rope of White Power to lasso Luke and hold him. His maneuver seemed to work perfectly until Luke transformed into black smoke, escaping Henry’s rope. The cloud quickly reformed, but rather than Luke, the smoke grew and solidified into The Master of the present! Henry felt the cold aura of his strength and knew it was The Master from the Physical Realm. The shade of Luke was a trap, one that alerted him to anyone tampering in his deepest memory! Immediately Henry noticed the Black nimbus over The Master’s face was barely visible, and he realized in The Master’s Mind he couldn’t hide who he was, and in that place his true self was evident. Henry didn’t feel sorry for The Master, but it was tragic anyone could go through life, especially Immortal life, despising themselves so utterly. The Master saw him, and his deep voice rasped, “How you came to be here Betrayer, I do not know. I will discover what Magics you employed to do this! What is it about the boy and this memory you seek to accomplish? Why are you here!?” Henry felt a twinge of fear, not for himself but for Drew. Henry’s sole purpose was to Protect Drew and distract The Master. He learned from Ken about pissing an opponent off to make them act irrationally, and Henry knew The Master was sensitive about his appearance. As powerful as he was, it was a strange character flaw, and one Henry never would have guessed at. He needed The Master focused on him, so even though it was silly high school humor, he hoped it would work. “I’m not telling you shit, furball. Fuck, now I know why you hide your ugly mug! If my dog looked like you, I’d shave his butt and teach him to walk backwards!” Faster than Henry thought possible, before he could slow his perception of time and react, The Master’s clawed hand was around his throat, lifting him off the ground. Henry’s training kicked in, and on instinct he threw all his Power into his Shields. The lock of hair on Henry’s head flashed just as White, burning The Master’s hand. Henry managed to choke out, “Okay, sorry about the ugly joke!” The Master moved his face right up to Henry’s. His horrid-smelling hot breath blew the hair back off Henry’s forehead as he spit out, “I am invincible! The leader of The New Order lies dead at my feet, and the rest of them are about to die! Tell me why you are here! What is it you hope to accomplish?” Henry was turning purple with the strain of the pressure on his Shields, and the effort of tensing his neck. He used every bit of Physical and Spiritual strength he had in his enhanced body to prevent The Master from snapping his neck. Unexpectedly, The Master screamed, and his clawed hand released Henry, dropping him to the ground. White ropes appeared around The Master, and he vanished. Henry cheered in his Mind; someone up top was still fighting, forcing him to pay attention to them rather than him and Drew! Henry dropped to the ground holding his neck. Fuck me! I didn’t expect him to show up in person! Before Henry recovered, The Master reappeared. Henry rolled away and leapt to his feet before The Master reoriented himself. Henry needed to give Drew as much time as possible, and knew he was no match for The Master one-on-one, so he planned to delay him as long as possible and stay alive doing it. Henry shot a spear of Mental Energy at The Master, hoping to piss him off enough to follow, and took off as fast he could run. He heard The Master’s bellow of rage and the cracking of trees as he knocked them out of the way to follow. When the noise stopped, Henry knew The Master was gone again. The fight up top was still ongoing! During his reprieve, it finally registered what The Master said about the leader of The Order being dead. God, not Ken? Or the doctor? His anxiety spiked at The Master’s words. God, what if Ken were dead? What would that mean to Brad? His Mind raced and his chest tightened, but the lock of hair on his head gleamed in the sun, and he calmed somewhat. The Master might have been bragging or lying, and Henry didn’t know for sure that anyone was dead. He had to focus on Drew and enabling him to be successful no matter what was happening in the Physical Realm. The fate of mankind rested on his son, and Ken and his Brothers instilled the same drive in Henry to see that mission accomplished. Until he knew anything for sure he couldn’t be distracted by ‘what if’s’ that would weaken his resolve or concentration. Henry would stop and wait, and when The Master reappeared he would attack and run until he disappeared again. The Master was getting worked up fighting in his Mind and the Physical Realm at the same time. Henry, unfamiliar with the Valley, was soon lost. His driving need was to draw The Master further away from Drew and give him time. He knew he fucked up when he ran into a dead-end, and as he turned to run, The Master appeared, blocking his only way out. Henry knew what was coming and braced himself, his arms crossed before him and his Shields bright. A Black Talon shot out of The Master’s hand hitting Henry’s crossed forearms. The blow threw Henry against the nearby rock wall, but his Shields held. He slowed his perception of time as he flew back, positioning his body so he could smack his arms out and absorb most of the impact. The maneuver didn’t work as well against rock as it did on the mats in the gym, but it kept him from being seriously hurt. He remembered Christmas Eve the year before at the Atlanta Symphony, the night Brad’s friend Tony died. The Master tried to kill Henry that night, but he survived the direct attack. It knocked him cross-eyed, but he survived. He survived because he had to, for Drew. Taking the blow reminded Henry how much stronger he was than he used to be. The attack hurt, it hurt down to his Soul, but it didn’t come close to killing him. The problem was The Master had him pinned, and if he couldn’t figure out a way to get by, he wouldn’t last long. The thought came back to his Mind like a mantra; he would hold out as long as he needed to so Drew could be successful. He would be the Wall, no matter the cost. The Master looked at Henry’s physical perfection as he attacked. Henry was soaked in sweat, his body fully pumped. He didn’t have the angelic heritage of his Brothers, but he was an incredibly handsome and virile man. The Master’s own servants created Henry’s body to be in the shape it was. Seeing Henry’s flawless body angered him nearly as much as the Nephilim abominations. The Master wondered how Henry became so powerful. He started out as a Protector of The Enemy, and that in its own right made him strong. Yet since his interactions with Aaron Thomas, Albrecht, and the Nephilim abominations he grew into something The Master had never seen before. “I am curious, Betrayer, how you have grown to be so powerful. It is a secret I wish to learn, so my underlings will be more potent as well. I will rip the knowledge from your Mind before I destroy you.” The Master unleashed a savage flurry of attacks on Henry. He fended off the first couple, but once a few landed they took their toll, and soon The Master had him held against the rock wall, pounding him. Henry was nearly unconscious, his handsome face bloody, while The Master had him pinned. Henry’s feet dangled a few feet off the ground, and his strength was fading fast. He needed some kind of respite, however brief, to recover and get away. Henry gathered what strength he had left, hoping to hit The Master hard enough to drop him. His Mind was foggy from the beating and at first, he wasn’t sure what he heard. Before launching his attack, he heard a deep growl behind The Master. The Master turned and screamed, “HOW CAN YOU BE HERE?” The Wolf-Spirit, her form grown to be larger than The Master, attacked him. Behind her, Henry saw the thousands upon thousands of Soul-fragments from Drew. His last command had been for them to save her as the shades from The Master’s memories rushed to destroy her. I live Evil One because the cub saved me. He is more powerful than you imagine and will be your undoing. Her fangs dug into his flesh, and as he grappled with her, the incarnations swarmed over him. Individually they weren’t strong, but there were so many The Master was temporarily overwhelmed, and he vanished, driven back to the Physical Realm. Almost as if her words were prophetic, the sky began to darken and thunder rumbled through the Valley. The wind gusted, and Henry thought he heard laughter in it. Henry looked up at the darkening sky, and another crack of lightning ripped across it followed by thunder that was far louder than it should have been, echoing out and beyond The Master’s Mind. Thunder and Lightning filled the skies. Rain poured as the Heavens wept. Creation groaned, and the laughter of the Dark One carried on the wind. Henry felt himself pulled by the Wolf-Spirit. She took them to Drew, and what he saw struck him a blow he was unprepared for. Drew lay cradled in the arms of his brother, his faced crushed so severely he was almost unrecognizable. There was blood everywhere and the Stone, still in the young Master’s hand, smoked. At first, Henry couldn’t make a sound. The pain was so unexpected and all-consuming he couldn’t move. His eyes were wide with shock, already filling with tears. Henry felt as if a part of his Soul died and he rushed forward, dropping to his knees beside the boys. The young Master looked at Henry, his eyes wide and terrified, his face was a mask of desperation, pleading for help. Henry choked out, “Drew, what did you do baby?! Oh, God, no! You can’t be dead! You can’t be!” Henry was so overcome with grief his mind went numb. He reached towards Drew, his hands shaking. He wanted to touch his son, but there was so much damage he was afraid of doing even more. He knew Drew was gone, but he still couldn’t bear the thought of hurting him. Drew felt pain most of his life, and Henry couldn’t stand the thought of adding to it, even in death. The young Master saw the devastation on Henry’s face and the tears filling his eyes. He cried as well, and he tried to say something but had no words or language of the tongue. He held Drew’s body out towards Henry as if begging Henry to fix him. Loud guttural noises that sounded like hoots and hollers came from the young Master’s mouth, but his Mind and the intent behind his shouts were clearly expressed. Brother, forgive me! I didn’t mean it! Come back to me! With the young Master’s thoughts, a ripping sound started. At first, it sounded like thunder, but it was continuous. The sound increased in volume and everything began to shake. It was the Curse over The Master shredding into non-existence, and it was heard and felt throughout everything! The young Master looked at the Stone, smoking in his hand, evidence of his actions. He couldn’t take it back, but he wanted to. He felt shame and embarrassment. The Voice lied to him! It promised him he would feel powerful! He let Drew go, and his body rolled onto the ground. He turned and fled down to the cave where the Water of Life resided… …but this time, the memory was different. Drew’s presence and his last words to his brother changed everything. The young Master, his first version, asked forgiveness from his dead brother. Drew couldn’t answer, but it didn’t matter because in his Heart he forgave his brother long before his death. When Drew ran away and was on his own, he thought about his brother’s plight. The Compassion in him, magnified by Henry and his uncles, gave him the capacity to forgive his brother. Henry lifted Drew, shaking so hard with sobs he couldn’t speak. He sucked in air as the rain fell, holding Drew against him, cradling his limp body and rocking him slowly. Henry raised his face to the Heavens, his neck thickening with grief, as he wailed and cried out his pain. Images of Drew ran through Henry’s Mind, and he remembered the recent looks. They weren’t looks of indifference, they were resignation, and Henry realized Drew planned his death all along, and that made his pain all the worse. His son, not even seven years old, sacrificed himself to save everyone. Henry realized why the Birdman didn’t want Henry with Drew at the end. His words to Drew at the wedding were prophetic and Drew kept his promise, but it was clear Henry’s presence could hamper Drew’s success. If Henry had been present, he would not have let him sacrifice himself, even if it meant failure. “Oh God, baby, why? Why did you do this?” Henry’s pain was excruciating. He cried so hard he could barely breathe, and he moaned his grief, raging at God for what his son was forced to do. The Wolf-Spirit howled her grief, and as her cry faded, the incarnations, the tortured, broken fragments of Drew’s Soul, faded with it. The Physical Realm – Waffle House Parking Lot They were all on their last leg, exhausted and pushing everything they had left in them into their Shields. The Master sensed their weakening and gathered his strength for an attack that would destroy them. Lane heard it first; a sound behind the thunder and lightning, reverberating beyond Earth into the Heavens. <><> The Master stopped, deathly still. He knew that sound echoing through the Physical Realm; he suppressed it for eighty thousand years! He had it locked away, in the darkest and deepest well in his Mind, but Henry tore the lid off that well, establishing a connection between his past and present Mind. The doctor knew, and explained to all of them at one point, the danger of bottling up emotions. Emotions had a way of magnifying when suppressed, often coming out stronger and changing forms when they finally emerged. The agony, pain, and guilt The Master felt in the seconds after he killed his brother resided in that well over the long span of years. Occasionally they tried to break free when The Master Dreamed and heard his brother’s screams, but he pushed them down behind the chains and locks into the darkest corner of his Mind and Heart. A second crack of Thunder filled the skies, and The Master flinched as though struck, paralyzed with emotion unlike anything he had ever felt. He fought it, but the dam was already broken and opening wider as emotions from eighty thousand years ago rushed forward through time to the present. The last crack of thunder hit, mirroring the third blow of the Stone, and he heard The Dark One’s laughter in his memory, but it echoed through the skies of the present as well. The Stone rested in his hand again, just as it did in the memory before he fled to cast it into the Water. He looked at it, seeing the smoke seething out of it. The weight and smell of it drove the memories into him. He saw his brother’s face, crushed and barely recognizable. Henry appeared, bloody and beaten, holding Drew’s body, cradling his son, wailing his pain and agony. The Master saw Drew in his original form, and not as Drew. His Mind transported back through the centuries. He was a boy again, only nine years old, deceived by The Dark One into killing his only brother. He loved his brother; their Minds and Hearts were bound together, but The Dark One planted seeds of jealousy and nurtured them until they took hold, and in a premeditated attack he struck his brother with the Stone; once, twice, three times, caving in his skull. As a boy, he didn’t have speech of the tongue. His Heart wailed over his deed. When he saw his brother’s lifeless body, he innately sensed the finality of his act. He wanted to take it back, but he couldn’t, and he cried. He cried with the purity of a young boy who didn’t realize the consequences of his actions beforehand, only to have them thrust upon him mercilessly. The first memory of The Master wailed and howled his meaning. Brother, forgive me! I didn’t mean it! Come back to me! The Master of the present voiced the words, echoing the thoughts and intent of his first self. His eyes, which hadn’t shed a tear in eighty thousand years, spilled tears over his ruddy, rough cheeks, and the words escaped his lips, mirroring what was happening in his Mind. The words themselves were barely a whisper, but he spoke them, and they were heard throughout Creation. “Brother, forgive me!” Henry and Drew bridged The Master’s past with his present self, and the emotions were real and powerful and all-consuming. He was caught off-guard and had no defense against his own memories. The Curse was powerless against them. The sincerity of his emotions, coupled with the words, started not just a ripple, but a tsunami. In the Eschphene High Temple, Németh’s heart leapt inside his massive body as he heard the words uttered across all Realms. The men Listened and heard the tearing sound as the Curse ripped out of The Master, and they Understood the meaning. Drew did it! Drew and Henry did it! Their Hearts would have leapt for joy except they saw Henry appear with Drew’s tiny body, bathed in blood and lifeless in his arms. Drew was cradled against Henry’s big chest, his powerful arms holding him tight, yet everything about his posture made it clear how much pain he was in. As Henry appeared, they threw themselves in him, and the depth of his grief ripped their Hearts. The suddenness of it, the shock, took them by surprise. The Wolf-Spirit was with them, and she howled for her beloved cub, the charge she had come to love as one of her own. Cavall mirrored her, and the two wolves howled the song of the broken pack. Henry was soaked from the rain falling over his bare upper body, his neck thickened as his bruised and bloody face looked to the Heavens. Veins showed in his neck and across his shoulders from the strain; his body nearly purple from the pain and turmoil that filled him, incapacitated in his grief. As soon as Henry appeared, Drew’s Soul floated gently out of his chest. It was beautiful but broken, containing the thousands of fragments of his other lives. It was the most beautifully complex Soul that had ever existed. Everything stopped and became deathly still. The Curse was gone from The Master, who stood still as stone, stunned and unable to comprehend what happened. For the time being, the Curse remained in effect over Mankind, but The Master was no longer protected from Death by its Power, and the Team would now be able to remove it from Mankind if they wished. Any active spells or Commands Powered by the Curse broke. People all over the world stopped, shaking their heads as if waking up from a bad dream. The young soldiers collapsed in exhaustion as the civilians they had been defending against stopped their mindless assault. Aaron and Albrecht, their own tears flowing freely, heard Henry’s wail of grief, and knew instantly Drew was dead. Henry and Drew were victorious, but the cost was high, and one they never expected to pay. The men, in their Minds and Hearts where their Souls were One, cried out over what they witnessed. They dove into Henry as soon as he appeared, holding him tight in their Hearts, trying to deal with his suffering and their own. No words were spoken as they shared everything with one another. As the silence fell, Uriel appeared in a flash of Light, his White wings fluttering softly, holding him aloft, shining brightly in his full armor. Henry looked up when he realized Uriel was there, and he begged, “No! Please! You can’t take him!” The desperation in his voice was heart-wrenching. Uriel’s eyes shone with stars and the depth of time, and his voice was compassionate as he started to say, “Henry Ross, I…” A shout from Ken and every man on the Team covered up whatever Uriel was going to say. They vanished from where they stood and physically appeared around Henry, encircling him. As soon as The Master stopped his attack, all the Power they put towards their defense went back into them; they were once again filled with Power. Everything happened simultaneously, and Lane and the Mentalists sent a thick rope of Healing through all of them, restoring them. Leroy’s Fire left them, and they stood on their own, towering pinnacles of Light and strength, Warriors of the Order. Uriel calmly watched them as Ken said, “You’re not takin’ him. He’s been through too much for it ‘ta end like this. He did his job, but we’re gonna Heal him. He did everythin’ asked of him and more. He’s a fuckin’ hero, and he saved everybody! He’s comin’ home with his dad, and us, and you aren’t gonna stop that from happenin’.” Ken stood tall, facing Uriel, backed by his Brothers and his husband. They noted, especially Brad, how much like Michael he looked at the moment. Ken’s voice had an edge to it they rarely heard, and his Avatar glowed, filling his words with Conviction. Henry begged them, “Please, guys. Fix him. Bring him back!” His voice was so thick he could barely talk. The pleading note in the voice of their Brother tore at their Hearts, while Henry continued rocking Drew as if he was still alive, kissing the top of his head and whispering soothing words in his ears. He used Drew’s t-shirt to wipe the blood away, but with so much damage it was impossible. Uriel looked to the Heavens, and his voice echoed out, “Brothers! I need you!” The nine Archangels appeared behind him. The assumption was that Uriel was calling them to back him up, and they were about to have to fight their angelic grandfathers. Ken looked at Michael and said, “Don’t make us fight you on this.” Michael looked sad. All the Archangels did. The changes in them, interacting with their Nephilim offspring, were farther-reaching than they realized. Maybe it was part of God’s plan all along, and Ken and Brad and the others were his way of introducing changes to Creation. God said they were Random and Unfettered, and if that were true then he wasn’t controlling them or guiding their actions. It was almost as if he shook the cosmic birdcage to see what would happen when everything settled down. The conflict in Uriel’s face was apparent, bordering on confusion. Raphael moved forward and put a hand on Uriel’s armored shoulder. When he did, all their eyes went White, and it was apparent they were communing with one another. Ken nodded to Lane: Do it, while they’re distracted. Guys, get ready. There’s no tellin’ how they’re gonna react. They were all One and in agreement. Lane sent a White rope of Healing into Drew, but it vanished before it touched him, just as it had with Ken under the Blood Curse. Fuck! Henry’s eyes widened with hope, but when the Healing dissipated his Heart broke completely. The eyes of the Archangels dimmed, and Uriel’s wings fluttered as he lighted on the ground. Uriel walked forward, but Bryan intervened, blocking him. “Grandfather, no.” Uriel looked at Bryan, his grandson, so alike yet different; handsome, solid Bryan, the gentlest of them all with the fiercest loyalty. Bryan’s eyes widened when he saw the Light trails of tears covering Uriel’s cheeks. All the Archangels had them, and none of the men were sure what it meant. Uriel’s deep voice was gentle, and he slowly reached up and put a gauntleted hand on Bryan’s shoulder. He cupped Bryan’s thick neck and part of his jaw and asked, “Do you trust me?” Bryan looked into Uriel’s Ageless eyes. He looked deep, into the stars, staring for a moment. He found what he was looking for, and his own deep voice said, “I do,” as he stepped aside. What Bryan sensed in Uriel was shared with all of them. Uriel knelt and cupped Drew’s Soul, floating over his chest. He held it aloft, looking at it. The other Archangels wrapped their wings around their Brother, and a hot wind started to blow. It felt soothing over their sweaty skin, wholesome even, and it dried their tears. A feeling of euphoria entered them, and their chests caught with the sudden intake of breath. Small sparks began shooting out of the Soul Uriel held aloft. At first, it was one, then a few more, and after a few seconds thousands of them streamed out, swirling around the beautiful orb in Uriel’s hand like fireflies. At first glance, they were beautiful, like small golden snowflakes, but their enhanced vision coupled with their Understanding saw the flaws in them. The tiny crystalline sparks put off the Light of human Souls, but they were misshapen and broken. The Archangels pulled the tortured Soul fragments out of Drew. Brad realized what they were first, and then everyone through him. They recognized the ones they met while Drew was learning to control his abilities; Rhavi, Ferguson, and the first version of Drew that had no name. Those were a few of his incarnations that were sane, but so many were broken to the point where they weren’t. Uriel and his Brothers separated over eleven thousand fragments, leaving Drew’s Soul pure and intact. When they were done, Uriel wrapped the incarnations in the comfort of his Wings. “Rest now little ones. Find the peace you should have had long ago. There is a special place in Heaven for you all, and you will be happy and whole there, I promise you.” Gabriel stepped forward and took Drew’s Soul from Uriel, cupping it reverently. Gabriel’s Voice, the Herald of God, spoke loud and clear, “I hold the Soul of the Second Redeemer. The child whose bravery and compassion are unparalleled among Mankind. Many humans are heroic; all of you here today are among them. Drew Ross holds his place among you, and all the fallen heroes, with no shame, as an equal. Mankind will never know the gratitude they owe this child, yet we honor him, and he will always have a place waiting at Home when his time comes to leave the Physical Realm.” The other Archangels went down on bended knee, paying homage to Drew and his selfless act. Raphael looked at Brad and said, “It will mean more to all of you to Heal the child yourselves, than if we did it.” The tears were thick on all their faces, and the smiles. Henry finally grasped what was about to happen and whispered, his voice trembling and barely audible. “Please! I can’t stand seeing him this way!” Powerful, thick ropes of Azure, Crimson, and Gold, came out of each of Drew’s Uncles. Lane pulled from Henry as well, and he wove them into an intricate and delicate Healing flow that would be gentle. Darren’s brow concentrated and with the Understanding of them all, the bones in Drew’s skull reformed into their proper shapes and positions. They cleaned the blood away at the same time, and the Healing flow went into Drew’s small body. In a matter of seconds he was fully restored. Gabriel held Drew’s Soul, and Uriel blew gently on it, saying, “Return and live once more, Drew Ross.” The Soul bobbed over and sank into Drew’s chest. It only took a second, and his eyes fluttered open. He was cradled against his father’s bare chest and in his powerful arms. Henry was still covered in dirt and sweat. The first thing Drew felt when he woke up was his father’s warm strength wrapping him up, and the smell he found so comforting; his sweat and aftershave. Henry broke down in relief, pressing his face against Drew, his tears falling on Drew’s face. Drew sounded sleepy, “Hi, Daddy. Why are you crying?” Henry pulled back, brushing the hair off Drew’s forehead and looking into his eyes. It took him a second to talk, and he had to swallow a few times. “I’m just glad you’re okay, Tiger!” Drew’s next question surprised all of them, “Daddy, where’s my brother?” All eyes turned to The Master, who stood alone and apart, looking dazed, confused, and out of place. He noticed their stares and realized they could see his face. His eyes met Drew’s, and they were the same color. The Black nimbus returned as his lips pulled back, and his Dark Shields flared. He was still the First Soul, and Powerful, but without the Curse he was now vulnerable. Ken immediately saw a difference in The Master; his cockiness and supreme confidence were gone, and there was an air of wariness not present before. Drew stood and took Henry’s hand. Henry was still shirtless, wearing only his short Kevlar leggings and foot covering. Drew was bare-chested as well, his jeans rolled up, and wearing his sneakers. His red hoodie was tied around his waist, and he was dirty. The blood was gone, but the smudges and sweat from the humidity in the valley still covered him and Henry. The Master’s posture was defensive, and it looked to Ken as if he was about to turn and run. None of them knew Drew’s intent as he approached his brother. He stopped far enough away not to be within arm’s reach with Henry beside him. He looked so small and pale compared to the grotesque muscular giant. Henry, One with the Team, had his Shields over Drew. Drew said, “I know you were tricked by the bad man. I saw him with you. I heard what he said.” The Master practically hissed, “You know nothing!” Drew was in adult-mode and said, “I’m sorry.” “I do not want your pity. I wish nothing but your death. You won, brother. The Order has won. The Dark One is not finished with you, any of you. The Battle will continue as it always has.” The unmistakable sound of metal sliding through flesh and bone rang out, and The Master’s body arched up, his feet leaving the ground. Luke appeared behind The Master, one arm around his throat and the other driving the knife through his torso from behind. “You are so right… but without you. I wished for your failure so I can deal with these abominations myself. Lucky me, my wish came true.” Henry’s reflexes were blindingly fast, and he grabbed Drew, but before he could move any further Darren grabbed them both and teleported them behind the Team. The air filled with the sound of blades leaving scabbards as the Archangels spun, drawing their weapons at Luke’s sudden appearance. The skies darkened once again, and fresh lightning and thunder filled the clouds. A sudden chill filled the air, and when the men glanced up, the sky was filled with the wings and cloven hooves of Luke’s army. Luke smiled, “Yes, with his failure, the Oathstone’s Binding is gone, and I am free from its influence.” A Black Talon shot through The Master’s body, consuming him, and Luke stepped back in a defensive posture looking cool and confident. Brad noted the weapon Luke held was the dagger crafted by Orophir and left in his cave. “You did well keeping the knowledge of how to defeat The Master from me. I am impressed you managed to pull it off. I know the cost you paid. Father is so good at pulling the cost out of his pawns. I am beginning to think he is just a cruel old codger, who enjoys watching others suffer.” Before Michael replied, Ken stepped forward and asked, “Do you really want to push things now?” “Do not think, Ken, because you managed to trick me once I cannot annihilate you all. My army is here, along with the stragglers of The Master’s servants that came back with their tails between their hooves. Putting the Dragon into play was a brilliant move, but premature. His Fire is spent for now, and you cannot use him against me. You are still ignorant and playing with toys far beyond your scope.” Raphael said, “Brite One, stop this.” Raphael apparently pushed a button, and Luke shouted, “NEVER call me that again!” “Things are changing Luke.” “You are so right, Brother.” The way he said ‘Brother’ was an insult. Ken: Dar, get Drew, Henry, the doc, Albrecht, Jacob and his crew to the Lab. I gotta feelin’ things’re about ‘ta get ugly. There was a slight pause, and Darren replied: No can do. Transporters are down. Luke grinned and said, “No one is going anywhere. In fact, I was waiting until everyone arrived. Now that I’m sure everyone is here, we can begin. Show yourself, Orophir!” Much to the surprise of everyone, Orophir appeared as he removed the ring used to cloak himself. The Archangels stood still as stone, watching events unfold. They knew a confrontation with Luke and his Army could escalate out of control. The Powers unleashed in such an encounter could rip a hole in Reality. Istariel, Ruviel, and Telcharan appeared beside Orophir. “Ahhhh, I see you made some new friends! I’m surprised they didn’t destroy you, knowing you’re my son.” “They accept me as I am, father. You kept me ignorant to control me. I will never be your puppet again.” “You were wise to hide from me. You are to blame for my plans coming to ruin here. I know it was you who revealed Thomin’s location to Michael. If not for you, the Vault and all its treasures would be mine. By now, the Physical and Spiritual Realms would be under my Rule.” “I am done hiding, father. I am here to stop you. These Nephilim are my friends. They gave me Sanctuary when I had nowhere else to go. You will not harm any of them, and you will leave here, never to return.” Luke smiled, retorting, “I was counting on your being here.” Pointing to Ken and the guys he continued, “You see, I am not here to destroy them, at least not today. No, today I am here to take my vengeance on you.” Black Talons shot out of Luke’s hands and hit a Shield surrounding Orophir. Istariel, Ruviel, and Telcharan drew their weapons but backed off. The Team started to move forward, but Istariel’s voice filled their Minds. Do not interfere! Michael and the other Archangels did not try to intervene. Michael had doubts about Orophir from the beginning and wanted him destroyed. Raphael convinced his Brothers Orophir had a part to play in events, and they needed to leave him be. At the very least, Luke would be weakened after his fight with his son, and they could confront him after. Orophir prepared well. His mastery of the Runes was exemplary, and he outfitted himself specifically against his father. Luke’s initial attacks were ineffective. Drew cried, not understanding why no one helped his friend. Henry held him, turning his face away so he wouldn’t see what was going on. The Team channeled and pulled from all their Sources of Power, and Brad Shielded them tightly. The forces around them were escalating as Orophir went on the offensive, retaliating against his father. His skill was remarkable, and his use of the Runes ingenious. The doctor saw and learned much from what Orophir managed to accomplish. For a moment, Orophir had Luke on the defensive. His attacks were Powerful and well planned, but ultimately he fought The Dark One, and it seemed as though he underestimated just how Powerful his father was. It wasn’t long before Luke closed the gap between them, breaking through Orophir’s Shields. “Did you really think your trinkets would make you a match for me?” The dagger Luke used to kill The Master was still in his hand. “You left me this gift in your cave. I will now kill you with it, and every last vestige of your existence will be gone. It will be as if you never were. I admit I made a mistake in siring you, and I now correct that mistake.” Orophir struggled, but without his items and matrices, he had no chance against Luke. He was convincing in his struggle, making his efforts appear real. He had every intention of dying by his father’s hand. The dagger was the most complex item he had ever crafted, folding Runes in on themselves multiple times in layer after layer of deception and Power. He built a weapon specifically designed to kill his father. Unbeknownst to Luke, the blade was unfinished, needing one last component to activate it. Pure Nephilim didn’t have Souls, not in the sense humans did. Ken and the others were Original Men first and their Souls were as God intended them to be, untouched by the Curse and uncorrupted. As Luke drove the dagger into Orophir’s chest, the dull, lifeless gem in the pommel came to life, drawing on Orophir’s essence. Orophir created a type of Blood Curse against his father, but rather than blood he used his own Lifeforce. Being a direct descendant of Luke’s, it was targeted at his father, and there were no other offspring to affect a ‘cure.’ The gem in the pommel exploded with Light, and Luke staggered back. Orophir screamed as he was sucked into the gem, empowering its Magic. Luke’s eyes went wide, and he whispered in disbelief, “What have you done?” He bent over in pain and fell to the ground. When Ken and the guys trapped Luke in the Four Corners, they heard him scream. Lane caused him extreme pain that day, and they remembered that sound. Luke was in real agony. His form started to fragment and break apart as if he were a mirror, breaking up. His scream turned to anger as he exerted all his might, fighting off whatever it was Orophir did to him. Whatever Power was attacking Luke, he matched it. He was one of the first beings created before Time, an Archangel of the Highest Order, and even after his Fall he was one of the most powerful beings in existence. Few could match his strength, and those that could stood by watching, stunned at what they witnessed. The other Archangels felt the Power escalating and knew they had to act. One of their primary roles was to Protect Reality and keep the forces of their Battle in check lest they unravel Existence. Michael ordered them, and their Wings spread, forming a circle around Luke. A tear in the fabric of Reality was opening, and they had to contain it. They heard the ripping sound as it got larger. Where the Archangels and everyone else saw nothing but blackness through the tear, Lane and Loy saw something. There should be nothing there… it was the ‘nothing’ from before Creation… yet they now knew there was a previous Creation, one unknown and undetectable to the Higher Order. Lane: Guys, there’s something there! Loy: I see it too! No one else saw anything, but Loy and Lane not only saw it, they Listened and heard something coming from the other side of the tear! Luke screamed one last time, and he was sucked through the tear before it closed! The sudden silence was deafening. No one said anything for a moment, and it was Lane who spoke first. “Is he gone?” The Archangels looked stoic; their expressions grim. Raphael sounded sad when he answered, “We do not know, Lane. We have never witnessed such an occurrence. There should not have been any place for him to go. He is most likely destroyed.” Raphael looked directly at Brad, and his eyes had questions. They agreed not to bring up Allenor and the knowledge of the previous Creation to their angelic relatives. The way Raphael looked at him, Brad realized he knew something. Brad replied, “I’m sorry if he’s gone. I know he wasn’t always like he is now. I was hoping we could find a way to bring him back.” Raphael sent a private thought to Brad: Perhaps you still will. I will come to you soon to discuss this in private. You know something, but now is not the time. Brad nodded almost imperceptibly, and Raphael turned away. Henry said, “Guys, I need to get Drew back to the Lab. We need to clean up, eat, and then I know a little boy who needs a nap.” Drew was practically asleep on Henry’s shoulder already. The excitement, once it stopped, wore him out. Cavall and the Wolf-Spirit were both by Henry’s side, staying as close to Drew as possible. Henry still had tears in his eyes. His emotions wouldn’t settle. The enormity of events were still in him, and even though Drew was in his arms, safe and sound, he had died. Michael abruptly announced, “We must go.” He walked to Ken and put his gauntleted hands on his grandson’s heavy shoulders, shaking him slightly. His ageless eyes misted over, and in his deep voice, he said, “I thought I lost you again, yet here you are.” Ken chuckled, “Yeah, well I had to stick around a while longer. Someone has to keep these ladies in line.” Ken’s throat thickened in reaction to Michael’s emotions. Michael whispered in his ear, “I am glad you made it. I can no longer imagine my existence without you. Be well, Ken.” Each of the Archangels said their farewells to their respective grandchildren. Emotions were high from the events of the day, and from the expressions of true love and gratitude towards each other. Istariel, Ruviel, and Telcharan left unobtrusively. Everyone thought their behavior odd and wondered at it. They would have to call Istariel next time they were on ZEUS and find out if something was wrong. Ken and Brad as One – private thoughts Naked, Ken grabbed hold of Brad, pulling him into their signature full-bodied hug. After the stress of the day, they felt perfect against each other. Each man needed the comfort of the other, and they both gave and received it in equal measure. Resting their chins in the crux of each other’s sturdy shoulders, they held each other while their hands roamed over shoulders and backs. It took time for their emotions to run their course. The impact of all the sacrifices hit them hard, and the emotional rollercoaster of events exhausted them. After a time, when they were calmer, Brad asked: Fuck, Ken. Where do we go from here? I don’t know, B. The sun will come up tomorrow, like always. We’ll get up, have hot sex, eat, maybe have more hot sex, and then do our PT, get all sweaty, have more hot sex. You know the drill. Life will go on. Brad grinned: I like the hot sex parts… can we just do that for a day or two? Ken laughed: How about we declare next week, ‘hot sex week.’ Everybody needs a break after this. Brad chuckled: I think you should. It’s going to happen anyway after all this, so why not make it official? Ken got that little kid grin on his face. Fuck, that’s a great idea. Yeah, that’s why I thought of it and you didn’t. Ken laughed and hugged Brad tighter. You fucker. After a short pause, Ken continued. I just needed ‘ta hold you for a while ‘ta settle myself. You know you’re my rock. Brad sniffed and choked up. I lost you today, Ken. I really thought you were gone this time. Both men teared up with the renewed spike of emotion in Brad, and Ken hugged him even tighter. I’m not, B. I’m right here. You guys brought me back. Brad breathed deep taking in Ken’s scent. The proof he was alive was in his arms and helped calm his emotions. We can work through that later tonight. As long as we’re together, we can sort it out. The rest of the guys should be ready. I know they’re all doin’ the same thing we are. Yeah… we need to have a quick pow-wow and decide what to do next. Fuck, you’re a buzzkill sometimes. A grin followed Ken’s comment. Just one more thing. Ken’s hands slipped down and cupped Brad’s solid ass cheeks, giving them a firm squeeze. Don’t start something we can’t finish! Sorry, I just had ‘ta be sure. Sure of what? My ass? Ken’s grin became even more impish. Well, yeah. You pulled the biggest win ever out of your ass, and I want to make sure it’s still firm and solid. Somethin’ that big might have left you all loose and flabby. So, you know… I want to make sure it’s in top shape for later tonight. Brad saw the grin on Ken’s face, and he melted. He knew why Ken said what he did… Ken always did things like that to make Brad feel better or pull his thoughts out of a dark direction. Fuck, he loved his husband so much. As intended, Ken’s smile drove off Brad’s thoughts of almost losing him, and his own smile in return warmed Ken in the same way. As Brad took them back to themselves, he pulled them together one last time, and both men relished the feel of their bodies together and the emotions they felt for one another. The Physical Realm – Waffle House Parking Lot Ken was about to holler out, but saw Drew asleep on Henry’s shoulder. B, pull everybody but Drew into a Construct of the Conference Room. Everyone appeared; the soldiers along with Craig and Kent, the doctor, Albrecht, Henry, and the rest of the Team. Brad expanded the room and had enough chairs for everyone. The Team wore their Kevlar uniforms, the soldiers their combat fatigues, and the doctor and Albrecht were in their usual attire. Ken stood at the lectern with a big smile on his handsome face. “Sorry in advance doc… but we fuckin’ did it!” His grin was infectious, and even the doctor smiled back. Ken continued, “Henry, I know you wanna get Drew back. No time is passin’, but I’ll still make this quick. I want your input. We need ‘ta make a few big decisions, and the rest can wait ‘til later.” His expression turned serious and he said, “Doc, I’m lookin’ ‘ta you and Albrecht mostly on this, but I want everybody’s opinion. How are we gonna handle cleanup? Brad put the entire world ‘ta sleep, and The Master woke ’em all back up like a zombie apocalypse. It’d be an effort, but we can make ’em all forget everythin’, or we can let it be a wakeup call that change is clear and present.” He went around the room and let everyone speak, including the soldiers, saving the doc and Albrecht for last. Ken knew what the guys would say, including Henry. He knew them as well as they knew themselves. The young soldiers had their own opinions as to why, but they all concurred to not cover events up. When it came to the doctor, he said, “I have heard your wisdom, and it is sound. The old ways did not always work. Sometimes secrecy is necessary, however, in this case, I think you are all correct. I will only say… the more time that passes, the more difficult it will be to tamper with memories. We should monitor the news over the globe and adjust our reactions if necessary.” Albrecht concurred with the doctor. As Ken was about to wrap things up, Leroy’s voice entered Bryan’s Mind. ABBA. SLEEP COMES. Bryan looked anxious, so Ken said, “Bry, you and Lane to go tuck Leroy in. Dar can get everyone back home where they need ‘ta be. Everybody sleep in, and we’ll gather tomorrow afternoon to do a full debriefin’.” Brad sent them all back to their bodies in the parking lot at Waffle House. Ken looked, but Miss Lula was gone, and he didn’t see Frank or the Birdman. Bryan pulled Henry aside, “Hey, Henry, I know Drew is zoned out, but do you want to bring him with Lane and me to see Leroy?” Lane piped in, “It’s not every day you get to meet a Dragon.” Henry gently shook Drew, and he lifted his head, his eyes squinted. “Hey, Tiger. I’m sorry to wake you up, but Uncle Bryan and Uncle Lane want to know if you want to meet Leroy? He’s going back to sleep.” The idea of meeting a Dragon woke him up, and he said, “Yes, Daddy!” Henry passed Drew off to Bryan, and he vanished in a flash of Emerald Green Power. As soon as Lane saw through Bryan’s eyes, he took himself and Henry to the Cave. Leroy’s Cave They appeared in Leroy’s Cave, and the immense Dragon was still awake. His enormous golden eyes looked at them. The cave was sweltering, but Henry and Drew were still shirtless. Bryan and Lane took off most of their Kevlar, leaving on the shorts and foot covering. I MUST SLEEP NOW, ABBA. Bryan saw with his Understanding Leroy was exhausted. They drew from him so heavily his Fire was low, and he needed to rest and recharge. Sleep was the only way. Bryan, with Drew on his hip, moved forward. “Leroy, this is Drew! I wanted him to meet you while you’re awake.” Drew’s eyes were as round as saucers. “Hello, Mister Leroy! You’re big!” Leroy didn’t reply, but he lowered his face, stopping within a foot of Drew. Bryan had to reassure him, saying, “You’re safe, Tiger. This is his way of saying hello. Reach out and touch him. He’s soft.” Drew tentatively reached out, rubbing the soft hide of Leroy’s snout. One of his teeth was larger than Bryan and Drew together, but Drew felt no danger. He whipped his head around with a huge smile, said, “Daddy, I petted a Dragon!” Henry grinned, “Wow! Not many little boys ever get to do that!” Henry moved forward and touched Leroy in the same manner. He was shocked at how soft his hide was. The golden orbs of Leroy’s eyes were starting to droop, so Bryan said, “Okay, Leroy. Time to rest. You’re were amazing today! We couldn’t have done it without you! I love you, you big fucker.” WILL YOU SING TO ME UNTIL I FALL ASLEEP? Lane’s guitar coalesced out of nothing, and he started gently strumming. His Avatar glowed softly, and his music filled the cavern. He sang a lullaby, the same one he played in the alternate reality, as Leroy put his head down and closed his eyes. By the second stanza, he was purring and sound asleep. Lane raised his eyebrows, “Well that didn’t take long. We really tired him out!” Lane sent his own silent thanks to the great beast, who saved him and his husband and the rest of his Brothers. He wondered what effect having Leroy awake might have. Something in the creature changed since they interacted with him. His rage didn’t seem as bad, and Lane hoped that wasn’t a bad thing, but only time would tell. The Physical Realm – Waffle House Parking Lot As Bryan and Lane disappeared with Henry and Drew, Loy heard barking immediately followed by a loud groan. He jogged over to the overturned panel truck Tag and Olive drove into The Master. He climbed up and saw Bullet, the dog he got for Tag and Olive, and his eyes teared up again at the thought of his friends. He recognized the man in the cab as Raphael, the young gang member that he and Rick ran into the morning they met Henry. Loy’s voice was filled with confusion and he said, “Raph?” “Loy?! Damn! You’re alright? Did we make it in time? I must have fallen asleep!” Loy lowered his hand and pulled Raph up and through the door. As soon as Loy grabbed Raph’s hand, he Read the young man and knew everything about his life since the last time they met a few years prior. Everything about his journey with Tag and Olive was there too. “Where’s Tag and Olive? They said we had to get here, or something bad was going to happen to you and Rick and your buddies.” The look on Loy’s face indicated terrible news, and Raph asked, “Are they okay?” Loy lowered his head. “No, Raph. They didn’t make it. They gave their lives to save ours.” Raph looked stunned, and his eyes teared up. “Damn. I only just met them. All this shit… I don’t know what to think.” “You did the world a favor Raph. If you hadn’t helped them, all of us would be dead, and Evil would have won. You’re a hero.” “I don’t know what to say. You changed my life… then I meet this old couple, and we figure out our connection to you… and now they’re dead. I believe everything they told me about you guys. The Order, the Enemy… the way things really are.” Raph looked overwhelmed. His eyes were red, and he sniffed. Loy nodded, “It’s all true, Raph. After today the world will be more aware of at least some of it. You can be a voice of reason in the craziness that’s about to follow.” “I don’t know what I can do.” “Just tell the truth. We have to go, but if things get too rough, think back to that morning when we first met and you’ll know how to reach me. You’re a good man, Raph. I knew it then, and you proved me right.” Loy held out his hand, and Raph took it warmly and firmly, and Loy pulled him into a hug. Bullet was still down in the cab of the truck barking at Loy clearly saying, “Don’t forget me!” Raph nearly jumped out of his skin when Bullet appeared in Loy’s arms out of thin air. Loy winked at him and turned away to rejoin the others, who were waiting for him. Raph stood by the overturned panel truck, looking a bit lost. Not knowing what else to do, he reached for his cell phone. He hoped an Uber driver was working who could come give him a ride. When he turned to look, the parking lot was empty. All the men were gone, and it was eerily silent. Unconscious people lay everywhere, where the soldiers had either incapacitated them or, in extreme cases, killed them. He moved to start checking on people, helping to wake them up, trying to figure out what he was going to tell them. Loy said the truth… <><><> In the next few minutes, the young soldiers were back in Uluru, Australia. Kelly was relieved to see them all safe, especially Jacob. They hit the showers, trying to work through the events of the day. Albrecht promised he would be there later in the evening. <><><> The rest of the Team appeared in the Lab, with Henry, Drew, the doctor, and Albrecht. All of them were subdued after the chaotic and adrenalin filled day. Emotional undercurrents were still running through them; relief, joy, guilt, and sorrow not the least over their losses. They remained together as One, each supporting the others in their own unique way. As soon as they materialized in the Lab, Sally rushed to hug everybody, wanting to know what happened. Other than telling her they won, Ken asked her if she could wait for the debriefing the next afternoon. They were exhausted and wanted to clean up and be with their partners to rest. Henry, with Drew in his arms, immediately went to the showers to get his son cleaned up and changed. Drew was exhausted and kept falling asleep on his feet. Henry had to literally hold him up to wash him. Brad kept them all Linked, and even as Henry washed Drew, he rested in the presence of his Brothers. Drew was in the Link as well, but so tired he was only aware of their presence surrounding him and making him feel safe. Their intense love for him, their relief that he was alive and well, and their pride at his success wrapped him up as he floated in the liquid golden Light of their Souls. In the place where their Souls resided, each man held him and kissed him on his forehead, or cheek, or the top of his head as they told him how much he meant to them and how proud they were of him. Henry lay down with Drew, who was out like a light, but remained awake, exhausted, and unable to sleep. His Mind spun, running over everything that happened, and fresh tears came he couldn’t hold back. As badly as Ken wanted some alone time with Brad, he wanted to sleep in the Lab that night. In fact, all the guys did… they wanted to be close to Henry and Drew. As tired as they were, none of them could sleep. Most of them were horny; the adrenaline of the day charged their libidos, and they wanted to work off the excess energy together, but after their private time they felt the need to be close with each other and to be there for Henry and Drew. They had all matured so much in the last four years. Sex was, and always would be, an essential part of their relationships. It fueled many aspects of their abilities, so it would always play a significant role. However, they had come to realize the intimate bonds between them were what really drove them. The fulfillment and closeness, both physically and emotionally, was more important, and the trust between them in every aspect of their lives… trust not to be judged, or hurt, at least not intentionally, but if so, the trust to work things out. The knowledge that no matter what, they always had each other was a deep and profound foundation of their lives. Brad cast his Mind out, and everyone was still awake. After the events of the day, everything they worked towards for years, Henry and Drew breaking the Curse over The Master, The Master’s demise, Ken dying, Drew dying, Tag and Olive’s sacrifice… the grueling punishment everyone took… the culmination of it all was hard to wrap their heads around, and it was all over, or at least the first part. It was anticlimactic and a bit of a letdown. They were familiar with the psychological and emotional aftermath that often occurred after a vital mission; it used to happen when they ran missions in Syria, and it never went away… this time, however, the stakes were so much bigger. Mankind now had a chance! Brad pulled everyone down deep; Ten, Five, One, plus Henry, and they appeared naked to one another. Brad filled the area with comfortable cushions; it wasn’t a Construct, but he made Constructed items inside that space. They formed a circle, lounging together, their legs intertwined and arms around shoulders so they could talk. The freedom of being naked, emotionally and physically, and having their bodies pressed against one another, soothed them. The Paradox of the place let Henry rest against each of them at the same time, and they let him talk. They lived through everything he and Drew experienced, and they let him cry his heart out again over seeing Drew so brutally killed; they cried with him, and their pain ran just as deep. The idea of a six-year-old having the wherewithal to understand the concept of self-sacrifice on such a scale was mind-boggling. As Henry cried, each of them held him, giving him comfort as only a Brother could. They understood his pain and carried him through it; walking with him through it all. They ruffled his hair, or hugged him tightly, rubbing his back or shoulders. They were One, and it happened individually yet simultaneously in that place where they were One. They wondered how Drew would be affected by what Uriel did, at no longer carrying the incarnations within him. Only time would tell, and they would all be there for him. Henry was sure Drew would be back to normal soon enough. Kids were resilient, and he had Henry and the guys to watch over him and love him as only they could. Bill and Kevin had Tommy and Brett with them in their bed, wanting their new sons to know their dads were alive and well. The boys were upset the entire time the Team was gone, and Sally had to continually reassure them that everything was going to turn out alright, all the while hoping it would. They talked and worked through the emotions of the day and the past four years. They knew more trials lay ahead, but with Luke gone, at least for a time, they were given a reprieve. They hung shit on one another and occasionally ganged up on each other as Brothers do. They rested in one another in the amazingly unique way that only they could. None of them wanted to leave; just as when they were One with their partners and in each other’s Hearts, they wanted to be together in that place where time stood still. Eventually, their conversation turned towards what they were going to do moving forward. Were they going to try and remove the Curse over mankind, or give things a few years without The Master driving events to see how humans did? No decisions were made, but thoughts and ideas were shared and bandied about. The Power vacuum of The Master’s absence would send the surviving Enemy Agents into a tailspin. There would be massive power grabs, and they would be busy for years dealing with them, regardless of what direction they decided to go in. They were sure Luke wasn’t gone. With Loy and Lane seeing something through the rift… it had to be related to Allenor. They had no idea how long it would take in the Physical Realm, but they were sure Luke would return, and they knew he would want vengeance. They had to prepare themselves and work on getting new bases up and running and find the other Gifts. They would need all the Power they could muster to deal with Luke once he resurfaced. Ken’s words to Luke, telling him their goal was not to destroy him but to return him Home, echoed in their Minds. Kevin, who was on the other side of Ken from Brad, lightly smacked Ken on the back of his head. Why the hell did you say that? Ken: I don’t know. I was feelin’ studly, and it sounded like a badass thing to say. Bryan: You fucker! That was a dumbass thing to say! Ken: What would you have said? Loy: I don’t know, but not that! The shit-talk continued for a few minutes, and everyone got a good laugh out of it, yet at the same time Ken’s words were serious, and they knew Luke’s redemption was their ultimate goal and not his destruction. It was a daunting task, but again they would take it one step at a time and stay grounded in one another, and together they would succeed. Their conversation continued when the laughter finally stopped, and Ken recounted his weird foray in the Waffle House while he was dead. Ken: Fuck I knew Frank’s hash browns were good, but now it all makes sense. They’re ‘heavenly.’ Immediately the shit-talk started flying again, and in a few minutes, there were fresh tears in most of their eyes from laughing so hard. Eventually, they quieted again, and the warmth and comfort of their bodies touching, arms over shoulders and legs intertwined relaxed them, and they started to get sleepy. For that night they played rock, paper, scissors, and Ken and Brad ended up crawling into bed with Henry and Drew. Ken spooned Henry with Brad on the far side and Drew in the middle. Henry needed the closeness after events of the day and didn’t refuse. He loved his Brothers and accepted their efforts and care in the way they were intended. In fact, he was getting used to it and would miss it when everyone started sleeping in their houses again. True to his word, Ken and Brad woke up early, made their way to their bed down the hall for their morning sex. Later that day they had afternoon sex, and then again before dinner. Everyone did the same thing, and Henry was able to be with Sally. The next night Rick and Loy stayed with Henry and Drew… And so life continued for the Team, and their routines returned to normal. Well, as normal as life could be for ten half-angels, a former Protector of The Enemy, now voted dad of the year, and the little boy who broke the Curse over his eighty-thousand-year-old brother and opened the door for the redemption of Mankind. Just another day in the life of The New Order. (** Epilogue One **) Mankind now had a second chance, thanks to the courage and sacrifice of a young boy named Drew Ross. The Master was defeated and dead. Luke, the Dark One, vowed his revenge on those responsible for his downfall - Drew, his father Henry, the hybrid Nephilim Abominations, and their mentors Aaron Thomas and Albrecht. The young soldiers in Australia were now on Luke’s radar, as well as Sally and Kelly, and even the newborn Chloe. It would be years, if then, before the world learned of the heroes that battled on their behalf and those that selflessly sacrificed themselves. The hybrid Nephilim would have to think long and hard about the direction they wanted to take Mankind. The decision not to cover up the world events would be a wakeup call to humans, and the heroes would watch and wait and see how events unfolded. But first, they had the matter of The Dark One to resolve. As Powerful as the Nephilim hybrids were, they would need to become even stronger to defeat The Dark One. Aspects of their Avatars created by Allenor, the last survivor of the previous Creation, remained hidden. At God’s behest, Allenor forged Ten Gifts that would augment and expand the Avatars of the hybrid Nephilim. Two of the Gifts had been discovered, one by Lane, and one by Loy. The remaining eight were waiting to be found, and they had no idea where any of them were located. (** Epilogue Two **) Miss Lula, Frank, and the Birdman watched the results as the First Reality started moving again. The pause was over as events resolved themselves, and immediately new branches and Rivers presented themselves. Creation still groaned under the weight of the Curse, but now a mechanism existed to remove it once and for all. That decision, however, was out of God’s hands. He had faith in his newest children. Their wisdom would grow as they matured, and he would trust in their decisions. The incarnations of the Triune God smiled at the thought of His newest children; his Third. First, the Angels, then Mankind, and now his newest…. The Nephilim Hybrids who were also Original Men. There was Power and significance in threes. Such things mattered. There was joy in their victory, but also sadness with so many sacrifices, but they were made willingly, freely, and that made all the difference. Unconditional love between His Third children and the ones they touched carried through, even in the face of what seemed insurmountable odds. Their smiles didn’t last long as they looked forward from outside Time, seeing the trials and losses ahead amongst the new Rivers. Once again, the Hope of Creation would rest in the hands of their Free and Unfettered children… ten men, Brothers, five couples, yet One, plus their Brother Henry Ross… a Paradox.
  7. btaoc1963

    Chapter 29

    (** Prologue **) 80,000 Years Ago Creation sang with the first human Soul 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 from having an Animal Spirit to a human Soul. He was the first Original Man, in harmony with Creation and animals did not fear him, 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 and brutal, made more so because the two boys were different from the rest of their tribe. Their Minds were Open, and they were able to see 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 touching, it was easy 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 in his Mind he had never heard before – a voice that spoke! The sounds were strange and 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, telling him it would be dangerous. It insisted he not reveal any of what he heard, especially to his brother. The voice spoke often and told him many secrets, and he grew in strength and Power. He spent more time alone, and his brother was saddened and hurt by his behavior. One day the two brothers fought, which they had never done before. The voice whispered in the First Borns Mind telling him 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 Mind, suggesting his brother needed to be killed. At first, the idea was inconceivable. Even though they fought, the two boys were close, but more and more the Voice predicted the behavior of his brother and convinced the First Born his brother was plotting to take his secrets and kill him. The voice whispered to him always, guiding and shaping his thoughts, corrupting and deceiving him. The seeds took root, and the plan of the Dark One, the source of the voice, grew. The voice taught him how to hide his thoughts, Shielding them from his brother so he would not see the plan to kill him. Being on their own and away from their tribe, the boys had to gather their own food. At the direction of the voice, the First Born called his brother to pick nuts and berries as they often did. His brother seemed happy as they entered the deeper part of the valley close to the water that fed the Tree of Life, and as part of his plan they became separated. The First Born found a stone with jagged edges, roughly the size of his fist, and used it to cut his leg. He writhed on the ground howling in pain, pretending he fell off a ledge. His brother, unsuspecting, ran to him and saw him 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 dazed, his brother’s fist, gripping the stone, struck again and again. His brother cried out three times before he fell silent. The First Born released the primitive rage within him as he struck his sibling, and a feeling of power and strength rushed through him. He lost himself in the violence of the act, but when he came back to himself, he looked on his brother in dismay, feeling fear and shame. His brother’s face was nearly gone, crushed and caved in by his brutal attack. Blood was everywhere, covering both of them, hot and sticky. His brother’s body still twitched, and pain unlike anything he ever felt filled the First Borns Heart. The blood on the stone started to steam and smoke. What have I done!? He had no words, but his Soul shouted his thoughts out to the voice. It 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 poured as the Heavens wept. Creation groaned, and the laughter of the Dark One echoed throughout the Valley. The violence and betrayal of his act changed everything. The wrath of Heaven came down and Cursed the First Born, and all Mankind through him. Gripping the Stone, now steaming with Power and covered in his brother’s blood, he ran away. Ashamed of his actions, he was filled with self-loathing and regret. The First Born fled to 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. The Magic of the Water infused Power into Stone, feeding and strengthening the Curse; 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 reborn into a male child of the tribe, beginning the Cycle of Life and Death of the Second Born. Uriel wept, thinking the Soul lost forever, absorbed by 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 rested on the ground in the barren rocky landscape, seemingly a common stone among many. Every seventh year, on the anniversary of the Second Borns death and rebirth, the Stone would glow, evidence of the Curse and the tragic Cycle of Death surrounding it, calling to the Second Born as he re-entered the world. Eighty thousand years later, on the day Drew Hastings was born, the last vessel of the Second Borns Soul, an Eschphene child saw the Stone on the ground where he played. He saw it glow, 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; to identify the Second Born. He vowed to use the Stone to break the Curse and restore Equilibrium, and more importantly to him, regain 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 despised that sound as much as he despised 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 refused the changes. It prevented him from change, trapping him in his original adult 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. His 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 haunted 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 approached; he felt it in every fiber of his being. He had only been seated a moment when a servant appeared, hovering at the entrance to the Throne Room and awaiting permission to enter. The Master sensed his excitement. Not fear or anxiety as had been the norm recently, but enthusiasm, 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 Yggdrasil, 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 sacred, a place holding many secrets and deeper mysteries to uncover. He hunted its location his entire life, and it eluded him. Yes… he would destroy the Tree along with the New Warriors of The Order, and their Light would be vanquished forever. It brought him great pleasure and satisfaction that the New Warriors were the reason for his discovery. When he invoked the Blood Curse upon Kenneth Habersham, his Teammates took him to The Valley to slow its effects. At one point, Brad Wilson summoned an immense 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 potent enough for The Master to feel, touching 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, gleaned over his lifetime under tutelage of the Dark One, was impressive by itself, but the Curse was an Elemental force tied to the fabric of Creation. If he invoked its Power directly, it was unstoppable. He sensed the approaching confrontation, and his victory with it. He would destroy Yggdrasil and The Order in a two-pronged attack. He would call all the armies of Darkness at his command as he had four years earlier on the morning Ken Habersham and Brad Wilson underwent the 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 also 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 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 time, but not indefinitely and then only if they were all together. He would make sure they were not 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 was 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. The impending confrontation called to him. 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 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. (** Beginning of Chapter **) Mid-October Ken hit the remote to open the garage door just as they turned the corner onto 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 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 into the driveway, the garage door 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 and shook his head, still amazed at how the smallest things made Ken happy. The sky was grey and overcast, with the first chill of Fall in the air. As the two men looked around, leaves and twigs covered the yard, the grass needed mowing and edging, and the hedges trimming. Brad slowed his perception of Time as he watched the leaves blow, feeling the chill breeze on his face. The day looked much colder than it was and seemed to be affecting his mood. He wasn’t depressed or sad exactly… he just felt ‘blah.’ Ken seemed unaffected as they entered the house through the laundry room and went into the kitchen. Brad flipped on 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 in the same spot, putting groceries in 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 the memory 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 in 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 Read the impressions in the house. Brad wanted it to feel like home again; he needed to know there was someplace, some life, outside the Lab 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 his 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 affecting the present right up to that very second. While Brad stood in the kitchen lost in his thoughts, Ken moved to the backyard. Brad watched his husband walk around, picking up twigs and tossing them into the fire pit. He and Ken arranged for time out of their rotation to winterize the pool and check on the house. It seemed trivial with everything going on, but it needed to be done. Ken brought it up in their meeting a few days before, and all the guys needed to do the same thing with their own homes. Brad had a fleeting thought, wondering if they should just sell the house but realized they couldn’t. With 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 their most potent defenses 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. Why are you doing that? I don’t know, B. I miss doin’ it. It’s somethin’ ‘ta do that feels normal. After a slight pause, Ken gave a small chuckle. 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 to himself: Fuck, was he always this handsome? Ken picked up on Brad’s thought and turned, smiling at him. Again, Brad slowed 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 at the unease he sensed in his husband. He set down the net and moved over, putting his hands on Brad’s shoulders and gripping him gently with his 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 with their chins resting on each other’s shoulder as their arms encircled 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 sturdiness, feeling his warm, rock-hard body against his own. They both got hard, and they both smiled. 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 the new shirt. It’s not 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 then, but now… just damn. Ken was unassuming about his looks, but he was also acutely aware of the effect he had on his husband. Brad had the same effect on him and being in each other so often and sharing a Soul made it evident. Ken blushed at Brad’s thoughts and squeezed him a little tighter. Ken activated the pairing of their nervous systems Brad was talking about and gently ground his hips against his husband, and the little kid grin appeared. Which bonding technique? That one? Brad smiled. Yeah, that one. Fuck, I want you so bad, B. We came here ‘ta work on the house, but I don’t think we can until we both get this out of our systems. Red fire erupted from their Core Energy Centers, and their libidos ignited. Let’s go back ‘ta the bedroom. We can take care of the house after. Even as big and muscular and Brad was, he jumped, and Ken caught him as if he were a child. Ken cupped Brad’s ass as his legs wrapped around Ken’s trim waist. Closing their eyes, they kissed. At first it was gentle, even tender, but it was also 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 and then his own, but they continued to hold and kiss each other. 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 arced between their bare chests, connecting them. As Brad brought their Souls together, sweat popped out across their skin. They continued holding each other, occasionally caressing or touching each other in a particular place they knew would drive the other crazy, and with the bond active, it affected them both. They both climaxed in their shorts before they even got undressed, but didn’t stop. Their first orgasm just warmed them up, and then they each became ‘that guy’ for the other. Three hours later, Ken, naked and trembling on top of Brad, squeezed his eyes tightly shut. Their Souls were still entwined and Ken didn’t want to go back to himself, wanting to stay lost in his husband forever. Brad held Ken, caressing 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 before they finally separated but continued to cuddle; the physical intimacy 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 a nipple every now and then. I honestly don’t know Ken. I want to want it if that makes sense. We’ve all gone through so much pain… it’s changing us. We knew there would be costs, and we’re paying them. We’ve come close to losing almost every one of us at some point, but we’ve managed to survive. We always manage to pull a win out of our asses, even when it seems hopeless. Images of Henry’s brutal and near-fatal encounter with 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 ass like he was looking 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 a barrier around what Brad felt until he was strong enough to fight it off on his own. Brad was an incredibly strong man both inside and out but 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 and 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. 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 strain of holding it up becomes intolerable, and the glass has to be set down for a few minutes to recover. If repeated often, the length of time the glass could be supported becomes less and less without a longer rest period. Brad was in a mode of needing an extended rest period. The two men stayed together a few more hours, holding each other and 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. 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 out. That will make taking care of the yard easier to cover up in case Gladys Kravitz is spying on us. They referred to Leslie, their neighbor, as Gladys Kravitz from the old TV show Bewitched. She was a great friend and neighbor and helped them with their mail and the 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. His shirt muted the colors somewhat, but it was still vibrant. It took 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 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 take them all day only took about twenty minutes. Ken: Not bad! If all else fails, we can open a pool and lawn service. Brad: Yeah, if you wear those box cut swim trunks I got you and go shirtless we’ll have more business than we can shake a stick at. Ken grinned and asked: Are you objectifyin’ me? 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: 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 who 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 well-being between them became the emphasis for fulfillment in their relationship. Sex made them stronger as far as their powers and abilities, but their genuine 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 heard 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 his 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 he told Drew there would be severe 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 all about 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 with an arm around his son, and Drew held 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. Henry’s trembling increased, and it snapped Drew back to the present. He wondered again if he should try and wake his dad up. <><> In his dream, Henry faced off against the Eschphene Leader. The Magic creating the Dome over the arena completed 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 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 his desperation to save Drew from the Eschphene plan to turn his son into a monster. Henry fought with everything in him, and 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 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 just a tool to be used and discarded. Seeing that image kept Henry fighting, but he wasn’t enough… every blow he received ripped another piece of his Heart out as he failed his son. Henry 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 haze from 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 raised, reached the top of the Dome. With a brutal attack, she grabbed the Eschphene in her jaws and bit him in half. She savagely shook her head side to side, tearing him apart. Henry heard 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 filled 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 her Spirit washed 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. More of his lingering trauma left as if she took it away, and he felt a warmth from the white lock in his hair. He listened to her wisdom, and his unconscious Mind incorporated it into his psyche. <><> Drew sat up and put a hand on either side of Henry’s face, cupping his cheeks and feeling 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, bright in the dark of the room and easy to see. As Drew reached to touch it, the Wolf-Spirit let out a deep guttural growl and Henry’s trembling stopped, but Drew was still worried. Henry was a heavy sleeper, but Drew’s touch woke him as the Wolf-Spirits words echoed in his Mind. You are worthy of his Love. Henry started, and when his eyes opened, he looked directly into Drew’s face, inches from his own. 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 okay, 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 his, wrapping him 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 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 lie down. Henry got on his side and Drew spooned against him. Henry had one arm around his son, holding them against one another. As he drifted back to sleep, he whispered, “You’re such a good boy, Drew.” He kissed the top of Drew’s head and started snoring softly. Drew was still wide awake. Usually, the sound of Henry’s snoring lulled him 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 against his dad, resting against the warmth of his body. Turning over he put 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 somehow helped his dad. He knew she 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. The incarnations 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 in 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 tangible, 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 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 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 on his own and remove the threat to them. He had to. He had to protect them from his brother. His Mind went back to the conversation he had with the Birdman at the wedding. He distinctly remembered the voice in his Mind. Come. <> Drew knew where to go, and the man waited in the grass, smiling at him. Drew stopped a few feet away, unsure if he should get closer. Drew only ever heard him as a voice in his Heart and had never seen him in person. When his arms extended in an open invitation, 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; sun, 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.” “Okay.” Drew sat 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 his eyes, and they became misty as his expression 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 face 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 remember himself when he was like you. That’s the part of him you must find. It’s deep within 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… he 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 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, and you know how to do 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 must matter, and it has to be on your own and by your choice.” 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, and 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. Drew 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. “I can’t do it by myself!” He was starting to hiccup from the intensity of his crying. The fear he repressed ever since first learning of his task bubbled up. He suddenly wanted his dad very badly, reverting back to a six-year-old boy terrified and out of his depth. The man’s warm hand reached out and cupped his cheek. “Be brave Drew. I’m sorry this falls on your shoulders. That was never my intent. I did not plan on any of this, and I fashioned 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; he 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 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. His fear of confronting 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 the pocket dimension… 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 quickly became unstoppable. The manifestations 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 his 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. He reached for 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 outside the Valley of Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life. The sky was black, full of boiling, seething clouds and lightning as far as he could see. The wind was cold and blowing so hard it nearly knocked him over. Thunder rumbled from the lightning, but it was barely discernable over the wind. The incarnations were off in the distance, rushing towards him across the plane 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, Tiger! You’re safe!” The Wolf-Spirit howled and summoned her pack. They appeared around Henry and Drew, surrounding them and adding their strength to Henry’s. The rushing tide hit the Wall of Henry’s Shield. 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 held a red-orange gleam the same color as the Eschphene Sigils in the Stone. Henry connected the dots… the Eschphene operated under a ‘hive’ mentality. The incarnations in Drew were similar in that they were all a part of him, except he wasn’t in control of them. They were susceptible to Eschphene magic, and that was what the Stone must have done when it had been altered! 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 invoked began to manifest 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! Immediately his two Brothers filled him up, becoming One with him and bolstering his Soul, but it took a few seconds for them to appear. His Shields brightened, and he felt the pressure 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 thick White ribbon arced and crackled between the two men, encircling Henry and Drew and the Wolf-Spirit. White tendrils sparked 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 brightly on the ball of his muscled shoulder in the dim, grey landscape. The hot wind of their Power counteracted the cold of the place they were in. 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 the men formed a Wall around Henry and Drew, Lane knelt inside the circle in front of them. Henry felt 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 might. They were One, greater by far than the sum of their individual selves, and Henry made them even more so. Lane didn’t merge with Drew but went deep within 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, and the pressure of the storm lessened. Drew’s hysteria was painful to them, and they wrapped him in their Power and strength. Once Lane saw some semblance of recognition in Drew, he cupped Drew’s face in his warm hands. Henry still had his arms around Drew, holding him tight. The comforting attendance of 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 at 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 with you, kiddo. Come back to us.” Henry felt it first… the hysteria was still there, but it changed. The grip of the incarnations 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 him was still overpowering; it was the most severe attack he had yet, and Henry wondered why and what set it off. Tears streamed down Henry’s face, and he looked pleadingly at Lane. Do something, Lane! Please help him! I don’t know what to do for him! 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 in 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 manifestations themselves. Eschphene Magic was potent and subtle, and very different from Nephilim Magic. Unbeknownst to any of them, the Stone infected 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, carrying it with him. They wanted so badly to merge with him but knew how harmful it could be, so they refrained. 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, as deep as he thought safe. The naked warmth of his dad comforted him. 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. In their own private Link, Ken pulled them together and Henry’s helplessness was apparent. They also saw Henry’s revelation about the Eschphene plan to use Drew and how the Stone 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. The white lock in his hair blazed in the muted colors of the barren landscape, and his voice railed at 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!? None of them had felt Henry so angry, and it was frightening. Ken said long ago in a conversation with Brad, with their capacity to Love so vastly increased by who and what they were, their capacity for the opposite was also. Henry had so much love for Drew in him, much more than a normal human father. He was Awake, an Original Man, living in his Nephilim Brothers and 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 intensity 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 into his eyes. 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 like ghosts, real but not real. Ken had his arms 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 by his next birthday if we don’t find a way to stop it. Ken: Henry, I know it’s a lot ‘ta ask, but we need Drew ‘ta focus and pull one of them in here, and we need ‘ta stay Shielded from the rest as a precaution. Do you think he’s up ‘ta that? Brad: I know he’s been through the wringer 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 visible. 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 smiled at him, “There’s my boy. Are you feeling better?” Drew didn’t say anything but nodded. Ken was still close, and he leaned down and kissed Drew on his 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 disturbing emotions. Instead, there was a numbness, a resignation in Drew after all that just happened that worried them. They all felt it at one point in time or another in themselves as soldiers but seeing it so clearly in 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, knowing what was coming. Lane got a smile out of him, and he looked better, saying, “Thanks, Uncle Lane.” “You’re welcome, Tiger. You got this, no sweat.” All of them were surprised at how fast and steadily the Flame appeared in Drew’s Mind. Suddenly, a small Pakistani boy stood 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 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, pushing back Bill’s pain and Rhavi’s suffering. Their Love shone on this one child as it only had one other time in his existence; the time Henry held him just as Bill did. What drove home the severity of the Curse and the weight it put on Drew, was the fact 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. An epiphany struck Brad and Bill simultaneously about the Orphanage and how dealing with the broken children prepared Bill to deal with the pain of the incarnations in Drew. Puppet strings. 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 glowed brightly, and his eyes blazed White. It happened so fast, he barely kept it in check. Just as Loy’s Avatar took him to Africa when it reacted to the Elephant, Kevin’s Avatar responded 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 behind Rhavi as Bill held the boy, so he was sandwiched between the two big men. A wave of Light came off Kevin passing through 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. His desperation to stay in Bill’s arms was clear; 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. 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 drew in as much Power as they could hold. They called on all the sources of their strength; the Tree, the Veil, the Music of Creation, the Animal Spirits; they channeled it all, and Kevin became the vessel for all of them. Ken locked their Avatars together, and the Light that came out of Kevin was a silent explosion. There was much more resistance because there were so many children, but Ken helped steel Kevin’s Will. He was a Wall behind all of them, but his focus was on Kevin, backing his Brother up. Ken learned about being a Wall from Henry, and he made sure Henry knew it as they were One and helping to wash the Eschphene Magic out of his son. Ken reiterated how much a part of them Henry was, and how important. In seconds it was done. Kevin was drenched in sweat and breathing hard, 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 ‘ta start trainin’ at 1000 EST, no matter where in the world you are, unless you’re on ZEUS. If you’re 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 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 stayed 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 comfort, and they were offering it. The offer of sex was an undercurrent 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 naked down to the room Loy and Rick were in. Rick 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 in 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 fell back asleep. Drew snuggled against Rick’s hairy muscular body, sandwiched between Rick and his dad. Drew felt like he had two walls around him and slept the rest of the night, knowing he was safe. 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, watching over their Dreams. <><><> Taliesin’s doorbell rang. 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. Rushing to the door, Taliesin opened it saying, “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 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 for a face lick and scratched Cavall’s ears. “Hey boy, it’s great to see you!” It struck Taliesin that Bryan wasn’t with Lane. “Where’s Bryan? I’ve never seen you two apart.” “Well yeah, I’m breaking a bit of a rule by being here on my own. I promised Bry 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’s there too. I think the doc and Albrecht filled you in on who he is. Anyway, 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 his 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. Taliesin opened one of two large armoires, and Lane saw several instruments on hooks. He had leather cases for most of them, but couldn’t find the cover 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 hung 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 in me for so long it’s a part of me. I put that together since the wedding. Áedán seems to like to keep in practice too.” Lane raised an eyebrow at his comment. “It’s strange having him as a part of me now. He doesn’t exactly talk to me, but it’s like I have 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. 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 easier once his husband was back. Bryan was quiet around Taliesin at first, although not because of any hard feelings. He worked through everything when they merged with Taliesin at the wedding. Bryan, basically a shy man, was more reserved around his new friend. As the day wore on, Bryan opened up more, and he and Taliesin gained a newfound respect for one another. Bryan was as surprised as Lane 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 in-depth discussions on musical theory and took occasional breaks to play 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 sharp sense of remorse for the animals he ordered killed in Syria while 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 returning Taliesin was Heal his sunburn into a nice tan. <><><> The next few weeks seemed 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 voiced his concerns 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 Glamour 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 in 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 and within his Heart. He was Brighter than before, his Light stronger, and he was even more of a comfort to his Brothers when they merged. Time passed, and they were down to six months before the confrontation. There was no nervousness, but there was restlessness and apprehension for Drew and what he faced. Drew’s training proceeded rapidly. With the Eschphene Magic washed out of the incarnations, Drew’s progress advanced faster than expected. At the same time, there was something else wrong none of them could put their finger on. Drew expressed an ambivalence in his efforts that was uncharacteristic and unnerving. He excelled at everything, both physically and psychically, but something was wrong. He applied himself to his lessons with 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. He was like a sponge and couldn’t get enough knowledge, but he was entirely unenthusiastic about it, as if it were 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 even when he 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 became 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 in his Mind when they were Linked. He figured out the year before how to conceal 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 like his mother was incomprehensible, and he pushed himself harder than ever to get stronger so that wouldn’t happen. Brad was aware of what Drew was doing, and it pained them that Drew learned what he was doing from them. When the men merged and talked about it, their eyes were bright, and some of them shed tears over 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, 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 exhibit in their lifetimes. He was turning into a soldier before their eyes, and there was nothing they could do about it. In fact, it needed to happen if he was to have any chance of success, 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 knowledge. 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 and the combined experience they had. Many of them had been thieves and street urchins in the times they lived. He began to talk with them, one at a time, at night when Henry was asleep. The incarnations spoke 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 cried thinking of how everyone he loved would be disappointed in him, but he braced himself against those thoughts and began his preparations. <><><> Halloween was almost on top of them. Time seemed to move 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 his 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, 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 dripping down his cheeks. He softly cupped Drew’s chin and raised his face. Drew’s breathing was getting 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 quietly picked up his son and hugged him tightly, whispering in his ear. “It’s alright honey. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. We can talk about this later.” When Henry picked him up, Drew latched onto him, 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 because his Uncles couldn’t succeed unless Drew did his part first. Henry desperately wanted to merge with his son and shower him with love and support Soul to Soul and help carry his 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 the last few years. He heard everyone talk about the consequences of their failure to the world and while there was never any intention of that pressure directed at him, 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 okay, 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, so 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 hands soothed him. Drew reverted back a few years to a time when Henry did everything for him, as he did immediately after Liz’s death. That occasionally happened when he was upset. Henry focused on his son and kept talking to him about nothing. He picked up several tricks from Ken and Loy on how to talk about nothing to keep a conversation going. He wanted Drew relaxed and not focused on what was bothering him to normalize his emotions. 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 after 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 waist and bundled Drew up in another, and took Drew back to their room to get dressed. He saw 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 dressing 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?” “Okay, 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 he was on the verge of pulling back emotionally. It was Bryan who was the star of the night. All the guys were great, but Bryan cooked up something new for Drew, and made a big deal of needing help with a name for it. Bryan stood in the kitchen wearing sweatpants and his “World’s Greatest Uncle” t-shirt while he made dinner. The shirt stretched over his chest, shoulders, and arms snugly like he had been 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’ve got a huge problem.” “What’s the matter, Uncle Bryan?” “Well, you 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 have to 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. “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 them?” Bryan took pieces of hot dog, cut up into small squares, dipped them in sweet cornbread batter, and deep-fried them. Drew loved corndogs, and this was a basic variation on that, but Bryan wrapped the hot dog 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. “Whew! 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. Whenever Bryan was on the roster with Henry at either base, Drew took to sitting on Bryan’s shoulders while he cooked. Sitting so high he was tall enough to open cabinets and reach for things or hold utensils for Bryan. They both loved it, and Drew felt like he was helping Uncle cook. When he was idle he would often rest his cheek on top of Bryan’s head or keep his hands on Bryan’s head for leverage. Bryan could also turn his head and grab a kiss every now and then, or sneak Drew a bite of whatever he was cooking and get a hug 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, and 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, sending his support and encouragement through their Link. The rest of them were with him too, their hands on his back and shoulders, available if he needed any of them, for any reason, in any capacity. Lane held up a hand before Henry started to form the word ‘thanks.’ Don’t say it! They all chuckled, and smiling Henry moved down the hall to his room. As Drew hugged his Uncles goodnight, his mood became increasingly somber. He was going to miss their arms around him. They made him feel special and loved in a way he could never have imagined only a few years before. With the weight on his shoulders, their constant Love and affection was a barrier he wasn’t consciously aware of. Drew remembered the day in the Mall of Georgia when his Uncle Brad beat up Doug, his real father. Doug was sent off to jail that day. He remembered Brad holding him and whispering in 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 faded, but in Drew’s Mind they were all his heroes, especially Henry. He wanted to cry but stopped himself, pulling 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. Usually, he was all about The Cartoon Network. Lane had him turned on to some vintage cartoons the network played in the evenings, and Drew was in love with Space Ghost and The Herculoids. Drew undressed with Henry and they crawled in bed together. Henry fluffed their pillows so they could sit up and read. Before Drew could snuggle against him, Henry 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 karate chopped his inner crybaby. He was sure he knew what Drew was doing, and Drew needed him very badly even though he didn’t realize it. Drew sat on Henry’s lap, and Henry looked at his son, the beautiful 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, Drew trusted and loved Henry enough to be his father and to care for him and to love Henry back especially after he lost his mother. Henry looked into Drew’s eyes and remembered his statement 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 rest 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 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, so it was fresh in his Mind. Drew nearly panicked, but his dad never saw the invisible box he hid his plan behind. Don’t pull back, honey. Please don’t pull back from me, or your Uncles. Don’t distance yourself from the people you love and the things you love doing that make you happy. You need those things. You need your Uncles and me, 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 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 remained quiet, resting against his dad’s warm strength. Henry let him be for a long time before he spoke again. 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. I know it seems pulling away will make things look easier, but it won’t. You only hurt yourself when you do that. You can’t cut things out of your life or people that care about you and make you strong. I’ll never leave you, Drew. 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 Henry couldn’t be with him, and if he said anything, it would be worse. Drew knew Henry couldn’t be with him when he faced his brother, or he could lose his dad like he lost his mom. He wanted to tell Henry everything the birdman said to him, but couldn’t, to protect his dad. Drew was in one of his adult modes, and he understood everything Henry told him. It was a difficult concept for a six-year-old to grasp but Drew fully understood 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'd regret it afterward, and the chance would be gone. I know Tommy and Brett will be happy if you go. The three of you will have a great time together. Drew’s mental voice was a whisper. I’ll go, Daddy. I want to go. Drew set his hands on Henry’s upper chest and pushed himself up and kissed Henry on his cheek and then put 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 his last Halloween, and he wanted it to be a happy memory. He knew Christmas was going to be the same and needed to make it special as well. Through the hurt Henry smiled at Drew, glassy-eyed from their conversation and his own thoughts and anxiety, and he gave Drew an Eskimo kiss, rubbing their noses together and making him smile. Henry 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. Can Brett go as Bumblebee? Could Uncle Lane do what he did for me? Tommy and I want all of us to be Avengers, but Brett wants to be Bumblebee. I don’t know; we’ll have to ask Lane, but I bet he can. Tommy wants to be 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 be going together. I’m sure all the guys will want to go like we did last year. Drew fell quiet, content to be with his dad. Henry didn’t want Drew to remain in a melancholy mood, so he asked, “Are you ready 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 for their reading time. 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 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 were too relaxing and comforting. With Drew asleep, Henry delved into his Brothers. Pat, Darren, Bryan, and Lane appeared with him naked in the place where their Souls were One. Henry cried, and they cried with him, yet reassured him they were 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 and Rick, Bryan and 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, and let their Auras shine bright, warming their Souls as they held each other. Drew was aware of it in his sleep and basked in it. The incarnations within him were soothed, feeling the Unconditional Love of the men. Henry stayed awake for a while. Darren spooned him, his arms wrapped around Henry and their legs partially intertwined. The physical intimacy was so comforting they started to get hard and laughed. It was their bodies reacting, coupled with the emotional intimacy they shared while being merged, as if their bodies wanted to merge as well. Darren pulled Henry closer in a brief hug and rested his forehead against Henry’s shoulder with a contented sigh. Pat was on the other side of Darren doing the same thing; Henry felt Pat’s hand 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 woke up with, and the private time needed to prepare for the day. Henry woke 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 was 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 smile and even hotter to one another. There was still a deep-seated root of sadness over Henry not having someone special in his life, but that wasn’t something any of them could do anything about. Once the situation with The Master was resolved, and then Luke, they hoped and prayed someone would come into his life to fill that hole. Until then, 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 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 a Compulsion around the three children so there would be no pictures or recordings of their costumes. The guys 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 Lane calling them into the gym. Okay, 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 in 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, and 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 filed into the gym. Lane had the boys and their fathers posed for the maximum effect, and his grin ran ear-to-ear. “What do you think?!” For a few seconds, everyone was too stunned to react, and the looks on their faces priceless. Even with everything they had seen on their journey thus far - Demons, Eschphene, even Allenor - they were still blown away by what Lane came up with. Kevin, physically the largest and beefiest of the guys, was Colossus from the X-Men. He only wore 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 looked stunning. Henry stood with his feet wide apart holding a gleaming golden trident. He was Aqua-Man, wearing 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 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 to 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-and-blue shield rested on his arm, and he struck a heroic pose. Drew was Iron Man, and he hovered off the floor in a classic Iron Man pose as his boot jets and Repulsor rays stabilized his flight; Brad and Lane held him up, but Darren took over once he was in 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 guys cheered, clapped, and whistled. Now they were in the gym and all together, Brad pulled them into a Link, and the excitement in the boys became evident. 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 hold the sparkle they usually expressed. 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 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, worried about him but not letting on. Darren: Okay 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 and Bill’s neighborhood, and as Lane predicted they 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 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 over their costumes. When Brett spoke, 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 saw 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, the sorrows, the pain, and the concern. It was the way they survived, and truth be told, they wouldn’t 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 fathers declined. Taliesin wasn’t able to attend due to a school function he couldn’t get out of. Lane was disappointed but understood completely and said he would take a rain check on getting together again soon. Even he was surprised at his newfound friendship with the ancient Bard, and he was sorry Taliesin couldn’t make it. 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 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 one of the guys made a point to play with her and hold her. Most 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 at all unhappy with his decision. The doctor and Albrecht remained scarce during the party. Neither cared much for large gatherings and stayed in their quarters. <><><> Drew was patient and the thought of protecting Henry and his Uncles gave him the resolve to carry out his plan. Doctor Aaron gave 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 on his list. Some of the incarnations taught him how to do things or arrange circumstances to facilitate gathering what he needed. Inside himself, deep down, he cried almost all the time but he hid that part of himself in the way he learned to do so the outside Drew everyone saw appeared normal. To Henry and his Uncles, he expressed a stoic resolve in the face of what approached. Everyone noticed it and they were all worried about him, especially Henry. 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 sometimes wavered in the face of their fierce love for him. He felt wretched for deceiving them and 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. The next night he and Henry were on rotation in Atlanta he would execute his plan. Drew felt the stirring around him, the ripples and constant vortices that encircled him in the Spiritual Realm. He was at the center of a Nexus, a point that could potentially change all Creation depending on the outcome of the confrontation with his brother. He also knew it was soon, sooner than his next birthday. He felt it was on top of him, perhaps only days or weeks rather than 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 save everyone was to leave and be alone. Of all the pain and tragedy he faced in his young life, leaving everyone he loved 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 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 to Heaven with him. He was a compassionate boy, far more than he should be for his age, but he had the experience of over eleven thousand tragic Souls inside him. The incarnations were anything but 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, but they were unbalanced and twisted; many of them were insane. There were a few 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, but it was the only way. Once Drew found that part of his brother, if it still existed, he would have to convince him to ask 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 the current version of his brother, he would surely kill Drew. Drew wasn’t afraid to die… he had been killed over eleven thousand times, each time brutally, but if he were successful, this death would be his last, and he would go to Heaven, and the incarnations would finally find peace. He wept at 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 Tommy and Brett were on ZEUS and not with him. Sally knew something was bothering Drew because he was acting out of character. She tried her best to cheer him up and even changed her plans midafternoon because of his behavior. Drew was quiet all through dinner and 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 wailed 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 several 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 dinner that night, and it was the best it ever tasted. He even put the yellow cheese Drew liked on the bread instead of the white powdery kind. That night Drew didn’t go to sleep. He waited until it was late, and Henry was snoring. He crawled out of bed and stopped by the Wolf-Spirit whispering, “My tummy is upset, and I’m going to the bathroom. Stay with daddy in case he needs you.” 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 dripped 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 put a piece of masking tape on the locker and wrote ‘Drewmeister’ in big black letters. He looked at their lockers, and smelled them. The locker room was filled with the scent of their musk, sweat, and deodorant and 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 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 took 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 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 forgot. One of Lane’s favorite phrases came to mind. Think, you dumbass, think! Drew knew it had a bad word in it, but it made him smile anyway. His Uncle Lane was funny. He unwrapped the Amulet and hung it around his neck. It was one of Orophir’s Amulets the Enemy used to avoid detection. It was the one 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 took Drew into the Lab’s vault when he summoned the Stone for testing. Doctor Aaron was mapping the sigils the Eschphene etched into the Stone as the trap for his brother. Drew was so nervous he almost threw up when he took it. There were several Amulets, but he only took one. They were in a small black velvet pouch. Doctor Aaron had to use the bathroom and asked Drew to stand outside the room until he returned. Drew had to be quick and felt awful. The doctor trusted him, and he betrayed that trust. He was betraying everyone he loved by running away, and it was eating him up, but he didn’t know what else to do. Along with the Amulet he took one of the special bank cards from Miss Sally’s desk. Sally kept the PIN on a post-it note attached to the card. Most important of all, next to the Amulet, he had Doctor Aaron’s security code for the door out of the Lab. It took Drew weeks to figure out the numbers because the doctor punched them in so fast, but by slowing his perception of time, he finally got them. He had only been gone from his room a few minutes but 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 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. He ran back to the locker room and put the iPad in his empty locker, knowing they would find it and ran back to the main door. He carefully punched in Doctor Aaron’s code and heard the light ‘click’ of the magnetic locks releasing. He opened the door and moved out into the chilly Atlanta night. It was cold and windy outside the heated building, and he was glad he wore his hoodie. The sound of the door closing was final. He watched 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, but the boy was nowhere to be found. Her howl of fear and anxiety filled the Lab and echoed in the Spiritual Realm, calling the Steward. Lane and Bryan shot out of bed at her howl, and Loy’s voice entered their Minds immediately. What’s wrong!? Where’s Drew? Lane activated Henry’s trigger, and he woke with a start. An icy ball of fear hit him hard when he realized he was alone in bed. Henry: Drew! Every bit of Power in Henry went into his call, but there was no response. Lane and Bryan rushed to 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 Drew’s locker empty except for his iPad. His backpack was gone. The presence of 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 forced themselves to be calm and operate as Soldiers and do whatever needed to be done to find him. Sally woke 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, so 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, knowing 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 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 into 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. When they returned to their normal color, he said, “Get ready, guys.” An image formed in their Minds 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 go 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 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 animals for miles around, and the Wolf-Spirit sent 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 on his iPad while planning the details. He pulled out as much cash as the limit for that bank allowed and stuffed it in his pack. He waited until he saw a car and sent a Compulsion to the driver. Stop. I need a ride. He made the driver stop at two more nearby ATMs she knew about and pulled out more money. Then he switched drivers, making the first one forget everything. He had never used his powers in such a manner, and it felt wrong. It made him feel dirty 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 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 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 and snacks. 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 because 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 protecting him or to sleep between any of his Uncles. <><><> Henry checked the locker and Drew’s backpack was gone, but the iPad was still there, and when Lane saw it his gut twinged, knowing it was important. 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 on the couch by the kitchen area with his head in his hands, surrounded by everyone. Ken sat beside him with an arm around his shoulder, but there was no consoling him. His son was missing and 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 has somethin’ in mind, we just need ‘ta find him before he can do whatever it is. 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 snapped 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 and double-tapped the icon. The video opened, and it was Drew’s face up close as he started the recording. The camera moved around a few seconds while he repositioned it. He made it in the room he and Henry lived in. “Hi, Daddy.” As soon as he said those words, he started to tear up. “I’m sorry for running away, but I don’t want you or my uncles getting hurt because of me.” He was in adult mode when he started, but quickly broke down and was more his normal self. “I love you, Daddy. I love Uncle Ken and Brad and Bryan and Lane and Rick and Loy and Pat and Darren and Kevin and 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 wrenched 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 noise in the background that sounded like Henry 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 where the only sounds were heavy breathing and sniffling. Henry finally broke the silence, quietly saying, “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 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 became 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 ‘ta figure out a way ‘ta 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 ‘ta lose you or any of us that he’s willin’ ‘ta do whatever it takes ‘ta stop us from bein’ hurt or getting’ 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 Drew. I’m sorry if that’s harsh, but you can’t fall apart on us, or him. You’re strong. You’re a Wall, and you need ‘ta keep bein’ that Wall, even through this, do you understand me? While Ken spoke, everyone surrounded Henry. They pressed 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, but as they rested in one another he calmed down, and then 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’s facing 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. Brad: I think I know what God said to him, Henry. At the wedding. Not exactly, but 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 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. You’re not replaceable. Especially after Liz. Henry: Fuck me. Loy ruffled his hair and asked: You change your mind on me? The sudden irreverent question shocked Henry, but it did the trick, snapping 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 us. Ken: That’s right. We have ‘ta be confident we’re gonna win. Losin’ is not an option. So, let’s get movin’ and find the little shit. If we win, he’s 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 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. A week passed, and there was no sign of him. Two weeks went by. Every one of them tried to keep hope alive, but it was dwindling slowly. Ken called off their training so everyone could focus on finding 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 being careful. Thanksgiving came and went, uncelebrated. None of them felt like it, and a somber air hung over the Lab. 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 needed to keep their abilities at their peak, but it was more than that. The bonds between them as husbands and Brothers were all that kept the situation from tearing them apart. They stayed strong in one another and 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, and 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 and scrying for Drew in case he slipped up and took off the Amulet even for a few seconds. As he made his way to the gym, Ken found Henry passed out on the floor beside a destroyed punching bag. Henry was white as a sheet and had dark circles under his eyes. He woke up as Ken picked him up and carried him to the shower. Brad rushed to 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 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 soothe him. Brad put his therapeutic training to good use, 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 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 waiting with Henry around the clock after that, no matter what time of day or night. <><><> Lane slept after he and Bryan 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, knowing he had to be terrified and lonely while doing what he thought right. They taught him bravery without realizing it, but he was also a very young boy faced with something inconceivable. Their thoughts were with him always, even if he couldn’t feel them. There was no way Drew could feel the hole he left in 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 stayed 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. Seconds after he fell asleep, Lane’s Avatar came to life, and he Dreamed. He Dreamt of Darkness… not The Enemy, but of the Nothing before Creation. After Allenor’s Creation but before his own. He watched the Archangels come to be. Luke was there before his Fall, content with himself, the Morning Star and 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 condensed and cooled, 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 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 his Creation was worthy and righteous enough to survive. Free Will was at the root of the Fall, but would also be its salvation. Lane became 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 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 Second 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 Borns’ 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 Yggdrasil in their backyards. He watched when Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael moved The Master’s body forward 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 minuscule. 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 Vortices surrounding Drew and the Master. He watched as the Ripples from both Sides affected 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, alone! His Dream ended as if Creation itself didn’t exist beyond that point… and realized it didn’t. His earth was the first of all worlds in the Multiverse and what transpired there would affect all the reflections. He saw Drew, small and frail, wearing a bright red hoodie 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 which had never happened before. Time moved differently in Dreams and Lane traveled farther and longer than he ever had. Remiel carried him to places few had ever gone even among the High Hosts. The terror in Lane ran 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 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 his thoughts were heard around the world by his Brothers, and they were instantly in him. They appeared together as One, naked to each other physically and emotionally. Everyone became aware of Henry and what transpired 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 experienced the anxiety of not knowing if one of them was going to live or die. 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, but vulnerable. They were beautiful and strong in one another, 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 full of Power, calling on all the sources available to them as soon as they heard Lane’s call. Their Avatars reacted 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, and all of them, especially Henry, felt they were failing the little boy. How could they have not seen this coming? Ken’s words about there being no blame echoed through them. Brad brought forth the memory of when Ken spoke them 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. A pervasive feeling of helplessness ran through all of them. Unless Drew made a mistake or contacted them, there was little chance of finding him in time. They would not stop trying, but it didn’t look good. Ken’s Avatar glowed brightly magnified by the other Bodies, and his Will and Conviction strengthened. He pushed it to the forefront of their Minds and Hearts, infusing all of them. We’ve come too far guys, through too much for us ‘ta 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 ‘ta be ready. We watch and stay alert, and at the first sign of anythin’ unusual, we need ‘ta 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 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 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, red 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 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 ‘ta protect us. He’s terrified, but he’s doin’ it anyway 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 anyway. 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 won’t need our help, especially yours. So, all of us need to do what we can to 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 to be 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 their collective 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. He would be the Wall for his son. Before he could think ‘thanks, guys’ Lane’s arms encircled Henry from behind and he thought: You’re welcome, Brother. Coden, Alabama - 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 pumped up his cuteness factor trying to get Tag’s attention. Tag held back a grin that threatened to show 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 stole their hearts the minute he came into their lives, 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 sometimes tell when Loy watched them through Bullet’s eyes. When that happened, it made Olive 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 their garage. Her mother taught her that trick. She was saving 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 sat 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 arranged that. The dishes were in the dishwasher, but she still had two pans soaking in the sink. She didn’t like to let them soak too long, so she put down her needlepoint and went to the kitchen. Glancing over she saw Tag’s head lolled to one side and heard him lightly snoring. Bullet finally fell asleep too, but he woke at her movement. 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 stay in here wit Papa.” It was just 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 something about him caught her attention, and attention wasn’t 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 Dark, she couldn’t take a chance. She and her husband were embroiled in the Battle for a time but were now hidden, trying to live normal lives again. She moved back to the den and turned off the TV. The sudden silence woke Tag, and he knew something was wrong as soon as he saw her face. Before he could ask what was going on, she put a finger to her lips indicating 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 didn’t bark. He ran to the edge of the fence and abruptly stopped, standing tense and still as stone. The man knelt, and Bullet shoved his snout through the slats to lick his hand. That made her feel somewhat better, and they stepped out onto the front porch. The man stood under the street light, and once they were outside they got a better look at him. He was large and powerfully built, and he was sweating profusely. Their fence was wooden, and his hand gripped the point of one of the slats so tightly it broke off, and blood dripped 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!” The old couple rushed out to the man, who seemed on the verge of collapse. 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 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 sounded strained, and he gasped in intense pain. “I cannot; your house is warded against my kind.” He seemed ready to collapse but steeled himself and continued, “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 you 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, for 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 time to explain. Go, please... I beg you, do as I say. You must get there in time!” 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.” His desperation and urgency convinced them. He sucked in breath, losing his fight against the pain. As he moved his jacket opened slightly, and 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 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 on you. Do not go back into the house. Leave and be at that address in two weeks’ time.” 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 gestured, 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, but 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, and 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, clearing him of his PTSD and drug addiction that plagued him since the war 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 suddenly felt a pervading sense of otherness that was disturbingly uncomfortable. They hid 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, their dog, and the Love for their friends to give them the strength to do what needed to be done. <><><> Raphael appeared even before the light faded. What just happened was as wrong as anything he ever felt. A large area of the Physical Realm ceased to exist. Residual Power emanated from the center of the anomaly where the house used to be. He was sure the Power he felt was what remained of an angel. He knew the house that was gone belonged to the old black couple, Taggart and Olive Keenan. Their home had been 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 replied, “I do not now. What was here is now gone. Not disintegrated or atomized but gone. Unmade. That should be impossible.” Michael asked, “Could the Dark One be responsible?” Raphael replied, “This is beyond Him, or any of us. I must go Home and seek an answer to this.” The archangels transformed into balls of Light and slipped out of the Physical Realm. They were unnerved and had no answers as to what transpired, something that should have been impossible. <><><> Lane’s Dream affected 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, and were prepared to react within seconds. The Australian residents maintained they would be fine so the Team could stay together in Atlanta. Ken insisted Albrecht remain in Australia anyway while the doctor and Giovanni remained on ZEUS with Orophir. The rest of the guys would be Atlanta with Henry and Sally. Lane still had no idea what part 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 through 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 do whatever he was called upon to do. While they were at the Lab, Ken insisted everyone stay suited up. Bryan and Bill continued monitoring 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. She knew how the guys operated being so 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 soothe him and was successful. She helped him with his Tantric exercise, but after that, she wanted to help him relax. He was extremely wound up and ended up surprising both of them with 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 genuinely 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 latest 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.” “There are many levels of redundancy to that system. For it to fail, something catastrophic must have happened. 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 extreme for that to happen.” Bill switched one of the video feeds to CNN Headline News. The monitors were all being used to scan security camera footage using facial recognition software in 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 massive crater where the house used to be. They were stunned and a smattering of ‘fuck me’s’ and ‘oh shits’ 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 their recent troubles. The old couple had seen so much together, had touched their lives so profoundly… they couldn’t be gone! Looking at the screen, Brad asked, “How?” Ken exclaimed, “Fuck! B, skim the people down there and find a place ‘ta 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 movin’ on lookin’ 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 were present. The six men appeared within a hundred feet of the roped-off area in their black Kevlar Assault Suits. Brad emitted 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 ‘ta find out if there’s any chance Tag and Olive are still alive. It went without saying there was little hope of their friend’s survival. There were too many backup systems and ways for them to contact the Team in an 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 past the police tape, ignored by everyone as if they weren’t there. People unconsciously shifted 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 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! An odd sense of vertigo struck Lane 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 a vague picture began to form. It was fractured, but with great effort and concentration, along with Brad’s help, the image cleared some. An angel in human form, injured, stood at the edge of the Protection of the Runes surrounding 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, Olive, or 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, as the Energy of the two were 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 Creations 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, and even later in Heaven. It was another blow they didn’t expect, and their deaths made no sense. If Tag or Olive 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 Tag and Olive along with Bullet to protect them, and Brad couldn’t sense their Minds. 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?” Ken didn’t know what to do. Tag and Olive’s 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 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 watched everything through his eyes and Avatar. Just to be sure, Loy cast his Awareness out around the area, looking for Bullet but didn’t find him. Animals all over the area where on edge over what happened, and his presence calmed them, but his heart remained heavy. 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. Other Realms had different Laws, but that was a Constant within the Physical Realm so what they saw seemed impossible. The residual Energy of the other Creation was the key, but how did it come to be there? 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 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 and took a deep breath. If there’s no more danger here, take us back to the Lab, Dar. 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. Ken’s words were painful to say, 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 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. One for each of them and one for Bullet. Olive was a strong woman but wasn’t used to living outdoors or walking for hours at a time, and even at night the temperature in southern Alabama was warm and muggy. Tag drew from his memories of living on the streets and coached her on how to take it easy. They didn’t make good progress the first night, and by the next morning they were starving. Bullet stayed close to Olive, inherently knowing she didn’t feel well. He was hungry too, but 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.” “That 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, thankful 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 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 what 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, but it was often still edible. What they managed to collect was enough to keep them going. They stopped at a Campground midweek and used the showers and rinsed out their clothes. They had to put them back on wet, and they chafed at first but dried quickly in the heat. After the first few days, they both lost weight and were ill. Olive was feverish and had to stop often and rest. Tag thought long and hard about what to do because 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 to Montgomery. 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 too, and he was in much better physical shape than she was. He was worried, tired, and scared, for himself, 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 terrible was going to happen to them, so maybe it already started. He asked Bullet to contact Loy, but the dog stared back blankly. He either didn’t understand, or it just 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 Mobile, a few miles north of Interstate 65. “Momma, stay put for a bit. I’m gonna find us a place to sleep.” Olive was too 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. Bullet stayed with her without Tag saying anything. Half an hour went by, and Olive fell asleep on the bench. Tag was worried; her complexion was chalky, and she was sweating. When he returned, he gently woke her up and 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 led her behind the building to the warehouse doors. There was a large trash collection area with two giant dumpsters; there were also some appliance boxes from deliveries. He led Olive to a large refrigerator box he pulled from one of the dumpsters, just like he used to sleep in. It was the best he could do on short notice. Tag led Olive 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 and crawled in, asking, “How did you…” “Never you mind, Momma. Never you mind.” Olive moved down to the end resting 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 scuttled in and curled up at her side. “Momma, I’m gonna find us sumptin’ ‘ta eat. You lay down and rest. It’s Sunday, and the store is already closed, so no one should come messin’ ‘round back here. It should be quiet ’til mornin’, and we’ll be gone by then anyhow.” Before he finished talking Olive was softly snoring. Tag was concerned about leaving her, even for a few minutes, but he was more worried about getting her fever down 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 picked up 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 and stuck it in his pants as an afterthought. He knew he 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 doors were electronic, and he waited until they were open as someone was leaving and made a mad dash out the door. Before anyone realized what he was doing he was past 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 in his arms trying to comfort her, and Bullet was against her legs to help keep her warm. She slept fitfully, but her fever broke 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 had gotten chilly, and they woke shivering, but once the sun was up and they were walking it quickly turned 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 someone would stop to help an elderly 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 kept 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 no place to sit or get out of the sun. The trees off the road were dense and thick, and Tag 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’s doin’ what we was instructed, dammit! Make me suffer all’n you want, but don’t make her suffer too! She’s a Godly woman and don’t deserve this 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 asked, “You folks need a lift?” Tag said, “Do we ever. We’s 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’.” “Hey! You’re in luck! I’m headed to Atlanta. Hop in. It’s too hot for you guys to be out.” “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 out, 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 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 wasn’t right to hear people’s thoughts or make them do things except in absolute emergencies. He also knew looking inside people hurt, especially his Uncles and his dad. It didn’t seem to bother him as much, but he didn’t understand most of what he heard or saw. It terrified Drew to think he was ugly inside now too and would hurt them if he Linked with them. The incarnations were restless. His worry and anxiety made them that way, and they missed Henry’s presence along with his Uncles. Drew didn’t realize how much it calmed them down when he was Linked with everybody at the Lab. Everything he thought and felt 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. One afternoon, he had a meltdown and cried so hard he couldn’t breathe. He wasn’t thinking clearly and eventually remembered all he had to do was take off the Amulet, and they would find him. Then he remembered how much danger they would be in because of him and his momentary lapse passed. Drew was miserable and wanted his dad. He clutched the rings around his neck and remembered, but for the first time, his mother’s presence didn’t soothe him. He knew it wasn’t really her, only memories of her. He pulled out the shirt he grabbed from his dad’s locker and smelled it. It smelled like Henry and Drew cried again, wanting his dad’s arms around him even more. 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 intensely what Henry tried to explain to him. I feel you. Drew sat up and his eyes flew open. It was his brother’s voice! Drew was wearing an Amulet that should prevent that! We will meet face-to-face soon, and I will destroy you. I will consume your Soul, so you can never again return. 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 broadcasting his thoughts across 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 swirled around them were continually tugging them together. He knew his brother was mean and wanted to frighten him. Anger hit Drew 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 run 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 city. I feel you. We will meet face-to-face soon, and I will destroy you. I will consume your Soul, so you can never again return. 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 Drew shouted 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 couldn’t find him. Henry’s heart was about to burst in his chest. Drew was okay! He threw out his challenge to The Master, and his response confirmed his plan. They didn’t know the details of what he planned, but he confirmed what they thought. They couldn’t talk to Drew in the same manner and wondered how The Master could; the amulet should prevent it. Brad deduced it must be because of his connection to Drew that allowed his thoughts to be heard. Henry shouted in the Lab, “Oh God! Drew! Honey, no! Don’t talk to him!” Ken was closest to Henry and grabbed hold of him. “Henry, we know he’s okay! 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. 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 now know his favorite cereal and soda. So much for being badass.” Darren interjected, “Henry, listen to Ken. We know he’s okay! He’s still out there and ready to fight. Yeah, that scares the shit out of me too, but we know he’s alright. He’s made it this far on his own.” Henry calmed down and sighed, lowering his head and saying, “Yeah, I get it, guys. 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, saying, “Bill and I 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. He was mad and lashed out, but right now 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 and he almost whispered, “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 and exclaimed, “Fuck, this is killing me!” Brad took them 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 over-reacting, or being a baby; they were all worried sick about Drew and the fact he was alone and on his way to face The Master. Their loving support helped calm Henry, and their arms around his shoulders as well as their tears carried him until he was strong enough to carry on again. <><><> Drew stopped, breathless. He didn’t know what direction he ran in and didn’t know where he was. Henry was right and Drew was terrified. The adrenaline rush from his outburst wore off quickly, and he felt exposed and vulnerable. He wanted the safety of the Lab more than ever and to be with his family. He continued down the street and saw a Burger King sign. He noticed cameras, but when he looked in the Mind of the lady wearing a headset behind the counter, he knew only two of the cameras were real, and the rest were fake or broken. He sat at a table out of the line of sight of the two cameras that worked. A man two tables away sat eating by himself, and Drew gave him money along with a Compulsion to buy him lunch. Drew didn’t notice a tall, well-dressed man on the street that happened to catch sight of him running and going into Burger King. It was pure 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 alone! 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 Drew if he was by himself. <><> When Drew realized the toy in the Kid's Meal was from the latest Disney movie, he Commanded the man to go buy five more so he could have the complete set. By the time the man came back, Drew finished his meal but wanted a milkshake, so 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 left the restaurant. He didn’t notice the six black Escalades parked along the street, or the well-dressed men and their Protectors getting out. <><><> Tag’s dream bordered on a nightmare. It was four years ago, and he was in Atlanta, back in his box strung out on meth. Rick and Loy’s voices came in and out of his hearing. His Dream was hazy and unfocused, and he heard other voices too. One of them sounded familiar, but he couldn’t place it. The truck lurched forward, jarring him awake. Traffic was heavy and moving slowly through the construction. Tag sounded sleepy as he asked, “Sumptin’ wrong?” Raph’s face had a scowl on it and he said, “Yeah, I need to pull over and check.” He 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 was feeling better after her sleep, but she was still tired and kept head on Tag’s shoulder with her eyes closed. 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 make it tonight.” Tag wasn’t happy, but he didn’t have any alternatives, other than trying to find another ride. Raph saw his concern and said, “Look, Tag. I’m going to Atlanta anyway. 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 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 grinned and said, “Good deal. I’ll call a tow truck and make sure we can all get a ride.” Bullet’s ears perked up, and Raph chuckled 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. 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, “Okay 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 and told Raph, “Look, son. Me and momma don’t got no 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 grateful for the young man’s generosity, and it touched him deeply. “Thank you, Raph, that’s mighty generous. If Momma wasn’t feelin’ 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 at himself by the time he finished mixing up the phrase. Raph not only paid for the room, he also bought a family dinner at the Kentucky Fried Chicken next door to the hotel. It was the first substantial 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. While they ate a thought kept nagging in the back of Tag’s Mind. After his dream, some dots 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 small plastic container. He remembered Bryan’s though, and it brought a smile to his face. Once Bryan found out strawberry shortcake was Tag’s favorite dessert, 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 we need ‘ta 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, “Yeah, 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 turned serious, and Raph glanced at him, his look smart and 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 connecting. “You said someone helped set you straight?” Raph sighed and leaned back, patting his full stomach. “Yeah, 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 he 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, and he asked, “What do you mean?” “You know what I mean. Did they talk in 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 with one leg living in a big cardboard box. Some men paid me and my boys to chase away anyone 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?” He glanced at Tags legs, and his eyes widened. Tag held out his hand and said, “Calm down, Raph. I don’t know, 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 need our help. We gotta get there, or they is gonna die.” “Jesus, Tag! If anyone else told me that I’d drop them and run, but something weirds going on here!” Raph sat up suddenly as Tag’s words hit him. “What do you mean they’re going to die if you don’t get there?” Tag sighed and said, “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 Momma and me, but to us, we look da same as always.” Olive had been quiet up to that point, but she was feeling better and spoke up. “Thank you, Raph, for helpin’ us. The boyz mean the world ‘ta 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 ‘em down. We owe ‘em our lives, too.” Raph looked shaken, even a little pale and said, “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 wrong decisions I made and how they affected not only my life but my family. 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 took me months to figure it all out, and turning my life around wasn’t easy. The people I was mixed up with don’t let you just walk away. Some of my friends didn’t make it, but 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 stealing one from strangers is… well better. I don’t know how else to say it.” Tag smiled, “You is doin’ right by Loy and Rick, Raph. They’d be proud ‘a 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 git 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’ll 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 didn’t tell him until after her lesson that she didn’t have a ride home. Her parents expected Taliesin to drive her 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. He knew the type of upper-class arrogance he was dealing with and would make sure it didn’t happen again. He learned centuries ago how to put uppity nobles in their place, and the girl’s parents would get an earful. Part of his mood was worry about Drew and everything Lane shared with him. The Enemy hunted the boy, and that put Taliesin at risk of exposure 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 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. He was a walking arsenal. “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 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, purchased an instrument far beyond her skills. Truthfully, her talent would never be worthy of the instrument. When she eventually failed or became disinterested in her lessons, he would offer to purchase the violin at a substantially reduced price and add it to his collection. Cavall trotted out and hopped in the back seat of the car when Tal opened the door for him. Cavall, like all dogs, loved riding in the car. Chelsea sat up front, and Tal drove through horrific mid-afternoon Atlanta traffic down to Buckhead. Taliesin, as a Bard and performer for thousands of years around the world, was a good entertainer. He made Chelsea feel comfortable while subtly discouraging her from continuing her musical path. It became clear shortly into their conversation that it was her parents pushing her in that direction. Her mother, a failed Cellist, was trying to live vicariously through her daughter, who of course must be a child prodigy because the mother herself was so talented. After dropping Chelsea off, he ran into more construction on West Paces Ferry Road and 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 and refrigerators, 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. Ever since Lane and Bryan and the others put half of Áedán’s Soul in him, his life turned around. The love Áedán held for him all those years ago, the love he never knew about, or not in the way that mattered, now resided within him. Taliesin picked up the habit of speaking to Áedán directly and had conversations with himself. Áedán never talked back in words, but Tal felt emotions he interpreted as responses. Taliesin’s step had a bounce to it he hadn’t had in a very long time… he couldn’t remember being as happy or content. His love for Áedán, and Áedán’s love for him, finally washed away the ugliness of what Charissa did to him. Through the actions of his new Brothers, the old pain of what Charisa did to him was gone. He was finally free of her webs and manipulations and any lingering emotions. To pass the time Tal played a game with Cavall, something Áedán used to do. Tal noticed many mannerisms of Áedán’s he picked up. Instead of being weirded out by them, they were a comfort. They were a part of the man he loved who was now inside him. He was happier than he had been in his entire lifetime, happier than he ever thought he could be and 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 were astounding, yet there were few he liked. 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 to 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, lost in his thoughts, sang the lyrics while making random turns trying to avoid more traffic when he noticed a little boy running down the street in a bright red hoodie. The boy seemed in a panic, and he caught Taliesin’s eye. Memories of his own life as a street urchin before Albrecht found him flashed through 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 was 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 he was alert, Tal noticed how many Escalades were about, and he didn’t know the area well enough, especially with 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 only six years old; eleven thousand times over, but none of his incarnations had 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 hidden in the upholstery of the seats, drawing them as he rolled. The familiar sound of the blades leaving their scabbards was music he never got tired of hearing. Cavall jumped out behind him as Taliesin rolled to his feet and took off running, abandoning the car. A few minutes earlier Drew walked out of Burger King and stopped, not sure which way to go. He was excited about having the entire collection of toys. He held one 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 like his dad and his Uncles with a leering grin on his face. Drew’s Mind was Open, and he saw the evil behind the smile. Blindingly fast, the man grabbed him. He was a Protector of The Enemy. They had 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, but 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, 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 backward 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 just kicked, but the man’s face was purple as his hands moved with all his enhanced speed to clutch at his aching testicles. Protectors didn’t feel pain as ordinary 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, driving him where they wanted him to go. The Amulet would protect his Mind from 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 felt the forces pulling the two of them together, and they were strong, but not finished. 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 his Uncles too soon, or they would surely die. He stopped when he saw more Protectors 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 at them. Stop it! Oddly enough, they quieted. Not entirely, 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 phones 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 alley between two storefronts stood Taliesin with a sword in each hand and Cavall by his side. “Drew, this way, quick!” The Protectors slowed, unsure of the new development. They recognized Taliesin; he was wanted by their Master almost as much as the boy, and they knew he was dangerous. To kill the Bard who slew countless numbers of them over the years and to capture The Master’s brother would be a great day! Drew ran as fast as he could and threw his arms around Taliesin’s waist in a fierce hug. Relief ran through him; a friend was there to help, and he wasn’t alone anymore! Taliesin saw the tears on Drew’s face. As the Protectors halted, Taliesin knelt 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 to put Drew at least somewhat at ease. Drew sniffed and nodded and followed Taliesin. The alley was a dead-end, 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 to 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. Cavall stayed slightly ahead of them, his hackles high and 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 must if you wish to survive, child. If the fight drags out too long, you know The Master will arrive, and unless you wish to face him 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 Taliesin spoke, 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 at that moment Taliesin wouldn’t survive and knew Taliesin’s death would be his fault for running away and needing help. The impact of that hit Drew hard, and the weight of it 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 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 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 Áedán’s than his own. Áedán fought with a double-edged Long Sword, but Taliesin preferred the single-edged Katanas he now wielded. They were weapons of a samurai, and Taliesin was a blade master. However, Áedán was arguably the best swordsman who ever lived. Áedán often teased him about the ‘willow wands’ he fought with rather than a real sword, and that thought made him smile. Taliesin found his Centering Flame, and his Mind calmed. He could no longer slow his perception of Time and missed that ability. He could use the Gift; if he still carried it he could quickly 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 in his Mind. It was the familiar presence of Áedán, and his eyes widened in surprise. <> Deep within himself, where his Soul resided, Taliesin appeared naked. Áedán 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. Áedán’s handsome face and muscular body had never looked so virile or desirable. He was so beautiful and manly he almost seemed otherworldly. Months ago, Taliesin looked on Áedán’s face as he lay entombed in Avalon, preserved by The Mantle and the enchantment Charisa 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, Taliesin’s Mind and Heart had been in chaos as emotions of centuries caught up with him. He cried when he looked upon Áedán’s body, so lifelike he could have been asleep, and Taliesin’s Heart shattered when a single tear caused Áedán’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 Áedán’s deep voice, speaking ancient Gaelic, filled his ears; the sweet music of his voice Taliesin hadn’t heard in ages. “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 spilled from his eyes. “I only just found you Áedán, 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. Áedán wiped Taliesin’s tears away with his thumbs, and they smiled at one another. Áedán kissed him, and they became aroused. Taliesin 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 Taliesin had to fill to bring about The Master’s defeat. 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 to die than in Battle against The Enemy, side by side with the man he loved and fulfilling a Purpose that would affect not only the World but all Creation. 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 how, but something in Taliesin changed. Cavall sensed it too. He felt Áedán, his old master. When he looked with his silver eyes, he saw both his masters standing as One before him, in the same body. Áedán smiled at him once again, and the unconditional love for his first master filled him. Áedán gave him the command to aggressively defend their position, and Cavall bared his teeth in a savage snarl and 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 mighty in each. Raphael never knew the Purpose of his Instruction to dispatch Ariel and 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 Áedán, 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 that 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 in The Enemy Agents, and they moved forward, not realizing it was Áedán Mac Artur of legend they faced, alongside Taliesin, the Bard of Avalon. They didn’t 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 them. Drew’s Amulet protected him, but Taliesin no longer carried the Gift and had no Shields. Brad placed protections over his Mind to 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, stopping their attack and shattering it with his own Power. The hound had been the Companion to Áedán, and now Taliesin, but his role was ever to defend Drew at that moment in Time. Raphael watched from the Heavens and saw the end result of his instruction all those centuries ago and smiled. Taliesin smiled grimly and took up a fluid, graceful stance. Like Ken and his brothers, Áedán 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 Áedán would have to defend Drew from the Protectors; inhumanly fast genetically enhanced beasts of men, with an incredibly high tolerance for pain. The Protectors were far faster than Taliesin, but Taliesin had thousands of years of experience, and Áedán was the best swordsman who had ever lived. With the two men One, their skills blended seamlessly together. To deal with an opponent faster and stronger, Taliesin had to predict where they would be and not where they were. The narrow alley only permitted a few Protectors at a time to attack, restricting their movements and making that prediction easier. Taliesin knew what to do through Áedán, and he began whirling like a dervish, his blades flashing so quickly they were nearly invisible. He watched the approaching men and with Áedán’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 countless times, sharpening the edges 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, and a fraction of a second later they fell to the ground, cleanly severed. Taliesin’s face hardened upon drawing first blood, but it was Áedán who threw out the challenge in ancient Gaelic. None of those present spoke the ancient dialect, but his 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 Áedán 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 closer which hampered 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 alley 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. Corpses and body parts lay strewn about the entrance to the alleyway obstructing the area. 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, Áedán 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 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 beaten down, covered in blood and sweat and his clothes 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 within 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 peeked 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 making eye contact with Drew. Their Minds were Shielded, and he was strong enough to break them, but his 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 ran in, 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 growl of defiance. Drew heard one scream cut off and then a yelp of pain from Cavall. 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 where 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 and Drew squinted his eyes as he exited and ran. He didn’t hear anything but 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 occupied with various tasks related to searching for Drew. Bryan reviewed security footage from hotel computer systems, Bill monitored satellite feeds, and Brad scried 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 monitored social media outlets and almost jumped out of his chair when he got a hit. Guys! I got something! Henry was the first to reach his side, rushing to look over his shoulder. 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 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 the alley, in a blinding flash of Light, Uriel appeared, with Taliesin’s body 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 corpses in a pile around Taliesin. Tears filled their eyes as they rushed over, but Uriel already held Taliesin’s Soul. It was beautiful, and the men saw Áedán 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, and with his deep gentle voice said, “He is finally at Peace, Lane. He died gloriously, in Battle with The Enemy as he and Áedán 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, and the world 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. Lane was sad another Light in the World was snuffed out, but more than that another friend was gone from his life, one that he had 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 in you now. We all merged with him, but you’re the one who can keep his Music alive. 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 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, 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 his Brothers, and the Power of what happened, he discerned 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. A whimper in the alley! He rushed with all his enhanced speed to the source of the sound. By a doorway, under the bodies of three dead Protectors, lay Cavall. His sides were barely moving, his body crushed, but the throats of the three Protectors were ripped out, nearly beheaded. As his master commanded, Cavall defended the boy with his last breath. Loy! They were One, and even as Ken called out, Loy appeared by his side. Instead of Ken lifting the bodies off the wounded dog, Loy teleported Cavall into his arms. White Healing enveloped Cavall, restoring him to full health and wellbeing. He wiggled and thrashed as he Healed, trying to escape Loy’s arms and return to Áedán and Tal. Loy set him down, and he ran to Taliesin’s corpse, sniffing him. His head hung low for a moment, and then he howled. His cry was filled with honor and grief, 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 sensed the pervasive 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 his head on Taliesin’s bloody chest as tears ran from his silver eyes. Loy moved to him, scratching his ears, and filled the dog with his 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 Áedán’s sacrifice, their combined Soul appeared like a shooting star for anyone to see in the afternoon sky as he shot back to the Heavens. Brad took them deep where they were naked together, and their Souls One. All of them were crying. There was tremendous relief 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 had discovered a kindred musical Soul in Taliesin, and they had been well on their way to becoming good friends. Taliesin had been a tragic figure through the many years of his life, but with their help he finally found peace, even happiness. Yet sadly, Taliesin’s happiness was intense but short-lived. Puppet strings abounded through Taliesin’s life, adding to their anger and frustration over his death. Lane Dreamed years earlier of 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 Lane why his Dream was never clear. It was Áedán’s Soul. 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 Áedán’s Soul caused an ambiguity with Taliesin once his Soul merged with Áedán’s. Lane himself, and his Brothers created the lack of lucidity. 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 accomplished 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, unique in Creation, and his bravery was no less than that of his two masters. He just happened to get lucky and live. They sat in a circle, 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 were hurt and 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. Not forever, because one day, perhaps millennia away, they would see them in Heaven. Loy’s half-brother Alariel was another hole in their Hearts, especially Loy’s. Sally’s fiancé Carlo, Greg Rawlins, Ken’s brother Richard and his mother Gladys, Kevin’s brother Archie and his entire family; the list had grown long 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 friends and family wore on them. They were weathering the storm as soldiers do, but it didn’t mean they weren’t suffering. They carried the burdens 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 hurt so much higher, was to feel the losses as acutely. Ken wondered 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, Original Men, and Nephilim, their bonds more rooted than ever; now they were more than Brothers and lived within each other. 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 they could continue. If they failed Drew and Henry, they weren’t sure they could carry on. Henry felt their thoughts as his because he was One with them. He never thought he could have Brothers as he now did, living in 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 worry over Drew, he was enough for them. The strength of his Soul and personality, of ‘Henry,' had grown so much since he met them. He was a gift to them and wrapped them in his arms along with his Mind, Heart, and Soul, giving them comfort. It was unique with Henry because none of the men grew up with fathers, and Henry offered a sense of that to them, very different than what the doctor offered. 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 fill the emptiness 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 over needing each other, and they stayed together 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 had transpired. Drew was visible to them, and he was upset and scared but did what Taliesin told him. He ran instead of fighting, honoring Taliesin’s sacrifice. Through the Power of Bill’s Avatar, they saw both Áedán and Taliesin in the fight. Áedán 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 him after everything he had been through. Cavall was willing to sacrifice himself for Drew just like Tal and Áedán, except he lived. Loy wanted Drew to keep him once everything was settled, but if not, he would take Cavall for his own. Finally, there were no more words or tears. They arrived at the point where they were able to laugh at some of their frustrations over Taliesin. They spoke 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 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, and they would make sure history remembered his actions. 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 to their bodies. There were still many 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 ash. There was no mercy or sympathy in any of them for willing servants of The Enemy. The bodies of the Protectors and all the pieces burned to ash as well from the Strength of their Light, clearing the evidence. Brad erased the memories of everyone in the area who witnessed the fight. The few people that Tweeted, he Commanded to delete their messages. The doctor had an application that could root out the re-Tweets and scrub the internet. There would be people around the world that saw the images, but there would 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 Avalon and scatter them there, so they can mix with Áedán’s. I think he’d like that. I know Uriel took him Home, but I think it’s the right way 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 glowed, and a thick White ribbon arced through them. A hot wind blew the hair off their handsome faces as they poured themselves into Darren. In a few moments Taliesin’s body was reduced to ashes, and Darren collected them with his Mind shaping them in a ball until they could get to the Lab and find a proper container. Ken gathered Taliesin’s Katanas, not wanting to lose them. <><><> Michael became aware 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 part of his Province. The Valley 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. It seemed inevitable after the Creation of their Nephilim grandchildren that the Valley would eventually be discovered. They traveled there often and were careful, but it was bound to happen. Uriel’s Nephilim grandson Bryan was the Earthly Protector of the Valley, Yggdrasil, 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 humankind, but at the same time appropriate in terms of the Balance as the birthplace of the Curse. 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 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, and 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 for their success or failure, as the Oath forced upon The Dark One will no longer Bind him once the fight is over, and he will strike swiftly. Gather your forces and be ready. Raphael: I have faith in our grandchildren. 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. Uriel: Such is the way of War, among our Kind or Man. 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 a reflection of an unexpected side-effect of their grandchildren. It was nice, a comfort, and something they quickly became accustomed to. <><><> They had only been back in the Lab for an hour. They processed the majority 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 to 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, Jonathan, and the other Elders of The Order died, the impact on their mentors was significant. Drew was still missing, but they knew he was alive. Cosmic events were on top of them, and they had days, perhaps only hours, before The Master and Drew would meet and the event they had been training for over the last four years, the first Purpose of their existence, would occur. None of them were nervous for themselves, but there was a thick 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 inevitable, but Brad put the pieces together, and it 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 battled, conflicted over 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, ready if Ken called or needed them. Ken moved down the steps and rushed across the parking lot. Michael stood 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, saying, “I bring grave news.” Ken’s smile disappeared. “I am aware of your losses, Ken. At this time, 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 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 lost more Brothers than Ken could imagine. What Ken was going through seemed paltry in comparison, yet he appreciated Michael’s words. 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 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 in their Minds at his comment. Ken asked, “So what is it, grandfather?” “The Enemy has discovered the location of The Valley. I felt it as soon as they attempted to enter. Those who tried are dead. There are heavy Protections, but now they know where it lies it is inevitable they will try to destroy it.” Ken felt the tension in Bryan at 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, the support of his Brothers increased 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 Dragon. If The Master or his servants attack the Valley, it will be up to Bryan to stop them. 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 forever. Why now? And how?” Michael hesitated as if he didn’t want to respond. Brad knew why and said, “It’s my fault.” Ken spun around with an incredulous look on his face. “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 as its Summoner, The Master must have felt it.” 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 ‘ta 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 going to manage to make it about fucking. You two fuckers are amazing. Michael got it wrong, you two are very 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 an 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 things would work out and 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 of the truck repair. He was enough of a mechanic to know the service station was trying to hook him into additional repairs and delay him 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 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 meeting 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 thought gave him goosebumps. It made him think more about what Loy did for him and how he was able to do it. Loy walked with Raph in his memories and through most of his life, lovingly showing him 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 Dark, The Order and 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 wondered at how the world 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. 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 sit 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 to annihilate the Light! The Order will fall by our hand today! Take the Valley! Destroy the Tree and everything 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 from his Throne, naked except for an 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 from his savage strength to destroy the new Warriors. His brother was inconsequential, a boy of little or no meaning. The Master was confident of his victory over The Order, 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 to 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 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. They were 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; under the seething Darkness covering his face, his lips pulled back over his crooked, sharp yellow teeth in a smile. <><><> Through Atlanta and across the world, ‘suits’ and Protectors emerged from hiding and wreaked havoc, killing normals, starting riots, and setting fires. The entire planet became covered in dark boiling clouds as lightning and thunder filled the skies in response to the event about to occur. The Physical and Spiritual Realms reflected the conflict and would be in a state of flux until either the Light or the Darkness won. The Curse on Man was more evident than ever. The servants of The Master started the violence and chaos, but it was merely throwing a spark on the fumes of the Curse resting within humans… the ‘fucked-upness’ was there and waiting for the match. People went berserk as the constraints they kept on their inner selves were broken and their base natures released. Not all men were dark inside… many tried to be good, but the Curse was still in them. A very few tried to stop what was happening while others locked themselves away, not participating, and trying to stay safe. All humans felt the rushing tide of the approaching confrontation, even though they didn’t know what it was or understand it. They stood on the edge of a precipice waiting to 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. The High Hosts stopped and watched. The confrontation was at hand. Mankind’s Fate would be determined in the next few moments. Creation paused, holding its breath, waiting to see what would unfold… <><><> Across the Cosmos, the Dark Cloud formed. Four years prior it had been pushed back and dissipated by The Four Corners with the help of Taliesin, Istariel, and his three cousins. Now Taliesin was gone, Alariel was not present, and the Four Corners could not be summoned. The Cloud, formed again, contained all the Power of Darkness spread over Creation under Dominion of The Master and manifested into one vessel. All the Powers and Principalities The Dark One granted him to establish his Rule over the Physical Realm he Called. 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 Yggdrasil 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 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 sat 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 from his body. It went through the door and into the hallway. Instinctively he knew it tied him to his brother, and the time had finally arrived. Drew started at a 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, inhaling and smelling it, 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. Drew climbed off the bed and left his room. He walked through the Lobby 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 into the front seat. Drew wasn’t sure where it was he needed to go, but he felt the tug of the Vortex. It wasn’t the same place 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 witnessed the chaos starting in the city around him. Screams and explosions and gunfire erupted everywhere, and he watched it through the window of the van as they drove. The sky was dark, and violence spread 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 residing in ordinary people loose. Drew Shielded the driver, Commanding him to ignore everything and drive. Twenty minutes later the van pulled 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. Drew’s recollections of meeting his Uncles Ken and Brad there for the first time, shopping last Christmas with all his Uncles, and Lane helping him with his Christmas presents 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 sowing chaos around the world. It started quickly and built into a storm of unparalleled magnitude. Many people thought it was Armageddon, or Ragnarok, the end of the world, and it might be depending on the outcome of what was about to happen. Henry’s gut went icy cold. The fate of his son was unknown, and the feeling he should be by Drew’s side overpowering. Drew was alone by 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, 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 the prayers of those precious few. It was a small Light amidst the vast Darkness, but it only took a little 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 they were doing the right thing. It gave them strength. Calmly, they stood and filed into the gym. Ken put his arm around 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 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 stood 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, but no words were necessary. They were in 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. However, 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… confident in their training and 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 formed over and around them. It was more tangible than ever 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 sat by Loy’s side as her pack swam among the other Spirits filling the room. Brad fluttered their Souls 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. Cavall pressed against Loy’s other leg, and with a mighty howl the Hound of Áedán mac Artur sent a challenge to the Darkness. His Power, not inconsiderable, join theirs, unexpected but welcome. They were pillars of Light, filled to the point of pain. Their muscular bodies stood tall, their angelic Heritage 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 thick and bright, and the doctor and Albrecht had to shift their Sight to keep from being blinded. Ken: B, hit ’em. Brad’s eyes flashed White, and he leaned his head back, his muscular neck thickening. The veins at his temple and neck were visible from the effort he put forth. A hot wind blew the hair on their 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 normal humans out. People 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 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, and they locked themselves in. People exited their vehicles 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 while their sense of urgency grew stronger. Suddenly, everyone fell unconscious. They felt Brad’s Compulsion, but the angel who sent them on their task set protections in their Minds, and they were unaffected. Bullet yelped but he was protected as well. Tag looked over, and Raph was unconscious. “Momma, help me switch places with him.” 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 were everywhere, most alive and asleep but some were corpses, killed by other people. The skies were black, and lightning filled the darkness, reflecting the Confrontation and clash of Powers. Uriel was already hard at work, his wings sweeping the globe and collecting Souls. With the protections on their Minds, Tag and Olive were able to see into the Spiritual Realm as the Veil thinned, and they were 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 knew the glow in the distance was their boyz. Their Light was bright enough to see even as far away as they were. They were fighting back, and Olive knew everyone falling asleep was their doing. Tears fell down her face at what she saw; elation filled her at seeing their Light shine forth, exerting their Power against the Evil she knew existed. Olive 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. <><><> The wave of White Power that swept through the world passed through Drew as well. His Amulet protected him, and it washed over him. 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. Drew felt his Uncles not far away, their Aura’s sharp and Bright. He knew his dad was with them. He felt another thrill when he heard Cavall’s challenge to the Darkness. Cavall was alive! Drew’s breath caught, and his eyes misted as it struck him not everything or everyone had to die fighting his brother. Henry 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 in the restaurant staring at him. She was a waitress, and he wondered 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 wind, but no human noise, physical or psychic. The quiet Drew felt was deep; it was the quiet before the storm as all Creation stopped, and the High Hosts watched from above, waiting to see what happened. Drew heard the sound of tires on the pavement as a black Escalade pulled into the parking lot. He felt the Darkness that was his brother 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, 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 The Master wanted to separate them, thinking they were weaker apart. He didn’t realize the Paradox of their existence and how they lived in one another when they were merged and One. Distance didn’t matter and was irrelevant. Ken: Fuck! Bry go! You and Lane go and stop them! The Tree can’t fall, and he can’t wake up Leroy! Call us if you need help! In an Emerald flash, Bryan vanished, 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 to see 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 on his servants throughout Creation, and Bryan saw with his Understanding how powerful the 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 shone brightly 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 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 and their love for one another. Bryan and Lane held the defense. They were enough. It wasn’t easy, but they sufficed. Lane looked up, and the Black cloud seemed endless, making him wonder how long they could hold against it. <><> Ken smiled grimly while Lane and Bryan defended 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. Ken’s hands were on Bryan’s back, supporting him, along with Lane’s strong arms around his chest. Ken’s confidence filled them, and it helped fuel their defense. <><> Across the planet in the Valley, amidst their defense of the Tree, Lane’s eyes flashed White. His Avatar flared, and a Vision 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 backpack hung over his shoulder. He looked small and frail and utterly 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 while he wore the Amulet. The thought occurred to him that the severity of the Cosmic Event happening charged the Ether so powerfully it allowed his Avatar to see through the area of the Amulet. He cast a thought to Drew but wasn’t surprised Drew didn’t hear him. Lane’s stomach lurched when a black Escalade pulled into the parking lot. In the background of his Vision, he saw the chaos covering 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 The Master’s clawed foot stepped out onto the pavement. The rest of his massive body came into view, and he was naked; his grotesquely muscular form, ruddy-skinned and covered in brownish-red coarse fur, looked immense as if he expanded once he exited the vehicle. Lane’s vision panned around to the Silver Amulet around The Master’s neck. Fuck! <><> Lane’s Vision filled 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 piggyback 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 who stood alone, looking up at his brothers' grotesquely muscled form towering over him. Drew only came up to mid-thigh on the giant. Drew backed a few feet away, and they saw his expression. The Master’s deep voice echoed through both Realms, and 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 kill the Nephilim Abominations! <><> Deep in themselves where they were naked and One, Henry blurted out, “Darren send me! The Amulet won’t stop you from sending me!” They knew, especially Henry, Drew thought Henry would die if he were a part of what was going on. They also knew Henry was willing to sacrifice himself for his son. He had made that apparent when he fought the Eschphene. A thought echoed in Brad’s Mind… Henry lived. Against all odds, Henry lived and had grown even more since then. Time wasn’t moving, and the image of The Master towering over Drew was frozen in 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 pulled Henry into a fierce hug, his throat 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 running through 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 as he spoke the words. Send him, Dar. Henry, Drew is your first priority, you know that, but if you can get that Amulet off The Master, do it. <><> Back in his body, Henry took off running across the gym with all the speed in his enhanced form 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, even though he thought he was prepared. The Amulet around Drew’s neck prevented 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, thick with muscle, swiped down to rip his brother in half… … only to pass through empty air. <><> Henry appeared, moving at his maximum speed. As he materialized, Darren changed his trajectory to 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 precisely what he needed to do, and how to prevent any injury to Drew. Drew didn’t have time to be surprised. The next thing he knew he was on the ground fifty feet away in the arms of his father. The voice he wanted to hear so bad, the arms he wanted around him more than anything, were there, and he felt safe again. Henry’s warm breath tickled his ear as he whispered, “I’ve got you, Tiger. I’m with you!” Henry snatched the Amulet from around Drew’s neck, snapping the chain and tossing it away. Without the Amulet as a barrier, he merged with his son and took them deep in one another. They appeared naked to one another and became One. Henry soaked in the presence of his son, as his own 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 held Drew against him in relief. Time didn’t move 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 from the time he left the Lab to the present came pouring out. “It’s okay, honey. It’s okay.” 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 Mr. Albrecht and Miss 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 was 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 the guys and me. 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 made him hysterical. All he could do was cry and beg Henry to forgive him. With the Amulet gone, the presence of 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 his Brothers to see everything he did. He also wanted Drew to feel them. The familiar voices he missed, the strong arms and warm bodies, all hit him at once as his Uncles wrapped him up with their Hearts and Minds forming a Wall around his Soul. Their relief that Drew was okay and with Henry washed over him too. It took a long time before either Henry or Drew were 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! You did what he told you to! Henry spoke the truth, but the Birdman still said Drew might lose Henry if he was present when Drew confronted 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, and we’ll be extra careful. 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 alive and safe. The relief in Drew was overpowering. Henry’s rock-solid presence filled him and took away his fear. Henry was a Wall and right now that Wall was backed by Ken’s Avatar, synchronized with his Brothers and their ten mighty Souls surrounding him. Drew sniffed, and Henry wiped the tears away with his thumbs. They looked at one other intently, and Henry cupped Drew’s face in his big warm hands. Okay? Okay, 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 understand 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’ll 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 were manifest. Being One, Henry’s confidence 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 whispered, “The Stone Drew! Summon the Stone!” Drew held out his hand, 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 by the wind. The burned and blackened skin on The Master's body healed and filled in as The Curse asserted itself. The Master bellowed, releasing his primitive rage. His entire body flexed as he threw his arms to his sides, bowing his body. He invoked the full Power of the Curse, and his form grew as Power swelled within him. Raphael said the Curse was tied to Blood Magic from before Creation and it was powerful. That Power burned against Henry’s Shields, but he held against it because he had too. The nimbus of Darkness around The Masters face expanded to cover his whole body, engulfing him in a Black Cloud, and the ground trembled with his footsteps. Drew thrust the Stone 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 towered over them and his clawed fist covered theirs, intending 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 clawed hand grabbed theirs. As soon as The Master’s fingers wrapped around 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 against 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 with all his Power, his voice echoing across the Realms, “FACE ME!” <><><> Lane’s vision showed them everything, and they watched Henry and Drew disappear. They had no idea what happened. The She-Wolf let out a howl and vanished from Loy’s side. The Amulet flew through the air. With their perception of time slowed, it seemed forever before it was far enough away from The Master to be out of its influence. Light erupted as eight bolts of lightning struck around The Master as 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 had 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. Németh learned many Secrets and gleaned much Wisdom in the eighty thousand years of his Exile. His Magic was potent, and he accomplished something none of them thought possible; he enabled Henry and Drew to enter 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 Drew and Henry to do their part. They knew enough to know that if either of them died there, they would be 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 now invoked the full power of the Curse. Sweat poured off the two men as the Light of their Power shone bright enough to hold 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 glowed 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 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 seven of his Brothers’ present with him and two from across the world, as The Master turned to face them…
  8. btaoc1963

    Chapter 28

    (** Prologue **) Creation felt it… the Confrontation was near. Building for ages between the Light and the Dark, supernatural powers and Principalities in all the Realms were aware of it. It wasn’t the Final Confrontation with The Dark One, but with his Underling, The Master; the first of two Battles. Darkness held sway for many years in the Physical Realm, nearly obliterating The Order, the last bastion of Light on Earth. However, Hope came in the form of a little boy named Drew Ross, the Nephilim Hybrids he called his Uncles, and his father, Henry, named The Betrayer by The Master. Their shoulders bore the burden of Salvation and the Redemption of Mankind. Their failure would dim the Light into insignificance, perhaps beyond recovery. In the Cycle of Death surrounding the Curse, the boy’s father Henry Ross, was the key difference. For the first time in all his incarnations, the boy had a father who cared for him and loved him, a man whose love was strong enough to face any obstacle or danger for his son. Henry’s Love for Drew was the first sign that rocked the foundations of the Curse. The Cosmic Pendulum that had for so long swayed towards the Dark moved further back towards Equilibrium. The Creation of the Nephilim Hybrids was the first step back towards Balance. The day the Four Corners of Heaven were invoked to Protect them, allowing them to attain their Nephilim Heritage, sent the loud and clear signal that Change was imminent and the Darkness was not Omnipotent. The second signal was when the Hybrid Nephilim forced The Dark One, using the Oathstone of Heaven, to remove himself from the Battle between The Order and the Master. The Master must stand on his own and win against Drew, Henry, and his Uncles, or fail. Everything would rest on that pivotal event, only nine short months away. As Time was measured in Creation, the Confrontation was upon it. The forces at play were in motion and could not be stopped. The butterfly effect was in full force with the world more divided and chaotic than ever as a result. The Groaning of Creation would end, or continue, depending on the outcome. Everything rested on the shoulders of a six-year-old human boy, the second oldest human Soul in existence, his father Henry, touched by God Himself, and ten Brothers, five couples who were One; a Paradox. (** Beginning of Chapter **) The Realm of Dreams Loy let out a blood-curdling scream as blood burst forth from a gash in his leg. Before he could draw breath to scream again, a spear sliced the tendons behind and below his knee, and he collapsed. His leg hung limp and useless as he struggled to move away from the men hunting him. Terror filled his Mind, exceeding even the pain in his body. He was stabbed again and again, and the point of a spear punctured one of his lungs. His eyes went wide in panic when he tried to suck in air and couldn’t, and more pain followed as his sides heaved with effort. With every beat of his heart, more blood spilled from his wounds. The hot sun beat down on his body while fear and confusion overwhelmed him. Gunshots fired, and bullets entered him; through it all… through all the pain and suffering, he heard the cry of his calf. His enormous body flailed, frantically trying to protect his offspring. Every movement was agony, and futile, yet he struggled anyway. Tears spilled from his tiny eyes, leaving a darker grey path on his hide as they ran to the ground. Through a fog of pain and confusion shrouding him, the sound of cruel laughter filled his ears along with the voices of the men hunting him. “She is a good one! There are not many of her age. These are beautiful!” Two men grabbed her tusks, roughly yanking on them and jerking her head from side to side. It was harsh and cruel, increasing her suffering, and they laughed at her misery. “Bring the axes and cut them out. With these added to what we already have, it has been a good day. Summ will be pleased.” The Congo, Africa Terror and pain ravaged the great beast. Her hind leg gave out as the spear broke off in it, causing more damage as she ran. Her sides heaved as she tried to draw breath, but a punctured lung made her breathing labored and harsh. The men hounded her mercilessly, giving her no reprieve, surrounding her. More bullets entered her body, followed by the loud cracks of gunfire that hurt her ears. Finally, she collapsed in the hot sun, and the earth shook from the impact of her massive body. Her calf stayed by her side, screaming. She didn’t understand the men had no interest in her young, yet her instincts were still to try and protect it. Terror and panic overpowered her Mind. Her body gave out, and all she could do was suffer in heat and misery as life drained out of her. A man approached her, looking directly into her tiny eye. She saw only cruelty and evil in his face; there was no mercy. She was of prime age, and her tusks were long and pristine, prized among the poachers. She realized none of that, only experiencing the suffering and terror of their cruelty. The long sleep called her, but she clung to life in an instinct to protect her calf. Her memory was good, and even through her pain and fear, her Mind went back in time a month ago when the presence of the Steward filled her. The completion and longing of his Presence dwelling within her gave her a sense of peace that remained with her still. Why would the Steward allow this? In desperation, her Spirit called to Loy. She had no language or words, but she had intellect and awareness, and her Spirit screamed for the Steward to save her calf. The men laughed as she flailed, becoming weaker by the second as her body drained of blood. They continued jabbing long sharp poles into her flesh and shot her again. A few of the poachers moved to nearby vehicles, retrieving bundles of axes to cut out her tusks. Bloodied tusks filled the back of two trucks, but none were as large or as pristine as hers. Tears wet her dust-covered hide, running down into the dirt. She watched the men, not understanding what the axes were for. Her vision blurred as her life faded. Thankfully, she lost consciousness before the first ax sank into her flesh, splattering blood over her, and the man wielding it. <><><> Rick woke up when Loy trembled. Their bodies were still entwined after falling asleep only an hour before from making passionate love to one another. Their bodies were strong and muscled, and passion fueled them along with the might of their Souls. The two men had been partnered for decades, learning how to pleasure one another. When they became One, the pleasure they brought to each other, physically and emotionally, was even more compelling and the intimacy of their joining exquisite beyond words. Some nights they had raw hot sex, even animalistic given Loy’s Avatar, but that night they wanted to express their love for one another as men. Rick smelled the fresh sweat on his husband and enjoyed the warm dampness of his muscled body. Instinctively Rick tightened his arms around Loy, pressing his hands against Loy’s chest, increasing their body contact. He was careful not to wake Loy if he was Dreaming but wanted his husband to feel his presence and unconsciously gain comfort from it. Loy’s trembling became harsher. Rick was caught off guard and started as Loy jerked upright letting out a blood-curdling scream. The sound coming out of his husband echoed in the Physical and Spiritual Realms. Thunder cracked so loud with his cry the windows nearly broke, and a bolt of lightning struck the Tree in their backyard, filling it with Power. Rick slowed his perception of Time to get his bearings. He and Loy had fallen asleep together Linked, but Loy was now Shielded from him. Loy’s eyes were White, reflecting the lightning that hit the Tree and filled the skies overhead. The sheets were soaked with sweat; Loy was drenched, and every muscle in his body taut. His body felt like concrete under Rick’s hands. Before Rick could formulate his thoughts and ask Loy what was happening, he vanished. Rick’s soldierly instincts kicked in, and he didn’t panic, but he was scared. His Mind fully empowered by their recent lovemaking, he cast his thoughts out, trying to find the other half of his Soul. Wherever Loy went, he was out of Rick’s range. Rick sent out a mental 911 call to whoever could hear him. He couldn’t remember who was in Atlanta and who was in Australia at the moment, but it didn’t matter. Anyone at the Lab would hear him, and their Triggers would wake them. The silence that followed Loy’s scream was eerie. The entire episode only took a few seconds, but it felt like minutes. Rick’s stomach clenched in fear, and an intense wave of anxiety came over him with his husband’s disappearance. Guys! Loy’s gone! <><><> The men served Darkness on Earth. They didn’t call him The Master; in the Congo, he was referred to as Summ, which meant “Darkness.” The poachers collected ivory at his command, bringing in much gold, but more importantly it was used as a component in certain magical rituals. Over the last few centuries, at Summ’s instruction, they hunted elephants to near extinction. The Enemy had no care for such matters; the earth and everything on it was theirs to do with as they wished. They took pleasure in the extinction of animals and bringing more brokenness to Creation. The leader of the poachers, a man named Kumi, caught the ax thrown to him. The head of the weapon was dark with dried blood. The blade was dull and notched, and he made a mental note to punish the one responsible for not keeping it sharp. He would need to cut further up, and it would take more effort not to damage the ivory. He squatted beside the head of the enormous creature and saw the tears in her tiny eye. She stared back at him, and even in her panic, she looked at him with an uncanny intelligence that unnerved him. While he watched, her tiny eye closed as she lost consciousness. Kumi gave no mind to the pitiful cries of the calf as its mother lay dying. There were legends among Kumi’s people of the intelligence and spirituality of the great beasts. It mattered not to him; he carried out the Will of Summ and was fearless of any repercussions or reprisals. Local law enforcement was behind him and would look the other way even if his activities were reported. Laughing to cover his nervousness, he raised the ax, not to put her out of her misery but to cut out her tusks. Kumi took great pleasure in the solid thunk as the ax bit deeply into the flesh of the mother elephant. Even unconscious, her body twitched and convulsed, but she was too weak to do anything. He was surprised she was not dead already. It gave him a rush to have such a large, powerful creature helpless and defeated by his hand. He raised the ax again but stopped, suddenly frozen and unable to move. His Mind burned in a way he had never felt before! A crack of thunder ripped through the area so loud it nearly burst his eardrums. The sky was already overcast, but the clouds suddenly boiled unnaturally, and his eyes went wide. Lightning hit a nearby tree, filling his eyes with spots, and the hair on his arms and back of his neck rose. His men froze as he did, unable to move and not understanding what was happening. A man appeared beside the fallen elephant. He was naked, with a strong, powerful physique. He was caucasian but darkly tanned; not a local. Sweat covered his body, accentuating his muscular form, and when he looked at the elephant his handsome face distorted in rage. His eyes were White, and Kumi saw the lightning in them. Hot wind whipped his hair, and the big ball of his muscled shoulder had an intricate, vividly colored tattoo that glowed so brightly he could barely look at it. The man terrified them, and something about his stature and Aura sent a chill down their spines. He was a Light that burned the Darkness of their Souls. He was an Enemy of Summ, and he was there to destroy them. Kumi had protections on his Mind. Well-dressed white men, Shaman of Summ, cast spells that protected him against servants of the Light. Summ’s enemies had not held sway in the Congo for centuries, and Kumi had never run into any opposition or faced anything like what was before him. The protections in Kumi’s Mind shattered painfully as Loy sent out a burst of Mental energy, and without their Shields, his Light burned them merely by his presence. Loy turned, looking upon the carnage of the female elephant and her calf and he screamed in shock and rage. He thrust his arms out to his sides, flexing his entire body and putting all his anger and grief into the scream. It echoed through their Minds and across both Realms. Thunder cracked again with his cry as nature reflected his wrath. Tears flowed down his handsome face as he blocked the pain centers in both the mother and her calf. His presence filled them. He was their Steward, and he would Protect them. The mother was near death, but the calf was mostly unhurt, just terrified. Both of them felt his Presence and were no longer afraid, completed by their long-awaited Steward. Loy Opened Kumi’s Mind and he watched in wonder as Animal Spirits appeared, flying around the man. Loy’s form glowed brighter and brighter as his Soul fluttered back and forth across the Veil. He could not call on Yggdrasil without Rick or one of the other Bodies, but he drew all the Power at his disposal. He Listened to nature around him and let the Music of the Congo infuse him with Power. The air was thick with Spirits as they swam around him. Animals from the area felt him and moved towards him. White ropes of Healing arced out of his hands like silent lightning, entering the mother and her calf. Their wounds Healed and vanished, filled instead with his unconditional love and Presence. The mother had no broken bones, but there was massive damage to her muscles, tendons, ligaments, and organs. The damage was gone in seconds, and both animals were restored to full health. The love they felt for Loy did not dampen his rage towards the ones responsible. He basked in their feelings of unconditional love for him, breathing it in and using it as a buffer against his pain from their suffering. The sadness in him ran deep over what they experienced before he arrived in answer to her call. Regret filled him, but there was no blame from the creature, only love, and her sense of completeness at his return. His head whipped around, and the brief softness on his face was replaced by feral wrath. He looked into the Minds of the humans he held. They were all servants of The Enemy, willing servants, and they took pleasure in what they did. Looking in them was physically painful, and it made Loy want to throw up; how humans could fall so low was still a mystery to him and his Brothers. He fell to the ground clutching his stomach when pain wracked his Soul as he exposed himself to their true selves. He wanted Rick with him but didn’t have the strength to pull him across the planet by himself. If they were together with Rick pulling from the Tree, he could take them both anywhere with effort. His Avatar drew him there in urgency, and he was by himself. He wondered at that; nothing like it had happened to any of the guys, and it bore consideration. Loy’s form shimmered, and he transformed into a massive gorilla. He moved to Kumi, putting his face inches from the man. He smelled Kumi’s sweat and fear, but there was no mercy in Loy, just as there was no mercy in Kumi for the female elephant. Loy’s big black nostrils flared as he breathed in the scent and emotions of the terrified agent of the Dark. Kumi felt Loy’s hot breath on his face. Their eyes met, and Kumi saw his death. Blindingly fast, in a savage display of strength, Loy ripped Kumi in half. He threw the two halves of the body on the ground and brutally beat his chest in a primal scream that shook the trees, nearly deafening the men around him. Kumi’s face still showed surprise, his eyes wide, as his blood splattered across the closest men. Some of the men defecated in their pants, and many lost control of their bladders at what they witnessed. A powerful creature of Light, a defender of The Order not seen in the Congo in ages, was back, and he was terrifying in his Light and ferocity. Loy picked one of the men, the youngest, and continued his hold over the boy’s Mind. He Commanded the remaining poachers to throw down their weapons and flee. They immediately started screaming and sprinted off in all directions. Loy felt no pleasure in what he did, but a pervading sense of righteousness filled him. His form shimmered, transforming back into his human body. His eyes remained White, and he sent a call out to all the animals making their way to him. The wildlife of the Congo heard him, and he set his Will on them. Kill the fleeing men and bring their bodies to me. The female elephant moved to Loy, her trunk wrapping around his waist and torso in affection. He grabbed hold of her, the same as he did when Rick held him from behind. She wanted to comfort him and express her joy at his presence. Her calf gently head-butted Loy’s chest, and he wrapped his arms around the young creature resting his head against it. The two animals wrapped him up between them. Brad’s presence was suddenly in Loy’s Mind along with everyone else, especially Rick. Loy! Guys, I need you! His husband and Brothers appeared around him, shining towers of Light, filled with Power and ready for whatever challenge Loy faced. They were naked as he was, straight out of their beds. Rick delved into Loy, and their Souls merged, relieving both of them. They saw Loy, covered in blood and sweat, and the two halves of Kumi’s body on the ground nearby. The elephant still had her trunk around Loy, comforting him, and Loy held onto her for support. He held onto the baby elephant as much for his own comfort as its. His eyes were bloodshot, and tears still ran down his cheeks. His emotions were high, but he was in control of himself. Rick rushed to him, pulling him into a hug. The mother and calf pulled back enough to give the two men room. Don’t ever fucking do that again! I’m sorry, Rick! It all happened so fast… I... I’m sorry. I came on instinct. My Avatar pulled me here. Ken came up to him, cupping his hand behind Loy’s thick neck and shoulder before pulling his Brother into a tight embrace. Are you alright? Loy gave a heavy sigh. No. Yeah. I am… or I will be. Thanks, guys. The hesitation in Loy’s voice told Ken how shaken he was, but he would be okay. Now they were together and saw Loy was alright, in their Minds they hung shit on him and he sheepishly grinned. They were One and the comfort of their Souls, along with his husbands, was what he needed. His nerves were calming down, and the grip of his Avatar lessened. Darren’s eyes flashed White, and the blood on Loy’s body disappeared. Every one of the men grabbed Loy physically, taking turns hugging him tightly. He still had a slight tremble in his body from the adrenaline rush. The Bodies heard screams, and the Mentalists were aware of the animals in the area as they hunted down and killed the remaining poachers. Their ferocity and wildness filled Loy and his Brothers. Pereko, the young man Loy still held, was terrified. The Light of the men burned him. Now that everyone was present with Loy, they were aware of what happened. It was disturbing one of their Avatars could force such a reaction on one of them. Brad wondered, as much as Loy… why here and now? Something about this specific occurrence was significant enough to affect Loy’s Avatar from halfway around the world and pull him there. It had to be more than the mother and calf. Not that their suffering wasn’t enough, but the poachers had been killing them for hundreds of years… so why this time? <><><> In a short time, animals of all species made their way back to Loy, dragging the bodies of the poachers. It wasn’t long before there was a massive pile of bodies. Uriel collected their Souls after their deaths, so the husks were all that remained. Loy felt no remorse in ending them; they were willing servants to The Enemy and performed horrible deeds to humans and animals alike. Anger still smoldered in Loy under the surface, but he was in control. Rick reluctantly lowered his arms from around his lover as the last of the animals arrived. Loy walked up to Pereko. His eyes flashed White, and Pereko heard the Power echoing in Loy’s Mental voice. He also heard the quiver of barely contained rage. You witnessed what happens to anyone who poaches here. It doesn’t matter if it’s The Enemy or normal humans. I don’t give a shit. Spread the word of what happened here today and know I will be aware if anything like this happens again. There will be no place on earth safe for you or anyone else who does this. There will be no place safe from me. Ken added, “He means us.” Loy moved to the pile of corpses. Rick was with him and took his hand while everyone fanned out behind them. Loy: Power up, guys. They called on their sources of Power once more, and with the ten of them together as One, the Spiritual Realm overlaying the Congo lit up as if a star came down from the heavens and alighted on the ground. Pereko saw it all through his Mind’s Eye and was terrified. He saw their Power and wondered how they could be so strong. The power and majesty of their naked forms glowing brighter than a sun in the Spiritual Realm was more frightening to Pereko than anything he had ever encountered. A hot wind blew the hair on their heads and bodies as a wave of Light came out of the men and the pile of corpses burned to ash in a matter of seconds, their Evil obliterated. The hot wind blew the ashes across the area, dissipating them. Brad shielded Pereko so he would not be destroyed. Loy looked at him and Commanded: Go! Make sure Summ hears of this! Lightning flashed across the sky, and Pereko saw it in their White eyes. The boy took off as fast as his feet would carry him. <><> Bryan looked in the back of the two pickups and saw the piles of bloodied tusks. Lane was with him and touched each tusk, Reading them. It was painful reliving the death and torture of the elephants they belonged too, but he could do no less for Loy. Loy assimilated everything through Lane, and fresh tears spilled down his cheeks. All of them shared Loy’s emotional intensity, feeling it themselves but because of his Avatar, it affected him more. They cared for the creatures of the world as much as Loy did and the cruelty of humans, especially ones in service to The Master, knew no bounds. Loy’s eyes flashed White again, this time accompanied by the glow of his Avatar. He looked up to the sky, and his voice echoed across the Congo: Come! He called the Spirits of the slain elephants, the ones whose tusks lay in the beds of the pickups. Restless from the violence of their deaths, none of them were able to move on yet, still bound to the Physical Realm. One by one, the Spirits appeared and by the Light of Loy’s Avatar became corporeal. The men moved among them, holding them and calming them, filling the Spirits with their Presence, restoring them and enabling them to move on. I’m so sorry this was done to you. Those who did this have paid the price. Go now and be reborn, with our Blessing. Be at peace. The Spirits faded, leaving the Physical Realm to be reborn. Silence fell among the men. The Congo was hot and humid, and the only sound was a slight breeze that felt soothing as it brushed across their sweaty nakedness. Brad brought Henry into their Link, and his concern for Loy as well as his relief that everything was alright, was heartwarming. Immediately Loy felt Henry’s arms around him as if he were present. He added his voice to the shit hanging about worrying them. The tension finally started leaving Loy’s body as his friends held him close. Once he calmed down the resulting emotion was sadness more than anything else; sorrow at the tragedy of the noble animals that were slaughtered for pieces of their bodies. Rick: Are you ready to go home? Loy: I don’t know. I like it here. Even with the mess that just happened, I feel like I belong here. Bryan: I get that. I feel the same in the Valley. Rick: You want to spend the night? Loy: I do, but I want to get this ivory to the Lab and under lock and key. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with it, but I don’t want it to just be here for anyone to find. Ken: We’ll take care of that, Loy. Stay here with your hubby and chill out. Loy: Okay. We’ll see you guys tomorrow morning. It was unlike Loy to hesitate, but he did. Thanks again, guys. I know I don’t have to say it, but I want too. You guys make this bearable. Lane’s mischievous grin spread. I see what you did there, beastie boy. Bear-able. Uh-huh. Loy grinned, looking more like his old self. Lane: You know… I can’t call you Dr. Doolittle anymore. Not after this. From now on, you’re Mighty Joe Young. Everyone chuckled, and Bryan shook his head. Loy and Rick moved off, the animals gathering around them. Loy’s form shimmered into a huge lion, and Rick put an arm around him, walking by his side. Lane sighed: That is so cool. I want to be Aslan, like Loy. It’s so not fair. Bryan: God, I love my nerd. The shit-talk diverted from Loy to Lane for a few moments, until Ken brought them back into focus. Alright ladies, let’s get this stuff to the Lab and get back to bed. Training starts on time at 0800 Atlanta time. Ken, with his enhanced sight, watched Loy and Rick move off with Rick’s arm resting in Loy’s mane. He was worried about his friend and Brother. He realized how hard situations like that night were on him, and knew it would get worse in time, at least until they restored Creation… if they decided to do so. It was a downside to Loy’s Avatar that he felt the pain of the animals so intensely. Brad shielded Ken’s thoughts and kept them private for the moment. Private Link between Brad and Ken Thanks, B. I don’t wanna upset him. He’ll see it soon enough the next time we merge, but tonight I want him ‘ta relax and recover from what happened. He’ll be fine, Ken. He’s strong; Rick is with him, and the animals. I’ll be so glad when The Master is gone and out of our hair so we can focus on things like this and make the world a better place. Even if we don’t remove the Curse, we can still make things better. Ken let out a heavy sigh. Yeah. I want to so bad B. I don’t want us ‘ta have to keep hurtin’ all the time because the world is so fucked up. I don’t want Loy ‘ta hurt like this, or Bill just by walkin’ around or touchin’ someone or something, or you! What the shit inside people does to you hurts me too. I know we all have it different, but I want ‘ta see an end ‘ta the hurt, for all of us… and the World. Brad knew Ken would take it all on himself if it were possible, and if the rest of the guys would let him. He loved his husband so much for being the man he was. Brad was afraid over time the little kid in Ken would grow up because of everything they continually faced, and from carrying the weight he did on his shoulders. In response to Brad’s concerns, Ken got that little kid grin on his face. Remember we haven’t aged a day since our Awakenin’, and the Program before that, and I wasn’t the most mature guy to begin with. I’ve got a long way ‘ta go before you need ‘ta worry about that! <><> Brad kept Loy and Rick with them, lightly enough not to intrude. The rest of the guys needed to feel Rick and Loy as much as Rick and Loy needed to feel them; it was how they survived. As they prepared to leave, anyone who hadn’t seen Kevin that day made a point of giving him a hug or a back-slap. No words were said, but they expressed the support of their Brother through his recent trauma. Darren synchronized their Avatars, and sent them all back to their beds, whether in Atlanta or Australia. All of them held each other a little tighter that night, wondering what was next. <><><> Henry woke up at 0600 via a trigger he set in his Mind. He laughed at himself because he had established a ‘snooze’ button in case he fell back asleep. Loy’s disappearance upset Drew, and they were up late. Even after Henry told his son that his Uncle Loy was alright he took forever to get to sleep. Drew had a deep-seated need to make sure the people in his life were safe and unhurt. Henry knew it stemmed from the abuse by Doug, Drew’s natural father. Henry was patient and let him talk and fidget until he finally fell asleep. Henry woke extraordinarily horny and wondered why, and gently cast his thought down the hall. Hey Sally? You awake? Sally sounded sleepy. Yeah. Just laying here, being lazy. Ummm… do you want to help me out? Henry’s blush was evident, and she laughed. Of course! Remember I get something out of this too. Is Drew still asleep? He is. He was up late worrying about Loy. What about Loy? Did something happen? Shit, I’m sorry I forgot… yeah, he’s fine. There was a little excitement last night, but all is good. I’ll fill you in after. I’ll meet you in the exam room. Henry grinned; Sally’s excitement and anticipation made him feel better since she wanted it as badly as he did. <><> Drew felt Henry get up and leave the room and waited a few minutes before he got out of bed. He knew his dad would be in one of the exam rooms doing the adult thing he had to do to make himself strong. It was sort of the same thing his Uncles did, but his dad had to do it by himself, and that made Drew sad for him. When Drew merged with his Uncle Darren in the freezing cold of Thomin’s Vault he saw what his Uncles did together to make each other feel good. When Henry merged with Drew shortly after, he saw how happy Henry and his mom were together and how they did the same thing. Well, sort off… it was confusing to him, and he didn’t get it at his age. Drew crept out of bed and tiptoed down the hallway. He heard noise in the exam room and, ever curious, put his ear to the door. Miss Sally was with his Dad! He stayed long enough to realize they were making each other feel good and then moved away. Hearing his dad with Miss Sally upset him. He wasn’t sure why, but it did, and he started crying. Hanging his head, he went down to the last room in the hallway. It was the room that had to be kept empty for his Uncles so they could safely teleport to the Lab. He sat on the floor just outside the door to wait, knowing his Uncle Loy and Uncle Rick would be back that morning for their training. <><><> Loy and Rick appeared naked in the safe room of the Atlanta Lab. Loy saw Drew sitting just outside the door, and as soon as they appeared, he popped up and ran to Loy holding his arms up. His cry of, “Uncle Loy!” sounded a bit desperate. Loy reached down to pick him up, and Drew threw his arms around Loy’s neck and shoulders, hugging him tightly. “Hey, Tiger! What are you doing up so early?” Drew’s face, pressed against Loy’s neck, was a bit muffled. “I had to make sure you’re alright. Daddy told me about the elephants and the bad men.” “Drew… wow. Honey, I’m fine. Thanks for worrying about me, though.” Loy was deeply touched by Drew’s concern. Rick: You big baby. Loy flipped him off behind Drew’s back. Drew pulled back some and put his hands on Loy’s upper chest so he could look directly at Loy. His eyes wandered over his uncle’s handsome face until he finally made eye contact, and they grinned at each other. “See? I’m fine!” Drew leaned forward and gave Loy one of his big wet sloppy kisses on his cheek. “I’m glad you’re okay, Uncle Loy. You too, Uncle Rick.” Drew wrinkled his nose and said, “You stink.” The two big men laughed. After making love, they slept with the animals to stay warm, and they did smell. They smelled of hay, lion, semen, and sweat. Rick noticed Drew’s eyes were red and wondered if he had been crying. His handsome brow furrowed, and he asked, “Drew is something wrong? Were you crying?” Drew nodded his head affirmatively and sniffed loudly and laid his head on Loy’s shoulder. He was in a somber mood and sought the comfort of Loy’s warm, solid body. Loy asked him gently, “What’s wrong, buddy?” Rick moved in front of Loy and got close so Drew was sandwiched in between the two big men. He put his hand on Drew’s back and said, “Come on, Tiger. Spill it. You’ll feel better if you tell us.” Drew wasn’t hysterical and didn’t fall apart, but big tears dripped from his eyes at their question. Loy brought Drew into a Link with him and Rick to feel his emotions. Drew? Tell us what’s wrong honey. We can’t fix it if we don’t know the problem. Rick: We’re with you, Tiger. Take your time. Drew’s mental voice was quiet and sad. I heard daddy and Miss Sally. They were making each other feel good. Private Link between Loy and Rick Loy and Rick both thought: Fuck! Loy immediately knew what the problem was. God, I feel like the least qualified person to cover this. You want to take this one? Rick laughed: No way, man. You’re way better at this shit than I am. I’m behind you all the way. You fucker. <><> Loy: Drew, are you worried your dad wants to replace your mom with Miss Sally? Drew’s tears thickened, and he nodded his head ‘yes.’ Alright honey, let me try and explain this to you. Your dad loves you more than anything in the world. You know that. You saw it when you merged with him. When you were inside him, did you see anything about his feelings for Miss Sally other than being good friends? Drew shook his head no. Okay. What your dad and Miss Sally are doing is something most adults do. They don’t have to be married or a couple to do that. Your dad and Miss Sally are good friends, and that’s all. You don’t have anything to worry about, little guy. I promise! Miss Sally misses Carlo. You never got to meet him, but she was going to marry him, and he died. She’s sad and lonely over that. Your dad misses your mom just like you do. They’re just helping each other not feel so sad. That’s all it is. You need to tell your dad you heard them, and you need to hear what I’m telling you from him, but I promise you he’ll say the same thing I just told you. When Loy started talking Drew’s hands were clenched tightly in his chest hair, but as he spoke Drew’s grip lessened as he relaxed, and he put his hands on his Uncle’s shoulder and put his head down again. Once again Drew’s Uncles were infallible and knew everything. Loy and Rick took his fear away and made him feel better. It hit Loy out of the blue how much he loved holding Drew. Drew’s arms around his neck, his head resting on his shoulder, and the paternal need he felt to protect the boy seemed natural to Loy. He realized how lucky Henry was to have Drew in his life, and for Bill and Kevin to have Tommy and Brett. The realization struck him hard that maybe he wanted to have children someday with Rick. Rick smiled and sent Loy a private thought. You’ll make a great dad, Loy. Loy: So, are you good to go, Tiger? Drew sniffed again and nodded his head ‘yes’ vigorously. Loy lifted him up by his armpits and blew a raspberry on his stomach and Drew giggled. Loy passed him to Rick, who did the same thing before setting him down. The two men followed Drew down the hall to the kitchen, where the smell of coffee filled the area. Rick helped Drew make a bowl of cereal, and they kept him company. Loy almost forgot they were naked, and as they exited the hallway, he created an illusion of gym shorts so they weren’t prancing around nude. <><><> That morning Ken and Brad stopped by the Lab early to pack a few things from their lockers. They were scheduled to be on ZEUS with Orophir that day. Henry and Drew would be in Atlanta with Rick and Loy, and Pat, Darren, Bill, and Kevin along with Tommy and Brett, would be in Australia. When they entered the Lab through the main door, Loy and Rick were in the kitchen with Drew. Both men were shirtless and barefoot, and Brad saw the illusion of the gym shorts and realized they must have just gotten back from Africa. Rick and Loy held their cups up in greeting as Ken and Brad came in. Ken and Brad both said good morning and gave their Brothers hugs and back-slaps. They hugged Drew, got kisses from him, and both men gave him raspberries on his belly button. Ken set Drew back in his chair to continue eating. Ken winked at Rick and Loy, thinking: Well, well… you two look rested and ready to go. You smell ready to go too! Whew! Loy grinned. Yeah, hours of sex has that effect on us. Not the smell … well maybe that too, but it’s mostly from sleeping with a pride of Lions. Ken and Brad chuckled, and fist-bumped the two men. Drew knew they were having ‘adult talk’ in their heads and continued eating his cereal, filling up a second bowl. Count Chocula was his current favorite. Rick: Hey guys, just so you know, Drew heard Henry and Sally this morning, so that cat’s out of the bag. We had a talk with him, and he seems fine. FYI though, just in case. Just as Rick sent his thought, Henry came down the hall, more upbeat than usual. The four men stared at him and snickered, and he asked, “What?” Drew made a big slurping noise while draining his second bowl of the leftover milk. He loved the milk at the bottom of the bowl when it was all chocolatey. Nonchalantly, as if he was commenting on the weather, Drew blurted out, “It’s okay Daddy, that you and Miss Sally are making each other feel good. I don’t mind.” The four men drinking nearly spit coffee out their noses in surprise, while Henry was wide-eyed in shock as his face went beet red. Drew stood up and took his cereal bowl to the sink like everything was normal. The guys looked at Henry, grinning at his discomfort. Henry said, “Ummmm… Drew let’s go back to our room for a minute.” Drew had to get dressed anyway and get his toothbrush, so he said, “Okay, Daddy,” and scampered back to their room. As soon as Drew was out of earshot, the men busted out laughing. Henry looked worried. Loy was going to drag it out a little more but decided not to tease Henry so early in the morning. A memory sphere shot out of Loy’s hand into Henry, and he said with a grin, “Rick and I did the heavy lifting on that little tidbit this morning. You’ll get our bill in the mail.” The four men filed out of the kitchen and into the locker room, leaving Henry speechless. All of them gave him a pat on the back as they left. There was no worry in any of them that Henry couldn’t handle the situation. He was a great dad and loved his son, and Drew adored him. It was just another little bump in Henry’s road of fatherly experience. <><><> Ken and Brad were eager to get to ZEUS and relax but needed to talk to Henry in the Conference Room before they left. It wasn’t long before Drew scampered out and ran over to start his lessons with Sally, who also looked chipper and rosy-cheeked. Henry followed a minute later, pulling on a sleeveless workout shirt as he came down the hall. He was surprised to still see them there. “Hey fellas, I thought you’d be gone already.” Ken smiled and said, “Just one thing we need ‘ta take care of first. Can we see you in the Conference Room for a sec, Henry?” Henry’s grin faltered, and he asked, “Is everything okay?” Ken grinned and asked, “Every time we ask ‘ta talk ‘ta ‘ya in private you look guilty. Is there somethin’ you wanna tell us?” Henry looked flustered. His head was still spinning from the talk he had with Drew about Sally. The situation of their arrangement could have easily gone south and caused a huge problem, but thanks to Loy and Rick laying the groundwork with Drew, it went far better than expected. After a nice round of sexual relief with Sally, and then anxiety over Drew’s potential reaction, and now Ken asking to talk to him, his morning was starting out weird. Brad saw all of this inside Henry through his Avatar. They were Linked, but only for talking and basic emotions. Normally they might tease Henry a bit more, but Brad saw it wasn’t a good time for that, and he interjected, “Relax Henry, we just need to talk. And to answer your question… honestly, we aren’t sure.” As they moved into the Conference Room and shut the door, Ken asked, “How’d your talk go with Drew?” “It went well…. Thanks to Loy and Rick, it was easy. They nipped the whole thing in the bud before he had a chance to go into a tailspin over it. I feel guilty for hiding it from him all this time anyway. The time will come when I have to merge with him again before this mess with The Master is over, and it will be one less thing to have to deal with if, or when, the shit is hitting the fan. “I need to talk to the doc, though. I get why he didn’t want Drew merging with an adult while he’s so young. He has an understanding of what sex is about to us. He has no interest in it yet so he doesn’t get it from that perspective, but he knows it’s part of an adult relationship and important. It’s hard to say if his understanding comes from his merging with Darren and then me, or him just being who he is. He knows so many things from the incarnations. You know they all led less than stellar lives, and many of them were sexually abused.” Henry paused and ran his hand through his hair and said, “At least that’s one thing I can say about Doug… he did a number on Drew, but he never sexually abused him.” Ken inhaled sharply at the sudden emotions that stirred in him. “Fuck. When I think about what he’s gone through and everythin’ all the others inside him have too, it tears me up.” Brad said, “I know the doc will be on top of it, Henry, and you know we’ll help any way we can. All of us can tone our language down a notch around him. We should have before now anyway, but this brings home that we need to take it more seriously. I’m sorry if we inadvertently added to the issue.” “Brad, he adores you guys. You know that… but he does listen more than we think. He’s much further along with his Mental abilities than we realize. I haven’t merged with him again, and he only ever merged with Darren in the cave, then with me a few days later. He did see things, but when he’s in the gym and running around he watches all of us like a hawk. The doc already has him scheduled with Albrecht to start teaching him about the Centering Flame. He’s raw and un-channeled, and that’s got to change. We still don’t know what his part of the confrontation will be like so he has to ready for anything.” Thinking about Drew’s confrontation with The Master always upset Henry. He had no idea if Drew would go toe-to-toe against The Master in a Spiritual or Psychic Battle or what form things would take. It scared him shitless for his son when he allowed himself to think about it. The clock was ticking, and they had less than a year. Henry went silent as his thoughts went down the dark path of what Drew faced. He shook his head to snap himself out of the gloomy direction his thoughts were headed, and asked, “I take it that wasn’t what you wanted to talk about?” Ken let out a heavy sigh, “No, it wasn’t. But I’m glad Drew’s not upset with you ’n Sally. That could have been a SNAFU and a half.” “Yeah, tell me about it. So, what’s up?” Ken took a deep breath and started, “You’re on the schedule tomorrow for ZEUS, but I’m not sure I want you there alone with Orophir, or more specifically, Drew.” Henry hadn’t merged with Ken or Brad in a few days and wasn’t aware that they had any concerns about the situation of Orophir being on ZEUS. “Don’t you trust him? Don’t the Runes tell us he’s legit?” Brad interjected, “As far as we know, there’s no way around the Runes Henry, but Orophir is Luke’s son, and his knowledge of the Runes is extreme. When Bill Read him, we now know, or we think we know, everything he learned from Luke plus what he learned on his own. But given he’s Luke’s son, who knows what he’s capable of? If he’s found a way around the Runes, or a way around our Avatars, he could have ulterior motives that are hidden from us. “I don’t think he can be working with Luke or at Luke’s direction. The Oath we forced out of Luke would keep him from involving Orophir. The bottom line is we just aren’t sure, and we can’t and won’t risk a hair on Drew’s head until we’re sure.” Ken continued, “There’s another part ‘ta this, Henry. With everythin’ rampin’ up, we all need what little downtime we get. With the new rotation schedule, if you can’t go ‘ta ZEUS that leaves you and Drew stuck here or in Australia on your off days. You and Drew both need your time out of the Labs. At the same time, I don’t want Orophir in either Atlanta or Australia. We added him to the Matrix on ZEUS, so the Runes there accept him as one of us, but if he does somehow have ulterior motives, ZEUS is the only base that’s compromised.” Henry realized the complexity of the situation and Ken’s concerns. “Do you really think he’s powerful enough to pull the wool over the eyes of your Avatars?” Brad frowned, “The bottom line Henry, is we don’t know. My Intuition isn’t telling me anything, and Lane doesn’t See anything either. It’s not that we have a bad feeling… we have no feeling one way or the other. There’s just a seed of doubt we can’t overlook, and like we said we aren’t risking a hair on Drew’s head without either more certainty or more precautions.” “Well, the Wolf-Spirit will be there to help Protect him, and me, of course. Would you want to redo the rotation just for that one day a week and have one other couple with us on ZEUS? Personally, I wouldn’t mind just staying here in the Lab, but I get what you’re saying about downtime. The few times Drew’s gotten out of the Lab, in Scotland for the wedding, on ZEUS, or in Africa, even with the craziness that happened, it’s all he talks about and wants to go back. He’s not getting a normal childhood, and any little part of one I can give him, I feel I need too.” Ken didn’t look happy either, saying, “You see the predicament, Henry. Any thoughts on the matter? You’re his dad first and foremost, and anythin’ we do I need you ‘ta be comfortable and on board with.” An idea did pop into the back of Henry’s Mind and he asked, “What about Istariel? Drew’s always telling me he wants to see him again. Would you trust him on ZEUS? If you added him to the Matrix, he could stay there with us.” A look passed between Brad and Ken, and Henry asked, “What? Don’t tell me you don’t trust him? He helped Drew when we were in the basement and with the Eschphene! He’s never been anything but an ally!” Brad quickly said, “It’s not that we don’t trust Istariel, Henry. But if Istariel’s father is the Voice that talks to Drew, or God, or a part of God, or whatever… it puts Drew one step closer to whoever it is. That’s our main concern, but if you’re okay with it I think Istariel is a great idea. He would have to agree, and I’d want to be fully upfront with him about our reasoning and misgivings.” Henry, “Jesus, this is getting complicated.” Ken grinned and said, “Yeah. I hate all this, but at the same time I don’t want any of us pinned down. We can’t be immobilized, and we need ‘ta take care of ourselves.” Brad sighed, “With the cards we have on the table, I do think Istariel is our best bet. If we add him and the other two Nephilim to the Matrix, I think they would be adequate protection against Orophir. Orophir might have a problem with our distrust… we’ll have to wait and see. If he’s on the up-and-up about Luke, we have the upper hand. He needs our protection so he’ll have to put up with it, at least to start with. Trust, but verify, like we told him.” Ken said, “B, pull everybody in deep. It’ll make it easier.” Brad cast his Mind across the planet, and, after checking to make sure no one was doing anything to prevent them from joining, he pulled them in. His words prepared them. Ten, Five, One, guys. No alarm, but we have some things to go over. They all appeared naked to one another in the place where their Souls were One. Henry was with them, and everyone rested in each other’s presence. In the real world, their breath caught in their big chests, and their eyes watered at the profound emotional intimacy they shared. The intensity was as fresh and bright as it always was, and the comfort. At the speed of thought, the entire Team knew what happened that morning with Drew, and the conversation Ken and Brad just had with Henry. All their concerns and the idea of Istariel were now a part of them. Concern for Drew was first and foremost in all their Hearts, and Henry was struck again by how much they cared for his son. He was no longer surprised by it, but the affirmation of their Love for him and Drew never ceased to touch him. They hung shit on him for that, and his Soul smiled and laughed along with theirs amidst the banter that passed between them. Everyone agreed that the plan of adding Istariel and the other two Nephilim to the Rune Matrix on ZEUS was the best option. They would be on high alert every day Henry and Drew were scheduled on ZEUS. They would also be more on guard about using any overt sexual innuendos around Drew, as the importance of his hyper-sexualization was more apparent. Henry was just about to say “thanks, guys” when Lane held up a hand and said, “Don’t say it!” Rick pulled Henry into a side headlock and gave him a noogie as they all vanished and returned to their bodies around the world. <><><> A few minutes later, Ken, Brad, and Henry were in the rear area of the parking lot behind the Lab. Brad cast his voice across the Veil, shouting: Istariel! It took a moment, but their friend appeared before them in his human form. He smiled at them and said, “Greetings Brad Wilson, Ken Habersham, and Henry Ross. It is good to see you.” Ken sighed with a grin saying, “We need to break you of the last name thing. Brad, Ken, and Henry will do just fine.” “As you wish, Ken.” “Much better.” “Why have you called me?” Brad looked at Ken to see which of them should start. Ken gave him ‘the look’ that said it was Brad’s turn. Henry was Linked with the two of them and heard Brad’s comment: You fucker! The three of them chuckled in their Minds. Brad said, “We need a favor Istariel, but before I ask, I want to be upfront with you. I promised you long ago we would always be truthful with you no matter what.” Brad proceeded to outline their request and their concerns. Istariel already knew about Orophir; word of the confrontation with Michael spread quickly through the Spiritual Realm. As he finished, Brad added, “It’s not you we don’t trust Istariel… Honestly, it’s your father. We don’t know anything about him, and we suspect his involvement in everything is much deeper than we ever realized.” Istariel remained silent for a moment, his expression difficult to read. In many ways he was still a mystery to them. They had spent time with him while he was trapped in an Amulet of Orophir’s creation, and he had interacted with them before they ever knew he existed. In most of their interaction he was in what Ken referred to as “business mode” meaning he was following some instruction, rules, or guidelines. This time they were asking for his help as a friend. His question surprised them, “May I see Drew?” Henry raised his eyebrows, “Now?” “Yes, if you will permit it.” “Of course! I don’t mind at all. He’d love to see you.” Henry pulled Sally and Drew into a Link. Hey guys, sorry to interrupt, but I need Drew in the parking lot for a few minutes. Sorry, Sal, this came up unexpectedly. Sally: Is everything alright? Henry: Oh, yeah. Well, I think so. There’s someone here who wants to see Drew. Drew: Who, Daddy? Henry: Come find out! It’s a surprise! A few seconds later the door opened, and Drew saw them. He shouted, “ ‘Stariel!” and took off like a bullet. He had trouble pronouncing Istariel’s name for some reason always dropping the ‘I.’ He ran as fast as he could and jumped into Istariel’s arms to give him a hug and a kiss on his cheek. Istariel’s face lit up with a smile they seldom witnessed. He seemed extremely happy to see Drew. “Hello, Drew Ro… Drew!” He caught himself and grinned at Ken, who winked and smiled back with a ‘there you go’ nod of approval. “I missed you!” “I’ve missed you too, my friend!” Drew, oblivious to Henry, Ken, and Brad, started to tell Istariel everything that happened to him since they saw each other last, all at once. It was coming out in a jumble, and Istariel held him and let him talk. When Drew finally showed signs of slowing down, Istariel managed to interject, “You have been having quite the adventures!” While Drew continued his dialogue, Istariel’s voice entered their Minds. I realized some time ago that my fate is intertwined with this child. I fully understand your concerns about my father, and I share them. You should realize that I have very limited contact with my father. I am the oldest Nephilim, and I have only ever spoken with him a handful of times. I hold no ill will for your concerns about my presence in regards to Him. I will never consciously bring harm to Drew. Few could Compel me, but, except my father, the Runes on your craft would prevent that. Ken: Do you think your father will interfere? Istariel: No, I do not. I know he has spoken directly to Henry once, and to Drew a few times, but he has not aided them or altered any situation. The crux of the confrontation between young Drew and The Master revolves around Free Will, and my father’s interference would prevent that. He might be orchestrating events for the confrontation to occur, but he will never interfere with the outcome. The mental conversation took place in a fraction of a second. “I have a question, Drew.” Drew went quiet and looked at his friend. “Would you like it if I stayed with you on ZEUS? I would only be able to visit you while you are on the craft, but I would enjoy that very much.” Drew looked at Henry like he didn’t believe what he was hearing. Henry saw the smile on Drew’s face and felt it deep down. He also felt the warm sensation that moved through the other incarnations within his son. Drew’s happiness at the idea affected them. Henry realized that was another conversation he needed to have with Istariel, but first, he asked Drew, “So what do you say Tiger? Would you like that?” “Yeah!” Henry gave him a raised eyebrow. “I mean, yes, sir!” Istariel said, “I must inform my cousins and make preparations. I will see you on the morrow young Drew.” Drew hugged Istariel’s neck tightly and said, “Bye, Mr. ’Stariel! See you tomorrow!” Istariel set him down, and Henry said, “Back inside, buddy! Miss Sally’s waiting for you.” Istariel looked at Henry and noticed the white patch of hair, and his expression turned solemn. Brad saw his look and sent a private thought to Istariel. What is it? Istariel surprised him by responding verbally. He moved in front of Henry and looked intently at the lock of white hair on his head that had appeared unexpectedly, and he reached out to touch it. “My father never does anything without reason. I think, Henry, he wanted to meet you too, regardless of his discussion with Drew. You now bear the mark of one who has been in his physical presence. I am sorry for any burdens that might come upon you from that.” Henry blanched, and Ken asked, “What do you mean?” “It means, Henry, that you have been touched by God, and mortals, in their physical forms are not meant for that.” Brad interjected, “But Henry isn’t mortal anymore. He’s Awake and an Original Man.” “Let us hope that makes a difference. There are benefits as well, Henry. It is not a cruel thing he did, it is simply a consequence of his Presence. You are now one of a small handful of humans to ever bear such a Mark.” Henry went white as a sheet, and Ken and Brad shared his anxiety. Istariel saw their reaction and said, “I am sorry if I upset you with this knowledge. It was not my intent. Be at ease, Henry.” Henry didn’t even realize he had been holding his breath, and he let it out all at once with a quiet, “Fuck me!” “I will depart now. Call to me tomorrow when you are on your craft, and it is permissible for me to be there. I look forward to spending time with Drew. My cousins and I will keep watch over him, and we will become acquainted with Orophir. Rest assured if there are any vestiges of The Dark One in him, we will find them.” <><><> Ken and Brad went back inside the Lab with Henry. Henry was quiet and without a word, moved off towards the gym. Ken grabbed him and pulled him into a hug, wrapping his arms around his Brother. Ken whispered in his ear, “It’s gonna be alright, Henry. Don’t freak out over this. We’ll figure it all out together like we always do. You have my word.” Brad moved in front and ruffled Henry’s hair and said, “Damn, Henry… I didn’t think it was possible, but that patch of hair makes you look even more stunning. I feel sorry for the ladies. As Sally once said, there won’t be a dry vagina anywhere around you now. Not that there was before, but that clinches it.” Henry blinked, then blushed, and lowered his head with a grin of embarrassment. Henry was so unassuming about his looks he never thought of himself as handsome. He looked in the mirror every day and saw a guy with faults, a struggling dad trying his best. He was a confident man, now more than ever with all the changes from his training and being Awake and having the incredible family he now had, but he was very humble about that side of his personal life, and compliments like Brad’s caught him off guard. Ken let Henry go and cupped his hand around Henry’s thick neck and trap, giving him a comforting squeeze. “Have a good workout, and we’ll see you tomorrow.” Henry covered Ken’s hand with his own, and he put his other hand on Brad’s shoulder and squeezed back. “Thanks, fellas.” His grin deepened, and he said with a wink, “Have fun on ZEUS.” Henry went into the gym to start his workout with Loy, Rick, Pat, and Darren. Before they could leave for ZEUS, Ken and Brad got caught up in a conversation with the doctor and Albrecht. They covered all the events of the day so far from Drew finding out about Henry and Sally, to Istariel and the other Nephilim joining them on ZEUS as a precaution with Orophir being close to Drew. An hour later they were still in the Lab, anxious to leave. Once they were finally alone, Ken plopped down on the couch in the common area off the kitchen. Their bags still sat on the floor by the couch. Ken: Fuck B, we’re never gettin’ outta here. Brad: I can’t wait to get there either, Ken. We still have plenty of time to relax, though. Ken: Orophir’ll be there. We can’t ignore him. Brad: No, we can’t, but we’ll have plenty of time for me to play with Ken Jr. in private too. Ken blinked, and then that little kid grin spread across his face, and he did a double eyebrow raise. Now we’re talkin’! As they were talking, Loy stuck his head out of the locker room and saw them sitting on the couch. He was shirtless and already sweaty, with a towel over one shoulder and carrying a big water bottle. He knelt behind the couch and setting his bottle down, wrapped one big arm each around Ken and Brad saying, “What are you two knuckleheads still doing here? You should be in the Pacific soaking up the hot sun by now!” He lowered his head between theirs and squeezed their faces together. Ken and Brad both grabbed hold of his forearms and squeezed back. The fact he was hot and sweaty didn’t bother them in the least. They were so used to being sweaty it was second nature to them. Besides, they were all men who were into men, and sweat was a manly thing and part of being as physical as they were. Ken said, “We’re just headin’ out. I wish everyone could go.” Loy said, “No, you don’t. You need alone time. Go have a good time.” He grinned, his white teeth showing bright against his darkly tanned face. “And you know what I mean by that. Raw, hot, sweaty, man sex. Grrrrrr.” They laughed, and Ken and Brad stood up, shouldering their bags. As Loy headed back into the gym, he stopped and turned, adding, “Hey, important safety tip. That sunscreen the doc got us… it makes horrible lube!” He winked and with a grin disappeared through the door. Ken and Brad laughed again. They saw the source of his statement earlier from merging with Loy. It would be good ammunition for some shit hanging one day. Brad and Ken were going to power up on their own to get to ZEUS, but Darren felt the buildup, and his voice entered the Link. Hey douchebags, what’re you doing? I’m right here! He synchronized their Avatars, and Ken and Brad appeared on ZEUS, over halfway around the planet in the blink of an eye. <><><> As Ken and Brad appeared on the dive deck of ZEUS, the first thing that always hit Ken was the smell of the ocean. To his enhanced sense of smell, the pungent salt air was comforting, like an old friend. It brought back memories of his early days in the Navy as a SEAL. The boat was quiet enough for Ken to hear the slight hum of the GPS stabilizers and feel the vibration under his feet. The stabilizers were subtle enough that only the Bodies could feel them, and even then only when the boat was still and no one was making ambient noise or vibrations. They moved to the main cabin and set their bags on the couch. The fans weren’t running, and it was hot and sticky inside, so they both stripped off their shirts and tossed them on top of their bags. Because of their delay in arriving, Orophir had been by himself for the morning, and they wondered why he had the fans off and the windows and portholes shut. Brad turned on the fans with his Mind, and he opened the windows and portholes. Immediately the ocean breeze stirred through the cabin and felt soothing over their already sweaty skin. Ken’s stomach let out an impressive rumble, and Brad smirked. “I’ll get lunch started.” Ken said, “Let me find Orophir and make sure he knows we’re here.” Brad said, “If you don’t mind, after we eat I’d like to take a nap.” Ken smiled and said, “You read my Mind.” He realized what he’d said, and they both laughed. Ken made his way to Orophir’s cabin and knocked on the door. After a slight delay, Ken heard Orophir’s voice in his Mind. Leave me be. I just wanted ‘ta make sure you knew we were here. Brad’s makin’ lunch if you wanna join us. There was a longer pause, and the door slid open. Ken’s Avatar surged when he laid eyes on Orophir; he was starving and severely dehydrated, and most of his bodily functions were off-kilter. Whoa! What’s goin’ on with you? Why haven’t you eaten anythin’? You’ve only been alone a few hours… why didn’t Bill and Kevin help you out? I did not wish to disturb them… it is apparent you do not trust me and do not want me here. I should leave, but I have nowhere else to go. Look… Orophir… I’ll be totally honest. We don’t trust you completely yet. It’s a combination of a lot of things. Your father is The Dark One, for cryin’ out loud. We don’t even know what that makes you capable of. Ken paused and put a hand on Orophir’s shoulder. Look… before we go any further let’s get you changed into somethin’ more comfortable and get some food in you. You aren’t a prisoner. We’ll talk more after we eat, alright? Ken saw the conflict in Orophir’s eyes. He was unused to human contact. Ken squeezed his shoulder and shook him slightly. Come on, you need ‘ta eat. Very well. Ken took him back to the master suite. Sally figured you were about Brad’s size, or Lane’s, so we brought you some clothes. Those robes look swelterin’. In fact, me and B are gonna be naked most of the time we’re here, so I hope that doesn’t bother you. You should be too if you’re comfortable with that. Ken grinned to take any sting out of his next words. You’re white as a sheet and could use some sun. Take advantage and work on your tan while you’re here. What is a tan? Lord… I see we got a long way ‘ta go. Ken’s relaxed and comfortable physicality put Orophir at ease. He was not ashamed to be naked, in fact, the concept of modesty was unknown to him. Like all Nephilim, he had a beautiful body with nothing to be ashamed of; he was very muscular and also well endowed. Okay, I’m guessin’ you don’t know how the shower works, either. Let’s get you cleaned up quick before lunch. Ken started the hot water in the shower, stripped off his shorts, and stepped through the glass doors. Come in here. Orophir hesitated again but did as Ken asked. Ken assumed Orophir had no sense of personal hygiene and he was right. He had to show Orophir everything. Orophir was not embarrassed like Ken thought he would be. He enjoyed learning and caught on quickly. He mimicked Ken in everything he did from washing his hair, his armpits, his body, even his foreskin, and ass. Orophir’s expression changed considerably in the next few minutes. The scowl on his face was gone, and he looked more relaxed and at ease. Ken’s easy going and friendly charm were at work on the Nephilim, along with the hot water. Let’s not worry about gettin’ dressed. Ken glanced at Orophir’s powerful body and smirked. I know B won’t mind. You look amazin’. Brad was with Ken through it all while preparing lunch, but he still whistled when the two naked men walked into the galley. His only comment was, “I’m overdressed!” as he took off his shorts. Ken usually ate fast, but Orophir devoured the big sandwich Brad put in front of him. Brad knew how hungry he was and made plenty. Orophir looked a bit sheepish, clearly hungry for more. “Orophir, I want ‘ta make it perfectly clear, while you’re here this is your home. You don’t need ‘ta ask for food, or anythin’ ‘ta drink. We’ll keep the kitchen well stocked with everythin’. Once you know what you like just let us know and we’ll make sure you have it.” “I do not know how to prepare these things. In my cave, I simply absorbed the ambient energy of the Pale. The Physical and Spiritual Realms there are blended, and I had no need to eat as I do here. Hunger is an odd sensation.” Ken said, “Listen to your body. It’ll tell you what it needs, or when it needs to get rid of waste.” “Waste?” “Umm yeah… when we eat food, our bodies take what nutrients are needed, and we have to get rid of the rest.” “How strange!” “Well, you’ll get used to it fast, especially after eatin’ all that food. But before we get into that, let’s continue our conversation….” Ken went on to tell Orophir, explicitly, what their concerns were. They didn’t know what he was capable of being Luke’s son, or if he could trick their Avatars. Ken decided honesty was the best policy and to put his worries out in the open. Orophir was brilliant and logical, if emotionally stunted. When Ken finished, he sat back and looked at Orophir with his Understanding. Brad’s Avatar was in full effect too, analyzing everything emotional and intellectual about Orophir, trying to gauge his reaction. Brad was familiar with the look on Orophir’s face; his eyes held a sadness to them that was painful to look at. “I understand your concerns, but I do not know what I can do to allay them. It seems you will have to mistrust me. If I am as powerful as you suspect, there is no test I can pass that will satisfy you.” Ken continued, “You asked for Sanctuary, and we’ve given it ‘ta you. There’s an old sayin in our world ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ If we’re gonna be friends and learn ‘ta trust you, we need ‘ta get ‘ta know you better. Stay here. You said yourself you got nowhere else ‘ta go. Our World is ridin’ on us winnin’ against The Master, and once he’s gone your father’s comin’ after us with a vengeance. “I don’t mean ‘ta sound harsh, but you have to earn our trust, and we need ‘ta learn more about you. We have some friends comin’ tomorrow ‘ta help with that.” Orophir looked panicked and asked, “Who?” Ken looked at him carefully and said, “Istariel and his two cousins.” “They do not like me.” “They don’t know you either. I’m askin’ you for a favor. Stay and get ‘ta know us and let us get ‘ta know you. We have another sayin’… ‘Innocent, until proven guilty.’ “Your world has many sayings.” Brad laughed and said, “You have no idea, but some of them are pertinent. Let’s give this situation some time and see how it all works out, alright? Please don’t be upset or sad. I would think you would look forward to getting to know more of your kind.” “The Archangels want me destroyed. The Nephilim who will be here follow their direction. You know this.” Ken interjected, “I asked Istariel ‘ta come here as a friend. He and the others are not comin’ here ‘ta hurt you. I promise.” “It seems I have little choice.” Ken sighed, “I told you, this is not a prison. I get you don’t have many options right now. Work with us Orophir, and don’t fight us on this. My hope is you’re legit, and we’ll be great friends.” Orophir paused and then said, “I would like that.” Ken stood and started clearing the table and said, “Good! Now we’re gonna take a nap. You’re welcome ‘ta swim or rest or do whatever you want. We’ll be up in a few hours to start dinner and swim.” Ken looked at Brad and asked, “B, you got that memory sphere ready?” While they talked, Brad’s unconscious Mind amassed any information Orophir might need to function as a human and blend in; basic common knowledge all human adults had. Brad held his hands up to his chest in a diamond pattern, and a large memory sphere emerged. It floated over, bobbing in front of Orophir. “I think this will help, Orophir. It’s just knowledge, and I know you like learning. Consider this a crash course on Earth and being human.” The sphere entered Orophir’s body and he blinked in surprise, and a second later his face lit up in a smile. “Thank you! I now know how to use the toilet!” Brad laughed and said, “Among other things, but yeah, that will help a lot. With all that food, you’ll be using it soon enough.” “I will go and rest as well.” Orophir stood but paused and turned before he entered the hallway, “Thank you for lunch. Next time I will help clean up. I know now that is the proper thing to do. My apologies for not being aware before.” Ken grinned and said, “There ‘ya go! See you’re learnin’ stuff already. You’re welcome. Now go rest up, and we’ll see you in a bit. I don’t want you turnin’ into a hermit here and campin’ in your room.” Orophir nodded and went down the hall. <><><> Ken cleaned up the galley, and a few minutes later he and Brad met back in the master bedroom. They were already naked and crawled into bed. Ken got on his back with one arm behind his head, and Brad lay on his side facing Ken, with one arm draped over Ken’s chest and one leg covering Ken’s. The two men rested together, enjoying the intimate touch. Their hands roamed soothingly over each other, but the goal was to relax and nap, not have a marathon round of sex. Ken grinned and thought: That’s for later after we rest up! Brad rested his head on Ken’s upper chest and shoulder, and his hair moved slightly when Ken exhaled. They smelled each other in their own way, and even in the warmth of the cabin and the humid air, the heat of their bodies felt perfect. The healthy glow of their skin, slightly sweaty and soft over hard muscle, was perfect. Each man held the other in their Mind and Heart, even as they held their bodies. They so seldom got to relax and just be together anymore. Ken was glad Brad wanted to take a nap. They drifted off to sleep, their bodies, Minds, Hearts, and Souls completely intertwined; One. <><><> Brad set a Mental Trigger to wake up, but Ken woke up first. He continued to be still and think about things, mostly their wedding and Kevin’s recent trauma. As soldiers they had all killed people, but never a family member, and never on purpose. Even though it was an act of mercy, the pain in Kevin was… there wasn’t a word Ken could think of to describe it. His Heart ached for his oldest buddy. Brad’s body was so beautiful to look at. His physique was breathtaking to Ken; heavily muscled, but lean and tight. His tanned skin was flawless and blemish free, and his body hair perfect. The dusting of hair over his abs glowed in the sunlight coming into the room. Ken watched the gentle rise and fall of Brad’s stomach and chest as he slept. The sunlight cast sharp shadows over his stomach, accentuating the deep cuts of his abs when he exhaled. Ken couldn’t help himself and placed a hand on Brad’s stomach. He felt the hair and the warmth of his skin. He felt Brad’s Core Energy Center, and it excited him. Brad’s presence was intoxicating, and Ken delved into the essence of his lover. He wasn’t able to resist doing so; the emotions and thoughts of what Brad meant to him were too strong to deny. As he rested in his sleeping husband, his hand roamed over Brad’s body; over his chest and ribs, up over his shoulders and neck. With his enhanced tactile sense, he felt so much about Brad that was unique to him. Brad’s manly body turned him on all by itself, but everything else that was Brad made him too much to resist. Ken gently kissed the top of Brad’s head and whispered, “I love you so fuckin’ much, B.” The love he felt for the man against him was so encompassing it was scary. Ken fully realized he could not function without Brad in his life, and he knew all his Brothers were in the same predicament. Tactically, it was a weakness and something they needed to keep to themselves so it could never be exploited and used against them. Luke knew it, and they would have to guard against it as best they could. The irony was it was also their greatest strength. The Power they wielded when together, especially all ten of them, was astounding. Henry added even more, and Ken was also thankful for Henry’s presence in his life. Ken continued watching over Brad until he woke up. The pupils of their eyes dilated when they looked at one another. Ken saw it more clearly with his enhanced eyesight, but Brad saw it too. He loved how the colors of their eyes ringed one another, proof of their perfect blending. Brad sounded lazy as he said, “Let’s go swimming for a while, and then I’ll fix dinner. We need to be quiet, so we don’t wake Orophir. He needs to sleep himself out.” <><><> A few minutes later they were floating in the peaceful waters of the Pacific. Brad called nearby Dolphins and whales to swim with them. The sea life in the area stayed close to ZEUS knowing the men occasionally visited; especially Loy. Incorporated into the Runes on ZEUS was a strong Compulsion for humans to ignore the craft and not board. There was piracy in the area and the craft was often unattended, so the doctor made sure it stayed safe. There were electronic safeguards as well that would alert the bases if other craft got too close. It had happened before, and the safeguards worked perfectly. The GPS stabilizers kept ZEUS at a location far out to sea over the Marianas Trench, near the area where they dove down to Thomin’s Vault. Brad mused over the time they inhabited the penguins as they dove nearly seven miles to the bottom of the trench to rescue Drew and Darren. Remembering the penguins and other parts of their training, in particular how they learned to oxygenate their bodies if they needed to warm up their muscles quickly for a fight, an idea came to the surface from his unconscious Mind. Hey, Ken, I’ll be right back. I want to try something. Are you goin’ all mad scientist on me again? Should I be worried? Brad smirked. Never! … At least I don’t think so. That was his standard response, and Ken grinned. He was curious about what Brad wanted to try. They were Linked, but not fully merged, and he wasn’t reading his husband’s Mind at the moment. Brad called a dolphin, grabbed its dorsal fin and had it take them deep. He went down until just before the pressure in his ears became painful and leveled off. Brad was in excellent shape and could hold his breath for minutes. He remembered his SEAL training when they had to dive into a pool while tied up, and the goal was to get loose and put on their gear and tanks at the bottom of the pool within a set time limit. He had no gear or tanks now, but he was sure he could breathe in his own way. His eyes flashed White and he slowed his perception of Time until it nearly stopped. He focused and stilled his body and Mind becoming One with his Centering Flame. He went deep in his own body until he felt the electrical current running through him. It was greater in Brad than a normal human because of his Nephilim Heritage and being an Original Man. He visualized the neurons in the white matter of his nervous system, covered in myelin, transmitting electrical impulses at incredible speeds through his body from various receptors to his brain. He concentrated until he felt the current of the electromagnetic field flowing through his body, and began altering it according to his wishes. He extended the field to just outside the dermis of his body and with the part of his Avatar that came from Darren he started a basic form of electrolysis, separating the Oxygen from the Hydrogen molecules in the water next to his skin. He pulled the Oxygen into his body, channeling it into his veins and tissues. It was an odd sensation to not draw breath as all the oxygen his body needed was sourced from the water. He was able to exhale and rid his body of the carbon dioxide, so the pH level’s in his blood and system remained normal and wouldn’t become acidotic. The effort was so minimal he could hardly believe it. With small adjustments, he altered the pressure differential in his body, and no longer felt any discomfort and would not get the bends from rapid decompression. Hell, yeah! Ken, you have to try this! This is cool as shit! God, why didn’t I think of this before!? Ken rolled off the floats he lounged on and dove down into the water, merging with his husband as he did. When he realized what Brad managed to do, he was stunned. Through Brad’s Intellect and Ken’s mastery of his own body he knew he could do the same thing. Ken felt the same odd sensation when Brad started the process in him. It was slightly different for Ken because of his physicality and Avatar, but based on what Brad was doing he affected the same changes through his Core Energy flow. He didn’t have part of Darren’s Avatar, but the Bodies operated at a much higher electrical level inside their nervous systems, and his control over the Core flows was absolute. Hell, yeah! This opens up so many possibilities, B! You rock! Fuck, you’re smart. Brad knew what was coming next and smiled. You know what smart talk does ‘ta me, right? Even in the dim light of the ocean, Brad saw the results. Ken didn’t lie and was hard as a rock from the feelings he had for Brad. It’s a good thing the sea life likes us… that’s a big fat juicy worm for some fish, and most of the fish down here have teeth. Ken wiggled his hips, making his erection sway in the water. He swam over to Brad and pulled him into a full-bodied hug. The warmth of their bodies helped fend off the chill of the deep ocean. Ken held him for a long time and continued to tell him how proud he was of him for figuring out the new application of their abilities. Brad’s legs locked around Ken’s trim waist and his arms around Ken’s heavy shoulders. The sensation of their flesh pressed together, the warmth and solidity of their bodies, even in the saltwater, was exquisite and felt perfect. They kissed, sealing their lips to prevent any saltwater from leaking into their mouths. As they floated in the water their Souls shone brighter as their passion built, a star in the Ocean in the Spiritual Realm. Nearby sea life sensed them, and soon there were swarms of various creatures circling them, soaking in the Light they gave off, offering their Unconditional Love to the Original Men who were on Earth once again. It had been so long, and the sense of completion filled the animals at their return. Their aggression and fear towards Fallen men were absent towards the Team, just as it was before the Curse. Ken and Brad didn’t have sex. They learned the hard way, back in Syria running missions, that making love in the Ocean was not a good idea. It sounded hot, but the reality was far otherwise. They stayed hard for one another and enjoyed the intimacy but held off acting on it. There would be plenty of time later. Orophir ended up sleeping through the night, so Ken and Brad basically had the yacht to themselves. Brad cooked a great dinner, and they spent the time with each other managing to set aside their cares for a day, giving them the reprieve they needed… …and they had LOTS of sex, as Loy said they would; raw, hot, sweaty, man sex. They planned to stay through the next morning, long enough for Brad to add the names of Istariel and his two cousins to the matrix on ZEUS, which would allow them to be present and unaffected by the defenses of the craft. <><><> The next morning Brad called everyone into a Construct of the Atlanta Lab for their morning meeting. They merged, and everyone became aware of the conversation Ken and Brad had with Orophir. Everyone was also stunned at Brad’s new discovery on how they basically could breathe underwater. It was another aspect of their Avatars that was unexpected but remarkable. It took a few minutes for everyone to calm down after that revelation, and they couldn’t wait to get their turn on ZEUS to try it out. Once everyone calmed down, Ken asked: So, Henry, are you’n Drew ready ‘ta head this way? Henry: We’re packed and ready. Drew’s got ants in his pants and can’t wait to go swimming with Istariel. I don’t even know if Istariel knows how to swim, but we’ll figure it out. There were many smiles around the table at that thought. Henry: I’ll apologize ahead of time Dar, Drew packed heavy for this trip. I think he’s bringing every toy and game with him. You would think we were going to be gone a week with all the stuff he packed. Darren: No sweat, Henry. You know it’s not an issue. Brad: Henry, give us about fifteen minutes, and I’ll have Dar send you over. I’ll be Linked with you all day as a precaution; enough for you to reach me if anything goes wrong and we need to evac you and Drew or head your way. Just to reiterate, we certainly don’t expect anything, but you know we’re not taking any chances. Henry: I’m good, guys. Ken: Alright ladies, another day another dollar. Everybody hop to it. <><><> Brad went out onto the dive deck. It was actually late the previous afternoon according to Atlanta time. The time differentials between Atlanta, ZEUS, and the Uluru base in Australia were always fun to keep track of with the training rotations. The morning was peaceful, and the water like glass. It was past the pre-dawn grey and the sun was peeking over the horizon, lighting up the ocean. There was no breeze yet, and they enjoyed the stillness of the moment. For a brief few seconds, he and Ken were just two men on a boat without a care in the world. Damn, I wish we could stay. I know, B. One day. Yeah. Ken went back inside to check with Orophir about breakfast and left Brad to call Istariel. Brad’s Avatar glowed on the ball of his shoulder, and his Mind shouted across the Veil: Istariel! Brad already added the Runes for Istariel’s name to the matrix on ZEUS. Istariel appeared in his human form, wearing his usual grey robes. Greetings, Brad W… Brad. He caught himself and Brad grinned and winked. Orophir is inside with Ken. I know you two have met, but I thought it would be best to get you here first and then I’ll add the names of your cousins to the matrix. Telcharan and Ruviel. Thanks. I never knew that… it’s odd we’ve known them so long but never knew their names. It was forever before I knew your name too. Istariel didn’t reply and moved into the main cabin. It’s going to be blistering hot today. You might want to ditch those robes. We’ve been going naked, but that’s up to you. Istariel’s robes vanished. Good call. They moved to the main cabin where Ken and Orophir sat on the couch talking. Orophir looked decidedly nervous. Ken winked at Brad and in a private thought said: Let the good times roll! <><><> Later that day on a short break from sparring with Darren, while he was toweling off and rehydrating, Brad strengthened his Link with Henry. He hadn’t sensed any strong emotions from Henry but wanted to check in regardless. Hey Henry, how’s it going? You tell me, Brad. The Son of Satan and a Son of God are playing a game of ‘Trouble’ with my six-year-old son. It doesn’t get much fucking weirder. Brad almost spit water out his nose at Henry’s deadpan delivery of the news. He got the mental image of the two Nephilim at the galley table with Drew playing his favorite board game ‘Trouble.’ The two Nephilim were fascinated by the plastic bubble they pressed down on that would pop up to roll the die. So, all is good? Frankly, it’s been a fantastic day. Drew made fast friends with Orophir. The guy is basically a kid at heart, and you know how Drew sees into people. He’s on a mission to make Orophir feel good. Have Istariel or the other two said anything? No. And my God Brad, I gotta tell you Telcharan is a knockout. I knew she was a she, but I’ve only ever seen her in her robes and once in a dress. It was actually so damn funny… when they showed up naked Drew couldn’t take his eyes off her boobs. I had to talk to Istariel, and we’re all wearing shorts now, and she’s wearing a bathing suit. Brad was laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes, and Ken wondered what was going on. Sorry man, but that’s too funny! And sorry, I really wasn’t thinking about the ‘no clothes’ option with Drew. Orophir is a trip. He’s a kid one second and a weird hot mess the next. He’s got serious daddy issues. Oddly enough, Istariel’s really good with him. I thought they’d be oil and water, but they’re getting along great. I don’t think it’s an act either, but I could be wrong. You know we value your opinion, Henry. I hope you’re getting some chill time in, too. Yes and no. It’s so nice here it’s hard not to relax… but Drew’s taken to Orophir, and I’m not letting him out of my sight for now. We did get in some swim time… I’m getting the hang of the animal thing with the dolphins and whales. That’s so cool. Brad sighed: I’m sorry, Henry. It’s all good Brad. Actually, it’s not that bad. Watching Drew have a good time is all I need. The sincerity of Henry’s words hit Brad unexpectedly, and his eyes watered. He’s so lucky to have you, Henry. I’m lucky to have him, Brad. No lie. Okay, no more waterworks! They both laughed. Alright, I need to hop back to it here and kick Darren’s ass in the ring. Darren: I heard that Goldilocks. Prepare for an ass-whooping, and I don’t mean the kind you like. The three of them chuckled over the banter. Call us if you need anything, Henry. Will do. Have a good rest of the night. Or day. Hell, whatever time it is there. They exchanged the equivalent of Mental hugs as Brad lessened the Link into the background. <><><> It was late and quiet on the yacht, and Henry was the only one awake. He laughed to himself that even Nephilim were not immune to the boredom of watching “Thomas the Tank Engine” ad nauseam. Drew had so much fun that day Henry was really happy for him, and a smile crossed his handsome face. Drew struggled to stay awake even with an afternoon nap under his belt. He loved being around his friends. He lay on the couch between Istariel and Orophir, and all three were asleep. Henry gently woke the two Nephilim and said, “Head to bed guys. I’m taking Drew back to my cabin for the night.” By the time Henry got back, the two Nephilim were absent, he assumed in their beds. Telcharan and Ruviel had gone to bed on their own much earlier. Henry looked over the main cabin and raised his eyebrows. It never ceased to amaze him how one small boy could make such a huge mess. Drew’s toys, board games, and coloring books were scattered everywhere. As he gathered Drew’s coloring books, a sheet of folded sheet of paper fell out of one of them. He leaned over to pick it up, and his blood ran cold when he saw what was on it. His eyes watered and a tremble ran through his big body. It was drawn in crayon, but the image on the page was clearly the Stone. Drew did his best to draw in the Eschphene sigils that were now etched into it. In their last encounter in Africa, the Eschphene Leader had stolen the Stone and set a trap for Drew using those sigils, sucking him into a Construct, and Henry merged with Drew out of desperation, drawn into the trap with him. Henry would never forget that day. He exhausted himself defending both of them against the incarnations within Drew the Stone woke up; the sigils did something to them, enraged them, so they wanted to kill Henry and Drew. If Brad hadn’t found them through the Veil, Henry was terrified of what might have happened. Henry’s thoughts made him uneasy, and he felt an urgent need to check on his son. Making his way back to the main cabin, he slid the door open quietly to see Drew sprawled across the bed with no covers. He slept hot and had kicked the sheet off. His bright white Marvel Underoos were easy to see in the moonlight coming in through the windows and portholes. The Wolf-Spirit sat at the foot of the bed and raised her head to look at Henry when he came in. She was calm, looking at him with the uncanny intelligence she always exhibited. Henry glanced at the big mirror and noticed how bright the white lock of hair on his head was in the moonlight. It almost glowed on its own. He sent a thought to the Wolf-Spirit, knowing she would understand him. I’m going to swim. Everyone is asleep, and it should be safe but call me immediately for any reason. Her eyes gleamed in the moonlight, and he knew she would. In the silver light of the moon, she was translucent, and her ghostly image didn’t leave an imprint on the bed. Henry grinned and thought to himself: I’m glad she doesn’t shed. He couldn’t get the image of the drawing out of his Mind, and it worried him. Even though it was late, his worry had him wide awake, so he went out on the dive deck, stripped off his shorts, and dove naked into the warm waters of the Pacific. Under the tutelage of Ken and his Brothers, Henry turned into an exceptional swimmer. He took a deep breath and dove down a few feet and tried Brad’s new technique. It took him some time. Even though his control over his body and Core energy centers was excellent, he didn’t have an Avatar. He was able to do it, but it took more energy for him than for the Bodies, but the overall effort was minimal, almost negligible once he got the hang of it. He called a dolphin and grabbed its dorsal fin and let it pull him through the water. The water felt soothing over his naked body, and it relaxed him. He swam for nearly an hour until he finally started feeling sleepy. He climbed the ladder back onto the dive deck, and noticed his reflection in the sliding glass doors, watching his masculine form dripping water as he dried himself. He stared at himself for a minute, and a slight grin crossed his handsome face. Okay, maybe I do look kind of hot. He knew he would catch a lot of shit over his thought and laughed even more. When it did eventually happen, his chagrin was countered more by the idea of how happy his Brothers were that he finally saw himself that way. He wanted to talk to Drew about the drawing, so he tucked it into his bag. He would wait until they were back at the Lab and talk to the doc first to get his opinion. It had to mean something, and it didn’t bode well. He finished toweling off and padded through the main cabin to the master suite and climbed into the big bed with Drew. Drew was sprawled sideways, taking up most of the bed, but he was a heavy sleeper. Henry repositioned him and Drew never woke up. Henry drifted off to sleep, holding Drew next to him. He tried not to worry, but in the quiet of the night when it was dark he often thought about what Drew faced. Henry couldn’t help the thoughts that went through his Mind. Please let him live through this. I’m begging you, whoever you are. Help me Protect him. A few hours later Henry woke with a start, shooting up in bed. It was still late, and ZEUS was completely quiet except for the low whir of the ceiling fan. His Mind raced, and he had to calm himself before he woke Drew up. His body was tense, and he sweated. His unconscious Mind threw the idea out, and it was powerful enough to wake him. His training with Brad and the Mentalists was at work. He hated to do it, but he called to Brad through their Link. Brad? Triggers in Brad’s Mind fired off at Henry’s call, and they merged suddenly and intensely. Brad and Ken appeared with him in that place where their Souls were One. Henry? What is it? Their arms went around him first thing, holding him tight. Henry’s tension and anxiety were tangible to them. Guy’s I’m sorry… maybe this could have waited but… Because they were merged, Brad knew immediately what Henry’s revelation was and how significantly it could affect Drew’s confrontation with The Master. Ken: You did the right thing, Henry. B, get everyone here. Brad called out and hit the Triggers of anyone asleep, and to those who were still awake, he made sure they were safe to pull in. In a flash, the rest of the Team was present in that place where they were One. The intensity of the Love between them flowed like a hot fire, and Henry basked in their Light even as he added to it. As their comforting presence washed over Henry and helped to calm him, they saw his idea, and a smattering of “Holy shits!” and “Fuck me’s!” followed. Brad took them into a Construct of the Conference room, and everyone appeared in their black Kevlar Assault gear. Henry’s suit was unique with the muted cyan and dark red trim on his suit indicating his dual nature. Ken: B, put up the images on the Ops Board. Images of The Stone before and after the sigils appeared as well as Drew’s drawing. Lane: Henry, has Drew said anything to you recently about the Stone? If he’s drawing pictures, this has to mean something. Henry: No Lane, and it scares the shit out of me. I haven’t had a clue. I don’t know when he drew that. Loy: I’m sorry to say this Henry, but it might have something to do with the conversation Drew had with that guy at the wedding. The Voice, Istariel’s father, or whatever the hell we’re supposed to call him. Henry’s voice trembled slightly, and he thought: Yeah, I thought of that too. Drew’s still not budging on that, and I haven’t pressed him. I’m going to ask about the drawing tomorrow, and I’ll have to play it by ear depending on his reaction. Henry stood and squared his shoulders. Guys, this could be a game changer for Drew. If we can alter the Stone in the same way the Eschphene did and set a trap for The Master, it could give Drew the edge he needs. The hope inside Henry was so strong it affected all of them. They felt the same way. Brad: Playing devil’s advocate here… we don’t know enough about the sigils to do that ourselves. We’ll need a good source of information on them, preferably an Eschphene. Bryan: We’ve kicked those fuckers in the balls twice now. I’m not so sure they’ll help us. Kevin: We have to try. Henry’s right, this could be a real game changer. Frankly, we need one. I know we’re preparing, but we’ve been beaten up pretty bad too. This is something concrete we can sink our teeth into. Ken: Okay, guys, everyone mull this over and we’ll reconvene at our usual time in the mornin’. Henry, you did right callin’ us in on this. Brad added: Your idea is brilliant, Henry, we just need to figure out a way to pull it off. For Henry, they all started saying goodnight in ‘The Walton’s’ manner again. Henry laughed and thought: Goodnight, fuckers. Lane: Was one of the Walton kids named fuckers? I don’t think so! Their laughter faded as Brad toned down the Link from across the planet. Henry rested in the moonlight, holding Drew and had a positive feeling for a change. He kissed the top of Drew’s head and managed to fall asleep. <><><> Darren and Pat appeared in the Atlanta Lab at 0600. Bryan and Lane had been on the roster with them in Australia the night before, but Darren and Pat arranged to come back early to take care of a few things. They all accommodated one another as needed for short windows where they required little bits of time to run personal errands or take care of some detail. Pat went to the kitchen to check on coffee, and Darren went to the locker room to use the bathroom. As Darren finished, he heard Tommy and Brett by the lockers, but they were whispering, and he couldn’t make out what they were saying. Darren came up behind them, putting a hand on each of their shoulders asking, “Hey guys, what in the world are you doing up so early? You should still be in bed.” The boys started at Darren’s touch, looking sheepish, but both said, “Hey, Uncle Darren.” Tommy held his Bumblebee action figure; the big one he got for Christmas and never went anywhere without. He gripped it by the arm, and it was so large it almost hit the floor as it dangled from his hand. Darren knelt, holding his arms out for a hug. After he got a hug from both boys, Tommy asked, “Which locker is my dad’s?” Darren chuckled and asked, “Which dad Tommy? Kevin or Bill?” Tommy smiled and said, “Kevin.” Darren showed him which lockers were Kevin’s and Bill’s so he would know. It was Brett that said, “Thanks, Uncle Darren.” Darren said, “You guys should go back to bed. Do Kevin and Bill know you’re up?” Tommy said, “No, sir.” “Come on guys let’s get you back to your room.” Darren was curious why the boys wanted to know which lockers were Kevin’s and Bill’s, but didn’t ask. He put a hand on each shoulder to guide the boys out of the locker room and back to the common area towards their bedroom when Brett whispered, “Ask him, Tommy! He can help!” Darren stopped and said, “Help with what? Boys, what’s going on?” Tommy looked sheepish again but told Darren why he wanted to know. Darren’s eyes went bright as Tommy explained everything. When he finished, Brett continued and explained why he needed to find Kevin’s locker. Darren’s breathing was heavy from keeping his emotions in check over what he just heard. In the kitchen, Pat felt the surge of intense emotions in his husband. Dar, what’s going on? Pat… fuck you aren’t going to believe this. Darren pulled Pat in tighter and shared everything the boys explained to him, and Pat’s eyes watered immediately. Oh, fuck. If I make it fast, we can be back in just a couple of minutes. The boys want to go, but I’m not taking them out of here even for this. I can get what they want and be right back. Okay, let’s get a move on. Kev and Bill are due to wake up any minute. Darren explained to the boys he and Pat would be right back. They were disappointed they couldn’t go, but Darren and Pat were adamant about not taking the boys anywhere without their dads’ permission. Darren cast his thoughts out around the area. There was a 24/7 Pharmacy nearby that should have what Tommy wanted. It turned out they didn’t, so he found a nearby Kroger instead. He was on a mission for Tommy and wasn’t coming back empty-handed. <><><> An hour later, Kevin and Bill were in the kitchen drinking coffee while the boys ate their cereal. Sally was up sitting with them, visiting and chatting until it was time to start the boys’ lessons. Darren and Pat were there as well, drinking their third cup of coffee and taking part in the morning conversation. Kevin had a rough night and was irritable. He dreamed nearly every night since his brother Archie’s death. The doctor told him he might and that his dreams would be uncomfortable, but he needed to let them run their course with no tampering from Bill. The dreams were his Mind’s way of dealing with the trauma. The dream that night started to turn into a full-fledged nightmare when Kevin heard howling, like a pack of wolves, and his dream abruptly stopped. He knew it was the Wolf-Spirit who protected Drew’s Dreams. She was on ZEUS with Drew but sent others of her pack to watch over Kevin. How she knew to do that he didn’t know, but he was grateful and would make a point to thank her in person the next chance he got. Bill was as attentive as he could be without irritating Kevin. Kevin didn’t like being treated with kid gloves or fretted over. He was working through the emotional trauma and leaning on Bill when he needed to. Bill, just by his solid presence, was what Kevin needed along with the boys, but their dad was subdued, and it worried Tommy and Brett. They knew Kevin was hurt and upset. Doctor Thomas had talked to them about it. At 0750 the men got up from the table, rinsed out their coffee cups, and headed to the locker room to change into their workout gear. Sally got Tommy and Brett settled and ready to start on their lessons. Albrecht was most likely already up but the doctor, not an early riser, would still be asleep for another hour at least. Their mentors almost always emerged from their room together. Kevin opened his locker and pulled out his gym bag, unzipping it. The other three men heard him say, “What the fuck?” As they turned to look, Kevin was holding Brett’s Bumblebee action figure. He had a confused look on his face. Bill moved over and touched it; as his hand wrapped around the toy, his eyes flashed White, and his Avatar glowed softly on his shoulder. Powerful emotions and impressions tied to the toy filled his Mind. In the last twenty-four hours, Brett had talked, even prayed, to Bumblebee to help his dad. The boys understood loss far too well for children of their age, and when they were told about Kevin’s brother dying, they knew Kevin would be hurt. They didn’t know Kevin was the one that had snapped the bonds holding Archie’s Soul to his body or the details of his death. They didn’t realize how deeply their dad’s wounds ran, but they were keenly aware of loss and how it affected someone. Brett put the action figure in Kevin’s bag to watch over him, and to be a companion to Kevin as it was to Brett. Brett wanted to make his dad feel better. Bill’s eyes reddened and hot tears formed from the intensity of the emotion over what their son did for Kevin. The toy meant everything to Brett; it was his safety blanket, and for him to give it up told them how much he cared. When Kevin saw the tears in Bill’s eyes, he wanted to share the intense emotions in his husband, and the two of them went deep within each other and became One. When they appeared naked to one another in that special place, Kevin still held the toy in his hands. The dam of emotions Kevin had been holding back cracked. He broke down, falling to his knees, and Bill grabbed him. Bill pulled Pat and Darren in with them, and his two Brothers immediately wrapped their arms around Kevin, holding him just as tightly with their Hearts. Kevin didn’t say anything, but he cried so hard he sweated from the tension in his body. He rested in his husband and two of his best friends and let the pain out as he shared the depth of what Brett did for him. He didn’t know how long the pain of Archie’s death would last; maybe forever. He knew it would lessen over time, but it was still fresh, and he was constantly reminded of it. Darren hid the second part of the surprise away in his mind in a wrapped box. They were merged, and Bill saw the box hiding the thoughts. Darren sent him a private thought: Hold on to your hat. There’s another part of this coming. It took a while in the place where Time didn’t move for Kevin to get himself under control. In the Physical Realm, his breath caught in his chest and the first tear was falling down his cheek when he left the locker room. Tommy and Brett saw Kevin come out of the locker room, shirtless and holding Bumblebee. They saw tears in his eyes, and for a brief second thought their surprise backfired, and their dad was upset with them. He scooped the two boys up in his big arms and started sobbing again. He could barely talk his tears were so thick, but he managed to say, “Thank you, Brett. I love you guys so much. You have no idea what this means to me.” The two boys were small for their age, and Kevin was like a giant next to them, but he buried his face against the two of them and held them tight. Their little arms went around his head and shoulders, and they hugged him back. Brett pulled back slightly and said, “Tommy has something for you too, dad.” Kevin lifted his tear-streaked face and looked at his other son. Hesitantly Tommy held out his hand. Kevin looked and saw a rolled-up comic book. Kevin unrolled it, and his breath caught again. The title across the cover in big letters read “Archie.” Tommy said, “I know Uncle Archie’s gone, but you can read this and pretend it’s him, and maybe you won’t be sad when you read it. If you pretend hard enough, it’ll be real, and he’ll still be with you.” Kevin broke down again and pulled the two boys against him. Sally watched and cried and put a hand on Kevin’s head in comfort. She looked at the two boys and whispered, “That was beautiful! I’m so proud of you two.” Bill moved over and added his arms around Kevin and the two boys. At six foot four he had long arms, and they wrapped around Kevin and the boys. Kevin, when he could talk, laughed at himself and said, “I’m turning into Ken!” getting a smile and a chuckle from everybody. He wiped his eyes and cupped the face of each boy in one of his big warm hands, and said, “I don’t know what in the world I’ve done to deserve you boys. Thank you so much for this. These are perfect, and I love you both.” Kevin heard Henry say those same words to Drew, but they held a new meaning for him now, and he finally understood in his own Heart how true they were. The love the boys had for him was so humbling he had a hard time wrapping his head around it. Darren and Pat were teary-eyed as well. They were still deeply merged with Kevin and Bill and shared the emotional intensity with him. Their arms were wrapped around him in that place where their Souls were One while he was wrapped up on the outside by Tommy and Brett. Kevin’s mood lifted significantly thanks to the caring efforts of his two new sons. He thanked them again and kissed them both and gave them a long, heartfelt hug. After that, he got a hug from Bill, Darren, and Pat in the locker room. His Brothers felt some of the heaviness lift from his Heart as they moved into the gym to continue their training. Bumblebee sat at one of the corner turnbuckles of the boxing ring on top of the “Archie” comic book watching over him, and they made a difference. Two Days Later – The Pale Ken, the Stone in his fist, stood before the Eschphene leader. The massive form of the creature towered over him, but Ken held his own. His Avatar shone brightly even through the black material of his Kevlar Assault suit, and the Eschphene leader was confronted by the Strength, Will, and Conviction of the man before him; he was every bit the grandson of the Archangel Michael, one of the mightiest of the High Hosts. Ken and the Leader fought nearly a month before in Africa and Loy nearly killed him, but Ken spared his life. In their last encounter, the Team killed more than a thousand Eschphene. Ken had been forced to kill the Leader’s son the year prior in the Eschphene’s first attempt to capture Drew at Stone Mountain Park. Both times the Eschphene attacked them in the Physical Realm, and both times they lost. Brad and the rest of the Team stood behind Ken fanned out in a semi-circle. None of them were nervous, but they were alert for signs of deception or treachery. They were One, shining Lights in the bleak and desolate Realm of the Pale. The Laws of Physics were in a constant state of flux in the Pale. Small pebbles floated around like gnats, drawn to the mass of the men, especially the denser Bodies. Darren set up a mild field around them to keep the annoying objects away. The Pale was a Realm of Chaos and Entropy, and their nature of Light and Order made it a strain on the Team merely being present. The knowledge of how to travel to the distant Realm came from Orophir when Bill Read him. They learned an amazing amount of knowledge from their new Nephilim ally. All of them looked incredibly handsome in their tight form-fitting suits, their Auras bright and their Nephilim Heritage evident. They stood tall and powerful, together as One. Brad looked at Ken, admiring his husband. He looked so studly pitting himself against the Eschphene Leader, and watching him stand toe-to-toe with such a powerful creature did something to Brad’s libido. Bryan groaned: God, not again. Rick: Do they have Motel 6’s in the Pale? We could book a room quick if you two ladies need some alone time. Darren: Yeah, I hear Motel 6 books by the minute. That should be all the time you hair-triggered fuckers need to pop a quick one. Laughter echoed through the Link, but their faces remained impassive. A few more jokes were let loose, but they quickly quieted down. Ken’s deep voice broke the silence, “So will ‘ya do it?” The Eschphene Leader’s flat face seemed expressionless, but Ken was good at reading body language, in humans at least. With his Understanding from Pat’s Avatar, Ken saw extreme tension within him. His slitted nostrils quivered, and thin mucous-like wetness seeped out of them. The Leader smelled the Power of the Stone and saw the object as the means to restore his people. He towered over Ken, his massive black body thick with gnarled muscle covered with bone protrusions. Ken noticed the sigil inscribed bone shards he snapped off and stabbed the Leader with in their last encounter had grown back. Ken continued, “We know you want ‘ta end the Cycle surroundin’ The Master and Drew. Our methods are different, but our goal is the same. There’s no reason for you not ‘ta help us. Put aside our differences and let’s join forces on this.” The leader’s hatred ran deep over the slaughter of his people and his son, not to mention his failure at their hands. The Province of the Eschphene was Balance and Neutrality, and they sought to break Drew’s eighty thousand year Cycle of death by capturing him and using him to destroy The Master. Ken and the Team hoped the potential realization of their mutual goal would be enough to entice them to overcome their mutual enmity. Ken: Get ready guys. This isn’t lookin’ good. Brad: I have a bad feeling about this. Ken: He’s stallin’. Lane: I’m feeling the same thing, Brad. He’s up to no good. The Avatars on their big shoulders shone brighter. All of them were already alert, and Brad slowed their perception of Time slightly in case they needed to react quickly. Ken had their Avatars locked and synchronized; they were One, and more than the sum of their individual selves. Pat saw them first: I’ve got them. Damn this is weird. There are ten Eschphene coming up under us. It’s like they’re swimming through the rock. The Eschphene Leader’s voice was deep and guttural, “You will fail Nephilim, and when you do the Stone will be mine. With it, we can find the reborn Child and make him into a weapon capable of defeating The Master.” Ken kept the conversation running, waiting to see how the ambush would unfold. “The Curse makes him unbeatable in the kind of fight you’re talkin’ about. No matter what you turn Drew into, it won’t be enough. We know the secret of how to defeat the bastard. You’ll fail if you continue the course you’re on.” Pat: They’re right under us, Ken. Brad slowed their perceptions even more until Time nearly stopped. They watched and observed and it was apparent the Eschphene in the ground were assassins sent to eliminate them. All of them heard the disappointment in Ken’s mental voice. Fuck! What are we gonna tell Henry? Lane: You did your best, Ken. The Leader’s an asshat. Henry’s idea is still a good one and our best shot. We’ll have to figure out another source for learning the sigils. This isn’t the end of our idea, just a temporary setback. There was no blame from any of the men except Ken, who blamed himself for failing to reach the Eschphene Leader. In his eyes, he failed Drew and Henry. Loy: How are we handling the ambush? Do we just leave, or do you want to teach them a lesson? Bill: If they haven’t learned by now, I doubt they’re going to. Ken: Third time’s a charm. We make a statement they’ll never forget. I want this bastard ‘ta know we aren’t afraid and will do whatever we need ‘ta do ‘ta Protect Drew and ourselves. Take ’em out, but I want a final word with dickhead before we leave. <><> The rock under their feet splintered as razor-sharp bone spikes erupted from the ground, covered in orange sigils that smoked and glowed with Eschphene magic. The Leader’s lipless mouth curved upward in joy over destroying the Nephilim Hybrids once and for all. He would take the Stone and collect the boy and attain his rightful place in the history of his people as their savior and redeemer, restoring their position in Creation as a pre-eminent race. His eyes widened in surprise as ten bolts of lightning struck, blinding him, and when his vision cleared the Nephilim were gone, and the bodies of his assassins lay on the ground lifeless. The sigil covered shards from their bodies were broken off and scattered around their corpses, still half-buried in the rock. He spun around to see the Nephilim, untouched and glowing brightly standing behind him. Ken walked forward and looked up at him. His emerald green eyes were piercing and had a depth to them that shocked the Leader. He saw many things in Ken Habersham’s eyes; sadness for the boy named Drew Ross, disappointment, and rage directed at him. He took a step back from what he saw in Ken’s eyes, but his face hardened again immediately. Ken’s voice shook with anger, “You FUCKER! If we fail now, it’s on YOUR head. You never wanted us to succeed or have a chance because of some fucked-up delusional bullshit! You’re as crazy as your son! I’m tellin’ you now if you show your butt-ugly face on Earth ever again, you will NOT live a third time. Do you hear me!?” Ken got right up in the Leader’s face, his Avatar flaring brightly as lightning and thunder filled the skies of the Pale, echoing Ken’s rage. Thunder echoed in Ken’s voice as he yelled at the Eschphene Leader. The creature’s insanity ran so deep he was oblivious to the danger standing before him. The arrogance of the Eschphene was too much, and Ken hauled back and gave him a haymaker that sent his huge body flying twenty feet back. He landed hard on the rocky ground, stunned. In a subdued voice, Ken said, “Dar, Lane, take us home.” The two men combined their Avatars and Lane sent his awareness across the Realms back to their own, and Darren took them there. <><><> Németh waited patiently for eighty thousand years. It was a difficult time for him as he watched his people fall further and further away from their ancient tenets. He abdicated his position as Leader of the Eschphene the day the Curse fell upon Creation. Attuned to the Balance, he heard the screams of the Second Born as the Curse came into being. When Equilibrium shattered, it struck him like a physical blow. Even though the event happened in another Demesne, the Physical Realm of Earth was the Heart of all Realms, and the ripples of the Curse touched everything. That all realities were a reflection of that Heart was one of the sacred tenets of the Balance and why it was so significant and fragile. A Voice deep within Németh whispered to him, and he knew it was the Balance. To save his people and restore Equilibrium, he must leave them. He was proud and did not want to give up the power and authority he wielded, and he also knew his son was not prepared to take his place. Among the Eschphene, Leadership passed through the royal bloodline and his son was centuries away from having the wisdom and maturity to lead. Németh knew he would be sorely needed in a time of such significant cosmic events; however, the Voice would not be denied. His Heart ached, knowing his people would falter without proper guidance, yet for their own sake he had to abandon them in hopes of ultimately saving them. And so, the years of his self-imposed Exile began. Németh wandered the Pale and many other Realms, keeping his existence hidden and Veiled. Time passed, but his intent never wavered; one day, he would restore the Balance and his people. That Hope kept him alive and allowed him to persevere. The Voice had been quiet so long he wondered if his entire life was based on the delusions of an old and tired Mind. Yet that morning, after so many thousands of years, he awoke to the sound of the Voice. The time was upon him to return and save his people. His body was old but strong. His Kind did not wither with age as many did. He was far stronger than in his youth, also wiser and more powerful. He put his time to good use during the long span of his Exile, delving into mysteries of Creation and mastering incredible knowledge. Németh had never seen the current Leader of his people. He knew it was one of his descendants, but how many times removed was unknown. Veiled, he watched from a distance as his descendant met with the Nephilim Changelings. He had never seen them before but heard rumors of their existence. He was aware when the Darkness attempted to obliterate them a few years prior. The Cosmic Scales tipped back towards the Balance that day, and he knew then the time of his return was approaching. He saw their Avatars glowing yet he was Blind to them and that had never happened before. The ramifications of that aspect fascinated him, and he knew it was a significant aspect of their Power. Németh’s heart nearly stopped when he saw the Stone, the instrument of the Curse, in the Nephilim leader’s hand. So much pain and misery originated from that small rock, and he sensed the ripples of its existence from where he stood. He watched the scene unfold, as the insanity of his descendant became apparent when he refused to aid the Nephilim. He witnessed the attempted assassination and realized how far his descendants had fallen. His sorrow ran deep at what he witnessed, yet it served to strengthen his resolve. He almost laughed when he saw the leader of the Nephilim strike his descendant, sending him flying back to land on his backside. The physical strength the Nephilim Changeling displayed was impressive, and he wondered at their magic and how it could be so strong, especially in the Pale and in the presence of his people. He watched everything and, with Hope in his Heart, knew the time of his return was upon him. <><><> As they appeared in the Lab in Atlanta, their disappointment was even greater than their anger. Henry’s plan was a good one and would have made a difference for Drew. Silence filled the gym as they stood for a moment, absorbing the significance of what just happened. There was a smattering of ‘fuck me’s!’ as the realization of their failure hit them. Brad took them deep, and they appeared naked to one another where their Souls were One. No matter what they faced, they always came back to that place and the comfort of each other’s Souls. Ken shook with anger and anxiety; anxiety for Drew. Brad moved behind him, wrapping his arms around his husband, wanting to calm and soothe the emotions running through his sturdy body. The thought of failing Drew hit them hard, down to their cores. Kevin: We didn’t fuck up, Ken. You saw it as clearly as we did. That bastard is insane, and there was no reasoning with him. Ken’s eyes were bright: I know guys, but this was such a perfect opportunity to help Drew and give him a leg up on what he’s gonna face. I let him down. Bryan, in his deep, gravelly voice thought: You didn’t Ken. We all did. We should’ve found a way to make it work. Brad added: It seems like there’s a Will of some kind fighting us every step of the way. Everything we do has a price. Pat: You’re right Brad. It’s almost like the Balance has been skewed so long in The Master’s favor it’s stuck and doesn’t want to right itself. A tear dripped down Ken’s cheek: Fuck! Guys… like Henry always says, he’s just a little kid! How can he do this? We can’t do it for him; God, I wish we could! We would, a million times over! I know we all would, but how is he gonna do it? The Master isn’t gonna roll over and just ask his forgiveness. He wants Drew dead and gone forever. If he gets his hands on Drew, it’s over! Ken verbalized their innermost thoughts and concerns. When they were One, as they presently were, it was all there if they looked. Brad: Remember when Bill was trapped and Kevin shot? Bryan said it back then. Brad perfectly recalled the conversation, and all of them relived it. <> “Well, we’ve known from the start that we all complement one another. As friends and partners, what we feel for one another and how we support each other has gotten us this far. After the last transformation, and with our Avatars waking up, I think it’s even more obvious. There’s something out there playing around with our lives, and it pisses me off — not just the Enemy, but The Order too, or maybe something different. But what we are and what we’re becoming needs to happen. I’m not saying the deck is stacked in our favor, but I think we need to be given the chance to succeed or fail, and we can’t do that if Bill is gone. I think that whoever or whatever gave us our Avatars did it knowing that something like this might happen to any one of us and that our partners would be our best bet in keeping each other safe so we could at least survive long enough to meet the challenge, whatever that challenge is.” <> I think that holds true for Drew as well. As bleak as things look, he has to have a chance to succeed, or there would be no point. I know we can’t see it now, at this moment, but we can’t lose hope in him. We owe him more than that. He’s made it this far, and he’ll see it through to the end, and we’ll be with him. We have to make it possible for him to do his part. I still think Henry’s plan is our best bet. We have no idea at this moment how we can make that happen, but if we hold together and focus on that as our goal, we’ll figure out a way. We haven’t failed Drew, Ken; you haven’t failed him. Not yet. And you won’t! We won’t! Ken turned to face Brad and embraced him, holding them tightly together. Thanks, B. Remember, that’s what badass boyfriends are for. Brad’s words drove off Ken’s momentary malaise, and a grin crept onto his handsome face. Don’t ‘ya mean badass husband? It wasn’t apparent at first how shaken Ken was by their failure. He loved Drew so much, one of Ken’s most deep-rooted fears was failing the little boy. This time it was their turn to hold Ken up. They surrounded him, holding him in their arms and Hearts. The comfort of their warm solid bodies, their strength, and the warmth of their Souls were a net around him that wrapped him up and supported him. He rested in them and held his husband, as his Brothers held him until his emotions ran their course. Sorry guys, I didn’t mean ‘ta go soft on ya. Lane reached down between Ken’s and Brad’s stomachs and found what he was looking for. Ken’s eyes widened in surprise as Lane grabbed his erection. Lane! The impish grin on Lane’s face and his comment sent a ripple of laughter through them. Umm… there’s nothing soft about you right now, you horn dog. I didn’t think you were into group sex, but there’s no hiding that boner, boss man. Ken blushed even as he burst out laughing. Someone else, he was pretty sure it was Loy, groped his ass. Being held by Brad coupled with the deep emotional bonds of his Brothers along with their bodies pressing in on him caused his body to react. He didn’t have his guard up with any of them and popped a boner. They all smiled, and someone ruffled his hair. Brad squeezed him tighter and kissed his cheek. The tears in his eyes shifted, and his throat tightened again, and he whispered, “Fuck, I love you guys.” As One, their collective thought spoke to Ken. You’re never alone, Ken. Even though you’re our Leader, you’re never alone and don’t ever feel like you’re carrying the burden by yourself. We know you want to. You want to spare us, but we’re in this together. Then the follow-up comments, all mixed together, made him laugh again. You dumbass! Eat your own dog food, you fucker! You pound that into us all the time and think it doesn’t apply to you too? You arrogant bastard! They continued to hang shit on him, and he took it; the comradery between them bolstered his spirit. They knew him as well as he knew them, and they knew what he needed and when. The one-liners started flying, and the immediate tension left all of them, replaced by laughter. The door to the gym opened, and Henry and Drew came in. Drew made a beeline for his Uncles. They turned, and Henry saw the look in their eyes. Brad pulled Henry in with them, and he appeared naked with them in the place where their Souls were One. He knew instantly everything that transpired. He was disappointed, but there was no blame. He saw everything. He cupped a hand on the back of Ken’s neck. We’ll just have to figure out another way. This isn’t over. There’s no fat lady singing here. They busted out laughing at Lane’s next comment. I don’t know, some of these ladies have some pretty fat asses. Henry laughed with them, but his face quickly turned serious again. Ken’s spirit, bolstered by Brad and his Brothers, shone brightly. His momentary lack of resolve, shared with them openly, vanished. His Avatar flared, and Will and Conviction exuded from him, amplified by the other Bodies. We’ll find another way, Henry. I promise. We’re not lettin’ Drew down. Henry’s eyes were glassy. I know. There’s no way you guys can. I believe that with everything in me. Brad took them back to their bodies as Drew flew into Ken’s arms, yelling, “You’re back!” Ken picked Drew up, and his little arms immediately wrapped around his Uncle’s neck. Ken said, “Yup! We’re back. Safe and sound.” “Did you get it?” “No, Drew, we didn’t. We tried really hard. We’ll have ‘ta try another way.” Drew didn’t bat an eye and said, “Okay, Uncle Ken. I’m glad you’re back safe. I was worried.” “Thanks, Tiger, but we’re all good. Right guys?” Ken passed Drew off to Bryan who was closest, and he got passed around from man to man for a hug. It was a ritual Drew started whenever they came back from doing something dangerous. He needed to touch and feel every one of them and know they were unhurt and safe. Everyone noticed he gave Kevin an extra kiss and a second hug. Kevin’s eyes went a little glassy because he knew Drew was trying to comfort him after the recent loss of his brother. He hugged Drew tight in return before passing him off to the next man. Rick was closest to him and ruffled his hair. As Drew got passed around, Ken made a fist, then splayed his fingers out shaking his hand. Minute fractures were already healing from where he punched the Eschphene Leader, but his hand ached. Brad channeled Healing into Ken’s hand, and the fractures disappeared. “Thanks, B. That fu… guy is a real hard body.” He caught his f-bomb just in time. Their Kevlar suits were hot, and the sound of Velcro pulling apart started filling the gym. The arm sections came off first, revealing their big arms and shoulders. The lower legs were next from mid-thigh down to their ankles. The foot covering the doctor designed as part of the suits was one of the most ingenious aspects, basically gloves for their feet with fantastic traction that allowed for full flexion and extension of their toes and ankles. Ken used his Captain’s voice, “Alright ladies before we strip down all the way let’s head ‘ta the Conference Room. Dar, can you get the doc and Albrecht here so we can debrief ’em? Everybody put your thinkin’ caps on, ’cause we need ‘ta formulate a plan B.” He grinned and winked at Brad, “No pun intended.” For some reason, he thought his little joke funny, and he chuckled. Most of the guys rolled their eyes as they made their way out of the gym. <><><> Drew tried to hold the image in his Mind, just as Mr. Albrecht showed him. It sounded easy, but it wasn’t, and he was frustrated. The Flame kept moving, making him angry, sending ripples of emotion through the incarnations within him. After Drew’s last encounter with the Eschphene, the manifestations scared him. The doctor instructed Drew on what to do when the incarnations tried to exert any influence on him. Everyone was worried about him, and every one of his Uncles and friends was doing everything in their power to help him prepare for what he faced. Mr. Albrecht and Doctor Aaron told him he needed to learn how to talk to his other selves. They didn’t want Drew to control them, but it was his Mind and Body they inhabited, and he could not let them take over. Recent evidence indicated they were influencing him in subtle ways. His temper had been bad recently, and for the first time ever he lashed out at Sally. He didn’t mean to and cried after he did it, begging her to forgive him. He could have killed her, except his Uncle Brad had a Shield on her that deflected his attack, diverting it to his Uncle. The entire Team appeared in a flash, scaring Drew witless. Sally went white as a sheet when it happened, and he knew how badly he scared her. It took her some time to calm down, but she loved Drew and was acutely aware of his situation, and she hugged him and told him she was okay. Drew was hysterical for almost an hour after that incident, and it took Henry and all his Uncles to calm him down. Whatever the Eschphene did to the Stone in setting a trap for him woke the others up. They were far more active now and pushed for control, and it was a constant struggle to hold them back. Dr. Aaron, Mr. Albrecht, Uncle Brad, and Henry helped him set up a permanent Shield so he could function during the day without having to concentrate all the time. Sally could tell when they were pushing because Drew would get distracted in his lessons and zone out. The Flame wiggled again. Drew’s face scrunched in concentration, and he told himself he was training just like his dad and his uncles. He wanted to be a big boy. He wanted to grow strong like his father Henry and his Uncles, but the Flame kept wiggling and wouldn’t stay still. Henry watched and knew what was coming. Drew’s breathing got faster, and his body tensed instead of relaxing. His hands clenched into fists. Suddenly the Flame blew out, and Drew went berserk, pounding his fists against his legs and the floor mat, his face reddening in anger. The emotional wave of the manifestations hit all at once, shattering what control he had left. Drew, in the place where he was naked and where his Soul resided, was no longer alone. At the edge of his awareness, they started appearing. Faces first, and then the bodies of all the other versions of himself. They pressed in on him, and he was scared. They reflected his anger, magnifying it, and it was like a tsunami of emotion directed at him… …and then Henry was there, his powerful Mind and Body against Drew, holding him, his Shields White and Powerful, protecting his son and augmenting his Shields. The strength and warmth of his father’s body made Drew feel wholly safe and protected. Shhhhhh, it’s okay, honey. Breathe. Calm down. I’m sorry, Daddy! I’m trying! I know sweetheart! You’re doing great! This is difficult stuff, and it was hard for your Uncles and me to learn too. If you need to use the necklace go ahead, but I don’t want it to become a crutch. You need to learn control on your own. Drew hesitated briefly, before clutching the rings around his neck. He closed his eyes and remembered. Along with Henry’s strong arms his mother’s presence wrapped around him, brushing his hair off his forehead and whispering soothing words to calm him down. As Drew’s breathing slowed the Flame returned, and the faces began to fade. Drew was small for his age and thin, and Henry’s big hands nearly wrapped around his waist. He smelled his dad’s aftershave and a little bit of sweat. Henry hadn’t showered yet and had been working out with his Uncles before Albrecht called him in to help. The smell and feel of his dad surrounded him and made the difference. Everything about his dad made him feel safe. He latched on to that feeling, and the Flame stilled. His father was his Flame, the center of his universe. His mother was there too, through the rings. She was gone forever, and there was still an ache inside Drew he didn’t fully understand, but he would have the memories forever. Henry let Drew concentrate while continuing to hold him, knowing it would help. Drew needed to get to the point where he could focus on his own, and was making progress. Drew was aware of Henry’s pride through their Link, and it made him feel more confident. The Flame faltered briefly, then stilled again. Once he held it still for five minutes without a flicker, Henry thought: Okay, Drew. I want you to call just one of them here. Only one. It doesn’t matter which one. Call one and keep the others back. There were so many to choose from! There were over eleven thousand incarnations within him, each one a life he lived between the first time his brother killed him to his current birth. It was hard to hold the Flame still, and think. Which one? They all wanted to come. They all wanted Henry to keep them like he did Drew. They longed for his dad’s comforting presence and to hear his voice whispering to them, with his arms around them. Drew didn’t think he chose, but he must have as his first self appeared, squatting a few feet away. He was primitive, covered in coarse reddish-brown hair. His teeth were crooked, and he hissed softly when he breathed through his mouth. His eyes though were Drew’s, and he saw himself when he looked into them. With his appearance, Drew’s memories of his earliest life came back to him. The Flame fluttered briefly and almost went out, but he caught it. His dad was there and Drew leaned against Henry’s hand on his back. Henry’s thumb moved slightly, rubbing him. It was a light sensation, but one Henry knew would help and not distract his son. Good job, Tiger. You’re doing awesome. The first version of himself didn’t have a name and had no verbal language with which to express himself. He used his hands, body language, and eyes to communicate. He came forward slowly until he was mere inches from Drew. Henry took one hand off Drew and slowly cupped the cheek of the first incarnation. The boy’s eyes closed and he leaned into Henry’s touch. He had never known comfort like that when he was alive; the male that sired him was brutal and rough and had no love for him. The female that birthed him cared for him, but life, when he was born, was cruel and harsh. The boy rested in Henry’s touch, totally calm. Drew strengthened the presence of his other self, embracing everything, including his death. Drew Dreamed it so often as a nightmare he was familiar with it, but now there was a level of detachment. Even so, the memories were brutal. Detecting his distress over the Dream memories, the Wolf-Spirit appeared beside him, adding her presence to Henry’s. The memories he embraced were violent and horrible, but Mr. Albrecht and Doctor Aaron taught him how to wall those emotions off and not become overwhelmed. Henry rubbed Drew’s back in praise of his control. The Light from his Shields reflected in the tears running down his face — tears of intense emotion, love, and pride for his son, and pain for both of them. Suddenly the first incarnation was gone, replaced by another boy. Through the Link, Henry knew his name was Ferguson. He was from England in the mid-eighteen hundreds. He looked nothing like Drew except for his eyes. Drew’s control increased quickly, and after a dozen incarnations, Henry told him: That’s enough for today, Tiger. You’re doing great, and I’m extremely proud of you, but I don’t want you to tire yourself out. We’ll do more tomorrow, alright? Drew’s mental voice sounded tired. Okay, Daddy. Henry took them back into their bodies. Even as he opened his eyes Drew turned, throwing his arms around Henry’s neck in a tight hug. Henry’s big arms encircled his son, hugging him back just as tight. Drew was pale and Henry kicked himself, thinking he pushed his son too hard. Hearing Henry’s thoughts, Albrecht’s voice entered his Mind. He’s fine, Henry. He is tired, but it’s the only way for him to grow stronger. I would say he made good progress today. I’m proud of you both. Henry stood up and said out loud, “I know a little boy who needs a nap! Come on Tiger, let’s get you to bed.” The She-Wolf stayed by Henry’s side, almost touching his leg as he walked through the Lab back to his room to put Drew down for a nap. She curled up on the foot of the bed as was her want. Henry looked at her as he turned off the light, and she looked back. His voice was quiet but sincere as he said, “Thank you.” She looked at him with uncanny intelligence that clearly said: He is my cub too and a part of my pack, as are you and the others. It is my duty and no burden. Confident Drew was in her care, he shut the door and went back to the gym to continue his training. <><><> Loy and Rick were on the roster in Atlanta. After an intense day of training, both men were physically charged up but mentally exhausted. Henry shared Drew’s progress with them and they were as stoked as he was. Henry couldn’t wait to share the news with everyone the following morning in their meeting. “He did so well, guys! He lost his temper a few times, but I feel like something clicked in his Mind, and he took off running with it. I keep having to remind myself he’s only six years old. In some ways he’s so advanced it’s scary.” Rick and Loy smiled, sharing his excitement, especially knowing how much Drew’s progress made Henry feel better. It made them all feel better. Henry asked them, “So what are you guys doing tonight?” He grinned and followed up with, “Aside from the big nasty I mean.” Loy and Rick burst out laughing, and Loy said, “You know us too well. Not much… we need to make a supply run to the store for Bry. That new food service Sally found is great for dry goods, but there are a lot of perishables they don’t carry. Food’s getting low on ZEUS and in Australia, so we’re going shopping.” Henry said, “You know I’ve never seen the grocery bill, but with the way we go through food, it’s got to be outrageous.” Rick replied, “Yeah, it really is a good thing money isn’t an issue. We eat well, but also healthy for the most part, and these days that’s expensive. One of the perks of the changes in our bodies from the Program is we metabolize food more efficiently. Our bodies are set to maintain specific levels of fat stores and lean muscle. If we don’t eat enough of one food source our bodies make what we need from other things. Normal humans do that too, but on a much smaller scale.” Henry grinned and said, “So you could eat birthday cake all the time and still look like you do? That’s completely and utterly unfair.” Loy laughed and said, “That’d be pushing it even for us, but it is nice. So, what about you? What are you doing tonight? You and Sal going to shack up?” Henry took a deep breath and said, “I wish! We usually do that in the mornings. I promised Drew one TV show before bed and then I’m starting a new book. Albrecht has me on the same reading schedule as the guys in Australia. It’s some book by some guy I’ve never heard of on how to be human or something like that.” Loy shook his head, “I remember those. Back in the Program, the doc had us reading the most outlandish shit, or we thought it was at the time. It all fits together though, and it’s worth it. Give us a holler if you want to talk over any of it.” Loy’s eyes unexpectedly went White, and he froze. Rick, with his enhanced hearing, picked up the whisper that came out of his husband. “Not again.” In their Minds’ Eyes, Henry and Rick saw Loy’s chest explode as a bullet ripped through it. It wasn’t Loy at the table with them though; it was a gorilla. In the Physical Realm, it was Loy; handsome, studly, muscle bear Loy, and not a Gorilla. Through his Avatar, he and the gorilla were the same being, and the pain hit him, but before he could even scream, he vanished. Both Rick and Henry had spots in their eyes from the bright flash of Loy’s Avatar before he disappeared. <><> Pain exploded through his body, and he fell to the ground. He could barely move but struggled anyway to get up and run. Tears fell down his dark leathery face. He didn’t understand the pain or the cruelty of the men who stood over him laughing. Their evil drove any rational thoughts from of his Mind. He watched as the bodies of others in his troop were piled up. Not all were dead yet, but he sensed the life draining out of those that were still alive. His eyes were getting heavy, and the long sleep was upon him. His eyes closed, mercifully, so he didn’t see the butchering of his loved ones. <><> Thunder cracked so loudly it nearly ruptured the eardrums of the poachers. They clutched their heads in pain as they screamed with blood bursting from their ears. They were blinded by the flash of lightning from the clear blue sky in the Congo. Fear hit them even harder as a voice screamed in their Minds. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? A man appeared, powerfully built. He wore shorts and a t-shirt that said ‘World’s Greatest Uncle!” The picture on his shirt was of the man himself and a little boy making funny faces. It was the same man, but the look on his face was anything but humorous. He appeared inhumanly handsome and would have been pleasant to look upon if not for the rage distorting his face; rage directed at them. Ken insisted Brad place triggers in Loy after the incident with the Elephants. He didn’t want to take a chance on Loy’s Avatar taking him someplace by himself and away from the rest of them. As Powerful as Loy was, he was more vulnerable by himself. As soon as Loy’s Avatar gripped him the trigger went off, and this time Loy wasn’t alone. The rest of the guys, including Henry, were with him, in him, and they were One. They shared his pain and lent him their love and strength. Henry wasn’t physically pulled with them; that was another hard and fast rule Ken insisted on. Henry would always physically stay with Drew, no matter what happened to the rest of them. The Poachers were blinded and saw spots in their eyes as their Minds were held. Nine other bolts of lightning hit, and Loy’s Brothers stood with him. The anguish in Loy at seeing the bodies of his beloved animals was gut-wrenching. Brad’s voice, filled with Compassion, was loud in Loy’s Heart and Mind. I’ve got the poachers Loy. Take care of them. Brad imprisoned the Minds of the Poachers. They were of The Enemy, and his Light burned them. They weren’t Protectors or ‘Suits,' but they willingly followed Summ, the same as the elephant poachers. Similar to what Loy did before, Brad spared one of them to take back a message and the rest turned to ash where they stood. Power poured into them as Lane Listened, taking the first sounds he heard in Creation and sending a burst of Power into all of them. Bryan drew from Yggdrasil as its ghostly image appeared around them. Brad fluttered their Souls across the Veil, empowering the dual sides of their nature. Animal Spirits of the Congo rallied around them, and in their Mind’s Eye some were from the bodies in front of them. The gorillas were freshly dead, and Loy dropped to his knees holding out his arms. White Fire erupted from his body, and ropes of Healing arced into the gorillas. The presence of the Steward was in them again, and it washed away their fear and pain. Their Spirits reconnected with their Healed bodies, and they stood up, surrounding the men. The love between the men and the animals resonated, filling them with a sense of perfect well-being as the fear and pain receded. Loy looked at the man Brad held Shielded. He walked up to him and stared into his eyes, seeing the fear. There was no mercy in Loy for him. “If I didn’t need you to take a message, you would be dead. Go back and spread the word; there is no more poaching here. There is nowhere safe for you or anyone that shoots another animal of any kind here for anything other than food to survive. Take my words back and let everyone know, especially Summ. Go.” Loy shook in anger, sweating heavily from the heat and tension in his body. Rick came up and wrapped his arms around his husband from behind. Anyone standing close to Loy touched him, grabbing an arm, patting his back, or squeezing his shoulder. The gorillas were content to sit and be with them, resting in their presence. The men moved among them, enjoying their company and keeping them calm. Brad: I’m going to ask the same question as last time. Why did this happen? Why now? And why here? Both times were in the Congo, out of the entire world where things like this happen. This is not coincidence. Lane’s eyes flashed White, and a vision gripped his Mind. They were One, and all of them saw it. A place, not far from where they stood, hidden and secret. Something was trapped there. Lane was sure his Vision came from the Ether and not Remiel. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but he did. Loy looked at the silverback among the gorillas. He was their leader and the oldest among them. Do you know the place I see? The silverback stood and began moving away. Pausing, he looked back, his intent clear. Follow. Ken: B, Lane, do you have any feelin’ about this? Anythin’? Puppet strings? The Enemy? Brad: None of that, but I feel anxious. There’s a ball of something in my stomach over this. Lane: Mine too. Lane’s mischievous grin was absent, and the serious look on his face spoke volumes to all of them, even more than his words. Ken: Okay, let’s follow this furry fella. Everyone stay on your toes. Full mission status, guys. They were already One, and Ken kept their Avatars locked together so they were prepared and ready for anything. They followed the gorilla with Loy and Ken in the lead. <><><> Three hours later, shirtless and dripping sweat in the heat and humidity, they stood at the brink of a massive waterfall. The noise was so loud they could feel it, especially the Bodies, and they had to talk in their Minds. They did anyway even before the noise of the water to keep quiet as they traveled; none of them made any sound when they moved. With their Avatars, it was a simple matter, and after all their training it was intuitive. With Pat’s Understanding, shared and augmented by the Bodies, they knew precisely where to step to produce no noise. The Mentalists saw through their husbands, but they also had an Intuitive sense of where and how to move to stay silent. Those two factors on top of their SEAL training made them deathly quiet. In extreme cases the Mentalists, through Lane’s Avatar, could invert any ambient sound they made and completely blanket any noise. Mist from the waterfall soaked everything but felt crisp and refreshing in the heat. The gorilla guiding them stopped a few hundred yards back and did not want to proceed any further. Loy sensed fear in him and didn’t want to force him. He could have, but he never would. Thank you for showing us the way. You were great. Loy reached out and cupped the big beasts head in his hands, smoothing the coarse hair, and pulled their faces close until their foreheads touched. He let his Presence wash over and through the troop that came with them. Go and be at peace. Live without fear of the evil men. I will return if they do and kill them. Call to me if you sense more of them. He placed a trigger in the Minds of the animals that would let him know if he was needed. It was tied to him and devised of his own making, and he would feel it anywhere on the planet no matter where he was. As a group, they paused to look around. The beauty and majesty of the Congo were breathtaking. Lush green vegetation and abundant wildlife filled the area, and it sent Loy on a high that flowed into his Brothers. The place they stood was the Heart of his Power, as the Tree in the Valley was Bryan’s. Ken: Guys? We need ‘ta figure out what’s so special about this spot, other than it givin’ Loy a hard-on. A ripple of laughter followed his comment, and Loy started to feign offense but knew it was useless. He broke out laughing, looking down at the tent in his shorts. Busted! Everyone looked around, casting their senses out with all their abilities. Their Avatars shone brightly on their bare shoulders, and the colors were more vivid than usual as the brightness of their tattoos refracted through the mist like a prism, scattering the Light. There was a definite lack of Spirits in an area directly ahead Loy found unnerving. It caused a spiritual void that left an empty feeling inside him after all the wildlife they passed through to get where they were. It was a small area close to a quarter square mile, but distinct and noticeable to him. The anxiety in Brad and Lane strengthened, causing a tremor in their bodies. On closer examination, Brad defined the feeling as expectation more than anxiety. Because they were One, their ideas and perceptions blended at the speed of thought. It might not be the source of what they felt, but it was apparent there was a significant cavernous area far below the rapids, deep underground. Pat looked deeper and ‘backed out’ as he called it to see a larger pattern. The cavern was part of an extinct volcano. Part of the watercourse of the falls ran through the cavern, but the speed and strength of the current would keep them from entering that way. It would be extremely dangerous even for Loy as some form of aquatic life. The current was treacherous and the rocks sharp and jagged. The presence of the caverns was apparent to Pat’s Understanding, though they had no visual image Darren could use to teleport. There was no life in the cave which they found odd, not even algae, which would have been normal given the moisture and air. There was no life or evidence of Life Energy to Bryan’s Avatar either, and it didn’t seem natural. Given Bryan’s and Loy’s perceptions, coupled with his own and Lane’s, Brad was sure the source of their anxiety resided in the cave. Darren: I’m good to try and ’port in Ken. There’s no light in the area, but there is oxygen. I can’t see, but Pat’s perceptions of the physical space are enough for me to get in. I don’t have an intuitive sense of danger even thinking of the attempt. They knew from their training that Darren’s Avatar would react if he were making an unsafe jump. He could force it, but if there were objects present he could materialize into he felt a warning. Lane jokingly called it his ‘Spidey Sense.’ Ken: I don’t know Dar. It’s risky. We have no idea what we’re dealin’ with. Somethin’ led us here, and that bothers me — a lot. Darren: I don’t see any other way in, and whatever we’re here for is inside. It’s your call, but you aren’t asking; I’m volunteering. Brad: I agree with Dar, Ken. It’s risky, but with me, Lane, Bill, and Loy Linked with Dar we can pull him out at the first sign of anything wrong. It will be a pain, but if I slow our perception of Time we can pull him out before he even finishes materializing if it’s a trap of some kind. Pat didn’t like putting Darren at risk any more than Ken, but it seemed they were at a stalemate as far as moving forward in discovering why they were there. The only alternative was to leave and ignore whatever it was, and that didn’t seem an option either. Ken reluctantly greed. Alright, Dar. On your mark. Pat: The air inside is fresh. The water brings some in, and the movement of the water circulates what air is there over time. Pat focused more in-depth, pulling from the Avatars of the other Bodies to boost his own and he ‘pulled back’ even further. Guy’s… this cave… it’s natural, and it’s not. It was created by a volcanic eruption when the Earth was forming, but it shouldn’t be here. The movement of the tectonic plates of the continent should have moved or buried this place a long time ago. Someone or something wanted this cavern to remain where it is and untouched, for a seriously long time. There was a smattering of ‘fuck me’s’ and ‘holy shits’ at Pat’s revelation. There weren’t many beings in Creation that could pull something like that off, and their apprehension spiked. It also increased their curiosity. There were puppet strings, but this felt different, and none of them could put their finger on how or why. They felt the change in Darren just before he jumped. As often as they joked around in their camaraderie, they were trained soldiers and he suddenly became laser-focused on his task. His entire teleport seemed to take minutes because of the Time differential Brad brought into play, but their concentration and resolve in being ready for anything never wavered, not when there was the slightest risk of danger to one of their own. Finally, after what seemed forever, Darren materialized in total darkness. The air was fresh, but frigid as Pat said. All his brothers were with him; they were One, and he was the vessel for all of them at the moment, and their Presence backing him was reassuring. It was a strange transition from the deafening sound of the waterfall to the utter silence of the cave. The change from the heat and humidity to the cold frigidity was also a shock. The cavern he teleported into was one of many connected together and one of the smaller ones on the fringe closest to the waterfall above ground. He appeared a few inches above the floor and dropped nimbly to the surface. The ground was uneven, so he went in high to prevent his feet from materializing in the stone floor. Damn it’s cold. My nipples could cut glass right now. Thanks for that Intel. The sarcasm in Ken’s voice was apparent. Ken’s relief at Darren’s safe arrival was also evident and present in all of them. In the darkness, Darren’s dimples appeared. This one’s for you, Lane. Darren’s eyes flashed White as he drew Power from them. Lumos! Looking through Darren’s eyes, a ball of light appeared, hovering over his hand. He excited molecules to generate heat and light. His Avatar glowed when he called the ball of light, using the Harry Potter incantation in honor of Lane, and with both light sources they could see clearly around the immediate area Darren was in. The floor was mostly smooth, but the lava streams that formed the cave were evident. Darren: You ladies ready to join me? Ken: Bring us in Dar. Cover your nips ladies! With their Avatars synchronized, it was effortless for Darren to pull them into the cave. He repositioned them to appear in flat areas. They were aware of the change in orientation; it was another part of their training brought into play, and they were all well balanced and even footed as they appeared. As soon as they materialized in the cavern, Henry dropped from the Link. Brad tried to reach him but couldn’t. He was sure nothing was wrong with Henry, and the issue was the cavern. Brad created a memory sphere to let Henry know they were alright and would be back with him soon. Brad wasn’t sure if the sphere would make it through the walls since they blocked his ability to reach Henry, so he sent it into the water, using the underground river to reach outside. Brad felt it move out and breathed a sigh of relief, sure Henry panicked at their abrupt disappearance. As soon as they were together again, the anxiety increased, reinforcing that its source was inside the cave. Brad: Guys, let’s stay Powered up. They called on their sources of Power, and in the Spiritual Realm, they filled the chamber with a Light that had never been so bright in that place. In the Physical Realm, their Auras were readily visible in the natural darkness of the cavern. Brad strengthened their Shields, and they moved forward cautiously. Loy and Lane quickly stopped, tense, and everyone else in the Link felt the caution and focus of the two men drastically increase. Ken: What, guys? Lane: You don’t hear that? It was apparent no one else heard anything, and that bothered them. Loy: I still hear the echo of something rattling. It’s faint, but there. The Bodies heard nothing. Ken, Pat, Rick, Kevin, and Bryan all heard the ambient sounds around them; their breathing, the movement of their shorts, and their heartbeats, but nothing in the cavern. Hear me. Lane: Whoa! Fuck, that’s the First Language! Ken: What? Guys, we don’t hear anythin’! Brad tightened their Shields even more and threw all his Power, backed by his Brothers, into them. Hear me. A powerful Compulsion accompanied the words. Lane and Loy felt it wash over and through them but were unaffected. It passed through Brad’s Shield as if it wasn’t there and no one besides Lane and Loy was even aware of it. Lane: This is freaking me out! Loy: Me too! <><> Loy took them deep to the place where their Souls were One. Loy: Guys, this is fucking weird. They were tightly merged and fully alert. Something was happening they didn’t Understand. When they were One all of them should be aware of everything the others were thinking and experiencing, but none of them could hear any words in Lane’s or Loy’s memory or their Minds, yet they knew their Brothers were telling the truth! They were unable to perceive whatever Loy and Lane heard, even though they were Merged. They appeared in that special place as they were in the Physical Realm, with their arms around each other, sharing the warmth of their bodies. They appeared naked, and now they were married their wedding rings were on their hands, proof of the bonds between their Souls. It was a great comfort and still new enough for them to be aware of it. Ken: What the fuck’s goin’ on? Hear me! Lane and Loy started. As deep as they were together, Time wasn’t moving, and they still heard the voice. Remiel had appeared once to Darren and Pat when they were One in that special place but never since had anyone or anything been heard or felt there, and they felt an unnerving sense of violation at the idea. That time the Compulsion was more powerful even though it had no effect on them. It was more like a light breeze blowing against them, and they felt no inclination to obey the Compulsion as its power washed over and through them. Somehow it wasn’t able to touch them. Lane had never spoken the First Language from The Book; none of them had. The doctor and Albrecht actively encouraged them to postpone learning to speak it until after the matter with The Master was resolved, and only then if they decided to pursue lifting the Curse from Mankind. The Runes from The Book empowered to protect their bases were symbols within the Language, and their power incredible, but speaking the language itself without proper care could have catastrophic results. It was the Language used to bring Creation into existence, the Language of the High Hosts. Lane: Who are you? He sent his thought in English to see if there was a response. I feel two. Where are the others? It wasn’t apparent if whoever it was understood Lane’s question. It took all of them together to translate what they heard into something comprehensible. So many of the words of the First Language were concepts that didn’t exist in English or any human tongue. Brad’s Intellect had been taking in everything so far and drew his conclusion first, but the other Mentalists were right behind him. Lane and Loy were the only two that carried a Gift, and they were the only two who could hear the voice. The voice also said it could ‘feel two’ of something. Brad: I know the doc said it’s dangerous, but I think we need to try and communicate with whoever this is and find out why we were brought here. Ken: Lane, Loy, are you okay with this? You guys’ll have ‘ta do the talkin’ and take the risk. Neither one of them had a problem taking the risk, confident that working together they could minimize the danger of unforeseen side effects. Lane: I’ll go first. He smirked and added: No offense Loy, but my voice is better suited to this. Loy: You mean the fact that you scream like a girl better than me? A small ripple of humor ran through them, but they settled down quickly. Lane: Watch and learn, ladies. Even with Lane’s boasting, he took the input from all ten of them to formulate the wording and hoped it was legible to whoever they were talking to. Lane: Who are you? You hear me? Lane: Yes, we hear you. I sense two, where are the others? Lane: We hold two of the Gifts if that’s what you mean. We do not know of more. There are ten. The others still exist. Part of myself is in them, and I would know if they were no more. Their eyes went wide. They were talking to the creator of the Gifts! They had no idea of the origin of the Gifts; they assumed The Mantle was involved in their creation, but apparently, that was not entirely true. The Paradox of the Gifts being tied to their Avatars, and their Avatars only existing for a few years was not lost on them. The fact that their existence was hidden from the Higher Order made it even more impactful. This being had to be able to see them when no one else could! Brad: Well it’s becoming clear why we’re here, sort of. We need to find out more about who or what this being is. Lane: Who are you? Allenor. To the best of their recollection, Allenor meant ‘Remnant’ or ‘Remaining.’ Lane: Remnant? I am from before. Lane: Before what? Before this Creation. I am all that is left of the Creation before. Three of my kind were preserved by Origin to forge the Gifts. The others refused and punished me for making them and rebelled against Origin for the destruction of our Creation. Again, their collective intelligence gave them the understanding from Lane and Loy based on what they heard; Lane had to carefully repeat everything Allenor said to them so the rest could help with the interpretation. There was a Creation before the one they existed in? How could that be? They thought the one they were in was Eternal and operated on the theory that nothing existed but God before the Big Bang! There was so much they didn’t know or understand about how their Avatars and the Gifts were linked. There were more of them? One for each of them? A thrill of excitement at that revelation went through them… based on how Lane’s and Loy’s Primary Avatars were augmented, the rest of them wondered what theirs could possibly be. Since they couldn’t perceive Allenor’s existence without a Gift, their invisibility to the Higher Order became more apparent. Somehow that was a part of their Avatars even without the Gifts; the part that tied them together. Bill: I’m betting the Archangels wouldn’t see this guy any more than we do. They wouldn’t even be aware of his existence. Lane: The others of your kind… Did they imprison you here? Yes. For aiding Origin. Ken: I don’t get it guys. Why would God need these guys to make the Gifts? He’s the head honcho and can do anythin’ he wants. Bryan: To keep his hands clean. To Him, there’s probably not one Creation or another… they’re probably all part of one idea of his. It’s like we’re his fucking play toys. All this bullshit pisses me off. This guy has been a prisoner here for who knows how long, and God let him stay here after he did what he was asked until we show up! Darren: Do you think we’re supposed to free him? Ken: Damn, I hate this shit! We keep getting’ sucked further into some ‘plan’ we don’t know any fuckin’ thing about! We aren’t fuckin’ puppets! If this is about Free Will, then none of that makes sense! Continuing his questions, Lane asked: Where are the others of your kind that did this to you? Origin destroyed them for their rebellion. I felt it when they ceased to exist. I am now all that is left of before. Lane: How long have you been here? I know not. Forever. There was a slight pause and then: Will you approach, so I may see you? Ken: Lane, Loy, do you get any feelin’ one way or the other? The rest of us are flyin’ blind here. If you have any sense of danger, I say we pull back, talk to the doc, and maybe come back. If you’re okay, we can move forward and try to gather more Intel. Loy: My Intuition isn’t telling me danger. I feel anxious, but not extremely so. Lane: Me too. This is mild compared to what I usually feel when I Dream or have a strong reaction. Brad: This might be a loophole, but I don’t feel anything when I focus on Lane and Loy. With his connection to them through the Gifts, I think I’d get some indication if they were in danger by moving forward. Kevin: That’s getting to your ass a roundabout way. The conversation so far took no Time as they were still deep inside one another in the place where they were One. Ken: Take us back up, and let’s have a look at this guy. The sensations of their physical bodies hit them again as the chill of the cavern made itself felt. They were still pressed together for body warmth, and they squeezed each other tight as couples before separating and moving forward. Brad continued holding their Shields tight and Powerful in case of any other surprises. Lane and Loy were the only two who could perceive Allenor, so they were in the lead. They moved slowly through the smaller chambers towards the larger central one where they were sure Allenor would be. Loy let out a, “Fuck me!” as they got closer. Lane was silent, but his eyes were wide from the sight before him. Allenor’s colossal form filled the chamber. He was on the floor, bound by huge shackles and rune-covered chains. He wasn’t on the scale of Leroy by any means, but he filled the chamber. His form was not pleasant to look on by human standards. He was thickly muscled, but his joint articulations were markedly different, as was the soft elastic cartilage of his ears and nose. His skin was so pale it seemed nearly translucent over his muscles, and they could see into his body. He had no visible hair, genitalia, nipples, or navel, and had nine fingers and toes with opposable digits on his hands and feet. As they moved closer, the Gifts within Lane and Loy tugged towards Allenor. He said they were a part of him, or he had put something of himself into their creation. Before anyone could stop him, Lane moved forward and touched the massive being. A painful tingle washed over him, like a strong electric current. I feel you. Surprise registered in Allenor’s voice. You are a fascinating creature, Lane Weaver. Lane: Did you hear that ladies? I’m fascinating! Lane was alright, and his usual grin was back. He motioned Loy to come up with him. Loy touched the massive body and felt the same sensation. You are as well, Loy Barton. Something happened with their touch. Perhaps it was something akin to Bill’s ability to Read objects or people, but Allenor began conversing with them in English. Your emotions are strange to me. They are powerful and brutal, yet beautiful. Those did not exist for my kind, as they do here. Not in the same fashion. Lane: Can you see the rest of us? Vaguely. I see them as receptacles for the other Gifts. They are unclear to me, but I sense them. I will remain unseen to them until they acquire their Gifts. Your companions are not yet complete and must find them. The Gifts were made for a Purpose, and the others remain unfulfilled while they do not carry them. I forged them to be such. Lane and Loy, after touching Allenor, felt a kinship with him. It wasn’t as if they Read him, but the part of him that resided in their Gifts connected them with the huge being. Sorrow for his plight and being imprisoned billions of years struck them. He did not feel the passage of Time as they did, but it was still cruel. The yearning inside him for others of his kind was soul-crushing. His Creation no longer existed to return to even if he was freed. His plight was tragic, and their eyes misted over from the impact of that revelation. The emotions in Lane and Loy were reflected by their Brothers, their feelings magnified in one another. Loy: We need to free him, guys. He’s not an animal to be caged. Loy addressed Allenor directly: What would you do if we free you? Where could you go where you would be happy or content? There is no such place. I would seek Origin, who you call the Creator, and ask him to Unmake me. With tears running down his handsome face, Loy dropped to his knees and put an arm out, touching Allenor. Rick came up behind him and wrapped his big arms around his husband. Bryan had his arms around Lane in the same manner. Bryan: We need to let him go. Even if it’s to end his life, we have to. To stay like he is isn’t acceptable. It’s fucking bullshit! Ken’s Mind was spinning. Were they led to that place, at that time, to find Allenor and free him? Was it puppet strings, or something else? Ken: Ask him if he brought us here. Lane repeated Ken’s question. In my Dreams, perhaps I called to you unknowingly. This Creation fights against me. I do not belong here, and it wishes me gone. Perhaps it summoned you here to destroy me. Ken moved up to Lane and Loy, putting a hand on their shoulders. Their Souls were One, but he wanted to feel them physically. Looking into their eyes, Ken noticed the depth of them; a depth they were all acquiring through their struggles and trials. He saw wisdom and pain, but above everything else, he saw Love. Love for him, their husbands, and the rest of them as Brothers, for the doctor and Albrecht, and Henry and Drew, the Keenan’s, the young soldiers in Australia and their families, and the broken and fallen humans they sought to protect from The Enemy. The weight of it all was there, but they were strong enough together to carry the burden and carry it stalwartly. They saw the same things in Ken and smiled at one another. They were Ken’s Centering Flame, and he calmed himself in their presence, through the strength of their bodies under his hands, and in their Souls, bound to his. He grinned and tweaked their nipples as he withdrew his hands, causing both of them to jump. They both gave him a ‘you fucker!’ look, but laughter was in them too. His antics helped lighten the mood. He saw what he needed in them and felt what he needed to feel. Ken: Let’s free him guys, or figure out how to. The rest of us can’t even see him so you two will have ‘ta be the vessel for all of us. Do what ‘ya need ‘ta do, but break these chains. We’re with you. With Ken’s words and intent, the Cosmic scales tipped another notch towards Balance. They were at the epicenter of a Ripple of enormous magnitude that would be felt throughout Creation. Németh felt it in the Pale, not knowing its source, but something happened to tip the scales even further towards Equilibrium, and he wondered at it. It also strengthened his resolve to help the Nephilim, sensing it had something to do with them. There was a Vortex around the Changelings and the Paradox of their existence just as there was for the Second Born, pulling and tugging at events attempting to restore Balance. Times of Change were upon them for those with the perceptions to realize it. He wondered if The Master saw it as well, or if in his arrogance he ignored it, or fought against it. Brad also had a sense of what was happening. His Intellect was vast, especially when surrounded by his Brothers and augmented by their Avatars. They would not be able to break the bonds holding Allenor unless they were on Purpose. If they were fulfilling a Purpose their Avatars would stretch to encompass the Power required to perform the task. If they were not on Purpose, they would fail, and Allenor would remain bound. His thoughts resounded through the Link, and they knew it was true. Ken’s Will and Conviction told them they were on Purpose, and they were confident of their success. Allenor watched the tiny beings, so fragile, yet deep. They were vessels of his Gifts, and in Lane and Loy he saw their potential, already partially fulfilled. He saw what they one day might be, and he both envied them and felt a deep sadness for what it would cost them. Their emotions, Love mainly, would carry them, or break them, he wasn’t sure which. Lane and Loy inspected the rune-covered chains. The intricacies were incredible but with their knowledge of the Runes gleaned from Orophir, what they saw made sense. Allenor fell silent. Darren pulled Power from the Link and warmed up the air in the cave around them to the point where it was comfortable. Their skin and clothes dried and they put their t-shirts back on. Because they were One Ken’s thought was a part of them immediately, and shared by all of them. He wasn’t sure exactly what he felt; frustration, anger, fear, helplessness… what they learned from Allenor put a different light on what they knew about themselves and their Creation. They thought it was intricate before, but with the Gifts and who and what Allenor was and what was done to him because of them… now everything was even more involved with levels they never imagined. Their existence had been mapped out before Creation. They had Free Will, yet they had a Purpose that felt right when they were on target. They could always stop and turn the other cheek, let Drew die and The Enemy reign on Earth… but they couldn’t. It wasn’t in them, which begged how much Free Will they really had. If they were genetically predisposed to the characteristics that drove them... how ‘Free’ was that? After pondering those thoughts, Ken felt anger above all else. Brad’s Avatar glowed softly, and he thought: We don’t know everything, Ken. There’s still so much we don’t know. Just bits and pieces, but we can’t focus on that right now. We have to stay on target. We’re fighting for Drew first and foremost. Then Luke. The rest of this… I’m not saying it doesn’t matter, but it can’t matter right now. We can’t let it distract us. Do you understand what I’m saying? Ken sighed. Yeah. Bryan: I get it, Brad, but one day there will be a reckoning. Too many have suffered for all this to come about. Not only us but Allenor, Orophir, the doc, Albrecht... what about Liz? And Henry and Drew? Even The Master in his way is suffering; he just doesn’t realize it. That’s not going to stop us from kicking his ass, though. Pat: I see the Pattern, even with all the holes in it, but I don’t know the Meaning. One day we’ll know enough. I’m not sure what we’ll do when we get there. We’ll probably be helpless to do anything about it by then. Ken: We can still punch God in the face if that’s what we need ‘ta do. I know he’s the Grand Poohbah, but what gives him the right… Ken sighed in resignation and after a pause continued: Hell, I guess that gives him every right, doesn’t it? Rick: That doesn’t mean we have to like it. We know, and He knows, we could royally fuck things up for Him if we want too… not that we would, at least not out of anger, or intentionally. There’s just more going on here than we know, and we’ll have to be patient until we know more. Brad: There’s always the chance we’ll agree with him once we know everything. You never know. Kevin: Let’s reign ourselves in and dial it back. One step at a time, like we always do. We can freak ourselves out from here to Eternity if we ‘what if’ ourselves to death without all the Intel. Ken: You’re right, Kev. You’re all right, you bunch of fuckers. Well if we gotta stick around billions of years ‘ta figure it all out, I guess it’s a good thing I like you guys. Otherwise, it would suck. Ken turned to Lane and Loy: You ladies got anythin’ yet? Loy: I think we’re going to use the good old-fashioned brute force method. Power up and hit it with everything we have. All we have to do is break one Rune, and the rest will unravel. The beings who made it didn’t think anyone in this Creation could see or detect Allenor so he could never be freed. They didn’t account for the Gifts and how they give us the ability to do the impossible, perceive something unperceivable, so they didn’t put in any safeguards. Lane: I think I can ‘un-sing’ one of the Runes to break it. There are no protections to prevent that… they didn’t put any in because they didn’t feel the need. Stupid, but hey, I’m not judging. Brad: We’ll have to Shield everything here… raising that kind of Power will draw attention we don’t want. My Intuition tells me we need to keep this from our grandfathers. I don’t like that, but I think its best, at least for now. Ken: Ready when you are, guys. Let the big guy know what we’re doin’. Loy moved forward and put his hand on Allenor’s arm. We’re going to try and free you now. Get ready. Allenor made no response, but they knew he heard them. Loy’s Avatar glowed, and there was Compassion in his voice and touch. He, of all people, knew how horrible it was to keep something or someone caged that was meant to be free. None of them stopped drawing Power from their sources during their interaction with Allenor, but they began to draw even deeper, stretching themselves and filling each other with every bit of Light and Power they could hold until it was painful. Lane became their focus while Brad and the other Mentalists were with him, their Avatars synchronized with his and magnified it. Ken had them locked together, which would be key in Lane’s attempt. That intangible ‘something extra’ the doctor and Albrecht saw and felt in them, that thing The Enemy feared so much, the ability to overwrite Creation and remove the Curse once The Master was defeated was in full effect. Lane went deep in all of them but singled out his Soul with Bryan’s, Listening to the song within his husband. That would be the music to which he would sing. Allenor perceived their efforts and wondered at them. He said Lane and Loy were fascinating creatures, and to him, they were unfathomably different; more fragile than his Kind but also stronger in many ways. The differences were incomprehensible in all aspects; the Laws of the two Creations were utterly different, and yet the Gifts he created were a Bridge between the two. The Creator, God, who Allenor called Origin in the First Language, needed that bridge not to be of his own making; he was ultimately responsible because it was a part of his two Creations, but he did not intervene directly and cause it. It was again a matter of Free Will inside the framework of what he made. Lane contracted his diaphragm, and air filled his lungs as his chest cavity expanded. They observed him through Pat’s Understanding, watching the fundamental mechanical aspects of drawing breath by the pressure variance between his body and the cavern. He pushed the air through his vocal cords as he opened his mouth, and the note he produced was perfect. Brad Shielded the area around Allenor, drawing from Ken and the Bodies. He couldn’t let any of what Lane was doing leak out and attract the attention of anyone or anything in the Spiritual Realm, especially angelic attention. Ken and the other Bodies masked the Power buildup on top of Brad’s Shield. Lane’s handsome brow furrowed in the way Bryan loved when he was in ‘music mode.’ He fashioned the sounds in his Mind and they flowed out of him, focused by his Avatar. He strung the notes together forming a word first, and then a short sentence to unmake the key Rune of one shackle. There was resistance, but he set his Will, backed by his Brothers, into his effort. His emotions for Allenor, the tragedy of his existence and what had been done to him fueled his determination. Ken’s Will and Conviction were like a Wall in all of them that would not let them fail. Their perception of Time was slowed to help. Lane didn’t need to make any corrections in his voice or translation, but he had time to do so if necessary. In the real world what he did took only a few seconds. The shackle shattered with the sound of a thousand tiny shards of glass falling onto the rocks as they dissolved into nothing. Lane and Loy felt the domino effect of the remaining Runes unravel. Allenor was free, and he slowly sat up. His physiology didn’t allow for tears. Emotions for him were different, not as deep or as intricate, but he felt something powerful regardless. The practical, logical appreciation of what they did for him swelled through him. There wasn’t a word for the substance that incarnated Allenor’s chains; it was something of the prior Creation and had to be to bind him. That substance was dangerous in unimaginable ways. The only analogy Lane or Loy could think of was matter versus anti-matter. The two coming into contact with one another was ‘bad’ with a capital B. Allenor took the energy, knowing the chaos it could unleash if left free and used it to replenish himself. The harsh effects of his imprisonment vanished, and he was made whole. Thank you. Loy still had tears in his eyes. Do you really want to die? There is no place for me here. My existence is a cancer to your Creation. The chains imprisoning me held that cancer in check, and it fights against me already. There is nothing for me to return to; nowhere for me to find peace or companionship. Merely existing here, I will eventually be destroyed. With all their abilities, all the things they could do with the Power they wielded through their Avatars, they were helpless to aid the giant creature in front of them. His plight hit them hard, and their eyes were wet. Because they were One and resonated so strongly off one another, the intensity of their sorrow hit Allenor through Loy and Lane. He wondered at them, and the beings of this Creation. Again, he thought their emotions, in particular, Love, would either break them or save them. I will depart now. Loy: I hope you find peace, Allenor. You were used, as we are, and you did not deserve any of what happened to you. Allenor sensed anger amidst Loy’s words. As I said, Loy Barton, you are wondrous and an enigma to me. I am glad we met. You are a worthy vessel for the Gift you carry. You as well, Lane Weaver. Carry my Legacy within you. To the others of you, find the remaining Gifts and become whole. There was a deafening silence in the cavern that seemed to last forever, and then they heard his voice for the last time. Farewell. With that word, he faded, and silence fell among them. Their emotions were high and all over the map. The magnitude of who and what Allenor was, and the knowledge they gleaned about their Avatars and the Gifts was unsettling. In the middle of all that was a deep sadness for the being they freed and what he had to endure for them… because of them. Brad: No, guys, not because of us. You know what I mean… we aren’t to blame. He was just as much a pawn in this as we are. At least we freed him. We can’t say he’ll no longer suffer though… he will as long as he exists here. That’s just horrible to think about. Ken: I’m sick of bein’ a pawn. Bryan: We need to finish this, guys. Until we do, the pain and hurt won’t stop. The truth and pressure of Bryan’s words resonated with them; many of them had said the same thing before. Brad took them back to the place where they were naked and together, where their Souls were One. They huddled together, sitting with arms over or around each other’s bare shoulders, holding each other close. The warmth and comfort of their bodies touching settled them. Some rested their heads on their husband’s shoulders, and some rested them on their Brother next to them, unashamedly seeking and giving comfort to and from each other. They spoke quietly in their Minds, working through their issues and emotions, supporting one another, sometimes carrying each other and sometimes being carried, and their Unconditional Love and bonds uplifted them. With Allenor free, whatever kept Brad from reaching Henry was gone, and he appeared naked with them. They made room in their circle, wanting him with them. He learned everything that happened instantly, adding his comfort and perspective to everything. Once they felt ready to separate and return to Atlanta to debrief the doctor and Albrecht, Henry had a thought that caught them by surprise. Hey guys… You know this cavern would make a perfect new base. It’s impossible to reach except by the Darren Express, it’s more than big enough, and there’s fresh water. No one even knows it exists besides us, and it’s special to Loy because it gives him a boner. What do you think? Henry was seated between Ken and Rick, and Ken ruffled his hair. Fuck Henry, good idea! I think we’ll keep ya around a bit longer. It’s not hard having good ideas around you losers. Lane grinned, directing his comment to Loy: You'll have a perma-hardon here. Rick: Like he doesn’t already! Henry: We can use one of the smaller caverns to keep a small herd of sheep. That ought to keep him occupied and give Rick a break. They all busted out laughing at his comment. Loy flipped them all off while he laughed. All of ya’ll, fuck off! Rick: Damn, Henry, you fit right in. Lane: The doc is going to shit a brick when we tell him about today. Ken grinned. I bet you five bucks he’ll say ‘oh my’ at least five times. Brad: I can’t wait to hear his take on all this. Albrecht’s too. They’ve never mentioned much about the Gifts. Ken: Let’s get crackin’, ladies. Just as Ken said those words, his stomach let out a cavernous rumble. Bryan went wide-eyed: How the fuck can you be hungry here? We aren’t even in our bodies, you fucker! They all busted out laughing again. All of them were starving, but Ken’s body was by far the most vocal. Ken: Just another one of my studly superpowers. Freeing other-creational beings does that to me. Loy: Is ‘creational’ even a word? Brad: It is now. Kevin: As if being douchey wasn’t enough. Rick: Yeah, there’s that vinegary lemon-fresh scent again! Henry: I’ll have Sally put in a rush order for some food. I have connections you know. Bill: Henry, you suck up. Darren: He just wants extra ZEUS time with Sally. The shit hanging started and lightened their mood even more. By the time they arrived in Atlanta and showered, Sally had food waiting for them. She could tell through Henry that something significant happened. Knowing her surrogate Brothers, and wanting to take good care of them, she let the sandwiches be an appetizer to tide them over until the real meal arrived. She loved the look on their faces when they smelled the roasted BBQ chicken and brisket she ordered and all their favorite sides. She knew the way to their hearts and loved all the hugs she got in return. The sincerity of their affections never ceased to touch her, and she had to use a Kleenex to wipe a tear away before her mascara started running. <><><> Brad and Ken were in Australia later that night. Well… night based on Atlanta time, it was afternoon of the next day in Australia. They were in bed, naked together and resting after the hectic and stressful day in Africa. Ken held Brad close, spooning their bodies. They were quiet even in their Minds, just resting against and in one another. Ken finally broke the silence as he kissed Brad’s shoulder. I love you, B. Brad smiled lazily. I love you too, Ken. Ken rested his chin on Brad’s shoulder so their faces could touch, cheek to cheek. He would occasionally rub his cheek against Brad’s, loving the feel of their unshaven faces touching. It turned Brad on to see Ken transform from their Leader, a Warrior of The Order, a man of incredible physical strength and ability, to his incredibly skilled lover. Ken found his fulfillment in taking care of Brad and tending to his pleasure. The warmth and softness of their skin, the hardness of their muscled bodies, took both men to a special place. They couldn’t get enough of one another on all levels. Brad had their Souls and Minds bound as tightly as Ken had their bodies, and they didn’t want to separate. Ken kept one hand on Brad’s chest, enjoying the feel of his chest hair and solid body. Brad put his hand over Ken’s, rubbing it gently. His fingers found Ken’s wedding ring, and he fiddled with it. They talked quietly about events of the day, and the situation in general. Some of the things were difficult to wrap their heads around. At one point, Ken grinned. I thought the doc’s eyes were gonna pop out of his head when he figured out who and what Allenor was. I would’ve won the bet… I think he said ‘oh my’ at least a dozen times. Brad chuckled. Yeah. They got hard from the intimate contact of their bodies pressed so tightly together. Their pleasure built over time until they ended up making love… the first time. The next few times were more frantic, with each of them becoming ‘that guy’ for the other and doing things to one another only they could do. After hours of a mixture of lovemaking and raw hot sex, they lay together again, sweaty and content. No matter how crazy events became in their lives, they always came back to being together, Heart, Mind, and Body… and getting each other off. Ken had a motto: There isn’t much in life a good hard fuck can’t cure. As silly as it sounded, there was a healthy grain of truth in his statement. As always, after Ken was ‘that guy’ he let himself be held, caressed, and soothed by his lover. He put so much of himself into their lovemaking, and immersed himself so wholly in Brad, he had a difficult time returning to himself. Brad’s fulfillment came from knowing how his ministrations affected his husband as Ken stayed on top of him; his eyes squeezed shut and dripping sweat. Ken’s body still trembled from the combination of his exertions and excitement as his orgasm resonated through his Mind and Body. The Power they generated shone like a star in the Spiritual Realm. They let their Auras shine out unshielded to burn any of The Enemy that might be nearby or to warm the hearts of any humans, and perhaps even to drive back some of their ‘fucked-upness.’ As they were together, resting and recovering in one another, their Brothers were with them on the periphery of their Awareness. They were always aware of each other now and couldn’t stand to be apart. <><><> Henry was on the Australia roster along with Brad and Ken. For the first time ever, Drew was in Atlanta without him. Drew begged to stay in Atlanta for a sleepover with Tommy and Brett. Henry cleared it with Ken; it was a big deal and broke standard protocol, and Drew literally jumped for joy he was so happy when his dad said ‘yes.’ Drew treated his two best friends like brothers; he had a great example from his Uncles on how that worked. Kevin, Bill, and Henry told the boys they were cousins, but the boys thought of themselves as brothers. Ken called a quick Conference in the Construct of the Operations Room in Atlanta and told everyone what was going on. It couldn’t happen often in the months ahead, but they all agreed it would be good for Drew. Kevin and Bill would take perfect care of Drew; Henry had no worries about that. The issue was Henry loved his son so much; his need to Protect Drew was almost overwhelming after the shitty life his son had. Henry would have a hard time being away from Drew, but he also thought it would be good for both of them. He knew they could become too dependent on one another. By normal standards that was already true, but given the extreme nature and circumstances of their lives and who they were, it kept them grounded. Henry was in bed, dealing with his separation anxiety from his son and laughed to himself. God, I’m such a pussy. <><> Brad listened to Henry’s thoughts through their Link. He deepened his connection with Henry to find out what was troubling him. Henry? Hey, Brad. Can’t you sleep either? Ken: Well, we weren’t sleepin’. Henry grinned. I might have known. I thought I felt the Lab shaking. All three of them laughed at his comment. Brad: Henry, do you want to come in with us? Brad’s question caught Henry off guard. His surprise wasn’t bad or in any way negative… in fact, Brad detected a seed of hopefulness even Henry wasn’t aware of. Brad’s Avatar glowed softly, reading and deciphering Henry’s reaction. Ken: You know it’s not sex, Henry. You’re missin’ Drew somethin’ fierce and we can feel it. This is about takin’ care of you. You don’t need ‘ta be alone tonight. Come in here with me and B. Henry still sounded apprehensive. Are you guys sure? Henry’s reluctance stemmed from not wanting to be seen as weak by Brad and Ken. Ken: Get your ass in here, Henry. We want you too. Henry crawled out of bed and padded down to their room. Brad was changing the sheets, and they laughed as Henry thought: Thanks! The room still had a strong smell of sweat and sex. Even that was a comfort to Henry in a strange way. It just deepened the bond he had with Ken and Brad and re-enforced how open and honest they were with one another. The lack of barriers was freeing. Henry helped them make the bed, and they all three crawled under the sheets together naked. Ken and Brad put Henry between them. Ken was pressed behind Henry, with Henry spooning Brad. The warmth and strength of their bodies, their arms around each other, the physical closeness and intimacy, was comforting to the three of them. Henry teared up and said very quietly in his Mind: Thanks, guys. Ken squeezed his arms around Henry a little tighter. You never need ‘ta thank us, Henry. You’re our Brother. We gotta take care’a one another. Brad: I’m glad you’re here, Henry. Henry: Me too. Ken kissed the back of Henry’s head. Goodnight. They settled against one another, drifting off to sleep in each other’s arms. The next morning when the entire Team became One in their meeting, no shit was hung on Henry for sleeping with Brad and Ken. Maybe one day, but not that day. There was a time and a place for joking, and they knew when not to cross lines. Bill and Kevin were happy, and Henry saw through them the boys had a fantastic time playing together. They wore each other out playing and that morning when Kevin went to wake them, they were piled together in the fort they built out of bedsheets. Kevin shared the image in their Minds, and it made everybody smile. <><><> The next morning in their meeting, they began outlining an immediate plan to start the Congo base. The construction would be completely different because the cavern already existed and had a basic shape they couldn’t change. Pat and Darren teleported back briefly to do a physical survey. The doctor had a new drone-based technology they had never seen before. He got the idea from a television show but refused to tell them which one because he knew they would tease him about it. He gave Darren and Pat a suitcase of small drones equipped with sonar and laser sensors. Within minutes the drones had a 3D map of the entire structure. Pat and Darren were as impressed as ever by the doctor’s ingenuity. Darren was relieved because if not for the drones, being the CAD/Visio software expert, he would have had to build the 3D model from scratch. Even with the water source and the oxygen it brought with it, the doctor decided to use the same devices set up in Australia. If the physical structure of the cave or the watercourse changed over time and the water became unavailable, or if the cave became compromised, they could wall that section off and still have fresh air and water. Tactically it was the right thing to do, but in the meantime, the base would take advantage of the water. Darren beat Loy to the idea of having a full Olympic sized swimming pool as an add-on to the physical fitness and training facilities. The water source made it an obvious decision, along with the fact there was more room in the caves than they knew what to do with. Every one of them was excited about that prospect. There was a high level of excitement about the new Lab. Ken had been feeling the pressure of needing more locations and expanding their presence globally, and the Congo in Africa was a perfect location, being centrally located on the continent. They also noted the location of the Congo Base was another vector point if they overlaid the Master Rune of their combined Avatars across a globe of the Earth. Puppet strings. They still had the location in Vancouver, BC on hold because of the strong presence of The Enemy there. They had no idea how quickly Luke would come after them once they defeated The Master, and their lives would become far more difficult once that happened. It would be harder to find and construct bases with Luke and the Demons at his disposal breathing down their necks. By the end of the morning, they had a working 3D model of what the facility would look like. It would be the most extensive base by far, covering more than a quarter square mile, and it was a unanimous decision to have more extensive living facilities in case they needed to expand their network of protection over normals, or even if they had to pull everyone together from all the other bases. In a worst-case scenario, if they had to go underground for an extended time, there would be plenty of room. The personal apartments for the five couples, plus the doc and Albrecht, Henry and Drew, and Sally were huge, and the mini-apartments for their ‘guests’ larger than what was available in Australia. Because the base was so much larger, it took far more Runes to cover the area and a considerable amount of Power; however, their mastery of the Runes, made deeper because of Orophir, made it easier. They were able to use the concept of Orophir’s Spirit Jars to create ‘batteries’ of Spiritual Energy to augment their strength when empowering the Runes. To reduce the construction time frame, the doctor had some theories he had been working on surrounding Darren’s ability to transmute and alter the molecular structure of substances. They had never tried anything on such a large scale before, but the principles were the same. The doctor had a gleam in his eye that said ‘just wait!’ <><><> Five weeks later, they stood in awe of their accomplishment. The Congo base was finished and operational. The primary delays had been in acquiring the raw building materials, but the doctor managed to order supplies from all over the world and sent the guys to pick them up as needed. The distribution of the materials from so many locations also added to the security against the government or hackers seeing purchasing patterns that could cause problems. The doctor had to intervene a great deal after the construction of the Australian base, and even after his purchase of ZEUS, to cover the monetary trail that could draw unwanted attention. The base had an entirely different look and feel to it. Each area was on a different level, so ramps and stairs went either up or down between areas. It had a very ‘Frank Lloyd Wright’ feel to the design with as much of the shape of the natural caverns preserved as possible. With Allenor no longer present, vegetation was able to grow, and the doctor had plants interspersed through the base, much to the delight of Bryan. Because the caverns were so vast, it allowed for the design of extensive hydroponic gardens, and the lighting incorporated UV Spectrum radiation so the plants would thrive. Irrigation pipes were plentiful as well… for the time being the hydroponic areas were dormant, but if they ever needed the ability to grow extra food, there would be plenty of room. There was a great use of stacked stone and stucco giving the interior an organic appearance, while at the same time being wholly modern and high-tech. With the LED screens and air movement the environment felt natural. To celebrate the completion of the Congo base, Sally planned a big party at the new facility. The kitchen was well supplied, and Bryan spent a few days prepping food ahead of time. With everyone chipping in, it all came together with no one overburdened. They arranged for the young soldiers and their families to attend if they wished. The soldiers participated, along with Kent and Margie Peterson and the other wives but Hampton and the rest of the ‘goon squad’ stayed in Australia. Kelly and Chloe were there, and it seemed she and Jacob were back on more than good terms. Jacob doted on Chloe and helped take care of her as if he were her father. Drew, Tommy, and Brett stayed in the pool nearly the entire time. The sound system in the facility was extraordinarily high-tech, and Lane had music playing in most of the main rooms. At one point, after most of the food was gone and everyone was starting to wind down, Kent Peterson approached Brad and Ken. It struck them that he looked them straight in their eyes; he had never done that before. “Hey, guys… could I have a word with you in private?” Neither of them knew what to expect, but Ken said, “Sure, Kent.” They moved into the main Conference Room off the kitchen area. Brad and Ken looked at Kent, waiting for him to start. He seemed red in the face, but they knew it was from embarrassment and not high blood pressure anymore. He was remarkably fit, even more so after a few months of attending Albrecht’s training with his sons. He had the body of a twenty-five-year-old and was giving Jacob and Craig a run for their money. “I… Well… I want to apologize. For my behavior. Back in the Navy, I was such an ass.” He looked at Brad and said, “I remember that day in the gym when you and Glenn fought in the ring, and you kicked his ass. Then we jumped you and hit you with that chair. My God, we could have killed you! We were idiots!” Brad started to interrupt, “Look Kent… there’s no need to apologize.” Kent held his hand up, saying, “Yes, there is. I want to make things right between us. What you’ve done for my family and me... keeping us safe from the bad guys. It’s not something I can ever repay you for. I want you to know how thankful I am and how much we appreciate it.” Ken and Brad shook his hand, and his grip was firm. Brad pulled Kent into a light Link with them, and his sincerity was evident. Brad smiled and said, “Thank you, Kent. That means a lot, but there’s nothing to forgive. Those days were a long time ago.” Kent pushed, “I get that, but we were such jerks. I’ve been wanting… no, I’ve needed to apologize to you in person ever since I got back. You pulled Jacob out of God knows what in Syria. He’d be out of my life if it weren’t for you. He and Craig idolize you guys. Hell, I do too!” He chuckled and looked a little embarrassed. He looked down at his body and said, “This is still so weird to get used too. I’m in my fifties but look at me!” Ken smiled and said, “You look fantastic.” Kent said, “Anyway… I hope there are no hard feelings, at least between us. I can’t speak to Glenn and the other guys. I know where they are in their heads… I lived my life in that headspace, and it took me the equivalent of a few hundred years in that God-forsaken place to realize everything. I’d still be there if not for Craig.” He started to tear up at the memory and the love he could now unashamedly express for his son. Ken put a hand on Kent’s shoulder, giving him a squeeze of affection. “We’re glad you’re back Kent, and we appreciate your apology. You’re a changed man, and I want ‘ta acknowledge that. The changes in you are refreshin’ ‘ta see. I hope you can influence Hampton and the others ‘ta lighten up.” Kent lowered his face, “Yeah, well they don’t want shit to do with me anymore. I freak ’em out looking the way I do.” Brad said, “But you know where they are in their heads. You’re the perfect person to reach them and help turn them around.” Kent took a deep breath. “Yeah, I get that. I’ll keep trying. No promises… I know how far they have to go, just like me. Short of something similar happening to them, I don’t know if they’ll ever change.” Ken sighed, “I hope it doesn’t come ‘ta that. I want you ‘ta know your efforts aren’t goin’ unnoticed. If you ever need ‘ta talk, ‘ta me or B, or any of the guys just grab whoever’s in the Lab on rotation. We’re all here for you Kent. I mean that. Come ‘ta us if you’re havin’ trouble. If we find out you didn’t, we’ll have ‘ta kick your ass.” Ken grinned when he said it, but he was serious, and Kent nodded his acknowledgment. Kent smiled and said, “You got it.” They moved back to the party, and Brad and Ken felt a little lighter in their Hearts over the exchange. Brad: I never in a million years thought we’d have that conversation. Ken: Yeah, I know what you mean. Brad: I’m glad he came to us. It just proves it’s never too late to change. There’s still hope for Hampton and the other guys. It will take a while, but I bet Kent reaches them in a way we never could. They’ll never listen to us, at least not where they are right now. Maybe he can get them to that point, and then we can help. Bryan interjected: If they don’t, I always have more habanero peppers to put in their shorts. The memory of Bryan’s prank caused a ripple of laughter through the Link. Brad: Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that Bry, but keep those peppers handy just in case. <><><> The party was a huge success, and everyone had a great relaxing time. Darren sent the Australian bunch back to the Uluru Base, but not before every man on the Team had a chance to hold and play with Chloe. She enthralled the big men. Her tiny hands barely fit around their fingers, but she gripped them firmly, and the intelligence in her eyes belied her age. They felt the strength of her Mind already and didn’t envy Kelly keeping Chloe under control. For the time being, the Congo Base would be dormant and only occupied on an ‘as needed’ basis. They were stretched too thin to man it full time. The pool might come into play in their training, but that would be something Ken would work on down the road. Bryan was just initiating the shutdown protocol to put the base in ‘sleep mode’ when Loy’s eyes flashed white. His body went rigid as his Avatar gripped him. The female Elephant, the one they rescued from the poachers, Called to Loy and his trigger fired, filling her with his Presence. He looked through her eyes and was stunned to see an Eschphene, alone and sitting in front of the Elephant. As soon as Loy’s Mind and Avatar touched the animal, he heard a voice. All of you come to me. There is no danger to the creature you inhabit… she was the only manner I could utilize to reach you. Your touch is natural, and easy for me to sense Loy Barton… your Avatar most closely resembles the tenets of my People. Do not be alarmed, but it is urgent I speak with you. They all felt Loy’s Avatar activate. Immediately everyone in the Link, primarily Rick, began monitoring Loy to determine if it was safe to merge with him. Most Dreams and Visions were dangerous to interrupt for both parties. Loy held the connection, and his Brothers filled him; Ten, Five, One, plus Henry. Henry was with the boys in the pool, as were Kevin and Bill, but they were in the Link and One with the Team. Ken: B, Lane, do either of you sense any immediate danger? Brad: I got nothing, Ken. It doesn’t seem to be a trap. I don’t recognize this particular Eschphene out of the ones we’ve encountered. Lane: Me either, boss. My gut says we go talk to him and find out what he wants. Ken: Okay then, Dar take us there. Henry, stay with the boys. Hopefully, we’ll be back shortly. Henry: 10-4, Ken. Henry stayed with them in the Link lending them his strength, and also to find out what was happening in case it regarded Drew. It probably did if the Eschphene were involved. There were no flashes of lightning or cracks of thunder as they materialized. The ten men appeared silently around the Eschphene like ghosts in the night. It was late in the Congo and the moon close to full. The elephant and her calf stood not far away, and more of her herd nearby. To the Bodies, with the bright moon, the night seemed like daylight. In the moonlight the colors were muted but the massive form of the Eschphene was visible to them. His body was thicker and more heavily muscled than any they had yet encountered. There was something strange about him, something oddly enough, that reminded them of Albrecht. He seemed peaceful in a way that radiated out of him. Greetings, Loy Barton. The Eschphene turned to Ken. And you, Ken Habersham. He continued around the circle until he named all of them. I sense Henry Ross is with you, but not present. Where is the child? Ken used his Captain’s voice. He didn’t want to come across as antagonistic, but he wanted to project an air of authority and leadership. “Who are you? And why are you askin’ about Drew?” I desire no harm to come to the child. I wish to help him succeed in his attempt to lift the Curse from The Master. Shock ran through them at that revelation. “Your people have tried to capture Drew twice now ‘ta use him for your purposes. Again… who are you?” I am Németh. The two leaders of my people you have fought are my direct descendants. I am not sure how many generations separate us… I exiled myself the day the Curse was called into Existence. I hope to help Drew Ross succeed in removing the Curse and restore Balance in Creation and my people. There was a smattering of ‘holy shits’ and ‘fuck me’s’ at Németh’s words. I was present when you recently met with the current Leader. I watched his deception, and his insanity which has infected my people. The depths to which they have fallen breaks my heart. We are not an evil race as you believe and were not always as you presently see us. I will mark the Stone with the sigils you desire, in return for performing a task. Ken: I’m afraid ‘ta ask. Henry, are you hearin’ this? The tension in Henry was evident. If Németh altered the Stone, it could make the difference in Drew’s surviving his confrontation with The Master. In the Link, he was taut with emotions, and everyone held him tighter. He could feel their arms around him as though he were physically present. Ken asked, “What is it you want?” I wish to claim you, Kenneth Habersham, as my Intercedent to kill the current leader of my people. Lane: Didn’t see that coming! If you do that, I can return as Leader, and help restore them and bring Balance to Creation. Brad: There’s a LOT he’s not telling us. He’s not lying, but there’s some significant history behind him we’re not aware of. While Ken spoke to Németh, Pat looked long and hard at the Eschphene. He was far more powerful than any other of his race they had encountered. Physically he was much stronger, but the strength of his Magic was unparalleled. Pat: Why does he need you to kill the current Leader? He could snap that guy like a twig without breaking a sweat from what I see. Brad: It’s their Laws and their Magic. He needs to make it legit. We know they work on this weird ‘hive’ connection between the Leader and his people. If we take out the current Leader, we’re cutting out the infection. If Ken’s the Intercedent and eliminates the current Leader, it allows Németh to step in and take over. Once he’s the new Leader, from what we Understand, they will get back on track. Henry: Ken, I’m not asking you to do this! We can find another way! Ken: I can beat him. I know I can. Henry: They cheat! You know this! Ken: If they cheat, then you guys step in and help, but if he sticks ‘ta the rules then it’s one-on-one. I know I can beat him if it’s just me and him. Henry’s anxiety was through the roof. Ken was fully charged Mentally from an earlier bout of sex with Brad in the afternoon, and he merged with Henry, just the two of them. They appeared naked to each other, and their Souls became One. <> Ken gripped Henry by his shoulders, and his deep voice was calm as he said, “It’s alright, Henry.” “No, it’s not! This is all so fucked up! Ken… you know how much you mean to me. You know how much Drew means to me. I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to either one of you!” Henry’s face was red, and his eyes were bright; his chest tight with emotion. Ken grabbed him and pulled him into a tight hug. “Yeah, this is all fucked-up Henry. You don’t have our military background. This is a war… and we’re soldiers. It’s what we do. You know I’ll do whatever I can ‘ta ensure Drew’s survival. This is about Drew… not the World. If the worst happens, and I fuck up and die you still need ‘ta Protect Drew and carry on with the guys. As shitty as that sounds, you’ll have ‘ta suck it up and do it.” Henry tried to laugh, but choked, “So you’re saying shut the fuck up, put on my big boy panties, and deal with it.” Ken grinned and cupped Henry by his neck and shoulders shaking him slightly, “Yeah, I am. But I’m sayin it with love. You know this. I know you aren’t askin’ me ‘ta do this. It’s my job, and I’ll kick his ass. I’m trained for this.” Henry managed a grin and said, “You just want to get the cherished ‘favorite uncle’ spot. You aren’t fooling anybody.” Ken laughed and said, “Hell yeah, and it’s totally worth it. Now come on, let’s get things rollin’.” <> Brad was aware of Ken’s conversation with Henry, and Ken was aware of Brad’s approval and support. Ken: Alright guys, I’m gonna do this. It’s Drew’s best chance. I’ve beaten this guy before, and I can do it again. Their Mental arms surrounded him, holding him tight, and when their confidence flowed into him, his Avatar ignited on the ball of his muscled shoulder. Ken walked up to Németh and said, “I’ll do it. Promise me you’ll change the Stone like we want, and I’ll be your Intercedent. I’ll take out the current Leader for you.” Németh didn’t smile. A tremendous sadness passed through him that matters had become so extreme one of his people had to die to save them. He prayed to the Balance his Exile was not in vain, and he could restore his people. He hoped the Voice was real, and he was not as insane as the one he wished to depose. Thank you, Ken Habersham. These events pain me and are not how I wish them to be. I will mourn the loss of the life you take. I am not pleased, but it must be done, and I am grateful for the part you will play. Ken nodded and asked, “When will this happen?” As quickly as possible. Henry and Drew Ross must be present. No harm will come to them, but by our Laws, they must attend. Pat watched and Understood Németh’s sincerity. There was no deception in him, and he believed every word he spoke. Ken: Dar, get Tommy and Brett ‘ta Atlanta and pull Henry and Drew here. B, let the doc and Albrecht know what’s happenin’. While Darren focused on his tasks, Loy took the initiative to teleport back to Atlanta for a brief moment. There was a container with their Kevlar Assault suits ready and packed for situations like this. He picked it up, and his Brothers helped to pull him back. With Brad, Lane, and Bill helping him they didn’t need to tap into Darren. The container was heavy enough it would take at least two of them working in conjunction to teleport it back with him. Brad formed two memory spheres, which shot off around the globe. The doctor was at his computer when one of the spheres zipped through the wall and bobbed in front of him. He cupped it in his hand and absorbed it. “Oh, my!” Immediate worry for Ken ran through him. Albrecht was there and aware, having also received a sphere from Brad. Albrecht: I’m with you, Aaron. Ken knows what he is doing; they all do. I worry too, but this is a part of their Purpose, and you know that will make a difference. They are soldiers just as we were. Be confident in them. Aaron: I know. The forces they deal with are so far beyond what we ever did. It still frightens me, and it is a disservice to them for me to feel this way. We have helped to forge them into what they are… we set them on the path, and they are moving forward. They are the Hope we dreamed of, and I must be confident in that, have faith in them, and overcome my misgivings. Albrecht: If it helps, we can pray together. Aaron: I would like that. Albrecht: I will get Tommy and Brett settled with Sally and be right back. Aaron watched Albrecht leave his office, and his Mind mulled over events of the previous few years. He sensed the stirring in Creation. He knew what Signs to look for and what Portents to Read. This was the first of a series of Storms leading up to Drew’s confrontation with The Master. Anything involving either of them up to Drew’s seventh birthday would be tumultuous. Ripples upon ripples were hurtling out, and his sons along with Drew and Henry were at the Nexus of them all. Albrecht came back in a few minutes and the two men, mentors to their sons who were the Hope of the World, knelt together. Facing one another, they held each other’s hands and bowed, touching foreheads, praying for Ken’s success and wellbeing through the trial he was about to face. <><><> A few minutes later, everyone was ready and wearing their Kevlar. Drew wore his Avengers t-shirt and matching hoodie, blue jeans, and his Iron Man sneakers. Henry held his son, whose little arms were around his neck. Feeling the strength and solidity of Henry’s body along with his Uncles surrounding him made him feel safe. Henry whispered in Drew’s ear, “Don’t be afraid honey. Nothing’s going to hurt you. Me and your Uncles will make sure of it.” Ken approached Németh and said, “We’re ready.” Their perceptions shifted as Németh’s Magic took them to the Pale. Leaving the Physical Realm, the Realm of their birth and Creation, felt odd. There was no sense of vertigo or motion, but there was a strangeness to the Pale that didn’t feel right. Darren immediately cleared the area of the small floating pebbles and rocks that were so annoying. We are near. Follow me. They encircled Henry and Drew and moved forward, following Németh. Within minutes, they were noticed and approached. The Eschphene who saw them seemed aggressive, but before they could attack, Németh’s rocky voice echoed, “I claim the right of Intercedent! I challenge your Leader by our ancient Laws. Go, and make my declaration known!” His voice carried a Command that was powerful and brooked no disobedience. The Eschphene showed no visible signs of calming down, and Patrick could see a high level of anxiety in them. They had no recollection of who Németh was or his history. He was a stranger to them, appearing out of nowhere, accompanied by their Nephilim enemies to challenge their Leader. They hurriedly moved off to carry the news. We will move to the Temple, where the confrontation will take place. Are you prepared? Ken’s reply was calm and confident, “Yes.” Very well. Let us proceed. As they moved towards the Temple, more Eschphene noticed them and began to gather. The sight was eerie; silence permeated the area as a crowd of Eschphene converged around them. Németh planted himself at the base of the steps of the large stone Temple. None of the men had a clue what the Temple represented in Eschphene culture, but it obviously held some major significance. Ken stood at Németh’s right hand, Henry and Drew on his left, and the rest of the men fanned out behind them. They drew on all their sources of Power and shone brightly in the Pale. They were there in a declaration of force and did not hide their Auras. The Tree did not manifest in the Pale, although the Life Energy they pulled from it was not any less. The Spirits Loy called were of that Realm and strange to him, but present. There was no sense of completion or unconditional love from the creatures of the Pale, but his Avatar still allowed him to draw strength from them and if he put his Will upon them, they would obey. It was different for Brad; in the Pale, he had to flutter their Souls across both the Physical and Spiritual Realms. It slowed the buildup slightly, but not significantly. The eleven men, along with Drew, shone brightly in the muted colors of the Pale. They were strong in one another and the Power they wielded. They learned how to reject Eschphene Magic through their Avatars, and their Powers were in full effect. Ken watched the Leader approach; his arrogance was clear, surrounded by an entourage of guards. Ken had observed him on two occasions and was getting a better read on his body language. He did not look pleased to see Németh. “I know who you are Németh. The history of our Bloodline calls you traitor, and you defile this place by returning.” Németh exuded an Aura of Power he previously kept veiled. “It is not I who defile our sacred tenets. You are a serpent whose head must be cut off and replaced. I will restore our people to what we are meant to be.” “Brave words Old One. I will slay your Intercedent and then you, and the boy will be mine.” Ken spoke up, making his presence felt, “Quit stallin’. I’ve kicked your ass twice now. Third time’s a charm.” “I accept your challenge Old One, but unfortunately, I will not be fighting your Intercedent. In your absence, our Laws have changed.” He pointed at Ken and said, “He filled that role when he killed my son and cannot do so again. There can only be one Intercedent at a time. Henry Ross was the original Intercedent, but his role was supplanted and unfulfilled; therefore, he is the current Intercedent. It is fitting, as the boy’s father.” As soon as the Leader accepted Németh’s challenge, the Magic of the Ritual snapped into place. Eschphene Magic was legalistic and powerful, and Pat’s Understanding saw the strength of it; there was no way to fight it or circumvent it. Shock and surprise ran through them, and not a little fear; fear for Henry. Henry went rigid, not with fear, but shock. Ken turned to Németh, “What’s goin’ on!?” The Leader’s lipless mouth pulled back into a sneer, “You should not be shocked Old One. After my son’s initial encounter with them, we were warned of the Nephilim Changelings and altered our Laws to prevent any further interference by them.” Németh was incredulous, and his body trembled with anger. “You changed our Laws!? You, more than anyone, know the danger of that! What have you done? Your role is to Preserve our Laws and the Balance! Who warned you?!” Luke’s voice rang clear as he stepped out of the crowd, “I did.” Brad strengthened their Shields, and Luke laughed, saying, “You know I cannot move against you yet. I have been dealing with these creatures for thousands of years. My plans here were laid before the Oath you forced me to take, they simply came to fruition at a convenient time. I have not, nor can I, circumvent the Oath. However, that makes this victory all the sweeter. The Betrayer, Henry Ross, must face the Leader here and he will die. With his death, and with the Child’s mother’s absence, the Blood Right to the Child will revert to his birth father who has already given his consent.” The smile on Luke’s face sent a chill down their spines. “The boy, Drew Ross, was hidden from me for years, but now I know who he is. I know what he is. The Higher Order did well to keep his existence a secret.” Drew was wide-eyed and scared, but Henry cupped his cheek, turning his face away. “Don’t look at him, honey. Don’t listen to him. I’ve got you.” Henry put his hand on Drew’s head and gently but firmly turned Drew’s face against his shoulder so he couldn’t look. Ken looked to Németh, saying, “There has ‘ta be a way around this! Henry can’t fight him!” Németh’s voice was sad as he replied, “I am sorry, Ken Habersham. I made the Declaration, and it was accepted. Our Magic is strong in these matters and cannot be circumvented. Henry Ross must face him alone.” Pat saw the Binding between Henry and the Eschphene Leader the moment the words were spoken. Their Avatars could resist the Magic for a time, but not forever. The fight was inevitable, with the high possibility of Henry losing his life. <><> Brad took them so deep Time stood still. He kept Drew out of their Link, not wanting him to hear the conversation about to take place. Ken: Fuck! This can’t be happenin’! Their fear for Henry was almost debilitating; oddly enough for everyone except Henry. Henry’s voice was surprisingly calm: It’s okay, Ken. Ken: No, Henry, it’s not! Henry: It’s what I’ve been training to do. I’m Drew’s dad and his Protector. It’s my job. It struck both of them they just had the same conversation in reverse, but neither one of them thought it the least bit funny. Everyone’s eyes were bright. Bryan grabbed Henry from behind, wrapping his big arms around his Brother. Henry, I’m sorry. That fucker is strong… you’re human; we’re not… it took everything Ken had and Loy to take him on last time. Fuck we should have killed him! There was no blame towards Ken in Bryan’s exclamation. In fact, Ken sighed in agreement. Yeah, we probably should have. It’s not our way, but I think I fucked up by not doin’ that. A strange calm filled Henry, and he gripped Bryan’s forearms wrapped around him, feeling the trembling in Bryan’s body. It’s okay, Bry. I’m not afraid. You all have to promise me you won’t let them take Drew, no matter what. Liz’s sacrifice can’t be for nothing. And don’t let Drew watch; he’s going to be upset as it is, and that would be too much. He doesn’t need to see any of what’s going to happen. Ken’s throat was so tight he couldn’t talk. I won’t. I’ll hold him as tight as you ever have. Henry’s words told them he knew he didn’t stand a chance, and he wasn’t afraid to die Protecting his son. The realization was Soul-crushing, and they surrounded him, holding him, not wanting to let go. Circumstances could change quickly, and tragedy could strike any of them at any moment, but when it happened, it still caught them off guard. The sudden pain inside them at the thought of losing Henry was something they weren’t prepared for. They were still in shock and reeling at the swift turn of events. Each of them, in their own way, deep in the place where their Souls were One, said their goodbyes. They were behind Henry one hundred percent, and it wasn’t a lack of confidence in his ability to fight; it was a simple fact the Eschphene Leader was something beyond human and even though Henry was enhanced, he was no match for the alien creature. Their anger at Luke for ultimately being the cause of the current situation was a fire that burned behind their grief. It fueled their desire to resolve that situation once The Master was defeated. His interference and meddling were the cause. Henry rested in his Brothers for a long time. He gave them time to say everything they needed, especially goodbye, but the time was as much for him as for them. He was strangely at peace with what was about to occur, although he had regrets. He wanted to be Drew’s father forever, and he wanted to be their Brother forever, and now it looked like those things weren’t going to happen. He regretted Liz would not be in Heaven waiting for him. But aside from those, he had no fear or regrets about laying down his life for Drew. Kevin, so soon after losing his brother Archie, wasn’t prepared to lose Henry as well. He broke down sobbing and held Henry so tight he could barely breathe. Kevin crushed his face against Henry’s neck, and Henry held him and let him cry. Henry didn’t know what to say to comfort him, so he held Kevin, and they rested in each other along with everyone else. Sometimes there were no words, and you just had to be with someone while they hurt. Finally, there were no more tears, and their heads ached from the strain of tears and grief so long and deep. Their chests hurt, and they were all sweating from the emotions gripping them. Eventually, they quieted and rested in one another. Kevin found his inner strength and supported Henry with his Brothers, holding him. Silent promises were made, as they often were between men in times of war; responsibilities were transferred and carried by the survivors. Drew would be taken care of and they would find a way to save him. Drew would never want for anything… except a mother and father. None of them were ready to let Henry go, but it had to be done. They were soldiers, and in this instance, Henry was too and had a job to do. Finally, Henry quietly thought: It’s time fellas. Brad took them back to their bodies. Henry sniffed, struggling to keep his voice even as he passed Drew off to Ken and said, “Stay with Uncle Ken, Drew. He’ll keep you safe.” Drew knew more was going on than he understood, and he was scared. Big tears fell down his face, but he was brave, and Henry was proud of him. When Henry saw Drew in Ken’s arms, he started to break down, but caught himself, not wanting to upset Drew even more. “You’re such a good boy, Drew. I’m proud of you. Be good for your uncles, alright?” In the place where they were One, Henry finally broke down when he passed Drew off to Ken. Fuck! I promised never to lie to him… but I can’t tell him I’m about to leave him. I can’t do that to him! Brad pulled Henry tightly against him. Don’t tell him, Henry. He’ll figure it out, but don’t tell him, so you don’t have to lie. You know we’ll take care of him like he’s our own; he is. In his body, Henry held himself together as Drew was starting to blubber but managed to say, “I will, Daddy.” Henry kissed his cheek and tickled him a little making him squirm, wanting to see him laugh one last time. Henry stripped off the lower leg and upper arm pieces of his body armor. His muscled shoulders, biceps, forearms, and thighs showed clearly. He left on his gloves and foot coverings. He opted for higher freedom of movement over the protection. Most of his body was covered, and it would have to be enough. Red fire erupted from his Core, oxygenating his body and causing his muscles to swell, and a light sheen of sweat coated his muscular form. He didn’t have his Brothers’ Nephilim Heritage, but he was glorious nonetheless. He was the father and Protector of his son, the boy who held the key to removing the Curse on Mankind and restoring Balance to all of Creation. He was the Wall and had to do whatever it took, even if it meant giving up his life to Protect his son. He turned to face the Eschphene Leader. His voice was steady, and it echoed around the courtyard, “I’m ready.” <><><> The Eschphene entourage moved off the circular area on the flat stone outside the Temple, and Németh indicated for Ken and the others to do the same. The Eschphene Leader raised his massive thick arms and incanted the beginning of the Ritual in his native tongue. Sigils etched into the perimeter of the stone circle glowed a fiery orange-red and half of a translucent Dome appeared over the area around him. Németh incanted the other half of the Ritual, and the remaining runes flared, invoking the second half of the dome. When the two halves touched the Magic sealed in place, and Henry was severed from their Link. The Dome was potent Eschphene magic, and nothing could breach it to interfere with the confrontation. <><> When the Dome sealed, everything went silent. Henry stood alone, already missing the men he had come to love so much. He missed Drew as much, wanting to feel his little arms around his neck. Henry held the Centering Flame in his Mind, letting his anger at the situation fuel it, and it became brighter and never wavered. The anguish Henry felt inside from everything his son faced, the thousands of times he died through the centuries, the verbal and physical abuse by his birth father Doug, the eternal loss of his mother, Liz… Henry took it all, just as Ken taught him, and let it make him stronger. He also took the Love his Brothers had for him, freeing him from the Enemy, Awakening his Mind, being the Brothers and family he never could have imagined before he met them, and fed the Flame as well. Henry was truly blessed to have met them and counted it a privilege to be a part of them. He felt just as blessed at being Drew’s father. The Dome would remain until one, or both combatants were dead. The area inside the Dome was large, and the two warriors would have plenty of room to move and maneuver. It was translucent, and everything seen through it was slightly fuzzy. The white lock of hair on Henry’s head shone oddly bright in the muted light, clearly visible to the men as they watched him. Like their Avatars, Henry’s lock of hair seemed to reject the muted nature of Eschphene Magic. Ken looked at everything tactically, knowing Henry would see it the same through his training. He tried to Will his thoughts into Henry on how he would approach the fight. It was useless with the Dome blocking his thoughts, but he pushed anyway. He could do no less for his Brother. Henry went icy calm as he approached the Eschphene. Their eyes met, emerald green to oily black. There was no fear in Henry, and the Leader was surprised. He saw determination, along with a Will and Conviction he didn’t expect from a human. Those were traits of the Nephilim Changeling he had fought, and The Dark One said no human could exhibit them with the same strength, yet he saw the Wall Henry had built himself into. Ken cupped Drew’s head the same as Henry had, and he whispered in his hear, “Don’t watch, honey. Keep your head towards me.” Drew’s arms tightened around Ken’s neck as he cried. The adult part of him was fully functional, and he realized with Ken’s words that his dad was going to die. The worst thing he feared was coming to pass. Ken felt the change in Drew as the realization hit him that Henry didn’t expect to live, and the wailing pitch of his cries got higher, “No! Daddy! You can’t leave me!” His words were barely intelligible and cut into the hearts of all the men. Bryan was close to Ken, and he moved up behind Drew to kiss him on the top of his head and put his hand on him trying to comfort him. Drew sent his silent plea out to the Birdman. Help him! You have too! He can’t leave me! There was no response, which upset Drew even more. He was hysterical, his body shaking with sobs. He could barely breathe as he hiccupped, and his breath came in ragged gasps. His tears mixed with the spittle around his mouth and his little face was splotchy and red. His mouth was wide open, emitting an almost constant wail. The intensity in Drew roused the incarnations within him, and Brad had to intervene. The doctor said not to do that, but the circumstances were so extreme he didn’t know what else to do. It took a considerable amount of Power to hold them at bay, but he did. Brad isolated Drew from the manifestations, building a wall just as Henry always did. The incarnations were desperate to help Henry, just as Drew was. Interference could cost Henry his life prematurely, and Brad didn’t know the consequences to Drew if he tried. Drew reached for the Stone; it was instinctual, and he wanted it to give him the Power to save his dad. As painful as it was to do, Brad blocked his attempt. Drew was desperate and didn’t understand how his Uncle could keep him from helping Henry. The rest of the men added to Brad’s strength and pulled Drew deep into their Hearts, hoping their presence would help him in some small way. Each one of them appeared naked with Drew in their arms, holding him and whispering soothing words, but they were empty and had little effect. With Drew’s face hidden against Ken’s neck and shoulder, sobbing hysterically, they watched as the fight started. <><> No words were spoken. The Eschphene lumbered up to Henry, towering over him. The sheer mass of the creature dwarfed Henry. Its biceps alone were thicker than Henry’s waist. Henry had never pitted himself against such a creature; against Protectors and ‘Suits’ of The Enemy he was Powerful, but against an otherworldly being like what stood before him, he had no idea. Both times Ken faced an Eschphene Henry was incapacitated. The first time when Liz sacrificed herself to save Drew, Henry had been unconscious the entire time, knocked out by Brad. The second time Henry was trapped in a Construct with Drew while Ken and Loy fought the same Eschphene before him. Henry didn’t have an Avatar; he had none of the extra abilities of his Brothers. No Understanding, no Psychometry, no Teleportation, no connection to Yggdrasil or the Music of Creation… none of that. He would have to be equal to the task on his own, or fail. All he had was a father’s determination, fueled by the love of his son and of the Brothers he lived in and who lived in him. He had built himself into a Wall against anything that might harm his son. Let’s see how tough this wall is. Henry slowed his perception of Time as he took the opening stance of The Quintessential Dance. Even though he didn’t have the angelic Heritage of his Brothers, he was still grace in motion. Ken and Albrecht instilled the skills and knowledge in him, and he executed them flawlessly. Overconfident, the Eschphene wanted to squash the human quickly. He raised a massive, blocky fist and swung with all his might, attempting to crush the human. Henry took a gamble, but he knew if he was to have any chance against this creature, he had to test himself against it. He would make the attempt first, and if successful he would go more defensive and build a strategy. He was not giving up; he would fight to the death for his son, but Henry knew he was overmatched. He did not see any alternative outcome to his current situation other than his demise. The massive fist, larger than Henry’s torso, came down. It took a long time with his altered perception, but Henry was patient and braced himself. Red fire erupted across his physique, and his muscles swelled as adrenaline hit his heart, and he caught the blocky fist against his chest. Not only did Henry catch its massive fist, he used the creature’s momentum as he fell backward, flinging its body over his shoulder and against the dome nearly fifty feet away. Henry was prepared for the spikes in its body but didn’t have the knowledge of where they were other than the ones openly visible. One came out of its forearm, trying to stab through his shoulder as he executed his throw. Henry managed to move enough so the spike only grazed his skin, but it drew first blood. The Leader bellowed in rage and surprise as he flew through the air, slamming into the Dome and falling to the stone floor with a loud thump. As his Brothers watched, they had no idea if Henry could hear them, but shouted encouragement in a show of support. It took every bit of Henry’s strength to pull off the maneuver, but he made it look effortless, executing the movement with perfection. He surprised himself and grinned in satisfaction. The Leader rolled to its feet and charged. Henry deftly leapt up and kicked off his back… and so a game of cat and mouse began. Henry had no hope of tiring the creature out. He knew Ken tried that strategy before, and it was simply too strong for that. Eschphene physiology worked differently than human, and Henry’s plan wasn’t to tire him out but to enrage him into being careless. His plan was simple and basic, but effective if it worked… and it did. Henry dodged and caught many bone shards fired like projectiles out of the Eschphene’s body. He lost track of time as he kept his body in motion, fluidly avoiding the erratic attacks. He was sweating profusely and breathing heavily, but he was not tired. Henry’s body was a genetically and magically enhanced machine, and he knew it intimately. His Core Energy Center was bright and powerful, and he was at the height of his Power and strength. The problem with his tactic was the more enraged the Eschphene became, the faster he seemed to get. His movements were erratic and seemingly random, but he was blindingly fast for such a big muscular creature. The inevitable happened. As good as Henry was, without the abilities of his Brothers, the creature eventually landed a solid hit. It struck a blow that sent Henry flying against the wall of the Dome yards away. He tried to roll his body but was unable to do so, and his back and head slammed full force into the wall, knocking him senseless. Ken and the others saw, and their hearts leapt in their chests. Ken watched so intently he didn’t realize Drew had turned his head and saw Henry hit the wall and fall down. His little body jerked as if he was hit himself. The squeal that escaped him was almost unintelligible. “Daddy!” Henry rolled and kept rolling, desperately dodging the blows hammering down onto the stone floor trying to crush him. Another hit landed, pummeling him on the stone floor. His face was bloody now, and his actions sluggish as he tried to focus. The blows were brutal, like being hit with a two-ton hammer each time. One massive foot came down on Henry’s chest, and he felt ribs crack. His big arms grabbed the blocky foot, straining to push it up enough to breathe. His face was purple from the effort and sweat poured off him, mixed with blood from lacerations on his arms and legs. Veins in his neck, shoulders, and arms were visible from the strain, and he shook with effort. All Henry could think about was being a Wall. He had to be a Wall. Drew was on the other side of that Wall and every blow that got through could potentially kill his son. That was his image in the Centering Flame, and if it faltered as he was knocked about, he kept grabbing it and making it still again. His elbows pressed to the stone floor and with superhuman effort, Henry pushed the Eschphene off him, but the creature was only unbalanced and recovered quickly. Each man watched as their Brother was being whittled away, fighting bravely but ultimately overmatched. Tears ran down their handsome faces, and every time Henry took a hit, they felt it inside themselves. Every drop of blood and sweat he shed, they felt. They couldn’t help themselves, and many times would let out a ‘fuck!’ as Henry was pummeled or kicked… but he always got up. His eyes were nearly swollen shut, and blood covered him, dripping all over his body; he lost count of the lacerations from the bone spikes. He stood up again, spitting out blood along with a few teeth. His chest hurt with every breath, and he knew one of his lungs would probably puncture if another blow landed to his chest. He tried to dodge another fist but was too slow. Even though he didn’t feel pain like a normal human, insurmountable agony wracked his frame. He was picked up as he tried to clear his vision and found himself looking into the black eyes of the Leader. He saw the rage and insanity; he saw Drew’s death and his own. I am… a … Wall! The voice of the Eschphene filled his Mind in response to his thoughts. Walls break. I will crush you! Henry’s body lay cradled in the hand of the creature, his arms and legs splayed out and hanging limply. The Leader’s other massive fist came down, crushing what was left of Henry’s torso. Henry felt his chest cavity crack, and blood spurted from his mouth. At the edge of his hearing, through the pain, he thought he heard the sound of fluttering wings and wondered if it was Uriel coming to get him… The white lock in his hair glinted brightly in the dim light of the Dome as if it gave off its own Light. It reflected in the black orbs of the Eschphene’s eyes as he lifted a massive blocky fist one last time to kill him. <> Henry started, not knowing where he was. The sun was bright and warm, and there was a gentle breeze outside. It took him a moment to realize he was on top of Stone Mountain. His head rested on Liz’s lap as she ran her fingers through his short hair. Henry remembered her hands and how they could turn him on like lightning. He was a big, rugged man, handsome and muscular, but her soft, gentle hands could tame him in a heartbeat. The engagement ring was in his pocket, but the time wasn’t right. Glancing over, he saw Drew dragging Loy by his hand to come over and play. The oddest sense of déjà vu washed over him. What’s going on? The light was strange… everything seemed yellow, almost like an old muted sepia tone photo. He felt like he was in a memory. Liz said, “I swear, all those big muscles and the ‘D’ word brings you to your knees.” Henry remembered the first time Drew called him ‘Daddy.’ He was excited, and it flowed so naturally from his lips it struck Henry to his core. He never thought he could have a life again, not after becoming the monster The Enemy turned him into. He hadn’t deserved to live after what he did… but Loy rescued him, and his Brothers broke the Power the Enemy held over his Mind, freeing him. They gave him a life again, and one he wanted. He sat up with a scowl on his face, knowing something wasn’t right. “What’s wrong, honey?” Henry mumbled, “This can’t be. You’re dead. You can’t be here.” He saw Ken and Brad together nearby and Loy and Rick coming over with Drew. Sally stood off in the distance admiring the view. Everything was moving in slow motion in his Mind. Again, he thought: What’s going on? A sharp tingle burned on his scalp, and his hand jerked to the white lock of hair. Liz said, “Henry, let’s go away together, just the two of us. Somewhere no one will ever find us.” He wanted to. It would be perfect to have just the three of them... wait! Liz said the two of them. She wasn’t including Drew! Liz couldn’t be real. She sacrificed her Soul and didn’t exist anymore. She would never abandon her son. He whispered again, “You can’t be real.” “I’m real Henry, or I can be. If you let go, we can be together. The guys will take care of Drew; you know they will. Come be with me, and we’ll be happy. We can have another son.” Henry looked at Liz like he didn’t know her. She would never say that; not his Liz. She loved Drew enough to sacrifice her very existence for a chance he would survive and grow. “Who are you?” Her mannerisms were just like Liz’s. She smelled like Liz. She reached out and put a hand on his bicep, just like Liz used to do… that touch that drove him crazy for her. Her other hand moved up and brushed the hair off his forehead. He grabbed her hand gently but firmly, and said, “Stop it. I can’t think when you do that.” She frowned and said, “What’s this?” She saw the lock of white hair and her hand jerked back as if it burned her when she touched it. <> The Eschphene Leader lifted Henry’s limp body over his head. Henry’s fingers twitched feebly, clawing at the air. He had to be a Wall, but The Wall was crumbling. He had to hold on. Must... …Be… …a Wall. His head lolled to one side, and he could barely see through his swollen eyes. The Dome made things hazy, but he saw Drew struggling to reach him. Ken held him, but he was squirming and kicking, fighting with all the strength in his little body to get away and run to Henry. Henry couldn’t hear, but he could tell how frantic Drew was from the look on his face. In his Mind, he listened to the high-pitched wail Drew only used when he was hysterical. That sound was burned in Henry’s Mind from the day at Wal-Mart shortly after Liz’s death when Drew thought Henry was leaving him. His arm extended, and he straightened his fingers; every move was torment. He desperately reached for his son, clawing at empty air... <> Henry scowled and moved away. “Who are you?” Her visage changed, and her eyes turned black. “I’m a choice, Henry. Give up your life and come with me. I promise we can be happy together. Renounce your hold on Drew, back to Doug. The pain will stop, and we can go away together forever.” Henry was confused. What’s happening? The lock of white hair burned, and he yelled in pain and surprise. The pain gave him clarity and wisdom to see through the Glamour the Eschphene cast over his Mind. Liz’s face contorted with rage, and she shouted, “How can this be? You cannot overcome me!” <> The Eschphene’s Magic bore down on Henry’s Mind. He crushed the human’s body, but he wanted to force him to renounce his hold on the boy. The Dark One told him the boy’s natural father must regain his right for their plan to work. That would happen upon Henry’s death, but the Leader, in his ego and insanity, needed to make the human say it. After thousands of his people died while trying to capture the boy, he needed to make the human and the Nephilim suffer. Being forced to give up the Blood Right to his son would be a small victory, but one that would taste too sweet to pass up. The Leader had been thwarted at every turn by the Nephilim, even losing his son. He wanted to inflict as much pain on them in their defeat as he possibly could. He desired to utterly dominate the human and cause as much suffering as he could both mental and physical, to make them pay. He bore down harder on Henry’s Mind. The White lock of hair on Henry’s head flared brightly and burned in response. Something happened, and Henry saw into the Eschphene’s Mind. Whatever was happening connected them and worked both ways. Henry saw the Eschphene’s plan for Drew, and it terrified him. He had to hold on, no matter what! Henry was so broken he had no idea how he could fight back, but he had to do something! He tried contacting Brad to let him know what he learned, but the Dome blocked him. If he died, the guys would never know the plan the Eschphene had for Drew. His mouth was so swollen Henry could barely talk, but he yelled, “I’ll never renounce Drew back to that bastard!” Blood spit from his mouth as he shouted. His words were distorted from the swelling of his jaw and mouth, but his intent was clear and the Eschphene was enraged even more at Henry’s defiance. <> Henry’s brain clicked, and he realized what was going on. He knew Liz would never want Doug back in Drew’s life. Henry had never been a saint while growing up, but he had never hit a woman. He was pretty sure whatever Liz was in front of him, it wasn’t a woman. Blindingly fast, Henry grabbed her throat. In the Glamour his body was healthy and whole. His arm became steel and he grabbed Liz by her throat, lifting her off the ground until her feet kicked in the open air. His fingers clenched tightly and he started to bear down and break her neck. <> Pat saw something happening between Henry and the Eschphene. Henry’s body was broken, and he seemed only a few breaths away from death. He saw Eschphene Magic working on Henry, and the white lock in his hair flared. It formed some sort of Shield over his Mind and Heart… it wasn’t visible, but it was clear to Pat’s Understanding. It wasn’t precisely a Shield; it was more like a filter. It augmented Henry in some way he couldn’t tell yet… the Dome interfered with his vision enough his Avatar couldn’t discern it. He focused hard, trying to figure out what he was seeing. Suddenly, the Eschphene clutched at his throat and staggered backward. The momentary reprieve gave Henry a few extra seconds. It also gave his Brothers more time to witness his suffering. <> Henry shouted at Liz, “You’re him, aren’t you!? You bastard!” Henry bore down with all the strength in his powerful body. His bicep flexed, and the cords in his arm were visible as he exerted every bit of strength in his arm and hand. <> The Eschphene clutched at his throat and withdrew from the human’s Mind. How could that happen? No human could see through Eschphene Magic! The white lock on Henry’s head burned like a fire in the Leader’s Mind, and he knew that was the source of whatever happened. <> Wall… Must… be… a … Wall. Henry used the words as a Mantra and his Centering Flame, shattered before, resumed clear and steady in his Mind. Every breath was painful. Being alive was painful. He had never been in so much agony, not even in his conversion by the Enemy into a Protector. Ken and Darren had been tortured nearly to death, and Henry now knew how that felt. It wasn’t a competition, but the fact they survived the torture gave him hope and courage to fight harder. He couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing them, or Drew. He tried to force his vision to clear, but he was in so much pain. Only one lung was working, and so many bones were broken. He used his Core Energy Center to draw oxygen into his body to supplement his one working lung. The Love he had for his son and his Brothers was the only thing keeping him alive, but he wasn’t sure how much longer he had. What blood remained in his body was spilling out. He forced one eye open. The Eschphene had him cradled in one hand up close to his face, looking at him. Henry looked back with blurred vision into those black eyes, widened in surprise. The Eschphene never expected such resolve from a human; the Dark One told him it was impossible! But the human bore a Mark he had never encountered before. Henry’s arm shook with the effort to close his fist. He had multiple fractures in his arm, but he tensed his muscles, forcing them to comply with his will. He swung his fist as hard as he could into the closest eye of the Leader’s big square head. The Leader screamed in pain, clutching at his face and dropping Henry, who fell to the stone floor, landing hard. The creature was partially blinded, holding one hand over his eye and his other hand still clutched his throat. Ken, Brad, and the others watched, praying either for a quick end or that Henry had some final trick up his sleeve. They didn’t Understand how the Eschphene had become injured, holding his throat. The Dome was blocking too much, and they only had their normal eyesight to go on. With no knowledge of what was happening, they were afraid to hope that Henry found a way to fight back. Henry rolled towards the Eschphene instead of away. They didn’t know if he was confused, or if he did it on purpose. The suspense was killing them! <> Liz disappeared, and Henry sat down slowly, fighting back tears. Fuck! I blew it! He knew his body was broken. His only chance had been to kill the Eschphene in the Construct or whatever it was, and he failed. He had his hand around its throat and didn’t squeeze quickly or tightly enough. Looking around, he saw Ken and Brad looking at him. Loy and Rick were only a few feet away, and Drew was in Loy’s arms. In unison, they told him, “Hang on Henry! Dig deep! Don’t give up!” Drew practically yelled at him, “I love you, Daddy!” Henry knew it wasn’t them and wondered at their encouragement. It didn’t make sense. The last thing he saw was a white dove fluttering by, startling him. He wasn’t sure if the wings he heard were the doves, or Uriel’s coming to take him Home as life was leaving his body. <> Henry screamed as he landed on the ground, falling nearly ten feet onto hard stone. Every broken bone in his body shrieked, and he should have blacked out, but his pain hit the Wall. He barely clung to consciousness; in his Heart, he was striving to reach Drew’s outstretched hand. His back arched in pain and his body jerked, but he rolled towards the Eschphene. The creature’s bellow of pain and rage shook the Dome. The promises of The Dark One were empty! The human should never have been able to defy his might or his Magic. He stood over Henry, black blood flowing down his face from a useless eye. The sigils covering his massive body flared brightly, glowing with red-orange light. The muscles of his body bunched and rippled. One long bone shard protruded out of his thick forearm, and he drove the shard down and through Henry’s thigh, impaling him onto the stone floor. <> Their pain was intolerable as they watched Henry struggle against the impossible, but he wouldn’t give up. It wasn’t in him. His bravery was beyond words, and Pat saw Henry should be dead. He was dying as they watched; as he screamed when his leg was impaled. They had no idea how he could still be alive. The tension in all of them from their emotions was unbearable. Tears flowed as they held one another tight. They couldn’t bear to see his suffering, but they wouldn’t cheapen or dishonor his efforts by looking away. They couldn’t; they owed him that. His courage and tenacity would be remembered; they would make sure of it. His suffering tore at them, and Drew’s cries hurt them just as deep, but there was no comfort at the moment for any of them. Drew struggled so hard to get away, Ken was afraid he was going to hurt him. Ken tried to resettle him, but Drew kicked off his chest and slipped to the ground putting his acrobatic training to use. Ken didn’t know why he hesitated; with his enhanced speed and agility he could have easily caught Drew, but he didn’t. It was as if he wasn’t meant to grab him, or something inside him told him not to. Drew ran to the Dome, only a short distance away and pressed his body against it, beating his fists and kicking it, trying to break through and get to Henry. He threw all the Power in him at the Dome, but it was ineffectual. He couldn’t get the Stone, and the others inside him were walled off by his Uncle Brad. His tears fell on the Dome and dripped down. His vision was so blurred from crying he could hardly see as he cried for his dad over and over. He was only there a few seconds, but Henry saw his little body pushed against the transparent wall as Ken moved to pick him up. Ken’s hand wrapped around Drew’s waist, and he continued to kick and scream. Henry couldn’t hear Drew with his ears, but he heard him nonetheless, in his Heart, and it tore at him to see his son so distraught. Henry’s Mind went back to the night he merged with Drew on ZEUS, the night he realized Drew knew everything about The Master and the fact he was Drew’s brother. Drew hadn’t seemed upset because Henry was with him. Henry had always wondered how he could possibly fill the role of a parent after Liz was gone, but when he looked in his son and realized how Drew saw him, it humbled him beyond words. How Drew had come to love Henry so much astounded him, and he wasn’t afraid because he knew his dad would always be with him. Henry promised Drew on multiple occasions that he would never leave him, and that promise was about to be broken. That fact hurt Henry more than everything else he endured in the fight. How much more Henry could take, they didn’t know. By all accounts, he should already be dead. Every twitch of his pain-wracked body caused more tears in all of them. They wanted him to give up and end it all, but at the same time, they couldn’t stand to lose him. The hole he would leave inside them was unimaginable. On top of that, they didn’t know how Drew could succeed without Henry by his side. All of their plans included Henry. They reeled inside at how quickly everything became so fucked-up and what they were witnessing. <> Henry writhed on the ground, clutching the bone shard pinning his leg to the stone floor. He grabbed the shard, glad of his gloves as they smoked where he touched it, glowing and smoldering with sigils. He tried to kick at it with his other foot, fighting through the pain in his leg, but his effort was too feeble. There wasn’t anywhere on or in his body that didn’t hurt. Drew needed him. He couldn’t break his promise. He had to be a Wall. I AM A FUCKING WALL, DAMNIT! His Mind went back again to his merging with Drew. Drew saw Henry as a tower of strength, always knowing what to say and making him feel safe. He loved the smell of Henry’s aftershave, even his sweat from working out all the time with his Uncles. He loved the feel of Henry’s body when they slept together, and Henry’s hands washing him in the shower. It wasn’t sexual, it was a bonding between a father and his son, and it ran deep. Thoughts of Drew and his Brothers continued flashing through Henry’s Mind. How much they helped him and loved him and how much they loved and helped his son. They would do anything for him, and he couldn’t do any less for them. <> The Eschphene couldn’t believe the tenacity of the human. The fight should have been over in seconds, and it had been going on for half an hour. It was an embarrassment before The Dark One himself, and he was infuriated. He kicked at Henry, but with his eye useless, his depth perception was off. He missed Henry and hit the bone shard, snapping it off where it was stuck in the stone floor. Henry screamed again as the raw nerves of his leg were abraded by the rough shard when it pulled loose. The Eschphene let out another roar of hatred and frustration as he moved to stand over Henry. He raised both massive arms, intending to bring his blocky fists down and finally crush the life out of his opponent and end the charade. Henry slowed his perception of Time. It prolonged his agony and suffering, but he persevered. The Wall held; it was cracked and crumbling, but it was still there. With every breath another brick crumbled, weakening as death approached. He saw the creature rear up with his arms over his head, his knees bent, and his body bowed back, bringing all his massive strength to bear. Henry managed to get an elbow under himself and lean up enough to grab the bone shard. His right leg was now completely useless, dead weight and dangling from his body, nearly severed. As he leaned up, he saw the hole in his leg and was surprised at how big it was. Blood poured from the wound, along with all his other lacerations, pooling and making the floor slick. If not for the blood allowing him to slide easily, he never would have had the strength to move into position. Henry knew if his ploy worked, he would never hear the end of it, and he smiled in his Mind; at least that wasn’t painful. It was his one chance, and it was a long shot. The tip of the bone shard was razor-sharp, and the Magic of its sigils made it a powerful weapon. He wasn’t sure if the magic would affect the Eschphene being its own, but the shard was separated from his body and independent. It was the only weapon he had, so it was that or nothing. He steeled himself, and the Wall of his Will fortified for the effort he was about to make. Time moved slowly, stretching out his suffering, but he couldn’t speed it up and take the chance of making a mistake. He felt the trickles of sweat and blood covering his muscular body, frozen mid-drip. His sense of clarity at the moment was almost frightening, and the white lock of hair on his head shone brightly. The Eschphene’s arms went up, his back arched and his knees lowered, trying to use the full force of his body to crush the life out of Henry in one last blow. As his knees bent, his groin thrust out by the bowing of his body. The creature wore wrappings around his legs and crotch, and the outline of his huge genitals were visible. After Ken’s first battle with an Eschphene, Henry heard the guys in the shower making jokes about how many balls were in the sac of the one Ken killed in Stone Mountain Park. He knew they couldn’t lie, and never would, but he thought there might be some exaggeration. There wasn’t. The creatures ball sac was enormous, and a perfect target. His timing was perfect as he tightened his abdominal muscles, screaming as pain shot through his body, but his Centering Flame never faltered. The tip of the smoldering bone shard, razor-sharp, sliced through the wrappings and the tough, leathery skin of its scrotum. With a mighty effort, Henry twisted the shard inside the sack cutting loose its contents. He watched with slowed perception as the skin separated and the Leader’s testes scattered like marbles. A wave of pain and shock hit the Eschphene’s body as Henry eviscerated his maleness. His big blocky hands immediately went to his crotch, clutching at the now empty sac. His one eye saw his testes fall and scatter across the floor. The stone floor shook as his body crumpled in pain. Henry let the rage loose he had kept contained, no longer needing the control. The anger let him fend off his pain. As the Leader thrashed on the floor, his big member flopped about, freed from the wrappings Henry just sliced through. It was huge and an easy target. Henry managed to lean forward enough to grab it with one hand and sliced it off with the bone shard. If he survived, he could already hear the shit talk the guys would lay on him over the events of his fight. Maybe one day he would be able to laugh about them too, but not today. Today, it was life or death for himself and Drew. Black blood gushed from the Leader’s wounds, not enough to kill him, but the pain was debilitating at least for a few seconds, and that was all Henry needed. With a superhuman effort, he slid himself in their mixed blood. Henry’s vision was fading fast, and he knew his heart was failing. There wasn’t enough blood left in his body to maintain life. He punched at the Leader’s hands covering his severed and empty genitalia, causing his lipless mouth to open in a scream of pain, and with the last of his strength, Henry drove the smoldering bone shard into the monster’s mouth, through his skull, and into the stone floor. His sense of Time was still slowed, and the last thing he saw was the look of disbelief and pain on the Eschphene’s flat face, with the glowing bone shard from his own body impaled through his brain and skull. A wisp of smoke, snaking out of his open mouth, frozen in the air. Henry knew the Dome would go away when one, or both of them, were dead. He heard the sound of fluttering wings again, and as his vision faded, he saw a bright blinding light… <> Henry sat in a booth at Waffle House. Blinding light from the sun coming through the window made him raise a hand to cover his eyes. Henry was shocked and looked at his body. He felt fine and looked normal. He had on shorts and flip-flops and his “World’s Greatest Dad” T-shirt. A waitress whose nametag said ‘Lula’ came over and set two big slices of pie on the table, one chocolate cream and the other apple. “Here ‘ya go, darlin’! Take yer pick!” Her semi-toothless smile was bright and refreshing. She pulled the strings controlling the blinds on the window and lowered them so Henry could see. He looked at the pie and jumped when he realized he wasn’t alone. A man sat in the booth across from him. He hadn’t been there a second ago. It was Drew’s ‘Birdman.’ His eyes were bright, and a tear leaked from the corner of his eye as he said, “I’m so proud of you, Henry.” Henry wasn’t sure what his tears were for. “They are for you, Henry.” Henry could only stare at the man. His handsome, well-worn face was comforting. He had crow’s feet around his eyes Henry hadn’t noticed the first time they met. Henry said the first thing that came to his mind, and it made him feel foolish. “I’m sorry I didn’t shake your hand last time.” He held his hand out, and the man took it. His grip was solid and warm and vastly comforting. His hands were rough and calloused, like a laborer. “That’s alright, Henry.” He glanced at the pie and said, “Eat.” Henry was confused, “Am I dead? Did I make it?” Miss Lula showed up interrupting them, saying, “Here’s your coffee. You haven’t touched your pie!” The man nodded to Henry and said, “Choose!” Henry looked at the two pieces of pie, and a cold feeling went through him. “Is this a test?” The man threw his head back and laughed, asking, “Do you mean like a blue pill or a red pill? Oh, my heavens no. That’s funny, Henry. Thank you for that. It’s not a test, I promise. Take whichever is your favorite.” Henry blushed and asked, “Don’t you know what my favorite is? You know…” “Yes, I do Henry, but I want you to choose. You have the freedom to choose. That’s the point.” Henry wasn’t sure if the man dodged his question, so he asked again, “Am I dead?” “You are dying. Your heart has stopped, and in a matter of seconds your brain will cease to function.” Henry’s eyes teared up, “What about Drew? I know the guys will look after him, but he needs me…” after a short pause, he whispered, “I need him too.” The man smiled, and Henry saw it in his eyes. All of Creation rested in his eyes. “Whether you live is up to you and your Brothers, Henry. I know how much the fight cost you, but if you want to live and stay with Drew, you need to dig a little deeper.” Henry completely shifted gears, “Is Liz really gone? Can’t you bring her back?” “That’s complicated, Henry.” “But…” “Let’s not go there.” “Why am I here?” “So we can talk over pie and coffee. So I can tell you how proud I am of you. Regardless of today’s outcome, your actions were heroic. As I said before, you are an exceptional father, and Drew could do no better.” “Thank you.” Miss Lula came back and put their ticket on the table face down. The man reached for it quickly and picked it up before Henry could see what was on it. The man smiled, and with a wink said, “I’ve got this one.” Henry didn’t see the price of the ticket. At the bottom instead of a dollar figure, Henry’s name was written in. <><> Ken and the others didn’t know what to do. They watched, impossibly, as Henry eviscerated the Eschphene Leader and impaled the bone shard through his skull, killing him. Pat’s Avatar had theirs synchronized, and he was finally able to see as Henry’s heart stilled. They waited, and Time seemed to have stopped on its own. Through Pat’s Understanding, they watched Henry’s body shutting down. The electrical impulses in his brain spiked a little, and his Core Energy Center flared almost imperceptibly one final time. Tears streamed down their faces, and their hearts were in their throats. The anticipation was almost too much to bear, but all they could do was watch and wait. Drew looked back at Ken and dove against his neck, squeezing his Uncle with all the strength in his little arms, sobbing so hard he could barely breathe. <><> Henry was only aware of the pain, and the remnants of the Wall he built to Protect his son. The Wall was still there, but mostly in pieces. He did it! That bastard was dead! He couldn’t touch Drew or follow through with their insane plan. Németh would take over, and Drew was safe from them! Now for the hard part. He tried to suck in air and couldn’t. Both his lungs had collapsed. His body didn’t have enough blood to sustain life. He was battered and bruised and broken. His brain needed oxygen. He felt his Soul wanting to leave his body. He thrust what remained of the Wall around that dark place inside himself. No! I have to hold on! He had one last hope, and it would kill him. He laughed at that thought as he lay there, past the brink of death. He knew his Brothers were watching. He would do his part, and he trusted them to do theirs. Love and Trust were the basis of the bonds they shared as they carried each other and cared for each other. He remembered sleeping with Brad and Ken the night before, and what a comfort it was. If he had the energy to laugh, he would have at Ken’s reaction when Henry woke in the middle of the night with a piss hardon pressing against Brad’s back. After all their training together, and everything they had been through, he knew they would have his back as long as he gave them a chance. He trusted them with his life. He channeled the last bit of his Core Energy, drawing enough oxygen for his brain to function another few seconds. That was the last of the Energy in his body… and then he died. <><> Pat: Fuck! Time seemed to be moving in slow motion. Uriel appeared in a blaze of Light, his Wings stretched wide. He turned towards Henry and the Eschphene Leader and paused. Uriel’s Light reflected off the White Lock of hair on Henry’s head, blinding the Archangel and making him throw up an arm to cover his eyes. They watched in confusion as Uriel raised his arm to cover his eyes, and also the Dome with bated breath. It shimmered slightly, and The Eschphene Leader’s half faded first. The relief in Németh was tangible, and his words filled their Minds. Go to him! The Eschphene Guards, the Leader’s entourage, surged forward and then stopped. The Magic of the Ritual completed and with Németh now in control, he stopped them in their tracks. Uriel recovered and his Wings spread out, moving to sweep Henry’s Soul along with the Eschphene’s to take them to the next phase of their existence. Ken made it to Henry first, setting Drew down as he ran. He pulled Henry against him as his Soul left his body, hovering over his chest. Thick White ropes of Healing arced from Lane’s hands and into Henry’s body. There was no time for a gentle Healing, and Ken held him tightly as his body convulsed. The White ropes entered Henry’s body a millisecond before Uriel’s wings brushed by… and Henry’s Soul was no longer there for him to take. Darren and Pat pulled from everyone. Darren synchronized their Avatars, and the bones in Henry’s body straightened and knitted back together while his chest heaved and his lungs inflated. Darren cleaned up all the blood, making it vanish. Uriel collected the Eschphene Soul, but Henry’s eluded him, and he looked at them with wide eyes. He stood tall, and they saw the corner of his mouth turn up in the same tight smile Bryan used on occasion when he was pleased with something. The Archangel nodded to them as a single tear, glowing with its own Light, fell down his cheek over what he witnessed. He only paused a second and then turned, his wings becoming raven black as he launched himself into the air, disappearing with the Eschphene’s Soul. Drew threw himself on Henry’s chest, wailing. His arms went around his father's neck as Henry’s eyes opened. Everyone surrounded him, relief surging through them. Their Brother was alive! Henry was covered in a thick sweat from the Healing, but his body was fresh and whole again. His Soul became One with them, and it was even brighter and stronger than before. They saw and felt his meeting with God in the Waffle House in the space between his last breaths. Their tears transformed from sorrow to joy, and their handsome faces broke into smiles as they unabashedly cried. They formed a giant ball of muscle surrounding Henry, holding him and each other and crying with relief. Henry held his sobbing son against him and kissed his cheek, whispering, “It’s okay, honey! I’m fine! I made it!” Drew couldn’t talk and didn’t understand anything other than his father was alive and talking to him, and his big arms held him tight. Ken’s arms were around both of them and then everyone else’s. Ken kissed the back of Henry’s sweaty head, whispering “Fuck! You’re alright! You did it!” He kept repeating his words, wanting them both to know it as if repeating it made it even more real. They were bound together even tighter in the place where they were One. They held Henry as snuggly as ever, and he knew what they went through watching him fight. They were with him in spirit, never leaving his side, and experiencing everything with him. His pain and suffering were theirs, and their joy of him being alive and with them was his. <><><> Luke watched in disbelief as Henry bested the Eschphene Leader. All his plans, the centuries of scheming and corrupting the Eschphene people, were for nothing. With Németh’s return, by their Laws and High Magic, his Ideology and Wisdom would rule them. They lived a collective existence, and Németh washed out every bit of Luke’s influence in a matter of seconds. Holding Henry against his body, Ken and the others noticed the look on Luke’s face from across the stone courtyard. Collectively, they raised their middle fingers, shooting Luke a bird. Lane was about to turn around and moon him when Luke vanished. They all stood, and Ken pulled Henry to his feet. Drew held onto Henry’s torso like a spider, finally beginning to calm down. Brad kept their loving presence in his young Mind to try and soothe him, and with Henry alive, his emotions were slowly normalizing. He was still terribly upset; his world rocked from seeing Henry so brutally beaten and dying in front of him. <><><> A short time later, Németh approached with his lipless mouth curved in a smile. It was a strange sight, and one an Eschphene face didn’t seem designed for. When he stopped, he bowed to Henry. Thank you, Henry Ross. You made possible something I thought impossible. You have my gratitude and the gratitude of my people. Your actions are heroic and will be recorded in the annals of our history for all to know. Henry blushed, and didn’t know what to say other than, “You’re welcome.” I will honor our agreement and alter the Stone as you wish. Do you have it? Henry looked at Drew, who was finally calmer but refused to leave the arms of his dad, and asked, “Honey, can you do what we talked about?” Drew sniffed loudly and wiped his nose with the sleeve of his hoody. “I think so, Daddy.” He was still having trouble talking and occasionally hiccupping. Brad released the barrier in Drew’s Mind that kept him from summoning the Stone. “Let’s cover your hands. Remember it can’t touch your skin.” Henry pulled his gloves off, and they dwarfed Drew’s hands, but they would serve as the buffer needed to keep the Stone from touching Drew. The previous Trap was still active, and if Drew touched the Stone, he would be sucked back into it. His little brow furrowed, and it took a minute. Drew was breathing hard by the time the Stone appeared. All the other times he called the Stone he was in an emotional state of shock or turmoil, but his practice with the doctor and Albrecht and Henry was paying off. With the chaos of the day his Flame wavered, but with Henry’s encouragement he got it under control. The Stone appeared in his gloved hand. He looked at it for a second and then held his hand out to Németh who took it from him. I will return. With the adrenaline fading, the guys were coming down off their emotional high. Henry was physically fine but wanted to get Drew back to Atlanta and get them both a hot shower and into bed. He would face the trauma of what Drew endured the next day. He knew there would be severe repercussions with his son over what he saw and experienced. Henry knew he had to face his own trauma. Even through the elation he and his Brothers felt at his survival, what he endured was traumatic. Ken and Darren knew it best, but they all realized it and would help him through it. Henry needed to calm his own Mind and Shield his thoughts from Drew. The unfairness of the pressure resting on Drew’s little shoulders, and the things he was forced to endure as a six-year-old boy were beyond imagining. Seeing Henry so brutalized while trying to Protect him was another item on a long list of things no child should ever be forced to witness. Henry’s Brothers heard his thoughts, but there was nothing they could do about them at the moment. They had to take what came their way in their attempts to help prepare Drew for his confrontation with The Master. As fucked-up as much of it was, they didn’t have a choice, but Brad also reminded Henry of the Love surrounding Drew, not only from Henry but from all of them. They were another Wall around Henry’s Love, and that made a huge difference. All of them were getting antsy by the time Németh returned and handed the Stone to Drew. Henry nudged his son, saying, “What do you say, Drew?” Drew’s voice was subdued, but he said, “Thank you, Mr. Németh.” You are most welcome, child. Németh looked at Ken. I pray your plan works. Ken said, “We’ll be goin’ now, Németh. It’s nice ‘ta know we’re not at odds with your people anymore.” Farewell, for now, Nephilim. Today shines more brightly because of you and your Brother. Dar: Alright, ladies, boarding passes, please! Brad said out loud, “Just one more thing. Drew?” Drew held the Stone in his gloved hand and said loudly, “Mr. Thomin! You can have it back now! Thanks for letting me borrow it!” The Stone vanished, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The Stone was safe in Thomin’s Vault, where nothing could touch it. It was now ready, a trap for The Master that might give Drew the chance he needed to survive. A second later they vanished, taken by Darren back to the Realm of their birth. (** Epilogue One **) One week later Life was back to normal… well as normal as it could get for ten half-angel former Navy SEALS, their Brother Henry, and Drew. With love and patience, Henry and Drew began to work through everything that happened the week before. The men were traumatized too and needed their own comfort, which they found mostly in each other's arms. Henry found himself and Drew sleeping with whoever was on the roster with him. He needed their physical closeness, and they needed his. Drew always loved sleeping with his Uncles, and the Wolf-Spirit guarded not only Drew’s Dreams but Henry’s as well. She guided him in his Dreams and helped him work through much of his trauma. She was as much of a help to him as his Brothers, and the doctor and Albrecht. Loy slept in Rick’s arms, his favorite place to be. They were in Australia on the roster. Henry was in Atlanta with Bill, Kevin, Brad, and Ken. Loy and Rick made intense love to one another through most of the night, still reacting to the emotional turmoil of witnessing the brutal fight and Henry nearly dying. A part of them would have died with him if that had happened, and they fought those feelings off with their physical love for one another. They wished they were in Atlanta with Henry and Drew, but also laughed because there wasn’t a bed big enough for all of them. They knew through their Link that Henry was sandwiched between Ken and Brad, and Drew was in bed with Kevin, Bill, Tommy, and Brett. The roster just happened to work out that way on that particular night. Loy woke up, content and listening to Rick sleep, enjoying the feel of their bodies pressed together. He had to pee badly and didn’t want to wake Rick up. There was no getting around it though, Rick was a light sleeper, and with his enhanced senses it was almost impossible not to wake him. Loy teleported from the bed to the door. Rick immediately rolled over and looked to make sure he was alright. He saw Loy’s piss hard-on and smiled sleepily. Go drain the lizard. Then come back and let me drain him again. Loy smiled and winked as he opened the door to pad down the hall to the bathroom. Everyone else was asleep, and he made as little noise as possible. He noticed a light on in the kitchen and something on the table. He moved to the kitchen, and saw a box with a note on it that said “Loy.” He recognized Lane’s handwriting and wondered what it could be. He took the lid off and there two small objects wrapped in tissue paper. He flipped the note open and read: Hey, Loy. I made these for you to remember what happened. I didn’t have a Dream or anything, but I know what happened touched you pretty deep. I wanted to make something beautiful out of what happened there. I hope using a little of the ivory doesn’t piss you off… it was already taken, and I wanted to turn some bad into good. Not sure where you’ll put these if you want to keep them. Anyway… I hope you like ‘em, Brother. Love, Lane Loy picked up the larger of the two bundles and unwrapped the tissue paper. His breath caught in his chest, and he choked up. Lane had carved a beautifully stylized elephant; it was the mother he rescued, the one that called to him from halfway around the planet as the poachers were killing her. He unwrapped the smaller bundle, and it was her calf. They were amazing, and a tear fell down his handsome face at the beauty of what Lane crafted for him. Lane could be so goofy sometimes, but he was also a beautiful Soul, and every so often he touched Loy in a way that was profound beyond words. He Read the two small carvings as soon as he touched them and he felt the loving care Lane put into the effort. Lane and Bryan cleansed the ivory of the harsh impressions of the brutal killings and replaced them with the Unconditional Love the elephant and her calf held for Loy as their Steward. Rick picked up on Loy’s emotional rush and quickly padded down the hall to the kitchen. He saw what Loy was holding, and Loy handed him the note. Rick smiled and moved behind his husband, wrapping his arms around him and holding him tight. Rick: They’re beautiful. Loy: Fuck, he kills me when he does stuff like this. How in the world does he think I could be pissed at something so thoughtful and beautiful? Loy went to the bathroom, and they went back to bed, but not before Loy put the carvings on the dresser in their room. He would have to find a prominent place to keep them as a reminder of what happened, and also because they were from Lane, and meant so much to him. He couldn’t wait to show them to everyone else. (** Epilogue Two **) A ‘Suit’ stood inside the door, waiting for his Master’s acknowledgment. The Master sensed the fear in his Servant and wondered at the news he brought. Certainly not good if he was afraid of being killed. Finally, The Master’s deep voice broke the silence. “Come forward. Speak.” The man moved into the room and bowed low, not making eye contact. “We’ve had word, Master, of difficulties in Africa, in the Congo. Our supply trade has been interrupted. The Order is responsible, and Loy Barton sent a message directed to you.” “Leave me.” The Master would listen to the message the Nephilim Abomination known as Loy Barton left him some other time. He knew what it said, regardless. The messenger looked awkwardly relieved. Usually The Master would have killed him for being the bearer of ill tidings, but lately, he had been forced to curb his appetites. The numbers of his servants were dwindling, and as much as it galled him not to kill the man, he refrained. The Master felt the stirring in Creation. He felt the Ripples. The time of his confrontation with The Order was nearly upon them. The Master saw it as a time of renewing his Reign over the Physical Realm. Protected by the Curse, he would destroy them. They claimed to know a way to defeat him, but no such way existed. He had been assured of that by The Dark One, Ages ago when he was given Dominion over the Physical Realm. Somehow his brother had returned and was a part of everything. That piece remained unclear, but The Master’s confidence in the Curse was unshakable, and he knew he would be victorious. Let The Order think they could succeed. It would make breaking them all the sweeter.
  9. btaoc1963

    Chapter 27

    (** Prologue **) A.D. 509 Tears dripped down Taliesin’s face as his fingers plucked the harp strings. He sang in perfect pitch, too proud of his voice and talent to let emotions prevent him from performing the Lay in honor of the man who lay dying… Áedán, the man he loved dearly. Taliesin’s grief over Áedán was powerful, but his guilt overpowered even that. His heart ached with conflicted emotions over events that led to that moment. His actions, uncharacteristically sporadic, were driven by passion rather than intellect and ultimately resulted in Áedán’s demise. As Áedán’s Court Bard, it was Taliesin’s duty to perform the Lay, and he took it seriously. Áedán was the most powerful mortal ally of The Order in the known world; however, he refused to be a part of the ancient Brotherhood. Áedán bowed to no one, not even Charisa, Bearer of the Mantle. He considered himself a righteous man and followed his own heart, a great Leader and Commander of men, the greatest in his Age of the world certainly. With Áedán’s death, his Kingdom would end, and his Court assembled for its final time. There were no heirs or bastard children, and the time of his influence in the world was over. His Light, which shone so brightly in the world when it was desperately needed, would dim and fade into history. His final command, given to all his Knights, was to disband and return to their countries, homes, and families, and live the remainder of their lives in peace. Conflict raged within Taliesin’s Heart. Áedán did not care for Charisa, and Taliesin was torn between his love of the two. He begged Charisa to come and Heal Áedán’s wounds, knowing The Mantle would give her the power to do so if she wished. For reasons of her own she refused, but she did travel to Ynys y Afalau to witness events surrounding his death as a Chronicler. Taliesin’s plan in seeking her assistance backfired. In his attempts to convince her to Heal Áedán he lied, telling her he had a Dream regarding Áedán. She pressed him for details, and due to a slip of his tongue she deduced Taliesin’s Dream must lie in the future. She would not Heal his wounds but would Preserve the Chamber so it would remain unaffected by the passage of Time until reopened. At that time Áedán could re-enter the world if he were destined to do so. Taliesin knew Áedán’s wounds were fatal and he would not survive. He cringed inside, wondering if Áedán’s Soul would remain trapped by Charisa’s actions, but could not reveal his manipulation of the truth or the Gift in his efforts to try and force her to save him. Inwardly, Taliesin was numb with grief and self-loathing over his actions, but his outward demeanor showed none of it. Cavall, Áedán’s hound, refused to leave his master’s side. He lay curled in a ball, whining softly beside the body of his master, watching everything and understanding only that his master was going to a place he could not follow. While Taliesin performed his duty, the Court filed out, slow and somber. He was the last to exit, and Charisa waited for him by the door. Cavall refused to leave Áedán, and Charisa would not wait for him. She coddled no one, especially a dog. Taliesin moved to retrieve him, determined to take Cavall as his own to honor the man he called Brother, but Charissa forbade him. “Leave him. He wishes to remain.” The tone of her voice brooked no denial. Taliesin bowed his head, and another piece of his Heart broke with the sound of the Chamber doors shutting. (** Beginning of Chapter **) Taliesin was surprised to hear a knock on his door. He never had visitors, and the condominium he lived in was private and had excellent security. Aaron and Albrecht arranged a monthly stipend for living expenses along with the condo, so he was financially comfortable. On promises of good behavior, which he was surprised they agreed too, he got a job at a local community college as a music instructor. He didn’t need the money, but it was something to occupy his time, and he knew Albrecht would see it as a means to keep him busy and out of mischief. He adopted the name Talbert Hutchins and went by ‘Tal’ for short… it was one less thing he would have to adapt too. With the Gift no longer in him, and after a lengthy and painful discussion with Aaron about Charisa, he was appalled at what she had done to him by altering his memories, but it explained much. He declined Aaron’s offer of counsel, preferring to work through his issues on his own. The irony that Charisa had done to him what he had done to so many over the centuries was not lost on him. To be on the receiving end of such manipulation was painful and gave him a perspective of compassion he never expected to feel towards the individuals who suffered from his actions. However, even with what she did to him, he knew deep down he was responsible for his actions, and amid his anger towards her, now bordering on hate, there was a great deal of shame and guilt. Taliesin was a survivor and determined to find a place in the world he now found himself in; one without the Gift. At first, he felt vulnerable, especially knowing The Enemy would kill him if they discovered his identity and whereabouts, most likely after prolonged and painful torture. Brad placed protections over his Mind, but that was little comfort if they tortured him physically. One thing he did not expect was relief from being free of the Dreams. It was as if his Mind was waking up from a long-blurred sleep, and he could now see everything clearly for the first time in thousands of years. Taliesin, as a highly skilled Agent of The Order, perhaps one of their best, knew how to keep a low profile. After a few months, his apprehension lessened, and he began to feel at least somewhat comfortable in his new life. He was always cautious; his training ingrained too deep for him to be otherwise. His jaw nearly hit the floor at the sight of Giovanni standing with Aaron and Albrecht on the door camera. He opened the door quickly and stared wide-eyed at the man he thought dead for the last 800 years. Giovanni stared back. Neither man smiled; they had never liked each other much. After a long, drawn out pause, he whispered, “How?” Albrecht smiled, and Aaron asked, “May we come in?” Taliesin moved back, motioning them to enter. The cleaning agency he employed had visited the day before, so the den was not yet a complete wreck. Chord sheets were already strewn about the coffee table, and two guitars sat on the couch. He quickly cleared the area, and as everyone sat down, he mumbled, “I don’t think I’m going to like whatever you’re about to say….” <><> Taliesin sat in stunned silence. Aaron’s question caught him completely off guard, and the emotions and memory it evoked confused him, especially after events of the last year. Slowly, Taliesin was reverting back to the man he started as, the man before the Gift and his unrequited love for Charisa, the man he was before she tampered with his memories and his Heart. He was not proud of his actions the day Áedán died and was secretly terrified of what they might find if the chamber were opened. He wasn’t sure if the terror was over Áedán’s possible condition or the potential exposure of his deception. He sighed heavily, realizing he still had a long way to go. Taliesin’s heart became twisted due to Charisa’s manipulation, and his actions during those many years were etched in his memories. He caused so much pain and hurt over the centuries, and although he now realized why, it didn’t excuse his actions; it explained them, but did not justify them. Some of those years weren’t bad, and the change in him had been gradual; so gradual it took looking back over centuries to see how extreme the changes eventually became. Over the course of those long years he seduced himself into believing his actions were justified. After a time, he learned to bury his guilt and negative emotions, planting them deep in his unconscious mind. He did not expect those seeds to grow and break out, let alone take on the form of sadness and self-loathing. The life he had now was a buffer against his past, and in all honesty, he was more interested in starting a new life and forgetting his old one. He felt there was too much to atone for in his past life other than by his death, and Lane forbade him that act with a Compulsion. Now, Aaron asked for his help. “You truly wish me to go back to Ynys y Afalau and open the chamber?” Taliesin hadn’t spoken Welsh in years, but the ancient name flowed off his tongue as though he spoke it every day. “I know it is much to ask Tal, but you are the only one who can open it. Charisa keyed it to members of the Court, and you are the only one still alive.” “You realize if it is opened, what will occur? Time will rapidly catch up to itself, and all that is left will be gone forever in a matter of days.” “I do, but it is the only fitting place for what we wish to accomplish. Do you not see the relevance?” “You know I loved him too, don’t you? Áedán?” Taliesin’s pronunciation of the ancient Scottish dialect was perfect and rolled off his tongue as fluidly as the Welsh. Taliesin knew nearly as many languages as Aaron. Over the long span of his life as a Bard he needed to perform wherever he lived, in whatever Age, and sing songs flawlessly in any language necessary. “I do. If it is too painful, we will make other arrangements.” Taliesin paused and stared at the three men sitting across from him. He always touted his own subtle cleverness. Aaron and Albrecht taught him that way of thinking, and he knew there was more to Aaron’s request than the obvious. “Why are you really asking me, Aaron?” “Because I have your best interest in mind Tal, whether you believe it or not. I think it will be good for you.” “You mean, by doing this, it will somehow count against my self-proclaimed penance of atoning for my centuries-long crusade of decadence and cruelty. Call it what it is.” “If you wish to see it that way, then yes.” Aaron’s voice was gentle, and he did not rise to the bait. Giovanni muttered, “Stronzo!” under his breath. Albrecht reached over and lightly slapped the back of Giovanni’s head. Giovanni shook his head in disgust but didn’t say anything else. Aaron hesitated, and Albrecht’s presence increased in him, urging him to continue. Share it with him, love. He needs to hear it, and you need to say it. I’m with you. Aaron continued, “Performing the ceremony in that place is a gift I wish to give the men I now call my sons. I consider you among them, Tal. I always have. I never saw you as a means to an end. I had no knowledge of Lane Weaver’s existence all those years ago when I asked you to carry the Gift. That was never my intention. I have carried my own pain as far as you are concerned for many years and blamed myself for the way you turned out. I now know what happened to you was not my fault, at least not entirely. You should see it that way as well. I do feel some responsibility because Charisa was my daughter, and what she did to you was reprehensible. You see, I too am seeking a way to atone for what I see as my responsibilities. I wish to help you, along with the other men I count as my sons.” An awkward silence fell among them. The minutes rolled by and Taliesin sat staring at nothing, lost in his thoughts. Just as Aaron was about to speak again, Taliesin whispered, “I’ll do it. Damn you for asking, but I’ll do it.” Aaron lowered his head and said quietly, “Thank you, Tal.” “I suppose you wish me to perform at the ceremony as well?” The corner of Aaron’s mouth rose in a very uncharacteristic grin as he said, “Well, you were the Court Bard when you lived there. It would be appropriate, and Lane will be occupied.” “Very well. I will make it special.” “Of that, I have no doubt.” Codon, Alabama – Just south of Mobile To the neighborhood, it looked like a normal elderly black couple moving in. Brad kept an illusion over everyone, altering their appearance under the guise of a moving company. The large truck displayed the logo “Ten Men and a Truck” on its sides. The doctor arranged years prior for the collection of Olive’s furniture and personal belongings from her apartment in Atlanta and had them put in storage. Anything further needed to furnish her new house he purchased with her input. It was a hard decision for Tag and Olive to move out of the Lab, but the older couple said they wanted to do it. They would miss everyone, and everyone would miss their solid, sage presence, especially Drew, who had become extremely fond of ‘Auntie Olive’ and ‘Grandpa Tag.’ No one knew where he came up with the terms of endearment, and it didn’t matter. Tag and Olive loved the names and the young boy. For the last year and a half, they helped raise him through some tough times. Henry especially would miss their help when Drew was upset about something. The wise old couple always seemed to know what to say to calm him down or make him feel better. Henry still wasn’t sure if he would have made it without their help after Liz died. With events ramping up and space running tight even after renovating the Lab in Atlanta, the older couple made their decision known. Tag and Olive were fully cognizant of the Battle between The Order and The Enemy. Through no fault of their own, they were a part of it. They met and walked with Angels in their time in the Lab, but now felt they were more of a hindrance to ‘the boys’ and wanted to get out of the way, although they would always be available to any of the men for any reason. With Tag’s leg regenerated and some slight genetic remodeling from a magical standpoint, neither Tag nor Olive matched the descriptions any Enemy agents might have of them. They looked the same to each other, Brad made sure of that, but to the outside world, they appeared different. The doctor purchased a small house for them in Codon, AL, just south of Mobile where the warm climate would suit the older couple. Tag loved to fish, and the ocean was within walking distance of their house. It was also in the Deep South where they would blend in more with their way of speech and food preferences. The doctor designed subtle but strong protections into the house, but nothing overt enough to alert the Enemy. There was a safe room that would seal itself, empowering Runes strong enough to hold the Enemy at bay until help could arrive if they were ever discovered. The hardest part of the arrangement was the ‘no contact’ rule. For the immediate future, there could be no contact between the guys and the older couple. It was a standard safety protocol from their days in the military and witness relocation. The more communication, the higher the risk of exposure. There were emergency phone numbers, email addresses, and even a sealed memory sphere that could reach anywhere on the planet in seconds, all for emergencies, but no regular contact was permissible for the foreseeable future. The physical move was no effort for the big men, even if some of them appeared thin and boney under Brad’s illusion. They spent the better part of the day moving Tag and Olive in, arranging everything, and helping them unpack. They took their time, not wanting to let go of their friends just yet. There were tears when they said their goodbyes away from prying eyes. The last gift to them, and one Loy cleared with Olive before he committed to it, was a puppy. Loy went to an animal shelter, never an easy thing for him, and found the perfect puppy. The puppy was already intelligent, but Loy made it smarter, and instilled his Will on it, imprinting Olive and Tag on its Mind and Spirit. It would be their companion and guard, and Loy could use it to look in on them; any of the Mentalists could when needed. Through their Avatars, the puppy was an undetectable way to keep tabs on them without breaking the communication protocol. After the guys pulled away in the moving van and trucks, Tag said to Olive, “Well Momma, looks like we’s home. Dis is a good place. The doc did us right.” “It is, baby. They picked a good spot. I’m gonna miss those boys though, especially that little one.” Olive’s soft voice sounded sad, and she took Tag’s hand, giving it a squeeze. After a brief silence, Tag asked, “We did right, didn’t we?” “We did. I can feel it.” “I don’t think we’re done wit ’em yet.” “We never will be, baby. We never will be.” The guys unpacked everything for them and arranged it all. Olive would have to redo some things, but they knew her habits well. She went into the kitchen and found her cast iron cookware to start dinner. Bryan stocked her kitchen, refrigerator, and freezer, and she smiled when she opened the fridge. She wouldn’t have to cook that night after all! Bryan had made a big batch of chitlins, fatback, collard greens, black-eyed peas, and cornbread, and for dessert strawberry shortcake, Tag’s favorite. “Oh, baby! Look what we got here! That Bryan!” Tag laughed and cleared the small kitchen table. “Yeah, I’m gonna miss dem boys.” Bullet, the puppy, whined and looked at Olive and then the food. “Don’t you even think ’bout it. I promised Loy I’d take good care ‘a you. I might make my husband fat but not you. Loy would have my hide if I fed you table food.” The old couple sat down to eat in their new home, with their new puppy, and their new life. They were happy with each other, but there was sadness too. It was hard to go back to the world after all they were used to. But, like always, they would persevere. The next day As usual, Kevin woke first. To anyone else, the house would seem absolutely quiet, but with his enhanced hearing he picked up on all the small sounds in the house. He smiled sleepily at the new noises he and Bill were getting used too. The water in the kitchen turned on briefly, filling the ice maker. Kevin heard Bill’s soft breathing next to him and his steady heartbeat, and he smelled the aftereffects of their lovemaking the previous evening. The remnants of their exertions permeated the sheets, but instead of being gross it was a comfort, even a bit of a turn on. It was like an affirmation of their relationship and what they had done to one another only a few hours before. Breathing deeply, he smelled Bill next to him; all of them had a distinct smell Kevin and the other Bodies identified. Early on his enhanced olfactory sense was challenging to adjust to; the hand lotions and perfumes people used were often overpowering. Most of the guy's used unscented soaps and deodorants, or mild cologne. Bill smelled like Bill and it made Kevin smile. The newest sound in the house widened his smile even further. One of the boys, either Tommy or Brett, rolled over in his bed resettling himself. Bill and Kevin had the boys less than a week, but they seemed to be settling in nicely. Anything was an improvement over the Orphanage, and even on the nights when Bill and Kevin were on duty at either the Australian or Atlanta Lab, the boys loved being with their new dads. No matter where they were, Bill and Kevin had an established routine. The doctor stressed the need for normalcy and regularity with the boys to make them feel secure, so their regular, regimented patterns would work well with only a few minor adjustments. The doctor also recommended Bill and Kevin not Link with the boys often, especially at first, and only enough for a feeling of emotional comfort. Bill would Read them inadvertently every time he hugged or held one of them anyway, so they would be aware of anything they needed to know. Kevin, still amped up Mentally from last night’s sex, deepened the boys' slumber enough to keep them from waking a little longer, then he gently repositioned Bill against him. Bill woke up enough to move into position and then with Kevin’s arms holding him, he fell back into a deep, contented sleep. Kevin knew Bill’s habits enough to know he would soon be up and let his partner sleep, content to hold and watch him. The short gap in the mornings while he waited for Bill to wake up was Kevin’s personal time, and he relished the physical but non-sexual intimacy with Bill. Kevin used the time to organize his thoughts and go over the coming day or reflect on recent events. He thought a lot about Drew and what they faced as a Team. Recently he thought a lot about Ken, Loy, and Darren because all of them had gone through the most recent hardships. Most of the time, though, he thought of how much he loved the man in his arms and immersed himself in their combined Souls. As Bill slowly woke, Kevin’s hands roamed over his partner’s muscled body. He loved bringing Bill pleasure any way he could and making him feel good emotionally. Bill’s Avatar affected him more adversely than any other member of the Team except possibly Lane, and Kevin regularly made himself a barrier between Bill and what his Avatar subjected him too. The doctor taught Bill how to separate much of what he absorbed when he Read people, places, or objects, but the information and experiences became a part of him regardless. As Bill’s Mind transitioned from unconsciousness to wakefulness, he became aware of Kevin’s hands. Kevin knew all the right places to touch him, those special spots that turned him on and made his toes curl. As Kevin’s hands continued down Bill’s body, by the time he reached his target, Bill was hard. Bill opened his eyes and smiled, still a little bleary as he turned to kiss his lover. Their arms encircled each other as Kevin rolled on top, pressing his hairy chest against Bills smooth one. Their erections rubbed together between their stomachs; God, he loved that feeling. Bill wasn’t sure if it was being an Original Man or part Nephilim that kept them from having morning breath, but he was thankful regardless, and he chuckled. Kevin heard his thought and laughed. Yeah, me too. Come here! The two big men lit up the Spiritual Realm as they made love to one another. They didn’t bother Shielding themselves, sensing most of their Brothers doing the same thing, and their Auras shone bright over Tommy and Brett as they slept. An hour later, freshly showered, Kevin made breakfast for the boys. Kevin and Bill were off rotation for the day and planned to have a long talk with Tommy and Brett. The doctor recommended having ‘the talk’ as soon as possible. Even if Tommy and Brett couldn’t comprehend everything, they needed to be told who their dads were along with the rest of the Team, and about The Order and The Enemy. The boys needed a framework to be secure; they would see and hear things soon enough that would scare them and Bill and Kevin wanted them to feel safe and protected as much as possible. Tommy nearly died in the Eschphene attack on Drew’s birthday, illustrating how dangerous and severe things could become. Kevin and Bill still needed to do their morning PT and arranged with Henry ahead of time to wait for them so they could do it together. Henry laughingly called it ‘The Dads Club.’ They planned on taking the boys to the Lab with them so they could start their school lessons with Sally alongside Drew. After lunch, they would have ‘the talk’ and hang out to have dinner with whoever else was around. Plus, if the boys got upset over what they learned, it would help to have some of their ‘uncles’ around to soften things and let them know they were loved and protected. Bill picked up Kevin’s thoughts on the boys. This is going to be nice. I like having the boys here. Yeah, it is. I never in a million years would have thought we’d be dads. I’m glad the doc intervened. Henry makes it look easy, but I know we’ve got a lot of learning to do. I’m glad you’re smart. Bill came close to snorting his coffee at Kevin’s comment. You aren’t sluffing this off on me! Kevin leaned over the table and kissed Bill. They realized the boys were watching but decided open shows of affection were not going to stop. Sexual affections would most definitely be private, but the boys needed a lot of physical loving and needed to see their dads knew how to give it to each other, and them. <><><> Craig seemed happier than ever to have his father back, but Jacob was now the one having a difficult time. After Craig and his father reappeared, both apparently back from death, Jacob acted indifferently towards his father and wouldn’t talk to anyone about it. He worked out with the rest of the young soldiers and continued his studies under Albrecht, but something was off. The spark that previously made him the leader of their group of friends was gone. His indifference grew and seemed to be all-encompassing. He was running on ‘auto-pilot’ and only did the bare minimum of whatever was needed to get by. He ate, but it was mechanical; he complimented Rich on his cooking, but it was forced, as though it was something he had to do rather than wanting to do. Kelly withdrew more into her old habits, put off by his attitude. She lived in the Australian Lab full time to help take care of the guests there, and Chloe took most of her attention. Darren worried about her, but the doctor told him not to be overly concerned yet. Due to recent events, Ken altered the rotation roster in the Australian Lab. It was tougher on the Team, but for the foreseeable future, two couples would now be present at all times. None of them saw what happened to Kent Peterson as neglect, but it was not something they would tolerate happening again. Tommy and Brett loved bouncing back and forth between their home in Atlanta and the two Labs; they especially loved it when they got to stay on ZEUS in the Pacific. The boys were already thriving under the care of their new dads and all their ‘uncles,' and just like they did with Drew, the guys took on the roles and loved it. They were careful to spread the attention evenly as the three young boys all had issues, and it would be easy for jealousy or hard feelings to develop. The doctor spoke with the boys at length, explaining the issues in terms they could understand. He planned to counsel the boys often, both singly and as a group. Sally had no issue expanding her role as a teacher to include Tommy and Brett along with Drew. Brett was slightly ahead of Drew in his subjects because he attended school regularly, and even though Tommy was two years older, he was only a year ahead in school because of the time of year his birthday fell on. The young soldiers missed Jake’s old self. Craig tried to talk to him numerous times but was rebuffed, causing a rift between the brothers. Craig’s feelings were hurt, but his happiness at having their father back helped. He actually liked spending time with his dad now. The other fathers didn’t know what to make of Kent coming back. Not only was he back from the dead, but he looked twenty-five years younger, and they were all freaked out by him. He was no longer a part of their circle, and frankly, he didn’t want to be. After his revelations during the time in his personal Hell, he realized what jerks and assholes they had been their entire lives, and still were. One night, a week after Craig and Kent returned, Albrecht was finishing up their evening exercises. The young men, as usual, were shirtless and sweating bullets. Exhausted, they made their way into the showers to clean up and then read before bed. Jacob was in bed reading “How Should We Then Live” by Francis Schaeffer. He discovered there was a video series made to go along with the book, but Albrecht insisted they read the book and bypass the videos. Jacob wasn’t much of a reader, and it took him a while, but he was making his way through it when he heard his door chime. He pressed the Comm button on his headboard and said, “Come in.” He sighed, expecting Craig or his dad which would mean another argument, and he was surprised when Rich stuck his head in. “Hey Jake, can we talk?” “I’m tired, Rich, can it wait?” “It could. But whatever’s going on with you isn’t going away and I want to talk to you. It’s gonna happen anyway whether it’s now or later. Up to you.” Jacob’s face reddened in anger, but before he could say anything, Rich interrupted him. “You can be as pissed as you want bro, but I’m gonna say what I need to say.” Jacob was surprised and annoyed at Rich’s comment. Rich was so different from when he arrived right after their rescue. Before, he was quiet and unassertive and usually Jacob would be proud of his new confidence, but at the moment it annoyed the shit out of him. Why the fuck does he have to choose ‘now’ to be this way? Rich saw the look on his face and grinned, saying, “Yeah, the new me annoys the shit out of my father, too.” Rich moved into the room and shut the door. He hung his head and took a deep breath, gathering his courage to continue his push. He sat on the edge of the bed by Jake’s feet and after a short pause he started. “I get what happened Jake. I don’t think anyone else does, but I do. I’ve lived that way most of life.” “What do you think you get Rich? You don’t know anything about me. Fuck off.” Jacob was surprised at the vehemence in his own voice, but Rich seemed unaffected. “I know a lot more than any of you guys think. You thought I was dumb and fat when I got here. Now you think I’m dumb. Well, I know some things, Jake, even if you don’t think so.” Rich’s comments hit Jake hard, and he immediately felt like a jerk. “Hey Rich, I never thought that about you. None of the guys did.” Rich grinned slightly and replied, “Now it’s my turn to tell you to fuck off. I know the looks you all gave me when we were rescued. I fucking fainted like a girl, just like my old man said. I’m a cook, not a soldier. I don’t measure up to any of you. I’ve seen those looks my whole life Jake, so don’t lie to me about it.” Jake’s anger went on hold as embarrassment washed over him, and he felt horrible. He had felt some of what Rich mentioned, but only briefly. After they got to know each other and began working out Jake thought of Rich as a slightly older version of Craig and wanted to help him. “I’m sorry, Rich. I never meant to hurt your feelings.” “Yeah, whatever. I’m used to it.” “No man, I mean it. I feel like a fucking heel. You don’t deserve that from anyone, especially from the guys and me.” Rich saw the sincerity in his friend, and it made him feel good. After spending time with Albrecht, Ken, Brad, and the others, all of them were more open about their feelings. They fought it at first, thinking it wasn’t ‘manly,' but Albrecht gently chastised them for that attitude, and once they got used to it, they liked living that way much better. “Rich, I’m sorry man. So, what is this you think you have figured out about me?” Rich paused again. Now that it boiled down to it, he was hesitant, but he pushed on, saying, “I think you’re afraid and don’t know how to deal with it.” “Afraid of what?” “Everything. Us getting captured, The Enemy, The Order, our new friends, what they are and what they can do, at what happened to your dad… Craig dying. It’s so out there and fucked up you don’t know how to deal with it. You’re rattled, and don’t know how to react. Craig and your dad coming back was the real kicker, though.” Jacob stared at Rich, mulling over his words. His first reaction was another ‘fuck off you don’t know anything about me,' but Rich’s words resonated with him. He thought a lot about his own emotions and didn’t understand them. Maybe Rich was right. Until a tear fell down his cheek, he didn’t realize he was crying. “What did you mean when you said you'd felt this way your whole life?” “You don’t know what it’s like being a dumpy fat kid with an overbearing father. I’ve been bullied my whole life by everyone, especially my dad. I’ve lived with fear every day as far back as I can remember. Eventually, I got used to it and thought that was the way the world was. I joined the Army to make myself not afraid anymore. That didn’t work out so well either.” They both chuckled at his statement. “Guys like you Jake, and Nathan, Guy, Caleb, even Craig… you don’t know what it’s like not being an ‘alpha’ kind of guy. The world is easy for you. People want to be around you. No one ever wants to be around me.” The depth of what Rich shared astounded Jake and his heart broke for his buddy. He hated that the world was so cruel and unfair, and Jacob felt horrible for having added to it, even a little bit. He was better than that. Jacob also realized Rich saw something inside him. He recognized fear when he saw it because he was so familiar with it. “Rich, can I tell you something?” “Sure, Jake. I’m your buddy; you can tell me anything. That’s part of what I’m trying to tell you. You aren’t alone. I understand, and it makes a difference when you know someone else knows what you’re going through, even if you don’t understand it yourself.” The two men, already good friends, bonded even deeper. Jake was amazed at Rich’s insight and how smart he was. He had already finished Albrecht’s entire reading list. Working with Albrecht and Bryan had opened him up, and Jacob made sure Rich understood Bryan and Albrecht didn’t make him a new man. The man he was had been inside him all along; they just brought him out. Rich was grateful, and it took some coaxing, but he eventually believed what Jake was telling him. They stayed up talking the entire night, and by morning Rich helped Jacob work through the worst of what was bothering him. It was nearly 0500 when Jacob hugged his friend tightly, fresh tears in his eyes. “Thanks, Rich. I needed a kick in the ass. I never thought it would have come from you, but I’m glad you came to me. You’re a man and a stud and if anyone ever says otherwise come find me, and I’ll set ’em straight.” Jacob got up to hit the head before trying to get a few hours’ sleep. Sticking his head in the hallway, he noticed his dad at one of the tables in the kitchen sipping a cup of coffee. He was alone in his thoughts and didn’t see Jake. Jake went to relieve his bladder and made his mind up while he was in the bathroom. He was shirtless and in his skivvies, but he felt a pressing need to move forward before he chickened out. Kent was surprised when Jacob came into the kitchen. It was 0506, and no one was usually around at that time of the morning unless whoever was on duty from Atlanta was up and working out in the gym. He was shocked to see tears in Jacob’s eyes. Kent looked at his son, the stud marine, and pride filled him. Albrecht told Kent how brave Jacob was during the rescue in Syria and how badly he had been hurt. Jacob’s voice, normally strong, was hesitant. “Hey, Dad? Can we talk?” Kent set his coffee down and said, “Sure son, I’d like that.” Before he could get any more words out, Jacob moved forward and pulled his dad into a fierce hug and started sobbing. “I’m sorry, Dad. I’ve been an ass.” Kent hugged his son back just as fiercely. He wasn’t surprised that Jacob’s body was so rock solid, but it made him feel proud again. He grabbed Jake by his shoulders and held him at arm’s length, crying too. “There’s nothing to be sorry about, son. I’m the one who’s sorry. I’ve been a horrible father my whole life. It took a couple of hundred years of being alone with nothing but time to reflect on my life to realize just how bad I was. I fucked my life up, and you and your brother and your mother suffered because of me. I don’t know if I can ever make things right with you, but I want to try Jake. I really do!” He pulled Jacob back against him and for a few minutes they stayed that way, man to man, working through their emotions and coming to grips with what was happening between them. Jacob pulled back first and asked, “Is there any coffee left? I didn’t sleep, but I want to talk.” Kent’s heart warmed at his son’s words, and he liked that feeling. He grinned and said, “Let me guess… strong and black.” Jacob grinned, “The only way military guys are allowed to drink it. I remember you saying that when I was little.” “You aren’t little now, son. Damn, you’re a fine-looking man! I’m so proud of you and your brother.” Kent and Jacob talked, and Kent got to share the important events that turned him around. Jacob couldn’t completely forget everything from his life, but he forgave his father. Craig came out later and joined them, and eventually Margie. Craig was thrilled his family was back together, and his face showed it. Jacob made sure to thank Craig privately for his actions and efforts and apologized for being a jerk. They hugged like brothers and went back to that place inside them when their Minds touched with Brad’s help. They would always go back to that place. <><><> Ken was awake holding Brad, the man he loved more than anything; even Frank’s perfect hash browns at Waffle House. The little kid grin Brad loved so much crossed Ken’s face at his thought, and he chuckled softly as he pulled Brad’s warm muscular body closer against his own, resettling them both. He loved being naked and in bed with Brad; their bodies fit perfectly together as if they were made for each other. He looked at Brad’s familiar face, etched into his Mind and Heart, marveling at how handsome he was. All of the Team were handsome men, not pretty, but handsome. They were men, rugged, powerfully built, and strong. It was Brad’s manly features Ken found so attractive… his body was solidly muscled, and he was so fucking handsome he took Ken’s breath away to look at him, even after all the years they had been together. Ken knew Brad felt the same way about him, and it was both humbling and heartwarming. His gaze continued down Brad’s body over his powerful chest covered with blond hair. Brad’s body hair was perfect, and in all the right places that drove Ken wild. His eyes couldn’t see any further because of the sheets, but Brad’s warm, soft dick rested against his leg, the defining appendage of his male anatomy. Ken loved the solid feel of Brad’s erection when he held it in his hand. Brad’s dick was just as perfect as the rest of him, and the intimacy of that act was deeply special to both of them. As Ken tightened his arms around his lover, Brad sighed contentedly and unconsciously snuggled closer. Wrapped in Ken’s arms and feeling Ken’s warm breath on his shoulder made Brad feel safe and loved, even in sleep. Ken’s thoughts continued to wander, going over many of the events that led them all too where they were. He remembered the day he interviewed with the doctor for the Program and running missions as a Navy SEAL in Syria with Brad and all his buddies… And his capture and torture by Dr. Cromwell a few years ago, the event that triggered the unlocking of their Nephilim Heritage years ahead of the doctor’s schedule. The words of the song Lane Dreamt were a part of his memories, and they now realized the lyrics were far more Prophetic than initially thought. The song spoke of things already accomplished and things yet to happen. The words of the song, The Humbling River, ran through his Mind. He heard them as if Lane were in the room singing them. The lyrics invoked many of the memories running through his Mind as he held Brad. There were always Rivers in their lives to cross. The first was the challenge of their Awakening Powers and abilities, but each challenge they faced, each hardship, was a River that had to be traversed. Their Angelic grandfathers referred to Time as a River. They viewed Mortal lives as Rivers, with many streams, outlets, and rapids along the journey. The fact they were all related to Archangels still boggled Ken’s mind; the Archangel Michael was his fuckin’ grandfather! Ken and Brad and the others were Immortal now and their lives invisible to the Higher Powers, even Luke, the Dark One. It was a part of the Paradox of their Avatars and their existence. The doctor was convinced it was from some outside influence; but whose? That influence made it apparent there was more to their creation than they were aware of. The doctor, they now realized, had been manipulated, but even the Archangels had been manipulated by someone or something. Who or what that could be they didn’t yet know. The Dove that appeared and spoke to Drew, and all of them once… Was it God? The Voice terrified Henry, and Henry knew how much it frightened Ken. Ken reassured Henry as the Leader of the Team, but when they merged Henry saw the fear in Ken over it. Yet Henry trusted in Ken’s confidence and optimism that somehow, they would succeed. They would find a way to save Drew, the boy who held the second oldest human Soul within him…The little boy who carried the Curse and the potential Redemption of Mankind on his small shoulders. The boy who found his way into all their hearts. They would become whatever they needed to be and pay whatever price necessary to save his life and defeat The Master. In his military training, Ken learned to break problems down into smaller pieces. Saving Creation, or even Mankind, was too big a problem to wrap his head around. It was too easy to become overwhelmed by the immensity of it, but saving Drew was personal, and something Ken and the guys could dig into with everything in them. As certain lyrics from Lane’s Song echoed in his Mind, images came to the forefront of his memory. Despite the pain and trials had already faced, Ken was happier than he ever had been. The fierce love and protectiveness he felt towards his best friends and Teammates, the men he called Brothers, and towards the man he held against him, ran deep and defined him as a man. Ken let himself drift in the bond he shared with Brad, the man he loved more than life itself… the man who would be his husband in a few hours…. Two weeks earlier Their training schedules were back on track and their days full. Ken changed the coverage rotation between the Atlanta and Australian Labs. Moving forward, he wanted two couples in each Lab at all times. He included Henry, who of course would have Drew with him, so every third day one couple would be off. Bill and Kevin kept Tommy and Brett with them. Ken talked to Brad at length over the idea of keeping Drew, Tommy, and Brett together all the time, which would mean pairing Henry with Bill and Kevin on the schedule full time. They both decided it would be better not to do that. They each had different reasons; Ken’s was more tactical from a leadership position, and Brad’s was more Compassionate, but the end result was the same. Besides, no matter where the boy’s dads were on the schedule, Drew, Tommy, and Brett would be with Sally during the weekdays to work on their lessons. Having father’s and uncles who could teleport them anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye was a nice perk. On top of their training, there was the pressing need to continue searching for new sites to build Labs around the world and get them up and running. Once they defeated The Master, Luke would be free to retaliate; they had to be prepared, and the other bases were crucial to their defense. They had less than a year to discover a way to keep Drew alive and defeat the Master, and they were all getting married in a couple of weeks. There were so many things to do, and time wasn’t slowing down. Collectively they considered postponing the weddings. It seemed selfish in light of their responsibilities, but Aaron and Albrecht insisted they go through with the ceremony. Henry did too; he loved the men he called Brothers and wanted any happiness they could find amidst the Darkness they relentlessly faced in defending his son against the Enemy. It was unclear whether the Dreams came from Remiel or the Ether, but each Mentalist Dreamed of their wedding rings. While they slept, images formed in their Minds accompanied by powerful emotions. Each pair of rings was unique, deeply personal, and reflected aspects of each man and couple, as well as their Avatar’s. Their awe of Albrecht only increased as he somehow maintained his tutelage over the young soldiers in Australia and helped craft their wedding rings. He asked Bryan to take him to the Valley several times and was very tight-lipped about his purpose, only saying it had something to do with the upcoming wedding. He arranged for Brad and Darren to contact him at specific times to teleport him back or send him where he needed to be. Bryan and the other Bodies smelled Leroy on him after every trip, which told them Albrecht had been inside the cave. They trusted Albrecht completely, and he knew the dangers and risks, but they couldn’t fathom what he needed to do there. <><><> Finally, the day arrived. As soon as Ken woke up, holding Brad in the early hours of the morning, there was something subtly different. He couldn’t discern if the feeling was within him or something external. A tingle of excitement in his gut brought a smile to his handsome face, knowing he was on the verge of a life-changing event. He laughed to himself, relating the feeling to the first time he and Brad made love all those years ago. At the time he was technically a virgin, and that icy ball of excitement was the same as what he presently felt. Each man awoke to the same subtle difference as Ken. That morning they instinctively merged, becoming One, remaining quiet and resting in one another. No jokes were tossed out, and no shit was hung. Most of them reflected, as Ken had done throughout the previous night, on the journey they shared as men, Brothers, and couples. As close as the guys were and as often as they lived together in their Hearts, Minds, and Souls, they were very different and unique individuals. Humans often picked up traits of those closest to them, mimicking behaviors of the ones they loved and looked up to. The guys had enough ‘alpha’ in them to prevent that, and they were glad. Their rugged inner strength and individualism staved off the chameleon-like effect that lesser personalities often succumbed to. None of them thought they were better than the mortals they defended, they were just mentally healthy, well-adjusted, and Awake. Aside from being half Nephilim, they were Original, Unfallen Men and what all humans were intended to be at the outset of Creation. Throughout the morning they stayed in a light Link, enough to feel each other. Ken reluctantly let Brad go as he threw his legs off the bed and put his feet on the floor. Brad sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing his hands over his face trying to wake up. Ken looked at Brad’s muscular form and handsome face, more cute at the moment than handsome, with his sleepy face and bedhead hair. Ken scooted closer, wrapping an arm around Brad’s tight stomach from behind and hugging him one last time. “Mornin, B.” Leaning forward Ken kissed Brad on his back, tasting the salt from the sweat of their lovemaking the night before. Brad twisted, and Ken watched the muscles of his lean body flex as he turned so they could embrace. Brad cradled Ken’s head against his torso and kissed the top of his head. “Today’s the day, Ken.” Emotions were thick and swimming in both of them, and Ken heard a slight tremor in Brad’s voice. Ken gave Brad the little kid grin that melted him even as his own eyes went glassy. “Fuck, I love you so much B. It’s hard ‘ta believe this is really happenin’.” “No matter how long we live Ken, even if it’s forever, I’ll re