If she had been at home she would have concentrated on her system-- worked on her apps, but all this not knowing was wearing on her. She knew that under normal circumstances Bear would be fine– experience and self preservation would see him through, but she also knew he had a blind spot when it came to dealing with the Archer's Fist in general... and Salizar in particluar..
She still had nightmares of what he'd done to her-- what could have happened. She owed her life to Bear and Tendown. Bear for finding her and Ten– Ten was the one who came for her.
Bear had nearly burned himself out trying to find her– if he hadn't...
Even in her sleep he haunted her– the danger Bear faced tormented her. When sleep finally did come, it gave her no comfort.
Eluding the guards was getting harder and harder. They had indeed changed their pattern– and their rotation.
Bear cursed their efficiency, wondering when and why they'd changed. Had someone finally realized that their procedures and patterns needed revamping-- that they were too predictable? Had they changed other things, like the security overrides? There would be no way of knowing until the time came.
Again he wondered about this assignment– was it all an elaborate hoax?
‘Better find Othello and find out,' he told himself. ‘Won't know how bad it is until then.'
He froze as another patrol rounded the corner. From his vantage point in the access way he could see the hell hound's eyes. His breath caught as its eyes locked on his.
Yellow eyes of flame pierced his gaze, he could feel a cold hand on his lungs as he tried to breathe, and then he felt his hackles raise.
‘This is not good,' a calm voice in the back of his head stated. He wasn't sure which bothered him more the Hell hound's eyes or his inner voice's calm statement of the obvious.
Slowly he closed his eyes, feeling almost catlike for a moment before he could feel Bear's protection radiating around him. His mouth quirked up in a slight smile as the beast's eyes registered the change. Now, instead of staring into a human's eyes the hound found itself staring into the eyes of Bear himself.
The hell hound let out a surprised yelp, then moved away– intent on being any place other than this hallway. Daniel TwoBears let out a sigh of relief, and moved on– the next patrol would not be as easily dealt with.
Shadowalker eased himself into a more comfortable position. The guards had finished their check of the perimeter and most had gone back inside. Three guards remained outside– dealing with the dwarf's drones. The ill fated runners' bodies had already been taken into the prison where they'd be questioned or buried depending on their condition.
It didn't really matter– they'd done their jobs, keeping the stranger outside tonight. He didn't understand Salizar's plans, but again he reminded himself that it didn't matter. As long as he wasn't the one being set-up Salizar was welcome to play his games.
He let his attention drift to the right, noticing the faint glow of the other's camo-suit. All was going perfectly.
Duck woke with a start, her pulse rate racing. It took her a moment to get her bearings, and then she stared at the ceiling– wondering what was going on. She'd never been this tense about anything.
She snorted slightly when she realized that her hand was now resting on the pouch Bear had given her. So far away, he was still with her– comforting her. She prayed he was safe and remained that way.
She drifted between sleep and waking for a long time. Finally she curled up, resting her head against the pouch.
‘Take care of yourself Daniel."
Bear was getting tired of just how much things had changed. Every time he thought he'd sensed a pattern to the patrols, they would shift. Dog patrols, manned and unmanned; guards, mages, electronics... he was having to work a lot more for this than he'd expected. At least he was used to improvising.
It was the TwoBears' tradition. In spite of himself Daniel smiled. TwoBears' style meant style and grace under pressure– and being able to take any situation and make the best of it.
It was why he worked so well with Duck and Tracker. His family were the masters of magical improvisation– Duck and Tracker were the virtuosos when it came to technology.
He found himself wishing they were there, and oddly relieved that they weren't. Any doubt he was being set-up had vanished. He contemplated leaving for a moment then shook his head. He was here already– he might as well try and salvage something out of this mission.
He reviewed the map he'd memorized and headed towards the next access panel. If his luck held– the next patrol would be the hell hound that was doing its best to avoid him. Inside he could feel the spirit of Bear smiling.
Othello looked out at the clock in the hallway. Three more hours till daylight. Three more hours to ponder his fate. He had almost gotten used to the fact that he would not leave this prison alive– the cost of domestic terrorism.
Now the life term had been shortened. Two months to live. Less now. He didn't try and fool himself. Salizar would kill him to protect his secrets. At least he would die with a clean conscious. If Wjowski showed up.
He looked at the clock again and stiffened as he felt a movement outside his cell.
"Who's there?" There was a tremor in his voice as he tried to see into the darkness.
"A friend of The Duck's"
The voice came from directly in front of his cell.
He squinted as he tried to make out the source of the voice. "Can you prove it."
He heard an exasperated sigh, but saw no change. "You contacted her. She contacted me."
Othello tensed as he tried to figure out his next move.
"Look– I don't have time. I have to be out of here before dawn. You contacted Duck. If I wasn't working with her... do you think I'd stop to ask what you knew?"
Othello paused then shook his head slowly. "You're right."
He could almost sense the relief on the other side of the bars. "Time is short."
Othello nodded. "Salizar is planning something– he calls it operation ‘Project Red Hand' and its not good."
"Talk to me– the time for games is long past."
Othello nodded again and then let his breath out slowly. "Within three months– he's going to unleash something that will make VITAS look like a cold. Only his anointed– read inoculated– will survive. He's going to do some small scale testing first... on his enemies– once he's sure it's working, nothing will stand in his way."
"His enemies?" The voice prompted coldly.
Othello could feel the temperature drop in the hallway. "Your friend in particular– the Wilsons in general..."
"Where is he now?" There was a sharp edge to the voice now-- anger, barely controlled.
Othello folded his arms against the chill he felt. "He's in Michigan right now– but he's going to be on the road soon. He's planning on overseeing everything."
"What else do you know about this project?"
Othello shook his head. "Only Salizar and his lieutenants know for sure... you'll never find him directly. But you can find Echo... He's the ship's steward on the Birmingham-- he'll know more."
There was a long pause, and in the silence he could hear the guards approaching. Finally Othello spoke again.
"That's all I have– I'm sorry it couldn't be more... now go."
"Why are you telling me?"
Othello smiled wryly. "I've done some pretty screwed up things in my life. Believed in what I was doing when I did them– but there's nothing like mortality and solitary confinement to give you time to think.. Dying tends to give you a new perspective on your life. I can't undo what I've done– this is... all I can do."
"Thank you. Go peacefully," the voice told him.
Othello could barely make out the man's footsteps on the tiled floor. Then he was alone again with his own demons.
‘Only a few more days,' he told himself. ‘Only a few more days.'
Bear mulled over the information Othello had given him. It wasn't what he was hoping for, but it was something far more important. Salizar was on the move and it wasn't good.
He slipped into the access way just as the guards entered the cell block he'd just vacated. As he waited he could hear voices. They were talking to Othello.
He felt a hint of nausea as the world around him began to twist. He closed his eyes, trying to focus on Bear, on anything but the pain welling up behind his eyes. He trembled slightly as he realized that this was just the backwash from the spell– its main energy was being directed towards Othello.
For well over a minute the pain continued until he almost cried out. When it finished Bear found himself falling.
Duck sat bolt upright in her bunk, sweat clinging to her back as she looked around wildly.
"A dream,' she told herself wearily. ‘It was just a dream.'
She looked around the barracks and allowed the normalness of it all to surround her. Then she tried to piece together her dream.
She had been running through unfamiliar corridors that seemed to run on forever. Something was following her in the darkness. In the dream there had been no one else there, no sound and yet in the silence she knew that something was chasing her. If she walked, it walked, if she ran– it followed her.
She tried to understand the dream, to figure out what her subconscious was trying to tell her. She was hiding from something unseen. No matter what she did– it was there, unseen yet its presence could not be denied.
‘Something I know is there,' she thought– allowing reason to take over. ‘Something I am afraid of...'
Even as she thought one word came to her– unspoken and yet heard. The truth in the word sent a shiver down her spine.
The realization was oddly comforting. The Archer's fist would always be there– dogging her steps even as she dogged theirs. Neither one could leave the other alone– their beliefs were diametrically opposed and the only option was to fight and destroy the other.
There would always be people who hated– who would destroy. And Duck prayed that there would always be people there to fight them.
She allowed their hatred to take form in front of her. Let it loom over her for a brief moment then smiled.
‘Leave me alone,' she told the image in a bored tone. ‘You're nothing but ignorance.'
A faint smile played across her face as she rolled onto her side and let out a relieved sigh. As her mind drifted back into the patterns of sleep a fading thought replaced the fear that had driven her from sleep.
Bear would be proud.
His first thought was one of surprise– the pain was gone. He let out a slow breath and then turned back towards the cell. He could hear movement inside– a sort of shuffled half step. He paused for a moment torn between finding a safe place to wait and checking on Othello.
He carefully made his way back to the cell, relieved that his invisibility spell had stayed in place.
"Othello," he called softly.
The man turned, his pain obvious in his expression. "The friend... go..."
Bear paused. "I ... cannot do anything for you– except offer mercy..."
Othello stared into the emptiness beyond his cell. It was clear he wanted it, but then he shook his head. "No... that is what they want... You can't be here. Go."
"May Bear watch over you..."
Othello smiled. "Thank you..."
Bear forced himself to move before he gave the man what he wanted. He knew Othello's rap-sheet. He tried to convince himself that it was the price of redemption, but the justification was weak at best.
‘Move cub. Don't look back.'
The voice was soft in his mind– but he knew better than to ignore it. No good ever came from ignoring your totem.
Bear slipped back into the safety of cover and watched from the shadows.
A lone figure watched as Duck tossed and turned in her bed. It was odd to see someone with Duck's reputation so disturbed. Did she know her time was limited? What demons taunted the decker?
It didn't really matter– she was the enemy. She had made her allegiance known a long time ago.
‘I am the blade– guided by my master. I am the avenging spirit called upon for retribution.'
The litany repeated in the figure's mind until nothing else existed. The woman's guilt or innocence didn't matter.
‘I am the cleansing fire– called upon to burn...'
The figure watched as Duck finally fell asleep.
‘May god have mercy on her soul.'
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