Discoveries, Deceptions, and Disguises
They sat in the cool night air, staring up into the starry sky and simply talking. The conversation carried no particular purpose or subject, they simply talked.
As the time passed, and the subjects became more personal, and the conversation covered the entire gambit of emotions, from joy to sorrow and all points in between.
The two of them each began to realize the commonalities they shared with the other. A sense of honor and desire for knowledge was at the heart of both of their beliefs. As were their feelings of compassion and respect for not just each other, but the world in general and the people in it, though Gabrielle's world was a touch more naïve compared to the modern, cutthroat turmoil of the present day. Those differences in culture also played a large part in their conversation.
For Gabrielle, she enjoyed David's no-nonsense honesty. He spoke his mind directly, and by doing so, Gabrielle immediately understood where she might stand in any given set of circumstances. She also enjoyed his philosophical side. He had a way of looking at the world that she had never experienced before. David called it "thinking outside the box".
David was enthralled by the way Gabrielle related the events of her life. It was the detail with which she would recall those events and the almost childish innocence that would shine, like a light, in her eyes as she reminisced that enthralled him. There was a fire within her as well, something deep and mysterious, that he was hard pressed to resist. He felt drawn to her in a way that he had never experienced before, even with his late wife. It was the same attraction, but then also different somehow. There were times that he didn't even hear the words. He simply enjoyed the sound of her voice speaking in his ear. He was in the midst of one of those reveries when suddenly, she stopped. David looked down and saw her eyes fixed on a point in the sky.
Then he heard the sound, so familiar in its low rumble. He looked up and saw the flashing red lights of the plane moving lazily across the dark sky. He smiled.
"What is that?" she asked in awe.
David smiled. "An airplane."
"A flying machine," David said simply. "A mode of transportation."
"It looks so small," Gabrielle tried to see the details of the dark image.
"That's because it's about thirty thousand feet in the air," He chuckled. Then he smiled a somewhat mischievous smile.
"Want to see one up close?" he asked, his eyebrows bounced.
They went around back and hopped into David's large pickup truck. The diesel engine rumbled to life and the big dark metallic blue beast crawled around and out to the main drive. As they did, Tommy came out.
"And just where are you two going?" he asked, crossing his arms.
"To show her something," David replied. "I'll let you guys do the figuring on this one."
"You realize that she's being looked for," Tommy said.
"Yeah, on the back of a motorcycle," David countered. "No one will see her in Caroline, here."
He raised the deeply smoked window slightly.
"See, tinted glass," he said. "We'll be fine."
"And where are you going?"
"Well, dad," he said. "I was hoping to take Gabrielle, here, to the airport." He smiled.
"I promise to have her home before midnight."
Tommy also began to grin.
"Shakespeare," he said. "It's one thirty?"
David put the truck in gear.
"I never said which day," he commented, and the window slid up as the big Silverado coasted up the drive and turned onto the main street.
Tommy just stood there and watched them go, smiling. He turned and went back into the garage, chuckling to himself.
"Oh yeah," he said with a smile. "That boy is hooked."
It took most of the night before Alti and Finch found the small rural township that most of the Zombie Squad called home. Once within the realm of possibility, however, the spread out arrangement of the area, along with the lack of adequate signage on most of the smaller, less traveled roads, soon had them wandering aimlessly down deserted farm roads and more than one occasional long driveway. After several hours of this, Finch lost his patience.
"This is a complete waste of time," He blurted. "Even if we knew where they were, it could take days before we would find them, unless we make some inquiries?"
"That would mean being seen and potentially identified," Alti said with uncommon patience. "Just keep driving. We'll find them. I have other means."
She closed her eyes and stretched out with her mind, seeking that unusual energy that belonged to her prey. Almost instantly, she caught it, like a bloodhound detecting a faint, elusive scent.
"Stop the car!" She barked.
Finch responded instantly, and the car halted at the side of the road.
Alti stepped out and closed her eyes again, feeling the energy around her. She found that unusual fragment, like an apple sitting at the top of a basket of oranges.
She turned and faced that energy.
"She's that way," she said in a hoarse hiss. Her eyes snapped open, looking back down the road. The trees stretched their limbs over the paved surface forming a long, skeletal tunnel into the shadows. She smiled.
"We have them," she growled.
Almost as soon as she said the words, the energy began moving away.
"No," she whispered, her eyes going hard again. "No, no, no," she slipped quickly back into the passenger seat. There was no way that they could sense her presence. The little bard was never that good.
"Turn the car around!" she ordered as she dove back into the car. "They're going that way!"
The black sedan spat rocks from its rear tires as it spun around and roared down the street.
Alti focused upon the energy, trying to home in on it, to see that meddling girl in her mind's eye.
"Where are you, you little bitch!" She muttered under her breath.
Her mind launched itself skyward, searching the horizon for that one illusive candle of life that was Gabrielle. Off in the distance she could see it, flickering like a pale white star. Her mind raced over the trees after it, seeing the pickup truck rumbling down the deserted road towards the highway. It was a large dark behemoth on six wheels.
"There you are," Alti's mind hissed. She willed herself closer. "I must see you! Hear you!"
Her mind descended to the bed of the truck, and up towards the opaque rear window. She heard the sound of music from within, mingled with two voices in casual conversation.
Slowly, she penetrated the exterior and beheld what lay within.
There they were. The bard on her right and the stranger on her left. She dared not try and warp the bard's mind with her growing powers. Not yet. She still needed the young bard in tact in order to assure her return. This man, however, would be another story. She would twist his mind like putty and mold it into something she could manipulate.
Her soul radiated with dark glee as she moved closer to his ear. Suddenly, she was in his mind, and darkness swallowed her perception.
It was an interesting and uncommon experience for her. Usually she would discover unprotected thoughts, or subdued emotions that she could tap. In this man's case, there was nothing evident. There was only a quick flash of awareness that was immediately quelled. Either this man was nothing more than an automaton, or he had a remarkably well trained mind. She felt her confidence began to dwindle.
A light formed somewhere above her, pale and cold, like the moon slowly peeking from behind a thick wall of clouds.
What she took as shadows about her slowly dissolved themselves into lines, black and jagged, weaving an endless pattern in dry, desolate earth. The view stretched out to the horizon, shimmering in silvery light. There was nothing to be seen except the dry, flat land, distant gentle rolling dunes, and nearby, a single, ancient, withered black tree of massive proportions. Its naked branches clawed skyward like the bones of a buried hand, trying to wrench itself free. Somewhere among the heavy clouds, there was a flash of pale light. A few moments later, thunder rolled softly across the plain like a growl from some devilish beast.
Alti suddenly felt uneasy about this place. She turned about, in essence to withdraw her spirit from this mans' mind, only to discover that she could not. Her anxiety rose to something she was unaccustomed to – fear. That sensation quickly angered her, washing the fear away.
David and Gabrielle both ceased talking at the same moment and looked at one another.
"Did you just feel that?" Gabrielle asked in a hush.
David merely held up one finger and then swerved to the side of the road and stopped the truck.
He put the truck in PARK and closed his eyes. Gabrielle watched as a myriad of emotions crossed his face in a matter of moments, and then something like absolute calm replaced it. His head rose to a neutral position, and his breathing slowed. In a matter of moments, David had managed to place himself in a state of trance. Gabrielle stared at him in wonder.
His fingers uncurled from the steering wheel and came to rest several inches above his lap, palms down and still. He was completely motionless.
Gabrielle felt the shiver of the intrusive presence emanating from him.
"Alti," she breathed, suddenly feeling more alone than she ever had before in her life. She knew that David needed help combating this assault upon his soul. She composed herself and tried to relax. Her eyes closed and her breathing slowed as she tried to sink into the same state of mental calm so she might go in and help him.
It seemed to take an eternity before she felt that simple sensation of ethereal release. She moved, like a wraith, towards David, only to be stopped by some invisible barrier. It knocked her back into her own body and effectively woke her back up. She blinked and looked at him in wonder.
Alti turned in a slow circle. "Show yourself!" She cried out in challenge. "I know you're here!"
"Of course I'm here. Where else should I be?" a voice replied coolly. It was low, gentle and deep. And it came from behind her. "Welcome to my mind."
Turning, she saw the figure of a man, hidden in shadow. His outline was lean and muscular, with broad shoulders and powerful legs. The arms were crossed over his muscular chest, but his face was hidden behind a shadow of long dark hair. Only his eyes could be seen, glinting in the pale light of the ghost moon.
"I belong here," he continued easily. "You, on the other hand, are a different matter?"
Alti saw something in those eyes that gave her pause. They were dark, and yet shone with an unnatural light, filled with confidence. They were fixed on her with primal intensity, challenging her.
"You think you could pit your will against mine?" she mocked him. "Do you know who I am?"
"I know what you are," the man replied, and she saw the glimmer of teeth as he smiled. "You're a library book that someone forgot to return. You're a myth, a story to frighten small children. You are an anachronism, and you have no place here!"
He stepped forward and Alti saw the same man from her memory, and yet not the same. He was older in the eyes, yet younger in the body at the same time. His arms dropped to his sides, hands twitching in anticipation.
"But, since you are here," he continued. "Tell me, what do you want?"
Alti realized that trying to intimidate this man would be a fruitless venture. Best to try another approach.
"I want the girl," she said hungrily. "I want Gabrielle! And I want the Amulet that you stole from me!"
The man stroked his beard for a moment, as if he were actually considering her offer, then he smiled the most self reliant, mocking smile she had ever seen.
"Um, no." he finished flatly. "Anything else?"
"You shall give her to me, or I will take her from you, and your soul with hers!" Alti growled.
The mocking grin faded and was replaced with a look so sinister that Alti couldn't remember ever seeing the like of it before. Again she felt that unfamiliar twinge of fear.
"Let me lay this out for you, Alti," the man said, and she started to hear her name. "Yes, I know who you are." He added quickly. "You are in my mind, right now, attempting to dominate me, and failing quite miserably, if I may say?"
"There isn't a soul in the world that I cannot bend to my will!" Alti replied, her confidence growing. "Yours included!"
"Girl," the man said with a laugh. "The world has been trying to turn me into a well behaved little robot for over thirty years, and you think you can do it in one night?"
The thunder rolled, louder now, as if a storm were approaching. Alti stared at this figure again and saw, as well as felt the waves of power pulsing from the figure.
She reached out, sending a wave of energy straight at the figure. He merely held his hand out to receive it and she watched as it hit his outstretched palm, stayed and slowly faded, absorbing itself into his form. He shrugged.
"You'll have to do better than that, Shaman," he scoffed. "You've dominated sheep for far too long. You've forgotten what it's like to hunt the wolf."
"Wolf!" Alti cackled. "Is that how you see yourself!"
The man's head dropped and his eyes stared at her with predatory calculation.
"I am!" His voice reverberated, low and demonic across the barren landscape, deeper than the rolling thunder that came in to meet it. The ground shook beneath her feet.
The lightning flashed across the sky over him, and in those brief flashes of light, Alti beheld the face of her opponent. His eyes were deep and shining, his face defined and chiseled, framed in dark whiskers, and his mouth was twisted in a cruel savage grin.
He looked like a wolf.
"You will be mine!" Alti screamed at him, but her voice had an uncharacteristic shrillness to it that this man seemed to relish.
She lashed out at him with everything she had, only to watch it be absorbed into this figure like water into the dry earth. He rocked back and forth from the attack, but his head was turned up, not in agony, but in rapture.
When she stopped, he looked back at her, with hungry eyes. He shook his shaggy head and laughing.
"Oh yeah!" he bellowed. "Come on! Hit me again! Let me see what you got!"
She was flabbergasted. Her energy seemed to have fed him, not harmed him. It had also weakened her. She was still vulnerable until the Joining of the Heavens. Already, the loss of her energy had made it possible for the impotent Professor Klaus to begin to reassert control. She forced the subservient persona back into the darkness and fixed her eyes on the figure before her.
"What are you?" She cried.
The figure smiled at her and then seemed to melt into the barren ground.
"Me?" that voice said from directly behind her. She wheeled and felt his hands grasp the front of her clothing, pulling her nose to nose with him. His eyes burned with ravenous intensity, and his face was bunched up into a malicious snarl.
"I'm the nightmare your momma warned you about!" He growled. Then he shoved her back with such force that she slid across the rough ground for several yards before coming to a halt. She sat up and looked at him in amazement.
"You know? This has been a lot of fun. Really, it has," he said with mock civility. "But I think it's time for you to go."
She felt the hair on her body stand up as the static energy around her built to explosive levels in a matter of instants. There was a blinding pale green flash, and the world became one exploration in the deepest pain imaginable. She felt the energy of her spirit shredding in the onslaught.
Alti convulsed in the passenger seat and slammed herself back against the backrest with a cry of agony. She blinked and saw Finch staring at her in concern.
Alti struggled to regain her composure, while at the same time attempting to convince her mind that she was not burning even though she felt the heat in every pore. She was blind. She could see nothing but the reality of the world before her. Her senses, her fix on Gabrielle, were momentarily blasted. She set her trembling hands on her knees and tried to control the shaking that came over her.
"Alti?" Mr. Finch asked. "Are you alright?"
Alti looked at him with as much menace as she could muster. It didn't work.
"I've lost her," she admitted. "Just find us a place to stay. I must rest."
David's eyes blinked and he took in a long shuddering breath. The suddenness of the action made Gabrielle jump in fright.
"I tried to get in and help –" she started, then she saw the look on David's pale face.
"Wow," he breathed shakily. "That hurt." And he toppled sideways into her lap.
Gabrielle cradled his head in her arms as he lay, unconscious, her eyes looked out the windows at the surrounding shadows. There was nothing but the gentle swaying of the trees in the moonlit night. Behind her, she saw the glow of approaching headlights and she ducked down low in the seat.
"David?" she whispered as the vehicle approached. "David, wake up."
She watched the black sedan coast past the truck and continued down the road into the darkness. Somehow, Gabrielle knew that Alti was in that car and she had just made one of the narrowest escapes in her entire life.
"We have to get out of here," she whispered nervously. Her eyes settled on the various controls for the vehicle. And her mind raced as she considered trying to operate them. The pedal on the right made you go, the one on the left made you stop. The big wheel was to turn? In a moment of panic she actually considered attempting to drive "Caroline". She had observed David and the principles seemed simple enough? They had to get out of there. If Alti had found him that quickly, she had to be close – very close! Her eyes considered the river seat for a while longer. "I can do this," she began to say. She kept repeating it to herself as she looked at the various dials and gauges. Her brows furrowed as she red them. Finally, with a quick glance through the rear window, she sighed.
"No," she finally concluded. "It's probably not as easy as it looks." She continued her search. This time her eyes fell on the small cell phone in David's breast pocket. She took it out and pulled it open. The tiny keys lit up and the small screen flashed.
How had David done this? She thought tentatively, she held the device up to the side of her head and said timidly.
Nothing happened. She waited a few tense moments as her mind whirled. What was it they called Tommy? She thought furiously until the name clicked.
"Call Papa Bear," she said again. This time there was a soft click, several rapid beeps, and the reassuring sound of the phone ringing.
Another sharp click and then a cheerful voice sounded in her ear, "Yo, Shakes, what happened? You run out of gas?"
"Tommy?" Gabrielle asked, still not sure how this thing was working.
"Gabs?" Tommy's voice became more serious. "What are you doing on the phone?"
"Something's happened to David!" Gabrielle said quickly, feeling the nervous energy rushing out of her, now that she had someone she could communicate with. "Alti tried to overwhelm him, I think he's okay, but I don't know! He's unconscious!"
"Take it easy, now," Tommy's voice soothed. "Just stay calm. Where are you?"
"I don't know," Gabrielle admitted. "Not far from you, I think, but I don't know the roads."
"Okay, okay," Tommy said, and she could sense that he was moving. "Describe what you see. Or anything you passed in the last few minutes."
Gabrielle did so, as best she could. But, she had been so engrossed in their conversation that she hadn't been paying much attention as to the direction they were heading, or any potential landmarks. Tommy relayed the shaky directions and there was finally a consensus.
"Okay," he said. "We're on our way! Just sit tight!"
Gabrielle put the phone on the dashboard and looked down at David's face. He was breathing softly, but completely unresponsive.
After what seemed a short eternity, David's left fingers twitched and he gave a soft groan. His eyes opened and looked up at her concerned face. He winced even as he tried to smile at her.
"Moving kind of fast on me, aren't you?" he asked hoarsely. His left hand reached weakly for the steering wheel. He groaned again in pain as he pulled himself back up. Then he fumbled for the door release and stumbled out of the truck and against the front fender, breathing hard.
"Too much," he hissed in pain. "Too much."
"David?" Gabrielle got out and ran around to him. She stood before him in case he fell over again. "What happened?"
David's eyes were filled with internal agony as he looked about him. Close by was a massive old oak tree.
"Come to papa," he groaned, and he stumbled over towards it. He dropped to his knees in front of it, with Gabrielle right behind him.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
David merely placed his hands on the roughened bark and let his eyes close tightly. Gabrielle watched in amazement, as pulses of greenish gold energy seemed to flow from David's fingers into the massive tree and vanish into the ground. She felt the power course through the earth beneath her feet.
David's teeth were clenched from the effort of releasing everything that he had received in his mental duel of a short while before.
The energy pulsed faster and faster as he let his low groan of pain build to a rising cry of agony. Then he simply fell back onto the soft, cool earth and lay still.
Gabrielle knelt over him, her fingers brushing the long hair out of his face.
"David?" she asked timidly.
"It's okay," he said softly. "I'm just counting my bones." He smiled wearily. "I think I just ground a quarter inch of enamel off my teeth."
"What happened?" Gabrielle asked.
"Alti tried to overcome my will," David whispered. "She's got a lot of juice for an old lady." He shuddered as the last of the invasive power left his mind. "Had to get it all out of my system. Had to ground myself."
He looked up at her and smiled again. "Man, you're cute when you get nervous."
"I'm-" she stammered. She looked into his eyes and realized that he was there, completely and wholly, albeit exhausted. The sound of a loud engine could be heard in the distance and another truck crunched to a stop behind David's.
Debbie, Shilah, and Tommy all emerged.
"What happened?" Shilah asked as they approached.
David rolled over heavily and looked up at them, then at Gabrielle. "Slick, Gabby. Real slick."
Shilah knelt next to David, looking into his eyes.
"Tell me," Shilah said.
David recounted the entire incident all the way up to the point he lost consciousness, at which time, Gabrielle finished the story.
Shilah listened carefully and nodded. She smiled down at David.
"That was incredibly brave," she said. "Also, incredibly stupid." Then she smiled at him. "I'm impressed."
"Yeah," David replied as he slowly rose to his feet. "I'm impressed too."
"Well," Debbie said. "At least she didn't get a fix on the clubhouse. That's something."
"Yes," Shilah agreed. "And once we get back, I'm going to have to make sure she can't." She looked up at Tommy. "You said the Ritual Room was ready?"
"Whenever you are," Tommy nodded.
Shilah gave a nod. "Tommy, take our hero, here, back to the clubhouse to rest. Debbie, the girls and I will need to do some work." Shilah turned back to Gabrielle. "Would you ride with us, please? I need to speak with you."
"Alright," Gabrielle agreed reluctantly. She would rather have stayed with David.
Tommy helped David over to Caroline and seated him in the passenger side, and then he got in and fired up the diesel. The big blue truck swung easily around, followed by his own large brown Ford.
Gabrielle looked out the window at the back of David's truck, biting her lip.
Finally she couldn't help it. "Where did he learn how to do that?" she asked, looking over at Shilah.
"Which part?" Shilah asked.
"He went into trance faster than anyone I've ever seen before." She said. "And when I finally went in, he kept me out? He faced Alti all alone and apparently won?"
"He barely won," Shilah nodded. Then she looked at Gabrielle for a moment. "David has been rather an enigma for us." She thought for a few moments. "One thing I am certain of: he is a natural Blood Witch. His abilities are handed down to him through his family. We simply don't know which family it is."
"I don't understand?" Gabrielle asked.
"David was adopted by his late parents. There was no information about who his birth parents were. Just a few out of date files with very little information. All his life, he's had a different view of the world. As he grew up, he instinctively began to train himself to use the abilities that he has. Before meeting us ten years ago, he was a solitary practitioner, though he didn't know it himself. The idea of being a witch had never entered his mind."
"If he didn't know what he was, how did he manage to learn what he learned?"
Debbie leaned up from the back seat. "Trial and error, mostly." She added. "With the emphasis on error." She grinned. "Remember Barry's basement?"
Shilah's smile widened and she laughed. "Yes, that was a rather large cleanup."
Gabrielle looked back and forth at them.
Shilah smiled. "David instinctually knew that he had to train his mind to be able to control the things that he did. So, at a very early age, he enrolled in the martial studies. Tai Chi, Kempo, Karate, Aikido, Tai Kwon Do, and a few other more esoteric ones. That was where he learned to focus and clear his mind. He was able to do that when he sensed Alti's invasion of his mind. It's also where he learned to control energy, for the most part. All of those disciplines stressed a need for meditation in a private 'sacred space'. Well, when he lived with an acquaintance of mine, he turned his entire basement room into that 'sacred space' just by the power of his mind. Barry's wife often commented to me about how she could go into his room and all the noise of the house above would simply vanish. She also felt the energy in the place."
"Well," Debbie added. "David stayed with them for a year before he moved on again. That was when the fun really started."
"David had unknowingly opened a portal in that room. One that allowed him to absorb the energy he needed in his martial studies. However, when he left, he did not know that he had to shut that portal. So, a few weeks after he moved out, all manner of strange things began to happen."
"Shilah and the rest of us had to go in and clean up the spiritual mess," Debbie said, still smiling. "Took us nearly five days to do it. He had completely saturated the place with his energy."
"It was at that point that I realized," Shilah went on. "I needed to find this man."
"Problem was," Debbie added. "He was gone. Poof!" she held a hand up helplessly.
"He reappeared two years later, in a book store, run by another acquaintance of mine, and this time, we seized the opportunity."
"His parents had only recently passed on," Shilah continued. "He was just getting himself situated. He was married at the time, and living in the area. I took him on as a student and watched as the realization of everything he had been looking for just began to fall into place. He buried himself in the study of the craft, finding all the missing pieces he had been searching for, and I watched in amazement as his abilities began to grow exponentially. Then Lizzy passed away and he withdrew for a long time. He finally came back about five years ago, and we've been a close knit little family for him ever since."
"He's been as much for all of us," Debbie finished. "I swear, if I were ten years younger, and single," she sighed. Then she looked at Gabrielle. "You care about him, don't you?"
Gabrielle was suddenly taken aback.
Debbie shook her head and grinned. "Do yourself a big favor, young lady," she said. She pointed at the back of 'Caroline' and nodded. "Grab onto that man and keep him. You'd never find another one as good as he is."
Gabrielle felt the blood rushing to her cheeks and she laughed nervously.
"Debbie," Shilah said. "There are other things to be concerned with before you start playing at Matchmaker again." Then she looked at Gabrielle. "Like you, and how this Alti character was able to home in on you as she did."
"What can I do about that?" Gabrielle asked.
Shilah smiled a sly smile. "You need to learn how to change the aura that surrounds you. You have to be able to manipulate the energy that makes you, you."
"Ah," Gabrielle nodded. "And how do I do that?"
"One thing at a time, baby," Debbie said mysteriously. "One thing at a time." She looked up as the clubhouse came into view. The two trucks coasted around back and parked.
Once they were all back in the main room, Shilah spoke.
"Tommy, would you entertain our guest for the time being?"
Tommy nodded. "My pleasure."
Shilah looked at David, now fidgeting with nervous energy. "And make sure he takes the time to meditate and get himself back in balance?"
Tommy's smile melted. "So much for the 'pleasure' part."
"Ha, ha," David grinned.
"Girls, we have some business downstairs." They all rose and vanished through the door.
Tommy also rose and went behind the bar into the kitchen. He began mixing a large bowl of salt with various other herbs.
"Hey! Shakespeare!" he shouted. "Don't give me no lip! Get some rest!"
David nodded. "I will." He looked at Gabrielle. "Eventually."
Gabrielle nodded and smiled.
David produced a key from within his jacket and then went down the hall, unlocking the door directly across from Gabrielle's room. He gave her a tired wink and vanished within.
Tommy came out a few minutes later with his dry mixture and jerked his head.
"Come on," he offered.
They began a slow circuit of the property, pouring the mixture on the earth as they walked.
"What are you doing?" Gabrielle asked.
"Sealing this place," Tommy replied. "Making sure no unwanted visitors come nosing about."
Gabrielle nodded. "I understand." Then she looked up at the big man. "So, how long have you been a Sha- uh, Witch?"
Tommy smiled and nodded at his preferred title. "Just a few years, no where near as long as the others."
"And what's your specialty?" Gabrielle asked.
Tommy smiled. "Potions, lotions, herbs, and oils," he replied. "I'll mix up a batch of something that can cure whatever ails you."
They continued, discussing various plants and their properties. As they came around to the back of the building, they saw David, standing in the middle of a large clear patch near the forest.
Tommy put a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder before she could say anything.
"Just leave him be," he whispered. "He's doing what he was told to do, more or less."
"Shilah told him to rest?" Gabrielle protested.
"She also told him to get his balance back," Tommy added. "That's what he's doing. This is where all that Kung Fu shit blends in nicely with what we do."
Tommy pointed at him. "Just watch. I've gotta finish this. I'll be back in a few minutes." Then he continued on, scattering his mixture, and vanished into the shadows.
Gabrielle slipped up next to a large tree, hiding in the shadows and feeling a little guilty about this unperceived intrusion.
Though the air was cold, he stood in the moonlight wearing only a loose fitting pair of pants. His upper body shone in the pale moonlight, muscular and defined. His hands were resting palm to palm before him, and his eyes were closed as if in prayer.
Gabrielle could see his breath smoking from his nostrils in soft faint wisps, and his chest moved slowly and easily. She began to realize something else. Though he was there, before her, plain as day, she could not sense him. It was like she were beholding some kind of statue, not a man. Her eyes simply drank in the sight of him, statuesque and beautiful in the moonlight. Then, slowly and deliberately, David began to move.
It was like watching a dance in slow motion. David stretched his hands out before him, then back in, then off to one side or the other, and finally he began to slowly move about the clearing. The entire time, his eyes remained closed.
As Gabrielle watched, she began to realize that the movement was not only a form of meditation, it was a form of combat as well. She could see the strikes and the blocks; the kicks and throws all melded into a fluid dance of action that began to pick up speed.
He moved faster and faster, though his physical exertion was unchanged, and then, just as it had built, it began to slow back down until he ended up in precisely the same place he had begun. His hands before him, eyes closed.
Gabrielle stared at him in wonder. Then his eyes flicked open and stared at her.
Suddenly, he was there again, his entire being and he perceived her, standing concealed in the shadows.
She caught her breath.
David's eyes shone in the moonlight, and a smile played at his lips. His hands dropped to his sides and he bowed at the waist, his eyes never leaving hers.
At the base of the bow, he winked. Then he rose, turned and strode back towards the building.
She was getting ready to leave, feeling like she had just intruded on a very private moment when he stopped and picked up something. He returned to the center of the clearing, now holding a long slender staff of dark wood.
A quarterstaff! Now this was something she knew about! Her guilt vanished and was replaced by her insatiable curiosity.
David resumed his stance of a moment before, and then he began again, this time with the staff as part of the action.
Gabrielle watched in fascination as he spun the weapon this way and that, moving it in ways that she had never seen her Amazon teachers' use. She watched him with rapt attention, suddenly not caring if he saw her. A part of her wanted to join him, but she held herself in check.
Again the exercise sped up and wound down until it came to a halt. David drove the narrow point of the staff into the soft earth. Then Tommy appeared at the top of the steps leading into the common room.
"Shakes!" he barked. "You're supposed to be resting! Don't make me open a can!"
David smiled and looked up at Tommy. "Open a can, huh?"
"You know I will!" Tommy replied. "And after you try and whup my ass, Shilah will have a few things to say to you about it!"
"Alright, alright," David conceded. He jogged up the steps and vanished into the building. Tommy looked down at the clearing and saw Gabrielle come out of the shadows. He grinned.
"Quite the show off, ain't he?" He called down to her.
Gabrielle smiled and waived at him, then followed up the steps and into the building. She paused at the end of the hall, looking down at David's door, and then she sat down at the bar and waited.
Before long, Debbie, Jesse, Katrina, and Shilah came up from the shop level and motioned Tommy and Gabrielle to join them at the large sofas.
"Is it done?" Shilah asked knowingly. Tommy nodded.
"Then this place is now protected." Shilah finished, breathing a sigh of relief. Then she looked at Gabrielle.
"Now," she said, producing the amulet and handing it to her. "What do you make of this?"
Gabrielle took it, and immediately, one of the four crystals began to pulse with internal fire. Gabrielle almost dropped it in surprise.
"Cool," Katrina murmured, leaning forward. "What's that mean?"
Tommy reached over and took it from Gabrielle, only to have the light within the amulet fade. "Means it will only work for her," he said. Then he frowned. "Looks like a compass, like on a map." He turned it thoughtfully. "You know, North, South, East, West?" he handed it back to Gabrielle, only to see it begin to glow again.
"A compass that only works for you," Tommy finished.
"Why does it only work for her?" Jesse asked.
Shilah frowned thoughtfully. "Gabrielle," she asked. "You told us that you were sent here to retrieve the Chronos Stone and return it to the past?"
"Yes, but I don't know where the stone will be?" Gabrielle replied.
"What if?" Tommy was thinking out loud. Then he rose and went to the bar, rummaging about in a storage cabinet. He drew out a folded map and began to spread it across the floor. It was a wall-sized depiction of the entire state of Illinois.
"Gabby, come here a sec," Tommy instructed.
Gabrielle stood at the foot of the massive map and stared down at it questioningly. Many of the lines had been highlighted and small noted accompanied them, indicating routes to different destinations.
"What are those?" Gabrielle asked.
"We highlighted and noted the main charity runs that happen throughout the year. Green for spring, yellow for summer, Orange for fall, and Blue for winter. As you can see, there ain't much to do in the winter time." He shrugged. "But that's not why I brought this out."
"I get it," Jesse said, grinning. "You think it'll work?"
Tommy shrugged. "Only one way to find out." He pointed at the bottom right corner.
"Put the amulet down here and see what happens?"
Gabrielle knelt down and stared at the map. Suddenly the top and left side crystals began to glow.
"Okay, okay," Tommy said excitedly. "Now, move the amulet in the indicated direction."
"Brilliant," Shilah said, nodding.
Gabrielle did as instructed, watching as the crystals began to pulse with purpose. She crawled across the map, following where the pointers led. Suddenly the green crystal in the center burst to life.
"That's it!" Tommy cried with glee. "Damn, I'm good!"
Gabrielle's mouth was open in awe as she saw the glowing light beneath her hand. She lifted the artifact, only to have the fire in the central crystal die. She replaced it and the green light grew again.
The rest of them were on their feet, staring down at the map.
"Where is it?" Katrina asked.
Debbie crouched down next to Gabrielle and looked down. She smiled knowingly.
"Serpent Mound State Park," she said. "That's a pretty good haul from here."
"But now we know," Tommy said happily. "Let's go get it."
"We can't," Shilah said. "We can't get it until Saturday, during the Convergence."
"Why not?" Tommy asked.
"Because it isn't there yet," Shilah surmised. "This amulet tells us where it will be, not where it is."
"Yeah," Debbie commented. "And we don't want Alti knowing about this before Saturday, or we could be in a lot of trouble."
"Debbie?" Tommy said as he looked down at the map. "Look here."
Debbie looked down at the map.
"You seeing what I'm seeing?" Tommy asked, smiling.
Debbie's eyes fixed on the long, orange line that went from the northeastern edge of the state down past the indicated spot.
"I'm seeing it," Debbie began to nod. "Oh, that's good, Papa Bear. That's real good."
"What?" Gabrielle, Shilah, Katrina, and Jesse all asked at the same time.
Debbie smiled broadly.
"This Halloween also happens to be the day that A.B.A.T.E. holds its annual Ride for the Cancer Research Foundation. It goes from Downtown Chicago to Starved Rock State Park."
"There's usually about two thousand or more bikes in that ride," Tommy added. "The ride starts at eight o'clock, Saturday night, and Arrives at Starved Rock about Twelve Thirty Sunday morning."
"I'm still not seeing why this is so good," Katrina shrugged.
"Kat, baby," Tommy asked. "If you want to hide a tree, where would you hide it?"
Katrina's eyes lit up. "In a forest!"
"And if you want to hide two people on a motorcycle?" Debbie asked.
Jesse was actually laughing out loud. "Oh, I would die to see the look on her face," she said.
"There's just one small detail," Tommy continued. "We can't just have three or four of us pulling out of here to meet up with the ride. We need everybody, or as close to everybody as we can get. We have forty bikes down there, but most of them are set up for storage. We're looking at one frantic maintenance schedule if we're gonna get them all ready in four days. Plus, I have another idea."
"I'm on it," Katrina bounced off the floor and ran to the phone. She dialed, waited and then spoke. "Hey Shawn – yes, I realize what time it is – look, I have a question for you? How fast can you get everyone together for a ride? This Saturday afternoon. Okay. Be at the clubhouse tomorrow morning. Oh, and get the others here. We've got bikes to prep. Love ya!" She hung up.
"Right," Tommy said, moving to the door. "I've got a shop to organize. Jesse, Deb, Kat, lets start getting the bikes moved."
Gabrielle and Shilah followed the others out into the dimly lit garage. Tommy thumped down the steps to a series of silver boxes and flipped up three levers. Suddenly, the dim light was replaced with the glaring pale illumination of daylight as numerous other lights hummed to life.
"Gabrielle," Shilah said. "We still need to speak. Come with me, please."
The first thing David heard was the familiar RAT-TAT-TAT of an impact wrench beneath him. He rolled up to a seated position and rubbed his eyes. Sunlight streamed in from the window. He pulled a shirt and pair of jeans on and stepped out into the hall.
Voices could be heard in the shop. A lot of voices, and then RAT-TAT-TAT! The sound of the air tools.
"What the hell?" he asked, moving to the main room. He almost crashed into Michelle bustling out of the kitchen with a tray full of coffee mugs.
"Morning!" she greeted, stopping before him. She extended the tray, and he removed a mug.
"What the hell is going on?" He asked.
"Can't talk now," Michelle said quickly. "Gotta deliver!"
She kicked the door open and turned back. "Wanna wake your friend? She's missing all the fun!"
David listened tot he cacophony of mechanical sounds below.
"Fun?" he retorted. He turned back towards the hall and knocked on Gabrielle's door.
A soft groan came from the other side of the door.
"Gabrielle?" David called, and he opened the door.
Gabrielle lay sprawled on the bed, covered in the blankets. Gabrielle pulled the blankets over her head.
"Come on," David said unenthusiastically. "Rise and shine."
Gabrielle peeked out from beneath the blanket. "I'll rise," she said thickly. "But I refuse to shine."
David sipped the coffee and smiled. "I hear ya." He closed the door, allowing her privacy and then went back to his room and got properly dressed.
The two of them stepped out into the shop and stopped dead.
The entire place was a hive of activity.
At the center of it was Tommy, moving back and forth with a stack of plastic bags, stuffed with paper. He was issuing orders just like a shop manager, which is in fact what his line of work was.
"Bout freaking time!" he bellowed at David. Then he turned back around to a skinny dark haired young man.
"Lawn Boy! Get T-Bone's Bagger on Shakespeare's lift!" He handed David one of the plastic envelopes. "Oil Change, plugs and carb adjust," he said.
"Tommy?" David started, but the big man held up his hand.
"Hey, Shawn!" he called.
Off in the corner, another large man paced back and forth, a cell phone in his hand. He paused in mid sentence and looked up.
"Did Munch send those parts from Suburban yet?"
Shawn consulted a large dry marker board in front of him.
"They'll be here by three!" He called back, and then he resumed his conversation.
Tommy nodded and turned to another station where a second man was just finishing up on a blue Road King.
"Goat!" he called. "Get Rangers bike out to the staging area and bring in the purple Fat Boy!"
"Got it!" the young man replied, catching the next work order in his hand. He tossed it onto his workbench and lowered the hydraulic jack holding his finished project.
"Tommy!" David repeated more loudly. The big man turned back. "What the hell is going on?"
"I'll fill you in later," Tommy said. "Right now, I need you to get to work on T-Bone's Bagger, okay?"
David's eyebrows rose and he looked back at Gabrielle, who only smiled a knowing smile.
Lawn Boy rolled in a large, gleaming black motorcycle and positioned it on David's lift.
Shrugging, David went to his station and began opening up his tools.
"Will you please tell me what's going on?" he asked Gabrielle. He reviewed the quick notes on the bike he was assigned and then began selecting the necessary tools.
Gabrielle leaned against the workbench and told him everything.
As David heard the plan he laughed mischievously. "I love it."
From that point on, day or night, the shop was in constant activity as motorcycles of various makes and models were rolled in and out, one by one for repairs. Some were simple oil changes, while others ranged all the way up to complete engine and transmission rebuilds. Everyone worked as long as they could, or slept up in the main room before returning to work. Even Gabrielle learned enough of the basics to turn a wrench here and there. It was something that she found she actually enjoyed.
They also found out that while she liked the taste of coffee, the caffeine in it had a rather intense effect upon her. After the second episode of her practically tap dancing across the ceiling, Michelle was forced to put on a pot of decaf.
The shop was divided into sections. Prep, Work, Close Out, and Final Cleanup. Everyone knew their jobs and did them quickly and efficiently.
For the less mechanically inclined, they would support the others, keeping the coffee coming or preparing the meals.
Delivery trucks from various dealerships arrived like clockwork for two days straight. David paused when he recognized a delivery truck from a nearby Oldsmobile dealership. He frowned as Tommy took possession of a large order of parts and had them wheeled into the back bay - David's back bay.
He peeked underneath the Goldwing he was working on.
"Gabrielle?" he called. "Can you pop the drain plug on this for me? I'll be right back."
Gabrielle nodded, happy to use the little bit of modern knowledge she had acquired.
David went across the shop and found Tommy, Dusty and Steve deep in conversation.
"What's up?" David asked. Then he saw the stack of schematics laid out on the table – his schematics. "What are you doing?"
"If this is going to work," Tommy said. "You're going to need something a little safer than Rosie. So, we're going to get Panama ready for you."
"Panama?" David said. "Tommy? The car is in pieces?"
"Yeah?" Steve replied, folding his arms.
"You're talking a frame up build," David said.
"Inside and out!"
"In two days?"
"Yeah?" Steve looked amused.
"With all my little options?"
"You guys are crazy!"
"Yeah?" Steve said. "We done now?"
A squeal from David's workstation, followed by rolls of laughter, interrupted the highly enlightened conversation.
David looked up in alarm and then broke into a huge grin. He laughed out loud with the others.
Apparently, Gabrielle had run into a small issue with her assigned task. When she had looked beneath the bike to finish removing the errant drain plug, the oil had poured out all over the lift, and all over the right side of Gabrielle's face. She stood there, her hair and face covered in the dark liquid, frowning angrily at the machine, and then she blushed as she heard the laughter.
David walked back over to her, grinning broadly.
Gabrielle wiped the slippery stuff from her face and fixed him with a dark scowl.
"It's not funny," she moaned.
"I'm sorry," David said, his voice breaking. "I'm really trying not to laugh." Then the laughter just burst from him again.
After a few moments of good-natured humor, David began to look at Gabrielle closely, his smile fading to something more thoughtful.
Suddenly, Gabrielle began to feel like she was being studied. She pushed her dirty hair back out of her face and looked at him.
David didn't hear her. He was staring at her face and her hair, that had been a lovely golden blond, now stained a dirty brown by the errant oil.
"Kat!" He called over his shoulder. "Come here a minute!"
Katrina came running in from outside. "Yeah, what's up?" Then she saw Gabrielle and her hands covered her mouth as she began to laugh.
"Oh god," she laughed. "What happened to you?"
"Nothing," Gabrielle sulked.
"I have an idea," David said. Then he whispered in Katrina's ear for a moment.
Katrina's eyes lit up with glee. "You think so?"
David nodded. Then he looked at Gabrielle. "Right now, Alti is looking for a blonde on the back of a bike, right?"
"Yeah," Katrina agreed. "But she also knows what Gabby looks like."
"From behind?" David asked.
"I get it," Katrina nodded and smiled.
"I don't," Gabrielle asked, still wiping furiously at her filthy hair.
"Hey Bullet!" David turned back to the stocky, dark skinned man. "What do you think? Brunette or Red Head?"
"You know me, Cavrone," Derek replied easily. "I always say; Knock em dead in red."
David looked back at Katrina, his eyebrow rose.
"You bet," Katrina nodded. Then she reached out for Gabrielle. "Come on, Gabs. Let's get you cleaned up, and then, I've got a surprise for you."
Gabrielle, still completely bewildered, followed the excited young woman up the stairs.
"You know how Shilah was talking to you about focussing your mind into changing the way your aura is perceived?" Katrina explained.
"Well, we can do the same with your appearance." She smiled. "Nothing crazy. Just a subtle change."
Katrina led her up into the main room and fished out a few things from the oversized bag she always carried.
"Go take a shower and get cleaned up," she instructed. "Then get ready to relax. This'll be fun!"
David finished up the Gold Wing and cleaned up the oil spill. He saw Katrina running out of the shop towards her car.
"Where are you going?" he called after her.
"I need supplies!" She called back, and was gone. She returned a few minutes later with a large plastic bag.
"Okay, boys," She said from the foot of the steps. "The bar is closed until I'm done, understood?"
This brought a chorus of groans from the assembled people.
"Yeah well, deal with it!" Katrina replied and she jogged up the steps and locked the door behind her.
Several hours later, as David and Steve were discussing the reassembly of his car, the door opened and Katrina came out, followed by a second figure.
"Oh, Shakespeare?" Katrina called out in a lilting voice. "Have I got a surprise for you!"
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