Storm King: Opening Moves (Episode Five)

Copyright David Mullin 1999

Sunday; June 22, 1986

I set down my fork and picked up my wine glass, taking a sip to wash down the last bite of filet minon. The dim light from the chandeliers glinted off the crystal glass. Leaning back in my chair a little, I looked over at my companion, still finishing the last of her meal. "That was a good dinner."

Debra smiled, her green eyes glowing in the candle-light. "Yes, it was. It's amazing how good company accentuates a fine meal." I saluted her with my glass and took another sip.

I gazed at her while she continued eating. Gods, she is beautiful. Ever since we had met, my first time training with the Clan, I had found her attractive and intriguing. If someone had told me that I would be going out with this pretty creature, I would have thought they were joking. I knew I wasn't bad looking, I just never considered myself attractive.

Debra's eyes locked with mine. "What?"

I smiled self-consciously. "I was just wondering why such a pretty girl as you is going out with a lout like me."

"Simple," she said, examining her fingernails nonchalantly, "you're the only man I know who can beat me at shinai."

I smiled distantly, remembering the first time we had fought in a free-for-all. I had beaten her, barely. That was the first time we had gone out; how long ago was it? I looked at her. "This is our anniversary, you know."

She gave me a curious look. "What?"

"Our anniversary. It was 18 months ago today that we went out for the first time. I remember because it was the same day as the Christmas party at my work and the day before I was initiated into the Clan."

"So, it's our anniversary. What do you want to do to celebrate it?" She gave me a coquettish smile.

I returned with a mischievous one. "Well..."

I was interrupted by a beeping noise. Debra produced a beeper from her purse and looked at it for a moment. She furrowed her eyebrows at what she saw and stood up. "I'll be right back." Picking up her purse, she headed towards the telephones.

I watched her go. I wish I knew how to interpret her flirtatious remarks like that. I could never quite tell if she was serious. For the past 18 months, we had been going out every couple of weekends. However, we seemed to be nothing more than two good friends having a good time. I didn't know if it would become more. I didnít know if I wanted it to. I thought about it for a moment. I guess, if I let myself, I could probably fall in love with her, but then againóI danced around that line of thought and the pain that it held. Taking another sip of wine, I noticed Debra returning.

She picked up her coat and said, "We must go. There is a Code Red about ten minutes from here. Hazard level at least. I'll brief you as we go. The check should be here momentarily."

I stood up and pulled on my coat. The waiter came over with our check and I gave him the money. I didn't wait for the change but led Debra out of the restaurant. Once we were in my truck and on the road, I said, "Okay, let's have it."

"We discovered signs of a Black operation within the city. A mid-level strike team was scrambled to look into it. Two Majors and Two Minors. Apparently, they found it; or rather, it found them. They were checking out a building on the east side when they were jumped by two operatives. At least one of them was a Hazard. One of the Minors broke and ran, calling in as soon as he found a phone. We don't know anything about the other three."

I nodded. "How long ago did this happen?"

"Ten, fifteen minutes. We've got several other near and full Hazards on the way there now, we're the closest by about five minutes. Damn! I wish I had my tools with me. I'd feel much better if I had my scepter."

"Shouldn't we wait until more arrive before rushing into anything?"

"No. The other three are still missing. We don't know bad the situation it but the Blacks seem to be unusually aggressive. The Minor who got out said that he thought that they were using lethal force."

My head snapped around at this. Lethal force? Great. What the hell am I doing rushing to meet a couple of killers of unknown strength. I glanced over at Debra. She was wringing her hands and looking wide-eyed out the window, bespeaking a similar train of thought. Wonderful. If she's concerned, then I'm in real trouble.

I followed Debra's directions to the building in the business sector of Carson City. As we pulled up across the street, a single figure bolted through the door and started running towards us. A barely visible force reached out from within the building and struck him in the back. He was knocked forward, tumbling along the ground and coming to rest face down about ten feet from the truck. In seconds, I was out the door and at his side, probing his body with my senses. Debra wasn't far behind me. "Is he..."

I shook my head. "No. He's still alive, but beyond my meager healing talents to help. Let's get him into the truck and move in." She nodded and helped me lift him up. We carried him to the bed of my pickup and covered him with a blanket pulled from behind the seat. We turned and looked at the building. I could see and feel nothing out of the ordinary. "Let's go."

We crossed the street and entered the building. The front doors led into a long hall with many doors leading off from it. Many of the doors were pad-locked. "Seems to be a storage facility of some kind," I said. "These doors seem to all be locked so they aren't near by. What an odd place for a base of operations."

She shrugged. "Who'd notice."

About a hundred feet down the hall was another set of doors. As we approached these doors, they opened, revealing a strange man. At the sight of us, a scarlet nimbus sprang up about him. Debra took the lead, her red-pink barrier enveloping both of us as I fed my energy into her.

They didn't bother with thought-forms, but conducted a combat on a level beyond my understanding. I could perceive the exchange of energy between them, but beyond sensing its presence, I could discern little about it. With my energy supplementing her own, Debra slowly advanced upon the man, forcing him back into the room beyond the doors.

We entered another room with two doors straight ahead, and one to the left. Moments after we entered, a scream of pain came from the door on the left.

"Go," Debra said. "I can take this one alone. Be careful, I'll follow when I am able." I nodded and headed towards the door. Our opponent was too involved in the fight of his life to try to stop me.

The door led to a hall which in turn led into another room. As I entered, I saw a woman I recognized for the Clan being pinned against the wall by an ashen web of energy originating from another strange man. He noticed me and gestured at me with his left hand. A golden halo surrounded me as my defenses sprang up and caught the attack. The force of the blow rocked my shields and dropped me to my knees. The man released his hold on the Clans-woman, allowing her to crumple to the floor. He turned full on to me and hurled another bolt of dark grey energy. My nimbus contorted and gave under the pressure of his attack, barely holding it away from me

My shield is vastly insufficient against this guy; he must be another Hazard. Another blow like that and I'll be done for. I need something that will hold its structure by its very nature. My mind raced. Of course! Math! A sphere!

I centered and grew a sphere of golden light out from within, replacing the failing halo. I focused my concentration on the structure of the sphere. The man struck again, the energy of his blast washing over the surface of my new shield. The structure of the defense held, it only constricted somewhat as my ability to hold it at a larger size was taxed by the force of his attack. The structure was working! In order for him to breach my shield, he will have to apply enough pressure to make it constrict to be smaller than I am. All I have to do was maintain the size until Debra could come.

He struck again and again, each time my sphere constricted a little more. Very shortly, my entire consciousness was filled with only the thought of maintaining the size of the shield. I sensed Debra's presence only because of the cessation of the man's attacks.

I opened my eyes. Debra was locked in combat with my opponent. I could see she was tired from the intensity of her last fight and was slowly being forced back. Gathering myself, I expanded my sphere enough for me to stand and leapt at the man. He was momentarily distracted by my bizarre attack. I managed to catch him with a blow to the head, knocking him back a few feet. He immediately returned with a savage blow of psychic energy. The suddenness of his attack caught me off guard and my concentration faltered. My sphere collapsed under the force of his attack. I struggled to restructure another defense but he was already moving in to crush the life from me.

I barely noticed the pinkish hand of ghostly energy reach over my shoulder and grab the man. It slammed him against the wall and then transformed into a more substantial beam of energy that pierced his shield, striking him in the center of his chest. He screamed as the red-pink light enveloped him. As the attack ceased, the man slid slowly to the floor; his eyes wide in horror, his head laid to one side, blood trickling from his ears and nose.

Before I touched him, I knew that he was dead. A quick probe confirmed my fears. I looked back at Debra and the look on her face told me that she knew it too.

Mike listened patiently to our report before speaking. "There will have to be an investigation, but it appears to me you acted correctly throughout the entire situation. Our people are cleaning up the site so there should be no trace back to you two or the Clan. Debra?" She was gazing off into space, not looking at either Mike or me. She didn't seem to hear him. "Debra," he said more insistently. She looked at him, her face entirely blank, and said nothing. "Are you okay?"

She turned her head away again and said, "Yes, I'm fine." Her tone was flat.

Mike looked at me and cocked his head towards Debra. I shook my head. As soon as she killed the enemy operative, she totally blocked me out. She was refusing to deal with what she had done, and was running from herself to do so. Mike jerked his head towards his kitchen and rose. I followed him in.

Once inside, he said, "She's pretty messed up by this. Ordinarily, I bring in one of our Psi-healers, but Deb's a Hazard and nobody's going to get into her mind unless she lets them."

"And she isn't about to. She locked up the instant she realized she'd killed the guy. Sheís refusing to come to terms with the fact that she is capable of killing. And until she does, she just going to pull farther and farther away from reality." I thought for a moment. "Couldn't we take her to a mundane therapist?"

Mike considered this before shaking his head. "Giving drugs to a mystic in her condition would be a very dangerous prospect. Given what she can't tell them, weíre just as qualified as they are to pull her through it. Maybe more." He looked at me. "I know you and Deb have been seeing each other for a while. I know she likes you. Using the bond that represents, you probably have the best chance of getting through to her."

I took a half-step back and raised my hands defensively. "I don't know about that. I think you over-estimate our relationship. Besides, I'm no therapist. I donít know how to deal with this any more than she does."

"No, but you're still rational. She isnít. Youíre her friend, which makes you better than a therapist, at least for dealing with severe and acute emotional trauma. Jeff, you're her best chance. Her only chance."

I mulled that over for several minutes. Finally, I said, "You're right. I should take her back to her place first, though. When she finally gets it all out, she's likely to be totally exhausted. That'll give her a familiar place to sleep and recover."

Mike nodded. He led me back out into his living room and went to Debra. He laid his hand on her shoulder and gently said, "Deb, Jeff is going to take you home, okay?"

She nodded distantly and stood up. Mike walked us out to my truck. He helped Debra get in while I climbed in on the driver's side. Debra didn't say a word during the ten minute drive to her apartment.

She let me lead her into her living room and sit her down on her couch. I sat down next to her and held her hand. My energies enveloped her, soothing and comforting, but her shields raised to keep me out.

"Deb." She looked at me. "Let me in. Let me help take away the pain." I pressed her defenses lightly.

Her eyes widened. She tried to pull away, but I held onto her hand. "No. I...killed him. IÖburnedÖout his mind. I don't deserve your sympathy. Let me go." Her voice grew sterner. "Let me go!"

I've got to be careful. If I push too hard, sheíll push back, and she'll flatten me. I gently increased my pressure against her defenses. There was no way I could get past a Hazard's defenses if she really tried to fight me, but I didn't think that she had the presence of mind to do so. "No Deb. What you did was right. The man was going to kill me. He was going to kill you. You did what you had to do. Deb, don't pull away from me. Iím your friend. I need you. Let me help."

Her face softened. Her defenses yielded to my probes. The tears finally came. I held her to my chest allowing her to cry, gently stroking her hair and flooding her with comforting energy. "Oh, Jeff. I felt him go. I felt his pain, his mind collapsing. I never dreamed it would be that painful. I never dreamed I could be that deadly. Oh, god, I'm so afraid. What have I become?"

I held her tightly. "Shhh. You're no different than the woman you always were, dear. You did what you felt you had to do to save my life. I owe you that, you know. He would have killed me if you hadn't acted."

She pulled away a little and looked me in the eye, a tear trickling down her face. "Jeff, don't leave tonight. Stay with me. Make love to me. Please."

I was taken aback by the suddenness of her request. I hadn't seriously thought about sleeping with her. I want to, but am I ready to. Can I let anyone that close again, after...I pushed that thought aside. The pleading in her voice and the sincerity of her need told me that I didn't really have any choice. She truly needed me to be with her tonight. I smiled at her and stood.

She led me into her bedroom. Once inside, we embraced and then kissed. I felt her energies brush against my mind. I dropped my defenses, allowing our auras to mingle freely. We fell onto the bed, still kissing.

Gently, I caressed her breasts, channeling healing energies through my fingers. Her nipples hardened. She moaned softly. The interaction between our auras intensified to become almost intoxicating. She pulled off my shirt and ran her fingers across my chest, leaving trails of tingly warmth where ever they went.

The energy levels in the room increased as we lost ourselves in the pleasures of our bodies. The sexual energy and love we were exchanging rose into a crescendo that matched the orgasmic pleasure of our lovemaking and ending in a surge so intense that I was almost overcome by its force.

Afterwards, I rolled over onto my back, holding her close to my side. She whimpered slightly and pressed her body next to mine. "That," I said once I caught my breath, "was undoubtedly the most intense experience of my life."

She kissed my chest and smiled at me. "Yes, it was. We're so accustomed to channeling large amounts of energy that we can make the sharing in an act of love that much stronger." She paused for a moment. "Thank you. I needed to feel this closeness, this love. It makes it easier to face myself and what I did when I know there is someone behind me."

We held each other for a while, just reveling in the closeness. Finally, she raised up her head and smiled at me. "Jeffrey Brown, I do believe I'm falling in love with you."

Her words cut deep, sharp as a knife. My barriers slammed down, blocking her out, as I fled from what she had said. I stiffened perceptibly. No! No! Don't say that. Donít feel that. I donít want to kill you too. No! No! NO!

She jerked away, pain, anger, and then concern flashed across her face. Her eyes widened in confusion. I drew away from her. Slowly, she laid a hand on my chest. I flinched at her touch, but did not pull away. A tear trickled from my eyes. "Jeff, what is it?"

"No. Don't love me." I looked away. "I can't deal with that again. Please, donít love me, itíll kill you, like it did..." I took a jagged breath, unable to continue. A distant part of me knew I was being absurd, but I couldn't stop what I was feeling.

Soothing energy flowed from her. "Jeff, tell me about it. What happened?"

I drew a shaky breath, then slowly exhaled. "When I was in high school, I knew this girl, Kathy. We were young and in love and everything was beautiful. We said the words because she needed to hear them. I didn't mind, because it was true. Then, one day, I realized it wasn't true, that I didnít love her anymore. I didnít want to hurt her, but I couldn't lie, could I? Could I?"

"No," she said calmingly, comfortingly. "What happened."

"She became hysterical. She cried and pleaded with me, said that she would do anything for me. But I couldn't. I wouldnít. And then...and thenÖ"

"Shh. It's all right." She gently stroked my face.

"No. It'll never be all right. They found her. The next morning. She had slit her wrists in the night. She had killed herself, because I wouldn't love her, couldnít love her. Donít you see? I killed her. Because I can't love. Itís all my fault." The tears came freely and I began to sob uncontrollably.

"Oh, Jeff." She pulled me to her and cradled my head against her chest. "It's all right. Itís not your fault. Kathy wanted someone to be her world for her, so that she wouldn't have to deal with it. You are not responsible for her actions. Jeff, I do love you, but I don't need you to love me. I do not value myself by the love of any person. I can't take away the pain, Jeff, only you can. But you can love. I've felt youíre love, even if you donít see it yourself. You showed love when you joined the Clan to protect your friend. You showed love when you helped me, when you made love with me. You love deeper and stronger than any man I know, you just don't allow yourself to believe it."

Her words, and her calming touch, dulled the pain within me. The flood of tears slowly ended. Exhausted, I fell asleep in her arms.