The four newcomers turned as one toward the other side of the clearing where the voice had spoken.

A man stood there, watching them with a mild expression that suggested that he was not troubled by their intrusion. Tall, broad, bushy-bearded, he wore a plaid flannel shirt, faded jeans and aged but comfortable looking hiking boots. A leather bag was slung over his shoulder. “I was expecting you,” he said, “but it took you long enough to get here.”

Ocelot stepped forward. “You were expecting us?” he demanded. “We didn’t even know we were comin’ until this morning.”

“We’re looking for Joe,” Gabriel added, moving up next to him. “Have you seen him? We understood that this is his cabin.”

“Yep,” the man agreed. “It’s his all right. But he’s not here.”

“I think we’ve determined that on our own,” Winterhawk said, a trifle sourly. “Do you know where he is?”

The man was not ruffled by ‘Hawk’s tone. “Yeah,” he said. “Or at least I can find him without too much trouble. But first, like I said, we have to talk.” He approached the foursome, his gait easy and unhurried, and extended his hand. “I’m Ben. A friend of Joe’s. I live up here, not too far away.”

Gabriel shook his hand. Ben was a few inches taller than he was and considerably wider. The two of them regarded each other for a moment, then Ben grinned. “You must be the dragon,” he said.

If Gabriel was surprised by Ben’s words, he did not show it. “Indeed?”

The big man nodded. “C’mon. Let’s go inside. I’m sure Joe won’t mind if we use his place, all things considered.” Without waiting for an answer he headed for the door.

Behind him, Winterhawk and Ocelot exchanged glances. Who was this guy? How did he know about Gabriel? They knew that Joe, more than any of the rest of them, occasionally had trouble keeping things to himself, but they didn’t think he would have told anyone Gabriel’s secret without the young man’s consent.

Kestrel too was looking troubled as she watched Ben take a key from his pocket and open the door. The only person other than Ben who did not look troubled was Gabriel himself, who followed the man inside without a second look.

Inside, the cabin smelled of wood and smoke and the lingering odor of something else—probably peyote, knowing Joe. The furniture, what little of it there was, was rough and heavy but serviceable and mostly comfortable, even for humans. Ben settled himself into an oversized chair near the fireplace and silently studied the four visitors.

“What did you mean, you were expecting us?” Winterhawk asked. He was perched on the arm of another large chair. Kestrel was on the other arm; Ocelot and Gabriel had chosen to remain standing.

“I dreamed about you,” Ben said mildly. “In fact, I’ve been having a lot of dreams about you. I knew you’d come eventually.”

“What kind of dreams?” Ocelot was suspicious. Joe had never mentioned this bearded human who seemed entirely too knowledgeable about their activities. Still, he did not feel uncomfortable around Ben. The man possessed a calming aura not unlike Gabriel’s.

He shrugged. “It was pretty much the same dream every time. A cub in trouble—dark things seeking him, trying to claim him. The cub seeks the bear’s counsel but is then forced to flee before the dark things catch up with him. The bear tries to find the cub, but alone he cannot reach him. Then four friends, led by a dragon, come seeking to help him, but first they must find him. A dragon, a wolf, a falcon, and a cat.” As he named each animal, he looked at each of the newcomers in turn: Gabriel, Ocelot, Kestrel, Winterhawk. “The bear leads the four friends to the cub, for only the dragon can help him.” He smiled. “You’re not supposed to take it literally, you understand. But the signs are there, and there are four of you.”

Gabriel watched him intently. “You follow Bear, do you not?” he asked, his voice soft.

Ben nodded. “Yes. And I believe that Bear has sent me these dreams. I’m the bear who’s supposed to lead you to the cub.”

“Then let’s go,” Ocelot said, not wanting to wait any longer than necessary. He wanted to find Joe, get him straightened out, and get back to Seattle as quickly as possible.

Ben held up his hands. “Hold on,” he said. His tone was placid, but held an undercurrent of strength beneath it. “I’ll take you to Joe—I would never doubt a vision Bear has sent to me, especially not with this kind of power behind it—but first I want to know what’s going on. What kind of danger Joe is in.”

“Did Joe seek your counsel?” Gabriel asked, seemingly ignoring the man’s words.

Ben was not offended. He nodded. “A little over a month ago, he came up here. He was scared. He said he’d been having weird dreams, dark dreams, like something was trying to get into his head and he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to stop it.”

“He’s right about that,” Winterhawk muttered under his breath. Louder, he said, “And what did you do about it?”

“I sought Bear’s advice—or rather, we did together.”

‘Hawk nodded. He knew how occasionally Joe, despite being a mundane, was able to contact Bear. When he did it alone it usually resulted in clues too cryptic to make sense of, but if Ben was as powerful a Bear shaman as ‘Hawk thought he might be, perhaps the results might have been more productive in his company. He, like the others, was silent, waiting for Ben to tell the story in his own way and time.

“What I saw frightened me,” Ben continued. “It didn’t all make sense to me—it still doesn’t—but the vision Bear gave us showed something very evil, very primal, seeking Joe. He’s an unusual individual, as you well know: not magically gifted, but still somehow under the protection of Bear. I think it was this protection that helped Joe stay free of this—thing’s influence, but I could see its power. I could see that it wasn’t going to give up. It would just keep poking around at him until it found a way in. Neither one of us knew what would come next if that happened.”

Gabriel leaned forward a bit. “Did Joe know what the influence was?”

“I don’t know. He was scared. That was why he came to me.”

“What did you tell him to do?” Winterhawk asked.

Ben took a deep breath and let it out slowly, stroking his bushy, light-brown beard. “I told him to stay here for the night, that I would consult Bear again—on a deeper level than he could come along on this time—and then come back and tell him what advice I had, if any.” He paused a moment, his calm gaze taking in each of them. “I was up most of that night. I could tell we were up against something that was far more powerful than either of us—or even the two of us together—were able to handle. The second vision that Bear gave me was that the cub must seek solitude, far away from civilization. That he must try to remain as close to Bear as he could, for only then could he have any chance of being protected from any of this.”

Gabriel nodded. “And he has done this?”

“Yeah.” Ben’s big hands squeezed the wooden armrests, his forearms knotting with muscle. “He’s been gone, like I said, almost a month now. I sent him further up the mountain, told him Bear’s message to him. There’s some territory up there that’s almost never touched by anything but the creatures who live there. Forest, a nice creek where he can fish, game to hunt, caves to live in—I haven’t gone up there to check on him, because before I got a chance to, the dreams started coming. I was wondering if you guys were ever gonna get here, and starting to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t try going up there myself anyway.” He looked at them again, settling finally on Gabriel. “You know what this is, don’t you?”

The young man nodded, his expression very serious. “We do.”

“And you think you can do something to help Joe get out from under this?”

“He can do it,” Winterhawk said softly. “He’s already done it for Ocelot, and he’s done it for me.”

“But we have to get to him,” Ocelot said, moving restlessly.

Ben nodded, rising. “All right. I won’t ask you any more about what this thing is that troubles you all, because Bear will tell me what I need to know, if he wants me to know. I trust the visions he sends me, and this one said you were the only ones who could help.”

The trip up to the place where Joe had secluded himself was harder than the trip up to the cabin: the slope was steeper, the paths rockier early on and nonexistent as they got higher up, the air thinner. There was a cold crispness to the air that both invigorated the travelers and bit hard into their lungs with each breath they took.

Ben moved with an efficient, trundling gait that never slowed or sped up, but simply continued moving. From the others’ viewpoint the movements looked ponderous, but they ate up the terrain with a surprising degree of effectiveness. It was fortunate that the four who followed him were in good physical condition or they would not have been able to keep up. As it was, Winterhawk was beginning to lag. Ocelot, glad for a chance to slow up a bit (he wasn’t yet back in top shape after his ordeal in the Pit, and further was not used to exertion at these altitudes), dropped back and encouraged the mage to keep going. Gabriel and Kestrel moved on with what seemed to be limitless wells of energy.

About the time when they were wondering if they would be hiking for the rest of their lives, Ben stopped. “Here we are,” he said. “He’ll be around here somewhere.”

“How can you be sure he’s still here?” Kestrel asked, looking around. The land was beautiful: the sky an intense shade of clear blue, the needles on the trees sparkling with the remnants of the last rain and the morning dew, a wide stream running down the mountainside off to their left. I could like spending some time up here, she thought in satisfaction, before her mind returned her to the job at hand.

“He’s here,” Ben said. His voice was full of certainty. “If something happened to him or he left, Bear would have told me.”

“Any idea where?” Winterhawk asked between breaths. He was leaned over slightly, recovering after the long hike.

“Not exactly.” The shaman looked around. “But I have a pretty good idea. I know where I’d go if I came up here to stay for awhile.” He regarded his four visitors. “Let’s rest here for a few minutes and then we’ll go on.” Opening his leather bag, he pulled out a smaller bag full of dried meat and offered it to them. Ocelot and Kestrel took him up on the offer; all four of them took the opportunity to drink from the clear stream after Ben told them it was safe for them to do so. Munching on the meat, he himself took a deep drink and then settled back against the rock to wait.

They had so far seen no signs of human or metahuman habitation up here—either there was none or those who lived here made very little mark on the land. That did not mean, however, that there was no sign of life. All around them they could hear the sounds of birds calling to each other, squirrels chittering and leaping in the trees, the rustles of small animals moving through the carpet of needles. At one point, Ben grinned and pointed; several meters away a mother bear and her cub made their unhurried way through the forest. Neither seemed to notice the newcomers, who watched the two with interest until they disappeared. “Good sign,” Ben told them. “Bear is pleased. We’re in the right place.” He pushed himself off the rock. “C’mon.”

They moved on again, this time following the path of the stream. They had only hiked for about ten minutes before Ben held up his hand. Everyone stopped behind him. Silently, he moved off into the trees, motioning for them to follow. When they were safely hidden, he pointed up ahead. “There he is. I thought he’d probably be out hunting this time of day.”

The four moved forward a bit, looking in the direction Ben was pointing. They exchanged concerned glances.

Joe was there all right. He stood, feet planted apart, in the middle of the stream, staring intently into the water. Dressed in ragged jeans, a leather vest with no shirt underneath, and soft leather boots, the troll held a large spear in one hand. The muscles in his bare arms bulged with tension. As his friends watched, he suddenly, convulsively hurled the spear downward into the creek; when he brought it up again, a silvery fish was skewered on its end. The fish flopped briefly and then was still. Joe pulled it off the spear and added it to a big bag at his side, much like the one Ben himself wore.

Ben turned back to them, then nodded toward Joe in a sort of, okay, you take it from here gesture.

Everyone else immediately looked at Gabriel. The young man nodded. Kestrel squeezed his arm gently and then he moved silently out from behind the trees and approached Joe.

For a few moments Joe did not seem to notice him. The troll was once again staring with great concentration down at the water as it swirled around his feet. Gabriel stood on the bank a few meters away, watching. He waited until Joe’s muscles relaxed, indicating that he was not actively searching for a fish, and then said in a soft voice, “Joe...”

Joe stiffened for a moment, then turned. When he saw who was standing there, he smiled. “Hi, Gabriel. What are you doing up here?”

“Looking for you.” He indicated the stream. “How is the fishing?”

“Not too bad. I’ve caught four so far today. I figured I’d get one more and then go back.”

Gabriel nodded. If he noticed the odd tone in Joe’s voice, the slight dreamlike quality, he did not comment on it. “Where is ‘back’?”

Joe hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “Home. Where I’ve been staying.”

Again Gabriel nodded. He didn’t move any closer to Joe. “I’ve brought some of your friends with me—Ocelot, Winterhawk, Kestrel, and Ben.”

Joe grinned. “Sounds like party time.” Then his expression sobered. Abandoning his search for a last fish, he moved out of the water and up onto the bank. “How come?”

“Would you—take us back with you to where you’ve been staying?” Gabriel asked, not acknowledging Joe’s question for the moment.

Joe nodded. “Sure. But I warn you—there’s not much to eat. If I knew you were coming I’d have gotten more food.”

“That’s all right. We ate before we came up here. We’d just like to visit with you for awhile. We’ve been wondering where you were.”

“I’ve been here,” Joe said, rather cheerfully. “I like it here. It’s quiet. Nobody bothers me.”

Gabriel smiled. “We haven’t come to bother you—just to visit.”

“Oh, you guys aren’t a bother.” Joe waved him off. “It’s kinda nice to have visitors every once in awhile.” He looked around. “Where’s everybody else?”

Gabriel turned and motioned for the others to come out from their hiding place, which they did.

Joe grinned. “Hey, guys,” he said. “It’s good to see you.”

“How’s it going, Joe?” Ocelot asked carefully, giving him a surreptitious once-over. Aside from looking more than a bit scruffy (which most people presumably would after living off the land for a month), Joe appeared healthy enough.

“Good. It’s been good. But like I told Gabriel, it’s nice to see somebody up here. I was getting a little lonely.”

“Why don’t we go back to your place, Joe?” Ben said, moving closer. “You can tell us what’s been going on with you.”

“Sure. Good idea. Come on.” Joe turned and headed off, back toward the forest.

Winterhawk and Ocelot looked at each other, frowning. ‘Hawk shrugged. “We all deal with it in our own way, I guess. At least he appears harmless.”

Joe’s temporary residence wasn’t far away. It was a rather large cave set into the side of the mountain, its entrance concealed by trees and undergrowth. Joe turned back to make sure they were following, then ducked down and disappeared inside. Ben went in next and then the others, one at a time.

The inside of the cave was as expected very dimly lit, its only illumination being the sunlight filtering in from outside. The newcomers waited for their eyes to adjust to the difference, then looked around. The cave was decent-sized, large enough for Joe to move around in but not quite large enough for him to stand up straight. The others had no problem with this. The stone floor was swept clean of debris; there was a nest of army blankets and pillows near the back next to a small pile of clothes. Joe’s Sitting Bull spear, which had not been the one he was using for fishing, leaned up against the wall to the left of the clothes. Other than that there was nothing else in the cave.

“Sit down,” Joe said, rummaging in the pile of blankets and handing some around to use as cushions. “I’ll be back in a few minutes—I’m gonna cook up this fish for lunch.”

He had barely made it out of the cave when Ocelot turned to Gabriel. “What’s wrong with him?” he demanded in a low voice.

Kestrel nodded. “Why is he acting like nothing’s wrong?”

There was a long pause; Gabriel studied the cave exit for several moments before speaking. “I don’t presume to understand the workings of the Totems,” he said at last. “Perhaps this is Bear’s way of somehow protecting him from the influence. If it works, I am not going to argue with its methods.”

Ben nodded. “He’s acting strange, all right, but he seems okay. I take it this wasn’t what you were expecting?”

“He’s a lot more together than we were expecting,” Ocelot said.

“How so?”

Winterhawk glanced toward the exit, then returned his attention to Ben. His bright blue eyes were sober. “Before Gabriel found me and helped me, it had driven me insane,” he said quietly.

Ocelot nodded. “Me too. I ended up living on the streets in L.A. until they grabbed me and threw me in jail.” He shuddered a bit—the memories were still too fresh to dwell on it too much.

“So...” Ben said in his slow, deliberate way, “this dark thing—whatever it is—is after all of you, it looks like. Not just Joe.”

“Yes,” Gabriel said.

Ben looked first at Ocelot, then at Winterhawk before facing Gabriel again. “And you stopped this.”

“No. I didn’t stop it. I merely slowed it down. More preparation will be required to stop it—if I even have the power to do so.” Gabriel sighed. “Before we can even try, though, the four must be reunited.”

Ben considered that for several moments, then sighed. “I don’t envy you—any of you,” he said. “But if there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.”

“Thank you,” Gabriel said. “We must perform a simple ritual to do the same thing to Joe as was done to the others—block the influence temporarily so he can function. If you can provide a location for a circle—”

“My medicine lodge is at your disposal,” Ben said immediately. “If you are the ones from the vision Bear sent me—and I believe you are—I know that I can trust you, that you have only good intentions.”

“Let’s just hope good intentions are enough,” Ocelot muttered.

They fell silent, each alone with his or her own thoughts, until Joe returned carrying a rough wooden platter containing four large fish that he had apparently cooked over a fire outside. The pleasant aroma of the fish almost immediately pervaded inside of the cave. Joe dropped down on one of the blankets and set the platter down. “Eat up,” he said. “Sorry there’s not much, but I can go get more if anyone’s really hungry.”

“Go ahead and eat,” Ocelot said. “We had lunch before we got here.” The others nodded in agreement.

Joe looked troubled. He looked down at the fish and back at his friends. “You sure?”

“We’re sure, Joe,” Gabriel said gently. “Eat.”

Joe didn’t need a second invitation. He tucked into the fish like he didn’t have a care in the world. It didn’t take long before there was nothing left on the platter but bones. “How long are you guys staying?” he asked when he finished. He remembered something and looked at ‘Hawk and Ocelot. “We got another job already?”

Winterhawk shook his head. “No. Not yet.”

“We’d like you to come back with us, Joe,” Gabriel said. “There are some things we need to talk about.”

Joe cocked his head. “Talk about? Like what? Is something wrong?”

“Some things have...happened,” Gabriel said carefully. “Do you remember why you came up here in the first place?”

Everyone in the room watched Joe as he considered the question. After a long pause, he said, “I’m—not really sure. I remember coming to see Ben, and I think he told me to come here. But that was a long time ago. It feels like I’ve been here forever.”

Gabriel nodded. “That’s right. You did come to see Ben, and he did send you up here. Do you remember anything else?”

“Do you remember the dreams, Joe?” Ben’s voice was as gentle as Gabriel’s. “The ones you told me about?”

Joe was beginning to look nervous now. His gaze darted back and forth between Gabriel and Ben. “I—”

“It’s all right,” Gabriel said. “I know you’d rather not remember—perhaps it might be better if you didn’t, but I don’t think we’ll have a choice about that. All you need to know is that we can help you. But you’ll need to let us do it. We can’t do it without your cooperation.”

Joe drew a deep breath and held it for several moments. His body trembled slightly. “Ben—?”

“It’s all right, Joe.” Ben got up and moved over next to him, putting a hand on his arm. “Bear has spoken to me, told me that these folks would be coming to help you.”

He nodded, but didn’t look convinced. “Can’t I just—stay here? I—there aren’t any bad dreams here.”

“There won’t be any more bad dreams, Joe,” Gabriel told him. He indicated Winterhawk and Ocelot. “They were having bad dreams too, and they aren’t anymore. I can do the same for you.”

Winterhawk didn’t have the heart to tell Joe that he actually was still having bad dreams—just not bad dreams of the insanity-inducing variety. He didn’t think that particular bit of information would be helpful right now.

Joe looked at Ben again, who nodded encouragement. At last Joe nodded as well. “I’d rather stay here,” he said, his tone full of reluctance. “But I can’t, can I?”

Gabriel shook his head. “It wouldn’t be wise. I’m not sure how long you’ll be able to hold out up here. The thing that seeks you—that seeks all of us—isn’t going to go away.”

Joe shuddered, then sighed in resignation. “Okay,” he said. “If Bear says you can help me—” He looked around the cave in the manner of someone preparing to leave a long-occupied and well-loved home. Then he stood, picked up the platter containing the fish remains and took it outside. The others remained where they were until he finished disposing of the remains and putting out the fire and then returned and began gathering up the blankets. He did all this in silence. By unspoken agreement, no one offered to help him. “Okay,” the troll said at last, slinging the bundle over his massive shoulder and hefting his Sitting Bull spear. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

Ben’s medicine lodge was bigger than Gabriel had expected it to be, which was a good thing. Built by hand—no doubt by Ben himself—of solid timbers, the lodge was set into a hillside and looked very much like it was part of the terrain. It was not that it was hidden, but more that it blended in, becoming an integral component of the land on which it resided. It didn’t look large from the outside, but when Ben opened the door and ushered the others in, they could see that the biggest part of it extended back into the hillside, dug in several meters. There were few windows, only a couple in the front that were currently covered by rough shades. The place gave the impression of both intimacy and openness at the same time. “Will this do?” the shaman asked Gabriel.

He nodded. “I will need your help, though. I can feel Bear’s power here—I do not think he would be pleased if I performed the ritual in this place without your assistance.”

Ben nodded, and the two of them went off to the other side of the lodge to prepare.

Because there was a permanent ritual circle set up in the lodge, Gabriel would not need to build one from scratch, but only modify the one already here. That would make the process go much faster. The others, especially Winterhawk, watched with interest as Gabriel and Ben began their preparations, talking quietly as they worked. Joe seemed a bit confused, wandering around the lodge, never taking his hand off the spear he held, occasionally touching one of the items that hung on the walls and then moving on. After what seemed like a very long wait but was only about an hour, Gabriel announced, “We are ready.”

Ben beckoned Joe over to where he and Gabriel stood, and motioned for the others to move away from the circle. He had already dragged several chairs over to the area he indicated, making sort of a gallery to witness the ritual. When everyone was in their specified place, the two of them began.

Winterhawk leaned forward, his concentration fully on what was going on before him. He wished he could observe the ritual on the astral plane, but he knew that was unwise at this time, even in the medicine lodge of what was clearly a powerful shaman. I’ll wager he’s not as powerful as a dragon... and the dragon isn’t willing to risk it. I think for once in my life I’ll not let my curiosity get the better of me.

It was unfortunate, though, because it was one of the oddest rituals Winterhawk had ever had the privilege to witness. Not quite hermetic, not quite shamanic, and not quite the exotic and mysterious form of magic Gabriel normally practiced, it seemed to be an amalgamation of all three. As in the previous rituals of this type that Gabriel had performed, Joe floated serenely in the center of the circle and Gabriel stood next to him speaking in an unintelligible language. However, this time the invocation was more of a chant, louder, with a cadence to it that hadn’t been there before. Ben had strapped on a large drum and was half-pacing, half-dancing around the perimeter of the circle, beating the drum rhythmically like a strong heartbeat underscoring Gabriel’s chant, adding a chant of his own as a counterpoint. Winterhawk didn’t recognize the language Ben spoke either, except that he was sure it was not the same one Gabriel used. If someone had described the ceremony to him he would have thought that the result would have been a discordant cacophony, but the disparate elements all blended together, complementing each other and forming a coherent and oddly beautiful whole. He felt a sense of calm well-being as he watched it; glancing at his friends he could see that they too were having the same experience. For the first time in awhile he felt right. He knew that there were few things on earth more powerful than the Great Dragons, but the shamanic Totems were one of those few things. If Bear had blessed their efforts, then perhaps they had even a better chance than ‘Hawk had thought they did.

They took their leave of Ben shortly thereafter, taking with them the shaman’s good wishes and offers of assistance at any time in their endeavor. “May Bear keep you under his protection always,” he told them as they prepared to go. He gave Joe, who had awakened feeling refreshed but uneasy after the ritual, a hard hug and said, “Take care of yourself, Joe, and come back when this is over. There’s a lot you have yet to learn.”

As they were getting ready to leave, Ben took Gabriel aside for a moment. “You know,” he said, “When you came up here, the four of you, and I said you must be the dragon, I didn’t mean that literally. Or at least I thought I didn’t.” He tilted his head at the young man, asking without asking.

Gabriel shrugged. “I am sure Bear has told you what you must know,” he said softly.

Ben nodded. “Yeah. I don’t understand all this, but maybe it’s better if I don’t. You’ll watch out for them?” He looked fondly at Joe. “I’ve gotten attached to that cub. I don’t know what Bear has planned for him yet, but I think whatever it is, it’s gonna be important.”

“I have the same feeling about all of them.” Gabriel watched as the three teammates and Kestrel discussed their plans, trying not to notice the one hole that still remained in their number. “You can be sure that I have made their well-being one of my highest concerns.”

“I believe it,” Ben said, nodding. He looked at the four and then at Gabriel. “And I have a feeling that goes the other way around, too.”

“They are good friends,” the young man agreed. “A very rare thing in this world, but thankfully not as rare as I had once feared.”

“No...not so rare at all, really, when you look for it.” Ben patted his back. “You take care. All of you.”

Gabriel nodded, bid him farewell, and moved off to join his friends.

Ben watched them as they left, remaining there in front of his lodge until they had disappeared, and then long after that. He had a lot of thinking to do.

Winterhawk, Ocelot, and Kestrel caught Joe up with current developments as Gabriel drove back down the mountain. “I was afraid it might be the Horrors,” Joe admitted. He had taken up the entire back portion of their vehicle; it didn’t look terribly comfortable but he didn’t seem to mind. “I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but that’s what worried me when I started having the dreams. That’s why I went to see Ben.”

“Why didn’t you call us?” Winterhawk asked. “After meeting Ben I can see that he’s got a lot of power, but—”

Joe nodded. “I know. I thought about it, but something told me not to. Maybe it was the Horrors. I can’t remember anymore. All I know is that every time I thought about calling, something...talked me out of it.” He shrugged. “Besides that, I knew Gabriel wasn’t around, and he was the only one besides Ben that I thought really had a chance to deal with it.”

He had told them about his dreams and how he had become convinced that stealing away to seek Ben’s advice had been his only chance. He didn’t remember much about his month high up in the mountains except that both Ben’s counsel and his own heart had told him that his safest choice was to get as close to Bear as possible, to block out as many outside influences as he could. “That’s why all I took with me was the spear,” he told them. He was still holding it even inside the vehicle. “It felt right. The rest of my stuff—my weapons—didn’t. Everything else except the blankets and some clothes, I made up there.”

“Well, it certainly seems that you’ve weathered this storm better than either Ocelot or myself, so there must be something to it,” Winterhawk told him. His expression sobering, he added, “Somehow I don’t think we’re going to have the same luck with ‘Wraith.”

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Copyright ©1999, 2000 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of FASA Corporation.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.