The Four

Virgil, John, and Alan moved to surround me on three sides. They made no other move for long minutes, instead watching my motions carefully, waiting for the best moment to strike. My pouch and holster were still at my back, for I had not taken the time to resettle their position. The only thing I had to hand was the rod. I clicked on the activation button twice, and watched Virgil's and John's eyes widen as the rod extended, then grew dangerous spikes on either end. I swished it around me, trying to keep the young men at bay with one hand, while reaching to my back for the pouch with the other. Alan, who was behind me at the time, tried to rush up and grab my questing hand as I made contact with the leather bag. I swung the rod hard, letting it slice through the air in his direction, and he dropped back, surprised by my counter attack.

I slid the pouch into its proper place and reached inside. The round grenades came easily to my reach and I pulled out two, both black. Since my attackers knew what those little balls were for, and how to use them, I threw them down at their feet immediately and without warning. One landed between John and Virgil, exploding with the pungent and irritating pepper spray. I turned and threw the other at a retreating Alan. All three shouted and cursed as the spray occluded their vision and assaulted their nostrils. The antidote I had used on my own eyes allowed me my vision, but I still coughed from the peppery fumes. I reached back and unholstered the stun gun, and fired on each young man. Like Scott, who somehow had been toughened to resist the stun gun's blast, these three did not fall easily to my shooting. But since their vision was clouded by the pepper bombs' contents, I was able to stun them again with relative ease. I checked each to assure myself that they lived and breathed then proceeded, with much greater caution, to follow the dark corridor. It finally ended at a flight of steep, uneven stairs.

These I climbed, watching my step so I did not fall. Even so, a loose stone was almost my undoing. It slipped out from beneath my foot, wrenching my left ankle. Putting my weight on that member, I almost passed out from the pain it caused. Breathing hard, I sat on the stair and took stock of my painful appendage. It was already swelling. I reached into the pouch and pulled out the medikit. There was a length of stretch bandage that I wrapped firmly around the ankle and the foot, giving it some support. I took some time to meditate, to deal with the pain and put it from the forefront of my thoughts. After about a quarter hour, I was ready to continue. I clicked on the activation button of the white rod twice, first to make it short and retract the sharp points and then to extend it once again so I could use it as a walking stick and take some of the weight off my damaged ankle. In this manner, I hobbled to the top of the stairs.

I began to see shadows cast by artificial light. There were wavering shadows that indicated torches and firelight ahead. I began to hear noises, the crackling of the fire and a deep humming sound. The end of the passageway was delineated by the growing light, and I cautiously approached, sliding along sideways, my back hugging a wall. I was just outside the main hall of the temple. From my vantage point I could see firelit alcoves on the wall opposite me, each curtained with multiple long rows of beads. I removed the infrared goggles and put them in the pouch, along with the torch. Cautiously I peered out from my hiding place. To my right and perpendicular to me, was the doorway to the main hall. Across from me was another darkened entrance leading down into the depths of the temple. There seemed to be no one in this part of the shrine, so I stepped more boldly into the hall and went to discover what was in the curtained alcoves.

The first alcove, to the left of the dark passage I had just left, was filled with sophisticated electronics. Computers, sensor devices, viewscreens and other devices I could not name covered the three walls in the alcove. The lab's microcomp rested among this equipment. It seemed to be untouched and unplugged from the surrounding hardware. I made a mental note of its position for later retrieval.

I moved down to the next curtained room. Here I found a shrine to the various demons that had been worshipped here for so long. There were statues of each and in front of some were the remains of offerings, usually of food or drink, but occasionally of a bird, a small forest creature or of blood. Incense burned here, giving the air a heavy, spicy feeling. I knew the names of some of these demons, and others were unfamiliar to me. But there was no statuary of the main demon to whom this temple was raised. His place of adoration, I reasoned, must be within the main hall itself.

I turned from this place, my stomach churning, and looked across the hallway to the first alcove on the other side, then stopped in my tracks, dumbfounded. There stood before me a larger-than-life statue of myself! It stood upon a pedestal, and was ringed by jets of flame. I walked across the hall, looking awestruck at the object, my mind whirling to determine its significance. That was when I was grabbed from behind.

I did not see my attacker, but from the height and build, I deduced it was Gordon. He grabbed me around the neck and twisted my right hand, my gun hand, painfully behind my back. This move, however, left my other hand free. I dropped the staff to rummage around in the pouch. My fingers touched the hypospray and pulled it out. I pressed it to the forearm that was squeezing my throat, and in seconds, he collapsed, taking me down with him. His wiry body cushioned my fall, but I feared that the impact between my form and the stone floor would knock the wind from him. Fortunately, this was not the case. I could still feel his breath on my head. I extricated myself from his grip, and dragged him to the equipment alcove, where he would be out of sight. Upon examination, I found that in his fall, he had hit his head hard upon the floor. I was concerned that he might have a concussion. But even if he did, there was nothing I could do for him now. I could only leave him there and hopefully return for him later. Winded, I picked up my staff and turned my attention to the fourth alcove.

This fourth alcove was a workshop of sorts. There were clay forms of Belah's face, and finished masks that would disguise him from the world. There were wigs and false beards and costumes to further the verisimilitude of his impostures. I saw, much to my horror, a mask resembling the face of Jeff Tracy among his works. My heart hardened in anger, and I took the revolting thing back to the alcove where my statue stood, and thrust it into the flames to melt and burn.

I had found all of the Tracy brothers, and the engineer, Brains. Only two more people remained for me discover and these were the two closest to my heart: Jeff Tracy and my girl child, Tin-Tin. Somehow I knew that to rescue these two, I would have to face my half-brother. I would have to face him in the demon's hall. And our battle would only be resolved in one way. Either in his death, or my own.

I limped over to the gold-inlaid double doors that lead to the demon's altar. I laid my hands on the ornate dragon-shaped handles that would pull open the doors, and I pulled, hard. My original tug started the doors' motion, but they opened wider and wider without any more aid from me. It was as if they were flung wide by an invisible hand. The deep hum increased in volume. I kept the rod in my hand, and handled it as if it were a prophet's staff. The room before me was dark; the firelight from behind me did not penetrate its murk. But a figure moved forward, golden glints shining from the breastplate he wore, his eyes glowing in anticipation and victory. He crossed his sinewy arms across his chest, then surprisingly, bowed to me.

"Welcome," he said, his voice echoing in the hall behind me. "Welcome home.... brother."