On a mountain range on an undisclosed planet

Madeline tilted her head back and looked up at the nearly sheer face of rock about her. She adjusted her clawed climbing gloves and rolled her shoulders. Logan had no need for the gloves, of course. In these areas, she usually took the higher position; if she slipped and fell, she wouldn't take them both down. She shifted her feet, then began to scale this section of the cliff face. Logan waited until she was a body length or two above him before starting up after her.

They'd come here to explore and see what the planet had to offer. There weren't too many places left like this on Earth, and those were jealously guarded. They both understood that; it was why they took great pains to disturb as little as possible on these other worlds. The climb was challenging, at least for Madeline, and she was sweating by the time she reached the top, despite the cool air. She was tucking away the clawed parts of her gloves as Logan pulled himself beside her.

"It's beautiful up here," she said once he stood beside her.

"It is," he agreed, sliding an arm around her waist.

"Might be nice to acquire several thousand acres here."

"Several thousand?"

"Yes. That much, and then leave it primarily untouched. Let it retain its natural beauty."

"That does sound nice."

They fell into silence after that, simply soaking in the amazing vistas before them. Their quiet reverie was interrupted by a flash of light in the cloudless sky. With puzzled expressions, they both turned toward it. Logan's eyes were narrowed and focused on the distant phenomenon, and he listened closely. Madeline squinted as well with her own less-accurate eyesight.

"Anything?" she asked. An instant later, a blinding pain hit her between the eyes, bringing her to her knees with a strangled cry.

Logan dropped to his knees beside her. "Madeline?"

Before she could answer, the mountaintop beneath them suddenly erupted in a shower of shale, throwing them in opposite directions. Logan caught himself and clawed his way around to the other side, but not quickly enough. Madeline was already many feet below him in free fall. She was watching for him, though, not particularly wanting to see the ground rushing at her.

"Come scrape me up—" she called out to him, but her voice was cut off mid-sentence as she vanished into another flash of light.

Logan roared in frustration and propelled himself from the mountainside toward the last place he'd seen her. "Madeline!"

He felt the briefest touch from Rene. We're trying . . . He had only a moment to consider that before sharp pains slashed through his chest and abdomen. A quick glance down showed him deep, crisscrossing gashes, but not their origin. More slashes cut across his back, and he spun in midair to defend himself — only there was no foe to be seen or touched. The one-sided fight continued until he crashed into the ground, bursting organs not already cut open.

* * *

Andrea woke with a start, and she woke up alone. That was surprising; it had been over three decades since she'd last awakened alone. That was right after Pablo died and before he'd gotten the hang of being a Spirit and being able to stay corporeal for more than an hour or so. It wasn't that she couldn't feel him. But he and Rene were—

Why did she have this crushing, ringing pain in her head?

—they were both with Logan.

Ow, fuck. After all these years, when either Madeline or Logan died, the experience tended to resonate back to Andrea as they went through the process of healing from being dead. Oh, not when she was concentrating on working, but living in different timezones meant waking up in pain wasn't particularly unusual for her. At least it wasn't the damn itching this time, but the fracking goosebumps weren't much better.

Wait. Where the fuck was Maddie? Even when they died, she could still feel them. Pablo? Rene?

I'm staying with Logan, love. Rene's looking for Madeline. Andrea hadn't heard the kind of hesitation in her husband's voice she was hearing now since, well, since before their children were born.

Pablo, what is it? What the hell's going on? I can't feel her anywhere.

That's the problem, Andrea. Madeline's disappeared, and Cat is flipping out. Rene, Cat, and I tried following her, and we bounced hard off some sort of barrier. We haven't had a chance to investigate. I'm waiting for our brother to wake up and maybe give us some idea of what happened.

Bear shambled across the porch of the lodge where she'd been staying while Madeline and Logan were enjoying the wilderness. Give her a fast vehicle, and she was in her element. Give her a sheer cliff to climb and, well, she'd cheat and use the gifts she received from Pablo when he died. After the first time she'd flown up to the top of the plateau, a dozen or so years ago, her sister and brother had given her identical looks of disgust when they got to the top and found her reading an e-book.

"You know, you could stay at the lodge and do that," Madeline had said.

"Don't mind if I do!"

Andrea still went on walkabouts with them, of course, but she preferred to hike and meet the wildlife. She left the cliff-scaling to them.

Warrior, we have all searched for our sister. It is as if she has gone to a place that does not exist.

She looked up at the largest of her guardian Spirits. "You sure she didn't get dragged into one of the dimensions you guys just can't get to? That bitch of Tezcatlipoca kept trying to pull Pablo out of our dimension until I put a permanent stop to that bullshit."

We are certain. We would know that your sister was taken elsewhere, just as we knew where your mate was taken. But she is not in any of the worlds.

"Then where the hell is she?"

Bear shook its head. Yeah, that was helpful.

Andrea, Logan's starting to heal, but it seems to be taking a lot longer than it should. You should get over here.


About four miles north-northeast. Hurry, love.

She'd been hiking in that general direction earlier in the week. There were some game trails she could follow. When weird shit was happening, she preferred to be as close to Mother as possible; her energies were easier to channel than Father's.

On my way.

She startled more than a few large animals and more small ones than she could count on her run toward Logan. As she broke from the trees and underbrush at the base of the cliff, she saw Pablo kneeling beside Logan. She'd seen her brother look worse, but she couldn't remember ever seeing him heal so slowly. He sprawled on his back, eyes closed, his gut sliced open and pooling with blood, not quite alive. His spirit was resisting going back into his body.

Poison . . . Logan managed to get that much information to Andrea before the inevitable pull of his body started to drag his spirit home. She couldn't believe how hard he was fighting it. She'd never seen either of them fight so hard not to get back in their bodies, no matter how much it was going to hurt. She sure as shit never bothered fighting. Well, not after the first time.

"Pablo, go back to the lodge and bring me rags or towels or whatever you can find. A bucket of water. Go, go . . . hurry." She knelt beside Logan as she felt more than saw Pablo almost instantaneously move from the clearing to the lodge. She shook off the momentary feeling of weirdness.

Madeline . . . where?

"Don't know." Dear gods, how it hurt her to say that. She bent down to kiss his lips. Cold, they were so cold. "Don't you dare die, Logan," she whispered. "My sister would never forgive me."

Logan finally stopped fighting and allowed his spirit to fall fully back into his body. Andrea had a moment of vertigo that always seemed to come along with one of them dying and then healing up again, enough to bring body and soul back together.

Ain't goin' nowhere.

Pablo returned with a bucket of clean water and just about every towel in the lodge, then set them down before kneeling across from her.

"We need to clean the wound; he said it was poison. Looks like that's what's slowing down his healing factor."

Pablo nodded and began working swiftly but carefully and gently. Andrea took one of Logan's hands between hers, his lao gong point aligned between hers, and slowly started to feed him energy. She'd gotten pretty damn good at this energy-sharing thing, but because Logan was an Elder, it had always been a lot harder. Every little bit helped, though.

"We're going to find her, Logan." She didn't think it necessary to mention that the rest of the Pentad wouldn't survive very well without Madeline. Andrea was pretty sure they all grokked that.

"All I can do here is basic first aid, Andrea," Pablo murmured. "Whatever this poison he got hit with is very nearly stopping his healing factor."

"Damn it." Logan looked like hell. She'd never seen him look this bad for more than a few minutes. And it was going on five minutes now. She took a deep, close look at his qi and meridians. "Fuck."

"You know, you only swear that much when you're about to go full-out Ninja on us," Rene remarked laconically.

"It could happen," she snapped at him. "I don't know who's behind this, but that poison looks like it was tailor-made for him, for his specific DNA. Anyone else with a healing factor like ours could get hit by it and shake it off as if it was nothing, even Em." Andrea paused, memories passing through her mind like a breeze, although most weren't her memories. "Maybe it would affect a sibling. A parent would be iffy. Damn it, at this rate, he's going to need a blood transfusion and some serious lavage of his wounds, at the very least."

"Or a healer," Pablo said helpfully.

"Do you see a healer here, Pablo? If that little bit of healing I picked up from Maria was going to kick in, it would have by now." She was fairly certain her eyes were flashing golden again. It had been a while since she was this pissed off, but it was impossible to forget the telltale haze in her peripheral vision. Unfortunately, at least in this case, once her eldest had been born, the freaky healing ability had dialed itself down to something closer to normal, whatever the hell that was.

Pablo looked up from his careful work on Logan's wounds, eyes filled with pain. Sometimes, she forgot that Pablo loved Logan, Rene, and Madeline as much as she did. "The kids are on their way."

Before she could open her mouth to say anything else, Rene added, "And Vin will break every law of physics if necessary to get there as soon as possible." He paused briefly, looking as though he was listening to something. "Less than an hour."

Andrea closed her eyes and took several calming breaths, then nodded. "Sorry," she said to no one in particular and to everyone. Logan wouldn't die. Well, Logan wouldn't stay dead, but he sure wasn't going to get any better with the poison soaking into every cell in his body. From the sheen of sweat on his face, she surmised that it hurt like hell. She wished there was something she could do to help, but she knew there wasn't. So, she did the only thing she could: She opened her eyes and looked down into Logan's eyes, her brother, her sometimes lover. She leaned down and pressed her cheek against his.

"Hold on, nihik'is . Help is on the way. Then we'll go find Maddie."


Andrea, he's getting worse. It's almost as if the poison is trying to tear his blood cells apart.

I can feel it, Pablo. I'm pouring qi through his meridians almost as fast as this dear planet can give it to me. All it's doing is slowing the poison down. Her frustration echoed through their bond. Rene, how much longer?

Rene seemed to listen to something she couldn't hear before answering. . . the children, no doubt. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes. They're in the Conduit, so it's hard to tell.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Logan began growling.

"Oh, no, you will NOT!" Andrea said sharply, looking him in the eyes. He was well on his way to Feral, but after a hundred and fifty years, even Logan knew damn well what her now very brightly glowing eyes meant. "You're just going to rein that right in, and you're going to do it now, bub."

His claws snikted out, the three from his hand beside her slicing through her leg. It hurt like hell, but ultimately it was merely an annoyance. The other three stabbed the space where Pablo went insubstantial. Andrea leaned over him, ripping her leg more in the process, and pinned both wrists to the ground. In his condition, she was actually stronger than he was. That was a first. She was willing to bet it would never happen again, either.

"Oh, suck it up, Logan!"

"Uh oh," Rene and Pablo said in unison.

Andrea looked up at them. "You two shut the fuck up." She looked back down at Logan. "You listen to me, and you listen good. I'm not going to tell your kids when they get here that you're a dead blob under a tree somewhere. You know why I'm not going to do that, Logan? It's because you're going to hold your shit together and stay right where you are until Maria gets here to suck that poison out." She squeezed his wrists. "You understand me, darlin'?"

Yep, she'd gotten him good and pissed. But he was pissed and focused, which was better than pissed and not focused. "Ninja's a bitch," he said through gritted teeth.

"You know it, pal. And you can try to beat the crap out of me later. But you wanna take your fucking claws out of my leg now?"

Logan didn't really want to. They could all see that. He was in horrible shape, and his niece couldn't get here fast enough. They held that odd tableau for two, maybe three minutes. She couldn't believe he was playing chicken with her. Really? The only woman in the known universe as stubborn as his mate? She wouldn't bleed out before the kids got there and had a whole planet of qi to tap into. So, she just smiled her famous Ninja grin.

Another minute or two passed before he growled, less Feral and more his typical Elder speak, and retracted his claws. "Owe you," he managed to grunt.

"Yeah, yeah. I love you, too, sweetheart." She thought maybe, just maybe, if he didn't hurt so much and had any strength left, he might have laughed at that one. Unfortunately, Cat chose that moment to appear.

"I can't get to her, Warrior! What are we going to do? We need to find her!" The Spirit seemed to have put itself on auto-repeat. It was also bouncing around the clearing, refusing to hold still. One could imagine a couple of cats chasing one another around a tiny house, literally bouncing off walls to make turns around corners, moving faster than anyone thought possible. Ah, and one of the cats was invisible. That imagining would be a bit like Cat's current behavior, except no invisible anything was chasing it. This insanity was all self-induced. Well, induced by the fact that it couldn't get to Madeline, that is.

"Cat," Andrea said through clenched teeth, "I'm trying to keep an Elder alive. Not just alive, but not Feral. You. Are. Not. Helping."

Cat stopped so fast, so suddenly, that Pablo chuckled. Rene reached over and slapped his brother on the back of the head. "Mon Dieu! After more than a hundred and fifty years of marriage, you still snicker when your wife has gone Ninja?" Pablo shrugged unapologetically.

Andrea glared at all three Spirits, then looked back down at Logan. "Yeah, I hear it, too. The fucking whine of that damn Blackbird as it plummets through the atmosphere kind of drives a spike through my head, too. Gods damn it, Logan, look at me! There ya go, look at the crazy woman who's got you pinned on the ground. I'm gonna savor this memory, brother dear. I'm gonna be thinking about it every time you kick my ass. Now, just hold your shit together for a couple more minutes, okay?"

She paused and listened for her children. Oh, just fucking great.

"I am so not kidding, Logan. Paul's got his kinda-worried-about-Em feel to him, and you know as well as anyone that means she's close to losing it. You're the adult, damn it, now pull yourself together!"

She didn't love how she was verbally abusing him, but keeping him off-balance or angry, preferably both, was all that would keep him from going over the edge. And even she didn't want to be around a nearly-dead Feral and his fully-Feral and extremely healthy daughter. No, no, no . . . she might be a crazy woman, but she wasn't stupid. She just gritted her teeth through the sounds of the Blackbird hovering above them, never taking her eyes from Logan's face while she waited for Maria.

Logan ground his teeth together and nodded. His survival instincts pushed him to toss the annoying woman away and run and hide, wounded animal that he was. That wounded animal also cried out for his missing mate. His human side knew he would heal from this eventually, maybe, but not soon enough. Madeline was out there somewhere, alone. He knew she could take care of herself, certainly. But that was hardly the point.

The Next Generation

© Kelly Naylor and ividia kt