Authors: Matthew Burkey
Tony had never dreamed walked before and as Gabriel fell asleep, Everett started to remind him a few things. First and foremost being that Gabriel wouldn’t realize that he was even there and there wasn’t anything that Tony could do to interact with Gabriel’s dream. He was a passive observer for the most part, there to look for any sort of clues, assuming anyone had managed to breach Gabriel’s mental defenses.
As Tony sank into blackness he had the vague feeling of being pulled along by a strong current, almost like he was in river. When he opened his eyes again he was standing on the top of what looked like a pyramid, except for the wide flat surface where he now stood. He couldn’t see Gabriel yet, although he could certainly feel his presence all around him, almost like a persistent buzzing in his ear. A hot wind blew across the top of the pyramid.
Tony took in his surroundings, trying to gauge exactly where he was. He couldn’t pull out in any landmarks. The pyramid itself was surrounded by a sea of sand, shimmering in the apparent heat. He had to remind himself that it was only a dream and that he really wasn’t sweating. Two figures finally materialized on the top of the pyramid with him. Tony instantly recognized one as Gabriel, with Aequitas held out to his side, as if waiting for something.
The other figure, Tony didn’t recognize at all. He was slightly taller than Gabriel but with pale skin that was etched with various scars. He had long flowing blonde hair and wore a mask that covered his face.
Tony ventured closer, straining to figure out what it was that Gabriel and the masked man were talking about it. It seemed as if their voices were far away, echoing off the barren landscape around them.
The masked man exploded into action, brandishing a deadly immortal blade. Gabriel sprang into action as well, knocking the attack aside as the two of them slammed into each other. Sparks exploded from the weapons each time that they clashed.
There was something familiar about the way that the masked man fought, though Tony couldn’t really put his finger on it. He watched as the masked man and Gabriel came at each other again. Keeping a close eye on Gabriel’s attacker, Tony slowly began to circle the two, searching the area for clues. He took in the marks on the man’s skin, the clothes that he wore and tried to get a good look at the mask; though the speed at which both he and Gabriel were moving made that exceedingly difficult.
“Come on, hold still already,” Tony muttered.
Gabriel launched into a series of fluid strikes, driving his attacker back across the surface of the pyramid. The masked man countered with a series of savage blows that Gabriel deftly avoided or blocked. As Tony watched it became clear that as good as Gabriel was, his attacker was better. He was wearing down the young Guardian, slipping past his defenses to inflict painful yet not deadly wounds. Tony wanted to call out to his friend but he knew that it wouldn’t matter. Gabriel couldn’t hear him.
Gabriel faltered for a moment, which was all the opening that the masked man needed. It seemed to happen in slow motion, like a movie effect. The masked man knocked Gabriel’s blade away and at the same time caught Gabriel with a powerful kick to the chest, lifting him off the ground. Gabriel seemed to hang in the air before he was hit with a roundhouse kick that propelled him across the courtyard, sending him crashing into a pillar that seemed to appear out of nowhere.
The figure raised his hands, sending tendrils of angry black/red lighting shooting toward Gabriel. Tony could only wince in pain as the tendrils crawled all over his friend’s skin, causing him to scream out in pain. Gabriel was hit by another barrage as the masked man continued walking toward him. The third volley dropped Gabriel from his knees to the ground, writhing in agony.
Tony wanted to rush to his friend’s aid but again, he knew that he couldn’t affect anything around him. Instead he had to look for clues as Gabriel continued to yell out in pain, causing Tony to continually get distracted. As much as he put on a brave front, it tore him up inside that Gabriel was suffering, even if it was only in a dream. He blocked out Gabriel’s screaming as best he could.
That all changed when the masked figured raised his sword and stabbed it down into Gabriel’s chest. Gabriel’s scream ripped through whatever block that Tony had managed to put up, hitting him almost like a physical wall of force. The masked figure stood up, holding his blade high as the world around them started to shake and crack. Blasts of angry red light poured through the cracks.
And then the figured turned and pointed his sword directly at Tony. The whole world exploded into white light and Tony fell backwards, plunging away from the light and into darkness.
Gabriel bolted upright, covered in a fresh sheet of sweat. He was vaguely aware of someone saying his name over and over again. He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes and took several slow deep breaths, finally bringing the world back into focus around him.
“Gabriel, look at me man.”
That was Tony’s voice. He slowly opened his eyes to find Tony kneeling next to him, his hands on his shoulders and repeating his name several times.
“Are you okay?” Tony asked.
Gabriel took a breath, almost shuddering. “I think so.”
“That was intense man,” Tony said, shaking his head. “Why the hell did you wait so long to tell someone about that?”
“You don’t have an overactive imagination,” Everett said, handing Gabriel his canteen. “Someone is totally messing with your mind, they’ve managed to poke a hole directly through your mental barriers.”
Gabriel took a long drink of water, soaking in what Everett was saying.
“How could someone do that?” Marissa asked.
“I honestly don’t know,” Everett responded, shaking his head. “As soon as we get back to Aegis I’ll talk to Aadesh, I’m sure that we can figure something out. Gabriel, have you ever had more than one dream like that a night?”
“No,” Gabriel answered. “Usually it only happens the one time, though it’s generally enough to scare me out of sleeping for the next several hours.”
“I can understand why,” Tony shuddered. “You should have told us about this sooner. But I think that it gets worse.”
“How worse?” Everett asked.
“Whoever Gabriel was fighting pointed his sword at me once Gabriel was down, I think that he could see me or at the very least he sensed I was there.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Marissa stated.
“It’s not good,” Everett spoke, shaking his head. “We’re talking some seriously high level spells here. I can place a barrier in your mind tonight, it should work now that we know someone is pushing themselves into your dreams. Once we get back to Aegis Aadesh and I can think of a more permanent solution. Although what has me more disconcerted is the fact that someone knew that Tony was there.”
“I get how that’s bad but can you explain how bad that actually is?” Tony spoke, looking between Everett and Melissa.
“It means that not only is this person breaking into Gabriel’s dreams they are also able to exert a certain amount of psychic force through your dream, which is how he would have been able to perceive Tony as well as force him out like that.”
“Can you track whoever did this?” Marissa asked.
Everett shook his head. “Not at the present moment no. I can ask Aadesh, he might be able to contact the Circle of Mages to see if they know something more about this. In the meantime, I’ll get that barrier in place so that you can sleep tonight. No one else will be invading your dreams, at least not for a while.”
Gabriel nodded, still feeling a little shaky. Everett turned back around to work on getting the spell ready for Gabriel.
“You ever need anyone to talk to, you know that I’m here, right?”
“Seriously man,” Tony said, shaking his head. “No one should have to go through that alone.”
And then Tony turned over and drifted off to sleep. Everett finished the spell, tracing a glyph on Gabriel’s forehead. After that, Everett crawled back into his own sleeping bag and was out like a light, leaving only Marissa and Gabriel awake.
“Are you going to be able to go back to sleep?” Marissa inquired.
Gabriel shook his head. “Probably not. After those dreams I can never really get my brain to calm down enough to sleep. Usually, I end up going downstairs and lifting weights or something.”
“I’m really sorry about that,” Marissa sighed. “But Tony was right, you should have told someone. First you were kidnapped and tortured by Sainte-Pierre now this? Someone clearly doesn’t like you.”
“I have no idea why,” Gabriel admitted. “I mean I’m not much of a threat.”
“Most heroes start out saying things like that,” Marissa said, with a smile. “I think I am going to try and get some sleep. Are you going to be okay?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”
The morning didn’t come fast enough for Gabriel. Before the sun had even started poking through the canopy, Tony had them packing up camp and back on the move. Once again, Tony took point, with Marissa falling in behind him.
“It shouldn’t be all that far now,” Marissa said, pointing ahead. They had been hiking for almost three hours, moving at a much faster pace.
“Good,” Tony responded.
Gabriel stopped in his tracks, titling his head to the side. The jungle around him was alive with sounds but something about it was different. Actually, now that he listened he didn’t hear anything - a far cry from the near constant background noise that they had encountered since first entering the jungle yesterday. He knew that was a bad sign.
“Guys, I think we have a problem,” Gabriel said, instinctively drawing Aequitas. He stopped, searching the dense plant life around him.
“I don’t hear anything,” Tony stated, his hand dropping to his sidearm.
“That’s the problem,” Gabriel grunted. “It’s too quiet.”
“He’s right,” Everett agreed. “Something is wrong.”
The foliage to the right of them crashed apart, causing all the Guardians to leap back. Standing before them was a stone Jaguar, at least shoulder height with them all. Glowing Mayan symbols adorned its stone hide and its eyes glowed a bright blue.
“Easy kitty,” Tony said, slowly taking his hand off his weapon. “Maybe he’s friendly.”
The stone Jaguar titled its head, studying the four teenagers standing around him and then let out a roar that nearly knocked them all on their rears.
“I don’t think it’s friendly,” Gabriel muttered, backing further up.
“Run!” Tony ordered.
They bolted, calling on their enhanced speed to keep them away from the stone feline. Looking behind them, Gabriel counted at least three more that had emerged from the trees and were now giving chase as well. The Jaguars moved as if they were real flesh and blood and not animated pieces of stone.
“He brought friends!” Gabriel called out, leaping over a downed tree. “They don’t look like they are all that friendly either!”
“What the hell do they want?” Marissa panted.
“Go ahead and ask them, I’m sure you can get a sentence out while they are gnawing your face off!” Tony shouted over his shoulder.
They burst through the jungle, nearly stumbling when their feet hit the stone courtyard Lubtaan. The Jaguars were hot on their tails, jumping out of the mass of trees and plants as well. They landed and fanned out, encircling the Guardians.
“Four on four,” Tony said, drawing Stormbringer. “At least it’s a fair fight.”
“You should really just shut up,” Everett urged.
They each charged a different Jaguar. Gabriel leapt toward his first, unleashing Aequitas, the glowing silver/blue blade glinted in the morning light as Gabriel slashed it toward the stone cat. The Jaguar was faster, ducking away from the blade.
“Easy there...no one wants to hurt you,” Gabriel stated, in his attempt to calm the creature.
The Jaguar slowly started to stalk toward Gabriel, a low growl emanating from the back of its throat. It lunged toward Gabriel again, this time Gabriel brought Aequitas around in an arc, slicing across the snout of the stone animal. Sparks erupted when his blade made contact, sending the Jaguar off course and rolling along the ground.
Gabriel glanced around, taking in the situation. Everyone one of his teammates appeared to be engaged with their own attackers, none of them free enough to come help him handle his. Gabriel parried another attack with his blade, dodging away as the Jaguar leapt at him again.
“Where is this stupid skull supposed to be?” Tony yelled.
“Temple,” Everett shouted. The young mage sent his Jaguar rolling along the ground with a blast of telekinetic energy. “In the room at the top!”
“Get moving!” Tony ordered. “We’ll hold them here!”
“That’s your brilliant plan!” Gabriel barked. “Just hope that we can hold them off!”
“You got a better idea?”
Gabriel couldn’t answer. He was too busy trading strikes with his own attacker. He dodged left, fainted right, and then struck out with a powerful kick that caught the Jaguar in the face. Had the beast been capable of smiling, Gabriel was pretty sure that it would have done just that.