Cascading Auric Collapse

“How bad?”

The two words seemed to hang in the air. Tiana’s brows furrowed at Bertram. He was frowning and nodding. Finally, he assured the caller he was on his way and hung up. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Keenan,” Bertram said. His voice was thin, as if he were in shock. “He… nearly died. His aura just… started disintegrating. Phillip got him stabilized. Chris and Lyn are on their way to take our place here at the camp.”

Tiana nodded. Everyone knew how close Keenan was with Bertram. “Trenton staying?” she asked.

Bertram shrugged. “That’s his choice.”


Keenan was sore and tired. He’d made it through the business. He could go back to the camp now, but… he wasn’t sure he should. He wasn’t well. He knew, without having to ask anyone, that he was pale. He felt cold – like he couldn’t get warm. He chewed his lip thoughtfully. What should he do?

He shook his head and peered out into the antechamber. “Marken,” he said, his voice weak. “Get Phillip.” He felt his aura flare and flinched in pain. He didn’t listen for Marken’s answer. He simply went back to his couch and laid down.


Keenan gave Bertram a wan smile. “The kids are gone over night,” he said, as he tossed an overnight bag into his car. “I’ll be back before they return. The timing was perfect.”

“The fact that none of them will be able to see you at a press conference is a big help,” Bertram said. He grimaced and then sighed. “Are you sure that you’re up to this, Keenan? You look… pale.”

Keenan said, “I’m fine.” He shut the door and said, “I can take care of myself. I’ve done so for a long time now.” Bertram looked doubtful.


Keenan looked at the weather maps. A faint smile touched his lips and he tapped the screen. “Perfect timing,” he said. “They’re predicting two days of fair weather.”

“Time to let the kids have their experience with camping in tents and sleeping on the ground,” Bertram said. He nodded. “I’ll see to the preparations.”

Logan looked up from the computer he was working at. “Are you actually going to trust thirty teenagers to sleep in tents without adult supervision?” he asked.

A faint smile touched Keenan’s lips. “Heaven’s!” he exclaimed, “There’s only one thing I trust them to do.”


Keenan flopped back against his mattress and sighed contentedly. “Oh, this was a great idea,” he said, closing his eyes. His aura was pulsing gently, ready to start flaring at any moment. He needed to rest and, with all the campers resting, now was the perfect opportunity.

“Are you all right?” Bertram asked, his brows furrowing.

Without opening his eyes, Keenan nodded. “Need a nap. That’s all.” It was strange, though. He was taking his medicine, so he couldn’t understand why his aura would begin pulsing. His brows furrowed. After he had taken a nap, he’d analyze his medicine.


Bertram frowned at Alan. Something about him didn’t set right. True, the Agency had sent Team Theta to investigate the murder almost immediately. However, it stuck him as odd that they should also send a cook, too. They’d only identified the body an hour ago.

He glanced over at Tiana. He hesitated to tread on what might still be a sore subject. “Are you keeping Haruko apprised of things here?” he asked.

“Only as it relates to my own work,” Tiana said. It wasn’t an answer, but her manner told Bertram it was the best he could hope for.


“Who’d you say you were again?” Keenan said, frowning slightly and tilting his head to one side. There was something familiar about the man, but he couldn’t put his finger on just what it was.

The newcomer smiled. “I’m Alan Jenkins,” he said, giving Keenan a polite bow. “Once they’d heard that Master Keiran had died so tragically, the directors decided you needed a replacement.”

Keenan hesitated for a moment. Then, he nodded. “So long as you can cook, I suppose,” he said. Turning away, he called, “Have supper ready by six o’clock, please.”

“Of course,” Alan said, as he watched Keenan leave. A slow smile spread across his features. He couldn’t have planned it any better. Now, he’d have plenty of opportunity to carry out his mission.


Keenan patted Emil on the shoulder and sent him to join his friends. At least the boy had calmed a bit after the shock of finding a dead body. The first was always the hardest. He stepped over to Bertram and sighed.

“He see anything?” Bertram whispered.

Nodding, Keenan said, “He caught a glimpse of a person, presumably the killer, leaving the scene. Ti called in while I was making his tea. It’s definitely a murder, but there’s something strange about the scene. She wants me to examine the body.”

Bertram nodded. “Keenan,” he said, as his friend started towards the door. “Who was it?”

“Keiry,” he said. From the look on Keenan’s face, Bertram knew they were both thinking the same thing. Maybe, they should have listened to her. If they had, she might still be alive. Shaking the thought away, Bertram turned to the campers. He couldn’t help Keiry now. He had to focus on what he could do.


Keiran looked up from her book and frowned. In spite of what Keenan might say, she knew that the person she’d seen the previous day was still around. She wanted to think that the rattling at her window was nothing more than the wind, but she couldn’t.

She stood and headed to the door that would lead out to the front room of the lodge. Bertram was out there, right? She could spend time with him, at least until his campers arrived for music.

However, she never reached the door. A hand clamped down over her mouth, stifling her single cry. Then, darkness flooded in around her. When she came back to consciousness, she was outside.

Stifling a moan, Keiran shifted and her abductor laid her in the grass. He caressed her cheek lightly. “Relax,” he said, looking into her eyes. Keiran couldn’t struggle. “I need them to think I was after you, my dear.”


He was annoyed. The agents suspected trouble. First that cook and then the boy had seen him. There was no helping it. They couldn’t know the real reason he was there. That meant there was only one thing he could do. Hopefully, they would think she was in target and her death would lay their fears to rest.

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