Children of Darkness
by David J Duncan

Disclaimers:January 2001

Note: Nick, Natalie, Alyce, LaCroix, Katherine Barrington, Madeline, Vachon, Aristotle, Divia, and Tracy are all from "Forever Knight" which is owned by Sony Tri-Star. Xena, Gabrielle, Alti, Solen, Michael, Raphael and Hope are from Xena Warrior Princess which is owned by StudiosUSA and created by Rob Tapert and John Schulian. All other characters are fictious and are of my own creation. Any reference to a real person is coincidental.

Comments are appreciated!  Please send them to

Chapter 1

 A frigid wind howled across the northern coast of Greece. Stan Meissner, a preeminent archaeologist,  shivered his way out of the shelter, and made his way through the mists. He inhaled deeply and surveyed  his surroundings. Then, he removed a yellowed piece of parchment from his knapsack.

 "You're around here somewhere, Lady! I can feel it!" he muttered.

 For two years, Meissner had searched for Hope, the supposed half-human daughter of Dahak, the Dark  One. During this time, he had made several trips between Tucson and various archives in Greece and  Italy, but had come up empty. Then, by a stroke of luck, an attack by another ancient threat, Alti the  Shamaness, had alerted the museum directors to the possibility of other archaeological finds. Accordingly,  those officials had sponsored a special grant for him to return for one last attempt to find his quarry. Now,  on the outskirts of what had been Potadeia, he felt  that they were close. "Only another two miles or so...." he told himself.


 Three hours passed as Meissner and his crew of graduate assistants slowly hiked their way north of the  town site. Finally, on a particularly steep hill, they found a cave sealed with a large boulder.

 "Ah ha! This must be it!" he exclaimed. "Can somebody please get me some dynamite?"

 Michelle Arnold, a lanky blonde-haired PhD student, handed him two of the lethal sticks. "Here you go,  Professor," she stated and retreated a safe distance away.

 He lit the fuse and joined her on the other side of the clearing. The explosive went off, decimating the  barrier, and allowing access to the cavern.

 "Let's go!" he urged and cautiously made his way in there. The torch reflected off of the walls, creating an  eerie wavering yellow light. As the area had been sealed off for ages, a dank odor threatened to  overwhelm the group's senses. The opening seemed to go on for miles...and the expedition felt their way  through the labyrinth of tunnels.

 Finally, after two hours of exploration, Jim Anderson, Meissner's other assistant, made a discovery. It was  a wooden box, about six feet long, two feet wide, and three feet deep. "Dr. Meissner! Look what I  found!" he called.

 The archaeologist sprinted back towards his student. "What is it?" he asked impatiently.

 "Look at this! It looks like a coffin," the younger man stated.

 Meissner stooped on his knees and, in the flickering torchlight, examined the carvings on the sides of the  box. Yes, this was a coffin all right, and, judging from the inscription, in either Macedonian or Thracian,  this was indeed his target. "This is it! You've found it, Jim!" he exclaimed.

 Hearing his exclamation echoing off of the cave's walls, Michelle ran back to join her companions. "What  is it?" she inquired.

 "This!" Jim pointed toward the box.

 "Is that her?" the other grad student asked nervously.

 "Looks like it," the professor nodded. "Come on, let's carry it out."

 They picked up the coffin and slowly found their way out of the cave. Once there, they loaded the container on a make-shift sled for the trip down the mountain.

 "I've done it!" Meissner smiled gleefully. "Once I get her home, she'll take Tucson by storm!"

 Chapter 2

 A week later, David Dubois stood in front of his bedroom mirror pondering his 2 PM meeting with Caitlin  Sommers, the library dean. She had been thinking about the events concerning the attack on the library  three months earlier. "I wonder what she'll say now?" he worried.

 "It's going to be okay, Dave," Angie's voice assured him as if on cue. She walked up behind him and  started to massage his shoulders and sooth his frazzled nerves. "Just relax."

 "Are you sure?" he continued.

 "I'm positive. Hey, you finally received that manuscript. She's happy about that. Just think positive. She  won't bite you," his wife advised.

 "She's still ticked off about the fracas," he sighed.

 "That was hardly your fault!" she debated. "Ares sicced his goon squad on us as I recall. As I recall, you  had your inner darkness, Alti, and Caesar to contend with. In that regard, I think that Caitlin needs to talk  to Dr. F."

 "Does he know?" he inquired anxiously.

 "Not as far as I know," she shrugged. "But, he's looking beyond the hospital incident toward the future. And speaking of looking ahead, Pal...breakfast is in 10 minutes." She turned and walked to the kitchen.


 An hour later, Dave sat nervously in his office. His co-workers seemed extra nice to him on that particular  day...asking him about things and commenting on the new manuscript. However, he was still dreading his  appointment later in the day.

 A knock came from the door. "Hey, Dave?" Mike Rancuso's voice called.

 "Mike, come on in," the worried librarian directed. "What's up?"

 "Well, one of the new professionals is starting today and since, I'm taking her on the tour...," he started.

 "Sure, show her in," Dave concurred.

 The new person entered the office. She was very slender, with long brown hair, and a professional looking  suit. She seemed very familiar to him. "We talked at the ACRL meeting, didn't we?" he asked.

 "We sure did," she smiled. "About BI stuff, the Cybrarian, and theological sources."

 "Annie Castalaine, right?" he guessed.

 "That's amazing! It was a year ago!" she laughed.

 "I never forget a face or a good conversation especially dealing with shop talk," he nodded. "So, what's  your position?" he inquired.

 "Coordinator of Acquisitions," she explained.

 He smiled, "And you'll be very good at it, believe me." He turned to Mike. "Who else is starting soon?"

 "Three others. Our new archivist is downstairs and the new Head of Reference will be here next week,"
 he explained.

 "You'll like the new archivist. Jerry came with me from Alabama," she informed her  companions.

 "I'm sure," he grinned. Despite his butterflies, he had to hand it to Caitlin, she sure went after and got the  best library faculty for the U of A. "Let's do lunch some time."

 "Absolutely. Just let me know when and where. Well, I have to get going. Thanks for the tour, Mike," she  concluded and walked out of the office.

 "No problem," he replied pleasantly. After a minute, he turned back to his friend. "So, what do you think?"

 "Caitlin's really has a great coordinator in Annie. She's an excellent bibliographer," Dave complemented.

 "I'm glad that you approve," Mike cracked good-naturedly. "By the way, are we a little tense about the  job security?"

 "A little, yeah," Dave admitted while opening a Pepsi One and taking a sip from the can.

 "I would say a lot. You know that Caitlin's behind you...It was good that you took that week off for  yourself. It gave her a chance to cool off," Mike noted. "Trust me, you're fine."

 "How about this new Head of Reference?" Dave probed.

 "You'll like him," his friend related. "He's got a great sense of humor. Serious like you too." He looked at  the brown tubing in the corner. "Is that what I think it is?"

 Dave studied the container for a minute before answering the question. "Yes, it's the Boccachio  manuscript which brought Francesca here in the first place. Getting it here was a big headache and put  both of us through more misery than we would have liked, but at least, it's finally here.  Dwight Stewart  really wants me to scan it in ASAP," he explained.

 "That's great. By the way, did your week of solitude result in any sudden insights?" he queried.

 "Not really. I think that I will need to do some subject teaching eventually," Dave informed him.

 "Straight librarianship doesn't do you justice. That's for sure," he agreed.

 "I wonder what Caitlin will think...," Dave worried.

 "You two will be in agreement, trust me," Mike assured him. "Everyone who knows you here will expect  this decision on your part. You'll just be maximizing your service to the U of A.  Well, I have to get back  to work. Good to see you back."

 "Thanks, Mike," Dave concluded as his friend departed, leaving him alone with the computer once more.

 Chapter 3

 The day passed by quickly. At 4PM, Nick rose from his slumber and stretched his arms skyward. He  descended the stairs and headed over to the refrigerator. Once there, he retrieved a jade green bottle and  tipped it to his lips. While the cow blood did have a sour taste, it assuaged his hunger at least for the  moment. Picking out one of his all-black outfits, the vampire detective got dressed and wondered what he  would do until his shift started at 11PM.

 "Hmm...I think that I'll check in on Alyce Harris and see what she's doing...." he thought and prepared to  leave for the evening.


 Three hours later, Alyce Hunter sat in her new office, soaking up the surroundings. Between her personal  artifacts from Orleans and the Central American exhibits, the new curator was enjoying herself. "I can't  believe that I'm here!" she exclaimed as she stood in front of her favorite exhibit.  On loan, ironically  enough, from the Toronto museum was the main mesoamerican display. Particularly interesting was the  excavators' picture. "It's hard to believe that nobody notices Nick being here  especially with this picture."

 "Sometimes it's easiest to hide right under people's noses," a voice cracked mischievously.

 Alyce stopped suddenly and felt the area with her enhanced senses. Slowly, a smile formed.  "Nick, it's  good to see you. I was wondering when you would come by."

 "I figured that you would need some time to get settled," he replied while stepping into the light. "So, do  you like it?"

 "Like it? I love it! To be in the center of the Southwest and with so many friends here! They have been  keeping me busy...very busy," she declared.

 "Any big exhibits right off the bat?" he inquired.

 "Actually, there's going to be a big event down at the convention center next week. Apparently, Stan  Meissner, one of the U of A's archaeologists, found something big in Greece. The whole thing should be  pretty exciting. By the way, how are the Duboises? I'm afraid that I didn't have a chance to thank them  again for that nice evening....," she explained.

 "Both of them are always occupied. Dave's working on a few big papers at the moment. I believe that  Natalie and Angie are collaborating on a project as well," he replied.

 "I can see why you and David are such good friends. You too have a lot in common," she told him.

 "Oh, and how's that?" he inquired. Although he agreed with her summation, Nick wanted to hear her  opinion.

 "He seems to be fighting his inner darkness. In that way, he reminds me of a certain vampire that I  know....," she smiled.

 "Touché," he admitted. "Yes, his anger is a constant concern to all of us."

 "Somebody mentioned an incident at the library. Was he involved?" she probed.

 "We all were. As was LaCroix," he stated.

 "LaCroix here?" she shivered.

 "He's not here at the moment," he pointed out. Apparently, the manner which the elder vampire had  treated her back in Toronto had left an impression. "In fact, I believe that he's back in Toronto."

 "Good. Keep him away from me," she told him. After taking a deep breath, she recovered her composure  and asked, "By the way, how's Natalie?"

 "Well, she stays busy. I mentioned her work with Angie earlier, but she never stops working on cases," he  chuckled pleasantly and looked at his watch. "Speaking of cases, I should get going.  See you soon." He  waved to her and, after making sure that the coast was clear, took off into the night.

 Alyce smiled as she watched him vanish into the darkness. It was nice to have friends around when one  was just starting out.

 Chapter 4

 (Somewhere in Heaven)

 Above the clouds and on the other side of St. Peter's gate, two figures stared into a pool of water. In the  shimmering liquid, images appeared of the past, present, and the future. In particular, the events unfolding  in Tucson concerned them.

 One angel, a heavy-set man in life with raven-black hair and a flowing beard, studied the details displayed  before them with caution. "There has been a great deal of trouble down there," he noted.

 "Yes, Raphael," his companion agreed. This man was a well-built replica of Michelangelo's "David" with  blonde hair and, as with his companion, great gray wings coming from his back. "For those individuals,  one test has been passed, however, there are more hurdles to be crossed." He waved his hand over the  pool and the image of an airplane appeared.

 "Michael, what is it? What is in that vehicle?" Raphael inquired.

 "A source of evil, of darkness created long ago in Britannia. One that only Xena and  Gabrielle would know about directly," Michael explained. "Because the latter gave birth to the creature."

 Raphael stared incredulously at the other angel. "Hope? But, she was dispatched over two millennia ago!"
 he protested.

 "No, she was only wounded," the other pointed out. "Remember, her father protected her from serious  harm even when it appeared that the Destroyer had killed her. Xena had  interred Hope in a special tomb  outside of Potadeia designed to contain her powers. Now, that the tomb has been opened and the  creature will awaken yet again."

 "I guess that it is a good thing that Xena and Gabrielle are there to face her. Even by herself, Hope is a  handful," Raphael supposed.

 "But, she will not be alone," Michael interjected. "For another ancient evil will be released into the world  as well. The chain of events has already been set in motion..."

 Raphael scratched his head and focused on the pool. The image shifted to an earlier battle in the city of  Toronto a year earlier between the indigenous vampires and a stranger of their kind. The latter's killing  spree at her brethren's expense set up the final confrontation between her "brother/grandson" Nicholas de  Brabant, her "father/son" Lucius of Pompeii, and herself. Only Nicholas' inherent goodness insured that the  killings stopped. "But, if Nicholas has dealt with her once, surely..."

 Michael shook his head. "Nicholas needed my help to regenerate in time," he explained. "No, Divia is too  strong especially if she and Hope join forces. They will need assistance."

 "Are we going down there?" Raphael inquired.

 "Not unless it is absolutely necessary," his friend told him. "Rather, I was thinking of asking for  intermediaries to go in our place. I have already sent word and the three people accepted their roles  readily. They only await the right moment."

 The other archangel merely nodded. Leave it to Michael to be prepared for all eventualities. Hopefully, he  would be right once again.

 Chapter 6

 (Back in the FK Universe)

 An icy wind cut across the city of Toronto. Winter's embrace and the night's dark shroud combined to  send the residents scurrying for cover and the warmth of their homes. However, even as they did so, they  heard a demonic laugh rising on the wind and choked on the sudden acrid odor in the air.

 On a hillside just to the southeast of downtown and along the waterfront, a junkyard stood desolate and  devoid of life save for a sole policeman patrolling it. The guard, a forty-year old gentleman by the name of  Daniel Waters, nervously paced through his rounds as if the Devil was on his tail. Strange things had been  happening in the city on that day and his nerves were peaking at that particular moment. "Only an hour to  go," he muttered uneasily. However, at that moment, the air choked him with growing amounts of ash and  the distinct odor of brimstone. "What the?" he asked and rushed toward the source.

 About two rows of cars behind him, he discovered that the ash cloud was forming into a cylinder and  then, into the form of a young girl. She stood about four feet tall, her medium-length curly blond hair  ruffled about in the wind, and her eyes glinted a  crimson-red sheen. "I'm...I'm back! I have done it! I have cheated Death!" she laughed to the sky.

 Waters, still transfixed with disbelief, managed to produce his gun, and point it at the intruder. "All...All  right! Freeze! Let's make this easy, Miss...." he advised.

 She grinned sinisterly. "Oh yes! Let's do! I need to feed."

 "Okay, let's go to police headquarters. After you're booked, they'll get you something to eat," he detailed.
 "Now, why don't you tell me your name?"

 The girl's smile widened. "My name is Divia. And, as for your statement...I'm afraid not," she hissed and  leapt toward him.

 To his credit, Waters shot her three times in the chest. However, this display didn't faze Divia in the  slightest as she landed on him, slapped the gun away, bore her fangs, and drained him dry.

 "Thanks for the meal," she cackled. "Now, Lucius, we have a score to settle!" With that, she took to the  night sky heading for the city.


 In the back studio of CERK, LaCroix was hard at work producing his last installment of the Nightcrawler,  at least from Toronto. While his producers were not happy that the popular show would end on that night,  they consented to let him leave on a high note. And for some reason, the vampire felt that it would not be  a moment too soon. For the past week, he had felt strange misgivings as if another problem would soon  be upon him. "Rubbish," he dismissed the trifling notion and turned the headset on.

 "Good Evening, Gentle Listeners, this is the Nightcrawler coming to you one last time. Our topic tonight is  foreshadowing. Have you ever felt an impending sense of danger? If so, how do you deal with it? If  danger is close by, can we avoid it? Please share your feelings with me. The lines are open...." he  crooned.

 Then, a sudden surge of pain shot through him. In the nick of time, he muted the  microphone before his sudden scream echoed through the booth. Wave after wave of icy daggers hit him.  Finally, he collected himself. "I must get a hold of myself," he scolded.  Then, he saw the caller light  blinking. Restoring the microphone's operation, he stated, "We have a caller, go ahead..."

 A momentary silence hung over the radio waves followed by a child's laughter. "Hello, Lucius, I'm  back...." she snickered wickedly.

 LaCroix nearly dropped his headset. "No, you should be dead!"

 "Well, it's not because you and Brother Nicholas didn't try, Father. And I do want to see you both so that  I can thank you," the voice sang mock-sweetly.

 "You are not welcome, Divia!" he snarled.

 "Too bad. Look behind you," she challenged.

 He turned to see a pair of glowing red eyes standing out in the darkness. As she stepped into the light,  LaCroix saw that it was indeed Divia. At that moment, he understood why he had felt uneasy for much of  the previous week.

 "Coming in!" she continued and shattered the glass window. Before he could react, she backhanded him  against the wall. A second later, she held him in a choke hold about a foot off of the ground. "What? No  greeting?"

 He cursed her wordlessly.

 "Yes, Father. I'm back...and I will have you both this time...with a little help from my friends," she coldly  stated as she destroyed the console with her free hand effectively ending the transmission.

 "If you're planning to kill me, then get it over with!" he urged.

 Divia chuckled coldly, "No, no, no, Lucius....I'm going to give you a head start. I know where dear  Nicholas is hiding...and I will deal with him and his friends. So, run to him or don't. In any case, I will hunt  both of you down."

 "If you can get to him," he challenged.

 She sighed knowingly, "Ah yes, I believe that you're referring to his new protectors. Well, I have some  one who will neutralize Xena and Gabrielle rather nicely. You know who Dahak is?"

 After a second, his eyes stared at her angrily.

 "Ah, I see that you do. Well, it's my turn to tell you a story, Father. On one of his  expeditions to Britannia, Caesar took an unknown temple for his own designs. At Ares' goading, Xena  traveled to the battlefield and defeated him," she started.

 "Yes...she defeated him with Bodaceia's assistance," he recalled.

 Divia's eyes glowed an even brighter shade of crimson and her fangs descended. "Well, while this mayhem  was going on, Gabrielle went with the other observers to the temple thinking that they worshiped a  benevolent god. But, they followed Dahak. In the ceremony which followed, the Blonde sacrificed her  purity and unwittingly exposed herself to the Dark One's plans...and the seed of darkness grew within her.  The child was ironically named Hope," she laughed incredulously. "While Xena defeated her, she will  awake soon and together, we will have our revenge...."

 "Somebody will stop you," he protested.

 "Ah...yes. Well, not this time, Father. If you will excuse me," she concluded and exited through the broken  window. From the darkness, she flipped a broken cell phone back into the booth. "Aren't these devices  wonderful?" she baited and departed into the night.

 For almost a moment, LaCroix lay on the floor. Then, he painfully rose to his feet.  "She...must be stopped," he realized and reached for the phone. "And, as much as I hate to do so, I know who I must see...." He began to dial the phone and set his own plans in motion. Dark times were coming  for them all....

 Chapter 6

 Stan Meissner sat in O' Hare Airport and sipped a cup of coffee nervously. So far,  everything had gone according to plan. The box had gone through Customs without a  hitch...and now, it was being loaded on the plane for the flight to Tucson. Still, it was hard for him to  maintain a sense of calm.


 Down below in the baggage claim area, the precious coffin sat in the midst of an electronic security net. In  addition, two guards patrolled the perimeter. To the airport personnel, nobody could steal the artifact.

 However, from within the box, a finger moved and then, an eye blinked. Hope stirred and awoke after a  two millennia slumber. She shook her blonde hair and felt her fingers. "Mmm....I must be free," she  muttered and raised the lid of the box. Then, she managed to climb out of her prison and looked around  the surroundings. "Where am I?" she wondered at the strange place. She remembered to close the lid of  the coffin. "Can't let them know that quickly," she reminded herself.

 At that moment, the two guards returned from their rounds. "Hey, who are you?" they  demanded.

 "None of your concern," she hissed through clenched teeth.

 "You're under arrest!" one of them informed her.

 Hope snickered incredulously. "Go away!" She focused on the men and their guns.  Suddenly, the weapons flew from their hands and turned themselves to face their former masters. She  blinked and the guns fired themselves, killing the two men. "Too bad..."

 "Very good, Daughter," a demonic voice complemented.

 Hope beamed and turned to see a column of flame burning behind her. "Father," she replied pleasantly. "It  is good to see you."

 Dahak continued, "Your purpose is the same as always. You must prepare the way for my coming. I have  revived another to assist you." A fiery burst produced Divia from thin air. "You know what you must do. I  will be watching." Having said that, the flame burnt itself out.

 Divia studied the woman in front of her and hissed. It was the accursed Gabrielle. "I'll kill you before you  can tell Xena about me!" she challenged.

 Hope shook her head. "I'm not my mother. Don't ever accuse me of that!" she growled.

 Divia saw the wicked anger in her companion's eyes. No, somehow, this wasn't Xena's sidekick. Then,  she remembered Dahak's account. The resemblance was incredible! "No,you aren' apologies," she  admitted.

 "Not a problem," Hope relented. "Drain the bodies and we'll leave shortly."

 The vampiress smiled contentedly and fed on Hope's victims. "Thank you," she told her ally.

 "You're welcome," the other woman advised. "Can we?"

 Divia nodded silently.

 "Very well," Hope agreed and teleported them towards further mayhem.

 Chapter 7

 Nick and Tracy drove back toward the University Precinct building after investigating a particularly grisly  murder scene. The victims, a thirty-year old African-American female and a twenty-five year old  Caucasian man had been tied to cross-like supports and speared through their mid-sections.

 "It almost looked like a ritual," Tracy theorized.

 "Certainly appears that way," Nick agreed. "Let's see if Ramirez has anything."

 The two detectives climbed the stairs and entered the bustling squad room. There, Chris Novak signaled  them to come over to her desk.

 "What's up, Sergeant?" he asked.

 "Captain wants to see you two immediately. He's really panicky about the situation," Chris explained.

 "Sure thing. Thanks," Tracy agreed.

 The partners walked towards the door and knocked. "Captain Ramirez?" Nick called.

 "Si? Come in!" Ramirez bade.

 "What's new?" Tracy asked.

 "I was hoping that you could tell me," Ramirez replied. "City Hall's been calling me  nonstop looking for details. I don't know what to tell them!"

 Nick cleared his throat. "Well, Natalie hasn't made her report out yet. But, the victims were both  suspended from supports and speared through their chests. One victim was a African-American female  and the other, a Caucasian male," he detailed.

 "We haven't found any witnesses to the crime although nearby folks reported a group of men and women  in long flowing black and red robes with cone-shaped headdresses," Tracy continued.

 Ramirez nodded and then heard a knock from the door. "Si?"

 Natalie opened the door and entered the room. "Yes, Captain. Thanks. I wanted to let you know that we  have a positive ID on those victims. The woman's name was April McAllister and the man was Roland  Martin. The faces were untouched and matched the Missing Person reports for them.

 The Captain sighed. Two mysteries solved, but an even bigger one had opened in front of them. "And  preliminary cause of death?"

 "The stab wounds to the chest areas," Natalie reported. "I'll run the tox report when I get downstairs but I  think that will be the primary cause of death. Nick, Tracy, can you come with me to the lab for a second?   I need to check on some facts...."

 "Go ahead," Ramirez told the detectives. "I'll buzz you if I need you."

 The three comrades walked out of his office and down the stairs to Examination Room 3B. After they  entered, Tracy closed the door behind them and locked it.

 "So, what do you both think?" Natalie inquired.

 "Looks like a human sacrifice ritual to me," Tracy stated. "But, in this day and age?"

 "Have you seen anything like this before, Nick?" Natalie queried.

 His mind flashed back over the years....


 [Brabant 1319]

 Nicholas de Brabant wandered the countryside near his ancestral home. Since he, Janette, and LaCroix  had left here initially, he had not returned in almost a century's time. Even though everyone had died from  his mortal age, the atmosphere had not changed. The grass still smelled as sweet and the air had a hint of  Spring in it.

 Suddenly, he heard the rustling in the brush and decided to investigate. As he parted the foliage, he  discovered a group of men and women circled about a large bonfire. The women were dressed fairly  skimpily and their faces were concealed with large garish masks with straw on top. The men were dressed  in black and red robes with conical headdresses and chanted to their deity.

 "Glory to the goddess! The birth of a new order! May our strength release her from  bondage. Now, it is time! Would the Priests of the Flesh and Blood please come  forward...," one man, the high priest, bade.

 Two men stepped forward. "Glory to the goddess!" they shouted.

 "Indeed," the high priest agreed and motioned toward the trees. The men proceeded over to them and  climbed the supports which leaned up against them. At the top, they stopped, turned around, and stood  on the support.

 The priest advanced on them with a long spear. "May you bring about the new order with your gifts," he  stated. Then, with cold precision, he stabbed his companions.

 Nick was horrified by this act. Granted, as a vampire, he had committed acts of barbarity.  But, due either  to his residual Crusading instincts, or the love of his home, he refused to let the act go any farther. "Stop!"
 he commanded.

 The leader turned to see Nick fly from the brush, eyes glowing golden and fangs descended.  Moving  faster than the eye could see, the Brabantine dispatched most of the ceremony's participants in moments.

 "Stop!" the leader commanded. "In the name of the god and goddess, I order you to cease your  effrontery!"

 Nick looked up from his last kill, the steaming blood still dripping from his extended fangs.  "Or what?  You'll kill me? I'm already dead! I have been over a century!" he challenged.  He grabbed the other man  and flung him against a nearby tree where he slumped to the ground unconscious.

 "No!" a strange voice bellowed.

 "Who?" the vampire wondered and turned.

 The fire flared and a column of flame appeared in its midst. "I am an ancient entity destined to bring  change to the world. Join me....," it bade.

 Nick laughed, "I think that my master might have something to say about that. No, I think not!" He  advanced on the unconscious priest, drained him dry, and broke the latter's neck.

 The fire creature screamed in rage. "Suit yourself, Nicholas de Brabant!" Faster than even his  vampire-enhanced senses could follow, a burst struck the former crusader and sent him into the brush.

 Nick rose slowly to his feet. "I am not afraid, Demon!" he seethed.

 "You should be! You should be!" the demon challenged. "But, I will let you live for  tonight. One day, you and yours will account for tonight!" With that, the fire burnt itself out, leaving Nick  and the corpses in its wake....

 Nick looked towards the sky. Seeing the coming dawn, he took off toward his ancestral castle.


 Back in the modern era, Natalie tapped his shoulder. "Earth to Nick. What are you  remembering?"

 "I...I...have seen this before. It is a demon cult. I broke up a ritual just like the one that apparently went on  the west side tonight," he explained.

 "What is it, a religious ritual of some kind?" Tracy probed.

 "If you count Satanic worship as a ritual," he explained. "The uniforms matched the  descriptions too."

 Natalie reached down and picked up the mask. "I pulled this off of McAllister. Is this?" she indicated.

 His eyes bugged out. "That's an exact match!"

 "And this demon, did you?" Natalie followed.

 "It spoke to me after I disposed of its ritual participants. And, the creature promised that mine and my  own would pay for my acts. I wonder what else can happen...?" he wondered.

 Then, his cell phone went off. "Miles," he replied.

 "Nick, it's Alyce. Can you, Natalie, and your partner get down to the airport? We have a problem here!"  Alyce reported.

 "Alyce, what's going on?" he inquired.

 "I can't say, but I think that you should see this box," she demanded.

 "We'll be right there," he agreed and hung up. "Ladies, let's go. We have a situation at the airport...She  couldn't talk about it on the phone."

 Tracy sighed, "One case at a time, guys."

 Natalie disagreed, "Alyce wouldn't have called if it wasn't important. Let's find out what this is about."


 Fifteen minutes later, Alyce still hovered over the box. She couldn't believe what had happened. The  museum had been assured that security between Greece and Tucson would be airtight. But, the bodies in  the box said otherwise. "How?" she asked.

 "I think that I might want to know the same thing!" Meissner seethed. "Dr. Harris, I don't understand...."

 "It couldn't have happened here, Dr. Meissner. The police are already on their way," she noted.

 "We're here," Nick added as he, Natalie, and Tracy entered the crime scene. "What  happened, Dr. Harris?"

 "Well, I had the box loaded onto the plane in Athens. It had tight security in London,  Chicago, and here. How could something happen? How could somebody break in?"   Meissner demanded.

 Tracy inspected the locks on the box. The damage was on the inside of the box, not the outside. "Say,  Nick. What do you think?" she asked.

 He examined the box as well...and came to the same conclusion. Then, he turned back to Meissner.  "What did you put in this box?"

 "I can't...," the other protested.

 "What was it, Dr. Meissner?" Alyce asked. "You've kept it top secret and told your  assistants to keep quiet. What is it?"

 "All right. We found a grave...and a woman which we brought back here. She was called Hope," he  explained.

 "Well, the crypt was opened from within. Whatever Hope is, she escaped from the box and...fled from the  scene. Apparently, she left the officers behind in her wake," Tracy informed him. "If you look at the locks,  you'll see that I'm right," Tracy pointed out.

 The ME walked over to Nick and whispered, "Nick, take a look at the bodies...."

 He followed her over to where the guards' bodies had been placed on the ground.

 "Take a look at the necks. Is that what I think it is?" she inquired.

 His closer examination revealed two sets of small puncture holes on each man. "They're vampire marks all  right. But, look, they were each shot at extremely close range. What do you think the ETD was?" he  reasoned.

 "I was thinking about four to six hours ago. So, that would clear Alyce...and you. But, what would a  vampire use a gun for?" Natalie insisted.

 "We usually need the beating heart to feed. This act seems almost like an afterthought as if the killer shot  them and then, handed them over to a vampire accomplice," he guessed.

 "Hope?" she asked.

 "Probably since there was no spilled blood in the coffin. But, whoever or whatever she is, she's not acting  alone. Are you going to take care of these bodies?" he added.

 She nodded, "I'm taking them back to the lab right now. Then, Ramirez can call Chicago himself. See you  later."

 "Right," he agreed and walked back over to Tracy and Alyce. The uniforms were now on the scene and  sweeping the area for clues.

 "Let's go, Tracy. Dr. Harris, can we give you a lift back to the museum?" he queried.

 "Yes, thank you," the curator accepted.

 The blonde detective shot her partner a questioning look.

 He shook it off and mouthed "later" to her. Then, he turned to Meissner. "We'll be in touch, Sir," he  informed the professor and handed him his card.

 The other man nodded in understanding.

 Nick got into the Caddy's driver's seat and drove away with Tracy and Alyce.

 "So, what is it?" Tracy insisted.

 "Alyce, do you know who this 'Hope' is?" Nick quizzed.

 "According to Greek legend, she was the daughter of an ancient demonic deity and a human woman.   Apparently, the final resting place of the creature was right outside of Potadeia, in northeastern Greece,"  Alyce explained.

 "Potadeia?" Nick tensed. "When was this creature created?"

 "According to the records, about the time of Julius Caesar...why?" Alyce replied. "Nick, why do you  ask?"

 "Because there may be a bigger connection than any of us might guess...Potadeia is  Gabrielle's hometown. Perhaps, there might be a connection," he postulated.

 "I knew that those two would be trouble," Tracy groused.

 Nick shot her a warning look and took a hard right turn. "Dave, Angie, and Francesca are all working late  tonight at the U of A. If Hope is loose here, that's where she'll appear next," he theorized and, putting his  foot down on the accelerator, sped toward the university.

  Chapter 8

 Meanwhile, at the University library, Dave was finishing up a collection development report for Annie. He  had felt ill at ease all day, but the feeling had intensified for some reason as the night wore on. "Chill, Dave.  It's okay," he told himself.

 Just then, the phone rang.

 "Hello?" he answered.

 "David, it's Pete Mitchell. Can you come down to my office for a chat? I'd like it if you would...," Pete  Mitchell, the new Head of Reference asked.

 "Sure, I'll be there in just a second," Dave replied. "Bye."

 "Splendid!" the other man concluded and hung up.

 "I wonder what he wants?" Dave worried. Visions of pink slips still danced through his head as he closed  his door, leaving it slightly ajar and walking down the hall. Pete's door was open. Dave knocked. "Excuse  me?"

 "Ah, David. Please come in, my friend," his superior advised.

 The nervous librarian walked into the office and closed the door. Mitchell was a stocky Native American  with many creases across his face and wisps of white streaking through his night-black hair. "May I take a  seat?" Dave asked.

 "Absolutely," his boss told him. "First of all, David. I just wanted to meet you."

 "You mean there's nothing wrong?" Dave supposed.

 "Nothing at all, my good man. I just wanted to complement your work on the Electronic Text Center and  with the History collection," he complemented.

 "You are too kind, but thanks. I enjoy the work, and the faculty are really nice to work with.  I like new challenges as well, and Caitlin supports my efforts," Dave explained.

 Mitchell chuckled, "Speaking of Caitlin, she wanted me to tell you not to be so shy. You're fine, believe  me," he assured his younger associate.

 "I thought that she was going to fire me," Dave commented.

 The other man shook his head. "Fire you...hardly. David, from what I understand, you stood up for the  library and acted in self-defense. Some morons in the administration wanted your head, but Caitlin saved  your job. While she was upset at first, she's over it now. Believe me, you are too valuable an asset to  throw away on a whim. That's all that I wanted to say. I'm sorry that I must cut this short, but my wife's  waiting for me at home...and I'm sure that yours is as well," he commented.

 "We're meeting at the Union in about twenty minutes," Dave stated and extended his hand.  "Well, I'd best  get ready to leave. Dr. Mitchell, it was nice talking to you...."

 His boss shook the hand and told him, "It's Pete, David. Yes, it was very nice talking with you as well. We will be doing a great deal of it."

 Dave rose and left the office. Walking back down the hall, his psychic senses picked up on a disturbance  emanating from his own office. Sprinting, he reached the door and gripped the handle. Yes, the "scent" could only be one being. Opening the door, he walked into the darkened room and discovered a man  sitting lopsidedly in the guest chair.

 "Nice office," LaCroix coughed painfully.

 "It looks better with light," Dave dead panned and flipped on the light. After closing his door, the librarian  sat behind his own desk and glared at his nocturnal visitor. "So, what do you want, LaCroix? I'm busy."

 "Yes, I'm sure," the vampire scoffed. "But, we may have yet another situation on our hands tonight. Tell  me, Dubois...what has Nicholas told you about our experiences?"

 "He has given me some details. Why? Do you know the source of the threat?" Dave  growled, fighting to keep his darkness in check.

 "Yes, it is my daughter," LaCroix revealed.

 "Divia? But Nick said that she was dead!" Dave demanded angrily.

 "Nicholas staked her, and I burned her body. However, somehow, she has returned, and she is not alone  this time either," the guest explained. "She attacked me last night."

 Dave smiled wickedly, "As much as I agree with her intent in your instance, I...." Then, a spasm wracked  his body. "Arrgh...She's here! Your spawn is here!" he indicated.

 LaCroix agreed, "Indeed, she is. Come, we must find her!" With that statement, the  vampire opened the window and took off into the night.

 "Show off," Dave muttered and, after readying his quiver and bow, took off himself for the source of the  vibrations.


 Angie sat on the bench outside of the Modern Languages Building waiting for Francesca's night class to let  out. She was glad that her husband had suggested the weekly cappuccino session so that Francesca  would have a chance to unwind. In addition, the great conversation was a bonus. Sometimes, Nick and  Natalie would join them. However, tonight it would just be the three of them.

 She jerked her head up to the lit room on the third floor where Francesca conducted her class. Her senses  were picking up on something very wicked in the vicinity. Something strangely familiar. From the corner of  her eye, she saw a familiar blonde woman and a young girl standing on the third floor terrace where  nobody had been a moment earlier.  "Where did they...? And is that Gabrielle? But, Francesca's still in  class, so who...?" she asked.

 From within her head, Xena realized, "It's not Gabrielle! It's Hope! Find a safe place and make the  change!"

 Angie stood up and made her way into the building. Once in the ladies' room, she drew the sword and  switched places with her "roommate".

 "Okay, Hope. No more messing around!" the Warrior Princess stated and ran up the stairs.  Coming  around the corner, she could almost sense the heavy malevolence in the air.


 Fortunately, Francesca had finished her lecture about fifteen minutes early and had  dismissed the students. She was absorbed in her notes when a knock came from the door.

 "Yes?" she answered. "Come in."

 The door opened and she looked up at the two women. The sight made her jump back.

 "What trick is this?" the older woman demanded.

 "I might ask the same thing," Francesca retorted. "You look like a friend of mine, but you definitely aren't  her."

 "Friend?" her questioner probed. "I sense her about you. But, where is she? Where is my mother?"

 "Run, Francesca!" Gabrielle urged from inside of her head.

 The Italian professor bolted from the room. However, once in the hallway, Divia tackled her.

 "Now, that's rude!" the vampiress accused.

 "And, you're one to speak of rudeness," a familiar voice baited.

 Divia scowled as she remembered the sound of the voice. "Show yourself, Xena!" she challenged. A  minute later, she felt a fast paced object carom off of her back.

 "How about facing me instead?" the Warrior Princess challenged while drawing her sword and catching  her chakram.

 "Fine," Divia snarled and leapt at her adversary.

 For her part, Francesca made it around the corner, and focusing quickly, changed into Gabrielle. "Okay,  now to help Xena," she decided.

 "Hello, Mother," a low voice announced from behind her. "Leaving me again?"

 The Bard turned to face her daughter. "Hope, it is you!"

 Hope smiled at her mother's obvious declaration. "Yes, it's me. You thought that you were rid of me  forever, didn't you? Thank Father for my return!" she scoffed and, looking at the  metal shelving in the  display case to their left side, sent them flying at her look-alike relative. "Die!"

 Gabrielle ducked the projectiles. "Hope, don't do this! Please!" she pleaded.

 Hope shook her head stubbornly, "Too bad. You and Xena had your chances...." Then, she advanced on  her parent.

 Chapter 9

 Dave sprinted out of the library and across the new research complex. The psychic trail was leading towards the Modern Language Building. Just as he reached the structure, he sensed Nick's approach. Sure enough, the Caddy screeched to a halt beside him.

 "Going my way?" Nick inquired.

 "Whatever's going on, it's happening upstairs," Dave told them.

 "It involves somebody named Hope," Tracy informed him.

 "Hope?" Dave winced. "Aw shit! Nick, she's not alone. We also have LaCroix and Divia to deal with. Angie should be here!" He focused with his senses. "They've changed into Xena and Gabrielle...and they're in for the fight of their lives." He took off for the stairs.

 "Alyce, stay here with Tracy! I'll be back as soon as possible!" Nick ordered and took off for the scene.

 "Damn it!" Tracy cursed.

 The curator soothed, "He's only looking out for you."

 Tracy leaned back in her seat, getting madder by the minute.


 Meanwhile, the battle was getting more intense by the second between Xena and Divia.

 "You're certainly as fit as ever!" the vampiress noted. "Still, I will kill you!"

 "Talk is cheap," Xena challenged and swung at her opponent with her sword.

 "You missed," Divia laughed. "Sooner or later, I will get you."

 Suddenly, the skylight exploded in a rain of glass. Both adversaries looked up to see LaCroix descend into their midst.

 "Lucius!" Xena spat.

 "Father! How good of you to come! And I sense that Nicholas is close by. How convenient...," Divia chuckled.

 "This has gone on far enough. Xena, as much as I hate to admit it, once again, we must put our differences aside...," LaCroix informed her.

 "Agreed," the Thracian warrior admitted.

 "Oh wonderful! Both of my greatest enemies at once! Then, she looked to the skylight. "Nicholas, do come in. I so want to see you. Or must I come after you. After all, I want you to suffer in front of Lucius!"

 Nick descended into the room at his companions' side.

 "Well now, I get to kill you all," Divia snickered.

 "Just try it!" the warrior challenged and executing a back flip, kicked the vampiress from behind.

 "Attacking from behind? That's not like you. Come on, kill me if you can..." Divia baited.


 Dave finally reached the top of the stairs and looked around. He saw Hope moving in on Gabrielle. "I don't think so," he muttered and sent a psychic burst into the half-mortal.

 "Who would dare?" she snarled while rising to her feet.

 "David! Don't!" Gabrielle advised both for his physical and emotional states.

 "Oh gee, I'm afraid that it's Hope-less," he taunted bravely. He knew how dangerous this minx really was and resolved to watch her every move.

 Hope glared at him. "So, you're another friend of hers?" she asked.

 "I would like to think so," he declared. However good of a front that he put on, however, his anger was rising again. A wide grin spread across his face. "Give it your best shot, Sister!" he challenged.

 Gabrielle shook her head at him. This state had to be the result of the arrangement between the two personalities inside of him. While Dave wasn't out of control, he still teetered on the edge. If he didn't watch himself, the
 anger tide would sweep him away.

 The other woman willed up her powers. "Try this!" she snarled and pointed. A whirlwind of sharp metal bore down on him. To his credit, he deflected most of the pieces, receiving only minor superficial wounds.

 "Not bad," he nodded. "Try this!" His eyes took on a faint yellow tint, and another burst struck the demon, flinging her down the length of the corridor.

 She staggered to her feet in obvious pain. Whoever this new ally of Xena's and Gabrielle's was, he definitely had a nasty streak in him...and would kill to protect his friends. "Too bad, Father would have use for him," she mused. Looking down the hall, she could see Divia having a tough time with Xena and the younger vampire. The former general was slumped in a corner, but beginning to marshal his efforts to rise to his feet.

 "Hey, I'm not done with you yet!" her attacker's voice echoed down the hall.

 "Oh, go away!" she bellowed and ripped away the floor underneath him, sending him to the floor below. This effort had finally drained her. If they didn't leave now, she wouldn't be able to teleport them away from here. Dahak had  bigger plans for these non believers than a skirmish here in this unusual  structure. "Divia, let's go!" she called.

 For her part, the female vampire shook her head. "But, I'm enjoying this!" she protested.

 "You're sick," Xena seethed and sent her against the far wall with a karate kick.

 "Call me what you will, Mortal," Divia chuckled as she rose to her feet. "I'm ready, Hope."

 "Very well," the demonic daughter raised her hands, and in a fiery burst, the instigators of the mayhem vanished.

 "Where?" Xena demanded. "Nicholas! Where did they go?"

 "He shrugged, "I have no idea. LaCroix, how are you?"

 "I've felt better, Nicholas....But, thank you for asking," he assured his former protege.

 "Yeah, I'll bet," Xena growled and looked for her companion. Scouring the nearby hallways, she found Gabrielle leaning against a post with a bad bruise on her leg. "Are you all right?"

 "I'm fine. Where's David?" the Bard asked.

 "I thought that he was with you and Hope...." Xena supposed.

 "She collapsed the floor under him and he fell through...," Gabrielle explained.

 The Warrior Princess ran over to the hole. "David?" she called into the darkness below.

 "Yeah! I'm here!" he stated. "Stand back!" A sharp twang came up through the hole followed by an arrow with a steel cable attached. The shaft embedded itself in the roof above. "I'll be right up!"

 "Want us to pull you through?" Gabrielle inquired.

 "Whatever," he informed them. "Give me a minute." Five minutes later, he huffed his way onto the floor at his two friends' feet.

 "Are you okay?" Nick probed.

 "Sure...just winded. Man, I've really gotta lay off Angie's desserts. Wow!" Dave cracked.

 Everyone smiled at their friend's humor. Perhaps, he was truly back on the road to recovery after all.

 "Let's get out of here before the rest of the TPD decide to show up if you get my drift," Nick suggested.

 "Excellent idea, Nicholas," LaCroix concurred and took off through the broken skylight.

 "Okay, I'll get Natalie and Tracy back to the precinct. Dave, you three take off. We'll reconvene at your apartment later. Okay?" Nick continued.

 "Right," Xena agreed. "Okay, Gabrielle and David, let's go!"

 They ran down the stairs and found a concealed place in the brush. Once hidden, the warriors changed back into Angie and Francesca who slipped away toward the parking garage along with Dave.

 Nick, for his part, used his powers to descend from the third floor overhang down to the ground below. After making sure that nobody saw him, he strolled back over to the Caddy and rejoined the three ladies.

 "So, what happened? We heard fighting...," Tracy started.

 "Yes, there was a fight...and Divia is loose again," he informed them.

 "And what about Hope?" Alyce demanded.

 "Hope was there as well. Xena and Gabrielle did fight them to a standstill before Dave and I arrived on the scene. There was some damage, and unfortunately, they escaped," he continued.

 "Are you okay?" Natalie queried.

 "I'm fine. As for our three friends, they all got off with minor bumps and bruises," he explained.

 "What about the building?" Tracy probed. "How much damage this time?"

 "Oh, a few broken bulletin boards and a big hole in the floor," he shrugged.

 Natalie whistled knowingly. "Ramirez is sure going to love this," she commented.

 "Speaking of which," Alyce advised. "You get back to the precinct. I can make it back to the museum from here..."

 "Fine," he agreed. "See you at the Duboises later."

 "Absolutely," she nodded as her three friends drove away. She shook her head in wonder. What had they gotten themselves into now?

 Chapter 10

 Nick, Natalie, and Tracy arrived back at the precinct. Although they dreaded Ramirez's wraith, the trio  realized that they would have to face the music sooner or later. They walked into the bullpen and congregated around the detectives' desk. The captain's door was ajar.

 "Miles! Brown! Can I talk to you?" Ramirez called, in a tone not to be ignored.

 They looked at each other and decided to get the lecture over with. The companions entered the office.

 "Ah, gracias! I was wondering why you left the crime scene so suddenly?" the captain inquired.

 Nick shrugged, "We were following a hunch, Captain."

 "And what was that?" Ramirez probed. "You were supposed to find out about the missing body."

 "If you believe in the unbelievable," Tracy muttered.

 "Try me, Detective Brown. Believe me, this precinct has seen more than its share of  weirdness over the past six months," Ramirez told her.

 Natalie shook her head at Tracy.

 "No, please continue, Detective," her boss urged. "I suppose that the body came back to life?"

 "Well...." Tracy squirmed and looked to her partner for assistance.

 "Actually, Captain....It or rather she did so," Nick admitted.

 "The locks on the coffin were broken from the inside," Tracy added. "That creature could be anywhere."

 Ramirez shook his head. "Madre de Dios! Once again, it's in my precinct! Well, this might make sense to  you. There was a disturbance over at the U of A two hours ago. Nobody got a clear look of course but  the Modern Languages Building is a mess! The report lists three damaged bulletin boards and a large  crater in the floor. What could have caused that, I wonder?"

 While they knew the answers, the three companions were not about to tell him the exact details.

 Finally Natalie offered, "It must have been some vandal."

 "Right. UAPD's taken that case over. I need you folks to keep working on the murder  scenario from the airport. I want this case solved! Comprende?" Ramirez concluded.  "Dismissed."

 The three visitors left the room and headed downstairs. Once in Examination Room 3B, Nick secured the  door.

 "Wow! That was close!" Natalie breathed in relief.

 "You can say that again. I wonder what's going to happen next?" Tracy wondered, running her fingers  through her blonde hair.

 Nick suddenly jumped to attention. Something was not as it should have been. Then, he spotted a light  shining in the corner. Within the glow, a person's form appeared...and a very familiar one at that. All three  observers recognized the overweight and balding man who suddenly stood in front of them.

 "Schanke!" Nick realized and embraced his revived partner.

 "Yeah it's me! Wow, it worked! I'm really back!" Schanke exclaimed. "Just like Michael said...."

 "Michael? As in the archangel?" Natalie inquired.

 "Right," the resurrected man agreed. "Man-o-man, am I famished! Is there a Greek place around here? I  have a serious craving for some souvlaki."

 "Absolutely. There's one over by the university," Nick advised him.

 "I can't believe that you're really back," Natalie wondered. "After they said that you were on the other side  and all."

 "Yeah, it's kinda crazy, but hey, here I am. Michael explained to me that I'm here to help you all through  your latest mess. By the way, that was some fight back there," Schanke informed his friends.

 "You saw that? What happened?" Tracy pushed.

 Oh, the usual fireworks where you and your new friends are concerned," Schanke dryly noted. "By the  way, Xena can sure fight, can't she?"

 "Nick, what really happened?" Tracy continued.

 He shrugged, "Hope and Divia attacked Francesca. I guess that Angie changed into Xena and took on  Divia. Hope was set to kill Gabrielle until Dave showed up...."

 "You can say that again!" Schanke added. "Nick, that guy's a real psycho case!"

 "He's a special person, Schank. Parental abuse and bad circumstances. Believe me, he's improving but he  still has a split personality," Nick defended.

 "So I've noticed," the angel shuddered. "He and that devil-lady were really going at it. Oh, yeah....I almost  forgot, Michael wanted to mention that you were doing a nice job with David."

 "It's a mutual benefit for both of them," Natalie declared.

 "Well, there are two others coming as well. I haven't met the first one yet but wait'll you see the second  one--wow! Is she the real thing!" Schanke stated.

 "Don't we have enough superpowered people running around here?" Tracy queried.

 "Apparently, somebody upstairs doesn't think so," Natalie answered.

 "It's not just that, Gang," Schanke continued. "There's concern that you folks are losing confidence in  yourselves. That recent fight shook things up. I'm here to keep you thinking positively."

 "Well, let's hope that love can save the day," Natalie declared. "If you'll excuse me, I have an autopsy to  perform. Look for the results in about an hour."

 Nick and Tracy nodded and left the room.

 Once they had done so, the ME looked at the ceiling and stated, "Thank you, Lord for sending Schanke  and for Your assistance. Amen." Then, she went back to work looking for answers on the case at hand.

 Chapter 11

 Meantime, Dave, Angie, and Francesca had reached their apartment complex. To their relief, nobody had  seen them leave the university. Now, they needed to get inside of the Dubois' apartment and compose  themselves.

 "I'm getting some coffee," Dave noted as they walked in.

 "Chocolate-Cherry, I trust," Angie inquired.

 "That's right," he agreed. Then, he saw Lydia Albrister, their kids' babysitter enter the room.  "How was  everything?"

 "Oh fine. Except for a spat of antsiness between 9 and 10, they were very well-behaved.  Are you set?"
 Lydia inquired.

 "Sure. Would you like some coffee?" Angie offered.

 "None for me, thanks," the college sophomore declared. "It does smell wonderful, but I get jittery when I  drink too much. Thanks again!"

 Angie counted out some money and handed it to her. "It's our pleasure. Thanks again, Lydia."

 The college student smiled as she put her coat on and headed out the door.

 Dave walked back into the living room with three mugs. "Okay, Folks. Here you are!"

 "Great!" Francesca cheered.

 "I'll second that!" Angie concurred as they sat down at the dining room table.

 Just then, a knock came from the door.

 "Okay, now what?" Angie wondered.

 "I'll get it," Dave said and walked over to the door. "Yes?"

 "Dave? It's Stan Meissner. Can I come in?" Stan inquired.

 "Sure," the librarian agreed and let his former classmate in. "Coffee?"

 "Yes, please. Hi, Angie, Francesca," the archaeologist agreed.

 "Dr. Meissner," the Italian professor greeted.

 "What's wrong, Stanley?" Angie probed, although she already knew the answer, a front was still needed.

 Their guest sipped his drink. "The police still haven't found my discovery....and she was going to be my big  break!" he exclaimed.

 The three observers looked at each other. Dave finally asked, "Uh, you know who that woman  was?"

 "Yeah...supposedly Hope, daughter of Dahak or some garbage like that," Stan scoffed.

 "So, you dug her up without a thought?" Angie asked, letting her irritation seep into her tone.

 "I did the research, Angie!" Stan argued. "I figured that the stories were just myths."

 "You don't remember what Tony said about stories," Dave sighed disappointedly.

 Meissner shook his head. "Samuelsohn was a fool. Sorry, Dave, I know that you two were close but  putting stock in that hocus-pocus nonsense....."

 "Well, Stan, I'd say that you're the fool in this case. Your fortune and glory might get us killed," Dave  disagreed.

 Meissner crossed his arms and glared at his friend. Dave had always been Samuelsohn's pet. But, before  he could respond, another knock came from the door.

 "Now who?" Angie wondered. "Yes?"

 "Angie, it's Caitlin Sommers. Might I come in? It's urgent," Caitlin requested.

 "Of course," the oncologist agreed and opened the door.

 "Thank you," Caitlin replied and walked into the room. "My first question is how's  everyone?"

 "'How's everyone?' she asks. How do you think we are???" Meissner snapped.

 "Actually, I was just being polite," Caitlin stormed. "If you could excuse us, I need to talk to them in  private."

 "Good night, Stan," Dave shrugged. "Sorry to have to cut this short."

 "Yeah. I need to get back anyway. Apparently, the cops pulled some people to help at the U of A. I  wonder why that's so blasted important?" he fumed. "See you later." He threw his coat on and left.

 "Okay," Caitlin started after he left. "So, what are you going to do about his runaway  discovery?"

 "Excuse me?" Dave queried. "Hey, I'm on probation, remember?"

 She frowned at him. "I'm deadly serious, David. It didn't take much imagination to link the body's  disappearance to what happened at the U of A tonight."

 "So, what do you want him to do about it?" Angie probed.

 "All of you are going to find her, Doctor, and put her back on ice. Your leaves are already approved. I  know that you share David's talents, Angela. Don't worry, it's our secret.  Discuss your options and let me  know the details," Caitlin explained.

 "Well, transportation's not an issue," he stated.

 The library dean smiled, "Ah, the reason for your sudden disappearing act last month.  Frankly, I don't  care if you drive, fly, hitchhike, or hop a ride on a spaceship--this situation must be resolved."

 "Right, well I want to request additional help," he stated.

 "I trust that this request would involve a certain two detectives? I have already contacted Captain  Ramirez, and he has agreed to send Detectives Miles and Brown with you. Any other questions?" Caitlin  chuckled.

 "How do we find this creature?" Francesca inquired.

 "Knowing our friend, she'll cause great destruction wherever she appears," Caitlin noted.

 "You mean wherever they appear," Angie corrected gently.

 Caitlin turned, "They?"

 "There are two of them, Boss," Dave added.

 The dean took a seat. "Okay, I want to hear every detail. Since I saw you enter the  building, David, I know that you were there....." she insisted.

 "I was there....and yes, your artifact is very much alive and running around. She literally ripped the floor  right out from under me. Her ally is a vampire and from what I could tell, she's very powerful in her own  right. Both women vanished at the end of the fight," he explained.

 Angie smiled to herself. Leave it to her husband to exclude Xena, Gabrielle, Nick, and LaCroix from the  tale and still satisfy his boss.

 "Well, at least, you didn't cause the damage. Okay, if you'll excuse me, I have to be going.  David, good  luck," Caitlin concluded.

 "Thanks, Caitlin," Angie agreed.

 "Indeed," he concurred.

 The dean walked out of the apartment leaving the three faculty members scratching their heads over what  would happen next.

 Chapter 12

 Dave sat back down. "So, now we know that Stan's expedition had official backing," he surmised.

 "Obviously, given the fact that somebody really important pushed Caitlin and Dr. F. to give us the time off," Angie slurred.

 "What could happen next?" Francesca inquired.

 As if on cue, the lights flickered and dimmed noticeably. Dave's and Angie's respective psychic senses felt another presence in the room.

 "David?" a familiar voice asked. "Francesca?"

 Francesca stared at her cousin. "Dave, can that be? I know that voice!"

 "I think so," he guessed.

 In the corner, a bright light flashed and a man stepped from it. He had short black hair, caring brown eyes, and a fair complexion.

 "Uncle Larry! Is it?" Francesca insisted.

 He nodded, "Yes, it's me." The revived man hugged his great-niece tightly against himself.  "And David, I  see that you have done well for yourself. Both of you have followed my example."

 "Yes, Sir," the cousins chorused.

 "You are doing fine. I was sent to check on you, David. There is a great deal of concern about your moods," the angel detailed.

 "You know the cause of that," Dave noted. "I'm doing my best to deal with it."

 "And your recent resolution pleased many people as has your work with Nicholas. I am very happy to see  that you are resolving your affairs in a positive light. Angela, I am very pleased with your role in this  process," the visitor continued.

 "I do try, but thank you, Sir," Angie accepted.

 The visitor smiled and nodded, "David, if you could call your sister. I need her to hear what I have to say."

 "Right," he agreed and dialed the phone.

 In Amherst, Cybelle was just finishing a new book when the phone rang. "Who? Hello?" she answered.

 "Hi, Sis. You have to see who's here!" Dave exclaimed.

 She sighed, "Dave, it's too late to play twenty questions with me. Besides, I can't leave Jon-Jon."

 "Look, Cybelle, I've had way too hard of a day for this stuff as well. But, you have to see this...Bring  Jonny and get down here!" he insisted.

 She focused and felt that he was telling the truth. "Okay, I'll be right there," she concluded and hung up.  Walking to her son's bed, the priestess picked up the child and gently cradled him in her arms.

 "Mama?" he whimpered sleepily.

 "Hush, Precious. Uncle has a surprise for us," she soothed. Summoning the mists, she stepped through into  the other apartment about as easily as going between rooms.

 Angie smiled as she saw her sister-in-law's appearance. "Hi, Cybelle. Take a seat."

 Cybelle glanced around and saw the spirit. "Dave, what's going on?" she demanded.

 The angel smiled, "Cybelle, do you remember me?"

 She studied his face. He was familiar from when she was very young....

 "Imagine him about forty years older with white hair and wrinkles," Dave added.

 She looked again and realized, "Grandpa!"

 "Yes, it's me. I need you to help the others once again," he indicated happily.

 "With what? Wait! Dave, did you have some trouble earlier? I sensed some stress from you about 10 PM  Eastern...." Cybelle commented.

 "Stress is a mild way of putting it," Angie replied. "We had another major league fight tonight."

 "Another one?" the priestess wondered.

 "Yes," the angel detailed. "And you must go after them. They will be striking close to Wabash. I'm sorry, Angela."

 Angie clenched her fists and set her jaw. "We have to get back there! If those two try anything...."

 "Open the door, Angela. There is another who will help you," the messenger told her.

 Angie did so and looked outside. A shaft of light shot down from the sky and in its beam, a young woman  materialized. She was slender, with long brown hair, and blue eyes. She wore a long green and white skirt,  a brief red top, and a blanket over her right shoulder. "Eve?" she asked.

 "Yes?" the other acknowledged. "W...Who are you?"

 "I'm Angie Dubois. Please come in," Angie invited.

 "Okay, I need to find my mother. I sense that she's here," the Messenger of Eli accepted and entered the  dwelling cautiously. Then, she saw the other visitors. "Larry! Then, I'm in the right place!"

 "Yes, you are," the other heavenly person told her.

 "Well, before you go, Grandpa," Dave cut in. "Please come with me into the next room."

 Larry did so and smiled at the sight of his great-granddaughters. "They are lovely. Thank you, David." he  complemented and caressed his hand across each girl's brow. Then, he walked over to Cybelle's son and  did the same. "You all have made me a very happy man.  Thank you," he informed them. "Take care." He  faded away.

 "Wow!" Cybelle stated. "Thank you, Dave for getting me here." Her eyes watered.

 Eve smiled at the pleasant sight. "It's always nice to see families get back together."

 "In more ways than one," Angie chuckled. "Ready, Francesca?"

 Her cousin nodded and began to concentrate.

 "Cover your eyes," Cybelle advised the newest visitor.

 Seconds later, Xena and Gabrielle stood beside them.

 "Eve!" Xena exclaimed and hugged her daughter emotionally.

 "Mother?" Eve wondered. "Oh, Mother! It is you! And Gabrielle! Oh, how wonderful!  I've missed you  both!"

 "We're here, Sweetheart, and we're not leaving you," the Warrior Princess advised.

 "I know," the Messenger agreed. "We have to get to New York State. That's where Michael indicated  that the damage will be done."

 "We're waiting for the last two members of our party. In fact...," he started and felt two presences outside  of the door. "...they're here." He concentrated and, much to Eve's amazement, opened the door.

 Nick and Tracy walked into the room. They each had a duffel bag and looked ready to leave for the  Northeast.

 "Let me guess, you're with us," Dave cracked.

 "Ramirez's orders," Tracy replied. "So, when's our flight."

 Nick noted Cybelle's presence. "We aren't flying. Hello, Cybelle," he commented.

 "Greetings, Nicholas," the priestess greeted in response.

 "What? Oh, we're going to use that cloud stuff again?" his partner asked.

 "Exactly," Cybelle noted. "I'm sorry, you're...?"

 "Tracy Brown," Tracy introduced herself. "And you're Cybelle. I caught your name in New Mexico."

 "Indeed and my apologies for not knowing yours. Well, shall we all get going? We can make  arrangements for the next stage of the journey from my home," Cybelle explained.

 "Right," her brother agreed and went to wake up his daughters. Five minutes later, the three kids walked  out with him.

 "Okay, off we go! Next stop, Amherst!" the priestess directed and willed up their  transportation.

 The group walked into the mists. Dave followed as soon as he had ascertained that  everything in the apartment was turned off. Finally, Cybelle passed through, closing the gateway behind  her.

 Chapter 13

 Midsummer's eve in Albany, NY saw the downtown noticeably deserted. A heat wave held the  metropolis in its steamy grip, forcing people to their air conditioners.

 In a deserted alley, Divia leaned over her latest victim, an elderly man whose only crime was taking pity on  a seemingly forlorn little girl with pleading eyes. Now, her fangs drank  deeply of his life essence. Once he  was drained, she dropped him to the hard concrete. "Ah yes..." she savored.

 "I did promise you sustenance, did I not?" Hope surmised.

 "Indeed you did," the vampiress agreed and smiled evilly.

 Hope looked around. The sun would be rising soon and they would need cover. Time was running  short.....


 Mike Rogers walked down his home's front stairs a few hours later. He had noticed that the guest rooms  were full and as he walked into the kitchen, he jumped. "Dave! What the?" he wondered.

 "Morning, Mike. It's a really long story," Dave stated wearily. "Coffee?"

 "Cybelle brought you all here last night, right?" his brother-in-law insisted.

 "That's right," his guest told him.

 "Okay, I'll have that cup," Mike agreed, hoping that it would help the other man to relax a bit.

 Dave focused and the coffee pot floated in mid-air, poured coffee into two cups, and then, settled back  onto the coffee maker. The mugs floated to the table seemingly on their own volition.

 "Geez....Making coffee takes on a whole new meaning around you," Mike stated.

 "Life's what you make it," Dave shrugged and sipped his beverage.

 "Yeah, I'm just starting to understand your sister's abilities. I mean, how do you deal with a real-life  witch?" Mike asked.

 "She's a priestess, not a witch," Dave indicated. "Look, you loved her before you learned about her  powers, right?"

 "What kind of a question is that?" he roared.

 "Shhh! Just humor me and answer the damn question," Dave insisted.

 "Yes, of course," Mike complied.

 "So, what makes it any different? She's still Cybelle and powers or no...still my knuckle headed baby  sister," Dave chuckled.

 Mike thought about this point for a second and then asked, "How's your relationship with Angie? She  hasn't changed since your wedding day."

 "Uh, that's where you're wrong, Chief," Dave contradicted. "Angie's changed a lot since our big day as  have I. But, she's still Angie just like Cybelle's still Cybelle."

 "Listen to him," Angie advised sleepily and repeated her husband's earlier trick with the coffee pot and  started drinking from her own mug.

 "Marriage is a relationship which you work at," Dave commented. "Besides, when you're in a lifetime  friendship such as ours, you need to keep working at it."

 Mike was glad that his in-laws were enjoying themselves. From what Cybelle had told him during the  previous evening, the next few days would be difficult at best for them. "By the way, I called the rental  place late last night. The van will be ready about 11," he indicated.

 "Sounds great," Dave agreed while biting into a bran muffin.

 "I'll call my parents and they'll have dinner waiting for us," Angie added.

 "Sounds like you folks have everything under control. Nice speech by the way," Schanke added from the  corner.

 The three relatives turned to face their new companion standing in the doorway.

 "And you are?" Mike inquired.

 "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm Don Schanke, Nick's former partner. I was enjoying the scene between David and  Angela. If you don't want, I'll leave...." Schanke detailed.

 "No, please stay," Angie advised. "By the way, it's Angie and Dave to our friends."

 "Well, great. Now, I understand why Michael sent Larry to talk with you, David. He's a great guy, sharp
 as a tack, and mega-smart," Schanke complemented.

 "That's my mentor all right. Thanks," Dave accepted. "By the way, is it Don, Donnie, or Donald?"

 "Don or Schanke work for me. I wanted to thank you for...well, bailing Nick and Natalie out up in  Toronto as well getting them started in Tucson. I may have passed on but they're still my friends...."  Schanke started.

 "No thanks needed...." she assured him.

 "Besides, Nick helped us in Toronto," Dave chimed in. "And he's been a great friend."

 "Nick's like that. He's such a good partner....I hated to leave him," the angel moped.

 "But you didn't leave him, Don," she reassured him. "You both still care about each other."

 "I'll second that," her husband concurred.

 "Well, thanks. It's great to hear you say that. Once again, you two have something special.  My marriage  to Myra may have had its rocky points, but I still love her and my daughter," the former detective sighed.

 Mike pulled out a chair. "Would you like to sit down, Don?" he offered.

 "Thanks. Mike, right?" Schanke accepted and took his place.

 "Coffee and donuts?" Angie giggled.

 "Name me a normal cop who would refuse an offer like that," he stated and took a bite of a grape jelly  donut. "Mmmm...just like old times."

 "I'm glad that you like it," Mike approved. "Dave, did you say that your grandfather visited you last night?"

 "Uh-huh," Dave affirmed.

 "But, he's been dead for years," Mike continued.

 "Twenty-five to be exact," his guest continued while taking a big sip of his coffee. "Cybelle saw him too."

 "We all did, Mike," Angie added.

 "Well, you made your sister very happy last night, Dave. I just thought that you would like to know," Mike  informed his brother-in-law.

 "No problem," Dave responded with a smile.

 "So, what's the plan?" Mike asked.

 "As soon as we get the van back here and adapted, we'll load everyone in and take off for Wabash.  That's where our friends will be targeting their next big event," Dave revealed.

 "We'll keep the girls back here," Mike advised them. "Your sister's orders."

 "She should also stay back here. If those two get past us, then she'll be the last line of defense," Dave  continued.

 "You really think that Cybelle can...?" Mike doubted.

 "Trust me, you don't want to get in a fight with her," Dave informed him.

 "And he took her on. That was some fight," Angie trembled.

 Mike shook his head in disbelief. While his in-laws knew what they were talking about, he couldn't picture  his wife beating on anyone.

 Dave stood up. "Okay, sounds good. Don, don't worry. We'll take good care of each  other."

 "I know. Best of luck," Schanke agreed and left the room leaving the others to consider their options.

 Chapter 14

 Nick stared at the van's draped-over windows. The previous evening hadn't been an easy one for the  vampire detective. He knew that Divia had fed off of three more victims. She was killing brutally and openly. Whether intentional or not, such sloppiness would attract the Enforcers' attention if not dealt with immediately.

 A knock came from the doorway behind him. He saw Tracy standing there. "Good morning.  What's up?"

 "Couldn't sleep either, huh? I saw you in the TV room last night. I don't know about you, but the heat here  is as bad as Tucson," she complained.

 He smiled. His partner had been complaining about the heat for two months now and, as he knew from  past experience, the weather would only worsen for her between then and September. "At least, it's a dry  heat there," he used the cliché.

 "Yeah...yeah, I know. I'll get used to it. Hey, if it isn't the cold Canadian winters, it's the summers, right?" she agreed. "By the way, did you see the news?"

 "About the murders? Yes, looks like Divia has reemerged," he indicated.

 "I see that the van's here. Nick, they're going to strike at Wabash, NY. Why that little town?" she asked.

 "Because that's Angie's hometown, and I know that Dahak senses the connection between her and Xena,"  he noted. Then, another knock came from the door. "Yes?"

 "It's Francesca. May I come in?" Francesca requested.

 "Certainly," he agreed.

 "I take it that you were talking about Dahak, Hope, and Gabrielle?" Francesca asked.

 "Yes. What does this have to do with our ancient friends?" Tracy pushed.

 "Everything....I think that I better let my "roommate" explain it. Hang on," the Italian professor started and  transformed herself into the Potadeian bard.

 "Okay," Gabrielle sighed wistfully. "Hope is my daughter. Xena and I went to Britannia to stop Caesar. During the ensuing battle, we were separated, and I ended up going with some seemingly innocent  pilgrims...."

 "Seemingly innocent?" Tracy interjected.

 "Right. Well, their god sounded so wonderful, I wanted to see the rite. The ceremony was grotesque and  something happened to me.... Hope was born two days later. I...I...tried to redeem her...but..." Gabrielle  continued.

 "It's all right," Nick tried to comfort her.

 "That...That's what Xena said after the incident...but then, Hope murdered Solen, Xena's son. It was my  fault," Gabrielle detailed sadly after sitting down.

 "So, Dahak's going to strike again at Xena through Angie," Nick inquired.

 "Yes. And Xena will not allow any harm to her family," the Bard stated.

 "But, Nick, what does Divia have to do with this?" Tracy queried.

 "Two things. First, I'm guessing that the demon resurrected her to help Hope. Then, since Angie's my  friend, striking at her means striking at me," he supposed.

 "I guess that we had better get ready to go," Gabrielle indicated. "By the way, Nick, I have fought Divia  before as has Xena. Trust me, we'll be ready for them both." With that, she left the room.

 "I know how Xena feels," Tracy seethed. "I still have a score of my own to settle with Divia."

 "Vachon," he realized.

 "Right. That little brat is going to pay," she vowed.

 "Tracy, please don't do anything rash," he advised.

 She would hear anything of it. "Damn it, Nick! I had to watch him commit suicide and then, hold him as he passed away. I had to bury him...." The tears flowed down her face.

 Nick put his hand on her shoulder. "Okay, I can see that you're determined. Just be careful. I don't want  to lose another partner."

 "Don't worry. I will be careful," she promised.

 He nodded silently and left her to her thoughts. Somehow, the heat didn't seem like such an issue  anymore. One way or another, she knew that it would be a long road to Wabash.....

 Chapter 15

 Somewhere in the countryside northeast of Albany, Divia licked the blood from the sides of her mouth and  stood with a satisfied grin across her face. Their path had taken them northeast of the city. While she  knew that her companion had a purpose for leaving the plentiful urban hunting grounds, the rural setting  would make hunting more challenging.

 "Would you mind if I incinerated this body?" Hope asked sarcastically.

 "I thought that you wanted to lure them out," Divia shrugged. "By the way, where are we going anyway?  Not that I long as I can hunt."

 The other woman hissed, "You'll know when I need you to know!" She shook her head and thought,  "Father, why did you pick this creature?"

 The dark response came instantaneously. "Because she shares our purposes. Keep her satisfied and she  will prove a valuable ally."

 "Yes, Father," Hope seethed. The vampiress would be valuable in the inevitable battle ahead.  Given that,  she figured that she could put up with her companion a while longer.

 Divia, for her part, scowled at Hope's arrogance. Although, she was Dahak's offspring, but she was also  half-mortal...a fact that the vampiress would remind her of...if pushed too far....

 "It won't be much farther," Hope relented. "And I sense that your last feeding has drawn their attention. There's a little town where we'll strike in two days time. By then, our friends will have arrived and we'll be  ready for them!"

 "That's what I want to hear," Divia snickered sinisterly. "Meantime, I must rest for the journey tonight." She left her companion to scheme away.....


 The rental van was loaded with necessities by noon and all was in readiness for the trip. Nick, Tracy, Eve,  and Francesca sat in the back under cover with Dave and Angie up front. After they had left Cybelle's  house, each person sat and reflected somberly on the confrontation ahead.

 After an hour, Angie broke the silence. "Okay, what is it?" she asked her husband.

 "What?" he queried surprisedly.

 "You know exactly what I mean. You're holding something back, Hotshot. C'mon, spill it," she insisted.

 "You know me too well," Dave relented. "Francesca, can you pass my satchel to Angie please?"

 Angie had the bag a moment later and found a newspaper inside of it.

 "Page 5, Princess," he commented.

 Angie flipped to that particular page and scanned the information there. "Goodness me!" she exclaimed  and her jaw dropped in horror. "Why didn't you tell us?"

 "Tell us about what?" Francesca inquired.

 "Hope and Divia went on a killing spree outside of Albany last night. Two corpses were found drained of  blood and another person is still missing," Nick explained.

 "We better get to Wabash, Dave," Angie worried. "Those two aren't hurting my neighbors!"

 "Angie...Why is Hope doing this? Mother was so upset but couldn't say why," Eve probed.

 Angie fought off a wave of somberness and noted, "You know who Solen is, right?"

 "Yes, my brother....I never knew what had happened to him only that he died before I was born," Eve  stated. "Why...what's wrong?"

 "Eve," Francesca reported. "Hope killed him. I'm sorry."

 The Messenger's eyes bugged open. "Oh my! So that's why....Oh, Angie, I'm sorry..."

 Angie had turned white, her fingers gripping the console tightly and her nails digging into the material.  "Never again....No, not now...not ever...." she hissed.

 "Angie, c'mon now, get a grip," Dave cut in.

 His wife's eyes started to water. "Sorry, Dave....I can't shut out Xena's pain. I can feel her rage and  emotions."

 "Do you want to pull over and work through it?" he asked concernedly.

 "No, l...let's get to my parents' house. I'll be okay. We need to be there," she urged.

 Watching her in that state made him uneasy. From deep within himself, the Child started to emerge. "No!"  he denied. "Get back there!" Somehow, he managed to assert control.

 "Dave, what's going on?" Nick called from the back. "I just felt your two sides going at it."

 "They were...but I'm back in control, at least for now," he told them.

 "Are you okay?" Angie inquired. "I sensed it too!"

 "We have another hour then we'll be there. I agree with you, let's just get there. In the meantime, Princess,  I can say that nothing's going to happen. We're with you....And besides, your folks are like my parents. Wabash is like home....and I won't let that...happen," Dave asserted, fought his way through another  spasm of anger, and kept going down the turnpike.

 Chapter 16

 Jennifer Blackwell was just setting the table for dinner when the van pulled up in front of the house. The  pungent odors of coffee, pot roast, and apples filled the air. A elderly yet fit woman of some sixty years of  age, silver hair, and a stoic manner, she had sensed Angie's apprehension over something. Hopefully, this  meal would help her mood.

 "We're glad that you kids could visit," she chuckled. "The house gets awfully lonely."

 "It's always nice to be here, Mama," Angie smiled. "Sorry about the short notice."

 "That's all right. I don't care about that and neither does your father. We're always glad to see you two. It's a shame that you didn't bring the girls, but we'll see them at some other point..." her mother advised. She noticed that the sun had just set and one of the places at the table remained empty. "Where's your  other friend?"

 "Nick will be here soon," Tracy explained.

 "I hope so. The boy's going to miss her pie," her husband, Bill, stated.

 Just then, a knock came from the door and just as predicted, Nick walked in. "Hi, everyone. Mr. and  Mrs. Blackwell, I'm Nick Miles. It's a pleasure to meet you," he introduced himself.

 "You're just in time for dessert," Bill advised.

 "Thank you, but I'll pass....I would like to enjoy the conversation, however," Nick declined.

 "Please do," Jennifer invited and studied the newest guest. There was something familiar about him. "Where are you from, Nick?"

 "Chicago...East Side. Why?" he replied.

 "I was curious....Nice town. I met Bill there in the fifties. I had toured Hyde Park and the University of  Chicago. We met in the museum..." Jennifer started.

 "Right in front of the archaeology wing," Bill continued. "It was the funniest thing, but this enthusiastic chap directed both of us there, and we bumped into each other. The rest was history as they say. Funny thing,  Nick, you're a dead ringer for that clerk, but that was forty years ago."

 Dave looked quickly at Nick. He knew that the latter had indeed been that clerk in his identity as  "Nicholas Gerard".

 Fortunately, Nick was quick on his feet. He did indeed remember these two people from the museum and  was glad that everything had worked out between them. In addition, he managed to cover himself. "I wish  that I had that kind of immortality and that kind of a position. But, we can't all be so lucky, can we?" he  laughed.

 His friends stifled their reactions to his statement. Little did Angie's parents know that Nick did have those  things.

 "I'm sure," Jennifer chuckled and let her eyes sparkle at her husband. Then, she heard a knock at the door  and went to answer it. "Yes?"

 "Jennifer, it's Brother Tony. Might I come in?" the minister asked.

 "Of course!" she agreed and opened the door. "I was just putting some coffee on and dessert. Would you  care to join us?"

 "Refuse one of your pies? Not a chance, Jennifer," the elderly man smiled. His slender frame had seen the  passage of several decades and he leaned heavily on his cane, moving slowly toward the kitchen.

 "Need help, Brother?" Angie inquired.

 "Thank you, Angela. I will be fine in a moment," he declined and sat down at the table. Then, he turned to  her husband. "David, how are you?"

 "Fine. It's always good to see you, Brother," Dave grinned and shook his hand.

 "As it is to see you. I received your message, and we need to talk," Tony indicated. "And your friends?"

 "Ah...Francesca, you already know. The blonde lady is Tracy Brown, and the gentleman is Nicholas  Miles. They are detectives from the Tucson Police Department. The other woman's name is Eve," Angie  introduced.

 "We've heard so much about you," Nick added while shaking the minister's hand.

 Brother Tony jumped back, "Nicholas, you're hand is so cold! Are you feeling well?"

 "I'm fighting a little bug," he explained, giving Tracy a sideways glance.

 "So, you two are detectives. What do you think about that mess in Albany?" Brother Tony asked.

 "It's a tragedy," Tracy replied solemnly.

 "We're here to track the problem down. Special assignment," Nick explained.

 Brother Tony studied Nick intently. "Yes, and do you think that the problem could be heading this way?"

 "It is a distinct possibility," the vampire detective nodded.

 "I would say that anything's possible," Angie jumped in.

 "Indeed...for while you all were driving here, two more deaths were reported in Cherry Plain.  The bodies  were drained of blood. Tell me, Nicholas, what do you know of these types of things?" the minister  postulated.

 Nick acted surprised, "I don't understand...."

 Tracy interjected, "It's a serial killing spree. The killers were in Arizona and they fled here.  We're  following them."

 "Yes...that would make sense," the other man agreed, although he didn't sound convinced. "David, I need  to talk to you, Angela, and Nicholas for a moment in private. Can we go into the living room?"

 Dave looked at Angie and Nick. "Sure," he concurred.

 The four companions adjourned to the sitting room. The air grew noticeably tense and charged with  nervous energy.

 "David, I'm going to ask you again. Are you all right?" Brother Tony insisted.

 "I told you that I'm fine," Dave informed him.

 "Yes, you did...and I'm not convinced. I figured that you were putting on a front for your  in-laws," the  minister stated. "I wonder if Nicholas is the cause?"

 "Excuse me?" Nick asked unnerved. This conversation was definitely getting too serious for comfort.

 "You probably don't remember me. However, I do remember you, Mr. Hammond," Brother Tony  commented and pulled back his clerical collar to reveal two small scars.

 Angie turned to Nick. "Did you...?" she demanded.

 Nick shook his head as his mind flashed back....

 (Toronto, 1955)

 Nick watched as a gray car pulled away from him. Inside of it, Aristotle drove Katherine Barrington and  her assistant, Madeline, to a new life. While he agreed with his friend's rules about privacy, Nick knew that he would miss his friends and a wave of depression settled over him. "Time to move on," he told  himself.

 "I would agree," LaCroix stated while landing in front of him.

 Nick felt a icy chill run up and down his spine. "Not now, LaCroix...."

 His mentor sighed heavily, "You do make things so difficult, Nicholas...."

 "I'm not in a very good mood right now," Nick countered grimly.

 "Poor Nicholas," LaCroix baited. "Oh well...another place...and more mortals to associate with....Is that  not your way? You want their mortality and humanity....while they desire your immortality. Kind of ironic,  don't you think? Well, get this straight, Nicholas...You aren't mortal, and you never will be again."

 Nick turned away wordlessly.

 "Don't you ever turn your back on me!" the elder vampire spat and seized his protégé's left arm.

 "Release me!" Nick demanded.

 "Not until you come to your senses," LaCroix refused.

 Nick's eyes glowed, and his fangs descended. He whipped his arm free from the other's grip and turned to  face the other vampire.

 "Ah, your true self emerges!" LaCroix savored this turn of events. "But, you're still weak like that man  there!"

 Nick looked down the path. There, a young seminary student walked unknowingly toward them.

 "Run, young one!" Nick yelled.

 "What?" the student asked nervously. But, it was already too late as LaCroix was already upon him. He  saw the vampire's fangs and eyes.

 "Don't struggle," LaCroix hissed and started to bite the other's neck.

 Then, Nick managed to pull his mentor away from his victim. "Run!" he instructed.

 The other nodded and ran away as if the hounds of hell were on his heels.

 Nick engaged LaCroix once again. Due to anger-based strength, he held his own for several hours. In the  end, he ended up fleeing lest he be incinerated by the coming dawn.

 His master chose not to give chase for his own reasons.....


 "Well?" Dave asked again.

 "You were the student, weren't you?" Nick asked Brother Tony.

 "Yes, a lifetime ago," the other nodded. "I know what you are, and you won't corrupt these two."

 "Corrupt?" Dave asked. "With all due respect, Brother, wait a minute! Nick has been helping me!"

 "That's right. Besides, he's trying to find a cure. He wants to become mortal again," Angie added.

 The elderly man considered the virtues of these arguments. "The other from that he dead?"

 "No. LaCroix is very much alive. You're a fine man, Brother. I'm glad that I was able to save you from his  attack," Nick stated.

 "Yes...." Tony agreed. "Now, David, I'm sorry....You were telling me about your inner darkness.  How are you coping with it?"

 "With prayer, St. John's Wart, music, and friends," the librarian noted.

 "If it's a demon..." the minister started.

 "No, Brother....I was abused as a child by my mother," Dave countered.

 "Not Sarah...I can't imagine!" he doubted.

 Dave shook his head and slumped his shoulders as he felt himself losing control. "And how well do you  really know her?" he snarled.

 "Dave, that's enough!" Angie cut in.

 Nick put a hand on his shoulder. "Dave, calm down now." he ordered with a mild dose of hypnosis. Fortunately, while his friend was normally a resister, the dark side was susceptible to his influence, and the  change was prevented.

 "Then, tell stop siding with her," his friend sobbed.

 Angie looked at Nick as she embraced her husband and mouthed "thank you".

 Brother Tony flushed embarrassedly, "Nicholas...about my earlier remarks. I want to apologize."

 "That's all right, Brother," Nick advised and turned to Angie. "Is he?"

 "He's going to be okay now," Angie explained. "But, after what he's been through with his parents, you  never want to see him explode. Trust me."

 "And you have....?" Tony asked.

 "The day after our wedding. His father was berating me. Dave separated us and got me outside before  going back in. According to his sister, he went berserk...." Angie reported.

 The minister sighed and hugged his friends. "I'm sorry. One never knows these things until it's too late...."

 "Sorry...Sorry that you....have to watch this, Brother," Dave stammered painfully.

 "I understand now," the minister accepted. "We can get through this...."

 Suddenly, Dave's head shot up. "Nick! He's here!" he growled and stood up.

 The vampire sensed the presence as well. "Oh great! Why now?" he wondered.

 The four conversants sprinted back to the dining room to find a surprise guest waiting there.

 Chapter 17

 In the corner, LaCroix watched the four people enter the room. "Nicholas...and the others," he observed.

 " keep away from my parents, you Beast!" Angie challenged.

 "Really? And what are you going to do?" the elder vampire baited. "Calm yourself, Doctor. I'm here to  help you." He looked at Brother Tony. "I know you....."

 "I remember you as well. You have haunted my dreams for the past forty-five years!" the minister accused  and held his silver cross in front of the vampire. "Nicholas, back away!" he ordered.

 The Blackwells watched this display with amazement, not knowing what to make of it all.

 "Your spirit has not diminished, Old Man. But, we have other issues right now," LaCroix admired.

 "Caused no doubt by you!" the minister insinuated.

 LaCroix straightened himself to his full height and stared at his attacker. "On the contrary, it was Divia  who caused this issue. But, there's still the matter of your insolence...." he commented maliciously.

 "LaCroix!" Nick started.

 His former mentor turned on him. "Nicholas, do not interfere. We know how that would end up,"

 "Perhaps, if he was alone," Dave cut in purposefully.

 "You?" LaCroix sneered. "Really, Dubois. You do flatter yourself. Xena and her bratty companion,  maybe. Cybelle, most definitely. But you? I know that there's some fallacy about you floating around the  Community, but...."

 The librarian stared at the elder vampire intensely. "There was a reason that I came to see Brother Tony  and it wasn't for a social call!" he hissed and shifted back into the gray area between personalities.  "Besides, when I'm like this...I ain't afraid of nothin'" he snarled threateningly.

 LaCroix was intrigued by this event. "Fascinating," he pondered. "So, this is the darkness which Alti  tapped. Such possibilities...." However, he knew that he could never bring Dubois across.  The amplified  rage would be uncontrollable.

 Everyone around the table sat anxiously awaiting the next move and wondering if they should reveal  themselves. Finally, Nick jumped in. "LaCroix, this is pointless...."

 "Indeed, it is, Nicholas. Indeed it is," the other vampire admitted. "But for what happened in Toronto,  there will be a reckoning."

 Dave laughed threateningly, "Anytime, Old Man...whenever you want...."

 Nick stared at his friend. Somehow, he knew that hypnosis wasn't going to work this time. In addition, he  had to worry about a confrontation between Dave and LaCroix....a nasty mess no matter who finally  survived.

 Jennifer took the meat from the oven. However, with the atmosphere in the room, it would have amazed  her if anyone was still hungry......

 Chapter 18

 In the neighboring town of Eagle Plain, Divia brooded impatiently. Hope's stalling frustrated her. They  needed to move quickly!

 Hope sat deep in thought. Oh, how she would enjoy wiping out that town...especially if it would cause her  mother more pain. If she couldn't have friends, then neither would Gabrielle. She stared at her ally and  advised, "Patience, Divia. We'll attack soon."

 What are we waiting for" the vampiress snapped. "Lucius and Nicholas are there!"

 The half-demon snickered, "Ah yes. Their alliance. If we allow it, the bond will splinter."

 "True, but we don't want them getting any assistance either," Divia admitted.

 "Too late for that. I sense that Xena and my mother are with them. We will attack tomorrow night," Hope  revealed.

 "According to the mortal that I just drained, there's some sort of festival which we can crash.  Perfect," Divia chuckled. "Well, if you don't mind, I'm going to hunt. Be back soon...." She took off into the night,  leaving Hope to her thoughts.

 "Soon, Mother...soon," she savored the thought of the upcoming event.


 Dinner did not go well at the Blackwell's farm. Everyone picked nervously at their food and stared at each  other.

 Finally, Dave excused himself and bade everyone a good night.

 Before he left, Brother Tony tapped him on the shoulder. "If you need me, David, please call..." he  advised.

 "I know. Thank you for the reminder. I appreciate it," Dave told him.

 The minister gathered up his things, put on his coat, and, after shooting LaCroix another knowing lethal  glare, left for town.

 Dave walked up the stairs and went into the bedroom. No sooner had he reached the area, then he felt  someone brush his arm.

 "Are you under control yet?" Angie queried anxiously.

 "Not really," he shrugged.

 "You scared my parents...not to mention Brother Tony," she informed him.

 "I'm sorry about your folks, but Brother Tony...." he seethed.

 "What?" she pushed.

 "He shouldn't have started it!" he bellowed.

 "C'mon, Dave. You know better than that!" she lectured.

 "How much does he really know about my past? And with LaCroix egging me on...." he huffed.

 Angie stewed over these words, yet she knew that her husband was past caring about them especially in  his current mental state. Finally, she told him, "I know that you're trying. I just don't want my folks thinking  that you're crazy. Just work with me, okay?"

 He looked at his wife. Her face was flushed and tears ran down her cheeks. "Great! Just great!" he hissed.
 "I got everyone including myself upset!" He sat down heavily on the corner of the bed.

 She sat beside him and gave him a hug. "Shh! It's going to be okay. Thankfully, you have cooled off," she  assured him. "Now, let's get some sleep."


 Downstairs, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

 "Sounds like they've made up," Francesca noted.

 "Hopefully, he's cooled off," Jennifer stated.

 "His temper will be the death of him," LaCroix commented sourly.

 Nick turned on his former mentor. "LaCroix, since you provoked him...."

 "I did nothing," the other argued.

 Tracy looked at Eve and Francesca. Then, she stood up. "Well, I think that I have enough for one  evening. So, if you'll excuse me, good night," she announced and went upstairs.

 "Your partner has no stomach for discussion, Nicholas," LaCroix remarked sardonically.

 "Provocation is never the way to fruitful discussion, Lucius," Eve told him.

 The elder vampire turned at the sound of his mortal name and studied the woman in front of him.  Her face  was very familiar. "Livia, after so many years...." he realized.

 "I am no longer Livia," Eve stated frankly. "Her bloodshed sickens me."

 "Really?" the former Roman general laughed. "You did enjoy it...and after the lessons which Father and I  gave you."

 Eve shuddered at the memories. "Yes, in the horrors of war," she asserted. "Trust me, Lucius, that is not  the true way. Good night." She followed Tracy and left the others behind at the table.

 Chapter 19

 The next day dawned brightly stirring some and sending others scurrying for cover.

 Dave awoke before Angie and dressed quickly. After descending the stairs, he found his in-laws  preparing breakfast.

 "Morning, folks!" he cheered.

 "Morning, David," Bill replied pleasantly.

 "Are you feeling any better?" Jennifer wondered.

 "Yes. Mmmm...that coffee smells great!" he stated.

 Bill and Jennifer looked at each other. Finally, he directed, "David, please take a seat and tell us what's  going on. That was some display last night."

 Dave sat down and looked at them. "Actually, I'm having issues with my emotions right now," he admitted.

 "As in losing your temper? Land sakes! What I saw last night scared me!" she informed him.

 "Score one for the abusive childhood," he sighed and sipped on his coffee.

 "Abusive childhood? Your father?" Bill guessed.

 "Both parents actually," Dave stiffened.

 Bill put his newspaper down and rubbed his son-in-law's arm. "It's all right, Son. You're safe here."

 "I know...but, it still hurts...." Dave continued and started to shake. "Look at me. I must be a sight."

 "That's perfectly all right," Jennifer assured and gave him a tight embrace. "We're both here for you."

 "I know that. By the way, how long until breakfast?" Dave inquired.

 "About fifteen minutes, why?" she replied.

 "I'm taking a quick walk. Be right back," he advised and headed outside.

 "I've never seen such pain before, Bill," she noted. "I knew that his father worked him over, but I never  thought...."

 "All we can do is be there for him, Jenny. He needs us all right now...." her husband replied somberly.

 Despite the hour, Dave still felt the heat building in the air. Still, it was a beautiful morning as the sun shone  brightly in the robin-blue sky with only a few puffy white clouds beside it. "The calm before the storm," he  mused.

 "Apt words," a voice told him.

 He saw his grandfather appear in front of him. "Listen to them, David," he advised.

 "But how will I be able to face our enemies if I can't even face myself?" Dave protested.

 The angelic figure turned himself solid. "It will all work out. You'll see," he assured and embraced the  desperate man. "Be strong...and make me proud. Now, I must go." With that, he faded away, leaving  Dave with many unanswered questions.

 Then, hearing his mother-in-law call to him, he turned back toward the house not knowing what to expect  next....

 Chapter 20

 Nick sat on his bed. The nineteenth century farmhouse had a lot of charm which he could have spent  awhile exploring for himself. But, with the impending battle, he wondered if he would get the chance.

 "Uh-uh, Nick. No negative thoughts!" Schanke advised.

 Nick suddenly spotted his former partner sitting beside him.

 "I figured that you could use a friend right now," Schanke continued.

 "After last night, well...." Nick worried.

 "I have talked to David about it," another man stated as he appeared next to Schanke.

 Nick looked at the newcomer. "I know you!" Nick realized.

 "Indeed you should, Nicholas. For you saved my life on the road to San Giordano. Remember the  messenger boy?" the other agreed. "Yes, I am Francesca's great-uncle and David's grandfather. I wanted  to thank you once again. Please protect them and yourself, Nicholas...."  With that, he faded away.

 "Incredible, ain't it?" Schanke cracked. "I mean, there's a man whose life you saved in...."

 "The mid thirties, Schank," Nick recalled. "He was just preparing to leave for America and meet some  woman. I always wondered about him...."

 "Apparently, everything worked out," the other assured him. "See, Nick? You do more good than you know. Don't let Mr. Nightcrawler get you down, okay?"

 "Sure. Thanks, Schank," the vampire mentioned.

 "No problemo. Oh, I almost forgot. This is for Dave," the other detailed. "He'll know what it is when he  opens it. Good luck, Partner. I'll be here if you need me...." He disappeared into the darkness.

 Nick continued to stare at the spot where his friend had been and wondered about what would happen  next.

 Chapter 21

 Angie descended the stairs to find her parents still sitting at the table anxiously talking about something.

 "Hi, Momma, Daddy," she smiled.

 Jennifer turned toward her, "Good morning, Dear. Sleep well?"

 "Not exactly. Dave tossed and turned all night," Angie sighed. "Remember what you told me once when  we left here after I became pregnant with the twins?"

 "Yes, about his past...." Bill recalled.

 "Well, you were right on target," Angie informed him.

 "Is he...?" her mother asked nervously.

 "No! For Heaven's sake, no!" Angie protested. "He's okay at least in that regard. But, his moods have been fluctuating."

 "Yes," Jennifer shivered. "As was the case last night."

 "LaCroix set him off last night," Angie argued. "He is trying to deal with it, believe me. I have seen him  worse. Never with me or the girls, but he can be volatile."

 "He's like another person. I have never seen anything like that before," her father declared.

 Angie pondered this point for a minute. "Isn't that the truth? And how do I explain that to them?" she  wondered and bit her lip nervously. Then, the phone rang. "Phew...Saved by the bell!" she sighed. "I'll get  it." She picked up the phone, glad for the interruption, "Hello?"

 "Angie, it's Nat. Is Nick by a phone?" Natalie requested.

 "Hang on, I'll get him," Angie advised. She ran upstairs and knocked on his door.

 "Yes?" Nick asked.

 "Nick, it's Angie. I'm sorry to wake you. Natalie's on the line downstairs. Use the back stairs so that you  can avoid the windows," she explained.

 "Okay. Thanks," he replied gratefully.

 Angie headed downstairs again and outside. She needed some air.


 Nick cautiously followed Angie's directions and got to the phone. "Hello, Nat?"

 "Nick, I'm glad that I was able to get a hold of you. How is everything?" she replied anxiously.

 "Fine so far," he shrugged. "Although I'm starving, and LaCroix has appeared....."

 "And no Divia or Hope yet?" she pushed. "Sorry, everyone here is anxious...."

 "Not yet. We expect them soon though. Are you okay?" he asked.

 "A little concerned about you," Natalie indicated. "But otherwise, I'm good. Just backed up with cases as  usual. By the way, have you seen Schank?"

 "Yes, he's been around," he replied reassuringly. "Just keep your chin up."

 "Nick," she remembered. "I almost forgot. I had a feeling that LaCroix was stirring up trouble.  Did he  pick a fight with you?"

 He stared at the phone in shock. She had been experiencing weird phenomenon since that night in  Toronto. While he had hoped that it was only her imagination, Nick realized that they did indeed have a  bond which would need to be developed. However, he had to answer the question.  "Not with me."

 "With Dave, right?" she worried.

 "Yes." he admitted.

 "Oh no! What happened?" she demanded.

 "Brother Tony had already upset Dave. Angie and I had the situation under control when LaCroix showed  up.... Nat, he reminds Dave so much of his father. Their relationship matches the one that I have with  LaCroix," he recounted.

 Her mind flashed back to her Med School classes and the abuse training. "This is very bad, Nick," she  told him.

 "I know. But, I don't think that LaCroix would risk bringing him across," he continued.

 She remembered the case which they, Schanke, and Liam had worked together. "Oh wow...He would be  worse than the Barber!" she exclaimed.

 "Right," Nick agreed. "I'll have to keep an eye on him. Well, I have to get going."

 "Okay. Nick, please be careful," she worried.

 "You too, Nat," he concluded and hung up. It would be a long evening. "I wonder if we'll survive?"

 "Our deaths are a very distinct possibility, Nicholas," LaCroix expressed from his hiding place amidst the  shadows. "Divia is very near, and Gabrielle's brat will be with her. Even as foolishly optimistic as you are,  you cannot hope for an easy victory."

 "How defeatist of you," Nick scoffed.

 The older vampire shook his head and frowned, "I prefer to be realistic. Think, Nicholas, we are about to  go into battle, and we have not fed! Divia is fresh and has recently imbibed human blood."

 "I do understand. But, I will spend my time preparing and being positive. Excuse me," Nick disagreed and  left the room.


 Once back in his room, Nick ran into Cybelle. She silently meditated in the corner.

 "Nicholas," she spoke serenely. "Take the bottle in the bag. It is enhanced cow blood and will sustain you  and LaCroix. The package contains herbs for Dave and Angie."

 "Will you be here to fight with us after all?" he asked hopefully.

 "No, I need to stay back in Amherst in case something happens. Never fear, I will be watching intently,"  she replied coolly allowing her eyes to glint with a red glow. "My apologies, I have tarried here too long.  Please give my regards to everyone and do take care." After a brief sad look, she stepped back into the  mists and vanished.

 Nick tipped the bottle to his mouth and shifted his thoughts to the upcoming battle. Everything else was  irrelevant.....

 Chapter 22

 Eve walked downstairs anxiously. The events of the previous evening had left her feeling uneasy. Seeing  Lucius reminded her of the brutal past and her transgressions against others while she was Livia. She  needed to seek Eli's guidance.

 As she passed by the table, Angie stopped her. "Eve, where?"

 "I need to see Brother Tony. How do I...?" Eve asked.

 "About four miles east of here," Angie explained. "Momma, Daddy, we'll be back." Somehow, she sensed  that both she and Xena had something to say to the minister as well.

 Her parents nodded in agreement.

 Angie and Eve drove the van into town. True to Brother Tony's word, the streets were deserted. The two  companions approached the church in the town center and rapped on the door.

 Brother Tony opened the door and admitted them. "Please come in!" he bade.

 "Thank you," Eve accepted and she and Angie entered.

 "What can I do for you?" he asked.

 "Eve had asked to see you, Brother," Angie explained. "By the way, where is everyone?"

 "I have advised them to stay indoors for the next few days. After the murder in Eagle Plain, I fear that the  trouble will find us next," he dreaded.

 "I agree, Brother Tony. Two ancient evils are not far away, and I must prepare to face them," Eve  declared.

 "Meet them? What? How?" he stammered incredulously.

 "It is why Michael sent me down here. Now, if you could give me some candles, I would appreciate it,"  Eve indicated.

 "Michael! Blessed be! The Lord has provided!" the minister cheered and reaching under the altar,  produced a box of candles. He handed the package to his divine visitor. "With my support however that  helps you...." he added.

 "It means a lot. Thank you," Eve accepted and set up the area. Once the candles were in a semi-circle and  lit, she kneeled, and chanted, "Eli, this is a token of my devotion and my plea for your assistance. I implore  you to help send me a sign."

 Brother Tony stared at Angie in surprise. "Angela, is she really...?"

 "Yes, Brother. She is Eve, the Messenger of Eli, sent here to help confront Divia and Hope in order to  save this town," Angie explained.

 "Yes, that's right! But, the histories tell of a protector. A warrior woman with unbelievable abilities. What  was her name?" he commented.

 "Xena," Angie stated.

 "Indeed," he agreed. Then, what she had told him sunk in and he turned. "Wait! How could you know this? I'm one of only six people on Earth who has seen the accounts!"

 "Brother, before the battle, I need to reveal a secret to you in confidence. Can I trust you not to tell  anyone even my parents?" she implored.

 "Of course, have I ever done any less for you, my Child?" he assured her.

 She grinned, "No, you've always been a rock. Close your eyes." When he had done so, she changed into Xena.

 "You can look now," the Warrior Princess advised.

 The older man gaped in shock. "Xena? But what about Angela?"

 "She's fine," Xena told him. "Believe me, it's a long story, but our relationship is a necessary one."

 "Yes," the minister agreed. "You were sent as well. By the way, how is everyone?"

 "They're fine," she indicated. David is recovering from last night as is Nicholas. Lucius' presence is  irritating as usual...."

 "Unfortunately for us," he griped. "That monster...Lord forgive a menace."

 "Leave Lucius to me," she noted. "He has agreed to help us. After that...."

 "If you say so. The stories spoke of your truthfulness and determination especially after your conversion  from the darkness. I trust you. Just take care of Angela. She is a lovely person," he stated.

 "Yes, she is," she beamed and watched her daughter rise. "Eve?"

 "Mother! Then you're here for the battle!" the Messenger surmised.

 "No, not yet. I needed to tell the Brother here about us," Xena explained. "I will be back for the battle."

 "So, you're going to let Angela back out?" Eve queried.

 "For her parents' sake, yes. And, Eve....remember, Angela's not like David's darkness. She doesn't  appreciate that," Xena gently corrected.

 "I'm sorry. But, Lucius....he scares me, Mother," she apologized.

 "He scares everyone," she shrugged.

 "But, you don't understand....What if he tries to assert his familial rights?" she panicked.

 The warrior's mind floated back to the previous evening at the table where she and Angie had overheard  the elder vampire make reference to training.... "Wait, what was he talking about?" she insisted.

 "Well, when you and Gabrielle were asleep for 25 years, I was sent by Octavius out to the provinces....."
 she started.

 "And?" her mother demanded.

 "I ended up in Pompeii at a big villa owned by Gaius Martellius. As a member of his household, I was part  of his familia. When he died, the rights of paterfamilias passed to...." she continued.

 "Lucius!" Xena spat. She felt a giant surge of rage well up inside of her. Now, she knew who had  corrupted her daughter in the first place and he would pay.... For all of the heart ache and the pain....For  Joxer's death, for Eve's trials, for Nicholas' fear, oh, how he would suffer...

 "Xena," Brother Tony stepped in. "I agree. But, you saved your daughter. I know that you are more than  capable of standing up for Eve. But, if you need my meager assistance...."

 "Brother, from what Angela thinks of you, you could move mountains by yourself. I would value that aide. Thank you," she accepted.

 "You flatter me," he blushed. "Now, remember, to stay your course. Don't let your feelings for Lucius...or  for Hope blind you to your purpose, Xena. I will pray for you. Go with God."

 "Thank you," she smiled and changed back to Angie.

 "Are you both okay?" Angie asked.

 Eve nodded silently.

 "As am I," the minister chimed in. "Go now, and know that your secret is safe with me."

 "I know. Thank you," Angie smiled and embraced her pastor. Then, the two women departed.

 "Lord help us please," Tony implored as he walked toward the altar.

 Chapter 23

 The sunset filled the sky with a bloody countenance. On Wabash's outskirts, Divia rose from her slumber  ready for mayhem.

 "Yes! Soon, Lucius! Soon!" she exclaimed joyfully. "Hope, are you...?"

 "I'm here, Divia," her companion informed her. "Sleep well?"

 "Yes!" the vampiress chuckled. "Tonight, I will be revenged!"

 "Tonight, we will be revenged on both of our neglectful parents....Your father and my mother," Hope  clarified. "Patience, Divia. It will not be much longer now." She produced a bottle from thin air.  "Complements of my father. Drink...."

 Divia tipped the bottle to her lips. It was blood but unlike any other that she had tasted. For some reason,  it energized her. "What is this?" she queried expectantly.

 Hope smiled, "You should be feeling at tingling sensation. Don't worry, the blood is  enhanced and your abilities have been augmented for the battle."

 Divia smiled craftily. Now, nobody would be able to stand up to her. Oh, how she would enjoy tearing  them limb from limb!

 Dahak's daughter grinned, "Soon, Mother....Very soon indeed."


 "What do you mean that you're going out there?" Jennifer demanded.

 "It's our job," Dave replied and went back to preparing his bow, shafts, and arrowheads.  "How are you  doing, Tracy?"

 "Okay," the detective affirmed. She sat with a can of holy water and a pile of mashed garlic and other  herbs. "These bullets are silver-pointed and the mixture is being placed inside of the tips after the bullets  are dropped in the water."

 "Garlic, holy water, and stakes....Land sakes, Kids. You sound like you're hunting for vampires," Bill  supposed.

 Across the room, Nick shrugged wordlessly.

 Angie quipped, "We like variety. What can I say?"

 "If you say so," her mother sighed.

 Meanwhile, Francesca had spent much of the last four hours modifying Gabrielle's staff.  Pulling off the  endpiece, she revealed a very sharp javelin point. "Okay, Divia, I'm ready for you. Hope, I'll have to see  when the time comes..." the Bard thought from within Francesca's head.

 "Dave," Nick indicated. "I have something for you." He placed the package on the table.

 "What is it?" the librarian asked as he picked it up.

 "Schanke said that you would know when you saw it," Nick commented.

 Dave felt a charge as soon as he touched the item. "What the?" he asked and unwrapped it to find a  biography of Jeanne d'Arc inside...but not just any work. Somehow, it was the exact copy of the book  which had first linked them so long ago. He smiled and a tear fell from his left eye.

 "What is it, Dave?" Angie wondered.

 "It's a sign," he indicated and held the book up for all to see.

 Nick grinned at his friend's declaration. Truly, his faith would be a tremendous asset.

 "Really now. Such notions are nonsense," LaCroix snickered incredulously.

 "You didn't know her," Nick argued.

 "And you did. We have talked about this folly before," the other vampire baited.

 Eve stirred from her meditation. "Perhaps, if you looked inside of yourself, would discover  that faith as well.

 LaCroix chortled, "The Butcher of Rome talks of peace, light, and faith? Really now, Livia...."

 Angie tensed angrily. Oh, she would have loved to have changed and let Xena cut down the braggart in  front of her.

 Fortunately, Dave gripped her shoulder as if to say 'not now'.

 Eve smiled at her companion's statement. "Yes, I am not deserving of this role or the  obligations attached to it. But, I was chosen, Lucius. So, I am here...."

 LaCroix retreated to the corner and fumed wordlessly.

 "Okay," Angie stated. "Let's go!"

 "Right," Dave agreed while putting on his quiver.

 "Take care, Mama and Daddy," Angie told her parents.

 "I wish that you all wouldn't go out," Jennifer protested.

 "But, we have to," Angie told her and left.

 "David, protect her," Bill stated firmly.

 "Yes, Sir...." he agreed and followed in his wife's footsteps.


 Just outside of the town center, Nick stopped the van. How he wanted to say goodbye to Natalie once  more. He could almost see her face, touch her cheeks, and feel the warmth of her smile. He hoped that  there would be other opportunities.

 "Okay, ladies. Do you have the radios?" he asked.

 Angie nodded.

 "See you in a bit," Dave told them. "Radio if anything pops up."

 "Right," Scouting Party on its way!" Francesca cheered, albeit more good-naturedly than she felt at the  moment.

 The van drove away and made the final bend into Wabash proper.

 "Okay, Francesca," Angie said. "It's time."

 They concentrated and exchanged places with their "roommates".

 "Everyone set?" Xena asked.

 "You bet," Gabrielle affirmed.

 "Just like old times," Eve surmised. "Just be careful, Mother. You too, Gabrielle."

 "You betcha," Xena assured her daughter as the three women embraced tightly. "Now, let's get into  town."

 Chapter 24

 As the van stopped in the center of town, Dave stared incredulously at the deserted streets.  Even with  Brother Tony's warning, he didn't expect this type of compliance.

 Suddenly, LaCroix snapped to attention. "Divia! She's near!"

 "Across the square!" Nick concurred.

 Dave reached out with his senses and felt two dark splotches. "Right. Let's rouse them," he indicated.

 "I vote that we move in closer," Tracy grimly disagreed while readying her gun.

 Dave shrugged, "They know we're here anyway." He had two arrows strung in the bow.  "Garlic n' Stuff...Good for ya!" he laughed and scanned the area again. "Here, Pretties, Pretties, Pretties....Gotcha!"  He launched the missiles.

 The group watched as the projectiles exploded against the door of the grain silo fifty feet away and the  greenish-yellow cloud rising from its impact.

 "Oh yeah...That definitely got their attention," he snickered.

 Famous last words...for at that second, their adversaries erupted from the fumigated hiding place. Divia's  eyes watered painfully. She glowered at Dave whom she saw carrying the bow. "You, insolent mortal! I  will kill you slowly for that!" she threatened.

 Never one to turn down a fight...even against suicidal odds, motioned for her to advance.


 Hope confronted the other members of the party. "Too bad that Xena and my mother aren't here yet...."  she scowled. Her eyes focused on a jagged piece of oak which rose into the air of its own volition, and  flew faster than the eye could see...penetrating LaCroix through his right shoulder.

 "Argh!" he winced and staggered.

 "I missed. Oh well...." she assumed and repeated the action.

 This time, Nick pushed his mentor out of harm's way...just missing potential impalement himself.

 Suddenly, another piece flew from nowhere--striking Tracy on the head and stunning her momentarily.

 Nick was suddenly alone and would have to take Hope himself....


 Divia swooped in on her opponent. "Be afraid. Be very afraid!" she snarled and, with a sudden backhand,  sent Dave skidding across the pavement, landing hard on his right shoulder.

 He rose slowly to his feet but found that the injured arm only pained him when he tried to use it. "I'm still  here," he affirmed.

 "Good!" she savored his resolve. This mortal was going to put up a fight. Excellent. Once again, she flew at him. However, this time, he anticipated her tactics and sidestepped the charge. The vampiress hit the General Store's window and smacked herself against the far brick wall.

 Dave stood there for a second and felt his blood boiling. "The Church," he realized and took off for the  sanctuary.


 Hope grinned savagely at Nick's apparent bravado. "Certainly, by all means...." Using her powers, she  levitated him off of the ground, preparing to do bodily damage.

 "Hope! Face me!" Xena demanded.

 "Ah, Mother's protector!" Hope snarled and dropped Nick to the ground as a child would an old toy.

 The Warrior Princess stood her ground and flung her chakram.

 "That was stupid, Xena!" the other laughed and latching onto the missile with her mind, reversed its  course, sending it back toward its source.

 The warrior ducked as her weapon imbedded itself in a wooden post. "You missed!" she reported.

 "I've only begun," her enemy glowered and with that, Hope sent a heavy onslaught of sharp debris at Xena  leaving the latter to dodge each piece in turn....


 Tracy had managed to recover her wits and raced over to Nick's side. Rubbing his shoulder, she asked,  "Nick, are you?"

 "I'm okay," he assured her and climbed to his feet.

 They heard another crash echoing from across the square. "Where's Dave?" she wondered anxiously.

 Nick realized, "Taking Divia on, and he's losing...." He leaned over his mentor to check on his condition.

 "Never mind me,...Nicholas," LaCroix admonished. "Stop...Divia."

 Nick shook his head and told Tracy to follow him. After that, he took off into the night sky, leaving her to  follow as best as she could.

 Chapter 25

 Divia freed herself from the wall debris fairly easily. Then, she spied her opponent running for the Church.  "There you are!" she cackled and rose into the air after him.

 Dave spotted her but she was too quick for him. She crashed into him from behind--sending him into a  wall. "Damn," he winced.

 The vampiress was enjoying this game. Oh, she loved to play with her meals. Such sport didn't come that  often. "Does it hurt? Oh, tell me that it does!" she taunted him. Within the blink of an eye, she had crossed  the distance between them and lifted the mortal by his neck.  "I hope that this hurts, Nicholas! I know that  you two are such good friends!" She raked hisface with her nails and flung him through a nearby window.  "I do so love inflicting pain...." she reported joyfully.

 The librarian once again tried to rise to his feet. By now, his arms and legs were slashed multiple times,  blood flowing from many tiny wounds, and pain stabbing at his arm and right knee. He honestly doubted  that he would survive this encounter.

 Then, from within his head, the Child screamed, "The bargain! Remember the bargain!"

 Dave squeezed his eyes shut. Could he release it? Did he have a choice? Then, he heard a beam splinter  and fall toward him. Although, he reacted in time, his mental shield only partially deflected the debris, allowing it to slam into his shoulders. Somehow, he was still conscious, but the pain now blinded him, and  he could no longer restrain his rage. The red haze covered his vision. The leer appeared on his face. The  Other was know in control.  He snarled wordlessly and let out a resounding scream. With a psychic burst,  he sent the beam crashing away from him.

 Divia smiled. This mortal was actually a stimulating challenge! "Well now, you do have a dark side," she  admired.

 "Try me, Brat!" he laughed wickedly and fired a pulse which caught her off guard. She flew through the  window behind her.

 She pulled a shard of glass from her arm. "That hurt!  she complained.

 He cracked a sarcastic smile at her. "Aww...the big bad bully has a boo-boo...." he baited. "Let's go!"

 "How dare you!" she snarled and flew at him again only to find herself suspended helplessly above the  ground.

 "I do what I want. Now, it's my turn," he snickered. With his mind, he flung her against every nearby wall  before slamming her into the concrete. "As the bad little bitch said, 'Ooh, that's got to hurt' ," he mimiced.

 She rose slowly. Her face was bruised and contorted with pain and rage. "Such potential," she noted.  "Just like Lucius before I brought him across...."

 If it was possible, that remark only enraged him farther. "Now, that's it! I'm nothin' like that scum!" he  roared.

 "Really? I beg to differ. Join me...." she enticed.

 He laughed at her. "Never. Go suck on your blood pop or whatever the juvie vampires do for fun. And  speaking of which...." Another piece of debris slammed into her side hard.  "Give up yet? I sure as Hell  hope not!" His next burst threw her clear across the square.

 Once more, Divia staggered to her feet. Her ribs hurt. Worse still, she was losing blood from the wounds  on her body and had lost several teeth. Oh, how this insolent mortal would pay! She sensed a presence  behind her and spied Nick floating about ten feet above her.  "Nicholas! Your friend is delightful!" she  praised despite her anger.

 Nick merely frowned and flew further away from her.

 "What? Afraid of me, Brother?" she inquired. Then, she heard a whistling noise behind her. Before she  could react, one shaft imbedded itself in her left shoulder. The other exploded at her feet, covering her in  the herbal cloud once again.

 "Damn!" Dave cursed mindlessly.

 Meantime, Nick watched from a nearby rooftop as his friend manhandled Divia. If they had any chance to  beat her, Dave would have to finish this opportunity. If Nick interceded as he did during the first encounter  with Alti, Divia would regain the upper hand. No, he needed to end this. Grasping the oak stake from his  pack, he prepared to fly down when he spotted a glint coming from the shadows below. "Tracy," he  realized and heard shots ring out.


 Divia started to loosen the stake in her left shoulder but the gas choked her and left her in agony. This  opponent was unbelievable! Nobody had ever done this to her before! Then, she felt two more burning  projectiles pierce her back and just missing her heart. She turned to see Tracy with the smoking gun. "You  must really have a death wish," she snarled.  Then, a smile spread across her face. "Yes, you loved the  Spaniard, didn't you? That filthy dog, Vachon!" she chortled.

 "Yes I did," Tracy affirmed and raised her gun again.

 "Really? Even hurt and poisoned, I'm still a match for you!" Divia chuckled and rushed the detective,  slapping the gun away and pulling her head back before the latter could begin to react. "Vachon was right.  You smell like strawberries," she laughed.

 At that moment, an impact knocked her from her victim. "Nicholas!" she snarled.

 "Tracy! Go!" he ordered.

 His partner nodded and moved away rapidly.

 Unfortunately, Divia used the distraction to pin him against the asphalt. "I am going to kill you, Nicholas.  Are you watching, Mortals?" she taunted.

 "Divia! We're not done yet!" Dave challenged.

 "I'll deal with you in a minute!" she snapped. "Family is always important." She leaned over Nick ready to  do damage but felt two sharp pains through her heart. Looking down, she saw two more stakes in her  chest. She fell to the ground and glanced up at the other vampire. "Damn you, Nicholas!" he hissed and  with a brief convulsion, closed her eyes.

 "You should never play with your food. The indigestion might prove fatal...." Dave lectured the body.

 Tracy staggered to her partner's side. "Nick, is she?"

 "Yes, she's gone," he affirmed.

 "But what about Dave?" she trembled at the maniac before them.

 "Relax, Brown....I know the rules," he snickered and closed his eyes. Slowly, the rage abated.

 "Dave?" Nick inquired.

 "Nick?" his friend inquired. "What happened?" He tried to stand, but his right leg buckled under him.  "Damn!" he cursed. "Hope! Gotta stop...Hope...."

 "Stay here!" Nick directed. "Tracy, watch him!"

 "Sure thing!" she agreed.

 He nodded and flew off toward the other battle.

 The other detective helped her injured friend to sit up. Then, she watched over him against further  trouble....

 Chapter 26

 Xena leaned against a nearby wall and contemplated her next move. Gabrielle had diverted some of the attack, but eventually, Hope overwhelmed her with the maelstrom of dark power, knocking her backward.

 "Now, Mother. Time to finish you!" the dark daughter threatened.

 "No, Hope...stop!" Eve challenged.

 The attacker spun to see the newcomer observing her actions. "Well, if it isn't Xena's other brat? Here to  die...? Prepare to join your brother in the Elysian Fields!" She raised another sharp piece and prepared to  launch it at Eve.

 Xena struggled to stand, battered as she was by the recent onslaught. Once again, her mind flashed back  to the last time....when she discovered Solen....when she cradled him in her arms. Somehow, she couldn't  let this happen again.

 For her part, Eve steeled herself. "No, I'm here to turn you to the Light, Hope," she begged and advanced  on the woman in front of her.

 "Light? The only light is my father's!" the demon-spawn spat venomously.

 "Very well," Eve decided and grasped Hope's arm. "By the power of Eli and all of the forces of Heaven, I  command the evil within you to be cast out!" she stated.

 Hope ground her teeth as she felt the strange energy filling her and fighting with the  darkness within her. "Get away!" she growled and telekinetically flung the messenger away from her. "That  hurt! Now, hear this! There's no turning me! I am my father's daughter!  Watch, Mother as I extinguish  another of Xena's brood!" Preparing the missile again, she baited, "Say hello to your brother for me...."

 "No!" Xena screamed and flung the chakram, caroming it off of Hope's back and opening a vicious  wound.

 Gabrielle shuddered. Despite the fact that it was necessary, Hope was still her daughter, and it hurt her not  to intervene....

 Hope staggered wordlessly and started to turn toward the Warrior Princess.

 Xena rose to her feet and raised her sword. "Never again!" she affirmed and swung her blade at the dazed  opponent. However, just as the sword would have struck her, Hope disappeared in a fiery pyre. Realizing  immediately what had happened, the warrior screamed, "Dahak!"

 The flame reappeared. "You didn't think that I would let my daughter and agent be killed by you, did  you?" it laughed.

 "No. Leave this place!" Eve challenged.

 "So, the Messenger of Eli lives!" the demon roared. "I am leaving, but I will be back one day...."

 "Promises, promises," Xena glowered. "And we'll be ready!"

 "I know, Xena. Gabrielle, once again, I offer you a place here with Hope and me," Dahak proposed.

 "No. My place is here with Xena, fighting the likes of you," she refused.

 "Yes, I figured that you would see things like that," the demon seemed to sigh. "Until next time." The pyre  vanished into nothingness.

 "Gabrielle, are you?" the warrior inquired.

 "I'm fine, thanks," the bard assured her.

 "As am I, Mother," Eve stated.

 Gabrielle saw Nick land near them. "Nick, are you...?"

 "I'm fine as well. LaCroix will need time to heal, I'm afraid," he informed her as he yanked the stake from  his mentor's shoulder.

 "Thank you..., Nicholas," the elder vampire noted and closed his eyes.

 "He'll heal," he told the others.

 "And what about David and Tracy?" Eve asked. "Did Divia...?"

 Xena stared across the plaza. "It's quiet again. The battle's over," she assumed.

 "Yes, he stated. Divia had the upper hand, but then, she triggered Dave's darkness...."

 The warrior stared at him. She knew that this event could be trouble for everyone.

 Nick seemed to read her thoughts. "For Divia, well...she took a thrashing. I have never seen anything like  that. Fortunately, Dave regained control after the fighting stopped. The Other relinquished it voluntarily,"  he recounted.

 "Are you sure?" Gabrielle inquired.

 "Yes, he mentioned something about 'knowing the rules' before he calmed down....." he added.

 "So, the agreement stands," Xena smiled with relief. That was definitely good news. Dave was definitely  making progress.

 "I'll go check on him," Nick noted and took off toward his friend. The three women  sprinted after him as quickly as possible.

 Chapter 27

 Tracy anxiously posted guard over Dave. "Are you still with me?" she asked him.

 He coughed and nodded, "Right here, Coach."

 "Great!" she smiled warmly. At least, he had his sense of humor. "You shouldn't go playing hero like that,  you know."

 "Someone teach...Divia...a few manners. I volunteered," he joked.

 "I agree with Tracy," Brother Tony affirmed as he stepped into view.

 "Not you too..., Brother!" Dave winced and tried to raise his right hand. "Arrgh! Darn it!" he cursed the  sharp pain.

 "Thankfully, my prayers were answered. You and she seemed like two creatures from...." he started.

 "Don't say it!" Dave exclaimed. "She could be....but the jury'"

 "I'm sure," the pastor concurred. "Now, come...that leg needs to be set."

 "It will be taken care of," Cybelle advised as she stepped from the mists. "Hello, Brother Tony."

 "Cybelle! Where did you come from? How?" he demanded.

 "Trade secret," she informed him.

 By then, Xena had caught up to them. She probed and poked at Dave's right knee. "The kneecaps badly  cracked. We need to get him to a place of healing. Cybelle, can you?" she diagnosed.

 "Right.  He'll be in the House of Healing in Althanor," the priestess affirmed and bent over to help her  brother. "Okay, here we go!" she stated and helped Dave stagger through the mists.

 "Incredible!" Tony wondered. Then, he walked over to Nick. "Thank you, Nicholas for your help once  again."

 "You're welcome," Nick grinned.

 "I will pray for you to find a cure as well. On the day which you become mortal again, we will celebrate. Just maintain your resolve against the demons both internal and external," the minister advised, shooting  LaCroix an intense stare, and embracing Nick tightly. "Xena?"

 "Yes, Brother?" she acknowledged.

 "My thanks to you and your companions for helping us as well," he expressed.

 "Sorry about the damage," Gabrielle commented.

 He waved it off. "The damage is unfortunate, but we will rebuild our town. You preserved the souls of our  community. That is what matters, Gabrielle."

 "With your assistance, Brother," Eve indicated.

 "I only said a few prayers," he shrugged humbly. "You did the rest. Now, if you will excuse me...." He  walked over to Tracy and got her attention.

 "Yes, Brother?" she queried.

 "I wanted to thank you as well. And, also to ask you for a favor...." he told her.

 "If I can do it," she agreed.

 "Please help Nicholas. He is on the right path but he can use every friend that he can get," he requested.

 She glanced momentarily at her partner and smiled. Then, she replied to the minister, "I try  does Natalie LeBeau."

 He nodded, "I'm sure. Go with God." Then, he limped back toward the church. The rebuilding would start  on the next day but the prayers would continue tonight.....

 A week later, Cybelle transported everyone back to the Duboises' apartment. Angie helped Dave through  the portal. While his arm was only sprained, the knee would need time to heal properly.

 "Well, Gang....while it's been fun, do try to stay out of trouble for a while. That means you, Buster," the  priestess cracked to her friends and specifically intended the last part for her brother.

 "Do I have a choice?" he baited.

 "No, you don't," Angie directed. "Bed rest for you."

 "Yes, Dear," he moaned playfully. "Thanks for the lift, Sis."

 "No trouble at all," Cybelle chuckled. "By the way, any further word on Grandpa?"

 "I saw him once more in Wabash," Dave indicated.

 "And he gave me that book for you," Nick added.

 "Ah yes," the priestess nodded. "That is something else. Dave, keep that item in a safe place."

 "You know it," he agreed.

 "Well, I'm glad that everything worked out. Take care, everyone...." she concluded and walked back into  the mists, vanishing into thin air.

 "It's too bad that Schanke and Eve had to leave," Tracy sighed.

 Nick, Angie, and Francesca all looked at each other. The farewells had been extremely hard on them and  would take time to deal with.

 "We can hope that they come back at some point," the vampire cop remarked.

 The others nodded in agreement.

 Just then, a knock came from the door. Angie answered it. "Yes?"

 "Angie, it's Caitlin. I have a few folks from the university here. Can we come in?" the dean asked.

 "Sure," Angie agreed and opened the door. Caitlin walked in accompanied by Mike, Pete, and Alyce.  "We just got back ourselves."

 "Yes, David's mother told me that you would be back today when I called her," Caitlin  mentioned.

 "It must be nice to get a month off, Buddy," Mike cracked.

 "Hey, I earned it!" Dave laughed. "Besides, I'll still be writing on my word processor here in between rest  sessions of course."

 "Well, I am glad to see you in one piece. After the reports from Wabash, the mysterious devastation and  all, we thought that you might be dead," Pete explained.

 Alyce glanced at Nick humorously. "Mysterious, indeed...." she thought knowingly.

 "So, what happened with your adversaries?" Caitlin asked. "Did you get Hope back?"

 "Umm, no...." he sighed.

 "What do you mean, no?" she wondered.

 "Look, Caitlin," Nick jumped in. "An observer who wishes to remain anonymous saw both women vanish  in a fiery pyre. Don't worry, I think that they'll be back."

 "I'm sure," Caitlin surmised. With these people around, things were never as normal as they should be.   "Well, I also wanted to introduce our newest faculty member in the Religion department. Funny thing, she  said that she applied months ago, but her application only surfaced a week or so ago..... Well, she's here  now."

 "What's her specialty?" Dave asked curiously. He was intrigued.

 "Ancient monotheism.....and get this, she's the foremost expert on the prophet Eli....." Alyce added.

 Angie and Francesca stared at each other. No, it couldn't be. Could it?

 "Can I show her in?" Caitlin requested.

 "Please," Angie nodded, barely able to contain her hopefulness...

 The last visitor walked in. Just as they had hoped, the new professor was indeed Eve. "Hi, I'm Dr. Eve  Messenger. Glad to meet you," she reintroduced herself to the group.

 "Welcome to Tucson," Nick stated.

 "And to the University," Dave added.

 "I hope that you don't mind but Pete, Michael, and I need to be getting back. Alyce, can you take Dr. Messenger to her hotel?" Caitlin inquired.

 "Definitely. See you all later," the curator agreed.

 "Okay, Dave....You let us know if you need any help!" Mike advised.

 "You bet! Don't be a stranger now!" Dave told him.

 He grinned mischievously and walked out the door, closing it behind him.

 Angie turned to Eve. "I can't believe it! Hang on, one ecstatic mother coming out!" she exclaimed and  changed into Xena.

 "You came back!" the Warrior Princess sobbed happily, hugging her daughter.

 "Well, according to Michael, I am needed here," Eve explained. "Besides, I couldn't resist a chance to be  with you, Mother, and Gabrielle."

 "Do you have a place to stay?" Francesca asked.

 "Well, not yet," Eve admitted.

 "I have an extra bedroom and need a roommate," Francesca indicated. "Would you like that?  That is, if  you don't mind sharing quarters with Gabrielle and me."

 "Of course I don't mind!" Eve laughed. "When can I?"

 "How about right now?" the Italian professor nodded. "Xena, excuse me...."

 "No problem," Xena beamed from Cloud 9. "I'll see you later, right?"

 "Right!" the messenger agreed and hugged her mother once again. "Oh, this is great!" Then, she left with  Francesca.

 "This is nice," Dave admired.

 "Indeed, it is, David," Xena agreed.

 "This has been some day hasn't it?" Tracy mentioned.

 Nick nodded and something told him that the surprises weren't over yet.


 Just then, the phone rang. Angie answered it, "Hello?"

 "Angie, it's Natalie. Thank goodness that you are home! Is Nick there?" Natalie responded.

 "Yes, he's right here," the oncologist indicated and handed the phone to the detective. "It's Nat.  Sounds  urgent."

 "Nat?" he asked. "What's wrong?"

 "Nick, I know you just got back and all, but believe have to get down to the precinct. Trust  me...." she remarked.

 "Okay, we'll be right there," he concluded and hung up. Glancing outside, he saw that the sun had set.

 "Nick, what's wrong?" Tracy inquired.

 "Something's up at the precinct. Can we take your car?" he asked.

 "Absolutely," she agreed. "Let's go!"

 "Everyone, we'll see you later. We have a situation at the precinct," he explained as they left.

 "I wonder what that's all about?" Angie inquired.

 Dave scratched his head in wonder....knowing little more than his wife did.


 Tracy parked her Sentra in the precinct lot about fifteen minutes later. She and Nick had engaged in very  little conversation as they anxiously worried about the cause of Natalie's frantic phone call.

 Tracy broke the ice. "Sense anything?" she asked.

 He reached out with his enhanced senses across the lot and into the building. At first, he discerned nothing  out of the ordinary. However, something familiar struck his senses. "What?" he queried.

 "What is it?" Tracy pushed.

 "The bullpen....Whatever it is, it's in the bullpen," he guessed and rushed up the stone stairs.

 Tracy shook her head in disbelief. "Why can't we have a normal hour at the very least?" she groaned to  herself while following her partner into the precinct.

 Once inside, they saw nothing out of the ordinary. The office area bustled at its normal pace, people  rushed to get assignments done, and Chris Novak hummed to herself as she updated the log.

 "Sergeant?" Tracy inquired. "What's going on?"

 "Good afternoon, Detectives!" Chris cheered. "I heard that your trip went well. By the way, since you're  here, the Captain would like to see you both."

 Tracy looked curiously at her partner. What had they done now?

 He shrugged and asked, "Did he mention anything as to why?"

 Chris shook her head, "No, just that he wanted to see you both when you came in tonight. Good to see  you both. Welcome back."

 "Thanks," Nick replied pleasantly as he and Tracy walked over to the Captain's office and knocked on  the door.

 "Si?" Ramirez responded.

 "Captain, its Detectives Miles and Brown," Tracy announced.

 "Si! Please come in! There's someone that I want you to meet!" the Captain insisted.

 The two detectives opened the door and walked in. Ramirez was in his normal place behind the desk.   Natalie sat in the guest chair and shot them an anxious yet gleeful look....

 "So, what is it, Nat?" Nick inquired.

 "We finally got that swing detective to work with both the day and night shifts. Nice guy...lots of  experience. Great sense of humor," Ramirez chuckled.

 "Have you met him yet?" Tracy asked Natalie.

 "Uh, yeah....I have...actually," the ME smiled. "He'll be here in a minute."

 Both partners stared at their friend. They knew that she was withholding something from them.

 A quick knocking came from the door.

 "La puerta esta abierto! Come in, Detective! Meet your new associates!" Ramirez advised.

 Natalie's smile grew wider by the second, increasing the two detectives' collective anxiety.

 "Thank ya, Cap," a familiar voice crooned from behind the door and continued, "Howdy, Partners...give  me a second, will ya?"

 Nick and Tracy barely managed to keep themselves composed. It could only be.....

 "I'm Don Schanke, fresh from Toronto," their new associate revealed. As he stepped into view, they could  see that it was their friend. "You guys had some vacation, I understand....Upstate New York.  Man-o-man, that is great country....not like the heat here," he cracked.

 Natalie shook her head in amusement. Schank was playing this routine for all it was worth.

 "It got pretty hot there too," Nick replied with a knowing smile on his face. "I'm Nick Miles, and this is  Tracy Brown."

 Schanke shook each of their hands. "It's a pleasure. Somehow, I don't think that it's going to take long for  the three of us to get to know each other."

 "Four, if you count me," the chuckling ME added from the Peanut Gallery.

 "Well, I'm sure that you all will do great. Meantime, what about our missing museum piece?" Ramirez probed.

 "She vaporized along with her accomplice," Nick explained.

 "Vaporized? What do we tell the museum?" the Captain demanded.

 "Dr. Hunter already knows....Some forces are beyond our control," Tracy indicated.

 Their superior simply shook his head in wonder. "Why is it that nothing is ever easy? Pro que yo? Oh well,  you're dismissed. Thanks for the update."

 The four associates left the office and went downstairs to Natalie's "office". Once the door was locked,  the act was dropped.

 "Good to see you, Schank. What happened?" Nick asked.

 "Well, it was decided that I could help you guys better down here, so here I am," his friend explained. "As  far as I know, I have been sent back permanently....sort of a special assignment.  I trust that you know about Eve by now?"

 "Eve?" Natalie inquired. "Who?"

 "Xena's daughter," Nick informed her.

 "Eve...As in Livia and the Messenger of Eli? That Eve? She's here?" Natalie pushed.

 "Yes, she is....and she's sharing Francesca's apartment in your complex," Tracy smirked.

 "I suppose that's okay," Natalie agreed, albeit uncertainly. "How did everything work out?"

 "Well, Wabash is safe," Schanke stated.

 "And Divia?" the ME inquired.

 "Dave lost his temper...and this time, I didn't step in," Nick noted.

 "Oh my! So, what happened when the two dark children squared off?" Natalie insisted.

 "Before the tantrum, Divia beat on him heavily. Afterwards, well, he wiped the floor, walls, and ceiling  with her," Nick continued.

 "Is he serious?" she asked Tracy.

 "Absolutely," Tracy confirmed. "I was there. From what Vachon told me, I didn't think that anyone could  defeat her singlehandedly. Watching that scene was something else. Was he like that in the library?"

 "Yes, he was," Nick explained. "But, this time he was able to regulate it a little bit. He showed real  progress. By the way, Trace....nice teamwork out there."

 His partner grinned at those words. "Thanks, Nick. I just did what came naturally. Thanks for the save."

 "That's okay," he replied reassuringly. "By the way, Schank....when do you start?"

 "Ummm...well, I have to go up to Toronto and convince Myra and Jenny that I'm really me, and I'm alive,  and all that....Then, to get them here to southern Arizona. That will be a trick in itself, trust me. Officially, I  start in two weeks, but who knows?"

 His friends nodded. They understood and were happy that he had any kind of a timetable.

 "By the way, dinner's on for tonight at Dave and Angie's," Tracy suggested.

 "Sounds great. Yeah, my flight leaves at 9AM tomorrow so I'll have plenty of time. They seem like great  folks after all. I'm sorry that I was so hasty in my judgment of David. I didn't realize what he deals with  everyday. Larry set me straight on those things," Schanke sighed.

 "Larry?" Natalie wondered.

 "Larry Alvaro was a traveler whose life I saved about 60 years ago back in Italy. He's Francesca's  great-uncle and Dave's grandfather," the vampire detective commented.

 Natalie gaped at the coincidence. "Oh wow...Imagine that!"

 "And that's not all....I discovered connections to Angie's family as well," he continued.

 "Really?" the ME questioned. This would be interesting.

 "This gets really good," Tracy giggled.

 "Her parents met in the University of Chicago's museum at the archaeology exhibit in 1955," he smiled.

 "You were there at that point!" she realized.

 "I directed them both to that case," he indicated. "...and yes, it was love at first sight."

 Natalie had to grab a tissue and dab her eyes. Sometimes, Nick could pull some unbelievable stories out  of his hat......

 "But wait, there's more...." Schanke cracked.

 "What now?" the coroner puzzled.

 "I also know their minister from his seminary days....I saved him from LaCroix right after World War II,"  Nick revealed.

 "I just don't believe this! Talk about destiny!" Natalie quipped.

 "Fate works in strange ways, Natalie," Tracy grinned.

 The ME agreed with that comment. After all, who would have thought that all four of them would have  died and come back to life all in the same time...and in the same place? "Why ask why?" she mused.

 "Excuse me, Nat?" Nick asked.

 "It's nothing, Nick. Trust me," she assured him with an enthusiastic smile. Some things in life are just meant  to be accepted and enjoyed. As with many of life's treasures, good health and good friends are meant to  be savored for their own pleasures.... And over the course of their new careers in the Old Pueblo, they  would do just that....


Back To Main Page