New Ventures (Dubois Chronicles 2.84) (Part 2)


Chapter 6 [Next night—Amherst]

[Floral Emporium]

April packed up the last of the old ledgers into their boxes and taped the lids shut. She couldn’t believe the day was here at last. Walking around the shop, she recalled so many memories from her earliest years until that point. “I can’t believe it’s time to go.”

“Doesn’t seem that way but it is,” Garth noted, rubbing her shoulder supportively. “If it makes you feel any better, I’m going to miss this place too.”

She smiled warmly and rubbed his shoulder. “My family started this shop 80 years ago. It seems so strange to see it empty.”

“It’s just moving is all. Dreams are portable. I’m glad you’re sharing it with me,” he told her, kissing her cheek.

She chuckled warmly and looked once again at the diamond engagement ring shining in the light. “Our dream.” She savored the words. “It’ll be good to be close to everyone again. I wish Frank could find something out there.”

“His practice keeps him in New York. Still, you know him, he’s always interested in what we’re doing,” her fiancé noted. “But with Caroline back out there, it should be like old times.”

“One could hope,” his partner noted, entering the shop with Natalie. “I think that’s everything.”

“I wonder how the others are doing at home?” April asked, leading them outside and locking the door. “This feels so weird.”

“It’s bound to,” the coroner noted supportively. “I remember moving to Tucson after living where I did. It took a couple of months to adjust. But you have all of us.”

The florist smiled. “Thanks, Natalie. I know. Let’s see what’s going on at home.”




[McKenzie House—Ten minutes later]

For most of that afternoon, Dave, Angie, Karen, Lex and the students moved boxes and furniture from the house into the moving truck. While April’s parents kept the house and most of the furnishings, her things still took up more room than one might have guessed.

For the last hour—following sunset—Nick lent a hand, relieving people as needed.

“I think that’s everything,” Karen declared, coming out of the house. “No other boxes in the front room.”

“Anything in the bedroom?” Dave wondered.

“Not when I checked last,” Angie replied, taking a seat on the truck’s bumper and drinking some diet soda.

“Cellar’s accounted for too,” Clark indicated as he and Lana walked into view. “Lex and Chloe are just finishing up down there.”

“Kitchen’s taken care of,” Sasha agreed as she, Peter and Mary Jane joined them, team carrying a box.

Peter can lift that crate with one hand but he wants to keep a lid on his secret. Dave watched as the group put the last big box in the truck. “April and the others should be back soon. Meantime, I need to make a side trip.” He opened a mist portal. “Coming, Angie and Karen?”

“Right behind you, Pal,” his twin sister concurred, disappearing into the mist.

The oncologist headed into the mist as well.

Once again, Lana felt strangely, as if something were about to happen. “Professor, stay alert. I have a strange feeling.”

As if on cue, Peter’s spider sense went off.
Dave looked around, feeling the area with his senses. Something is out of the ordinary here. As if… He looked up at the sky and swore he saw a silhouette pass in front of the moon. “Nick!”

“You saw it too?” the Elder asked.

“Damn straight I did,” the medievalist informed him. “Peter and Nick, you’re with us! I should have known better than to let Caroline be there by herself!”

“What is it, Dave?” Lex inquired.
“Big trouble,” Dave retorted. “You all stay here! Under no circumstances do you go there. Especially not you, Clark, Lana and Lex! Am I clear?” Then he vanished into the mists.

“What did he mean by that?” Chloe wondered. “He’s almost acting like the Witch is nearby. But we banished her!”

“Something’s close that giving off the same energy,” Lana indicated.

“Terrific,” Lex muttered. “Another one.” While he wanted to help, all they could do is wait.




[Center Cemetery]

Caroline dusted off her family’s marker and made sure everything was in order around it. While she had made periodic trips up there from Boston where she had just completed her degree, things never stayed as neat as she would have liked. The snow will fly soon. I just wish they did a better job of keeping things up here. She took a deep breath. “April and I are finally heading off to join the others, everyone. I hope you don’t mind. Knowing Dave, he’ll have Sis and me up here so often, you won’t know we’re gone.”

She felt an icy breeze cut through her overcoat as if it weren’t even there. “Right on cue,” she muttered.

From the darkness behind her, she heard a dark voice concur, “Ye have no idea.”

She turned to find a man dressed in what looked like Puritan garb astride a white horse. Except for the rider’s glowing yellow eyes, his cloak obscured his features. Her eyes went wide. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

The rider snarled, “Where are they?”

“Where are who?” she asked, feeling more afraid by the second.

“The one ye consider sister an’ ‘er brother! They’re close!” he insisted. “They’re here!”

What’s this guy’s connection to Dave and Karen? She scanned the area not knowing what to expect.

“You did roll out the welcome wagon for us, Rider,” a familiar voice retorted from above.

The Mystery Man glared into the old oak tree to find Spidey watching him. “Ye! The Spider!”

“That’s me,” the Wall Crawler replied, trying to keep his cool. “Funny, isn’t Salem your usual hangout?”

“Fool! I will kill ye this time!” the Rider threatened. “Ye dare to come ‘ere alone!”

“What? You think I’d leave my friends out of this?” Spidey retorted. “They’re coming. Hey, Lady, I’d split if I were you!”

“What about you?” she asked fearfully.

“Trust me; I’ve dealt with Old Gruesome before. The cavalry’s not far behind me either.” Spidey waved her off as his senses blared again.

Just seconds later, a dark energy blast disintegrated the branch he was on.

“GO!” Spidey told her.

Caroline turned and ran for the gate. For some reason, she felt as though Death itself chased her.

“Sporting of you,” Spidey told his adversary.

“She’s na’ the one I want nor are ye. Na’ yet!” the Rider snarled. Seeing the mists off to the side, he grinned. “Good!”

Dave, Karen, Nick and Xena stepped out of the portal before the former closed it.

“If it ain’t our dark poet,” Dave hissed, as the group moved to flank the demon rider.

“Who?” Karen asked.

“The Witch’s father,” Nick stated.

“And Dahak’s messenger boy,” Dave added sarcastically. “Can’t come up with a good poem nor has the sense to know when his boss is dead!”

“Oh goodie,” Xena glowered, drawing her sword.
The Mystery Man laughed, enjoying the moment. “Ye even brought Xena back from the dead to face me! No matter!”

“You asked for it the last time! You’re alone this time,” the medievalist countered. “Leave!”

“Ye have grown, Boy! When last we met, ye were only a pup! Now ye’ll be mine! And I’m never alone. Soon my numbers will swell! An’ ye’ll be the Destroyer!”
“Dave, I feel as though I know this guy from somewhere,” Karen pointed out, groping with deja-vu.
“You do. Remember that camping trip from freshman year?” he asked.

“Dave, this isn’t the time!” Spidey advised, ducking another blast. “Can I get some help here?”

“Love to!” Xena agreed, slashing quickly with her blade and drawing dark blood. “Well, he ain’t human!”

“I could have told you that,” Dave glowered, firing a mental pulse and knocking the Mystery Man from his steed’s back.

“About time you knocked him off of his high horse,” the Web Head jabbed.

“Still the insolent bug! SILENCE!” the Rider challenged, blasting him into the tree.

At that point, Karen remembered, “It was at the house! He and the Witch kidnapped us and you went through that gauntlet in the Lower Valley!”

“That’s about the size of it!” her brother affirmed, deflecting a burst with a psychic shield and taking on more strain in the process. His head was going numb. “I don’t know if I can take another of those!”

“Ye sound scared! Are ye?” the Mystery Man cackled. “Ye should be!”

“I’ll give ya scared!” Xena challenged, getting in a few kicks and some choice slashes with her sword.
“Yer botherin’ me!” the Dark Man challenged, stunning her with another blast. “Give up! Ye canna win!” He hit Dave next with dark fire. “FALL!”

“Yeah right!” Dave hissed, letting his own dark tide sweep him away.

The Rider grinned as he watched the transformation taking place. “Excellent!”

The Child bellowed his siren call to the sky. “Cocky ass, aint’cha? Take this!” He threw double barreled fire blasts at the attacker.

The Mystery Man staggered but suffered no other ill effects. “That was good! The Master would be pleased!”

“It’s dead, Twit! Deal w’ it!” the Dark One challenged, firing yet another blast and staggering his opponent again.
From behind, Nick barreled into the adversary, knocking him into the oak tree as well.

Xena climbed to her knees. Throwing her chakram, she scored two more hits—one on his right arm and leg.

“Insolent GNATS! BEGONE W’ YE!” the Rider spat, blasting Nick and Xena into unconsciousness. Turning back to the Child and Karen, he added menacingly, “Yer both alone!”

“Git goin’!” the Child told Karen. “MOVE!”

“I’m not leaving!” she refused.

“Sweets, git help NOW!” the Child hissed, throwing another burst and holding their antagonist off. From behind, he saw another portal open. “Now what?”

Cybelle and Deirdre stepped out of the mists, firing bursts of their own.
“Bout time!” the Child spat, throwing another blast of his own. “Hey, Dark Boy, take a hike!” He willed up a powerful burst and knocked the other back three more steps.

“An’ the littlest sister!” the Mystery Man realized, standing back up. “My daughter did ‘er work well!” He shook his head, feeling more enhanced beings approach. “Remember my warning, Dark One. Soon ye’ll be mine!” Getting on his horse, he took off into the night sky, disappearing into the darkness.

“Crap. More trouble!” the Child declared, getting up.
“Are you both all right?” Cybelle wondered.

“Yeah! Thanks, Ah guess!” the Dark One expressed truculently, stalking away.
The High Priestess scowled. “What was that about?” she asked Karen.

“Does the name ‘Penelope’ ring a bell? Cybelle, how could you?” Karen retorted fiercely. “How could you let Dave think she was dead?”

“The Faerie Empress ordered me to!” Cybelle countered.

“Yeah, you keep tellin’ yourself that,” Xena retorted, forcing herself back to her feet. “Thanks though for bein’ here though. Nicholas, watch Spider-Man, all right?” With an angry glare, she led Karen away from there.

“Man, what hit me?” Spidey asked, sitting up.

“Your friend has quite an energy blast,” Cybelle noted, inspecting him closely. She frowned and touched his side. “Two broken ribs and a strained shoulder.”

Great. I’ll never hear the end of it from MJ. “You can tell that through a touch?” he asked skeptically.

“I’m a priestess. I’m trained to know the signs, my Friend,” she told him while helping him to his feet. “You know him? The stranger, I mean?”

“Yeah, we’ve met,” he coughed, feeling the effects of the ribs. “Back in Salem—1692. He was with a crackpot named Cotton Mather. Don’t ask how…I got back there.”

“Can you help him, Deirdre?” Cybelle requested.

“Sure, Auntie,” the other priestess agreed, supporting him.

“Auntie?” he wondered.

“She’s Papa’s sister,” Deirdre noted, opening a portal. “I’ll get you back to Sanctuary. No sense in having you show up like this.”

“Yeah…thanks,” he expressed before blacking out.

Deirdre gave her aunt a concerned look before opening the portal. “On my way!”

After they had vanished, Nick inquired, “You know what this means, don’t you?”

She stiffened. “This is no time for riddles! That thing played with you all the last time you faced him in the Valley. This time, it’s serious!” Seeing his confused expression, she continued, “Remember the herbs and the bread crumbs?”

“You were the girl in white!” he realized.

“The Empress wouldn’t allow me to face that creature as a novice. Now I can see why. Go to my brother, Nicholas. Tonight, I must go to the Cathedral of Crystal and consult with the Faerie Empress on this matter.” With that, she vanished into the mists.

“I can’t believe he’s back,” he groused, taking off into the night.




[Cemetery gate]

The Child leaned against the iron grating to support himself. While he didn’t want to admit it, the Mystery Man had hurt him badly. From several points, he felt deep intense pain screaming at him.

Worse still, he had barely managed to slow the creep down. If not for Xena and the priestesses, he and Karen would be dead or worse. “Crap, this sucks!” He sensed Karen coming. “Git w’ the others!”

She shook her head. “You never change. This is a first, isn’t it?”

“Yok it up. Ah tried! Awright?” he snapped. He ground his teeth in disgust. “Lessgo!”

As she hurried after him, she mused, He’s scared! I can’t believe this! He’s actually scared! Worse, that guy took his best shots and barely flinched! How are we going to stop this one? Remember, Karen, don’t taunt him. Thinking that, she tried to keep pace with him.



Chapter 7 [McKenzie Residence]

April and the others pulled into the driveway. For some reason, the air seemed charged around them, as if something big was going on.

“This almost feels like high school all over again,” Garth noted anxiously, checking his guns.

Steve nodded, doing the same. “Stay put, you two. We’re going to check things out.”

“Like Hell, we are!” Natalie protested. “Come on!”

The quartet hustled past the moving truck.

“Hey, guys!  Guys!” April yelled. “Where are you?”
At that moment, they heard the familiar screech shatter the night stillness.

“Dammit! That means trouble!” Steve hissed.
“You know it,” Lex agreed, as he and the others rushed over to meet them.
“Where’s Dave?” April asked.

“He and the others took off for the cemetery. He said there was trouble,” Mary Jane informed them.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Nick stated, coming out of the woods with Caroline. “I need the bottle.”

The coroner rushed to her bag and handed him a bottle of cow blood.

He guzzled that one down and signaled for another and then another before his thirst was quenched. “Thank you.” He slumped against the house in exhaustion. “Unreal.”

“Nick, what is it?” Natalie wondered.

“Scarest creep I…ever…saw,” Caroline gasped.

“The dark man came back,” the Elder insisted. “The one from your story, Steve.”

Him?” The agent looked at them all with a dazed expression.

“Nick, where’s Dave?” April insisted, as she began to remember.

“Who is this dark man?” Clark wondered.

Garth, Steve and April exchanged fearful looks before telling the others. “The Witch’s father.”

“Indeed,” Deirdre concurred, stepping out of the mists. “Auntie and I helped drive him off.”

“Wait! The Child was there, wasn’t he?” Lana wondered.

Deirdre shook her head and stepped aside as Karen helped the Child and Xena through the portal. Both were badly bruised and could barely walk.

“Outta mah way!” the Dark One snarled, making his way for the backyard.

Seeing the looks on their faces, Xena slumped onto the grass and shook her head. “Let ‘im…go. He needs to get…it outta his system.”

“What is it, Xena? What happened?” Garth inquired.
“We gave him our best shots,” she noted, feeling that her left shoulder was dislocated. “The creep took ‘em like nothin’.”
“The Child drove him off, right?” Lex asked.

Xena looked toward the backyard sadly. “His best blasts barely nicked the creep. He, on the other hand, is hurt pretty badly.”

They all heard him scream at the moon in frustration.

Karen staggered back into view. “He’s frustrated and angry.” She crossed her arms. “We need to get everyone out of here as soon as possible.”

“The Child running?” Clark gasped.

Xena cut in, “You keep that to yourself. Got it?”

“Wait a minute!” MJ exclaimed. “Pete went with you! Where is he?”

“Pete? He wasn’t there,” Deirdre replied, feeling confused.
“He should be okay. David asked him to get Spider-Man to help us,” the Warrior Princess noted. “As usual, he held up all right. Took some shots though.”

The red headed co-ed’s eyes went wide but she kept her composure. Why do you try to be a martyr, Peter? WHY? “So where did Spidey go?”

“He’s back at Mutant X’s place,” Deirdre reported. “I agree with Aunt Karen. Let’s get out of here. Is everything out of the house?”

“It is,” Karen concurred. “Anything else we can come back for. Deirdre, can you open a portal so we can drive into the complex’s lot?”

“Coming up,” the priestess concurred, opening up a big portal.

“Thanks, Sweetie,” Karen indicated, getting in. “Xena, check on the Big Kid. We need him back there.”

“Yeah.” Xena grimaced as she got on her feet and made her way over to where the Child sulked. “Hey, we’re leavin’!”

“Goodie fer ya’ll,” he snarled. “Ah’m waitin’ fer ‘im!”

“Why? He’s gonna kick your ass again!” she challenged.

He growled and turned on her. “Watch it, Toots! Ah don’t need that shit!”

Her eyes narrowed into slits. “Neither do I. Look, we all lose, all right? It happens!”

“Not to me it don’t! An’ not here!” He fired a dark fire blast scoring the maple tree to his right. “This is home! Ah don’ care! He hurt mah friends! He kicked mah ass! He laughed at me! That shithead’s gonna PAY!” Angry tears burned at his left eye as he ranted.

Even with that Overmind mess, he’s never known defeat like this. As much as I would love to see him win this one, that demon will kill him out of pure spite. “Let’s get you well, all right? Then we can prepare and attack him at full strength! Come on.”

He curled his lip angrily, not wanting to concede the point. “Awright but he’s gonna pay!”

“Count on it,” she concurred.

“YA HEAR ME! AH’LL BE BACK, MEATBALL! YA PUT THAT DOWN!” he vowed, shaking his fist at the sky defiantly.

His alter ego’s daughter watched the drama seriously. He was already angry enough at Auntie over Penny. How will we deal with him?

“Ah ain’t mad at ya’ll, Squirt,” he assured her tersely, as he and Xena disappeared into the mists.

Thank the goddess for small favors. Deirdre ushered the others through the doorway and closed it, feeling glad that they could get out of there quickly.



As she did so, the Mystery Man observed the whole scene with interest. He grinned. “The Children of Pain are all together now. Excellent. It is almost time. As for you, my Child, we will meet again. Count on it.”

Digging in his spurs, the rider and horse rode off into the night sky and away from there.



Chapter 8 [Tucson—a week later]

[Former Bartleby’s Café-New Talon Complex]

Lana and April cut the yellow ribbon draped across the front door and allowed a group of students to enter the newly refurbished restaurant. Everyone complimented them and Lex on the unique Egyptian wall designs and the blue lounging couches in the café’s corners. The counters had been redone with fine wood and stained. All sorts of highly fattening treats tempted the customers through the glass case next to the counter. Behind the counter, an ornate cappuccino machine waited to steam out drinks.

Standing behind the counter, Miri smiled at the sight of the patrons. Here we go! She signaled to the other wait staff.

The race was on.




Meantime Dave sat in the corner, drinking the first official “Dubois Dandy” made in the state of Arizona. While the chocolate-cherry drink made him feel slightly better, the Child’s anger colored his perceptions. For the first time in a long while, he felt helpless and admittedly…scared.
“You never could keep a good front,” Lex commented, sliding into the seat across from him.

“Sorry, Lex. I am trying for the kids’ sake. I hope I didn’t botch my piece too badly,” the medievalist told him.

The billionaire shrugged. “You did great out there. I’m actually more concerned about how You-Know-Who is taking this.”

“To say ‘not well’ would be a huge understatement. He wants blood,” Dave informed him. “Having Penelope around is a small balance.” Seeing his oldest daughter, he waved to her.

“Hi,” she greeted, giving him a kiss on the cheek. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Dave agreed, as she sat down next to him. “What is it?”

“I’ve heard Dee-Dee and the twins calling you Papa. Is it okay for me to do it too?” she asked hesitantly.

His eyes teared up. “It’s more than okay.” He hugged her tightly. “Thanks, Kiddo.”

Lex smiled wistfully. She’s making a huge difference for him. Hang in there, Dave. We’re going to need you in a sane condition.




[Floral Emporium next door]

Angie walked through the newly open flower shop, smelling the sweet scents around her. With all of the fuss outside, it was nice to have a sanctuary of sorts. She had left her husband back in the café to muse over his own misgivings. I hope he’s going to be okay. It had been a week and still he continued to brood over this impending threat. From what Xena and I saw, he does have good reason. I can’t believe that thing took everything we could dish out.

“It’s going to be okay, Angie,” Eve told her supportively.

“I know,” the oncologist agreed, managing a smile for the other’s benefit. “It’s just that…well…from what Karen and April tell me, Dave hasn’t been in this position for a long time.”

“High school actually,” April clarified, joining them. “It’s a shame really. We’re back together again after so long and get this all going. Then Mr. Mysterious pops up again.”

“Eli says that we’re tested at such times,” Eve declared. “We need to be strong.”

“If you say so,” April replied with uncertainty, looking out the window toward the mountains to the east. Here we go again.

Angie rubbed her friend’s shoulder and looked at the view as well. Dave, if you have a plan, now’s a good time for it.



[Student Newspaper—an hour later]

Chloe typed away on the computer, feeling eager to make her latest deadline. After spending much of the morning over at the new Talon, she had to hurry on this work. “It needs something.”

“Or maybe you need a cup of coffee?” Lex asked knowingly, sauntering into the room with two cups in hand. “A triple latte actually.”

She smirked. “Okay, Luthor, you’re buttering me up. What is it?”

He shrugged and sipped on his drink. “A guy can check on his wife, can’t he? Besides, I figured I could sneak a look at your piece.”

She rolled her eyes. “You see it when everyone else does. Trust me; you’re getting great press in here.”

His eyes twinkled at her. “Be careful, Sullivan. You don’t want to be accused of playing favorites now?”

She stared at him incredulously. “I don’t play favorites. You know that.”

He kissed the top of her head. “Don’t ever change, Chloe. By the way, there’s someone who wants to say hi as well.”

“Great. Visitors get to see this bantering too,” she groused.

“It’s okay,” Caroline assured the reporter while entering the area. “Nice! This definitely is a step up from The White Knight.”

“And from The Torch,” Chloe added. “Good to see you, Dr. Alvarez.”

“Same here, Chloe. I see you’re doing what’s expected. Good for you,” the new advisor complimented.

“I’m a news junkie. What else can I say?” Chloe replied.

“How about yes to her offer?” he suggested.

“Lex!” Caroline exclaimed, feeling miffed that he had let the cat out of the bag.

“What offer?” Chloe asked carefully.

“I want you to be the editor-in-chief. No strings attached save one. I get to proof the pieces with you,” Caroline offered.

“But I get to print the truth, right?” Chloe insisted.

Caroline looked at her seriously. “I wouldn’t expect any less from you, Chloe.”

“But we barely know each other. Granted, I’m flattered but why make an offer like this?” Chloe wondered.

“Because you remind me of my first journalism advisor, Candy Colavitto. She was about five and a half feet tall with long blond hair, full of vinegar and a bit on the spunky side. She never backed down from a news story. Even from the one that ultimately killed her,” Caroline noted. “I think that sounds like someone we both know, doesn’t it?”

“Except that I’m not going to let a news story kill her,” Lex disagreed.

Chloe smiled, putting two and two together on some things that had been bugging her over the previous two years. “Is that why Professor Dubois gave me the second chance in Smallville?”

“I’d say it is,” Caroline concurred. “Karen and he have both remarked how you remind them of her. I can see why. That’s the highest compliment, Chloe, because they both practically revere her.”

The reporter sat there stunned for a minute as she tried to digest this information. Wow!
“Now here’s a news story, Caroline. My wife’s speechless,” he teased.

Chloe cracked, “You wish, Lex.” She smirked at them both. “Well I hope I can live up to her standard then and yours.” She held out her right hand.

“Just be yourself and that will be more than good enough,” Caroline concurred, shaking her hand. “I think this is the start of a great partnership.”

He smiled. Look out, Tucson. Here they come! He shrugged, finishing his drink and looking forward to this collaboration and its future results.



Conclusion [That night]

[El Gato Negro]

Nick sat in the corner considering the situation. As with Dave, he too remembered the poetic prophecy from 28 years earlier. We knew this day would come and I did promise to stand by his side. He drank a glass of straight wine and looked out the window toward the stars above.

“The wheel turns toward us again at last, no?” Janette inquired. “Even Nikki knew this day would come.”

“We all did, Janette. There have been so many other battles to fight in the meantime,” he replied.

“What do we do?” Alyce asked nervously.

“We stay vigilant and hope that Dave can keep a lid on his feelings,” he told them both. “Speaking of whom, I have something to talk with him and Angie about. I’ll see you later, Alyce.”

“Take care, Nick,” she advised.

He nodded and took off into the night.




[Dubois Condo]

Angie and Dave sat down after making sure that the students were set. After getting back from the celebration that day, Clark, Lana and MJ wanted to talk about what happened in Amherst. Getting no objection from Peter, the two hosts agreed.

“I still think you’re crazy, Peter. You could have been killed,” Mary Jane lectured.

“If I wasn’t there, MJ, Dr. Alvarez would be dead right now,” her boyfriend countered, feeling his side. “Besides, I know the most about this guy.”

“Now I understand why that creep was so coy before. He could have blown us away 30 years ago but he wanted to watch the ghost play,” Dave remarked, pacing about the area. “And he wanted to have everyone together in one place.”

“Everyone?” his wife asked.

“Yeah. Karen, Penny, Clark, Lana, Lex and I are the ‘children of pain’. We all have connections to Lichtenfeld.” He ran his hand through his hair. “Terrific.”

“There’s got to be something we can do, Professor,” Clark insisted. “I’m not letting anyone hurt my wife or friends.”

“Thanks, Clark, but listen to him. Anyone who can swat the Child, Xena, Dr. Miles and Spidey aside like flies would do a number on you,” Lana urged. “I don’t want to see you getting hurt again.”

“Nor I you,” Clark countered.

“Pete, what happened the last time you faced this guy?” MJ asked.

“Dr. Doom and three of the Avengers—Moondragon, the Vision and the Scarlet Witch—worked with me to beat that dude. We just barely pulled it off too,” Peter recalled.
“And Dahak increased his power after that, I take it,” the oncologist guessed, getting some cues from Xena. “Figures.”

“Say, Peter, can we get any help from that magician friend of yours?” Lana suggested.

“Doc Strange looks really good right now,” Pete concurred.

Dave stared curiously at the Physics major. “Doc Strange? As in Dr. Stephen Strange? Aloof guy, intense eyes, dark hair with white at the temples, mustache and calls himself ‘Master of the Mystic Arts’? Lives in Greenwich Village?”

“That’s him. He might be our only hope,” Pete replied. “And he knows about you too, Professor.”

Dave snickered darkly, “The bastard should know about me!”

“So you have met,” Clark ascertained. “Then he can help us?”

“Absolutely not,” Dave glowered, shaking noticeably.

Lana stared at him. “Professor?”

“Damn twit,” the medievalist snarled, allowing the change to occur.
Not now. “What is it? You know that guy?” his wife asked.

“Damn straight Ah know ‘im an’ so does Cybbie!” the Child growled. His left eye turned red. “He came an’ looked ‘round the house. He let us rot! He talked ‘bout sacr’fice! What was a coupla kids’ happiness against the whole world?” He trembled; spit ran down the sides of his mouth as he slid further down the dark slope. “HE COULDA STOPPED THE CRAP! ‘CUZ A’ ‘IM, LAU…RA, LEW…IS, AUNTIE LILLIE, GRANDPA AND OUR FAMILIES ARE DEAD!” He breathed hard for a minute before finishing, “CUZ A ‘IM, AH’M HERE!”

Angie rubbed his shoulders. “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

“Why should Ah?” the Child inquired tersely.

Damn, Doc, why didn’t you do anything? “Sorry, I…didn’t know.” Pete winced.

“It ain’t yer fault, Kid,” the Dark One assured him. “Ya did good up there ‘gainst Daddy Dearest. Jus’ watch yer butt closer.”
“I’ll do that. Say, I think MJ and I will be going,” Peter concluded, getting up. “Thanks for having us over.”

“It’s okay, Kids. Thank you for coming,” Angie told them as she let them out.
“Lana, maybe we should go too,” Clark added.

His wife shook her head. “No. If you want to go, that’s okay. He needs people around him right now.”

Not for the first time was Clark amazed by the connection between Lana and the Child. How can she do that? He would never let anyone—except for maybe Dr. Dubois—get that close.
Lana stooped down to the Child’s level. By this point, he was sobbing uncontrollably and spitting out whispered curses. “Look at me.”

“No!” he spat. “Don’ wanna!”

“Come on,” she insisted.

Slowly, he raised his face to meet hers. “Wha?”

“I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry that happened. Nobody deserves to have that said to them,” she informed him, embracing him tightly. “We’ll get through this together. Okay?”

“Yeah sure,” the Child agreed. He looked at the door. “Nickie-boy’s here.”

“I got it,” Angie agreed, getting up to let their other guest in. I agree with Clark, that’s amazing. Opening the door, she invited, “Come in, Nick.”

“I wanted to check on you all,” the Elder noted. “I felt the change as I flew over. What happened?”

“Peter mentioned a guy who might help us. It turned out to be someone the Child knows,” Clark reported.

“Great. So?” Nick asked. Getting a hateful glare from the Dark One, he inquired, “What is it?”

“’Member the guy who let Grandpa die? Tha’s the guy! If Ah git mah hands on that twit, Ah’ll really whup ‘is ass!”

Nick did remember the conversation with him from Lorenzo’s funeral as well as the discussions with Beatrice Alvaro and Janet later. We can’t let them get together. I just hope Spider-Man has the sense not to ask Strange for help on this one. He looked out the window, hoping for guidance in the face of this latest mess and wondering when it would come.




Xena stretched her left arm and admired the priestesses’ healing abilities. “Not bad. Thanks.”

Deirdre shrugged. “The healers do good work. Glad to see you’re feeling better.”

“If not for you and your aunt, Xena and the others would have lost to that mystery guy,” Gabrielle noted. “We appreciate your help, Deirdre. Speaking of your aunt, where is she?”

“I’m right here,” the High Priestess declared, entering the area. “I concur with Deirdre. It’s good to see you fit, Xena. You’ll need your full abilities before this affair is over.”

Seeing her frown, the Bard wondered, “What is it?”

“I’m wondering if this situation might be more than we can handle,” Cybelle supposed. “Dave asked me to have the Witch’s spell book moved from here in case something happens. It should be safe here. I mean what could happen here?”

“No place is completely secure, Cybelle,” Xena argued. “Can’t we just destroy the damn thing?”

“Dave’s tried, believe me,” Cybelle informed them. “After the incident during his freshman year, he actually tore it apart and scattered the pieces across the Quabbin Reservoir. Somehow, it pulled itself back together again.”

“What incident?” Xena insisted.

“The first time Dave, Nicholas and the others ran into that rider. That was a near miss. And then Dahak nearly…”

The two Amazons stared at her. “DAHAK?”

“Auntie, you can’t be serious!” Deirdre gasped. “What did that demon do to Papa?”

“The same thing that it did to you, Gabrielle, back in Britannia,” Cybelle noted.
“So the Child is meant to be another Destroyer,” the Bard-Queen realized.

“That creep bragged as much back in the graveyard,” Xena recalled.

“Unfortunately. And so are Lana and Alexander,” the High Priestess continued. “They’re all marked as he is. They are targeted.”

“Great,” the Warrior Princess hissed. So it may come down to me killing the Child, Lana and Lex just to save their souls. Just wonderful. “Anything else we should know about?”

“Nothing at the moment,” Cybelle told them, as they passed the stasis area. “Alti’s still secure in there.”

“Let’s hope she stays there,” Gabrielle muttered ruefully, recalling their earlier encounters as they headed toward the other side of the hidden village.




After they had left, a tiny floating spark wafted through the air around the stasis area. When nobody was around to see it, it grew into a bigger glow and then, into a familiar form.

Alti smirked knowingly at her adversaries. “You think so, do you?” Her eyes gleamed. “I’ll have fun as I’m tearing your minds apart!” She laughed in anticipation of triumph.

With that, she crept off toward the spell book, knowing the mayhem it could cause firsthand. With it, she and her spiritual descendants’ parents would cause their opponents much heartache indeed.


THE END (for now)




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