By David J. Duncan
For notes & such, please see Part 1
[Tucson, Two nights later]
Two nights later, the U of A's Museum of Fine Arts lay dark and still. In the main display case, the primary pieces of the new Luxor exhibit were ready to be shown to the public on the opening day. Having set up the case, the workers had left for the evening as had the visitors and the student intern, Jolene Martin.
However, sitting alone in her office downstairs, Alyce Harris reviewed her report on the display for the third time. While the syntax, spelling, and grammar were fine, she had a hard time believing the dating of the pieces especially for the necklace and the chest. After Nick and Dave Dubois had entrusted them to her care, the curator had examined the hieroglyphs and had dated them to the first century AD. "Yet the necklace is over a century older....Curious," she wondered. The circumstances surrounding its discovery were equally unnerving. "The necklace was discovered by a Dr. Evelyn O' Connell in 1937. Her assistant was Dr. Lorenzo Alvaro. Yes, David's grandfather and Francesca's uncle. And the accounts talk of four strangers: a warrior, her blonde companion, a priestess, and a man with a monstrous temper," she recalled, a knowing grin cutting across her face. "If I didn't know better, I'd say that Xena, Gabrielle, Cybelle, and David were involved...." she started.
Suddenly, she sensed other presences within the facility. Using her enhanced vampiric senses, Alyce scanned the building. Yes, there were other vampires within the museum...at least seven, but their aura seemed to be more powerful than anything she had encountered previously...except at the library during the night of the Enforcers' attack. "But could it be? Why would they be here?" she asked herself. The Enforcers were the keepers of the vampire community's secret. Could something here in the museum have placed her and her kind in jeopardy?
Knowing that she couldn't take them alone, the curator slunk back to her office, locked the door, and dialed away on her phone. "C'mon, Nick....Be there please!" she thought.
Meanwhile, Nick drove the Caddy down I-10 heading for the airport. It was a beautiful night with the moon shining a pale yellow light down on everything, and a breeze wafting softly across the landscape. Still, his mind was on the issue at hand: Xena and what to do to clear her and Gabrielle.
Tracy glanced over at him impatiently. For the last hour, she had let him just wander aimlessly. "Why not? It's been a slow night," she had thought. Besides, she also knew what or rather, who, occupied his thoughts. "So, have you found her yet? Ramirez was curious," she probed.
The vampire detective cut his partner a quick glance. "Found who?" he responded cryptically.
She laughed sarcastically and smiled, "Like you don't know who I'm talking about. Yeah right. Okay, yes, I'm wondering if you tracked down Angie and Francesca yet. They did destroy a major portion of New York, you know."
"We don't have all of the facts, Trace," he indicated. "Besides, they were nowhere near there when the incident occurred."
She shook her head, "But, we saw them do it on television, Nick. The camera doesn't lie, and it caught both of them in the act."
"However, the camera doesn't catch everything either," he countered. "And, in this case, it missed some big facts."
"Like what? I suppose now you're going to say that an alien cloned them or something? Schanke made a similar case to the captain today and was nearly laughed out of the precinct. C'mon, Nick. You're both really grasping for straws."
"I can see her point," Nick thought to himself. "You would have to be there to believe it." Then, he replied, "It would seem that way, but you have to trust Schank and me. We were there. Ask Natalie."
"She's been dodging the precinct as well," Tracy noted. "So, when we meet up with Steve Petersen, what are you going to say to him? Hmm??? This oughta be good...."
Before he could respond, the carphone rang shrilly. "Saved by the bell," he mused and answered it, "Miles."
"Nick? It's Alyce. Listen, I'm at the museum, and I need your help. There are several really strong vampire presences that I'm sensing here. Almost like....Enforcers. But, what would they be doing here?" the curator explained frantically.
His mind swum with this new information. Why indeed would they be there? Unless.... "This could be related to the last attack on the library," he mentioned. "Hang on, I'll be right there!" Signalling with his right blinker, he changed lanes on the fly and found the nearest exit ramp.
"What? What is going on?" Tracy demanded. "Ramirez told us to get Petersen at the airport."
"There's more trouble at the university," Nick explained, pulling the car to a halt in a darkened area. "Go and get Steve at the airport. I'll meet you two back at the precinct."
"Not again!" she whined.
Looking up into the ebony sky, he took off without another word, leaving her to stew in her juices. "Oh well, let's go get Steve. At least, he'll talk sensibly to me," she groused and drove back toward the interstate.
About that same time, Dave locked his office door and started out on his walk across campus for the parking garage across Speedway. He enjoyed the classes and the students that he was teaching this semester. As such, it was no effort at all to lecture and interact with the latter and he really hated to have to end the class at the appointed time. "Oh well, it's just more for next time," he chuckled.
Then, his mind shifted back to the matter at hand. Steve, Xena, and Gabrielle. Knowing that the situation would arise as soon as he got off the plane, the agent had gone against orders and had called him. The conversation had not gone well. Still, he had managed to convince his friend to hear him out once the latter arrived.
By now, he was passing the art museum. Now, the concerns about the necklace and chest were bugging him. "Let it go," he advised himself. Still, his nerves grated at him. Looking up as he passed the side of the building, he saw that the lights were on in the main foyer. "What the?" he thought. "Alyce's assistant was finished with the display when I left for class at 8. What's going on?"
Then, from deep within his head, the Child mentally nudged him and growled, "Hey, Chowderhead....Scan the upstairs and tell me what'cha notice."
"Strange...." he thought. Normally, his darker half waited until they were in the midst of a battle to come out. Still, he followed the suggestion and focused on the area. Sure enough, there were seven very strong cold spots in the facility and two of them were moving in the direction of Alyce's office. "Aw, crap," he hissed and ran through the underpass towards the parking garage.
"What the...?" the Child complained. "C'mon, we've got some serious ass to kick!"
"We will. You have to learn patience," Dave advised. "Besides, a little discretion never hurts!" By now, they were at the Subaru. Opening the rear door, he threw the satchel into the back seat and flipped open the third row of seats. There, his bow and quiver waited for him. Ducking behind the car, Dave changed into a more casual set of clothes knowing that if he ruined another good outfit, Angie would have his head.
"Are we done yet?" the Child groused. "Y'know, we could still go to the Circle K and be back before....."
"Zip it!" Dave directed, tossing his class clothes in the trunk and slamming the door shut. After hurriedly hefting his weapons, he rushed back through the tunnel, reaching the museum in five minutes flat. Trying the doors, he noticed they were locked. "I really don't have time for this!" he snarled and focused on the lock. With a mental "tug", he ripped the door open and advanced into the darkened facility. Once inside, his senses echoed along the limestone walls. Yes, the presences were in the foyer. "After what we went through the last time, I'm not screwing around with these twerps!" he affirmed, recalling the last confrontation with Alti only two days earlier.
Gliding softly up the stairs, the professor sensed that two of the spots were breaking away from the others and moving in his direction. "Party time!" he snickered, readying a plain stake shaft in his bow. Just before he reached the top of the stairs, two pairs of red-spots shone through the darkness.
"Dubois...." a menacing voice snarled.
"I'm only going to say this once, Dead Breath. Move it or lose it," Dave affirmed, pointing the bow at the voice. "If you know who I am, you know I don't need to see you to hit you." He allowed a sinster chuckle to flavor the end of his statement.
The two vampires only hesitated for a split second before they rushed the newcomer. Having no room to dodge them, Dave fell down the staircase and just missed hitting his head on the marble floor by the entrance.
"Now, that wasn't very nice...." the professor hissed, firing two shafts. One missed wide, but the other found its mark. A scream followed by a loud clump and the acrid smell of smoke and ash signalled the Enforcer's passing.
The other immortal studied the mortal in front of him. The stories were true. No wonder Dijon paid so much attention to this one. Still, he had a mission. "You will die!" he hissed, charging his target.
Dave grinned and sidestepped the bull charge. "You can do better than that!" he taunted, flipping a stake-shaft in the air. Catching it with his mental abilities, he flung it faster than the eye could see at his attacker, impaling the latter.
"Now, let's deal with your friends," he explained to the smoldering corpse. Making sure that the Enforcers were both indeed dealt with, he rushed back upstairs towards the main battle to come.
While the fighting went on downstairs, Dijon surveyed the antiquities around him. Despite his well-earned, bloody nickname as the "Butcher of Burgundy," the former soldier still had an eye for art in all of its forms. Indeed, when time allowed, he liked to enjoy it. However, on this night, he was in the museum on business. He hoped that they could find the box and the necklace easily and get out of here.
"Excuse us?" two of his group inquired, reentering the room.
The head Enforcer nodded, recognizing Rodriguez, the seventeenth century Iberian, and Sebastian, the Caribbean. Behind them, they dragged Alyce kicking and screaming into the room. Walking over to her, he asked, "Why do you make such a fuss? We aren't going to hurt you...at least not yet."
"Wh...What do you want?" the curator stammered.
"The box and the key," the Burgundian informed her. "Where are they?"
"They should be in the display," she told him despite her misgivings. She knew how hard her friends had worked to get those artifacts.
The Asian vampire found the chest and the necklace in the display. Breaking the glass, he lifted them from their resting place. "Here they are. The shamaness's remains."
"Well, this does put me in a peculiar situation. Now that we have what we require, you are no longer needed. You have violated the Code and, as such, I have to punish you."
"What? No!" she protested as the two Enforcers seized her. A third one secured the foyer's doors.
"You can scream all you like. No one will hear you," Dijon shrugged and produced a stake. Then, he winced, sensing the deaths of the other Enforcers in the lobby below, "Arrgh! Dubois, damn him! No matter, I will kill you before he can...."
At that moment, the window and the skylight both exploded in a shower of glass. From above, Nick descended into the room. Another vampire, Iberian in appearance, with long black hair and a beard, crashed through the window and into the area as well.
Dijon surveyed the newcomers. "Ah, Brabant! Be patient, you're next! As for you, Vachon, wait your turn! Before the hour is done, I will attend to you as well."
Vachon slid over to Nick's side and muttered, "Hey, Knight. Long time, no see. What did you do to upset these guys?"
The vampire detective shrugged, "I think it was my relationship with the mortals that did it. Ready to fight?"
The former conquistador gulped nervously, "Uh, Nick. In case you haven't noticed, Amigo, these are Enforcers. We can't exactly defeat them, especially when we're outnumbered two to one."
Nick nodded. While they didn't have much of a chance, the threesome would still have to fight for it. Turning to Dijon, he shouted, "At least let her stand with us!"
The Burgundian considered his fellow medieval man's request and laughed, "You favor her, don't you? Does LaCroix know this? And what about the mortal-coroner?"
"That...is none of your concern," Nick affirmed. He was having a difficult enough time with his own feelings toward both Alyce and Natalie without the Enforcer's taunts dropping salt into that irritated spot.
"Oh, very well. Have the fledgling. You'll all be ash soon enough in any event!" Dijon relented, flinging Alyce towards the newcomers.
The curator stared at them and asked, "What are we going to do, Nick? And who is this?"
"Alyce, meet Javier Vachon, former Conquistador. Vachon, this is Alyce Harris."
"A pleasure," the Spaniard assured her. "Maybe we'll get to know each other better."
"If we survive this encounter," she nervously agreed.
"Which you won't," Sebastian snickered, advancing on the trapped trio.
At that moment, Dijon spun towards the door of the foyer and growled, "He's here!"
Just then, the heavy oaken doors blew in off of their hinges, spilling into the room along with a huge cloud of dust and smoke.
Vachon sensed the newcomer's aura and asked Nick, "Ay Caramba! Quien es Čl?"
"A friend of mine," the detective explained.
"But, he's a mortal!" the other vampire protested. "Going up against Enforcers?"
"He's done this before," Alyce sighed, hugging Nick tightly.
Walking through the dust, Dave stood his ground and allowed his eyes to burn into those of his Burgundian adversary. "Well, Dijon....I thought I recognized your stench!" he baited.
"Dubois, you just don't know when to quit, do you?" the head Enforcer snarled.
"What? And miss the fun? Oh please!" the professor replied flippantly. "Now, c'mon, let's dance. I still have a beef with you."
The Enforcer signaled almost imperceptibly with his right hand and stood still.
Dave grinned savagely and, using his powers, picked up shards of the door, and eliminated the two hench-vampires in the shadows. "You're slipping, Scum. Ah, the smell of Enforcer ash is so invigorating at this time of the year, wouldn't you say?" he taunted, producing a tuna fish sized canister from his pocket and lighting it. Flinging it into the remaining enemies, the professor made them wheeze and gag on the smell of garlic and other herbs.
"We have what we came for! Let's go!" Dijon snarled. "Dubois, another time!" He was determined not to let the bothersome mortal recover the artifacts. Besides, the witch would have fun with him later.
"You're not going anywhere without giving me those items first!" Dave hissed.
"Oh, we'll be back, trust me," the medieval adversary promised and vanished into the evening sky.
The other three Enforcers followed closely behind him, leaving the damage in their wake.
"Damn it!" Dave cursed, watching the desert sky. He knew Dijon wouldn't have stolen the artifacts for no reason. Somehow, he knew that Alti had made contact with the vampire community and that they would soon have to deal with her on top of their other problems.
"Dave, are you okay?" Nick asked.
"I would ask all of you the same question especially Alyce," the professor stated.
"I'm fine," she sighed. "Just a few bruises on my arms....Give me a minute to catch my breath." She looked at the smoldering piles of ash, the broken doors, and the shattered display. "Still, how am I going to explain this to the head curator tomorrow?" she moaned, throwing her hands up in frustration.
"We'll think of something," the detective assured her and turned to Vachon, "Thanks for showing up when you did."
"Thank him and the others," the Spaniard indicated, pointing to their savior. "I hitched a ride through their cloud-transport thing."
The medievalist studied the new vampire carefully. So, he had been the presence which had whizzed past them and into the portal back in the junkyard. "I was wondering what or who you were," he stated. "As it turned out, I'm glad to have you here. I'm Dave Dubois and you're Vachon...?"
"Si. Javier Vachon at your service, Se‚or," he indicated. "That was one impressive display you put on against the Enforcers."
"And he wasn't even angry. Hope you never get him to that point," the vampire detective directed.
"I think I remember you from the Raven. It was right before Divia struck the first time. Xena and LaCroix fought. And you were the hombre loco fighting Janette DuCharme, weren't you?" Vachon recalled.
"Yeah, that was me all right," the other grinned and observed his new acquaintance. "So, you're Vachon? You know, you would seem like Tracy's type."
The Spaniard froze. "Tracy? You mean Tracy Vetter? She's not dead?"
Nick shook his head, "Like me, she came back to life. Yes, she's here and working for TPD as Tracy Brown. She'll definitely be glad to see you. "
"I would like to see her," the other male vampire sighed. "Okay, Knight, you got a deal."
"Sure. And, by the way, Nick Knight was killed in an arson fire up in Toronto if you get my drift. I'm Nick Miles now," the former crusader explained.
"Absolutely. By the way, I guess once a knight always a Knight," Vachon surmised.
"You referring to the derivation of Miles for knight. Sure, that's why I chose it. And Natalie is here in Tucson as well," Nick replied pleasantly. "Well, judging by the alarm, I'd say that my co-workers are going to be here soon. So, Dave, I think you better make tracks."
"Right. But, we still need to put our heads together on this one, Nick. Alyce, Vachon, great to see you," Dave agreed, departing the room.
"If you don't mind, Miles, I'd like to hang around. I'll give my version of the testimony if you know what I mean."
Nick glanced at Alyce who gave him a nervous shrug. After everything else, what difference would that make? In fact, given what else was to come, the attack would seem like small potatoes indeed.
As the battle unfolded at the museum, Tracy arrived at the airport and walked into the concourse area. Spying a TV monitor, she scanned the listings and found that Steve's flight, America West 2334, was pulling into Gate 12 at that moment. After a brisk walk through the facility, the detective reached the gate just as the passengers exited the plane.
Steve saw her almost immediately, waved to get her attention, and approached her quickly. "Tracy, good to see you again, although I wish it were under better circumstances," he greeted pleasantly.
"Likewise," she agreed, shaking his hand. "And we have a doozie of a situation."
"I know," he sighed, still thinking about the inevitable confrontation with Dave. "By the way, where's your partner?"
"If you mean Nick, he took off on our way over here. Apparently, he sensed that something was about to happen at the University's art museum and took off...if you get my drift. I haven't heard from him since," she shrugged.
The agent did indeed know her meaning, having seen Nick's vampiric powers in person on two other occasions. "Well, I'm sure we'll run into him at the precinct. In the meantime, I carried everything on. So, I guess we can go ahead," he noted.
"Super!" she grinned. At least, this guy was always on the ball.
Schanke had heard the alert from the museum first while on his way back from a murder scene. Speeding around two corners, he parked the car, and bolted into to the facility. Immediately, he felt a chill in the air. "What the...?" he asked and looked around. Two piles of ash streaked the floor in front of him and an acrid smell assailed his senses. "Whew!" he complained, waving his hand in an effort to fan away the odor. Then, he made his way up the marble staircase with his gun drawn just in case of other surprises. At the top of the stairs, he spied the doors-or what remained of them-hanging on their hinges, providing an open path into the main foyer. "Who or what could do that?" he wondered aloud although he already knew the answer. Either Nick, Dave, or Xena could force the portals if the situation warranted the action.
Creeping into the room very carefully, the paunchy detective saw that the main battle had continued here. Once again, the pungent odor of ash although this time-mixed with the mitigating aroma of garlic-permeated the air and more ashen piles lay on the floor. The display in the corner was a wreck as well as the side window and the skylight. The four people in the corner of the room were discussing something urgently and so, didn't notice him at first.
Finally, Nick glanced over and yelled, "Schanke! Over here!"
The other detective joined the group and asked, "Hey, Nick, what happened?"
"The Enforcers attacked us again," the vampire detective informed him.
"And they stole the Necklace of Nefertiri and the chest containing Alti's remains," Alyce added.
Schanke glanced at Dave, who was obviously frustrated over this course of events. "I'm sorry. I can guess what you and Angie had to go through to get it."
"It happens," the professor shrugged. "No, I'm ticked that Dijon got away again not to mention with that stuff."
"And what about the ash piles?"
Nick motioned towards Dave, stating, "His handiwork."
The other detective nodded knowingly. While he had seen the professor's abilities before, the other man never ceased to amaze him. "So, what now?"
"Now, we have to be on our guard," Dave indicated, facing the window. "Somehow Alti's going to surface again."
Vachon jumped in and probed, "Who is this Alti that you all are talking about?"
"A very powerful shamaness from antiquity," Alyce explained. "She has powers over the living and the dead, which are to use dreams. She's also quite the warrior."
"And, if those were her remains in the box," the Spaniard continued, "Then, she's dead. So, what's the problem?"
"The problem, Vachon," Dave sighed. "is that she has been reincarnated. Tell me, was there a woman at that junkyard...sort of 6' 2", well-built, sandy brown hair?"
"Yes...Why?" the Iberian vampire inquired.
"That's Alti," Nick agreed. "And you think that she's made contact with Dijon?"
"I'd count on it," Dave nodded. "Somehow, I know that she's close by. Trust me, we'll see her soon...."
Schanke shook his head. Although he had not been physically with them for their previous run-in with the witch, he had observed their clash from afar. Tucson wouldn't survive another conflict like that one.... Turning to Vachon, he introduced himself, "I'm Don Schanke, Nick's partner, and you are?"
"Javier Vachon," Vachon smiled and shook the other's hand quickly. "So, Miles, do we take off before the rest of your friends show up?"
Nick looked at Alyce who indicated, "You all go. We'll clean up the mess in the display. Meantime, I'll sweep up the ash in here and in the lobby."
"Fine," Dave indicated. "Meantime, if you'll excuse me, I have my daughters to check on." With that, he disappeared through the door, heading towards the entrance.
"So, how are we going to write this one up, Nick?" Schanke asked.
"Breaking and entering, Schank," his partner indicated. "There was a robbery here and we tried to prevent it."
"Whatever," the balding detective agreed, scribbling down notes and walking back out to the car. "See ya down there."
Nick turned back to Vachon who was more than a little disoriented, "Thanks again for your help. I got to get going."
"No problem," the Spaniard concluded and took off in a blur into the desert sky.
"Are you going to be all right?" the detective asked Alyce.
"Now, I am," she sighed. "Thank you for interceding with them."
"It was no problem," he assured her, embracing her tightly. "Call if you need me."
"I will," she nodded and watched him take off through the broken skylight.
For a long moment, the curator stared into the night, wondering what the attack would lead to for them all. Then, a pleasant thought lofted through her head and she smiled in spite of herself. "At least, I know Nick cares about me." With that, she made herself get the broom and begin the clean-up activities.
Dijon surveyed the area surrounding his current location. He admired the plainness of the desert west of the city along the Ajo trail. Still, there was more to do, and the fact that Dubois and his friends knew of their activities made it all the more important that the ritual be done tonight. "Are you ready?" he asked to the shadows.
"Yes," Alti replied, stepping into the light. She eagerly grasped the chest and tried to force it open. A powerful charge backed her away. "They've done something to it!" she hissed.
"More than likely," the Xena clone indicated. "Maybe it's got something to do with that fancy necklace of yours, Chief."
The Burgundian considered the jeweled piece carefully. Perhaps, the warrior had a point. "Would you like the honors?"
"I'll try it," she shrugged and grasped the jewel. After finding the groove on the lid, she fitted the gem into it and turned it. A heavy click could be heard.
"Give me that!" the shamaness impatiently demanded, taking the chest from them and opening it. Instantly, a stiff breeze blew up out of nowhere, sweeping the ashes into the air all around her. Breathing in the substance, she felt nothing at first. Then, a buzz ran up and down her spine, the glimmer showed in her eye, and the wicked grin sprouted on her face.
"Yes, I'm back," she hissed. "With all of my powers!"
"Are we ready for Phase Two then?" Dijon asked her.
"Indeed. Your friend mentioned a speaking engagement of some sort at the learning place, right?" she guessed.
"Tomorrow evening. In the meantime, rest, meditate, and marshal your energies," he urged. "I have arranged for a place at one of the mortals' hotels for you to do so."
"Excellent!" she cackled. "In the meantime, I will look forward to dealing with my enemies accordingly!"
Dave pulled into the parking spot in front of his apartment and shut off the motor. What was going on with the Enforcers and Alti? The question had nagged at him all the way home from the university. And how did this figure into what else was going on with Xena and Gabrielle? "It's going to be a long week," he mused to himself, opening the door and entering his apartment.
Eve jumped as she saw him enter, "David! I was wondering where you were. The girls were restless tonight."
He smiled. The twins and Deirdre certainly were tuned into his and Angie's feelings, and tonight was no exception. "I'll go and look in on them. Thanks."
She nodded in agreement and sipped from her cup of tea.
He peeked inside of the twins' door. Although the room was dark, he could sense the two minds analyzing the blackness around them. "What's wrong, Girls?" he asked.
Lauren sat up in bed, "Well, Daddy...We felt that you were in trouble."
"Yeah, and we want to help," Karen added.
Dave sat down on the edge of their bed and beamed at them. Even at nine years of age, they had already developed a sense of responsibility which would serve them well. "C'mere," he chuckled and hugged them tightly. "When the time comes and you're both ready, then we'll see."
"You mean that?" they chorused.
"Absolutely," he agreed. "Now, it's time to get some sleep. I need to check on your sister. Pleasant dreams."
"Night, Daddy," they wished him.
He closed the door and grinned. There was nothing like a talk with his daughters to brighten his mood. Walking over to the other bedroom, he looked in on Deirdre. Like her sisters, the youngest child stared into the darkness, searching for answers.
"Hey, what's up?" he asked.
"I miss Momma," she sulked.
"She'll be back soon," he assured her. "As soon as Gabrielle's well. Meantime, she and your Aunt Cybelle are taking care of her."
"Can you sing to me?" she requested. "Momma always sang to me."
He chuckled warmly and began to hum a Celtic tune which Cybelle had taught him some time ago. The words sang of fertile meadows, warm springtime breezes, and cheery people. Deirdre's eyelids fluttered and then slowly closed as she drifted off to sleep.
"Night, Precious," he whispered and lightly kissed her forehead before softly taking his leave.
Walking into the kitchen, he saw that Eve had some water heated in the coffee maker. "Can I?" he requested.
"Absolutely," she agreed. "Help yourself."
"Thank you," he stated and fixed himself a cup of cherry tea. Then, he sat down in the chair opposite to the Messenger and asked, "What's going on? You don't seem yourself."
"I guess the girls got to me," she explained. "With Angie, Gabrielle, and Mother all in Althanor, I feel alone."
"You're not," he assured her, sipping from his cup. "Besides, Angie and your mother will be back soon. With this mess brewing, we need to get to the bottom of it."
"What happened tonight?" she probed concernedly.
"It was the Enforcers again. They broke into the museum and stole the chest and necklace. I exterminated four of them, but Dijon got away," he spat. "In fact..." He winced and grabbed the armrest.
Eve touched his arm and asked, "What is it?" Then, she felt a chill as well. "It's her, isn't it?"
"Yes," he agreed. "She's back. Somehow, they opened the chest, and she's recovered her powers."
"But how is that possible?" she demanded, somehow keeping her voice down. "And how do we fight her if she has done so?"
"I wish I could tell you," he shrugged. "Meantime, we'll just have to wait and see." Recovering his composure, he changed the subject by asking, "So, has there been a speaker chosen for tomorrow's program?"
"Yes, an anthropologist, Althea Stepperider, is going to speak on the shamanism. Doesn't this sound strange to you, David?" Eve explained.
The professor scratched his head. While he couldn't quite put his finger on the cause, something wasn't right with that scenario. "Yes, it is curious. Well, if it's all right with you and Francesca, we're going to be there. I have a feeling that we may learn a great deal about what's going on in general."
"You think the Enforcers are trying to lure us out?" she probed.
"More than likely, it's the group that the Enforcers are working for. Dijon's a great soldier but he himself is not a great administrator. No, Nick and I have talked about this matter. There's a rumor around the Community that a group of renegades is trying to deal with us," he noted. "More than likely, they're behind this stuff."
"And you think it's a good idea to go to this event tomorrow?" she inquired incredulously.
"As long as we're together or close by, why not? Besides, we need to be aggressive as well," he indicated.
"Still, I wonder what's going on in Althanor...."
[Althanor, The Temple of Healing]
Xena stared out across the water towards the fog. She had always hated the waiting game especially when one of her arch-enemies was up to no good. Somewhere in Arizona, the Enforcers and Alti were plotting against her and her friends. Only time would tell whether they would be able to defeat the adversaries and restore her good name as well as Gabrielle's.
Cybelle approached her and called, "Xena, I have news."
"News? About Gabrielle?" the warrior inquired.
"Yes," the priestess replied pleasantly. "Her head wound is healing rapidly and those herbs that I gave her will put her back on her feet in no time at all."
"Thank Eli," she sighed and rushed to her friend's side.
The Bard rested peacefully on the pallet with a bandage wrapped around her head. A bundle of sweet smelling herbs protruded from the wrapping and filled the room with a pleasant fragrance. When she saw the warrior, she smiled and called, "Xena, you're here."
"Of course, I'm here," the Warrior Princess assured her. "Other than letting Angela tend to your injury, I've been right here by your side. Gabrielle, I...I'm sorry for that...."
The poetess shook her head, "That's okay. Somehow, I...I know it wasn't you. It was Alti. Somehow, she made you do it. I could have sworn though, that I saw myself standing a little while ago."
"You did," Francesca indicated, sipping on a cup of herbal tea in the corner of the room. "I was there as well."
Gabrielle puzzled this development over. "How can you and I both be here if this isn't antiquity?"
The Literature professor focused and turned herself into the "other" Gabrielle. "And we're still joined." Having said that, she changed back into her own form.
The Bard nodded, "Then, somehow she's made copies of us, Xena. In that strange room where we were sleeping."
"Indeed," Cybelle agreed, walking up to them. "That was the other news I wanted to tell you about. The clone's with her. And there's something else...."
"Which is?" Francesca asked.
"The Enforcers struck tonight at the museum. They've taken the necklace and chest. Worse, your clone, Xena, opened it and Alti regained her powers," the priestess reported.
Francesca gaped at her friends. During their last encounter with the shamaness, she had experienced the witch's touch for herself and had no wish to do so again. "And Dave?"
"Oh, he was there all right," Cybelle replied wryly. "Took out four more Enforcers. He and Dijon faced each other as well, but the latter got away." Then, she cleared her throat, "Okay, Gabrielle, you need to rest now. We need to be back in Tucson for tomorrow night and I want you feeling well. Pleasant dreams."
"Thank you, Cybelle," Gabrielle smiled and fell fast asleep under the herbs' influence.
The other three women walked back outside into the clear night air. Everything seemed so still and peaceful. Still, it was the calm before the storm. The next day, they would be neck deep in trouble and they all knew it. Yet, all they could do was hope and wait.
(Additional Note: The battle and wedding reception mentioned below are from earlier (re: unposted) entries of the Dubois Chronicles.)
Steve leaned over the railing of the Motel 6, watching the sunrise over the eastern horizon. He had remembered Dave's words from fifteen years earlier about how beautiful the sunrises were in this place and that they were addictive. He sipped from the coffee cup in his hand, dreading the conversation he was going to have with his good friend.
"Yeah, I just see it now," he grumbled to himself. "Hey, Dubie, how's it going? By the way, I'm here to arrest your wife and cousin. If you don't cooperate, I'll have to take you in too. That'll go really far." Shaking his head, he drank again from the cup and looked at his watch. 6 AM. "Still got a ways to go," he realized. "I best go report in."
Dave walked back across campus to his office with a brisk pace. While he usually enjoyed teaching, the stress from the previous night's battle with the Enforcers had drained him. A couple of hours of solitude would do him a world of good.
As he entered the Social Sciences Building and walked past the History Department's office, April O' Kelly, the office assistant, poked her head out and alerted him. "Dr. Dubois, you have a visitor waiting in your office."
"Visitor? Who is it?" he asked.
"Some really official-looking Government guy. He says it's urgent," she noted.
"Thanks, April," he smiled and walked down the hall towards his office. Sure enough, the door was cracked. "Like I really need this," he grumbled to himself. Peering in the door, he saw that his visitor was indeed Steve. "Morning, Steve."
"Nice office, Dubie. I see you've moved into your dream job since my last trip here," the FBI agent cracked, allowing himself an opportunity to ease into the conversation with his longtime friend.
The professor walked into the office, shut the door behind him and sat down silently.
Steve sighed and continued, "Dave, let's quit beating around the bush. You know why I'm here."
"Let me guess, your bosses want you to take us all in, right?" Dave probed.
"Just Angie and Francesca. You weren't there," the agent replied.
"And if I was to tell you that it wasn't the real warriors everyone saw on tape?" the professor countered.
"I'd have to say you're full of it," Steve informed him. "The camera doesn't lie, and you'd be desperate to save them. Besides, I made the mistake of listening to you the last time."
"Like you had a choice," Dave stated. "As I recall, you were about to get hurt, and I bailed you out. Besides, you really think I'm going to let you take my wife into custody without due cause?"
"And you think I would make that request lightly? C'mon, Dave! You know me too well for that! But, I have my orders!" Steve bellowed.
"Screw your orders!" the professor hissed, slamming his fist on the oak desk between them. "You know what I'm capable of. You might want to investigate some other avenues before you bark up that tree."
The visitor trembled, "You mean...that you would defy the Bureau?"
The professor broke out laughing.
"What's so damn funny? I'm serious! Dave, this is a grave crisis!" the visitor protested.
The medievalist stared at the agent and snickered, allowing a darkness to drape across his features, "So am I. I once took on a whole alien dimension full of monsters to save Angie and Karen. Then, there were Caesar's legions in Althanor, not to mention Cybelle herself. What are a few lawmen to me? Besides, if we wanted to, we could disappear and you would never find us. Poof!" He gestured with his hands in a palms up fashion then he leaned menacingly close to the other man and hinted, "Believe me, if your bosses are that stupid, then do yourself a favor and request another assignment. If your boys decide to bring out the big guns, then I won't hold back either. Remember, here in Sonora, I'm at my peak. Steve, you're my friend, and I don't want to hurt you, but my wife and children are the most important people in my life right now. Please, don't make me have to choose."
Steve quaked despite himself. He knew and had seen his friend's temper at work especially when the latter felt his turf endangered. No, he's best let the Office know to keep the heavy forces at bay at least for now. Besides, with Xena with him not to mention Cybelle, it would be a bloody affair. But, on the first thing, this in itself was yet another unnerving thought. "W...Whole dimension of monsters?" he asked.
"Remember the wedding reception in Grundalifar?" Dave probed.
"Sure. Great party that the fairie people threw for us there," he replied. Then, it occurred to him, "That was the battle with the dark?"
"Yes....And it was a bloody crusade it was. And the sky turned black and the rivers ran red due to Lousain's magic. Ask Garth Singleton. He was there," the professor recounted. "Look, Steve. I'm not asking you to defy orders. Just delay acting on them. There's more going on than meets the eye. You remember Alti?"
"The witch who nearly killed you? How could I forget? But, she's long dead. How could she?" the agent asked.
"She's reincarnated as a scientist, but it's her, all right. I sensed her presence in the New York junkyard where we found the Xena and Gabrielle clones," his friend explained.
Steve tensed and his jaw dropped, "Did you say clones? That would...." Then, he remembered a report from the Manhattan office about a secret laboratory. "Sonuva....the lab that we raided. It had two human sized glass tubes and the equipment for...." he realized.
"Cloning?" Dave smirked. "Well, I know there are two Gabrielles. I've seen them together, and so have Nick, Schanke, Eve, Francesca, and Natalie."
"And the other Xena, if there is one?" the agent pushed.
"More than likely with Alti," Dave assured him, and they'll make their move tonight at the guest lecture. There's an anthropologist, Althea Stepperider, coming to speak on Caucasian forms of shamanism. Perfect place for our shamaness to make a statement and try out her newly-restored power."
"But, how could she?" Steve demanded.
"Did you hear about the museum robbery yet?" Dave asked. When the latter glared incredulously at him, he continued, "Did you hear anything about the Necklace of Nefirtiri and its accompanying chest?"
"Sure. It's a big exhibit starting today. Why? Okay, Dubie, spill it. What happened?" the agent demanded.
"Last night, a bunch of Enforcers broke in and stole it. You didn't hear this from me, but so were Nick, Alyce, and some other vampire. This was a big deal because Dijon himself was involved. I took out four of the seven thieves myself. Dijon got away with the chest and the necklace," Dave explained.
His friend's eyes bulged out again and he interjected, "Dijon! I had heard that he was pursuing his options lately through my contacts. And he was there last night you say?"
"Unfortunately, he was there with his rat squad. I faced him myself. Too damn bad I missed him. No, Steve, the Burgundian blowhard is wrapped up in this garbage, too. Just like the mess at the library about three months ago," the professor continued.
Steve nodded. So, Dijon was connected to the attack on the library. That comment confirmed what he had heard about the hardliners' actions within the vampire community. Although he guessed that Dave knew something, best to keep looking at the problem and bring it to his friend's attention when all of the facts were there. Changing the subject back to the stolen artifacts, he pushed, "So, what's in the chest? Nobody knows exactly."
"Wrong. I know because I filled the chest myself with Alti's ashes. The ashes of her previous incarnated body at least were there, at least until last night, when she exposed herself to them," the professor noted.
"And she's going to strike here?" Steve inquired. "Should I call a SWAT team?"
"Against Alti and Xena's double? I wouldn't risk the minds or the health of the officers. No, stay close. I'm going to station you back stage in case she decides to pull something," Dave advised.
"And what do I tell my boss?" Steve insisted.
"Tell him you're following a hot lead," Dave shrugged. "Well, I've going to go eat. Casablanca's? My treat."
Now, Steve started to relax. "Sure. Let's go. And you can fill me in on what might happen tonight."
Dave only offered a grim nod as they stepped into the hallway and he locked the office door behind him. Then, guiding his friend down the hall, the two men exited the building through the side entrance, heading for Park Avenue and a Middle Eastern culinary adventure.
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