Notes: The characters from Forever Knight are owned by Sony Tri-Star. The characters from Xena Warrior Princess are owned by StudiosUSA and Renaissance Studios. All other characters and scenarios are fictious and are of my own creation. Please send questions and comments to me at email@example.com.
Prologue (Amazon village, 82 AD)
Gabrielle, Bard-Queen of the Amazons, writes....
After the battle with the Enforcers and the recent events both here and in Althanor, our friends in the future needed time to adjust and to prepare for the struggle to come. This scroll tells how they did so....
Chapter 1 (Tucson)
Natalie sat at her computer, typing in the latest report for Captain Ramirez. It had been a hectic week at the University Precinct with four new homicides waiting for her investigative touch. While her time in the desert southwest had been low key for the most part, the coroner had noticed that her workload level could spike upwards at certain times. For example, during the recent race incidents, the body count had doubled in her holding area.
She sighed, remembering her former intern, Jenny, who had died in that killing spree, "It's too bad. She was coming along so well. She would have been a great pathologist."
Then, a knock came from the door. "Yes?" she asked.
"Natalie? It's Schanke. How's it goin'?" Don Schanke announced.
"Oh, I'm okay," she informed him cryptically. "Just finishing up the McReilly report is all. Give me another minute and --okay! It should be coming out on the printer even as we speak."
The paunchy detective shivered for a second. Bernard McReilly was a respectable eastside banker. According to the people who knew him, he had served his neighbors well for almost thirty years, both in the office and through local charities. If someone needed his assistance, McReilly would be the first one there. "Yeah, now look at him. Popped by some punk as he's walking down the street. I'll tell ya, Natalie, there's no justice in the world."
She nodded absently, staring off into space.
He glanced at her again. "Not you too! C'mon, it's bad enough that Nick always does that strange thing with me!"
She stirred, "Huh? Sorry, Schank. You were saying something?"
"I was just thinking about the victim is all. Too bad about him. Nice guy. Upstanding citizen and all that good stuff. Now, look at him," he noted.
"There's no justice in the world, Schank," she shrugged. "But, we can do something about the murder. Do you and Nick have any leads?"
"I have some leads, but I'm still waiting for Nick to come in. Between you and me, Natalie, that stuff at the U of A must have spooked him a bit. I know it did that to me," he commented.
"Normally, I would say no, but the lights were still out in his loft when I drove by tonight," she replied. "Seeing Alti again made my blood run cold. One encounter with her is enough for a lifetime, believe me."
"Yeah, I noticed that," he agreed. "Still, Dave Dubois handled her pretty well. I envy him for that."
She shook her head, "Don't be jealous. He suffered at that witch's hands. I guess that the deal between his personas has made him immune to her." Then, she scratched her head and sighed, "Steve would know the answer to that one. I wish he were still here."
Schanke smiled knowingly and chuckled, "Yeah, he would know, I guess. By the way, did he get back to Frisco okay?"
"He called after he got back last night. He's okay," she mentioned. Then, she remembered the last moment at the airport and the butterflies lofted around in her stomach again.
"He called you?" her friend baited. "Now, I wonder why that is." His eyes sparkled. "I thought you and Nick were...."
"We're friends, Schank," she interjected, her cheeks flushing slightly. "But, since Alyce returned, everything's become so complicated."
"Like anything's ever crystal clear where Nick's concerned," he joked. "Figuring him out is like deciphering a secret code or something."
"You could ask Tracy to go with you to question those suspects," she suggested. "Maybe she might be able to give you something else on Nick as well. After all, she was his partner for awhile."
"I could, but she doesn't have Nick's insight into things. Plus...well...she gets on my nerves. Don't get me wrong, she's a nice kid, and I can ride with her for a night or two, but..." he hedged hesitantly.
"You and she don't click, right?" Natalie smirked. "That's okay."
He shrugged and continued, "Sorry." Then, turning toward the door, he continued, "I think I'll swing up by the university. Maybe Dave might know something."
"There's a thought. If I don't hear from you, I might give Angie a call later," the ME agreed. "If you do catch up with Nick, have him call me. Okay?"
"Right," he agreed, leaving the area and heading toward the parking lot.
For her part, she got up and walked around the room. While her own feelings continued to swirl around inside of her, Natalie did want to know that her friend was indeed all right.
Dave surveyed his freshman survey class critically. For the past hour, he had spoken to them concerning the Roman Empire. He had asked for questions to stir up the discussion, and a few of the brighter students seemed to get the point. However, he had still been aware of the constant distractions around him. One student's phone had gone off. Two others were whispering over in the corner, unaware that their professor's enhanced senses could pick up every word. Looking at the clock, he could see there was still about 15 minutes to go, but since he was at a good stopping point, he might as well quit now.
In the corner, Eve sat observing the situation. While she would have liked him to go on a little farther, the former Messenger could read the increasing signs of stress on her friend's face. "I don't blame him," she thought to herself. "I would never have dared to act this way with my tutors or Eli."
In the midst of the class, a student scoffed silently, "Like anyone really cares about Pompeii. As if it were a real place."
The professor spun and locked glances with the student before asking, "Excuse me? Mr. Martin, do you have something that you wanted to share with the rest of us?"
"Not really," the young man replied. "Seeing as we're done here."
Eve sighed and shook her head. Despite the sudden warm feeling in her cheeks at this student's insolence, the last thing they needed was for Dave to go off right now. "For once, I wish that Lucius were here. I'm sure he'd have some sort of reply."
"No, we aren't done yet," the medievalist retorted darkly. "Look, I know that these people and events are from a time in the past, but they're still important. Maybe, you might never study another history class after this one. That's your business, but if we don't learn from the past, then we're doomed to repeat previous mistakes. Besides, those folks had some mighty big accomplishments as well." With the last words, he allowed a smile to cross his lips before continuing, "Just keep that in mind. Class is dismissed."
Martin and the other students hurried from the room. From the hallway, somebody complained, "Can you believe that guy? Geez, he needs a life. What a fossil."
Dave clenched the podium upon hearing those words. Between Dijon's challenge, managing his personas, and then, Cybelle's recent decision to take Deirdre to Althanor, life hadn't been easy. "I'd like to show that kid what a 'life' is," he muttered, shoving his notes and the textbook into his satchel. "Sorry, Eve."
"For what?" she asked. "You did well to keep control. Besides, you can't do anything to force them to learn if they don't want to."
"I suppose," he shrugged. "It's not that. I just want them to respect other peoples and places."
"Yes, but you can't instill those lessons in one night, David," she pointed out. "C'mon, let's drop off your books at the office and then, we can meet Angie and Francesca for coffee."
"That sounds good," he agreed. "With everything else that's been going on, I'm afraid that my ability to take any further surprises is shot right now."
"I can imagine," she soothed, following him from the room.
The two faculty members headed downstairs, out the front door of the Economics Building, and across the grassy area in back of Old Main.
As they reached the Social Sciences Building, he smiled, "Schanke's waiting for us." After entering the building and turning down the hall, they found their friend camped outside of the office door like an undergrad desperate for a paper extension.
"Detective Schanke, what's up?" the professor asked.
"Well, I wanted to see how everyone was doing. Have you heard from Nick at all today? He wasn't at his place and he hasn't shown up at work yet," the visitor asked.
"The sun's barely set, Detective," Eve assured him. "I'm sure that your partner will show up at some point."
Dave reclined in his chair and concentrated. Reaching out with his senses, he "felt" for his immortal friend's presence. Across the city, he sensed several "empty pockets" signifying LaCroix, Janette, and Vachon. Focusing just on the campus, he discerned two other presences in the Museum. "Hmmm...interesting. Eve, can you let Angie and Francesca know that I might be a little late? Schank and I need to check out the museum. Maybe Alyce might have a clue."
"Sure, just don't be long," the Religion professor noted and headed towards Park Avenue.
"Okay, let's see what Alyce has to say," the detective urged.
"Right," the professor agreed, standing up. "Shall we?"
"Lead on," his friend agreed as they left the building, heading north toward the museum.
Nick stretched, reaching for the ceiling. Despite his initial misgivings, the previous evening had been a pleasant one. He and Alyce had talked for about ten minutes, hoping that their passion would cool down a bit. However, she finally convinced him to take the plunge so to speak. Now, it was almost 6 PM.
"Wow, I overslept," he groused, rising from the air mattress. "I'll have to get back to the loft before I'm needed at the precinct."
"Mmm...Nick?" the curator inquired sleepily. "What's going on?"
"It's almost time for my shift," he explained. "Besides, I told Nat and Schanke that I'd call them about a case we're working on."
"Can't it wait?" she sighed. "Can't you stay with me a while longer?"
"Sorry, Alyce. I really need to go," he told her.
At that moment, a knock came from the door.
"Oh great," she groused. "Whoever it is, can you come back later?"
"Sorry, Alyce," Schanke's voice sounded from behind the door. "We were looking for Nick."
She looked at her companion. Perhaps, if she could stall the other detective, Nick could zip out the window and get back to his loft before anyone was the wiser....
For his part, the former crusader scanned the area behind the door. "Oh great," he hissed low. "Dave's with him." There would be no hiding from his partner now....
"Nick?" Dave inquired. "C'mon, I can sense you in there."
"You can what?" the paunchy detective probed.
"I can sense him. Right now, there are two blank spots in front of us," he snickered.
At that moment, the immortal in question stuck his head out of the door. "Just give us a couple of minutes, will ya?" he requested before ducking back inside and shutting the door.
"Sure," Schanke chuckled. "So you can think of what to say to Natalie, right?"
"Schanke," the professor advised. "Cool it."
The other man raised a very saucy eyebrow. "Right. Well, I guess I can let him get dressed. We can settle this one at the station. Personally, Dave, I think Nick has some explaining to do."
"Let's allow Nat to be the judge of that, Schank," Dave urged. "Nick, I'm taking our overgrown kid here to the car. Meet him at the station?"
"Sounds great. Thanks," the vampire detective accepted.
"C'mon, Schank, let's go. There'll be time to settle this later," the medievalist directed, giving the other's arm a not so gentle tug. "Hey, Alyce, I'm meeting the others for coffee. Why don't you meet us?"
"The usual place, right?" she yawned from behind the door.
"You got it. Angie, Francesca, and Eve will be there shortly," he concluded.
With that, the two newcomers turned and left the way they had come.
Behind the door, Nick was now dressed, and Alyce was getting to that point. Pulling on his blazer, he looked back at her.
"I'm sorry, Nick," she apologized. "I didn't realize that this would cause trouble between you and Natalie."
"Don't worry," he shrugged, opening the window. "If anyone's to blame, it's me. Last night, I learned something about my feelings. I cared for you in Toronto, and I still do. I just wish I knew where Natalie stands in all of this. Go and join the others. Can we talk later?"
"I'd like that. Thanks," she smiled, letting her eyes sparkle at him.
He grinned and took off into the night sky, heading for the loft.
Twenty minutes later, Schanke parked his car back at the precinct. He still couldn't believe that Nick had been with Alyce. How would he tell Natalie? Worse, how would she take the news? His partner's eye had wandered from time to time during their time in Toronto. Most noticeably, he had shown great interest with Alyce at the museum and then, with the author of the vampire sagas, Emily Weiss. In each case, Nick had drifted back to the caring coroner's side. But now, he wasn't so sure.
"Get a grip on yourself, Schanke," he reminded himself. "Dave's right. They're both adults. Let them act that way. The case...Keep your mind on the case."
Leaving the car behind, he walked into the precinct's bullpen area. There, Sergeant Novak looked up at him and informed, "The captain wants to see you, Detective."
"Me?" he asked. "Did he say why?"
"No. Don't worry though, I'm sure it's just for an update," she assumed.
"Thanks," he smiled and walked over to Ramirez's door. There, he knocked.
"Si?" the occupant within inquired.
"Captain, it's Don Schanke. Might I come in?" the detective asked.
"Absolutamente," the captain agreed. "Please do."
Schanke let himself into the office and shut the door behind him. He glanced nervously at the Latino man in front of him, anticipating a lecture.
"Relax, Detective," Ramirez assured him. "I hadn't heard anything from either you or your partner since that mess at the university. I just want to know how you're doing."
"The problem at the university is all set," Schanke reported half-truthfully. While he knew differently, he certainly wasn't going to tell his superior that LaCroix, the Nightcrawler, was going to convene a group of senior vampires called the Elders. In addition, he wouldn't mention that the battle would continue at some undisclosed spot halfway around the world between his friend and the head Enforcer, Bertrand du Dijon.
"Well, that is good news at least. And the current case?" the captain inquired.
"Natalie was pretty close to wrapping up the report a few hours ago. It should be up here pretty soon knowing her," he guessed.
"Bueno," the other agreed and opened a file on his desk. "If there's anything else, please don't hesitate to let me know."
"Right," the other man agreed and let himself out. This was going to be a long night.
Alyce alighted near the cafe next to the university. Since she knew Angie and Francesca were both friends of Natalie's, the curator felt awkward meeting them for coffee. But since David had invited her, she had decided to show up and, at least, try to talk with them about the events to come. Easing her way through the glass doors, she looked about the bustling restaurant. Failing to see them at first, she reached out with her enhanced senses, and did a search of the area. She knew they were there somewhere, but couldn't determine where for sure.
At that moment, a light tap on her shoulder made the fledgling jump. Turning, she saw the medievalist standing behind her. "Oh! You startled me. Sorry," she apologized.
"No problem," he shrugged. "Angie and Francesca are already here. Follow me." Leading her toward the back of the cafÈ, he waved and received a brief signal in kind from his wife.
A moment later, the two newcomers sat down at the corner booth in a relatively quiet part of the establishment. A waitress, no more than 19 or 20, walked over and smiled, "Hi, folks. What would you like?"
"A cafÈ latte for me, please," Angie indicated.
"A cappuccino please. Heavy on the foam," Francesca piped in.
"Dr. Dubois, will it be the cherry tea or the mocha tonight?" she asked Dave.
"Cherry tea please," he nodded.
"And for you, Ma 'am?" the young woman probed.
Alyce smiled and shook her head. "I'm fine, thanks."
The waitress scribbled a few more notes before making her way back toward the kitchen area.
"So, how is everyone?" the curator opened the next phase of the discussion.
"Pretty well. All things considered," the oncologist surmised, throwing a knowing glance toward her husband.
"Like I have a choice," he groused. "I told you before, Princess, I won't have our friends, families, the girls, or you being hunted by anyone." Rubbing his forehead, he winced, "The matter's settled."
"Angie's got a point, Testadoodah," Francesca disagreed. "You were too rash about all of this challenge stuff. You have a family to think about. You can't just go charging into battle because the Child wants to do so."
"We both want to stake that miserable SOB," he declared, a dark pallor casting itself across his features. "Maybe for our own respective reasons. But, nobody violates our space without hearing about it first. I promise to be careful."
"Well, we'll both be there to lend a hand if need be-Enforcers or not," Angie pointed out just before the waitress returned with their drinks.
The young woman studied these customers briefly. While she normally got into conversations with her patrons, these folks looked as though they needed peace and quiet for the discussion going on. "Let me know if you need anything, okay?" she noted and hurried off.
Angie glanced around both ways to make sure nobody was listening and continued, "As I was saying, nobody's going to keep us from helping. Bad enough, Cybelle has taken Deirdre to Althanor. I can't...no, I won't lose you to that beast." A tear creased her cheek.
"You know that I would find a way back to you no matter what. Hell itself couldn't stand in my way," he assured her. "Believe me, I don't want Dijon getting past me. He's wrecked too many lives already."
"If he does get past you," his wife hissed low. "Trust me, Xena will hunt him down and finish the job."
"And Gabrielle will be practically holding him down," Francesca whispered to herself.
Alyce's eyes bugged out wide, and she advised her friends, "Everyone, be careful what you wish for. I just hope that we can get through this mess painlessly. I fear that I may have caused enough of an issue already here in Tucson."
Francesca rubbed the fledgling's shoulder and asked, "What are you talking about?"
Dave sighed, "This is about Nick, right?"
"That's right. I'm sorry. Maybe I should just leave. Move on," she moped, a single bloody tear flowing down her cheek.
"What's wrong?" Angie asked. "Dave, what is she talking about?"
"Schanke and I went looking for Nick tonight," he reported. "We found him in her office."
"So?" Angie replied confused. "They're friends. What is it?" Then, she glanced at the curator's throat and saw six relatively fresh fang marks. "Alyce, what are those?"
"They're from Nick," she admitted. "We...well...we spent most of last night and the greater part of today together. If you get my drift."
Francesca studied the curator. From the time that she and Natalie had been kidnapped, the literature professor had known about the coroner's feelings for Nick Miles. This was going to be a serious discussion between Nick and Natalie when the matter came to a head. "And how long has this been going on, if I may ask?"
"I've been attracted to him since we met in Toronto," Alyce continued. "I know he feels something for me as well. But, he's so complicated. I can see that he and Natalie have something for each other."
"That is an understatement," Angie agreed, sipping from her drink. "Natalie definitely cares for him. As far as he's concerned though, he does have feelings for her as well."
"I'll agree with that," her husband added, sipping from his cup. "I think he doesn't want to suck her down into his darkness or something to that effect. They'll always be friends at the very least."
The curator's mind flashed back to the scene in Nick's loft back in Toronto. Despite her repeated pleas and LaCroix's admonitions, the detective had refused to bring her across. At the time, he had said that he would not doom her to a life of darkness. "So, he feels okay with me now because I'm a vampire?" she guessed.
"Uh huh," he agreed. "At least he doesn't have to worry about killing you with his passion as he does with Natalie. By the way, sorry that Schanke and I disturbed you."
"You at least were discreet. Detective Schanke, on the other hand, could learn a bit about that quality," Alyce noted moodily.
"He's concerned about his friends is all," Angie explained.
"He's probably getting ready to chew Nick out tonight," Dave commented. "Schanke has known them a lot longer than any of us. He thinks they're made for each other."
"And what do you think?" the curator posed.
"I think they're a good couple. But then again, you two are good for each other as well. I figure that the last thing that you three need is for us to go butting our heads into your business especially with all of this other business looming over our heads. Are you two going to talk?" he replied honestly.
"Yes. Very soon," she indicated.
"Great," he mentioned.
"I hope he talks to Natalie at some point as well," Francesca wondered.
The four friends sat quietly after that. Each wondered about the future and what form their paths would take in the period to come.
Just after sunset, LaCroix alighted in the alley behind KRAN radio. Despite not being able to endure the burning rays of the afternoon sun, the Roman general had kept himself busy. As he had promised Dubois, he had contacted the other elders to set up a meeting to discuss the situation. It seemed that most of his counterparts were just as anxious to resolve the issues surrounding Dijon and his associates.
"Fortunately, the owner of the station saw fit to let me record a few shows in advance," he smiled. Walking into the booth, he reached down, opening a dorm refrigerator concealed below his private broadcasting area, and producing a green flask.
At that moment, a buzz came over the loudspeaker.
"Ah, it's time," he realized and put on his headset. With a click of the button, he started into his latest dialogue. "Good evening, Gentle Listeners. This is the Nightcrawler, and I will be here with you until Dawn. Tonight's topic concerns fulfillment and responsibility. Have you fulfilled your priorities? What are some of the things most important to you? The lines are open...." A moment later, the crimson light flashed on the console. "Ah, we have a caller."
"Yes?" a young woman's voice replied. "I wanted to talk about how I help my folks out on the weekends."
The vampire DJ nodded with interest. "Yes, please go ahead."
"Well...I go to school and work a job during the week. But, during my free time on the weekends, I help my parents keep their house clean and run errands. Does that count?" she asked hesitantly.
"Indeed. One should always remember their parents," the Nightcrawler emphasized, hoping that Nick would be listening. Indeed, the boy did everything he could to forget what the elder vampire had given him. "Ungrateful. Always eager to strike out on his own," he groused, spacing out for a second.
"Excuse me?" the woman pushed in confusion.
"Oh. Pardon me. I was...recalling another time and place with my own children," LaCroix excused himself.
"I hope they remember what you did for them," the woman asked. "Well, I must get back to my parents. Thank you for listening."
"It is my pleasure," he closed. When she had hung up, he continued, "For I am always here to listen to your stories and concerns, mon ami. For am I not the Nightcrawler?"
The board kept lighting up for the rest of the evening....
At that moment, Nick and Tracy were riding back from the scene of another homicide. As usual, he had the station set to KRAN.
For her part, she frowned at the DJ's words. Her relationship with her father had never been the greatest in any event. Hell, who was she kidding? They never talked to each other about anything. He was always forcing her to do what he wanted. She was trying to hang on to her own identity. Then, she remembered her mother's words to her back in Toronto: "You are your father's daughter, Tracy." Collecting herself, she sighed, "Get a grip, Tracy. They aren't here. It's okay." Focusing herself, she noted, "He sounds more morose than usual tonight."
"Could be," he noted, changing lanes to make a left turn.
She listened intently to the DJ's voice on the radio once again. Now that she understood her partner's true nature and his relationship to LaCroix, things seemed to fall into place. Upon hearing him mutter the 'ungrateful' comment, she turned to Nick.
He turned the radio off and drove silently toward the East Side, brooding over something.
"Nick? Are you okay?" she poked.
He stared straight ahead. His eyes were fixed on the road ahead of him. His face was a pasty shade of white.
"It's not as if you're going to follow the Pied Piper or something," she cracked. "Why doesn't he give you any credit?"
He turned the Caddy into a nearly empty parking lot and screeched it to a halt.
"Damn it, Nick! You're scaring me! What's up?" she demanded.
"It's LaCroix's remark. I'm sick of him," he complained. "He's going to let me know that it's a mistake to involve myself with the Duboises and Dijon."
"Well, on that point, I agree with him. From what Vachon has told me, those Enforcers are lethal. Add in David Dubois, and you have a recipe for disaster. You aren't a child running away from his family anymore, Nick. You're an adult. On the other hand, I gotta tell you I admire your resolve to stand by your friends no matter what. But, what's with Old Gruesome?" she continued. "I'm sure that you've done this before."
"Oh yes. Many times," he chuckled ruefully. "But, the first time was nearly the worst of all. Almost 750 years have passed, and the pain hasn't gone away. Those poor people from Hamlin. All they wanted was a good life, a fresh start...."
"Hamlin?" she asked. Then, it dawned on her. "You mean he was real?"
"The Piper? Yes, he was real. And the people...so were they," he recalled. Then, he picked up his cell phone and dialed a number.
"LeBeau," Natalie answered.
"Hi, Nat. Is Schank there?" he asked.
"Yeah, he's here, waiting for you to show up. Says you have something to tell me, but won't tell me what," the coroner noted. "What's up?"
He winced. In his mind, Nick imagined his partner's dropping hints about him and Alyce. "At least, he didn't say anything," he thought.
"Nick, are you okay?" Natalie pressed.
"Huh? Oh yeah, I'm fine," he feigned.
"Yeah right," Tracy muttered derisively, slinking back into her seat, arms folded, the smart Alec look on her face. She knew him better than that. Something was definitely bothering him.
The vampire detective shook her off before continuing, "Can you meet Tracy and me over at the Duboises' apartment? I feel the need to talk about something," he requested.
"Sure thing. I'm just tucking my last guest in now. I'll meet you there in a bit. You want Schanke along?" she asked.
"If he wants to come, sure," he sighed. "I'll see you in a bit." Disconnecting from that call, he dialed again.
"Curator's office," Alyce answered, guessing who it was. "Nick? What's wrong?"
"Alyce, can you get away for a little while?" he requested.
"Certainly," she agreed. "Are you at the loft?"
"No, we'll be going to the Duboises. Can you meet us there?"
"I'll be there as soon as possible," she replied as he hung up.
"Anyone else you feel like calling?" his partner asked incredulously. "Or are you planning to let me in on why we're going to see Dave and Angie at this hour?"
"He's up anyway. Besides, I feel a need..." he started and stopped as a familiar tingle brushed across his senses. Looking over his right shoulder, he discovered the source as she alighted in the back seat.
"...to talk, Nicolas?" the familiar raven-haired beauty presumed, finishing his sentence for him. "Oui, it is time to get it out of your system. Your first attempt to escape LaCroix. It was futile, no?"
"Janette, don't start," he groused.
Tracy glared at their new passenger in wonder. "I know your face from somewhere. Yes, you were involved in that arson cover up, weren't you? You're that Janette, aren't you?" she pushed.
The vampiress smiled serenely and nodded, "Yes, I was 'that Janette' as you so abruptly put it, Detective Vetter. At least until Nicolas brought me back across."
"Actually, she's Tracy Brown now," the other vampire corrected, changing the subject quickly. "Aristotle changed her name and papers with a little help from above."
"Ah, so now Aristotle's helping mortals to go underground," she chuckled softly with a bit of ironic amusement in her voice. "You are a bad influence. But, I suppose that these individuals are trustworthy and know our secret in any event."
"And...how did you know where to find him?" the blonde detective continued to push.
"Ah, I suppose Vachon hasn't told you about the vibrations between our kind? Especially between master and offspring?" Janette inquired. "I always know where to find my wayward knight. I sensed that he needed his sadness and voila! I am here."
"We're heading over to talk to the Duboises if you care to join us," Nick added.
She frowned, "Those two are not my first choice for hosts. But, if that is where you feel most comfortable, Nicolas, then, that is where we shall go."
"Thank you," he expressed, as he turned left onto Broadway, heading west once more.
Natalie hung up the phone and stared off into space. After waiting for Nick to show up and talk to her about the situation at the university, he wasn't coming there after all. Instead, he was heading for the Dubois's apartment. "Why would he go there?" she wondered to the blank computer screen
In the corner, Schanke sat nervously on a stool, twiddling his fingers and looking at his watch. For a good two hours, he had sat there, making small talk with her, avoiding any mention of what Nick had been doing. After she hung up, he inquired, "Was that him finally?"
"Yeah. It was him," she indicated in frustration, looking over her other "patient" and wheeling him back into the cooler. "And I'm going to meet him. Want to come along?"
"You betcha," he agreed. "At least, we'll get some answers. We'll take my car."
She threw her coat on and followed him out of the room.
Meanwhile, Dave lay awake in bed, unable to sleep. Finally, he realized that he wasn't going to be able to do so. "No sense in keeping us both awake," he sighed and climbed out of bed.
"Mmmm...Dave? What's the matter? Still can't sleep?" Angie muttered drowsily.
"No, I can't. Why don't you try to sleep a bit, Princess. I'll be back in a bit," he assured her.
"If you make some tea, put some on for me too, 'kay? I'll be out there in a few minutes," she suggested, rolling over to face him.
"Right," he agreed and smiled back at her in the darkness. Then, after putting on his sweats, he padded out into the kitchen.
For a long minute, the oncologist stared at the ceiling. Bad enough that he was so focused on this crazy crusade of his, but now, the insomnia was getting worse.
"I wish I could help," she sighed.
"You may be able to," Xena's voice replied earnestly. In the corner of the room, the Warrior Princess's image coalesced. The visitor's face was set in a grim line and she locked glances with her "roommate." "Angela, these next few days are going to be very difficult for you all. However, you need to join David out in the front room. There will be someone there."
"Someone?" the oncologist wondered. "My great-grandparents?"
"No," the warrior disagreed. "Come out and see."
At that moment, Angie felt a familiar feeling brush across her enhanced senses. "What in?" she asked, jumping out of bed and throwing on her robe.
Then, she felt his call through their link, "Princess, get out here!"
She rushed out into the main room, not sure what to expect next.
A few minutes earlier, the medievalist had set the tea kettle on the stove and looked out into the living room. For some reason, he felt as if someone was watching him. After placing the tea bag in his favorite cup, he meandered out into the bigger room and looked around. Everything seemed to be as it always was. But, he knew better. Given recent events, he wasn't going to take a chance. From within his head, he felt the familiar numbness and an icy chill run down his back.
"Cut it out," he growled. As poorly as he was feeling right now, a visit from his darker half was not what he needed at the moment.
The Child hissed, "There's somebody coming. Just get ready!"
"Fine!" Dave responded. "I'll deal with it."
"You do that!" the Other snarled.
Familiar twinges strummed across the professor's senses. In the bedroom, he could tell that Xena was talking to Angie. But in the corner, the mist spilled toward him. "Cybelle?"
From the cloud bank, two figures dressed in the robes of Althanor entered the area. Looking about the room, the two visitors seemed to take a minute to take in their surroundings. Then, one pulled her hood down, revealing a familiar face. "David, hello," she stated.
"Genaria? Pardon me, but what are you doing here?" he demanded.
"I apologize for coming uninvited," the young priestess excused. "However, I had to guide my fellow priestess here...to familiar surroundings." With those words, she nodded to her associate.
The second person removed her hood, allowing her auburn hair to flow over her shoulders and anxious dark eyes to look about the living room. "It's true. I'm home," she realized. Looking at their host, she added, "Papa!"
"Papa?" he puzzled. "Excuse me? Sorry, I don't think so."
"Don't use your eyes, David. Use your mind. Reach out with your instincts," Genaria urged.
"Please, Papa," the other requested, tears brimming in her eyes.
Focusing on the second woman, he scanned her thoroughly. There was something familiar. Her aura grabbed his attention. From within his mind, the Child whispered, "Sonnuva! It's her! It's Deirdre!"
"What the?" he asked. "But that can't be! So how?"
"It's a long story," Genaria noted. "But, she is your daughter. She is Deirdre."
He exhaled a nervous breath and started to tremble. Only three days earlier, he and Angie had watched Cybelle take their youngest daughter to Althanor. While the anxious parents had expected changes in their little girl, the disconcerting sight in front of him stirred his moods and emotions to a boil. "E..Excuse me," he stammered, hurrying over to the kitchen counter. There, he grabbed the bottle of St. John's Wart, gulping down two pills and chasing them with a glass of water. Then, he poured the water from the steaming kettle into the cup, allowing the cherry tea bag to steep.
Within a minute, he felt the herbs calming the fire within him. Two deep breaths later, he realized that Angie needed to see this sight. As much as he wished otherwise, he could not protect his wife from this knowledge. Concentrating through their link, he advised, "Princess, come here!"
Angie rushed out into the front area under a full head of steam. Looking around herself, she felt more familiar presences. But her senses were especially attuned to Deirdre. As with the Child, she immediately recognized the second visitor. "Deirdre? How?"
"It's a long story, Mama," the newest priestess sighed. "I wish I understood it all. All I know is that I went on a trip to a wonderful place and was trained by this bright lady who called herself "the Fairie Empress". When I woke up, I was like this. At first, nobody knew me and I...I..." She started to sob.
"Shh," her mother soothed, embracing her tightly. "You did the right thing. Coming back to me and Papa and letting us know about what happened to you. We'll always love you no matter what."
"That's right," Dave agreed, bringing a tray of steaming cups into the living room. "I hope everyone likes Cherry tea." Quickly setting it down on the coffee table, he had another noticable spasm.
"Papa?" Deirdre asked, walking over to him. "Is this what it's like?"
"Is what like?" he probed.
"It. The darkness. I...I remember feeling something cold inside of you and had heard the stories," she noted. "Genaria took me to where you and Auntie fought each other. I could still feel the vibrations...your vibrations...its vibrations."
"First of all, it is a "him" not an "it". Second, I don't remember a lot of what happens when he takes over. And finally, what were you doing out there?" he explained.
"She needs to know what she's getting herself into, David," Genaria replied. "Both you and she have pivotal roles to play in the next few days."
"During my training, I had visions of a dark place reeking of evil. You were there, fighting to get through it. But you were so angry. I imagine that it...I mean he...was so..." she started.
"Violent? Callous?" Angie supposed. "Yes, that's right." Turning back to her husband, she added, "Sorry, Dear, but she hit the nail on the head."
"But he would never hurt you or your sisters," he assured the priestess, embracing her.
"Somehow, I know that. But, the sight of him ripping his way through that place was disturbing. Anyhow, I'm so glad you don't think that I'm a freak," Deirdre concurred.
At hearing her use of the word "freak", another spasm passed through him. He would need to set her mind at ease. "Now, hold on. You may have been aged a bit. But you're still my little girl. Well, OK, big girl. I love you for who and what you are. If you've been chosen for some purpose, then great. Your Mama and I will always be proud of you," he soothed, running his fingers through his daughter's hair and kissing her cheek. "Just do your best, OK?"
The priestess nodded and hugged him tightly. "Thank you, Papa, for understanding."
"In this family, the unusual is the rule," he chuckled. "Now, have a cup of tea."
"Right," she smiled and sipped on the steamy liquid. "Mmm. Like cherry blossoms. I recall the scent but could never place where it came from. This is wonderful!"
"It is soothing," he concurred, sipping from his own cup. Then, noticing Xena standing there, he queried, "I suppose you knew about this surprise?"
"Gabrielle, Eve, and I only found out about this a short time ago," the warrior replied curtly. "Besides, would it have done any good for us to have told you if we couldn't show that she was all right?"
"I suppose," he shrugged, refilling his cup. "Still, it would have been nice to have known this going in."
"None of us knew," Genaria insisted. "When the Faerie Empress chooses an initiate, only the High Priestess is notified. And that is as a courtesy. I too underwent the training on the misty isle. It happened about two days before you arrived on our shores. I was recruited to guide you and to serve as Deirdre's companion. She has a purpose as of yet undefined."
"She has a point," Angie followed. "Did I have a choice when I grabbed the sword in the museum? Not hardly. Things happen. I think we have to make the most of the hand we're dealt."
"I never said otherwise," he commented. "You do have a point, Princess. However...."
"However?" Deirdre asked, afraid of a new complication surfacing.
"However, it's going to be an adjustment for me and for my 'Other Half'," he noted. "Believe me, he doesn't like the fact that you were 'changed' in this fashion. Just give us time. Okay?"
"That's fine," his daughter agreed. "I know this has been a hard change for me to accept. I can imagine what must be going through your heads right now. Just be patient with me."
"Always," he agreed, embracing her tightly. "Always. As your mother just said, no matter what, you're still our little girl. I just ask you to be patient with me as well."
"Of course, Papa," she agreed, treasuring the moment. While she sensed that others would soon be arriving there, the young priestess wanted to preserve this time as long as she could.
Genaria smiled warmly. During the preparations for this journey, her charge had fretted about this meeting. "At least it worked out," she mused.
At least for the moment, their happy thoughts warmed the apartment...a pleasant diversion from the events just around the corner.
Across the complex, Eve tossed and turned in her bed. For three days, the secret she carried concerning Deirdre had eaten away at her. In the Elisian Way, one did not conceal the truth unless necessary. Even then, this was done with great consternation.
"They deserve to know," the former messenger whispered. "They need to know about their daughter."
"Even as you keep Lucius from me?" a disembodied voice asked in response from the darkness.
"Who?" Eve asked even though she already knew who the voice belonged to. It was her own or rather...that of her darker self. Spinning, she saw the image of her other self dressed in armor with a white cape and red tights. The other's eyes glinted in the faint starlight and a smug smile spread itself prominently across her face.
"You know me. I am the voice of yourself. Your true self, Livia of Rome!" Livia exclaimed.
"I am no longer you!" the Elisian denied.
"You and I will always be one, Sister. Just as your friend is one with his darkness so are we flip sides of the same coin. There is nothing you can do about that, so accept it," the conquering persona directed.
"Or what, Livia?" Gabrielle's voice challenged from the darkness. "Leave her alone now!"
"Auntie Gabrielle," Livia smirked sarcastically. "Yes, I knew you were here. And Mother is close by as well. But, I too am a part of this landscape. Deny me at your peril."
"I would die to keep you from taking her back!" the Amazon queen challenged.
The Roman commander's spectral head nodded and she continued, "Yes, you would. But, I have no quarrel with any of you right now. See you soon...Believe it or not, in the coming days, you will ask...no... beg for my help. Until then, say hello to Mommy Dearest." Having said that, the image faded away into the inky blackness.
Eve shook fiercely and collapsed to the floor. "N...No, not...not again. I can't allow her to surface again," she moaned.
The bard embraced her friend and soothed, "Eve, at least you're in control. What happened? What caused Livia to appear?"
"My guilt over not telling David and Angela about Deirdre," the former messenger admitted.
"We will tell them eventually," Gabrielle noted. Then, she looked out of the window and across the well-illuminated lot. "That's strange."
"What is?" Eve sighed.
"Nick's conveyance just stopped in front of the Dubois' complex. I wonder what he's doing here now?" the queen asked.
Eve joined her at the window, noticing the brown Taurus pulling up beside it. "And now, Natalie just arrived. I wonder what's going on?"
"I'm going over there, but first...." Gabrielle asserted. Concentrating, she triggered the teal flash, changing back to Francesca.
"Madonna! That doesn't get any easier. Well, shall we?" the literature professor asked.
"Yes," Eve agreed, walking toward the door.
While Livia had been 'announcing' her presence, Nick parked the Caddy in front of the Dubois' apartment. His mind still swam to maneuver through the maelstrom of memories threatening to sweep him away.
Janette rubbed his shoulder, "You should talk about this, Nicolas."
Tracy shook her head and admonished, "Hey! He'll talk when he's ready, OK? Give him some breathing space!"
The elegant vampiress reclined back in her seat and chuckled to herself. Yes, this mortal could be obnoxious and overbearing at times, but her intentions were well placed. Taking a deep breath, she continued, "No, Detective Brown, I cannot. Sometimes he will not bear his soul unless pressed to do so, even when he needs to."
"You would know, I suppose?" Tracy chortled.
"After 800 years, I think I might have picked up on a few things," Janette shrugged. "We were married for almost a century."
"It was a wonderful 97 years," the vampire detective added.
"Oui," his longtime friend concurred. "But we must continue to grow and evolve. You have always had difficulty with this concept, Nicolas. Did LaCroix never tell you about this? We vampires must move on, leaving past connections totally behind. If we do not, we get hurt."
He nodded grimly. Both Janette and his former master had indeed dispensed that advice on several previous occasions. Still, the guilt overwhelmed him. In his mind's eye, he could see people struggling in cold icy water. But at what point in history? For a brief second, he floated over the dying carcass of the Titanic, watching its descent into the inky depths of the North Atlantic. But, he could also see another ship disappear beneath the waves of the North Sea, taking an entire generation of a medieval village with it.
His partner shook him anxiously, "C'mon, Nick! Stay with us!"
"It is of little use," Janette advised. "He is remembering something which happened over 700 years ago. The stuff of your mortal nursery rhymes." Turning to the sky, she smiled as Alyce descended into view. "Ah, another of our company has arrived."
"Is he all right?" the curator worried. "I've been tuned into his sadness for most of the trip over here."
"Really?" the elder vampiress inquired. If true, that fact would prove interesting. If the fledgling and Nick were indeed forming a bond, LaCroix would need to know about it.
"I'm fine, Alyce," he sighed, stirring from his reverie. "Just remembering some things from the past. Once we get inside, I'll fill you all in."
"If you say so," the curator supposed. Just then, she noticed Eve and Francesca walk up to them. "Hi, Ladies, what's going on?"
"We were hoping you could tell us," the Italian literature professor noted. "We noticed that you were all here and decided to investigate the reason behind it."
"Nick decided to say something to your cousins. I guess we're waiting on Natalie and Schanke," Tracy deadpanned.
The former crusader focused on the apartment in front of them. Something was very different in there. "C'mon!" he urged, jumping from the driver's seat and hurrying for the door.
"Nick! Damn it! Now, what is it?" the blonde detective demanded in frustration, flinging her hands skyward in frustration while following as quickly as she could. After seeing the other two immortals zip by her, she groused, "Sometimes it stinks to be mortal."
Nick gave her a dirty look and rapped on the door.
Dave's voice announced, "Come in! It's open!" As of its own volition, the door swung open, allowing them to enter.
"Thank you," the immortal detective accepted absently, entering the area. "Sorry to be showing up so late."
"After everything else that has happened tonight, what's one more thing?" the medievalist shrugged with a bit of sarcasm dribbling throughout his voice. "It's not every day that you send your 6 year old daughter off to be tutored and she comes back as a 20 year old." Glancing at Eve and Francesca, he asked, "I suppose you both knew?"
"Now, Dave, please," Angie interceded, entering the room. "I understand why you're upset, but accusing people isn't going to help anything."
"I suppose," he seethed. Walking over to the stove, he put some more water on to boil for their guests.
"What is this about Deirdre?" Alyce wondered before noticing the two priestesses in the far corner. From their facial markings and robes, she deduced that they had come from Althanor. "Who?"
At that moment, a rapping came from the door.
"Now who?" Dave wondered.
His wife focused her own senses and smiled, "Settle down, Honey. It's only Natalie and Detective Schanke." Opening the door, she greeted, "Hi, Guys! Come in."
"Thanks, Angie," Natalie accepted.
Schanke scanned the room, taking in everyone around him. Upon seeing Nick and Alyce together, his mouth tightened into a frown. Sooner or later, the coroner would need to know about the situation.
For his part, Nick returned the glance with a sharp shake of his head. That was not the time to start one of those 'And how do I feel' debates with Nat. Not with everything on his mind at the moment.
For a long minute, the whole room went eerily quiet. Deirdre and her father served tea to everyone who wanted it. The others all sat with their thoughts, hesitating to start the next phase of the conversation.
Finally, Angie broke the silence, "So, what brings everyone here?"
"They're all here with me," Nick replied. "I felt the need to get something off of my chest."
The oncologist looked at her husband nervously. From the way that their guest was looking at him meant that this conversation would somehow be tied to their upcoming adventure.
Dave nodded and probed, "Please continue, Nick. What happened?"
"Tracy and I were on patrol tonight, listening to LaCroix's radio show," he began.
"He was creepier than usual," Tracy shivered. "Anyway, he made some comment about children not listening to their parents and Nick went blank after that."
The medieval history professor sighed angrily. Leave it to LaCroix to make a comment like that one. After the confrontation with Dijon and Alti, the old Roman had "requested" that Nick stay out of the Enforcers business. Now, he was driving the point home with practiced cruelty. Somewhere in Nick's past, there was an instance where the former knight's 'disobedience' had proven especially costly. "When was it, Nick?" he asked.
"The thirteenth century," the vampire moaned. Standing up, he meandered over to the professor's shelf and browsed for a minute. Finally, he pulled a mahogany tome from its place and handed it to his friend.
"Die Marchen vor Brudern Grimm?" Dave puzzled. Then, it hit him. "This is about the Pied Piper legend? You were there?"
The vampire detective nodded, "Yes, I was. In fact, I caused it to happen."
"And this is what's bothering you? Nick, you can't blame yourself," Natalie probed. "Still, can you tell us about it?"
For a long minute, Nick wavered between telling and not telling the story. Finally, he sat back down and stated, "Fine. Here goes..."
[Hamlin, Holy Roman Empire, late June/early July 1284]
Nick flew quickly over the thick forest. He didn't want LaCroix to find him after their latest argument. For almost sixty years, the elder vampire had been a fairly good master. But, as with all mature (at least in his own estimation) children, the time to strike out on his own had finally arrived. However, the old Roman disagreed with his views on this matter and insisted that Nick stay close to him. Having had enough of this treatment, the former Crusader fled to find his own way in the world.
After hours of flight, he spied a small hamlet in a clearing beneath him. "Finally! A place to settle for the day!" he huffed tiredly. After descending from the sky, he walked into town and looked about anxiously for a tavern. Sunrise was not far off and the vampire's skin wouldn't endure the daylight's fiery caress. Finally, he saw such a place in the town square. Rushing to the door, he rapped on it three times.
The door creaked open a minute later. "Yes? What is it?" a man asked. He stood about 5' 2" with a stocky build, and streaks of white running through his raven-black hair.
"Yes," Nick replied. "Do you have any rooms available?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," the other agreed, eyeing the stranger. "The name's Hans. I'm the innkeeper. And you are?"
"Nicolas de Brabant," the vampire grinned, shaking his hand. "Here is my money."
"Very good," Hans accepted matter-of-factly, pocketing the payment. At least this late night traveler seemed honorable enough. "Follow me."
Nick proceeded closely behind his host down the hallway and around a corner. Candles flickered, illuminating their progress in a bright yellow light. After fifteen minutes, the two stopped in front of a sturdy oak door.
"Here is your room, Nicolas. I hope you enjoy it," Hans stated, opening the door.
The traveler looked about the area. The lodgings were spartan but serviceable. "It will do. Thank you," he responded.
"Very well. Sleep soundly and I will see you this afternoon, no?" the innkeeper asked.
"Maybe. I am very tired," the guest supposed.
His host nodded briefly and walked back down the hallway.
Nick walked back into the room and barred the door, securing his privacy. The closed window shutters insured his safety against the dawn. "Hopefully I can sleep today and leave tonight before LaCroix can catch up to me," he wished. Lying on the straw mattress, he drifted off to sleep.
Late in the afternoon, a loud burst of music stirred him. "What is going on?" he wondered. Due to the sunshine outside, he could not see what was happening, but he could hear it through the shutters. A throng of people bustled about in the square below, and they were upset about something.
Above the din, a man's voice rang out loud and true, "Good people of Hamlin! I come to you with an auspicious offer of wealth and prosperity! To the east, there are lands lush and green waiting for settlement! If you will come with me, my employer will secure a piece of this prosperity for you!"
In the crowd, a portly man challenged, "Why should we listen to you, Stranger? We have thriving lives and businesses here. Our families are safe. What more can you offer us?" After a rumble of agreement passed through the crowd, he continued, "You should leave now. We are not interested in your schemes."
The speaker looked about at the crowd. Judging from some of the younger faces in the crowd, he had reached them. But, if only he could get them to leave. That would be a tough proposition. With a brief nod, he made his way out of the square and towards the western town gate, disappearing from view.
That evening, Heinrich Jurgelsbach huddled in the alleyway below Nick's window with a group of his friends. These seven individuals and their friends represented the younger sons and daughters who would only get a small inheritance, if anything, from their parents. As such, all they could dream of was a meager existence. For them, the stranger's message offered a glimmer of hope.
"So, what do we do?" Jurgelsbach inquired, starting the discussion.
"His offer sounded good," a red-haired young man replied.
"It would give us a chance at a decent life," another with straw-colored hair stated.
"I hate working in the store while my brother gets everything," a fourth groused.
"The others will want to go as well," Red-Hair added.
Jurgelsbach pondered his comrades' musings for a moment. Between their friends and themselves, they had the numbers to create their own settlement in the east.
Nick had been out hunting and had drank his fill. Coming back to his lodgings, he spied the young men and couldn't mistake their facial expressions. They were angry and oppressed. Oppressed because of their situation. Oppressed because of their parents' grip on them. Oppressed because of social expectations. He sighed. Although he knew that tarrying in that place risked his getting caught by LaCroix, the former crusader felt compelled to help these young people. Perhaps he could postpone his departure for a few minutes. Moving over to them, he stepped into their view.
The group's leader eyed the vampire suspiciously. In Hamlin, strangers were a rarity and, in one day, he had encountered three of them in the speaker, the Piper accompanying him, and now, this man. Giving the other a shrug, he returned to the conversation.
Nick approached the group and indicated, " I overheard your conversation. Your situation seems grave indeed."
"It is, Stranger. But what would you know of our plight?" Straw Hair pushed.
The vampire chuckled, "I too am running from an oppressive parent who would shape my life and leave me with no say in the matter. I am acting and so should you," Nick urged.
"You mean leave?" Red Hair probed.
"If that is what you wish. Are you of age?" the traveler responded.
"A goodly number of us are, Sir," Jurgelsbach nodded.
"Then, you should follow your heart. Your future as well as your future families are paramount," Nick indicated, producing a golden medallion. "Take this token. It will buy food in the eastern lands."
"Thank you!" the leader indicated graciously. "But, how will we repay you?"
"Live well and justly," Nick directed and walked away from them. Turning a corner, he disappeared into the darkness.
[Tucson, Modern Day]
"So, did you ever hear from them again?" Tracy inquired.
Janette shook her head knowingly and advised grimly, "It is an event he would not like to dig up again."
Nick waved his hand and insisted, "It's okay, Janette. They deserve to hear the rest of the story."
"Only if you can handle it, Nick," Alyce asserted protectively, rubbing his shoulders.
Across the room, Natalie noted this last interchange. She had seen how close the curator was getting to Nick...too close for her liking. But, given her feelings for Steve, why shouldn't they? And how did she feel about Nick? Given that she wanted to hear the story's conclusion, she decided not to say anything at least for now...
[Lübeck, Hanseatic League, August/September 1284]
For much of the Summer, Nick evaded LaCroix by sticking to the forests, moving from town to town rapidly, and even sticking close to other vampires. The young vampire continued to make his way north toward the Hanse towns along the Baltic. Once there, he hoped to gain passage on a ship heading west. The English Isles seemed like a good place. Yes, maybe he would head for Wales and see how Gwennyth's descendants were faring. Despite the pang of loss he still felt over her, the former crusader knew that the trip was the right thing to do.
Flying over Lübeck, he noticed a great deal of activity along the waterfront. Despite the fact that the sun had set hours earlier, men continued to float over the harbor waters in their boats, searching by torchlight for something. But what could have been so important for them to do so? After landing in an alley, Nick approached the scene asking, "What's going on?"
An old man turned to face him and replied, "A ship went down in the harbor. We tried to tell the crew that the sky held unfavorable portents. But, they left anyhow. As soon as they left shore, a horrible storm blew up out of nowhere, sending the ship to the bottom of the harbor. It's a crying shame. Those kids should have never left home."
Nick gaped at the last statement. He pressed, "Kids you say? Where were they from?"
The rescuer scratched his chin and continued, "Let me think. Yes, they were from Hamlin. This medallion was all that we have left of them." He held the gold piece up for Nick to see. It was the same dragon's head medallion which he had given to the leader of the group a month earlier!
"Yes, it is a shame," he managed to mutter. "How many were there?"
The old man indicated, "140 all together, I believe. Well, we're about ready to quit for the night. Thank you for asking." With that, he walked away silently into the darkened town, leaving Nick to his thoughts.
As he turned to the darkened waters, he thought about the young souls who had perished on the ill-fated voyage earlier that day. Granted they had been considering the trip earlier, but he had pressed the issue and given them some money for it. "Some of their blood is on my hands at the very least," he cursed himself. He took off and flew a few passes over the harbor, careful to stay out of the torchlight's way. However, his enhanced vision could only confirm what the head rescuer had stated earlier. There was no trace of the young people from Hamlin anywhere, the speaker, nor the Piper. Landing back on the water's edge, he heard a scream from town. "Now what?" he asked and took off in that direction. Ten minutes later, he found the source. The elderly rescuer's body laid on a trash heap without a drop of blood in it. "Who would do this?" he wondered even as he felt the telltale vibrations revealing the answer.
"Who would indeed, I wonder?" a familiar voice baited from behind.
Nick cringed, "LaCroix?"
"Yes, Nicholas. It is I," the former Roman general announced, strutting purposefully into view. "I must say that I am very impressed that you managed to evade me for as long as you did. I certainly taught you well. Perhaps too well."
"Perhaps I learned a few things as a mortal as well," the younger vampire retorted.
"I suppose," the elder granted. "But, as to the matter at hand. I am still very disappointed in you!"
Nick shook his head and fought back a spasm of fear. "Doesn't it ever occur to you that I am a grown vampire capable of taking care of myself!" he protested.
"Capable, are you?" LaCroix snickered. Allowing his eyes to turn, he approached his protÈgÈ and continued, "I don't agree. I made you and I will say when you are ready!" Before Nick could react, the Roman grasped his throat in a chokehold, raising him off of the ground. "You are my creation! I made you! I own you! You and Janette are mine!" Flinging him against a nearby wall, the elder stormed further, "You will suffer for this insane chase. Someday, you will learn to be thankful for what you have!"
"Like those...children," the other sighed painfully.
"Yes. They got what they deserved for trying to escape from their predestined fate. Keep trying, Nicholas, and you will end up dead as well!" LaCroix lectured. "Mark my words. If you keep this up, you will not survive!"
Nick felt backhand after backhand raining across his face. Too battered to resist, he slumped into unconsciousness.
[Modern Day, Tucson]
"And that's all you can remember?" Dave inquired, sipping on his tea.
"Yes. I'm afraid so," Nick reported. "I didn't help those poor souls on the ship." Taking an envelope out of his pocket, he opened it to produce the medallion. "This is the piece that I gave to Jurgelsbach in the village. Ironically enough, I've been carrying it around for some reason lately."
"Nicholas, you cannot blame yourself for what happened to those people," Eve comforted. "As much as my step-brother would say otherwise, you were not responsible for what happened. They left on their own. They chose to board the ship. You were not holding anything to their heads. Trust me. They died as innocents."
"At least there was a priest with them," the Crusader remembered.
"So, they died, were resolved, and went to Heaven," the former Messenger continued.
"Listen to her, Nick," Natalie pressed. "Remember the situation with the Black Buddha in Toronto?"
"How could I forget?" the vampire detective replied, looking at Schanke and Tracy.
"Well, just as the Buddha didn't cause the Titanic to sink or Schanke's plane to crash, so that coin and your words didn't force those kids onto the ship, the storm to blow up, or the ship to sink. I appreciate your grief over those lost lives. But you didn't cause that disaster. Remember that," the coroner continued.
"Besides, LaCroix was trying to bully you," Dave pointed out, casting a challenging glance in Janette's direction.
"He was only looking out for Nicolas' best interests!" the vampiress challenged.
"Define best interests," the medievalist retorted darkly. "Even abusive parents think that they have to 'hurt to help' their kids. Remember the Lowmiller boy? And do you recall what I said to you then...even if I don't?"
"I do," she admitted, recalling the professor's ranting in the loft on the night when the boy first appeared.
"And we have enough to worry about at the moment without rehashing this argument," Angie interceded. "Stop it."
"Right," Schanke broke in as well. "Don't you folks have to prepare for something?"
"We do," Deirdre agreed. "Don't we, Papa?"
"Papa?" Natalie wondered. Then, she looked at the young priestess again and asked, "Nick, is that Deirdre? It can't be!"
The vampire detective scanned her with his senses. Despite the increased power and the mature appearance, he recognized her as the Dubois's youngest daughter. "Somehow, it's her, Nat. It's Deirdre."
"Man o man!" Schanke exclaimed. "I...I...can't believe it."
"That's okay, Schanke," Dave stated. "Neither can we. But, we're apparently going to have to deal with it."
"Well, if you say so," Natalie agreed. "Still, we do have a city to patrol. Tracy, if it's okay, you and Schanke can ride back to the Precinct with me."
"Okay," the blonde detective concurred, putting her coat back on. "Nick, if you need to talk, you know where to find me."
"The same goes for me too," Natalie chimed in. "I can stop by the loft after my shift if you would like."
"Thanks. I would like that," Nick smiled. "See you later. Thank you for coming."
"No problemo, Pardner," Schanke assured him. "Call if you need us." With that, the paunchy detective departed from the apartment.
After the car drove away, Francesca inquired, "So, what do we do now?"
"We try to rest and go on with our lives for the next few days at least," Dave concluded, sipping further on his tea. "After that, we head out on our mission."
"Aunt Cybelle told me to let you know that she will be ready to depart on Friday night," Deirdre stated.
"Grandpa Alex will have the manor ready for our arrival as well," Angie reported.
Nick nodded, adding, "Now, we have to wait and see what LaCroix finds out from the Elders." Walking to the window, he gazed into the moonlit sky. The upcoming meeting for the senior vampires would have implications for them all....
Chapter 7 (San Francisco, CA--FBI Headquarters)
Steve stared out of his window at the city skyline. The pale moonlight lit up the evening, bathing the Bay Bridge and the buildings within view in a surreal glow. HQ was quiet...almost too quiet. "Enjoy the peace, Petersen," he told himself. "It won't last." Sipping on a cup of hazelnut coffee, he considered the events of the previous 48 hours. Soon, Dave would be leaving for Europe and his date with Dijon. Then, there was the stirring in the Community. According to his contacts, the Elders would be meeting there on that very evening to discuss the aforementioned confrontation. Either the immortal ancient ones could choose to honor the battle lines, or they could intercede.
"I hope they stay out of this one," he wished, taking a nervous gulp of caffeine. "Knowing LaCroix, he won't tolerate any interference. Still, it would be nice to know for sure."
Finally, his thoughts kept coming back to Natalie LeBeau. Despite his reminders to himself that she was only a colleague and a friend, Steve felt a strange tug at his heart. In his mind's eye, the agent could still see the sparkle in her eyes, the glistening smile, and her auburn hair lofting on the desert breeze. "It definitely hasn't been the same since I came back," he concluded.
A knock on the door interrupted his reverie.
"Yes?" he inquired.
"Agent Petersen?" his boss asked. "May I come in?"
"Absolutely, Sir. This is a surprise. What can I do for you?" Steve replied.
The senior field agent held a folder out to his colleague. "Nice job on the last case, Petersen. Because of it, the Bureau's decided to move you. Pack your bags, Son," he indicated.
The younger man took the file and considered it for a second. "With my luck, it'll probably be the North Pole or something," he groused to himself. Opening the folder, he glanced at the new location, a big smile forming his face. He was being moved to Tucson permanently.
"We figured that certain situations happen more frequently there than in other places if you get my drift. The Tucson Police likes working with you. Besides, the Bureau wants you to keep an eye on those situations. Understand?" the superior noted. Holding his hand out, he added, "It was good working with you, Agent Petersen. Best of luck."
"Thank you, Sir," Steve nodded, shaking the other man's hand firmly. "I'll do my best with this new post."
The senior agent started toward the door. Just before he left the room, he grinned and indicated, "I know you will. Take care." With those words, he was gone.
For a long minute, the newly-transferred agent looked about his office, soaking in all of the memories from the previous two years. Then, sliding a box out from under his desk, he began to pack up his mementos. Looks like fate was talking to him after all....
Meanwhile, LaCroix alighted in an alleyway beside the Marriott Marquis. The flight from Arizona had been a long one. Still, San Francisco's charm made it worthwhile. How many times had he come here over the years? No matter the decade, the city had provided some delights to the former Roman general from it's humble beginnings up to the present day. "Too bad I can only stay a short while," he sighed, looking around to make sure no mortals had seen him. The coast was clear. With that, the immortal strode purposefully around the building and through its front doors.
Once inside, he admired the elegant lobby area with its chandelier, stylish ferns, posh furniture, and ornate staircase. "Very nice," he commented and looked at the building directory. According to the message from his companions, they would be meeting in the Sky Room.
"Top floor. How quaint," he shrugged and made his way toward the elevator. A five minute ride later, LaCroix walked out of his transport onto the desired level. Reaching out with his senses, he spotted his peers' essence at the end of the hall. With a relaxed gait, he crossed the remaining distance and entered the Sky Room. The area had a glass roof over it, an oak table and floors in addition to navy-blue curtains by the windows. Four other vampires sat around the table, waiting for him. The first one was the Oriental Ming Hsia whose seemingly youthful looks hid his 4500 years. Then, the Native American, Little Crow, stood and greeted the newcomer. The third participant was a woman of Sub-Saharan Africa who placidly watched him through icy dark eyes. Finally, Ali, a Turk dressed in turn of the century clothes, sipped from an elegant jade goblet.
"Lucius of Pompey. It is good to see you again," Ming Hsia greeted.
"As say we all," the African commented.
"Indeed," Ali added. "Although I wish it were under better circumstances."
LaCroix nodded knowingly. The Easterner had a point. Perhaps if they did meet more often, situations would not get out of hand. But that was a thought for another day. "Yes, I'm sure," he replied before moving right into the Question of the Day, "Still, does anyone have any information concerning these Renegade Children?"
Little Crow smiled, "Since when have you cared about children, Lucius?"
The Roman glared at the other vampires and frowned, "Since they embarrassed me in front of the Community! Twice they have attacked me and mine through the Enforcers!"
"Since when are the Dubois mortals yours?" the African inquired cooly.
"They are not. However, two of my children, Nicolas de Brabant and Alyce Hunter, are usually close by them. In the last attack, the Enforcers and their leader, Bertrand du Dijon, threatened them! I will not stand for these outrages! As the senior vampire in Tucson, the city is under my authority! I will not have Dijon nor his underlings meddling in my affairs!" LaCroix stormed, slamming his fist on the table.
The others nodded. Since the Fever, the Young Ones had been feeling their oats a bit. With the diminished number of elder vampires, there wasn't enough supervision and groups, such as the one they were meeting to discuss, felt the rules were theirs to break and reforge as they wished. While the Elders had watched and waited, situations had arisen with potentially grave consequences for the Community. Now, the time had come to deal with the situation.
"We are prepared to seek out these insolent ones, Lucius. But, what will you do?" Ming Hsia asked.
"I will travel to Europe and witness the duel between Dijon and the mortal, Dubois," LaCroix indicated. "I will make sure that the rules are followed."
"Are you sure the duel has to take place, Lucius?" the Turk interjected.
"The challenge was posed and accepted. Now, as the Code indicates, they must fight to the death," the former general recounted, silently noting his colleague's reluctance.
"And what of Xena and the Priestess? What if they decide to involve themselves?" the African queried.
"Everyone--Enforcer, mortal, and especially, that Thracian witch-- knows the rules. The battle will happen as it is supposed to. No matter what," he retorted, bristling at the mention of Xena.
"Very well," Little Crow indicated. "We all know our roles. Once the duel is complete, we will meet back here. Understood?"
Everyone at the table concurred silently.
"Indeed," LaCroix replied flatly. "Well, if you will excuse me, the Sun will be rising soon, and I must prepare for my journeys. Au revoir, mes ami." With that, he left the room, leaving the others to their quest for the Renegades while focusing on the battle to come.
Chapter 8 (Tucson--Two nights later)
Tracy turned into the lot behind the precinct and waited behind the wheel. Too many things had happened lately which couldn't be readily explained. Granted, in the collected three years that she and Nick had been partners, life had taken on a definite shade of weirdness. I mean, how do you describe coming back from the dead? Or dealing with vampires, long dead warrior women, or schizophrenic librarians? "Only me," she sighed.
Just then, a rapping came from the glass window to her right. Looking over, she saw Vachon smiling at her. Rolling down the glass, she stated, "Thanks for coming."
"Always a pleasure to see you, Trace. What's up?" he replied.
She raised her right eyebrow and noted, "Oh, just everything. Vachon, I really feel like I need a scorecard."
"Just because the Enforcers show up, and now, LaCroix's meeting with everyone to set things up?" he chuckled. "There's something mighty important about to happen. The whole Community's on edge."
"You mean with the Duboises?" she guessed.
"Si," he agreed. "Turns out El Hombre Loco is going to go through with the challenge. As of last night, rumor has it that the Elders approved the duel. They will not interfere and neither can anybody else, mortal or vampire." The former conquistador gulped and looked concernedly at the blonde detective. "Trace, I know that Miles is going over there. Please stay here. I would feel better knowing that you're safe."
"Thanks," she blushed. "I'll be here. Hey, somebody needs to mind the store while my partner's away, right? Besides, I'm sure that Xena and Cybelle will be close by. Each of them has a bone to pick with the Enforcers as well."
"Yeah, I'm sure," he nodded uncertainly. This fight definitely weighed heavily on his mind. Changing the subject, he probed, "Did I pick the right room in the apartment?"
"Hmmm?" she queried albeit a bit confused. Then, she understood what he was getting at. "Yeah, you're all right where you were. Are you going to be coming home this morning?"
"I'll be there later," he promised. "There's something I need to do first." Leaning into the car, he kissed her gently. With a smile, he disappeared into the night sky.
Tracy looked at her watch. 3:15. "Only another 2 hours to go," she noted, getting out of the car and walking toward the precinct.
Janette, Nick, and Alyce stood on top of the Congress Hotel, surveying the Old Pueblo's nocturnal skyline. The city seemed so peaceful, so calm. It was hard to believe that only a week before, the university had been the scene of one of the biggest fights in the history of the Southwestern Community. Now, everything could be blown wide open by the brewing blood feud.
Alyce ran her hands nervously through her jet-black hair. Everything was happening so quickly. She worried about what would happen next. "Hopefully, we can keep out of harm's way this time," she told herself, steeling an anxious glance toward her siblings.
Nick scratched his chin thoughtfully. The last time that he and Dijon had met in France, things had not gone well. In fact, due to his words, the Burgundian had to flee Europe, disappearing into the Ottoman territories to the East. This time, he wanted the matter to be closed once and for all.
Janette sighed and slumped her shoulders. "Tucson seemed like such a nice place at first. Too bad the Duboises keep stirring things up. This needs to end," she groused to herself. "Hopefully, LaCroix has set up everything."
"When is he going to be here?" he inquired impatiently. "We only have about an hour until sunrise."
"Patience, Nicolas," the ancient lady of the night advised. "He is coming."
"Indeed," a strong voice echoed through their combined links. Descending out of the dark backdrop, LaCroix appeared in their midst. "And I have secured the support of the Elders."
"And the duel?" the curator inquried.
"It will go forward as planned," the old Roman stated. "Dubois and Dijon will face each other in a place of their mutual choosing. No immortal from fledgling to Elder to Enforcer will interfere." Glaring at his former protÈgÈ, he emphasized the final point, "No immortal."
"And if someone were to try?" the former Crusader supposed.
"Then, the offending party would be summarily staked by the other Enforcers. No appeal. And I would not be able to intervene," the senior vampire informed him. "Please, Nicholas. This time, stay on the sideline. Remember those souls from Hamlin?"
"That was different, LaCroix," Nick disagreed.
The Elder shook his head in disbelief. Even after all these years, the boy still had that infernal stubborn streak in him. But, with everything else going on, this was not the time to be arguing over tedious semantics. "Believe what you will, Nicholas. But, I know the truth and so do you." Then, turning to his former "daughter", he asked, "Janette, have you considered my request?"
She nodded, "Yes, I have. While you are gone, I will oversee the Community here in Arizona."
"Splendid," the former general nodded and looked upward to see Vachon land in front of him.
"Vachon, thank you for coming."
"LaCroix," the Spaniard replied cautiously. "What is it?"
The general smiled. Apparently, the young soldier had learned to cut right to the chase. "As you know, I will be overseas for awhile, supervising events affecting the community. While I am gone, Janette will be in charge of the Community. However, she will need help," he started.
"Seeing as you are the fourth oldest member of the Community save for Nicolas, LaCroix, and--well, technically-- myself, I was hoping that you could help me do so. I would be most appreciative of any assistance on your part," she added.
"And what would this entail?" the conquistador probed.
"Not much. Just some patrols of the city to make sure everything's in order," she noted.
Vachon scratched his head. "It couldn't be that easy, could it?" he wondered to himself. Still, after years of wandering from his responsibilities, it would be the right foot to start off on here in the Old Pueblo. "I'll do it. You can trust me."
"Very well. Merci. We shall talk tomorrow night at the Gato Negro. Do you know where that is?" she inquired.
"I do," he indicated.
"We shall talk there concerning how I want things run in LaCroix's absence," she reiterated. "Now, if you will all excuse me, I must be getting home. Bon chance, Nicolas et Alyce. Say hello to France for me, will you?" With that, she took off into the early morning sky.
"Before we go our separate ways, I have one more thing to say," LaCroix declared, staring at Vachon. "Vachon, despite the fact that I am not here, I will know if anything happens during my absence. Trust me, if you step out of line, I will make you sorry for it."
The Conquistador bristled at the subtle threat but maintained his composure. After a moment, he retorted, "Don't worry, LaCroix. I came here to be a part of this community. I have a life I'm setting up here. It pays for me to go along with this arrangement. Comprende?"
The ancient vampire arched his brow in surprise. Perhaps there was hope for the Spaniard after all. "For your sake, I hope you are right, Vachon. Nicholas, Alyce, I will see you both in France. Au revoir," he concluded, taking off.
After watching him depart, the other three immortals stared at each other for a moment. Finally, Nick mentioned, "Vachon, I also have a favor to ask of you."
"Por que no? Why not? Sure, Miles, what is it?" the other replied.
"Can you make sure that Tracy and Natalie are all right while we're gone? I would appreciate it," the vampire detective requested.
"Absolutely," the former Conquistador agreed. "You can count on me."
Nick smiled at Alyce. Perhaps, Tracy was having a good effect on the Spaniard. "Well, we'd best get ready to depart. See you soon," he concluded and flew off, followed closely by the curator.
Taking a glass flask from his overcoat, the sixteenth century knight saluted his comrades, "Buena Suerte, mis Amigos. Good luck, My Friends. Come back safely." Having said those words, he took a gulp of the blood within it before heading back to Tracy's apartment for the day.
Schanke sat at his desk, twirling a pencil in his fingers. The bullpen was dead quiet. Too quiet considering that the shift change was still an hour or so away. Committed to waiting for his partner, he had phoned Myra to let her know that he was going to be late. Stretching wearily and clasping his hands behind his head, the paunchy detective reclined in his chair. Come Hell or high water, Nick would have to show up before the end of the shift. When the vampire detective did so, he was going to have a chat with him about things.
At 3:30AM, he shook his head in dismay. Sunrise was only about an hour and a half away. "He ain't comin'," he grumbled. "Sonnuva gun! He really is gonna slip away without checkin' in first." Noticing that Tracy had just entered the Precinct, he signaled for her to come over.
"What's up, Schanke?" she asked.
"Nothing and everything," he complained. "I feel as if everyone in the world knows a secret except for me. And I can't find out what it is. Damn it, Tracy! He's my partner! My partner! I know that he likes his little secrets and everything, but this feels serious."
She rubbed his shoulder encouragingly. Despite their differences, they both cared about Nick and liked him as a partner. Well, most of the time at least. "Yeah, it's never easy working with him. That's for sure," she agreed. "As for the situation, it is serious all right. Another battle-type serious situation."
"The vampires are gonna fight again? Here?" he hissed low.
She looked around to make sure nobody heard him before continuing. "Yes, there's going to be a fight. According to my Source, Dijon and David Dubois are going to fight each other again. But, it won't be here. All I know is that it'll happen somewhere in Europe."
"And I take it that you're goin' too?" he inquired, the annoyance seeping into his voice.
"Actually, I have been asked to stay put. Somebody needs to mind the store while Nick's gone. That is...if you don't mind working together for a couple of weeks," the blonde detective supposed.
"Fine," he relented. "At least, I'll know what's going on for that time. One other thing, do you know when they're leaving?"
"Tomorrow night, I think," she replied hesitantly. "Schanke, I wouldn't ride him right now. Believe me, Nick's having a difficult time with this whole mess."
"I gathered that back at the apartment," he shrugged. "I just want to be there for him, ya know?"
"I know the feeling," she sighed wearily, planting herself in the chair across from him. "Believe me, I know the feeling." Just then, Chris Novak approached them. "Yes, Sergeant? What is it?"
"Detectives, Agent Petersen is here to see you," Chris replied, pointing to where Steve was standing across the room.
"Thanks," Schanke accepted and hustled over to the FBI agent. "Steve, how are ya? What brings you here?"
"I'm great. Thanks," the other man grinned. "Actually, I just got transferred to the local office downtown. Looks like you're going to be seeing a lot more of me from now on."
"Why did they do that?" Tracy queried. "You're always great to work with."
"It isn't a demotion, Tracy," Steve assured her. "The Bureau has been watching Tucson for a while. I have a good record working with you all. I also have friends here in town."
Schanke focused on the younger man's face and saw the worry present there. Thinking on this quality, he probed, "They got you on baby sitting detail for Dave, don't they?"
"Not specifically for him. Rather, think of me as a resident expert on the weirdness here in the Old Pueblo. In fact, my first duties won't even happen here," Steve noted.
"You're going too, aren't you?" Tracy pushed.
"Yes, I am. Guys, Dave and I have been friends for almost a quarter of a century. I have to be there. In addition, I've spoken to Karen Montoya, and she's agreed to go as well," he indicated. "We got him through his teenage years...through dealing with his Old Man and Tony Samuelsohn's death." He bowed his head and shook it fiercely, "Sometimes, I don't know how he made it."
The paunchy detective rubbed the agent's shoulder and asked, "Was it really that bad?"
"It was," the agent indicated. "Now, he is seeking closure. I hope he will keep his composure when the time comes."
"With you all there, I think everything will be okay," Tracy agreed.
"Lord, I hope so," Steve fretted. "By the way, is Natalie here? I...well, I would like to see her..." A shy almost puppy-like embarrassment had plastered itself across his features.
"Sure, she's downstairs in the morgue," Schanke chuckled and ushered him in that direction.
Natalie wheeled McReilly's corpse back into the freezer and secured the door. She needed to get the report on this case turned in before she could release her frustration. Sitting at the computer, she tried to write an email, but fumbled with the words. "Damn," she muttered. "If they have such a hot attraction for each other, they can have it." Tears streaked her face as she thought of Nick being with Alyce. After all of the attention she had given to him...to finding a cure. After she had committed her personal life to him, it still wasn't good enough.
"C'mon, Girl. Get over it," she reprimanded herself, steeling her emotions to finish the report. But, even as she did, her thoughts drifted back to Steve once again. What was he doing right now? "Probably solving some case with global ramifications," she chuckled. "I know it's really late, but maybe he'll be awake."
Dialing her cell phone, the line rang three times before a message advised, "The number you have reached has been disconnected or is no longer in use. Please hang up or try again. Thank you."
"Great," she sighed angrily. "I can't even reach him. I guess that's par for the course tonight." Then, dark thoughts flooded her mind. Could the FBI have reassigned him in light of recent events? "Knowing how they work, he's probably on his way to Siberia by now."
"Or here maybe," a familiar voice advised in the shadows.
"Oh great. Now, my mind's slipping too," she ranted.
"Turn around," the voice laughed.
"Oh well. Why not?" she conceded and followed the directions. As she saw who stood in the hallway, her jaw hit the floor. "I...I can't believe it!"
"I know. I can't believe it either," Steve concurred as he embraced her.
As they hugged each other, Natalie felt a lot more secure than she had a minute earlier. For some reason, she suddenly felt warm and safe. The old insecurities seemed to melt away. Everything seemed right with the world.
For his part, the FBI agent felt all warm and fuzzy inside. During his 35 years, he had watched other people finding their way...their special person. Now, it was finally his turn to do so. He hoped it was the start of something long term.
Schanke stood out of view watching them embrace with mixed feelings. On the one hand, he had felt that Nick and Natalie were supposed to be together. However, given his shenanigans lately, he had begun to feel that she deserved someone better. For six years, they had waffled back and forth, straddling the fine line between romance and friendship, but never making a commitment. At least with Steve, Natalie seemed to be happy and content.
"If Nick is going to be with Alyce, then this might be for the best," he mused. "Lord knows, she deserves a shot at happiness. And Steve seems like a nice guy." At that moment, he felt somebody brush up against him.
"Schank?" the vampire detective asked. "What are you doing here?"
"I was here to see Natalie. I suppose you're doin' the same thing?" the paunchy detective probed. After noticing him looking at the door, he gripped a handful of sports coat and continued, "Uh uh, Pal. Not right now. We need to talk about things."
"After I see..." he started and gazed into the room. There, he saw Natalie kissing Steve passionately. He froze in disbelief at the sight. "What?"
"It's called love at first sight, Nick. Although, I suppose it's been developing between them for sometime. Just as your relationship with Dr. Hunter had, I suppose. Come on, let's leave them alone," Schanke commented.
The immortal shook his head. He wanted to break up the scene in front of him.
"You had your chance, Nick. C'mon, we really do need to talk. Besides, if you're gonna be an item with Alyce, doesn't Natalie deserve a chance too? Be a man about this. Since you obviously have feelings for somebody else, let her go," Schanke advised.
The vampire concurred tersely, "Okay, let's drive. There are some things you need to know before I go." In a blur, he flew up the stairs.
The souvlaki-loving detective shook his head knowingly, "Man-o-man. How do I get myself into these things?" Throwing his hands up in the air, he followed his partner's path upstairs.
An hour later, Nick parked the Caddy out along the Ajo Trail far from the city. For most of the trip, the two men had kept their thoughts to themselves. Each one holding his opinion of the other's actions inside.
Finally, Schanke broke the silence, "So, where are we?"
"The Ajo Trail. I fly out here sometimes to think on things. You wanted to talk. Fine, let's talk," Nick shrugged.
"Okay," the other man agreed, collecting himself. This was going to be a lot harder than he thought. Finally, he started, "Nick, I just wanted to ask about what's happening to you. You seem so different now than when we were riding around in Toronto. What's up? "
Nick looked up at the starry sky and sighed, "I...don't know, Schanke. But, a lot has happened over the last few months to us...to me. I mean between coming here, dealing with the Alti situation not to mention Hope, Divia, and Dahak. Also, coming back from the dead as well as watching you, Tracy, and Natalie do the same has changed my viewpoint somewhat. But, the Duboises have changed me as well. Talking to Dave has helped me with some of my own insecurities. Plus, Xena's presence gives me a measure of protection against LaCroix. Finally, Alyce's reappearance has complicated things."
His partner nodded and asked, "How has she complicated things? You two had feelings for each other up in Toronto, remember?"
"But, I still care about Nat as well, Schank," Nick moaned. "I don't know how I feel or what to do."
Schanke snorted rudely and continued, "Oh, trust me. When Dave and I found you two in the museum, you seemed pretty certain at that point. Nick, I think the extra security is great, and yes, the Duboises are great friends. However, you have to stand on your own two feet at some point. You can't just walk in and out of relationships when you feel like it."
"I've been doing it for 800 years. You wouldn't understand."
The Polish detective chuckled derisively, "I wouldn't understand?" Holding his left hand up, he allowed the wedding band to glitter in the pale moonlight. "See that? That ring is a symbol of my fidelity to Myra. I love her and Jenny. You know what that means? Co-mmit-men-t. If you really wanna become mortal, Bud, you gotta learn about that trait. Maybe when you were a knight, you could have your pick of the peasant girls, but this is a whole new ballgame."
"This is different, I want to be with Natalie, but I can't do so as an immortal," Nick asserted, bristling with indignity over his friend's observation.
"She made that choice years ago. All you had to do was open your eyes and have faith in her and yourself."
"You make it sound so easy," the former knight doubted.
"If you had listened to your instincts, it might have been that way," Schanke observed. "Come on, Nick, did you see how happy she was? I saw how Alyce was looking at you back at Dave and Angie's place. Give us a break. Heck, give Natalie and yourself a break. After all this time, it seems that the choice has been made for both of you. Don't fight it, Buddy. Give happiness a chance for once. Try it. You might like it."
Taking in the words, Nick heard several different voices over the ages repeat them and memories urging him to take action. In the blink of an eye, LaCroix, Janette, Natalie, Alyce, Jeanne d'Arc among others paraded across his consciousness, telling him the same thing. Under such an onslaught, he had trouble formulating a response. Finally, he managed to blurt out, "I don't want to lose her, Schank."
"She'll always be your friend. Trust me. In the meantime, can you answer another question for me? It's not related to Natalie or Alyce, I promise," the paunchy detective assured him. After receiving a nod form the other, he queried, "I know about the history between Dave Dubois and Dijon. But, what is the connection between him and you? You haven't said anything, but somehow, I know there's a connection."
The former crusader shook his head again and explained, "Unfinished business, Schank. I could have taken care of Dijon while he was still mortal in the 1430s. Just as I did with the Barber, I let the opportunity pass me by. Because of my hesitation, Dijon has caused a great deal of pain over the centuries. Now, Dave might have to sacrifice all of his progress to defeat him."
"The Barber? Who's he?" the other detective inquired.
"Remember the case with Inspector O'Neal? The one where Brigid Hellman was killed?" Nick asked.
"Yeah, too bad. She was a great kid. But, that monster...Wait a minute! You mean to tell me that you knew that SOB?" his partner probed.
"In the late nineteenth century, he was Jack the Ripper. LaCroix brought him across, and I could have stopped him," the vampire explained.
Schanke looked incredulously at his friend. As with the peasant remark, he occasionally egged the other detective about medieval things. However, on the whole, the concept of Nick's immortality was still a new one to him. But the fact that the vampire detective had been alive way back when really floored him. Still, he would need to adjust to that nuance of Nick's life, especially in light of the current situation. Taking a deep breath, he continued, "Maybe I don't know him as well as you do, Nick, but I wouldn't count Dave out. Especially not with all of his friends there. I can't be there, but represent us well. And come back in one piece, okay?
"I'll do that. Thanks, Schank," Nick smiled.
"For helping me get my head on straight," the knight informed him.
"Hey, we're partners, right? All in a day's work. Now, let's do a quick patrol before we get too close to dawn. Hopefully, that'll keep Ramirez off of our tails for a while," Schanke replied pleasantly as they drove back toward the Old Pueblo. Maybe tomorrow, Nick had his other obligations, but for the next hour, the vampire was still his partner. And to the mortal riding in the passenger seat, that's all that mattered.
Early the next morning, Dave walked across the U of A with a clear purpose. For some reason, Caitlin had called him, requesting to talk with him over breakfast. Wondering what this was all about, he had left the apartment early so that he would have time to ponder her purpose. Deep down, he already knew what she wanted. "She wants to talk me out of this trip," he guessed. Having witnessed the second skirmish with Alti and Dijon, she had deduced the purpose of the European venture. "Sometimes, she's too caring for her good," he grumbled.
Walking into the Faculty Club, he spied his former boss sitting at a white table with a light blue umbrella and two wicker chairs. Quickly moving through the mass of empty eating places, he joined her.
"Good Morning, David," she greeted. "I hope you don't mind if I took the liberty of ordering for us. I remembered how you liked the Belgian waffles here."
"That's great, Caitlin. Thank you," he replied pleasantly. "What's up? How's everything at the library?"
"We're doing okay. Of course, we wish that you were still with us full time," she noted. "I wanted to thank you once again for continuing your purchasing duties."
"Always glad to help out," he mentioned. Then, after taking a sip of his cinnamon-apple tea, he probed, "But, you didn't ask me here just to complement me about my collection development activities, did you?"
The library dean sighed heavily and rubbed her eyes. Obviously, she had given this matter a great deal of consideration. "No, I did not. You do know why I called you here, I trust?" she asked.
"About my next trip, I assume?" he gathered. "Look, Caitlin, before you say anything, I'm going to tell you that after the events here the other day, it has become necessary. Remember the attack on the library? These things are going to be happening more and more frequently unless I nip it in the bud right now."
"But what can you do? You're going to get yourself killed for what? What point are you going to prove?" she pushed. "David, I was a friend of Tony Samuelsohn's too. But, he's dead and buried. Let him rest in peace."
"While his killer walks freely enjoying his deeds? Not a chance," he asserted firmly. His brow furrowed, and he trembled slightly.
"But, nobody knows who killed him," she argued. Then, studying his face, she realized, "Wait a minute. You do know, don't you?"
"I was there when it happened. Tony was muddling in some sensitive stuff. Certain folks took exception to his work and confronted him about it. They killed him and Pauline. Then, they attacked me. I...I don't remember much after that," he reported. "When I came to, I was on his front lawn next to their bodies. His notes were scattered about me. I do remember police sirens."
"And these creatures are like the ones who attacked you in the library?" she supposed. Seeing the surprise on his face, she continued, reducing her voice to a pale whisper, "Oh please, David. You wouldn't think that I missed the ash and the acrid smell when I came to check on you that night? I didn't say anything, but it appeared that you had disposed of a bunch of vampires. At least, they seemed like vampires, weren't they?"
"Their leader was the head of the killers from fifteen years ago. Promise me that you will not repeat this information to another living soul," he started.
"You know I won't," she concurred. "You know you can trust me on that note."
"I know that. Thanks," he agreed before resuming the account. "His name is Bertrand du Dijon."
"I've heard that name before. His name sounds medieval," she pondered. "Dijon...That was the capital of Burgundy, wasn't it?"
"It was indeed," he indicated. "Does the nickname "Butcher of Burgundy" mean anything to you?"
She thought for a minute before her eyes bugged out. "As in the 'butcher' who fought with the English in the Hundred Years War?" she gasped. "How?"
"It's him, all right," the professor nodded. "Now, he's after me."
"But why you?" she asked. "Is it because of the scrolls you got from Tony?"
"Partially," he nodded. "In addition, I have become a danger to him and his kind. Over the past few months, I have staked about a dozen of his ilk." The darkness descended across his face as he made the final point. Rather than fight it, he allowed the Child to partially surface.
"And we'll finish the job."
Caitlin shivered at this sight. Over the years, she had witnessed his lapses. However, it never ceased to unnerve her when this side of his personality assumed control. Despite the intellect remaining in the entity across from her, he was an upset and distraught little boy capable of mass destruction. "At least David is making progress in controlling it," she assured herself.
The Child snickered darkly across the table, "He ain't controlling me. We have an agreement. 'Sides, I'm trying to protect him, you, and everyone else on this campus. Don't y'all worry now...when we're done, Dijon'll be in no position to threaten anyone. I guarantee that."
"And what about David...I mean...both of you?" she stammered. "Excuse me, I'm sorry. I'm not used to talking to two people simultaneously in this fashion."
"Relax. Nobody is until they have to do it," he assured her. "We will come back from this little venture with everything resolved one way or the other. Because of that bastard's role in past events including potshots at my Big Brother and the Little Woman, we're taking him out. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. I've said my piece. I'm letting him back out." Putting his head down, Dave's personas flipped-flopped once again so that he was back in control. "Wow. What did he have to say?"
Caitlin shook her head and stated, "He wanted to tell me that you both were going to take care of business. Just promise me that you're going to be careful. I've come to value you as a colleague and the other faculty here do as well. We're in back of you all the way. Just come back safely and bring Angela back in one piece too."
"Count on it. This grudge-duel is just between me and Dijon," he assured her. Just then, their meals arrived at the table. "Ah, thanks," he told the waiter. After the other had left, he continued, "Besides, in the heart of Lorraine, what can happen?"
"Is that where you going?" she asked.
"That's only one stop on my "Mystery Tour". We start up in Brabant, work our way down to Rouen, Orleans, east to Domremy, and there, I'll find out where the battle will be," he noted between bites.
"Sounds like hellacious driving," she guessed.
"It will be. But, this isn't a vacation," he asserted. "This is strictly business."
"And not some lifelong crusade?" she wondered. "From what I know about you, I would say so."
"Maybe in part," he acquiesced. "A part of me has always wanted to do that, I admit. But now that he's coming after my family, my friends, my colleagues, and me, I'm taking the fight to him. I'm finishing this one now."
"And what if you come back in a pine box?" she doubted. "You've got a brilliant career ahead of you. What about that? What will Angie do?"
He thought about that one for a second. Knowing Angie and Xena both, Dijon would soon be dead at the hands of the Warrior Princess even if he failed in his quest. Then, there were Cybelle and Deirdre as well. "I have reinforcements. Trust me, the job will be done. As for Angie and the girls, I'm not dwelling on that right now. End of discussion," he commented. Then, he looked down at his watch and excused himself, "Whoops! It's almost 8:30! I have to teach at 9. Can you excuse me?"
"Sure," she agreed. "Just remember what I said, okay?"
"Absolutely," he nodded, handing her a ten-dollar bill for his part of the bill. "Keep the change."
"It'll be waiting for you when you return," she concurred. "Good luck."
He smiled. Caitlin had always been one of his strongest supporters all the way back to his student days. Now, she stood as firmly as ever in that regard. "Thank you. Keep the home fires burning and put the manuscript in the safe for secure keeping."
"Definitely. As soon as I get back to the library," she agreed.
With that, he stood up and slowly made his way down the terrace steps. Once outside of the Union, he noticed Steve waiting for him. "Hey, what are you doing here?" he asked.
"What? You're not happy to see me, Dubie?" he quipped. "And here I schlepped over here from Downtown just to see you."
"Downtown? What?" Dave puzzled.
"I got transferred to the local office here in Tucson. But, my first assignment is to solve the mess from the other night," the FBI agent asserted.
"Uh uh, you aren't following me into that one, Petersen. I don't want any of my friends getting hurt. Bad enough that Angie's going along," he argued.
"No buts, Chief," Steve closed off the argument. "I'm on assignment for this one. You're going to Europe and so am I."
Dave wanted to tell his friend how crazy he was. Instead, he grinned and stated, "You're nuts, but I appreciate the moral support. C'mon, you can sit in on my class, and we can talk afterwards."
Steve rolled his eyes playfully and cracked, "Aw man! You're really out to bore me, aren't you?"
"Call it the price of friendship," the professor chuckled as they walked past Old Main, heading for the Social Sciences Building.
Angie walked past Lori's desk and into her office. To everyone around her, it was painfully obvious that the oncologist had a great deal on her mind. However, few people in the world knew exactly what the nature of her problems consisted of. As she approached her door, she sensed a familiar presence. Turning the corner, she discovered her best friend and former matron-of-honor waiting for her. "Karen? What are you doing here?" Noting the latter's suitcase, she quipped, "You look ready to go on a trip."
"Can we go into your office?" the nurse requested. "This is kind of private, Angie."
"Sure," Angie agreed, unlocking the door. After walking in, she secured it and added, "As much as I like to see you, Karen, what's up?"
"I saw the last fight between Alti, the two Xenas, and Dave on the news last week. And then, Steve Petersen called me two days ago with the news that Dave's taken on this medieval crusade to kill the chief Enforcer or something. Is there something I should know about?" Karen inquired.
Angie slumped wearily in her chair. For the past three days, she had been lying and telling half-truths to her superiors, Lori Applegate, and several other important people about the nature of the trip. However, this wasn't just anyone putting the question to her. Karen had seen both Dave and her at their absolute best and worst. He had been staying with her family on that first fateful night. "Yes, what Steve said is true. We are going to France actually. Dave's got some unfinished business over there with Bertrand du Dijon and this is tied to that night in Cambridge," she confessed, tears starting to run down her cheeks. "I...I wish he had never accepted that beast's challenge! I know there are things he has to do, but is this one of them?"
Karen frowned at her words. Knowing Dave as she did, he would stop at nothing to protect her and the girls. "Yes, it is," she advised her friend, hugging the latter tightly. "And I'm going with you."
"Now, wait a minute," the doctor protested.
"No way am I staying back here!" Karen countered adamantly. "Not with you and Dave packing for bear out on the edge of civilization! If it is tied to that night, then my family and I are involved, Angie! And if so, I will see it through alongside both of you!" Then, she lowered her voice to a whisper and continued, "Besides, Xena is close by, isn't she?"
"You know she is," Angie replied flatly. Shaking her head, she tried to think of ways to talk her friend out of going. But, in the end, she knew that such efforts would prove futile. "You know, I'm glad you're going to be there, Karen. I'm going to need support on this one."
"Who else is going?" her guest inquired.
"Francesca, Eve, Deirdre, Cybelle, Nick Miles, Alyce Harris, Dave, Steve, me, and I guess, you," the doctor told her. "We're leaving tonight and I'm only here for a few minutes. In fact, since I have no email messages or phone calls, I'm taking off. Let's go."
"Sure," Karen agreed, following her outside and waiting for her to lock the door.
As they passed the front desk, Lori piped up, "Dr. Dubois? Are you okay? Dr. Fishburne said that you weren't going to be in for another week or so. Is everything all right?"
"Sorry, Lori. I have a lot on my mind right now," Angie excused herself. "I wish I could stay and chat but we leave in a few hours. It's a big family crisis."
The receptionist glanced at Karen who shrugged back at her while continuing down the hall.
"Normally, she's so pleasant and open to conversation. Whatever's the problem, I hope she can take care of it," she worried. Watching the elevator doors close, Lori wondered just what was going on with her and her husband. "Please be safe, Dr. Dubois," she hoped. "Whatever it is, come back safely."
Dave, Steve, Karen, and Angie sat quietly around the table, eating homemade lasagna and drinking iced tea. Normally, such a gathering would be accompanied by festive conversation and laughter. However, everyone silently kept to themselves, considering their own thoughts and hopes for the future. The days ahead would be a challenge...that's for sure. Given that, they wanted their own time for silent meditation and prayer.
Dave sighed and picked restlessly at the plate in front of him. His face's external darkness reflected the howling tempest within him waiting to be released at any moment. He really wasn't hungry...nor did he care about the food, but he knew that Angie would fret if he didn't eat. For her sake, therefore, he forced a few spoonfuls down the hatch.
His wife couldn't stop worrying about him. She knew better than anyone about his moods and feelings. Fortunately, she had Xena to help her. But, he would have to find his own way before guiding the Child there as well.
Steve ate heartily, but his mind remained occupied with other things. For one thing, as in high school, the anger once again flowed off of his friend like the heat off of a sidewalk in mid-July. "This isn't healthy," he noted to himself. "Dave, please hold on." In addition, Natalie's face floated in front of him. It almost didn't seem fair that he had finally found a person to care about at this point. "I will come back. Natalie, I will make it for you, for us," he vowed.
Karen confined herself to the salad. Given how nervous she felt, the tomato sauce would upset her stomach. But, like Dave, she knew Angie would be upset if she didn't try to eat something, so she chewed on the greens for a while. As with Steve, she was alarmed by her longtime friend's increased moodiness. "You don't know how hard I'm praying for you, Dave," she thought sincerely.
Sensing all of the attention from the people around him, the professor stood up and suddenly announced, "I've got something to do before we leave. Princess, I have everything packed and waiting in the bedroom. Steve, the bow and weapons are ready, secure, and waiting. Anything I forgot?"
"How about your sense of caution, Hot Shot?" Angie muttered testily.
"Cool it," he growled softly. "We've already been through this. What I'm doing doesn't merit combat pay or anything. I'll be right back." Having said that, he walked out the front door, fired up the Subaru, and took off into the Sonoran night, leaving his colleagues to ponder the meaning of his last words.
Eve zipped her duffel bag closed and placed it in the front room. She was disturbed by the negative vibrations coming from across the complex. For the past three days, she had prayed and fasted, hoping that Eli would have provided her friends with spiritual guidance and comfort. But alas, those efforts had been in vain. Now, they would need to go through with this dire quest. "It can only end sadly," she told herself.
"Well, we must think positively," Francesca asserted, putting her own stuff beside the first bag. "Besides, have you considered that this might be a test for us as well as for Dave?"
The former Messenger concurred, "I have, and yes, that seems likely. I just hope if we stick together, we can persevere." Looking out the window, she wondered, "Isn't that his car leaving?"
"Why yes, it is," the literature professor confirmed. "Where is he going?"
"I think I know," her roommate replied. "He's going to talk with his professor. To say goodbye." Stretching out with her feelings, she realized, "Francesca! Can you let Gabrielle out? I think we have a problem!"
Francesca stared at Eve for a second before realizing that the latter was suddenly turning white. "Okay, here goes," she agreed, concentrating and letting the teal glow wash over her.
"What's wrong, Eve?" the Amazon queen inquired, her staff in hand.
"We have a visitor coming. He just arrived in the courtyard and..." the other woman nervously informed her. "...in fact..."
A subtle yet well-defined rapping came from the door.
"Who?" the battling bard queried.
"Come in, Lucius. If your purpose is peaceful, you may stay," the princess announced, sounding more secure than she felt.
Gabrielle watched as the door opened, allowing LaCroix to enter the dwelling. Stepping back into the corner, she tried to make herself as inconspicuous as possible.
For his part, the former Roman general ignored her for the moment, concentrating on his step-sister instead. "Liv...Eve," he started, his mouth twitching in disgust at the thought of having to call her by that name. "Greetings, Sister. I trust you are well?"
"I've been better, Lucius," Eve replied courteously. "Still, I have been worse as well. I am packed and about to leave on a journey."
He noted the bags, his eyebrow arching, "I'd say so. But, surely you aren't thinking of accompanying Dubois on his fool's errand?"
"It is not a fool's errand," the former conqueror told him frankly. "Not if it gains him a measure of resolution. His hate for that Enforcer is like an open wound, which refuses to heal. I'm beginning to think that this trip might be his salvation one way or the other."
"He could die," her stepbrother scoffed loudly. "And you could get seriously hurt in the cross-fire. Please, don't go."
"Why, Lucius," Gabrielle realized. "You do care."
"About her, yes," he growled. "As for you, I would see you and Xena unharmed so that I might deal with you where and when I choose."
"What makes you think that I would stay back here?" Eve proposed. "Why would I deny David spiritual comfort if I can give it to him?"
"You still believe in that garbage, don't you?" he doubted. "Love is not the way! Look at what Dubois is doing? Do you think he's doing this out of love?"
"No," Eve agreed. "He is acting out of self-preservation. However, the interests of his family and friends are also on his mind."
"And I wonder who called Dijon in the first place?" Gabrielle supposed. "From what I heard, Lucius, you started this mess."
LaCroix scowled at the blonde bard. Her mouth was certainly as big as it had been in the old days. Once again, however, he remembered his priorities at the moment and rebutted, "I did what any vampire should have done. I called the Enforcers. Enough of the mutual incriminations. "
"What was it that you came here to tell us about?" Eve asked.
"Yes, I wanted to mention that the Elders gave their approval to the proceedings. They won't interfere," he reported.
"I cannot intercede either. Well, as with you, I depart shortly. Travel well, and I will see you both soon," he concluded and walked back out into the night. In very short order, he took off into the night sky, heading for his lodgings.
"That certainly was interesting," the bard commented. "I'm glad he's gone."
"As am I," Eve concurred. "C'mon, its almost time."
Dave walked about the grassy area in back of Old Main. The scorch marks from the battle still scarred the landscape. The vision of Dijon's challenge still fresh in his mind. His words echoing over and over...
"Meet me where our nightmares began. Meet me where our nightmares began."
"Yeah, we'll see about that," he doubted, turning toward the Social Sciences Building. Walking around the structure, he sought out the plaque on the southern side. Once there, he stopped and dusted it off.
"Hi, Tony and Pauline, it's me. I wanted to let you know that we're heading out to take care of Dijon once and for all. By now, you probably know about the battle here last week with Alti and the Enforcers. With everything else, the head SOB issued me a challenge that I accepted. One way or another, I will end this situation. I still think about you both and follow your example everyday. Take care."
As he turned to leave, he noticed a set of headlights behind him. A quick psychic scan revealed that Nick was behind the wheel. Approaching quickly, he leaned into the car and asked, "Howdy, Nick. What brings you out here?"
"Your wife actually," the detective replied. "She didn't know where you were. I was just heading over to your place. Want a lift?"
"That sounds great," the professor accepted, climbing in. "Let's go. By the way, do you have any Hildegard?"
"I'm way ahead of you," the immortal informed him, popping a cassette in his player. From the speakers came the relaxing, surreal, and mystical twelfth century chant which always proved relaxing to him. This instance was no exception.
"Ah, thank you, Nick. That's just what the doctor ordered," his friend sighed contentedly.
"I'm glad you feel that way, Dave," the vampire responded. "We have a long road ahead of us. Consequently, you need to keep your head on straight. Understand?"
"I'm not out of control, Nick. I'm just focused," the medievalist explained. "I've got a job to do."
"Keep that thought in the forefront of your mind. You'll need it," Nick told him bluntly as they drove toward Speedway and east toward the latter's home. It would prove a difficult journey on the mind as well as the body of the collected group of friends. Yet, their shared love and belief in each other would help them persevere in the days and weeks ahead....
THE END (for now)
Note: Thanks for your interest! Once again, my apologies for taking so long with this one. (RL kept hammering at me....) Anyway, I'm back in my groove again. Look for the next story "Step into My Nightmare" soon! Please send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org . If you liked this story, please visit my "Story Emporium" site at http://Dante_6.tripod.com/stories/emporium.html . If you want to know when this and other stories come out, please feel free to join my "DuboisChroniclesUpdates" on Yahoo Groups.
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