Step Into My Nightmare
David J. Duncan
December 2001

Note: The characters from "Forever Knight" belong to Sony Tri-Star. The characters from "Xena Warrior Princess" belong to Renaissance Studios and StudiosUSA. The characters and scenarios from  "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns" Belong to Universal. All other characters and situations are fictious and are of my creation. Please feel free to send comments to .

Thanks to Emily and to Jarvinia for their beta reading.

Preface [Queen's Hut, AmazonVillage]

Gabrielle, Bard-Queen of the Amazons, writes....

After a great deal of build up, the fateful meeting between David and Dijon finally took place. One would never have guessed, however, at the related events to that encounter. Nor what would follow it.

Chapter 1 [DijonBurgundyFrance]

The late Spring skies crackled with lightning and smelt of the drenching rains falling from the sky. In a display which would have made Hollywood's best special effects gurus green with envy, the storm produced a kaleidoscope of light, cannon-like sound bursts, pelting downpours, and a howling wind whipping through the streets. Despite the break from the recent unseasonable heat wave, most of the city's denizens stayed in their homes, choosing to remain dry and secure while awaiting calmer weather.

In the midst of the city, the Palace of the Dukes and Estates of Burgundy stood tall and majestic. Built to withstand sieges and heavy military activity, the granite stones shrugged off the wind and water on that evening just as they had for centuries. The tour groups had come and gone with the sunset and the brewing storm, leaving the facility alone with its decorations, battlements, and ghosts.

About 10PM, a commanding figure descended from the unsettled skies. Looking all around, he made sure that nobody was in the area. When he felt safe, Bertrand du Dijon stepped out of the shadows. As much as he detested having to skulk around his ancestral home, the Enforcer knew that it wouldn't be prudent to run into a gaggle of mortals on any of his visits. "If my father knew how the rabble were trampling through his home, he would have them all slaughtered on the spot!" he exclaimed angrily. Producing a heavy iron set of keys, he unlocked an oak door on the southwest side of the facility. As the door creaked open, a musty smell wafted up to meet him. To most people, this door's purpose had remained a mystery for the previous 350 years. But to the vampire, its purpose was crystal-clear: to keep the peasants out.

Descending the stone staircase, Dijon made his way through the narrow passages, pressing deeper and deeper into the Earth. After a half-hour hike, he stood before another heavy wooden door. Using yet another iron key, the former mercenary let himself into the inner chamber. Once inside, he used his enhanced vision to take in the entire room. Surrounding him, the stone sarcophagi of his ancestors presented an impressive sight. "Bon soir," he greeted. "It is I, Bertrand, who has been too long gone from this place." Not expecting an answer, he inspected the coffins, wiping dust off a few of them, and recalling the people who now slept there. His father, Philippe, had ruled this region with an iron hand, influencing policy decisions from England to the edge of the Christian world, and, through his alliances with England and then, with France, determined the outcome of that series of conflicts which those academic fools liked to call "Le Guerre d' Cent Ans" or "The Hundred Years War". His brother, Charles, was aggressive but fancied himself invincible until his untimely defeat and demise at LakeConstance by the Swiss. With him went the past glories of the duchy.

"If only you had not listened to that French upstart," the vampire-knight hissed to his father's tomb. "I would have been here to keep our fortunes afloat." As he said those words, his mind drifted back...


[Fall, 1443]

Bertrand du Dijon hurried past the servants toward his father's master chamber. In his mind, he wondered why he had been recalled from the battlefield. In that regard, the mercenary had been a huge success, mopping up both French and English opposition wherever he found them. However, he wondered about his father's policy. Since the French fortunes had risen, the latter was trying to get on the side of their so-called king, Charles, much to his son's chagrin.

Knocking on the door, he asked, "Father?"

"Bertrand?" the other replied.

"Oui," the knight answered.

"Come in," Jean bade.

The younger man entered impatiently and strode up to the table where his father sat waiting for him. The room was covered in luxurious trappings: tapestries, a fine bookshelf, carpeting, and a gigantic stone fireplace off to the side.
Behind his table, Philippe du Bourgogne gave his son an imposing stare. Even though his hair was turning snowy-white, his face worn heavily by time's passage, and his gait hobbled by old war wounds, the Old Man still commanded the respect of his offspring and wouldn't be questioned on any point. "We have a problem, my Son," he noted.

"What problem is that?" Dijon demanded. "Our armies are winning in the field. The cloth factories are producing well. Our blockades are cutting into English exports. Tell me, what is the problem?"

The older man smiled. Sometimes, his son could be so dense and not see the forest for the trees. "And what about our diplomatic efforts, hmm?? While you've been out achieving glory on the battlefield, I've been negotiating," he reported.

"Those diplomats talk too much. They'll addle your brain," the knight scoffed. "Besides, what did the French have to say for himself this time?"

Jean bristled and slammed his fist angrily on the table. "Charles is the French king, and you would do well not to forget that! Any claim that the English might have had is no longer viable. Besides, you have been the cause of much debate in those circles as of late."

That comment got Dijon's attention. "Me? And why is that? I haven't done anything to those fools in 15 years at least!" he laughed.

"It is what you and your troops did at Compeigne and Rouen, Bertrand. You and your English allies," his father sighed heavily. "You committed a massive faux pas in judgment."

The son scanned his memories of those places. In 1430, he had only recently become a knight. Against his father's wishes, Dijon had volunteered to serve with his older brother, Jean du Bretage, at Compiegne. There, they had defeated the French and captured their miraculous leader, Jeanne d'Arc. After two years with the woman, the English burned her in Rouen's old marketplace as a witch. Ever since, people had looked at him with scorn. Of all of his fellow soldiers, he remembered one mysterious Brabantine, Nicolas, who had soundly criticized him before and after the execution. "Weaklings. All of them," he snarled.

"Nevertheless, they are now in control of things. You have become a hindrance and a marked man, Bertrand," Philippe advised him. "What should I do with you?"

The knight shook his head furiously and cracked, "They think they can kill me, do they? Well, let them try! I was perfectly within my rights to sell her to the English as I did. Besides, your precious king failed to ransom her. Let him worry about it. Besides, what would you do to me?"

The older man shook his head furiously and growled, "Don't be so stubborn. Do you think that I want to tell you this? You are my son, my flesh and blood. I am trying to save your life."

"And how do you propose to do that?"

Philippe scratched his chin and started, "The Pope is putting together a crusade to stop the Turks. He has offered to let you be one of the leaders."

Dijon laughed in disbelief. "Me? Lead a crusading army? Surely, you're not taking this seriously, are you?"

"I am," the other man gravely asserted. "And I am telling you to do the same. My only other option is to cast you out."

"Cast me out? But, I'm your son! You can't do that! Don't tell me that damnable agreement is that important to you!" Dijon spat. Seeing his father's continued earnestness, he roared, "It is that important to you!"

"The family must survive, Bertrand. If you so choose, you may leave for Rome immediately with my leave," the elder man informed him, punctuating his statement with an air of finality.

The younger man arose in disgust. "So, you think you can save yourselves by sacrificing me? Well, I'll outlive all of you! Do you hear me? I'm going to fight as you've asked me to, but I'll be back to see you in your grave!" he bellowed. Picking up his sword, he stormed out of the chamber and out of the castle.

Philippe sighed heavily and a tear formed in his left eye. How he wished that Bertrand would understand that he was being forced to do this act. "My Son, be careful what you wish for. May God watch over you," he continued wistfully to the empty chamber.

[Modern Day]

Dijon studied his father's tomb once again. His boast had indeed come to pass through a weird twist of fate. While fighting in the East, the Crusading army faltered badly against the Ottoman Turks. Slipping away from the field, he had tried to find passage back to Europe. However, in Istanbul, the vampire who became his master, Ali, brought him across. From that point on, he had learned about the way of the vampire and then, the way of the Enforcer.

"I told you, Old Man," he smiled to the cold stone slab. "And I will triumph over the last of my enemies as well. The Brabantine knight and a particularly infuriating mortal will both die before I'm finished! Rest assured of that!"

Sensing that the sun was about to rise, the former knight settled himself on the floor to wait out the day. The battle would come soon enough for his liking....

Additional notes: The argument between Xena and Cybelle took place in "The Die is Caste" from the "Amazon Scrolls" series. Also, the last run-in between Dave, Angie, and Stuart Dubois took place in "The Honeymoon" earlier in this series.

Chapter 2 [AmherstMA: The Next Morning]

Cybelle scratched her head perplexedly. Her packed suitcase sat on the bed. The coffee maker and stove were both turned off. The house was in order. Still, she felt as if something needed to be done. "What is it?" she wondered.

"What is it, Auntie?" Deirdre inquired, entering the room and looking about.
"It's nothing, Deirdre," the elder priestess advised. "I'm just making sure that everything's done before we leave."

"As far as I can tell, you got everything finished. And Grandma Dubois has Jonny. But, where is Uncle Matt? I heard you two arguing last night," her niece noted.

Cybelle sighed heavily. Just the night before, she and her husband had argued about her newly adopted lifestyle and its implications. He had demanded that she be a simple housewife. She refused, citing her right to do what was best for all concerned. Earlier, he had stormed out the door, speeding off in his truck. "Your uncle and I had issues to resolve. Now, come. I hope to be gone before he comes back."

The younger woman nodded in agreement. The last thing she wanted was to witness another argument. She still remembered her aunt's dispute with Xena back in the Amazon village concerning her father and grandfather and had no wish to see the former's temper flare again. "Bad enough that Papa's upset," she mused.

At that moment, they heard a car screech to a halt outside followed by two doors slamming. A moment later, the front door opened and closed.

"Cybelle! Get in here!" Matt demanded.

"Not now! I've said everything that I'm going to say!" she bellowed.

"Stuart, I told you she was being unreasonable!" her husband stated.

Stuart Dubois snorted indignantly, "Stay here. I'll deal with this." Despite all of his efforts, his children were a grave disappointment. He wasn't about to let his daughter stray down this fool path and wreck everything that she and her husband had created for themselves. Clomping loudly through the living room and down the hallway, he barged in on the two priestesses. "What is this crap?" he demanded.

"None of your concern, Dad. Just leave us be," Cybelle told him, turning her back to him.

" 'Dad' ? " Deirdre whispered fearfully, staring at the intruder and quaking.
"You'll face me when I'm talking to you!" he roared, seizing Cybelle's arm.
His daughter wrenched her arm free and spat, "Since when did you ever have anything worthwhile to say?"

"Why, you!" he growled and backhanded her hard across the face.

Deirdre quaked with terror. This man was her grandfather. The one who had terrorized her father, forcing his personality to split into two parts. He was almost akin to the Boogey Man at least from what her sisters had related to her. Despite these feelings, she made herself stand tall and firm. No matter what their relationship, the man had no right to touch an Althanorian priestess. "Leave her alone!" she challenged.

"Who are you?" he snarled low. "Another freak? You aren't worth my time!"

"KeepÖkeep away from us!" the younger woman directed.

"Right," he chuckled in disbelief. "Make me, little girl." Before she could react, he crossed the room and pushed her back into the china cabinet.

Landing awkwardly, the young priestess tried to stand again, but her ankle protested the action. "By the goddess, I've sprained it," she grimaced. Worse still, she had cut her hand on the cabinet's splintering glass.

Fortunately for her, the elder man had forgotten about her for the moment. Summoning all of her concentration, she created a portal and crawled toward it.

To her own credit, her aunt managed to create one windblast, driving the attacker backward. But, due to her condition, it wouldn't last. "Go!" she told her niece. "Get help!"

Deirdre nodded and reluctantly disappeared into the mist.


In the predawn darkness, everyone in the Dubois household slept fretfully. The impending situation prevented anybody from getting any extended sleep. Still, they managed to doze off and on, managing to gain some rest.

Dave stirred at about 4:30AM. Something wasn't right. "But then again, when is it these days?" he wondered impatiently. Still, this feeling was different from the rest of the situation. Pondering the feeling for a second, he discerned that it was coming through the mental link he shared with his sister. Something was happening back in Massachusetts at that very moment.

Angie blinked her eyes in the darkness beside him and asked, "Dave? What's going on?"

"Nothing that I can tell," he fibbed, trying not to worry her.

She elbowed him in the side and declared, "You know what I'm getting at. I'm feeling something in my head. Something's going on."

He sighed in frustration. If his wife felt it too, then something was definitely wrong back there. "I'm going to check on the girls. Be right back."

She nodded earnestly. As with her husband, she knew they didn't need anything else to deal with right now. "Hurry back, okay?"

"You betcha," he agreed, walking out into the front room. On the couch bed, he heard Steve snoozing away. Across the room, Karen slept restlessly on an air mattress. Then, he felt a powerful shove pushing at him. "What is going on?" he whispered.

Then, he felt Deirdre's pain followed by Cybelle's duress. Grasping his head, he started to stagger across the room.

"Papa! Mama!" Lauren and Karen screamed from their room.

"That cinches it!" their father growled, rushing into the other bedroom. "Girls, are you all right?"

The nine-year old twins nodded reassuringly.
"We are, Papa," Karen advised. "But, Dee-Dee's hurt!"

"IÖI know," he concurred, wincing at the throbbing in his head.

At that moment, Angie, Karen, and Steve barged into the room.
"Dave, what's going on?" the oncologist wondered. "I can feel Cybelle and Deirdre." Hurrying over to the bed, she tried to comfort their daughters.

The medievalist felt the pain getting worse. Soon, it would be unbearable. Then, the spasms started again. "NoÖnotÖnow."

Karen rubbed his shoulder concernedly. The last thing they needed was for the Child to take over. "Calm down, it's going to be okay," she tried to soothe.

"NoÖnot allÖright," he snarled. "Somethin' bad's goin'Öon." Trembling on the brink, he gripped the side of his daughters' dresser.

At that moment, mist poured into a corner of the room, forming into a shorter version of the familiar column. From that portal, Deirdre crawled laboriously into the room. "Am I home?" she asked fearfully.

Angie rushed over to her daughter's side and recoiled at the sight of the latter's condition. "Deirdre? What happened?" she demanded, embracing the injured woman.

"MamaÖit was awful," she whimpered, rubbing her ankle.
"Who did this to you?" Dave demanded.

"Now, PapaÖplease," the priestess advised. "It wasn't Auntie's fault."

"What wasn't her fault?" the elder Karen pressed.

The twins gasped. "Bad man with Uncle Matt. Big man."

"Who?" Angie asked.

"There was anÖargument this morning. Uncle Matt drove off and came back," Deirdre sobbed, "We were hoping to be gone before that, but he brought company."

"And this manÖdid this to you?" her father pushed with increasing fury. "Who is it? Your mother asked you a question."

"It wasÖGrandpa. Aunt Cybelle called himÖ'Dad'," she confessed and broke down in a teary fit.

Both Karen and Steve glanced nervously at their former classmate, anticipating the eruption, which was about to occur.

For his part, Dave shook violently, gasping for air, growling in rage and anger. Turning to his daughter, he snarled, "And he did this to you? Answer me!"

"Dave, stop it!" his wife lectured although she knew the words were futile.

Deirdre winced again. "Arrgh, he's still beating on Auntie! Papa, make him stop!" she cried.

"And he did this to you?" her mother asked.

"Yes," she whispered low.

The oncologist felt a surge of anger within herself. For once, she shared her husband's fury. She still remembered how her father-in-law had treated her on the day after the wedding. Now, the miserable lowlife was wrecking more damage. "I should let Xena handle this one," she told herself, starting to reach for her sword.

But, before she could act, Dave darted through the dissipating mist, leaving everyone scrambling to find a way after him.


Dubois watched his daughter stumble away from him and exclaimed, "Hopefully, this will teach you some manners!"

"Go to Hell," she muttered.

"What! I'll teach you!" he bellowed, swiping again at her. "I never taught you anything about this garbage!"

She raised her head slowly. From within her daze, she sensed something familiar. Her eyes bulged. "No, not him! Not now!"
"Who now?" the enraged man laughed. "Hey! You out there! Take a number and I'll deal with you later."

"Oh, I think you'll see me now, Asshole," a voice snarled.

Dubois smiled and turned to face the newcomer. "Well, well, if it isn't the Prodigal Son. I was wondering when I would run into you again."

"I would have to be sorry if I were to be a Prodigal," the professor growled, advancing on the other.
"Where's the other one? Did she go crying to you?" the older man baited.

Cybelle interjected, "Dad, don't push him!"

"Why not? What's he gonna do? Breathe on me? He wouldn't dare!"

"Try me. That was my daughter you manhandled!" the younger man snarled.

His father swung his fist at the enraged professor, but came up empty. "Stand still!" he roared.

"What? And let you deck me?" the younger man snickered darkly. "I don't think so." His left eye glowed with a yellow hue. "It's time you learned a lesson for a change."
The elder Dubois laughed incredulously, "And what are youÖ?" Then, he felt himself being lifted off of the ground. "What? What's going on?"

"Just the garbage you taught to me," his son informed him in a voice dripping with rage. "I warned you before. Lay a hand on my family, and I would take it out on your hide. You just wouldn't listen, would you? Time for you to learn your lesson!" With a flicker of his eyebrow, he flung his father through the air and against the nearby wall.

"HÖHow?" the attacker wondered in amazement. "ThÖThat's impossible!"

Dave smiled wickedly and closed his eyes, allowing the Child to surface completely. "Nah. Not for us. 'Sides, I'm proud of Big Brother for smackin' ya," the latter replied confidently.
Cybelle shook her head fearfully. Bad enough that she couldn't intervene, but now, he had released his darker persona. Given how Dave felt about their father, she feared the worst.

Dubois quaked furiously and managed to stand. "You always did like dramatics. I'll break you of that!"

The Child hissed, "Ya'll try!" Dropping his shoulder, he rammed the older man in the chest, pinning him against the wall. "Now, listen up! I would love nothin' better than to end this permanently, but then, I would be like ya. Go ahead! Call us freaks again! I dare ya!" Going nose to nose with his father, he spat, "Take a good look at your handiwork!"

Dubois stared into his son's enraged eyes and stiffened at the sight. "MyÖGod. YouÖyou," he stammered.

The Dark One snickered with grim satisfaction. After years of pain and suffering, that priceless look made everything worthwhile. "Yes, me. Ya created me! And how does that make ya feel?"

"Get away from me!" the other man protested, managing to push the Child back and freeing himself. Reaching into his pocket, he took out a pistol and aimed it. "I'll kill you!"

The injured priestess shouted, "Stop this!"

"Tell'im to put it down," the Child shrugged. "He's the fool here, not me."

For a brief second, Dubois hesitated. Then, he fired the weapon. "Something as warped as you doesn't deserve to live."

The other man erected a psychic shield, easily deflecting the projectile. "That was your last chance, Old Man," he growled, advancing on his father. "C'mere. I owe ya a whooping!"
Suddenly, a whirring noise split the air, and a silver blur cut between the two men.
"Crap! Xena, this is my fight! Leave us alone!" the Child roared.

The Warrior Princess caught her chakram and strode purposefully into the room. "And if you kill him? Tell me, what purpose will that serve?" she asked.

"He needs to pay!" he bellowed indignantly.

"And he will," she advised him. "But, you can't step over that line. He will answer for what he's done. Don't make me have to fight you as well."

"Like ya would," he snarled.

The Thracian warrior arched her right eyebrow and indicated, "If I have to, I will." Drawing her sword, she stood ready for combat. "Don't make me do this."

Steve yelled from the hall. "Dave, listen to her! I made a call to the State Police and they're coming!"

"Good. They'll arrest him," the elder Dubois huffed, climbing to his feet once again.

"They're coming for you," the FBI agent indicated. By now, the sirens were approaching quickly. "Dave, let him go!"

The Child snorted and laughed, "Too bad. Old Man, stay out of my way." With that, he concentrated, allowing Dave to resume control.

"What?" he wondered, looking about the room, "I'm back." Glancing at his friends, he noted, "Thanks, Xena for reminding You Know Who about his obligations."

"My pleasure," the warrior concurred. "Now, let's go. I have no wish to run into the authorities."

"Right. Take off," he indicated. "You can tell Angie it's okay to come here."

Xena smiled knowingly. Even half-dazed, he could still plan on his feet. Giving the elder man a stern look, she asked, "Cybelle?"

"Yes," the priestess agreed, willing up a portal. "Tell Angie we could use her here."

"Indeed," the Warrior Princess concurred while stepping into the mist.

Sensing that the police were about to arrive, Cybelle managed one more spell. Even though she was still clad in her priestess robes, the officers would see her as a normal woman.

Steve nodded in approval. Hopefully, Stuart Dubois would finally get his just desserts this time. Meantime, he needed to keep the elder man there. "Mr. Dubois, I'm placing you under arrest."

"Right," Dubois cracked. "And who are you pretending to be, Petersen?"

Steve bristled at the comment, but kept his composure. Producing his ID, he retorted, "This is serious. As a FBI agent, I'm placing you under arrest for several counts of child abuse not to mention two counts of assault and battery."

"You aren't putting those things on me! I have rights!" the enraged man shouted.

"And I am prepared to read you those rights," the agent stated firmly, producing his pistol. "Don't make me hurt you. Now, put the gun down and place your hands on your head."

Dubois looked at his son and vowed, "This isn't finished yet! Mark my words! My lawyer will have me outta jail within the hour!"

Dave twitched but kept his composure. After taking a deep breath, he stated, "Oh, you're done all right. But, if you come after us again, I'll make you sorry." Locking glances with the other man, he added, "Truly sorry."

By that time, the police had arrived and were rushing into the house. "Agent Petersen?" a voice called.

"In here, Sergeant Rivers," Steve called. When the uniformed police officer appeared, he added, "This is Stuart Dubois, the man I told you about. I was about to read him his rights."

Rivers grinned. Dubois had badmouthed him publicly on a few occasions. Funny, how life gave one the chance to get even. "Allow me," he requested. After the other nodded, he began reciting the Miranda mantra. When he had finished, he glanced up at Dave and inquired, "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Just a little upset," the medievalist informed him. "My step-daughter and sister are banged up though."

"Was that the woman on the couch? Brown hair, about 5'5"? There's a doctor treating her right now. I don't know how she got out here so quickly, but I guess it's not wise to look a gift horse in the mouth," the state officer continued as he pulled his prisoner onto his feet.

Dave and Steve smiled at each other. No, best not to answer any unnecessary questions at this point.
"Is there anything else?" Rivers asked. "I will need a statement from everyone involved."

"Give us a minute alone, will you?" the FBI agent requested. When the other had left, he asked his friend, "See? Everything's going to work out. Now, let's get those statements recorded and get back to our business at hand. Besides, Karen's waiting back in Tucson with the twins."

Dave shrugged noncommittally. "For me, it'll never be over, Steve. Today was only one victory."

"But it was a big one. Come now, you need to think about the bigger matter at hand," Steve told him.

"Dijon," the professor agreed. "Right. Let's get this paperwork out of the way." After rubbing his friend's shoulder, he helped his sister to her feet and helped her down the hall.

Chapter 3 [Amherst]

The police stayed for about two hours, questioning everyone thoroughly and scribbling away in their notebooks. Judging by the damage done to the room, they didn't exactly believe that their prisoner had damaged everything by himself. Sergeant Rivers glanced over at Dave on more than one occasion during these proceedings. While the professor seemed calm now, he always looked like a beast ready to pounce on something. "But then, when hasn't David been like this?" he asked himself, recalling some of the bitter arguments between father and son.
Dave glanced over at the police officer and asked, "Did I answer everything, Sergeant?"

"Within reason," the law enforcement official agreed. "Given the history between you and your father, nobody's going to question how you reacted. I do wish that you would get some help for that temper of yours."

"He is," Angie interjected, entering the room with her med bag in tow. "He's on a regimen of herbs and reduced caffeine-intake, among other things. Trust me, we'll get there, Sir."

Rivers nodded and smiled. While they hadn't met, he had heard how good an influence Angie had been on her husband. "I think you have a lot to do with that, Dr. Dubois."

She flushed pink and shook her head, "WellÖI'd like to think that I have something to do with it, but if Dave didn't want to do it, it wouldn't happen."

The officer pondered this point for a second. At least, David's separation from his father seemed to be doing some good. "I'll process the paperwork and place these statements into the file."

Dave motioned with his eyes toward his father and asked, "And what about him? What now?"

"That depends upon your sister and her visitor," Rivers replied. "If they come forward, we can finally nail him."

"You can count on me for that, Sir," Deirdre agreed, limping slowly into the area. Her arm and left ankle were bandaged tightly. Glancing at her grandfather, she continued, "That man's done enough damage to this family for three lifetimes."

The sergeant scratched his head curiously at her statement but chose not to pursue it further. "I'll be in touch," he concluded, closing his notepad. "Do take care, folks."
Dave chuckled darkly, "We'll try."

Angie nudged him knowingly.

As he was being led out of the room, the elder Dubois spat, "Just you wait! I'm going to tell the world that you're a freak! You'll be hunted down like an animal!"

Rivers cut him off, "That's enough! Let's go!"

Dave shook furiously as he watched his father being led from the room. "He's already ruined my childhood and nowÖ" he whispered.

Angie embraced him tightly, soothing, "No, he won't. He's going to jail where he belongs."

"Right," he doubted sarcastically. "The judges and lawyers promised me that before. And he got a slap on the wrist is all."
"And we'll be here for you, Papa," Deirdre promised.

His face brightened a bit. Leaning closer to his daughter, he kissed her cheek and sighed, "Thank you for that. When I thought about him hurting you and Cybelle, I couldn't take it."

"We knew that," Angie mentioned. "However, you were able to stop short of killing your father. You don't know how proud I am." Kissing him warmly, she continued, "You have come so far. Please don't let this quest of yours destroy what we've built."

"I'll do my best," he assured her. "Meantime, how's Cybelle?"

"I took her back to Althanor. Two days in the House of Healing should have her as good as new," the priestess indicated. "Meantime, the High Priestess has requested that Genaria and I should do what we can for everyone. I'll be teleporting us to Europe, but I'll need you to tell me where we're going."

"We'll have to check with Nick," he stated. "But, I imagine we'll be heading for France.Rouen to be precise."

"Rouen?" Angie asked.

"Yes, that's where Dijon'll be waiting for me," he explained, rubbing his wife's shoulder.
The oncologist looked curiously at her husband. This chase held so many cryptic clues in it.

"Trust me, Princess, I know what I'm doing," he reassured her.

"Well, I hope so," she informed him. "Meantime, my folks called about an hour ago. They're on their way from Wabash. I figured we'd leave the twins with them. Besides, Brother Tony wants to have a chat with us, not to mention Nick, Francesca, Eve, and Xena."

He shrugged resignedly. The last thing he needed right now was a 'you're dancing around the Pit' lecture from the elderly minister. Tony had been concerned since witnessing the Child's clash with Divia back in the tiny town's center. Given that Dijon's challenge came in plain sight, everyone with a TV knew about it. "He probably put two and two together," he murmured.

"It didn't take much, Dave," Angie declared. "He was watching the whole scene and knowing what he knows, figured out what you're doing."

"I guess it won't harm anything to talk with him," he concurred. "Deirdre, are you up to opening a portal?"

"Sure," she nodded and willed up a misty pillar. "Tucson?"

"Yup. We need to make sure the apartment's set and get everyone here," he explained. "Angie?"

"Coming," she replied wistfully. Given the nature of their travels, she wasn't about to leave anything to chance on the home front. "Steve, can you let my parents know that we'll be back?"

The FBI agent nodded, "Absolutely."

With that, the threesome disappeared into the mists.


[Tucson: The Loft]

Nick poured himself another glass of cow blood and meandered over to the couch. It wouldn't be long now. "I wish we didn't have to leave until after sunset," he muttered, sipping on the liquid. A look across the room revealed that his bags were packed for the long journey. "Que sera sera," he shrugged, slumping into his sofa.

Suddenly, the elevator hummed to life and began moving up toward his floor. A moment later, the door slid open, allowing Natalie to hustle into the area. Her face looked haggard and her eyes had heaviness about them caused no doubt by her inability to sleep.

"Nat?" he wondered. "Please sit down. Can I get you some coffee?"

The coroner shook her head, "No, that's okay." Glancing at the suitcases, she surmised, "Ready to go, aren't you?"

"As ready as I'll ever be," he noted, knowingly placing the glass down on the table. "I'm glad you came over."

"Thanks. I wish it were under better circumstances. Nick, there was an incident this morning in Massachusetts," she declared.
He probed, "At Cybelle's home?"

"Yes," she continued, sitting down slowly. "Apparently, she and her husband argued about her going with you all. He left and brought her father back with him. He apparently attacked her and Deirdre. The latter managed to get herself back to her parents' house."

He shook his head, guessing at what happened next, "And Dave went back there."

"According to Karen, he went nuts, jumped through the portal, and faced his father," she reported.
He winced. Right now, they didn't need any other legal hassles. "And? So, what happened?" he inquired.

"Nothing much," she replied. "Dave got a few choice shots in, but Xena broke things up before he could finish things. Then, Steve called the police."

At her use of the agent's name, he stood up and walked back toward the refrigerator.

"What? Nick, what's your problem?" she demanded.
He looked at her moodily and shook his head. "I saw you last night."

She scrunched her brow perplexedly and puzzled, "Last night? Wha?" Then, she realized what he was getting at. "Oh, that's it. Isn't it? You saw Steve and me in the lab, right? Nick, who the Hell do you think you are? Don't I have a right to be happy? After waiting for you for six years...six damn just go off with Alyce! How do you think that makes me feel?"

He scratched his head and bowed his shoulders. "Nat," he sighed.

She turned away from him, meandering toward the closed-over window. "No, Nick. I don't want to hear it right now! Twenty-four hours ago, I thought that you cared about me. Then, I noticed you and Alyce getting closer and closer to each other. Steve cares about me, Nick!" she lectured. "Why shouldn't I try something with him?"

"That caring seemed to come on awfully quick, Nat!" he argued.

"Really? And what about you and Alyce? I knew you two were attracted to each other before. But now that she's back, I see you've got the blood out again," she posed. "Maybe you've given up on a cure. Maybe you like being a vampire. Is that it?" She picked the glass up and threw it into the fireplace.

"You know I don't like being a vampire!" he contradicted, vamping out.

"Then, what is it? What happened to us?" she sobbed.

He paced the room, weighing a response. Finally, he confessed, "I don't want to hurt you again. Maybe, this is for the best, Nat."

"Is it the fact that she's a vampire and I'm not? I asked you to bring me across and you wouldn't do it! That's not fair, Nick. I was...I would be willing to make the sacrifice to spend eternity with you. You know that!" she spat.

"You don't know what you're asking, Nat," he advised her.

"And she did?" the ME cracked sarcastically. "I bet she just said 'oh take me...take me'."

"As a matter of fact, I did," Alyce's voice responded firmly. The vampiress flew to the ground floor. "As a scientist, I knew exactly what I was doing."

"Oh, right. Well, asking as a scientist, Nick, bring me across," Natalie requested half-seriously.

"If it makes you feel any better, Natalie, Nick wouldn't do it then, either. Like him, I am the child of LaCroix," the curator revealed. "And, you'll pardon me if I am a bit protective of him!"

"Like you would do anything, you bitch!" the coroner yelled, slapping her rival across the face.

"Natalie! Alyce! Stop this!" he tried to interject.

Alyce shook him off. "No, Nick, stay out of this!" Turning to Natalie, she stated, "This is between us."

"You bet it is! You...You..." Natalie concurred angrily, raising her hand again.

The vampiress smiled coldly and grasped the other woman's hand in a vise-like grip. "And how did you think I felt as I watched you steal him away from me? I saw you, he, and Schanke leaving the museum the night after I came across! Later, I saw the two of you together in his Caddy. I spent six long years in Orleans, Natalie. Six years! Well, now I'm here!" With those words, she tightened her grip, forcing Natalie to her knees, "Be with your own kind. You have a man who loves you. I came across for Nick, and I will have him!"

Natalie winced, "Nick, she's breaking my wrist!"

"Alyce, let her go! I don't want her to be hurt," he directed.
The raven-haired vampiress reluctantly released her grip. "I do want to be your friend, Natalie. I wish you weren't the other woman involved. Trust me, I do want you to be happy. I hope that Steve can give you everything. But, let us be happy together," she pleaded.

Natalie trembled sadly. How dare Alyce make these statements to her! Looking to Nick, she sought support there, but that type of look wasn't there. In times past, she would see the spark, the fire, and the ardor in those deep blue eyes. While the caring glimmer still remained, it wasn't the steady, secure light she had come to expect. Maybe, he was right. Maybe, this was for the best after all. Her eyes watered and she brushed her hand to rid herself of them. Maybe this situation wouldn't work out the way she wanted, but she wouldn't give the immortal curator the satisfaction of watching her break down. "If that's the way you feel, Nick, I guess that's the way it's going to be." With that, she walked back into the elevator and shut the door.

For a long minute, Nick stared at the elevator. Then, he drifted over to the window. Although he couldn't open the blinds, he could feel her pain far below.
She looked back, locking glances with him through the barrier. Only then, did she allow the floodgates to open. They had endured many trials over the years, but this was too much. With a deep sigh, she got in her car, started the engine, and sped away.

He stood at the window, feeling more depressed than ever. Yet, when he looked at Alyce, he knew he had made the right decision. He just wondered why it hurt so much.

Chapter 4

Schanke rubbed his head in frustration. Granted, he knew that Nick's departure would mean more work for him and Tracy. But, as the "Luck of the Schanke" would have had it, three homicides occurred within a two-day span. On top of this stuff, Ramirez happened to be in one of his pensive moods. "Great," he muttered. "And I thought Stonetree or Cohen could be heck to work with."

"Hey, Schanke," Tracy advised from her desk. "It's going to be okay."

"Right," he agreed. At least, she wasn't afraid to help with the reports. "Did you get that paperwork typed up?"

"Right here!" she smiled, handing him the completed report. "I was wondering if you wanted to get a cup of coffee or something. You look pretty beat."

He stretched and yawned, "Yeah, I am. It's funny. The place may change, but the bosses' attitude remains the same."
"Reese could be that way too," she recalled. "When he was getting pressed by City Hall, the Precinct could be an interesting place."

He smirked, "So were Cohen and Stonetree. Nick even caught some flak from time to time, although he managed to squirm out of most stuff. Sometimes, I don't know how he kept his things from us for so long."

She glanced around, making sure that nobody was within earshot before continuing, "That's because we weren't looking for it. I was occupied with just getting along with him, not to mention Vachon. You, I gather, were just focusing on your job."

He nodded, recalling the firefight about two weeks before the plane crash. After witnessing Nick's abilities first hand, the paunchy detective had investigated his partner on a cursory level before LaCroix finally managed to discourage him from the task. "I'm glad now I didn't push the issue. There was the one time when I started to do it, but backed off. LaCroix can be pretty persuasive, ya know?"

The mental image of LaCroix in the jail cell during the Divia episode passed through her mind. "You should have seen him the night we had to take him into Holding," she noted.

His eyes bulged and he gaped, "You had him in Holding? For what?"

She smiled, "We received an anonymous tip concerning a murder at the Raven. When we got there, he was there with a corpse. Eventually, he was cleared. However, you should have seen it. From what Nick told me, he had one side of the cell to himself and the other perps were huddled together on the other."

"I wouldn't doubt it," he shivered, remembering the encounter with the old Roman over at the Toronto radio station.

At that moment, Natalie barged into the precinct with her hand over her eyes. Without a word to anyone, she hustled through the bullpen and down the stairs to the morgue.

"What the?" Tracy asked.

"What's with her?" Chris asked concernedly from the sergeant's desk. "I hope she's okay."

Schanke shrugged and sighed deeply. Unlike the others, he could guess at the cause of their friend's malady. "Tracy, can you excuse me for just a sec? I need to go talk to Natalie about something."

"Let's both go," the other detective disagreed. "If this has something to do with Nick, I want to know about it."

He admitted, "That's probably not a bad idea. C'mon."

The two homicide detectives descended the stairs into the dark passageway. For a second, they didn't hear anything. Then, from Room 2B, a sliver of light peeked out under the door. As they moved closer, they could hear sobbing. Natalie was obviously upset.

"Man, Nick, I hope that you aren't behind this," he noted to himself. Knocking on the door, he called, "Natalie? It's Schanke. Listen, Tracy and I wanted to make sure you were okay."

"Schank, no offense, but I really need to be alone right now. I really appreciate the thought. Thanks," the pathologist replied.

"Are you sure?" Tracy probed. "What happened?"

A long pregnant pause echoed in the hall before the coroner answered, "WhÖwhy don't you come in? You're right. I don't want to be alone right now."
He gently pushed the door open and walked into the exam room. In the corner, Natalie stood watching them with her hands at her sides. Her eyes were red and puffy. The right hand was wrapped in something and had an ice bag tied against it. "Geez, Natalie. What happened?"

"I sprained my wrist. Oops!" she cracked miserably. Seeing her friends weren't buying the performance, Natalie dropped the act, continuing, "IÖI went over to Nick's loft to talk about things. Somehow, Steve came up in the discussion. He started to get demanding and we argued about him, Steve, Alyce, and me. Then, Alyce came downstairs. I slapped her once and went to do so again. She grabbed my hand and wrenched it." Rubbing her wrapped hand, she noted, "It hurtsÖ."

"Natalie, I'm so sorry," he apologized. "I knew I should have said something after that incident at the museumÖ."

The coroner crossed the room and demanded, "What incident, Schank? Or, wait a minute, don't tell me, this isn't the first time they had been together, is it?"

The paunchy detective shook his head and admitted, "No, it wasn't. They were together at the museum the night after that fiasco at the University. Remember when Dave Dubois and I went looking for him?"

The pathologist nodded, "Let me guess. They were together when you found him, right?"

"That's right," he agreed. "Dave felt that it was between you and Nick. So, I didn't say anything."

The ME bit back some angry words. "Well, as much as I hate to admit it, Dave had a point. We are all supposedly grownups here. I don't agree with his thinking, but he has enough problems right now," she said matter-of-factly.

Tracy stared at her friends curiously. She knew that Nick and Natalie had feelings for each other back in Toronto. However, while speculation had been rife in the Precinct for several years about their relationship, they had never confirmed their feelings for one anotheróat least not publicly. During the first mess here in Tucson, Nick had shown a great deal of concern for the coroner. Yet, since Alyce had appeared, he had drifted away from Natalie, moving closer to the curator. Shaking her head, she sighed, "I thought you two were getting closer."

Natalie glanced in her direction, commenting, "So did I, Trace. Everything seemed to be getting better. Then, she popped back up on the scene." Collecting herself, she mentioned, "Sorry about the scene, Guys. I'm not myself tonight."

He rubbed her shoulder and hugged her, stating, "That's okay, Natalie. I know. When he gets back, Nick and I are gonna have a little chat about this."

"Schank, don't!" Natalie pleaded. "Maybe this is for the best. With all of our problems, maybe Nick and I aren't meant to be together."

"You really don't mean that," he argued. "C'mon! I've seen you two together."

"I know. But, Steve's here now. Speaking of which, I need to get a hold of him," she noted, dialing his cell phone number. "I've been trying him for the last two hours."

Suddenly, Steve responded, "Petersen here."

"Steve, it's Natalie. Where are you? IÖI need to talk to you," she told him.

"Sorry, I've been taking care of a mess with Dave and Angie this morning back in Massachusetts. His father showed up at Cybelle's house and hurt both her and Deirdre. Dave jumped through the portal and dealt with the old man. I've been cutting through red tape all morning," he reported. "What's wrong? Are you all right?"

"I went to Nick's this morning to talk. We had a fight," she started.

"Did he hurt you?" he asked with concern.

"No, but Alyce sprained my wrist. Steve, before you all leave, will there be time for us to talk?" she replied.

"I was thinkingÖDo you have any vacation time?" he probed.

"Sure. I have about three weeks in reserve, why? You don't want me to go with you, do you?" she pondered.

"That's exactly what I was thinking," he noted. "I was hoping to spend some time with you on this trip. C'mon."

"Are you sure that's really a good idea, Steve? For me to be so close to Nick and Alyce right now might not be smart," she doubted.

"But, if you don't, we won't see each other for three weeks. Natalie, this is hard for me too. I have to admit that I haven't felt like this about anyone and well, I know this is going to be difficult for everyoneÖ" he revealed.

She managed a smile. Maybe, this was a good thing after all. "I had my passport put in order just in case."

"Not necessary. Just meet me at Dave and Angie's place at noon," he advised her.
"Where are they now?" she inquired.

""Back in Mass with Angie's parents, tying up loose ends. I'm at their place right now," he assured her. "If you want to come over sooner, I can meet you at your apartment if you'd like."

"I would like that, thanks. Give me about 25 minutes, okay? I need to talk to Ramirez," she agreed.

"Sounds good," he concurred. "I'll see you then."

"Right," she concluded and hung up the phone with a happy glimmer in her eye.
"Let me guess," Tracy probed, "You're going too?"

"That's right," Natalie told her. "Steve has asked me to go along with them. Apparently, he wants to talk with me on the trip."

"Are you sure that's such a hot idea?" he asked. "I meanÖgiven what's happened?"

"Maybe it might be good for Nick to see that I have other possibilities as well," the ME shrugged albeit more nonchalantly than she really felt.

"Whatever," he relented. "Just be careful, okay?"

"I will," she agreed, throwing some things into her black bag. "See you when I get back!"
They watched her rush up the stairs toward the captain's office. While he wanted her to take some vacation time, the two detectives knew that he hadn't meant to do so in an abrupt fashion. Still, they hoped that this trip would be good for all parties rather than a collective bundle of risks for them all.

Chapter 5
[House of Healing, Althanor]

The High Priestess leaned heavily on her staff as she staggered around the House of Healing, checking on the infirm and injured priestesses. This aspect of the position always weighed the most on her, especially given the circumstances. Upon hearing from Genaria that Cybelle had been brought back for treatment, she aborted her retreat and quickly made her way to the healing facility.
"The father and son have met once again and started the chain reaction detailed in the prophecy," she sighed, having witnessed the incident through her viewing pool.

In front of the hospital, Genaria stood waiting for her. "Mother," she called.

"Genaria," the elderly woman acknowledged warmly. "Thank you for letting me know about the situation. Is there any other news?"

"Yes, Cybelle is awake. The herbal treatment should heal her ankle in a few days time," the younger priestess explained.

The older woman barked a series of sharp coughs. The illness eating away at her stamina had made her far too weak to deal with the situation at hand. Now, with her heir temporarily incapacitated, the task would fall onto the untested shoulders of Genaria and Deirdre. "Could they handle it?" she wondered to herself.
"This way, Mother," Genaria urged. "Let me help you."

"Thank you, Child," the High Priestess smiled, allowing her companion to assist her through the doorway. About halfway down the row of cots, she saw Cybelle lying on her back with her injured foot bound tightly in linen and raised in the air. Her face was bruised, as were her arms. "Goddess preserve me!" the old woman exclaimed.
"Mother?" Genaria inquired.

For a brief second, the old priestess's inner fire flared, allowing her to stand with her former bearing. She declared, "I may be elderly and frail, but no man lays a hand on a priestess of Althanor! No man!"

"David Dubois dealt with him," the other priestess commented.
"So you have told me, and I have seen," the Mother nodded. "How is Deirdre?"

"Her mother tended to her," Cybelle replied testily, opening her eyes. "I wish I could do something besides lying here and being useless."

"You need to rest," Genaria advised her compatriot. "The situation is being dealt with."

Cybelle chuckled, "You were always ready to step in where you're needed, Genaria. That's something I've admired about you from the beginning."

"I've learned from the best," the younger priestess complemented.

Grasping the other woman's hand, Cybelle urged, "Now, you must be strong. It is up to you to represent us and to guide Deirdre in what she must do."

"Deirdre?" Genaria probed. "But, she has only come into her full abilities."

"You know that the ways of the Faerie Empress are not revealed to us better than anyone, Genaria," the High Priestess admonished gently. "As much as I would wish it otherwise, the task ahead will fall on our newest priestess's shoulders."

"So the prophecy has foretold, as have Deirdre's own dreams," the bed-ridden patient concurred. "She will have to stand by her father's side in the trial to come."

Genaria fought back the butterflies in her stomach and stated, "You can count on Deirdre and me. We'll get the job done."

"Speaking of my niece, does she know where the battle is to take place?" Cybelle inquired.

"David hasn't indicated the place, but we have a few stops in France to make first," the younger priestess indicated. "Speaking of which, I should be getting back. Mother, with your leave, of course."

"Go in peace, Child," the High Priestess granted. "Walk the way gently yet firmly."

Genaria nodded briefly as she created a portal and disappeared into it.

For a long minute, the remaining priestesses stared at the dissipating mist, wondering about the future and hoping for the best.

Chapter 6


Dave sat on his sister's couch, sipping anxiously on a cup of cherry tea and wondering what other obstacles life would throw in his path. From the dirty looks his brother-in-law was shooting at him, more potential fireworks lay on the horizon, but fortunately, Matt knew better than to push his buttons right now. "Yeah, you better keep your distance, Buddy," he snarled low.

Despite the fact that he resented his house being taken over by the police and his inlaws, Matt sat in the corner, stewing in his juices and hoping that the situation would soon be resolved.

Angie walked over and asked, "Mind if I sit down?"

He patted the space next to him absently, replying, "You know there's always a place for you, Princess."

"Thanks," she smiled while sinking down into the comfortable cushions. "I was wondering how you're holding up."

"You know me. I'm just waiting for the next major crisis to hit," he joked.

She shook her head concernedly. From the stories she had heard not to mention their time together, she knew her husband lived his life from crisis to crisis, waiting for the next shoe to drop. Certainly, seeing his father had not helped his state of mind. "I...I know," she assured him. "And I can understand why you're doing all of this. But, Honey, I'm not exactly made of glass. Trust me, I can take care of myself." She rubbed his hand gently, continuing, "We're a team. Equal partners. Remember when you said that?"

He nodded, recalling the scene in Cairo during their conference-honeymoon. "I do. And I still feel that way. It's just that...well...I don't know what I would do if anything happened to you or the girls."

"You mean like what happened this morning?" she baited half-seriously.

He shrugged, "I don't remember what happened between Deirdre's showing up in the bedroom and Xena's appearance here. I can see I went berserk."

"Yeah, you did. But at least, you both stopped short of homicide, and, because of it, your father's still alive and Cybelle's okay. You're a hero, Dave. No matter what happens against Dijon, you'll always be my hero," she noted, hugging him tightly. "Count on it. Now, can you do a favor for me? My parents will be here any minute. Can you compose yourself?"

"I'm about as ready as I'll ever be, but I am going to wash up. Be back in a few," he agreed. Rising from the sofa, he started toward the bathroom. However, he turned to his wife, expressing, "Thank you, Princess. For just being you."

"My pleasure," she chuckled.
Just after he disappeared down the hall, Angie heard a car pull up in the driveway. A quick glance out of the door told her that her parents had arrived. Walking out the door, she headed for the automobile.

Bill Blackwell slowly creaked his way to his feet and ambled around to the other side of the car to assist his wife, Jennifer, and the elderly minister, Brother Tony. The years were weighing heavily on him, but Angie could still see the same presence in her father. He grinned at the sight of his daughter and waved.

"Hi, Momma! Daddy!" their daughter cheered, embracing them.

"Angie! It's good to see you, Dear. We came as soon as we could. Are you all right?" Jennifer inquired, hugging the younger woman.

"Not a scratch. It's just been a very difficult week is all," the oncologist revealed.

Her mother indicated, "Your grandfather mentioned that there was trouble out in Arizona during his visit. What's going on?"

"Can you go inside first? I'd like to speak with Brother Tony about something," Angie requested, looking about carefully.

"Of course, Angel," her father agreed. "Come along, Jenny." With that, he helped his wife into the house.

After her parents were out of earshot, Brother Tony posed, "How is everything, Angela? Really?"

"I didn't want to say anything in front of them. At least not yet. But, with everything happening, it's been crazy," she admitted.

The elderly minister nodded knowingly and soothed low, "It's going to be fine. Tell me, what does Xena think of this?"

She glanced around again and, after making sure that nobody was close by, explained, "She's being a real help, Brother Tony. I mean, she's been through similar situations. By the way, I've been meaning to ask, how deeply did you read the scrolls?"

"Fairly extensively. Why do you ask? Angela, what happened in Tucson? What's going on with David?" he questioned.

"What do you remember of Alti?" she asked hesitantly.

The old man's eyes bulged and he gasped, "The shamaness! She didn't come back to life, did she?"

The oncologist nodded, "She was reincarnated. Actually, Dave and Xena have crossed her path on several occasions. The first time nearly killed him."

He racked his memory, recalling that the hag could touch people, torturing them with their worst nightmares. "She made him see his childhood. And, let me guess, she reawakened that dark persona within him."

She shook her head. "Not exactly, but she made him turn more violent. We were up in Wabash about two months after that first encounter. I'm sure you remember him fighting Divia?"

"I can't ever forget that, Child. Now, as for this challenge of David's, he must go through with this confrontation. We can be there to help," the minister stated, quaking in fear at the sudden insight.

"We?" she asked skeptically. "Don't get me wrong, Brother. I would love for you to accompany us, but aren't you needed in Wabash?"

"You and David are my children as well, Angela. I have arranged for the church services to be covered in my absence. Meanwhile, with your leave, I shall accompany you two in your quest," he declared.

"If that's the case, I would advise you to be ready for some unorthodox travel," she informed him.
Brother Tony scratched his head perplexedly at her comment. "When it comes to a task such as this one, Angela, there is no such thing as 'orthodox'," he surmised. "Now, let's join your parents for our talk, shall we?"

"Right," she agreed, helping him into the house. Once inside, they made their way over to where Dave was talking with her parents. To their credit, they seemed to be calming her husband down.

"Hi, Angel," her father greeted. "We were just talking to David about things."

"AndÖ?" she asked nervously.

"Other than his mood, he's doing fine," her mother assessed.

The oncologist shot the minister a nervous glance, thinking, " 'Other than his mood' he's always been okay. That's the whole problem."

"So, how goes the rebuilding efforts?" Dave inquired.

"The downtown is pretty much back to the way it was," Bill pointed out. "Life's almost back to normal. Everyone's still talking about the damage though. It was amazing how all of that damage could happen in just a single evening without a tornado or storm in the area."

Brother Tony shuddered, remembering that night, and the twin storms, two angry children with great power and devastating effectiveness, which had leveled the town square between them in their fit of rage. "That's why I need to be there no matter what," he confirmed to himself.

"Are you set to take the twins?" Angie probed.

"Well, that was the general idea," Jennifer nodded. "We figured that it would be a great time to visit with them. But, why isn't Deirdre coming?"

Dave glanced at his wife, searching for an explanation. Finally, he shrugged, "She's staying with Lori Applegate in Tucson. Right, Princess?"

"That's right," Angie agreed quickly.
"You know we can take care of all three of them," Bill argued. "No need to bother your friend with Deirdre."

"Oh well. It's done," his wife assented. "Now, you two stay clear of trouble. Rest assured that Lauren and Karen will be fine while you're gone."

"Thanks, Momma," her daughter smiled. "You're the best."

"I'll second that," Dave concurred, hugging them both. "Need some help with their stuff?"

"That would be nice," his father-in-law agreed. The two men brought the girls' luggage out to the car and loaded it in the trunk. Then, the elder man continued, "David, you know I don't have to ask you this, but what are you dragging my daughter into this time?"

"Excuse me?" the medievalist coughed.

"You heard me," Bill asserted. "On your last visit, half of the town ended up being leveled just when you were there."

"Heckuva coincidence if you ask me," the younger man shrugged.

"Coincidence my foot," the farmer scoffed. "Look, David, I think you're a great son-in-law and father. The only concern I have is that Angie's going to get caught in the middle of whatever it is you're going after. I don't want my daughter dead. Understand?"

Dave's face darkened a bit. If anyone else had taken this line with him, they would have regretted it. But, this was his father-in-law so he patiently explained, "Look, Papa B, nothing's going to happen to Angie. Believe me, she's tougher than either of us. She and Brother Tony insisted on going on this trip over my objections. Trust me, nothing's going to happen to us."

"Okay. I hope you're right," Bill stated, letting the point go at that. He had no wish to test Dave's anger right now. Not after what Angie had told him and his wife about the last few days. "Well, that's everything. Good luck on your trip. I hope you find whatever it is you're looking for."

"I hope so too," Dave concurred, giving the other man a hearty handshake. "Safe driving."

The elderly man saw Angie helping her mother and the twins up the walk to the car. After assisting Jennifer into her seat, he embraced his daughter tightly and wished, "Be safe and strong."

"I will, Daddy," she affirmed. "Nothing's going to happen. Brother Tony will see to that."

"Yes, I'm sure," he agreed, looking at his son-in-law again over her left shoulder. If anything happened, there would be Hell to pay. "Well, say goodbye to the kids and we'll hit the road."

"Right," she sighed and joined her husband over by their daughters. Stooping down, she directed, "Now, you two behave for Grandma and Grandpa, okay?"

"No funny business now," he added.

Karen and Lauren stared seriously into their parents' faces. Despite their young age, they had already been through more than most people experience in their whole lifetimes. Nodding serenely, they chorused, "Yes, Papa. Yes, Mama." Only a stray tear came from each of them. Despite their experience, they were still only children after all.
Their parents embraced them tightly. "Nothing's going to happen to us or Dee-Dee, right? After this is over, we're going to have a lot of fun, I promise," they assured the twins.

Through their own enhanced senses, the twins could sense that 'this' was going to be a difficult situation, but, since they couldn't change their father's mind either, Karen and Lauren climbed into the backseat of their grandparents' car and strapped themselves in. As the car pulled away, they looked at their parents with a sense of fear and dread, hoping for the best.


In the driveway, Angie buried her head in Dave's shoulder and started to sob. After her parents drove away, the realization had finally hit her. They were really going to follow through on this battle. It was really going to happen.

"Honey?" Dave inquired, hugging her tightly and stroking her auburn hair. "ShhÖ.It's going to be okay. We had to send them with your folks. They'll be safe there. You'll see."

"I know," she sniffled, wiping her eyes with her hand. "But, I feel that we're on a collision course with something serious, and we can't stop it."

He nodded earnestly and agreed, "This is serious. And, rest assured, we've brought every possible advantage with us." Holding her at arm's length, he continued reassuringly, "You know how many bad situations we've been through?"

"Lots. Too many for my liking," she retorted.

"That's right. And here's another problem for us. One more hurdle," he told her.

"But, when is this going to stop, Dave? When are we going to treated as normal people?" she complained.

"We aren't normal, Angie," he noted. "Somehow, I just get the feeling that we're going to have to take life as it comes. But, I'm not going to let anything happen to you or our family. No way. Just be assured that no matter how difficult life gets, I wouldn't want to spend it any other way except with you at my side." He kissed her forehead tenderly as an exclamation point. "And you can take that one to the bank!"

"You know I feel the same way, Buster," she concurred nervously, gripping his hands firmly with her own. "I guess this is what they meant when they put the 'for better or worse' in the vows?"

"Absolutely," he agreed. "Now, let's not keep Brother Tony waiting any longer. We have a lot of ground to cover." With that, they walked back toward the house.

Chapter 7

Alyce walked down the stairs, lugging her packed suitcase. For the past three hours since Natalie had left, the loft had been unusually quiet as if a heavy blanket were stifling any feeling or sound from within the area. "I hope she's okay," the curator wondered aloud, setting her burden down beside the other bags.

Nick hadn't budged from the covered window. He stood in shock, not believing what had just taken place. After all of the ups and downs, that argument could have been the last straw for him and Natalie. Many years invested gone just like that. Now, he understood what Schanke had been getting at during their conversation out in the desert. Maybe, it was best to "move on" in this sense. For the first time, he wouldn't have to leave a place to do so, but rather, this transition would be one of the mind, spirit, and soul. Upon hearing Alyce's comment, he replied, "I'm sure she'll be fine. You did grab her really hard."

"She was slapping me, Nick," the vampiress told him. "I guess I don't know my own strength yet. It's just that I remember that night when you, she, and Schanke were in the museum in Toronto. You two were so close, and there was nothing I could do. I wanted to crash through the glass and let you know that I was still alive. That I still cared for you. You don't know how much that hurt me."

He hugged her tightly. "I can imagine," he stated, recalling the scene between Steve and Natalie in the morgue. At that moment, he saw the mist forming in the corner and Deirdre step into the loft from it. "Deirdre," he acknowledged.

"That's me," she agreed. "Are you two ready? We have to meet everyone back at the apartment."

"We are," Alyce agreed, picking up her bag. "Is that where this portal is going?"

"Indeed it is," the priestess agreed.

"Then, let's go," Nick agreed, taking a look around. Everything was shut down and the security set. With another look back, he followed the other immortal through the portal.

Deirdre glanced around the area herself. "So many relics and wonder Papa likes it here," she realized before stepping into the dissipating mist herself and closing it behind them.


Steve looked about his friends' apartment one last time. Everything was shut off, as it had been when they left. However, since he knew how retentive Dave was--especially in his Child mode--the FBI agent decided to make one more sweep. "Sometimes, Dave, I gotta wonder how you make it," he muttered.

Then a knock came from the door. Walking over, he answered, "Yes?"

"Steve? It's Francesca and Eve. Can we come in?" the Italian literature professor replied.

"Absolutely," he agreed, opening the door. "Please do. Have your bags packed?"

"They're right here," Eve indicated, placing hers on the carpet beside her. Glancing over at the bags beside the kitchen area, she asked, "Are those David's bags?"

He nodded, "Those bags hold his gear and the explosives."

"Wait'll you see what he does with that stuff," Francesca deadpanned, dropping her duffel on the floor behind her. "I never knew he was a chemist until I saw what he could do with those arrowheads. Even if his powers were to quit on him, I would still take him to knock out the Enforcers."

The former Messenger winced, "Such destructive weapons. Is the darkness' influence that strong on him?"

"No," he indicated. "But, Dave's had a very interesting life. When as many people come gunning for you as they do him, it's good to learn some fighting skills. Trust me, I've seen him shoot on the firing range. He's a crack shot, especially in his darkest mood."
"I guess," the Amazon princess agreed, crossing her arms and squirming at the thought.

"By the way, have you seen Natalie?" he inquired. "Deirdre's due back with Nick and Alyce any minute, and I was hoping to leave at that point."

The two women studied his face. What was he getting at? By all accounts, she was supposedly staying behind.
"I thought she was staying here," Francesca assumed. "What's going on?"

"She's coming. Call it a last minute decision on both of our parts," he noted. Hearing another rapping at the door, he asked, "Natalie?"

"Steve, it's me," the coroner replied. "I'm ready to go."

Opening the portal, he hugged the newest arrival and stated, "I'm glad you agreed to come."

"So am I," she agreed, carrying her suitcase into the room. "So when does the bus leave?"

Suddenly, the mist spilled into the corner of the room. From it, Alyce, Nick, and Deirdre entered the area.
"Is this everyone?" Deirdre asked. "Genaria's already taken Karen to our next destination."

Natalie stared icily at Nick and Alyce, and probed, "What is she doing here?"

"As a vampire, it's my right to be there," the curator replied coolly. "And you?"

"As a scientist, it's my right as well," the redhead shrugged. "Besides, this isn't finished!"

Nick and Steve locked moody glances as well. This wasn't going to be a pleasant trip in any event. Now, things would get more complicated.

"Enough!" Eve interjected forcefully, stepping between the four parties. "We have enough to worry about right now! By Eli's will, we'll have the opportunity to settle this matter later!"

The Elisian's outburst took everyone by surprise. Normally soft spoken, her command and bearing in that instant took on the more aristocratic, almost regal upbringing of Livia. This fact didn't escape Francesca nor Nick for an instant. But, as she had pointed out, one crisis should be handled at a time.

"I guess we're ready," Steve indicated. "Deirdre?"

"Right. Next stop, England," the priestess replied matter of factly, willing up a cloud column. "All aboard."

The agent picked up his own suitcase and took Natalie's hand. "Ready?"

"Uh huh," she replied nervously as they vanished into the mists.

"Eli, help us," Eve requested before she, Francesca, Nick, and Alyce followed them into the mist.

The young priestess inspected the apartment once more. Noting her father's gear, she extended the fog over the bags, causing them to vanish. "Can't forget to bring them," she cracked to herself. Then, stepping through the portal, she closed it behind herself, leaving no trace of anyone still within the area.

Chapter 8 [Heaven]

Raphael peered impatiently into the viewportal in front of him. Just months before, Michael had argued that neither Xena nor David Dubois were to be trusted for a routine task. Now, those two, along with their friends, were headed for Europe to deal with that immortal vermin, Bertrand du Dijon. "I wish I understood why this is happening," he stated to himself.

"As do I, Raphael," another voice wondered aloud.

The archangel turned to see an ordinary angel approaching him. The other soul bowed deeply from his waist, expressing humility before his superior. "Thank you, Lorenzo. I'm afraid I have no answers for you."

"Hasn't David done enough? Suffered enough? Forgive me for sounded impertinent, Raphael, but the boy is constantly fighting for his survival! I...I wish that Michael wouldn't require this sacrifice of him," the other angel protested.

"That is not for us to say," Raphael noted. "Believe me, I understand where your concern comes from. There is no impertinence in expressing your views in a humble fashion, as long as you accept God's will."

"Well said, Raphael," Michael complemented, entering the area. The blonde, well-built archangel strode purposefully up to the viewportal and realized, "Yes, all is proceeding according to plan." Glancing at the prostrated angel before him, he added, "Please rise, Lorenzo. While your humility is appreciated, I do not require that of you. There is something else you can do for me, however."

"Name it," the deceased grandfather agreed.

"You will go to David at the proscribed moment and guide him in certain things. This is for his benefit. I want him in a certain state of mind when I go to him," the newcomer explained. "He will need his inner darkness to defeat Dijon. But, he must be balanced to use it properly."

"I understand," the newest angel concurred. "I will do what it takes to help him and the others to succeed. Thank you, Michael."

"You are quite welcome," Michael replied, appreciating the other's manner. Perhaps, he laid the humility on a little thick, but, after dealing with others such as Lucifer, Lorenzo's purity was a welcome addition to the feriment. Watching the regular angel leave, he thought that the other had a lot of potential.

"Do you think this can work?" Raphael inquired.

"It has to, Raphael," his colleague asserted, producing a gleaming metal sword from thin air. "With this, Dubois will dispose of that vampiric nuisance or die trying. Dijon has served his purpose. Now, it is time to send him to his reward."

The Italian archangel nodded in agreement. As always, Michael seemed to have a plan and the knowledge to make it work.


The midnight sky over the Golden Horn created an air of seeming serenity for the Eurasian city. Shipping continued to come and go. Tourists flocked through the downtown strip and the bazaar. TokapiPalace continued to hold its same regal appearance as it had over the previous 600 years during the reigns of the Ottoman sultans. Aya Sofia loomed over the area as well, emanating its own mysterious magnetism to native and foreigner alike. Truly, this city was a mixture of ancient and modern traits.

LaCroix descended out of that very night sky and studied his surroundings. As much as he enjoyed this place for its culture and vibrant energy, the elder vampire would have rather been nearer to Nick and Dave keeping an eye on their progress. Instead, he stalked the cobblestones of the walk overlooking the Golden Horn on his own, peering into the darkness with his enhanced senses. In the inky blackness, he picked up on a familiar vibration. Yes, it was another vampire and one very much like him. "Ali, I've come as you requested! Enough games, Turk! Show yourself!" he demanded.

Ali landed right in front of him and indicated, "As you wish, Lucius. Thank you for coming so far to meet me here."

The Roman snorted, "We haven't the time for games or idle talk, Ali. I trust this is important and concerns the duel."

The Turk nodded, "It does indeed concern our dirty business, Lucius. We both have a role in this affair, do we not? I say we intervene."

LaCroix managed to keep a straight face, allowing only his right eyebrow to arch. "Really? On whose authority? The Elders have decided not to interfere. You and I were party to that agreement, Ali."

"But how could you call for that vote?" the other snarled. "You who created this mess in the first place!"

LaCroix stiffened. How dare the other Elder accuse him thus? "I did not create the mess, Ali. It was your protege, Dijon, who created the mess as you call it by botching his task. He left Dubois alive! Now, let him deal with that failure, either by killing the insolent mortal, or by dying himself! We cannot intervene. I have asked Nicholas to stay out of this affair, but you know how children will not listen! If your Enforcer protégé lays a hand on either of my children or their friends, he will answer to me!"

"If he does his job as an Enforcer after disposing of Dubois, then so be it!" the Turk spat. "Besides, he and Xena have a score to settle."

The former general hissed and, staring right into the other immortal's eyes, warned, "Leave her and her annoying blonde sidekick out of this! They are mine to deal with! Do you hear me? Mine! I will not brook interference in that regard either from you or your out of control brat. Do you understand?"

Ali nodded grimly. He should have known better than to deal with LaCroix in this fashion. "Perfectly. I will see you when the battle comes," he groused, taking off into the night sky.

For a long minute, LaCroix paced the ramparts, reflecting upon the conversation he had just had with the other Elder. "Fascinating," he mused aloud. "For a former Janissary and imperial diplomat, he has little respect for decorum and how things need to be done." Looking up to the sky, he took off into the night, seeking shelter now that his task was finished for the present. At least until Nicholas and the others showed up.

Chapter 9 [O' Connell Manor-outside of London]

Alex O' Connell sat in his study amidst his books and papers trying to concentrate on his latest project. Thanks to his parents, the elderly professor of archeology and fellow of the BritishMuseum had been around scholarly pursuits all of his life. For the most part, this activity had proved delightful. However, on more than one occasion, these endeavors had threatened to take his life. However, as with his mother, such dangers failed to deter him. "Rubbish," he thought. "I've survived mummies, vampires, witches, and bad papers from students. What could be so bad?"

At this point, he walked over to the shelf and picked out four rather dusty tomes. "Hopefully, these will help David and Angela," he sighed, setting them down heavily on the desk. "Rather weighty they are," he remarked half-seriously, recalling the incident with the Bracelet of Anubis from his childhood. That race with the sun and fate had come a hair's width from killing him. This scenario could prove just as deadly. "Anyone fearsome enough to give Nicholas and LaCroix concern is worth learning more about," he remarked to himself.

"What's to know, Grandpa Alex?" Angie inquired, trying to keep a smile pinned on her face. "We're dealing with an immortal knight turned Enforcer who wants to kill my husband."

The elderly man raised his right eyebrow in confusion and asked, "And this doesn't concern you? In the four hours since your arrival, you seem awfully cavalier about these events if I may say so."

She shrugged, allowing the cheery façade to drop momentarily, "No, I'm not really, but this is my best effort to keep a positive front for Dave's sake. This is almost too much for me. If it wasn't for Francesca, Karen, and Eve, I don't know how I would be doing right now."

"Yes," he nodded, embracing his granddaughter. "You've always been strong, Angela. That quality will do well for you in this situation. There is one person I wish you could meet. She was so determined and fearless in the face of a fight. In fact, she was there with David and Cybelle."

"Xena, right?" she guessed, an ironic smile spreading across her face. "Actually, we have met. There are times I wish I could just snap my fingers and become her, believe me."

[From deep inside of her head, the Warrior Princess grinned amusedly, "Snap her fingers, huh? I wonder what Alex would say if she drew the sword and actually became me?"]

"You too have a lot in common," he assured the oncologist. "I think you would get along just fine."

Echoing her roommate's ponderings, she mused to herself, "You don't know the half of it." Straightening herself, she inquired, "So, what are you researching now?"

"That vampire-knight," he noted. "I'm trying to find some weakness or a chink in his armor."

She rubbed her grandfather's shoulder. "If anyone knows Dijon and that era of history, it's Dave. He's been working on this issue himself for quite a while. Besides, he has Nick to advise him," she commented.

"So, you know about Nicholas?" he probed.

"About the fact that he's a vampire? Yes, I've known about that since the first night we met in Toronto. Trust me, if there's someone who's giving my hubby the inside scoop, it's Nick," she replied. "And I feel better that LaCroix is staying clear of this particular fight. We have enough to worry about."

The elderly professor analyzed his granddaughter once again. How did she know about LaCroix? The television cameras had failed to pick up on her at the battle scene. Where had she been during her husband's clash with Alti? This would bear some further consideration. "Yes, I agree. Meantime, if you will excuse me, I need to get some more reading done before it gets too much later. Thank you for stopping by, Angel."

"You're welcome," she smiled and departed from the area, wondering what was going through the old man's head at that point.


On the ground floor, Steve, Karen, Francesca, and Dave sat anxiously waiting for Angie to join them. Alex's living staff had brought coffee, hot water for tea, and scones for them in the meantime. Since Deirdre had popped them across the Atlantic to join the Duboises, the others had remained on edge. Even as they sat on the fairly modern couches, the eerie feeling of the medieval manor house sent a buzz through their systems.

Finally, Dave broke the silence, joking, "Hey, guys. You aren't the one who's being hunted here. Chill out."

Steve quipped, "For someone in your situation, you seem remarkably chipper."

"I'm just not letting it get to me is all," the medievalist replied factually. "If I did, I would be really vulnerable to my mood swings, and I am not about to let my dark side out at the moment."

Karen shook her head in wonder at Dave's words. He had come so far since those first days. "I'm glad to see you keeping your composure. Gram would be really proud of you right now."

Taking a sip from his coffee, the FBI agent concurred, "I'll agree with that." Seeing Francesca's confused glance, he explained, "His grandmother, Janet Dubois."

"Oh," the Italian literature professor nodded uncertainly.

"Relax," Dave assured her. "I'm sure your Aunt Beatrice would feel the same way."

"As do we all," Angie agreed, walking downstairs from the study. "Well, Grandpa Alex's plugging away on Dijon's background." Walking over to the table, she selected a blueberry scone and plopped herself down at her husband's side. "How's it going, Hot Shot?"

"The same," her husband cracked. "I think your grandfather's waiting for me to explode. Given how I treated your great-uncle Jonathan back in the Sahara, I don't blame him one iota."

Karen and Steve stared at him expectantly.

Guessing their thoughts, Francesca recounted, "When Xena, Gabrielle, Cybelle, and Dave went back to help them, our medieval historian here acted more like a pit bull at times, especially around that poor man. Given how Alti's influence didn't help matters, I hope things are better this time."

"They will be," Karen asserted, gripping Dave's hand. "And we're all here to make sure of that."

"Amen," Steve added, placing his hand on top of the other two.

"Ditto," Francesca chorused, doing the same.

"And, of course, that's goes without saying for me," Angie emphasized, topping the mound of hands and kissing her companion on the cheek.

Dave grinned, "You know that the support makes it easier for me. Thank you, everyone. I mean it. Thank you. It's been a long road for us all. Hopefully, with this battle's ending will come a new beginning."

The others beamed at his hopeful attitude. Whatever was picking his soul up at the moment; they prayed that it would stay around for the duration and beyond.


Brother Tony meditated quietly in his room on the future. The trip across the Atlantic by means of the fog portal had been unbelievable. Given how things had accelerated since that morning, the elderly minister wanted to prepare himself for the worst.
"Just two days ago, I would have thought that I would be preparing this weekend's sermon. Now, here I am in England, assisting in battle preparations," he sighed. Running his hands along the sides of his head, his fingertips ran across the old scars from LaCroix's attack so many years before. If anyone would understand why David needed to deal with the Enforcers' threat, it was he. Folding his hands, he prayed, "Thank You for the reminder." With that, he continued his meditation.


Meanwhile, Natalie sat on the edge of her bed, nervously gulping a cup of coffee and trying to read that day's edition of The Times. "Anything to get my mind off of my nerves, right?" she supposed, flipping another page and scanning the contents. But, try as she might, her situation still hung heavily in the air. The sight of Nick with Alyce continued to upset her, however, didn't she feel something for the FBI agent? "C'mon, Nat. Deal with it," she told herself. "We don't need any other problems right now." With that, she refilled her coffee cup and returned to her reading.


Nick paced the length of his room, considering the possibilities in front of the group. Once they had started this endeavor, they would be popping back and forth between the manor and their targets almost in the fashion of the medieval chevaucee. The former knight pondered his own actions. How would he react to being in those places once again? And what if he had killed Dijon in Rouen when he had the chance to do so? As with Jack the Ripper, he was left with regrets and a possible dilemma. "If anybody suffers, how much of the blood is on my hands?" he wondered.

"Why would there be blood on your hands?" Alyce inquired, entering the area.

"I could have stopped Dijon before. If only I had just drained him," he argued, stalking across the room and filling his goblet with fresh bloodwine made from a cow on the estate.
"But, Nick, how would you have known what he would become?" the curator countered, zipping to his side. "I can sense that you've always hated what we are. Despite everything that barbarian did, you still held to your principles."

"So I guess I should just accept the fact that it's not my problem anymore," he shrugged.

She shook her head, disagreeing, "No, it is our problem, Nick. It just happens that Dave gets to deal with it. Let's hope that he's successful. If the worst does happen, then it will fall to the rest of us to confront the Enforcers. Meantime, please don't keep playing the scene over and over in your head. It won't do any good."
He managed a small smile and admitted, "I guess not. Thanks, Alyce."

The curator grinned and embracing him, asserted, "You're welcome, Nick. Just know I'm here for you. Now, let's just try to enjoy the moment, okay?"

He nodded. Sitting down on one of two red velvet chairs in the corner of the room, he motioned to the adjoining seat. She followed his lead and for a while, they remained there, looking into each other's eyes.

Step Into My Nightmare
David J. Duncan
December 2001
For notes & such, please see Part 1 (Thanks to Jarvinia for suggesting certain elements in this scenario.)

Chapter 10


Inside of their warehouse hideaway, the renegade vampires awaited their leader's arrival nervously. In their previous two attempts to rid the Community of the threats from Tucson, their efforts had only made things worse. First, Dijon's Enforcers had publicly attacked Dubois and his friends in the midst of the University of Arizona campus. That blunder cost them six of their best hunters and witnessed Xena regaining her immortal-killing powers. In the second instance, they thought that Alti and the Xena-clone would have tipped the scales in their favor. And, everything started off beautifully as the shamaness delivered her lecture. However, Dubois stood ready for her attack, and, with the aid of his allies, defeated her once again. In addition, Dijon's challenge meant they couldn't touch him until the duel. The Elders had met and were after them. Such were the fruits of failure.

At 10PM, the leader entered the room with a rushed gait and sat in his usual place. He nodded, picking up on the nervous energy hanging in the air, and inquired, "I take it we're ready to act, then?"

The Oriental vampiress slammed her fist on the oak table, noting, "How can we? Dijon's challenge means that we cannot move against the accursed ones. Both the Elders and the Enforcers have said as much!"

"Yes," the African-American immortal concurred, "At least not honorably."

The leader nodded, "Go on...."

"But, we cannot do so! You heard her!" the other stated.

"You said we couldn't honorably move against them. Who says that we have to stick to the older ones' rules? The longer we hesitate, the more powerful they become," he disagreed, producing a cell phone.

"What are you doing?" the Asiatic representative inquired.

"Taking matters into my own hands," the leader asserted, pressing a button and allowing the device to speed-dial a preset number.

His compatriots glanced at him and each other with wonder. At least they had been righteous in their previous attempts. However, what honor would there be in this sneak attack?

The leader analyzed his comrades and moved quickly, saying, "Hello. It's time."

A voice on the other end assured, "It will be done. But what of Dijon? He is our leader."

"Never mind his foolishness. I'm telling you to eliminate the vermin now," the head renegade commanded. "Do you understand?"

"As I said, we will not fail you," the operative promised while hanging up.

The leader hung up and looked over his comrades' faces, a feral smile spreading across his own. "Relax, Everyone. I've just set the wheels of our triumph in motion. I think we'll have something to celebrate by the end of the evening," he advised, pouring himself a goblet of bloodwine. "I think it's going to be a very good day after all." A slight chuckle escaped his lips before he continued, "A very good day indeed."


[O' Connell Manor]

Outside of the mansion, seven shadowy figures watched the grounds very carefully. Their ruby-red eyes swept the area, looking for possible problems. These Enforcers had a very important mission: take out the group inside of the manor house before they could be any further threat.
The group's leader, a swarthy Persian, hung up the phone. With a series of quick hand movements, he motioned to his compatriots, indicating, "Mehmet, take the back. Fibrano, take the left side. Roget, take the right side. I'll go in through the front with everyone else,"

Mehmet, a Circassian Enforcer with a fiercesome reputation and an attitude to match, agreed, "It shall be done."
Fibrano, the Enforcer-supreme from central Italy, assented silently, disappearing in a blur as did the French immortal.

"Follow me," the leading Enforcer dictated. "And let's be careful."

Dave sat in the main area, concentrating on his friends' faces. Being in a medieval setting with some of his oldest compatriots surrounding him was like Heaven to him. He decided to enjoy it, knowing that such bliss wouldn't last very long....

At that moment, Angie tapped him on the arm, whispering, "Dave, did you feel that?"

He scanned the area with his senses, expanding the zone with each sweep. Just outside the house, he picked up on several empty spots approaching their position rapidly. "Shit!" he growled. "Damn it all to Hell!" Jumping to his feet, he ran for his duffels. "Everyone, get movin'! Now!"

"David, what is it?" Eve probed.

"Several vampires," the oncologist revealed, reaching over her right shoulder. "Francesca, do it!" she advised while triggering her own transformation.

The Literature professor followed suit, exchanging places with Gabrielle.

"What is it?" Steve demanded, cocking his gun. "The Community knows the rules. They wouldn't dare!"

His longtime friend strapped on his quiver and snickered darkly, "Do you think they all care about the rules? What about your group of Renegades, Steve?" After checking the tension of his bowline, he noted, "Those spoilsport cheats are quite capable of this type of activity. You know that as well as I do."

The agent nodded nervously, glancing at the wall beside him, "Then, I'm glad I prepared a little surprise for them."

"What should I do, Papa?" Deirdre inquired.

"Get Eve and Karen out of here," Xena advised, readying herself for the inevitable attack.

The priestess reluctantly agreed, "Very well. I'll take them to Althanor." Opening up the mists, she urged, "Come on." After the two women had entered the portal, she started through. But, just before disappearing, she told the remaining people, "I'll be back with help." Having said that, she vanished from view.

The Warrior Princess grinned, muttering, "Looks like she has your stubborn streak, David."

Chuckling mischievously, he retorted, "I would say it's more like Angie's determination. Anyhow, you ready?"

Brother Tony stuck his head out of the upstairs door, yelling, "There are two monsters outside!"

"Get yourself to a secure place, lock the door, and say your best prayers, Brother," Gabrielle suggested, unscrewing the ends of her staff and revealing the javelin. "We'll need them."

The elderly minister concurred, "You shall have them, my friends." Then, he ducked back through the doorway, securing the portal behind him.

"Okay. Now what?" Steve probed.

At that moment, the second story windows exploded inward, raining glass fragments everywhere. Simultaneously, the fifteenth-century oaken doors collapsed as well, allowing the intruders to enter the house.

Dave glanced around at everyone. Fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt. For a long minute, he looked about the area, recognizing the immortals on the second story balcony. "Some reception party," he muttered, readying his bow. Looking toward the front entrance, he challenged, "Come out, Snake. Come out, or I'll smoke you out! You should know you can't hide from us! Let's go!"

The vampires surrounding the heroes snickered, "He thinks he can smoke you out, al-Namari!"

"Suit yourself," Xena shrugged, giving her roommate's husband a quick glance.
He grinned wickedly, producing a shaft with a blue ball on the tip, and lighting it on a nearby taper. "Hope you fellows need your supplements today," he hissed, firing the smoking projectile into the dark entryway. "That garlic oughtta get your attention!"

The arrowtip exploded, releasing a thick, cloying cloud throughout the area. Most noticeably, the pungent odor of garlic permeated everything, blinding the immortal intruders and interfering with their senses.

"Have fun with this, Boys," the Warrior Princess challenged, flinging her chakram toward the upper level. Even with the blind toss, the circular weapon's path caromed off of the walls, ceiling, lamps, before decapitating the three Enforcers on the overhang. Having served its purpose, it returned to her hand straightaway.

Dave grinned, "Three down. Two to go. My turn." Priming his bow with two more stake-shafts, he stared into the mists. Despite the fact that his own eyes were watering from the conditions, he remembered to reach out with his senses. About twenty feet in front of him, the medievalist picked up on the other attackers and fired without hesitation.
From the mist, a scream pierced the silence along with an acrid stench indicating that at least one of the arrows had found their mark. But, he knew that the leader was still lurking in the cloud.
Then the Arab lunged, knocking his opponent to the floor, exclaiming, "Ha! Now, I shall claim the kill!"

"I don't think so!" the Amazon queen denied, stabbing through his shoulder with her javelin.

The enraged vampire turned to face his new opponent for just a second. But, with the distraction, he allowed Dave's mind to flip-flop again, allowing the Child to emerge.
"Hey, one par'ner at a time!" the Dark One chastised, slamming his attacker with an energy pulse and sending the surprised Enforcer across the room. "Now, where were we?" he snapped.

By now, the mist had dissipated, allowing the opponents to see each other. Circling his chief mortal adversary carefully, the Arabian Enforcer admired the dark power emanating from the young man in front of him. "What a pity one of us has to die," he remarked. Then, he felt the sensation of cold steel slicing through him followed by the sensation of nothingness. Looking backward as he collapsed to the floor, his last sight was of Xena whipping her bloody sword overhead.
"Yeah, it's a cryin' shame, ain't it?" she scoffed.

"I...I'll see you all in Hell," the dying Enforcer spat before finally succumbing to his fate.

"I'm glad that's it," Steve muttered in relief.

Hearing a crash from the other end of the house followed by screams, Gabrielle disagreed, "I think we have some more uninvited guests."

"Great!" His Darkness snickered enthusiastically. "More scum to skewer! 'Mon!" Rushing up the stairs, he blasted the door off its hinges, rushing into the darkness ahead.

"If those dirtbags touch Natalie, there'll be a price to pay," Steve asserted to himself. Reaching into his own duffel, he produced a crossbow and some bolts. Following his friends upstairs, he hoped he wouldn't have to use it, but it never hurt to be prepared.

Chapter 11

A few minutes earlier, Alex worked furiously on the works lying open in front of him, hoping for answers. A crash from the window across the room broke his concentration. Looking up, he recoiled at the sight of the massive Enforcer standing there. Remembering both his and his mother's earlier studies, the elderly professor summoned all of his courage, and asked, "What is your business here?"

"O' Connell, we meet again," Roget recognized. "This time you won't escape me!"
The interloper's words jarred the archaeologist's memory. It had been in 1944 back in the Valley of Kings. There, as a young man, he had accompanied his parents, Rick and Evelyn O' Connell, and their friend, Ardeth Bey, on an adventure. There was something in the tombs....For some reason, he couldn't remember what it was. But, he did remember that Nick was there, as was his master, LaCroix. True to form, his mother had released the thing, requiring the Enforcers' presence. By the skin of their collective teeth, the party managed to reinter whatever was there. "I've done nothing to violate your Code, Roget. Since that day, I've said nothing of your kind to anyone."

"Oui. Which is why we have permitted you to live to a ripe old age by mortal standards. But, by harboring Dubois and his associates, you have doomed yourself," the French vampire hissed, advancing on him.

Alex noticed the door crack open slightly. Through the opening, Brother Tony slid into the area, holding his finger over his lips.

Despite these efforts, Roget smiled, announcing, "Come in, Mortal. Come in and die!"

Tony produced his silver crucifix and a vial of holy water. Holding them up in front of him, he stated, "Do you think that I wouldn't be prepared for your kind, Demon! Not after that night so long ago!"

Scanning the newcomer, Roget snickered, "Yes, I sense one of us tried to feed on you. Too bad he missed."

"Unfortunately for you!" the minister shouted back defiantly. Circling the immortal warily, he eyed the enemy's every move.

Roget retreated slightly from the holy symbol, considering his next move. With the speed of thought, he crossed the room and barred the door. "Now, we're alone. And, I doubt you can keep up your defenses all night!"

"Lord, help us," Tony invoked.

"And what will He do now? Break down the door and kill me?" the vampire hunter baited. "Prepare for the end...both of you." At that moment, he felt something coming toward the room. "What now?"

Alex listened carefully. From outside the door, a telltale growling announced the presence of another presence. His mind flashed back to his other adventure with the Duboises. That noise meant one thing, and, if he was right, either help or further trouble was coming quickly and the oak door wouldn't stop it. "Brother, hit the deck now!"

The ecclesiastic followed his host's directions, seeking a safe haven from what was about to come through the barrier.

A second later, the door exploded inward, spraying the room with a shower of shards. Dave, or rather, the Child, stepped through the now-
vacated area, grinning like a hungry panther approaching its prey. "Well now. 'Nother playmate! All right!" he snarled.

"Dubois! Dijon will reward me for killing you!" Roget crowed.

The Dark Persona shrugged, "Big Brother ain't here. You're dealin' with me, scum-ass. How 'bout backin' them pretty words up?" From his one open eye, a yellow glint further identified himself. "Come on, make my day!"

Roget spat, "My pleasure!" Thus angered and his honor affronted by the insolent mortal, the vampire charged forward right into a powerful pulse which sent him into the far wall with a sickening thud.

"Your leader tried that on us and that boy's seriously dead. Next," the Child sniggered, lighting one of his garlic bombs. "Catch!"

The bomb exploded at the vampire's feet causing him to wheeze and gag. "Argh!" he coughed.

"David!" Alex called. "Quit toying with him!"

"Aw! Hush up! I'm havin' fun!" the enraged man snarled. Looking down, he saw three particularly big pieces of wood. "Yeah!" he realized, a particularly saucy gleam present in the left eye. Focusing, he telekinetically lifted the shards and flung them across the room. Two of the pieces found each of Roget's shoulders, pinning him to the wall.

The French immortal noted that the third piece had stopped right in front of his chest and snapped, "Finish me!"

"In good time," the other combatant informed him. " Don't fret now. Soon, Mustard Boy will be joinin' ya!" With that, another mental push imbedded the makeshift stake in the Enforcer's chest, completing the task. "Rot in Hell!"
"Lock yourselves in," the Child barked to the other men. "I'm goin' to help Xena!" Turning, he bolted into the hallway, heading toward the remaining battle.


From his outside vantage point, Fibrano sensed the others' failures around him. While retreating would seem to be the advisable option, he felt a sense of duty pushing him onward. "The mission. I must complete it," he realized. Breaking through the window closest to him, he came across Natalie reading on her bed. "The coroner!" he chuckled.

For her part, Natalie tensed. Jumping to her feet, she grabbed the top of a pine chair, advising, "Stay back. I haven't done anything to you."

"You know too much!" the attacker noted. "For that, you die."

At that moment, twin blurs flew through the open door, tackling Fibrano.
"Who would dare?" he snarled. Looking at the interlopers, he grinned, "Brabant and Hunter, I'm glad you could make it. I can finish you all off at once."

"Not if we can help it!" Alyce challenged, albeit more courageously than she felt. Flying at the intruder, she backhanded him across the face with little effect.

"I admire your dedication, Fledgling, but for striking an Enforcer, you're finished," Fibrano announced, grabbing her arm hard and flinging her to the floor.

Nick roared, "No!" After all that he had lost to the vampire community over the centuries, he wouldn't lose her too. With a rush of desperation, the former Crusader charged, ramming the other vampire through the remaining window.

Regaining his balance, Fibrano realighted in the room. His eyes glistening bloody red and his fangs were descended. "I see you care about them, Nicolas de Brabant. Still the chivalrous knight, eh? Well, it doesn't matter, Chevalier. I'll eliminate you first!" he challenged.

Despite his bravado, Nick knew he couldn't defeat the Enforcer. But perhaps, he could buy the others a few minutes to escape. Glancing at Natalie and Alyce, he nodded to them.

Turning to the two women, Fibrano crowed, "Get ready. You're next!"

From the open door, a familiar voice disagreed, "I don't think so!" A second later, a pair of wooden bolts penetrated the Enforcer's chest, dropping the other to the floor and reducing him to a pile of ash.

Steve rushed into the room under a full head of steam. "Natalie!" he called, dropping the crossbow and embracing the coroner passionately. "Are you all right?"

"Just a little shaken up," she sighed. "Thanks to you." Kissing him quickly, she smiled as the familiar warm feeling buzzed up her spine.
The agent inquired, "How are you both? That was risky business, taking on an Enforcer like that."

"We couldn't let him hurt Natalie," Alyce explained. "As I said to her in the loft last night, I am her friend."

"No matter what happens, Nat, you still matter to us," Nick emphasized, rubbing the ME's shoulder. "I'm glad you two are happy."

"Thanks, Nick," she replied, surprising herself with her sincerity. "It's nice to hear you say that."

"That goes double for me," Steve agreed. "I'm glad you both are as well."

At that moment, the two warrioresses followed by Dave reached the scene.

Seeing the ashes, Xena stated, "I see everything's under control here. Nice shooting, Steve."

"Thanks," he responded graciously. "Nick and Alyce deserve a great deal of credit too."

"They delayed the Enforcer until Steve could finish him," the coroner added.
"All well that ends well," Gabrielle stated. "At least for now."

The Warrior Princess studied the medievalist carefully. With every crisis, he was forced to give increasing ground to his darkness. If this process continued, it would endanger everything. "I hope so, Gabrielle," she replied wistfully. "But, we still have a long road ahead of us."

"Right," the Child concurred and closed his eyes. Within an eyeblink, Dave reasserted control.

"Wow," he sighed, rubbing his head in an attempt to hold off the impending headache. "I guess the war starts early, doesn't it? Trust Dijon not to honor his word." Looking at his companions anew, he assessed, "Let's get some rest. Tomorrow, we cross the Channel. I want some answers ASAP."

The others agreed. While they would have liked to slowly approach the issue, this trip wasn't a pleasure cruise. Indeed, as the attack had just proved, they were targets. Best to deal with the situation and move on. Having realized that, they began to make their way toward the downstairs area to check with Brother Tony and Alex before retiring for the evening and preparing for their trip on the morrow.

Chapter 12 [Tucson]

Schanke looked up at the bullpen clock anxiously. "Only two more hours to go," he told himself. Seeing Tracy sit down in front of him, he asked, "Anything on our latest John Doe?"

She shook her head, "Nothing. You know, I really like Annie. She's a great kid and she's doing okay downstairs, butÖ"

"But, she not Natalie, right?" he guessed amusedly. "Yeah, I know. This is a tough enough case without her and Nick disappearing as they have. They do have their own problems."

The blonde detective ran her hand through her blonde hair and admitted, "I know, Schanke. It just doesn't seem fair that every time a difficult case comes up, they go poof, leaving us to pick up the pieces."

He chuckled knowingly, "Look, Tracy. It comes with the territory when you work with Nick. You should know that by now."

"Yeah, I guess," she agreed reluctantly while throwing on her coat. "Keep the fort here. I'm going to check something out."

"What? Now, you're going to hold out on me? Oh no, we're goin' together," he argued, following her out of the precinct.


Twenty minutes later, Schanke's station wagon sat at the corner of Kolb and 22nd Street. It had been a relatively quick drive to this part of town due to the time of the morning. Nobody was awake except for themselves and the clerks in the convenience store across the street.

"Are you sure he's gonna show?" he protested warily, glancing around at their surroundings.

"Sure," Tracy affirmed. "Trust me. He'll be here." At that moment, she heard a rapping on the door and saw Vachon grinning like a cat. "See, I told you," she baited her companion while rolling down the window.

"Hey, Trace," the Spaniard greeted. "What's with Schanke? I thought we were doing this meet by ourselves."

The paunchy detective shot him an icy glare. "I know about you guys. I figured that she might need backup."

The vampire chuckled amusedly at the statement. "I got to give him credit," he thought. "But that Pillsbury Doughboy wouldn't make it for ten seconds against my kind."
"So is there any news?" she pushed.

"You mean about Dubois and his friends? Actually, Janette received some bad vibes from Nick if you get my drift earlier tonight," the Iberian immortal started.

"What? He's in trouble?" Schanke interrupted. "Dang it!"

"Hey, Schanke, simmer down for a sec, okay?" she soothed. With everything else going on, they didn't need him going ballistic as well. Turning back to her 'source', she asked, "What happened?"

"Janette contacted Nick in England. Apparently, the Enforcers broke the agreement and attacked him and the others. Everyone's okay. Dubois went off the deep end again and took out two Enforcers. Xena killed four others. And Petersen claimed the last one," Vachon recounted.
"Is there any other news?" Schanke insisted.

"According to Janette, everyone is just a little shaken up. I gotta tell you, Trace. This looks bad. As per the rules of the agreement, nobody was supposed to touch Dubois until the duel," he noted.
"Yeah, unless Dijon decided to cheat," she disagreed.
The former conquistador shook his head, "No. Even that weasel has a code of honor. Those Enforcers were doing so under another authority. There are rumors circulating around the Community about a group of renegade vampires who have been stirring up trouble. Word has it that they might be behind both of the Enforcers' attacks and Alti's appearance on campus. I wouldn't put it past them to instigate another provocation."

"And could they attack again?" the souvlaki-loving detective wondered.

"Of course they could," the Spaniard cracked. "But why would they strike here? If they did so, the Community would be truly up in arms. Besides, would you want to mess with LaCroix?"

Schanke's eyes bulged and he gulped nervously, "Nope."

"My point exactly," the immortal stated. "Well, back to my last patrol. Just thought you'd like the update."

"And how is everything around town?" she probed.

"Really quiet. But then, when LaCroix makes it clear that he wants no funny business, there won't be any, comprende?" Vachon revealed.
Both detectives nodded.
"Muy bien," the Spaniard smiled. "By the way, this stays between us three. Understand, Schanke?"

"Right," the mortal detective concurred.

With a glimmer in his eye, the vampire took off into the night sky. He had a great deal of ground to cover and the night was waning.

In his wake, the two detectives sat quietly wondering about their friends and the events of the previous evening. For a full fifteen minutes, their minds swam with the knowledge of the attacks and the reality that there was nothing that they could do about them. Finally, seeing that they needed to get back before the shift change, Schanke started the car and drove them back toward the precinct. Nobody would get any sleep on that particular day.

Chapter 13 [O' Connell Manor]

For most of the morning, the staff toiled to sweep up the acrid remains of the previous night's invaders and repair the damage from the fighting. Much of the antique and medieval woodwork had been splintered, requiring a great deal of reconstruction work. Some things would never be replaced, while others would only exist now either in reproductions or in the memories of the house's visitors.

To Alex, fighting in the house was not a new thing. Indeed, he remembered how the initial brawl over the bracelet had damaged much of the downstairs area not to mention the master bedroom, the adjoining bath and several Tiffany windows. While all had been quiet over the past six decades, it seemed that the battle craze had returned to haunt his family anew. "Mum, Dads, this all seems like déjà vu," he muttered to the empty sitting room.

"I'm sure it was," Dave agreed, descending the stairs in his sweats and a bathrobe. "Good morning."

"And good morning to you too. I see you've collected your wits once again. You had the good brother and me scared senseless last night, you know," the elderly man informed him.

The medievalist scratched his head as he tried to pick memories from the red haze surrounding them. "As usual, I don't remember anything past getting jumped by somebody and being pushed to the floor. After that, my next memory was lying next to Angie in bed this morning," he explained.

"Are you sure, David?" the other pushed.

"Oh yes, I'm positive. I guess my other self came out, didn't it? But then, this isn't the first time you've seen it," the younger professor assumed.

The old man nodded, "I remember your 'other self' quite well from my childhood, David. You scared my uncle half to death, and I wasn't that far behind."

Dave shrugged, "Alti's presence had a lot to do with that. Besides, your uncle challenged him from what he told me. I do remember most of the fighting with the mummies later. Still, this is something I'm dealing with on a daily basis, Alex. Having those SOBs on my tail isn't helping matters any."

"No, I suppose it isn't," Alex guessed. "So, what do you all do now?"

"We leave for France tonight. Angie, Steve, and I agreed on that much last night apparently," the medieval history professor explained. "I want to be in Rouen as soon as possible."

"But, you will need to take the shuttle and it stops running after a given point," the archaeologist argued. "At least stay another night."

"And risk another attack? I want to confront Dijon as soon as possible," the other countered. "For Angie's sake as well as everyone else's, I want this mess behind us. Besides, I have alternate transportation arranged."

As if on cue, the mists formed in the corner and from them, Deirdre stepped into view. "Hi, Papa, Great-Grandpa. Everything's set."

Alex stared at the woman who had just entered the room. "Great-
Grandpa?" he asked. "Who?"

The young priestess rolled her eyes and patiently declared, "I'm Deirdre. Trust me, I've done some growing since the last time you saw me."
The old archaeologist scanned his great-granddaughter with concern. "The last time I saw you, you were six years old. So how?" he demanded.

"Ancient Celtic secrets, Grandpa Alex," Angie mentioned while descending the stairs to join them. "Good morning, everyone."

"I see the fighting got really intense here last night," Deirdre noted. "Was anyone hurt?"

"Not really, unless you count the Enforcers," her father replied. "How are Eve, Karen, and your Aunt Cybelle?"

"Eve and Aunt Karen are waiting to get back here. As for Aunt Cybelle, she's healing quickly and should be back on her feet in two more days," his daughter stated.

"In time for the duel, I hope," Dave wished.

"If it's going to happen in Rouen, then she won't be there in time," Angie interjected.

"It's not going to happen there," the medievalist countered.
"But wasn't that where you two were supposed to meet?" she inquired in confusion.

"Oh, we'll meet there all right," Dave affirmed. "But, we'll have two other stops to make before the true battle takes place. I'll show you if there's a map of France available."

Alex guided them over to the far bookshelf and pulled a French atlas from the shelf. "Will this do?"

"It's fine. Thank you," the younger professor accepted, opening it to the map of France. "Okay, we'll be making two trips into France. First, we'll head to Rouen. Then, we go to Orleans. There, we'll find out where the battle will take place."

"If you say so," his wife agreed skeptically. "But why all of the stops?"

"Because of the information in each place. Rouen is first because of the set meeting point. Orleans is second due to the scholarly archives there. From there, we'll just have to wait and see," Dave detailed. "I need every piece of information on this dirt bag to beat him and for some motivation in the process. Now, rest up everyone. We leave at sunset."


Meantime, Nick was lying on the bed, wondering what was going to happen next. By the Elders' decree, the Enforcers should have stayed clear of them. Yet, the attack occurred. He imagined that LaCroix would have been most displeased when the news reached his ears. Retaliation would be swift once the guilty parties had been ferreted out. On the progress of their company, the former Crusader knew that they would be leaving soon. Sometime either that night or the next, he imagined that Dave and Xena would be walking with him toward the medieval section of town. Remembering Dijon's challenge, he imagined that was where the head Enforcer would be waiting for them.

A knock came from the door, stirring him from his reverie. "Yes?" Using his senses, he discerned that it was Alyce. "Come in, Alyce. It's okay," he told her.

The door creaked open, allowing the curator to enter. She still looked a little shaken from their encounter with Fibrano, but otherwise, was none the worse for wear. "Thanks, Nick. I was hoping that you were okay."

"I'm fine," he assured her. "But you took a real chance. Remember, you're still a fledgling. Fibrano was an Enforcer who would've staked you without a second thought."

"And I was supposed to let him kill Natalie?" she supposed. "Look, Nick, I may have been angry with her when it came to you, but she's still a good person. You can't tell me that you would've let her die."

"No, I wouldn't have. But, I might have stood a better chance of holding Fibrano off for an extra minute or two until both of you could escape. Fortunately, Steve made sure that wouldn't happen," he countered. "I just don't want anything to happen to you, Alyce."

"Nick, you aren't a knight anymore. Trust me, we females can defend ourselves. Just ask Janette when we get back," she argued. "Meanwhile, will you trust me? I do want your advice and I'm sorry I jumped in rashly. I promise to be more careful. Now, will you please relax?"

"I wish I could, Alyce. I wish I could," he sighed, looking up at the ceiling.

For her part, the curator spent much of the day with him, trying to make him feel better and wondering about their future in light of the developing circumstances surrounding them.

Chapter 14 [Rouen]

Night had descended upon the ancient Norman capital on the Seine. Although the metropolis thrived as a modern regional center, the city's historical past continued to draw many visitors every year for numerous purposes. Battles had been fought over this hamlet and great events had occurred there. At every turn of the area's history, Rouen had been a key part of the process.


The historic district lay quiet as everyone seemed to stay at home for some reason. In an alleyway, the familiar fog patch opened, allowing Nick, Dave, Angie, and Deirdre to walk into the city unnoticed.

"Okay," Dave smiled, taking a deep whiff of air. "We're here. Deirdre, can you disguise yourself like your aunt can?"

"Sure, Papa," she agreed, waving her hands. In an eyeblink, her robes had been exchanged for tourist garb. "How's this?"

"Perfect," he agreed. "Okay, Nick. Which way?"

"Follow me," the former knight indicated, leading them out of the alley.
For an hour, the foursome walked through the maze of streets, admiring the historic architecture, and trying to keep focused on what they were there to do. Around them, the building style became more and more remotely tied to the past. Finally, in one of the oldest parts of the city, the style was firmly Norman.

"So where's the marketplace?" Angie wondered.

"Just ahead of us," Nick mentioned. They crossed a street and found a church in a relatively modern style standing in front of them.
"Her church, right?" Dave acknowledged

"Yes," the vampire detective agreed. "And see where the chained area is? That was the spot."

A slight ripple passed through the medievalist's consciousness. "So is this it?"

"Almost," Nick replied. "Patience, Dave. We're almost there."

At that moment, the professor felt something else. "Yes, and he's close by," he informed the others.

His companions also scanned the area. Noticeably close, they felt one particular empty spot.

"If it's Dijon, I'd best get ready," Angie muttered, ducking behind the corner of the nearest building. Pulling the sword, she changed into the Warrior Princess and rejoined her friends.

"Okay, David," Xena stated, pulling on the trenchcoat which Angie had left behind for her. "So, when's he going to show up?"

In the darkness ahead, Dave noted a large man walking toward them. "Dijon, stop right there!"

"Greetings, Dubois. Es une belle soir, no?" the medieval Enforcer baited.
"Other than the sudden stench, I'd say it's an enchanting evening," Dave taunted.
The Burgundian vampire snarled briefly before continuing, "I see you brought allies. Hello, Brabant. And Xena, you can take off the coat. It's much too warm for that thing."

The Thracian warrior stripped off the disguise, remarking, "Funny, I thought it was just right." Drawing her sword, she snarled, "I suppose you were behind the ambush last night?"

Dijon sighed, "Believe it or not, that little party wasn't my idea. Those fools were operating on their own. I would never have attacked you so clumsily."

"No, you just let Alti or your flunkies do your dirty work for you, right?" Dave chuckled, placing a shaft in his bow and readying it.

"No, Dubois. When the time comes, I'll deal with you myself. But, I must thank you for disposing of those ingrates for me. You saved me a great deal of trouble," Dijon explained, allowing a bit of impatience to seep into his voice.
"Don't count your chickens before they're hatched, scum," the professor snarled, allowing his dark side to surface just a bit. "Remember the last time we tangled? The next time, I'll be looking to finish the job."

Xena and Nick glanced anxiously at each other. How much farther could this spitting match go without a fight breaking out?

Sensing the others' anticipation, the vampire hunter assured them, "It is not yet time for that match to occur. As I said before, it is a beautiful night. Enjoy it. Have a glass of wine or a fine meal and treasure the time you have left. We'll meet soon enough."

"So, where is this battle to take place if not here?" Nick demanded.

"In a familiar place to you, Crusader," the Enforcer scoffed. "A great distance to the east where you and your rabble sent me into exile-to fight and to die at the hands of the Turk."

Nick shook his head, debating, "You forced yourself into exile with your own barbarity, Dijon. Even as a mortal, you were the most despicable of knights and a threat to those around you, be they English, French, or even your fellow Burgundians."

Dijon shook his head fiercely, promising, "Once I am done with him, Brabant, you will be the next on my list. I don't care what LaCroix has to say on the matter! I'll stake him as well!" Looking up to the night sky, he concluded, "Take care, mes ami. We'll do business soon enough!" With that, he disappeared in a flash, leaving no trace of himself behind.

"Well, that was special," Dave snarled. "All of his bantering for nothing."

"We did get a clue, David," Xena reminded him. "If Nicholas can tell us where to go."

Nick detailed, "Dijon was sent into exile by his own father in 1443. From what I heard, he was sent to Rome and then, to the east."

Dave realized, "Nick, did he fight at Varna?"

"He was in the Crusading army from what I remember," the former knight recalled. "So, that's where he fought. But where did he die? Nobody knows for sure."

"One thing's clear," the Warrior Princess surmised. "We're heading for this Varna, wherever that is."

"It's close to your neck of the woods," Dave informed her. "On the Bulgarian Black Sea coast near Greece. As for the information on Dijon, I remember hearing that there was documentation being held at Alyce's former stomping grounds in Orleans. But, I wonder why his papers aren't being kept in Dijon in the ducal archives?"

"Perhaps, when his father cast him out, all traces and records were discarded as well. I would think that the French government picked them up," Nick guessed.
"And because he was a big player in Jeanne d'Arc's fate, the papers were moved to her Centre at that Universite. Interesting and ironic. So, do you think Alyce can get us in there?" the professor asked.

"She's still very well thought of there. I'm sure she can help you," his immortal colleague assured. Noticing the sky starting to turn faintly pink, he advised, "Umm, can we get back before I roast?"

"Relax," Deirdre soothed, opening up the portal. "All aboard." Xena and Nick hurried into it.
Dave took one last glance across the street. For a split second, he thought he saw a white light flash reflecting off of the metal plaque.

"Papa?" the priestess inquired. "Are you okay?"

"Hmm?" he asked, coming out of his reverie. "Yes, let's go." With one last glance, he stepped into the fog.

Deirdre studied the scene for a long minute. It was a church and some sort of site unknown to her. "But it is having an effect on Papa," she reminded herself. "If it's important to him, it's important to me too." With that, she jumped into the mists, allowing them to dissipate behind her on the morning breeze.

Chapter 15 [O' Connell Manor]

Brother Tony sipped on his cocoa methodically. For the entire evening, his attention had been wrapped around the scriptures in his well-worn Bible. Ever since he heard that David, Nicholas, and Angela had gone to Rouen in search of the vampire Enforcer, Bertrand du Dijon, the minister had prayed fervently for their return.

Eve approached him carefully. For hours, she had tried to meditate, but something told her to talk with her colleague. Accordingly, she inquired, "Excuse me, Brother Tony? Is there something I can do?"

He snapped to attention, replying, "Oh, Eve! I'm sorry! Could you repeat your question?"

"I was wondering if I could do something for you," she repeated herself.

"Not unless you could kill that demon, not to mention that dark thing inside of David," he noted. "I'm worried for them. Going in search of that vampire after the events of last night. It's insane!"

"I trust in both David and my mother to take care of themselves," the former Messenger assured him. "Besides, he needs this journey for his inner self in any event."

The minister nodded, "I'm sure you're right. When he and Angela were married, I was so sure he was a good person. Now, I don't know....."

She glared at him, "Brother, please! I know we're under a lot of stress, but don't judge him like that! He is a good person, a wonderful teacher, a loyal husband, and a loving father. Is it his fault he was mistreated growing up?"

The elderly man sighed contritely, "My apologies, Eve. You are correct of course. I remember what he said to me about Stuart and Sarah. I can't believe she would treat him like that. She seems like such a nice person."

"Since I've never met her, I can't say," she continued. "But apparently, she was going through her own problems and had a hard enough time dealing with them, never mind David's as well. She shut him out except to chastise him. Pain, Brother, breeds pain. After this is over, we need to work on him in that regard."

He beamed at her words. "Eli's words truly made their mark on you, Eve. While I'm not an Elisian, I respect your mentor's teachings and the wisdom contained within them. Thank you for showing me the way out of my fear."

"My pleasure," she smiled and bowed her head ever so slightly. Then, noticing the mists forming across the room, added, "It looks like they're returning."

"Indeed," he agreed, rising from his chair.
From the mists, the foursome emerged. Dave and Nick had earnest expressions on their faces. Xena glanced around at their surroundings and asked, "What's been going on here, Eve?"

"Nothing, Mother," the Elisian informed her. "We're waiting to hear how you all made out."

"We ran into Dijon all right," Dave muttered. "And he threw another puzzle at my feet for us to solve."

"But, Xena, since you're here, there must have been trouble," Brother Tony supposed.

"No, there wasn't," the Warrior Princess disagreed. "But, I felt it prudent to be prepared. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll let you talk to Angela." Sheathing the sword, she concentrated and in a flash, Angie stood in her place.

"Everything's okay, Brother Tony," the oncologist assured. "We know a little more than we did before."

"We do?" Steve's voice echoed from the second story above where he stood with Natalie, Karen, Alyce, and Francesca. "What did you find out from His Creepiness? Did he sic his goons on us last night?"

"He denies responsibility," Nick commented. "They were operating on their own."

"And we have at least two more stops on our mystery tour," Angie continued.
"Alyce, I'll need your help on the next one," Dave requested. "I'll need a reference for the Centre de Jeanne d'Arc in Orleans."

"I know the director very well. I'll see if Dr. O' Connell will let me use a phone in a safe place to make arrangements for us," the curator agreed.

"Thank you," the medievalist replied. "Meanwhile, Alex and I can go over more notes."

"Great," the FBI agent smiled. "More down time for the rest of us."

Natalie shot him a dirty look and nudged him in the ribs, saying, "We had enough excitement here the night before last for at least a week. When we get to wherever we're going, you'll see your action."

"Let your superiors know that we're making progress," Angie reported.

Steve nodded and left the room along with the coroner followed by the fledgling vampiress.

Karen probed, "What else happened there, Dave?"

"What?" he wondered.

She frowned, "If you were where I think you were, something should have happened."

He shrugged, "Nothing much. But wait a minute! As we were leaving, I saw this white light reflecting off of the plaque in the Old Marketplace. It was still too early for daylight and the street lights weren't bright enough to do it."

The minister smiled and thought to himself, "The Lord is watching over him. Thanks to Him!"

"What are you getting at, Aunt Karen?" Deirdre pursued. "Papa was staring at a spot beside the Church and something was there. I couldn't tell what it was, but I did feel an energy surge."

"It's a long story," the nurse advised her goddaughter. "Just know that your father has a special tie to that place."

At that moment, Angie realized the significance of the gift from his grandfather. Before the battle with Divia and Hope in Wabash, Lorenzo's spirit had given David a special book. She remembered the way he treated the book with extra reverence ever since. "And we were there," she realized.

"Yes, we were," her husband agreed, sensing her meaning. "Now, let's get some rest. I want to get some more research done here this afternoon before Deirdre takes us to Orleans."

"Sounds good," his wife concurred while walking upstairs toward their bedroom and leaving the others to wonder what would happen next.

[Xena Spoilers: "The Haunting of Amphipolis," "Heart of Darkness," and "The God You Know".] (Additional Thanks to McLisa for her suggestions about the second part of Nick's flashback in this chapter.)

Chapter 16 [Heaven]

Michael stared into the viewing pool with great interest at the events occurring below. Scratching his chin, he smiled, "Yes, everything's going according to plan."

Raphael probed, "How did the meeting proceed?"

"Everything is right on track," the blonde archangel noted, picking up the special sword once again. "Soon, I will be giving this to Dubois. I hope he can do the job required of him."

"I'm sure he can, Michael," his ebon-haired associate declared. "But, what will be the consequence of his act? If he eliminates Dijon, then what happens to him?"


"Meaning, to rid ourselves of Mephistopheles, we used Xena and nearly condemned her to Hell. Lucifer was manipulated into the role. Then, Eve would have been sacrificed to rid the world of Caligula. Isn't there another way besides manipulating these mortals?" Raphael proposed.

Michael frowned and disagreed, "Ours isn't to question the Greater Good, Raphael. True, Xena has circumvented the Greater Good before, interfering in the flow of events in the process. This time, we need to make sure that everything is followed to the letter."

"So, you'll give him the sword in Orleans," his associate guessed.

"Not exactly. You'll tell him to wait for me to bring him the sword. Then, I'll take it from there," the other archangel informed him.
"That's really unclear, Michael," Raphael wondered in confusion. "Will he understand?"

"Oh, trust me," the chief archangel assumed confidently. "Dubois is one of only a few people who will get the meaning of this scenario. Now, you'd best get yourself and Lorenzo ready, it won't be long now." With that, he returned to his vigil, leaving the other angel to ponder what was happening next.



Just outside of the Musee d' Antiquities, the fog portal opened, allowing Nick, Alyce, Angie, Dave, and Deirdre to step onto the ancient grounds.
For Alyce, the air smelled sweet. Despite the longing for Nick, her time here had been enjoyable and the ambiance was spectacular. She had performed exciting research upstairs in her office. Besides, the rooftop views of the Loire from the surrounding buildings took her breath away. Rousing herself, she informed her consorts, "Follow me." Proceeding down several twists between the imposing structures, the curator stopped in front of one particular building. "Here we are," she stated, knocking on the door.

The door creaked open, revealing a slender man with snowy-white hair and a stern expression. "Yes?" he asked expressionlessly.

The curator stepped forward and smiled, "Good Evening, Monsieur DeBonay. How are you?"

"Mon Dieu! Dr. Harris, it's good to see you!" DuBonay exclaimed. "We've missed you! When I heard that you were coming, I was hoping I would run into you."

"You're too kind," she admitted. "I want to introduce you to my colleagues from Tucson whom I mentioned to Professor Mulveaux. The man on my left is Nick Miles. To his left are David and Angela Dubois from the University of Arizona. Finally, this young lady is their friend, Deirdre...."

"Deirdre Priestess," the priestess remarked.

"Very well," the gatekeeper agreed. "If you would like, the archives are this way. Follow me."

The group followed him inside. After descending a grand set of marble stairs and winding through ancient halls, they entered the reading room. The area held three long reading tables in its center surrounded by a ring of locked down shelves. On the first table, three very old tomes with brown covers and parchment pages were awaiting them.

"I hope you don't mind," DuBonay excused himself. "I took the liberty of pulling the accounts of the battle of Compiegne as well as any other records from our archives on Burgundy."

"That's fine. Merci," Dave accepted. "Do you need me to make out any forms?"

"No, they've already been taken care of. I trust Dr. Harris's assessment of the project. Bon chance with your research. Just let me know when you're ready to depart," the caretaker informed him before departing.

The medievalist sat down next to the record accounts and cracked open the first one. In the dim light, his eyes needed a second to adjust to the fifteenth century miniscule. "Now I'm glad I hung in there for that paleography class," he remarked to himself.

"What exactly are you looking for?" Angie inquired, straining to understand the text in front of her husband.
"Links between then and now. Ties between Dijon, Jeanne, Charles, his father, and the crusade," he stated.

"Trust me, I can attest to the links between Dijon and Jeanne. I was there," Nick affirmed. "You know he was at Compiegne as well as Rouen. What's the point?"

"I need to find something tying him to the East. I need some insight into his character as a mortal," the professor insisted, burying his face in the books.

The former Crusader gazed at the far wall, his eyes running over the ancient French script on the bindings. "Insight...It seems like yesterday," he muttered. With that, his mind flashed back.

[Castle of Philippe AugustusRouen, May 1431-In between the second and third flashbacks for "For I Have Sinned"]

Nick kept to the spy room adjacent to the prison's main cell. Due to the fact that the daylight was still too strong outside made this situation necessary. But there was another reason. For within that cell, the prison's celebrity inmate, the woman whom Nick had called "Courage" languished under English guard. Despite his doubt concerning the veracity of her mission, the vampire admired her conviction even in the face of great odds.

On this particular day, the English had dragged her back out to be retried for heresy. As Nick had observed, the soldiers had only left her with male apparel. Thus, to remain within the realm of decency, she had to break her agreement. Furthermore, she had once again stated that her voices-those belonging to Sts. Margaret, Michael, and Catherine-were indeed valid. These circumstances had allowed her jailers to bring her back before the Bishop of Beauvais' court and a death sentence would certainly come out of that gathering.

"What a pity," he thought. "If only she had let me bring her across before the very Church she seeks to protect executes her." Looking out from his sanctuary, he noticed that the sun had set. Accordingly, he was free to move about.

At that moment, the procession of guards marched up the stone stairs. The gaggle pushed their prisoner toward her bench and manacled her to the wall. Once done, most of them left her alone, satisfied with her impending fate.
For her part, Jeanne showed no fear of her surroundings. Not even when one particularly menacing knight with Burgundian colors approached her and laughed, "So here you are! Where are your protectors now?"

She glanced up at him skeptically, "Have a care, Burgundian. If you care for your own soul, you'll not make light of them."

He glared in her face menacingly, "I have no such fears, Woman. I go to Mass and do my duty to God. And if you try any kind of witchcraft on me, I won't wait for Chauchon to burn you."

"What can I do to you that you aren't already doing to yourself?" she scoffed defiantly. "Trust me, Bertrand du Dijon, for standing with the enemies of France, I fear for you."

Dijon raised his hand to backhand her, but, just before the blow could be struck, Nick seized the other knight's hand, stating, "Dijon, that's enough!"

The Burgundian spun to see his mysterious fellow knight standing there. "Nicolas, unhand me! I demand you do so!"

"No. Not until you back off. She's taken enough from you and your men. Especially after you switched her clothes and pushed her to the fire," the Brabantine argued. Then, gazing into the other's eyes, he suggested hypnotically, "You have no further reason to be here. You feel tired. Go home, get some sleep, and prepare for tomorrow. I will stand guard here."

"Prepare...for...tomorrow. I'll rest," the dazed man agreed. Turning, he descended the stairs, leaving the other two people to themselves.
"So did they condemn you?" Nick inquired.

She nodded, "Oui. Tomorrow morning, I go to meet the flames. Nicolas, as much as I don't approve of your nature, I suppose I should thank you for stopping that brute. For all of your protestations to the contrary, you are a good person."

"We've already talked of this matter," he debated. "I am what I am, girl! I left my humanity behind 200 years ago!" Turning to her, he offered, "My proposal earlier still stands. Let me bring you across. I can save you, take you away from here. You would still be able to wage your war."

She shook the offer off, declaring, "No thank you. I know you wish to save me from the flames. Yes, if I agree to your offer, I could wage endless battles and drive the English out of here all together. Perhaps, I would even conduct a crusade on behalf of MotherChurch. But, to do so mired like you in eternal darkness, I couldn't bear it. To be without the Mass or the voices would be intolerable."

"But that very Church is going to execute you in the morning. How can you believe in it still?" he protested.

"Everything happens for a reason, Nicolas. Remember what I told you before I was captured? You aren't beyond God's reach, nor are you beyond salvation. I sense a light inside of you and I have been told you are a good person still--despite your condition," she smiled.

"Your voices told you that, I suppose?" he inquired, albeit not as skeptically as before.

"Oui," she nodded. "They have told me of the darkness with which you struggle and the light flickering within you. One day, you too will meet them."

"How will I know?" he probed.

"Trust me, you will know," she affirmed. "Now, if you would permit me to do so, I would like to pray before they come for me." She folded her hands and began to chant Hail Marys fervently.
Nick, for his part, hung back against the wall and watched her activity. For a brief second, he could almost make out a light, a bright corona, about her figure. "Truly, she is special," he assessed to himself. Then, he made up his mind to watch her until they came.


[A few hours later--following the execution and the last flashback to "For I Have Sinned"]

Nick hid his face with a cloak in order to block out the harmful sunlight and the acrid smell from the marketplace outside. "At least she died a hero," he muttered. "Still, it's quite a waste."

"Won you over, did she?" Dijon's voice snickered behind him. "I wonder where your loyalties really are, Nicolas?"

"They are with Brabant and to myself," the former Crusader murmured.
"And, as Brabant is a part of my duchy, you are my liege man! Something you would do well to remember!" the Burgundian snapped, slapping the vampire knight across the face.

"Actually, he belongs to a higher power, I'm afraid," another voice disagreed. The source stepped out of the shadows. The hooded figure was tall, slender, and had an air of self confidence about it. "Political ties are so transitory after all."

Nick's senses penetrated the disguise and determined the speaker's identity almost at once. "LaCroix?"

"Yes, Nicholas," his master stated, removing his hood to reveal the sculpted Roman features. "To think, I almost missed this spectacle. I arrived in town just before it occurred. You know how these things are."

"And Janette?" Nick posed.

"Ah. She stayed behind in Paris. Still, I've come to check up on you. I've been getting some strange--almost perverse--vibrations from you lately. I'd say that the good bishop and his cohorts acted in time," the former Roman noted. "You do need to stay away from such...distractions to your nature." Sensing the doubt within the younger vampire, he snarled, "Remember who you are, Nicholas! You are what you are! You are what I made you! If you think that snip of a girl or her voices can save you, then you are mistaken!"

"Well spoken, Monsieur," Dijon complemented. "But, I still have a greater hold over Nicolas than you."

LaCroix shook his head. He knew all about the other man's martial and leadership abilities. And, for those reasons, he was really hoping that he wouldn't have to kill the Burgundian. "Be advised, you have no idea with what you're meddling with. You would be wise to retreat now."
"Are you threatening me?" Dijon laughed, drawing his sword. "I'll cleave you in half, Braggart!" Swinging the weapon, he tried to strike the vampire Elder with it.
However, LaCroix grabbed the hand in an iron grip, wrenching the sword away from his attacker. Locking eyes with Dijon, he stated, "You will get up and leave. Nicholas is none of your concern. Go back to your duchy."

The Burgundian lord stared blankly at the immortal, nodding, "Yes, I...will leave." With that, he shook his hand free and left the area quickly. Outside of the donjon, he climbed on his horse and took off for the east.

LaCroix smiled and remarked, "You see, Nicholas? Persuasion is a worthy art. You should master it yourself instead of being mastered by it."

The younger vampire frowned at the thought. Somehow, Jeanne had influenced him. While he didn't know how, he knew that everything was indeed starting to change....


[Modern Day]

Nick shook himself back to his current surroundings in time to see Dave rise from his studies. From the depth of his flashback, the vampire detective guessed he had been "under" for a few hours at least. "Did you find anything?" he probed.

"Yes, he went east all right. According to these documents, his father sent him to Rome. The Pope, in need of good leaders, dispatched him with his army to Varna to face the Ottomans and Mehmet the Conqueror. After the battle, the heralds failed to find his corpse. Nor was he among the prisoners. In fact, nobody had heard from him until some 33 years later," Dave reported.

"Thirty-three years later?" Angie gasped. "What?"

"Reports sprung up across Europe of a soldier of Dijon's description lurking around the remains of the battlefield around LakeConstance after the Swiss had mopped up Charles the Rash's army there. With that battle, the whole ducal power of Burgundy declined. No more male heirs. At least, no mortal ones were left to claim the throne," Nick continued. "Isn't that what you found too?"

"Exactly," the medievalist concurred. "Whatever the answer is, we'll need to head east. The only place he could have gone was to Istanbul. And that's where we'll go next."

At that moment, a bright light shone in the corner. Alyce and Nick backed away from it. However, Dave and Angie moved closer to it.

"What?" the oncologist asked.

Within the glow, Raphael materialized with a stern look on his face. He studied the others to insure that only those ears meant for his message would hear it. Once satisfied, he stated, "You are partially right, David Dubois. Yes, you will have to go to Istanbul, but you will need one other thing first."

"What else do we need?" Dave asked. "We've been to Rouen and here. I have the knowledge and having faced Dijon before, I know I can deal with him. Begging your pardon, where else is there?"

"You will need a special weapon to face the accursed one," the archangel explained. "And Michael will give it to you. Good luck." Having said that, he vanished into thin air.

For a long minute, everyone sat stunned with Raphael's message. Finally, Alyce asked, "So, does that mean we're done here?"

"We are," Nick affirmed. "We need to get back to the others."

"And get ready to head to our next stop," Dave concurred.
The curator went to find DeBonay for assistance while Deirdre willed up a portal, taking Nick and Angie with her. A moment later, the caretaker for the collection had inspected Dave's work and escorted them out of the facility.

Once outside, Dave and Alyce looked around for their transportation. Sunrise wasn't far off, therefore, she needed shelter.

In fairly quick fashion, the mists appeared in front of them. The young priestess stuck her head out of the fog, advising, "Come on, Papa, Dr. Harris." After her associates had joined her within the cloud, she closed the portal behind her, leaving no trace behind.

Chapter 17

[O' Connell Manor]

Steve polished his gun nervously and glanced about. During his last conversation with the Tucson office, the head field operative, an old prude named Farrell, had insisted he keep matters under control. "Like I'm going to step between Dijon and Dave. Yeah, right," he muttered to himself.

"Are you okay?" Natalie wondered, making her way over to his side.
He wanted to lie, flash that charming smile, and tell her that everything was all right. For the first time in his life, the b.s. failed him. "No, I'm worried about my boss. He wants an iron clad explanation of all this stuff."

She bit her lip and asked, "What did you tell him?"

"I told him we were making progress. Well, in accordance with the book, he wants a progress report. What do I tell him, Natalie? That we're chasing aroundFrance looking for clues so that one of my high school classmates can eliminate a soldier who's been dead for 500 years? Imagine how that would sound!" he reported.

She shrugged, "I've been there repeatedly covering for Nick with our captains in Toronto and now in Tucson. Somehow, I've managed to put a positive spin on everything. Don't worry, we'll get through this one too."

"I hope so," he sighed, rubbing her hand. "You're a God-send, Natalie. You know that?" Kissing her on the cheek, he continued, "Thank you."

She flushed a bit. For years, she had waited for Nick to express his love. "Where were you during that time?" she wondered inside of her head while looking at the agent and reveling in his feelings for her.


Francesca paced around the length of her bedchamber. Ever since the group had left for Orleans, she had been a nervous wreck.

"I know somebody needed to stay back here," she noted. "But, wouldn't Karen and Eve have been enough for that? That's twice I've let them go without being there for them!"

In the corner, Gabrielle's spectral image appeared, admonishing, "Francesca, you are needed here. You and I would have to defend the others if the Enforcers decided to return."

She shook her head resignedly, "I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I just want to be with David as he makes his journey. From what I understand, those stops, Rouen and Orleans, represent something to him. What if he needs help translating? What if there's another fight?"

"That's why Angela and Xena accompanied him," the bard-queen mentioned. "Believe me, she can handle whatever comes their way. And Nick can read the texts with David, I'm sure. Look, I know you want to be there. Hang in there. I'll feel better when they get back as well."

The Italian Literature professor managed a smile and told the other, "Thank you for reassuring me."

"My pleasure," the Potadeian replied pleasantly while fading away. "If you need me, just call."

Picking up a copy of "The Decameron", Francesca plopped herself on the bed and began to read in an effort to lose herself in its tales.


Eve and Brother Tony had conducted a prayer meeting for hours. Between them, the two ecclesiastics hoped to get the Light's attention and assistance in their friend's hour of need. For most of the evening, they sat on the floor, chanting. Finally, just before sunrise, he murmured, "Amen," and stood up slowly.

"Forgive me, Eve. I must rest now. Can we meet again tomorrow night? I am enjoying these sessions," he requested.

"Of course," she agreed, rising to her feet. "I'll help you to your room, and then I'll lie down for a while myself. I must say that our meetings are refreshing."

"Given the darkness surrounding us, we need to put up a strong defense," he affirmed.

"And we are, Brother. We are. Just have faith," she assured him.

"Thank you," he smiled as they walked toward his room.


Alex got up in his study, stretching for the ceiling. For the previous seven hours, he had poured through the sources on his bookshelves and received both emails and calls from his associates in several European countries. Looking at the pile of accumulated data, he figured they could rewrite Dijon's biography if they chose to do so.

"I wonder if David and Angela have found anything?" he mused.

A knock came from the door at that moment. "Yes?" he replied.

"Excuse me, Dr. O' Connell. It's Karen Montoya. Might I come in?" Karen probed.

"Certainly," the elderly man agreed. "What might I do for you?"

"First, I have a cup of tea for you," she noted, handing him a steaming cup. "And second, I wanted to talk with you about things."

"On the first note, thank you," he acknowledged, sipping on the hot drink. "Now then, what's on your mind?"

"It's actually about Dave and your reactions to him," she observed. "I've noticed your uneasiness around him."

He frowned. Had he been that obvious? "It's hard to feel comfortable around him, Karen. I remember running into him as a child back in Egypt and was petrified then of his inner darkness. I can see he still has it, and I fear for Angela's safety."

She shook her head, "You don't need to worry about that, Sir. He would never hurt her. Trust me on that one."

"Yes, well, how long have you known him?" he probed.

"For about 20 years," she informed him. "Believe me, when he lived with my family, I saw his lapses first hand. I know what he's capable of almost better than anyone else on Earth. He has improved quite a bit over the last two years. You remember when you saw him? Try and imagine him about a hundred times worse."

He shuddered at the thought. "My Lord! How could heÖ?"

"It's a very long story and one I don't care to tell at this point," she stated. "Just trust that he's a lot more under control unless he's pushed. Both times that you've seen him, he was being shoved really hard, first by Alti, and now the Enforcers. Just bear with him, okay?" Seeing his head nod ever so slightly, she continued, "So, what have you found out about our other medieval friend?"

"Dijon? I've mined everything I could find about his career and activities. Nasty fellow," he reported.

"I could've told you that without all of that research," she replied. "But, did you find where he went?"

"As far as anyone could tell, he was at Varna. Then, he disappeared for a few weeks without a trace. There was one witness who claimed he popped up in Istanbul, but the reference could have been to any one of four or five fugitives from the battle. I'm waiting to hear what David found in Orleans. Hopefully, he can collaborate my findings with some little nugget of information," he related.

"Trust me, if anyone can mine an archive, it's Dave. From what he tells me, his Grandfather Alvaro trained him hard when he was very young on these things. And, if it has a connection to the Hundred Years War, he'll find it in Spanish, French, German, Middle English, or Italian," Karen assured him.
"Alvaro?" he inquired. "Funny, my mother worked with a man by that name. A Lorenzo Alvaro from Lucca. Great professor who seemed to know a lot about many different regions."

"You can double check with Francesca, but I believe your mother's associate was her great-uncle and Dave's grandfather," she mentioned.

He shook his head in wonder. "I can't believe that he's Lorenzo's grandson! Dr. Alvaro was always so quiet and mild mannered."

"What can I say? The Dubois blood must have been the deciding factor although his mother isn't that great either," she remarked. Glancing at the clock, she yawned, "Gosh, it's getting really late. They should be back soon. If not, Nick and Alyce are going to need some help if you get my drift."

The telltale mists started to form in the corner.
"Speaking of which," he presumed.

However, it was Cybelle who stepped into the room and glanced about. "Hi, Karen," she greeted.

"Cybelle," the other woman acknowledged. "How are you doing?"

"Much better," she responded. Turning to the old man, she scrutinized him, wondering, "Do I know you from somewhere?"

"You should," he informed her. "We met in Egypt back in 1937. You teleported me back to my house from where Alti attacked us."

"Alexander O' Connell? By the goddess, it's been a long time!" the priestess exclaimed.
"Indeed it has," he agreed. "I've married, seen two more generations grow up, and here I am. In fact, our families are now linked, my dear. According to Nicholas Miles, you are David's sister, correct?"

"That's right," the Althanorian concurred. "But what do you mean linked? Karen?"

"He's Angie's maternal grandfather, Cybelle," the nurse explained.
The priestess gave the old man another glance. So that's what Michael meant when he told her, Angie, Dave, and Francesca about the importance of the mission to "both families". "Fascinating," she remarked. "I'm glad that things worked out."

"As am I," he responded. "Is there any other news?"

"The group is finished in the archive. Deirdre will have them back here any minute," Cybelle reported.

"Then, let's go meet with them," the elder professor commented.
With that, the two ladies followed him out of the room toward the staircase.

Chapter 18 [Istanbul]

LaCroix stood on the ancient ramparts overlooking the Bosporus, gazing intently across the dark waters toward the Asian coast. After the aborted meeting with Ali, he began to arrange for the confrontation to occur undisturbed. "This spot seems as good as any," he reminded himself. After one of the combatants had perished, it would be a simple matter to dispose of the body. Now, one last thing remained: to insure that no mortal interfered in the duel. To insure that, the former Roman general had requested the presence of a particular fledgling with ties to such matters.

At precisely the stroke of midnight, a voice called, "LaCroix, I'm here as per your command." The speaker stepped into the light. His face looked more wrinkled than a prune, his hair silvery-gray, and his gait a bit stooped.

"Thank you, Don Constantine, for coming," the general replied. "We have a bit of a situation on our hands."

"Indeed we do," the immortal mob boss agreed, shuffling over to his master's side. "It seems that the Duboises are still stirring up trouble. I trust you know about the affair in Italy?"

The elder vampire nodded, "Yes. I did hear how they ran up against the Italian mafia over the matter of a certain document. You, I recall, worked with their FBI agent friend to cut the ties between them and the investigation. For keeping Nicholas out of it, I'm grateful."

"Anything for family. You know how I feel about that," the fledgling stated. "Once again, I'm prepared to help the Community. What is it that you require of me?"

LaCroix grinned. If only Nicholas were this compliant. "I need to insure that the mortal law enforcement groups will not interfere in this affair. Can you help?"

"It's being handled even as we speak. I've been in contact with the head of the Turkish cartel. The gentleman running it and I go way back if you get my meaning," Constantine assured.

His master smiled knowingly. The younger one did have a way with words. "And?"

"The police will be diverted away from here," Constantine continued. "If you don't mind, I wanted to confirm when this wretched affair is to occur?"

"Two days from now at this time," the Elder noted. "Don't be late."

Constantine assured the other, "I won't be. But, with your indulgence, I would speak to Dubois first. I still owe him my thanks for his assistance, unwitting as it was, in bringing about the downfall of my Sicilian competitors."

LaCroix frowned. As negative an effect as the accursed professor had over his elder son and youngest daughter, he didn't wish for his newest fledgling to be swayed. "Must you? I would rather you did not."

"While I'm grateful to you for my vitality, LaCroix, I still have my honor. Don't worry, I'll keep it brief. Unlike Nicholas, I know where my allegance lies," the fledgling assured.

"Thank you for that at least," the "father" declared. "You may speak with him. But, if you don't mind, I'll accompany you."

The lack of trust grated on Constantine. In the years since his rebirth, had he not been loyal to the ancient Roman? Still, he had discovered that LaCroix had a reason for all things. "Very well," he relented. "But, I wish you would trust me."

"I do," the other replied. "But, this one is very influential. Already, he has corrupted your brother and sister. I want to make sure nothing happens to you, my Child. Is that not the way any father would look after his own?"

"Indeed," the "son" agreed. "I didn't mean any impudence toward you."

LaCroix smiled warmly at this display of loyalty. While he sensed the flickering light of resentment within Constantine, the latter knew his place. "Of course you didn't. Now, complete your business, and I'll see you at the appointed time."

"It shall be done," the fledgling concluded before taking off into the night sky.

The elder vampire watched the other's departure for a long minute even after the other had vanished. "It's good to have at least one child who listens," he chuckled.

"Even at the sake of his soul?" a strong voice asked from behind him.

The immortal stiffened. Who could sneak up on him thus? Turning, he saw Cybelle standing there, her hair and robes billowing in the stiff breeze. A knowing smile painted on her face.
"Once again, LaCroix, we stand face to face," she commented.

"What are you doing here, Witch?" he snapped. "You're supposed to be..."

The priestess chuckled, "In England? Oh come, come, certainly you know by now, I can be anywhere I desire. As if you could do anything about it."

"I asked you a question, Woman!" he roared, his eyes turning a pale shade of yellow. "Cut the riddles and answer me."

She laughed, "You don't like riddles now? Why, General, I thought you loved them. At least, my brother tells me you do like to speak in conundrums as the Nightcrawler. I must say, I have listened to the feed over the Internet. Your attempts to influence mankind are pitiful."

"One day, I'll be revenged upon you and your family for your insolence!" he hissed.

"And I'll be revenged upon you for the harm you and your infernal Roman hordes visited upon my sisters!" she threw back in his face. Her eyes took on a fearsome bloody shade of their own before she continued, "The histories have told of the pain and suffering which your troops visited upon my predecessors and those who served the goddess. Tell me, do you remember?"

LaCroix's mind did hold those memories. At her words, they took over....


[Britannia c. 70 AD]

Lucius stepped out of the NorthernSea onto the British coast. In the years following Julius Caesar's failed conquest of the fabled realm of Althanor, various generals had tried to take the site, but they had failed to do so. But, the Pompeiian general decided he would succeed where the others had fallen by the wayside. From his spies, he had heard that the pagans were holding an open Beltane celebration. Despite the Emperor's prohibition, he decided to move while the priestesses were at their most vulnerable.

"Signal the troops! We march inland quickly! We must be at the lake's edge by the full moon!" he ordered.

His second in command, Rodericus, a heavy-set man with dark features, nodded and moved to spread the word. Within the hour, he would have the word stated to all centurions. Shortly thereafter, the army moved toward the forested areas and their targeted victims.


Two evenings later, the full moon had risen high in the sky. The Romans made their way through the thick belt of trees. For the previous day and a half, they had marched through this barrier, cutting and hacking a trail as they went. Finally, they saw a clearing and made their way toward it. At the very edge of the woods, Lucius commanded his army to stop.

"What is it, General?" Rodericus inquired.

"Tell the men to fan out around the clearing. At my signal, we'll hit them from all sides. I don't want any of these traitors escaping. Understood?" the general ordered.

"It shall be done," the other man agreed, hurrying off with the word.

For a long second, Lucius observed the fools setting up their icons and setting up their display. How he anticipated their shock when their accursed rites were silenced by his sword! "They won't know what hit them."

"No, they won't," a familiar voice concurred.

The leader turned to his left to see Ares standing there. "And what might I do for you, War God?" he probed. "Certainly, you have more important things to do than this little skirmish?"

"Other things, yes," the deity agreed. "More important things, I don't think so. You are about to rid me of a thorn in my side, Lucius. Just do so with care."

The general snorted indignantly, "Don't I always? I have planned this engagement with great notice to detail. Trust me."

Ares frowned. This mortal was too arrogant for his own good. Still, he was the best general in the Empire. As long as he kept winning campaigns, the Olympian decided to put up with the insolence at least for now. "Just don't let me down. Take care of it quickly. Xena will be here by sunrise to escort those women back to their realm. I don't want her or that babbling idiot of a blonde disrupting this coup de grace. Understand?"

The Roman hissed angrily. He still remembered the last meeting with the Warrior Princess and how she had handily defeated him. "Revenge would be sweet, Ares! After we deal with this cult, I would dispose of her as well!"

"Don't be stupid, Lucius!" the other advised. "Just move in, take care of business, and pull back. Understand? Leave Xena to me."

Lucius reluctantly nodded.

"Very good," Ares smiled. "Now, I think your troops are ready. Move in."

"I'm going!" the general spat angrily. God or not, he wouldn't be ordered about by Ares. Running over toward Rodericus, he raised his sword, ordering, "Charge! For Rome!"

As a great wave, the Romans surged forth from the forest on all sides, cutting down worshippers and priestesses like so much wheat before them. The surprise had been total and, after only 20 minutes, the Beltane worshippers lay dead or grievously wounded before them.

Lucius strutted out onto the field, surveying the carnage around him. Hearing the moans, he thought for a minute. Certainly, he should pull back before sunrise. But, there was still time before that point. "Rodericus?" he called.

"Yes?" the subordinate inquired. "Should we fall back as per your earlier strategy?"

"No, not yet," the general disagreed. Allowing himself a cruel smile, he continued, "Tell the men they might claim their spoils here and that they have an hour to do so." Turning, he thought to himself, "If this doesn't break the Britons' spirit, I don't know what will...." Behind him, he heard the men running followed by the screams of the surviving priestesses. "It has been quite the evening," he chuckled, walking toward the woods.
"I would agree. But, you shouldn't throw salt in the wound like this," Ares criticized.

"To break their spirit, it's a necessary thing. Besides, Ares, shouldn't I reward my men?" Lucius noted. "We'll be out of here within the hour."

The war god bit back a snarl. His wishes had been explicit and this mortal had dared to take liberties with them. "Just see that you are gone from here by then," he glowered before disappearing from the scene.

The Roman leader turned back toward the field. It had been a good evening. An exquisite one indeed....


[Modern Day]

LaCroix's mind snapped back to the present. Once again, he was on the misty ramparts facing the priestess.

"So, you do remember," she told him, her eyes boring deep into his consciousness. "Well, mark my words, you will continue to rue the day you dared to defile my order, Roman."
"Nobody talks to me like that!" he hissed, fully vamping out and taking a step toward her.

"Uh uh!" she reminded him. "Have you forgotten what happened in Toronto yet? I must say it was quite a sight to see you rolling around on the floor in pain. It was amusing to separate you from Nicholas and the Doctor and deliver them into my brother's arms. Now, he'll find his humanity, and there's nothing you can do about it!"

"He is mine!" he countered. "Nicholas is my creation!"

"And undoing your dirty work on him as well as on Eve gives me pleasure," she remarked icily, throwing still more salt into that particular sore point. Glancing about, she noted, "It's getting late, and I should be getting back. But, before I do, I wanted to thank you."

That remark intrigued him despite his anger. "Thank me? For what?"

"For keeping the authorities at bay. I must admit that you're quite good at coordinating such things. Now, be a good boy and don't screw it all up," she remarked. "On that note, au revoir. We'll discuss this again." Turning to the misty patch behind her, she disappeared, leaving him alone once again.

LaCroix growled indignantly at the priestess's tone and attitude. "I'll be revenged upon her and her infernal brood!" he vowed. But, given the seriousness of the upcoming battle, that was still a matter for another day. Looking up into the sky, he flew off toward the safety of his lodgings. The night was getting on and much work remained undone before the duel to come.

Chapter 19
[O' Connell Manor]

Angie tossed and turned in her bed. While Dave monopolized the nightmares on most evenings, tonight her dreams were haunted by strange visions and painful memories. "Xena, what's going on?" she asked inaudibly.

[From inside of her head, the Warrior Princess remarked, "My apologies, Angela. For some reason, I seem to be recalling some bitter situations. You really need your sleep."]

"Well, I can't seem to doze off," she muttered, climbing out of bed. "I feel as if something's about to happen here. Tonight."

"You don't say," Dave's voice baited softly from beside her.

"Honey, I didn't mean to wake you," she apologized. "You were sleeping so soundly for once."

"Maybe I was," he supposed. "But, I know what you mean about the imminent feeling. I have that sense as well."

Then, in the corner, a bright light coalesced into the familiar form of Lorenzo. The angelic figure smiled warmly upon seeing his grandson, bidding him, "Your senses serve you well, David. There is someone waiting for you downstairs."

He reached out with his senses, probing the entire house. "There's no cold spot anywhere. However, I do feel a spurt of energy in the sitting room. Is that?"

"Proceed there and find out," the messenger advised, fading away into the darkness.

Feeling the chair, the professor found his robe and threw it on. "Better change, Princess."

Silently, she pulled the sword, changing places with her roommate.
"Let's get to the bottom of this," Xena asserted, hurrying out the door into the hallway.

For his part, the medievalist tailed her closely. Whatever was foolish enough to break in this time would regret it.

Rushing down the stairs, the two adventurers looked around at their surroundings. Everything seemed normal at first. But across the room, a familiar blonde figure awaited their arrival.

"Michael," she growled, "What do you want?"

"Stay out of this, Xena," the archangel directed. "This is between me and David. I have something for him."

Dave stepped forward and eyed the newcomer carefully. He knew that this angel didn't appear unless he had a very good reason and if it coincided with his agenda. "Okay, spill it then. I trust this has to do with Dijon?"

The other nodded, his face remaining stony and expressionless, "You are perceptive. Yes, my presence here has to do with your confrontation with the vampire."

The mortal probed, feeling a tad bit annoyed by the games, "So my grandfather just said. Let me guess, you want me to fight on your behalf now, right?"

"You fight for whatever side you choose," Michael replied. "I can only give you this." He held up a finely polished sword. The blade glinted in the moonlight even as the hilt reflected the candlelight from the wall tapers. "I hope that the good minister and Eve will keep you on the straight and narrow. You have your duty."

[From deep within Dave, the Child growled fiercely at this admonishment. "I'll show Feather-Brain about duty!"]

The professor held back his darker persona, managing to say to the angel, "That's a nice sword. But, nothing from you comes freely, Michael. What's the catch?"

"Catch?" the archangel wondered. "Ah, you've been listening to your friend here too much. Yours isn't to question. Yours is to act."

"Much as Jeanne did?" the professor snarled. "I know about the deal you made with her. With her, there was a catch. She served your ends, but couldn't get rid of Dijon in the end." He paced angrily about the room, staring furiously at the heavenly figure. "Now, you want me to clean up the mess. Is that right?"

"Answer the question, Michael," Xena urged. "What's in it for you?"

"Dijon has served his purpose," the blonde angel asserted. "Yes, it is intended for you to kill the Burgundian with that sword. That is what you've wanted all along, isn't it? And, as for your last comment, Dubois, we didn't make any 'deals'. I reminded her of her duty. That is all."

"Yeah," Dave replied darkly. "That's right. But years of nightmares taught me one thing, Michael. When you're done using me, you'll want to get rid of me. I'm too troublesome to be left in your backyard like this."

Michael's face contorted itself with rage. How dare this mortal question him so cavalierly?

"The man's got a point," she baited. "Look at what you tried to do with me and Eve in Rome. Of course, there was the whole matter of Lucifer and me. Then you "allowed" me to kill the Olympians and about a dozen Enforcers."

"Remember your promise, Xena. You swore to Eve that you wouldn't oppose Heaven," Michael reminded her.

"Actually, I promised not to raise a hand against you, as I recall," she countered. "Don't worry, Michael, I'm not stupid. I may not like it, but hey, that's the hand I'm stuck with."

The angel glared at the two companions. "Very well. David, we've given you your charge. You must fight and defeat Dijon on the night after next where the two continents meet. There, your destiny will await you."

"Istanbul," Dave confirmed. "That's where we're going."

Upon hearing that realization, Michael looked skyward and disappeared in a ray of light, leaving the professor and the warrior to puzzle through the purpose of the duel and the weapon.

"This just keeps getting murkier and murkier," he groused.

"Where Michael's concerned, nothing's ever easy," she concurred. "Now, let's get back upstairs before we wake the rest of the household."

Nodding in agreement, he followed her back up the oak stairs and softly into the bedroom. After Angie had returned to the scene, the couple fell back into their bed and dozed off into a fitful sleep. While neither wanted to waste time in this way, they knew rest would be needed for the events to come.

Chapter 20

While the exchange was occurring downstairs, Eve studied the sacred writings of Eli lying on the desk in front of her. Despite having relinquished her role as Messenger to Paulus, she knew her role in keeping order would be paramount over the next two days. "There has to be something here which I can apply to the situation," she hoped.

A knocking came from the door. "Yes?" she answered.

"Eve, it's Brother Tony. I know this is your private time, butÖ" the minister requested.

"That's okay. Please come in," she acknowledged, closing the text on the desk.

"Thank you," he sighed, entering the room nervously. "The air is so charged in this manor. I feel as if something's about to jump out at me."

"I know what you mean," she nodded, sipping a tepid cup of lemon tea. "I was just looking at Eli's writings, hoping to find something to calm my nerves."

He shivered noticeably before admitting, "I just feel something's going to happen here tonight. Don't ask me why. I can't explain it, but it's a feeling."

"The duel won't happen tonight so what could it be?" she probed. Just then, she glanced around alertly, "There's someone else in the house. Seems you were right, Brother." Jumping up out of her seat, she headed for the door.

He followed closely behind, looking in all directions, and requesting, "Heaven, protect us!"
"If you have faith, that protection will always be there," Michael replied, materializing out of the darkness.

Eve spun to see the archangel standing in back of them. "Michael? Then, it's starting already?" she asked.

"Not yet," the blonde visitor assured her. "I just gave David his weapon to use against Dijon. I have a task for both of you as well. He seems a bit resistant to his duty in this regard. You two will need to keep him on the path. Understand?"

"Michael, from what I understand, this is his battle to fight. Of course, I'll do what I can to work with him beforehand. However, the rules are clear. No interference from anyone else," she noted.

"The rules of demons are beneath the notice of Heaven," the archangel snorted indignantly. "I'm only concerned with the greater good." Peering behind them down the darkened hallway, he called, "Nicolas, come forth. I know you're there."

Nick approached as close as he dared. While he had stood in the company of other angels in the past, Michael's aura irritated his skin and sent chills up and down his spine. "Michael," he replied respectfully, giving the other a slight bow of his head.

"Despite your past transgressions, we haven't forgotten about you, Chevalier," the other stated. "You still have much to answer for. However, you have done good service as well on several occasions. Their task is yours as well."

"What can I do?" the detective wondered. "Just as Eve has said, we can't intercede."

"Just assist your friend in his preparations," the angel bade. "And, Nicolas, I might add that you've defied the rules of your kind before in extreme situations. Remember in the donjon?"

The immortal nodded, "Yes. But, Dijon had no reason to act as he did."

"I rest my case," Michael smiled. "Hold onto your faith in these times." Then, looking up, he disappeared in a radiant beam of light.

Eve glanced at Nick and asked, "What was he talking about?"

"I knew Dijon before he became a vampire. As Dave told you, he was a Burgundian knight. In the instance which Michael was referring to, he was harassing Jeanne d'Arc the night before her execution. I stepped in and put a halt to his insults," the former Crusader recounted.

Tony stared at him. "You're referring to the Maid, aren't you?"

"Yes, I have heard her referred to in that way," he agreed. "We talked on at least three occasions, Brother."

The minister's eyes bulged wide and he continued anxiously, "Then, it's true! You really are a medieval knight!"

Nick smiled warmly and reassured the other man, "I was born around 1200 in southern Brabant and served in the Crusades. After coming home, I went to a party and met a girl. The rest, as they say, was history."

"Janette?" she inquired.

"Right," he agreed.

"And she led you to that monster," the minister guessed, taking another shot at LaCroix. "You're fighting the good fight, Nicholas. If I can help you, please let me know."

"Thank you, Brother," he accepted. "Now, I think you all need to be getting some sleep. I was going to check on Dave and Angie, however, Michael just answered my questions. I'll see you both tomorrow." In a blur, he was gone.

"I think we'd best take his advice," the former Messenger yawned. "Excuse me! Well, good night, Tony."

"And to you, Eve," he returned. Turning, he made his way back toward his room.

She stood at her doorway looking about for quite a while. Michael's presence, as with Brother Tony, had made her more anxious and antsy. "Eli, I hope you'll allow the situation to be resolved soon," she wished, reentering her room, closing the door, and lying down for the remainder of the evening.

For notes & such, please see Part 1 (Additional Note: Some of these references come from "Kidnapped!" DC 2.10)

Chapter 21

Dave never did get to sleep after his encounter. Instead, he sat on the edge of the bed, listening to the nocturnal sounds and putting his thoughts in order. Admittedly, Michael's tone in reminding him about duty ticked both him and the inner Child off. But, there was more to it than that. For the first time, he was beginning to feel a seed of doubt spring into his consciousness. What if he failed?
["Stow it, Buddy," the Child growled inside of his head. "We've come too far now to let this kinda stuff wreck everything now."]

Nodding absently, the medievalist stood slowly so as not to wake his wife. Putting his robe on, he walked out the door, down the hall, and the stairs. There, he found Steve sitting at the table, cleaning his weapons. "Hey, Steve. It's really early for you to be up, isn't it?"

The FBI agent shrugged, "I'd say the same thing about you, Dubie. You're the one who needs rest considering what's about to happen. Still, I couldn't sleep. And you?"

"Same here," the professor agreed. "Last night was weird enough without causing anymore ruckus."

"Everything seemed pretty quiet. What happened?" his friend asked.

"Oh, nothing much," Dave remarked half-seriously. "The archangel Michael popped up and gave me a sword to stick into Dijon's hide."

"Is that all?" Steve deadpanned. "Dave, I have to tell you. You raise 'nothing much' to a new level."

"You know me. It's just another day in my neighborhood," Dave laughed ruefully, pouring himself a cup of coffee from the pot heating in the corner. "By the way, you've been quiet since the group returned from Orleans. Anything the matter?"

He shook his head. "No. In fact, other than your situation, I'm enjoying the time here, talking to folks, and just thinking about things."

"Meaning Natalie LeBeau, right?" Dave smiled. Seeing his friend flush just a bit, the professor continued, "Look, Steve. We aren't in school anymore. It's okay to have feelings for her. How is she taking it?"

"She seems really happy, Dave," Steve replied. "It's such a great feeling for both of us. I was thinking of surprising her with a cup of coffee in just a bit."

The medievalist grinned at his friend's optimism. "I wish you a lot of luck, my Friend. You're a lot happier than I've seen in quite some time," he thought to himself.

"So, what's new on the Le Creep front? Any new details?" the agent inquired, cutting into his friend's thoughts.

"I'm waiting for everyone to get up first. Then, we'll have a briefing of sorts," Dave noted.

"Sounds like a plan," the other man agreed. "As long as you keep your head on straight."

"I'm going to need to do that in order to beat Dijon anyway," Dave countered. "But, I have to admit that I'll be glad when this is over."


By noon, everyone in the house was congregated around the great oak table in the dining room, anticipating whatever news was available.
Dave sat at the head of the group, pondering what exactly to say to the group about the details surrounding the following night. He has just finished practicing with Xena and Nick for the duel and was allowing the situation to sink in once again. Finally, he started, "Okay, Everyone. I'm going to keep this brief. Last night, I learned the last details concerning our meeting with the Enforcers. We're going to Istanbul tomorrow night."

"Istanbul?" Brother Tony wondered. "Why there?"

"Figures that it would take place there," Steve muttered, recalling some of his previous adventures with the Duboises.

"Steve has a point, Dear," Angie jabbed good-naturedly. "It seems like every time we have an adventure outside of the U. S., it happens there. At least, I'm hoping we get to drop in on Marie Haddad. I need to check in with her on some common research not to mention see if Dr. F. has left anything for us there."

"What's happened there?" Brother Tony asked with concern.

"I was kidnapped about a year after the wedding," Angie noted. "Apparently, one of my findings put a few medical researchers over there in an angry mood. They grabbed me."

"They bombed the library," Dave continued. "Anyhow, Steve and I ended up in Budapest and set everything right."

"Right after you charged into the middle of the outfit," Steve sighed, shaking his head. "You pretty much took out the inside of that building with your assortment."

Nick nodded, "I remember reading about that situation before I met you both in Toronto."

"Indeed," Dave recalled. "But, as to our current situation, I think Angie and Francesca will check in with Marie. Meantime, Steve, Karen, and I will scout out the turf around the battle site. Eve, Nick, Alyce, Natalie, and Brother Tony will stay here."

"Cybelle will bring all of you to the site when everything starts," the oncologist added.

"We can always use the rest," the minister admitted. "I'll keep praying for you."

"Meantime," Cybelle added. "I'll be around to watch over the house if Eve wants to go with the others."

"I would like that," Eve indicated. "If Angie and Francesca don't mind."

"Of course," the Italian Literature professor agreed.
"Marie would be happy to meet you," Angie agreed.

"If anything happens back here," Alex wondered. "How do we get a hold of you?"

"Leave that to me," the priestess responded. "If needed, I'll find them. And I would like it if Deirdre would go with you, Dave. I'll have everyone else at the site on time."

"Sounds great," her older brother nodded. "I think that's what we need to know. If it's okay, I'm going off to meditate. See you all a little later." With that, he got up and walked toward his room.

Everyone looked at each other. While Dave seemed a little too cool for his own good at first, his focus was good. Given those conditions, they hoped for the best under the coming circumstances.

Chapter 22


The day passed quickly across the entire European continent. Although the sun shone brightly in the sky, the residents felt an unseasonable chill in the air associated more with October or November rather than late May. Accordingly, they rushed off to get their chores done so that they might return to their homes.

Just after sunset, Dijon arose from his deep sleep feeling anxious. "If only we were to face each other tonight," he wished aloud. Outside of his rented room, he could see the lights of the Galata bank across the straits. How many times had he ventured among the ruins of the Venetian businesses once located there but now lost in the mists of time? "Once more," he told himself. "After tomorrow night, I shall leave this city and never look upon it again. My prison. This Turkish pile." That thought made him feel better. Yes, after he had disposed of Dubois, he would leave this musty old city behind him. Having decided on that course of action, the former knight took his grindstone and started to sharpen his sword.

On the previous evening, his former master, Ali, had come to see him. The Elder had requested that he not pursue this course, calling the duel "pure folly". The conversation ended with the Burgundian advised the older vampire to mind his own business and stay out of his way if he had no sense of duty and loyalty to the Code.

Tomorrow night would be a small bit of work, but a great deal of glory thereafter.


[O' Connell Manor]

Xena sat in the Dubois' chamber methodically sharpening her sword. As with the Enforcer lord, she felt the need to begin preparations early if, for nothing else, to keep her mind occupied during the hours prior to the battle. The lull before the storm was always like this. Everything seemed to be so still you could hear a sea breeze blowing onto the distant coast. Nothing, not even a mouse, moved throughout the house.

"It never changes," she mused, placing her sword down for a minute. Taking her chakram, she flipped it absentmindedly, allowing it to ricochet off of the walls before returning to her hand. After four flings, she resumed her preparations.
"Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"Gabrielle, come in. I thought Francesca was studying in the library with David and Alexander," the warrior inquired.

"She was, however, we sensed that you could use someone to talk to," the bard-queen suggested.

"Angela's getting restless," the Thracian warrior stated. "I offered to take over for a while and burn off some of the nervous energy for both of us."

"Good plan," her companion agreed. "Xena, how are we supposed to sit and watch Dijon fight David?"

"It's simple, Gabrielle," Xena shrugged. "We aren't just spectators. We have a role too."

After a minute, the blonde bard caught her partner's gist. "So, we're making sure that the Enforcers toe the line as well, right?"

"You got it," the warrior noted, giving her sword a particularly dramatic flourish with the whet stone. "That's about right." Putting the weapon in its scabbard, she continued, "That's the only way Angela can keep herself sane in the middle of this mess. How's Francesca holding up?"

"She's holding her own," the Potadeian assured. "I wish that it were tomorrow already."

"I know," Xena replied, rubbing her friend's arm. "I do too. But there are still preparations for the battle."

"Such as?"

"After Angela and Francesca visit with their fellow scribe at the university, they'll release us. I've asked Deirdre to take us back to Althanor before the battle. According to Cybelle, the High Priestess has a few things to impart to David before he faces that rat."

"And what of Nick, Alyce, and Natalie? What if Lucius tries something?" Gabrielle wondered.

"He won' least not before the battle. And, of course, if he tries something afterward, well then, I might have to deal with him," Xena glowered, gripping her chakram hard.

"I'm sure you're right, Xena. I wish I could feel better about it," her companion sighed.

"Have faith, Gabrielle," the raven-haired warrior assured her. "Have faith. David has a few surprises. Wait and see."

The two women sat together, watching the sunset and trying to remain positive with their outlooks.


Alyce awoke from her uneasy sleep, wondering about the next evening as well. Pacing across the room, she tried to burn off some of the nervousness, which even she was feeling. "I wonder if it's any easier on Nick?" she mused as she dressed in a white blouse and her black skirt.

"No, it's not," his voice echoed inside of her head.

"Nick? Where are you? " she asked timidly, unsure of how this could be happening.

"Open your door," he advised. When she had done so, he continued, "I was using the vibrations between us as the children of LaCroix to communicate with you."

"So you are using your vampiric abilities more and more, even as you look for a cure? she asked.

"Just to communicate with you and perform necessary things," he stated, walking over to her. "I sensed your tension and wanted to soothe it." Placing a hand on each arm, he rubbed her gently. "Relax."

"Nick, be serious! I can't believe you're relaxed at a time like this one!" she protested, breaking away from him.

"If you want to know the truth, I'm a nervous wreck too," he admitted. "Dave's my friend, and I don't like his attempts at noble sacrifice and suicide! Furthermore, to willingly place both of us in the company of the Enforcers, not to mention LaCroix really makes me uneasy. No, Alyce, I'm not feeling comfortable about this matter at all."

She scanned his thoughts and found he was telling the truth. In that statement, he was the caring, if not overly neurotic knight she cared about.
"I just wanted you to feel better is all," he noted.

"Thanks, Nick. However, I won't feel better until this mess blows over," she expressed.

"That makes two of us," he concurred, embracing her tightly and sharing a view of the dark night sky over the manor house.


Dave had spent the afternoon walking the manor grounds. While he knew further practice would have been a better use of his time, the professor had decided to use the time to put his thoughts in order. As he walked back into the house, he saw Brother Tony waiting for him in the sitting room. "Brother Tony, what can I do for you?" he asked.

The elderly minister closed his Bible and looked up at his friend. "I was hoping to pray with you for a while if I may," he requested.

"Of course," the younger man accepted. "Let's go to the chapel."

The pastor managed a smile. At least, David hadn't forgotten about his faith in light of what was to happen next. "Perhaps, there is hope," he realized, accompanying the other man down the hall.


Natalie paced about the floor of her room, sipping on a cup of coffee, and pondering what was going through her friends' minds. Nick would be brooding about running into Dijon again more than likely. Dave would be meditating with Eve and his minister. As she had passed by the Dubois' room, the coroner noted that Xena and Gabrielle were talking about things. "At least everyone's got an idea of what's going on."

"I think you're being too hard on yourself," Steve assured her from his corner seat.

"I would like to do more," she argued.

"So would I. So would Karen," he debated. "It's Dave's fight. Let him fight it."

"I'm sure he's ready to eat nails," she noted.

"Yes, he always is," he remarked. "I've known him for almost 20 years. Anytime he's in a situation like this one, Dave always formulates a plan and goes with it. And, with everyone lecturing him on his fighting style, he's biting at the reins to have at it with Dijon."

"That's what I'm worried about," she agreed. "I was talking to Nick earlier and, given his history with Dijon on all levels, we were both worried about him getting reckless."

"Leave it to Xena, Karen, Nick, and Brother Tony to try and keep him in check," he assured her. "Still, I get the point. Dijon's mortal history, not to mention his role in the murders of Tony and Pauline Samuelsohn, is weighing heavily on him. We won't know his reaction until the fight starts, but when I was talking to Dave earlier, he said that both sides of his personality would have to cooperate if he was to win this one."

"Both sides working together?" she wondered.

"Right. You didn't see how he finally beat Alti in New Mexico. Apparently, the two sides worked out a compromise and used it to their advantage. Look for that to happen tomorrow as well," he continued.
"I hope you're right," she worried. "If they're too busy fighting each other, then Dijon will make mincemeat out of him."

The FBI agent turned his head away from her, not wanting to acknowledge that possibility. He and Dave had been friends for too long for him not to consider that her comment might come true one day. Still, the only thing they could do would be to wait and see.

Chapter 23


About 10 AM on the fateful morning, the group stepped from the mists into an alleyway across the street from the AmericanUniversity's main entrance. Glancing about, they could tell that nobody had seen their sudden entrance.

"Okay," Angie started. "When do we meet back here?"

"About 1PM," her husband indicated. "That'll give you plenty of time to see what's new with Marie. After that, we'll meet up."

"Let's not make it any longer than that, OK?" Cybelle requested. "The Mother has asked to speak with you, David."

That revelation made him scratch his head quizzically. "About what?" he probed.

"Need you ask?" his sister cracked. "She has some words of wisdom for you. Remember, we have a role in this affair as well. Pauline's death cannot go unpunished."

"It won't," he reassured her. "If you could tell her that I'll be happy to get her insight into this situation, I would really appreciate it."

"Consider it done," the priestess agreed. "See you later." With that, she disappeared into the fog, allowing it to dissipate behind her.

"No unnecessary risks now," Angie requested.

"I think we can keep him out of trouble for the time being," Karen assured her. "Come on. Let's find this place."

With that, the group split in two. Dave led Steve and Karen toward the waterfront. Meantime, Angie guided Francesca and Eve through the university grounds up to the History department. "Here it is," she stated, walking into the secretary's office.
"Can I help you?" the woman probed.

"Yes, I was looking for Dr. Haddad," the oncologist indicated.

"Ah yes. I thought I recognized you, Dr. Dubois. She's waiting for you in her office," the receptionist replied pleasantly.

"Thank you," Angie replied warmly as she walked into the adjacent office.

"Angie! I'm so glad you called!" Marie greeted, embracing her colleague.

"Sorry about the short notice. We had some last minute business here, and I thought I would check in with you. By the way, here are two of my colleagues, Dr. Francesca Alvaro from the Italian department and Dr. Eve Messenger from our Religious Studies department. Girls, this is Dr. Marie Haddad, a woman of many talents," the oncologist replied.

"Pleased to meet you both," the Islamist smiled. "Angie has mentioned you both in our conversations. Tell me, what's going on?"

"What do you mean?" Eve inquired.

"I received a call from Michael Fishburne two days ago, indicating you had taken a sudden vacation. Angie, he's really concerned about you, as am I," she commented. "And where's David?"

"He's on a mission of his own right now," Francesca noted. "He'll be meeting with us later."

"Well, I do have some messages for you. Let's close the door and talk about them," Marie nodded, although not totally convinced. Knowing her friends as well as she did, something serious was going on, and she decided to find out what it was. Closing the door, she started the conference with her colleagues.


While Angie's group was talking university business, Dave and the others had reached the waterfront. While the day's relative warmth should have cut down on the chill, the threesome felt a breeze blowing down their backs. They allowed themselves a brief glimpse of the view across the strait before getting to work.

"You know, this is ironic," Dave started.

"What is?" Steve inquired.
"Tonight's location," the medievalist stated. "It figures that Dijon would choose to fight me here."

Karen thought about his words for a second before realizing, "The picture of you and Angie from your honeymoon. This is where it was taken, wasn't it?"

"Right over there," he indicated, pointing to the lone stone bench over by the water's edge. "Of course, we had no idea what we were in for on that trip, either." With that, his mind flashed back 12 years to that point.
The wedding had gone well as had the accompanying festivities. But, the next morning, Dave had confronted his father. After that, the newlyweds flew to this city and enjoyed the sites for a few days before heading to Cairo and a conference. That meeting, plagued by protests and riots, had led to his barely surviving an assassination attempt during his presentation. Angie's remarks during her session had angered a few Muslim diehards and led to her kidnapping a few months later.

"Look, Dubie," the FBI agent assured him. "You two have made your way through a lot tougher stuff than this caper. Trust me, you'll survive this one too."

"Just keep your focus," she concurred. "Dijon wants you to be distracted by all of these memories. Lock the bad stuff out and focus on the good points as a source of strength."

"You know it," the professor agreed. "Now, let's do some scouting around. We only have about an hour here before we need to head back."

The others nodded and set about scanning the area for any hidden surprises. After a thorough combing, the threesome was satisfied that everything was as it should be.

"Is there anything else we need to do here?" Steve probed.

"I think that's it. I'm satisfied that everything's in order. Come on, we'll be back here soon enough," Dave commented.

Karen took another sweep with her senses. Just as Dave had indicated, everything seemed clean. "Let's go," she concurred.


An hour later, they met up with Angie, Francesca, and Eve outside of the AmericanUniversity front entrance.

"Any surprises down there?" Angie pushed.

"It's clean, Angie," Karen reported. "Dave and I scanned the area. "

"And I did a thorough sweep of my own," Steve added. "Everything seems ready."

The oncologist took these statements in and weighed their meaning. As her husband had done hours before, she realized the significance of Dijon's choice. "That jerk's out to ruin everything, isn't he?"

"That's his plan," Dave shrugged. "But, let's not dwell on that point, Princess." He embraced her tightly. "We still have a lot of time left."

She allowed herself a warm smile at his words. Even in the face of this challenge, he was trying to be optimistic. "You're right. And I'm so proud of you. Remember that," she declared.

"I know," he chuckled. "Now, what did you find out?"

"The folks in Tucson are concerned as usual," Francesca mentioned. "Marie had Angie email her boss. Eve and I sent messages to Caitlin as well. At least, they know what's going on."

"David, we also found out that Lydia's coming here as well," Eve added.

"Lydia?" he asked. Then, he realized, "That's right. She was doing research in Nicaea. Knowing her, she would rush over here for this. Great, I really don't want her there tonight in case the Enforcers get any ideas."

"I think we can keep an eye on her, Dave," Steve assured him. "Besides, she knows about your powers anyway. What else can she find out?"

"Oh, let's see. Umm...about Angie and Francesca's relationships with Xena and Gabrielle, where Eve's knowledge of Eli really comes from, that Nick, Alyce not to mention LaCroix are vampires? Do I need to go on?" the professor deadpanned, counting off the reasons on his fingers even as he recited them. "When is she going to be here?"

"According to Marie, the boat arrives at sundown," Eve noted.
"We'll figure something out," Dave assured them. Looking at his watch, he saw that it was 1PM.
"I'm sure," Deirdre's voice announced. In front of the group, the mists thickened, allowing the priestess to step through. "Hi, Papa. I trust I'm right on time. Auntie told me to come and get you."

"Just as we taught you," Angie smiled. "Punctuality is always important."

"Speaking of which, the Mother is waiting for you all in her hut. So, if you don't mind," their daughter requested.

Without another word, the group entered the mists, disappearing from the site, and allowing the portal to dissipate behind them.

Chapter 24

Even as the Duboises and their friends disappeared from the city, across town at the Hotel Suliaman, the Renegades were convening to discuss their plans. It had taken the better part of two nights to fly from Toronto to the ancient capital in order to avoid the threat of the sun. Now, after the better part of the previous night and the early morning, the immortal rebels met to discuss the upcoming events in an inner part of the facility.

"How are we faring?" the Asian inquired.

"Given the circumstances, I'd say very well," the leader replied. "I spoke to Dijon's second in command an hour ago. Everything is ready for tonight."

"I hope the Enforcer is better prepared than his underlings!" the Caribbean spat.

"How were they supposed to know that the accursed Duboises would have allies?" the head Renegade growled. "No, this time, we have the rules on our side. If the Burgundian does what he should, we'll be rid of one more pest by the evening's end."

"And what about the others?" the Native American pushed.

"What of them? We'll have the Enforcers pick them off one by one."

"In LaCroix's territory? You can't be serious!" the Asian scoffed.
"He has grown soft," the leader doubted. "We shall deal with him when the time comes."
Despite his confidence, the other vampires had their doubts about the merits of the plan. After the failure at the manor house, they were thinking twice before agreeing to anything. This plan seemed downright foolhardy, but still, they held their silence, hoping to hit pay dirt this time aroundÖ.


Two blocks away, LaCroix reclined on a chair, staring at the ceiling of his darkened Victorian bedroom. The Hotel Caroman had been his personal favorite as far as the lodging in the former Ottoman Imperial seat went for nearly a century. Now, he used it to brood over the events of the upcoming night. Sipping on a goblet of the finest vintage bloodwine, the Elder couldn't understand why he was so angry. If all went well, Dubois would soon be out of his hair, leaving him free to dispose of the troublesome warriors and reclaim Eve.

"In a potential hour of triumph, I should be grateful for a favor rendered me even by one so despicable," he hissed, angry at his own misgivings. "Still, I should be the one to deal with Dubois especially after his words to me that night in the lecture hall. And also, the fact that those insolent renegade newcomers are holding Dijon's leash is an issue. Those children will need to be dealt with for causing their own threat to the Community's continued survival. While this spectacle should be somewhat entertaining, if any mortals should circumvent Constantine's blockade, we could be exposed."

Feeling the need to check in at home, he picked up the phone and dialed away.


[Tucson, El Gato Negro Club]

As with her former master, Janette had problems sleeping on that particular day as well. She could feel the vibrations from Nick's uneasiness half a world away. Coupled with the responsibility of watching over the Tucson community, it almost seemed overwhelming. Fortunately, Vachon had lived up to his duties, insuring that the city was secure from any situations of potential danger. For once, she wished that vampires could stand the daylight. The hours alone, waiting for the sun to set, were driving her mad.
"I wish Nicolas would call," she pondered, staring at the phone and hating the sense of dependency that this situation was foisting upon her elegant shoulders.

Then, almost as if on cue, the phone rang. "Gato Negro," she answered, sensing who the caller was. "LaCroix?"

"Oui, Janette. C'est moi," the Roman replied. "How is everything back there?"

"It's been really quiet. Nobody has made any trouble. In fact, the Community has been feeding off of the stores which we have here in the basement," she indicated.

The Elder smiled with satisfaction. Despite the insolence of the Renegades, it seemed that his influence was as great as ever in the Old Pueblo. "Very good. And Vachon? Has he done as he promised?" he probed.

"Surprisingly, he has patrolled the city with great efficiency, looking out for anything out of the ordinary. In addition, Nicolas' partner has been working with him to make sure we have a fresh supply of blood," she noted.

He arched his brow in pleasant surprise. Two more things had worked out unexpectedly. First, the Spaniard was acting as a responsible immortal for the first time in his 468 years. Secondly, Nicholas' friends were as trustworthy as the good Dr. Lambert in not only keeping the Community's secret, but were actually working to help it. Perhaps, this string of events wouldn't be so bad after all. "I'm pleased to hear that," he complemented. "Please let me know if anything happens. Au revoir."

"Au revoir," she concluded, hanging up the phone. Getting up from her chair, she unlocked the cellar door and went downstairs to check on the other vampires.


[O' Connell Manor, London]

Nick sat brooding on his bed. It was now about 3PM. "Only about four hours more," he told himself. Picking up the book lying on his nightstand, he tried to lose himself in its tale.

A knock came from the door, followed by Natalie's voice, "Nick? I'm sorry to disturb you, but can I come in?"

"Sure," he replied. "It's open."

She let herself into the room and secured the door behind her. In the past, she might have knocked and walked in. However, given the scene back at the loft, he understood her nervousness. Perhaps, things might never be the same again, but they were still friends. At least, he hoped they could still be friends. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"Absolutely," she fibbed. "I'm not the one who Dijon's going after tonight. Nick, I know you don't want to think about that animal right now, but given the fact that I've never seen him in person, what type of man is he?"

He stiffened a bit as he recalled his earlier encounters with the then-
mortal Burgundian leader. "He was a fantastic fighter, capable of turning a battle around by himself. Even before he was brought across, he had an incredible aura. He was, and I guess still is, a conundrum," he explained.

"How would you figure that?" she posed.

"His personality is dominated almost by diametric opposite poles. On the one hand, he admires fine culture in all of its forms. Yet, he's a bloodthirsty savage on the battlefield, mowing down many opposing knights with his own sword before his exile," he continued.

"So, he had a quite a body count before he was brought across, huh? Almost like LaCroix, I suppose? I wonder why he didn't try to bring our Burgundian friend across?" she postulated.

"Perhaps, he knew that he wouldn't be able to control Dijon," he guessed. "Judging from his reactions to the Barber and Hitler, I would say that's the reason."

She nodded quietly, her mind intrigued by those connections. Even after the years they had known each other, Nick continued to amaze her with the people whom he had rubbed shoulders with. Still, even with her scientific curiosity aroused, the coroner still felt uneasy around him. "I'll have to mull all of that stuff over. Thanks, Nick," she stated. "I really appreciate it."

"Anytime," he agreed. "By the way, how are you doing?"

"I'm getting better. Steve's been a great help over these past few days. And how are you and Alyce doing?" she asked, trying to sound pleasant.

"We're okay," he replied. "She's really nervous about tonight."

"And you?" Natalie pushed.

"I'm afraid for Dave's safety. On the one hand, Dijon could just kill him. On the other hand, the Child could go berserk, kill Dijon, and retain dominance in the process. There are too many unknowns, Nat. He has to face this trial, but who knows what will happen?" he responded frankly, reaching into his duffel bag.
From it, he produced a familiar case.
"The cross?" she asked.

"Yes," he confirmed. "I'm going to let him borrow it for the battle. That way, we can hope for some mitigating factors one way or the other."

She smiled, "So, you are finally starting to believe in faith after all?"

"I always did," he debated. "Of late, that belief has grown thanks to Dave, Angie, Eve, and Xena not to mention their minister. It's funny, Nat. Remember when you mentioned in the lab about fate bringing me together first with Brother Tony and then with Angie's parents? Now, here we are."

"Right," she agreed, wanting to rub his shoulder, but not feeling comfortable enough around him to do it. "Face it, Nick. When you saved Tony and Lorenzo, not to mention introducing the Blackwells to each other, you helped to write this chapter in your own life." Turning away from him, she started for the door.
For a long moment, there was an uncomfortable, stifling silence.

Then, he stated, "You don't have to leave so quickly, you know. No matter what, I still want to be friends,"

The pathologist sighed deeply, "So do I, Nick. But, it's going to take time to get used to this new arrangement. Maybe you can move between loves and lives like changing between sets of clothes, but I can't! I need time, Nick, and so do you. Yes, we can still be friends and colleagues. I'll still help you to search for a cure if for nothing else to insure your happiness and spite LaCroix in the process. However, I need to rebuild my confidence a bit and establish something with Steve. Besides, you and Alyce need time to do the same." Even as she said this piece, her eyes turned red and watered. Her shoulders slumped heavily as she left the room.

Despite the resolve in her words, he knew that posture well. Yet, even though he wanted to say something, his feelings for Alyce told him to simply let her leave no matter how painful it would be to do so. She was right even if he wasn't ready to admit it at that point. In the process, he realized that his friend wasn't the only one going through a transition on that day. Rather, they all were doing the same thing. How they made out would help to shape the journey ahead both on individual and group levels.

Chapter 25 [Althanor]

The high priestess coughed nervously. For days, she had been bed ridden with the same fever and weakness that had been sapping her strength for the previous year. Soon, it would be her turn to make the Great Journey. Then, Cybelle must be ready to take her place as the overseer of the hidden realm. "She is ready even if she doesn't want to admit to herself. Genaria will be a wonderful advisor."

At that moment, a knock came from the door. "Yes?" she croaked.

"Mother, it's me, Genaria. Cybelle and the others just arrived. Should I show them in?" Genaria requested.

"Please show David, Angela, Cybelle, and Deirdre inside. Their friends should wait outside," the elder woman coughed.

A moment later, the door creaked open, allowing the two priestesses and their relatives inside of the chamber.

"Mother? What is it?" Deirdre gasped. Granted, when she had last seen the high priestess a few days earlier, the latter had been feeling poorly. Now, she felt the death maiden nearby. Soon, the old woman would be gone.

"Search your senses, Child. They're telling you what you wish to know," the old lady advised.

Cybelle rubbed her niece's shoulder supportively and told her to step back. "Mother, is there anything you wish to tell me?"

"Yes. Cybelle, within a few days, I'll be with our predecessors in the Land Beyond the Mists. Then, it must be you who takes my place," the head priestess indicated.

Although, she was still reluctant to do it, the heiress nodded, "As you wish."

"David, please come closer," the ill priestess requested.

He stepped forward, bowed respectfully, and inquired, "Cybelle indicated you had something to say to me. What might I learn from you, my Lady?"

The woman grinned ever so slightly. He had learned some degree of reverence at least. No doubt Pauline had seen to that. "Yes. I wanted to thank you for taking up the challenge."

"If I didn't, then who else would have done it?" he replied. "For so many reasons, it's my job to deal with that slime."

She concurred, "And I wish you the greatest success with your task. Before I go, yours is the last debt that must be cleared. Fight well. Fight with honor. Remember, you carry the hopes of a whole realm on your shoulders."

For a long minute, the professor stood silently, meditating on her words, before saying, "IÖI know. And I will try to control myself long enough to finish it."

She frowned, "Then, you plan to face him by yourself without the Other?"

"Mother," Cybelle pointed out. "The Child is uncontrollable. We can't rely on him to do anything."

She disagreed, "Nonsense. When you were possessed by Ares, he stopped you. And did he not make the deal with you, David, to stop Alti? No, he must have a role in this affair as well. Bertrand du Dijon must face his creation in this fight. I have foreseen it."

"He'll lapse?" Angie wondered, looking nervously at her husband.

"Indeed," the infirm leader affirmed. "You will have to trust him. As you defeated the shamaness, so too will you best Dijon and address the wrong which he did to Pauline and her husband. I have seen it. The goddess wishes it to be as such. Angela?"

"Yes?" the oncologist inquired.

"It is up to you and Francesca to stand ready, watching for treachery. At the first sign of trouble, the goddess requests that Xena and Gabrielle deal with the situation," the priestess instructed.

"Count on it," the younger woman agreed.

"Very well," the old woman stated. "You all have your roles and instructions. If you don't mind, Deirdre, can you take your parents and their friends back? I'll need Cybelle with me for a while yet."

"As you wish, Mother," the newest priestess accepted. Then, she showed her parents out of the hut.

Cybelle glanced nervously at her leader. Her brother wasn't the only one about to undergo a transition. Shortly, everything would be different. Very different indeed.

Chapter 26

The sun had set early on that particular day, filling the sky with a bloody red panorama outlined by the brassy thunderheads over the fateful scene. Having been given their instructions, the police had cordoned off the area around the Golden Horn and the old palace complex. No visitors. Those people who lived there were to stay in their homes. Once Deirdre popped the group into the area, it would be locked down. Due to these announcements, one could easily understand the electricity in the air during the last hours leading up to the battle.

Now that it was dark, Alyce was free to wait for her university colleague on a nearby ferry dock. Everyone had hoped that in choosing Istanbul, anyone who might have known anything about the battle or the contestants would be half a world away. Lydia Coltrane's presence, despite the fact she knew about Dave's abilities as well as having witnessed the acceptance of the challenge, could jeopardize everything especially if the Enforcers decided to take hostages. "We'll have to be careful," she decided, shaking ever so slightly. Trusting in LaCroix wasn't something she liked to do in any event. With potential lives on the line, she felt even worse about it.

Finally, after twenty minutes of waiting, the boat pulled into the dock. Scanning the passengers, the curator located her associate's particular heartbeat. Ten minutes after that, the Middle Eastern specialist had disembarked and met up with her.

"Alyce, is everything all right? I came as fast as I could!" Lydia indicated.

"Everything's as right as it can be given the situation," the curator replied cryptically. "Now, come. We have to meet the others."

The historian glanced at her quizzically, "Others?"

"Dave, Angie, Nick, and Agent Petersen. They're waiting," she repeated.

With a slight nod from the newcomer, the two women hustled from the waterfront, up the hill, and over to the Hotel Suliaman. Walking into the elegant hotel, they took the elevator upstairs, heading for the meeting of the minds occurring above.


An hour earlier, Dave sat in silent meditation within an upstairs room of the hotel. In the background, the soft sound of dervish music wafted throughout the room and the scent of candles permeated the air. It might have been simpler to use the potion that his sister had made to put the Child to sleep so that he could fight rationally. But, after giving the matter some thought, he knew that the High Priestess was correct. To win this contest, he couldn't go in with one hand tied behind his back. To survive, the Child might-and probably would--have to engage Dijon directly. "More than likely, he'll be doing most of the fighting," he thought.

"Now, don't sell yourself short, Brother," the Dark One rasped from the inky blackness, appearing as a negative image surrounded by a brilliant corona. "Ya've scrapped too, ya know."

"Right. The last time we faced Dijon-you were in charge," the professor protested.

"Not in Tucson. After we dumped the witch from Hell, it was you who stood up to Dijon. That took guts," the Other reminded.
"Like I had a choice," Dave shrugged.

"Oh, there's a choice all right. There's runnin' like a scared rabbit or facin' our problems like always. That's how we survive. That SOB's been a pain to us all of our lives one way or another, right?" the Child continued.

Dave sat there silently.

"RIGHT??" the Dark One repeated, with increased emphasis.

"I guess so," Dave sighed.

The Child guffawed sarcastically, "Oh, ya guess so. C'mon! That's pathetic!"

Dave glared at his other half, "And I suppose you want to go in, guns blazing, right?"

"No," the other presence disagreed. "Ya'll forget that some of your planning rubbed off on me. We go in and assess the mess. When it's time, we kick Mustard Boy's tail. If ya can't hack that, then let me go in by myself. Ya'll don't remember, but I nearly burned him and some of his goonie boys since then. Just don't be a wuss, okay?"

"I won't be," the professor promised.

"That's a start," the Other relented. "Remember I'm here, and thanks for not feeding me that crap."

"Just stay in line," Dave declared.

"Count on it," the image promised, fading away into the darkness.

The medievalist sat in the darkness for a while after that. His mind still floating between differing planes of reality. After a while, his eyes snapped open. There was an emptiness in the room. One that he knew well. "LaCroix, come out! I know you're here."

The elder strode from the shadows. Despite the conflict brewing inside of the mortal, his senses were strong and acute. For once, he was glad that Dubois would be at his peak. "Yes, I am. I came to check on you."

"To see if your prize gladiator is ready for the arena?" Dave snorted. "How touching! Get in line. I've already received this speech from other people today."

"I see," the vampire mentioned, not exactly following the other's meaning.
"Can I ask you a question?"
The Roman snorted indignantly, "Would it do any good if I said 'no'?"

"Probably not," the professor growled. "But, are you ready for me to finish what you instigated?"

LaCroix stiffened in rage. How dare this one constantly bait him thus? "If you survive, Dubois, understand this: your feud with Dijon means nothing to me. Once the battle is over, then I'll be free to hunt you down like the vermin you are."

"Good," the mortal spat, rising from the floor. "Because if you do, I'll promise you one thing. Even if you win, I'll make sure that you'll be hurting after that." Lapsing, he allowed the Child to state, "I don't think ya'll be able to take us, Croisie. Personally, there is nothin' we would like better than Nick gettin' cured just to tick ya off."

At that moment, the light snapped on, flooding the room with light. Turning, the two debaters saw Xena standing in the doorway.

"That's enough, Lucius," she threatened, readying her chakram. "You've said your piece. Now, leave before I throw you out."

The Elder snarled, "Go away, Xena! Or I'll make you regret it!"

She arched her eyebrow, allowing herself a smile and chuckled darkly, "I didn't know you had taken up comedy. For once, quit while you're ahead."

"We have our own issues," LaCroix countered, allowing his fangs to descend and eyes to change color.

"Yes," she agreed, smiling coldly. "And, as you said to David, Butcher, one day, I will hunt you down and see my sword stuck through that lump of coal you call a heart. Unless David does his job, Dijon moves ahead of you on my list, but after that, our own feud resumes."

The thought of the Warrior Princess fighting the head Enforcer intrigued him. "I don't think you could do it."

"I've taken out worse than the Burgundian in my time. Now scram!" she snarled, flinging her weapon. The projectile caromed off the walls, the lights, and other pieces obscured by the darkness.

LaCroix ducked several times as the metal blade whizzed close to his head. Deciding that it wasn't yet time for them to fight, he hissed, "I'll remember this insult, Xena." With that, he took off.

"Good riddance," she declared. Then, turning to her friend, she asked, "Are you all right? That was pretty brazen of you."

"As if he could've done anything," he argued. "Tonight, I'm his sacrificial cow. No, he needs me to rid the Community of Dijon's threat. Then, they can deal with the remaining Enforcers and smoke out the Renegades. Now, if you'll excuse me, we're down to three hours before the big event."

"Whatever," she shrugged. "Just don't do anything stupid in the meantime."

"I won't," he agreed. "And Xena?"

"Yeah?" she replied.

"Thanks for stepping in. He was getting on my nerves," he stated, a smile forming on his face.

She nodded, marveling at his self-control. "Maybe we might get out of this one all right," she thought. Then, she rubbed his shoulder, "You're welcome. By the way, I think Nicholas wanted to see you."

"Okay," he agreed. "And please let Angie know everything's going okay. I'll talk to her later."

"Right," she noted, watching him walk out of the room. Proceeding about the area, she blew out the candles one by one and shut off the CD player. "Whatever's in this stuff, I'll have to ask Angela to get more of it for him," she noted, examining the jewel case. With that, she left, leaving the room quiet and still in her wake.


A few minutes later, Dave stopped in front of a door at the other end of the hall and knocked loudly.

"Dave?" Nick's voice asked. "Come in please."

The professor opened the door and walked into the area. He noticed Nick sitting at an antique desk, looking at a familiar little box in front of him. "Xena mentioned that you wanted to see me."

"Yes," the vampire detective agreed. "I wanted to lend you something for tonight." Opening the top, he revealed the old cross.

"Jeanne's cross?" the medievalist protested. "Nick, I can't take that!"

"Yes you can," Nick retorted in a tone that didn't allow for any argument. "Take it. She would want you to carry it with you tonight. It'll remind you to have faith and to be strong."

Dave picked up the ancient artifact and studied it for a long minute. As in the loft several months earlier, the feelings washed across his consciousness. However, this time he saw her charging forth on the battlefield, scattering English and Burgundian soldiers in front of her like so many frightened mice. Behind her, the French surged forward toward their goal. "Right," he agreed, his eyes watering. "Merci beaucoup, Nicolas."

"You're welcome," the detective replied warmly. "So, are you ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be," Dave indicated nervously. "The bow and shafts are in my room, as is the sword. It won't be long now. If you don't mind, I'll see you later."

"Sure," Nick agreed. "We'll talk later."

"Count on it," the professor assured him while leaving the room.

Nick rose from his chair and stared out the window toward the Golden Horn. Already, he knew the preparations were underway. If all went well, the Community would be a tad bit safer after tonight. And, to himself, he made a silent prayer requesting just that.

Chapter 27

As the clock struck 11:30, Brother Tony rocked nervously in his chair, grasping his Bible closely to his chest. "I wish it were over and done with," he complained.

Eve replied reassuringly, "The time will be here before we know it. Meanwhile, we need to wait. Dave still needs time to prepare. According to Mother, he went to speak with Nick."

"I'm sure he's giving Dave some strategies," Gabrielle supposed. "By the way, what's going on with Alyce and Lydia?"

"They're down the hall. Alyce is keeping her in a room until the vampires leave for the battle," the former Messenger mentioned.

"That's right," Xena agreed, walking into the room. "And David just went back to his room to get his gear. Cybelle will be here soon, so be ready to go."

"What about you, Xena?" the bard-queen asked.

"I'm going to have one last chat with David. Let's go, Gabrielle," she declared.

Picking up her staff, the Potadeian followed her friend out of the room and down the hall. A moment later, they stood in front of the door.

"Xena, Gabrielle, come in," Dave's voice announced as the door creaked open on its own volition.

The two warriors entered the area to see him talking with Karen, Deirdre, and Steve. "Looks like quite the party," the Thracian warrior supposed.

"That it is," Karen deadpanned, albeit more cavalierly than she felt.

Steve paced about the room nervously. "You know, Dave. You still can back out of this."

"No, Steve, I can't. One way or another, this ends tonight. I've been living under this threat for 15 years. It ends by dawn. No matter what, I've stopped them from coming after my family. In so doing, I've done my duty," Dave argued.

"Well, I can see you're not going to change your mind," Karen realized and embraced him tightly. "Come back safely, okay? I'm not in the mood for a funeral right now."

He nodded and joked, "Make up that sundae for me. I'll get it after I'm done."

His former girlfriend's eyes sparkled at that remark. Somehow, she knew he really would take up her on that dessert. "Count on it, Sir," she concluded, kissing his cheek.

"That's goes for me too, Chief," Steve added, jabbing him good-
naturedly. "Natalie and I'll be pulling for you."

"Okay. I really appreciate it," the medievalist accepted, rubbing his head and messing up his hair.

He straightened his appearance and grinned before walking out of the room.

Xena closed the door to insure their privacy and indicated, "We don't have much longer. I'm letting Angela out to talk with you." Sheathing her sword, she focused and changed back into Angie.

"Dave? How's it going?" she asked, trying to keep upbeat.

"I'm as good as I'm going to get," he replied grimly, slipping the quiver strap over his right shoulder and testing the bow's string. "And you?"

"Other than watching my husband's attempts to commit suicide? Oh, I'm fine," she laughed derisively.
He hugged her tightly, "Now, it's going to be okay. Just a bit more business to take care of. Right?"

She sobbed, "Right...I...I guess. But, what you said to Karen, I'm holding you to it, Buster."

"I'll be there to collect on it," he stated, kissing her passionately. "Count on it."

At that moment, Deirdre nodded to Gabrielle and then announced, "It's time, everyone."
"Um, Angela?" Gabrielle asked.

"Gotcha," the doctor realized, drawing the sword and changing back into Xena. "Thanks, Gabrielle. You ready, David?"

Securing the sword to his belt, he agreed. "This is a bit bulky, but I'll be fine."

"Then, let's hit the road," the Warrior Princess indicated, entering the portal with the others following closely behind her.

For notes & such, please see Part 1 (Additional note: The quote is from Dante, The Divine Comedy, ed. Charles Singleton (Princeton UP, 1989) Inferno Canto II, lines 79-108. Nick's translation of the piece is from John Ciardi's translation (Mentor, 1982).)

Chapter 28

About 11:15PM, the observers began trickling into the battle zone. First, the Enforcers appeared. Not long after, the Elders joined them. Somewhere close by, but still within spitting distance, the Renegades set up camp. Fortunately, Constantine's coercion had paid dividends in keeping the mortal rabble away on that particular evening. Now, they would have to wait for the witching hour to strike.

LaCroix glanced around expectantly, surprised that Dubois and Xena weren't here to inspect the site themselves. "They probably did so during the day," he realized. "Very good." Surveying the other immortals, he noted the presence of the chief antagonists. "I see you made it," he slurred.

Al-Rami, the Egyptian Enforcer, and now, Dijon's second-in-
command, replied, "Of course. And Dubois isn't here yet?"

"Patience," the Roman urged grimly. "He's on his way. I just spoke to him, in fact."

"Really? And what did the insolent road kill have to say for himself?" the Enforcer chuckled.

The Elder shook his head. "Only that he's ready for this fight. You are a bit sure of yourselves tonight, aren't you?"

"You know the rules of the combat, LaCroix. No powers other than brute strength or skill," the Egyptian reminded him.

LaCroix nodded in agreement. Yes, Dubois would be under a size disadvantage against the Burgundian. However, as with his son, the former general had heard the stories of the professor's exploits in this part of the world. Even without being able to use his psychic powers, the mortal would still be a formidable enemy for Dijon to contend with. "Don't underestimate him, al-Rami. That irritating mortal has a way of finding chinks in your armor."

"We'll make sure he doesn't win," the other vampire vowed. "Even if we need to jump in ourselves."

"And are you ready to deal with Xena? She'll be watching for such a breach in the rules. Speaking of which, I don't need to remind you, do I? No help for either side once the combat begins," LaCroix stated. "Besides you would have to deal with his other friends as well."

"Ah, yes. I wonder if we might have the opportunity to deal with your traitorous offspring and that Elisian flower child," al-Rami cracked.

LaCroix's eyes glowed yellow and, glaring in the other vampire's face, promised, "If you touch Nicholas or Livia, you'll have to deal with me personally! Enforcer or not, you're not powerful enough for me. Stay away from them!"

"Whatever," the Enforcer shook off the threat. "I need to get back with my brothers. It's been entertaining, LaCroix." An enhanced leap later, he stood with the other hunters, awaiting their entertainment.

The Elder looked back up the hill expectantly. Amazingly enough, he found himself pulling for Dubois. "Coincidental rubbish," he spat under his breath.


On the other side of the area, Steve and Karen shivered despite the season. The cold, damp feeling was more psychologically induced than anything else. Still, they wondered if this time, Dave had indeed bitten off more than he could chew. Beside them, Natalie, Alyce, Nick, and Lydia all waited nervously as well. The clock seemed to move at a snail's pace as their dreading impeded the passage of time.

"Where are Eve and Francesca? I thought they came with you?" Lydia probed.

"Francesca stayed back at the hotel. Eve'll be here, trust me," Steve noted, stretching the truth.

The Middle Eastern scholar nodded in confusion. With their cryptic comments, she still didn't know what to expect.

Then, the group heard a voice yell, "Lydia! Steve! Is that you?" Turning, they saw Marie running toward them.

Immediately, one of the Elders intercepted her. "You shouldn't be here," he snarled.

"I'll vouch for her," Nick stated.

"Very well, Brabant. She's your responsibility now," the vampire agreed, releasing her.

He guided Marie over to the others and asked, "What are you doing here? This area is sealed off for a reason!"

"Angie mentioned that Dave was on some mission here. I figured this was it," she replied anxiously.

"That it is, Marie," Steve agreed. "He's the main event tonight."

She glanced skeptically at him, "Main event? He'sÖHe's going to fight someone, isn't he? I wish Angie would stop him from being such an idiot. He's going to get himself killed."

"That's a real possibility tonight," Karen sighed.
The others put their heads down in silent denial of that possible outcome. Whatever happened, he needed to survive.

Then, the clock struck 11:45. For tonight, the bells of Aya Sofia, dormant since the 1450s, rang twice, signaling the dwindling time.

"Bells from that mosque?" Marie wondered. "I've lived here all of my life and never heard that sound from there."

"Medieval bells," Nick explained. "At both Dave and Dijon's request."

She shrugged, "Whatever. I wish something would happen."

On cue, the former Crusader sensed a familiar vibration in the night sky. A look skyward revealed Dijon descending toward the makeshift arena. As softly as a down feather, the Burgundian landed on the cobblestones.

"So, where is he? I'm here! Dubois, come out, Coward!" the Enforcer bellowed.

In the crowd, his colleagues let their approval be known. "Where is he?" they chorused.

"It's not yet midnight, Murderer!" Genaria challenged, appearing on the scene through the gathering fog around the site.

"Murderer, am I? And who are you, Girl?" the vampire chuckled.

"Genaria of Althanor," the priestess retorted menacingly. "He'll be here momentarily to deal with you. You'll pay for the death of my sister priestess."

"Sister priestess? Whatever is she talking about?" Dijon roared.

"Enough, Genaria!" Cybelle's voice echoed seemingly everywhere.

"I know that voice! The Celtic witch! Where is she?" the Burgundian groped.

"Right here," she replied coolly, appearing in front of him, arms crossed. "And I'll thank you not to insult my brother. He's right here. Dave?"

"Indeed," the professor agreed. "And as the man said once: "Da che tu vuo' saver contato a dentro, dirotti brievementeÖperch' i' non temo di venir qua entro. Temer si dee di sole quelle cose c'hanno potenza di fare alturi male; de l'altre no, ché non son paurose."

Overhearing his friend, Nick chuckled, "Dante. It figures."

"What?" Natalie asked. "Nick, what did he say?"

The former Crusader smiled, "The passage reads as I recall: 'Since what you ask probes near the root of all, I will say briefly only how I have come through Hell's pit without fear. Know then, O' waiting and compassionate soul, that is to fear which has the power to harm, and nothing else is fearful in Hell. I am made by God's all-seeing mercy, your anguish does not touch me, and the flame of this great burning has no power upon me.' Inferno, Canto 2."
Paying the Brabantine no mind, Dijon laughed, "Another once said such a piece to me. And you know what happened."

Dave scowled. "I know, Bastard. Tonight, you have no greedy castellan to bribe, no gate to shut on my head, no court politics, no tricks."

"By my last kill," the hunter cracked. "You're taking that personally, aren't you?"

"Your part in certain affairs during your mortal and immortal lives set the forces in motion," the professor continued. "Then, there's the Child. You two have a score of your own so he tells me. Dijon, you called me a coward. I call you a murderer and question your honor." Walking up to the immortal, he took a glove out of his pocket and slapped his opponent across the face twice. "Would a coward do that?"

"I'll rip you limb from limb right now!" the vampire knight roared indignantly, going for his sword.

"Uh, uh," the medievalist baited, shaking his head at the enraged adversary. "Not until midnight. We have eight whole minutes yet."

Dijon quaked with rage. "Very well. Eight minutes then. Not a second longer," he groused, stalking off to the other side of the cordoned-off area.

Dave looked back through the fog. "Everyone? It's time."

"Very well," Xena replied, stepping onto the field. Gabrielle, Eve, and Brother Tony followed closely behind. "We're here. By the way, are you sure that's smart? Baiting him like that?"

"I'll take him apart like a dried wishbone," he shrugged. "With my powers, I'llÖ"

"That's just it," Nick revealed while landing behind him. "In this combat, you can't use them. You'll have to fight as you did before. So does he."

Dave snarled, "Are you sure? Nobody mentioned that!"

"It figures," Gabrielle interjected. "So, what do you do now, David?"

"I have no choice, but to fight in any event," Dave replied. "Brother Tony, Eve, would you mind?"

"Of course," the two spiritual guides agreed. Kneeling together, they thought about their separate reflections for a minute.

Then, the minister implored, "Father, please protect this man as he champions your cause against the demon he'll face tonight. Be his shield and grant him strength."

"Amen," Eve added.

"Amen," Dave concurred, rising to his feet and checking his gear one last time.

"David, be careful," the Amazon queen told him.

"Right," he agreed, giving her a tight hug. Then, he saw Xena standing there expectantly. For a split second, he could see his wife's face instead of the warrior's. Forcing himself to his senses, he embraced her as well, whispering, "Whatever happens, take care of Angie. You promise?"

"You bet," she confirmed, giving him that firm, narrow-eyed glare. "Just come back in one piece. For both of us, you survive this mess."

"Lord willing," he stated. A glance around the crowd took in the faces of his friends and enemies. For a moment, time stood still. Then, the bells started their siren call, signaling midnight and that time had run out.

(Additional Note: This fight gets pretty brutal especially at the end. If you don't like such things, skip to the next chapter.)

Chapter 29

For two minutes, Dijon waited for the chimes to finish, relishing the opportunity awaiting him. "Come on, Dubois! Let's go!" he challenged. "Now!"

"I'm coming, Loudmouth!" the professor roared in response. Gripping his sword in one hand, he stepped into the center of the area.
As the two combatants stood toe to toe, the Burgundian's advantage could be seen by all in terms of size, weight, and bulk.
"Are you ready to die, Mortal?" the knight inquired.

"Not really. I have a surprise for you when the time comes," the medievalist growled. "Are you ready or are we just going to talk all night?" Turning to the Elders, he requested, "LaCroix, can we get started?"

The former general shrugged, "As you wish. You both understand the rules. No extra powers. No quarter. No outside help. Once somebody breaks those rules, all limits are lifted. Understand?" When the adversaries nodded, he ordered, "Begin!"

Dijon swung first, his blade a silver streak in the moonlight. Dave parried smoothly.
For three hours, they anticipated each other's moves in this deadly dance of death. Then, the professor scored the first cutóa gash across the knight's arm, which healed quickly, but stung his pride nevertheless.

"First blood," Dijon admitted. "Very good, Dubois. But, we're still not through!" Going after the professor again, he charged blade first, only to miss badly. "Will you stand still?"

"What? And make this easy for you? I thought you were the best fighter in Burgundy. And here you are, you can't even make contact with me," Dave baited. "You know what your problem is, Dijon?"

"Tell me," the immortal snarled, swinging his blade.

"You're too well-documented for your own good," Dave grinned, blocking the shot. "Denis' Recueils de Bourgogne outlines your fighting style. I studied that and a few of your colleagues' documents in Rouen and Orleans. You didn't think I was going to go all that way just to see you?" Pushing hard, he managed to shove his opponent away.

"No, I suppose not," the Burgundian admitted, raising his sword. "But, how long can you keep going? I can sense your exhaustion creeping up on you. I can go all night if need be. Who do you think is going to win, hmm?" Bringing the ancient blade down on the other's weapon, he asked, "Who?"

The professor knew that he was right, but would never admit it. Already, the effort to swing his weapon and parry Dijon's blows was sapping him. Fighting with the bow, not like this, was his preferred style. As such, he was being forced into a defensive battle. "Go to Hell," he snarled, riding a surge of adrenaline. "Come on!"

"You don't disappoint, Dubois. I'll give you that!" the former knight complemented. "Stand still and I'll end this quickly!"

"Sorry," the other adversary disagreed. Backpedaling, he put about 50 feet between them. Then, he grabbed his bow and lit an arrowhead. "This is getting really old." Firing the shaft, he watched it land at Dijon's feet and explode in an herb-laced cloud. "I made that especially for you, Asshole."

"That's cheating!" the Enforcers yelled, advancing on the battle area.

"Stuff it!" Xena glowered, her sword and chakram ready in each hand. "He's using his weapons and wits not his powers! Of course, if you would like to dispute that with meÖ"

Gabrielle raised her javelin expectantly and challenged, "Bring it on."

LaCroix raised his hand, indicating, "That's enough! She's right. Dubois' strategy is legal."

In the arena, Dijon coughed, "You couldn't resist using your toys, could you?"

"I had enough of fighting your way so I improvised," the professor shrugged, firing another shaft. However, without his powers, he couldn't fire fast enough to anticipate his opponent's reflexes.

"Nice try," the vampire snarled. "Cheating or not, I'm ending this!" Streaking at Dave, he impacted the other man, knocking him into a stone wall, and sending arrows flying everywhere. Allowing his fangs to descend, he laughed, "You should have stuck to the sword play, Dubois." With that, his mouth moved toward the other's neck.

Dave managed to squirm just enough to grab a regular arrow and jab it right into his attacker's side. "You shouldn't play with your food," he stated and pushed the Burgundian away.

"Fine," the vampire knight growled, wincing as he pulled the oversized splinter from his side. Then, picking up a piece of masonry, he declared, "Take this!" Flinging the projectile, he watched as the overhang collapsed before the professor could react, trapping him. "Ha! Now, I've won! Nobody could have survived that!" he crowed.

Xena stepped into the arena, sword drawn, a dark look plastered across her face. "Prepare to die, Scum," she challenged.

"You now?" the Burgundian laughed. "Be serious! LaCroix, what is this?"

"She has a claim on you," the Roman stated.

"As do I," Cybelle glowered, standing just a hair behind the arena's edge. "And if you get through her, you face me next."

The immortal laughed, "Is that the best you can do? Fight me with women?"

Steve tensed, "I'll show that smug sonnuva." Raising his crossbow, he took a step forward only to be stopped by Natalie and Karen.

"Steve, no! He'll rip you apart!" the latter protested.

"Listen to her please!" Natalie implored. "I don't want you dead. Please!"

Nick grabbed his arm. From the wreckage, he sensed Dave's heartbeat. "Watch the pile," he told the agent.

Steve hesitated for a second. He stared at the debris pile. Somehow, it was moving ever so slightly. "Xena, look!"

The Warrior Princess followed his indication and saw the shifting rubble herself. "By Eli, he's not dead. David, come out! You can do it!"

Everyone in the crowd stared in amazement. How could anyone survive a ton of stone falling on him or her like that? Then, they heard a single sound at first, low at first, but building in crescendo with each second. The telltale growling emanating from the pile puzzled all but those who knew best. The pile shook with increasing activity until it exploded in all directions, allowing the injured professor to climb to his feet. His ribs hurt and it pained him to take a deep breath, but there was no way he was going to quit.

"Keep your armor on," he growled low. "'Sides, it's my turn still. Dijon, ya cheated!"

"As if you had anything to say about it," the Enforcer cracked. "Still, I must admit it's good to see you still standing. I'll have a bit more amusement tonight."

"For a butcher, you talk too much," Dave challenged, taking back some measure of control.
"And with your injuries, you're foolhardy," Dijon taunted back.

"You're right," the professor admitted. "I'll let someone else take you." As he had been struggling for the past few minutes to hold back, it was a simple matter to just let go. Instantly, the smile was back and so was the attitude.

"Ya'll pay for that, Mustard Boy," the Child growled. "Now, let's go!"

Dijon hesitated for a brief second. Then, he started to swing his sword, but was slammed backward into the wall by a pulse.

"C'mon! Fight me!" the enraged opponent bellowed. "Not so smug are ya?" Firing another pair of blasts, he pummeled the ancient knight to his knees. "This too," he added darkly, blasting the other into the cobbles and stunning him. "Hey, Sis, ya got that toy Big Brother asked for?"

"Right here," the priestess grinned savagely, handing him a Swiss pike. "I can't wait to see what you're going to do with it."

"Watch," the Child chuckled as he dragged Dijon toward the middle of the ring. Aiming his bow, he fired a pair of shafts through each shoulder, causing the other agony. Then, getting right in the Burgundian's face, he baited, "Not so tough now, are you?" Holding up the weapon, he added, "You know what this is?"

"It'sÖaÖpike. So what? It's metal. It can'tÖkillÖme," the agonized immortal gasped.

"Oh, it's not just any pike," Cybelle added, walking onto the scene and kneeling beside him. "We borrowed that weapon from a museum in Switzerland. It seems that was the weapon which killed your brother."

Dijon's eyes bulged at the significance of this tool, but could say nothing.

"Kind of ironic, no?" the priestess grinned wickedly.
"Here goes!" the Child crowed, ramming it through his opponent. "Sword?"

Nick winced, guessing at his friend's intent. Still, the former Crusader handed him that too. "Here. Are you going to kill him now?"

"Nah. We're going to have ourselves a good ol' fashioned cookout," the Caustic Kid cracked, using the sword to further pin the Enforcer down.
"According to the paper, it's set for 5AM. About 30 minutes from now," the priestess noted. Turning to the crowd, she announced, "It's over, Everyone."

"We aren't going anywhere!" the Enforcers bellowed. "We want Dijon!"

"Battle to the death, right?" the Child declared, a cold smile crossing his face. "Come on! Let's go!"

"Go," Dijon urged weakly. "Avenge me!"

Al-Rami looked to the east and noticed the brightening horizon. "Very well. Bertrand, it's been an honor." Turning to the others, he added, "Let's go!"

As a group, the immortal hunters disappeared into the sky, racing to find shelter against the impending dawn.

"That goes for you and Alyce as well, Nicholas," Xena advised the vampire detective.

"Step through," Cybelle urged. When they had done so, she noticed Constantine standing there. "Why are you still here?"

After exchanging a brief glance with his master, the gangster stepped forward, "Actually, I have a message for all of you if I may. I wanted to thank you for helping me back in Italy."

"That wasn't the intent, Old Man," the Child snickered. "We wanted the damn manuscript. The suits just got in our way. Their mistake."

"In any event, I wanted to relay my gratitude for your assistance," the fledgling continued. "I'll await you, LaCroix." With that, he took off, heading for the nearest hotel.

"Lucius?" Eve asked. "You really should go as well."

"Unless of course, ya wanna be the next course on the barby," the Child sneered menacingly.
"You would like that," the Roman sneered. "But, as I told you before, Dubois. Tonight changes nothing! As of now, our war is on once again!"

"Bring it on, Croisie," the madman baited, stepping toward the senior vampire, his hands glowing. "I'll be waitin'."

"As will the rest of us," Cybelle promised, stepping to her brother's side.

"You know how I feel," the Warrior Princess added, patting her left hand with the side of her blade.

"Bah!" the Elder spat, disappearing in a flash. His war on Dubois could wait for a while yet. For now, it was time to find shelter from the sun.

The rest of the party stood just close enough to look upon the condemned vampire. Within minutes, the sun would finish him off in any event.

"Enjoy your victory! It won't last!" the immortal screamed defiantly.

"Stuff it," the Child declared, looking skyward. "Sun's up!" Stepping back, he stated, "Big Brother wanted me to tell ya, adiable, Massacrer!"

By now, the daylight was scorching the Enforcer's skin. "One day, you'llÖregretÖthis." Then, he burst into flames and was gone, leaving the others behind in his wake.

Chapter 30
[O' Connell Manor]

The day passed quietly for the group. For the most part, they stayed in their rooms, resting and trying to cope with what they had seen during the previous day. But while Dijon had been removed from the scene, the other Enforcers' reaction to the duel's outcome said that there would be other attacks in the future. Yet, due to the need to reconstruct their organization and choose a new leader, the residents of the Old Pueblo would be safe for a while at least. With that time, they would be able to coordinate a defense against any renewed threat from either the Enforcers or the Renegades.

Dave stumbled down the stairs about 4:30 PM to the main sitting room. Despite his victory, he had cracked two more ribs and sprained his ankle in extricating himself from the pile. "At least the Child doesn't worry about pain," he groused. "I guess that's my department."

"I would guess so," Alex agreed, emerging from his study. "Good afternoon, David. I trust you're feeling better than you were this morning?" A perplexed look from his guest pushed him to continue, "You returned from Istanbul this morning about 7 o' clock and immediately went to bed. However, you left a rather unique sword and a small urn down here. I hope you don't mind if I put them in my study for safe keeping?"

"Thank you," the younger professor noted, sipping on the cup of coffee placed in front of him. "That does hit the spot."

"So what about Dijon? Will he be back?" Alex probed.

The other man shook his head. "I don't think so. That urn, if what I'm hearing is true, contains part of Dijon's ashes. The rest were scattered so he can never regenerate."

"Never say never, David," his host reminded him. "You once said the same thing about Alti, and my mother made the same assumption about Imhotep."

The mention of those two in the same sentence made the medievalist's head throb. "Yeah, I see your point," he admitted. "At least, I took care of one issue last night. But I am grateful for the help of my family and friends. Without their belief in me, I might not have been able to continue last night."

"Now, Dave," Angie chided gently, descending the stairs in her bright blue robe. "You handled yourself just fine. Granted, I really didn't relish hearing about the masonry pile falling on your head, but all's well that ends well, right?" She kissed the top of his head before sitting down beside him.

Alex studied his granddaughter carefully. Once again, she hadn't been on the scene yet she knew everything. Another quandary: Why was Xena always so close to David? He knew there was a connection and somehow, it involved Angela. As his mother had 60 years prior, the archaeologist decided to investigate this mystery.

"Right," her husband agreed.

"Not exactly," Michael's voice announced as he appeared in the room. "Dubois, you were supposed to kill Dijon with the sword!"

"He's dead. We have his ashes to prove it! What's your point?" the medievalist wondered.

Flexing his hand, the archangel made the weapon appear in his hand. "There was a purpose in the method!"

"Yeah, like sending me to Hell to do some dirty work for you?" Dave challenged. When he didn't receive a response, he continued, "I had heard something like that."

"The prophecy? How did?" the visitor demanded. Turning to Angie, he demanded, "You told him! Xena told you, didn't she?"

"What she knows, I know, Michael. Those are the rules of our arrangement," she slipped anxiously. Mouthing off to an archangel wasn't something she did everyday.

Her grandfather mouthed, " 'Knows what I know'?" He asked, "Angela, what is he talking about?"

The angel grinned, "Please tell him, Angela."

Angie looked at her companion who shrugged. For a long minute, she tried to think about all of the possible fibs she could tell, but none would have worked. Then, she requested, "Grandpa Alex, can you keep a secret? Even from Momma and Daddy?"

"What could be so serious, Child?" Alex wondered.
"Oh, I think you'll see," Dave muttered. "Cover your eyes, Alex."
After he had done so, the oncologist managed to draw up enough nerve to give Michael a dirty look as she drew the sword.
"You can look now," Xena indicated.

The old man nearly doubled over with shock. "Xena! But where's my granddaughter? What are you doing here?"

"Alexander, settle down," the warrior advised. "Angela and I are actually the same person. Sort of. We inhabit the same body, but we keep ourselves separate from each other."

"So that's what you meant when you told my mother about her. You were her," he realized. "That would explain a lot. But, shouldn't your...I mean her...parents know?"

"And give them a heart attack?" Dave argued. "C'mon. They really don't need to know."

"And what about Brother Tony? You shouldn't lie to him either," the old man pressed.

"She didn't," the minister interjected, entering the room from the chapel. "Pardon me, Michael, for intruding."

"You're fine," the archangel excused. "Do continue."

"What do you mean? You knew?" Alex protested. "And you didn't tell her parents?"

"I'm bound by the sanctity of my office not to do so. She told me just before the destruction of Wabash's downtown. Alexander, I would beg you. The news would damage Bill and Jennifer's relations with Angela and the family," Tony debated

"And why should I keep quiet? Jennifer is my daughter! Her mother! She deserves to know!" the archaeologist ranted.

"Because you owe us your life," Dave interrupted tersely.
"And because we say so," two other voices announced from the corner. In a flash of light, the spirits of Rick and Evelyn O' Connell materialized. Along with them, Lorenzo stood silently yet allowing a warm smile for his grandson.
"Michael, may we?" the Luccese angel asked.

"You may," he assented. "Dubois, this isn't over. Because of your failure to adhere to the rules, you have unleashed something terrible." Looking up, he disappeared in a flash of light.

"I just get done taking down a vampire Enforcer and he whines about that. Unóstinking--believable," Dave growls.

"You did good, Robin Hood," Rick complemented.

"I agree. Good show!" Evy added. "As for you, Alex, can't you listen to the good minister?"

The old man gaped in shock, "Mum, is that really you?"

The brown-tressed angel smiled warmly at her son. "Yes, Dear. It's me. Trust in what Brother Tony says. Please keep the secrets that you know about David and Angela," she requested.

"I will, Mum. That's a promise," the elderly archaeologist vowed.

"Thanks," his father expressed. "You don't know how proud we are of these two right now. They did get a bit creative with things and disrupted Michael's plans. But, for today, everyone's satisfied."

"Well, thank my grandfather," the professor explained. "He told me about the great chain of knowledge."

"Great chain?" the minister and Warrior Princess wondered.

"Sure. Nightmares are caused by fear. Fear is caused by ignorance. Ignorance is caused by a lack of knowledge. And knowledge comes from study. Isn't that right, Grandpa?" Dave recited.

"Absolutely," the third angel agreed. "And you've applied those lessons well in the cases of Alti and Dijon well. Now, you truly understand the lesson of the Dark Wood, don't you?"

"Yes I do," the medievalist concurred. "Ago gratias sibi. Thanks."

"Before you leave, there's someone who wanted to meet you again," Xena indicated, rushing into the side guest room. A couple of minutes later, she brought Deirdre back with her.

"Wow," the sleepy priestess yawned. "Excuse me. And you are?"

"They're your great-grandparents, Sweetie," Dave smiled.
"Great-Grandpa Alvaro and Great-Great Grandpa and Grandma O' Connell," she realized. "I've been looking at all of your artifacts! They're amazing!"

"Thank you," Evy mentioned. When they had last seen the girl, she had been a six year old. Somehow, her instincts about this granddaughter had been accurate. "We've been watching you, Deirdre, and we're very proud."

"You're a little bigger than we might have expected, but you're still the same person," Rick chimed in.
"Right," Lorenzo agreed. "Sorry to break this up, but we must go. David, once again, nice work. Perhaps not the right means, but the method was accomplished for today at least." With that, he vanished, followed closely by the O' Connells.

Alex plopped heavily into his seat, muttering, "Unbelievable!"

Xena sheathed her sword and changed back into Angie. Once done, the oncologist asked, "Grandpa Alex, are you okay?"

"I'm okay, Angel," he explained. "And your secret is safe with me. If it's good enough for my parents, it's good enough for me."

"Thanks for trusting me," she smiled, hugging him tightly.

"My pleasure. Just keep doing the right thing," he directed.

"You can count on it," she agreed.

"Very good. Now, I think this tea is getting cold. Shall we?" Alex asked.

The others joined him in enjoying the hot blackberry drinks and scones. After the excitement and tension of the previous days, it was a welcome change from everything. A welcome change indeed.


[Istanbul, The next night]

Unlike two nights earlier, the area along the Golden Horn remained silent. One might have said that the excitement from the battle had sopped up all of the energy from the area, leaving it tired and worn out. Despite being opened up to mortal traffic after sunrise, the district remained quiet as nobody dared to stride on the cobbles in fear of what they might find around the next corner or down the alleyway.

One being, however, paced along the waterfront fretfully. Ali brooded over the death of his prized yet troubled offspring. "Why didn't he listen to me?" he wondered aloud. "I advised him against this mad mission."

"You know children," LaCroix cut in.

"Lucius! Have you no decency? I need a moment if you don't mind," the other Elder reprimanded.

Under other circumstances, the old Roman might have corrected the other. Under these conditions, the statement was understandable. "I wanted to express my sympathies, Ali," he said simply, his face expressionless.

"My thanks for that at least. But, why did you have to demand the duel? You used Bertrand as a weapon in your game against the Duboises. Look where he is now!" the Middle Eastern immortal ranted.

The general nodded. True, the Burgundian had been useful in many ways. However, the braggart overplayed his hand on several occasions at great cost to the Community. "I had no choice, Ali. The rules are the rules."

"And if it had been Nicholas? What then? Would you done the same?" the grieved master demanded.

"Of course," LaCroix agreed, careful not to allow his reticence to show through. "But, not even Nicholas would be that foolish to risk the duel as his mortal friend did. Think, Ali. Dijon provoked this contest. But, make sure his death wasn't in vain."

"Meaning I take care of Dubois?" Ali wondered.
"He is mine," the Roman Elder declared. "As are his friends. No, I am referring to those ingrate children within the Community. This is their doing. They sent Bertrand after Xena and Dubois in the first place. Help me to convince the Council to deal with these children before they destroy everything!"

"I will do so. Thank you, Lucius, for the suggestion. Now, if you'll excuse me," his colleague mentioned.
"Of course," LaCroix concluded before taking off into the night.

Ali watched him leave before vowing, "You'd best take care of them, Lucius. If you don't, I'll deal with them myself!" Having said that, he looked out onto the Bosporus again and stated, "You never did like it here, Bertrand. Now, you're free thanks to those cursed mortals. As I promised LaCroix, I'll work to deal with those manipulative children who pushed you thus. Count on it, my Son." That being said, he flew off, leaving the area still once more.


[Rouen, One Night later]

The air hung heavily over the old market place as the fog shrouded everything in a pea-soup blanket. In the midst of that cover, Dave and Nick followed their steps from a week earlier through the historic district and up to the church. There, they made their way up to the chained off area surrounding the spot where they knew the plaque lay. The two men kneeled reverently, keeping silent for a bit to reflect their thoughts.

Nick started, "Jeanne, thank you for your faith in me." Turning to his friend, he continued, "In us. You don't know how much I've used your words in my search for a cure. I thought that you would like to know that."

Dave added, "I also wanted to thank you for helping me last night. When I was fighting Dijon, I felt warm, almost at ease for the first part of the battle. Well, he's gone now. I took care of him. I'm sorry about my other half's brutality. We both wanted to make sure the job was finished. At least for now, it is. Thank you." Rising from the stones, he gazed into the mist in front of him.
"Let's go. She's waiting for us," Nick urged.

"Right," Dave agreed, laying a rose inside of the chain barrier. One last look later, he joined the vampire detective on their trek back to the alley.
When they arrived at their destination, they found Deirdre waiting for them. "All set?" she asked.

"We are," her father nodded.

"Are you okay, Papa?" she wondered, hugging him. "You seem so out of it."

"Do I?" he shrugged. "I wonder why?"

"I get the point," she cracked. "C'mon!" Having said that, they disappeared through the portal into the night.


[O' Connell Manor]

Back at the mansion, the other members of the party had risen and joined Alex, Brother Tony, and Angie downstairs.

"I guess everyone's feeling better," the host presumed.

"Much," Francesca indicated. "Grazai."

"Especially since we've survived this trial," Eve added, staring serenely Heavenward.
"Is something the matter?" the minister asked.

"Oh, not really," the former Messenger replied. "Seeing Lucius again made me feel sad. I do wish I could help him."

"You can't help those who won't help themselves. Even if he was your stepbrother," Natalie advised.

"Someday maybe," Angie added. "Meanwhile, all we can do is keep trying to make everything right."

"Absolutely," Brother Tony concurred.
"I'll drink to that. Excuse me, Brother," Steve noted, ending a squeamish note to the end of his statement.

"Since that's a nonalcoholic drink, Steven, no problem," the minister smiled warmly. "Our good fortune speaks well for the power of faith."

"Amen," Karen concurred earnestly, glancing at her friends. Faith had carried them over that hurdle as it had all of the others.

On the other side of the table, Marie and Lydia sat quietly, listening to the conversation and trying to understand what was happening around them.

"That goes for us as well," Dave announced as he, Nick, and Deirdre reentered the area.
"So, how did it go?" his wife asked.

"I spoke my piece and somehow, I think she heard me," the professor explained.
"She did, and you spoke well," the vampire detective complemented. "Well, shall we sit?"

"Absolutely, my friend. Absolutely," Dave accepted, sinking into the chair next to Angie's. The air was friendly and warm, unlike what it had been in days past. With the storm's passage came the sunlight. In this case, the power of friendship had persevered, guiding them over the perilous passage to this safe cove. For that, the group was gratefully enjoying another day.

THE END (for now)

Well, I hope you enjoyed reading this piece! I'll be starting on the sequel, "Father Doesn't Know Best" (a title we know LC would love, right?<g>) Anyhow, that story is the first of several multi-overs to come. For now, catch your collective breath and have a safe holiday season! May your wishes come true and, as with the gang here, your faith be rewarded.

If you liked this story, please read the others at my "Story Emporium" site ( and .) and sign up for my "DuboisChroniclesUpdates list (on YahooGroups) to keep up with the storyline.

Thanks again!
David J. Duncan

Return to Main Page