The Book (Heart of Darkness Part I)
David J. Duncan
December 2002

Notes: The characters from Forever Knight belong to Sony Tri-Star. The characters from Xena Warrior Princess belong to StudiosUSA and Renaissance Studios. The characters from Mutant X belong to Marvel and Tribune. The characters from Smallville belong to DC and the WB.  The characters from "Dark Angel" belong to their copyright holders. All other characters are fictitious and are of my own creation. Please send comments to



[Queen's Hut-Amazon Village 84 AD]

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

Having discovered a piece of Clark's puzzle, Xena, Eve, and I returned to the desert with our friends. For a while, things were fairly quiet. Still, trouble lurked beneath the surface. In this case, another old face from David's past arose to stir up problems for us all.


Chapter 1 [Rowenshire, MA] (Note: For more on this account, please see "Class Reunion" DC 2.2)

The wind blew ill over the old town in the heart of central Massachusetts. Although the town was over 300 years old, it never changed or grew any. In its center, the general store sat where it had since the 1860s with its gas pumps and the small post office off to the side. The few children living in the town were bussed to nearby Ware for their education. Those residents remaining behind kept to themselves for the most part, save when a neighbor would stop by for a chat and a cup of coffee.

To the north of town, a white house stood desolate and alone, set away from the road. The weather chipped away at its exterior. Weeds choked the brick walk in front. Around it, the grasses blew tall and freely. An old gnarled tree stood in the northwest corner of the property on the roadside. Finally, a mist seemed to hang over the property, even on the warmest of days.

The locals shunned that place due to the dark legends surrounding it. In 1720, a witch had lived there, practicing dark magic until her discovery and execution. As she was hanged, the woman supposedly cursed the town, saying that she would return to deal with them all. Only once since that day did someone dare to live on that land. A man in search of cheap land in proximity to the Northampton area tore down the old dilapidated house and built the current one in its place in the late 1960s. Strange things happened to him and his family. Finally tired of the misfortunes, the man's wife took their children and left. The man deserted the house a year later, angered by divorce and seeing no reason to put up with the foolish notions of the townspeople.

Years later, the townspeople remembered a couple heading toward that spot. They thought nothing of it since people often drove up the road on their way toward New Braintree and Athol, but never stopped at the house.

Then, they heard a dark demonic laughter on the wind.

Following that, they heard the familiar banshee scream and knew that the eldest son of the man who had owned the house had returned. While they had kept loose tabs on him in nearby Amherst, the townspeople had hoped he wouldn't return. Now, they heard fighting and someone impact into the tree. When they got to the scene, however, nobody remained and the haze hung over the field.

And so, it remained......


[Easter weekend, 2005]

The residents celebrated an Easter weekend together. Breaking with their self-enforced solitude, they held a great feast after Church services. They ate and drank happily. Things finally seemed to be on the upswing.

However, trouble brewed even in the midst of the happiness. As the townspeople celebrated, two men, both skinny, tall, and with short black hair, drove into the hamlet and pulled up behind the town hall.

"Hurry up, Reynolds," one hissed, keeping an eye out.

"I am, Guthrie!" the other snapped, picking the old lock.

The door swung open fairly readily, allowing them access. They moved quickly through the century old hallways and down the stairs into the basement where the town stored its archives. Once there, it was a fairly easy matter to open the unlocked door and walk into the room.

Looking about the area, Guthrie wondered, "What are we looking for anyhow?"

"A real old book with weird symbols and crap on it, according to my source," his friend indicated, looking about the area. Finally, on the top shelf, he spied a book with a figure-8 lying on its side. "That's it!" He pulled it off the shelf and gazed at it. "This is it! Why anyone would want this old thing I can't tell, but hey, someone's interested. Let's go."

"Right," Guthrie agreed as they made their way back up the stairs and out to the car. Much to his surprise, nobody had noticed their presence. With any luck, they wouldn't notice the book's disappearance since his partner had relocked the door from the inside.

However, they would notice the effect of that tome very shortly thereafter....


That night, the duo waited out by the desolate house. The overcast skies provided the perfect cover for the transaction.

"What's the other car look like?" Guthrie asked.

"He didn't say. Just that we're supposed to leave our lights out until 10:00." Looking at his watch, Reynolds saw it was that time. "Here goes." He turned the headlights on, casting their beams down the isolated road.

In the distance, two other figures approached. As they drew closer, the thieves could see their features. One was a dark skinned man, tall and muscular with black hair and a thick mustache. The other was fair skinned with white hair and a dark suit.

"Let's go," Reynolds told his companion as he got out of the car.

Guthrie nodded nervously. This has got to be a setup. Looking around, he saw nobody else there. Still, he felt as if somebody watched them closely. Recalling the old legends about this town, he shuddered a bit before getting himself back under control. Chill out!

Finally, the quartet met about forty feet from the car. They looked each other over carefully.

"Did you bring it?" the dark skinned one asked.

"And you are?" Reynolds retorted.

"Ali. Thank you for making sure of that, my friend. One shouldn't hand over an item of such great value without checking first," the Turk assured him.

"You brought the money?" Guthrie queried.

"My associate has it," Ali agreed. "Mason, would you?"

Eckhart opened the bag to reveal the agreed upon amount. "It's here as per my master's promise."

"Good," Guthrie replied, handing the book to the Turk. "C'mon, Sam, let's get the money so we can get out of here!"

"Who said anything about you leaving?" Ali laughed, seizing the man's arm. "Mason, get the other one. No loose ends!"

"Indeed," the former administrator concurred as he grabbed Reynolds by the arm. Pulling his victim closer to him, he exposed the latter's neck and drained him. For several minutes, this continued before the dry corpse dropped to the ground. "It's done."

"Excellent," Ali complimented. "Now come, the main part of this affair still remains."

"Meaning?" Eckhart asked.

"Meaning the real reason for the legends surrounding this place," the master Enforcer maintained, walking into the meadow. "Follow me, Mason."

The two immortals made their way through the inky blackness and the billowing grasses. As they approached the gnarled oak, they saw something glowing about it.

"Ali, what is that?"

The Turk smiled. "I mentioned the legends earlier. They are true, my friend."

"There was a witch here, then?"

"There is a witch here, Mason. Her spirit's imprisoned here," Ali commented, opening the book and reading a few passages. "Sorceress, appear!"

At that command, the wind picked up in intensity, howling at gale strength. Then, a light coalesced, reforming into a woman's shape. "Free at last!" she exclaimed.

"Not quite yet," Ali disagreed. "Anne Lichtenfeld, I presume?"

"Aye. And ye are?" the spirit asked.

"Friends and holders of common enemies with you, my Dear. Nicolas de Brabant, Lucien LaCroix, and a certain family who once lived in the house yonder," he continued.

She seethed. "I would be revenged on them all! But what is in it for ye?"

"Our revenge will be sweet indeed. While you cannot take physical form yet, you are able to operate on the spiritual level, correct?"

"Yes. Why?" she asked.

"You will get your first chance tomorrow night," the former Janissary promised. "LaCroix will be first. He is in Toronto across the border in what is Canada...I mean, New France."

She snickered, reading his mind and getting the location. "Aye. And this will bring my enemies to me! Thank ye. And what will ye do in the meantime?"

"In the meantime, we'll bait the others back up here. You cannot touch them in Tucson-David Dubois has seen to that, but here, you're all powerful."

"Perhaps. It will be a pleasure to torture him again. Meantime, I'm off to visit my dear Lucien and to repay him for his kind," she concluded, vanishing into the cold night air. Behind her, a sinister laughing penetrated the air, letting all know that she was indeed free.

Ali smiled. Soon, Dubois, you will know the meaning of pain. I guarantee it.


Chapter 2

[Toronto-the next evening]

LaCroix put his headset away and shut down the console in the sound booth. Since his return, CERK's ratings had soared. According to the station managers, the listeners had followed the broadcasts from Tucson over the Internet and through their feed. It is good to know that I'm not easily forgotten by either mortals or immortals. Besides the radio service, the Community accepted him back with only minor reservations. Given that anyone opposing me would have to deal with Divia as well, they wisely kept quiet.

Walking out of the booth, he felt a tremor coming from the Raven. Strange. With that, he took off into the night, heading for the club.


While the mortals celebrated Easter with their families, the vampires enjoyed themselves at the club. On this occasion, they could revel in their nature unrestrained by the need for secrecy. They drank their bloodwine, danced to neo-gothic music, and discussed conquests both old and new.

At the bar, Alma dispensed their drinks in an efficient manner. The blonde beauty relished the opportunity to spend the night with other vampires. Nights such as this one were a rare treat indeed. She turned to see a teenaged girl approaching the bar. Then again, she isn't just any girl. "Divia, what can I get you?"

The Roman girl sat on the stool in front of the bartender and declined, "Nothing for now. I'm enjoying the scene. Satisfying, isn't it?"

"Indeed. But who would have thought that you and LaCroix would have worked out this partnership? You two have brought stability to our Community."

Divia shrugged. "Who would want to face Lucius and me?"

At that moment, the music suddenly stopped...

Divia stalked over to the DJ. "What is it?" she hissed.

The young man with the beatnik appearance shook his head. "The turntable's stuck and I..." As he touched it, fire spewed from it, burning him to ashes.

Then the air turned deathly cold.

The girl-Elder challenged, "Whatever it is, I'm not afraid of you!" Looking about the room, she swept it with her senses. In the corner, she felt a dark presence. Allowing her fangs to descend, she yelled, "Come out!"

The lights flickered and went out.

An eerie laughter permeated the chamber.

Divia hissed, her eyes flashing yellow-green.

A light snapped on in the center of the chamber, forming into a woman's shape. The witch's spirit had entered the room.

"Where is he?" Lichtenfeld challenged. "He's close! I know it!"

"Where is who?" the Elder challenged, stepping forward, the blood-bile rising in her throat. "And who are you to dare intrude like this??"

The witch snickered. "Ah, your aura is so much like his. I want Lucien dead, little one." Channeling mystical energy into her hands, she slammed Divia with a mystic charge, throwing the latter backward into the wall. Over and over, she fired, tossing vampires around like so many rag dolls and destroying the inside of the bar.

When her victims lay unconscious, she remarked, "Pity, I thought all of ye were made of sterner stuff."

At that moment, LaCroix stormed into the club and looked aghast at the damage. "Who did this?" he demanded.

"I did," the witch revealed, stepping into his line of sight. "It's been so long, Lucien, and I wanted to repay ye for destroying my opportunities so long ago!"

The General stared at the intruder for a minute before he recognized her. "The Rowenshire witch!" he spat. "But that mortal priest said...."

"That I would be imprisoned forever? He and the others failed. Ye failed!" the witch growled, blasting him with fire.

LaCroix screamed and dropped to the floor-his immortal flesh burning.

"Ye grovel...but it's not enough. For tonight, I leave notice of my return. Soon though, Nicolas will know my wrath, as will the dual Child and the priestess. Take this to them, will ye?" Her finger glowed brightly as she burned the figure-eight symbol into the back of his hand. "I wait for ye at my field, dear Lucien. Here's something else to remember me by." Passing her hand over the nape of his neck, she stared deeply into his eyes and pulled memories from his past.

Across his mind's eye, he saw the witch pummeling him and Nicholas back in colonial Massachusetts. Then a more familiar litany came to mind. First, he saw Nick driving the burning stake into him at the loft. Cybelle's spell blinded him. His fight with the Child leaving him badly beaten. Xena's chakram scoring his side, causing blood to spew out.

"So," she chuckled. "Ye know of my latest victim? He's my greatest creation! Remember the curse? The priest's descendants returned and I split one of their souls! Knowing what he's done to ye is all the sweeter!"

He writhed but lifted his head ever so slightly. "Sp..lit...I...Du...bois?"

"Aye. I await him and ye in my meadow! Don't be late!" she cackled, dropping him to the floor and disappearing.

"Lucius! What is this?" his daughter/mistress asked, trying to sit up in the corner.

" Call Nicholas. We...need help," he stated weakly.

"Alma, do it and bring the phone to me," she told her. "The number's under the bar."

The bartender dialed the numbers quickly, hoping for some answers.


[Tucson-El Gato Negro]

Janette checked her inventory over carefully; making sure everything was in place. After the standoff between him and Ali two nights earlier, David Dubois gave three bottles of white wine to the bar as a peace offering. Although Ali should have done that, she appreciated the professor's gift and his thoughtfulness.

All evening, she had felt the most peculiar vibrations from Toronto. What is going on up there?

Then the phone rang. "El Gato Negro," she asked.


"Oui. Who is this?"

" Divia. Is Nicholas there? We have a problem in Toronto," Divia noted.

Janette replied, "No. He's at his loft. Where's LaCroix?"

"He's badly hurt. Something attacked us here. Can you reach him? Tell him we need him here tonight."

"Mmm...that's a tough one, Divia. I'll see what I can do," Janette told her, hanging up. Then she dialed the phone.


At the loft, Nick picked up the phone. "Yes, Janette?"

"Nicolas, we have trouble in Toronto. The Community was attacked tonight."

He nearly dropped the phone. What can I do?

"Nicolas, the Community. What do you want to do?"

He took a deep breath and glanced nervously over at Alyce. Now was the time for action, but what form should that action take? He recalled LaCroix's admonition: Community matters should stay within the Community. Yet now, he also remembered Dave Dubois' declaration and Brother Tony's affirmation-this is a Community of Tolerance: no one group could stand on its own. Rather, mutants, humans, and vampires would need to work together. Tonight, that motto will be tested. "I'll be there. You're in charge, Janette, until I return. I'm calling Dave. He can get me up there."

"Dubois? Mon Dieu! Why, Nicolas?"

"He can teleport me up there, Janette. Besides, anything powerful enough to sweep in and strike at the heart of a Community before disappearing merits allied forces. If that happened, I take it LaCroix and Divia are hurting. We need assistance. That's it. I'll let you know what I find out." Nick concluded, hanging up.

The curator nodded. "You're doing the right thing, Nick."

"I hope you're right," he said, trying to affirm the validity of his decision. "Come on."

She took a deep breath and took his hand. "Let's go."

He looked up and took off into the night sky, followed by his companion.


Meantime, Dave and Angie hosted a dinner to celebrate Adam's appointment to the university. Sitting at the table, the new mutant students, Lydia, Steve, Adam and the Mutant X members started into the food in front of them.

"Congratulations, Adam," Chloe expressed.

"Thanks, Chloe, and to all of you. I don't deserve this," the geneticist expressed humbly.

"As someone once told me, you're being too humble," Angie advised, placing another course on the table.

"There's no arguing with her, Adam. Trust me," Dave urged, grinning.

"Listen to them, Adam," Brennan piped in.

Seeing the others agree, the leader smiled and conceded, "All right, thank you, everyone. Still, the students had better be ready for me. Of course, I want to do my best for them."

The other faculty members at the table nodded their approval.

The students, on the other hand, looked at each other anxiously. Given his attitude with the workouts, they could imagine what he would be like as a professor.

"It's too bad that Nick couldn't be here," Steve noted.

"He was still getting everything together," Adam excused.

At that moment, a knock came from the door.

Dave looked, sensing Nick's presence. What now? With his mind, he opened the door. "Nick, Alyce, what is it?"

The vampires entered the room guardedly; their concern clearly written on their faces. "We have a problem in Toronto. The Raven was attacked tonight. We need to get up there ASAP."

Eve gasped. "Lucius? Divia?"

"Hurt badly," Alyce assessed.

"Need help?" the medievalist offered.

"I...the Community...would appreciate everyone's assistance. Thank you," Nick accepted.

Dave took a deep breath and, after getting up from the table, went into the study.

"Brennan, Jesse, Emma, and Shalimar, you're with me," Adam indicated, feeling his nerves churning inside of himself. "Everyone else, keep an eye back here."

Angie requested, "Lydia, can you keep an eye on the twins?"

"Absolutely, but what are you and Francesca going to do up there?"

"Keep Dave in line, mostly," Francesca told her as she followed Angie into the study.

"You heard her," Steve added, checking his gun and crossbow. "I'll check in with Garth as soon as I know anything."

Adam sighed. Another situation.... With one last look at the students, he joined the others in the study, closing the door behind him.


[The Raven-A few minutes later]

LaCroix struggled on the floor, trying to get his bearings and forget about the pain screaming through his body. Making his way toward the bar, he negotiated several obstacles with great difficulty. However, the Community was relying on him.

Then he ran into something hard...and made of leather. A boot.

Managing to raise his head, he saw Xena standing there with her arms folded and a satisfied look on her face.

"Hello, Lucius. Fancy meeting you like this," she greeted, a bit of sarcasm in her voice.

"Mother, please," Eve interjected, leaning over to help her stepbrother up and into a chair. What could do this?

"Thank you," he expressed. "It...seems some people...have manners."

"Like you would know?" the warrior snarled.

Seeing Nick enter the room with the others, LaCroix muttered, "What...are they...doing here, Nicholas? a...Community matter."

"I went for help," Nick replied. "This is a Community matter still."

"For once, shut up and take help, will you?" Dave growled.

Steve surveyed the carnage and devastation. "What could do this?"

"Somebody with a big ax to grind-that's for sure. Man, what a redecorating job!" Jesse remarked, feeling a little nervous.

"You got that right," Max concurred.

"Stay sharp-all of you," Adam advised. "Whoever or whatever did this could still be here."

As Dave surveyed the room, a familiar psychic stench set off his instincts. "Damn it!" he hissed.

Emma looked at him nervously, feeling the anger building in him. "What, Dave? What is it?"

The professor ignored her, heading for the bar where Divia rested. "What happened?"

Divia looked into his eyes menacingly. "A seems...with something for Nicholas, Lucius, and you as well."

He frowned, feeling the Child struggling to get out. "Ah...I...need to know....Woman...with...long hair...glowing white...menacin' laugh....likes fire?"

The girl nodded. "You know her, then?"

"What, Dave? Who did this?" Steve demanded.

The Child stared back at him. "Nah. But Ah have a good idea. Ya know 'er, Petersen, too."

"I do?"

"Yeah. 'Member when Gram went into the ground? 'Member the trouble we had an' what Ah did later?"

The agent's eyes bulged as he recalled the ghost terrorizing the ceremony. "Her? But I thought you took care of that!"

"Na' exactly. Ah hoped Ah took care of it!" the Dark One snarled.

"Steve, get him over here!" Nick ordered.

"Wha' now?" the Child responded, stomping over to the Elders' side.

"LaCroix, show him your hand," Nick requested.

The General revealed the back of his hand and the symbol-scar. "It...seems...we have...a mutual enemy...."

"Lichtenfeld," Nick realized.

"Damn straight," the Child concurred. "An' when Ah find the numnuts who let 'er out, Ah'll..."

"You'll what?" a familiar voice challenged, from the entrance. "You do entertain, Dubois." Stepping into the light, Eckhart grinned like the Cheshire cat. "Hello again, Adam."

"Eckhart, I might have known," the geneticist realized, staring at his longtime adversary.

The Mutant X members tensed, each standing with their powers at the ready, waiting for their opportunity to lash out at the fledgling.

"Aw quit it!" the Child snarled, waving his friends off. "Look, Whitey, even ya'll ain't that stupid!"

"I might disagree with that one," Adam contradicted. "Still, you're right. Everyone, restrain yourselves."

"But he wouldn't act by himself," Xena supposed, her sword at the ready. "And who are your friends, Eckhart?"

"Ah. Yes, my master's allies. Do come in," the former administrator replied.

Behind him, five vampires strode into the wrecked club-each from a different ethnic group, it seemed.

"Lucius, are these your Elders?" Eve asked.

"No," Nick replied flatly.

"The Renegades, I presume?" Steve added, stepping into the forefront, crossbow at the ready.

A red-haired Irish male vampire responded in a thick brogue, "So that's what the Elders call us? Amusing. Put that away, Mortal, before I have to kill you."

The Child sniggered, "Ya'd have to come through me first. That wouldn't be pretty for any of ya'll."

"You really want a civil war, don't you?" Nick posed.

"This is about power, Brabant. You know about that, don't you?" another Renegade, a woman of African descent, asked as she joined her companion. "We're not alone either."

"Leave now, Mortals, or we'll have to escalate this matter," the Irish Renegade challenged.

"Stop this!" Divia ordered, her fangs descending as she stood up.

"You wish to challenge me? Look at you-so weak on your feet."

Divia replied, "I delegate this matter to my fellow Elder, Nicholas."

Nick added, "And my friends are with me."

"So be it," the Irish Renegade affirmed. "Enforcers!"

At the command, the doors opened and thirty vampires zipped into the room, surrounding the Tucson delegation.

"Well now, Adam, it seems you are in a jam now, aren't you?" Eckhart gibed.

The team leader shrugged, not giving his enemy any degree of satisfaction. "Your loss, Mason."

His charges stood ready with their abilities. Jesse massed out. Brennan's hands sparkled. Shalimar's eyes glowed. Max tensed. Emma's temples flashed.

Beside them, Xena and Gabrielle held their weapons of choice. Steve held his crossbow. And the Child's hands crackled.

"Let's rock," the latter growled, raising his hands to the ceiling. From the air, streams of glowing ebony energy flowed into him. He wailed the now-familiar banshee cry and then hissed, "How d'ya like yer Enforcer? Ah think extrie-crispie." Aiming his hands, he released a streamer of flame, hitting the Renegades before they could react. "That's fer embarrassin' us!"

The wannabe Elders screamed and ran around like chickens with their heads cut off, looking for water. One by one, they collapsed, disintegrating into ash.

"Good job," the Warrior Princess complimented, flinging her chakram into the air.

The weapon careened, caromed, zipped, and dipped throughout the area like a pinball on a sailor's holiday, slashing vampire opponents' backs, skulls, necks, and other vital anatomical parts. Before returning to its mistress, the weapon had dispatched a dozen adversaries.

Standing guard over her fallen stepbrother, Eve slashed away at the competition, taking down several other Enforcers.

Mutant X struck out at their opponents through energy bursts and hard fists, wrecking their share of havoc.

Nick and Divia took out a few others as well.

Only ten minutes later, the Tucson delegation stood in the midst of an ash pile. Around them, the remaining vampires of the Toronto Community stared in wonder at the fighting force that the former Crusader had assembled in the Old Pueblo. For the first time, they realized that perhaps this so-called "Community of Tolerance" could work. Perhaps, they had judged too hastily.

Meantime, Alma and two other vampires dragged the Irish Renegade and Eckhart before the group. "They were leaving, or so they thought."

Nick stepped up to the two defeated enemies. "For what you've done, you should be staked."

"They staked," LaCroix interceded, propping himself on one elbow. "I demand it."

"Or dispatched," Xena concurred, raising her sword. "You know, we still owe ya for those fights."

"Hang on there," the Child interceded. "Irish here needs stickin'. Whitey can bring a message to Ali-Turk. That boy an' Ah've got some serious shit goin' down. He released the Bitch after Cybbie and Ah put 'er 'way. That boy's gittin' a serious whuppin'!"

Tucson's Elder considered those words. Granted, letting the fledgling go would send a mixed message, but the Child made sense in his dark Machiavellian logic. "I agree with that."

Eckhart quaked fearfully, knowing how his master felt about failure. "You wouldn't...."

"What do we do if he says no?" Divia insisted.

Nick looked at Adam and Mutant X. "I think we let his former quarry deal with him."

Adam frowned but understood. I have to remember that Eckhart's no longer human-he's a vampire and this is vampire justice.

His team encircled the kneeling vampire, giving the fledgling dirty, knowing looks.

"Let's fry him," Brennan suggested, allowing the current to spark in his hands.

"I second that," Shalimar agreed, recalling all of the torture within Genomex.

For a minute, Eckhart locked glares with them before realizing that this wasn't an idle threat. At least, Ali won't kill me. "Fine. I'll do it. But, whatever my master visits on me, I'll repay you all for a thousand-fold."

"At least ya're walkin' outta here, Whitey. Stick it!" the Child spat.

"As for your friend," Nick pronounced, walking purposefully over to the head Renegade. "I don't like executions or murder, Irish, but in your case, I'll make an exception."

"Do your worst, Brabant!"

Nick shook his head as he twisted the defeated Renegade's arm behind him. "Oh, we will. Divia, as co-Elder, it's your privilege."

After receiving a stern nod from LaCroix, Divia grabbed a stake and held it in plain sight. "Ago gratias tibi, Nicholas." Turning to the prisoner, she asked, "Any last words?"

He spat blood at her.

"Fine," Divia responded, slamming the stake through his chest. "And so ends your pitiful rebellion."

The prisoner collapsed to the ground, disintegrating into ash and joining his comrades.

"My thanks to you all," Divia expressed, putting the stake away. "Perhaps you'd all care to stay for a while?"

"Thanks...but we do need to be heading back," Adam declined.

"Yeah, Ah guess," the Child concurred, allowing the change to happen.

"We should bring LaCroix as well. He can stay at the Gato until he's healed," Nick indicated, helping his former master up.

"And I can make sure he's all right," Eve indicated.

"If you say so, Auntie," Divia relented. "You will let me know if anything happens. And, Dubois?"

"Yes?" Dave asked.

"Take a pound of flesh out of that witch for me!" she requested vehemently.

He smirked. "If there's anything left once the Child and I are done with her, fine." Opening the portal, he added, "I have about five years of torture and thirty years of Hell to pay her back for in the meantime."

She nodded. Although she didn't understand his exact meaning, she knew that in matters of vengeance, she could trust in Dubois' darkness, especially when it was personal. After the group had vanished, she thought, If you don't, Dubois, I will.


Chapter 3 [Tucson-One night later]

Lydia stood in front of her evening class on Southeastern Europe, discussing the region's economic tendencies in the late fourteenth century. In the course of the lecture, she spoke to recent advances in the discipline, taking the students on an expedition of dizzying facts and persons in addition to leaving the students wondering about a promised surprise at the talk's end.

The group of about fifteen students scrambled to scribble these items down as she went. Clark, Lana, and Chloe wrote furiously. Fortunately, the professor agreed to let the blonde reporter record the lecture. Still, the notes remained important. So they kept going.

In the back of the room, Dave and Nick observed the lecture with keen interest.

For Dave, the session was updating his knowledge of the region. It's been fifteen years since I took this class from Lydia. The format has changed-that's for sure.

As he listened, Nick's mind flashed back and forth between his current location and the region in question. Unlike everyone else in the room, he had experienced this material firsthand. It's amazing she's managed to reconstruct it so precisely given the ferocity of the Turkish attacks and the fact that the repositories were destroyed in the battles. He remembered fighting with a Serbian army against the Ottomans in 1389 and the Christian loss of Kosovo. During that campaign, he and Ali had crossed paths for the first time, swords clashing furiously for twenty minutes before the Janissary fell. Unfortunately, LaCroix's little snack later made sure Ali would be around for a while.

At that point, Lana asked, "Professor Coltrane, how did the Turks get so much territory so fast?"

Lydia glanced at Nick. I should let him answer, given that he was there. Come on, Lydia, you can't make him blow his cover. "Well, Lana, the Ottomans had several advantages, and better trained troops. In addition, the Janissaries were fanatical."

Indeed they were, Nick concurred to himself. Then his senses picked up on another vampire presence close by. "Dave," he whispered.

"Yeah, I know," the medievalist agreed low. "He's been out in the hall for a good ten minutes. T-Minus thirty seconds-get ready." Looking at the door, he braced himself for the coming confrontation.

At that moment, the door opened, allowing Ali to walk into the room. He wore his full Janissary gear-robes and large helmet. Under his arm, he carried the stolen tome. "Fanatical is a little strong, isn't it? For that, I'll have to kill you."

Lydia stared at the intruder, recognizing him from the incident in Istanbul. Figures, he'd show up.

The students stared at the intruder, recognizing his garb as that of a fourteenth century Janissary from the pictures in the textbook.

"No, I'd say it's right on the mark," Dave interjected, shooting him a glare. "How's your student?"

"Shut up, Dubois. This doesn't concern you...for now," Ali hissed.

"Nice costume-trying to impress a date or what?" Dave continued to press. "I asked you a question, Ali." Seeing the Smallville trio tensing, he shook them off before staring into the other's eyes. "You're in my territory, Turk. That makes it my concern. So what's a terrible little mamluk like you doing here?"

By now, the other students were getting nervous. If this was the surprise, they didn't want to see the maniac medievalist's response to it.

Lydia sighed. He's at it again. "Dr. Dubois has a point. This is my classroom. Answer the question."

"I have a delivery to make...a book of Miles here. Your discussion was interesting, flawed a bit, but for these rabble close enough."

"And how would you know?" Chloe snapped, ticked off by the insult.

His eyes glowed at the students. "Because I was there, child. Miles can confirm that, can't you?"

Nick thought on his feet before replying, "The rolls put you there. Your point?"

"My point, as you put it, is that we were dedicated soldiers fighting against the Infidel," the Enforcer snarled.

"Dedicated pains in the ass, you mean," Dave muttered. Seeing the symbol on the book's front cover, he demanded, "Where did you get that?"

"A friend procured it for me. Why?"

The medievalist chuckled. "You have no idea what that book can do."

"And you do, don't you, Dubois? Tell them of the power in it," Ali taunted, grabbing him by the throat and pinning him to the wall.

"Professor!" Clark exclaimed, springing to his feet and taking a step toward them.

", this ain't nice," Dave gasped as he lapsed. "Better than tell them, I...Ah'll show 'em."

After the change happened, the Child grinned at the Enforcer. "Git offa me!" His hands glowed. Gripping the attacker, they burned the other's hands.

"Damn you!" Ali hissed, setting the book down as he vamped out. "Now you die!"

"Yeah...yeah...Ah'm gonna die...Ooooh....Ah'm so scared!" the Dark One retorted sarcastically. "Git lost!" Raising his hands into the air, he allowed the fire to burn from them. "Ya'll released 'er, didn't ya? Get a taste of wha she's about!" He fired two blasts, knocking Ali into the wall. "Run, Boy. Run or Ah'll flatten ya!" Turning to the students, he bellowed, "ALL OF YA, GIT!!"

The students took off like scared rabbits. The stories surrounding Dave and the terrorists still remained fresh around the campus. Watching him deal with this nut ball definitely wouldn't be helpful to either their grades or health in any event.

Clark, Lana, and Chloe moved to the front of the room, shielding Lydia from danger.

Meantime, the former Janissary threw himself at the Child. "GRRAARRRGGHH!!!!"

The Child shook his head. "So predictable!" Another burst of fire singed the Turk, dropping him to the floor. "Whitey shoulda told ya the message. Ah'll deal with the witch mahself. Too bad, ya'll won't be 'round." With a final burst, he blasted the Turk to the ground before breaking off an oak leg from the chair he was sitting on. "Say howdy to Mustard Boy fer me an' Big Bro.!" He thrust the stake into the vampire's chest.

"She...will finish you...all," Ali asserted weakly before expiring and turning into ash.

Nick sighed. He's cleaned up after LaCroix I should have done centuries ago. Picking the book up, he added to himself: This confirms our theory from last night. She's back.

"So much fer 'im," the Child accessed.

" you mind letting Dave out? You've done enough for tonight," Nick suggested, picking up the book.

"Yeah, Ah guess. Jus' don't let that book outta yer sight!" the Child relented, letting the change happen again.

Dave looked around to see the students staring at him. "Uh, so where's Ali?"

"Take a whiff," Lydia commented, pointing to the floor beside him.

He saw the ash pile with the oak leg-stake sticking from the middle of it. Shit. The Child must have disposed of him.

"What's the book about?" Lana asked, feeling the negative energy coming from it.

"Don't touch it," Lydia advised. Judging by his reaction, that thing's really serious trouble.

"A curse," Nick told them, looking at his colleague. "Dave, you want to put it somewhere safe?"

"Absolutely," the professor agreed. "Uh, Clark....bring the girls to my office in a few minutes, will you? I want to talk with you all." Seeing the farm boy nod, he instructed, "Nick, you're with me."

Clark looked at Lana and Chloe before shaking his head. When he said life never got dull around here, he meant it.


An hour later, Dave sat in his office, flipping through the dark tome and scanning its contents. This thing should have been destroyed. I can't believe that those jackasses in Rowenshire left it unguarded. A shudder passed through him as he recalled the drive he and Angie had taken there, as well as the witch's attack. Fortunately, the Child worked with Cybelle that day.

"Professor Dubois?" Lana asked. "Can we come in?"

He nodded to Nick, who opened the door for the trio and Lydia.

"Okay, what happened up there?" the latter wanted to know.

Nick shut the door and stated, "A very old curse."

"My curse," Dave added.

The vampire asked, "Your curse? The man cursed died 267 years ago. How does that...?"

"The man in question was Ricard LaFontaine, my ancestor. Tell me, Lydia, growing up in Braintree, what did you hear about a woman named Anne Lichtenfeld?"

"The eighteenth century witch? But she's only a legend," she assumed.

"She was real, trust me," Nick told her. "LaFontaine helped me and LaCroix to defeat her."

"But she escaped, right?" Clark wondered.

"It's a long story," the medievalist growled, tapping his finger on the desk. "Get the other students together. I'm buzzing Dr. Kane. Chloe, can you get a hold of Lex? I know it's late, but he has direct experience."

When they had left, Lydia asked, "What does this have to do with you, Dave?"

"When the townspeople executed her, Lichtenfeld cursed LaFontaine and his descendants. When the family touched her land again...and they would...the family's fortunes would sink and the eldest child would split in two."

"Your personal issues stem from there? Did you see her?"

"I sure did. She was the one who taught me the fire tricks you saw up there tonight..." Dave recounted. His brow furrowed and his mood darkened. "...when she tortured me. I aim to pay her back for that."

"You're going to want to meet at the El Gato, aren't you?" Nick asked.

"Yes. I just need to go check on Angie and the twins first, then get word to Cybelle," Dave told them, picking up the book. "And this is going to be a heated discussion, so be prepared. Lydia, this stays here. Sorry about the scene upstairs, I didn't have a choice."

"Meaning?" she asked.

"Meaning he would have killed you for your knowledge of the Community and the duel. Then there would have been the matter of the kids and me revealing ourselves to save the class," Nick commented.

"Was this tied to last night?" she inquired.

"You could say so," Dave replied, putting his coat on. "We took out about thirty Enforcers and those punk Renegades--the guys who have been orchestrating those attacks on us here." Focusing, he squinted for a second before concluding, "Cybelle knows. She's going to meet me at the apartment. Come on, Nick."

The Elder followed him out the door, knowing that this was going to be a long night indeed.

Behind them, Lydia locked the office door and headed for her own office. Legends like the Rowenshire witch are true. What next?


Chapter 4

[Faerie Realms]

From her throne, the Faerie Empress watched the proceedings with concern. So it has finally come to pass. Yes, Lydia Coltrane, what will be next for all of you? Walking out of the room, she entered her grand cathedral of crystal. At least there is a place where good memories exist for David and Angela still. After the events of this night, they may need them. Once Cybelle lifts the spell from Angela, there will be no going back.


[Dubois residence-Tucson]

Angie looked at the clock. It's after nine. Dave should have been home by now. I knew there would be trouble. Seeing the mists form in the corner, she asked, "Deirdre?"

"Not quite, Angie," Cybelle stated, striding into the room. "It's been a busy night as Dave will tell you."

"Busy night?" Angie wondered, placing some tea water on the stove to heat. "We took care of the Enforcers and Renegades last night. What else could happen?"

"Ali apparently crashed Lydia's class tonight," the priestess reported. "Tell me, Angie, what do you remember of the first class reunion in Amherst?"

The oncologist frowned. Those events remained hazy in her mind. "I remember riding with Dave in the Subaru for much of the morning. Then I fell asleep. The next thing I recall is waking up in your house. Why?" What is she not telling me? What else happened on that day? Seeing her husband's headlights through the curtains, she was determined to get the answer.

"Angie?" Dave asked, walking into the apartment with Nick close behind.

"What's going on, Dave? Cybelle just told me about Ali. Where is he?"

"Checking into Hell, I'd imagine," her husband assumed. "He attacked me. You Know Who charred him up a bit, and then staked him."

"In front of the students? Dave, that's brilliant...I gotta tell you," she countered sarcastically.

"He didn't have much of a choice, although you did bait him along there," Nick responded.

"He is dead though?" the priestess asked her brother.

"Staked, crumpled into ash-the whole nine yards," the medievalist declared, sitting in his favorite chair-a nervous look on his face.

"I'll have the priestesses scatter his ashes. Meantime, is that what I think it is?" Cybelle queried, sensing the evil emanating from the tome at his side.

"It is, but..." he started, motioning to his wife.

"What is this about, Dave?" Angie demanded apprehensively, stalking over to him. "What is this thing?"

"Don't touch it!" he ordered, pulling it out of her reach. "This is what set me off last night at the Raven."

"A book setting a librarian off? Oh that's a good one!" she chided him.

"It isn't just any book, Angie," Cybelle interjected. "Stand still for a minute." She put her hand on the doctor's forehead and recited a few lines in Gaelic. "There. Now you know what happened."

Angie felt the fog lifting from her head. She remembered driving through the dark woods and stopping in front of a forsaken white house. She heard Dave telling her not to step on the grass.

She saw a glowing woman approaching them before everything went black.

"Who was that?" she asked, shaking with fear.

"That was the witch," Dave pointed out. "You'll hear more in a few minutes. Genaria's on her way to watch after the twins. In the meantime, we have a meeting to attend at the Gato."

"Meeting now? About what? Dave, why didn't you tell me about this before?" Angie demanded.

"That was my fault." Cybelle jumped in to protect her brother and prevent any lapses on his part. "I didn't know if you could handle it."

"Lady, after what I went through a year later-I think I could have handled anything. So, what else happened there...after I....uh...fainted," Angie requested.

"She scorched me...kind of like what she did to LaCroix last night. The Child erupted and was holding her off. From what he tells me, Cybelle showed up, they took the witch on together. Finally, our priestess here drugged him and got us all back to her place," he recounted, fixing them each a cup of tea.

"And it was a close call," Cybelle agreed. "That's why I wasn't sure if you could handle it. Tonight, you and everyone else will have the answers that you seek."

Genaria entered the room through the mists. "I'm here if all of you want to go. Deirdre will meet you at the vampire place."

"Okay," Dave agreed, picking up the book. "Come on, guys."

His sister opened another portal and ushered them through. As she stepped through, she told the other priestess, "Nothing happens to the twins."

The younger one nodded as her superior disappeared. As if enough's happened already.



[El Gato Negro]

LaCroix slowly made his way out of the back room, heading for the bar. Despite the pain he still felt from his burns, the Elder determined to appear strong. Besides, if his senses were correct, much had already happened on this night. An Elder is dead. Ali, you fool. You were so determined to get even for Dijon. At the bar, he saw Eckhart sipping on a bloodwine. Pathetic fledgling. Now-without your Enforcer brethren or your master, you are nothing.

As if sensing the other's thoughts, Eckhart turned. "He'll return sometime tonight."

LaCroix's brow arched. Classic denial. How quaint.

Janette cast him a knowing look. Now was not the time to be provoking the young vampire. "I'm sure he's right, LaCroix."

The General chuckled.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Eckhart demanded.

"Ask your friends, Eckhart," LaCroix advised, pointing to the front entrance. "I have company of my own coming soon."

"Friends?" The fledgling sensed the mortals entering the club. Them? Here? He saw Adam and his bunch of rogue freaks descend the staircase. "What are you doing here, Adam?"

"When the Elder calls, we listen," the team leader declared.

"Yeah, well...Dave's in on it too," Emma added.

At that moment, Steve, Garth, Karen, Lex, and the new mutant students entered the club, joining Mutant X at their table and taking two adjoining ones.

"Do you know what this is about, guys?" Brennan asked.

"Judging by the pyro stuff we saw in class tonight, the professor's really annoyed at something," Clark suggested.

"Or someone," Martin clarified. "An ancient evil walks the Earth once more. There was a major battle last night, was there not?"

"I'm glad we weren't anywhere near there...judging by what happened tonight," Chloe remarked.

"There was," Dave admitted, appearing from the mists with Angie, Cybelle, and Deirdre. "Get comfortable, everyone."

"Aren't we feeling our oats a bit?" LaCroix taunted.

The medievalist snickered, "I've staked one Elder tonight, Croisie. I wouldn't mind going two for two."

"Stop it, both of you," Nick interjected.

"What do you mean?" Eckhart demanded. "Where is he?"

"Your Janissary friend got creamed by the professor," Lana told him.

"No!" the fledgling protested. "I'll kill you for that!"

Nick grabbed him in a bear hug, restraining him. "No. Not here...not now."

"This is why you didn't stake me last night! You knew this would happen!" Eckhart ranted.

Adam shook his head. "Mason, we didn't know it would happen, all right? You were to bear a message. That's it."

"Besides, after what your boys did to us, you think I would kill anyone's parents unprovoked? No, Eckhart, he attacked us. Besides, he revealed himself to the mortals in the classroom. Kind of goes against the Code, doesn't it?" Dave countered.

"My boys?"

"GSA, all right?" Angie snapped. "My parents' farm destroyed-loved ones killed. We were there! Now, your so-called master dug up the ultimate boogey-person from my husband's past! You are the last person who should talk about murder and torture! What about your pod farm? What about the mutants that you tortured?"

"This is serious, Eckhart," Lex added. "The last time she got free, it was a catastrophe for the towns of Rowenshire and Amherst."

"Why?" Chloe asked him. "What could be so serious?"

The entrepreneur shuddered and looked at the medievalist. "The downfall of so much for so few. Your grandfather and grandmother, my mother and the town...."

"The town?" Clark asked.

Seeing the vampires getting restless, Nick urged, "If we're going to talk about this further-the back, now. Eckhart, if you want to stay here, behave yourself."

The former administrator scowled but returned to the bar to do as Nick advised.

"Deirdre, umm...maybe we can get coffee if you get my drift," Miranda requested.

"Good idea. Auntie, we'll be right back," the priestess said. "Lana, Clark? We could use some help."

The two teenagers followed the cousins through the portal.

"Meantime," Janette indicated. "Let's get ready for this conversation."


Chapter 5

A few minutes later, the group sipped on fresh Talon coffee while awaiting the account. LaCroix and Janette chose bloodwine instead.

Adam typed away on his laptop, accessing Dave's records from the Sanctuary uplink. On the flight down from northern Arizona, he had studied the records referring to the old house and the professor's condition. So many things remain unclear.

Emma assessed Dave and his high school classmates. She could feel the tension coming off of them. Whatever happened there set the tone for so many things. Before the end of the night, we'll hear from both Dave and the Child.

Nick took a deep breath and started, "The stuff starts on a dark night in colonial Massachusetts...."


[Rowenshire, Mass., 1720]

It was a dark moonless night on that All Hollow's Eve in central Massachusetts. For the most part, the residents stayed locked inside their homes, saying their prayers to keep the evil spirits and demons at bay. Only a few brave souls would dare traverse the wooded trail on that evening.

Martin Frobisher told his wife it would only be a few minutes walk to their neighbors' house. However, midway there, he was attacked by something in the dark and died soon afterwards.

"Mmm, yes...a gamey taste. I must admit, Nicholas, that you were right to come this way," LaCroix commented, wiping the blood from his mouth with his hand before licking his fingers.

"Yes, I agree," his protégé noted. "These settlers haven't known vampires in quite a while. Given the stock, I wonder why that is?"

The General looked around at their surroundings. Something didn't feel quite right. "Nicholas, what do you feel?"

Nick looked around, sweeping the area with his senses. During their trek across the Pioneer and Swift River Valleys, he had felt strange energies about them. "We're close to the source," he hissed.

The Elder frowned. Trouble is the last thing we need right now. In both Springfield and Northampton, the locals had organized quickly against them, forcing them to flee. Fortunately, the farmers in Greenwich and Prescott had proved easier prey. After tarrying there for a week, the immortal duo moved onward, heading eastward into the wooded territory. Still, the former Crusader was right-something lurked in the woods on this night besides them.

"Excuse me, Gentlemen, are ye lost?" a woman's voice asked.

The two travelers turned to see the speaker step out of the brush. From the dim lantern light in her hand, they could see that she was slender with long brown hair and a face with a few wrinkles showing on it. Her eyes held a determined fire in them. She strode toward them with no fear. As a matter of fact, she smiled confidently.

"Yes, well...we are two travelers in search of a shelter. Can you direct us to the nearest town?" LaCroix requested.

"Aye. Rowenshire is only two miles down the path that way," the woman indicated, pointing with her finger down the path. "I'd be careful though if I were ye. The people there don't take kindly to strangers especially those...unlike themselves."

"What do you mean 'unlike themselves'?" Nick wondered. Focusing, he felt the vibrations coming from her. How could that be?

"Just tread carefully, my good sir. The woods are full of dangers on this night, as I'm sure ye both are well aware. Go quickly now. If ye would excuse me, I must go," the local woman concluded, turning back into the brush and vanishing from view.

"Dangers? Rubbish," LaCroix scoffed. "Come, Nicholas!" Looking around to make sure they were alone, he took off into the night.

Nick did the same, still wondering about the woman.

For her part, she reappeared from out of the night air. A smile formed on her face. "So the forces of darkness send two vampires here, do they? I will make use of them. Great use indeed."


Ten minutes later, the two immortals entered the small town center. A quick look around them found only a few buildings: a church, a small blacksmith's forge, a small schoolhouse, and a little inn on the far side of the commons. Moving toward the last building, they stepped inside.

"Good evening, kind sirs. Bad night to be out, wouldn't ye say?" the innkeeper, a stocky man in his late forties asked.

"Actually, it's a fine night for traveling," Nick disagreed. "The woods are quiet."

The mortal nodded. "Right. Just out of curiosity, which direction did ye come from?"

"We came from the neighboring valley," LaCroix replied, allowing a bit of irritation to seep into his voice. "Do you question all of your guests in this fashion?"

"No, Master. I was just going to give ye some friendly advice is all. Ye are welcome to stay here for the night. I would caution ye though, the roads to the north and west are dangerous. Strange things happen in the woods around this town. We townsfolk do keep to ourselves," the innkeeper continued.

"Strange things indeed, Michael," a man in his late twenties concurred. From his dark clothes and the clerical collar, he was a priest. "Pardon me for interrupting your conversation, but can I buy you a cup of tea perhaps?"

"I would rather head for the room," LaCroix declined. "Nicholas, you may do as you wish."

"Thank you," Nick responded to his master. After the other vampire had received a key and left, he followed the priest to the corner table. When the tea arrived, Nick sipped on the hot drink, somehow keeping from making a face. Although he didn't need warming up, he appreciated the gesture. "And who are you, Father? I am Nicolas de Brabant, a traveler."

"Pleased to meet you, mon Ami. I am Father Ricard LaFontaine, the shepherd of this small village. Four years ago, I came here from New France and found it a pleasant enough place to be. Yet, I would caution you, Nicolas. Michael is right in saying that the woods are cursed. Strange things have happened to this and the surrounding towns over the past two years...failed harvests, strange fires, people vanishing and never being seen again. I myself have seen the shadows move even where there is no light or a person to cast them. There is black magic at work here."

At that moment, Nick's senses snapped to life. Through the window, he saw a shadowy form spying on him and the priest. It's her again. A second later, she had vanished again.

"Ye see?" Michael queried. "That's the shadow!"

That's no shadow. Still, how could she appear and disappear like that...if not...a witch? "Father Ricard, I need to ask something. Tonight in the forest, we ran into a woman."

The priest replied, "Long brown hair, gray robes, determined eyes?" Seeing the other man nod, he guessed, "Mistress Anne Lichtenfeld. She's a strange one. She never comes to church and is rarely seen in town. She has a house on the north road about three miles from here. Those who travel by her house say that a foul odor hangs in the air about that place and a fog covers the meadows."

"Hmmm...Michael, can you come here for a minute? I need a question answered if I may," Nick requested.

"If I can," the innkeeper agreed.

"When did Anne Lichtenfeld first show up here in Rowenshire?"

Michael scratched his chin. "She was born in that house up the road about 25 years ago. It was right after those strange happenings in Salem Village. One day, two strangers showed up in town, looking for land to buy. My father pointed them to the pasture. I recall the couple-a man dressed in heavy clothes-his dark face obscured by his facial wrappings. The woman's belly bulged-obviously far along with her child. When we offered to help with the house, they declined. Queer thing though, the structure went up overnight, or so it seemed. When my father and I went by in the morning to bring the papers to them, the house stood there in the middle of the field. Mistress Anne was born shortly after that. A strange little girl that one was."

"So what happened after that?"

The innkeeper continued, "The father hasn't been seen in 15 years. The mother died five years later. And that's when the calamities started hitting us. The girl's a witch, I tell ye! She's cursing us!"

Nick imagined what LaCroix would say to that. Pure rubbish. Ignorant mortal minds. Curses indeed. In his travels, he had seen how the charge of witchcraft had been used as a political and social control mechanism. For the most part, Salem's hysteria proved such. However, he had heard that several people had left the village before the trials as if forewarned by some force. Many headed into the western hills paralleling the Post Road between Boston, Springfield, and Westfield. This would be the type of village where one couple might lay low. He had certainly seen enough to know where devil worship was practiced, and this place reeked of it. "On that note, kind sirs, I shall retire to my room. Good night."

"Aye, sir. Good night," Michael replied.

"Thank you for the conversation, Nicolas," Ricard agreed.


[Modern Day]

"That is a fair telling, Nicholas," LaCroix stated. "Indeed, the good people of Rowenshire are still a superstitious lot, even to this day."

"No argument there...for once," Dave concurred, drinking from his coffee cup. "So, what happened next?"

"A pivotal turn of events," the General stated. "Nicholas, do you wish to continue the story?"

"Absolutely," the Tucson Elder agreed, and kept going with his tale.


[Rowenshire, MA-All Souls Day 1720]

Three days had passed since the immortal travelers had stopped in the community. Fortunately, pickings in the nearby countryside had sustained them for that time. During the night hunts, they had spied Lichtenfeld walking through the woods and watching them as they went.

Although he had initially dismissed the villagers' claims, LaCroix was beginning to believe that this woman was a sorceress due to how she vanished and reappeared so quickly. She has seen us hunt and feast...even though nobody had been there moments before. Impossible.

As they returned to town, they saw flames consuming the inn along with what few possessions they had.

Seeing the priest, Nick asked, "Father Ricard, what's going on?"

"The inn is burning down, Nicolas. We've tried to draw water from the well in town, but it's having no effect. Even where we douse the flames, they burn stronger. Look at the deep red hue. This is no ordinary fire, mon Ami. This is the Devil's work," Ricard replied.

LaCroix snorted indignantly. "There are no such things as devils and demons, my good priest."

"Are you so sure of that, my friend? How would you know?"

"I have walked through many places for quite a time. Trust me on that one," the General replied.

"Still, LaCroix, if there is a chance that she's behind this...." Nick pointed out.

The General nodded. "Indeed. A visit to the woman's house may be in order. Come, Nicholas."

"We'll be all right. Stay here with the others," the former Crusader urged.

As the duo disappeared into the woods, LaFontaine watched them, thinking, No one would be so brave as to do what you two are doing. There's more to you both than meets the eye. For several minutes, he coordinated efforts in the town green, trying to help save the building. Finally, seeing that the effort was futile, he climbed onto his horse's back and took off after them up the path.


The two vampires flew through the trees using them as cover from mortal eyes. Following the dirt road, they headed north. Within minutes, they spied a sizeable clearing. Landing there, the immortals discovered a meadow with waving grasses and oak trees off to one side. In the middle of the field, a single white painted house stood watch over the property. Upon closer inspection, they discerned a small plowed area behind the structure along with a barn.

"The house is quiet, LaCroix," Nick presumed.

The Elder stretched out with his senses and agreed, "Indeed. Still, she's close by." He turned toward the woods in front of them. "Yes. Close by indeed and not alone. Be on your guard." From previous experience, he knew what waited for them down there: a witches' Sabbath. More than likely the local coven. Recalling what he had overheard from Nick's conversation with the priest in the inn, he said to himself, They skulk and worship their insignificant demon. Nicholas, you were right in what you said to the priest. If the Lichtenfeld woman is a witch and knows of our existence, then we need to silence her immediately.

They made their way down the forest path, subtly closing in on the festivities. Finally, they saw three people dancing around a bonfire uttering something in an unknown tongue.

["What are they saying?" Nick asked through their link.]

["I don't know, mon filis," LaCroix responded.] For almost an hour, they watched the events before sensing someone approaching.

"Who?" Nick inquired, reaching out and pulling the intruder toward them. It was Father Ricard. "Father?" he whispered.

"Oui," the priest whispered. "The townspeople are on their way up here with blood in their hearts. It is as I feared. This is a Sabbath. What do we do?"

At that moment, the ritual stopped. Lichtenfeld looked toward them and invited, "Are ye there, masters? Show yerselves or I'll have to take more drastic measures!" Summoning dark energies from the air around her, she let fly with two black fiery bursts, scoring the trees beside the three intruders.

"That's it!" the Elder hissed and moved out into the clearing followed closely by Nick.

Lichtenfeld smiled coldly. She had hoped that her master would send the two vampires on this night. "We have yet to be properly introduced."

"Mistress Anne Lichtenfeld, correct?" Nick guessed.

"Aye, my ancient ones. And ye are?"

"Lucien LaCroix and Nicolas de Brabant," LaCroix responded, watching her carefully.

"And yer friend-ah, the good priest. Do ye know who yer companions are, Ricard LaFontaine?" the sorceress taunted. "Ye travel with dark creatures as well. Vampires, as they are called."

"With that, you signed your death warrant!" the Elder stated. "Nicholas, take the other two. This one's mine!"

Nick advanced on the two cultists. Unlike their mistress, they had no dark powers, settling for simply trying to overpower him. Within minutes, he had bested them both, willing them to sleep.

"Watch them!" he told LaFontaine, zipping off to help his master.

They are really vampires. Amazing. The Lord does work in mysterious ways.


In the meantime, LaCroix advanced on the witch, challenging her to do something. He detested sorceresses and priestesses-whether they were of so-called "white" or "black" persuasions. As a Roman commander, he had authorized mass killings of her kind. Now, he would deal with her himself.

"Ye should not be so confident, my dear Lucien!" she chided, blasting him with dark fire.

Feeling the dark energy burning him, the vampire dropped to the ground. "Blast!"

From the rear, Nick bulled into her, disrupting her concentration and allowing his master time to regain his footing.

"Ye shouldn't have done that, Nicolas," she advised, firing an errant energy plume from her hand.

Faster than the eye could follow, the two vampires flew around, evading her blasts until they managed to wrench her arms behind her. With his belt, Nick bound her hands and stuffed a handkerchief into her mouth to prevent further mystical mischief.

"Now to kill her," LaCroix urged, bearing his fangs.

"No wait!" Ricard protested. "Bring her before the townsfolk for proper judgment."

"And to be judged ourselves, I'd imagine?" the General doubted. "Forgive me if I doubt your intentions."

"The knowledge of what you are will remain a secret--one that I will take to the grave with me. I and the townspeople owe you both that much. But when this is over, you will need to leave here. Agreed?" the priest proposed.

"It's a deal," Nick accepted. "Let's get her back to town."

Even as they concluded this arrangement, a mob of Rowenshire residents approached them.

Michael stood at the head of the throng. Approaching the quartet, he asked, "What is this? Did you see?"

"A witches' Sabbath," LaCroix noted, pointing out the still burning bonfire, a bloody knife and the two others still lying beside them.

The crowd surveyed the scene. Not needing much evidence in any event, the people seized the man and woman on the ground as well as Lichtenfeld, and led them back toward town.


The "trial" was short and quick. With the evidence in clear view of everyone as well as the local people's accounts, the three prisoners prepared themselves for the guilty verdict, which came with lightning speed.

As they were led to the great oak in the village square, the condemned walked indignantly-not giving their persecutors any satisfaction. Reaching the spot, the great oak on the southern edge of the village common, the nooses were slung over two particularly heavy branches.

Father Ricard offered to give last rites, but they vehemently refused.

After her cohorts were dispatched, Lichtenfeld sat on a horse under the branch with the noose hanging about her neck. She glared at her neighbors for doing this to her.

"Any last words, witch?" an older gentleman with snow-white hair asked.

After they removed the gag, she cackled wickedly. "Ye can kill this body, but ye won't kill my spirit. I curse ye all, yer friends, and yer families. To the two travelers yonder, much distress will ye find. Young Nicolas will seek answers splitting him from his companion. As for you, Ricard LaFontaine, I curse ye and yer family. When next they return here, they will know sorrow, be denied the love of home and hearth, the rejection of their neighbors, and that I will be waiting for them. In that time, a father's greed will force his family and their friends into hardship. His oldest son will hate him. And for that special child...ah, special indeed...I'll split his soul in two and put him against ye both!"

"Do your worst!" LaCroix challenged. "I fear nothing of so-called curses and foul air!"

"All right. Enough!" the old man cut in, spurring the horse out from under her.

As she dropped, Lichtenfeld stared intently at the two vampires and at the priest before her eyes finally shut. The rope's jerk snapped her neck, ending things quickly.

"Burn her body and scatter the ashes about that foul place. We all agree to leave the meadow alone. Father, will ye bless the land?" the old man continued.

"I can try," the priest agreed. In a largely Protestant land, his little Catholic flock needed protection on all sides. "Meantime Nicolas and Lucien, I believe this settles my end of the bargain?"

"It does," LaCroix concurred grimly. "And thank you for your assistance."

"Thank you," Nick added, shaking the man's hand.

"Despite your...sins, there is good in you, Nicolas. Keep seeking the light, my friend. God hasn't forsaken you."

"I know...thank you, father," Nick expressed before following his companion down the path and out of the villagers' sight. Once in the woods, they took to the air, heading east in search of other prey.


Chapter 6

[Modern Day]

Nick sighed and took a gulp of his Chablis. "True to his word, he kept our secret."

"What happened to Father LaFontaine?" Chloe wondered.

"He stayed in Rowenshire and preached there for another forty years before passing away in 1762. They never did find another priest of his stature," the archaeologist explained.

"But his sister, Jeanne, had children. The youngest daughter, Lucie, married Denis Dubois in 1741 and created our lineage," Cybelle clarified.

"If they were over in France, how did your family get back there?" Paula wondered.

"A cheap land deal and a new partnership," Dave noted, glancing at Lex.

"My father's involved in this? Why am I not surprised?" the billionaire asked, feeling the shame of his name burdening him again.

"Quit blaming yourself, Lex. It's Lionel's doing, not yours. Still, what it did set in motion is another story." Dave reassured although the gloom hung heavily over him. "For 247 years, everything remained quiet until one faithful day."


[Rowenshire-All Hallows Eve 1967]

Stuart Dubois stopped his Ford pickup truck on the side of the road. Tired of city life, he wanted to move away to some place removed from the city, yet close enough to it. If there was an investment opportunity to be had, all the better. After searching in Massachusetts and northern Connecticut for the past year, his associate, Lionel Luthor, had called him with good news. He had located a piece of land and asked for the other to meet him there.

This is a real downtrodden place all right, the consultant growled tersely. The town was a relic from the 1850s judging by its quaint general store and the commons. At least their school is up to date. Still, this should be a real opportunity. Larry was right. His son, Lionel, is on the ball. The kid's going to have a great future. After that other deal he pulled for me, this one will be really sweet.

At that moment, a limousine pulled up beside him. The driver got out and opened the door for his boss.

A young man with shoulder length auburn hair stepped out of the back seat and onto the road. "Stuart, good to see you. So what do you think?"

The older man shook his hand and remarked, "Your calling this a 'fixer-upper' is a gross understatement, Lionel. Still, there is an opportunity here."

"And you're close to Northampton and Amherst...well relatively speaking. Still, both you and Father said you wanted an opportunity. I think this could be it."

"So where's this cheap land?"

Lionel pointed at the meadow. "Right beside you. Beautiful clearing, isn't it?"

Stuart looked at the clearing. He's right. With a little work, this could be a decent place for the family to live. I'll have to tear down that house, but I can do that easily. I'll have the new house up in time for the kids to start next fall at the school. Well, maybe I can have Sarah drive them to Ware for a while at least. "And why is this so cheap? I can't believe nobody would want to live here."

"The locals have this story about the land being cursed or some such garbage," the younger man scoffed. "Really, Stuart, the folklore is ridiculous."

"I agree. What was there, an ax murderer here?"

"They say there was some kind of witch here. Imagine that," Lionel discounted the story.

"And the price from the bank is still solid?" Stuart inquired.

"It is," the younger man affirmed.

"Let's sign those papers and get going. Sarah's waiting with the family," Stuart concurred.


True to his word, Stuart tore down the old house and pushed the builders to finish his dream house in record time. By midsummer, his palatial white dream house rose from the meadow. In addition, workers conducted a facelift, cleaning up the landscape significantly. It's a paradise. Sarah doesn't like being so far from her mother, but that can't be helped.

"Stuart, it's amazing how this place has changed," his wife admired.

"Yes. It's very nice. Our perfect family home," he bragged contentedly. "Let the kids out to run around a bit. They've been cooped up for so long."

She opened the door. Randy jumped out and ran onto the grass as fast as his two-year-old legs could carry him. "I'm glad you like it," she laughed. That boy is so happy. I think he could find something good to play with in a construction quarry.

The oldest boy, David, sat in the back with a sullen frown on his face. "Hate this place!" he muttered.

"Now, David," his mother tried to soothe as she rocked her baby daughter, Cybelle. "I know you miss Gram, but she'll be up here to visit as will Grandma and Grandpa Alvaro."

The boy, knowing by now that there wasn't any arguing with his parents-acquiesced grudgingly. Still, he felt something very strange about this place. In addition to the creepy conditions, he had seen a glowing lady by the woods in back of the house. Gotta watch for her.


[Modern Day-Tucson]

Dave set his drink on the table and looked at the others. Damn, this is going to be more difficult than I thought.

"What else happened there?" Miranda insisted.

"That dream house turned into a house of horrors for us," the priestess sighed.

"That's putting it mildly," the medievalist agreed, suppressing a shudder. "Still, I don't remember much for quite a while. And then, there was the incident with Grandpa's death."

"Uncle Lorenzo? He died of cancer, didn't he?" Francesca inquired.

A tear coursed his cheek. "They say it's one birth for one death, right? With that one, she got more than she bargained for...."


[Rowenshire-February 18, 1975]

Dave climbed the stairs cautiously on his way up to the third floor. He should have been more excited-after all, this was his favorite time of the day. This was the time his grandfather spent with him, teaching him about their heritage and encouraging him to be his best. His books provided a release for the boy from the darkness surrounding them all.

The young man surveyed the hallway for any signs of weirdness. Nothing, but she'll be around...I know it. Ever since the family had moved into the house, the "glowing lady" had intruded into their lives and made things a living Hell. Surprisingly, Randy seemed blissfully unaware of the situation. However, for Dave-the situation was very real. More than once, he had endured the ghost's fiery touch, burning his skin and soul. At first, he took the punishment to save his siblings from it.

Then, the phantom started going after Cybbie, and the house echoed with her cries in addition to his own.

He boiled with resentment. I should be able to do something about this mess! Knocking on the door, he asked, "Grandpa?"

"C..ome in," the elderly man invited.

Dave entered the room, feeling a strange sense of foreboding. What now? He knew that his grandfather was bedridden and had been for almost a year. "Grandpa, what is it?"

"I...I'm getting ready to leave. My time is...near," the old man stated sadly.

The boy's eyes bulged and he protested, "No! You can't go! How can I go on?"

"You out for....Randy and Cybbie....Protect them....from the...ghost."

"You know? Everyone else thinks I'm crazy," Dave pointed out.

His grandfather shook his head. "No. You and your sister are the special ones, David. And in this time, you won't be'll never be alone. Promise me two things...First, take care of the others. Second...always do Don't...let that"

Dave grasped his mentor's hand and vowed, "O..okay. I promise."

"Bold words, Brat!" the familiar taunting voice jeered.

The two men saw the witch's spirit hovering in the corner.

"Once he dies, I've won. I'll break ye and yer little sister!" she crowed.

"" Lorenzo protested weakly. "Keep away..."

"Oh, be quiet and pass on!" she scoffed, blasting him with a plume of dark fire.

The sick man stiffened and gasped for air. "D..David,...hold" With that, he slumped into the boy's arms and died.

"And so ye are alone," the ghost cracked. "Alone against me."

Dave shuddered as he kissed his grandfather's brow and shut the elder's eyes. "Maybe I am, but if it kills me, I'll get you for this!" he spat.

"Such insolence!"

"No. I'm just sick of taking your crap," the boy hissed, feeling his head go numb. "Enjoy your win, Bitch. I'll have my day too!"

The phantom growled and disappeared into the wall.

In her wake, the boy screamed to the ceiling, wailing and protesting his pain. "GRARRRGGHHH!!!!!" Finally, he stopped and brooded. One day, I'll get her...Oh will I get her for this.


The funeral took place in Amherst on his twelfth birthday two nights later. Dave sat sullenly in the corner, fighting back the tears. I won't give her the satisfaction of seeing me cry. Even as the dirt fell on the coffin, he renewed his vow from the night before.

He stared at the rest of the family, noting his sister's absence. In a typically classless move, his father had decided to send Cybbie off to boarding school far away in England. His mother sat trembling and trying to console his grandmother. His brother and father sat placidly off to the side, not reacting to anything.

Nobody talked to him. The townspeople from Rowenshire all thought he was crazy. The kids shunned him at school. His father made fun of him in public. Even the priest, Father Richard, was afraid of him.

Then a hand rested on his shoulder. "Need someone to talk to?"

Looking up, Dave saw a blond haired man with blue eyes and a warm smile looking at him. "Who are you?"

"My name's Nicholas O' Connor. I worked with your grandfather some years ago," the man revealed.

Dave studied the man. There's something strange about him. "I remember Grandpa talking about you, sir. Take a seat. Egypt, right?"

"Right. I worked with him on a couple of excavations in the Valley of Kings," Nicholas noted. "You know he was proud of you."

The boy nodded. "He was so smart. He gave me the world and made me feel good. Now, he's gone...and I get to deal with the glowing lady."

"Glowing lady?" Nicholas asked, arching his eyebrow. "You mean a ghost?"

"Yeah...ghost. Some ghost. More like one of those demons you hear the minister talking about," the boy clarified. "Anyhow, I aim to get even with her one day. Mark my words, Mr. O' Connor, I'll make her pay." His right eyelid closed, squinting tears while the left eye glared at him.

"And where do you live, pray tell?" the visitor asked. Seeing Dave's incredulous look, he added, "Your grandfather said you lived north of the town center, but didn't say exactly where."

"Right on the state route headin' north, sir, in the middle of the stinking grass-big white house on your right. You can't miss it."

Nicholas shook his head as the facts fell into place. "Are there any stories about the land?"

"About the witch and the curse? Plenty of them. They aren't stories. They happened and that harpy is proof of it!" Dave responded, the venom seeping into his voice.

Nicholas hugged the young man closely to him, consoling him as the latter finally broke down. Somehow, she's back. This poor young man's suffering and there's nothing I can do. Wait, maybe there is...I'll talk to Beatrice. Maybe she can convince them to move on.


Chapter 7

[Modern Day-Tucson]

Dave trembled noticeably, his eyes watering and the snarls escaping his mouth. He was on the cusp of changing.

Emma read the emotions coming off of him. The trauma froze him in that moment in time. That little boy's still there...still wanting his revenge.

"That man who showed up, who was he?" Angie wondered. "Did you ever see him again?"

The medievalist shrugged. "Sure...later...much later. He's right here. I never did thank you, Nick."

Seeing everyone staring at him, Nick explained, "You needed a friend at that point. I just can't believe I didn't realize who you were when we met up in Toronto."

"That was a troubled time for us all. Maybe the angel made you forget too," Dave guessed.

"Could be," Nick agreed, changing the subject before that topic caught hold. No sense in picking another fight with LaCroix.

"So is that it?" Mika asked.

"No, Mika," Karen said, a crestfallen look on her face.

"I wish it were," Lex agreed, looking at Karen, Steve, and Garth.

Dave relaxed and allowed the change to happen.

The Child looked up at the others. A frightening scowl streaked across his face. "Nah. The witch hadda git back at us 'gain. They stuck Gram in the ground. The bitch killed 'er too...but Ah got 'er back with help...."


[Amherst-November 1982]

Dave stood silently as they placed the urn with his grandmother's ashes on the ground. The wind blew briskly on that day after Thanksgiving. The overcast sky offered no warmth or comfort for him either.


Three days earlier, she had called to the high school, begging for him to be there. After getting a release for them both, Karen drove him to Ludlow.

"Gram?" he asked.

"Dave? Come in," the older woman called. "Are you by yourself?"

"Karen's waiting downstairs. She figured you wanted to talk to me alone," he replied.

"I'd like her here too. She's such a nice girl," she complimented.

"Just a minute," he agreed, going out and down the stairs. A minute later, he was back.

"Gram?" Karen asked. "Sorry. I didn't want to intrude."

"That's...okay, Dear. You're despite what my...son thinks," Janet told the younger woman, forcing a smile over her pain. "You need to hear this too."

"What is it?" he inquired.

"Dave, I know you're angry...because of Smallville. Whatever happens, please...stay focused and keep...your cool," she begged.

Yeah right. He seethed over her condition. While she had been worn down for months, the cancer had spread abnormally fast, doing in months what should have taken years. She's at it again. I knew that leaving that damn place wouldn't be good enough.

His girlfriend studied his face. He's ticked off all right. "Dave, are you okay?"

"No. I'm not," he sighed. "I'll tell you later. Meantime, Gram, I'll do my best."

The elderly woman smiled. "That's all I can ask of you. Karen, don't leave him alone at the service and be careful...She'll be...there."

"If she shows up, she'll regret it," he vowed angrily.

"Who is this 'she'?" Karen asked.

"Somebody from Rowenshire. A very old, spiteful somebody," he stated, his facial features growing dark.

"Still believing in ghosts?" his father taunted walking into the room. "You know you're not welcome here!"

"Stick it, Dad. Gram asked me to come, all right?" he retorted, glaring daggers at the other. "Besides, if you hadn't moved us to that hellhole, none of this crap would've happened!"

"Dave, Stuart, stop it," Janet requested weakly. "All I wanted is for you two to be at peace with each other. She's...done it....I tried....Remember, that I love you...."

"Gram?" Dave asked, grasping her hand.

For a minute, she smiled at him. Then her eyes closed and her hand went limp.

"Mom?" Stuart queried, shaking her.

"Leave her be. She's gone," Dave snarled.

"Dave, I really think we should go," Karen urged, sensing the fight brewing between them.

The elder Dubois grinned at her. "What are you...his nursemaid now?"

"No. Just a good friend," she replied tersely. "You've done enough to him, all right? Leave him alone!"

"I'm not done yet," Stuart asserted.

"Oh, I think you are," Dave disagreed. "I really need to get back to town right now. We'll see you up there...hopefully without your immortal terror in tow. C'mon, Karen."

She frowned while following her classmate down the stairs and out the door. Now what?


"Dave?" Karen inquired, cutting into his meditation.

"Hmm?" he replied, looking at her. "Oh. Sorry, Karen, I'm just fighting the usual moodiness. I can't believe she's gone."

"I know," she agreed, rubbing his arm. "Are you up to talking with the others?"

He wiped a stray tear off of his face and fought back another tension wave. "Yeah. Let's do it."

Just across the room, Frank Landers, Steve, Garth, and April McKenzie waited for him patiently, understanding how close he was to his grandmother.

"Sorry, guys. I missed a deadline, didn't I?" Dave asked mournfully, knowing that he had let his classmates down. "I'll get to it."

"Hey, it's all right," Garth assured him. "We took care of it. You relax, all right?"

"You need to be with your family right now. We can cover for you," April added, hugging him tightly. "Principal Jackson wanted you to write a eulogy about her. Think you can do that?"

"Absolutely," he agreed. "I just need time to get my thoughts together." Seeing a familiar red-haired woman approach, he asked, "Aunt Lillie?"

Lillian Luthor managed a smile for his benefit. "Yes, David, it's me. As soon as I heard, I reserved seats on the first flight from Metropolis." She embraced him, knowing the damage that this tragedy was wrecking on him. He still isn't over the beating in Smallville yet. The doctors are wondering if he'll ever recover. "Are these the friends we heard so much about?"

"Well...some of them. Garth Singleton, Steve Petersen, Frank Landers, April McKenzie, this is Lillian Luthor. Aunt Lillie, these are April, Garth, Frank and Steve. You remember Karen, right?" Dave introduced.

"Of course," Mrs. Luthor agreed. "I wish we could be meeting under better circumstances, kids. This is a tragedy for everyone. Who would have thought that cancer could take somebody so fast?"

It can't unless it has help, Dave mused. "How's Lex?"

"Oh, he's waiting by the table. Hang on." She walked over and took her son's hand before heading back over to the group's side. "Everyone, this is my son, Lex Luthor."

The eight year old looked shyly at the teenagers. "You're David's friends, aren't ya? The ones who gave 'im that big card?"

April giggled. "That's right. And you were helping Dave with saving the Talon, weren't you?"

The boy nodded. "An' I got a medal!"

"You did?" Dave asked, a smile coming to his face. "Who gave you that?"

"Momma did," the boy replied, rubbing her side.

"Lionel doesn't think he's a hero, but I do. And you are too, David. By the way, I made a trip out to Smallville before getting on the plane. The townspeople wanted me to give you this card," Lillian explained, handing him an envelope.

They remembered. How? "How would they know about that?"

"Well, I know how close you two were and you did speak to the Kents about it. Martha insisted that we get you something nice. You can open it later if you want, but please take it."

"Thank you and please thank them," Dave accepted. "Well, it's almost time for the service to let's get seated. Karen, you're with me. Wish me luck with my piece."

"You've got it," Steve asserted. "Just take it easy."

Take it easy he says. Yeah right, he told himself while sitting down with his family. Feeling a tap on the shoulder, he turned to see Cybelle sitting there. "Cybbie?"

"Yeah. How could this happen?" she asked, hugging him.

"You-Know-Who struck again," he noted. "How are you doing?"

"Well, all things considered, I'm okay. This is Sister Pauline, my school sponsor. Sister, this is my brother, David."

"Good to meet you, Sister," he told his sister's older companion.

"And the same to you, David. You have our deepest sympathies," Pauline concurred, gripping his hand. There is great evil within you and surrounding this place. Goddess, protect us.

"Thank you," he replied.

You're welcome. No wonder the Mother has asked me to look after you, David. The forces against you here are great. Pauline straightened her skirt as she prepared to listen to Stuart's address.

After his father spoke, Dave stood up and walked to the dais. But before he could say anything, the sky grew dark. A strong wind gusted through the tented area.

[From inside of his head, he heard the Voice growl, She's doin' it again. Get ready....]

Now what? He looked beyond the tent-covered space to see his glowing tormenter standing there. "You're not welcome!"

Everyone turned to see the witch's ghost standing just behind them.

Cybelle's eyes bulged. "Sister, protect me!"

"Ye have a gathering and left me out. For shame!" the ghost chided.

"We've got no room for a party crasher!" Dave hissed, stomping to the edge of the covered space. "Leave now."

"Go away!" she laughed, hitting him with a fire blast and knocking him off of his feet.

"Dave!" Karen exclaimed, running to his side.

"Git away..." he snarled, forcing himself to stand again. "Ya're not gonna touch 'er anymore!"

The witch released another blast, but he shrugged it off, roaring his displeasure.

"I can hurt ye like this!" Lichtenfeld spat, firing past him and destroying the still unburied urn...with the ashes inside. Once exposed, the ash scattered on the wind, blowing away.

"NO!!" he bellowed, watching her ashes spread out across the cemetery. "GRRAARRRGGGHHH!!!"

Pauline stared at him. It's as bad as the Mother said. He's changing. How can I stop her without exposing Cybelle or myself?

Meantime, Dave-or actually the Child-looked around for something of use. Spying a vial of holy water, he sniggered, "Oh, this could be fun!" Pouring it onto a long drop cloth, he wished, God, help out. He hurried toward his opponent twirling the wet cloth in his hand and whipped it at the spirit.

"WHAT? I felt that!" the ghost complained.

"Well, well...The bitch has a weakness," he cracked, preparing for another swipe. Moving quickly, he struck out at the spirit again and again. "Ya better run!"

Pauline tapped Karen's arm. "Can you sit with Cybelle?"

"Sure. But where are you going?" the high school junior agreed.

"To help David," the elder woman told her, hurrying out the side of the tent. Once out of view of the others, she concentrated, summoning the white magic at her command. "Remove yourself, Fiend!"

The witch fired wide on him as he stung her yet again. Then, she saw the priestess standing to her left. "How did ye get here?"

"That doesn't matter. You've done enough!" Pauline challenged, chanting a Celtic verse and striking out with a charge of her own.

"Scram!" he added, snapping his weapon yet again.

"Ye haven't heard the last of me!" the ghost challenged as she vanished.

"Good riddance," he growled. "This is the last straw!"

"Calm yourself," the priestess urged.

"Not until we take care of business," he asserted, hustling to the front once again. He picked up the shattered urn pieces and watched the last ash particles blow into the wind.

"Dave, who...what was that?" Karen asked.

"Hey, Dad, she asked about the ghost. Care to tell her about it?" the Child asked.

"I didn't do anything," Stuart replied indignantly.

"When ya built the house, ya built it on cursed ground! Ya cursed our family! Stupid bastard, look what ya've done to us! To me!" the taciturn son accused. "That woman out there-she's yer ghost! She killed Grandpa and Gram. Be a man for once! Do somethin'."

"If you know so much, then you do it!" his father retorted.

"Fine!" Dave spat back, regaining his sensibilities despite the anger raging through him. Seeing Pauline reenter the tent, he requested, "Can you both come with me? We've got work to do."

"What?" Cybelle asked fearfully. "You aren't thinking of going back there."

"After I've prepared a few surprises, absolutely!" he stated, storming out of the service and heading for the high school.

His classmates looked at each other in confusion.

"Come on. I know where he's going," Karen urged. "Steve and April can ride with me. Frank, you go with Garth. Let's go."


After running across the town common, Dave walked into the Alvarez household and went downstairs. So, holy things bug her, do they? Well, that's something I can use to my advantage. In his bedroom, he started grabbing books on herb lore and magic. While he wasn't sure if he would need them, he decided to be ready just in case. Let's see...hmmm...well, maybe a mixture of those two herbs would do something.

"Don't be foolish, David," Pauline lectured as she appeared beside him.

"What the? How did you get in here? Look, we need to take care of her! Cybbie and I have suffered enough, all right?" he demanded, pulling bottles of herbs from his shelf.

She glared at him sharply. "And you would have her suffer more?"

"No. That's why I'm ending this," he declared, placing the two herbs in a bowl and grinding them with his pestle.

"Do you know what you doing?" she asked incredulously.

"Actually, I've been studying these texts. Why?"

The priestess studied them. "Impressive. Now I know why you survived against her for as long as you did. If you're set on this, let me help you. Follow me." She opened a mist portal. "It's safe. Don't worry."

He stepped through to find himself in a green lush place with trees and birds singing. Women in white robes walked about and meditated serenely. "Where?"

"This is a special place," his guide responded, leading him down a path. "Come, we go to the herbery."

He followed her into a tiny hut just off the center of the village. There, he saw rows of potted plants of different varieties and types. "Wow."

"Yes. Well, if you're going to fight her, you'll need the right equipment," she stated, selecting four different plants. Hearing a knock at the door, she asked, "Yes?"

A young girl in white answered, "The Mother said that you would need this water, Sister Pauline."

"Thank you, Child," Pauline accepted, taking the gallon-sized jug from her. "Come, David, time grows short."

He nodded, heading into the mists.

Once back in his little makeshift workshop, Pauline instructed, "That mixture won't hold her for long. Follow my lead." She sliced off leaves from the various plants, chanting over them as she went.

"Now, grind them," she told him.

He nodded and reduced the mix to a mashed gruel. "Perfect," he admired.

"How you plan to get close enough to her is another matter," she stated.

"I've got an idea," he told her, going into his closet and grabbing his bow and quiver of arrows. "I've been practicing."

"Very nice. What's your range?" she asked.

"I can hit a target from about 45 yards," he responded, checking his shafts and rubbing the arrowheads with the gruel mix. "I had practice hitting trolls if you must know."

I should have known the Faerie Empress would have trained him as an archer. "Then allow me," she requested, touching the treated arrows and chanting. "There. Now, we must go."

"Dave, what's going on?" Karen demanded as she ran into the room. "What's with the set up?"

"You look like you're going troll hunting," Garth guessed.

"Actually, witch hunting, Garth," Dave corrected. "I'd appreciate it if you all stayed here."

"No dice, Dave," his girlfriend protested. "We made it through the Pit. We can make it through that."

"I agree. Karen and Garth should come but be careful. Karen, where is Cybelle?" Pauline asked.

"She's upstairs with my parents. Why? And who's this witch?" Karen queried.

"I'll tell you who she is later. As for what, you know that ghost that appeared this afternoon?"

"Yeah?" Garth replied. "So?"

"That's the witch. And guys, I agree with Pauline-be careful. She has a cancer touch. I've lost enough to her. I'm not losing both of you," Dave insisted, grabbing his bow. "Want to come with us or should we go with you?"

The priestess said, "I'll go with you. Cybelle will go too. Come on."

As they walked out of the basement, Mr. Alvarez wondered, "What happened? Who was that glowing woman?"

"A ghost," Dave responded, taking his sister's hand. "Come on, Cybbie."

"You're nuts," Cybelle said, criticizing the idea.

"It's the only way to contain her," her sponsor noted.

"Meantime, I'm driving," Dave noted, pointing to the Subaru. "Bessie's leaving, so hop aboard! Garth, do you have your shotgun?"

"Hang on," Garth told him, going into his trunk. "Yeah! I knew I left it here from my last hunting trip!" He grabbed the weapon and a box of bullets before rejoining them. "All set."

After he got in the backseat with Cybelle and Pauline, the latter handed him the pouch and told him. "There's some herbal paste in there. Rub your projectiles with it."

"Trust her, Garth. My arrowheads are covered with it," Dave advised, giving his gear one last check and allowing them to get settled. "While you're doing that, cover the upper third of my whip too?" he requested, handing them his bullwhip. When the group had piled in, he gunned the motor and sped up Pleasant Street, taking a left onto Route 9 and heading east.

"Do you know where you're going?" Karen asked.

"Unfortunately, yes I do," he affirmed.

They drove through Ware and headed north along the state road. The woods grew dark and the houses weren't popping up as frequently.

"What is this place?" Garth asked.

"The Dark Realm on Earth," Dave replied tersely. "Welcome to Rowenshire."

The group looked around at the small town center with its old buildings.

"Is this really necessary?" Cybelle wondered fearfully.

"Remember what Grandpa said, Cybbie, face your fear," her brother urged as they stopped just beyond the edge of the meadow. "Okay, here we are."

"Is this where?" Karen whispered.

"Man, Dave, now I know why the Pit didn't bother you," Garth remarked, shaking his head at the scene in front of him. Just the sight of the creepy meadow and the dilapidated house made his skin crawl. And you lived here for seven years? Shit.

"Nobody comes here," Pauline added. "At least if they have any sense."

"That leaves us out. What a surprise," Karen remarked ruefully.

Garth loaded his shotgun. "Okay. I have three bullets ready and about two dozen more rubbed up."

"Be on your guard," the priestess advised. "We're on her ground now."

"It's our ground. I aim to pay that harpy back in spades," Dave asserted, pulling the quiver onto his back and checking the bow's tension. "Okay, we're set. Everyone stay together and be careful. Karen, you and Cybelle stay in back. Pauline, I guess you and Garth are behind me."

"You always get to take the point," Garth cracked.

"You know me, all guts-no glory," the archer retorted as he stepped onto the property. "Hell Central, here we come."

The quintet crept along the tree line toward the house. Except for a few ravens calling to each other, it was eerily quiet.

"This does bring back memories," Dave noted, stringing an arrow into his shaft and having another ready right beneath it.

"Remember, I said this was a bad idea," Cybelle chimed in.

"Positive thoughts now, Cybelle," Pauline whispered.

"Yes, Sister," the girl concurred, albeit not convinced.

A sinister laughing greeted their ears. "Ah, company! I know ye are here!"

"Damn it!" Dave hissed. "Get ready!"

In the clearing, they saw the witch floating just above the grass looking around for them.

"She can't see us yet," Pauline told them. "I'm hiding us from her, but I can't keep it up."

"Didn't we just leave this dance?" Karen sighed. "We just killed a wizard."

"You did?" Cybelle wondered aghast. "How?"

"Yeah, Chief, tell them," Garth urged.

"He had a sacrifice and well-I spoiled it...or should I say, her," Dave explained, readying an arrow.

"Spoiled...who was it?" his sister demanded.

"Me," Karen revealed.

"You two...did...You beat a wizard by...?" Cybelle asked incredulously, having problems imagining her brother actually doing the deed...not to mention doing it in the middle of a dire situation like that.

"Uh yeah, we did. Not a peep to anyone about that one, Cybbie. I mean it. Meantime, Garth, can you get out there? We need to flank her. You go left. I'll go right," Dave said with an air of certainty.

"Hey, it always works, right?" his partner in crime agreed.

"Guys, be careful," Karen requested.

Having reached an agreement, the two guys left the brush running into the field. About a quarter of the way into the grass, the spell dropped.

"Well, there ye are!" the witch exclaimed. "So rude of ye not to say hello!" She fired off twin flame plumes.

As one, the two attackers ducked and fired their weapons in unison, hitting her square.

"I'LL KILL YE!" she screamed, sending another burst their way.

Garth fell to the ground, singed by her blast.

"Garth!" Dave yelled even as he pumped arrow after arrow through her form slowing her down.

"Stop it!" she growled, firing another burst and hitting him.

Dave felt his own skin burning and pain screaming at him from all parts. Just like old times. Ignore it and give this bitch a taste of 'er own med'cine.


Across the field, the women prepared a containment area in the oak grove. First, they poured the blessed water from the lake in a circle around one tree, leaving it open.

Having done so, Pauline chanted a spell. "There, we're set."

Karen yelled, "Dave! Garth! This way!"


From where they were, Dave saw her waving very clearly. Time to end this. "Hey, come on! Let's go!" Coach wanted me to run that faster 400-yard dash. Here goes. He turned tail and sprinted for the grove. "Hey, Lichtenbitch, never mind him-I'm the one you want!"

She hissed and floated after him.

He ran as fast as he could. Still, he knew he'd never make it. Then he saw the mists open up in front of him. Pauline's portal. Ducking through the opening, he came out in the grove right in front of the spot. "All set?"

"We are," the priestess told him. "Right behind you is where we've set up the ring."

"Check," he agreed, seeing the angry spirit speed toward him. "One more good shot ought to do it." He took out one of his "baggie" arrows and fired.

The ghost threw flame at the projectile, which exploded and produced an herbal cloud, blinding her. "Argh!" She couldn't stop her progress and flew into the ringed area. At the other edge, she hit something in the air that felt like hard glass.

"Now!" Dave urged.

Cybelle poured the last of the water, closing the ring.

Her patron chanted again, creating the prison.

"NO!" Lichtenfeld protested, running up against the invisible walls of the mystical prison.

"There you are and there you'll stay," the priestess told the witch. "As long as these people or any companion in their company keep off of the grass, you're imprisoned there."

"Ye haven't heard the last of me!" the witch bellowed. "Ye all are cursed! And yer friends!"

The quartet sighed. The witch had a point. Maybe they did contain her, but the curse was still tied to the land. Someday, they knew she would be back.


Chapter 8

[Modern Day-Tucson]

The Child glared at the others. "An' she was right. She's still screwin' things up. Only that she struck elsewhere."

"My mother," Lex realized.

"And my parents, not to mention the whole meteor shower," Lana realized.

"And Pauline," Cybelle stated, staring at LaCroix.

"What are you talking about?" the Toronto Elder asked incredulously.

"Ya triggered us. She pushed ya into the classroom...and got ya to bring Mustard Boy into the picture. When ya had her and Doc Samuelssohn killed, Croisie, ya played right into 'er hands. Now, ya're gonna help us," the Dark One responded.

"He's right," Nick agreed. "You and I are involved, LaCroix. We're going to help."

"As are the rest of us," Adam chimed in. "When do we go?"

At that moment, Dave's cell phone went off. "Yeah, what?" the Child responded.

"Dave? Is that you?" a familiar voice asked.

He handed the phone to Karen.

"Yes?" the nurse asked. "Who is this?"

"Karen? This is April McKenzie in Amherst."

"Uh, April, this is kind of a bad time. What is it?" Karen stated.

April continued, "I just got a call from Sam Winters in Ware. Apparently, that ghost is back and doing damage in Rowenshire."

"We know. She's struck elsewhere too. Look, we'll be there soon. Hang in there," Karen advised.

"You know that we aren't that far from there! If she gets across the reservoir, Pelham's right there and we're next!" April panicked.

The Child sighed. Time to come out, Big Bro. He triggered the change back.

Dave motioned for the phone. "April, it's Dave. We're leaving as soon as we can for there. Listen to Karen...It's okay."

"If you can't keep control, what can we do?" she asked.

"I don't necessarily need to keep control. I just need to be composed is all and count on...well...You Know Who to behave himself. Go talk to your priest. Tell him to get ready. I'll call when we're about thirty minutes out," he assured her.

"Okay...thanks, Dave. I'll let Father Richard know," she concluded, hanging up.

He ended the call and told them, "Okay. We have to get up there. Angie, Francesca, I need you to stay here and find Xena and Gabrielle. When you do find them, have Deirdre pop them up to Wabash. We'll meet you there. Meantime, Brennan, Jesse, Emma, Adam, Nick, LaCroix, Eve, and Cybelle are with me in the Double Helix. Martin, you, Mika, Miranda, Lana, and Clark are coming too. Everyone else is staying here and waiting for the signal."

Nick concurred, "Janette will keep an eye on things here in the meantime. Let's go."

With that, the group went in their assigned directions. Angie and Francesca headed for their car to check on the twins before their trip. The majority of the students resigned themselves to yet another waiting game as they watched the Double Helix take off into the night sky, heading east.

As the ship vanished from their sight, Chloe asked, "Do you think they're going to be all right?"

"They have to be," Lex affirmed, hugging her shoulders. "For all of our sakes."

Shalimar added, Come on, gang. We gotta be on our toes."


Chapter 9


The witch's ghost surveyed the area with satisfaction. For too long ye imprisoned me. Now ye pay. She set the old general store ablaze and laughed wickedly. That's a sign that I'm back. Gliding over the street, she felt the townspeople's presence at the little church. Fools! Combined with the damage to the other little towns close by, this was satisfying.

The congregation panicked when they saw the glowing woman coming toward them. Abandoning their worship, they fled to their cars, speeding away for their homes.

Run, fools. That's right...just like the cowards ye are. She cast an eye to the west and her smile widened. "Soon other guests will be coming, and I want to be ready for them."



Brother Tony stood by the entrance to his church and looked around anxiously. Only an hour earlier, Angie had called him, asking for him to meet her there. He guessed this was related to the circumstances going on to the east of there. What else could happen? "Where is she?"

"Relax, Brother," a familiar voice advised.

He turned to see the mists hanging behind him. From them, the familiar trio of Xena, Gabrielle, and Deirdre stepped into view. "Xena!"

"Hello," the warrior greeted. "You got Angela's message. Good. The others will be here shortly."

"How?" he asked. Looking up to the night sky, he saw the Double Helix drop its stealth cloak and descend close by to them. "That's the ship from the night of the fire!"

"Yes it is," Gabrielle agreed. "Did you get everything that she asked for?"

"I have some things here," he noted. "I talked to Father Richard in Amherst. He's getting the rest of what we need and will meet us at the McKenzie residence."

"Great," Xena stated as they ran up the ramp. "Great timing, everyone!"

"Thank Auntie," Deirdre noted.

"Let's go!" Dave indicated. "She's knows we're coming."

The minister looked around as he settled into a seat. "Who are you talking about, David? What are you all doing here?" He glared at LaCroix. "Especially him?"

"This isn't my idea of a good time either," the General countered angrily.

"Stop it, Lucius," Eve interceded.

"Who are you talking about?" Brother Tony insisted.

"Anne Lichtenfeld's ghost," Dave stated while checking his equipment. "The eighteenth century witch and her curse."

"What does that have to do with us?"

"The fire, Brother, for one thing," Eve noted.

"And a whole host of other things," Jesse added from the co-pilot's seat.

"So do you have a theory how we deal with her, Dave? I have to admit that magic isn't my forte," Adam inquired.

"We confront her and send her soul to the next world," Cybelle replied. "I agree with Dave, enough's enough."

"And have Eve and the clergymen bless the property to cut off her power source," Dave added. "Once that's done, we'll have to move the fight."

"Move the fight?" everyone chorused.

"If I fight her here, it's at best a neutral court and at worst, she'll have a slight advantage. But in Tucson, both of my sides are at their peak," the medievalist continued.

"Should we be fighting her there? What about all of the people?" Lana asked.

"West of the city will be fine," Dave noted.

"Where we fought the trolls?" Brennan guessed.

"Exactly," Xena agreed. "I like the idea. That still leaves the protective field around the city."

"Right," Cybelle concurred, strapping herself in. "Let's go!"

The pilot pushed a couple of buttons, closing the hatch and taking off for the east.

Brother Tony glanced out the front window. "Gracious me! That's Pittsfield already!"

"You wanted speed, Brother," Adam told him. "You've got it."

"Thanks for that, my friends," the minister accepted and sat down beside Dave. "How are you doing?"

"Hanging in there and getting ready to pay her back. The last time we met, she tried to take a shot at Angie. I'm not letting it happen again."

"It's true," Xena agreed. "And I'm with him." Recalling her dealings with Alti, she hissed, This stinks of her too. The denial of love is the worst punishment there is.

"Amherst coming up!" Emma noted several minutes later.

Lana winced. "The fear and pain! I can feel it coming from close by!"

Clark tried to comfort her, wishing he could do something.

Dave snarled, "She's calling us out! Damn her!"

[From within his head, the Child screamed in rage. "Ah'll skin that bitch! RRRRR!!!!"]

"Where do we land?" Brennan asked.

"On the town green," Karen indicated.

"Right," the electrical mutant responded, lowering their transport to the grass. "Okay, everyone out."

"Be careful. She could have something waiting for us," Cybelle urged.

As the group left the Helix, they found a woman and the minister from the funeral-Father Richard-waiting for them.

"April? Father Richard?" Karen asked.

"Karen! Is Dave with you?" April wondered, embracing her friend.

"Yeah, I'm here," Dave told her, holding his head and gritting his teeth.

Father Richard studied his face and asked, "Are you all right?"

Dave looked up to the night sky. He could hear something-a sound, almost like a siren dirge coming from the east. "No...Ah...I'm not."

"What is it?" Emma asked, rubbing his shoulder.

Deirdre heard the sound. "Auntie?"

"She's calling to your father...or rather, the Child," the high priestess stated. "I feel it too."

"It's more like irritating us both," he corrected savagely. "Come on, let's get to your house, April."

"Sure," she agreed. "This way."

"Jesse, you and Brennan stay with the Double Helix. The rest of us will go with the others," Adam instructed.

With that, they all walked across the grass to a medium-sized house just touching the edge of the square.

"Please come in," April invited. "My parents are in New Haven with my aunt, but wish you luck. Sam, I'm back!"

Sam staggered wearily through the door, but managed a smile. "Dave, Karen, thank God...."

Xena caught him just before he hit the floor. "I got you. You're okay."

"Thanks. know, I'm sorry...I doubted you while we were at APRHS together," Sam apologized.

"It's okay," the medievalist assured his classmate, helping the latter to the couch. "What happened?"

The man took a sip of tea as he settled onto the couch. "Well...I was getting out of work in Ware at four as always. I started up Route 32 out of town and about five miles east of where your creepy joint is, Dave, the sky turned dark. Then I see this stream of cars pouring onto the road ahead of me at breakneck speed. By now, I'm wondering what's going on. So, I turn left and head toward Rowenshire. There, this glowing woman's pointing at the general store and it starts to burn. She's laughing manically. As she saw me, I tried to pull away but this big black thing got in my path. It scorched the side of my car, but I got out of there. Dave, is that the witch?"

"That's her all right," the historian agreed. "As for your black thing, was it eight feet tall with horns, a tail, and covered with fire?" Seeing the injured man nod vigorously, he continued, "It's her sidekick. Most witches use an animal. Lichtenfeld has a pet demon."

"You know that thing?" Sam gasped.

"That thing used to torment us as children," Cybelle stated. "Dave survived several encounters with it."

["And we wanna crack at it!" the Child claimed.]

You'll get it; don't worry, Dave advised his counterpart. Chill out.

"I'm guessing that you just don't walk in and take on a demon and a witch at the same time. So now what?" Jesse wondered.

"We may have to...or lure it out first," Dave noted, looking at the other with a sinister expression.

"Utter foolishness," LaCroix criticized.

"And you have a better plan, I suppose?" Nick interjected.

"Besides, none of you except for Cybelle and Clark, has felt dark fire. That thing is made from it," Dave explained. "I'm used to it. Besides the Child and I both owe it and that harpy."

"I'm invulnerable. I should take a stab at it," Clark urged.

"Not to that stuff, you aren't. You have a soul, so you're vulnerable. However, when the time comes, I'll need help to get it into position. We'll drop it in the reservoir and put it out," Dave argued. "That'll take a team effort and we'll do it tomorrow night. Right now, it's coming on for 5:00 and we're due for sunrise. April, can we sack out here for today?"

"Sure. I was going to suggest that," April agreed.

"Meantime, Deirdre, you and I need to get back to Althanor and prepare," Cybelle said.

"Okay. See you tonight, Papa. Feel better. Bye, everyone!" Deirdre agreed, opening a portal and jumping through it.

"You heard your daughter, Dave. I'll be by later," his sister advised, giving him a hug. To the others, she instructed, "Watch him." With that, she vanished into the fading mists.

"And I'd like to talk some more with Brother Tony," Father Richard commented before leaving with the other clergyman.

April shook her head as she showed the others to their rooms. It's been a long night and tonight will be just as bad.



[Faerie Realms]

The Faerie Empress walked away from the view crystal, considering how to nudge the party onward in a positive manner. In particular, David now feels the weight of his past. Will he own up to the challenge? Can he deal with Lichtenfeld and her demon? Feeling a presence, she turned to find Grimwilkin standing there. "Grimwilkin! What may I do for you?"

"My lady," the wizard expressed as he bowed slightly. "I have seen the events unfolding in the Outer World."

"We cannot intervene," she replied flatly. "I guess that Ferali wishes to, but this is David's battle. I will not risk that sorceress's evil coming into these realms."

"I see," he said, an air of glumness hanging over his elderly features.

"Still, be ready. If David and his allies fall, we will need to step in," she asserted. "As a last resort."

He nodded and bowed again before departing. She's right. This is David's battle to win or lose. Still, I do wish that we could do more for him.



Inside of the Double Helix, Mutant X slept uneasily for the most part, their dreams haunted by their friend's concerns.

About 8 AM, Emma gave up trying to rest and sat up. There's so much tension and anger in the air. How can anyone stand this? She rubbed her head, trying to shut out all of the negativity.

"Hey," Adam said, rubbing her shoulder with concern.

"Yes?" she sighed dejectedly.

"How are you doing?" he asked.

"Not good. There are so many bad feelings around us. I've tried to shut them out, but I can't," she explained. "I hope Martin's helping Lana with it."

"I'm sure he and Clark are standing by her," he assured her. "I'm still concerned about Dave though. Can you tell how he stands in terms of the Other?"

"The Child is active inside of him, Adam, but they aren't fighting each other. Believe it or not, I'm sensing concern and indignation from the Child persona. He's assumed the Protector role again. When we go to Rowenshire, that role will be tested. It will be the Child who confronts the witch. How big an influence Dave has on him will determine our success," she explained. "I think that's why Dave wants to move the fight out of here as soon as possible."

"So, his theory is true," he realized.

"I think so. From what I'm feeling, I can tell you that fighting her in Tucson will be different than fighting her here. And once we get to town, Dave will be fighting his feelings for the place as well. The memories are flowing through his mind. They're so overwhelming. The pain, Adam, I just can't believe the pain he's feeling."

He embraced her and sighed. This will be our hardest challenge yet. We have to win it. There's no choice.


[4:30 PM]

Dave finally fell out of bed after tossing and turning for most of the day. The headache was worse now than it had been the night before. He threw his sweats on and walked down the hall to the bathroom, where he stared into the mirror.

The Child scowled back at him.

["Now what?" Dave wondered.]

["Not yer fault," the Other stated. "Ya'll hangin' in there?"]

["Barely, but yeah, I guess."] He threw some water on his face.

[The reflection nodded, urging, "Go to the cem't'ry. Trust me."]

["All right," Dave agreed.] He walked back to the room where he changed into his jeans, leaving the sweatshirt on and throwing on his windbreaker.

As he headed down the front stairs, April called to him, "Dave, you're finally awake."

"Yeah...I guess," he muttered, rubbing his head. "It still hurts though."

"From what Karen told me, I can imagine. The others are up and in the back. Want to join us?" she invited.

"Later. Right now, I need to make a stop at the cemetery," he stated, waving his hand and opening the portal.

"Should you be doing that stuff with everything else going on?" she asked.

"Why not? She knows we're here, April. Anyhow, I'll be back," he told her, disappearing into the mists.

He hasn't changed. He still feels like he has to carry the world on his shoulders. Dave, when will you realize that it isn't just your fight?


Meantime, the other companions sat in the covered gazebo, munching on some sandwiches and trying to compose their thoughts.

"When is Professor Dubois going to join us?" Clark wondered.

"He's not," Martin stated. "He just left the house." Listening to the air for a second, he added, "He still has much to deal with."

"How can we plan anything if he doesn't talk to us?" Brennan complained.

Nick looked to the dark skies. It's not even 5:00 and already it's pitch black. This will be a long night indeed.

"Just as well. If he wishes to pout, let him," LaCroix chided.

Xena drew her sword, holding the point in front of his face. "You, shut up. Keep pushin' us and I'll deal with you myself!"

"Xena, Lucius, stop it!" Gabrielle interceded.

"If you could feel the pain, you'd understand," Lana pointed out, rubbing her head. Although she had taken aspirin throughout the day, she still felt the pressure from the environment. In addition, she felt as if the negativity were soaking into her.

Before he could intercede, Nick felt a familiar presence with them. He looked into the yard to see a woman in white armor standing there and recognized her immediately. "Lana, look."

When she did so, the teenager couldn't believe her eyes. "The witch, here?"

"No," Martin replied, assuring them. "She has no negativity to speak of."

"Nor would she, but what is she doing here?" the former Crusader asked, walking out the screen door. As he approached her, he asked, "Jeanne d'Arc?"

"Yes, Nicolas," the angel replied with a firm smile and a determined look in her eyes. "I have been sent to reassure you and David. Now come, we must help your friend. Fly to the cemetery."

"Excuse me, Ma 'am," Lana inquired. "How did you get here?"

Jeanne smiled. "As I said, I was sent. My presence was directly requested by his grandfather and...the Dark One himself."

"The Child sought you out?" Emma asked. Why would he do that?

"Yes. He came to us, wanting to stop David's pain. For him to do so, the situation has become dire indeed," the Maid agreed, disappearing into the air. "Come, Nicolas."

Nick reassured the others, "I'll be right back." With that, he took off heading toward the cemetery.


Dave stepped out of the portal by the entrance to the cemetery. It's so eerily quiet here. I wonder why? He morosely made his way through the rows of stones and markers until he stood in front of his family's combined stone. "Hi, everyone," he told them, dusting off the area. "Well, you know why I'm here. The time we knew would come has come. Sometime tonight, Cybbie, Karen and I will be leading the troops back to that hellish place again. I promise you-I will stand up to the pain, I will do you proud. And I will clean up Dad's mess once and for all."

The wind blew stiffly through the necropolis, sending shivers up and down his spine and ripples of resentment through him.

"Am I to be alone then? Will you all refuse to stand by me?" he bellowed, the tears falling from his cheeks. "Why is to me that this task falls? WHY?? CAN'T I EVER JUST LIVE IN PEACE?"

Then he felt a cold empty spot beside him. "Nick, I wanted to think, all right?"

The former detective shrugged. "I know, but there was somebody who wanted to talk with you."

"Who?" Dave asked incredulously. Seeing the angel appear, he stared at her.

Jeanne smiled. "Do you remember me, David? Think back to your childhood again."

The medievalist did so. Then he remembered. On the night after his grandfather's death, a woman illuminated in light intervened, stopping Lichtenfeld's familiar from beating on him and his sister. He fell to his knees in amazement. "You're the angel who saved us."

"I was sent to guide you. You, David, saved yourself and your siblings. You've always been strong. You cannot falter now. Rise," the Maid commanded.

He slowly got up on his feet and looked her in the eye. "Thank you. But how did you know? Nick, did you?"

"No. I didn't. You won't believe who did," Nick indicated.

"Ah did," the Child noted, appearing as the dark image in front of the trio. "Ya'll needed help. Ah asked fer a truce. Ah won't let ya chicken out like this! We gotta do it! Together!" He considered the angelic woman. "Ah still don't like ya, but if ya can help 'im, thanks."

Jeanne pondered the statement. Take it as a compliment. For him, that's about as good as it'll get. She nodded, accepting the Child's words for the moment. "Now you need to rejoin your friends. The witch strikes out yet again and we need to stop her." She held up her hand and a sword appeared in it. "For the tasks you've endured and will undergo, this is for you."

Dave's eyes grew wide and he stammered nervously, "I...I...Thank you...But I'm not worthy of this."

She advised, "You are certainly worthy. Now, stand up for others even as you stand up for yourself. Remember, fight alongside your allies. Alone, you cannot win. With them, you will all triumph."

"I shall," Dave accepted. "Thank you all. Coming, Nick?" He opened another portal. After his friend stepped through, he followed but not before giving the angel one last smile of gratitude.

You have the strength within you, David. Just use it, she thought before fading into the gloom.


A minute later, the duo stepped back into the McKenzie living room. The air still hung heavily about them.

Dave, however, felt more confident about himself than he had earlier. While the high pitch in the air still bothered him, he was able to focus on the task at hand. Let's get this over with.

Brother Tony looked up from where he was reading in the corner. "You're both back! Praise be! We were worried."

"I needed to meditate a bit before we left. My head's a little clearer now," the medievalist assured him. "And a few words from an old friend helped as well."

"We had a miraculous visitor here," the minister told him.

"Jeanne d'Arc. Yes, she came to the cemetery as well. After one of her motivational speeches, I'm ready to take on the world such as it is," Dave replied.

"She has that effect on people," Nick agreed, rubbing his friend's shoulder.

He started to reply but felt something else coming from Rowenshire. "Geez!" he winced, hurrying to where he sensed the others. Arriving there, he looked around. "Any demon figures around?"

"Hello to you too, Dave," April teased. "Where have you been?"

"Dealing with personal issues," he told the hostess.

"Not here but close by," Martin stated.

"The emotional pain level's rising as well," Emma reported, "from east of here."

"I'll second that," Lana agreed. "Are you all right, Professor?"

"All things considered, Lana, I'm okay," he replied. "Are we set to move?"

"Give the word," Xena stated grimly. "By the way, nice sword. Where did you get it?"

"The angel gave it to me. I can't believe it's her sword!" the medievalist told her, a grin on his face.

"You did kill Dijon, you know," Nick suggested. "I think that might have something to do with it...."

At that moment, they all heard a wicked chorus within their minds.

First, a loud headache-causing bestial roar echoed through their heads.

Then, they heard a sharp laughter....

Finally, they picked up on the familiar banshee wail coming from the Child.

Dave took a deep breath. "The Child just answered the RSVP. Let's move it!"

Karen stood up and thought. This is it. "We'll be back, April."

April nodded, calling, "Good luck, everyone! Put a stop to it!"

"Lord willing," Brother Tony commented.

"And Eli," Eve added as they hustled out the door.


Minutes later, the group had assumed their places on board the Double Helix.

"Let's go!" Adam commanded.

Brennan punched some buttons sending the craft streaking eastward.

Here goes nothing, Dave thought as they watched Amherst disappear behind them and looked ahead to the darkness. In his hands, he ran his fingers over the flat of the shiny sword blade. May I do justice to this sword in the battle ahead.

Whatever happened next would change everything.

THE END (for now)

(**I wanted to break things here to give everyone a break before launching into Part II-which is "The Dark Wood" (working title). That one will be coming soon! Stay tuned!**)

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