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|by Lona J.|
London, midnight local time
Lydia dipped her scarf in the smelly water and wiped a trickle of blood from Phil's forehead. The fall on the stairs had knocked him out, but he was beginning to come around a little now. In the darkness she'd tripped, crashing into him, and the two of them had landed in an untidy heap at the foot of the stairs, the priest on the bottom. Christine would tell her off good for that one. "Always know where your feet are" was one of Chris's favorite training maxims. Oh, Chris! Would she ever see her sister again?
A single naked light bulb hung on a tattered cord and lit the narrow stone confines of Harrison's hideaway. About 10 feet away the little man himself bent over a PC, clicking keys with one hand, the revolver in the other, muttering to himself.
Just inches to the left of where Phil's head lay on the stone floor, swiftly moving water threatened to overflow a narrow channel of stone. The dark flood stank of the Thames. To Lydia's right an ancient stone wall rose. A few feet behind her the wall met the water.
She stood to ease her cramped calves. "Don't even think about it, my dear," Harrison said, quickly spinning to face her.
"I wasn't, Beverly," Lydia assured him.
Harrison scowled. "He told you, didn't he? Told you about Mums. Well, I'll fix him, I'll fix you all!" He stepped aside to reveal a CRT flashing in bold red letters "WAITING FOR SIGNAL".
"I've patched up an Internet link. We'll plug in Shakespeare here," Harrison said, hefting Philip's disguised camcorder, "and you two will be Must See TV at San Francisco House."
At Lydia's feet Phil moaned and started to roll on his side. She quickly bent to prevent a fall into a watery grave. "Now say 'cheese'," Harrison said and the CRT went live with a close up of Phil's bloody face just inches away from the dark, subterranean river.
Harrison's amplified voice rang over the computer's speakers, "Reading me there, are you? Hello, Frisco, hello! London calling."
Harrison waited for a response, the microphone in one hand, gun in the other. Nothing. Seconds ticked away.
"Tap twice if you can hear me. Do something!" No response. "Bloody idiots."
A burst of unintelligible speech came back this time. Another burst. A bandaged male face replaced Philip's on the computer screen. A steady man's voice accented by guttural Dutch vowels said, "This is Derek Rayne. Who is this?"
'Will you walk
into my parlour?' said a spider to a fly:
The north end of Angel Island, 4 p.m. local time
"Don't move," Zoll whispered. Moddul and Raizo remained frozen, feet on their shovels, as the rest of the basilisk slid by, its sickly green length crunching a groove into the rocky beach. The head had been the worst part, the long black tongue flicking over them, smelling, tasting, the bared venomous fangs dripping sea water. Then the pointed head, the unwinking eyes swung away and it slithered endlessly out of the Bay and up the beach. Weaving its way in and out among the oak trees, like a garter snake in the grass, it headed toward the center of the island and Rayne's fortress castle.
To be allied with such a creature! Surely their souls were damned to hell. The three looked at each other. Hellbound or not, $100,000 would make them very happy here on Earth. Two shovels bit in again, not too far to go now. Keeping his eye on the last of the basilisk, with one foot Zoll unrolled the thick bundle of cable cutting tools, automatic weapons and infrared goggles. Fortunately, modern castles require electricity. He glanced at the darkening sky. It would be full night very soon. Then Angel Island would take a little side trip into the Dark Ages.
He's a pretender
Same time, the Castle on Angel Island
The four of them huddled tightly around the control room's Internet node, Derek at the microphone. Out of range of the mini-cam, Alex talked quietly into a phone, ready to feed information to the now wide-awake London House. Nick and Rachel stood behind Derek's chair.
On the computer screen, Philip rolled his head. His eyes twitched. Nick sighed and licked dry lips. His drinking buddy lived . . . the camcorder image had been so still, Nick had feared the worst. A woman's blonde head bent close to Philip. Someone else's shadow darkened the left corner of the screen. Three people: two hostages, one hostage taker. Stone work barely visible around the edges of the image hinted at an underground location. Off-mike, moving water murmured.
"Just thought you might want to watch our little show," the captor's said voice.
Devalue the hostages. Don't focus on them. Try to build a relationship with the hostage taker. Phrases from Rachel's quick lecture rolled around in Derek's mind. Sweat rolled down his face. "Thanks for the opportunity, Mr. Uh . . ., what did you say your name was?"
"I didn't, Rayne. Don't try to trick me."
"Well, you have me at a disadvantage. You know me and I don't know you," Derek flicked off the microphone switch and turned his head so his face was off camera. "That voice! I know that man. I've met him. Alex, ask London House for a list of members and household staff." Rachel stood behind Derek, torn between anxiety for Philip and concern over Derek's already fragile health. Her fingertips dug into his shoulders. He reached up and patted her hand. "More advice, counselor?" he asked.
"You're doing fine," Rachel replied. Derek flicked the microphone back on, "What kind of show did you have in mind?" Nick made an exasperated sound. A preemptory wave of Derek's hand silenced him.
The captor had not responded. On screen Philip sat up, holding his head. The camcorder's auto focus broadened the view. Behind Philip dark water ran through a stone tunnel, and next to him knelt an athletic blonde woman in a black jogging outfit.
Again Derek tried to get the captor to respond. "Hello? You're not tired of talking, are you?"
Philip's head jerked up at the sound of Derek's voice. His eyes tracked someone moving off camera.
"Not yet, Rayne!" Off-mike the captor's voice was thin and hard to understand. Without warning a bright flash threw the camcorder's light meter off. They heard faint whirring sounds. Their computer screen turned a blank white that slowly became a fresh Polaroid still of the blonde woman sponging Philip's head.
Out of camera range Alex handed Derek a one page London House roster. Into the computer microphone, Derek said, "This is not very interesting. I want to know what you have in mind, Mr. Uh . . .," Derek's eye's traveled down the list in his hand, "Mr. Uh. . . Mr. Harrison, isn't it? Yes, Beverly Harrison. I remember you now. Your mother sold out to the dark side twenty years ago. First precept to corrupt the Mother House, took half the members with her. I remember the scandal."
"She did not!" a voice screamed and a pudgy man's face suddenly appeared on camera. "It was a misunderstanding! Mums just wanted to make sure the basilisk eggs didn't get in the wrong hands!"
"So she hid them."
"Yes, yes, hid them! And I have them now! I'll show you. You'll see." Chanting over and over, "Em ot Emoc," Harrison lit the Polaroid still with a match. He put his gun in the belt of his pants, and cupped one hand under the burning picture to catch the ashes. Behind Harrison, Miss Browning gathered herself for a spring.
The helpless members of the San Francisco Legacy House watched the drama unfold on their computer screen. The blonde woman tackled the little man hard, knocking his arm and forcing him to throw the ashes over himself. But she didn't bring him down. Harrison staggered and tried to yank the gun out of his belt. Philip joined the fray from behind. All three struggled for possession of the gun. Harrison managed to squeeze off a shot that ricocheted off the floor then hit the light fixture. The already dim image on the San Francisco computer screen went completely black. When the camcorder re-adjusted to the faint illumination still coming from Harrison's CRT, the San Francisco observers could see dark lumps rolling on the floor. There were loud sounds of water splashing off-mike.
Derek looked quickly at Alex. She shook her head, despair writ large on her gentle features. "They heard the gunshot, but can't tell where it came from, not yet," Alex reported
"Philip!" Nick yelled into the mike and brought his face just inches from the computer screen, trying to discern more detail in the nearly black image. He jerked back involuntarily. The image of an enormous snake's head filled the screen.
On the north beach of Angel Island, Zoll sliced through the phone cable. The phone in Alex's hands went dead, the Internet node lost carrier signal and their browser opened a "Call terminated. Do you wish to reconnect?" dialog box. The box lasted only another 30 seconds then Moddul severed the power cable. The control room shut down. Of the computers, only the virus-infected file server had a UPS and escaped. The last vestiges of dusk faded into night as the three Russians picked up their Uzis, slipped on infrared goggles and followed the basilisk's grooved path inland.
Harrison's London hideaway, about the same time.
The light in the tiny stone lined room brightened fractionally when the phones went down and a blank white screen replaced Derek's image on the monitor. But the basilisk needed little illumination. It went by smell, taste and vibration; sight only secondarily. The two souls offered it 6 months ago were now digested. It hungered, it needed to feed again. A summons had been made. The forked tongue tasted the air, the stones and all three living creatures that pummeled each other in the stone niche. Only one of the beings tasted of the ashes that summoning required. This must be the meal prepared for him. The basilisk hungered for it. Eagerly it sunk fangs through one tail of Harrison's tuxedo, the white waistcoat and into his soft body, injecting the deadly venom.
Desperately Harrison grasped Philip's leg, dragging the priest after him as the basilisk returned to the water. Lydia grabbed the back of Philip's jacket and stomped on Harrison's arm, heard the snap of a breaking bone. The little man's screams filled the air as Lydia pulled Philip back from the edge of the canal. Water splashed loudly. Harrison and his monster were gone.
Lydia sat down heavily on the wet pavement next to Philip. In the faint light of from the CRT they looked at each other. Philip smiled shakily and said, "That, lass, is as close as I ever want to come to immersion baptism. Let's get out of here." Holding on to each other for support, Lydia and Philip staggered to their feet and found the stairs up to the Mother House.
I didn't want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat. - Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
Outside the Castle on Angel Island, about the same time.
"I dunno, Mr. Rayne, sir,. The generator down at the dock works good and is all wired up to the Castle and everything, but it won't run nuthin' but a few one-tens. A cuppla computers, no more. Maybe Mr. Boyle should take some scuba gear and check out the underwater cables up at the north end. Power and phone going out at the same time seems kinda fishy to me." Derek, Nick and Rachel stood in the drive outside the Castle's front portico talking to Angel Island's head maintenance man, George Randall. Alex had stayed behind in the control room with a big flashlight and Derek's cellular, trying to reconnect with London with one hand and bring down the file server before the UPS gave out with the other.
Nick held his Glock automatic with two sweaty hands, and continually scanned the night for movement. With shoulders hunched against the chill and chattering teeth, Rachel tried to cover the other direction.
In the intensely bright moonlight Derek's breath smoked and curled as he said, "Yes, good idea, but not til daylight, I think. Nick, go with George down to the dock and help him set up the generator."
"There's something or someone on the grounds, Derek," Nick said. "I picked it up on the monitors just before, before uh . . ." Anxiety about Philip stole the rest of Nick's words.
"Yes, I know," Derek answered. "That's why George needs you with him. Now hurry! The sooner we have light, the safer we'll be."
Re-holstering his pistol, Nick hopped into the passenger seat of George's converted beach buggy. They roared off down the hill to the dock, passed the helicopter and disappeared around the bend.
Derek turned to Rachel and said, "Get the household staff together. As soon as the generator's going, Nick will take all of you over to the mainland."
"All of us over to the mainland? Aren't you coming too?" Rachel asked.
Derek ignored the question. "And see if Alex has any news about Philip, will you? I'm going to look around, see if we have a prowler."
Rachel quickly squeezed Derek's arm. "Be careful."
"Always," he assured her.
She started back to the house, but had taken only a few steps when the quick stutter of automatic weapon fire startled her. She turned quickly. Derek still stood where she left him. More shots, but no muzzle flash, no bullet whine. They weren't shooting at Derek. Which could only mean George and Nick were under attack.
Derek yelled at Rachel, "Get in the house, now!" and started running down the road to the dock. The quick pop-pop of pistol shots encouraged him to take a short cut through the garden, past the duck pond. Pounding down the stone steps, he disappeared from Rachel's view.
Something large moved in the garden. A scaled reptile head appeared above the stone rail, but did not look at Rachel standing at the door of the Castle. No, it looked down at something or someone on the ground below. A forked tongue tasted the night. Swiftly it struck.
Die Tat ist alles, nichts der Ruhm. The deed is all, and not the glory. - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Hochgebirg.
Nick's stood with his back pressed into the moon shadow under a huge live oak. He held the Glock 9 millimeter against his chest, muzzle pointed up. Inside his jacket a rivulet of blood ran down his left upper arm and dripped off the elbow. The dune buggy smoked at the edge of the road, George's body still behind the wheel. Nick's ears strained. He'd seen two sets of muzzle flashes, one from about 10 feet to his right, and another deeper in the forest. A pistol had cracked a little later from still another location. Two, maybe three of them, he figured.
A dry rustle of leaves, a whisper of cloth on tree bark. Nick closed his eyes. If you can't see, don't use your eyes, he thought. Another faint sound. Nick pivoted to the sound, fired, jumped and rolled, landing on his injured left arm. He gasped soundlessly. Thrashing and agonized moaning testified to his marksmanship. Two bent over shadows broke cover, racing toward Nick's last position at the live oak. Nick's left arm refused to come up. Firing with his right hand only, he emptied the clip. Both shadows went down.
It was over. Nick bent over and quietly lost the contents of his stomach.
To kill a snake,
you must cut off its head. Never forget that, Derek.
"The griffin," Rachel said out loud. "This must be the griffin. How beautiful."
She ran over to the stone rail above the garden where the griffin, arising like a phoenix burning with moonlight, had appeared moments before.
What she saw below seemed more ballet than battle. The two combatants jumped, wove, tested. Basilisk's head swayed back and forth, in a cobra like dance. The griffin screamed, a harsh hawk sound, and tried to clamp its beak on the serpent body. The snake roiled and coiled, and knocked the griffin sideways.
"Derek! Derek, where are you?" Rachel shouted, looking down into the shadows below her. He had disappeared. At the sound of her voice, the griffin looked at her and made a sibilant sighing sound, "Ras-s-s-shel." Her hand flew to her mouth and she backed away.
"The griffin!" Nick had come up behind Rachel. His left arm hung limply. "Where did it come from? How did it get here from Kyrgyzstan?"
"It's Derek!" Rachel told him. "I don't know how, but it's Derek!"
"The griffin is Derek?" Alex said. Even inside she'd heard the commotion. She stood on Rachel's other side with an eight cell flashlight in her left hand and three sticks of dynamite in the right.
"You're hurt!" Alex exclaimed, and indicated Nick's injured arm.
"I'm OK," Nick said. He was looking at the helicopter a hundred or so feet away. "I'm going to distract it." Alex held up the dynamite sticks and a book of matches. Nick snagged them and gave her a peck on the cheek.
"Nick," Alex yelled after him as he ran to the chopper, "Philip's OK!" Nick threw her a grin and thumbs up over his shoulder.
Rachel ran after him, "Nick, Nick, wait up! I have an idea!"
Rachel and Nick hovered about 20 feet above the battle. Derek was loosing. The griffin was down on its knees in the duck pond, failing. In the helicopter's spotlight a bloody gash shone red. If the griffin collapsed here, Derek would drown. On the shore, the basilisk coiled in a pile like some huge rattlesnake. Nick glanced at Rachel. She nodded and he flipped on the chopper's loudspeaker. Derek's dream song, "Da-dum, te-dum, der-rum te-dum, de-la-a-la" blared over helicopter's thrum. Griffin ears pricked.
"I'm going to ram it! Get that dynamite ready!" Nick yelled at Rachel. "Those are 30 second fuses! Light 'em up then jump!" Rachel threw the lit dynamite on the cabin floor then jumped out the door and fell 10 feet into the duck pond below. Nick started the chopper forward, flipped on autopilot and holding his injured arm, followed Rachel into the night.
The basilisk's head swayed back and forth, pointed tongue flicking, its need overwhelming caution. Now! Now! Here stood the soul it hungered for! Now was the time to feed! It drew its head back for a final death strike.
The helicopter's rotating blade chopped into the coiled snake, spraying blood and basilisk over the beach and pond. A second later the dynamite blew.
Eight minutes later the basilisk's funeral pyre still burned as Alex tried to breathe life back into Nick. She'd found him floating face down and unconscious. He coughed, choked, spit up a mouthful of water. Panting for breath Alex rested, her head bowed, and smiled at Nick when his eyes opened.
A few yards down the beach Rachel cradled Derek. He put something in her hands. Christina's griffin amulet.
"In the mouth," Derek was saying. "You have to put this in the basilisk's mouth."
She kissed his forehead. "Derek, I don't think it has a mouth anymore."
"Listen to me! It can regenerate. Put this in its mouth." Derek tried to get up but collapsed, holding his side in agony.
Rachel took the amulet in her hand. "The mouth. OK, if I can find one. Be right back."
Above Alex and Nick reared the basilisk, a black skeleton of creature with flame for skin and hatred for eyes. Its mouth opened and a tongue of fire tested the night. "Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name," Rachel recited and threw the amulet into the fiery maw.
Slowly, almost resentfully, the basilisk of flame collapsed into a rope of ashes.
It isn't writing at all - it's typing. - Truman Capote, 1988
The Castle on Angel Island, New Year's Eve
Rachel caressed the ivory keys of the grand piano. They felt almost soft. Beneath her fingers, a Grieg's lyric piece formed, Opus 71, number 7, Remembrance. The melody, full of hesitations and slow turnings, wandered out the door to where Derek stood, a bottle of Napolean in one hand and two glasses in the other.
He and Rachel had not exchanged ten words this past week.
"Hi," he said, and set the brandy bottle on the piano's music desk. She stopped playing and looked at him pensively, but took the drink he offered.
"I have a favor to ask," he continued. He sat next to her on the bench. "Nick can't go with me to Kyrgyzstan. He's been subpoenaed. I was wondering if you would consider . . . You're really the one that killed the basilisk. And well, you should have the honor of presenting the rest of the eggs to Arrien."
"No, Derek," Rachel said, not looking at him. "I don't think so. I need to practice . . . the piano."
"Practice the piano?" Derek asked, his brow wrinkling in puzzlement.
"Yes, I think we could play a great duet, you and I, but I need to practice." He gently pulled her head up. Hazel eyes searched brown ones.
"I'll hold you to that," he said. "A duet. You and I. Soon."
"Soon," she responded.
As Derek walked out, Rachel played his dream song, "Da-dum, te-dum, der-rum te-dum, de-la-a-la." Derek smiled as he closed the door behind him.
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