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The artist leaned over her drawing pad and frowned irritably. She wasn't upset with the drawing. No, the sketch was good. It was rough, granted, but the perspective was right. There was Loch Ness, somebody's pleasure yacht cruised in from the right of the paper, and the castle was just left of center on its rocky perch. The trees lining the loch's banks were just a whisper of a line, but enough that she could mentally fill in the rest.
With a sigh, she sat up and studied the real thing. In just seven days she was to hand over this drawing along with the others of the other Lochs. This was the second time she had restarted this drawing. Her editor was already chaffing about how long it was taking to produce the book on Scotland's Lochs and her drawing were all that was left to complete the book. The publishers were hoping that her name, her pseudonym actually, was well known enough to sell books.
She was Phoenix Dumas now. Phoenix for the bird that rose from its own ashes and Dumas . . . well, she had always liked the book, The Three Musketeers.
She had risen from her own proverbial ashes, changed her name from Michelle to Phoenix, cut her ties to the past to become one of the youngest, most successful, living artists in Europe. One of the most mysterious her agent/ promoter complained. She refused to attend her own openings and refused to allow her picture to be taken. Her patrons and biggest fans didn't even know whether Phoenix Dumas was male or female. And that was how she wanted it.
She shifted uncomfortably, put her hand over her mouth, and swallowed the bile that was trying to rise up the back of her throat. The person who named this feeling morning sickness must have been a man. She glanced at her watch. 3pm! Most definitely a man. Only a man would give something as distressing as this a name as if expecting it to disappear as soon as noon appeared.
She glanced down at her abdomen, still flat, but did she imagine a slight bulge. Only two months. Seven months left to go of bloating, discomfort, swollen feet, pain with a capital P. All because of a week long love affair.
Phoenix smiled at the memory. Brief, but oh so intense. That's what happened when two artists get together. They either kill one another or . . . she patted her abdomen. "Poor little one," she murmured. "The bastard child of a bastard child. Well, I promise not to do to you like my father did to me. No Legacy." Of course that meant no family, she thought. None of the extra support that a family could give.
"Owww!" she gasped as she pressed her hands to her temples. Her eyes rolled up, then her eyelids closed. She automatically flipped the page in her drawing pad, picked up her pencil, and began drawing in quick, hard strokes.
One drawing finished, she flipped the page and drew another, then another. Her pace was furious until she had covered all the pages in her pad, then she sat with her hands limply clasped on the last picture.
The trance left her and she blinked several times to reorient herself. Slowly she looked through her drawings.
They were dark, violent. The main subject throughout the drawings was a young girl. The drawings seemed to follow a progression to the last one of terror almost seen, a lurking menace. The last drawing stopped her breath and chilled her. Looming over the child was a face she still saw in nightmares. It was the Thing that had destroyed her life ten years ago. It was the Demon.
She flipped back to the very first picture, the only one that expressed innocence. The child was sitting on the floor in a well lit room, big windows, comfortable chairs, baby grand piano in the corner. She knew that room, probably better than most people. Phoenix as Michelle took her first baby steps in that room, scratched her initials on the underside of that piano, and owed a scar on her knee to that table the young girl was seated behind and staring so intently at some book.
Phoenix stiffly stood and shook out her arms and legs. It made no difference that she was only twenty-six. The cold Scottish countryside still seeped into her joints. She quickly collected all her things and hurried to her car that was parked off the one and a half lane road.
She had a long drive ahead of her. First she would drop her drawings at the Post in Inverness and have them expressed to San Francisco, then she would have to hurry to Edinburgh to catch the first flight to the States. There was a piece of her past that was long overdue to be rectified.
Kat sat at the coffee table in the music room. There was a book of drawings open on the table before her, but she wasn't looking at the book. Instead her eyes were closed and she had her right ear almost pressed to the page. She was intensely concentrating.
Rachel and Nick entered the room. She was discussing some research they were doing together, but she stopped mid-sentence when she saw her daughter.
"Kat," Rachel said curiously. "Kat, dear, what are you doing?"
The girl slowly put her finger to her lips and made a soft, "sshh". She didn't loose either her pose or concentration.
Rachel looked at Nick, who shrugged and moved over to the table to see what book kept the child's attention so thoroughly.
"Kat, do you feel all right?" Rachel asked worriedly. It wasn't like her daughter to "sshh" her mother.
"Listening to the story," Kat murmured. "If you're real quiet and listen real hard, you can hear what they're saying." Kat looked up at the adults.
Rachel smiled indulgently. "And what are they saying?"
Before Kat could answer, Nick asked, "Where'd you find Micky's book, Kat?"
The girl looked up at Nick. "In the library. There were a few others there, too."
"May I see it?" Rachel asked as she bent down to look at the book. Her daughter handed it to her.
Rachel flipped through the pages which consisted of drawing after drawing. In fact, the whole book was only drawings. Pen and ink drawings that were washed in watercolors to add color to the images.
The title on the cover read 'The Musketeers and the Secret Cave' by Mikey. The artist had drawn four children dressed as the famed defenders of the French throne as they had an adventure through a dark cave, fighting imaginary monsters, and finding a treasure chest filled with gold at the end.
"This Mikey is very talented, but this isn't the sort of book I'd expect in the library. It's not . . . esoteric enough," Rachel said as she looked up at Nick.
Nick gave Rachel his boyish half-grin that said he knew something she didn't. "Esoteric describes Mikey in a nutshell. You know the term 'military brat'," Rachel nodded, "Well, you might say Mikey was the official documentor of us Legacy brats. That's her."
Nick put his finger on the drawing of a young blond-haired girl with aquiline features and piercingly blue eyes. Rachel found it a little disconcerting that the drawing seemed to be looking directly at her.
"Who are the other children, the two boys and the other girl?" Rachel asked.
Nick looked at Rachel in mock consternation. "Don't tell me you don't recognize those boyish good looks," he said pointing to one of the boys.
"Let me see," Kat said, standing and peeking over the book's edge.
"You?" Rachel asked in surprise. Nick nodded. "So which musketeer were you?" Nick grinned, then Rachel chuckled. "Let me guess, you had to be d'Artangion, right? The musketeer that always ran head first into danger."
"One for all and all follow behind Nick," the man answered. "Philip, who spent one summer here way back when, said it was safer that way." Nick put his finger on the other boy's picture.
"You were cute as boys. Who's the last girl?" Rachel asked.
"I'm still cute . . . That's Julia," he said with a frown. "Well, there we were, the four musketeers."
"Were Mikey's parents members of the Legacy?"
Nick nodded. "Her dad was. Her mom ran off after she was born leaving her with her dad. She grew up in this house . . . the youngest legacy member, so to speak."
"Where's she now?" Rachel asked.
Nick shrugged. "Don't know. She left a long time ago. Look, I'll see you later. We'll go over that research then." Nick left the room.
Rachel stared after Nick as he beat a hasty retreat. She wondered who Mikey was and why her memory made Nick uncomfortable.
"May I have the book back?" Kat asked.
"Sure, hon. Here." Rachel handed the book back to her daughter and kissed the top of her head.
Rachel brought in the mail as she entered the house. A patient at the hospital had kept her longer than she had allotted time for and now she was late for the Monday morning meeting that Derek had scheduled. She mentally shrugged. Derek would just have to deal with it. She still had to do her other job.
"Good morning," Rachel said as she entered the room and saw the rest of the team seated around the table.
Alex and Nick said "Good Morning" while Derek added a, "We're glad you could make it".
"I had a bad case at the hospital," Rachel replied as an explanation as she took a seat at the table. She noticed Philip's chair was still conspicuously empty. The priest had spent more time away from the Legacy House lately than there. Even when he'd been physically at the house, his mind had been elsewhere.
"Here this came for you," Rachel said as she handed a long, thick envelope to Derek.
Derek took the envelope, curiously looked at the return address - no name -, then opened the envelope. He pulled out a thick drawing pad.
"What is it?" Alex asked.
Derek opened the pad and slowly flipped through the pages. He looked at Rachel, worry creasing his forehead.
"Where's Kat today?" Derek asked.
"School . . . you know that," Rachel answered.
Nick leaned over to look at the book. "What's going on, Derek?"
Derek handed the pad to Nick, who quickly flipped through the drawings. He stared at Derek even as he passed the drawing pad over to Alex and Rachel.
"Is this some sick joke?!" Rachel demanded as she looked up from the last picture.
"You know who drew those," Nick said with the same intensity that he was staring at Derek.
"Rachel, are you sure that Kat is in school today?" Derek glared at Nick, then turned back to Rachel.
Rachel nodded. "She didn't want to miss school today. Her class is going on a field trip to the-"
"Museum," Derek interrupted as he stood and leaned over the table to flip the pages in the book until it showed the one with Kat studying the skeleton of some sort of prehistoric creature. "The Natural History Museum?"
"Yes," Rachel said slowly in disbelief. "But how . . . how could somebody know?!"
"Mikey," Nick said softly. "She'd know."
"I think we need to get to the museum," Derek said.
Nick stood. "I'll go warm up the chopper."
"But how . . . how does she know?" Rachel demanded.
Nick paused to look at Rachel. "She called it her curse. She drew what she saw to keep sane." He glanced at Derek. "But it didn't work, did it?"
Nick hurried from the room to go prep the helicopter. Derek sighed softly as he looked at Rachel. She saw old pain written in his eyes mingled with fresh worry on his face. Well, she was worried also.
Mikey had surreptitiously followed the school group as their tour guide led them through the museum. The memorized words the bored tour guide recited droned on incessantly in an unbreakable monotone.
Apparently she wasn't the only one who found the tour boring. The first escapee from the group was the young girl she had flown several thousand miles to find.
Mikey slowly followed the girl. Her good hardbacked drawing pad, the one with the strap attached, was slung over her right shoulder, and she unconsciously reached up to make sure her favorite pencil was still tucked behind her ear.
Her conscience pricked at her as she followed the girl. It started in whispers that it was unethical to use the child as bait, then got increasingly louder until it was screaming at her that her selfish actions were going to get the child killed.
The child was leaning over and reading the plaque that told about the fossilized skeleton of the creature behind it. Decision made, Mikey walked over and sat on the bench next to where the child was standing.
"Hi," the artist said. "My name's Michelle de Custine, but my friends call me Mikey."
The girl studied Mikey a moment. "I'm Katherine Corrigan, but almost everyone calls me Kat. Did you draw that book?"
For a moment Mikey looked perplexed, then she smiled. "You mean the one you were listening to in the music room, right?"
Kat nodded. "Yeah, how'd you know?" she asked in surprise.
Mikey smiled. "The same way you knew that I would know which book you meant. You have the gift to see things too, right?"
"I guess so," Kat said with a shrug.
Mikey gave a commiserating sigh. "I know what you mean. There aren't many people that you can talk to about it. They either patronize you or they won't listen. Does that happen to you to?"
Kat nodded as she sat on the bench next to Mikey and started to tell her of some of the things that she had seen lately.
Mikey listened, emphasizing with the child. Kat enjoyed having a grownup finally understand her.
"Well, Kat," Mikey said. "We sort of have a problem."
"What?" the young girl asked.
Mikey pulled her drawing book onto her lap and leaned her elbows on it. "I thought about not telling you or even of not letting you know I was here. Years ago my dad did that to me and he got killed. I blamed myself. I thought I'd give you the option of knowing that something scary was about to happen."
Kat swallowed, feeling both scared and excited. This wasn't turning out to be a boring field trip after all. "What's going to happen?"
Mikey seriously regarded the girl. "Do you really want to know . . . even if it will give you nightmares?"
Kat hesitantly nodded. "Yes."
"I think the Legacy House has its own demon and that demon likes to prey on gifted children around your age. I think it has chosen today to try to come get you," Mikey said softly.
Kat's eyes got wide and she started to stand, but Mikey gently touched her arm. "Wait, please. It's not all bad. Help should be coming and I would bet your mother is coming too. . . And you have me."
"Nick and Derek?" Kat asked.
Mikey briefly closed her eyes in concentration, then opened them and nodded. "I have the feeling they will be here soon. In the meantime, we could walk around and see the museum. At the first sign of trouble I want you to head for the front exit. All right?"
"What are you going to do?" Kat asked.
Mikey stood and slung the book strap over her shoulder. She checked her pencil. "I'm going to do what I should have done years ago. I can't do it alone, though."
"I'll help," Kat volunteered as she stood.
Mikey put her hand on Kat's shoulder. "I know you will, Kat."
"Can I be a musketeer?"
Mikey laughed and the sound was almost foreign. It had been a long time since she had laughed.
"You will be the best musketeer," Mikey said faking a French accent. "We will title it, 'The Musketeers Defeat the Museum Demon', oui?"
Kat nodded. "By Mikey and Kat!"
"But, of course," Mikey said. "Come on, I've seen these bones. Let's go look at something interesting."
The two wandered the museum, Kat dragging Mikey from exhibit to exhibit. Despite the constant feeling of eminent danger, Mikey was enjoying herself. She touched her abdomen and considered that having a child might actually be fun.
Kat held Mikey's hand and drug her toward the giant butterfly exhibit. A man standing before the glass case turned to face them. He smiled at Kat, then held out his arms to her.
"Hi, sweetheart. Come here," he said.
"Daddy!" Kat cried and started to run to the man.
Mikey tightened her grip on the child's hand and pulled her back. She dropped to one knee beside Kat.
"Kat, think! This can't be your father! This is the same thing that happened to me when I was about your age," Mikey said.
"Let me go," Kat cried as she tried to jerk her hand loose.
"Where is your father now? Tell me Kat!" Mikey demanded.
"He's here! He's come back!"
The man took a step toward the pair. "Kat, come to me."
"Kat! Look, really look, use your gifts! Tell me what you see," Mikey ordered.
Kat looked at the man that looked like her father, then frowned. She stopped trying to pull her hand free from Mikey's grip. The artist took her pencil from behind her ear and opened her drawing book to a blank page. She hastily drew a circle, dividing her attention between the girl, demon, and paper.
"I see masks," Kat said softly, fearfully.
"Kat, honey," the demon pleaded as he held his arms out.
"Good," Mikey said. "Now is the time to run for the exit. If you see Derek, could you please send him back here. Go now, my musketeer. GO!"
Kat took off running, not looking back. Mikey slowly smiled as she looked up at the demon. There was no humor in her smile, but satisfaction.
"Katherine!" the demon called plaintively, then he focused his gaze on Mikey. His features shifted into an exact copy of Mikey's long dead father.
"Nice try, demon," Mikey said as she continued her sketch. Her circle was connected and she was putting ancient Arabic symbols at the cardinal points.
"Mikey, my dear, you know this is as hopeless now as it was then," the demon said persuasively as he took another step forward.
"Hopeless," the demon whispered. "Hopeless."
Mikey bit her lip and groaned as despair hit her in waves. Her pencil wavered. Her strokes less sure.
Kat ran through the museum. Just as she reached the front entrance one of the museum guards stepped in front of her, stopping her.
"Whoa there, young lady. What's the hurry? Did you miss your bus?" he asked.
Just then Kat saw her mother come through the door followed by Derek, Nick, and Alex.
"Mom!" Kat cried as she ducked around the guard and ran to her mother.
Rachel dropped to her knees and hugged her daughter. "Kat, what's wrong?! Are you all right?"
"There was this man. He looked like Daddy, but Mikey said he was a demon," Kat blurted.
"Mikey's here?!" Nick asked crouching beside mother and daughter. "Where, Kat?!"
Kat pointed over her shoulder. "Back near the butterflies-"
Nick jumped to his feet and would have started in the direction Kat had indicated, but Derek held out his hand.
"Wait, Nick," Derek ordered.
"Mikey needs our help," Nick argued.
"I know. Rachel, you stay here with Kat. Alex, we'll need a little privacy," Derek said.
"I'll keep the people away," Alex answered.
Derek looked at Nick. The former navy seal was almost vibrating with pent-up energy.
"All right. Let's go," Derek said.
Nick took off at a jog with Derek barely keeping up. As they neared the area Kat had said a faint breeze brushed their faces and ruffled their hair.
Derek gagged at the stench carried by the wind. Nick put his left hand over his nose and mouth. It smelled like a field of decaying corpses.
They found Mikey crouched over her drawing pad, valiantly trying to finish her sketch. Blood dripped from her lower lip from where she had bitten it. The demon, his appearance now horrific, hovered over the beleaguered artist.
"Get away from her," Nick shouted and rushed the demon.
"Nick!" Derek cried.
Nick missed grabbing the demon, he wasn't sure how, and his momentum took him past Mikey. Nick spun around looking for the creature. He looked at Derek who was also looking around in confusion.
Mikey sighed as the pressure lessened in her mind. She recited what she had written around her circle, then drew another circle around the first and began the process again.
Something large and black hit Derek in the back. Derek grappled with the demon and was flung hard enough against one of the supporting pillars that the air rushed from his lungs.
Derek vaguely heard Nick's voice as the black cloud threatened to either smother him or crush the life from him.
Nick tried to grasp hold of the thing that was enveloping Derek. It was too slippery to get a grip on and he was afraid to shoot it. He would probably only get Derek in the crossfire. Nick glanced over his shoulder.
"Mikey, if you were planning on doing something . . . NOW would be a good time," Nick hissed.
The woman raised her head to look at Nick, but from the vague look in her eyes, he wasn't sure she really saw him. Slowly she stood and walked over to where Nick knelt beside the cocooned Derek.
With a twist of her wrist, she tore the page from her pad and dropped the book. She held the paper over the black-grayish cocoon mass and began reciting in Arabic.
Nick saw the paper held three circles, one inside the other, interconnected by a complicated spiderweb of lines, symbols, and writing. The picture seemed to pulse as Mikey recited and the putrid wind picked up until it was blowing at near gale strength.
The butterfly case was the first to topple. Mikey was thrown back, but Nick quickly jumped up and grabbed her, putting his arms around her waist to steady her.
"Keep going," Nick said over the roar of the wind.
She nodded as she raised her voice. The circles on the paper glowed brightly, then with a howl that shattered the glass in the remaining display cases around them, the demon released Derek and was sucked into the binding symbols on the paper.
Nick wondered in the abrupt silence whether he had gone deaf. Mikey groaned and sagged against Nick. He turned her around and worriedly stared at her. Mikey's eyes were closed, dark circles defined their outline.
"How's Derek?" she whispered hoarsely.
Nick helped her sit beside Derek, then checked the older man. Derek moaned and opened his eyes. He gasped for precious air. His chest felt on fire.
"Derek," Nick said worriedly. "How do you feel?" He put his arm behind Derek's shoulders and helped him sit.
"Compared to what?" Derek said coughing. He turned his head and looked at the woman sitting beside him. "It has been awhile. You grew up."
Mikey fought the urge to look away in shame. She knew she had hurt Derek when she had run away. He had been a second father to her. He was her godfather. Instead she nodded, "It happens. Thank you, Derek. I couldn't have fought this alone."
"Kat was in trouble," Derek countered.
Mikey chuckled as she put her hand on Nick's shoulder and stood. She walked over and retrieved her pad and pencil. She wearily drew the strap over her shoulder.
"You knew I wouldn't let anything harm Kat," Mikey answered. "I had two very good teachers who taught me to throw myself in the way of trouble, my father and you, Derek."
Derek nodded, acknowledging the compliment. "The demon might have gotten past you, though."
Mikey shook her head. "No. I was prepared to make the same sacrifice my father did. I was sure one of you would come armed for that contingency. Right?"
Derek glanced at Nick, then back at Mikey. She smiled and there was humor in her eyes. "Of course, Nick would. Like we always said 'it was safer to stand behind Nick than in front of him'. Now armed, ooohhh, doubly so." She nodded to the men and turned to leave.
"Wait!" Nick said, standing. "Where are you going?"
She turned back. "Nick, I left the Legacy years ago. You know the rules. I'll call you sometime. Oh, here. I really don't want this."
She held out the drawing that had bound the demon to Nick. He walked over and cautiously took it by the corner.
Nick looked at Derek. "We bend the rules for Philip. I don't see why this is any different."
Mikey kissed Nick on the cheek. "My protector. I'll talk to you later, Nick."
She was almost across the room, when Derek stood and cleared his throat. "Michelle, would you care to have dinner with us tonight at Luna House?"
She toned down her grin into an acceptable smile before she turned back. "I would like to, Derek. What time should I be there?"