An enigmatic enemy presents the Legacy with a mystery that may take a lifetime to untangle. Will it take a life as well?
O brave new world,
that hath such people in't!
I am myself, alone.
The package was sent through normal courier channels and delivered to the Luna Foundation early Saturday morning. Derek missed its delivery; he was out the door and halfway to the dock when the courier stepped off the main ferry. The two men passed on the road. Alex Moreau left the package, addressed to Dr. Rayne, Luna Foundation, Confidential, on his desk. If it had said Urgent, she would have opened it and, depending on its contents, called Derek on his cell phone. If she had picked up any sensation from holding it, she would have done the same. As it was, she turned it over in her hands several times before deciding it looked like legitimate Luna business. With a small grin, she dropped it on his desk; Derek could deal with this piece of bureaucracy himself.
So it was late Saturday night before Derek opened the package.
"Good night - oh, I almost forgot," Alex stuck her head back in the den. "You got a package this morning. It's on your desk."
"A package?" Derek looked up from the brandy he was pouring.
"Small, brown, addressed to the Luna Foundation," Alex said. She began to grin. "Looked like bureau-business to me. Have fun."
"Oh, thank you," Derek said sarcastically. "Good night." Alex laughed out loud at him and disappeared back down the hallway, heading for her room, a cup of hot tea and the CDs Rachel had given her earlier in the week. Derek smiled to himself. He hated paperwork, hated all the bureaucratic work of both the Luna and the Legacy, and Alex loved to tease him about having to do it.
In his office, he sat on the edge of the desk and held the package in his hands. The return address was a package and mail store in Seattle. He ripped open the plain brown paper. His eyebrows arched in surprise; the package was a square blue velvet box, the kind designed to hold necklace and earring sets. He opened the box. Inside, lying loose on the white satin, was a gold ring with a heavy insignia. Underneath it was a note.
"You're not going alone?" Nick said, half in challenge.
"Of course not." Derek nodded at the thing laying on the desk. "I don't want that happening to me."
Alex, still shaken, said, "I can't believe it's his. I looked right at him, I can't believe I didn't check for it."
"Alex, he was dead. You were in shock. It wasn't your fault." Derek leaned back in his chair. "I would not have thought to look for it. And its absence has never been mentioned in any Legacy bulletin."
"Still ," Alex started.
"Enough," Derek told her firmly.
On the desk lay the insignia Ring of a Legacy Precept. The small markings on the inside of the band marked it as the Ring of the Cairo Precept. Two years ago, when Derek had sent Alex to Paris to deliver a precious map to the man, Alex had found him dead at their rendezvous point. Derek had ordered her to flee immediately, taking no time to investigate; Victor Arkadi was in Paris and Derek was taking no chances with Alex's life.
"Enough is the problem at hand." He steepled his fingers and rested them against his lips and glowered at the Legacy Precept's Ring laying on his desk.
"Get on the database, " he said. "Confirm that this is the Cairo Precept's Ring. Find out everything about his death. We assumed it was Arkadi; I want to be sure. I can't imagine him returning this."
"Maybe he didn't?" Alex suggested. "Maybe someone else got hold of it and sent it back?"
"I can't see Victor Arkadi letting anyone 'get hold' of anything in his possession," Nick said.
"Neither can I," Derek agreed. "Hit the database, Alex, get me all the information you can on the Cairo murders, the Precept's murder in France, the items that were successfully shipped from the Cairo House after its demise and the items that went missing from its inventory."
Alex sighed. Derek looked up at her, eyebrows rising into what he had once overheard Rachel call The-Derek-Rayne-Do-You-Have-A-Problem-With-That?-Arch.
"I'm on it, I'm on it," she said hastily. "Nick's right though, you aren't going alone, right?"
"No, Nick and I will go together, early." Derek continued to glower at the ring. Nick leaned over, picked up the note and read it aloud, again.
At the bottom of the note was a phone number. "I don't want to walk in to his set up," Nick said. "Let's reschedule."
"Agreed," Derek said. "And track down the number."
"Of course," the ex-SEAL shook his head. "That seems odd somehow. The phrasing, I mean."
"It's very odd," Alex said. She stood up and stretched and added, "Maybe Rachel should take a look at this?"
"I intend to call her in," Derek said. "But this weekend she's at the seminar in Vancouver and she won't be back until tomorrow night."
"So get her read on it over the phone," Nick said. "By tomorrow night, we'll have met the guy already." And the question will be moot, his look implied.
"All right." Derek smiled, reaching for the phone. "Alex, wait. You may want to hear this."
It took several minutes to track Rachel down. Derek explained the significance of the Ring, read the note into the phone and asked for Rachel's input.
"Are you joking?" came the doctor's voice from the speaker. Nick grinned widely. "Derek, even if I were there, I'm not a handwriting expert."
"Nick was thinking there was something odd about the phrasing," Derek said. There was silence at the other end of the line; they could almost hear the gears shift in Rachel's mind.
"Read it to me again," she said. Derek complied. Silence, then a long breath released.
"No, I don't hear it," Rachel said. "It sounds awkward, yes, but that could mean - wait. Derek, do the lines run all the way across the page?"
"Okay," Rachel's voice warmed to the problem. Derek smiled; he could almost see her tucking the phone under her chin, her hands circling themselves as if playing with an invisible rubber band. It was the odd trick she did absently whenever she was thinking through a problem. "Describe the note to me. Is it written or printed?"
"Written," said Derek.
"Printed," said Nick.
"Both," said Alex.
Rachel breathed hard. "Okay, forget that until I get down there and can see it myself," she muttered. "How about this - does the writing start at the top of the page, or half way down?"
"About half way down," Derek said.
"It's centered on the note paper," Alex added.
"Centered. Hm. Well, do the lines start at the left edge and go all the way to the right?"
There was silence. Rachel said, "Read it to me again. Hm. Okay. It's awkward - no wait, the structure behind 'please advise' One more time, Derek."
Derek read into the phone, "I have something that belongs to you. I will be on the 4:00 ferry on Sunday. If this is inconvenient, please advise best method of return."
"And the note was written with half print, half writing. The lines are centered left to right, the whole passage centered top to bottom," Rachel mused. 'It's formal," she said, excitement making her voice husky. "Not awkward, formal. There was great difficulty taken in the passage over a very simple message."
"You lost me, Rachel," Derek admitted.
"Derek, this is a simple message. 'I'll meet you Sunday at 4:00 on the ferry to return your property unless you choose a different place.' But the wording in this message is very formal. 'If this is' instead of 'if it's', and 'I will' instead of 'I'll.' And 'please advise'? I would say this is someone who doesn't speak often or easily to others, who certainly doesn't write often either."
"Formal," Nick said quietly. "Doesn't tell us much."
"No," Rachel agreed. Her voice deflated. "Not what you need to know, anyway. Which I presume is - is the guy on the level, or not? I can't tell you that, not from this note."
"Thank you anyway, Rachel," Derek said. "It may be of more help after Alex does some digging in the lab."
"Do you want me to come back?" Rachel asked. "I've already given my lecture, there's nothing left I can't skip." Her voice said she knew the answer; Derek would not call her back when there didn't seem to be anything she could do to help.
"No. You're coming back tomorrow night, anyway. Enjoy what's left of the convention."
Rachel laughed. "Now that my lecture is over, I can do just that. But, guys, be careful, okay?"
"Don't worry, Rachel, the boss isn't going anywhere without me covering his back," Nick said into the speaker.
"But who'll cover yours?" The psychiatrist laughed and hung up, her words hanging oddly in the air for a moment after the phone went dead, like a ghost. Alex shivered.
"Something wrong?" Derek asked quietly. He, too, had felt an odd chill at hearing Rachel's words linger after the woman had hung up the phone.
"No." Alex headed for the door. "I'd best get started on that search."
"I'll help," Nick told her as he followed her out the door. A few minutes later he was back. Derek had not moved, staring at the note in his hand, the ring on his desk.
"Call Sloan," the younger man said.
"What?" Derek stared at him, stunned. Nick, telling him to call Sloan?
Nick grinned. "Yeah, I know. But do it. I really don't want to explain to Sloan how I let you die - especially when I knew there was a dead precept's ring already sitting on your desk."
"Okay," Nick said. "The contact number is an answering service based in Los Angeles. The account is listed under the name Rene Schaeffer. It was set up with cash and the address given is false; it's an abandoned warehouse. I left a message and the retrieval call came from a phone booth in west Hollywood."
"So nothing there."
"I can go down and check out the warehouse," Nick suggested.
"We'll do it tomorrow morning, before we leave. What message did you leave?"
"That we wouldn't meet on the ferry. Too easy to ambush, and there's all that water to dump a body into," the ex-SEAL said. "I said I'd call tomorrow with a different place; no reason to give him twenty four hours to move his ambush."
"Where are you going to go?" Alex asked.
"A spot in the National Park. I have a few contacts in the Forest Rangers. It'll be hard to set up an ambush."
Derek nodded. He trusted the ex-SEAL to cover all aspects of the coming meeting; his own mind was on the ring in his hand.
"Alex, did you get anything from this?" he asked her.
"Try again." He dropped it into her outstretched hand, watched her fingers close over the gold and her eyes close. Several minutes later she sighed and sat back, shaking her head.
"Nothing. No trace of the man, his murder, his murderer. Sorry, Derek."
Derek shook his head. "Don't be. What did you get from the forensic tests?"
"Residue, mostly. I was able to pull three distinct cellular swabs. Two are definitely human; I can't determine on the third. There just isn't enough material." She looked down at her computer. "The first one I pulled from inside the ring. It's human, and matches the Legacy DNA records for the Precept that wore this ring."
Derek looked up at her. "And the other two?"
Nick spoke up. "One swab matched a record on file from a nasty little run in with a test tube demon."
"Oh, god. There is another demon running around out there?"
"No. The second swab is also human, and matched blood samples we got after the demon beat the crap out of Victor Arkadi."
"Arkadi," Derek breathed softly. "So he was involved. What about the third? What is it?"
"I don't know. I lifted it from under the seal. It has human elements, but there are elements the computer can't match. Of course, it's not really enough material to do a full battery of tests on. But there is no match anywhere in the Legacy database for this material."
There was silence while the three considered this. Derek stirred finally. "Call Rachel," he said. "I want her to find a fax and look this data over. "
Alex nodded and reached for the phone.
"You think Victor is playing with test tubes again?" Nick said softly.
"I don't know. But I'm not walking into a trap, even with this," he tossed the ring on his palm, "as bait."
"I hear you boss. I'll have it covered."
"Rachel says to fax it over immediately and she'll take a look at it," Alex reported from the phone. "Derek, we should send this to the London House as well."
NO! "Not until we have a better idea what it is," Derek said. "Nick, let's head for the warehouse. Alex, call us when Rachel gets back to you."
"All right," Alex said. "Be careful; the warehouse could be a trap, too. He had to know we would track it down."
The warehouse was abandoned, as Nick had predicted. Derek stood in the center of the large, open building, watching the rising sun spark dust motes into fireflies.
"I put a trace on the ownership of this building," Nick said behind him. Derek turned. The younger man was staring up at the ceiling two stories above their heads. "The owner is clean, no traces to Arkadi or any Arkadi enterprise."
Derek nodded. He was watching the dust motes, floating through the air, lazy and loopy, with no particular purpose and no need to justify their existence. The sun turned them into tiny sparkles of flame, now dancing, now just drifting with a start he came to himself. Where did that come from? What the hell was I thinking?
"Derek?" Nick asked, concerned. Derek shook his head.
"I'm fine. I didn't See anything, I was just," just what? Just watching dust motes turn into tiny dancing flames. Derek took a deep breath.
"Have Alex dig deeper on this warehouse," he said. "There was something here."
"I'll call her right away. Are you gonna' be all right?" Which meant, are you all right to face this meeting?
"I'm fine," Derek said curtly. "Let's get out of here. Whatever was here is gone now. I want to talk to Rachel. And we might as well get a few hours sleep this morning."
"Did you call Sloan?" Nick asked as the Range Rover pulled away from the curb.
"Mmmph," Derek said.
"Derek, call Sloan. This has 'ambush' written all over it."
"So we make sure we aren't the ones walking into the ambush," Derek replied.
"It's definitely not fully human. I don't recognize the configuration of the cells. The nuclei, the hypochondria, the cell walls are all off. There are trace elements that I can't decipher. There isn't enough to test it further?"
"No," Alex replied to the speaker. Rachel's voice was plaintive on the other end.
"It's so close to human. But it's not and I can't tell you what it is without more tests, without more test matter. There is a genetic expert here, one of the top in her field, and a biological scientist that I would like to show these to."
"Of course. Just don't tell them where you got it," Alex added.
Rachel snorted. "Right. 'Please check this out, it's a swab from the ring of a murdered Legacy Precept. What is a Legacy Precept? Oh, it's a occasionally disagreeable species that leads a secret society sworn to protect humanity from the denizens of darkness, demons, sprites, ghosties and ghoulies and long legged beasties - "
"and things that go bump in the night!" Alex joined her.
"'And no, really, I don't need the straight jacket, why would you think I was crazy?'" Rachel laughed. "I'll get back to you as soon as I can get any decent answers."
"Okay, " Alex said. "Make it fast."
"Fast as I can," the doctor replied. "And Alex? Try to make them be careful."
Yeah, right, Alex thought. Aloud she said gently, "I'll try, Rachel. 'Bye."
"They're on their way? Damn it!" Sloan swore. Alex winced, tried to hide it, realized Sloan hadn't missed it, and shrugged in resignation.
"They got some sleep this morning and left about 20 minutes ago. Derek just called me from the car."
"Good of him to remember to let me know," Sloan said acidly. "If they walk into an ambush - "
"Doubtful," Alex fought to keep the smirk off her lips and won - barely. "Nick put in a call to the Forest Rangers first thing this morning. He has a few friends up there, it seems."
"Resourceful young man," Sloan commented. He relaxed, saw Alex watch him relax, and grinned. "All right, yes, Derek infuriates me. Now go over it for me again, Alex."
Alex took a deep breath and told him the whole story, from the moment she had held the package in her hands to the moment Derek and Nick had left.
"Where is the ring now?" Sloan asked.
"Derek put it in the vault."
"Good. Did Rachel get any hits from the results you faxed her?"
"Not yet. The geneticist and biologist both agreed, though, it has to be some kind of artificial construct, " Alex grinned. "Rachel said the geneticist is begging to get her hands on the original material."
"I bet. It wasn't a good idea to go outside the Legacy with this, Alex."
"Rachel can handle it. We've all had to handle explaining the unexplainable to the uninitiated, Mr. Sloan," Alex said coolly. She was infuriated to see Sloan's smiled broaden.
"I'm sure you have, Alex, and I'm sure you've polished it to a fine art. So," the smile dropped from his face. "Nick rescheduled the meeting for a time and place of his choosing, then made certain arrangements, with the Forest Rangers in National Park. I know from my own sources that Victor is in France, so whoever they meet it won't be Victor." Alex nodded and Sloan went on, "The package came courier and the clerk didn't remember who dropped it off and so couldn't give you a description. The 'sender' information given to the courier matched the information used to set up the account at the answering service. The address is false. Any hits on the name?"
"Rene Schaeffer? No. Couple of Rene Schaeffers' in the phone book, but I found no links in the database with Arkadi or the Cairo Precept."
"The three swabs fit the Cairo Precept, Victor Arkadi, and an unknown X," Sloan mused aloud. "Victor may be trying to create another demon, or other entity of power, to do his bidding. Damn it, Derek should have called me before he left." The Ruling Precept glared at his desk, then continued more mildly, "What did Rachel say about the note? That the style was too stiff and - "
"Too formal," Alex corrected.
"Formal," Sloan nodded. "The style was too formal, that it probably had been written by someone who probably doesn't speak or write a lot. Well, if Victor is creating some kind of entity, he would have to keep it secluded until it came to full growth, wouldn't he."
Alex swallowed hard. This was the same statement Nick had made earlier, but hearing it from the mouth of the Ruling Precept, and not in Nick's casual 'and the weather outside is sunny, too,' tone of voice, sent a chill down her spine that she had not felt before.
"They'll be all right," she said, and realized she was reassuring herself, not answering Sloan's implicit question. Sloan realized it too; he gave her a half smile that held little mirth or comfort.
"I hope so, Alex."
Derek turned. A figure with millennium eyes stood on the bridge, its back against the sun. He blinked and the figure came into focus; a young woman with a crown of heavy russet hair whose old eyes made her face look almost childish. Almost. Be careful, he thought.
"I am Derek Rayne," he answered and the woman nodded, once. Her eyes are so old, he thought. He realized then that when people spoke of "old" eyes, they usually meant tired or despairing or hopeless, or full of ancient inhuman mysteries. Her eyes were simply full of too much knowledge, too many years. They made her face look almost childish in comparison.
"How did you get in?"
"I walked in. I have something that belongs to you - "
"We have this entire area sealed off. How did you get past the perimeter?"
"Perimeter? What perimeter?" Her face tilted up with the question, then she shook it away. "Never mind. I have something that belongs to you."
"So you said." Derek leaned against the bridge railing, folding his arms. "What do you want for it?"
"Nothing." The woman sounded surprised.
Derek settled more comfortably against the railing. "You're returning stolen Legacy property out of the goodness of your heart?" he asked, raising his brows.
"I do not need it. I do not want the responsibility for it."
She reached into her coat, paused, and for the first time a look of purely human emotion crossed her face, a smile so full of glee it was almost a grin.
"I will wait for your trained seal," she said and the smile blossomed into a laugh. Derek fought the urge to laugh back at her. You want to laugh with her. Be very careful, he told himself.
"I won't be tossing you any beach balls," Nick said grimly from behind her. She showed no alarm at being flanked; she showed no emotion at all - except an acceptance of the weight of knowledge behind her eyes. She merely nodded and drew her hand, slowly, from her coat.
Derek took a deep breath. He recognized what she held - there were several in the vault below his own House. A Legacy storage box. Built to hold items that needed containment. Built to be easily sealed, both paranormally and hermetically. The heavy Legacy emblem ran down the length of the top. He met Nick's eyes, read his own thoughts there. The box, at least, was legitimate.
"What's inside?" Nick asked.
"I do not know," the woman answered. She held the box out to Derek. Derek straightened, took it from her hands. He wasn't ready for the weight; he almost dropped it before his muscles compensated and he held it steady.
"Derek, LOOK OUT!" Nick shouted, shoving the woman out of the way, pushing Derek to the ground, crouching to aim at the man who had appeared, gun aimed at Derek's back. Ambush, Derek thought. Of course. But the Rangers ?
Shots rang out; Derek ducked away from the explosion of wood splinters from the railing. Nick returned fire, dropped behind the railing.
"Just one. Must have slipped through the barricade. Guy's an awful shot," he remarked. Derek grinned; trust Nick to sound as casual in a gun fight as he had asking for milk that morning.
"That is because he is aiming at me," the woman said. She stood. Her eyes met Derek's briefly; she was calm and, he could have sworn, curious. What is she doing? he thought, and then what am I doing? For he had risen to his feet, squarely between the woman and the gunman. Nick was shouting at him. The woman's eyes widened; she shook her head. "No," she told him, stepping around him, half pushing him out of the way. He was off balance, his arms still full of the heavy Legacy box.
"Nick!" The younger man caught the box as Derek yanked the woman back around, intent on pulling her to him and then to the ground.
It was too late.
Three more shots, and surprise spread over her features almost as fast as blood spread over her back.
"It hurts," she said, and collapsed into Derek's arms. He fell to the bridge, cradled her in his arms. He met Nick's eyes.
"I don't know her name," he whispered.
"She took three in the back. She's in surgery now," Nick said.
Derek nodded, remembered that Nick couldn't see him through the phone, and said aloud, "And the police?"
"I told them we walked in on the tail end of a murder attempt," the ex-SEAL said over the phone. "The Rangers will back me up, but I'll have to go down to the station later and make a statement. Do you want me to tell them anything else?"
"No. We don't know for sure who tried to kill her, or why. We don't even know who she is," the frustration harshened his voice, bringing out the guttural vowels. He took a deep breath. "All right. Stay with her. Keep me posted." He cradled the receiver, sat with his hands steepled in front of him, sorting through the events of the last few hours.
They had raced out of the Park, Derek cradling the injured woman in his arms in the back of the Range Rover. The Legacy box bumped against his feet, reminding him of the reason he'd been on the bridge in the first place. Its very weight made him uneasy. It was too small to weigh as much as it did, even if there were iron bars inside. And it was cold. It had not been cold when the woman gave it to him; now he could feel the chill through his leather of his shoes.
He made his decision as Nick peeled out of the dirt service road onto the county highway.
"This box has to go into the vault," he said, pulling his cell phone from his jacket.
Nick met the Precept's eyes in the mirror. "We have to get her to a hospital," he said.
"No, you have to get her to a hospital. I have to get this box into the vault. Alex?" he said into the phone. "It's Derek. We've got a sealed Legacy storage box and a woman with bullets in her back. No, Nick and I are fine. I'm sending Nick to the hospital; I need you to pick me up."
Now he sat at his desk, the box safely in the vault below the House, the woman under the care of the best trauma physicians in San Francisco. Rachel would be landing soon; she would want to know if he wanted her to meet Nick. He wanted to go back out to the hospital himself, wanted to see for himself that the woman was still breathing, that the skin stretched so taught over her cheekbones was still pale and smooth and indifferent.. He wanted to shake her and see her millennium eyes open, feel again the disorientation that had hit him the first moment he set eyes on her.
So he sank further into his chair.
"Derek?" It was Alex, her hands full of a plate of something that smelled heavenly. Warmth rose from it in tiny, curly wisps.
"Thank you, Alex," he said gravely. She smiled and put the plate and napkin and silverware down in front of him.
"Eat," she said. "Then tell me what happened and what we do next."
"She walked right through the perimeter barricade. Nick can't figure out where," Derek said. "He talked to the Rangers; they caught two men at the perimeter. The gunman got lucky. They've back-tracked him, they know where and how he got through the perimeter. He just plain got lucky. But they can't back-track her. Her tracks start at the edge of the meadow Nick and I were in; there are no other tracks matching hers anywhere within the perimeter."
"Could the Rangers have missed something?" Alex asked.
"Nick says one of the men is a retired SEAL. He doubts anything was missed."
"So she just appeared out of nowhere."
"Until I have a better explanation, yes."
"Derek, Sloan is concerned that Victor Arkadi may be trying to create another demon or entity of some kind. If she just appeared out of no where "
"I know," Derek stood up, unwilling to discuss this any longer. "I want to look at that box. Finding out what is inside it may help us determine who she is. I'm assuming she stole it from Victor. Maybe the contents will tell us why."
"Maybe. Or maybe the box is the real trap and the rest is just window dressing," Alex crossed her arms. "It's happened before."
"But this is a Legacy box. There are things we can check that we had no way of checking on in that case," Derek shot back. "It should be listed on the inventory by serial number and content."
"I'll pull it up," Alex sighed. "One of these days I'm going to make you do your own research, Derek."
"Oh, no you won't," Derek replied, smiling. "I've paid my dues."
Alex laughed. At the door, she paused. "Derek she could be the entity."
"Yes," said the Precept. "Either way, someone shot her. That's why I'm going to put a guard on her until the doctors release her. Then we're bringing her here."
"Derek? It's Nick. She's out of surgery. They took three bullets out of her back."
"How is she?"
"Well, that's what's strange," Nick tucked the phone under his jaw; Derek could hear the crinkle of his jacket against the plastic of the receiver. "I checked with the ER physician; he gets a lot of ugly gunshot wounds and he recognized the bullets. They were Eagle Claws. Cop Killers. She took two to the lung and one to the heart. She should be dead." The ex-SEAL paused and said quietly, "The doctor thinks she can probably come home tomorrow, Derek. Tomorrow."
"That does sound unusual. What does Rachel say?"
"In layman's terms? That the lung and heart should be meatloaf and the woman should be in the morgue." Derek took a deep breath and Nick laughed, without humor. "Yeah. And so should you."
"I saw how close the gunman was, Derek. At that range, that velocity, with Claws - they should have ripped right through that woman's body and dead-ended in your chest. Rachel can't figure out why they stopped; they didn't deflect off any bones. Rachel is also trying to figure out how a two hour fresh gunshot wound shows the healing cell growth of at least three weeks."
"That's what she said. And I quote. 'I have no explanation for this. This goes against everything medical science knows about the healing process.' She said something else about it healing with no scar tissue and that being impossible, but I didn't catch all of it."
"Does Rachel concur that the woman can be released tomorrow?"
"Then watch her tonight, Nick. Get the hospital security to work with you. I'll call the precinct if you want backup. I don't want that woman alone."
"I can handle guard duty tonight," Nick said. "What are you planning?"
"Tomorrow we bring her to the Legacy. And she doesn't leave until I have some answers."
"Well, I have one answer for you," said Alex from the doorway. "That storage box is listed as containing the Flail of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III, nephew of Pharaoh Hatshepsut."
"The flail of Tuthmosis?" Nick's voice came through the speaker phone. "What the heck is that?"
"A powerful and dangerous weapon," Derek said, stunned. "Tuthmosis was furious that his aunt, Hatshepsut, kept the throne from him and ruled as pharaoh, even though she was a woman and he was next in line. When she died, he had all records of her erased, even the images of her painted on temple walls. He wanted the record of her existence wiped from the face of the earth and men's memories. And that is what this Flail can do - wipe all traces of a man's existence from the face of the earth."
"Hate to see what it does to the victim after it's done with the traces," Nick muttered.
"It's not pleasant," Derek said. "This is a very powerful devise. Why would someone just return it?"
"Unless it's been booby trapped?" Alex suggested. "Set to wipe this House off the face of the earth?"
"Not without disturbing the seal on the Legacy box," Derek said grimly. "When the Cairo House found the Flail, it was immediately sealed and stored in their vault. It never left the vault until the Cairo House was destroyed. The seal hasn't been disturbed, so no one has used or otherwise handled the Flail. I'll want to double check that, of course, but I think we'll find that the Flail has not been disturbed."
"Just make very sure," Nick said. "Look, I'm going to go. They are sending our Jane Doe upstairs and I don't want to let her out of my sight."
"All right. Be careful. Call me if her condition changes. And tell Rachel to go home; I'll want you both out here tomorrow as soon as Jane Doe is released."
"So what do you think?" Alex asked.
"I think you'd better get some sleep," Derek replied.
"And I think you'd better call Sloan," Alex said. "Don't look at me like that. If you don't call him, he may come out here to see if you're still alive. And if he does that, he just might get annoyed enough with you to shoot you himself."
Derek merely looked at her. She backed away, palms up. "Good night."
"Good night, Alex. And Alex?"
"I'll call Sloan. Right now. I promise."
He reached for the phone, paused. She's fine, he thought, and sagged back into his chair. Alex saw his relief and her eyes widened with questions. He shook his head at her, at his own relief, and leaned back into the phone. Be very careful, Derek Rayne.
Nick brought their Jane Doe home late the following night. Rachel had planned on coming to the island with them, but a patient in the midst of a psychotic episode sent her to the mental ward of the hospital instead. Alex had spent the better part of the day running cables from the lab to the living room; Sloan had insisted on being part of the interrogation, but could not get out of London in time to actually be in San Francisco. And neither Sloan nor Derek would risk Legacy security by letting the stranger into the lab. So Alex ran cables and set up equipment in the living room; Sloan and the stranger would meet, face to face, half a world apart.
Derek watched them get out of the Range Rover from his den window. She looked up at the House. Derek's stomach tightened; he could not see her eyes, but knew what they must look like. How did Rachel react to those eyes? How did Nick stand to look her in the face?
Nick was keeping an eye on the woman; the ex-SEAL didn't trust her, Derek could tell from the way he moved to keep the woman in front of him at all times.
She came towards the House, finally, moving slowly. Her head dropped; she was looking around her at the grounds. Derek left the den to meet them on the stairs. Alex held the door open for her; the woman hesitated, and Derek Saw it, Saw her stumble back, as if pushed. Then she regained her balance, and stepped over the threshold. Interesting, he thought, what pushed her back? She was pale and weak and washed out, but did not look as if she had been shot through the heart and twice through the lung the day before. Derek braced himself to meet her eyes. She looked around the lobby, still moving slowly, then her face lifted and she look straight at him.
What the - ? Her eyes were clear, deep brown - and full of no more knowledge than any woman of 35. Derek blinked, shook his head. What the hell is going on?
"Welcome," he said aloud. "Rachel says you've had a remarkable recovery. How do you feel? I hope the journey wasn't too hard?"
"I feel tired," the woman said. "Do you have the box? Is it here?"
"Later, " Derek said gently. "First, let me - "
"No. Thank you. I just came to make sure you had the box, that it was secure. I will not be staying."
"Rachel said you should still be under observation!" Alex protested.
"I am healing. I do not require the services of a physician."
"You can still have a relapse. You shouldn't be pushing yourself - "
"I am not." The woman turned away from Alex, looked up at Derek on the stairs. "But this is not about my recovery, is it? You have questions for me. That is the real reason you brought me here." Behind her, despite himself, Nick smiled.
Derek raised a brow. "Very well. Yes, I have questions."
"I may not have answers."
"Then we will ask different questions. But not in the lobby. Please, come in the living room." He took a gamble. "The Ruling Precept, William Sloan, would like to speak to you as well."
"William Sloan?" Her eyes lit up and Derek fought a stab of jealousy. "Yes, I would like to meet him."
"This way," Alex said.
"Good evening," Sloan said courteously. "You are looking well." For a dead woman, he did not add.
Jane Doe stared at him. "Am I?"
Nick, on impulse, moved forward. "Where are our manners?" he asked the room. "Let me take your coat." He met Derek's eyes; it was a trick to get Jane Doe to turn her back, so Sloan could see the bloodied coat. The woman half turned before knowledge dawned on her face. She laughed aloud and turned back to face Sloan, shrugging out of her coat. Rachel had brought a fresh blouse to the hospital for the woman to check out in, but no one had thought to bring her a coat. Now the woman held the coat up for Sloan to see. Alex gasped; the back was a sodden bloody mess. Sloan stared at it, impassive.
"Was it a trick?" he asked.
"Getting shot? No. I was curious. I did not want Dr. Rayne or Mr. Boyle injured. Gregor contracted for my death, not theirs."
"You know who tried to kill you," Derek said.
"My uncle. Gregor Arkadi."
"Gregor Arkadi?" Sloan did not quite succeed in swallowing his shout. Derek felt his gut twist; he couldn't breath.
"Gregor is furious with me," the woman continued, unaware of the stunned silence around her. Her voice was steady and indifferent. "He kills when he's angry. He is a stupid man. Victor is probably amused." She paused. "Possibly annoyed."
They were all playing catch-up, trying to absorb the information she had exploded in their midst like a small bomb. The woman saw this, finally; she blinked.
"You have questions about Gregor and Victor?"
"Many questions," Sloan said.
"Who are you?" Derek asked, and wondered why he had not thought to ask it earlier.
"I am Elizabeth Haven Arkadi."
Rigid fury, confusion - the room could not have been more tense if the Devil himself, Lucifer and Loki and Set in all their brilliance, had risen from the floor to confront them.
They called me Elizabeth; but to myself I am Haven. The words were behind the words she had spoken aloud; Derek heard in his heart, in his mind, and knew that the others did not.
"But what does that matter?" Haven asked. "I came here to verify that the box was secure. You have not yet - never mind." She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and Derek Saw her eyes beneath their closed lids, Saw the millennium blossom behind the clear brown irises, Saw her See through his House, into his vault, to where the box rested secure. He stumbled and Nick grabbed his arm. Haven Arkadi opened her eyes, plain brown now, and smiled.
"That is all," she said softly. "I will go now. Good night."
"Oh, no you don't!" Sloan said sharply. Nick moved in front of the door, Derek blocked her way. Haven jerked away from them, showing deep emotion for the first time - panic. She tried to dart around Derek but he caught her -
"Miss Arkadi!" Sloan snapped -
and she struggled against Derek's hold; she was strong, she twisted away from him -
"Elizabeth!" Sloan tried again -
and Derek had to use all his strength to yank her back and hold her tightly and she still almost broke free. He held her hard, so hard he knew he must be hurting her, he could feel her draw in, away from the pain - and then he felt something else, Saw something else, the power that was building within her, and -
"Haven," Derek said into her hair.
"All right," she whispered, staring down at Derek's arms around her. He could feel the pant of her breath against his skin. "If I had known you were going to imprison me, I would not have come." She said it quietly to Derek; only he heard.
He let her go. Sloan watched with impassive eyes. Nick leaned back against the door jamb, Alex exhaled and sat back down.
The woman who responded to Derek Rayne's voice naming her Haven faced Sloan. "What do you want?"
"I have none."
"Miss Arkadi - "
"No. " Haven said. Derek blinked. A moment before she had been strong, beautiful and remote as the frieze on a Grecian urn. Now her body had slumped, her face was pinched and white, chalky even, and her eyes were bruised with exhaustion. "No more. I am tired. If you will not let me leave, I am going to bed." She turned her back on the Ruling Precept. His lips twitched; he caught himself, said gravely "Good night." He met Derek's eyes again, then glanced at Alex. She nodded.
"I'll show you to your room," she said, and led Haven out of the room.
"Was ever book containing such vile matter so fairly bound?" Nick quoted softly.
"What?" Derek demanded, surprised. The young man gave him a grim smile.
There was silence, silence pregnant with Nick's breathing and Derek's remoteness and Sloan's rational picking apart of a mystery called Haven Arkadi.
"I do not want her to leave the House," Sloan said finally.
"Agreed," Derek said. "This is a dangerous situation, and there are too many questions. Rachel may be able to give us physical answers anyway."
Sloan straightened the papers on his desk, then pushed them away out of view of the monitor. "All right. Get on the research. Get me Rachel's report - where is Rachel?"
"She's with a patient," Derek said. He knew the Ruling Precept had noticed the doctor's absence immediately after they had gotten him via remote. He had merely waited until the right - meaning worst - moment to ask.
"She has a patient down the hall!" Sloan snapped.
"Her patient tried to cut his own throat!" Derek snapped back.
"And the patient down the hall may cut yours." Sloan sat back, letting the snapping game drop. "I want her read on the medical reports."
"She'll try to be in tomorrow," Nick said.
"Tell her I said hello," Sloan said, and added, relenting, "Tell her I hope her patient pulls through." Nick smiled and Sloan, if somewhat cynically, smiled back.
"I'll watch Haven's room tonight - " Nick began.
"You'll go to bed," Derek told the younger man. "Check security, but then go to bed. You've been on guard for 2 days. I want you sharp in the morning, I have plans. I'll make sure our guest doesn't sneak out. Good night."
It hung in air between them, Nick and Sloan thinking "Is that a good idea?" Derek faced the younger man down and with a curt nod Nick finally left.
He faced Sloan. I know what you want to talk about. Instead, he asked mildly, "Are you really upset about Rachel?"
"It's an inconvenience," Sloan said, which wasn't an answer at all. He laid his hands flat on the desk in front of him. "Come on, Derek. You don't get off the hook. Something happened with that woman, I saw it a continent away. So did Nick and Alex. Watching them try to ignore it was like watching two people try to ignore a tuning fork."
"I'm just curious," Derek said. He folded his arms, leaned against a lab desk. He could feel his face smoothing into the impassive mask he pulled on when out-facing any confrontation. But this was William Sloan, who rarely took off his impassive mask, because he used it to mask a mind that was always probing, always judging, always questioning.
Now he questioned the San Francisco Precept.
"Like hell," Sloan said. "I don't have time for your poker hand, Derek. There are too many questions here. Why did Gregor Arkadi contract for Haven's murder? Why didn't Victor? Is she working with Victor? If so, what are they planning? If not, if she's working alone, what is her plan? Why did she really return the stolen Flail? There are a dozen other questions and I will probably have more in the morning. Above all, who is she and what kind of damage can she do to the Legacy?"
The Ruling Precept sat back in his chair. "I want someone watching her all night, I don't want her sneaking out - or down to the vault. But I am worried about you watching her alone for the night."
Derek ground his teeth. "I am the Precept of this House. I can handle myself. And there isn't anyone else," he said. "Nick has to get some sleep. I'll need Alex to pull research on the Arkadi's immediately, and it may take the rest of the night. And Rachel wouldn't be able to deal with this kind of threat, even if she were available. I am the only one."
"Derek," Sloan said, almost gently, "you've been compromised."
Damn you, William Sloan! I am not compromised, I can handle my own House! "I am aware of the risk this woman might pose," he said curtly. "I am also aware of the precautions to take, Sloan. I am the Precept."
The Ruling Precept clasped his hands on his desk, looked the San Francisco Precept in the eye. "And I am the Ruling Precept. I'm rebuilding too many Houses, Derek. I don't want to add San Francisco to the list." He paused and added, so quietly Derek had to lean closer to the speaker to hear, "I also do not want to lose a friend."
That hit him, hard. He sat back, took a deep breath. "All right, William. You're right. There are too many questions. And, yes, I felt something. A connection." The words stuck in his throat; he did not share easily, and this was too deep, too new. He swallowed and forced himself to continue. "I saw things, when I first met her but I can't tell you what they were. And tonight, I heard her. I heard her say things she did not say aloud, things she meant for me to know. She has as many questions as we do. I think she has more."
Derek stared down at his hands, fingers steepled. "We have our history behind us, William. Our knowledge of ourselves as babies and children, teenagers and young adults, the decisions and consequences and pleasures of our maturity. I didn't see any history in her mind. What I did see ," he searched for the words, trying to make Sloan see what he himself had only briefly glimpsed, only incompletely felt. "It was empty, unused. New. There was no sense of entanglement. No sense of choices made and plans carried out and lessons learned from it. She did not come to us for answers, she did not come to us for anything. I don't think she cares enough about the Legacy to do us harm. She was merely curious."
There was silence between them for several moments. Sloan finally broke it, shaking his head with a sigh.
"Regardless." The Ruling Precept sat back in his chair. "Be careful. I mean that. Call me as soon as Haven wakes up. I want another conference the minute that woman is awake. I don't care if Alex's research is incomplete or if Nick has gotten any sleep or if Rachel's patient is dying. The minute that woman is awake."
"Of course," Derek said, and hit the release button on the remote. He stared at the blank screen for several minutes, forming a plan of action in his mind. Several minutes later, he knocked softly on the door to Haven's room, armed with a pot of hot coffee.
"She's asleep," Alex whispered.
"Are you sure?"
"She shows all the signs of REM sleep," the researcher replied. "She could be faking it, but if so, than she has control over her heart rate."
"Some people do," Derek observed. He sat in the chair facing the bed, stretching his long legs out in front of him. Alex watched him, her brows rising.
"I'm watching Haven tonight. I want you to pull files, Alex. Everything we have on the Cairo murders, on Victor and Gregor Arkadi, on that whole family. Sloan wants a conference first thing tomorrow."
The words hung in the air. Derek gave the young woman a hard stare. She drew breath to speak, swallowed under the weight of his glare, braced herself and spoke anyway.
"Derek, that's not a good idea. No, wait - " she cut him off, holding her palms up. "You're the boss, and you make the final decision, but I don't think that's a good idea."
"But it is my decision, and I've made it. Good night."
Alex looked as if she would argue but Derek gave her the full force of his grimmest look. She threw her hands up in resignation and yanked open the door, barely managing to stop it from slamming shut behind her.
Now he was alone with Haven Arkadi.
She lay on the bed, still fully dressed, curled on her side with one hand caught underneath her, palm up and fingers half curled. Her lips parted slightly; he could see the pulse beating in her wrist and at the base of her throat. Her face was open and smooth and serene. There was none of the exhaustion and solemnity that marked the sleeping face of every other adult Derek had ever known; her face looked more like Kat's in repose. He shook the thought away; there is nothing about this woman to remind me of Kat. Nothing.
So why did I think of Kat?