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It was cold and dark. The cold he didn't mind, found it a bit invigorating actually, but the dark was somehow getting darker. More clouds filled the sky, blocking the moon's light and colouring the world black.
"Oh, shut up, we're almost there," Nick Boyle chastised his highly grumbling stomach. In truth he didn't feel any closer to home than he had before.
Static suddenly covered the radio. With a pained look Nick fiddled for a minute with the dial before giving up. This was not what he needed. Sighing he turned his attention back to the road as it twined through the forested mountain scenery. Then just like the radio, his lights started flickering until finally they died down to only the low beams, making the impenetrable darkness only the more looming.
In the split second it takes to recognize an oncoming object, Nick was already veering the car to avoid the inevitable collision. Feeling the thump against the car, the brakes finally decided to work and Nick practically hopped out of the car, taking an extra moment after realizing the seat belt was holding him in place. "This is why I don't wear them!" He muttered to himself as he struggled out, making a mental note to tell Philip that, again.
Skidding down in front of the mound laying hunched over in the bushes, he pulled the body over to gap in shocked horror at the dead man's bloodied face. "Ah," Nick couldn't believe his eyes, "I know I wasn't going any faster than twenty!" Just then the body moved, still alive, barely. He was whispering something just barely audible. Nick leaned down closer to try and hear what it was the guy was saying but it was nothing but gibberish, not even in English.
The old man jerked to life just then, jumping out at Nick and grasping his left hand with inhuman strength. "Now it's yours!" The words were choked out, full of a great sadness well at the same time filled with nothing but relief. Before Nick could stop him, the old man slipped a gold banded ring onto his finger. Nick stared down at his hand and the bloody hand that held him, expecting the ring to come alive, or something, but nothing happened and the old man just as suddenly let go of Nick, falling back again, dead. Only then did Nick hesitantly feel for a pulse, but it was on a clammy cold body that had been dead for hours.
Standing up Nick yanked at the ring, it twisted around his finger as if loose but wouldn't budge from its placement. "Just great!" He grumbled, wondering how much worse this day could get. Moving back to his mustang, Nick picked out the cell phone inside and flipped it open, but nothing but static answered. He remembered having just charged the battery that morning so he knew it couldn't have been that, maybe he was out of range. Throwing the phone back into the car and sliding in himself, Nick stated to the dark sky, "with the way tonight's going, I wouldn't be surprised. It's like one nightmare after another." He stuck the key in only the engine refused to turn over. Nick looked at it wryly "I just had to open my big mouth, didn't I?"
Refusing to give up, Nick tried again, but the closest he ever got was a short cough after hitting the dash board. It always worked in the movies! Sitting back for a moment and sighing he wondered which way lay the nearest gas station. The last one he had passed had been a good twenty miles back. Mind you, there had been a cute brunette there, too. Nick shook his head feeling a little foggy. "Come on man, stick with it!"
He got out of the car just as an owl hooted near by, causing his skin to prickle right up the spine. He didn't have a good feeling about this place. "Why should I?" He told himself sarcastically, taking little comfort at the sound of his own voice. "It's pitch black, nothing seems to be working, and there's a dead..." The body was no longer there.
Almost on instinct Nick immediately pulled out his gun and slipped into the forest. No sooner had he done so than several twigs snapped near by to indicate several people approaching. Turning back to the road to watch and wait, Nick gasped. His precious 64 1/2 red convertible 8 cylinder mustang was gone! His eyes and mind set, he gazed out into the night, fine tuning himself to adjust to the vague light. There was a short movement, then three gnarlish and anciently dressed men stepped out onto the road. One was brandishing a sword. Very mundane, he thought smirking. The three conversed in a low garble similar to the one the dead missing guy had been talking in, looking around, cautious and aware.
Not caring who they were or why they were dressed up in leather like that Nick stepped out into the open cocking his gun but letting his arm hang loose at his side. The three men turned to Nick, one speaking to him in a guttural tone of voice. Nick merely gave him a face, asking simply, "do any of you know where the nearest gas station is?"
To his surprise the other two pulled out there own swords, apparently unaware or overconfident against his gun. Feeling tired and just a little cranky Nick sighed, raising the gun to aim it at the closest of the three. "Look, all I want are directions, then I'm out of your hair."
They snarled at Nick and raising their swords advanced on him. "Hey!" Nick protested, "I'm warning you, I'll shoot if you come any closer!" They didn't listen and Nick waited until the last minute realizing it was useless. The closest one charged him so fast he didn't have a chance to reaim it before shooting in defense. The resounding echo through the trees and up and down the road stopped the other two in their tracks. Nick ignored them following the guy's limp body down wishing as he did that it didn't had have to come to that. "Fool!"
Sighing deeply, Nick stood back up to face the man's startled and now highly afraid companions. "Don't say I didn't warn you," Nick stated grimly. "Now..." he didn't have the chance to finish as consciousness suddenly left him. Behind him stood a woman, not all that tall yet still regal in her stance. In her hand she held the blade of her dagger, having used the handle of it to hit Nick on the back of his head, effectively knocking him out cold.
Slipping the dagger away, the woman, her eyes cold as stone yet aflame with curiosity, reached down and picked up the gun from Nick's limp hand. With an evil glint crossing her eyes she brushed her long black hair back out of her face and imitating Nick's motions, cocked the gun, aiming it at one of the two remaining men who stood shaking in their wake but to an observer would seem to be unrationally remaining perfectly still...then pulled the trigger. It hit him with perfect aim, directly in the center of his chest. He fell like dead weight.
The other man stood there, trying hard not to make any movement and at the same time continue breathing. He looked at his two dead companion's, grateful and at the same time envious that he was not where they now where.
The woman's smile gleamed darkly with smug satisfaction in the night,
The cold and dampness of the ground he woke upon set itself deeply in his bones. Nick suppressed the coming shivers and opened his eyes. Even the darkness had a clammy look. Pushing himself up to a kneeling position, he wiped the dirty hay from his face and mouth and gazed around these new accommodations. The room itself was vast, with only a steel door directly in front of him, and it's little bared opening to bare any light. Other than that there was no indication whether or not it was still night or if he had slept right through till morning. Or for that matter, what day it was.
Turning over, Nick pulled up his pant leg, expectantly finding a metal clamp practically implanted around his ankle, the apparent reason for his foot still being asleep well the rest of him faced the harsh reality. His eyes mutely followed the chain attached to a metal ring bolted to the wall. Sighing heavily he looked around again. There were other such rings in various places, even a couple on the floor below a metal beam that ran across the ceiling of the room. "This place is like something out of some Medieval horror story!"
"I'd say evil is the best description." The feminine voice came out of the darkness on the other side of the room.
Nick turned and stared intently into the gloom but there was nothing, not even a single sound of movement. Had he not learned how not to doubt himself, he might have believed it to have been his imagination. "What do you mean by that?" Nick asked softly, searching.
He could almost hear the grin in her sarcastic words. "Well this isn't no fairy land! I certainly wouldn't call it the most cheeriest of places, would you?"
"No," Nick replied slowly. "Who are you?"
"Someone's who's been here a long time." There was a slight movement amongst the shadows but a second later it was gone again. This time when she spoke there was almost a hint of a friendliness to it. "My name is Christian."
Nick shifted so he was facing her directly, or a best approximate. "Well, Chris, my name's Nick. It's nice to meet you." He held out his hand to try and entice her to come out in the open, but only the sound of her voice flowed out of the darkness.
"A piece of advice. When she comes," Chris spoke of the "She" with vicious contempt, "don't give in to her, no matter what she does to you. If you hold any bit of your soul sacred, don't brake!"
Nick was about to respond to that but the light was suddenly blocked and replaced with greater illumacy as someone walked in front of the door carrying a torch. There was a rattle at the lock and then it sprang open, surprisingly not squeaking or sawing as you expect any respectable iron clad door to do. Nick was on his feet to greet them, and might have even given them a more formal greeting had his chain not blocked him from any such close range movements.
The first to enter was a heavy set man dressed similar to the ones Nick had encountered earlier, with a torch that he quickly placed in a holder on the wall just inside the door. Nick glanced to the one end of the dungeon with the new light, but there were still enough concealing shadows that all Nick could find was a chain similar to his connected to the wall and leading into the still darkened area. He turned back to see a man of similar appearance to the first walk in, shortly followed by a woman.
Chris had been right, Nick thought bitterly but schooled his features to nothing more than a blank slate. She wasn't all that tall, and she wore not the fancy cloths you'd expect of someone who held herself with all the authority in the world. At the same time there was something more than just an overcockyness of self importance, it was more like a pure evil confidence. In her hand she loosely held Nick's gun.
"This is a very interesting weapon you've brought me." A playful smile crossed her face. "What do you call it?" He English was smooth, unlike the others' untranslatable garble.
Nick guessed this was the woman Chris had warned him against and could easily see her cause for so much vile indignation. "It's a boomboom stick," he stated acting perfectly serious.
Eyes narrowed with a look as sharp as a knife. "It doesn't matter. You will tell me in time." She took a step closer to him. "For the sake of convenience, I am Alia. Who, are you?!" Nick refrained from answering, he had not been intimidated, but this didn't upset Alia either, rather, a sweetly sinister smile appeared instead and she asked, "would you rather I call you Maggot?"
Nick subdued a small shiver from a past memory and quickly weighed his options. "Nick," he finally answered.
Her smile broadened and she took another step towards him, just out of reach. "Hey, that's cute!" Alia sized him up and down with hungry eyes. "Fit's you." It was all Nick could do not to fidget under her scrutinizing gaze. Then, as if she were pulling herself away, she met his eyes again. "I like your technology, you must give me more."
This time Nick didn't stop himself from the burst of mock laughter that dared to rise. Alia glared at him, her eyes dangerously lit. She then spoke in a quiet but stern tone, "Never fear, I obtain everything I want!"
"I bet you do!" Nick continued to insult but the laughter had ended.
Alia gave him a cool even gaze, unchanged. "Bring him," she commanded. One of the burly men stepped forward and taking out of a large iron key walked up to Nick. Nick's gaze never left Alia's the entire time it took for the man to unlock the chain padlocked to the anklet, but the moment he was free Nick moved into action.
Before he could give out a cry of alarm, or even a yelp, the guard was flung across the room. The other rushed forward but it didn't take long for Nick to disable him and sweep him to the ground as well, only, as Nick came up again there was a gun in his face, his gun.
"You are good," Alia stated impressed but still confident of her own station of power.
Nick grinned wickedly. "Better than you think!" In one fluid motion he gambled his life and took the chance that she'd hesitate before pulling the trigger and twisted, catching the arm and swinging around to strike the back and head. Yet, even as he twisted and struck, he realized too late that it was pointless, it had no effect on her and with a strength that over powered anything he tried with brute force, she twisted under his arm and slammed him up against the wall with her hand in his throat. Gagging, Nick looked down at her a little shocked and quickly dowsed the spurt of hysteria rising up inside.
Smiling Alia loosened her grip and stepped back, letting him stand on his own. She slipped his gun into her pants, telling him calmly, "no one can beat me." Nick involuntarily glanced towards the shadows. Alia followed his gaze and her countenance momentarily darkened. "I eventually always get my way!" She stated in such a low voice that Nick almost didn't catch it, but it was spoken with as much vehmous as Chris had spoken of Alia with.
Turning back, a soft smile played upon her lips. "She doesn't usually talk to you newcomers until after. There must be something special about you." Her smile deepened with that thought.
Nick stared at her with a blank face and in a neutral tone of voice asked, "after what?"
Alia ignored his question and nodded sharply at one of the guards who curtly left the room. When she looked back at Nick, he could see the sense of excited anticipation literally flame up in her eyes. She stepped back up to him so that her face was only a inch away from his. "Savor your sanity now Nick, because it won't last for long." The door opened again to readmit the guard, distracting Alia. Nick took this open window and kneed her as hard as he could. It seemed to work, for she stumbled back but then she looked up again and there was nothing but a smile on her face accompanied by an open mischeviousness in her eyes. Moving back after only a second she dug her nails into his shoulder and pinned him to the wall by that alone.
Nick cringed, it was as if his shoulder had been placed in a vice with iron spikes. He felt that small thought of panic rise again and replaced it with anger, lashing out to try and brake her hold, but nothing he did worked.
"Oh, I'm going to have fun breaking you," Alia seethed out with sweet pleasure. She motioned the guard over. In his hands he carried several lengths of silicon rope and a lion whip, only it had a slight gleam to it, Nick wasn't sure in this light, but none the less he didn't like what he was seeing. With a realization of what was going to happen, he stopped fighting to conserve his strength. Simultaneously, Alia released him with the command, "take off your jacket, shirts, socks and shoes."
Nick just stood there, until her smile deepened and he decided to rethink his plan. Resignedly, Nick complied and shivered once as the frigid air touched his bare skin, the ground was even worse. With everything that had happened, he had forgotten how cold it was in here until now. Finished, Nick turned to face Alia again, his features schooled back to nothing and only his eyes betraying his cold anger.
Alia did most of it herself taking great pleasure in her work as she lavishly pulled him into the center of the room, directly below the metal beam he now knew the purpose of, and tied a length of the silicon rope to each wrist and ankle. Nick took deep slow breaths, unresponsive as she spoke. "You know, most of them don't even make it this far. It's hard to find good, young, strong willed men these days." Alia smiled up at him as they threw the ropes over the beam and pulled him up. Nick grunted softly as he felt himself being stretched out in two opposite directions until he felt as if his body was going to be split in two. Absently he wondered if this was what it was like on the rack. They only pulled him half a foot off the ground before tying the ropes down to the rings in the ground. Then they added the ones his ankles were attached to and pulled until perfectly taunt. Nick blinked back the tears as he felt the thin ropes already begin to cut into his skin.
Pleased, Alia turned to the guards, "Leave us!" When the door had closed behind them, she turned and spoke to the shadows, "I find a worth while audience makes the blood run faster, don't you?" Only the silence answered her question and Alia laughed softly, "there's always a critic." Nick glanced to the shadows as well but there was still no sign of Chris. He closed his eyes again and concentrated on slowing his breathing down and pushing the pain away till it seemed to be separate from the rest of him.
Behind him, the whip resounded sharply in the air, the occurring sound reverberating solidly against the walls. Then, in a powerful voice full of pleasured vhemos, she stated, "There is one rule above all, I am master!" She let the whip snap across Nick's bare back, leaving a large red bleeding whelp in it's place, worse than any mark a normal whip would make. It made the same cracking sound as it hit his back as it had in the air, a sound Nick would never forget.
Sucking in from the shock of the pain he forced himself to immediately relax again. She wanted him to break, and he would never do that!
"You will get to know me!" Expounded the commanding voice followed by the whip. Crack!
"And I will uncover your deepest thoughts!" Crack! Crack!
"I will haunt you the rest of your life!" Crack! Crack!
"You are mine!" Crack! Crack! Crack!
With the last, the most forceful of them all, his body snapped back against the ropes, the bloodied sweat flying form his drenched hair as his head arched back with the force, but his bit his tongue to keep the scream down, filling his mouth with the rancid taste of blood.
For several minutes she let the echoes fill the room, followed quickly by a silence that dominated. All, but for Nick's labored breathing as he hung, now completely limp. Then, walking over so she was right next to his face looking up, Alia whispered, "I will break you, Nick."
Nick opened his eyes, trying to focus through the waves of pain. At last he locked eyes with her and choked out, "Never!" Before closing them again to concentrate on regulating his breathing. His next goal would be to stop his body from convulsing.
Alia just smiled and backed away admiring her work. She looked once to the shadows and then left letting the door slam shut behind her.
Nick barely noticed the clang of the door as it closed but he did hear the noise of a chain as the voice from the shadows stirred and for the first time since he'd been there, made an appearance.
There really wasn't much to see. It was obvious she was a finely toned and grown young woman, but there was so much blood and mud coating her body and long hair that he could barely make out the rags she wore. Despite her apparent injuries, she moved, stretching as she did, as if they weren't even there.
Finally getting some control, Nick gave her one of his grins and mumbled, "pleased to meet you."
Chris raised her eyebrows questioningly and glanced down at herself. A soft smile crossed her face and she shrugged. "If you say so." She moved over as far as her chain would let her, which thankfully was just far enough and then worked at the knots until they were undone, first the feet, and then the hands.
When the last rope had been released, Nick felt his body hit the ground, and since the convulsing hadn't stopped yet, generously vomited with the pain. When he felt there was nothing left to give he pushed himself as best he could to his hands and then further into a sort of sitting position. Chris helped him untie the ropes from his bloodied wrists and ankles. The one with the anklet still attached had been the most difficult for it had slipped impossibly beneath the iron ornament. She also reached across the floor and grabbed his sweater, leaving the shirt.
"You're going to hate this but it'd be better if you had it on, it should at least help clog the bleeding," Chris told him truthfully from experience. He groggily nodded and she helped him push his hands through the sleeves and pull it over the top. Nick flinched the second the fabric hit the wide open whelps, but didn't cry out like he wanted too. "Sorry," Chris told him sincerely.
"No," Nick whispered, "Thank you."
Chris smiled. "You're tougher than she thinks, you know. That might even give us the power of hope."
"What do you mean?" Nick questioned in a barely audible voice, he was still working on his first goal, breathing.
Chris smiled, putting a hand on his uninjured shoulder. His quaking slowed and stopped beneath her touch which Nick would only notice with future contemplation. "You're not tied up, and I'd bet my sixth sense you could get us out of here," she told him calmly.
Finally, Nick looked at her, trying to see if there was anything more to her than she seemed but with all that had happened he wouldn't be surprised if there was. Curling his legs under him to sit cross legged, it seemed to help his balance, he said, with a bit of tone to his voice this time, "I need my jacket."
Chris merely nodded and stretching out grabbed it where it lay by the door. She also grabbed his shoes and socks on the way back, and handed them to him. Nick didn't take them, he didn't want to dare move for fear of throwing up again, so she just laid them beside him. Chris, it seemed, wasn't going to push him any further than he could move, although she did sit there, watching, waiting eagerly.
Nick almost laughed at the thought of the sight the must be. An odd thought struck him and he intently questioned, "why me?"
"What?" Chris apparently was not expecting that.
Sighing, he persisted. "Why do you think I can do it if so many others, including yourself have failed?" Nick looked at her earnestly, searching.
Startled, Chris hesitated before answering, "because no one before you was a exSeal, or was even from the twentieth century for that matter."
"How?" He didn't finish as she broadly smiled at him.
"Do I know this?" She ended for him. "I'm from your era as well, and the clothes, the gun, it all gives you away." Chris stated, a playful but not unkind glint crossing her face.
That seemed just a little too surreal to him. "Even that I was a Seal? I didn't think I published it that much," Nick accused.
Chris just shrugged, "Before you woke up I looked through your wallet, it's on your military ID." Nick shook his head in amazement. How could she be so calm about all this? Briefly he wondered if this was all a dream, but no. If it was, the pain would have woken him up ages ago!
"Great! You're feeling better," Chris declared in a cheery voice that made Nick groan and added, "now pick the locks so we can leave."
"What? You can't do it?" He asked sarcastically.
Chris looked outraged but Nick wondered. "I worked in a library before here, I wouldn't know what to do!"
He sighed, smiling, and moving slowly picked up his jacket. Taking out the pick he always kept hidden there for just such emergencies, he slowly moved around to a better angle and pried at her anklet. It gave a hard click before the chain slid off.
Smiling, Chris stated with pure gratitude, "Thanks!" She rubbed at her ankle, although not too much, even it was blood coated, right down to her toes. Nick could see marks on her foot under the blood but she didn't let him examine it for long as she sprang up and moved a few paces around the room in pure glee. It was beginning to make him dizzy when she at last she stopped. "Ooo, this feels nice!" Chris stated with absolute pleasure.
Nick slipped his socks on, being careful to lay them gently over the rope burns and the one right over the anklet. After, he put the ankle boots on tying them up tightly to numb the pain. Chris walked over to him, waiting, and helped him get to his feet. At first Nick had to lean on her heavily but then he started getting the hang of it and move off on his own. "I hope you're right about this," He said to her as he picked the lock at the door.
"Me too." Nick glanced at her, surprised at her honesty, but her face was a mirror of determination.
Derek glanced up as Philip walked into the study, agitated. "Hello Philip, you're not usually up this early in the morning," Derek said cheerfully.
"Nick was supposed to help me with something this morning, only he never showed," Philip told him concerned.
The elder man looked at him alarmed. "He didn't get back last night?"
Philip shook his head. "I want to check with the highway patrol."
Derek nodded soberly. "Keep in touch, I don't need both of you missing." Inclining his head, Philip left in a short flourish. The precept went back to what he had been reading, but now his mind was too preoccupied to really be able to concentrate. He had to stop completely as a vision flashed before his eyes. It wasn't as clear as most of them usually were but he couldn't mistake the sound of Nick's scream as a blue light engulfed his vision and faded to blackness once again. Dropping his paper back onto the desk Derek scooted out of the chair and went to find Philip. He was going, too.
Chris knocked out another of the two mindless men. "Worked in a library, huh?!" Nick asked sarcastically. He didn't have enough strength to fight but was watching her as he leaned up against the wall. He also recognized an expert martial artist when he saw one.
Grinning, Chris faked being hurt by his remark. "Part time!" Nick quietly laughed, earning a scowl before they moved on. At the end of the hall they reached a set of intricately designed gold doors. Chris turned to Nick speaking in a low voice, "this is where she keeps the sphere. It's what holds this world together. We have to destroy it!" Nick nodded consent and taking a deep breath, together they pushed one of the doors open.
To their surprise, no one was inside the large room. Infront of them was a staircase that led up to a pedestal that held a large, glowing, blue ball. They headed towards it and made it half way up, going slowly as Chris helped Nick, before an outraged voice suddenly rang out from behind, "what do you think you're doing?!"
As one they spun around to find Alia standing in the doorway, her eyes a flame. A deep anger filled Chris and she immediately told Nick, "destroy the sphere!" He mutely pulled him arm away form her to stand on his own, gazing deeply into her eyes. She smiled her thanks in return and then moved forward to meet Alia on level ground. With a wild look of insanity crossing Chris' face, she grinned and laughed victoriously. "You've lost Alia!"
Alia returned the smile but her eyes shifted nervously to Nick as he continued to make his way slowly but surely up the stairs. She looked back at Chris. "You don't even know what you're talking about. It doesn't end here!" Alia lunged forward at Chris, and together they rolled to the ground.
Nick barely reached the top before his legs gave out the last of their strength, and he fell forward onto the sphere. Gasping, he glanced back at the two fighting, watching as Chris was repeated thrown back, but she never stayed down for long. With a deep breath he pushed himself back up, the sphere grasped in his hands as he raised it high above his head. Even as he felt the energy curse through his body he let it crash to the ground, shattering it into a billion pieces upon impact. Nick unknowingly screamed as a wave of energy swept over him.
The repetition of blinking lights was what finally brought Nick out of his blissful sleep. He opened his eyes not understanding the images he saw but then the sounds penetrated his thoughts and the calamity of various noises and sights suddenly began to make sense.
Feeling highly disoriented, Nick discovered himself to be in the front seat of his mustang. Infront of him in his lane was another car, only this one was crumpled and connected to his bumper. Nick squinted as he recognized the still form of the driver opposite him to be that same man he had first come across with the ring, in that...dream? Nick frowned. It looked like he'd been in an accident, what with the shape of the cars and the blinking lights on the patrol vehicles. Had it all been a dream?
His car door opened and Nick looked over to the familiar face that poked itself in. "Philip. What are you doing here?" Nick asked, still feeling very much confused.
Philip sighed and then smiled relieved, but his expression quickly turned back to concern. "You were supposed to be back at the house eight hours ago."
Nick couldn't help but drunkenly grin, "What?! I have a curfew now?" Philip returned the smile a little more abated by this sign of Nick's well being. "Thanks," Nick told him sincerely, wondering what he would have done had Philip not come looking for him.
Derek moved in beside the priest. "Are you okay?"
"Ya, I'm fine." Nick put a hand on the door frame ready to push himself out of the car but stopped with the audible gasps from his companions. Eyes brows furrowing, he looked at them questioningly. They were gazing in open shock at his wrist, and se he followed their gaze and suddenly understood what it was his body had been trying to tell him through the shock. Unable to contain it, Nick groaned and lowered his hand again.
Philip took the hand in his own and pushed the sweater sleeves up to reveal the reason for so much blood while Derek asked, "Nick, what happened?"
"It's okay," Nick reassured them, "I'll explain it all later. Let's just say it's over."
Just then one of the officers approached them and Nick quickly covered up his wrist again. The cop spoke to Nick first, "How are you, sir?"
"A little disheveled but fine, thank you," Nick told him at least half truthfully.
The patrol man turned to Derek. "The occupant of the other car is dead so we'll have to take an account of what happened. We can do it here or at the hospital."
Nick immediately replied, "I don't need a hospital!" But the officer was still looking to Derek. Derek gazed momentarily at Nick, considering the young man's violent reaction compiled with the look of determination on his face.
Derek turned back and stated, "we'll do it here."
Philip waited for the patrol man to walk away before sounding his arguments. "Nick, you have to get this treated."
"I'm not going to any hospital!" Nick repeated. They both looked to Derek.
Derek shrugged, "what ever Nick wishes." Philip didn't like it but he didn't dispute it any further. Rather, he took Nick's hand back to examine it again.
"What caused this, it's cut all the way around, and deep!"
"Silicon rope." Nick replied curtly and gasped as he slowly swung his feet out. He took his hand back and reaching down pulled up the pant leg to reveal the anklet and untied his boot. He sighed with much relief as it lessened the pressure so that the iron was no longer completely cutting itself into his skin. "Okay, I'm ready to go." He stated happily. He realized now how Chris had been so happy at just getting the chain off. It felt great! Philip and Derek just gazed at him shocked and Nick couldn't help himself from saying, "you should see the rest of me!"
Philip quickly turned back to Derek despite the seal's repeateous, "I'm not going to any hospital!"
Nick flinched, again. "Sorry," Rachel mumbled but didn't take her eyes off of what she was doing.
Nervously picking at his freshly bandaged wrists, Nick sighed, then flinched once more. Rachel didn't bother to apologize this time. Nick felt like he was being operated on at all angles as Derek and Philip worked to get the anklet off while Alex and Rachel 'patched' up his back and shoulder. They'd injected some painkillers into him already but it wasn't doing much other than putting Nick into a kind of drugged up carefree mood, the pain hadn't much lessened.
Nick murmured something about being mummified and Derek looked up at him, realizing they'd been lucky he'd told them the story before they had injected the drug. He exchanged worried glances with Philip before resuming his work. The only thing they could think off to get the blasted thing off was to saw it off, so to Nick's much dislike, they'd fastened a clamp to the table to hold it still.
"I can't believe this was molted together," Philip stated taking his turn at it, the metal was at least a good inch thick. "What ever happened to normal locks?"
"I think they had a problem with escapees," Nick replied but his eyes were gazing around the room in a nonforming pattern. Yes, Nick subconsciously thought, the drug is definitely setting in, definantly.
Derek looked up at him. "Nick!" He stated, calling back the man's attention, "The man in the other car, that was the one who gave you the ring?"
Nick's eyebrows furrowed as he looked down at the gold banded ring still on his finger, then tugged at it some more but it wouldn't budge. Rachel gave out a cry of protest with the sudden movement making Nick promise not to do that until they were done. "It's stuck!" Nick bluntly told Derek.
Standing up Derek examined the ring, they wouldn't be able to get it off the same way they were doing with the anklet and metal clippers hadn't even dented it so they'd have to come up with something else. "You'll have to take a look at these symbols Philip," Derek commented but then had to hold Nick upright as he suddenly gripped the table and convulsed with pain.
Philip had finished the sawing and removed the anklet. Fresh blood flowed freely. Derek quickly grabbed one of the towels they'd been using to clean the wounds and encoated the ankle with it. It soaked quickly with red splotches and they traded it with another one, but eventually it worked and the bleeding stopped.
Gasping, Nick closed his eyes and forced himself to relax. "Ouch!"
Sighs were audible through out the entire room. Rachel squeezed Nick's good shoulder comfortingly, then went back to her work. Philip pulled away the towel when he was sure it wouldn't bleed again and began treating the raw skin, much different from the rest. Derek stood up and went around to see Alex's and Rachel's progress.
Rachel sat back and shook her head. "If we'd had a better idea of time we might have been able to stitch them up, but as it is, we can't risk infection."
"That's okay Doc, I'd rather not have a needle in me right at the moment," Nick said with a grin over his shoulder.
"They're thin enough cuts that it should be okay, it's just how deep they go that concerns us," Alex added to Rachel's comments. "I don't believe this was from any normal whip."
"It's more like as if it was from a coiled piece of wire than any leather strip!" Rachel stated sourly.
Nick chuckled at that thought, urging him a reprise from his back and Philip still attending his foot. "That sounds like Alia all right! I knew there was something different about it with the way it gleamed in the light. Not that there was much light at all, like the clouds..."
"Well," Derek said, his eyes furled with worry as he looked at Nick who's murmuring had trailed off but his mouth was still moving, "we'll check the history books, maybe we can find some reference to this Alia that might enlighten the situation."
Nick had a sudden thought and looking up, trying to twist around asked, worried, "You guys aren't going to wrap my back up like you did my wrists and ankles, are you?"
The entire group chuckled but at the time Nick thought it was a very serious question.
Alex walked in carrying several more books and plopped them down on one of the counters in the Control Room, letting out a huge sigh. Derek and Philip both looked up. "More books on Ancient myths," she told them ruefully and they almost sighed themselves.
"Well, I think we can narrow it down to Egypt, at least to begin with. The markings on the ring are some form of Egyptian, but the computer can't translate it. I'm looking for some other record of it now." Philip told them, glancing though his assorted books and papers.
"Good," Derek said. "We still don't know what the ring is made of, it looks like gold, but the scan showed otherwise."
Alex sank down into a seat and grabbed the top most book in her pile. "What about this Alia?"
Shaking his head, Derek murmured, "nothing yet. She seems as mysterious as the ring."
The golden ring glinted in the small ray of sunlight coming through the blinds as Nick subconsciously shifted positions in his sleep. He instantly came awake, having rolled onto his back. Annoyed with himself, he flipped back over and gave his body a stern command to 'stay' before closing his eyes again, searching for even the uneasy sleep he had achieved before.
A quiet sinister laugh filled the air.
Nick rolled out of the bed, landing awkwardly on his feet as he looked about the empty room. The door was closed, so it couldn't have come from somewhere out in the hall, it had to have come from inside. He held his breath, waiting.
The evil voice was the only sound within the deadened silence. "Did I not say I would haunt you?"
Nick's face contorted in anger and he immediately demanded of the voice, "Where are you?! Show yourself!"
"Why, I'm right here, Nick!" Alia stated lightly.
Nick felt himself being lifted up off the ground by the invisible force and thrown across the room. He landed hard, his hands barely catching himself, saving his face from hitting first, and paused to catch his breath. The pause left before it came. Crack! Crack! Crack!
Sliding down the wall to his knees he squinted his eyes shut trying to stop the tears from flowing. Weakly coughing, Nick spit up blood and gasped for air, but it did little good. The whip lashed out again. Crack! Nick's body convulsed painfully as he slid all the way down to the floor and curled into the fetal position. It was all he could do to keep breathing as he retch blood over and over again.
Alia materialized out of nothing, whip in hand as she leaned down next to his shaking body and whispered malically in his ear, "I will brake you, Nick!" Her laugh was amplified by the whip as it came down one last time. Crack!
"No!" Nick's cry of defiance was constricted and sharp with pain, but it rang true. Then, sapped completely of strength he fought to retain his consciousness but failed and slipped into the blackened depths of beyond.
They all heard it, it was hard to miss, even in the Control Room
"Nick!" Derek stated the obvious as they all stood up alarmed. Philip left at a dead run, and being fast on the soccer field as well as the carpeted and wooden floors of the castle, was the first into Nick's room and at the man's side. Rachel was next having been only just across the hallway.
"Holy Sweet...!" Philip began but was unable to finish even that as he lightly touched Nick's blood entrenched back. Rachel joined him, feeling for a pulse. Her head dropping with a sigh of relief, she looked back up at Philip. "It's there, but it's faint, I don't know how long he can hold out."
"Then it final, he's going to a hospital!" Philip stated.
A low sinuous laughter filled the room. "I don't think so." The mysterious voice said, and not so ironically the door slammed shut right as Alex and Derek reached it, blocking them out. Philip and Rachel looked around frantically trying to find an owner to the voice while Derek called into them, trying to get in.
Standing and calling out, "Derek!" in response, Philip headed for the door, but before he could reach the handle, the still unseen force pick him up and effortlessly tossed him into the wall with such force that he was unconscious upon impact.
"Philip!" Rachel cried out but then froze as the formation of a small but in no way demurring woman appeared in front of her with a gun pointed at Rachel's head. Rachel recognize it as one of Nick's and looked the woman dead in the eyes, unafraid, and ignoring Derek and Alex's quires as to what was happening, she slowly asked the woman, "Why? Why are you doing this to him? You're killing him!"
Alia's smile turned shrew and cold. "Vengeance." She lowered the gun but held it loosely in her hand as she crouched down to Rachel's level beside Nick. The smile once again turned confidently malical as her eyes almost hungrily looked upon Nick's blood encoated body. It made Rachel sick to her stomach, but then Alia turned those evil eyes on her, saying, "don't worry. I have no intentions of killing him. And as a doctor it's your duty to make sure he stays alive."
Rachel knew the impossibility of what Alia was asking and told her so, "I can't do that with out the proper facility. He needs to be in a hospital!"
Anger flicker across Alia's flame filled eyes and she quickly stood, pointing the gun to where Philip lay. "If you will not help him, then the priest will die!"
"Alight!" Rachel exclaimed to get Alia to stop, and again to reveal her resentment and anger, "all right! I'll do what I can!" Alia's slow sinuous smile spread and there was a sudden flash of bright light that filled Rachel's entire vision until there was nothing.
The door opened and Derek and Alex literally stumbled in. They gaped around in horror, Alex rushing over to Philip. He woke to her touch, lifting a hand to his head in pain and a small groan.
Derek quickly asked, "Philip, what happened?"
The priest looked around realizing that Nick and Rachel were gone. "I don't know," he murmured, and then told them, "we found Nick practically dead on the floor. He had five more of those whip marks on his back, and then you were at the door...I..." he trailed off trying to think through the headache. "The laugh! Derek, it was her! It was Alia!"
Derek pursed his lips and they all exchange worried glances, this wasn't looking good. "There's only one person who I think can help us with this one," the precept told them grimly. "Someone who knows this Alia."
Alex quietly voiced what Derek was thinking, "Chris. We need to find Chris."
Rachel gasped as everything came into view and took a deep breath that quickly turned into a 'hack attack' as the think dust was thrown up everywhere. She worried about Nick's fresh open wounds getting infected in the dust, and still coughing moved over to where he lay, covering him with her jacket. Then for the first time she looked around the dimly lit cavern. It was as dead as a tomb. In fact, it was a tomb, an old Egyptian tomb, unploited by man, but the air, although rancid was still fresh enough to breath. Off at one end was Alia, she was leaning against a sarcophagus watching as if this was all a normal day to her, but from the minute looks of strain on her face, Rachel suspected the cool demure was just a front. "Where are we?"
Alia stood. "Some place I can keep you from straying," was all she said before disappearing, leaving Rachel in an unearthly silence.
"Oh, Nick," she whispered, moving over to him. "I really wish you were awake right now!" She felt his pulse, noting that it hadn't worsened any, and knowing that he was already doing beyond the impossible, softly told him, "just hold on. For just a little bit longer, I promise." Then she went quickly to work hoping she was right.
They searched the hospital records for the last two days coming up with a Jane doe that fit Chris' description exactly and soon Philip was on his way to the San Francisco Hospital to find out for sure while Alex and Derek still tried to find out the origin of the ring and it's master.
"Hey, look at this!" Alex called to Derek, bringing what was on her screen up to the big one on the wall. "It talks about a group of Archeologists who went missing on a dig in Egypt three years ago. The leader of the group was a Rick MacKay, but get this, the anthropologist's name was Chris MacKay, it doesn't give any indication that it was a woman, but I bet it's her!"
"Good," Derek said, "Find out the exact location of that site and as much as you can about it then let me know." He slipped out for a small break.
Letting a small smile of hope escape, Alex quickly bent to her work, feeling like their were finally getting somewhere.
Rachel scavenged all that she could, but there just wasn't much there that could help, not even any water in this retched dust hole! She was resignedly sitting by Nick when Alia reappeared. The small woman grasped the closest object for a moment's support and swore in a language Rachel didn't recognize. Then Alia looked to her, angry and impatient. "Well?"
The doctor crossed her arms stating in cold return, "he won't last the day, he needs to be in a hospital!"
"Well, weren't you a lot of help!" Alia spit out and angry moved over pushing Rachel back out of the way. "I hate waiting," she muttered and kneeling down placed her hands directly on Nick's back, palms open. Rachel could only watch in complete terror as a surge of power volted through Alia's hands, bringing Nick to life. He screamed as the pain erupted through him, his hands clawing at the ground with the convulsions. Alia's hands began to glow with a fiery blue that grew in intensity and seared itself over Nick's body, burning away what was left of the bandages. She maliciously smiled and looking up through the light at Rachel's recovering expression, stated, "I should just leave you here to rot!" With that she and Nick's form vanished within the light, leaving Rachel once again alone.
Nick gasped desperately for air, his body still shaking uncontrollably but the pain was gone, all of it. In a absolute darkness that revealed not a single shadow of light, he felt for the cuts, the bruises, the horrid marks he knew should be there, but there was nothing but the feel of tender fresh skin. In fact, the only thing he had left on were his jeans, which didn't provide much warmth against the hard frigid cold, but Nick knew the cold and didn't let it bother him. His hand ran along the smooth stone floor and further until it came to a jagged stone wall, as if it were a natural part of where ever he was. The air had a quality of worn dust, stone, and faintly a taste of rancid salt from the ocean. He imagined he was in a cave of some sort, but where was the question.
Listening in the silence, he stood up with one hand on the wall to keep his orientation. Then something filled the silence, a soft murmur irregular and unnatural, like muffled voices. Nick strained his ears and realized the voices were getting louder, closer, but still stayed a good distant...above! "Hello?" He called out loudly, his voice immediately echoing back, telling him that this was indeed a cave, but not a very large one, and worse, one with no exit.
Calling out again he listened, the voices grew ever louder until he could pick up the distinct individual sounds, his eyes widening with recognition, but the voices still did not acknowledge his call of help.
"I'm telling you it shouldn't take me more than a few hours," Alex repeated as she followed Derek down the hall. They stopped just outside the dining room and he turned to her. "I'll just take a peek."
"I don't know," Derek said still a little hesitant about Alex flying to Egypt. His members were too sparse or missing as it was. "Maybe I should go with you," the Precept hesitantly suggested. Alex just gave him a droll look.
"Derek!!!" Nick cried out as loud as he could, ignoring the reverberating sounds shouting back at him, and yet when it cleared there was still no response. "Alex! Derek!" Nick tried again.
Sighing, Derek relented, "I know. And Philip still hasn't gotten back, but I want you to keep in touch!" he stated turning a finger on her.
Alex grinned, "I promise!" And with a final good bye she took off. Derek turned, the worry on his face plainly visible as he continued on down the hall, he needed another cup of coffee for this one.
Calling out one more time Nick felt his way along the cold stone but it was pointless. The sounds from above quickly faded until there was nothing but silence once more.
"They can't hear you."
Spinning in the dark with a deep anger Nick spat out, "where are you Alia, show yourself!"
"Oh, come now!" Alia's rich voice mocked in the blackness. "Is that any way to treat your savior?"
"What do you mean?" Nick growled out.
Her laugh played upon the walls. "What! You don't actually think your body just suddenly decided to miraculously heal itself, do you?" Her voice turned dark. "I gave you back your life!"
Resentment clearly audible Nick immediately bit back, "that's ironic! You wouldn't do anything for someone else if it killed you!"
Nick could practically feel her confident smile in the darkness and a soft, almost seductive voice practically directly in front of him said slowly, "oh, I don't know, I used to have a real thing for strays."
Eyes narrowing, Nick listened for any signs of movement, anything that would give her position away. He felt like he could practically hear his heart in his ears, it was beating so hard and slowed his breathing even further despite the ever growing anger. Then at last asked in a low voice, his ears having found nothing, "why? Why did you bring me here? Why not just kill me?"
"Because," her voice was soft, almost inaudible as a finger suddenly lightly touched his bare chest, freezing him in place. "I like you." It idly traced it's way down his chest. "A strong, handsome man. It's been a long time you know. I think it's one of those opposite attract type of things," she told him sweetly, "don't you think?"
Nick fought the urge but shivered with that touch. He wanted to lash out at her, but oddly couldn't, as if there was some force clenching him in place, holding him subject to her will. No! He would not give in, and struggled against it. "I think you're full of it!"
Alia seemed to sense his struggle and admiring his will stepped back silently in the darkness, the sweetness in her voice making Nick feel all the more vile. "You could be right. I've always thought I preferred torture over sexual pleasures, but then," she paused deepening her voice seductively, "I've never come across some one as fine as you before. I'll just wait until you're in a better mood!" She finished simply and before Nick could respond vanished in a flash of blue light, blinding in the blackness.
Nick waited in silence, unsure if she was truly gone or not. At last when he was sure she wasn't there he relaxed, but still shivered in the cold that now seemed to go deeper. He felt like vomiting but drolly doubted there was anything left in his stomach to come up.
Philip talked to the nurse at the receptionist's desk and requested to see the Jane Doe. A near by doctor immediately looked up at the priest quickly asking, "Do you think you might know her, Father?"
His eyes not quite meeting the doctor's Philip replied, "maybe."
The doctor didn't seem to notice Philip's aversion and turning, motioning for him to followed, questioning curiously, "Do you know what might have happened to her?"
Shaking his head, Philip returned, "what's her condition now?"
"Well," the doctor sighed as if he'd already recounted this to a great many people, "she was pretty bad when they brought her in, or at least that's what we thought, but in truth she's quite stable." Philip gave the doctor a questioning look but he just said, "you'll see what I mean when you see her. She was unconscious when we got her, I was about to wake her up, you man as well join me."
Philip followed the doctor to the private room and on in through the door where he stopped in shock. Her black brown hair fell long and straight with a static clean quality about her head, but from what he could see of just her face and arms, there were cuts, scars, wounds only half healed...everywhere! It was as if she'd been fed to a shredder and spit out again.
"Well?" The doctor asked, "Is this your friend?"
The priest didn't directly respond but instead asked, "can I have some time alone with her?"
"Sure." The doctor left, closing the door quietly behind him.
Philip looked back to the sleeping woman, approaching and sitting down at the edge of the bed. Indeed she was a grown woman, but probably no more than 25. Gently he placed a hand on her shoulder and with a small shake softly called out, "Chris?"
Stirring, she sleepily opened her eyes. They looked up at him and narrowed in puzzlement, "Who are you? Another Seal?" She asked smiling as if reminiscing a dream.
"No," Philip told her gently, "I'm just a simple priest."
"A Priest?!" Chris bolt upright backing away from him and looking frantically about the hospital room and then at herself.
"Chris," Philip called out reaching for her shoulders to calm her, but she was already still, gaping in horror at her hands. "Chris," he repeated a bit quieter this time.
She reached up, gently drawing her hand along her cheek, feeling the scars then closing her eyes tightly, letting her hand drop at her side. Her eyes stayed shut as if trying to block out the horrid nightmare, but her feature relaxed, softening with an acceptance Philip had never seen so great in any person. At last she looked up at him, her eyes full of a strength unbetold. "Something happened, didn't it? Something happened to Nick."
Sighing, Philip quietly replied, "yes. I'm Father Philip Callaghan, I work with the Luna foundation, with Nick and some other friends of ours."
She nodded. "Chris MacKay." She looked down at her hands once more a fleeting look of sorrow that went deeper than the cuts crossing her face but then it vanished and she moved around him, pushing herself out of bed. "What happened?"
Philip made a grim face, "We're not too sure, but Nick's missing. We think Alia might have come back and taken him."
Nodding in that same calm exceptance Chris suddenly grinned giving Philip a reprising looked, "are you sure you're just a simple priest?"
Philip fidgeted under gaze inwardly wondering how they were going to be able to hide the Legacy form her, but asked, "do you think you'd be able to come to the Luna foundation with me? My friends would really like to talk to you."
Her grin faded, but was replaced by a kind smile. "I'll help any way I can," she told him, then walked over to the closet opening it up, but it was bare. She frowned glancing down at the scathe blue hospital gown. "They don't actually expect me to wear this do they?" She asked faking indignation.
Her comic reaction brought a smile to Philip face, although from Nick's description, he figured she'd been wearing less before, than what she had on now.
Chris' grin quickly returned and she turned to him saying, "It's good to see you smile, Philip. I can see the sorrow in your eyes and it doesn't suit you."
"Sorrow can be a part of us all," Philip replied solemnly.
Her grin widened. "Now that sounds more like a simple priest!"
Nick moved about in the dark, feeling for some way out, but there was none, not even a sign of an opening of any sort. "Ouch!" He cursed softly to himself and bent down to feel what his toe had kicked. "Oh, how considerate!" He growled sarcastically but lit the single match and candle anyway. He held the old metal holder away from him until his eyes adjusted to the light and gazed about the empty small chamber. There were no doors, cracks, he wasn't even sure how the air in here continued to circulate, but the light didn't reach a roof, and he suspected there were some natural vents up there. The same as how he was able to hear them inside the castle.
Sighing, Nick hesitantly put the candle down, the new found light was small comfort, but it was much better than the blackness. Nick heard footsteps above him and moving over screamed up, "Derek!" Yet again, the footsteps faded to nothing. Growling out his frustration he smartly hit the stone wall, immediately regretting it as the jagged rock scratched and stung his hand. "Man! I can't believe they can't hear me!"
"My, my. That's not like you, Nick!"
Spinning around, Nick found himself facing Alia, now dressed a bit more openly in the center of the room. "Go away!" Nick told her bluntly in a hard cold voice.
Alia smiled slyly. "You are so sexy when you're angry! But then, you know that don't you?" Her smile and demurer deepened as she drew nearer to him.
Nick felt himself caught up again in the urge to consent to her will and determinedly turned away trying to ignore her. A soft hand touched his shoulder, squeezing it firmly, feeling the muscles as it traced itself down his back. Nick resisted the shiver that threatened to rack his body. His eyes darkening with anger, and then just as suddenly her strong hands spun him around, slamming him up against the wall.
She stepped back a step, her eyes a blaze. "Fight me!"
"No," Nick told her, holding himself perfectly still. He'd played this game before.
His only reward was the flash of hard anger returned in her eyes. "Fight me!" Alia demanded imperially, but again, he just stood there. Her eyes flamed a little more, but not with an anger, rather something worse as a slow sinuous smile glinted across her face. "Tisk, tisk, Nick. And here I thought you were made of something stronger. But, you've folded without even trying!" She told him victoriously.
At last, his patience ran out and he let the anger take over as he struck out with a sure hand, but it didn't do any good as she easily caught it and flung him into another wall with her inhuman strength. Gasping, Nick caught his breath waiting but a moment before moving in to attack her again, this time controlling his motions. The fight lasted a couple of minutes before he was painfully slammed into another wall. Yet Nick would not give up, and slipping into a purely focused stated that pushed out all emotions and had only one adjective, moved in for one last time.
Alia jumped back in surprise as his precise moves and quickness over took even her strength, but the self confident grin quickly returned and she cheated, sending a burst of blue energy raging through him. He grimaced with the pain of the rough rock wall sharp against his back, and his face contorted angrily as he watched her slowly approach. In the recesses of his mind he knew that there was nothing he could do, nothing she couldn't thwart with her 'power' but he pushed the devastating thoughts as far away from him as possible.
"My, you are a feisty one!" She commented, grinning wildly. Alia moved up until they were but a couple of inches away, and lifting a hand lightly touched his sweating chest. "By now you've realized there's no way out," she murmured. "No way that you can beat me."
Nick boldly glared her in the eyes, seeing the magical flame that burned there. He growled out low in his voice, "fine, Alia. You've won! What more do you want of me?!" He demanded.
She leaned into him, her smile increasing until she was right next to his face, and whispered in his ear, "I want your soul!"
"No!" Nick yelled enraged and practically hurled her off of him, but she had interlocked her arms with his and together they rolled to the ground, each trying to gain control of the other. For Nick it was pointless and his whole body groaned with just the sight of the malical gleam on her face as they struggled, and then it grew worse as he found himself pinned to the floor with her inhuman strength. His gut turned under her gaze and realizing his struggles to break free of her grasp were useless, sagged, looking at last to meet her eyes.
It was what she had been waiting for and now murmured to him, "you don't understand, Nick. I always get what I want," she paused making sure they had full eye contact as she leaned in whispering, "lover."
Nick's eyes squinted shut as her lips ran over his check. He tried to block it out, but couldn't. A shiver swept through his body and he turned his head to avoid her touch, struggling to brake his hands free. She merely had them grasped in one hand, but her grip was like an iron clad vice that would never bend or brake and he knew even without the struggling there would be bruises left on his wrists. "There's no need to be afraid," she whispered soothingly, her free hand coming up to brush back his bangs. Nick jerked away, but there was no escaping her touch and he merely look away, waiting for it to end, his mind cringing with every move, but his body still in an almost catatonic state.
Smiling confidently, Alia made her way slowly over him, relishing in his finely toned body with her hand and lips. She savored every fear stricken shiver that ran through his body, thriving on it as she made her way further down, idly unzipping his pants.
With that Nick jerked to life, it was too much for him to take and in desperation violently fought, actually managing to break free and rolled to his feet a fraction of a second before she had regained hers, but her smile never left.
"You can't stop me, Nick!" She told him, and pounced, slamming them up against the wall. Her nails dug painfully into his shoulder once again and she caught his wrists up like she had before only tighter, if it was so possible. Then kneed him sharply in the thigh until his face paled from the pain and cold. "You are mine now," she told him calmly, smoothly taking them back down to the floor. "Oh this will be a sweet pleasure Nick, you have no idea how long it's been," she murmured softly to him, scorching her words for ever in his mind.
Staring at the ceiling, Nick could feel the tears welding up in his eyes. His throat was constricted and his heart threatened to burst it was pounding so hard, but to him it had already died. Nick cried out in pain and anguish far deeper than anything physical, not even bothering to struggle or move when she released her hold on him. His eyes glazed over as the tears fell freely now, but he no longer cared. He could feel Alia's hand brushing back his bangs once more, hear her softly whisper in his ear, "I told you I'd break you." The words caught and held him in their grasp, clinching his soul till it was as if there was nothing left. Then she was gone and the sobs of absolute anguish racked his entire frame until there was nothing left and he had fallen into a deep and hated sleep.
Philip held the door open for Chris to walk into the large castle upon Angle Island. Derek met her on the other side giving her a warm smile and trying very hard not to look as curious as he was at the marks that covered her face, hands and bare feet. He should have thought to send something with Philip, the priest's coat barely did more than clad her nakedness. Derek shivered once as the cold wind blew in the open door but noticed she didn't even react, even with so much uncovered, but then, she probably was long ago used to the cold. Derek made a mental note of that, then his smile broadened with a small amount of pride as she glanced about the interior of the mansion admirably. "Welcome to our quaint home, I'm Dr. Derek Rayne."
Chris chuckled and turning to him, held out one of her scar marked hands, her eyes gazing at him with a shrewd intelligence. "Chris MacKay." He took the hand firmly, without hesitation, but the moment he did a surge of images ripped through his mind. Ones he wished he'd never seen, pain, anguish, followed only by a calm silence so lingering it almost felt like it was beyond the realm of mortality. As his eyes returned from that all too terrible second his eyes locked with her's. He released the grip and let his hand fall naturally at his side, schooling his features back to normal and wishing she hadn't noticed, but he knew she had from the intense look on her face, then it was gone.
"The Priest said that Nick was in trouble and I might be of some help," Chris said evenly.
Derek glanced at Philip who's face was but a mere contort of worry, wondering if his friend trusted the girl, and taking one look at her clear determination on her face and marks that were just plain impossible to forget, he knew it probably wouldn't matter if he did or not. "Yes. It seems this Alia has come back and taken so to speak her revenge. Nick's missing as well as another of my associates, Rachel Corrigan."
This time Chris didn't bother to hide her suspicion form either of them and crossing her arms told them matter of factly, "this isn't the first time you've come across something like this. Dealing with," she paused, her face scrunching up disconcertly, "the paranormal. Is it?"
'How..." Philip began, sounding a little upset at such an accusation, even if it was true, but Derek raised a hand cutting him off.
Regarding this young woman for a minute, Derek suddenly wondered if it was all worth it. It wasn't as if others didn't know of the Legacy, and there really wasn't much time to waste moving around the obstacle of conception. "Follow me," he simply said. Wordlessly, Chris fell into place between Philip and Derek. Philip knew where they were going instantly and sighed, shaking his head as they soon entered the Control Room.
Derek waited for some sort of question or response form Chris, but there was none forthcoming. She merely looked about with silent studying eyes knowing the value of this well kept secret and trust he was placing upon her. She promised to herself to return that trust and seeing the picture of the ring on Nick's hand blown up on the large screen, moved up to it, saying, "that is how she got here. That is the tie to her world."
Derek nodded, and then asked, "can you read it?"
"It's some sort of Egyptian, but there's no record of it anywhere," Philip told her coming up to stand at her side, his eyes minutely studying the image as he had many times before.
Chris nodded, "I remember a ring similar to this at the site, um," her face curled up in puzzlement. "What year is this?"
"97," Derek quietly replied, seeing the flinch across her eyes.
Softly she continued, "three years ago. We found a buried pyramid out in the middle of the desert, previously undiscovered, nothing stolen, but from the two sarcophagus' in the main burial chamber, the one was empty, the seal completely broken. It was Alia's, but I don't think she had died, I think she was intended to die there, buried alive as they usually are with the Pharaoh."
"Why don't you think she died?" Derek questioned, his own eyebrows furrowing up. "There wouldn't have been any air in there for anything to survive."
Chris looked at him, her eyes a glimmer as she motioned to the screen. "The intonation on both rings read 'Peace is in Eternity Caught Forever.'"
Rachel cursed as she blew up another cloud of dust in her face. Waving it away she took one of the candles that seemed to burn forever and examined one of the ancient coffins. For hours now, she'd been wandering about this treasure filled room, worried, but unable to help herself from feeling the awe of being in such a well preserved marking. The wall on the far side had been broken in and tools of modern excavation lay against the wall near the hole. Rachel idly wondered what had happened to the team as she brushed more dust away, but tried not to think about it. She tried not to think of anything, but Nick alone with that hideous woman was not an image so easily removed. Shaking her head to clear it she looked back to the coffin, this was the Pharaoh's she was sure of it. The intricate design, the ornament literally embedded into the coffin itself shone with an unfortold glamour.
The candle light danced with her every movement, it's unearthly radiance flickering over the gold inlay. It was the out of place illumanacy that caught Rachel's eye's as the light reflected boldly off the small silver ring on the sarcophagus' imaged finger. Curiously, Rachel reached towards it and touched the ring, it looked like the one Nick had been wearing when they found him. Plucking at it with her fingernails trying to get the age old dust out of the way, she was surprised as how easily the ring suddenly popped out. Startled and alarmed, she stepped back almost expecting the coffin to open and the mummy to come alive...but it didn't. Instead, as all classic tales must go, Rachel thought ironically, the cavern began to shake as a very devastating Earthquake rippled below.
She hadn't planned to venture out of the cavern just yet in case Alia or Nick might return, but now seemed like a good time to leave. "I already have a will made up, thank you very much!" She told the silent mummy in small retortion. Pocketing the ring and protecting the candle's light from the erupting dust Rachel quickly dashed though the hole's opening and followed the aged path of footprints as best she could. The rumblings were increasingly covering any traces of the previous team with every shake as more dust displaced itself on the ground and in the air. A brown fog rose up in the passage way and Rachel ran faster, following the main corridor, or so she hoped, looking for a way out.
It was as if the steadily growing Earthquake knew of her intentions to escape and determined to stop her shook even harder, throwing her side to side until finally she tripped and the candle went flying from her grasp, the flame smothering in the dust to leave her in a pure blackness. "Aghhh!" Rachel could feel the small cuts on her hands from catching her fall and spit more dirt out of her mouth with distaste before finding the wall and pulling herself unsteadily back to her feet. Determination drove her forward, she had no intention of spending her life in a dusty grave! Luckily, in the total blackness, the small amount of light that had somehow broken through was like a light house beacon to safety. The light led up a long shaft but still revealed little through the blowing sand above. Looking around and catching sight of some more tools, Rachel figure this was how the team had gotten in, and simultaneously, this would be how she would get out! Taking a firm hold of one of the rope ladder's rungs, she climbed precariously up.
The Earthquake revealed its frustration the further she climbed, throwing dust, loose rock, anything down upon her. It was a surprisingly long way up as Rachel squinted her eyes not taking the time to wipe the grim away. She could hear rock crumbling below her and blindly wondered if it would take her with it, but then at last she reached the top, pulling herself up through the ongrowing sand and rolled away, feeling the land literally sink beneath her.
Looking back through the storm's rage, Rachel couldn't see much of anything, the shaft, nothing, and knew for a surety that was one grave that did not want to be found! For the longest time she just crouched there, hiding her head and arms from the sharp scathing sand until at long last, the rumbling subsided and the storm blew past, leaving the ground with new dunes to paint it's surface. She spent almost just as long tiredly pushing the sand away and digging herself out of the miniature mountain her body had created in the storm.
Standing up and brushing herself off, then just giving up on that idea, she glanced up at the hot sun in the now cloudless sky and around at the seemingly endless dunes of sand, wondering which grave would have been better. Yet before the thought could persist, the familiar sound of a helicopter drew near and crested the towering sand hill, raising more sand in a cloud, but that didn't matter and with a surge of elevation Rachel had not previously know, she waved the helicopter down. Who knows, maybe things wont turn out so bad, she thought to herself. Then again, they still had to find Nick.
Chris let her hair fall back damp over her shoulders. The ends were already curling up as she swept it back out of the way. Making a wryle face she consented that when this was over she'd have to get it cut, but then smiled slightly at the feel of it's length. Sighing, Chris dressed quickly, this had been her third shower already and she left the feel of the smooth clean water reluctantly. It'd been a long day with little done, although Alex had called in that she'd found Rachel, but still no Nick. For them that was the most frustrating part, there just wasn't much they could do! Derek had gratefully given them long breaks and she used what time she had to the joy of water, only this time, Chris also wanted to do a little exploring around this mansion these guys called home. Chris gave herself an odd smile at the sight she saw in the mirror and stepping back looked at her whole body, touching lightly on the marks that were displaced about her. Later she'd try some foundation and cover up to see what that would do, but for now she was happy to be clean and smiling mischievously plucked at the tee-shirt that with the wetness clung to her chest. Philip hadn't told her where he'd gotten the cloths from, but it was obvious they were a man's and Chris had a suspicion they' been Nick's, he was the only one there closest to her height and build. Not that she was complaining any.
Walking barefoot through the castle, she took her time going from room to room letting her eyes and mind wonder over the relics she passed. Then Chris began talking to herself, making small comments on it all, a habit she as yet hasn't fully realized she'd picked up.
Pausing at the entrance to one room, Chris furrowed her brow and stated to the room, "I hope he's not expecting kids to come popping out of the seems!" She stood there for a bit just staring at the large, long dinning room table perplexed for it's common necessity.
The shivers had long ago abated, or so overwhelmed him there was no difference. Nick didn't register the cold anymore, he barely registered anything at all. Most of everything had drowned out leaving him in that mindless state of oblivion, but the sound of her voice pulled him back out. He blinked several times, his eyes focusing on the candle across the ways that never seemed to burn out, the only thing that had held him to the living. A small spark of hope, or life, seemed to ignite within and he listened wistfully for that voice again, not caring if it was just a dream or not.
Chris let her eyes sweep around the still room commenting wryly to the room, "well, for your case, I certainly hope not! They'd break everything in sight!"
Nick blinked harder, that piece of his mind still in one piece was telling him it wasn't his imagination, that it was real. But that couldn't be, why would Chris be here? Nick thought to himself, the first sure sign of life he'd made in hours. Still in a state of numbness he slowly sat up, looking up into the darkness above. Hesitantly he called out half heartedly. "Chris?" But his voice was barely more than a whisper.
"Yes! For certain!" Chris told the room empathically, feeling quite sorry for it already.
Nick sat up even further, his eyes coming alight as he called out again, much stronger this time. "Chris!" There was no immediate reply like before and his shoulders slumped, but amazingly that little part of him guided his mind to an idea. Stiffly, he stood up and moved over to the candle, carefully removing it from its metal holder. Then moving silently over to the wall that seemed closest to the sounds he proceeded to smartly rap it hard against the stone hearing a resounding ring in response.
Chris gave one final "humph!" In sympathy for the room before turning to leave, but paused curiously feeling the minute vibrations below on her sensitive bare feet. Frowning, Chris immediately went to inquire it of Derek.
Nick knew she'd left and stopped, sighing loudly in the slight echo still left. He leaned against the wall letting himself slid down laying his head against his arms in defeat. The pain rose unbidden and he felt the hot new tears ride down, finding little comfort in their small heat.
Chris walked into the Control Room, finding Derek and Philip both plastered to a screen with books covering the counter top. They looked up but upon seeing her still damp hair went back to their own work. She had returned late, but neither of them would say anything, personally, they didn't blame her.
Yet Chris wasn't even thinking of that as she neared and quickly questioned, "does your floor often vibrate?"
Derek gave her a quizzical look, seeing the intent gaze on her face. He replied slowly, uncertainly, "sometimes. It they want to I suppose."
"Would they want to with an SOS code pattern?"
Derek raise his eyebrows, not to sure if he should be taking her seriously or not. "Probably not, why?"
"Okay," she said simply rather than answering him, and gave them both a brief smile before turning and leaving. Yet before she had disappeared she called back, "I found him!"
Derek and Philip took one look at each other and in a flash were up and following. I took them a bit to catch up with her and then even when they did she didn't slow enough for them to talk until she'd reached the bottom of the basement and was looking around speculatively.
"What's this about?" Derek demanded, halfway down the staircase.
Simultaneously, Philip anxiously asked, "where is he?"
Chris turned, looking around. She looked back up at them ignoring their questions and asked, "where's the dinning room from here?"
"It's clear on the other side of the castle."
Her head bobbed reflectively and she headed back up. "That's what I thought." When she met up with the stair Derek still stood on, she turned, meeting his eye. "He's here. Beneath the castle somehow."
For a second they just stood there locked in gaze before Derek finally nodded consent of her theory. "Let's get out the blueprints and we'll see what we can find."
The tears stopped when he more than saw the blue flash of light in the small chamber, but he didn't look up, he felt too weak to do anything. His heart beat quickened and he felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle nervously. Sucking in a breath, Nick squinted his eyes trying not to feel anything. Yet he couldn't' stop the small quakes that rushed through his body and in response only tried closing his eyes even tighter, to no avail.
Her hand brushed against his shoulder with a light touch and she whispered softly in his ear, "poor, poor, Nick!" Nick's body shook harder and he tried willing himself away, retreating into the recesses of his mind, but her voice held him in place. "Nick."
The voice called and although he didn't want to, but feeling as if he had to, as if she wanted him to, he slowly lifted his head to look at her with lost tear brimmed eyes. He wanted to say something, to retort, strike out, anything, but he didn't dare.
Alia looked back at him, a soft, almost comforting smile on her face as she crouched down beside him till they were looking at each other on level planes. "It's all right," she murmured, "I wont hurt you."
Nick cringed away form her touch and tried to curl back into an even tighter ball, anything to get away, but there was no where to go. Her hand gently rested itself on his arm and his shivering stopped, his body sagging in a sort of relief he didn't fully feel. "See?" I only want to help," she told him moving closer. Nick didn't respond and he didn't move away. His eyes sank back down to stair at the stone ground as she moved even closer. Her hand never left him and eventually moved around to his other shoulder as she came to sit practically right beside him. "It's okay, Nick," she whispered softly and then with gentle but firm hands guided him to lean against her. "It'll be okay," she murmured, smelling the cold sweat in his hair and smiling in sweet satisfaction.
The stillness was penetrating.
Derek unrolled the blue prints across the light table as the three gathered around. He shook his head in thoughtful apprise but before he could say anything Chris was already pointing to a spot on the layout. "What are those?"
"That's just the reefs along the edge of the island that run below the tower," Philip answered perplexed at her sudden enlightened expression.
Chris grinned at him, prodding, "and what do reefs often form?"
Derek's face lit up as well. "Caves!"
It didn't take them long to get set up on top the tower wall to have Philip repel down, but when Chris showed up with some 'borrowed' gear there was some immediate protesting. "I don't think so!" Derek told her bluntly.
Chris just gave him a look, hooking herself up anyway and retorting, "Oh, come on, Derek! I've dealt with her before and Philip's just a priest, he's not equipped for something like this."
"He's handled a lot more than you have, and you'd be surprised how well my members can handle themselves!" Derek equally replied.
Chris turned to face him, her head tilting in sincerity. "Derek," she said quietly and seriously, "Alia's not going to go away with a chanting, or sprinkle of some holy water. She's not an incantation, she's just plain evil. She'll want to fight! besides, I own it to her!"
They stood for a minute in silence. Philip eyed them nervously as he finished fastening the ropes and safety lines. Then at last Derek nodded and smiling in thanks Chris turned back to help Philip finish up. A small grin came to his lips and Philip whispered, "nice acquisition of cloths."
Chris merely grinned and stated, "I'll ask him later."
Philip just silently laughed and tugged on the last line to make sure it was secure. "Okay, you're ready."
Nodding, Chris walked over the edge, but before she could make the pass over the top, Derek stopped her with a hand, saying, "Chris, be safe."
Smiling, Chris slid over the edge, saying lightly, "I've put up with her for three years and she's never gotten the best of me yet, I don't plan on it now!" Then with one jump she had moved down the wall out of hearing range.
Derek couldn't stop himself from grinning and exchanged looks with Philip but then had to look up as the helicopter suddenly soared out of the clouds to make an imposing entrance.
Chris heard the copper and looked up, but then looked back down below to the sort of cloud that seemed to hang above the water, covering everything from view. Taking a deep breath she jumped down again, and again to take her right through the cloud. Where she should have hit stone, there was only an empty hollowness and she unexpectedly swung in through the hidden opening. Swinging out and in again got her baring as Chris made a blind landing on the wet moss covered stone floor. For a few minutes Chris just felt around, making her way carefully in and unhooking herself from the line. She slid off the flood lamp that had been attached over her shoulder with some rope and turned the high powered beam on to illuminate the entire area even through the mist.
It was only ten minutes later just as Chris discovered an opening with in the hole ridden walls that the sounds of floundering movements came from behind. She ducked back into the first cave to find Philip fiddling with the second line that now draped down, trying to unfasten himself in the dark.
He turned sharply as the light hit him. "Who's there?" He called out alarmed.
Chris chuckled and at the sound he visibly sighed. "It's just me," she answered and then added, "I found an opening." With the light Philip had no problem unhooking and walked up to her, pulling something out of his pocket to give to her. It was the other ring. "Rachel brought it back with her." After examining it in the light Chris tried handing it back to him, but Philip shook his head and told her ruefully, "you're right, I really am just a priest."
Chris was about to protest that but held her tongue and after a moment smiled, shaking her head in mirth, "ya, but you're a darn good one!"
Philip's shoulder's shook with his quiet laughter once more and together then ventured in, surprisingly quite a distance. One cave kept leading into another until finally they entered a cave not naturally made and lined with items of various forms and sizes. Most had woolen coatings to protected them from the damp and cold, but there were quite a few just laying about.
Philip's eyes were wide as he traced his finger along one delicately carve item. "I wonder how long these things have been here?" He softly questioned, his voice no more than a whisper as if it might disrupt the awe of the moment.
Chris grinned examining another piece of ancient worth, saying, "it's amazing what you can find under a castle in the middle of the San Francisco Bay!" then her eyes caught notice of the far wall. The only wall to which nothing lay against and silently made her way over. The room itself had the appearance of being only half finished, some walls were smooth, others rough and worn, and this one in particular had a design carved right into the wall itself. Reaching up Chris felt the carving and eyed a particular out of place piece pushing on it hard. Seen too many Indiana Jones movies, she thought ironically, and briefly wondered if they were even still around. Not so much to her surprise, the piece clicked and with a grown the wall jerk and then slowly moved, literally popping open.
Philip turned around with a start and Chris back up grabbing a hold of the edge of the wall and swinging it wide open. The light of the lamp shown in through the new found entrance only to have a familiar figure step boldly out. Alia's eyes flashed a cold angry blue, but then she smiled as she noticed Chris and calmly stated. "So you made it out, did you? No matter, you can do nothing now!" But then her eyes narrowed and she remarked, "you look different, I remember putting more marks on you than that, I might have to rectify the mistake!"
Chris's eyes lit up with a dangerous and almost malical gleam as she grinned radically. "It's called cover up you ancient piece of history!" Within seconds, Chris sent the Flood lamp scattering across the floor using it as a distraction and jumped at the small woman, sending them both rolling back inside the opening.
Grabbing the lamp, Philip quickly followed knowing Chris wouldn't last long against Alia's powers, but when he saw them fighting so savagely, he really didn't know what he could do either. That's when he noticed Nick sitting against one wall hugging his knees. Philip set the light down and crouched down next to his friend, but Nick wouldn't look up, his eyes were locked on the battle before him. "Nick," Philip calmly said, and put a hand on his shoulder, but immediately pulled it back as Nick flinched at the touch. Yet still there was no getting his attention and feeling lost and unsure, Philip also turned his gaze to the fighting woman.
Chris breathed deeply as her body was slammed up against one of the jagged walls but didn't bother to pause long enough to feel the pain as she pushed off the wall and jumped back once more at Alia, managing a blow across the other woman's face. Then another surge of blue forced her off once again and this time as Chris sagged on the floor, she stopped, just trying to get any air into her lungs. Despite the burning in her chest, Chris forced herself up, glowering at Alia who had also picked herself up off the ground, confidently posing herself with her regal stature. At first Chris thought this would be it, the end of them all, but then her eyes flickered to Nick and his intent gaze. It was now or never.
A sudden grin came to Chris face, unnerving Alia. "You've lost, Alia!" Chris stated triumphantly and pulled out the silver ring.
Eyes going wide with horror, Alia cried out, "No!!!" But it was too late, Chris had already slipped the ring on her own finger and begun to glow a deep red. Maddened by more than just rage, Alia grabbed onto Chris filling her with every ounce of energy she had left, but it did nothing. On the contrary it was as if the energy shot back, combined with the red fire that now possessed Chris' entire countenance. Her hand shot out and clamped down on Alia's and the two woman struggled, finally taking each other down to the floor, but it was Chris who got the upper hand and pinned the smaller screaming woman where she was.
Chris looked up over at the spot where Philip and Nick still crouched. Philip was adverting his eyes from the light, but Nick couldn't turn his gaze from the scene before him. Eyes flaring wildly, Chris yelled out to him, "Nick! The ring! Put it on her!"
There wasn't even a pause as Nick rose smoothly to his feet despite the obvious stiffness and walked calmly over to them. His face was empty, but Chris could see the uncertainty in his eyes, that lost expression. Alia saw it as well and laughed hoarsely. "Do it and I'll kill you!" She growled out vemonously.
Pain flickered across his face and his eyes locked with the trapped woman, unable to break free. Chris called his attention back, her voice fierce, braking the spell, "Nick! You have to do it now!"
Swallowing, Nick no longer hesitated, knowing if he did, he'd never be able to do it, and crouching down inside the sphere of light around the two woman, pulled at the ring. It slipped of easily, and he slipped it onto Alia before she could do anything more. Chris likewise released the woman and in one movement took her's off putting it on Alia's hand as well. Alia was frozen in place as a screen erupting form her mouth hit unreachable levels. Nick merely stood there in shock, unmoved by anything that was happening.
"Philip!" Chris cried out and grabbed a hold of Nick by the shoulders spinning him around and headed him out of the cavern at a run, Philip a slight step ahead with the light. behind, Alia's body began to break up into patterns of red and blue, the power over coming any sound and creating a deafening sphere that exploded outward.
The trio ran blindly, but they dare not slow down. They could literally feel the explosion behind them and in a second it caught them, right at the entrance, blowing enough of the clouds that they could see the two hanging ropes in front of them and jumping grabbed onto the ropes as best they could.
Chris closed her eyes against the blast of power and light as it flew them up and out, and grasping the rope, felt an arm slid unconsciously around her as much for support as it was to give it. When it was over the rope swung back down and Chris and Nick let go to land uncertainly on the now moss cleared ground as did Philip beside them. "You okay?" He quickly asked.
Nodding Chris exchanged looks with the priest and looked uncertainly to Nick, but he didn't answer. He wasn't even looking in there direction, but stared back down into the caves. They waited in silence and at last he turned to gaze out at the now cleared horizon, the clouds billowing above and the waters splashing below. "Let's go," Nick said quietly, the first words he'd said to them since they'd found him.
Derek and Chris walked slowly through the upper halls of the castle. "What are your plans?" Derek asked calmly.
A smile trickled on Chris' face, "Don't know, really. I don't exactly have much of a life now. Three whole years." she shook her head in wonderment, but the smile never left. "I suppose I should see if my uncle's still around or something, he has a right to know what happened. Other than that," she turned to looked out a near by window, "I can't really say."
"Well, you're welcome to stay here if you'd like," Derek told her turning to face her.
Chris turned back, a grin playing upon her face but her eyes shone with a cunning intelligence. "Are you speaking as owner of the castle or precept?"
Chuckling Derek responded, "I suppose precept, I don't think you'd satisfy for anything less," and then added more seriously after a second, "we could really use your help and skills."
"Well, if that the case..."Chris drawled out bringing a smile back but she nodded her head, saying solemnly, "I'd be honoured."
"Good." They continued their walk in silence, soon coming to Nick's door as Rachel timely exited. "How is he?" Derek asked concerned.
Rachel regarded them, saying quietly. "Physically? He's fine. Emotionally?" She shook her head sighing, "Uh, it'll take time, but I think he'll be okay."
Derek nodded reflectively and they headed their separate ways. Inside, Nick lay silent and still listening to the voices outside his door. When he knew they were gone his eyes opened again and for a while he just stared up at the ceiling, then, turning, he curled up under the covers and closing his eyes tight fell restlessly asleep.