Roses Have Thorns
"Like others before me, I have the gift of
Alex winced as the door to the library slammed closed, signaling Nick's rapid departure from the room. The pretty researcher began to wish she was anywhere but here as Derek, still enraged from the argument he and Nick had been carrying out, flung the doors back open and stormed after the young man. The case the group had been working on for the past month had touched a little close to home for Nick, and he had become almost unbearable with his dark moods and sullen nature. Everyone understood why - the case involved a young boy who was being abused by his father, but Derek, as always, suspected a poltergeist phenomenon. Unfortunately, on this occasion, he had been wrong. He and Nick had always disagreed with each other over this case, but when Nick managed to get videotape evidence against the father, Derek had yelled at him for using "unorthodox methods". Nick had given as good as he got, but Derek had gotten the upper hand, and Nick had stormed out, Derek following him closely behind.
"Nick, get back in the house!" Derek yelled when he finally caught up with the young man in the garage.
"Leave me alone!" Nick yelled back. "I'm not a child!"
"Then stop acting like one! Nick, you can't walk out on us every time things don't go right for you!" Derek watched as Nick grabbed his motorcycle helmet from the rack where it stood, and wheeled his bike out onto the drive.
"Where are you going?"
"I don't have to tell you.... Dad!" Nick muttered sarcastically.
"Thank God I'm not your father!" Derek said, exasperated. "If this was the attitude he had to put up with, then no wonder he wasn't exactly Mr. Rogers!"
Nick shot Derek a hurt look, and the older man immediately regretted what he had said. He reached out a restraining hand as Nick swung his leg over his cycle and started the engine, but Nick knocked him way, and the machine roared off angrily into the night.
Derek started back to the house to be greeted by Alex, Rachel and Philip staring disapprovingly down at him from the second floor.
"What?" Derek snapped. They said nothing, but left him alone and went back to the library. Derek sighed heavily and started to go back up the stairs to ashamedly join them, when a sudden vision made him gasp and reel, grabbing onto the handrail for support.
....lights, so very bright, heading straight for
Nick; the young man's motorcycle skidding out of control
and off the road; then a darkness, such a terrible
"His phone!" Derek cried. "Did he take his phone?!"
"You are kidding, aren't you?" Philip said coldly. "He didn't even take his jacket. The speed he goes at on that bike, he'll be suffering from hypothermia in no time." Then, the priest noticed the look on Derek's face, and his tone changed to one of concern. "Derek, are you okay?"
Derek looked at the others, debating whether to tell them or not, and decided not to worry them. "I've just made a mistake," he said, quietly. "A very terrible mistake."
Nick's bike roared along the mountain road, weaving recklessly from side to side. If there had been any other traffic on the road, he would almost certainly be in the back of an ambulance by now, but the roads were clear that night, and Nick hadn't seen anyone since he had set out. The thick trees were dark around him, blotting out most of the moonlight, and the only illumination he had of the road was from his headlight, the small gleam picking out the frost-covered tarmac. He knew that the way he was driving could cause him an accident and hurt him badly, or worse, but he just didn't care anymore.
The bitter cold cut through his woolen sweater and jeans like a knife through butter, and he wished he'd paused to grab his jacket. But that would have meant listening to Derek some more.... At the thought of the older man, Nick gritted his teeth, and pushed the bike a little further. Why did Derek have to make life so difficult? Why couldn't he admit to being wrong just once? Why couldn't he be pleased when Nick managed to do something on his own? With dismay, Nick realized that he was forever trying to impress Derek, something he had tried so hard to do with his own father, and he had failed with both men. All through his life, he had built Derek Rayne up to be the perfect father, someone Nick could look up to and trust, but he realized that was just a fantasy, Derek was a normal man just like any other. Angrily, Nick spurred the bike on more. Then, disaster struck.
Rounding the corner, Nick was confronted by a terribly bright light. His first thought was that it came from a car's headlights, until he realized that the light came from a single source, not two. Then, shock cut through the hazy anger in his mind as he saw he was headed straight for the light. He swerved his bike to the side, but the frosty tarmac made the task nearly impossible. He had almost got the bike under control when it swerved again, and his high speed flipped the bike on it's side. He slid along, trapped under the careening bike, feeling the hard surface beneath him rip open his jeans. Then, he was off the road, falling backwards down a steep-sided slope, desperately grabbing for something to slow his momentum. He grasped at small shrubs, but they broke under his hands, and the dirt surface offered no support. Still trapped under the bike, he was pulled mercilessly down the slope, until his back slammed against the thick trunk of a tree, and he slipped away into blackness.
Far away, someone was screaming. It took a while for sense to cut through the thick blackness surrounding Nick's mind, but he eventually realized it was his own voice that he could hear. Now, if he could just remember why he was yelling.... The darkness brightened suddenly, and Nick was back at the House, in the hallway. Something.... there was something in the House, something bad. He was screaming at the others to run, to get away, but he could hear nothing above the howling wind that tore through the ancient mansion. He ran up the stairs to the library, feeling the wind tear and buffet him, but he eventually struggled into the massive room. The huge oak table was upended against the far wall, the chairs lying smashed about the room. The walls were covered in sprays of blood and gore, the electric lamps busted and useless. Philip lay on the floor in front of him, eyes glazed and staring blankly at the ceiling. Nick knew from the unnatural way the priest's head lay on his shoulders that he was dead. The young man felt no grief, just a terrible numbness and shock. He knew that if he reacted any other way, he'd become an emotional wreck, and the others needed him.... if they were still alive....
A strangled groan from his right caused Nick to turn and look towards the wall. He felt bile rise in his throat as he saw Alex hanging there, pinned to the wall by the broadsword that Derek kept in the library. She was still alive, blood running freely from the wound and from her mouth. She tried to hold out a hand to Nick, to tell him something, but the light died in her eyes, and her body fell limp. Nick backed away, a hand to his mouth. All his SEAL training, everything he had been taught, flew from his mind as he stared at the horror before him, unable to comprehend what was happening. He ran from the library, almost falling down the stairs in his effort to reach the end, to get away and find help....
Nick heard a shriek from the parlour, and he stopped dead, trembling. He didn't want it to be Derek or Rachel, but knew it had to be one of them. Slowly, he walked forward, and stood in the doorway. Rachel's hand lay outstretched on the wooden floor before him; just her hand, no more. Her golden wedding ring glinted in the moonlight, seeming to mock Nick. "Nick...." the groan came from behind him, and he turned to see Derek, lumbering forward towards him, arms outstretched. "Nick, help me...." But Nick couldn't tear his eyes away from the precept's shattered skull, bone and grey matter protruding from beneath blood and tissue. Nick backed away, and he was aware of that screaming again, his own screaming, only this time, he had a very good reason to scream. He felt his mind snap as something grabbed him from behind around his waist, lifting him in the air, and then he was laughing insanely, and still laughing as he felt something sharp ram into his back and rip out his spine....
Nick jerked away, screaming, until he realized he had no need to scream. His heart still pounded, and he was drenched in cold sweat. He took several deep breaths to calm himself, before looking around at his surroundings. He frowned as he realized that this wasn't where he had come off the road earlier that evening. He was in a garden, a very overgrown one at that. It took a few moments to register that the garden was meant to look like that, with massive plants crowding over each other everywhere he looked. Even though it was still dead of night, flowers were open, showing a vast array of every color imaginable; purples, blues, pinks, delicate whites, and hundreds that Nick couldn't even identify. Insect-song chirped from the undergrowth. High above in the tree-tops, he could hear birds calling to each other, but they were bird-calls unlike any Nick had every heard before. Musical and exotic, there was no way they could have come from San Francisco. And speaking of which.... Nick stood up and looked at the sky above him, which twinkled with millions of bright stars in unfamiliar constellations.
There was no orange glow of the city's sodium lamps, but the biggest giveaway were the three full moons hanging low in the sky, like large Mother-pearls, shimmering shades that echoed the flowers.
"Somehow, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto." Nick said out loud.
"My name isn't Toto," said an amused voice from behind him. Nick whirled, and came face-to-face with a very tall, very beautiful woman. Her hair was long and raven-black, curling in vast waves down to her waist. Her eyes were as black as her hair, with no whites, no pupils, just two deep black pools. Her skin was terribly pale, set off even more by the black, flowing dress she wore.
"Who are you?" Nick asked, unable to do anything but stare.
"I am Dyan." The woman's voice reminded Nick of the whisper of wind through the trees.
"Goddess of the Hunt?" Nick said. The woman nodded approvingly.
"You know your Latin." she said, smiling.
"Just one of my hidden talents." Nick smiled back at her. "Living where I do, you pick things up. I also play piano like Mozart, but don't tell anyone that."
"Not even Derek?"
Nick's smile faded as he remembered his awful dream. "How do you know him?"
"I know everything, Nick. It's who I am, it's what I do."
"Okay, if you know everything," Nick said suspiciously, "Where are we?"
"The Garden Of Eden."
Nick's eyes widened. "What?!"
Dyan laughed. "You expected somewhere a bit more.... close to home?"
"I kinda expected somewhere on Earth...."
"You amuse me." Dyan clapped her hands happily. "Ask me another question!"
"Look, lady, I'm not here to play games." Nick said, annoyed. "I'd kinda like to go home."
Dyan looked disappointed. "Just one more question? Please?"
"Okay." Nick sighed. "Uh.... what's the meaning of life?"
"Forty-two, of course." Dyan laughed.
"You read Douglas Adams too, huh? Look, it's been great chatting with you, but I gotta get home."
"And how do you think you're going to get there, Nick?" Dyan questioned.
"Same way Adam and Eve did." Nick answered. 'I'll go find the Tree Of Knowledge, eat an apple, and get myself chucked out of here." He started to walk off into the trees. Dyan hurried over and blocked his path.
"I'm afraid it doesn't work like that, Nick."
"Dyan," Nick said, through gritted teeth. "I'm sure you're a charming person and all that, but I'd just like to go, if you don't mind!"
"Why not?" Nick felt a thrill of panic.
"It won't let you." Dyan teased.
"The Garden, of course."
Nick was through playing games. "Okay, I'm getting a little sick of this! Either you let me go, or...." His voice trailed off.
"Or what?" Dyan smiled. "Look, Nick, the Garden won't let you go until you've done what you were brought here to carry out."
"What are you talking about?" Nick's voice came out tired and stressed.
"The Garden," Dyan said. "It's a dream world, where memories of the past and future alike roam free to haunt."
"Eden's a dream world. Okay. Fine."
"That's what the apple was about," Dyan said, sadly. "By eating the apple, knowledge was let loose. Knowledge of the past, knowledge of the future."
"You know what?" Nick said, uneasily. "I'm not too sure I want to explore my memories, if you don't mind."
"But you have to!" Dyan looked shocked. "You can't refuse!"
Dyan's eyes narrowed. "Did you have a dream before you woke up here?"
"You know everything," Nick said rudely, his patience lost, "Then you should know, shouldn't you?"
Dyan placed her hands on her hips, angry. "You really want that dream to come true, Nick? God, you're just like your father!"
Nick paled. "I'm nothing like him," he said, through tight lips.
Dyan smiled, having found the right button to press. "Oh, really?" She smiled. "I really don't want to have to do this, Nick, but...."
The garden around Nick shimmered, then solidified, becoming a dingy sitting-room. The grimy curtains were closed, and only a single lamp was on, it's weak light sending yellow rays into the room. Everything seemed to be out of proportion, and Nick was only just tall enough to see onto the top of the table in the room. With a start, he recognized the room as the one back in his parent's old house, before they had moved away from Eureka to San Francisco. Nick let out a cry as he felt a hand grab him roughly by the arm and swing him round, until he was face-to-face with his father, who was red-faced. Angry. Drunk.
"You little creep!" His father screamed into his face, and Nick lifted his hands to protect himself. His five-year-old body couldn't twist out of his father's iron grip, however much he squirmed. Robert shoved Nick towards a stain on the carpet, some sort of dark liquid.
"You spilt my beer everywhere, you toad!" Robert yelled. "What are you gonna do about it, you worthless piece of shit?!"
"I'm s-s-s-sorry." Nick stammered, terrified. His adult mind remembered this occasion, and tried to get his child body to escape, but he couldn't move.
"You know what this means don't you?" Robert said fiercely. "You gotta be punished, boy; You gotta be punished so you don't do it again!"
"But I won't....!"
"Daddy doesn't believe you!" Robert struggled to pull his belt out of his pant-loops, whilst still keeping an iron grip on his small son. Nick let out a scream of agony as the leather whipped through the air, the buckle striking him on the back. The belt was pulled back and flung out again and again, each hit producing a new wave of agony. Nick felt blood flowing over his bruised body, and when Robert let go of his arm, he slumped to the floor, curling into a small ball. The beating didn't stop there, however. Robert began to use his fists and feet to rain down blows on his small son, screaming abuse all the while, until Nick, sobbing and terrified, felt himself rush down a deep, dark tunnel into nothingness.
In the garden, Dyan looked at Nick's unconscious, trembling body. And she smiled.
Even in his unconscious state, Nick yearned for some source of comfort for his pain. In the recesses of his mind, something stirred.
Nick opened his eyes, taking in his surroundings. He was now standing in the entryway to the mansion. Derek, Phillip and Julia stood in front of him. 'Huh? How'd I get here? What's going on?' Nick asked himself. Something about this was wrong, but he just couldn't place it.
"Nick?" Derek asked, with a bit of concern in his tone.
"Yeah? Oh, sorry. Guess I zoned out for a minute there," he responded.
"Well, as I was saying, I was very surprised to get your mother's call. It's not everyday that the boy you watched grow up comes back to you. Especially under such...odd circumstances," Derek went on warmly, but not without hesitation.
Nick smiled politely and looked behind Derek to the two people standing there. Derek caught on and said, "Oh! Forgive me, Nick. This is Phillip Callaghan and Julia Walker." The named two stepped forward to greet him. First Phillip greeted him and they shook hands. Then Julia stepped forward.
The first thing Nick noticed was her eyes. Deep and intense, as if nothing could escape their depths. It seemed as if every emotion and color possible was captured and forever reflected when he looked into them. 'Julia...where do I know her from?' Nick asked himself. He suddenly noticed he was staring and broke the gaze, not missing how hotly she was blushing back at him. There was something special about her. And she was so beautiful...
The scene shimmered and shifted, then re-solidified to a dark, rainy night. Nick stood there, looking down at the writhing, wiggling remains of the man he'd been chasing. He squirmed, trying not to think of the blood and gore on his jacket. Next to him, Derek caught up. But his gaze shifted, and so did Nick's, toward the dark figure in the field nearby. Both men, forgetting the body- or lack thereof- before them, took off, over the fence and across the field. Through the mud and rain they ran, all the while knowing what they'd find. Nick's heart caught up in his throat, his mind screaming his worst fears. 'Oh, God! Don't let it be her! Please, just don't let it be her!'
Suddenly, they stopped, the cursed sight jolting them to a halt. Looking upon his beloved, Nick's legs failed and buckled. And on his knees, he cried the most gut-wrenching cry a lover could give for a lost love. Before him, a wooden cross rose up from the muddy earth. On it, the body of his love, cold and still, was perched. Her clothes were torn and muddy, her expression one of pain and cold terror. Frozen. Julia was dead and it was all Nick could bear to see her there again.
Nick closed his eyes and was immediately aware of the change which took place. Swallowing hard to force back the tears and the lump in his throat, he opened his eyes to see Dyan staring back at him curiously, yet detached. "I don't know what's so special about that girl. She's nothing but a simple mortal woman. Died like any other mortal would," Dyan said with bitterness.
"I loved her," Nick said through barely contained rage.
"But why? What has that love ever given you in return?"
Nick paused and once again, the garden scene wavered to be replaced by another. Only this time, Nick and Dyan sat off to the side and watched as the scene before them played out.
They were at the island; a rocky, cliff-ridden edge surrounded by tall trees and thick, overgrown grasses. On a rock ledge at the very edge of the cliff stood Nick, perhaps 5 years younger. His back was turned to them, his body tense and head looking down to the tide that crashed in great waves against the far below rocks. Rain raged down all around them. Nick remembered the night all too well. It was just a couple of days after he'd first come back to the island, to the Legacy. After he'd quit the SEALs. After his whole team was massacred right out from under him.
Behind his younger self, not 10 yards away, the petite form of a woman crept up cautiously.
"Remember this, Nicky? Weren't feeling too great, eh? Until dear, sweet Julia comes along," Dyan teased. It took all Nick's strength to ignore her and not shut her up for good. Assuming he could, that is. Instead, he swallowed his anger and watched on in bittersweet agony. Even though he couldn't see the face of his doppelganger, he knew that the tears were there.
Just then, as it looked like he was going to make that one last step, the other figure came into the clearing and called out to him. "Don't," the strong, feminine voice said timidly.
Unmoving, Nick's doppelganger challenged, "Why shouldn't I?"
"Be-because...I want you to live," she choked out.
Nick turned slowly toward her and responded with an almost expressionless tone, "And that should be enough?"
"No. It should be a start," she said, stronger now. Holding her hand out to him, she looked deep into his eyes, "Come on. Let's get out of this storm and talk. You've got to give me a shot," she said softly.
After what seemed like ages, Nick stretched out his own hand and took hers, stepping down from the rock ledge.
The facade and it's contents shimmered and the colors blurred to rearrange and solidify themselves to the garden Nick was so steadily becoming accustomed to.
"Geez, that's it?" Dyan complained, "It was just getting to the good stuff!" Beside her, Nick ignored the comment as well as the slice at his emotions and instead turned and demanded of her, "Why am I seeing all this? What's the point?"
Dyan regarded him silently for a moment. For the life of him, Nick couldn't guess what was going through the fiery creature's mind, not sure he wanted to. Then she shrugged, responding, "To better focus you on future events," she said, uninterested.
"Oh? And what, pray tell, is in my future?" the young man fired sarcastically.
"It's not your future you should be concerned with, Nick. You'd do much better to think of your friends'," she said darkly.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he challenged her.
"Do you really want to know?" Dyan responded, her eyes lit up like black diamonds. Before Nick could respond, his surroundings shifted once again. Dyan was still beside him, but that was the only familiar sight his eyes met in this strange place.
In the dingy remains of some long unkempt tenement slum or some such other building, nearly a dozen poor souls were huddled together in poorly hidden terror. Rats and other vermin crept boldly across the floor, which could only be described as the filth which bred on filth. The only audible sounds were from the bundles of flesh which occasionally groaned or whimpered out of their despair, and the faint sound of explosions mixed with terror-filled shrieks far in the distance. Nick shuddered involuntarily, flabbergasted at how this horrid place tied in with anyone he knew. Before he could even form a guess, he was distracted by shouts on the other side of a door, followed by a large bang as whoever it was attempted to bust it off its hinges. On the second try it gave and at least a half a dozen men barged through, guns in their hands and hatred on their faces. Each was identically dressed in black and grey soldiers' uniforms which fit the well-built men like a glove.
Behind them stalked in the regal form of a tall, dark-haired woman. Perhaps 25 years old, her voluptuous figure was shown off impressively in the uniform; similar to the men she controlled, except for the markings of red which intertwined with the black and grey. Beautiful as she was, her very presence screamed of evil influence, causing panic among her prey. Standing in the middle of the room, she surveyed the progress of her men with smug satisfaction as the soldiers gathered together the people who had been huddled in the corners of the room.
One of them, a dirty young man of no more than 20, suddenly threw himself at her feet, begging, "Please, please, Lord Corrigan! Don't kill us! We've done nothing to you!"
Still standing to the side of them, realization dawned on Nick. "Kat?" he mumbled softly in disbelief.
Not seeing them, the people went on. A soldier cracked his gun over the man's back, then picked him up and held him for his boss to deal with. Kat looked at him with cold indifference and answered him, "Haven't you? You have a pure soul which cannot be corrupted, the only threat to the progression of the Dark Side's rule. Therefore, you cannot be allowed to live." At that, she raised one hand above the man's head. Within a moment, black swirls of mist appeared, circling and pouring into her hand until it glowed with the evil energy. In a second, she had poured the energy into the head of the young man. His body slumped to the ground; black lifeless eyes staring up from chalk white features stained with two perfect trails of blood which went down his cheeks as if tears.
Nick stood in total shock, the only thing he could mumble being, "Kat, no," as he stared at this woman who couldn't possibly be his Katherine Corrigan.
A quick movement caught his eye and he looked to see one of the people charge at her back in rage. In his hand was a long, clear shard of glass, raised to kill.
Dyan saw it too, and warned, "Nick, I wouldn't-"
"Kat! Watch out!" Nick screamed at her, breaking whatever barrier had separated their realities. Instead of looking behind her, Kat looked to the new arrivals, shock taking over, "N-nick?" she said in a small, innocent voice. Before anything could be done, the man reached her and shoved the glass deep into the center of her back.
"No!" Nick cried, even as Kat crumbled to her knees, her eyes wide in shock, and her assailant was apprehended by a soldier. As she fell to the ground, Nick caught her and held her head in his lap. Staring up at him, the wide range of emotions paraded across her face in a storm as her mouth moved but made no sound. Finally, her features fixed into a look of pure pain and confusion as she found the words she was looking for. "Nick? Y-you're dead. Why did you leave me?" she gasped through lung-racking coughs.
A tear escaped him, and with a small sob, Nick said to her, "Oh, Kat! I'm so sorry! I should've been here. What happened?" he sobbed, looking down at the rapidly spreading stain of red on the front of her shirt, then into her pain-filled eyes.
Kat coughed hard, blood trickling in a stream out of the corner of her mouth. Still, she choked out three words that broke Nick's heart into pieces. "You were right," she said. Then she closed her eyes and went limp.
Nick closed his own eyes against the tears, unable to look at the child in his arms, so much younger in his eyes than she appeared now, as he rocked her back and forth. He was suddenly aware that she was no longer in his arms and opened his eyes to see he was back in the cursed garden Dyan called Eden, the smell of the roses mocking him. Refusing to look at her, but aware of her black eyes on him, Nick choked back the tears as best as he could and inquired, "What happened?"
Her voice deathly serious, Dyan responded without glory, "You all died. The San Francisco House was destroyed and Kat was left alone. Without you, the Legacy was soon taken down, one house at a time. Kat grew up in a world of hate and fear where her bitterness consumed her and hate became a way of living. The Dark Side saw her for her power and used her pain to make her theirs. Only when she saw you was their spell over her broken."
Nick sat in silence with his thoughts and Dyan obliged. Finally Nick decided he'd had enough. He wiped away his tears, stood up and stared long and hard at the mystery before him. "I want out," he demanded in a tone that said just what he'd do if ignored.
With a sigh of reluctance, Dyan said, "Not yet. There's one more thing you have to see first."
The garden shimmered around them, and the scenery changed once again. Nick found himself on a sandy beach, the ocean a startling blue before him. The sky was cloudless, offering no protection from the blazing sun. Small fishing boats swam on the lazy tide, and small children in white slips played in the surf. A few adults, dressed in togas of varying pale colors, watched the children with a wary eye, but chattered happily amongst themselves at the same time.
One woman wandered alone, her back to Nick. Her blonde hair fell down past her waist, and her slim form was clad in a blue silk shift. A great golden bird wheeled above the beach, letting out a musical cry, and the woman turned to watch it, shielding her eyes from the sun. Nick gave a start as her recognized the woman. The face was the same, the body was the same, but the hair and the eyes were changed. It was Dyan.
The beach faded away, and Nick was in a cool, marble temple. The heat from the sun was a welcome disappearance, and Nick no longer had to squint to see. The young man watched as Dyan entered the temple, kneeling in front of a large altar. In her arms, the woman held a bundle, wrapped thickly in cloth. She carefully lit some incense bowls, and delicately breathed in the scent. Then, she stood up, her face hard, back straight as a rod.
"I have come, Master." she said, her voice ringing loud around the temple. "I have brought your gift, as you instructed, and I claim my reward."
"Well done, my child." the voice was soft and silky, an oily sound that delicately smeared itself through the marble temple.
"Show me what you have brought."
Dyan lay the bundle she carried on the altar, carefully unwrapping it. Nick felt sick as the contents were revealed, and had to fight the urge to look away. A tiny baby lay on the cloth, it's eyes wide and staring. It was covered in blood from several deep gashes, it's skin a horrible grey colour. Nick knew the child was dead from the moment he saw it.
"Good, good," the voice spoke again. "Very well, my child. Embrace me, and live forever."
A red light began to shine from the altar, casting a sick glow over the marble. As Nick looked on, Dyan began to change. Her blond hair darkened, turning black as pitch. Her eyes darkened, until they were deep black pools, devoid of colour. Her blue dress even changed, lengthening and darkening. Her tanned skin paled, but her lips turned redder, until she had completely transformed into the Dyan Nick had first met in the garden.
A scene around him shimmered again, and Nick was back in Eden again. He stared at Dyan, aghast.
"What the Hell are you?!" he demanded angrily. "You killed that child!"
"I'm not proud of what I've done, Nick," Dyan said calmly. "But the child was dying before I took it. It would only have lived a couple more weeks, anyway. It gave the rest of it's pitiful existence for my immortality."
"Like you gave it any choice," Nick said coldly. Dyan just shrugged.
"You'll understand. One day. Besides, am I any more evil than that woman you loved?"
"What are you talking about?"
"What was her name?" Dyan smiled. "Ah, Karen. Yes, that was it. Shall we pay her a little visit?"
Nick was about to open his mouth to protest, but he found himself in the room he had rented from the motel. On the bed, he saw himself and Karen. He tried to look away, but couldn't.
Karen pushed Nick onto the bed, straddling his hips, gently stroking his jaw line. Nick was surprised at her strength, but didn't struggle, instead letting himself submit to her advances. Karen bent down, nipping at the skin around Nick's neck, and he let out a cry of pleasure, feeling his body shudder involuntarily. He reached up towards Karen, but she batted his hands away playfully.
"Uh-uh, lover," she smiled. "Not yet."
Karen deftly slipped her hands beneath Nick's shirt, feeling like ice against his hot skin. The sensation was not unpleasant, and Nick closed his eyes, enjoying the experience. Karen traced the outline of the ripples and contours of Nick's body, and the young man arched his back in pleasure. No one had been able to make him feel this way, not since Julia had died. As Nick looked up at Karen, he was reminded again how much she looked like Julia. Somewhere in his mind, warning bells started to ring, but were drowned by waves of pleasure as Karen carefully raked her nails over Nick's bare skin, not breaking the surface, but making the hairs on his neck stand up with the sensation.
Nick watched the pair on the bed, feeling only anger at Karen. She had betrayed him, betrayed his memories of Julia, and for that, he hated her with all his heart. Nick turned to Dyan, who stood next to him, and for a moment, he thought he saw a flicker of emotion - jealousy? - pass over her beautiful face.
"Dyan?" Nick whispered. "Why here?"
Dyan whirled to face him, startling him.
"Get out of here!" she hissed angrily. "You can go!"
"Dyan, what -?"
"Go!" she screamed, and Nick felt himself flying backwards, connecting with the motel room wall, and he fell into blackness once more.
Nick slowly opened his eyes, groaning as pain washed over him. He was still half-wrapped around the tree, but his bike was gone. Nick wondered how someone could have taken it and not wakened him at the same time. He felt a pang of sorrow over the loss of the bike - Derek and Alex had given it to him several birthdays ago, after he'd bugged them about it for months.
Nick slowly began to move his body, feeling bones popping back into place, and stiff muscles cramp at the movement. His head swam as he tried to sit up, and he leaned back against the tree until he felt better. It was night around him, but the constellations were the same familiar ones he'd been gazing at since he was born, and the sky was tinged with orange from the city lights. Nick looked at his watch, depressing the little button that made the display light up. It was well after midnight, and Nick was about to turn the light off, when he looked at the date on the watch. It was two days after he'd stormed out of the House!
"Oh, man," Nick groaned. He was dead when he got back. He could already imagine the lecture Derek was going to give him. Nick half-debated staying where he was - it was probably healthier than Derek ripping into him when he got back. Reluctantly, stiffly, Nick pulled himself to his feet, and began to stumble back up the steep incline to the road.
Dyan watched, unseen, as Nick struggled - and failed - to get back to the road. She congratulated herself on moving his bike to a spot five miles away. That way, anyone who found it there wouldn't be looking for Nick over here, and she'd had time to take him through his experience in Eden. Dyan smiled to herself, then disappeared.
Back at the House, Derek was going stir crazy. It had been bad enough that Nick hadn't appeared by morning when he stormed off, and he'd had to put up with the evil looks his friends were giving him. It had gotten much worse when the police had arrived early in the evening, with Nick's bike in tow. They had found it in the bottom of a gully in the mountains, but hadn't found any signs of Nick. More than a day had passed since then, and there had been no word on the young man's whereabouts. The police had made a search of the area over and over, but to no avail. 'Oh, God,' Derek thought to himself. 'What have I done?!'
Suddenly, Alex burst into the precept's office, her face pale and scared. In her hands she held a computer printout of an article from the daily newspaper.
"Read this!" she said, her voice trembling. Apprehensively Derek took the papers from her, and began to read about several murders that had happened in San Francisco over the past two days. What chilled his blood was the description of the bodies, and a photo of one of the victims.
"Oh, no," Derek breathed, his chest suddenly tight. "Please God, no."
In the city, a young man took his loaded tray from the rails by the checkout, and looked out over the crowded restaurant. There were no spare tables he could see, and he cursed as he realized his food would be cold before he got a place to sit. Then, he saw a young lady sitting alone in a booth, and made his way over.
"May I sit here?" he asked hopefully. The lady looked up at him, and the man was struck by her immense beauty.
"Sure," she smiled. The man gratefully sat down, grinning at her. He held out his hand.
"Pleased to meet you," the lady shook the proffered hand, feeling the man's life-force flow through him. "I'm Karen."
Nick had the very distinct feeling that he'd been walking for years. Probably lifetimes. It'd been hours now, since the young man had started this journey. He'd been battered and bruised and sent through an onslaught of hurtful emotions and memories, and he was feeling the strain. His left leg was throbbing painfully from the deep scrape he'd gotten when his bike had first swerved off the road and torn through his jeans, right into the skin. With each new step, it threatened to give, and he shivered in the cool night air as he remembered that he'd used his shirt to bandage the wound. He had went on that way for hours, all the way until the first light of dawn began to peek through the treetops still surrounding him on his course toward civilization.
With a heavy sigh of resignation, Nick allowed himself to slide down to his knees onto the hard, cold pavement. His eyes closed and his head fell to rest against his chest. 'Why is this happening? Why hasn't anyone come by here for me? I've been on the same road for hours, and I haven't seen a single car, and I'm still miles from the city. I might as well just stay here until someone finds my rotting corpse.' he thought in bitter despair.
"Well, my, my. Look what's here. Hope and strength are not near." Nick looked up to see Christina's short, plump frame looking down on him disapprovingly.
What was she doing here? Was he still in danger? "Christina, what're you doing here?" he asked her hoarsely.
"Eden have you seen; Eden have you known.
Nick listened to her warning, and then, without warning, the ghost's presence vanished before his eyes. Nick blinked and closed his mouth from the words he hadn't gotten to say. Still tired and more confused than ever, but knowing that he had to get back to the mansion, Nick struggled to his feet and continued on his way back towards civilization, not knowing what he'd find when he got there, only knowing that if he took too long, his nightmare - vision?? - of earlier just might come true.
At the House, everyone was together in the living room, trying to decide where to go from there. There'd been no further word from the police, and the revelation of what could only be a succubus in town had them all worried and frightened to no end. Derek had chosen the parlour to meet in because he hoped it would provide more comforting than the lab or the control room, but the atmosphere in the room told him it wasn't working very well.
"Derek? Derek, are you okay?" Alex asked him, after he didn't react to the first two times she repeated her question.
Derek snapped out of his reverie, his eyes fixing on the lovely young woman staring back at him, "Yes, Alex, I'm fine. I'm just a little preoccupied by all of this, I suppose."
Alex still looked at him with a strong hint of poorly concealed worry, but she let it drop, "Well, as I was saying, do you think that it's possible that Karen is the one behind these murders?"
Derek sighed heavily out of the multitude of emotions he felt. After a moment, he replied, "I think it's possible. She shouldn't have survived, but there's always a chance, especially with these sorts of things. However, we shouldn't jump to any conclusions too fast. There are other succubi in the world, however unlikely that another one of them would end up here with how few there truly are." Moments later, they all collectively jumped in their seats as the electricity died, filling them all with a hard, cold dread that ran all the way down their spines and was increased tenfold when the generators failed to kick in after a few moments as they should have.
"Derek?" Rachel asked, never sure if it was a demon invasion or just a power outage.
"Go down into the basement and check the electricity."
"Don't argue; just do it. And Phillip, you go with her. Alex and I will go to the control room and see if any of the security is still running. If anything happens, go out the secret tunnel to the cove and we'll meet you there as soon as we can," he ordered, gathering himself to leave as his eyes quickly adjusted to the dark room. Walking in front of his members into the main hall, they split up with Derek's last words to them, "And be careful. We can't find Nick if we're all dead."
"You won't be finding Nick at all, Dr. Rayne," a sultry, deep feminine voice called from behind them. All four turned abruptly to find a dark, shadowed figure standing at the top of the stairs, staring down at the group at the bottom. Derek and Alex were several steps up from the bottom, Rachel and Phillip were on the other side of the room, headed towards the stairs to the basement.
That voice. That voice was eerily familiar. "Karen," Derek realized.
"The one and only. And now, you're mine, just like Nick!"
'No, not Nick. It can't be true. He has to be out there somewhere. He isn't dead!'
Nick climbed out of the bright yellow taxi, slammed his door shut and dug out the little money he had on him to pay the driver. As the car sped away, he looked out over the water to Angel Island just beyond. The early morning light shown down brightly on the water and created a glare on the water that lit up the entire area. Sighing heavily, Nick walked over and boarded the ferry that was just about to leave for the island. Soon, he'd be home, and he was happy. The feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach had skyrocketed to a head-to-toe fear that chilled him to the bone.
A short time later, Nick was at the front door to the beautiful castle, exhausted but victorious. Keeping Christina's warning in mind, however confusing it was to him, he slipped in to the House silently, his Navy training never failing him.
All right, that settled it. Nick was scared. Terrified, actually. Almost petrified. Half the House he'd checked, and no sign of anyone anywhere. Not in the basement, nor any of the first level rooms. He was now headed up to the second level and down the hall to the library. He creeped stealthily up the stairs and down the hall, checking bedrooms as he went, his footsteps silent instead of their usual quiet creaking. He reached the door and unconsciously held his breath as he slowly turned the knob and inched the door forward. When it was open far enough, he stuck his head in and peeked in. There, in plain view, was a large wooden table, where they often discussed cases and the like. In fact, this entire adventure had started just a few short days ago during a fight at that very table. At the table were six wooden, upholstered chairs, four of them filled.
With a sudden disregard for his own safety, as he was often prone to, Nick threw open the door and burst into the room, his guard falling as he rushed over to the nearest of the chairs. Upon reaching it, he pulled it forcefully around to meet Derek in the eyes. The Dutch precept was tied and gagged with a black cloth. He must have been hit recently, for a small, fresh gash at his left temple was currently oozing down the side of his face and onto his grey and red argyle sweater. His expression was dazed and slightly groggy, no doubt from the blow, but his eyes flew wide open in a panic when he saw Nick. He tried furiously, struggling to speak against his gag, something that was obviously very important at the moment.
Nick reached over and grabbed the gag, yanking the black piece of cloth down around Derek's neck.
"It's a trap!" Derek screamed the moment his mouth was free.
"Of course it's a trap, why else would I have waited so patiently?" A voice from up above swept through the library with an icy-cold chill that froze Nick to the bone.
"Karen," he whispered quietly, but with such venomous contempt that the ordinary house haunt would have stopped dead in their tracks, no pun intended.
"Yes, Nick. It's me, your ex-lover," the seductive succubus confirmed in a sultry, dark tone, somehow twisting her self-given title into the most horrid thing one could ever be. She stepped forward into their view from her position on the higher level of the library, revealing herself to them. Her slender, curvy body was hugged nicely by the ankle-length, blood red silk cocktail dress she wore, which dipped low in the front and even lower in the back, held onto her only by the two thin spaghetti straps. Her dark hair had been gathered up and fixed atop her head to spill off in small wavelets, which fell around her face and neck in an enchanting manner.
"How did you survive?" Nick demanded, staring up at her angrily.
"Oh, that's right," Karen said in mock innocence, making her way leisurely down the staircase, "You thought that you had killed me, hadn't you Nick? Well, I'm so sorry to disappoint you. But, if you must know-"
"I am responsible for her reincarnation," a new voice, also female, rang throughout the room as mists of darkest night gathered and swirled together in the middle of the room, just feet away from Phillip and Alex at the opposite end of the table from Nick and Derek. In the midst of the mists, the form of a human female began to take shape, the slender, voluptuous body showing through as the mists dissipated and departed, eventually revealing a young woman with ghostly pale skin, and ink black hair and eyes to match her long, flowing dress.
"Dyan?" Nick choked, still surprised, even if he should have guessed by now that she had a further involvement in this escapade than had first met the eye.
"Why, Nick," she purred coldly, "I'm so flattered you remember me. And after such an unbearably long time, too. Well, we shall just have to remedy that, now won't we?"
"Cut to the chase, Dyan. What's going on here? What do you want from me?" Nick demanded, half pleading by the end.
"Still impatient as ever, I see. Didn't the last two and a half days teach you anything, Nick?" she paused for half a beat, then took the silence as an I guess not and continued, "Anyway, you asked about our dear Karen?" she said, not really a question, though Karen looked more attentive at the mention of her name. "Well, as you well know, you killed Karen. Even her immortality could not prevent that at the bottom of the San Francisco Bay. Her spirit was disembodied, and she was banished to the astral planes, the worlds between this one and Death. It was simply a wonderful coincidence that I came along and found her. After I heard her tragic story, I knew I couldn't just turn away from her. So, I gave her her body back and said I'd help her *heh* settle the scores."
"And now I can finally have my revenge! You betrayed me, Nick. For that, you will pay!" the succubus said maliciously, licking her blood red lips in anticipation.
Nick tried his best to stay cool, though it was becoming increasingly difficult. He knew that even if he had no way out, he had to find a way to save the others. He couldn't bear dying and leaving them if there was something more he could do. Apprehensively, he prepared his first swing. "Karen, how can you say that? You know I loved you. I just couldn't watch you kill innocent people. It's not right! You wanted me to be one of those monsters!" he pleaded with her.
"You betrayed me, Nick. That will never change. I will never change. But your time is up."
"NO! You can't do this. I know you still love me. You can end this. We can be together, forever."
Karen hesitated. There was still a part of her, deep down inside, that was still human. It felt and loved and hurt. And it craved. And right now it craved her love. Her face twisted in anger, Dyan move to Nick in a flash, grabbing him by the throat and lifting his body several feet off the ground. "It's too late for that, human!" she spat out in contempt, throwing him by his neck to crash into the wall beyond with a loud thud.
Ignoring the raging throb in his skull and the call of darkness, Nick didn't stop. "Please, Karen! Take me. Do whatever you want to me, but leave my friends out of this! Let them go!"
Her moment of indecision was gone, the evil in her dominant again. She let out a small giggling sound, which was then released fully, becoming loud, throaty laughter that chilled the Legacy members to the bone. "Oh, I already was going to take you, my love. But I'll enjoy watching you see your friends suffer far too much to let them go now!" She walked sultrily over to the table where the four bound Legacy members still sat expectantly, waiting for her to strike. Moving up behind Alex's chair, Karen placed her hands on each side of her head, preparing to snap her neck.
"Wait!" Nick cried. "Dyan's being so generous, giving you your body back and letting you have your revenge. Just what is she getting out of any of this?" he blurted out, his last hopes escaping with those words.
Karen stopped and stared at him for a moment, curiosity making her blue eyes sparkle involuntarily.
"My, how quick we are. And here I'd almost given up on you humans altogether." Dyan laughed evilly, her smile downright predatory. "Why, I get Dyan's eternal body for my very own. I can't very well take over the Earth without a solid form now, can I?" she mocked. "Oh, yes, and I also get you, my darling. A queen is nothing without a king by her side. You and I are going to bring the reign of the Dark Side here to Earth, Nick. A true Hell on Earth, so to speak. It will be glorious! You and me, together as King and Queen of all existence, for all existence, and me in Karen's body, the one that so resembles the two greatest loves you've ever known! No one will stand in our way!" she declared triumphantly, as if it had all already happened. Nick just sat in shock, his mouth hanging open. Karen, on the other hand, was outraged. No one was going to get her man and her body if it wasn't her!
"You," she said, danger in her voice, Alex forgotten as she stalked over to Dyan, "You lying, back-stabbing little witch! I'll kill you for that!" She threw herself at the woman, who quickly repelled the attack, throwing the succubus off of her. Karen recovered with lightning speed, lunging for her opponent again. This time, she managed to get past Dyan's defenses, and was rewarded by the long gash across the deadly beauty's cheek. Dyan swiped at the mark, inspecting the blood on her hand with disbelief.
"You made me bleed! You bitch! You made me bleed!" she screeched. Suddenly her body was enveloped with black mists which swirled around her, playing with her black dress and hair. 'Her life-force' Nick realized, 'Or at least her equivalent.'
Karen watched the display, undaunted, before she too was enveloped with her own life-force, though hers was a bright red light and looked like she was swimming in it, whereas Dyan's was more like a fog that surrounded her. Karen let out a shrill war cry and leaped high into the air, straight for Dyan. Dyan joined her in the air, where they collided. They stayed suspended there as their forces collided and fought to be dominant. A forceful wind stirred the air, throwing papers and books everywhere. The light was tremendous, as the very life of the demons fought each other, mixing and combining, until the light was too bright to be looked upon. Nick, Derek, Alex, Phillip and Rachel shut their eyes tight, waiting for the end to come. As the screams of the two women went on, they distorted until they were one, high and long, inhuman cry. Finally it faded away completely, and the room was deafeningly silent. One by one, each person there chanced it and opened their eyes, but the room was deserted. It was a mess, things scattered everywhere, but alas, Dyan and Karen were nowhere to be seen.
Nick struggled to stand, every little bruise and bump suddenly seeming like a mortal wound to him now that he could worry about it again. Pushing those thoughts aside for the moment, he pushed himself to his feet and stumbled over to Derek's chair. The precept stared at him wide-eyed and silent, despite the fact that his gag had been out the entire time. Nick quickly undid the ropes that held him, then stood back and let the Dutchman stand. "Nick? Are you all right?" Derek finally asked with concern. Nick let out a small moan, collapsing into the arms of the only father figure he'd ever known, his exhaustion winning him over. Finally, he could rest for awhile.
'I was so afraid of losing Nick those two days, I thought I'd go crazy. God, thank you for bringing our friend back to us! I know I've been turning away from you lately, but I promise, I will not forget this gift! And you've shown me something by this ordeal. I know where I belong now. My friends will not always be there, and neither will I. I've got to treasure the time I have with them. There're my family, and sometimes, in this world filled with demons and evils that can't always be exorcised, that's all we've got to lie back on. That night will stay in our minds for a very long time, but I'll never look back on it as the night we almost lost, but as the night that we truly, finally, knew we are winning...'
'I'm still worried about Nick. I can't begin to imagine what things he was put through, but I know Nick, and he always dwells on the past. He won't say anything about the time he was missing, but I know it still bothers him and he's got to deal with it now if he's ever going to get past it. I only hope he'll trust in us, his friends, enough to let us help him. He' s just so stubborn and protective, I know it'll be hard for him to open up to us. But it's for his own sake that I ask! I can't bear to just watch him go through this alone. I know that it's his own struggle and he has to work it out himself, but we can still help him, for God's sake! ...I'm just glad that he's back with us, where he belongs...'
'Sitting there helpless, just waiting for the final blow, all I could think about was Nick! He looked so afraid, so desperate......he never exposes himself like that, not if he can avoid it. It made me start to think, maybe he needs us even more than we know. I know he really takes things to heart, and Julia always said that he cared too much for his own good, but...I think it's more than that. We're always so wrapped up in the latest crisis or our own personal matters that we never take the time anymore to think about the effects of all of it. Every battle we go through, whether with the demons we can see or the ones inside us all, leaves an irreversible mark on our souls, for better or for worse. God, I promise to never forget just how important my 'brother' is to me, and I promise to be a better sister to him. To all of them...'
'I still can't believe that Nick was put through all of that. It just seems too unreal. He's almost fully recovered from his injuries already, not a week since that night. Naturally, Rachel still refuses to let him leave his room, but I know he sneaks away whenever he gets the chance. My Gott, I couldn't be happier to have him disobeying her "doctor's orders" again! If he was doing what she wished, then we would have a problem on our hands! I never truly realized just how much having him here means to me. He's like a son to me, and nothing could ever take his place in my heart. Never again will I let him go without knowing how much I care or how important he is to all of us. The past may be nothing more than a memory we hold on to, but it can be one of the deadliest forces any one man can face in his life. He'll never have to face it alone again, not if I can help it. I'm going right now to tell him that myself. Gott knows he could use hearing those words now...'
'My God, she's never going to let me out of this bed! You'd think I was dying of the plague or something! I know that they just worry about me, but I can take care of myself! I can handle it, just like I've always handled it...but that's it, isn't it? Because I've never really handled the things in my past, have I? I tell everyone I can do it, even tell myself that, but I don't, not really. Instead, I bury it all deep inside me where no one can see it, and then eventually it all comes back to haunt me. And so will this, because I'll let it, I'll let into my thoughts and my dreams and it'll continue to consume me until it finally destroys me...NO! I won't let it! Never again! Julia saved me before, but I'll save myself now, before anything else comes back to haunt me, to threaten the ones I love...Dyan and Karen nearly won. They had me right there in there grip, and there wasn't a thing I could do to stop them. But I did. I stopped them and they're never coming back for me unless I allow it to happen, which I never will. I'll never let the things I saw come true. My friends won't die those horrible deaths, and Kat will never have to grow up in a world filled with hate and eternal darkness. Not as long as I'm around... My God, will they ever truly die? Or will they continue to haunt me, like two painful memories in a beautiful garden full of roses with thorns that prick? Only time will tell us...that's always the way of things, so it seems...'