Summary: Clair and Rosie are best friend and they are going to spend two wonderful weeks together in London. Being haunted by witches, stalked by black-dressed teenagers, pested by mysterious old ladies and told of by un-understanding parents are not going to spoil the perfect forthnight. After all - they are together!
I hold for true that all fanfics more or less contain a grain of the authors own thoughts, fears or dreams. This fic is - of course - about two certain girls who really mean a lot for each other (and maybe even might kiss each other in the end of the fic if we are really lucky). It is however also about a place I love and some people I miss. Therefor I might sometimes lose myself in dreamy descriptions about subways, streets and buildings. Just try to overlook this and scroll down to the next piece of dialogue. I will try to get you there as quick as possible.
This fic is a sequel to my earlier story "There is a monster under the bed" and takes place about a year and a half later. You don't really need to read that fic in order to read this one, but it won't hurt!
Oh - and to all of you Goth-people. You can take this fic as a compliment or an insult, whichever you like. But just take my world for it when I say that I love you all. I really do.
I would be very happy if you took the time to write a short comment of the fic. Please?
- "Mum, will we be there soon?"
Rosies mother smiled tiredly at her daughter in the backseat of the car.
- "Rosie, we just left home. We won't be in London for another three hours. We just have to be patient."
Rosie nodded and tried to concentrate on the passing cars. She told herself very sternly that she would be a good girl and have patience. After all - she had waited nearly five weeks since last time she had seen her older friend Clair - she could surly wait for another three hours. She counted three passing cars and a field of cows. She told herself that she was to see London and be taken to the British Museum where there were real mummies. She was to spend a whole fortnight with Clair and live in a hostel where she could have sugar flakes for breakfast every day. She would be a good girl and not whine during the whole trip just because she was impatient. She counted another two cars, one bus and a funny-looking man on a bike. She sighed.
- "Mum, will we be there soon?"
Clair and Rosie had met about a year and a half before at their granny's house and immediately found a friend in each other. Their parents had at first been surprisedly pleased when they saw how nicely their children fitted together. It took them a little while to realise just how good friends the girls had turned out to be, but as soon as they understood they calmly sat down to reorganise their bank holidays and vacation plans to include as many visits to the other family as possible, almost without any fuss at all. Sometimes parents can be very understanding for their children's needs. Clair and Rosie had thus been at Blackpool together last summer. They had had a halloween sleepover and they had visited each others house almost every month this year. Now they were going to have a London-vacation. Their parents had grew used to each other's company and actually started to look forward to the visits for their own sake and not only as a way of occupying their children. The girls themselves never had a time both as busy and as wonderful as when they were together. They had thousand and thousand again things to talk about. They always had a lot of things to do and games to play and places to explore. They actually were such good friends that sometimes they didn't have to do anything at all - just being with each other was good enough. And of course they had their own deep private secret. They had to meet to talk about and defend themselves against the witch Alti.
Alti was a ghost. She couldn't touch anything or do anything in the real world, and nobody else could see her. But she sometimes talked to the girls - especially Clair - in their dreams or when they were really tired or sad. Sometimes she sneaked into Clair's bedroom and stood at her bed at night, looking at her with cold eyes and sometimes laughing her crackling, maniac laughter. When she did Clair used to put the pillow over her head and cry. Rosie was really sad for Clair being bullied by that stupid ghost. She used to tell Clair not to listen to Alti and to think of herself - Rosie - instead when the witch was near. Clair tried to do that and she had told Rose that when she did, everything felt better and Alti felt much smaller and further away than otherwise. Rosie felt very glad about that. Sometimes Alti had showed up when they had been together. Rosie and Clair then used to cuddle very close together and comfort each other. Rosie sometimes tried to hit Alti with her fists or a pillow, and usually the ghost gave up after a while. She didn't call them Clair and Rosie though. She called them Xena and Gabrielle and she was angry with them for doing a lot of things they hadn't done. Rosie thought that was highly unfair. She had promised Clair to always be there for her and help her against Alti, and she really tried to. But sometimes when they weren't together the witch came and made Clair sad again, and there was nothing Rosie could do about it. When that happened Rosie felt like a big lump in her throat and she usually cried for a while herself.
Even eternity has its limitations, and however impossible it might seem at the moment not even a road trip on the motorways to London with a hyperactive six-years-old in the car can last forever. The sun was about to set when the car slowly edged itself forward in the traffic along the Basewater road towards the hostel in Notting Hill where they would stay. Rosie could hardly keep herself together out of anxiousity, and as soon as the car halted she flung the door open and darted out onto the wet pavement. The hostel was a brick building with iron railings and some bright-coloured posters on the door, but Rosie didn't give it a second glance. All she had eyes for was the black-haired girl sitting on the brick wall in front of the house, eagerly watching her. With a cry of happiness she flung herself in the arms of her friend and hugged her as like she would never let go. Behind her, her parents slowly emerged from the car with their arms filled of two weeks luggage, and from inside the hostel Clair's parents came to help them carry the tings to the rooms. The two girls hugged each other for a long, long time until they let go and hand in hand started to explore the hostel. To their joy they found that there was a long, narrow corridor snaking through the whole hostel and after a long while - when you had ran through a lot of doors and stairs and even a kitchen - left you where you had started. The girls gigglingly ran through the corridor for at least ten times until Rosie's father came and told them off for doing so. They then went to their room and unpacked their things and carefully examined a closet where Alti might hide. Just when they were done their parents told them to come to Clair's parent's room to eat a sandwich and look at a map of London to plan their trips for the following day. To Rosie's big disappointment they wouldn't visit the British Museum and the mummies until a few days later, but when she heard that Clair would like to visit Covent Garden and look at the street jugglers next day she wanted to do that too. That night they slept closely cuddled to each other, both eager to see what the following two weeks in the capital of England would bring them for adventure.
The Golden Man was a bit scary. He and his bike were all painted golden and he stood completely unmowing, looking almost like a statue. Rosie was standing just beside him when he suddenly rang the bell and made her jump high in the air. Then he wouldn't move again until the girls throw a coin in the basket of the bike. If they did, he rang the bell and made a little jump with the bike. Clair and Rosie throw almost two pounds in the basket and then they went on, looking with big eyes at a lady with white face, white hair, white clothes and - according to Rosie, even if Clair wasn't as sure on this thing - even white eyes. The White Lady was standing almost as still as the Golden Man, but she was very slowly moving her arms and body in a very, very slow dance. Rosie thought she was beautiful. Clair was more impressed by a short man who was doing a lot of juggling and spinning with a bicycle tire. Their parents stood just outside the Covent Garden underground station, smilingly looking around. It was nice weather. Rosie snuck her hand into Clair's, who was still staring at the man with the tire, trying to figure out how he made it spin almost without moving his hand at all. She looked around. A man dressed in an orange sheet who was smiling a lot was talking to her parents, waving a book around. Her parents didn't seem to want to talk to him. On the other side of the street, close to the White Lady, a group of girls were standing, talking to each other and now and than glancing at the people walking by. They were dressed all in black and white with black hair and white faces. One of the girls had black paint around her eyes, making her look almost like a ghost. Rosie stared at the girls. They were clearly no street artists but just ordinary people passing by. A lady gave them an angry look and walked faster when she saw them, but most people didn't seem to notice them. Rosie pointed them out for Clair and when she did one of the girls saw her point and waved at her. Rosie waved back and the girl smiled.
They spent a long time at Covent Garden and then they went to the river. They ate a hamburger for lunch and then they went on to Oxford Street and then ever further in the streets of London. Rosie got tired in her legs, and than they went to sit on a bench and look at people. She and Clair shared an Ice cream and a Chinese family wanted to take a picture of them. It was late evening when they returned to the hostel. They had gone by the tube and was now walking the last part of the way. Rosie was almost yawning her head of, tired from a long and exciting day. She was already half asleep, leaving to Clair to lead her the right way and not letting her bump into a lamp post. A sudden pressure from Clair's hand made her open her eyes. She turned to Clair to ask what was going on, but the older girl held a finger to her lips and bent forward to her ear.
- "There is one of the ghost-girls standing under that lamp. Look at her! The one with the big boots." Clair's whisper had and eager sound in it. Rosie knew her friend well enough to know that she right now was thinking about how she herself would look dressed all in black and with big, shiny black boots.
- "She look so cool" said Clair. Rosie smiled, and when they had walked past the girl (both Clair and Rosie secretly glancing at her boots) she turned around to look at her another time. Another girl, dressed in the same strange way, was walking behind them. The girl at the lamppost nodded to her and fell in behind her, following them. Rosie stared at them for a moment and then hurried to whisper to Clair, but just then they turned right to a smaller street, and when Clair looked the girls was walking on, forward, without taking any notice about them.
The hostel was on this street. Their parents went through the door, glad to finally be home. Clair and Rosie were just about to follow when a movement caught their eyes. In the shadows of the house, just on the other side of the wall, stood a girl, dressed in black and with white face. She smiled at them. Rosie recognised her - it was the girl that had waved at her in Covent Garden.
As fast as they could they ran to their room and the window. Clair fumbled it open so they could get a better view, but the girl was gone - it was just an empty street below their window. But before they had time to close the window again something black and furry landed on the windowsill, and then it leaped to the floor between them. Rosie bent down to have a better look. It was a cat, as black as coal with yellow eyes and a nasty wound in one of the ears.
- "Hey, look at this" she said to Clair who was bending down next to her to stroke it. "it's a cat."
- "As clever as ever, aren't you Gabrielle" said the cat with the dry, mocking voice they both knew all to well, lifting a paw to scratch her. Shocked she fell backwards. It turned to look at Clair who was staring at it with horror written in her eyes."
- "Surprised to see me Xena?" it meowed. "You shouldn't be. I am back now. And you will help me to regain my old strength." Alti smiled - a terrible thing to do for a cat, regardless (or just in touch with) everything Carroll has ever said. Even her tail seamed mockingly.
- "Never" said Clair with weak voice, trying to back away.
- "Oh! Really? And what make you think you have a choice?"
Her eyes widened. They really did. Rosie could se how they grew bigger. Clair took a sharp intake of breath and her body started to shake, but - Rosie could hardly believe her eyes - she remind in control of herself.
- "You... Can't... Scare... Me... Alti..." she panted, grimacing of pain. "It's... Not... True... Just... Lies... All...Lies..."
Also Alti seemed surprised that Clair cold resist whatever it was she was doing to her. Her tail moved angrily and she meowed hatefully.
- "You are just a child, Xena. And I have a body again. You can't win. Give up and I will make this easy for you."
- "Never..." Clair was gasping for air, but she didn't scream, even if it looked like she was in a lot of pain.
- "Then it has to be the hard way" the cat shouted leaping for her throat with claws and teeth. Or would have leapt anyway, if Rosie hadn't chosen that moment to throw a blanket over her, dragging her to the window and throwing her out into the London night.
- "And you don't dare to come back, stupid witch!" she screamed after the cat who was slinking away into an ally.
They started early the next day, going to south Kensington and the big museums there. The girls had spent the breakfast whispering talking about Alti and yesterdays events. They concluded after a while that whatever the old witch was up to, she could still be defeated. And that was the important thing. They wouldn't let her ruin their London vacation. They started at the Museum of Science. Clair was all but squeaking of excitement when she found the spacesuit of the first woman in space. Rosie's mum was of some reason very impressed by a common, boring jumper made out of wool from a Scottish sheep. The Museum of Science was gigantic, and then they still had the Museum of Natural History and Victoria and Albert Museum left to visit. When they had all grew tired of museums (but hadn't seen more than the first two floors of each) they went by foot through the Kensington Gardens on to Hyde Park. They passed a statue of Peter Pan (with a very nice fairy) and ended up at a lake. While their parents went on a quest for ice cream at a nearby sweet shop Clair started to chase some squirrels they saw at the grass, completely unshy for humans. Rosie sat down to rest her legs for a while. Suddenly she heard a voice behind her.
- "Hello there pretty."
She turned around. To her surprise (and just a little fright) she saw that just next to her sat the girl she had seen outside her window last night. She had black hair with a few white strands of hair. Her face was very pale and she had a long, red scarf tied tightly around her neck. Her clothes were black and edged with lace. She had a silver necklace that looked like a cat.
- "What is your name, little girl?" she asked.
- "My name is Rosie" said Rosie. What is yours?"
- "My name is Angelica" she answered. "And your friends name is Clair."
- "Yes it is. How did you know?" Rosie asked surprised.
- "I know a lot of things. I know that you love her a lot for one thing." Rosie didn't bother to discuss that. Of course she loved Clair. Didn't everyone know that?
- "Why are you dressed like that?" she asked instead.
- "Because I am beautiful" said the girl smiling.
- "Yes you are" Rosie agreed. "How about the other girls?"
- "Oh! You mean my sisters?"
- "Your sisters!" Rosie exclaimed. "You are all family?"
- "Well, not really" Angelica confessed. "We are in the same coven. It is sort of like a secret club" she added when she saw Rosie's puzzled expression. "We are witches." Rosie gave her a suspicious look, but Angelica looked as serious as anything.
- "You really are?" she said at last.
- "Bet you are not."
- "But we are!"
- "Are not!" said Rosie, but she sounded more hesitating this time.
- "You would better believe it."
- "I know a witch and she doesn't look like you at all."
- "And what does she look like then?"
- "Well..." Rosie hesitated. It wasn't that easy to describe Alti. "... she is sort of an old woman, but not really anymore. She is more like a ghost. Sometimes she just looks like a big ball of light. But nasty light if you see what I mean. Of course - now she is a cat!"
- "A cat!" Angelica said, touching her necklace. "How strange. How can that be, do you think?"
- "Because... because... I don't know actually."
- "It is because if real witches wants to, they can go into the head of every living creature. A spider, a horse, even a cat. And Alti is a very, very powerful witch. Of course, she needed some help, bodyless as she was, but in all it was enough with a tiny little push. She hasn't proved to be ungrateful."
- "How comes you know all that" Rosie asked with rising suspicions.
- "I told you. I am a witch."
- "If you are a witch, then do some magic." Rosie almost shouted a bit hotly.
- "Oh, we are" said Angelica calmly." She rose to her feet and started to walk away through the park. "You will be aware soon enough" she said over her shoulder. Rosie looked after her with a strange feeling in her stomach.
- "Who was you talking to?" asked Clair and bumped down on the grass next to her, out of breath after her squirrel session.
- "A witch."
They went back to the hostel quite early that day, all being quite exhausted after their morning trip to the museums. They spent a quite evening planning for the next day, and to Rosie's joy it was finally time for the British Museum. They then withdrew to their bedroom. Rosie was at the bathroom when she heard the sound. The clawing, hissing, whispering, and Clair screaming. When she burst into the room she saw Clair cornered, trying to hide her face in her arms. Alti stood before her, tail high in the air, eyes radiating of evil malice. The air was thick of her whispers streaming into the head of Clair. With an angry snarl Rosie ran forward to grab the cat, but suddenly she stopped. It was like running through water or glue. It was like one of those nightmares when you can't run even if you really, really need to. Through the open window came the smells of London, and also singing. It was a strange tune with no recognisable words. The song seemed to crawl through the air, making the air thick with strange harmonies. Rosie struggled with all her might, but all she could manage was a slow motional walk forward. Desperately she tried to block her ears, but the sound seamed to go straight into her head. Alti laughed.
- "Stop it!" Rosie screamed, more than a bit scared, but it was no use. She could hardly move at all.
- "The... Ghost...Girls..." Clair managed, breathing heavily. Rosie looked around in despair, but no ghost-girls or strange London witches (except for Alti who was purring by evil delight now) where to be seen in the room. Stretching her neck as far as possible she managed to get a look at the street outside their window and there they stood. It was at least seven of the ghost-girls. They stood in a circle, holding hands and singing. Angelica stood amidst them. She smiled at Rosie.
Rosie desperately tried to think of something, but she couldn't. She couldn't even reach the window, and to get down to the street wasn't even to think about. There wasn't even something suitable she could throw. If she only... Behind her, in the bathroom, she could see the shower. In a sudden flash of inspiration Rosie reached out and grabbed it. It took a while, of course, since everything was going so slowly, but fortunately the hostel bathroom was very, very small. She aimed the shower hose and turned the blue-dotted handle. She smiled at the world in general.
The water-stream hit the cat with a splash and the moment later Alti had orbited the room at least five times. Rosie and Clair laughed at her when the soaked creature dived out through the window with a maddened hissing and disappeared down the street. Clair breathed out in relief, a terrible pain suddenly lifted from her. They still could hardly move, the ghost-girls still singing. Rosie saw Clair looking down at them and then slowly reaching for the potted plant the hostel had at the windows. Rosie could hear Angelica shout out a warning when the plant fell down towards them, and then the song stopped. Time abruptly started to flow as normal. The ghost-girls and the cat were gone.
- "We made it!" she yelled, starting to dance in relief and joy.
- "Yes we did" Clair answered weakly. "But she gets stronger for every time... And she has got help now."
- "Doesn't matter! They won't get you!" Rosie said happily. "Nothing can. We will manage."
- "Yes..." Clair said hesitatingly "but Rosie..."
- "I think you should turn off the water now."
And that was the exact moment when their parents entered the room.
- "No 'butts'."
- "It wasn't our fault."
- "Hush! If you are ever doing something silly like that again it will be tears before bedtime. Mark my words."
- "I told you - it wasn't me, it was the cat."
- "I don't stand for silliness like that."
- "But mum, there really WERE witches. They wanted to drag us away!"
- "I told you I don't want to hear another word about it."
- "But mum..."
- "Be quiet!"
And that was all there was to it.
The British museum was indeed huge. Rosie and Clair darted from monter to monter with eyes wide with wonder. There parents were trailing after, talking in grown up ways of all the amazing things that were laid up before them. They stood for at least five minutes gasping at a huge statue of a winged horse (or maybe elephant) with a strange hat. They when ran on to get ahead of their parents to a room filled by white statues with no clothes on them. From their Rosie found a tiny little doorway leading to a room with just paintings - and so on. When it was almost lunchtime the girls had found their way to the second floor and was looking at a quite small monter they had found in a corner. It was filled with strange stuff - a gleaming helmet with wings on it, some big swords, a rusty brooch and some other stuff they did not recognise.
- "Why would you want a helm with wings on it?" Clair wondered.
- "So you could fly, of course" Rosie answered confidently.
- "You really think that would work?"
- "'course it does. Just look at the painting."
Clair looked, and indeed it looked like the ladies riding over it with swords and winged helmets were flying over the landscape. She was going to say something about the tings she would do with such a helmet, but her attraction was drawn to one of the ladies on the painting. She had black hair, in contrast to the other ladies that were blond, and it was something with looking at her that made Clair feel funny. She felt like she actually wouldn't need a winged helmet to fly, not as long as she could be like the lady on the painting. She was about to tell Rosie about it when a voice from behind interrupted her.
- "Actually, it ain't the helmets that made the valkyrias fly - they did it all by themselves." The voice was crackling and harch, almost like the voice of a witch, but still there was a tone of pure and unmingled happiness - or even silliness in it. The girls turned around.
Behind them stood an old lady, slightly bent over her walking stick, with straggling, gray hair and intense, almost sparkling eyes. She was clothed in worn clothes that looked practical. She had a badge that red "Dr. J. C. - Staff of British Museum."
- "Find those things interesting?" she asked. Clair and Rosie nodded.
- "Thought so. Ya look like two smart gals to me. Smart enough to find something of interest in this place other than the gift shop anyway. Would ya care for a special guided tour? I can show ya some things we don't let the ordinary tourists see..."
- "Yes please do" Clair and Rosie said simultaneously. They had already seen the signs of their parents growing bored, so they knew their time at the museum had been soon over, had it not been for this old lady.
- "Good. Then follow me." She turned and limped a few steps towards a little door marked "Staff only" and slowly produced a key from her pocket. She turned the key and opened the door. Inside the girls could see table after table filled with things, things from all times and parts of the world. The lady urged them on and Clair and Rosie - who by no ways needed to be urged - ran into the barly lighted room. Their parents who had just rounded a corner made a gesture to follow them, but the lady shook her head.
- "Sorry! Kiddie tour only. They will be safely returned to the café in an hour or so. Take a cup of coffee on the house while you are waiting. And make sure to visit our fantastic exhibition of South American geology in the west wing." With that she closed the door and turned to the children, smiling.
- "Parents are not hard to deal with, ya know, as long as ya know the tricks."
- "What are you going to show us first" Rosie wondered. The old lady started to limp against the other end of the room, totally ignoring all the treasures on the tables.
- "I fancied the preroman amazon exhibition would be of some interest.
The tour through the hidden rooms of British Museum was one of the strangest experiences Rosie had had in all of her life. They saw reconstructions of the feathered masks the amazons had used (and they even got to try them on themselves!), they got to feel a real sword and the lady even showed them a skeleton of a horse. Rosie was a bit disappointed since it had not been a mummy, but she consoled herself with it actually being a real skeleton from a real horse and not a plastic one. When it felt like they had walked forever, the lady - who had just led their way down a flight of stairs - stopped with her hand on a doorknob and turned to them.
- "I suppose ya gals could go on for ever, but I am old and have to get some tea before we go on. Why don't you join me?" Without waiting for answer, she opened the door and went into a brightly-lit room.
The room was quite small but very comfortable looking. In a fireplace a fire was smouldering. The wall was nearly invisible behind tapestries and photos. Some armchairs and a sofa were centred around a small wooden table and in an umbrellastand next to the door stood between the umbrellas some real swords. The lady limped some steps into the room, tailed by the children.
- "Mel" she yelled. "Pour up some cups of tee, will ya? We have visitors."
In the other side of the room a lady rose from a comfortable-looking armchair, putting her knitting aside. She was taller than Rosie's dad and had long, black hair. Even if her face was wrinkled and she looked just as old as the lady who had brought them here, there was not a single grey hair on her head. Her eyes were warm and she smiled friendly at Clair and Rosie.
- "Of course Jan" she said. "How nice with two children coming to visit."
- "Use those pretty eyes of yours" Jan snarled. "These ain't no children. These are Xena and Gabrielle."
- "Oh My!" sad Mel.
"These are Xena and Gabrielle" said the lady. Clair and Rosie felt like getting a bucket of cold water poured over them. Without needing to exchange even a glance they knew they thought the same thing. They had been called these names before - and now they had been foolish enough to walk right into the lion's lair. They both took a step backwards. Clair shove Rosie behind her and acting on pure instinct - and to her own great surprise (although it should be pointed out that no one else in the room were the least surprised) - grabbed a sable from the umbrella stand in the doorway. Pointing the weapon against the "Jan"-lady she carefully edged her way backwards.
- "You are not getting near Rosie" she said in a voice she hoped was threatening.
- "You are not getting near Clair either" Rosie stated from behind her back in a high pitched voice. The ladies however did neither seem angry nor frightened. Instead of doing anything that Clair in the deepest part of her soul felt to be proper in this situation (like making a clumsy attack and being brilliantly defeated by herself, to the much ave and admire of the successfully protected Rosie) they started to laugh. It was one of those heartily, overwhelming laughter that you can't stop or control, and that is very virulent.
- "It is Xena all right" the black haired lady said at last with eyes filled of tears.
- "Told ya so" said the grey haired lady with a smirk. "And I think ya should try to explain a few things for them gals before they starts to dubbleflip. I don't wont the furniture knocked down again."
- "Please put that thing away now" Mel said to Clair in a soothing voice. "We are not going to do anything bad. We just want to talk with you."
- "About what" Clair asked suspiciously.
- "Oh, a lot of things" Jan interrupted. "About your dreams for one thing. Those things coming to you at night when you don't know if you are awake or asleep. Or maybe about why you are prepared to stab and old lady with a late sixteenth century archaeological find as soon as you hear the name Xena."
- "But first you shall have some tea" said Mel promptly.
They were sitting in the sofa, drinking tea and eating ginger biscuits. Rosie was looking at the things in the room, and they certainly were something to look at. Clair was - still suspiciously eyeing Jan - trying to sort out the things the ladies were telling them.
- "Now wait a moment" said Clair. "You are saying that Xena and Gabrielle were real people?"
- "Yup" answered Jan, sipping on her tea. "Lived in Greek about two thousand years ago. Did a lot of remarkable things in their days. Me and Mel are very, very, distantly related to them, ya know" she said proudly. Clair shook her head slightly.
- "But still you say that I and Rosie are... partly these ladies. How can that be?"
Janice and Melanie (as the ladies really were named) exchanged glances. Jan draw a deep breath.
- "Well... about here it starts to get complicated, but we think it works something like this..."
They talked for a long time. The girls had to tell everything about their experiences with Alti two times, and the ladies seemed to be very interested in every small detail. In return, they were told a lot of stuff about Xena and Gabrielle. They even were to look at a scroll that looked very old. The ladies seemed to treat it like it was the most precious thing in the world. It was easy to start to share their enthusiasm for all the fantastic things they seemed to know, but still Rosie felt a bit suspicious about some of the things. A chopped of head talking? Going to visit dead people through a lake? Throwing air at people? She was after all six years old now. She wished people would stop treat her like a baby soon.
At last Jan sighted and stood up.
- "Well, we have a lot to talk about, but I think it is time for ya gals to go back to your parents." She spotted the disappointed expression on Clair's face and quickly went on "we will be in touch soon again - there still is a lot of things to be done... concerning Alti not the least." Rosie shuddered. She had almost forgot about the witch for a moment.
- "She can't really interfere with things" Mel said "not directly. But she seems to have found a form of a living creature, and she has found people willing to listen to her - young people, easily led and duped. She is stronger than she has been for a long time. I don't think she will leave you alone now when she has found you again."
- "And that's why we have to knot the tail of that cat now when we have the chance" Jan said determinedly.
- "Can we really do that?" Clair asked with a longing hope in her voice. "Can we really get rid of her for good?"
- "Well..." Mel said slowly. "That might be to much to ask for - she is very cunning after all, and y... Xena has tried to do that many, many times throughout history without success. But we can at least rip her web of power in this form and in this time. And we will do that."
- "But how can we find a single cat in London" said Rosie "There must be hundreds... thousands of them, and she is good at hiding."
Jan smiled, an almost mean little smile.
- "I just happen to know someone who will have a job like this coming just up his street..."
And before they knew it the cosy little room, the swords in the umbrellastand, the horse skeleton, the feathered masks were gone and the girls were back in the normal, tourist part of British Museum. Their parents were waiting for them in the cafeteria. The children stood silent, listening to Jan babbling about how clever and historical and all they were. Rosie couldn't help admiring the old lady. Very few parents make fuss with a person saying nice things about their children, and Jan knew to exploit this to the full extent. When they turned to leave Jan bent down and whispered conspiratorially in Rosie's ear.
- "We will be in touch. Take good care of your friend in the meanwhile."
With a creak, the old lady rose and walked away over the stone floor of British Museum.
It was very hard to sleep that night. They girls were filled by impressions and thoughts, and they had a lot to talk about.
- "You really believe in all that?" Clair asked. "Part of us living two thousand years ago?
- "Don't really know" Rosie confessed and snucked a bit closer. "Sounds a bit like common grown up-silliness to me. You know like babies coming with birds and stuff like that."
- "Yeah, but still... it feels right, doesn't it. And Alti seems to think it's true as well." And as if mentioning the witch's name was a magic word suddenly there was a thump on the windowsill and they could here the cat clawing on their window. Clair sat bolt upright, staring at the hissing monster on the other side of the thin glass. Rosie threw a pillow towards it. She was growing tired of witches and cats. With an angry "meow" the cat slipped away.
- "Why can't she leave us alone?" she sighed.
- "I don't think she ever will." Clair said glumly. Is their any of the ghost-girls on the street? Obediently Rosie went up to have a look (and to get her pillow back). She stared out in the night for a moment and then turned to Clair.
- "Come here, quick" she whispered. "You have to see this".
Reluctantly Clair got up from the warmth of the bed and joined Rosie at the window. On the street she saw a few cars and some people that definitely had to be tourists. There was no cats or ghost-girls, but when she let her gaze sweep across the street she understood what Rosie had meant. At a lamp post stood a figure. It was quite short, dressed entirely in a huge grey coat and an enormous hat of a model hardly ever used anymore. It was - in spite of the darkness - wearing dark glasses and even an enormous nose that Clair could swear had to be false. Its gloved hands held a newspaper with two holes cut out. Most of all the figure looked like a really old detective from a really, really old film. The girls giggled.
- "If she is one of Alti's girls I am not that worried" said Rosie. "We couldn't help noticing that figure if it tried to sneak onto us.
They went back to bed, and even if it took a long, long time for them to fall asleep, at least the witch didn't return.
The next day they ate breakfast at the hostel. Rosie ate chocolate puffs, Clair ate toast with strawberry jam, chocolate spread and marmalade, all on top of each other. Rosie's mum was reading a piece of paper with wrinkled forehead. A man wearing an elegant-looking uniform had given it to her when they came down to the dining room.
- "Girls..." Rosie's mum started, looking at her daughter, happily splashing in her bowl with the spoon, then looking to Clair who smiled back to her with a face all smeared with various bread spreads. She fell silent and re-read the note again.
- "What does it say?" Rosie asked.
- "It says... We all seem to be invited to..." Rosie's mum made a pause and gave her daughter a questioning look. "Say - how on earth did you girls get connections within the French Embassy?"
The letter was written on the finest paper and had a wax seal and was filled by complicated sentences like "Indeed a great honour it would be for us to be given" and "as a humble, maybe rash proposition - though just be eagerness justified" and so on. It was clearly addressed to Clair and Rosie - their parents was mentioned only in a subordinate clause - and they were invited for a little banquet at the French Embassy the very same evening. Naturally, their parents were making a lot of questions in the way parents always do, but the girls themselves of course did not know who had sent them the posh invitation, even if they did have their suspicions...
That day the weather was bad so they decided to do something indoors. Rosie wanted to go back to the museums, but the parents were more interested in the art galleries. The girls were still waiting to hear about their little water-hose game (another example of the universal unfairness of life) and thus didn't dare to make a fuss about it. It wasn't actually that boring that they thought. Especially the portrait gallery had a lot of stairs, corridors and rooms to run through and play in until they were told of for doing so.
Finally came the evening and the taxi (a Black Cab of course) left them at the French Embassy. They were very smartly dressed. Even Clair had after a terrible scene grumpily agreed to wear a dress. It was blue and Rosie thought it looked wonderful. Rosie herself was wearing green. When they knocked at the huge door a man with polished boots and white gloves welcomed them in, followed them to a room with the biggest chandelier Rosie had ever seen and asked if "the sirs and ladies" would like a drink. Rosie and Clair got orange soda. They had to wait for about ten more minutes - time enough for their parents to grew seriously nervous - before the man with white gloves returned and told them that "monsignor" was waiting for them in the "grande hall." The girls wandered with big eyes into what proved to be a veritable orgy in gold, silver, crystal, heavy furniture, wonderful porcelain, marvellous paintings and a carpet you could swim in. The grande hall was without doubt the most impressive room they had ever seen. The only thing that seemed out of order was the old lady sitting on a chair in the middle of the room, talking to a young girl, dressed in the same worn out practical looking khaki clothes as yesterday.
- "JAN!" cried the girls and run forward to hug her. Their parents stood left behind, relieved to finally realise - or at least finally getting a clue about - what was going on.
An old man with grey hair and a very elegant uniform approach them from a small doorway. He bowed slightly and extended a worn but still surprisingly strong hand for the parents to shake.
"Ah!" He said, franticly pumping Clair's dad's hand up and down. "Ze anglaises. Zee are so very welcome. I am so very happy zee could find time for an old mans folly in a no doubt both busy and well deserved vacances. Ah! Mademoiselle! " He exclaimed, bending with a creak to kiss Rosie's mum's hand. "Allow me to compliment zee for a beautiful composed dress. Who said only in fair France the ladies know ze toilette? Come! Allow me lead zee to ze table... and zee!" He spun around to face the girls, leaving to Mel who had been standing at the table to sort out the slightly confused and in one case heavily blushing parents. "Clair and Rosie am I not correct? It is an honour for me to meet zee. I have been looking forward to this, believe me young mademoiselles. Dr. Covington and Dr. Pappas " (a slight bow to the ladies) "have told me so much about zee. We have so much to talk about indeed..." Rosie couldn't help laughing. The little man was so funny. He was gesticulating wildly when he was talking, walking to and fro and making a show out of even the simplest task, like urging them all towards their seats with literary his whole body. Suddenly he stopped in the middle of a step, knocking his head.
- "Where is my manner I ask? Here I burst forward, babbling like a barbarian, not even properly introducing myself. He bowed to them all. My name is Jaques, lieutenant at the French Secret Service. And here comes our first cuisine."
The dinner was splendid. Jaques was the perfect host, making sure everyone had precisely what they wanted - usually the moment before they realised they wanted it. At the table were the girls and their families, Jan and Mel, Jaques and the girl Jan had been talking to. Jaques had hardly had time to sit down before he jumped up again to introduce her.
- "Denicé is my assistant. My protigé if you like. A very skilled girl. Wonderfully intuitive. She has helped me in many a strange case where and old man like myself is far too limited in his views..." Rosie eyed the girl. She was not very old for being a grown up. She had short, brown hair and a blue shirt. She had matching trousers, a thing that made Clair looking at her with very jealous eyes.
Clair's and Rosie's parents were enjoying themselves to the fullest. The strange invitation was no mystery any more. The old archaeologist had been very impressed by their children yesterday and had been pulling a few strings to arrange this. Wasn't it only to be expected? It wasn't to be expected that as clever children as their could pass through life undetected, was it? Their host was excellently conversant, forever filled with funny anecdotes and stories. Also the two archaeologists and the Frenchman's assistant proved to be very nice dining company. If their children didn't take too active part of the conversation that was only to be expected. They were after all just children. Maybe the parents would have been a bit thoughtful if they had noticed the eager, whispering conversation taking place at the children's end of the table as soon as the parents were occupied. But they didn't notice. Clair could only admire the cleverness of the arrangements. There was four grown ups at the table, apart from their parents, and at all times two of them could keep the parents occupied while the other two briefed the girls in what was going on and a battleplan was made.
- "I asked Jaques to keep an eye out for this cat of yours" Jan whispered. "He guarded your place last night. Any luck Jaques?"
- "Well" he said. "I followed ze cursed critter over half of London's gutters and roofs. I am too damned old to do things like this I tell you. To damned old..."
- "Did she notice ya?" Jan asked. Jacques snorted.
- "Ze spirit is more than two thousand years old for crying out loud! What do you expect, dr. Covington? Of course it noticed me. It spent the best of the night trying to give me the slip. But to what use I ask. There is no escape for it now - not if it want to keep duping ze black clothed youngsters of London.
- "Then you know where it is!" Rosie asked excitedly.
- "Of course, young madamoselle. Ze France Secret Service always finds its cat! Ze british teenagers and their precious familar have a local in..."
Rosies father bent forward to ask Jan something and Jacques abruptly fell silent. He blinked to Rosie and then turned to throw himself into a grown up conversation. Rosie and Clair exchanged glances. This was turning out to be a really exciting vacation.
The club where Alti was hiding was suitable enough called "The Black Cat". It was located in the north of London. During the dinner a lot of strategies was discussed in the same whispering, often interrupted way - including Rosie's proposition of calling everyone's parents and make them telling their youngsters off. In the end they settled for Jan's idea of simply "going down there and get the damned cat once and for all". They decided to do so the very next evening. Jaques, bowing, smiling and babbling offered their parents a "lovely night of your own, I know this French restaurant - oh what a place - and maybe zee could accept these theatre tickets - oh no, no trouble at all. We get them for free at the Embassy you know, Hahaha... And we would be just so happy to baby-sit for your adoring children, isn't it so Dr. Covington? Maybe we would also take them to a little cosy restaurant we happen to know about - a little place in north London..." In the end, their parents had no chance. And so it was decided.
That night even Alti yelling on the roof couldn't dampen the girls' excitement.
The weather wasn't any better the next day, but even so they decided to go to Greenwich. It was a nice place, Rosie thought. It felt less like being in the city than the other parts of the city. The observatory was a cool place, but it was long queues to everything. Also the old navy school was very impressive, with paintings in the roofs, but it quite soon grew boring. In fact, both the girls were far too concerned about what was going to take place in the evening to be able to concentrate on the touristing.
The clock was six p.m. exactly when they emerged from the Cab a block away from "The Black Cat".
- "Well, here we are now!" said Jaques. "I suggest we go inside. Denicé should be there already."
- "Why?" asked Rosie.
- "Ah! Young mademoiselle. It is never a wise decision to ramble straight into the lions lair without someone going first, espying the way. Denicé has proven to be remarkable skilled in those matters.
They entered the club. They saw a quite large room with twenty or so tables scattered, separated by false walls. There was a bar along one of the walls, just next to a small door. They played quite loud music. The whole place was painted black with a few paintings. Most of the customers where girls wearing what Clair and Rosie had come to recognise as ghost-girl outfit. They took a seat at a table and Jaques ordered "three plain English cups of tea and one French brandy, if you would be so kind my dear mademoiselle."
- "What are we waiting for?" Clair whispered, nervously looking around.
- "That young French girl should have had a snoop around to try to find the cat. We are waiting for her to show up." Mel answered.
Rosie was carefully studying the faces of the ghost-girls, looking for Angelica. Suddenly one of the girls at a table close to the door rose and walked towards their table. To Rosie's shock and surprise she went straight towards them and sat down beside her. She saw Clair reacting in the same way as herself, but the grown ups didn't seem surprised at all.
- "That was about time" Jan muttered.
- "Have your enquires been troublefree, dear protigé? " Jaques asked the girl. Rosie looked at her face, and suddenly it dawned to her.
- "Denicé! "
- "Hush! Yes, its me." Answered the girl.
- "But why..."
- "I had to go undercover so I could move around freely. I think I managed quite well" she added, glancing down her clothes. I got an invitation to a party tomorrow any way." she laughed softly.
- "I am afraid, dear Denicé, that what we are going to do tonight will cancel ze party" Jaques said with a shake of his head. "Now, what did you learn. Don't leave us in the dark anymore." They all bent forward to listen to Denicé tell about her adventures at "The Black Cat".
- "...and so I found out that the backyard of this house actually is edging to an old crypt. It isn't very big and I would say it is completely forgotten by now. Probably there was an old graveyard here, even if most of it has been built over in the nineteenth century. The Goths couldn't have found a better place for their coven."
- "Were you actually inside the crypt?"
- "No. But I had a look through a hole in the roof. It is mostly empty but I could se something move inside. I am not sure, but I would bet quite a lot that I have found the cat of yours."
- "Then my friends the time has come to once again do noble deeds." Jaques said, talking as if he was holding a speech. We who have gone through so many dark places clearly see the truth of the words of the French poet..."
- "Lets go" Jan interrupted. They all rose to their feet.
- "Not so quickly" said a voice Rosie knew. She looked up into the smiling face of Angelica.
- "We don't have time for any silliness, young Englishwoman!" Jaques said sternly. Step aside and ze nobility of yours will be noted in ze protocol."
- "You would better not have come here" Angelica said, still smiling sweetly. "I am afraid we will have to... deal with you now."
- "Quickly now, to that crypt!" Mel said, darting away towards the backdoor, followed by Jaques, Denicé and the two girls.
- "Get them!" Angelica commanded. Ghost-girls rose from their seats in the entire room.
- "Ya take care of the cat, I sort out the teenagers" said Jan.
- "But we can't just leave her!" Rosie protested as she was being dragged to the door.
- "I know it's mean, kindhearted mademoiselle" Jaques answered, urging her on "But frankly ze youngsters have had a good smacking coming. Don't pity them."
Rosie glanced backwards as they ran through the back door. There was at least fifteen of the black-dressed, pale-faced girls in the room, all approaching the old lady. Jan stood in the middle of the room, eyeing here opponents, her back straight and her walking stick in a firm grip. She was smiling. It wasn't a very nice smile.
When they got trough the door Denicé slammed it shut and locked it. Jaques had brought a chair with him and used it to crudely barricade the door. The backyard was no more than a strip of muddy soil with some pebbles on it. Just in front of them was the crypt. It was quite low with a pointy roof. Mighty pillows framed the doorway in which a surprisingly modern door was placed. In the stone were cuts outs of faces and scary pictures. The building was completely hidden from the street by the surrounding houses. Mel ran forward and threw the door open. They all followed. The inside of the crypt was dirty and smelled a bit mouldy. There was barely any light at all. Most of the crypt consisted of a big room where probably dead people had been placed a long time ago. They stopped at the door looking around. Suddenly they saw a white-faced girl staring at them from the other end of the room. When she saw them noticing her she started to run, disappearing through a small door.
- "Get her" Clair screamed.
- "Denicé!" Jaques cried. You stay with ze girls." He and Mel darted away, following the girl. Clair and Rosie stood together with Denicé in the middle of the spooky crypt, not really sure about what to do. They could hear the wild hunt going on in the other end of it. Suddenly something black and snarling leapt down from the roof, heading for Clair.
- "Look out!" Rosie cried but it was too late. The girl and the cat were furiously fighting each other, rolling around on the dirty floor. Rosie tried to get to them, but she couldn't get a grip of the creature. Denicé tried to do the same thing but with no success. The door opened and Jan ran in. Her walking stick was broken and her clothes torn, but there was a fire in her eyes Rosie had never seen before.
- "Get it of her" Rosie screamed, but Jan just stood where she was, looking. Rosie saw that also Mel and Jaques were back, both standing unmowingly, regarding.
- "Why are you not helping her?" she cried and suddenly she became aware of the silence. The fight had ceased. Clair lay on the floor, barely breathing, her eyes closed as she was in deep sleep. The cat lay on her chest, even she looking like dead or sleeping. Rosie ran forward to grab it, but before she could she felt strong hands grab her. She looked up into the face of Mel.
- "No Rosie" she said with calm, soothing voice. "There is nothing we can do for Clair now."
- "But what has happened to her?" Rosie screamed.
- "Alti has succeeded in what she tried to do all along. She has entered Clair's head and stolen her mind with her to... a place where we can't follow her.
- "Why didn't you stop her?" Rosie was crying now, big, hurtful tears.
- "Because it is the only way in which Alti can be defeated."
Clair knew that she wasn't here. She knew that this place wasn't real and that anything of this wasn't really happening. But it still felt more real than anything else she had ever seen. She knew this place. She had visited in her dreams many times, and sometimes also in nightmary day-dreams. She stood alone in the snow. It was dark and cold. The snow was falling thick from the sky and making it hard to see more than a few meters. She more felt then saw the pine forest surrounding her. But where she stood was a glade. It was illuminated by the bonfire in its middle, next to the hut that smelled like a slaughterhouse and seemed to be made out of animal fur. The stars were shining bright. The air smelled fresh and young. She felt like she was the only human in the world. But she wasn't. The woman dressed in furs who was sitting at the bonfire looked up at her. Her face was smiling, but there was only malice and not happiness in the smile. She rose to her feet and put down the bowl she had been holding. It contained blood.
- "Welcome back Xena" she said.
- "This isn't real" Clair answered, shuddering in the cold.
- "It is real enough!" Alti exclaimed, almost dancing in joy! "You are trapped here Xena. Not even your little friend can help you this time. Your soul is trapped here forever, and it is my to possess!" She started to laugh. Her laughter echoed through the forest, through the world, through the soul of Clair.
- "No" said Clair.
- "What do you mean?" Alti asked softly, not neglecting the chance to play with her pray a little.
- "You said you have trapped Xena here. But I am not Xena. I am Clair." she looked down on herself. She still wore her torn jeans and slightly bleached blue jumper that Rosie liked so much, dirty after the fight in the crypt. She had quite thin legs and a bruise on her left arm.
- "But you are Xena!" Alti smiled. "Xena in the body of a little child. Isn't it just so beautiful!"
- "But you are Alti" Clair said calmly. "The last time I saw Alti she was trapped in the body of a cat, and before that she didn't have a body at all. But now you suddenly have a body, and if I am right, this is the body YOU had two thousand years ago. Somehow that makes me think that it isn't that important what you look like in this place. It is more important what you really are."
- "So? What is your point."
- "You keep saying that I am Xena. What if you are right?" Clair looked down on herself. She wore a sturdy leather outfit, revealing generously amount of her muscular legs and arms. The ground was much further away than it usually was. She felt strength pulsing through her body. Slowly she looked up and met Alti's horrified gaze.
- "You have tried to defeat me many times Alti" she said in a voice she did just partly recognise as her own. "One should think you would have learned by now." Her hand moved down to her waist, almost on its own initiative. She felt her fingers grip around the cold metal of the chakram. It felt so good. She started to move in exactly the same moment as Alti did...
The spell was broken. Clair was just Clair, and the snow, the darkness and the cold slipped away as just a dream. She saw something move like a blond cannonball hurling itself towards her. Rosie darted forward with a battlecry that would have terrified bears. She fell over the cat and all but strangled the poor creature. But it was just a cat now. Rosie let it go and it quickly slipped away, fully determined to keep away from other peoples business for a long, long time. Rosie gave Clair a single look and spun around, facing the grown ups.
- "Well, I think we might say we did quite..." Jaques started, but when he saw Rosie's expression he fell silent. She glared at him with a face that seemed to be cut out from magma.
- "You knew this would happen." Rosie said with a voice cutting through the damp air like a saw. "You knew when you took Clair to this place that Alti would wait for her... and still you brought her here." She took a step forward, her eyes glowing like pits of green fire. Mel opened her mouth and closed it again.
They were all grown ups with a lifetime of adventures and dangers behind them. They had all bravely faced things that would make most people's mind freeze in fear. Rosie was a little girl, tired, frightened and alone in a strange place. But even so there was something with this little girl that made them take a step backwards. There was something with her that made them all very clearly to remember that a part of her soul had once successfully battled gods.
- "You didn't care Clair would get hurt." she went on. "All you cared for was your stupid witch and your stupid plans. It didn't bother you at all that Clair would have to be all alone and that she would get hurt!" The furious little girl was shouting now, her words echoing around the room. She kept walking forward, pressing the speechless grown ups together at the wall.
- "You... you are so MEAN!" shouted Rosie, clenching her fists. She was only a few inches away from Jan when a hand landed on her shoulder. She turned around, still boiling with wrath and looked into the teareyed face of Clair.
- "That was the only way Rosie" Clair said silently. "They couldn't help it. If they hadn't brought me here, Alti would have found another way to me, sooner or later. There was no choice."
For a moment, Rosie couldn't but stare at her friend, not knowing what to think or to do. But just for a moment. Then she flung herself into the arms of Clair. Clair felt the warmth of her best friend in her arms and let her lips close against the next sentence forming in her brain, even if she could very clearly hear it in her head. If they hadn't brought me here, I wouldn't have known just how strong Xena really is. It was a strange thought that she didn't really knew what to do with. She folded it up and saved it in a special part of her brain for later use. She closed her eyes and concentrated only on Rosie and nothing else. The grown ups were vice enough to keep silent.
The sun was setting. Clair and Rosie were sitting on a bench a Lester Square, holding hands. They both felt that the adventures they had been going through were over for a while. Alti's power was severely reduced. The ghost-girl secret club - or "coven" - would be guarded by Jaques and his people. The old ladies at the British museum had thanked the girls for their help and told them that they had to go away for a while - that there were some things concerning Alti they had to check out immediately, in a museum in Russia apparently. For right now they were not some kind of strange heroines from thousands of years ago. They were just normal girls. That is, normal girls who were sitting hand in hand with their very best friend at Lester Square in London after having gone through a very, very exciting adventure.
- "Rosie." said Clair.
- "Yes Clair?"
- "I just wanted to say that I am very glad that you are here with me."
- "I like being with you. I want to be with you forever."
- "I think we will be."
They smiled at each other. Rosie bent forward and kissed Clair on the chin.
- "Yes. We will."
The sun was setting over London, they had each other and they still had one more week of their vacation to spend with each other. Things were, all considered, exactly as they should be.