Pt. 7

Maggie sighed in frustration. "Did he never throw anything away?" she asked, tossing yet another empty box into the large trash container Tattoo had delivered to the hacienda.

"I think your grandfather was what is politely referred to as a pack rat," Roarke replied, idly flipping through a yellowed notebook. He tossed it into the trash atop a pile of old bills he had found on the same shelf.

"The man never met a scrap of paper he didn't want to preserve for posterity," Maggie grumbled. "It makes it nearly impossible to figure out what's important and what isn't."

"Perhaps that was the idea." Roarke glanced down the row of boxes with a sigh. "He might have been hiding his treasures in plain sight."

"'Treasures'?" Maggie snorted in disgust. "I don't see anything worth treasuring. Except…" She pulled a folded page from the midst of a group of receipts. "What's this?"

Roarke reached out and took it from her, unfolding it with a frown. It was yellowed with age, the handwriting faded and elegant. The paper was ragged at the edges, as though it were roughly torn from a book, with odd figures drawn in brownish ink in the corners. "It looks like a translation of a spell he had been working on. Some sort of transference spell."

"Transference?" Maggie's voice took on a strained tone as she took back the page. "I remember this. He taught me this when I was just a kid. I never knew where he got it from or why he was so determined that I learn it. Still don't."

"What did the spell really do?" Roarke asked quietly.

"It was supposed to allow one wizard to transfer power, magic and even life energy to another person, usually another magic user. He told me his father wanted him to learn it so that he could continue the family tradition – keeping himself alive by using the power of family until he could find the 'right' heir to pass his power along to. My great-grandfather was a conniving, evil old man who probably sacrificed goddess only knows how many of his own descendants to keep himself alive until the 'right' one was born, and then expected his child to do the same."

"I never met your great-grandfather." Roarke pulled another book from a box and shook it gently over the table. "But from what Raul said about him, 'conniving' and 'evil' would have been compliments. Yet I have wondered over the years…"

"You've wondered if Grandfather was like his father?" Maggie glanced down at the page with a frown. "I suspect as he got older and his children didn't turn out the way he expected, he did start to remember his father's lessons and take them more to heart. But this page wasn't written by him. I know both his and my dad's handwriting well enough to recognize it. This *is* a man's handwriting, but not theirs."

Roarke reached across the table and took the page back. A chill flowed over him as he read the first line, filling him with mixture of dread and despair. He rose and crumpled the page in his hand, tossing it into the fireplace in disgust. "You don't need this power," he said quietly.

"And yet Grandfather insisted I learn it. Makes you wonder what he knew that we don't." She poked around the stacks a little more and pulled out another book. This one was different from the others they had been looking at. It was bound in leather, with gold-filigree writing on the cover. The pages were heavier than modern paper and yellowed with age. "And here is my missing birthday present – Elizabeth Bathory's grimoire."

Roarke strode across the room quickly. His hand shot out and he snatched the book away from the young woman. "I'll take that."

Maggie held on grimly. "Oh no you won't! That's my birthday gift." She grinned suddenly. "Goddess – I sound like Golom from Lord of the Rings."

Roarke didn't return her smile. "It's still dangerous, even after all these years."

"Not to me it's not," she retorted. "I'm older and more experienced now and know what to expect. It can't take me by surprise. Besides, I've always wondered something, and maybe the book can answer my question."

"What is your question?" Roarke asked, releasing the book.

"There was a legend that just after Bathory's husband died, she was visited by a stranger, a dark stranger who might have been responsible for introducing her to some of the more horrifying of the Dark Arts. All the supernatural enthusiasts use to say that it might have been Dracula – the vampire not the Prince – but of course that didn't happen. I've always wondered about who it was if he actually existed. "

Roarke frowned, casting his mind back to that long-ago time. "I remember whispers about that visitor, but I never actually saw him. I remember, though, that it was after those stories started to spread that Elizabeth began to change, to become darker, colder. I could no longer reach her heart." He sighed and sank back onto the sofa. "How strange that I had forgotten that incident."

Maggie shrugged, then cracked open the book, flipping pages carefully as she scanned the faded writing. Suddenly she spied a familiar script. She dropped beside him on the sofa and pointed to a particular page. "Does this handwriting look familiar?"

He squinted at the spidery script for a moment, then stared in shock at his guest. "It's the same writing as the transference spell!"

She sighed and carefully closed the book. "That's what I was afraid you'd say. Maybe Great-Granddad was more of an evil creature than the family knew. I shouldn't be surprised. Anyone who would steal their children's youth and life force would probably be capable of spreading the knowledge of the Dark Arts around wherever he could." Maggie glanced down at her watch. "Wow. Time flies when you're not having fun. It's time for you to get down to the pier. My cousin Tobias will be arriving soon."

Roarke rose from his seat with a sigh. "I'm still not comfortable bringing him and his wife here to the estate. I think it would be better if they stayed at the resort."

Maggie shrugged. "Probably would be, but he wants to look around the house and see what Grandfather might have left him. Last I heard, he was in debt to some loan sharks; so I think he's hoping to find something here to help his finances, whether it was left to him or not. As long as it's not magic-related, I don't care what he takes."

"As you wish," Roarke replied, stepping out into the garden and down the path toward the car.

Maggie watched him go without expression, then rose and fished the page out of the fireplace. She smoothed it open, leaning over the table so that her shadow fell across the paper. "So, what exactly am I facing?" she asked the air behind her.

"A choice," a voice whispered, the sound echoing through the room. "A choice between light and dark, life and death."

"Oh, is that all?" she replied sarcastically.