Time Again

In a time between today and tomorrow, in a place between here and there, a young man reads a leather bound journal intently. He finally lays it on the table by his chair with a sigh. "Well, I see I'll have to rectify that little situation, won't I? Bother! Humanity can be such a chore to keep safe. I mean, really, the last time dropping a house on evil worked was in the Wizard of Oz for goodness sake!"

"Yes, I know. It is a strange way to take out the darkness. But in the end, humanity is worth protecting, even if they are annoying." An older man, white-haired and slightly stooped with age looks up from his place by the fire with an amused smile. "Besides, you and I are both carry their history in our veins. It only seems right that we get to re-write a little of it ourselves."

A young priest, across from the old man, smiles at their words. "And just think how annoyed Lucifer will be to lose another battle just when he thought he had it won. The Master Cheater cheated himself - and by us!" He lifts the book from the table and reads the name on the inside cover – Derek Rayne.

The laughter of the three men rings through the night and into the whirl of Time itself.

Derek sighed as he watched Nick make his way out of the house, Derek's Precept ring clutched in his hand. It had taken all of the older man's powers of persuasion to convince both the ex-SEAL and Rachel to leave his leader to face the dangers of the gradually opening portal to Hell in the House's cellar. Only the suggestion that Alex was in danger was enough to convince the younger man that splitting up their meager forces was a good idea. It had been a lie, of course, the only one that Derek's tired mind could put forth. He knew that Alex was already safely out of the house having seen to that himself. If Nick had known the truth, had known what his friend really had planned, nothing would have convinced him to leave Derek's side. "Forgive me, my friend." Derek thought sadly, turning back towards the glowing gate. "But this final battle is mine alone to face." He moved silently through the cellar, pulling the detonator from his pocket as he walked.

"Not exactly true." An amused voice replied from the shadows. Derek's eyes widened with shock as a dark-cloaked figure stepped forward, a shepherd's staff in his hand. The voice was masculine but Derek could see nothing of the creature's face except a pair of bright hazel eyes.

"Who…?" Derek stammered, his eyes shifting to look behind the figure at the unholy light now beginning to come from the castle's depths.

"Explosives all over the place, the rest of the household tricked into taking flight. Really, Derek, did you have to make this all so complicated?" The figure shook its head and chuckled softly. "You know, all you had to do was make sure those silly boxes weren't all in the same place at the same time and you could have saved me a lot of trouble. Oh well, time waits for no man. Well, that's not quite true, it does wait for me, but that's another story."

"Who are you?" Derek asked, angered that this manifestation stood between himself and the growing horror below the house.

"Someone who has as much of a stake in this little battle as you do." the being replied. "Probably much more, now that I think about it. Really, Derek, martyrdom is not a very becoming state. Especially when there is another solution to the problem."

"Who are you"? Derek repeated, holding his ground.

The figure gave an exaggerated sigh. "Do you remember a talk you and Sloane had once about the stories of Merlin the Magician? The theories that the reason he was so wise in his knowledge of magic and men was because he was actually traveling backwards in time instead of forward?"

"You're Merlin?" Derek's voice dripped with skepticism.

"Did I say that?" the figure asked, shifting his staff from one hand to the other. "I merely was curious if you remembered the conversation. Actually, I was just killing time until someone else joined us."

Derek's eyes widened as he saw the figure of his father step from the shadows beside the cloaked figure. "Why are you here mage?" Winston asked, his voice grating with fear and loathing. "This doesn't concern you."

"Oh, actually it does. You see, your master broke the rules of the game and my master has sent me to make acquire some form of restitution in the matter."

"What are you babbling about?" Winston's eyes blazed with hellish fury.

"There's a little matter of 100 souls that recently escaped from the confines of hell that someone neglected to deal with. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't your master say something about preferring to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven? I would think that would be a difficult thing to do if your servants are escaping out the back door. But, if He wants to add new pieces to the chessboard, then he hasn't any reason to whine about our side doing the same. Like it or not, you pompous ass, I'm here to even up the sides again, starting with you." With a wave of his hand, the mage brought forth fire from the castle's floor, enveloping the figure of Winston Rayne in chains of heat. The minion of the Darkside screamed in pain and fury as he realized those bonds were forged by the Light and therefore unbreakable to him. The fire dragged his form down through the stones, back to that little piece of Hell that had been put aside for him.

"Much better." The figure commented, dusting off his hands. "Now, let's see what we can do for you." He suddenly moved forward and slammed its staff into Derek's chest, sending him flying backward. The precept stiffened, expecting the bruising, breath-stealing impact against the stone walls behind him. He fell backwards forever, time moving in slow motion, then landed on his back with a thud. He gasped for air, the wind knocked out of him by the force of the blow. His hands clenched reflexively and he felt the dirt embed itself in his nails.

Dirt?

Derek opened his eyes cautiously to find himself staring at the night sky, awash with stars. He bolted upright and stared with horror at the outside wall of the castle. Somehow, the creature had, with one blow, sent him flying through stone walls to deposit him at the far end of his garden. "That's impossible!" he thought, stunned. "How could it send me through a solid wall?"

"Derek!" Alex's voice, strained with fear, sounded across the grounds. The three members of his house ran from the shadows to join their fallen leader.

"How did you get out here?" Nick asked, confusion mixed with relief in his voice. He gripped the Legacy signet ring in one hand and his favorite revolver in the other.

"There was someone else in the house, not a demon but not human as well." Derek began to run for the back doors, his chest still throbbing from where the staff had impacted his ribs. "I have to get back in before the gate opens!"

"I don't think it is going to open." Alex said quietly, starring up at the sky. "A few moments ago this sky was covered in clouds. There was a veil of evil hanging over the house so thick even Nick and Rachel could feel it. But now.. It's like something has swept it all away."

Nick looked around him, hearing the normal night sounds of the insects and animals that lived on the castle's grounds. "Alex is right. Everything feels normal." He jogged up to his precept and opened the glass doors, taking the point as the group made their way down to the cellar. There they found the gate to Hell, which had been illuminated by the fires of damnation, was now nothing more than cold bricks arranged in a not very interesting pattern along one wall. The chests, with their resident fallen angels were lined up in a row against the wall, their keys hanging on a peg on the opposite side of the room.

Derek counted the chests quickly, then started a frantic search of the room. "There are two missing!" he said urgently.

"Derek." Rachel's voice was hushed as she reached out and turned her friend to a note hanging with the keys. "I think you'd better read this."

Derek took the scrap of paper from the peg and read it aloud. "Have taken two chests to insure this little incident doesn't occur again. I suggest you give this place a thorough sweeping. It's quite demon-infested. I'll be seeing you – in another lifetime." There was no signature, only an image of a crooked staff in one corner. The members of the House stood in silence for a moment, then slowly, as though by a command they all could hear but could not acknowledge they made their way to the first floor. Together they began the process of cleaning up the mess the demons had made of the house in preparation for a new day.

A dark-cloaked figure stepped from the mists, taping the ground before it with a long oaken staff. The being swept its dark hood from its head to reveal a handsome, young man with dark hair going gray at the temples. The man walked up the garden path in front of him to stand before the stone castle, with its guardian griffins looking down on all that would enter. Another man stood in the garden, patently waiting.

"How did it go?" The second man asked, stepping into the meager light from an outside lamp. His priests collar reflected the limited light as he moved forward to take the first man's cloak and staff.

"As well as could be expected. Walking backwards through the mists of time is a difficult proposition at best. Luckily, they won't ever realize just how their salvation was achieved or why. It would be too bloody difficult to explain in any event. How's the party going?"

"The girls are keeping everyone occupied. And the old man has arrived from London. I think it's time for our host to make his appearance, don't you?"

The first man sighed with exaggerated annoyance. "I suppose there's no getting out of this. Someone warned me there would be days like this. Damned if I remember who. Ah well, lead on. Let's get this over with."

The priest smiled at his friend's mock annoyance then preceded him to the house. Inside, people milled about restlessly, talking quietly with one another as they sampled the food set out by the caterers. Along the far wall, the old man who had sat before the fire looked up with a smile as the two younger men entered, his hazel eyes alight with satisfaction. The priest stepped forward and rapped the floor with the staff he still held, catching their guest's attention.

"Ladies and Gentleman, let me welcome you to the Luna Foundation annual charity ball 2056. I'm Father Galen, of St. Margaret's parish and I would like to introduce to you our host, the descendant of the Foundations' first CEO and its present chief executive – Dr. Taliesen Rayne."