False Knight on the Road.
It had been an afternoon of apologies and tedious minutes, of budgets, business strategies and marketing plans, nothing out of the ordinary for the quarterly meeting between the management and trustees of the Museum. Derek Rayne had suffered the ordeal in silence for the most part, only adding to the arguments when his input had been essential. Now he sat in the building's coffee-shop, massaging the bridge of his nose in a futile attempt to shift a niggling headache and watching the steam rise from a cup of black coffee. Sometimes he paused here to sample one of their notable cakes, a cinnamon danish, perhaps, or a cherry torte; today he could stomach nothing more than strong coffee. Over three hours wasted on a meeting that had achieved precious little, Derek reflected, with only one item on the agenda that had captured his full attention, a request to reproduce some items of the Museum's jewellery collection for sale in the shop.
"...we've found someone to make the original castings for us," the woman in charge of merchandising, Madeleine Morrigan, had said. "A silversmith from Paris, although I first saw her work at an exhibition in Boston. She designs intricate Celtic knotwork pieces and the most amazing talismans set with exotic stones. We've drawn up a list of pendants and rings that we feel would work well . One is an amulet from your father's collection, Dr Rayne."
Derek had glanced at the list, frowning as he reached the item – pendant, gold and enamel, foliate mask, copy of a mediaeval cloister carving, European, c 1890. "The Green Man?"
"It's a lovely thing, isn't it? Such subtle shades of green, and set with garnets and black onyx. We're sure it would be a top seller..."
"No." That absolute denial had earned him many stares of disapproval from around the table. "It has an unhappy history, so much so that some people believe it to be cursed. I couldn't sanction selling copies of it to the public."
There had been a smattering of argument, of course, but the outcome was never in question. This committee were well aware that lesser mortals would never prevail against Dr Rayne when he wore that particular expression, so they did the decent thing and gave in. The Green Man was scratched from the list.
A petty victory in an insignificant war. Derek sighed, closing his eyes in another effort to shake the ache behind them. Music played in the background, a brisk, overly-cheerful tune that he found annoying. It called up some lines from his memory – 'met my love in the Horniman Museum, 'Twas her little turned-up nose, in amongst the curios, got me doing, doing the Horniman Rag.' Where had he learnt that scrap of
nonsense? Long ago and far away, in a time so distant it might as well have been another life. Green Man, Horniman – he half-smiled at the poetic echoes, thinking that he must be tired for his mind to wander so.
As he left the Museum a woman ran past him up the steps, and in the breeze of her passing, his intuition whispered into life. It was too transient and insubstantial to call a warning, merely a shiver of unease. Derek turned, too slow to catch more than a fleeting impression of the focus of his disturbance, a graceful figure in dark clothing, with a cloud of pale copper hair. As he tried to analyse this fruit of his psychic gift, a windfall from the tree of hidden knowledge, the cell-phone chirped in his pocket. He flipped it open to answer "Derek Rayne."
"There's been an accident..."
"Rachel?" He had to ask it, her voice was so husky with terror and pain that she sounded like a stranger. "What's happened?"
"It's Kat... Her school rang me... She fell, she's unconscious, they were taking her to hospital..."
"Rachel, where are you now?"
"At my office."
"Stay there." He didn't allow her to argue. "I'll pick you up. I'm at the Museum, so I can be with you very soon."
"Please hurry... " She broke the connection.
She was waiting when he pulled in to the kerb, drifting from foyer to street and back again like a restless spirit, too anxious to stay in one place. She ran to the Range Rover, hauling the door open almost before he'd brought the vehicle to rest. She looked worse than she'd sounded on the phone, her face pale and pinched with fear. How love hurts us, Derek thought, how we suffer for it, and none more so than a mother's anguish when something threatens the life of her child.
Rachel glanced at him, then fixed her eyes on the road. "Drive," was all she said.
He pulled back into the traffic, letting her hide her fears behind silence for a time. "What happened?"
"The teacher I spoke to didn't seem very sure of the details." Rachel sounded calm; few would realise just how much effort and professional skill went into the act. "Kat was on the main staircase when she fell. When the nurse couldn't rouse her, they called 911."
"There was no suggestion it was anything but an accident?"
"Did she fall or was she pushed?" She shook her head. "Derek, why must you write evil into everything? No, there was no suggestion of malice. The school say that they'll fully investigate the incident. I think they're afraid of being sued for negligence."
When they reached the hospital the emergency room was in a perfectly-choreographed state of chaos, the aftermath of a three-vehicle crash. It took Derek some time to extract the information they wanted; that Kat had arrived about thirty minutes before them, that she was still unconscious but stable, and that she was presently having a CT scan before going up to the ward.
"You'd do best to go get some coffee and wait until they have her settled before you see her," the receptionist said, kindly. "They won't let you in to the scanning room."
Waiting was the last thing Rachel needed to do, but Derek steered her into the canteen, sat her down, put coffee in front of her. While she stared into the depths of the cup, he used the cell-phone to call the Legacy house. Alex picked up.
"It's Derek," he cut in. "I'm at the hospital with Rachel. Kat's hurt. We don't know how badly yet."
"Oh, no!" He heard the fear in her voice and knew that her thoughts mirrored his own. To lose a husband and a son, to suffer so much, and now this. "Do you want us to join you there?"
"Yes." They had nothing more than routine cases to follow up on this week, no supernatural threat to life and limb to divide them in this time of crisis. "It could be a long night."
As he ended the call, he was aware of a woman approaching their table, hesitant but with an air of purpose. Fair hair cut into an easy if unflattering style, unfussy, sensible clothes, age around the mid-thirties, she looked as out of place here as they were. She radiated anxiety – not a member of staff then. She hovered for a moment, then took the plunge. "Dr Corrigan?"
Rachel barely glanced up. "Yes."
The woman looked doubtfully at Derek, not wanting to be rude and ask who he was outright, not daring to make any awkward assumptions. He took pity on her. "I'm Derek Rayne, one of Dr Corrigan's colleagues."
"Claire Hamilton." She didn't smile. "I teach at your daughter's school, Dr Corrigan. I came with Katherine in the ambulance."
"Sit down," Rachel said, more an order than an offer. "Can you tell us exactly what happened?"
"Yes. By pure chance I was watching and I saw everything. She and a group of her friends were coming down the staircase, when Katherine suddenly stopped, looked up and fell. She seemed to be unconscious before she hit the floor. Was she subject to fainting fits?"
"Not at all. You're sure that no-one pushed her?"
"No, nothing like that. Nobody was near her at the time. She was quite isolated."
"You mentioned that she looked up at something before she fell?"
"There was nothing there – well, nothing that I could see." Miss Hamilton frowned. "There was an odd expression on her face though, not quite fear... more like confusion. If I had to describe it, the word I'd choose would have to be puzzlement."
"Puzzlement?" Rachel frowned. She'd seen that on Derek's face from time to time, and Alex's, when their Sight kicked them sideways, out of the mundane world, but Kat was just a child. True, she had strange dreams sometimes and screwy feelings, but Rachel refused to believe that she'd been burdened by the Gift.
"Yes, I thought it was odd." The woman shifted in her chair, uncomfortable under their scrutiny. "We'll fully investigate the incident, of course, examine the stairs for irregularities and so forth. I'll keep you informed of our progress."
"We'd be glad of that," Derek replied, when Rachel remained silent.
"How is your daughter?" the teacher asked. "Is she awake now?"
Rachel sighed. "They haven't let us see her yet."
Claire Hamilton smiled with well-meant sympathy. "I'm sure she'll be fine. If you don't mind, I'll take my leave now. It was good to meet you, Dr Corrigan, Mr Rayne. I just wish that the circumstances had been more pleasant."
Rachel watched the woman leave. "Do you think she was telling us all of the truth?"
"I'm sure she didn't lie to us." He reached across the table to squeeze her hand. "Don't tell me that you're seeing demons now? Isn't that my job?"
She almost smiled. "Could we go up to the ward now?"
At the nurses station on the third floor they were directed towards a dark-haired weary-looking woman, Kat's physician.
"Dr Ellen Lopez." She shook hands distractedly with Rachel, then Derek. "Are you the husband?"
He masked a smile. "I'm afraid not."
"My husband is dead," Rachel said tightly. "This is Dr Derek Rayne. We work together."
"Sorry!" Dr Lopez ducked her shoulders as if avoiding a blow. "So many degrees and titles! Such a gathering of knowledge should count for something, be a magnet for truth, perhaps, and yet what I have to tell you is so nebulous, so unfixed. Your daughter is still unconscious, but stable, as far as we can tell. We found only minor trauma, bumped elbows and bruised knees, which fits in with her history of a recent fall. There's no evidence of head injury and the CAT scan is negative, which is puzzling, since it gives us no reason for the depth and duration of her coma."
"Have you done any blood tests for drugs?" Derek asked, ignoring Rachel's horror at the question.
"She's just a child, Dr Rayne..."
"I don't mean to suggest that Kat would ever take anything willingly, but we shouldn't rule out pranks or other mischief. This may even have been a botched kidnap attempt. Dr Corrigan's association with the Luna Foundation would make Kat a likely target."
He saw the sudden hardness in Rachel's eyes, instant denial swept aside as she recognised the truth in his words. Derek didn't need to be a mind-reader to guess her thoughts; another threat to Kat's life, not because she was linked to the Luna Foundation but because she was too close to the Legacy.
"I'll run the tests," the medic agreed. "At the very least it would explain why we can't wake her."
"Can we see her?" Rachel demanded.
"Of course. We have some monitors on her and a drip, but nothing more invasive than that." Dr Lopez conducted them to the cubicle door. "Go straight in."
Kat looked tiny in the big white bed, her hair loose across the pillow, her eyes closed, her face still, as fragile and vulnerable as a sleeping china doll.
"Oh, little girl...!" Rachel stumbled across the room to take her daughter's hand, the words catching in her throat like a sob.
"I'll leave you with her," the doctor said, and Derek, trapped between the bed and the door, feeling as awkward as hell, wondered if he should follow. Perhaps it would be better to leave Rachel alone with her grief, at least until the others arrived...
"Derek." Rachel was back in control once more, beckoning him to come forward. He did, taking Kat's left hand in his. It was so small, and it felt limp and rather cold. The precept's ring glinted on his finger and he realised that Rachel was staring down at it with disapproval – or was that just a hint of hatred? – in her eyes.
"Well?" she said. "All those magic powers of yours, do they tell you anything?"
Derek took a deep breath, clenched his eyes shut and 'reached' into the heart of his talent. The intuition was dumb, its doors locked and bolted against him. Like any cat, the Sight would never come when it was called – only on its own terms, unasked-for, not summoned. He loosened his grip on Kat's hand and shook his head. "Nothing. I'm sorry..."
The disappointment in her eyes was more hurtful than anything she could have said. They stood in silence for some time and Derek could have wished for a rock to crawl under.
Unaware of the ripples of anxiety spreading around her, Kat dreams. She stands on a road in twilight, with night at her back and no hope of morning ahead. Grey moorland surrounds her, a bleak and barren landscape, empty and silent. The sky is as grey as the land, dull and leaden, devoid of sun, moon and stars. In the far distance stands a tree, forlorn and broken, lightning-struck. With a dreadful feeling of doom, Kat begins to walk towards it.
Derek slid back into wakefulness, aware of light, of noise and bustle around him and of a nagging pain in the back of his neck. Someone shifted on the bench beside him - Nick. Had he been there all night, Derek wondered, wary and awake, assuming his role as bodyguard?
"I brought coffee." Nick lifted a plastic cup. "Well, that's an exaggeration – it's a hot brown liquid claiming to be coffee. Stiff neck?"
"Yes. These chairs were not designed for comfort." Derek stretched and massaged the odd aches from various parts of his anatomy. "How's Kat?"
"No change. Rachel's still at her side."
"We shouldn't leave Rachel alone. One of us must be with her at all times," Derek said. "For as long as this takes."
"We owe Rachel that much." Nick agreed. "Alex has been awake with her for most of the night. Maybe I'd better take the day-shift?"
"Good idea, and send Alex back to the island to get some rest."
"Uh-uh! You re the boss, you send her back. She won't listen to me – you know Alex!"
"All right... " The cell-phone warbled in his pocket again, messenger of ill-omen. "What now?"
It was Security at the Museum with more bad news; on their morning rounds they had found an item missing from the Winston Rayne collection. When they told him which one, Derek felt suddenly cold – the foliate-mask pendant.
"The last thing we need at the moment is a re-run of the fiasco with that bloody bell." Nick observed, when he heard the news.
"I hope it won't come to that." Derek stood up, shaking the creases out of his coat. "I have to investigate it, of course. Give my apologies to Rachel, and see if you can't reason with Alex, eh?"
"Just my luck – another tough assignment!" Nick complained, but he was smiling as Derek left the hospital.
When he reached the gallery that housed Winston's collection, Franklin, the head of Security was waiting for him, and so was Madeleine Morrigan.
"I can't believe this is happening," she said. "Only yesterday we were talking about this piece, and today it's gone... That's too much of a coincidence for my taste."
Derek went over to the glass case. Nothing was broken, nothing appeared to have been disturbed, yet where the Green Man should have been was a rectangle of white card with a single line of neat black print – 'removed for cleaning'.
"Clever trick." Franklin acknowledged. "Didn't work. My man was too sharp for that – he checked with the guys down in Restoration. The thief obviously wanted to buy some time, to disguise the fact that the jewel was missing. My guess is that it was taken by a pro. There's no damage to the lock and no apparent tampering."
"Not a one." The security man scowled. "We're running through yesterday's tapes to see if the cameras captured anything."
They went down to the basement where a trio of staff were sifting through the video records, alternating between real-time and fast-play. The museum visitors danced across the screens like actors in an old jerky black-and-white film.
"I'm afraid there wasn't much activity in that particular gallery." Franklin admitted. "Never is. It's only of interest to a discerning minority."
Derek found the screen that offered the best view of the plundered case and watched the random movements of the public around it. Nothing caught his eye until one figure paused there for a long period of time, a tall woman with long hair. "There – run that through slowly."
The magic of technology turned back Time itself and she bent over the glass again, leaning in close to peer at the pendant, then she brought a pad out of her bag and began to sketch it. Her soft, unruly curls drifted across her face and she pushed them back impatiently. Derek placed her then, the woman who had brushed past him on the steps. Even in poor definition and grainy monochrome, she was very lovely.
"Oh, her!" Franklin said, grinning like a wolf. "She's starred in a lot of our footage this past week. The boys are getting quite fond of her. Always so serious, always scribbling away on that pad of hers. It's a shame she doesn't smile more often. She's a stunner."
Madeleine glanced past them. "That's our silversmith, Dr Rayne. Her name's Elise DuBois."
"Do you have a contact address for her?" Derek asked.
"You can't suspect her of taking that piece of jewellery!" protested the video-operator. "Look – she doesn't open the case, she doesn't even touch the lock..."
Franklin patted his man on the shoulder. "Take it easy. We're not at the finger-pointing stage yet. Is this the only section of the tape she's on?"
"Yeah – I've already run it through to the end. She stays ten, twelve minutes, about average for one of her sketches."
That unease was niggling at Derek again, forcing him into a decision. "I'd still like to talk to her."
"I only have a phone number for her." Madeleine frowned. "I suppose I could track down her address."
"Do you want us to call in the police over this, doctor?" Franklin demanded.
"No, not yet. Let's work on it ourselves for a day or so, and see if we can come up with any leads," Derek said. "After all, despite its historical worth, the piece doesn't have much intrinsic value. Its loss is a nuisance rather than a disaster."
"A nuisance I could have done without." Franklin sighed.
"Let's hope we can get it back in one piece," Madeleine added. "It's a most attractive thing. I have to confess that jewellery of that period is one of my passions. I'd miss the little fellow if he's lost forever."
Under an unchanging sky, Kat walks. The road, which seemed so straight when she first saw it, twists and turns, rises and falls, until she loses all sense of direction. Time passes, yet stands still. Against her will she moves on, drawn ever towards the struck tree. As she nears it she notes another feature in this barren landscape, a single standing stone. A little knot of fear settles on her heart.
When she reaches them, she halts. To the right of the road stands the tree, blackened and dead, a carbonised skeleton. The stone is on her left, as tall as a man and as pale as bone, its surface carved into complex spirals, now worn down by the wind and crusted with green lichen. Kat sighs and gazes hopelessly across the endless grey moor. Nothing moves there, nor in the empty pewter sky. When she glances back to the road, a figure stands before her.
Kat squeaks in surprise. The man – it must be a man, since it's too tall and broad-shouldered to be otherwise - wears a dusty black cloak with a hood pulled so far down over his eyes that she can't see his face. His boots are caked with mud and dull metal glints under the ragged hem of his cloak. Kat guesses that he's wearing armour, probably chain-mail. His outline seems odd to her until she realises that it's distorted by something long and heavy hanging at his side, a sword perhaps?
"What brings you here so late?" says the knight on the road.
His voice makes her jump. It's as soft as marshmallow, as gentle as a soft spring breeze, yet the sound of it turns her ice-cold.
"Well, child? Cat got your tongue?" The figure lets out an impatient sigh, then repeats its question. "What brings you here so late?"
"Uh, I suppose I'm looking for someone." The thought crosses her mind that she might run away, but where to? There's only the moor and the road, the stone and the blasted tree, and the sinister cloaked figure blocking her path. Kat squares her shoulders and stands her ground.
Alex surfaced from grey, formless dreams, breathless, her heart thudding madly in her chest. She fumbled for the lamp, slow to find the switch. The light didn't ease her fear much and she lay still, panting, listening to the rain lashing against her window. Thunder growled in the distance, far out to sea; closer to her she could hear the small creaks and dusty sighs of the old house, as if it shivered and hunched its eaves against the wind, muttering in protest at the storm. She had grown accustomed to its little noises, this Legacy house which had seen wonders and terrors alike, which had witnessed great evil and yet survived, more or less intact if not unchanged, much as its inhabitants were. Neither the storm nor the murmurings of the house were the focus of her fear, and her dreams had been too nebulous to account for it. She slid out of the sweat-dewed sheets, wrapped her robe about her and parted the heavy curtains enough to look down into the gardens. There was little to see through the heavy rain, even when the sudden blink of lightning floodlit the lawns.
The sound that had woken her came again, a thin, high wail that prickled the hair at the back of her neck and made her heart flutter in her throat. An inhuman cry, fierce and unfettered, it spoke to her of freedom, of the pure, clear joy of the wilderness. There was menace in it, a raw edge of ugly threat. Alex leaned closer to the window, and as the moon broke free of the storm-wrack of clouds, she saw a dark shape crouching on the terrace, its head thrown back. It howled again and she could swear that it was looking directly at her. For a moment she saw the red glint of its eyes and the pale loll of its tongue, then it turned and loped away, lost in darkness as the moon's bright face was covered again.
"A dog?" Nick frowned, when she told her story at breakfast. All three of them were there, since Rachel was being minded by Emily, Kat's current baby-sitter.
"Or a wolf." The memory still unsettled her.
"There are no dogs on the island," Nick said. "And absolutely no wolves."
"Describe it again." Derek wore that distant look of his, the one that always made her think that he was searching through dusty trunks and forgotten tea-chests in the attic of his memory.
"It was big and black and I was a-feared of it!" Even trying to turn it into a joke didn't help. "As big as a Newfoundland and as black as the pit, gaunt and shaggy, with red eyes, like burning coals. I only saw it for a moment, but it howled at least three times."
There was nothing on the security tapes, even when Nick ran through all of the cameras from all angles. When they checked the terrace they found a single paw-print as wide as her palm, so perfectly preserved in a patch of mud at the edge of a puddle that it might have been left there on purpose.
"I'll check the perimeter fence and see if the man on the gate saw anything," Nick said, grim-faced. "It could be dangerous to have a big, vicious brute loose in the grounds."
"Take a cast of this." Derek ordered. "Frankly, I'm surprised to find physical evidence of Alex's spectral hound. Black dogs aren't usually as solid. They crop up in folklore right across Europe; as the Bargvest and Padfoot, which are reputed to be shape-shifting demons in canine form, as witches' familiars, as leaders of the Wild Hunt and fairy-companions, even as treasure guardians and ghostly protectors. Mostly they're regarded as evil, as emissaries of the devil"
"It sure felt evil!" Alex shivered, remembering the feral glitter of its eyes on her and the way it had lolled its tongue as if laughing.
"Shape-shifting demon-dogs?" Nick shook his head, turning back to the house in search of plaster of paris. "And it's only Wednesday!"
True to her word, Madeleine Morrigan had tracked down her elusive silversmith and faxed over the address. Mam'selle DuBois lived on the edge of Chinatown, in a once-derelict warehouse that had been lovingly converted into a series of studio apartments and leased to artists. Three full-sized trees grew in the central courtyard under a dome of glass, with chairs and tables scattered beneath them, the trappings of an informal cafe run by the members of this bohemian community. Derek walked across paving splashed with vivid sun, moon and star-shaped pools of light, cast down from the stained glass high over his head, and in spite of everything, his mood lightened a fraction. A girl sitting cross-legged under one of the trees, sketching a group of laughing diners, was happy to tell him that the woman who made really neat earrings lived in unit seventeen, in back of the building, on the second floor. He found it easily, but hesitated for a full minute before jangling on the absurd antique bell-pull. There was no response for so long that he was ringing it again when the door opened.
He scarcely recognised the elegant figure from the museum steps. Her auburn hair was twisted up close to her head and knotted at the nape of her neck, and she wore faded jeans and a torn khaki T-shirt, both of which bore random scorch-marks. Up close he saw that she possessed that disturbing, disarming kind of beauty that makes men turn and stare in the street. A two-edged sword, Derek mused, inspiring jealousy as much as admiration, frightening away as many friends and lovers as it attracted. Those blessed with such looks usually led solitary and lonely lives.
"Yes?" Even in that single word he could hear a trace of her accent. She looked directly into his eyes, and for one dizzy instant he had an impression that her intense gaze had laid bare everything about him, past and future, open and concealed. She didn't smile.
"I'm Derek Rayne." He held a hand out to her, his left, a gesture which usually threw most right-handers into awkward panic, but old habits are hard to break. "And you, I believe, are Elise DuBois?"
"C'est moi." Did she hesitate for a moment before shaking his hand? Now she did smile, just with her lips – it never reached her eyes, which were as green as the little apples God didn't make. Too bright to be natural, he thought, with little charity. Must be contacts. "Sorry to take so long to reach the door. I'm working, in the middle of setting some stones."
''If this is a bad time. ..?"
"Not at all. Entrez..!" She let him step past her and closed the door. The room was large and bright, an open-plan living area divided into segments by its furniture. "Help yourself to some coffee. I need five minutes, maybe ten to finish the piece, then I can give you my full attention."
Without waiting for an answer, she was gone, slipping through a door to his right. Derek shook his head, bemused that she hadn't asked who he was, what he wanted. In front of him was the kitchen, behind a breakfast bar. The coffee was easy – he found a battered percolator on the stove with a pan of warm milk beside it, and huge continental cups on a rack by the sink. He'd expected a bitter French roast, perhaps with chicory, but it was Viennese, rich and sweet, cut with figs. Sipping it, he stepped into the next room and stopped dead, overwhelmed by the vast space and brilliant light.
"Impressive, isn't it?" The silversmith glanced up from her workbench, which was set close the the wall of glass that flooded the place with sunlight. "You'd need to be a sculptor to do it justice, I think, or a painter, someone whose art was monolithic or worked on a broad canvas. I fill it poorly, just me and my little trinkets."
Derek joined her at the table, pulling up a stool. She was claw-setting gems in a silver pendant, pale blue and green stones like drops of coloured water, delicately tapping them into place with a punch and tiny hammer. A dozen other talismans nestled on black velvet in the centre of the bench, each shaped like a five-pointed star, pretty, ornate things, wound about with tiny, pale-green sculpted leaves, all akin to each other and yet none identical. "Thirteen pentacles?"
"I took the commission from a local coven," Elise DuBois said, with a shrug. "They ordered thirteen silver amulets enhanced with green gold and set with beryl, aquamarine, moonstone and pearl, to be ready tonight. They want to bless them under the full moon at their esbat."
Derek raised an eyebrow. "White witches?"
"I doubt that the other kind would have chosen anything so tasteful!" She chuckled, a surprisingly low and earthy sound. "I did have to agree to some rather odd conditions though; the silver had to be smelted at a particular phase of the moon, and
I had to light hideous coral-pink candles all around the room, burn some kind of foul incense that smelt like elvish socks and indulge in some ridiculous throat-curdling chanting. As if that wasn't enough, the finished pieces had to be washed thrice in spring-water and a concoction of weird herbs. They even specified how much blood I should add to the silver."
"No, not human." Her grin was sudden and impish, and her eyes glittered green within, like a cat's. "I used mine."
Franklin had been right – she was stunning when she smiled. "And it didn't bother you, following all those strange instructions?"
"Mais, non." Again that gallic shrug. "However foolish I think them, who am I to step on other people's beliefs?" She set the last gem to her satisfaction, wiped her fingerprints from the pendant with a scrap of cloth and settled it with its sisters. "I'm done now. Shall we go back through to the other room?"
They sat at a small round table next to an open window, with the warm breeze and the cheerful noises of the street wafting in. Elise sipped at her coffee and waited for him to speak, as if she had a century or two to spare.
"I'm curious," Derek said, at last. "You haven't asked what I want."
"I presume that it's museum business," she said. "After all, what interest would the Luna Foundation have in me?"
His intuition fluttered for an instant, a shapeless blur of unease. "I understand that you've been asked to make some replicas of the exhibits for sale in the museum shop?"
"I was asked to draw up a list of suitable pieces, yes, but the final selection was made by the Morrigan... I mean, Madame Morrigan."
"Including a pendant from my father's collection?"
"The Green Man?" She nodded. "Lovely piece, technically difficult to reproduce, of course, given the cloisonne work and tiny bezel-set garnets, and now I won't get the chance to rise to that challenge, since you refused permission for its use. Why was that, if you don't mind me asking?"
"It has an unfortunate history... "
"Unfortunate?" She laughed sharply. "Four suicides and a murder? Some might call that a little more than unfortunate, Dr Rayne – cursed, perhaps?"
"You've researched its history then?"
"To make an authentic copy I need to know when and where a thing was made. Your father's pendant was a late Art Nouveau piece, made in Paris in 1894 and described as a Garland or Wild Man. It was intended as a love token, a wedding gift, but the happy bride it was bestowed upon didn't survive her honeymoon." Her peridot eyes clouded. "Whoever had it in their possession died a tragic death. Truly, it is an unlucky jewel..."
Derek dropped the bombshell. "The Green Man is missing."
"Really?" Her surprise seemed genuine. "But I saw it yesterday afternoon, I sketched it. But you know that – I must have been caught on the cameras..." Her voice trailed down into silence and her eyes went very wide as she made the obvious connection. "Merde! That's why you're here – you think that I took it!"
"That isn't so. I'm just following up one aspect..."
"You think I stole it, that I am a thief?" Elise was on her feet, the colour rising in her pale cheeks. "Oh, I should throw you out!"
"Please calm down, Mam'selle DuBois," Derek said, sternly. "I'm not accusing you of anything..."
"I have nothing to hide! Search this apartment... " Her anger was rising and she waved both hands wildly. "Search all of it... search me, if you like! Shall I strip for you, Dr Rayne, so you can be sure that I don't have your precious little pendant secreted about my person?"
Derek suppressed a wry smile at the very idea – he had to admit that it was a tempting one. "That won't be necessary. Sit down, please, and don't be so angry with me."
Elise sank back into her chair, glaring at him. "Why would I take the Garland? What motive would I have to steal such a thing?"
"I can't imagine why anyone would take it."
She shook the anger from her, as a wet dog might shake raindrops from its coat. "It's a dangerous object, an amulet of some power. It might be used as a weapon by those ignorant or arrogant enough to care nothing for the consequences of their actions. After all, it is very adept at killing people."
Derek went suddenly cold, as a simple theft took a leap into the kind of case that the Legacy should worry about. Elise was right – in the wrong hands the pendant could be lethal. The disturbing feeling that had led him here was misplaced, he realised, knowing that his answers lay elsewhere. "I've taken up too much of your time, mam'selle. I ought to go."
"At least finish your coffee," Elise offered, resuming her role as hostess. "Please."
Silence stretched between them, awkward and uneasy. Derek glanced about the apartment, trying to find a peg to hang a little civil conversation on. A pen-and-ink sketch of the Left Bank caught his eye. "That's nice. A souvenir?"
"No," she said, absently. "It was a present from Lucien."
"Lucien?" He had known someone of that name too, yet it must be common enough in France.
He sensed a change in her, a wariness. "He was an old friend, back when I lived in Paris."
"If I've touched a nerve, I apologise..."
"No need. Luc died, leaving a great deal unsaid between us." She glanced away, focussing on the distant bustle of the street. "No closure – isn't that what you Americans say?"
Derek sipped coffee, resuming his scan of the shelves. A frosted glass vase with the look of Lalique sat next to a basalt statuette of an Egyptian cat, while above them was a framed piece of papyrus covered in tiny glyphs. "Now, that seems familiar. Is it part of the Dead Sea scrolls?"
"Bien sûr. I should have realised that a scholar like yourself would recognise it. It's a replica of one, found in the original cave in 1947." Her smile was back, wistful and winsome. "The War between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. It's an order of battle for the final apocalyptic clash between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil."
"Isn't that an odd thing to hang on your wall?"
"Oh, I don't know about that." Amusement glinted in her vivid eyes. "It's a good quick reference, so I can tell at a glance what side someone's on! Sheep and goats, Dr Rayne, or angels and devils – wouldn't you like to know the trick of telling instantly which is which?"
That remark stayed with him after he left the apartment, along with a sense of the strangeness of the woman. As he walked back across the courtyard it occurred to him that Elise's anger had been too easy, too convenient, perhaps faked to distract him from questioning her further. At no point had she actually denied taking the Green Man.
When he reached the Range Rover there was a figure in the passenger seat, although he'd left it locked, with the alarm set.
"Lee Tzin-Soong!" Derek greeted the old man with a broad smile. "What are you doing here?"
"It would pain me if you came to my side of town and didn't visit, so I thought that I'd spare myself such suffering." Mischief filled his bright, ancient eyes. "I might also ask you what you're doing here?"
"Museum business, with a silversmith who lives in this building."
"Would that be the one with hair like pale flame and jade-green eyes?"
Derek laughed. "You don't miss much, old man!"
"And you always did have a taste for much younger women." Tzin-Soong shook his head. "Forgive me, that was cruel. Will you take some tea with me, Derek? Do you have time to talk?"
"For you, I always have time."
They went along the street and sat in an almost-empty restaurant, where Lee was promptly served with jasmine tea and dim-sum. The waitress bowed deeply and left them alone. Derek related a catalogue of recent events, concentrating on Kat's
accident and Alex's phantom dog.
"I'm sorry to hear about the child," Tzin-Soong said, when he'd finished. "For the past few days I've been aware of an atmosphere of malevolence, nothing definite or solid, yet a sense of brooding threat. As we of the Legacy know so well, evil has no qualms about choosing the weakest, the most innocent target."
"You think that's why Kat's coma hasn't broken?"
"If there's no physical reason for her affliction, then we must assume that it's due to a supernatural attack. Would it be of any help if I visited her in the hospital?"
"It might, and Rachel would be glad to see you, I'm sure."
The old man swirled the dregs of his tea, studying the pattern of grey-green leaves and pale flowers. "There's something else I should have mentioned to you, something that's been puzzling me for a while. You know that it's my habit to meditate in the early morning, around dawn? About a month ago I sensed... I'm not sure what, exactly... a presence, perhaps."
"Neither evil nor good... just itself. Ah, Derek, it was just a glimpse, just the merest touch..." He struggled to find words, doubly difficult in a language not native to him. "Something powerful and very old, something inhuman. I think it was aware of me that day, for it has been concealing itself from me ever since. It's still there, still close, but that's no more than a feeling."
Derek frowned, knowing better than to dismiss the old man's intuition. "Does it mean us harm?"
Tzin-Soong sighed. "All I can give you is a guess – no, I don't think it's our enemy. It isn't our friend either, however much we might wish to have such a focus of power within the Legacy ranks."
They sat in amiable quiet for a while and the waitress brought them more tea. Lee thanked her in his own tongue, then smiled at Derek. "Has my granddaughter written to you lately?"
"No." He raised an eyebrow. "Should she have?"
"Ah, she promised me that she would..." The old man shook his head. "Mei-ling has found herself a young man, a most intelligent, most charming scientist, an expert in lasers, I believe. She tells me little about him, but I have my suspicions that they intend to announce their engagement very soon."
Derek was unprepared for the sudden blankness that washed through him, the sinking feeling of loss. Although he hadn't seen Mei-ling for some time, she was often in his thoughts – and now the door he had hoped would stay open had shut. "I'm glad for her," he said, swallowing his sorrow, burying it along with the rest. "She deserves to be happy..."
"Ah, old friend, don't take it so hard!" Tzin-Soong scolded, yet there was sympathy in his voice. "What passed between you was a transient thing. You must have known it couldn't last. Mei-ling was curious, I think, and ambitious."
"She told me once that she would be a precept one day." The old man's eyes twinkled. "And rumour has it that one of the cardinal qualifications for a female precept is to have slept with Derek Rayne!"
"Lee, don't tease me over this!" Derek protested. "There's no such rumour... is there?"
"I assure you that there is." The old man was laughing now. "And I fear that it has a basis in fact!"
His humour was infectious and Derek found himself drawn into it. "Not entirely. I don't even know the new precept of the Hong Kong house."
Tzin-Soong was still chuckling. "Give our little Mei-ling five, maybe ten years, and that may no longer be true!"
Derek stopped off at the hospital on his way back. Nick was with Rachel, who looked worn-out and wraith-pale. Kat lay as if peacefully asleep, serene and in the pink of health. Dr Lopez was in attendance, nodding to him as he entered the room.
"No change?" Derek read the answer in their eyes.
"We've run a couple more scans and found no abnormality," the medic said. "The drug-screen came in negative, her blood chemistry is nominal, and although the final results will take another day, there's no sign of meningitis or any other infection. The one hopeful thing I can tell you is that an EEG showed some brain activity. She's still ticking over in there, albeit at a rather low level."
"We still don't know when she'll wake," Rachel added. Derek noted the 'when', glad that she hadn't sunk down into the realms of 'if'.
"I wish I could suggest a course of treatment." Ellen Lopez sighed. "Watch and wait – that's the best we can do. I'd have to say that orthodox medicine is pretty much stumped here. If you know of any faith-healers or witch-doctors you might want to give them a call. They may be more use to Kat than I am."
"We're grateful for everything you've done." Derek admitted.
"I know." She gathered up the charts. "It's just that the waiting's so damn hard."
When Dr Lopez had gone, Nick came to his side and lowered his voice. "Any developments on that other matter?"
Derek merely shook his head. Rachel, seeming intent only on her daughter, glanced up. "Are we working on a case?"
"Nothing major..." he reassured her.
"Look, I know that you guys are nurse-maiding me, and I appreciate it, really I do, but you don't have to." She frowned. "How can you trust me to do the demon-and-ghost-and-bogeyman stuff and yet not dare to leave me alone in case I fall apart because Kat's ill?"
"Rachel, you don't have to prove anything to us," Nick said. "We know how tough and resourceful you are..."
"There are times when all of us need a little help," Derek added.
"All of us, yes." Her blue eyes were accusing. "Except you."
"Oh, even me." He confessed. "I break down sometimes, usually in private, but I do break down."
Her lips twisted in a sneer of disbelief. "Sure you do, Derek! Go back to the island, both of you, and get some sleep. I won't be on my own for long – Emily's coming in later – and the staff look out for me, make me eat and nap now and then. Go back and do your Legacy stuff. I'll be sure to call if anything alters here."
Kat stands on the lonely road, between the shattered tree and the ancient stone. The figure in the dark cloak faces her. Neither of them cast a shadow – there's still no sun in the sky. A small piece of eternity passes in silence.
"How will you go by land?" says the knight on the road.
Kat jumps again at the sound. "What?"
"Oh, clean out your ears, young lady, for pity's sake!" snaps the figure. "How will you go by land?"
It comes to her then – this is a game of riddles. The words have a familiar ring to them, perhaps a verse read to her at school or a song her father sang to lull her to sleep. Kat has a good memory and she searches it now, finding the response with a surge of triumph. "With a good staff in my hand."
"That's better, much better!" The false knight crows in delight, and it seems to Kat that she almost recognises his voice. "Now, how will you go by sea?"
"With a good boat under me."
"Splendid, quite splendid!" He suddenly brings his hands out from under the cloak, rubbing them together. "I just knew you'd get the hang of this eventually!"
He has a ring on one finger – Kat sees it before he draws his hands back into hiding, a flash of gold and a dark stone. Fear rises in her like a pillar of smoke.
"Yes, I knew you'd get the hang of it." The knight repeats, his voice oozing with malicious satisfaction.
Nick entered the control room just as Alex pulled up Elise DuBois' driving licence and put it onto the large screen. He glanced at the photo and whistled. "Wow! She is something else! A man wouldn't kick that out of bed on a cold night, that's for sure!"
"And when was the last time you had a chance to kick anything out of your bed?" Alex didn't look up from her keyboard. "Apart from the teddy-bear, that is."
"I don't have a teddy-bear." Nick pouted, and Derek almost laughed. "Well, I don't!"
Alex giggled, then grinned down at her screen. "My, my, look at this. Mam'selle DuBois tells lies about her age! That licence makes her – what? – twenty-three? Her birth certificate says she's ten years older."
"Maybe it's a mistake?" Derek suggested.
"Yeah, sure! She's also not French, well, technically, if you're splitting hairs. Her parents were, but little Elise arrived unexpectedly, when they were on vacation. She was born on May Day 1965, in Glastonbury, England. No sibs, parents both dead now – oh, and here's some good news for you guys. She's not married."
"Glastonbury?" Nick frowned in thought. "Don't they have a pop festival there?"
"Legend has it that King Arthur is buried there and it's reputed to be the secret, final resting place of the Holy Grail, brought from Palestine by Joseph of Arimathea and hidden in a well. It's one of the most magical, mystical places in England and all it means to you is a crowd of hippies caterwauling in a field?" Derek tut-tutted. "What do they teach you kids these days?"
"She's led quite a life, your little silversmith." Alex observed, scrolling down the screen. "Get this – she's a doctor. She trained in medicine in Paris, surgery in fact. Her speciality is trauma, putting mortally-injured people back together. She did her intern year in Belfast, then worked out in Sarajevo and the Far East, with a quick trip to the Gulf for the war."
"Why isn't she practising medicine here?" Nick wondered. "Did somebody sue her or was she struck off?"
"Neither. In fact she picked up a couple of commendations out in Bosnia, for bravery above and beyond. The hospital was being shelled and she refused to stop operating."
"What is this woman – a saint?"
Derek wore his pet look of disapproval. "She does seem too good to be true."
"Oh, boy – you haven't heard the half of it!" Alex continued to call up data. "As if that wasn't enough, she found the time to learn to fly, planes and helicopters. She's
even rated for jets, and I didn't think anyone except the Israelis let women anywhere near those. NASA asked her to work for them; she did some kind of induction course with them in 1985, then she just upped and walked away. She's travelled extensively and lived all over the world – London, Paris, Cairo, Montreal, and most recently, in Boston."
"Do you think any of that bio is on the level?" Nick asked. "Or is it just creative writing?"
"Seems genuine." Alex paused. "All of the documents are there and it feels right. If it's a fake, it was manufactured by professionals – which would make her CIA, MI6, Interpol or whatever passes for the KGB these days – and I don't think I even want to consider that scenario!"
"Whatever game she's playing, it isn't espionage." Derek leaned on her shoulder, scanning the screen. "She used a name that bothered me, referring to a man she'd known in Paris, a man who'd died. Is there anything to link Elise with Lucien Breton?"
"I'll call up the police report on his death." Alex's fingers flew over the keyboard, then froze. "My God, Derek, when you have a hunch you sure do hit paydirt! Lucien and Elise were friends, and had been for the best part of fifteen years. Whenever she was in town, they'd get together for dinner. Being French, the police assumed that the relationship went deeper than that, of course, although Elise denied that they'd ever been lovers. Lucien met her on the night he died... She may have been the last person to see him alive!"
"Was she a suspect?" Derek's expression was so grim it scared her.
"At first, yes, but she was eliminated from the list – cast-iron alibi."
"And now she turns up here, too close for comfort, pretending to be a silversmith?" Nick shook his head.
"That's no play-acting either. I was in her workshop and I saw the pieces she'd produced." Derek thought of the dainty, gem-studded amulets, and of the deft, confident way she'd worked on the last one. "The lady is good at that too."
"Uh, is it only me, or does anyone else think that being a hot-shot trauma surgeon is a pretty good way of being around a lot of dying people without attracting too much attention?" Alex asked. "I mean, if you were a demon or something like that, you could hang around in the war zones, and if a few of your patients didn't make it, well, heck, you did your best to save them, didn't you?"
"So what are we talking here?" Nick wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Does our good ex-doctor drink blood or eat human flesh?"
"There are psychic vampires too, which live on life energy, or soul-takers..." Something else struck Derek, something he should have noticed earlier. "You said she lived in Cairo and Montreal, Alex. When, exactly?"
When the answers came through, Alex fed them to the large screen, as if she didn't believe them until the writing was on the wall. "She was in Cairo when a Legacy house was destroyed, in Montreal when another went to the Darkside, and in Paris when a Legacy precept was murdered."
"Now she's here." Derek echoed.
Nick scowled. "I don't suppose she has a dog?"
Sleep eluded Alex that night. She lay wakeful in the darkness for some time, then turned the lamp on and made her journal up to date. After that she thought she might read for a while, but the books on the shelf must have been bought by the yard to go with the decor. She quickly discarded 'The Incredible Journey', 'The Howling' and 'The Dogs of War' and dipped into a dated mystery novel, 'Touch not the Cat', which failed to hold her interest. Everything else was dire, so she took a poetry anthology back to bed and leafed through it. It fell open at a page and her eye was drawn to a line 'How wonderful is Death, Death and his brother, Sleep...'
"The Daemon of the World?" Alex shook her head and laid the book aside. "Thanks a bundle, Mr Shelley!"
She went down to the kitchen and fixed herself some hot milk. The house was as still and quiet as a grave. Alex sat and gazed across the bay, where the city lights glowed brighter than the full moon, wishing for someone to talk to. Nick would be sound asleep by now, but Derek might still be awake. Did she dare to knock on his door in the middle of the night and ask for some company?
"Nah!" Alex said, grinning at the walls. After all, there was no real reason for her insomnia, no sense of threat or menace in the air. There wasn't even a storm tonight, just a light breeze and fair weather.
She went back to her room, put three drops of lavender oil on her pillow and tried to relax, breathing in the sweet scent. Even that didn't help. Alex sighed and rolled over to turn out the light...
And saw the black dog sitting in the far corner of her room. It was bigger than she remembered, and blacker. Its eyes caught the light like garnets, flashing with red fire. It yawned and she saw its teeth, which were far too numerous and sharp for her liking, then it looked directly at her and growled.
Fear hit her between the eyes like a thrown dagger. She didn't even remember deciding to run, then she was at the door, fumbling for its catch, and the beast was leaping after her. She gained the corridor and slammed the door in its face. The black dog came through the solid oak – right through it, as if it was made of mist. Alex started screaming then and bolted, running blindly.
Her first scream woke Nick just enough for his brain to register the emergency; by her second, the gun was in his hand and he was on his feet, and her third found him in the corridor, blinking and almost fully conscious.
Derek was quicker – he had been awake. Alex's shrieks brought him out of his room within seconds and he was moving towards the sound when she rounded the corner and ran straight into him.
"Alex, what is it?" The panic in her eyes frightened him. She struggled in his grasp as if she didn't recognise him, and he clutched her tighter. "What's wrong?"
"...dog..." she gasped. "...black dog..!"
Derek looked along an empty corridor. "There's nothing there, I promise you..."
"Alex!" Nick reached them, scanning the area for a target to fire at. "Derek, what's wrong with her?"
The black dog reached Alex then and nudged at her thigh with its nose. She felt its hot breath through the silk of her pyjamas. The bargvest growled at Derek, skipped down the corridor to dance thrice around Nick, who was desperately seeking something to draw a bead on, then, with a jaunty wave of its tail, vanished through the wall.
"You can't see it!" Alex wailed. "Neither of you can see it! It is there – or at least, it was... it's gone now... It disappeared..."
She was trembling so violently that Derek was afraid she might go into shock – he'd never seen her so distressed. He hugged her close, murmuring a sing-song of comforting nonsense into her ear and stroking her hair, as he would to calm a child
woken from nightmare.
"I'll check the whole floor," Nick said, waiting for Derek's nod of agreement before leaving them.
Alex came back to her senses gradually, aware that her face was wet with tears and buried in Derek's shoulder, aware that he was holding her far too close. She eased away from him, feeling the colour rising in her cheeks. "Uh, I'm sorry about that... I don't usually fall apart so easily... '"
"It's okay," he said, softly. "You aren't usually pursued down these halls by a padfoot, are you?"
"You do believe me then?"
"Of course." He smiled, and it did cross her mind that he still might be humouring her. "Nothing imaginary would ever get you into that kind of state."
"But you saw and felt nothing?"
"I'm afraid not."
Nick came back to them, shaking his head. "Nothing, nothing at all. I checked up here and downstairs. The alarms are still set, nothing triggered them, and the system isn't showing any point of entry at window or door."
"The bloody thing went straight through the wall!" Alex snapped, then instantly regretted it. "I'm sorry..."
"You have nothing to apologise for," Derek reassured, silencing Nick with a single glance. "The dog is gone now, isn't it?"
"Yes, it's gone."
"Then I suggest we all try to get some sleep." Derek felt Alex shiver and guessed that she was still too shaken to be left on her own. "Don't worry, I'll take you back to your room."
He led her back there, helped her into bed and pulled the covers over her, but only when he reached for the lamp did she speak "Don't turn it off!"
"Would you like me to stay for a while, until you fall asleep?"
Alex bit her lower lip. "Derek, I don't know why this has hit me so hard. I'm not the sort of girl who's given to trembling, fainting and fits of the vapours, you know I'm not."
"Have I ever questioned your courage?" he asked. "If this beast is a demonic apparition – and I believe that it is – it uses fear as a weapon, as a spell to weaken us. None of us would be immune to that kind of attack. Shall I stay?"
"Yes." She returned his smile, at last. "Please."
Derek moved around the bed and settled into the chair by the window. "Go to sleep."
"Will it come back tonight, the – what did you call it?"
"Padfoot or bargvest, whichever you prefer." Derek shook his head. "No, I don't think so. Tonight the moon is full, and I'm sure that has some significance. By tradition the three nights around the full moon are the most magical. Yesterday was the first of those, when your bête noire turned up..."
"Tomorrow..." Alex murmured, horror slipping back into her eyes. "Will it come back tomorrow?"
How could he lie to her? "I'm afraid that it might."
She didn't say anything for a long time, so long that he was almost sure that she'd fallen asleep. "You called it my black dog... and it is hunting me, isn't it? Why has it made me its prey?"
"I wish I had an answer for you, because if I had, we'd have some idea how to fight it." Derek sighed. "I've read every reference on the subject we have in the library, but nothing is specific enough to be of any help."
"I'll search the database tomorrow," Alex resolved. "There's a solution to every problem – you just have to find it."
She was still young enough to believe that, Derek reflected, still naive enough to trust in the power of science to overcome all ills. She had enough faith in herself and in the rest of them to believe that they could come through this crisis, but that innocent certainty was a luxury he didn't possess. Kat was still in a coma, the demon-dog was still out there and something else was menacing his Legacy house, something unseen and evil. Derek shook his head, sure that all of their current mysteries were somehow linked and yet unable to see how. Until he made that connection, until he forced the unknown into the cage of the explainable, danger threatened everything he held dear.
The next morning Alex slept late, but Derek and Nick set off early for the mainland. They parked the Range Rover in front of the converted warehouse and crossed the courtyard, which was patched with stepping-stones of rainbow light.
"Groovy architecture!" was Nick's comment.
"Heaven's light forever shines, Earth's shadows fly; Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass, stains the white radiance of Eternity." Derek quoted, as green and gold stars splashed colour across his face.
"Okay, so it's nice." Nick shrugged. "Where does little Miss Perfect hang up her soldering iron?"
They rang the bell repeatedly and Nick pounded on the door. No answer.
"I guess Mam'selle Enigma isn't home." Nick tried the handle and grinned suddenly as it turned. "Door's open. Want to take a look around in there?"
"It wouldn't be breaking and entry... a good lawyer could get us off on a technicality?" Although Derek's voice was serious, humour touched his eyes. "Lead the way."
They stepped over the threshold into an empty room. No coffee on the stove, no signs of life.
"Mam'selle DuBois," Derek called. "Are you here, Elise?"
Silence. Nick went to the left, moving silently over the wooden floor, pushing the door ajar. "All clear."
He went through and Derek followed, finding a neat, spacious bedroom with a wide continental bed, draped with an unusual quilt of jewel-bright colours set against black. There was a chair upholstered in dark green velvet set beside the window and an immense mahogany wardrobe, but no dressing-table, no mirrors and a worrying lack of the usual feminine clutter.
"Bathroom." Nick ducked back through the other door. "So neat it's scary. Also empty."
"I don't think she was here last night." Derek guessed. "That bed hasn't been slept in."
Nick nodded in agreement. "Nice quilt."
"Cathedral window – one of the most difficult patchwork patterns." Derek frowned. "I've never seen it worked in velvet before."
"How do you know these things?" the ex-SEAL muttered, shaking his head.
They crossed the main living area and entered the studio. Nick moved around, checking out the drawers and cupboards along the back wall. "Some of these are locked."
"She must keep the silver and gemstones somewhere..."
"Derek!" Nick beckoned him over to the bench. "Is this the missing pendant?"
Nestling in the centre of a mess of tools, scattered gemstones, fragments of metallic wire and sketches was the gold and enamel Green Man, yet its eye sockets were empty and the garnet berries were missing from around its mouth. Derek found a scrap of velvet and used it to pick up the jewel, turning it over to examine its reverse, which was too shiny-clean to be original. "No. This must be a copy, and a pretty good one at that, given that she's only working from drawings."
"Why would she make a copy?"
"The challenge?" Derek carefully replaced the piece in its previous position.
"Is she weird enough to make it just for the hell of it?"
Derek smiled wryly. "Oh, yes, she's weird enough!"
"Should we search the place now we're here? I could probably go through everything without disturbing much, and I might even find the keys to these cupboards..."
"Nick, she left the door unlocked. Do you really think there's anything here for us to find?"
"I suppose not."
They left the apartment, and as they walked between the trees, a girl called to them from the cafe. Derek recognised the lightning-sketch artist he had spoken to yesterday. She was sitting with a young man who was shaping wet clay with one hand and attacking carrot-cake with the other.
"If you're looking for the jewel-lady, she isn't here," the girl said. "I haven't seen her today. Have you, Tom?"
"Who, our Lady of the Wood?" Her companion grinned. "She's awa' with the witches!"
"Sit with us, have some coffee." The girl offered. "I'm Rowan."
Nick glanced at Derek for a cue. The precept pulled up a chair and accepted a cup. "Derek, and this is Nick."
"Thomas." The young man waved his fork. "No prizes for guessing I'm a sculptor."
"And I draw things." Rowan opened her pad with a flourish and extracted a pencil from behind her ear. "I'd like to sketch you, Nick, if you don't mind?"
Her smile was warm enough to bask in and there was an inviting twinkle in her brown eyes. Nick knew he couldn't say no. "Sure, I don't mind. Go ahead."
"You said that Mam'selle DuBois had gone with... witches?" Derek asked, feigning confusion.
"That's right. Two of them were here last night – nice girls, if a little intimidating. They were in full regalia too, in sweeping green cloaks and brocade robes embroidered with glyphs, crowned with ivy and stars. They came to pick up those neat little pentacles and invited her to their sabbat." Thomas was playing to his audience, working with the truth much as he was working with the clay. "Lise probably won't be back before this afternoon. Those gals surely do know how to party!"
"Lady of the Wood?" Nick echoed. "Why do you call her that?"
"Oh, don't get him started!" Rowan protested, looking up from her sketch. "He has this dumb hang-up about the silversmith. His mystery woman, he calls her..."
"She's unique, an icon – if anyone deserves a multiplicity of names, it's her," Tom said, grimacing at the sketch-artist. "DuBois means 'of the wood', doesn't it? And if she isn't a lady, then no-one else in the civilised world should dare to aspire to the title. I call her Galadriel too, just to tease her."
"I thought Galadriel was a blonde." Nick observed.
"We have parties here most nights, in the studios of people who don't fill them up with lumps of rock and twisted heaps of metal," Rowan said, sticking her tongue out at the sculptor. "The jewel-lady throws a great party, the sort that ends in the wee small hours of the morning, with everyone sprawled on floor cushions and putting the world to rights..."
"We do poetry, limericks and ballads. Reciti..tations.. One night, Lise did that bit from Lord of the Rings, you know, the bit where she turns down the One Ring?" Thomas raised both of his hands and struck a dramatic pose. "Instead of a Dark Lord you will set up a Queen, and I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night... All shall love me and despair!"
"I pass the test," Derek quoted, softly. "I shall diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel."
"Yes, yes!" Rowan's eyes shone at the memory. "Only, when she did it, you really believed it, you know?"
"Have you two known her long?" Nick asked.
"Just a few weeks, since she moved in here." Thomas confessed. "She's a strange one, though. Not moody-strange or New Age-strange... just odd."
"Fey?" Derek suggested.
"That's it, exactly. Damn good silversmith though." The sculptor took a final mouthful of carrot cake and talked around it. "Guess you'll be wanting to commission something from her, huh?"
"Perhaps. A colleague of ours has a birthday soon." Derek improvised. "She's rather fond of earrings."
"Oh, she does great earrings," Rowan said, switching to a softer pencil to block in shadows on her sketch. "Lovely celtic swirly things. Last week she was making a pair in gold and fire-opal that were something else! Like a frozen sunset – absolutely magic!"
"Do you know what the most remarkable thing about Lise is? You can talk to her about anything – anything at all, however obscure – and she'll know something about the subject." Thomas scraped his fork around the plate, moving the last few crumbs about. "And she bakes coffee brownies to die for!"
"He's in love – can't you tell?" Rowan giggled. "Did you miss anything off the list of her virtues? What about the way she sewed up your cut hand?"
"Oh yeah." He showed them his left palm, bisected by a thin red scar. "Sliced it with a chisel, all the way down to the bone. Lise fixed it up – saved me a trip to the ER."
"She's obviously a very gifted woman," Derek said. "We'll have to try to catch her again tomorrow, but now we ought to go."
"Wait just a moment... I'm almost done." Rowan put the finishing touches to her sketch, scrawled a signature at the bottom, ripped the sheet from the pad and presented it to Nick. "Ta-da! A little rushed maybe, but if I say so myself, it isn't bad."
It was a good likeness. She'd caught him with a spark of amusement in his eyes and a half-smile on his lips. Nick grinned as he studied the portrait. "Hey, you've got talent."
"If you can spare an hour to sit for me, I can do much better," the girl said, lapping up the praise. "I'm in number seven. Drop in one evening and I'll cook you supper."
"You'd do better to take Rowan out." Thomas advised. "Or bring in Chinese food – unless you like overcooked pasta!"
Rowan threw her pencils at him, hurling them like darts, so the sculptor had to duck. Derek and Nick left them to their horseplay, muttering unheeded farewells.
"Quite a double act." Nick observed, when they were safely back in the Range Rover. "The words 'talk', 'hind leg' and 'donkey' come to mind!"
"I found it quite a valuable insight into Mam'selle DuBois' character. She inspires instant liking, she's helpful, friendly and generous – none of which are typical demonic qualities." Derek mused. "A woman of many contradictions then, our Lady of the Wood."
"What a nickname that is, so spooky and mysterious! And Galadriel?" Nick shrugged. "These artistic types are so imaginative and excitable."
"You certainly seemed to excite young Miss Rowan." Derek teased. "I think you'd get rather more than a portrait out of the evening if you went over for supper!"
Nick grinned. "Do you think she'd do me in oils?"
"Only the kind you massage into bare skin, I shouldn't wonder!" Derek pulled out into the traffic. "Are you going to take up her offer?"
"I might." Nick carefully rolled up the sketch. "I just might."
Derek dropped Nick at the hospital, then spent the day trawling through the library in a fruitless search for more information about black dogs. There were plenty of references to follow up, in old, dusty books that smelt of mildew, with foxed edges to their pages and worn dustcovers, but most led only to dull folktales and endless anecdotes. Around lunchtime, his research was disturbed by a phone call.
"Derek?" It was Alex, her voice bright, excited. "I've unearthed another nugget of fascinating information about our silversmith. The Boston house had her under investigation two months ago."
"Really? What for?"
"She was a volunteer at the hospital..."
"And there were some inexplicable deaths?"
"Just the opposite – there were some inexplicable cures. A child with leukaemia and a couple of guys with AIDS suddenly got well enough to go home, and guess who'd visited them?" Alex paused. "One of the local radio stations took up the story and ran with it for a few days, when there was nothing more important in the news, which brought the so-called 'miracles' to our colleagues' notice."
"What were their conclusions?"
"They never managed to catch up with Elise to question her. As soon as the thing went public, she dropped out of sight," Alex said. "Must have been why she came out here."
"She didn't strike me as the type to run away, not from anything." Derek reflected.
"Shall I contact Boston and see if they can give us more details about the case?"
"No, don't bother."
After her call, Derek couldn't focus on his work. That bloody DuBois woman! The more he learned about her, the less he understood her – another facet, another complication. He abandoned his pursuit of devil-dogs and followed a new line of
investigation into the Green Man. He found nothing on the jewel itself, but masses on its subject; the spirit of vegetation venerated in spring festivals back to ancient times,
the Green Thing of the Indus, the myth of Tammuz and Ishtar in Babylon, Jack-in-the-Green, the King of the May and Green George of the gypsies. In a crazy dance down the centuries, he followed the trail of the Wild Man in all his aspects - as a nature spirit, an ogre, a Fury, as Herne leading the Wild Hunt, as Pan or even the Devil himself.
"..we delve into the fifty thousand year-old darkness of archaic shamanism and animism, dominated by blood, visions and horned pookas... " Derek read, then sighed and shut the book. We circle around, we circle around... like a serpent with its
tail in its jaws. Black dogs running with the Wild Hunt... Herne the Hunter, also known as the Horned God of the witches... and awa' with the witches, the enigmatic Elise DuBois, with her apple-green eyes and check-list of angels and devils.
"Bloody woman!" he muttered, leaving the books behind and heading back to the hospital.
Rachel and Nick were sitting outside Kat's room when he arrived and, for a moment, he thought something dreadful had happened.
"They chased us out," Nick explained. "So they can move her and change the drip and so forth."
"Is there no change?"
"She's no better." Rachel rubbed at her eyes. "But she's no worse. The word they use a lot around here is 'stable'."
"How are you holding up?"
"Fine. I'm fine," she said, tightly. "I hear Alex had a scare last she okay?"
"I think so. When she called me a couple of hours ago she sounded in good spirits."
"Is this dog-thing something I should worry about? Could it harm Kat?" Rachel winced. "God, that sounds so selfish, doesn't it? What I meant is, are there any links between this ghost-dog and Kat's condition? And what about this missing pin?"
"Pendant." Derek corrected automatically. "It's a trivial thing, nothing to concern you. Nick shouldn't have bothered you with any of this."
"I ran out of small talk." Nick admitted. "It's hard to keep a conversation running for hours. Dr Lopez said it would do Kat good to hear voices around her, so she knows that we're close to her."
"She may be unconscious, but that's no reason to assume that she isn't aware of us. The staff talk to her as if she were awake." Rachel half-smiled. "Ellen advised us to do the same..."
"What, taking my name in vain?" The doctor emerged from the cubicle, nodding a greeting to Derek. "Hello, Dr Rayne. Would you like to come back in? We're all done in here, for the moment."
Kat lay undisturbed, still seeming asleep. A stray thought crept into Derek's head, that her stillness reminded him of Snow-White, a beautiful icon in a glass coffin, with the fragment of poisoned apple stuck in her throat.
"Has Rachel told you that we haven't made much progress?" Dr Lopez asked. "I don't like to admit that I'm baffled, but I am. Every test we do only proves that Kat's a normal, healthy little girl. We just don't know why she won't wake."
"I intend to stay by her side until she does." Rachel declared, settling into the chair on Kat's right and taking her daughter's hand.
"That's the best therapy I can suggest at the moment." Ellen Lopez ran a hand through her short hair, the gesture betraying her indecision. "Did you mention to Dr Rayne what we spoke about this morning?"
Rachel hesitated. "No, not yet."
Derek sensed her anxiety and saw it mirrored in Nick's face. "Did you suggest some form of unorthodox treatment, something experimental?"
"No, nothing like that. Look, I don't usually like to be so unprofessional, but this is a most perplexing case... Do you recall that yesterday I asked if you knew of any faith healers who could help?"
"I'm afraid we don't, none that are the genuine article, that is." Derek replied.
"Well, I may have found one. Over lunch I was talking to one of my colleagues, a specialist in paediatric oncology, and he told me about one of his patients, a little girl with an inoperable brain tumour. They admitted her last week in very poor condition, basically to give her pain relief and wait for her to die..." Pain darkened the doctor's eyes, and anger at the suffering, the unfairness of it. "Four years old, and that's the best we can do for her. This morning, on his rounds, my colleague found the child out of bed, playing with her toys. She no longer needs the IV painkillers, she's eating again and she may even be well enough to go home at the weekend."
"What brought about the change?" Nick asked. "Some kind of miracle-worker?"
"She makes no such claims," Ellen said. "She's a simple woman, a friend of the child's parents. Her side of the story is that she just came in to visit the girl, she talked to her, she did nothing more."
"Then why is the child improving?"
"I asked her that. 'Magic happens' – that's what she said." Ellen smiled. "Please understand that this is only my personal opinion, and it isn't based on logic or science or my medical training, just some dumb gut feeling, but I recommend that you let her see Kat."
"Normally I'd say no." Rachel frowned. "But at the moment I'm prepared to clutch at any straw."
Derek froze for a second, swamped by a surge of precognition. No visions, no clear picture, just a flood of negativity. "I'm not sure that's a good idea..."
Anger snapped in Rachel's voice. "She's my daughter, Derek, not yours! I think I'll decide who can see her and who can' t!"
Weariness had sapped all her restraint; he saw that she was on a short fuse. "Forgive me, Rachel. You're quite right, of course. Any decision relating to Kat's treatment is yours alone."
Nick found that his mouth had dropped open; he rapidly shut it again. Derek never backed down that easily.
Rachel allowed herself a part-smile of victory. "If you could persuade this woman to visit Kat..."
"I believe she's at the hospital today," Dr Lopez said. "I'll see what I can do."
As the afternoon wore on, Derek grew more ill at ease. Nick went out for food and brought back sandwiches, which he coaxed Rachel into eating. They all drank far too much coffee. When the nurses chased them out into the corridor again, the change of scene was almost welcome.
"You get into the rhythm of it eventually," Rachel said. "Every four hours they shift her position and take all their measurements. During the night they let me stay in the room – they even try not to wake me."
How soon we adapt to the unbearable, the unthinkable, Derek reflected. He wondered how long Rachel could cope with this level of stress. As long as it took...
Nick swore softly, under his breath. "Uh, Derek...?"
Ellen Lopez was approaching them, radiating an air of quiet triumph, and behind her was a familiar figure. Today she was wearing a long dress of dull green velvet, the colour of olivines, its bodice richly embroidered with antique gold silk. In such a dress she might have passed unnoticed on the streets of Renaissance Florence, or strolled elegantly under the luminous arches of the Crystal Palace in Victorian London, or danced in the throng at 60's Woodstock. Seeing her like that, it seemed to Derek that she was out of place in this time, a lost soul wandering through an alien world. Her hair was loose about her, drifting in the air like a nimbus of pale fire.
"Why, Dr Rayne!" Elise said, smiling wickedly. "What a surprise!"
"Mam'selle DuBois." Here were his bad vibes, coming home to roost. "It had to be you, didn't it?"
"Do you two know each other?" Dr Lopez asked, amazed.
"A business thing, nothing more." The silversmith gave one of her signature shrugs. "What brings you here, Dr Rayne?"
"Let's say I'm a friend of the family."
"Rachel, let me introduce you to Elise DuBois," Dr Lopez said, taking charge of the situation. "Elise, this is Rachel Corrigan, Katherine's mother, and this is – oh, I'm sorry, I don't recall your name. . ?"
"Nick Boyle." He shook her hand, as did Rachel. "So you're the mysterious healer?"
"I'm no miracle-worker. I've never pretended to be."
"But you are a trained surgeon," Derek said. "Although you don't admit to that either."
"You are?" Ellen Lopez echoed, floundering again.
"I don't practise anymore." A hardness glossed her eyes, like ice on a pond.
"And why is that?" Derek pressed. Her manner irritated him, like a burr caught in his clothes, prickling him into anger. He was still sure she knew more about the theft of the Green Man than she cared to admit, and all his instincts were insisting that he shouldn't let her anywhere near Kat.
Elise met his gaze with a level, disarming stare. "In any career you reach a point where you come to doubt everything – your motivation, your ability, your whole reason to go on. I'm sure such demons are no strangers to you, Dr Rayne. I saw too much agony, too much suffering, the results of the infinite and inventive ways man has devised for maiming and killing his fellow man, until at last, I'd had enough. I hit that wall and couldn't find a doorway through it, so I've opted to go in another direction."
Derek raised an eyebrow. "You chose to diminish and go into the West?"
"Ah, you've been talking to Thomas the Rhymer?" Elise accused. "Pay no attention to anything he says. He lies, very prettily, to be sure, but they're still silly lies."
"And you, of course, tell nothing but the truth?
Rachel edged between them, anticipating a scene. "Derek, we're wasting Miss DuBois' time."
"I don't think you should put your trust in this woman," Derek advised, not caring that sounded rude.
"We've been through that." Rachel snapped. "I'm not prepared to discuss it any further."
Derek stepped back, watching Elise warily. "I hope you don't come to regret that decision."
"We could go in now." Dr Lopez suggested, confused by the surge of hostility and wanting to defuse it. "I've told Elise a little about this case, so she knows what to expect. Shall we proceed?"
Rachel nodded and let the doctor lead them into the cubicle. Derek and Nick followed on behind the silversmith.
"As I said," Ellen continued. "This is a presumed head injury after a fall, yet there's no focus..."
Elise took one look at the occupant of the bed and stopped dead. "Sweet fire – it's Kat!"
"You know her?" Derek demanded, thunderstruck. "How?"
"We've met." The woman's pale eyes were distant, distracted. "Your daughter walks far in dreams, Dr Corrigan."
"Je suis bête..! Stupid of me, stupid not to make the connection!" Elise was shaking her head. "It never occurred to me, Dr Rayne, that you were Kat's Derek. The way she sees you is very different to the way you appear in real life."
"Whatever." Rachel impatiently brushed aside the mystical – her present concerns were grounded in the mundane. "Can you help her, Miss DuBois? Can you wake her?"
Elise moved across to Kat's left side and took her hand. She closed her eyes and bowed her head, holding the tableau for several minutes, then she shook herself and sighed.
"Well?" Derek was unimpressed by such play-acting.
"She isn't here." Elise reached down to brush the hair from Kat's forehead, a tender smile briefly gilding her face. "She's beyond my reach. I can't call her back, and I don't have the right to."
"Oh, please!" Derek exclaimed. "You do everything else so well – aren't you up to the role of charlatan?"
"Can't you help her?" Rachel pleaded. "If you can heal a child with cancer, why won't you help my little girl?"
"Kat's strong, much stronger than any of you suspect." Elise turned away from the bed. "She doesn't need my help."
"So how do we get her to wake?" Ellen Lopez asked.
"The same way the goose gets out of the bottle." The silversmith crossed the room, passing between Derek and Rachel like a ghost. Some glamour held them still and struck them silent as she drifted by. Nick tried to catch her arm, to stop her, and found his feet rooted to the floor. Elise paused at the door, casting them a farewell smile. "Don't worry about her – she'll wake soon. My best guess would be tomorrow, around elevenish."
And then she was gone, slipping away like thistledown on the breeze.
"Damn!" Derek shook off his stasis and gave chase, hitting the door hard and skidding around the corner into the corridor. Elise had almost left the ward. He called after her. "Wait!"
She paused to let him catch up with her. "Dr Rayne?"
"We need to talk."
"We do?" she asked innocently. "What about?"
"About Cairo and Montreal, and Paris and Lucien Breton, and what your intentions are now you're here."
All of the amusement washed out of her eyes, leaving a bright, dangerous glitter, as green and vicious as a wildcat. "I don't care to discuss any of that."
The hair prickled at the back of Derek's neck, in response to the change in her, to the sudden threat in her voice. He had the distinct feeling that even empty-handed, even without a weapon, she could hurt him, maybe even kill him. He bit down on his own anger, finding calm deep down in the centre of his being. "Forgive me. I had no wish to upset you. The worry of Kat's illness has stripped me of my manners. Why don't you come over for dinner tonight? Perhaps we can resolve our differences over some pleasant food and wine?"
"You're inviting me out to the island, out to your house?" The accent she placed on that final word disturbed him. If she'd known Lucien, had she also known about the Legacy? She was curious, he could tell, and tempted by his offer, then her reluctance flooded back. "Mais non, non merci. I'm afraid I can't accept, not tonight. I have something else I must do."
"You refuse me?" Derek placed his hand over his heart. "I'm shattered! What could be more enticing than a relaxed evening of conversation and...?"
"I'm sorry," Elise said, with a delicate shake of her head that set her mane of hair into motion, a cloud of pastel fire. "Tonight I have some old demons to deal with. Another time, perhaps. Au revoir, Dr Rayne."
With a swish of the swing doors, she made her escape. Derek muttered a quiet curse and turned away.
Back on the blasted heath, Kat faces her nemesis.
"Are you happy, child?" asks the false knight.
"Happy? What, now?"
"Not in particular, but in general. Are you happy with your life? Are you happy to be almost an orphan, happy with the way your mother shamelessly neglects you, pursuing her own career and running after any man who gives her the eye...?"
"She does not!" Kat exclaims, indignant. "She loves me!"
"So she says, so she says." His voice becomes soft and caressing, like silk touching her skin. "But look at the facts, child. She trails around after that ridiculous crew of idiots from the island, risking her life, risking her very soul. Would she do that if she really did love you?"
"She does the Legacy-stuff because she believes in it, because it's the right thing to do." Kat declares. "And I think that too!"
"Oh, they have you brainwashed, don't they?" The knight shakes his head sadly. "Good versus Evil – and the Legacy stands so firmly, so solidly in the ranks of the Good! They weren't quite so squeaky-clean in the time of the Inquisition, you know, when they helped torture confessions out of heretics, nor back in the days when they burnt thousands of innocent women as witches... but I suppose that's just history, isn't it? In these modern times, the past doesn't count for a lot. It's over and done, and a good PR campaign can turn even the worst sinner into a saint."
"You're lying!" Kat accuses. "The Legacy were never evil!"
"Of course not. Atrocities committed in the name of Good are permitted, even encouraged. Call it terrorism and you get shot, but call it justice and you get a pat on the back." The false knight pauses. "Can you put your hand on your heart and say that nobody's ever been hurt, that nobody's ever died because of something that your mother and her Legacy house have done? Can you swear that, child?"
Kat freezes. Julia, her memory whispers – she's heard Nick talk about Julia's death and Derek's part in it. Then there was that poor man who died on the electric fence, and there might have been more; sometimes the adults got all quiet and anxious, and stopped talking the moment she came into the room, and she just knew that something awful had happened that they didn't want her to find out about.
"Can you swear it?" the knight repeats. "Above all else, do no harm. Can the Legacy say that?"
"I'm not sure." Kat wavers. "I don't think so..."
"Take my word for it, the Legacy make mistakes. Innocent victims die because of them." He shifts his stance under the cloak and Kat realises that he's moved his left hand to rest on the pommel of his sword, which hangs at his right hip. There's something odd about that, a little voice inside her nags, something wrong. "Now, do you really want to be a part of an organisation like that?"
"I don't belong to the Legacy."
"Not yet, but they'll want to recruit you, child, once they think you're old enough. They have their hooks in you already." His voice is sweet, cajoling. "Best to make the
break now, don't you think? Best to leave before they trap you, bind up your eyes with their lies and clip your psychic wings. They'll turn you into a good little soldier, a dog to
dance to their tune. Do you really want that?"
Kat feels her heart sink. In this dead land under a grey sky, beside the murdered tree and the stone that might mark a tomb, there's no hope, no rescue. The weariness of this place has seeped into her bones. "I'm not sure what I want, not anymore."
"Ah, doubt," he says, the word oozing with satisfaction. "That's healthy. That's a good start. To escape the Legacy's clutches is easy. All you need do is nothing. Don't help them, don't give them what they want..."
For one crystal moment, everything changes. As if she stands in a shaft of sunlight cutting down through the sullen clouds, Kat feels warmth on her forehead. A wisp of breeze slips past her, scented with hyacinths and sea-salt. It whispers to her, reminding her of birdsong, of waves on the shore, of starshine and of cantering on a spotted pony, half out of control, exhilarated yet afraid she might fall, with drizzle misting her face. The false knight cries out, one twisted, ugly word of a tongue long-forgotten on Earth, and just as suddenly, all is as it was.
"I won't betray the Legacy," Kat says, inspired by the sun's warmth and the sweet air. "Whatever lies you tell me, I won' t!"
The figure moves, letting his cloak sweep back to reveal the sword and the ringed left hand on its hilt. Darkness plucks at Kat again – it's a precept's ring. Then she places the weapon, seeing it in her mind's eye as two contrasting images superimposed; set as harmless decoration over a fireplace, under a painting of the spirits of the storm, and used in anger, through Derek's shoulder, pinning him to the wall. Fear has her again, a helpless puppet dancing on its strings, and she almost turns and runs.
"Ah, but you will," says the false knight on the road. "Do you honestly believe you have any choice?"
Derek glanced up from the journal, looking across to the sofa where Alex sat with her legs curled up beneath her, staring aimlessly into space. "Go to bed."
She came out of her reverie, shaking her head. "No, not yet."
"Will you stay up all night?"
"Maybe." Alex combed her hair back, running her fingers through her curls. "I'm too jittery to sleep."
The two of them were alone on the island. Nick had opted to stay with Rachel, arguing that his gun was useless against an invisible, insubstantial target. Derek had reluctantly agreed, but that hadn't stopped him loading three silver bullets into Winston's revolver and leaving it close at hand, in the top drawer of the desk.
"What are you reading?" Alex asked. "Your father's journal?"
"Yes. I found the part pertaining to the Green Man. He recorded its chequered history when he bought it for his collection."
"Read it to me." Alex asked.
She looked exhausted, Derek thought, her eyes circled with shadow. "It doesn't make a very good bedtime story. It might give you nightmares."
"I have those now, awake." She smiled wearily. "A different subject for them might help."
"Okay." Derek turned back a few pages in the book, finding his place. "A pendant depicting a Wild Man or Garland was made in Paris in 1894. It was commissioned by a man called Guy LeFeuvre as a gift for his bride, Fabienne. They married in early December and she died before New Year, under very mysterious circumstances. She went missing during a game of hide-and-seek at a party and was found dead three days later, locked in an oak chest. Winston remarks on the strange parallel between the tragedy and 'The Mistletoe Bough', a melodramatic poem by Thomas Bayly. Fabienne was of course, wearing the Green Man on the night of her death."
"How horrible, to die like that!" Alex grimaced.
Derek belatedly recalled how close she'd come to such a fate herself, and he went on quickly. "The jewel passed to LeFeuvre's niece, who died in 1906 from an overdose of morphine. It was recorded as a suicide. After that the details get more sketchy. In the 1920's the Green Man was owned by a woman who fell to her death over a cliff, but since she had a history of depression, the coroner delivered a verdict of suicide. In the late 1930's the pendant belonged to a man – he hung himself. The 50's saw it linked to a notorious murder case. A woman stabbed her husband to death while wearing it. She was deemed insane and never came to trial."
"How did your father come by it?"
"He bought it at auction, I forget when. The late 50's or early 60's, I suppose." Derek frowned. "He showed it to me once. I remember holding it in the palm of my hand and feeling cold all over, feeling swamped by a great weight of misfortune and malevolence. I asked him if it was cursed, and he just laughed at me."
"That's quite a history." Alex shivered. "I wonder where it is now?"
"Franklin, the security chief at the museum, has drawn a blank on all his investigations," Derek said, absently, following some references he'd glossed over in the journal's footnotes. "We've given the case to the police and offered a small reward for the pendant's return."
"Do you still think that the lovely but elusive Elise stole the thing?"
"Maybe..." Horror dawned in Derek's face, as he slowly deciphered his father's scrawl. "There are some notes here, taken from the three inquest reports. Winston remarks on the coincidental correlation between them. Listen to this – friends of LeFeuvre' s niece said that she had nightmares prior to her suicide, and that she claimed to have seen an apparition of a wild animal, described as a jackal or a dog. The hanged man's diary was full of lunatic ranting about being pursued by a wolf – it was dismissed as imagination or just plain madness. The woman who went over the cliff actually told her doctor that she was being haunted by a black dog, but he saw it as a facet of her depression, a phantom creation of her sick mind... Dear God, Alex, that's the link! The theft of the Green Man must have triggered the appearance of your black dog!"
"Because Winston Rayne was its last owner?" Alex considered this. "Then why isn't it haunting you?"
"I'm not sure." Derek closed the book. "Most of its victims have been female. Perhaps it targeted you because you're the only woman currently in this house."
"That's quite an honour!" Alex scowled. "Given the choice, I'd have passed on it. So that's its plan, is it – hounding this poor helpless female into suicide?"
"We won't let it do that," Derek promised.
"Even if you have to watch over me day and night, every hour, every single minute?"
"Of course, until we recover the Green Man and find some way to exorcise its guardian spirit. We're doing as much for Rachel while she watches over Kat. How could we do any less for you?"
Her smile was brilliant, if a touch ragged at the edges. "Thanks. I needed to hear that."
"Now, will you go to bed?" He glanced at the clock. "It's after midnight and we're both in need of sleep..."
"I'll stay up a little longer, I think..."
"Come on, Alex, you have to rest sometime. Look, you leave your door open and I'll do the same, and if you make a sound I'll come a-running. Deal?"
She looked so young and vulnerable that she might have been a teenager again, back when they'd first met, the tall, gangling girl, all knees and elbows, clumsy and wide-eyed, flushed and tongue-tied because of her crush on him. Derek smiled at the memory. "Promise."
"Okay, but if I see anything, I'm gonna scream fit to wake the dead...!" Alex trailed down into silence and he saw her shiver. "Do you feel that? The sudden cold?"
He did, as the air around him was abruptly damp and chill, the classic temperature drop, the icy miasma of a haunting. Witnesses usually reported feeling cold and clammy when they'd seen a ghost, as if the spirits needed to absorb the thermal energy in a room to put in an appearance.
"Oh, no!" Alex was staring into one corner. "No, no, no... Derek! Do you see it?"
And he did. Christ, it was huge! A great, shaggy monstrosity as black as a starless sky, its red eyes burning with malice. The padfoot grinned like a wolf and growled at them.
Alex screamed, flung herself off the sofa and sprinted for the door.
"No! Don't run!" Derek yelled. "Face it... "
Then the black dog was turning on him, baring its teeth, hurling terror at him like a grenade. Derek dropped the journal and fled after Alex. Gun, he thought, as he passed the desk, grab the gun... then the black dog snapped at his heels and all but panic was driven out of his head. He ran into the hall and caught up with Alex on the stairs. The demon-dog gave chase, howling gleefully.
Derek was never sure where they ran or for how long. At times Alex grabbed his hand and hauled him along, bemused and panting for breath; then, when she grew tired, he clutched at her and dragged her after him. The black dog herded them as if they were sheep, steering them with volleys of terror, turning them hither and thither with precise spikes of fear. It drove them upstairs and down, then down again, into the cellars. There it brought them to bay, pinned with their backs against a wall. It sat down, panting itself, beating its tail on the dusty floor, its tongue lolling in canine delight.
"Alex..." The fear receded enough to let Derek think. "We have to split up..."
"What?" She clung to him, swaying, barely able to stand.
"It can't chase... both of us at once..."
"That's madness..." Her eyes were so wide he could see white all the way round her irises. "We can't outrun it!"
"I'll break left... you go right..." Derek squeezed her hand. "Go!"
The padfoot snapped at Derek as he passed it, whirled around to growl at Alex, then whirled back. Its indecision let them reach the stairs. They scrambled up and the beast howled in frustration before following. Alex veered towards the kitchen and the padfoot went after, scenting its true prey. It almost ripped Derek's heart out to see the monster chase her out of sight, but he had other work. He fetched the revolver from the desk, took Winston's sword down from the wall and loped down the passageway with both held out in front of him, like some dumb knight in shining armour.
When he reached the kitchen, Alex was backed up against the sink. The black dog was toying with her, leaping at her and then, as she dived aside, closing its jaws with a snap in the air where she'd been. Like an uncanny dance full of lethal grace, Alex swayed first right, then left, and the demon-dog mirrored her movements.
"Get back, you bastard!" Derek shouted, waving the sword, its weight awkward in his right hand. "Alex – outside!"
The door was locked and she had to struggle to get it open. When she did, the alarm went off. Derek edged around the black dog, moving the tip of the sword in a slow figure of eight to keep the beast off. He reached Alex, they retreated into the garden and the dog followed, step by step.
"The nearest vehicle's yours." Alex gripped his shoulder, raising her voice over the din of the alarms. "Got the keys?"
Angry now, the padfoot hit them with a fresh surge of fear and sprang for Derek's throat. Pure instinct made him hurl the sword into its jaws. The beast twisted in mid-air and melted into mist. The blade passed through it and clattered to the ground. Alex and Derek fled, lost in panic, all sense driven from their minds.
Along the terrace, through the rose-garden, across the wet lawns, the black dog chased them, flying at their heels as if it had wings, letting out a deep, eerie howl like the belling of a hound as it ran. It made three attempts to separate them, as a sheep-dog runs a singleton out of a flock, but Alex clung to Derek, her nails biting into his arm, her terror keeping her close to him. At last, the dog slackened its pace, letting them drop to a walk.
"It's a game..." Derek gasped. There was a sharp pain in his side, making it difficult to catch his breath. "Doesn't want to... finish it too quickly... It enjoys the chase... too much."
"The fence!" Alex panted. "Can we run it into the fence?"
"Too risky...!" Derek shook his head. "Might end up on it ourselves..."
The demon-dog paused, turning to the east and lifting its muzzle to scent the wind. It whined and laid its ragged ears back, then swung back to face them, dropping into a crouch.
"Run!" Alex plucked at his sleeve. "It's going to spring!"
"No, we have to make a stand..." Derek said, but she was off again and he had to sprint after, the stitch biting between his ribs like a knife. Alex was headed for the trees and Derek steered her towards the largest of them, with the padfoot following on. When they reached it, he grabbed her around the waist and dragged her to a halt. They slipped on the wet grass and fell into a heap at the foot of its trunk.
"What the hell are you doing?" Alex demanded.
"I'm tired of running," Derek said, rolling over to face their pursuer. "This ends, here and now."
He fired the revolver three times, aiming for the black dog's heart. Silver or not, the bullets went straight through the beast. It yelped, a sharp, high note of pain, as if the gunfire had hurt it, yet there was no outward sign of damage on its inky hide. Mad, rabid fury burned in its eyes and it launched itself at them, landing with its forepaws on Derek's chest. He cried out at the weight of it, surprised that such a ghostly creature should feel so solid, and Alex shrieked too, trapped behind him, crushed between his body and the tree. The demon-dog leered at him, its breath stinging like steam on his cheek, its teeth scant inches away from his throat.
For the second time today, Derek knew that his instincts had failed him. He'd pushed too hard, too far – and he couldn't wriggle out of this one with a polite invitation. Death and hellfire glittered in the padfoot's laser-red eyes, as it gave due consideration as to which part of him it should sink its teeth into first. Derek juggled the revolver, using its blunt end to bludgeon the dog about the head. Howling in pain, the beast snapped at his hand, grazing his knuckles with its fangs and knocking the gun from his grasp. Knowing that its next bite would probably kill him, Derek tried to bring his knees up under the creature, to throw it from him...
The padfoot froze, lifting its head and pricking its ears. There was no sound that Derek could hear, except for the thudding of his own heart and Alex's broken, breathless sobs, but he felt a faint shiver in the air, a thin, silver ripple of disquiet. The black dog growled, but there was less malice in it, less certainty.
The odd, ethereal disturbance came again, singing through his blood and bone, a silent, insistent whisper. This time Derek recognised it as a calling, a summons. The demon-dog barked once, closed its jaws around Derek's left shoulder in a savage parting bite and leapt away from him. In three strides it was gone, melting away into nothingness.
The agony hit Derek then, like a blade of ice grating against his collar-bone. He rolled clear of Alex, cradling his injured shoulder, moaning as the pain re-doubled. The world went fuzzy around him, the moonlight flowing over him in icy waves and he almost passed out.
Alex sat up, her fear for Derek pulling her back from the edge of shock. She crawled over to him, feeling for the pulse in his neck and finding it easily, fast and strong. When she tried to lift his hand from his shoulder, he resisted.
"I'm okay." He didn't open his eyes. "Just hurts like hell, that's all."
"How badly is it bleeding?" Alex shifted his fingers, but there was no dampness under them, no dark stains on his shirt – the fabric wasn't even torn. "There's no blood at all. I don't think it even broke the skin."
"Wasn't fully solid." Derek focused, denying the pain, dismissing it as imaginary. It didn't help. "Did you sense what called it away? It was summoned, I think..."
"I heard it." She helped him sit up, leaning against him to provide support. "Very high-pitched and shivery, like the sounds made by bats."
There were lights moving across the lawns, torches swinging from side to side like searchlights. As they drew closer, Derek recognised the security guards from the gate, then they were caught in the torch-beams and the two men approached at a run.
"Dr Rayne, Miss Moreau!" The first reached them. "Are you hurt?"
"Just winded," Derek said.
"When the alarms kicked in, we went up to the house," the second man said. "Then we heard the gunfire. What happened?"
"We saw that wild dog." Alex improvised. "We chased it out here and then it turned on us. Derek shot at it."
"I'm afraid you missed – there's no sign of it." The first man swung his light around the immediate area. "Must have scared it off though, stopped it attacking you."
"You should have called us, sir," the other complained. "It's our job to run around after things in the dark, not yours."
"Give Dr Rayne a hand up and help him back to the house." The first man directed. "I'll go turn off the alarms. Do you want us to check out the fence and find where the brute came through it?"
"Don't bother tonight. Tomorrow will do fine."
Between them, Alex and the security guard hauled him back onto his feet and he found that he could stand. The pain in his shoulder was still bad, but bearable. Leaning on Alex, he was able to limp back to the house. The second man recovered the gun and the sword, while his companion conjured silence from the din. Within a very few minutes normality was restored and the guards went back to the gate.
"Pour me some brandy, please." Derek leaned back in his chair, finally catching his breath.
"Let me take a look at that shoulder first." Alex still had visions of having to make a dash to the emergency room, if he was bleeding and needed the wounds stitched, or for shots against tetanus or even rabies. Rachel could handle that level of first-aid, but she couldn't. She had to help him out of the shirt – he winced each time she moved him. His skin was hot and mottled with pink where the padfoot's jaws had gripped him. Four darker red blotches the size of dimes marked where its fangs had pressed into his flesh. He flinched away from her as she touched one. "Sorry. I know it's sore and tender now, and you'll probably have some gorgeous bruises there tomorrow, but you've got off quite lightly, I think."
Her hand was still on his shoulder; he covered it with his own, looking up into her eyes. "We both had a lucky escape, Alex. I've no doubt that it intended to kill us."
"Do you think it could have, in that phantom state?"
"We couldn't harm it, but it was under no such handicap." Derek sighed. "But it's gone now, and might-have-beens and what-ifs achieve nothing. I aim to get some sleep, after a hefty slug of brandy and a good hot shower, and I suggest that you..."
"Go to bed?" She found enough humour to make a smile, then her anxiety edged back. "Do you think the demon-dog will come back?"
"No." His certainty surprised him. "It's gone, possibly for good. I'm not sure how I know that, but..."
Alex grinned. "If you say so, that's good enough for me."
Out on the open road, between tree and stone, the false knight draws his sword, swinging it in a swift, deadly arc, bringing its point to a halt an inch from Kat's throat.
"Choose now, child," the knight says. "Choose the Legacy and die here, or choose to leave them and I may let you live."
Kat looks along the length of the steel blade at the hand curved around the hilt, at the ring on its third finger. His voice has seemed familiar all along, so terribly familiar. She tries to sneak a look at his face, but the hood still hides it. "Who are you?"
"A friend. An unexpected ally, if you choose wisely and turn your back on the Legacy."
Kat chews at her bottom lip, adrift in confusion and uncertainty. "I need to know who you are. Show me."
The knight lowers his sword and pulls back his hood. The standing stone tilts towards her, the lightning-struck tree groans aloud and the sky almost falls – he wears Derek's face. The hair seems a little too long and the smile holds far too much evil, but the eyes are perfect, just the right shade of greeny-hazel and filled with all the wisdom in the world.
"You aren't Derek!" Kat yells. "You can't be!"
"Because Derek isn't bad! He isn't a traitor!"
"His own people put him... put me on trial for treason. I convinced them I was innocent, of course." He twirls the tip of the sword in a lazy spiral to gain her full attention. "Make your choice now, Kat. Join me – the two of us have enough power to do some real damage. Together we can bring the Legacy to its knees!"
Kat has a sudden vision of her mother and Nick and Alex falling, tumbling over and over like cards flicked from a deck, the Queen, the Knight and the Page, and of the great gothic house coming apart in an avalanche of stones, the Tower. The horror of it makes her knees weak and pushes her deeper into fear. Too deep – she's seen too many flashy special effects and gigantic illusions in movies not to know when her emotional strings are being jerked. With a sudden wave of clarity she sees that the false knight has overplayed his hand.
"We aren't done with the riddle yet," she reminds, so innocent, so cunning. "Did you forget the last verse?"
He shrugs, exactly as Derek would. "It's not important."
"You have to play the game right." Kat pouts. "Or else, why play it at all?"
"Oh, very well!" He frowns. "If we must."
Kat nods, her face very serious. "We must."
"Methinks I hear a bell," says the knight on the road.
"It's ringing you to Hell!" Kat says, with a laugh of delight. "That's it – I've won! I'm out of here and you, whoever you really are, you're history!"
The false knight scowls at her – she knows that expression so well, it's a carbon-copy of the one Derek wears when things are going badly in a case – and plunges the sword into her heart. Kat screams at the shock of it, but there's no blood, no pain. She feels nothing. She wraps her hand around the hilt and the heavy blade falls, slicing down through her ribs, passing through her body as if she's made of smoke. Using all of her strength, Kat lifts the sword and the tables are turned.
"You won't hurt me!" There's panic in its borrowed eyes, true fear. "You can't! I'm your friend, Kat. I'm Derek!"
"You re not my Derek!" Kat stabs wildly with the heavy weapon, piercing the chain mail, thrusting it through the false knight's body. With a harrowing look of agony on his stolen face, he falls towards her, driving the blade deeper, groaning piteously and coughing up blood.
Kat steps back, grimacing. "Oh, puh-leese! Spare me the theatricals! Just leave, huh?"
The suffering winks out of his eyes. "This isn't over, child."
"For now, it is."
There's a flash of light in an ugly shade of yellow ochre and the false knight vanishes. Above her head, with the sound of silk tearing, the grey sky splits in two. Sunlight floods in through the gap, bathing Kat in healing warmth. With a soft shiver of delight, the dead land wakes. Tiny daisies open their eyes in the grass at the foot of the standing stone, a wash of green and purple spreads out across the grey moor and the lightning-struck tree is suddenly in glorious green leaf. Kat half-expects a cartoon bluebird to appear on her shoulder and start singing.
"Cool!" she says, and walks on down the road
Derek and Alex were late arriving at the hospital; he'd been unwilling to wake her too early, not to mention that the pain from the padfoot's bite still nagged at him, slowing him down. By the time they'd filled Nick and Rachel in about the previous night's adventure, it was midmorning.
"I should have been there," Nick muttered, on learning that Derek had been injured. "I made the wrong call in choosing to stay."
"What could you have done?" Alex asked.
"At least I can shoot straight
"So can I," Derek said, not amused. "It just wasn't solid enough to take a bullet."
"Well, the three of us could have led it on a merrier dance and maybe brought us the breathing space to find some way to fight it..."
"There wasn't any way to fight it." Alex protested. "It used fear to take our minds apart; just one look at it and all rational thought went out the window. All I could do was run, caught up in the terror of it, and Derek wasn't much better."
Rachel looked even wearier today, even paler. They ought to force her to go home, Derek thought, make her rest and relax and have twelve unbroken hours of sleep. Even as he came up with the notion, he knew he lacked the strength to overcome all the arguments she'd put in its way.
"What if the beast comes back tonight?" Rachel demanded.
"You can't be sure of that, Derek. You don't know what happened to it or where it went."
"Did the guys check the fence and search the estate?" Nick asked.
"They did, but it was a pointless exercise. They didn't find anything." Derek sighed. "It was a spectral creature, a ghost-beast. It wasn't solid."
"It was solid enough to bite!"
"But its teeth didn't penetrate my skin, it drew no blood and all I'm left with is a few small bruises."
"Do you think that whoever took the Green Man knew that the theft would free the black dog?" Alex wondered. "If so, we could be looking for someone with a grudge against your father."
"Or against you, Derek." Rachel added.
Derek smiled wryly. "That could be a long list."
Dr Lopez chose that moment to arrive. "Hey, everybody! Quite a crowd in today, huh? Some of you look a little under the weather. Did I give you my lecture about relatives not turning themselves into patients through self-neglect?"
"Yes," Rachel said, tiredly. "Three times."
"Okay, but you aren't doing Kat any favours by wearing yourself out." Ellen picked her way through to the bed and scanned the charts. "How are you today, little girl? I'd like to tell you that the sun's shining and it's a good day to wake up, but the clouds are lined up five deep and it looks like rain."
"Did you find any inspiration overnight?" Nick asked. "Any new avenues of treatment?"
"We've switched from IV feeds to the nasogastric tube." The doctor waved at the new infusion pump at the head of the bed. "To be honest with you, she doesn't need to be in hospital. With a nurse to handle the clinical side, she could be cared for at home."
"I could take her home?" Sudden hope flared in Rachel's face, a small crumb of it. "Would that help her to recover?"
"Dr Corrigan, I can't promise you anything," Ellen said, sadly. "Kat's in a pretty deep coma, unresponsive to pain and other stimuli, and we still have absolutely no idea why. We're not talking brain-dead or persistent vegetative state here, since there is a low level of brain activity..."
One of the monitors beside Kat beeped urgently, its traces spiking an earthquake of peaks and troughs. Ellen Lopez crossed herself, murmuring a prayer in Latin under her breath.
Kat opened her eyes.
Rachel went white, Alex let out a small squeak and Nick gaped in a convincing impression of a landed fish. Derek felt the world shiver around him and steadied himself on the foot of the bed.
"Hi, Mom," Kat said, blinking up into the light. "Hi, Alex and Nick. And Derek – you don't know how glad I am to see you!"
He smiled at her, taken aback by the affection in her voice. "We're all very glad to see you awake, Kat."
"Kat!" Rachel hugged her daughter, not caring that tears were running down her cheeks. "Oh, little girl! I thought I'd lost you too!"
Kat put up with the embrace for a good minute, then began to wriggle. "Hey, Mom, ease up, huh? It's not like I was dying or anything!"
Rachel held her at arm's length. "I was afraid you might be. I was so afraid..."
"It's all right now," Kat said, with infuriating calm. "Don't be so intense, Mom. Nothing happened."
"Thank goodness you're back with us." Alex touched the girl's cheek. "We missed you, honey."
Dr Lopez recovered herself enough to move to Kat's side. "I'm Ellen, your doctor. How do you feel?"
"Okay, I guess." Kat frowned. "A bit stiff and sore. Hungry. Oh, and can I get rid of this stupid tube up my nose?"
"I'll fix that." Ellen grinned. "And some breakfast?"
"More like lunch, kid." Nick corrected. "It's past eleven o'clock."
"So it is..." The doctor shook her head. "So it is! Around elevenish, she said...!"
"Kat, do you remember what happened to you?" Derek asked. "Do you remember why you fell on the stairs?"
A shadow passed across her face. "I'm not sure. I had some very odd dreams."
He sensed that she didn't want to mention her experiences here, in front of a stranger. "Perhaps you'll tell me all about them later?"
"Yes, later – we'll talk about dreams and riddles." Kat smiled up at him. "Thanks, Derek."
"Hey, come on, let's cut to the important stuff!" Nick said, reaching down to ruffle her hair. "Pizza or burgers?"
"That's easy," Kat said. "Pizza!"
For the third time, Derek arrived at the converted warehouse, with Nick in tow as back-up. The sky was overcast today and the colours of the rainbow cosmos of stained glass in the dome were dull and muted, which matched his mood. Despite Kat's awakening, despite his gut feeling that they'd seen the last of the black dog, a heaviness lay on him, a pall of shadow over his relief. His shoulder was stiff, and painful if he moved too fast, and he felt cold and lethargic.
"Are you sure you want to go up there alone?" Nick demanded, waving vaguely at Rowan, who had spotted him and was beckoning him over to her table.
"Yes. Give me ten minutes – no, make that fifteen – before you mount a rescue,"
"Are you sure, because I could come up with you, if you like?"
"What's she going to do – eat me?" He manufactured a smile. "Now, get along and play with your new friend!"
Derek stayed for a minute to watch Nick join the girl, amused at the ex-SEAL's embarrassment when Rowan hugged him and kissed him on both cheeks in an over-enthusiastic greeting, then he made his way slowly up to the second floor. He jangled
the bell and waited. The answer was a long time in coming, then the door was opened a few inches and Elise peered around it. "Ah, c'est tu. Allez... come in."
Without asking, she fetched another cup of coffee from the kitchen and freshened her own, indicating that he should take a seat. The table was set for a simple breakfast of croissants and preserves, most of which seemed untouched.
She looked about as bad as he felt, her skin china-pale, her eyes ringed around with bruise-hued shadows and her hair so full of snarls and tangles that birds might have nested in it. She was wearing a towelling robe of deep indigo-blue and her
feet were bare. Somehow the flaws made her all the more appealing, she looked so fragile, so down-to-earth and human.
"Rough night?" Derek asked.
"Self-inflicted, I'm afraid." Her smile was strained and lacklustre. "Don't spare me any sympathy, Dr Rayne. Nobody poured tequila down my throat. I chose to drink it!"
He sensed that she was lying. "Good party?"
"Mais oui, and I have no regrets. What's your excuse?"
"What? What do you mean?"
"You hold yourself as if you're in pain." She frowned. "And you're sitting crookedly now, favouring your left shoulder. What did you do to it?"
He might have known such things couldn't be concealed from her trained eye. "I lost my footing, stumbled into something. It's bruised, that's all..."
Elise stood up. "Take you jacket off."
"Your jacket, take it off. Vite, vite!" She took hold of his collar and helped him out of the leather garment, hooking it over the back of his chair. "Now the shirt..."
"What are you doing...?"
"Trust me." Her eyes glittered, green mischief, and she grinned as she undid the buttons all the way down to his navel and eased the fabric clear of his shoulder. "I'm a doctor, remember?"
He flinched as she touched him, afraid that his Sight might wake and betray what he was, or reveal more about her than he truly wanted to know, but it remained thankfully mute. She ran her thumb along his collar-bone, searching for breaks, then used her other hand to probe his shoulder-blade. Derek winced as she rotated his arm in its socket, checking for dislocation, The marks left by the padfoot's fangs were still visible on his skin, neat and circular, like dabs of dull red lipstick. Elise glanced at them and never mentioned them. "You re right – nothing's broken, but I bet it's as sore as hell. Stay there. Don't move."
She ducked into the bedroom, returning a moment later with a brown glass jar. Its contents were pale cowslip-yellow and glossy, with a pungent fragrance. Elise scooped out a generous dollop of the gunge and began to rub it into his shoulder.
Derek peered sideways at the jar, noting that it had no label. It was cool on his skin, smelling of fruit and spice, like mulled wine. "What's in that stuff?"
"Rue, arnica, a smidgeon of tea-tree oil and ginseng, I shouldn't wonder – they put that in everything else!" She chuckled. "It's supposedly magic ointment, a sovereign remedy against all earthly ills. I got it from the witches. All errant nonsense, of course, but it makes a damn good massage gel. Relax now, and let go of the pain."
Her fingers were very gentle, working carefully over his sore muscles. Derek shut his eyes and tried to appreciate the sensation or even enjoy it, but each time he almost did, he remembered just who this was and grew uneasy under her hands. Elise continued until the pain had subsided to a faint ache and his whole shoulder felt loose and warm, then she shifted her fingertips to the back of his neck. "Ouch – you're so tense that the muscles here are like iron! What's wrong? Are you frightened of me?"
"Should I be afraid?" Derek reached for the loose sleeve hanging down by his side. "Thanks for the treatment. I trust you'll send me your bill, doctor?"
Elise merely shook her head, picked up the jar of herbal gunk and went into the kitchen to wash the stickiness from her hands. As Derek settled the shirt over his shoulder, he saw that the toothmarks had faded to pale pink, and when he pressed
them, they were no longer tender. He hastily buttoned up his shirt as Elise returned to her chair.
"Is that better?" she asked.
"You really are a healer, aren't you?" Derek demanded.
"Perhaps." A brief, self-deprecating smile flitted across her lips. "Although, this morning, I lack the energy to heal myself! The child is awake then?"
"How did you know that?"
The silversmith shrugged. "Magic happens, little everyday miracles. We're so jaded and cynical that most of the time we don't notice them."
As she reached for her coffee the wide sleeve of her robe fell back, leaving her left arm bare. Just below her elbow was a mass of bruising, punctuated by four dark indentations – a freshly scabbed-over dog-bite.
Derek went cold. "How did you come by that injury?"
"This?" As he'd lied to her, so she lied to him. "Last night's party was in the Rhymer's studio. I fell against one of his stupid constructions, wood studded with nails. Clumsy of me, I know, but I was drunk."
"Really? It looks like a bite from a wolf, or a large dog."
She studied it. "Bien sûr – so it does!"
"It was the padfoot, wasn't it? The black dog?" The pieces fell into place. "Something called it away from the island last night – it was you! You summoned it..."
"Le chien noir?" She shook her head. "I had nothing to do with that. I have no power over LeFeuvre's devil-dog."
"Mam'selle DuBois." Derek squared his shoulders, prepared for pain but feeling no more than a slight twinge. "I think the time has come for us to be honest with one another."
"Do you?" She smiled, her eyes sparkling with amused malice. "Do you really? Is this the part where you tell me that you're the precept of the San Francisco Legacy house and expect me to be surprised? Quel dommage!" She slapped her forehead with the flat of her hand. "What a fool I was! I never saw that coming! Those are supposed to be my lines, aren't they?"
He couldn't reply, driven into silence.
"Oh, don't look so shocked, Dr Rayne!" Elise said, with a wicked giggle. "The Legacy isn't nearly as secret as you think it is. It's an ancient, occult society with its origins buried far back in the mists of time – you can't conceal something like that for centuries without a little of the mystery leaking out."
Derek found his voice. "You tricked Lucien Breton into telling you all about us, didn't you?"
"Tricked?" She laughed again, yet it was laced with sadness. "Luc did tell me, yes, but there was no trickery involved. He wanted me to join, to fight the good fight. I had to say no. I've never been a team player and the Paris house was troubled even then."
"Do you know who killed him?"
"No." She glanced down, too late to stop him seeing the flash of dark fire in her eyes. "He won't tell me."
The world trembled, feeling unsafe and treacherous, as if he'd slid to a halt on the lip of an abyss. "Lucien's dead."
"And when did that ever make any difference?" She looked up again, meeting his gaze. "Don't tell me you've never talked with the dead – I won't believe you if you do. Why did you come here today, Dr Rayne? What is it that you want of me?"
Derek cleared his throat. "I came here to ask you about Paris, Cairo and Montreal, about the death that follows in your wake. Why is it that disasters happen wherever you go?"
"I could say the same of you," she replied mildly. "Ghosts, devils and noisy spirits seem to follow you. Do you go to where they dwell or do they flock to you?"
"I solve problems," Derek said. "I don't create them."
"How do you tell the dancer from the dance?" Elise settled back, sipping coffee, then taking a croissant and spreading it with toffee-brown jam as she continued. "I like to think that Legacy houses are similar to stone circles; flawed solutions to thorny problems, both built to counter great terrors. In parts of the world with many ancient earthworks they have fewer thunderstorms, but the ones they do get are much more violent. Any Legacy house is a magnet for evil – by their very existence they attract malignant spirits."
"As you were drawn to Cairo, Montreal and now here?"
"Ah, you cast me as the villain?" She ate a piece of the pastry, licking conserve from her fingers. "The big, bad, scary monster – moi? Am I convincing in that role?"
Derek had to smile. "If you don't mind me saying so, no. As a demoness, you suck!"
She laughed at that, slopping coffee on the table. "You really are a most extraordinary man, Dr Rayne. A warrior-mage of the old school; the Legacy has so few like you today. You've come to me for answers, I presume? Well, why not?" She counted each one off on her fingers. "I had nothing to do with Montreal – no, honestly, I didn't. I was just in town at the time, playing at being a tourist. Cairo was a disaster. I've never seen a house fall apart so fast. It's collapse was engineered, I'm sure of it. As for the bargvest, it was summoned by LeFeuvre to kill his wife. There you go, three answers, three truths – unless you want the Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of Life as well?"
"Why would Guy LeFeuvre want to harm his new bride?"
"He loved her money, but loathed her, the oldest story in the book." Elise sighed. "Poor little Fabienne. Her maiden name, by the way, was DuBois."
"Your grandmother?" He did his sums. "Or would that be great-grandmother?"
"Neither. I don't have any relatives." That glint of mischief was back in her eyes. "And my name isn't really DuBois. I just liked the sound of it."
The change in her was so subtle, so tiny that he almost missed it. At all of their previous meetings she had been disguising herself, hiding her true nature under a slippery and contrary mask; he had sensed as much and that lay at the core of his unease. Derek leaned back in his chair, reappraising her with unbiased eyes. Elise was strange, yes – gifted and mercurial, and probably psychic, with talents along the same lines as his own, but there was no evil in her. She fought the Darkness too, on her own terms, in her own way. A kindred spirit then, not a foe. "I've done you an injustice, Mam'selle DuBois. All along I've seen you as my enemy. Perhaps I was mistaken."
"We aren't always on the same side, the Legacy and I." Her lovely face grew serious, her apple-green eyes still and sad. "At times I've been at the top of their black-list; at other times they've called me friend. I don't change, yet your masters' perception of me does. At the moment, who can say?"
"You distracted the bargvest when its teeth were at my throat. I don't consider that an unfriendly act." Derek smiled. "It is gone for good, the devil-dog?"
"Oh, yes," she said, her voice heavy with spite. "That vicious black bastard – I nailed its hide to the wall!"
"That makes me feel much better, and Alex will sleep sounder for the news," Derek paused. "Why wouldn't you help Kat?"
"It was only a lesser demon. I knew she could handle it without breaking a sweat." Elise shrugged. "Well, she did, didn't she? You don't need to worry about Kat; just listen to her and trust her instincts. She'll have a house of her own one day. Maybe you'll pass San Francisco on to her?"
"Is that precognition?"
"Mais non – just plain, dumb logic."
They sat quietly for a time, Derek drinking his coffee and Elise toying with her croissant. If they'd met under other circumstances, he reflected, friendship might have blossomed between them. As it was, the gulf was too wide. Trust had taken too many knocks – they'd told each other too many lies.
"I suppose you'll leave now, before the cavalry arrives?" She wrinkled her nose. "I don't suppose they use horses in the navy – too wet. Hippocampi, perhaps?"
"How do you know I didn't come here alone?"
"I wouldn't have."
Derek stood up and replaced his jacket. "Thanks, for giving me so much of your time, and the invitation to dinner still stands, if you choose to take it up."
"I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable inside a Legacy house." She shuddered. "But thank you – that was a nice gesture."
He was almost at the door when she called him back.
"Wait!" She pressed a small velvet bag into his hand. "I nearly forgot this."
"What is it?"
"The earrings for Miss Moreau." Elise smiled warmly. "Gold and fire-opal; they should complement her colouring wonderfully."
It struck Derek that she'd never met Alex, never seen her. "I should pay you for these..."
"Non." The silversmith shook her head, an auburn waterfall. "Miss Moreau suffered greatly because of my meddling in this affair. The debt is mine."
Derek paused on the threshold. "Tell me one last thing – what are you?"
"What?" She laughed at the insult, then blessed him with a brilliant smile. "I'm one of the Children of Light, of course! Au revoir, Dr Rayne."
"Goodbye, Mam'selle DuBois," Derek said, as the door closed behind him. He stood on the landing for a few moments, until the dazzle, the enchantment of her had fallen from his eyes, then he walked down to the courtyard in a daze.
Nick caught sight of him and made his farewells to Rowan. Derek waited as he untangled himself from the girl's clutches, suffering several clusters of friendly parting kisses.
"Our French friend upstairs has taught her some bad continental habits." Nick observed with a grin, wiping his cheek.
"So I see. Is that lipstick?"
"Chocolate frosting, I think." He looked sheepish. "How did you get on with Mam'selle Enigma?"
"We parted as almost-friends, I think. You?"
"We're doing a movie and some Chinese food later." Nick glanced at the pouch in his hand. "What's that?"
"A present for Alex." Derek tipped them out, a pair of exquisite Celtic knotwork earrings set with iridescent orange stones that were, as Rowan had said, like a sunset on ice. There was something else as well, something wrapped in a scrap of black velvet. When he unfolded it, the Green Man stared up from his palm.
"Well, I'll be damned!" Nick whistled. "Is that the copy or the original?"
Derek studied the piece, noting the wear on its underside and the traces of dust around the stones. It felt warm against his skin, with no hint of its former unpleasant aura. "This is the real thing."
"How did she get it out of the case?" Nick demanded. "Without breaking or picking the lock, without leaving a single fingerprint in spite of not wearing gloves and without anything showing up on the camera?"
The sun came out above the glass dome and they were suddenly in a cosmic storm of rainbow colour. Derek grinned and tilted his head back, catching a meteor shower of green and purple stars across his cheek.
"Magic happens," he said.