The wind howled, and rain lashed at his face. White shapes, irregular and vague, swirled about in the midst of the maelstrom, their long, grasping fingers reaching out towards him. They came closer and closer, grabbing and snatching, reaching for him with terrifying persistence. He backed away, but still they came, their shapes solidifying to form recognisably human figures, eyes wide and evil, mouths opened in a loud, ear-piercing shriek that tore holes in his thoughts. He backed away still further, hearing the shriek becoming a laugh - then his feet struck nothingness and he felt himself beginning to fall. The noise became a crescendo which hurt his ears, and still the creatures were coming after him, closer and closer as he fell onwards into darkness. The further he fell, the fewer of the shapes followed, and in their place was one, solid figure; an old man, watching him with amusement. Then there was nothing but total, impenetrable blackness, into which he was falling without hope.
Derek Rayne jerked awake, and lay staring up at the ceiling. He sighed, a long, drawn out sigh which became a moan. The dream again. It had been waiting for him in his sleep every night for a week now, and every time it went the same way. He sat up, knowing that there would be no more sleep for him that night, and wandered over to the windows. They stood open, the curtains blowing wildly about, like flags in the wind. He let out a shaky breath. He had closed those windows before he got into bed; like he always did when it looked like there was a storm brewing. Now they were flung wide open, and the whole angry strength of the promised storm was preparing to join him in his bedroom. He shut the windows, then dressed and went downstairs. A walk around the house usually calmed him down after a powerful dream, and there might even be some chance of salvaging a little rest out of the broken night.
The large house was quiet and still. Derek went into the drawing room, where a settee offered some comfort, and reached for the lamp positioned beside it. As it clicked on, he saw the shadow of a human shape on the settee, and he jumped violently. A low laugh came from out of the shadows, and he recognised it, breathing a sigh of relief.
"Sorry Derek." Alex moved into the light from the lamp and laughed again. "Couldn't sleep either?"
"No. The, er... the storm probably." He smiled. "I'm sorry. Would you like the light out again?"
"No thanks. I was just waiting to decide if there was any point in going back to bed." She shrugged. "Sometimes dreams can be a real pain in the neck."
"You can say that again." He sat down. "Anything interesting?"
"Just disturbing." She shivered. "I was standing on a hillside, and all of a sudden it started to rain, and then it all got kind of weird. There were these things flying about, like... white things making horrible noises."
"Ghostly shapes coming towards you out of the storm." Derek smiled rather sheepishly. "I'm sorry, Alex. It looks as though you picked up part of my dream."
"Your dream? It must have been something pretty powerful to have been sending out signals like that." She grinned. "Although I have to say that I'm glad it wasn't my subconscious that came up with all that weird stuff."
Derek smiled back, although she thought that there was something else beneath the smile.
"It was a little strange, yes. I have no idea what it might mean."
"Not all dreams mean something, Derek." Alex stood up, wandering over to the window to stare out at the raging storm. "Look at it out there. It's pretty wild."
"A good night for ghosts and demons." He smiled at her amused expression. "Sorry."
"You can't be faulted for your dedication to duty, can you." Folding her arms she faced him. "So, want to tell me how the dream ends? I woke up just after those swirly white things started appearing."
"You didn't miss much. The shapes went, and there was just a man standing there. An old man. He seemed somehow familiar, but I don't know who he was. Then he vanished too." He sat down on the settee, brooding quietly over the dream, and Alex took a step towards him, changing her mind at the last moment and remaining at the window.
"You get this dream a lot?" she asked him. He remained silent for a few moments, then looked up at her again.
"Every night for nearly a week. Before that, no. It's as if something is trying to tell me something, but I can't make the pieces connect. It all feels important, but I can't see why."
"The old man; could he be the key? Maybe you've met him before. Maybe he was connected to one of the cases you've handled in the past." Warming to her theme she thought back. "Could he be somebody who was killed?"
"Maybe." He joined her by the window. Outside, beyond the glass, the storm was beginning to blow itself out. "I just wish I could remember who he is."
"Perhaps Rachel could help you to figure it out. She could try hypnosis."
"Maybe." He did not sound enthusiastic about the suggestion. "Rachel will tell me that the dream is my subconscious's way of telling me that I have been working too hard, or that the old man represents some emotion or feeling." He smiled. "She may be right of course."
"Well then. Try it." She turned back to look out of the window, enjoying the quiet companionship of the moment. It wasn't often that they got a chance to be alone, without any work that needed doing. "Not everything has to have a supernatural explanation. Even with you."
"True." He smiled, turning towards her. She saw the lights in his eyes soften, but as if anticipating his distraction the wind moaned loudly, making the house creak in protest. With a sudden shattering of glass, the windows blew open, smashing against the walls and showering Derek and Alex with their broken fragments. Derek pushed Alex aside automatically, staring out into the raging darkness of the suddenly rejuvenated storm. A brilliant streak of lightning lit up the sky, tearing across the heavens like a jagged spear.
"Derek!" Alex's voice sounded far away, faint beyond the wind and the rain. He glanced back towards her, and the light in the room flickered and went out, plunging them both into darkness.
"Derek..." This time the voice sounded much closer, and yet it was barely audible above the wind. He turned towards the sound, reaching out his hand for his friend, but unable to make contact. The voice came again, just as he caught a glimpse of a shadow that could only have been Alex, standing on the other side of the room, far too far away for the voice to have been hers. He swung round, certain that somebody was calling him, and turned back to face the storm, staring into the rain. It stung his face and filled his eyes, blurring his vision. He heard the whisper again, and in the same second another flash of lightning lit the world. A shape stood in the garden, its dark cloak billowing in the wind. He tried to see the figure's face, but it was hidden by a hood. The figure raised an arm, pointing straight at Derek, and he felt a chill run through him. Then suddenly all was dark again, and he could see nothing at all.
"Derek, come away from the window." Alex, pulling at his arm, sounded concerned. He followed her, allowing her to lead him out of the drawing room. In the hallway the lights were on, and the sound of the wind and the rain were muffled by the thick walls. He took a shaky breath, staring back towards the door to the drawing room, filled with a desire to run outside, and to look for the figure that he knew was no longer there.
"What's going on?" Appearing almost as if from nowhere, his dressing gown hanging loose, Nick put his ever-present gun away in some unseen pocket and came towards them. "I heard a noise."
"The windows in the drawing room just broke." Alex blew out a long breath. "Must have been a gust of wind."
"Yeah, it's pretty rough out." Nick glanced back, and saw Rachel coming towards them. "Looks like we all got woken up." He pulled the drawing room door shut, closing off the draught, and whistled. "Gonna need the glaziers in, Derek." There was no answer. "Derek?"
"What?" Facing away from his associate, Derek whirled around so suddenly that Nick jumped, surprised by the usually unflappable man's apparent unease.
"Are you okay?" There was concern in Nick's tone, and Derek stared at him for a few moments, as if he had to allow the words time to be processed before he could answer them.
"Yes. Yes I'm fine, thankyou." He frowned, his mind refusing to let go of the image of the cloaked figure in the garden; but here in the warm, with the others around him, it was easier to relax and to think of other things.
"I'll make us some coffee." Rachel hurried away, obviously realising that nobody seemed inclined to go back to bed. Nick followed her, his thoughts undoubtedly on food. Alex glanced questioningly at Derek.
"Are you sure you're okay?" she asked him. He smiled and nodded, squeezing her hand gently to show his thanks.
"I'm fine. Shall we join the others in the kitchen?"
"Might as well." She gave him a quick, concerned glance, but he was already moving ahead, his unease apparently gone. She followed him, still wondering what it was that he had been looking at out in the garden; the thing that had so consumed his attention and left him looking so detached. Behind her the door to the drawing room opened gently, apparently moved by nothing save the wind; but in the shadows by the broken window a figure stood watching the group, partly hidden by the billowing curtains. It was the figure of an old man, the man from Derek's dream. His face was devoid of expression, but his eyes were strangely bright. Slowly he began to move towards the door.
"Are you sure you want to do this Derek? Hypnosis can reveal all kinds of things, and there's little way to tell what's true and what isn't." Rachel's voice was tinged with concern, but Derek smiled, nodding firmly.
"I'm sure. If there is any way of finding something, I have to try."
"Okay..." She settled herself opposite him, beginning to speak in a soft, relaxing voice. Derek was not the easiest of men to get to relax, and she wasn't at all sure that this would work; but gradually she saw the tension start to ease from his shoulders.
"Alright, Derek. Now I want you to listen to me carefully. Okay?"
He nodded slowly, his eyes closed.
"Good. I want you to think back, to the first time that you saw the old man from your dream. Forget about the dream. Go back further. Maybe you've seen him before."
"Okay." His voice sounded distant. There was a silence for several minutes, then Derek looked puzzled.
"Have you found him?" Rachel asked. He nodded, a frown wavering about on his forehead.
"Good. Where are you?"
There was a moment's hesitation. "By the river."
"At school... The river at school."
Rachel frowned, surprised by this answer. She glanced back at Alex who sat nearby, and shrugged.
"How old are you?"
There was another hesitation. "Eleven."
"And you're sure it's the same man?"
"I'm sure." His voice sounded different, almost as if he were eleven, and this was all for real.
"Tell me about him."
"He's hiding." Derek frowned, the unconscious memories appearing in his mind as if he were really there, all those years ago. He didn't want to tell her everything; didn't see why it should all be important. The voice in his head was persistent, and it was telling him to talk, but he saw no reason why he had to recount the whole story. He would tell about the old man, but not about the rest. The rest didn't need to be told.
Derek Rayne crouched beside the river, using the cold, slow water to wash his face. He stood up, surveying his uniform with a critical eye. There was no way that that was going to pass the House Master's inspection. A long tear ran down one sleeve, and a piece of cloth was missing altogether from one trouser leg. He tried to clean some of the mud off, in the hope that the damage would seem less obvious then, but it did no good. He sighed and sat down again, staring out across the river. He had tried at first to keep his sight a secret from the other children, but when he had had that vision a couple of days ago, they had all seen for themselves. He had sunk to his knees in the middle of class, muttering strange words in some other language; and ever since then the others hadn't left him alone. Some didn't believe in his gifts, others wanted to use them for their own advantage. In the end they had chased him down here, a whole gang of adolescent troublemakers, eager for violence. He had detected jealousy, fear and even some honest venom in the whirlpool of emotions flooding through the group. Finally they had left him here, on his own. He dreaded going back. He wasn't afraid of them, but he was afraid of what they did. He hated the way that the pack instinct changed them, and turned them all into something other than themselves. Even their feelings hurt him; the raw emotions caused by their anger and their hatred. He couldn't avoid picking them up, and they had no where to go but into his mind.
"Hello." The voice was unfamiliar, and he glanced towards it, surprised to a see a man that he didn't recognise. Teachers were the only adults allowed on the grounds. A man, old and yet oddly youthful in appearance, was smiling at him, almost as if they were friends.
"Hello." Derek smiled back, trying to be polite but at the same time trying to remember if he knew the man. The man was still smiling.
"Are you hiding?" The man asked him. He hesitated, unsure how to answer, then nodded.
"Thought so. So am I." The old man wandered closer, and sat down on the river bank. "It's quiet here. People stay away."
"The current is strong. We're not allowed to swim," Derek told him. The old man nodded.
"I know. A boy drowned here once."
"Really?" Derek stared out across the wide expanse of water. He shivered, suddenly feeling very cold. For a second he couldn't breathe, and a wave of fear washed over him. He opened his eyes, hardly realising that they had been closed, and glanced over towards the old man. The old man was smiling.
"You saw it, didn't you. Or felt it at least. That means it'll happen again. Samuel only shows himself to people when it's time for somebody else to die."
"Samuel Tayford. The boy who drowned." The old man stared out across the water. "It was 1806. A group of children came here to play, and Samuel fell in. He was swept away by the current and was never seen alive again. His body was found nearly twenty miles away, three days later. He was thirteen."
"How - how do you know about it?" Derek asked. The old man laughed.
"Because, my boy, I pushed him in." He smiled, leaning close to the boy, his grin revealing rows of perfect, white teeth. "Now the question is, what are you going to do to stop me pushing somebody else in?"
"What?" Derek stumbled to his feet, unsure how seriously to take the man. Another laugh answered him.
"Do you stay here, and warn people away when they come, or do you go back to your friends at the school and tell them not to come here? You have to decide." The old man leant back against a tree to stare out across the river, an expression of childlike glee on his face. "There can't be much time, if Samuel has been making himself felt again. He knows me better than I do."
Derek stared back at the old man, and then stared at the water. The surface was almost still, but he knew from experience that underneath it was a different story. He heard a shout, and heard the helpless cries of a long dead boy. The waters moved, and a hand emerged from the depths. There was a boy in the water, dressed in grey, his eyes open wide and pleading. Derek took a step forward instinctively, even though he knew that the boy wasn't really there. He looked back at the old man, but his only answer was a laugh, echoing and filled with mockery.
"You decide what to do now, Derek." The old man watched the river, and the boy vanished beneath the surface. Derek turned and ran.
"Derek, are you okay?" Disturbed by the look of anguish on the Legacy leader's face, Rachel snapped her fingers quickly. His eyes opened, and he stared wildly at her for a moment, then relaxed.
"Rachel, it's you."
"Of course it's me." She smiled, then realised that whatever he had seen had disturbed him greatly. "You said the old man was hiding by the river?"
"Yes. Yes, I did." He frowned, wondering how much else he had told her, then stood up and walked over to the window. Outside everything was clear and still, and the bright light of a summer's day had replaced last night's wild stormclouds. "The old man is... some sort of spirit."
"A spirit." Rachel sounded sceptical. Despite her lengthening association with the Legacy she still found it hard to believe some of Derek's theories. She still believed that he could find another explanation most of the time, if only he would try.
"What sort of spirit?" As always, Alex was ready to believe. He frowned at her, and shrugged.
"A malevolent one, I imagine. He... was responsible for the deaths of certainly at least two boys at my old school, but I have no idea why."
"Are you sure he was responsible?" Rachel was frowning, and looking typically unconvinced. He smiled, as always welcoming the chance to try and change her mind.
"I'm sure. I can't understand why I didn't remember it before, but now it's as clear as crystal. I met him beside the river, and he told me about a boy named Samuel Tayford, who drowned in the river in 1806. We can try to confirm that later. He also told me that he was going to kill again, and he hinted that he had killed other people before as well. He told me that I had to stop him, so I ran back to the school to tell somebody. Nobody believed me, and a-a group of boys went down to the river to prove me wrong. I followed them. When they got there, they couldn't see the old man, but I could. I tried to warn them, but he pushed them in. Three of them managed to get out, but the fourth was swept away. They found his body the next day, several miles down river. The old man was laughing, but they didn't hear him."
"That's horrible." Rachel still didn't sound convinced, but her tone carried a note of sympathy. "I'll get Nick to check up on the death of that boy. There might be something on file. What about the one you saw drown?"
"His name was Alistair Walsh. He was the son of a diplomat." Derek watched her leave the room, and then turned to Alex. "The question is, why would this spirit come here now, and try to make contact? If it is the same force that I saw all those years ago, what reason could it have for wanting to talk to me again?"
"Why did it want to talk to you back then, either? Maybe it likes attention. It could be that it wants to tell someone about the murders it commits."
"So it could be planning to kill again. We shall have to keep a close watch on the computer, to see what happens. I shall contact some of the other Houses, to see if they have heard of anything."
"I'll get right on it." She stood up. "Any idea what we're looking for?"
"No." He wandered over to a bookcase and began to hunt through it, finally pulling out a heavy, leather bound volume. He opened it carefully, ignoring the plumes of dust which rose up from within it. "This book is the journal of a ghost hunter named Titus Flood. He exorcised more than a thousand spirits during the course of the eighteenth century. He theorised that there are two kinds of spirit that kill the living. Here--" He handed the book to her, pointing something out. There were two drawings, little more than rough pencil sketches, which showed two faces. One was that of a middle aged man, the other a teenage boy.
"The man was called Henry Field. He was exorcised by Flood in 1756. He had been killed in a fight in 1745, and returned from the dead to kill the living. Many towns have stories of similar occurrences, where a dead person takes the lives of the living, as revenge for their own untimely death. The murders are committed at random and are totally motiveless, and they can occur at any time. They are impossible to guard against, and usually quite violent." He smiled, seeing the look of uncertainty cross her face. "Fortunately such spirits are quite rare, at least in relation to all of the other kinds." He indicated the second drawing. "Flood never discovered the name of the boy. He was exorcised in 1764. He had killed upwards of forty people, always making the deaths look accidental. All of Flood's usual methods failed, which led him to the conclusion that the boy could not be exorcised in the usual manner because he had never been alive in the first place. He was not a natural spirit."
"Then what was he?" Alex found her throat suddenly dry.
"I have no idea. Neither did Flood, unfortunately. The boy killed without warning, and with no apparent malice. Flood eventually got rid of him with the help of the Church. It appears that whatever the boy was, he didn't think much of scriptures and Holy water."
Alex shivered noticeably. "Definitely spooky," she told him. He laughed, glancing up as Nick came in. The smile faded from his lips in an instant when he saw the look on his associate's face.
"You'd better look at this," the ex-SEAL told him, handing the Precept a computer print out. As Derek began to read through it, Nick summarised its contents for Alex's benefit.
"Last night three people at a beach party were swept out to sea by a freak wave. The coastguard are still looking for them, but they don't expect to find them alive. The previous night, two people were drowned a little further round the coast, when their boat supposedly capsized. They were experienced sailors doing some night fishing. Then the day before that some kids having a day off school were found drowned, and the day before that..." He trailed off. "Rachel just told me about that old man you saw. Now either we've got some really huge coincidence here, or this old guy just loves watching people drown. What's going on, Derek?"
"I think we have a serial killer on our hands." Derek stared at the printout for a few moments, then picked Flood's book up and put it away, his movements slow and precise. As he did so the window blew open, a fierce breeze rising up from nowhere and making the curtains dance. He moved towards them, reaching out to shut the window, and saw a figure standing watching him, partly hidden by the trees. The figure was wrapped in a long cloak, and wore a heavy hood.
"Look!" Derek pushed the windows open further, but the wind blew strongly, and the curtains were swept up, obscuring his vision. He pushed them aside, but when he looked again, the figure had gone.
"Look at what?" Nick asked. Derek sighed.
"I don't know," he answered softly, and closed the window. "Come on. We have work to do."
The beach was empty, with flags blowing in the breeze warning potential bathers of the dangerous tides. Derek walked across the sand, gazing out to sea. The waters were still, on the surface at least, and he was willing to bet that the situation was the same further down. There were no freak waves and unusually strong currents here. There were also no birds, or visible wild life of any kind. It felt odd and strangely unreal.
"What do you think?" Nick asked him. Derek was silent for a moment.
"Everything is very still and quiet. There is nothing here out of the ordinary, in a spiritual or a material sense." He turned back to face Nick, obviously exasperated. "It is all very strange. This... this figure appears in the garden. What can it want? Why is it there? And who, or what, is this old man?"
"Tune in next week to find out." Nick smiled. "We'll figure it out, Derek. Don't worry."
"Yes, and how many more people have to die in the mean time?" The Precept turned away, heading back to the road. The silence of the beach bothered him, and he wanted to leave it behind. A police jeep pulled up beside his own car as he approached, and three men climbed out.
"You see the flags?" The lead officer quickened his pace to intercept Derek, nodding towards the danger signs. Derek nodded.
"I saw them, thankyou."
"Good. We've had enough drownings here the last couple of days." The policeman sighed heavily. "It's always the same when we get some hot weather. Everybody goes swimming figuring they're strong enough for the tides..." He frowned. "You a tourist?"
"No." Derek glanced towards Nick as the other man joined them. "My associate and I are here about the drownings. We don't believe they were accidental."
There was a silence. The other two policemen, who had by then caught up, glanced from Derek to their colleague and back again.
"You think we've got a suicide problem?" one of them asked. Derek allowed the man a small smile.
"No. I think these people were murdered. I'd like to recommend that this stretch of beach be closed, at least until my investigations can be concluded. I think--"
"Hold on." Interrupting with more than a trace of impatience, the first policeman held up his hands for silence. "Murdered? How exactly? You think we've got a psychotic frogman dragging people beneath the waves?" He laughed. "Anyway, I don't have the authority to close the beach. We put up the signs, and if people want to risk the tides, they can. It's not our problem."
"You should listen to us." Trying not to sound too confrontational, Nick glanced around the group of officers. "You've lost - how many people? Six or seven at least in the last three days, right? You can't say that's just the normal seasonal accident rate."
"So you expect us to believe that there's some mad killer out there instead?" The policeman shook his head. "Suppose we start at the beginning. Just who the hell are you two, anyway?"
"I am Derek Rayne and this is Nick Boyle, my associate. We are from the Luna Foundation, and--"
"I wasn't aware that the Luna Foundation was into investigating nonexistent murders." The policeman was already turning away. "If you have some kind of legitimate interest in the beach, come and tell us about it. Otherwise..." His voice trailed away as he gazed at something behind them. "Jerk. Can't he see the flags flying?"
Both Legacy men turned. Some way out to sea they could just make out the shape of a man, lazily swimming in circles. Derek took a step forward.
"We have to warn him."
"That's what the flags are for." The policeman stared at the figure for a few moments more, then scowled. "I'd better go and yell at him." He began to head down the beach, his three associates and the two Legacy members on his heels. Even as they hurried towards the surf, the swimmer let out a panicked yell and began to wave frantically for assistance.
"Damn..." Pulling off his shoes, the lead policeman threw them onto the sand along with his belt and gun. "You lot stay here." He began to wade into the water, exclaiming in disgust at its unpleasant temperature. "I'll soon get him back."
"Be careful," Nick warned him. The officer glared at him, already up to his waist in the water. With a strong kick forwards he began to swim, covering the distance quickly, with strong, even strokes.
"You think he'll be okay?" Nick asked. Derek glanced towards him, looking distracted, then turned away. His face looked pale.
"Derek?" Nick took a step towards his friend, but a shout from the water startled him. He looked back. Some two hundred yards off shore, a wave was beginning to rise up, apparently out of nowhere. It bore down on the terrified swimmer and he began to swim away, hurrying towards the policeman.
"Frank! Look out!" Already pulling off his shoes another of the police officers hurried to join his friend in the water. Nick tried to stop him, but his hand was shaken off. He turned to Derek, expecting the Precept to say something, but his companion was facing in the opposite direction, staring at something on the road.
"Derek?" Nick put a hand on the other man's shoulder, but Derek did not respond. Instead he seemed to tense up, and then swung around, almost knocking Nick over in his hurry. He grabbed the second policeman by the arm, pulling him back.
"Don't go in the water!" There was real urgency in his voice.
"Are you kidding? They're in trouble out there." The officer tried to shake him off, but Derek hung on.
"Listen to me. If you go out there you're a dead man."
"Get him off me Richie." The policeman sounded angry, and Derek felt hands on his arms, pulling him back. He struggled, but the third officer was a good deal bigger than he was. He watched, helpless, as the second policeman swum out to sea. The freak wave had almost reached the other two by now, and as the three men on the beach watched, it crashed down on top of them, swamping both them and their would be rescuer.
"Frank... Gary..." The third man - Richie - froze, staring at the stilled waters, then pushed Derek violently aside, dashing into the surf. He stood there for a few moments, then stared back at the Legacy men with a look of despair in his eyes.
"I can't swim..." He told them, sounding desperate. "You have to do something."
"There is nothing we can do." Derek's voice came out with more anger than he had meant it to. He glanced back up the beach towards the road, and Nick followed his gaze. The Precept had seen something up there before the second policeman had gone into the water, and he wondered what it had been. He had not seen anything himself.
"Derek?" he asked. Derek tore his eyes away from the roadside and glanced back at his friend.
"Stay here," he ordered, and began to head back to their car.
"He going for help?" Richie asked. Nick found that he couldn't answer. He had no idea where Derek was going, and it worried him.
"I sure hope so." He turned to gaze back out to sea, and wondered about the three men. It seemed somehow cold and callous to stand here whilst they were out there somewhere, particularly since he was such a good swimmer himself; but he knew instinctively that there was nothing that he could do. He didn't pretend to understand what they were dealing with, but he knew that the three men were dead.
Derek reached the road just as the old man began to turn away. Angry, the Precept called out, demanding that the strange figure stop. The old man turned to face him, a benevolent smile on his face.
"Derek. Fancy meeting you here."
"Who are you?" Standing face to face with the strange man, Derek did nothing to prevent his anger from showing in his voice. "Why are you doing this?"
"Doing what?" Managing to look both innocent and jeering at the same time, the old man shrugged. "What do you think I'm doing, Derek?"
"You are murdering innocent people. Why?" Derek reached out, grabbing the man by the arm. Pain shot through his fingers and he stumbled back a pace, his eyes wide. The old man laughed.
"I am the one who waits," he whispered softly, moving closer to Derek, his smile broadening. "I wait for those who come, and then I take them." He raised his arms suddenly, catching Derek by the arms. The Precept gasped as the burning pain ran through him, and he felt his knees begin to buckle. He did not seem able to struggle, or to pull himself free.
"Who are you?" He managed to ask, although his voice was scarcely more than a whisper. The old man laughed again, holding Derek upright and staring into his eyes.
"I am nothing," he said, his voice suddenly filled with venom. "We are all nothing, are we not?"
"You are mad." Derek stared into the unnaturally bright eyes, afraid of what he might see there. The old man released him, stepping back suddenly. Derek fell to his knees.
"I am the one who waits," he said again, his voice once more soft and reasonable. Then he was gone, vanishing into nothingness.
"Derek?" Running up the beach towards his associate, Nick sounded concerned. Derek climbed to his feet, meeting the other man with a calm, if slightly ruffled, façade. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine." Derek walked over to their car and climbed inside. "We have to get back to the House."
"Sure." Nick's eyes narrowed. "Were you just talking to somebody?"
"Not somebody, no." The Precept glanced back towards the beach. He could see Richie bending down to look at something which had been washed ashore. He didn't need to look at it himself to know that it was a body.
"I'll explain when we're home." Derek started up the engine, barely giving Nick enough time to climb into the car as well.
"Then you know what's going on?" Trying to keep up with Derek's active mind, Nick frowned. Derek was silent for a few moments.
"I haven't got a clue," he admitted at last. "But I hope that somebody else does."
"So this old man is some kind of mad ghost, who likes to drown innocent people?" Rachel managed to sound both disturbed and disbelieving. "What reason could he possibly have?"
"He said that he was waiting. That he is the one who waits." Pacing restlessly, Derek glanced around at them all. "The question is, what is he waiting for?"
"You." Alex spoke the word with the same cold certainty she used when her sight had shown her something. Derek stared at her, his eyes burning into hers, but she did not look away. "Think about it. You met him as a child. He killed then, and now he's come back to kill again, and he's telling you about it. It's you that he appears to. Nick didn't see anybody at the beach earlier, and I think we can assume that the surviving policeman didn't either. This all centres around you."
"Yes, I think you could be right." Derek ceased his pacing and stood still, deep in thought. "That still does not explain what it is that he wants."
"Maybe we don't want to know." Alex wandered nearer, sitting down on the chair closest to where the Precept stood. "What about this other figure, Derek? The one you saw last night?"
"The man in the robe?" The Precept frowned. "I don't know. Some secondary spirit perhaps. He could be a part of this, or he is maybe trying to warn us. I don't know." He sat down, as though suddenly tired, and glanced at his right hand. It was hurting. Red marks glowed softly where he had touched the old man earlier in the day. The left hand was the same, and so, he imagined, were his arms.
"What's that?" Taking his hand before he could prevent her, Rachel winced at the marks. "What happened?"
"It's where I touched him today." Derek stared at the marks, deep in thought. "He felt so hot that his touch burned. Usually evil feels cold; deathly cold, but he feels different. As though he were made of a sort of fire."
"Fire that stains." Rachel released his hand. "Did he touch you anywhere else?"
"My arms. It's nothing." He stood up, rubbing his face with his hands. "How many people are dead so far? That we know of?"
"Thirteen, including those three we just saw today." Nick leant back in his chair, legs crossed. "This guy is making Jaws look like a goldfish."
Derek managed a smile.
"It's not quite the same thing, Nick. He doesn't eat them - or damage them in any way. They just drown." He frowned. "Maybe that is important. I don't know." He sounded as tired as he looked. Alex sympathised, knowing how little sleep he had been getting recently. It would be even worse now that he knew what the dreams meant. She thought about reaching out to offer him some support, but as usual something made her hold back.
"So what do we do?" As direct as ever, Nick stared straight at Derek. The Precept stared back, for once apparently at a total loss.
"I don't know. We have to go through the databases. Through everything, to see if we can find any references to this man. Anything at all. Maybe we can find out who he is, or was."
"Unless he never was." Alex recalled the book by Titus Flood. "He may not be a ghost. He may be something else."
"I know." Derek thought over the possibilities. A ghost, no matter how violent and malevolent, had to be better as an adversary than a creature straight from hell. "Which is why we have to find out what he is."
"Earlier you were saying you hoped somebody else would know," Nick pressed. Derek nodded.
"Yes. Our other visitor. The man in the hood. I'm hoping that he can be encouraged to return, and that maybe I can talk to him."
"He might be just as dangerous as your old man." Rachel sounded concerned, and he smiled. With her level head and her knack for keeping things in perspective she was a welcome addition to his team. For the hundredth time he was glad that he had brought her in.
"I know that." He smiled at her gently and then walked towards the window. So far the strange figure had always appeared outside, and whilst there was a wind blowing. Even as he stood there, gazing out, the weather began to change. He felt suddenly cold.
"I'll get some coffee and we can all wait together." Alex made for the door but Derek called her back.
"No. I'll wait alone. We don't know who this man is, or what he wants. I won't risk all of us waiting here. You go to the lab and start going through the files. You're looking for unexplained drownings."
"We've already looked for them." Alex sounded as though she were squaring up for a fight, but for once Derek was not in the mood for sparring with her.
"Then look again," he told her quietly. "Go through my father's journals. He discovered things that no other Precept knew of. If anybody is likely to have encountered something like this before, it will be him."
Alex nodded. "Okay." She led the way to the door, the others following hesitantly. They glanced back before they left. Alone by the window, Derek stood staring out at the growing dusk, watching the trees begin to bend in the wind. Alex switched the lights off, leaving him in the dark, and the marks on his hands began to glow.
Night time came with its usual inevitability. Derek stood motionless before the windows, staring through them out into the blackness. All kinds of shapes flitted about in the garden in the moonlight, but tonight all of them seemed to be filled with menace. He rubbed his eyes, regretting the action immediately. Moving his hands made the burning sensation increase, and he glanced down at his glowing fingers. The marks rippled before his eyes, mimicking the flames that they felt like so much, and he shuddered. For no reason that he could be sure of, he felt deathly cold. He heard a loud click, and saw the window catch lift up and unlock. Slowly and quietly the windows began to ease open, then suddenly, with a sharp crack, they slammed open the rest of the way, shattering against the walls. The wind raged into the room, blowing dust into his eyes. With an arm up flung to protect his face, Derek leaned out of the window, trying to see into the storm. White shapes were flying about in front of his eyes; strange, irregular shapes with long arms and grasping fingers. They brushed against his skin, feeling ice cold and oddly damp. Some were draped with seaweed.
Stumbling back slightly, Derek cried out as he crashed into the table and nearly lost his balance. The shapes swirled about his head, reaching out for him, gradually changing until they were recognisably human. He saw skull like faces with staring eyes and hanging jawbones; faces which no longer had any individual identity. A crab clung to one, its pincers snapping at thin air, before it exploded in a flash of flame.
Upstairs, Alex sat bolt upright, staring into space. Despite having agreed with her colleagues that they should all go to bed, she had found it impossible to relax and had returned to the lab. Alone in the secret room, she stared into space, her mouth moving in silent speech. She saw the room downstairs, and she saw the swirling mass of skull like faces. She gasped, although she was no longer able to hear her own voice. All that she heard was in her mind, and all that she saw was in disjointed, misty black and white. She saw the windows flapping in the breeze, she saw Derek standing by them, and she saw an old man, hidden by the shadows of the door. His eyes were glowing a hot white, and as she watched he raised a hand. Alex saw the marks on Derek's hands as a swirl of intense whiteness, and she saw them change. Suddenly they were no longer random scars, but symbolic brands. She thought she could see letters, or symbols within them, but as she tried to look closer the pictures faded. She shivered, gasping for breath, certain that Derek was in danger. She stood up and raced towards the holographic door.
Alex struck solid wood with a jolt that sent pain shooting through her body. She yelped involuntarily and felt with her hands. Where there should have been nothing but an illusion of light there was now solid reality. The hologram of a bookcase which hid the secret annex had gone. Afraid, she hammered at the door, but there was no way through. She picked up a chair and hurled it at the bookcase, watching as it bounced uselessly off. There was no way through. She shouted as loudly as she could, but her voice did not seem to carry. There were other noises that she heard, which rose above her own voice. She could hear the wind howling around the building, could hear some other noise, like rain and yet different. Water, pouring into something. She stared down at her feet. They were covered with water, and the level was rising fast. It swirled about at her ankles and she let out a cry of fear. There was nowhere for it all to drain away to, and nowhere from where it could be coming, and yet still it came, the level rising onwards to her knees. With a growing sensation of terror, she began to hammer away at the bookcase that she knew did not exist.
Downstairs, Derek was surrounded, flanked on all sides by the deathly creatures. Water pooled on the carpet underneath them, and he thought that he smelt sea water, as well as brackish, stagnant river water. Beyond the figures, beyond the windows, he saw a different shape, the shape of a man in a long dark robe with a heavy hood. He tried to push his way past the strange, white shapes, but they held him back. He saw damp finger marks on his jacket where they touched him, and felt their skin against his, slimy and cold.
"Let go of me!" He tried to make himself heard above the wind, but he could not seem to get any power behind his voice. The dark, hooded figure moved closer, beckoning to him, and he tried to get to it but could not move. He opened his mouth to call to it, but no sound came. He tried to struggle, but his muscles would not obey him. He felt his eyes cloud over and suddenly found it impossible to breathe. All sensation left him, save the intense burning in his hands. He thought that he heard someone laughing, then suddenly there was nothing at all.
Derek jumped to his feet, staring around. The windows were closed and locked, the puddles on the floor had gone. He stared at the clock on the wall. No more than a minute or two had passed since the last time he had looked at it, and yet he had the strangest sensation that untold hours had passed him by. Shakily he went over to the window and gazed out. There was nothing out there. Even the wind had died down. Now there was nothing but a normal, hot and still summer's night. He rubbed at his face again, still conscious of the red marks on his hands. The burning sensation had gone, at least. He sighed and headed for the door, deciding that the night's vigil was over, but as he reached out for the handle, he froze. Pictures were dancing in front of his mind. He saw Alex, screaming silently, and saw her figure obscured by cascading water. Then he saw her body, lifeless and soaking, lying on the floor of the annex.
"Alex!" Coming back to himself with a jerk, Derek flung open the door and ran up the stairs, almost losing his footing in his haste. He ran to the holographic door, crashing straight into its unexpected solidity. Stars danced in front of his eyes and he fell back. "What the-?" Undeterred he grabbed for a chair and smashed it against the all too real illusion. He heard footsteps and saw Nick and Rachel appear in the doorway. They stood staring at him, amazed by his wild actions, then, with a sudden flash of light, the hologram returned. There was a sound like distant thunder and the wall erupted. Water poured out of the annex in a tumultuous whirl, flooding the room beyond and lifting Derek off his feet. He saw Nick and Rachel catch hold of each other, as caught by surprise as he had been, then suddenly Alex was floating towards him, helplessly borne along by the force of the water. He grabbed hold of her, pulling her towards him and holding her tightly. Slowly, gradually, as sense returned to her, he felt her holding him too, and they clung together until the last of the water had gone.
"Alex?" Scrambling back to his feet, Derek pulled his associate upright, still holding her gently. She clung to him, not altogether certain that she wanted to let go.
"Derek... I couldn't get out."
"It's okay." He hugged her fiercely, then suddenly let go and stepped back. "Is everybody okay?"
"We're fine." Soaking wet but looking unhurt, Rachel came into the room. "What's been going on?"
"I'm not sure." Derek examined the hologram. "It seems that our friend has some interesting powers."
"Interesting?!" Indignant, Alex echoed the word, still trying to catch her breath. "Another few minutes and I'd have been dead! The room just filled up with water. It was coming from nowhere."
Rachel put an arm around her friend's shoulders, trying to lend her some support.
"Why?" she asked. "Why Alex? He could have attacked any one of us."
"I saw him." Alex shuddered at the memory. "I saw... I saw Derek downstairs, and those weird white things from the dream. They had faces, horrible faces. Then I saw the old man. He was standing by the door, and his eyes... his eyes were glowing." She glanced up. "He was angry. He didn't want me to see him."
"So it was him. The hooded figure came, but something was stopping me from getting to him." Derek closed his eyes momentarily, trying to think. "It could be that the hooded man is trying to warn us of something, and the old man is trying to stop him. If only we knew who he is!"
"There's no sense in trying to puzzle it out now." Taking charge in her smooth, doctorly way, Rachel began to lead Alex from the room. "We all need some sleep. We can talk about this again in the morning." She glanced back at Derek, who had not moved. "Sleep, Derek. Remember it? You look like you haven't had any in weeks."
"Yes, alright." Obediently he followed her from the room. "You're probably right. We can clear this mess up in the morning." One by one they wandered off down the corridor, heading for their individual rooms. Nick glanced back before he shut his door. He had the strangest feeling that he was being watched, but there was nobody there. He closed the door and wandered back to his bed. Outside in the corridor, the old man watched the doors close, an unpleasant smile on his face; then he faded away into the shadows.
Derek stared at his bed without enthusiasm, then wandered over to the windows to make sure that they were shut. Although it had become a hot night, he needed the windows closed. It was the only indication that he had of an imminent visit. Deciding not to bother with getting dressed, he lay down on his bed fully-clothed, staring up at the ceiling above his head. He felt exhausted, but was sure that he would never sleep. Whenever he closed his eyes he saw the old man waiting for him, and it seemed that whenever he saw the old man, somebody died. He recalled the touch of the ghost-like figures downstairs, and the way that they had felt; so cold and wet. So many innocent people, all killed by this strange old man; and all for apparently no reason at all.
Sleep came, unbidden, and the Legacy Precept, oblivious to the windows swinging open in the sudden wind, began to dream. For once there were no ghostly shapes, and no old man laughing at him. Instead he found himself standing on the bank of the river at his old school. The water was still and slow, with no sign of the dangers hidden within it. He wandered closer to it, trying to see through its murky sluggishness. The sounds of children disturbed his concentration and he turned, seeing four boys running towards the river. Another boy followed them, smaller than they were, and obviously afraid. He was calling to them, but they paid no attention, leaping into the water. Derek cried out to them as well, but they did not react to his presence. Some part of his subconscious told him that it was only a dream, but still he tried to make himself heard. It did no good. The four boys played about on the water's edge, then all at once the surface broke. Ripples began to spread across the water, and the four boys stopped their shouting and stood together in a line on the river bank. The ripples grew, and one by one the boys fell into the water, as if pushed by unseen hands. They shouted for help, fighting against the suddenly choppy water, and the sudden, violent pull of the current. Three of them dragged themselves free, falling over each other in their desire to get as far as possible from the water. The fourth vanished beneath the waves, his hands waving for one brief, desperate moment before he was gone completely. There was a long, deathly silence, and then the waters were still again. The last of the ripples faded away. For a second the three remaining boys stared out at the river, then they turned and ran, leaving only their smaller companion behind. He wandered down to the edge of the water and bent to touch it, as if wondering at its sudden liveliness. Almost immediately he snatched his hand away, sucking on his fingers as though burned. Derek watched him, remembering his actions as clearly as if he were still that small boy. Slowly the pictures faded.
He lay still for a long time, unsure if he was really awake, then slowly sat up. Daylight was flooding through the wide open windows and he wandered towards them, gazing out into the garden. Beyond that was the great expanse of water that separated them from the mainland, and he felt his eyes drawn to it. Something was out there, he was sure of it now. Some great, insatiable hunger. Something that wanted to be fed.
Breakfast was a quiet and subdued affair. Derek sat at one end of the table, a book in front of him, ignoring everybody in his deep concentration. He ate nothing, despite the best efforts of Dominic the butler to encourage him. Finally Alex could stand the suspense no longer. She felt that Derek was being unfairly secretive, especially given her own, unasked for, involvement in the affair. If he had discovered something, she wanted to know what it was.
"Derek?" she asked. He glanced up, his eyes never quite leaving the words on the page. Encouraged by this minor response, she pressed on.
"Have you found something?"
There was silence as an answer, and the others around the tables exchanged glances. Finally Rachel rolled her eyes.
"You know, when Kat went away on her school trip and I decided to stay here for a few days for company... I really needn't have bothered."
Derek smiled, finally tearing his eyes away from the book.
"Sorry. I, er, thought I might have a lead."
"And... I'm not sure. He leant back in his chair, staring at the table, and finally accepted a cup of coffee from Dominic, who reacted as though he had just scaled Mount Everest. Almost immediately the butler, sensing that business talk was about to begin, faded silently from the room, as discreet as always. "I had another dream... but this one was different. It felt different. I may be mistaken of course."
"Share, Derek." Exasperated, Alex caught his gaze and held it, and he gave in.
"Alright. I began to think, what if the old man that I have been seeing is not directly responsible for the deaths. What if he has some other part to play? What if it is the sea that is actually committing these murders?"
"The... sea?" Nick sounded cautious, as though not altogether sure that he had heard correctly. "How could the sea be murdering people?"
"Not the sea itself exactly. Or a river either. What if there is something in them. Something in the water."
"You mean the sea's possessed?" This time there was real disbelief in Nick's voice. Derek was silent for a moment, staring at his associate.
"Perhaps," he said finally, as though not wanting to commit himself. "I can't be sure, not without examining this in more detail. But I have heard of phantom aeroplanes that force other planes from the skies, and there are tales of spirits in the marshes that lead people to their doom by guiding them into the bogs."
"That's hardly the same as suggesting that the water could have been possessed," Rachel pointed out. Derek nodded patiently.
"But I have also heard of larger scale occurrences of a paranormal nature. A friend of mine was in the Royal Air Force for years. One night when he was flying on a solo patrol, he saw the clouds begin to move. They seemed to be alive, and they sucked him in. He was lucky to escape with his life."
"The clouds came to life?" Alex hesitated. "What could... I mean, how?"
"I don't know. Perhaps some powerful spiritual force was able to bend the clouds to its will. Perhaps there is some demonic force which is capable of making the clouds look and act as though they are alive--"
"Or maybe your friend flew into some unexpected bad weather and his plane couldn't cope." Rachel sighed. "I'm sorry, Derek. Ghosts of drowned sailors I can just about swallow, but demonic forces possessing the ocean? I don't think so. Besides, this old man is following you. You saw him at your school. How do you explain that?"
"I can't." Derek shrugged and stood up, heading for the door. "I can't explain the feeling I have. I just... have it." He left. Left behind, the other three shared glances.
"This must have been rougher on him than I realised." Rachel toyed with her coffee cup. "He's getting ideas that are even more far fetched than usual."
"Yeah, but what if he's right." Nick sounded thoughtful. "I mean, a creature that lives in water, maybe even controlling it in any way it chooses. Killing everything it touches."
"And if it can get into sea water and river water, what's to stop it getting into other water as well?" Alex added. "Bath water, or the water you put in your kid's paddling pool. It doesn't bear thinking about." She hesitated, then stood up and hurried off after Derek. After a moment the other two followed.
The pathway up to the old house was cracked and overgrown with weeds. Derek walked slowly along the treacherous piece of ground, avoiding stones and tangled roots. Somewhere overhead a bird screeched angrily and Alex jumped. Derek smiled at her.
"You could have stayed back at the cars with the others."
"I know." She glanced up at the house, with its imposing towers and huge black doors. "But I want to see who lives in this place. Do you know him well?"
"His name is Gerald Boyd. He was a friend of my father's, and a member of the Legacy. He left in 1962."
"Why?" Alex stumbled on a broken piece of pathway, thinking of any number of reasons why a man might choose to leave the Legacy; especially a man who lived in such a creepy house, in virtual seclusion.
"He had his reasons." Derek climbed the loose steps leading to the door and rang the bell. A shower of dust and dead spiders fell out of it, and Alex sneezed.
"It's alright." The door swung open, unassisted, and Derek immediately vanished into the house. "Come on."
Inside, the house was well lit, with paintings and tapestries on the walls. Creaking, heavily laden bookcases were everywhere, standing like silent sentries wherever there was space. Alex glanced around in wonder. The contrast with the outside of the house was almost shocking. Derek grinned at her surprise, and led the way into a large, ornate drawing room. An old man sat on a large, scarlet easy chair, peering at them both over dusty spectacles. He frowned deeply, glaring at the pair.
"What do you want?" he snapped. Derek smiled.
"Forget the act, Gerald. It's Derek Rayne."
"Oh." Jumping to his feet with sudden vitality, the old man threw the glasses aside, his frown disappearing as quickly as his old age. Suddenly he seemed twenty years younger. "It's good to see you, my boy. Well, sort of see you. Actually," the smile vanished, "maybe it's not quite so good. You only come here when you're in trouble." He smiled at Alex. "Another associate?"
"Alex Moreau, Gerald Boyd." Derek wandered to another of the endemic bookcases and examined the spines of some of the books. "We are in trouble, Gerald, yes."
"Then my brains are at your disposal." The old man sat down again, resting his feet up on a heavy, carved wooden footstool. "Speak on."
"An old man. A strange old man who appears when people are about to die. He murders people by drowning them, but I don't think he acts alone. There is also another man; a man in a robe and hood. I think he's trying to warn us, but I can't speak to him. Whenever I try, something happens."
There was a silence. Boyd leaned back in his chair, watching Derek through half closed eyes. Finally he stood up, beginning to pace in a manner so reminiscent of Derek himself that Alex almost laughed.
"The sea is hungry," he whispered to himself. "None may rest until she feeds. None may be safe until the feeding is over."
"What?" Intrigued, Alex gazed at him. He stared back at her, silent and serious for a few moments, and then smiled.
"Sorry, my dear. An old proverb. I discovered it in my readings, years ago. It refers to a time when the sea grows restless, and demands more than its usual share of the dead. It steals people, sucking the life from their bodies and throwing them back onto the land when it has no further use for them." He shivered. "A horrible tale. All the same, I've never gone near the sea since I read of it."
"Then it could be true." Derek stared at the ground. "The old man, and the man in the hood..."
"In 1763 the sea became hungry again. It stole fifteen people from a village on the north east coast, and the locals called for a ghost hunter by the name of Titus Flood. He believed that a demon was living in the sea, controlling its movements, and bringing life into the waves every so often, so that he could drag his victims down into his lair. It fed on their life energy, replenishing its own in the process. Flood tried to exorcise the demon, but instead he was won over by it; he spoke to it, and demanded eternal life in return for letting it live. Only his assistant, a monk by the name of Claude DuBray, knew the truth. He wrote about it in his journals which he then hid. Shortly afterwards, he vanished and was never seen again."
"But the history books say that Flood vanished; that he went riding and was never seen again." Derek frowned. "You're saying he never died?"
"I'm saying what DuBray's journals told me. I found them, and I read them." Boyd clapped his hands together. "Whether you believe them or not is your own choice. If he was telling the truth, I would say that your old man is Titus Flood, and that the man in the robe is Claude DuBray. Flood is here in the service of his demon, and DuBray has come to find someone who will listen to his warnings. I should imagine that a spirit such as his would find it difficult to rest, under the circumstances."
"But Flood speaks to me. He spoke of a waiting; and whatever demon he may serve, it is not confined to the oceans." Derek leaned back in his chair, thinking aloud rather than speaking directly to either Boyd or Alex. "He was there when some boys were drowned at my old school, years ago. That was in a river."
"Perfectly possible." Boyd sat down opposite Derek, looking earnest. "My guess would be that when the hunger is strongest, the demon can reach up rivers. Perhaps it needs a particular kind of person; perhaps the innocence and purity of a child is necessary to it at certain times." He frowned. "But you, Derek. Why it would be interested in you, I don't know. Perhaps it sees something in you that would be useful to it. I would be extremely careful, if I were you." He sighed. "Of course, this is all just hearsay. I have no idea how much of it is true."
"I'm inclined to think rather a lot." Derek stood, wandering over to the window. "I feel things about this case. Clear things. I know there is something more to this than a malevolent spirit."
"Then you have to follow your feelings, don't you. It's why you were given them." Boyd sighed, long and deep. "I can't help you. All I can tell you is that, if you believe in this demon, it's not something that you can fight in the usual way. It can't be exorcised, and it can't be killed. It's not alive, so it can't die. "
"Then what can we do?" Alex asked. Boyd smiled up at her.
"Pray?" he asked. "I'm sorry. My days fighting demons are long gone. All that I do now is read about them, and try to teach those who seek to face them."
"It's alright, Gerald." Derek smiled. "We'll think of something."
"We have to." Alex shivered, thinking of whatever it was that might be waiting, far out to sea; or maybe not so far out, which was a good deal worse.
"I agree." Boyd nodded hard. "How many has it taken, since it became hungry again?"
"Thirteen, that we know of," Derek told him. Boyd nodded sagely.
"And when was its last hunger?"
"I last saw the old man - Flood - about thirty years ago. I don't think he has been back since then. I think I would have known about it, if he had."
"Thirty years. It feeds more and more as time goes by." Gerald shook his head. "DuBray's journals say that he thought that the time between feedings grew less over the centuries. He believed that there had been a time when hundreds of years could go by between times, but if it's only waiting thirty years now, it must be gaining strength. The time will come soon, when it no longer needs to rest between times. It will be hungry all the time."
"Then we have to stop it now." Derek headed out of the door, pausing only to throw a smile back at Boyd. "Thankyou Gerald. I will try not to leave it so long next time."
"Next time come for a social visit, Derek." Boyd smiled, watching them leave through saddened eyes.
"Weird guy," Alex commented as they left the house. Derek nodded.
"We are all a little weird, in the eyes of strangers," he told her. "Gerald is a little eccentric perhaps, but when all other avenues have been explored, he's willing to help the Legacy." He frowned down at her. "He left because his fiancée was killed by the demons he was trying to exorcise. He never forgave himself for not being able to save her."
"Then you trust him. You believe what he told us?"
"Oh yes, I believe him." Derek's concentration was trailing away, leading him into deep thought. "I just wish that I knew what Flood meant when he told me that he is the one who waits."
"Ask him." Alex smiled, relieved when Derek smiled back. He had been so caught up in this affair for the last day or so that she had begun to doubt that she would ever see him relaxed again. The visit to Gerald Boyd only seemed to have increased his tension and unease.
Back at his house, Boyd wandered to a window to watch his guests leave. He smiled at them, pleased to have had some visitors to break up the monotony of his seclusion. It was a hard life, he mused, when you hated both company and solitude. Abandoning his thoughts, he went to the kitchen, beginning to fill his kettle from the tap. Water swirled into the sink as the kettle overflowed, and he watched it, fascinated. It was easy to believe that it was alive, the way that it moved and the way that it was so impossible to ever truly tame. It was with only the smallest amount of surprise that he saw the water rise up in a sheet that erupted from the tap. He took a step back, but the water was faster, and he could do nothing at all as the swirling mass crashed down upon him. He fought for a last, desperate breath, but reached nothing but water. His last thought before the water sucked his life away was that Derek Rayne would probably be next.
Just as Derek and Alex reached the cars, Derek stopped short, staring back at the house. Somewhere inside himself he could hear an old man laughing. Sorrow flooded through him.
"What's wrong?" he heard Rachel ask him, but for a second he could not answer.
"Gerald." He turned away, walking to his car. If he was right about what had just happened, there was nothing that he could do anyway. "We have to get to the beach."
"Why?" Alex climbed into the car beside him, and he frowned at her for a moment.
"That's the best way to confront this creature."
"But we have no way to fight it. No way to kill it. We can't just go there and face it like this."
"We have no choice." He rubbed his eyes, unable to explain fully. He could only hope that with her own psychic powers, she would trust his instincts. He knew that this was the right thing to do, although he had no idea how or why he was so sure. "I am the key to this, we know that. So I have to go to the beach."
"You were there yesterday and nothing happened," she pointed out. He nodded.
"But that was yesterday. That was before what happened last night. Flood has brought the battle to us now. He has ceased to play with us. I think the time is right."
"Then you do believe that the old man is Titus Flood?"
There was a silence.
"I don't know what else to believe. This is the only lead we have. If Gerald was wrong, then we are still floundering, and we have no way to go from here."
"If you ask me we're still floundering." Alex fastened her seat belt as the car engine started up. "Still, I suppose we have to do something. I don't relish the idea of never daring to take another bath." She smiled at the welcome sound of Derek's laugh, but the smile soon faded from her lips. The way things were going, that might be the last time she heard it.
The beach was deserted, with the warning flags still fluttering in the breeze. The four Legacy members stood in a row, gazing out to sea, each of them wondering at what exactly it was that was out there. What might be waiting for them, ready to pounce.
"Now what?" Nick asked. Derek knelt near the surf and splashed at the water with his fingers.
"We wait," he said. A low laugh answered him.
"The waiting is nearly over," a voice told them, and they turned as one. Alex recognised the old man that she had seen in her vision the night before. He looked even more unpleasant in the flesh - if it could be called that - although she found it a relief that his eyes were now normal.
"Flood." Derek walked towards him, careful not to get too close. He had no desire to touch the man's burning skin again. For a second anger showed on the old man's face, then he controlled it and it was gone.
"You know who I am," he said lightly. "No matter. But what else do you know?"
"I know that you're a madman who was prepared to abandon all that he had ever fought for, for the sake of eternal life. An egotistical fool who allows his own kind to be destroyed by a creature of unspeakable evil." The Precept's fists clenched and unclenched. Flood smiled.
"You have been busy," he replied blandly. "Gerald Boyd, I suppose. But then, he won't be making that mistake again." His smile broadened. "It won't help you, you know. The sea is hungry again, and your three friends are just what it's looking for. Then it'll go back to sleep. Next time when it returns it'll be here to stay."
"Not if I have anything to say about it." Nick drew his gun. Its presence reassured him, even if it was no good against this strange old man. Flood laughed.
"You won't," he told the Legacy man, amusement clearly evident alongside the usual contempt in his tone. "You'll be long dead, I assure you." He smiled at Derek. "And you, my friend, will have taken my place."
"Your place?" Confused, Derek frowned. Flood seemed happy to explain.
"I was given my immortality at a price, Derek. I had to remain with the sea until a replacement could be found. For more than two hundred years I've waited, and now I've found my successor. You."
"You can't be serious. I would never serve that."
"You're assuming you have a choice. It needs someone. A focus, through which to channel its powers, so that it can take the lives it needs from onshore. You should feel honoured, It's not everybody who gets a shot at eternal life."
"It's not everybody who wants it." Derek turned away, thinking about the Bible in his car. Admittedly he was not Philip, but in his absence they could all do what they could. Flood laughed again, seeming delighted with the animosity in the air.
"You're already marked, Derek. The sea already knows that you're the one. Any moment now it'll come for you and your friends. They'll die. You won't." He pointed at Derek's hands. They were glowing again, the red, flaming marks from his contact with Flood's skin burning with a pain that was intense. He could see through the swirling redness now, to see the shapes beneath. Symbols, like those of runes, were burned onto his skin, branded as a signal to the demon in the depths. He turned, slowly, and gazed out to sea. The waves were getting up. One rose above the others, huge and powerful, gathering strength and speed as it lifted itself up. The foam at its crest seemed to be filled with the screaming, crying faces that he had seen in his dreams. The same ghostly, white faces which had surrounded him in the house the previous night. He took a step back.
"Get away!" He shouted, pushing the others further up the beach.
"You can't run, Derek," Flood shouted to him. Derek ignored the man, running back towards the road. He saw the wave engulf the beach, saw Flood disappear beneath it, and stumbled with the others out of the water's reach. They gasped for breath, gazing down to where the foaming, raging water had engulfed the beach completely, rising up intermittently to snatch at them, with long fingers of water. The spray drenched them.
"Now what?" Nick asked, sending a few optimistic shots into the sea.
"We can't outrun it." Derek watched as the waves beneath them grew bigger. Soon it would break free of its confines altogether, and engulf the road as well. He didn't like to think what would happen then.
"We can't just stand here!" Backing away, Rachel stared first at the water, then at Derek. "We have to do something."
"We can hope." The wind was beginning to get up, and Derek gazed into it, ignoring the grit and the salty spray which was swept into his eyes. He was looking for something. Something that he had been looking for for some time. It came eventually, a dark, slow shape, walking towards them out of nothingness.
"DuBray!" Alex pointed, shouting above the waves. The robed figure came closer, its face still hidden by its heavy hood. Derek took a step forward to meet it, aware as he did so that the water was now beginning to swirl about his feet. A long tendril of seawater caught at Rachel's ankle and she gasped, breaking free and jumping out of the way.
"He's gonna help us?" Nick asked. Derek did not answer. Instead he walked onwards, stopping when he was directly in front of the hooded man. The figure reached out his hands and Derek took them. Together they disappeared.
"Derek!" Running forward, Alex stared about. She could see nothing, no trace of either man. Nick and Rachel joined her, shouting together for their leader, but no answer came. A crash of waves startled them, and they glanced back towards the beach. The waves were beginning to crash against the hard surface of the road now, and they could see that it would be only a matter of time before they were over run by the tide.
"Quickly!" Nick led the way to the nearest of the two cars, pushing the women inside. He climbed in after them and slammed the door, locking it. Almost immediately the car began to rock.
"You think we'll be safe in here?" Rachel asked. Nick stared out of the windshield, hoping that this model was as watertight as the manufacturers claimed. Somehow he didn't think that he would have much chance to sue if they were lying.
"It'll give us a bit of time," he said, trying to sound certain. "I'm hoping Derek will be back by then."
"If he's coming back." Rachel regretted her words almost before she said them, but was unable to prevent them from coming out. "What if the man in the robe isn't trying to help us?"
"Then we're dead," Nick told her, with brutal honesty. Silenced by the realisation of their own helplessness, then huddled together to watch the waves.
"Where are we?" Derek looked about, but could see only emptiness.
"Beyond." DuBray stared at him from under the heavy material of his hood. The Precept still could not see anything of what was beneath.
"You know how to defeat the creature?" he asked. DuBray was silent.
"It can't be killed," he said, his voice soft and sad. "It was here before mankind walked this Earth, and it will be here after we have left. But it can be stopped."
"By banishment to the deepest regions of the ocean. Where it was before it developed a taste for human lives, and where it returns between feedings."
"How? How can I do this?" Urgency strong in his voice, Derek pressed the ghostly monk for his assistance. DuBray regarded him in silence.
"It is dangerous. In order to banish the creature, it is necessary for you to be within it. It is waiting for you. You must go to it." Speaking in a slow, thoughtful voice, he peppered his speech with further silences. "It will not take your life, but it may take your soul." He was silent again. It appeared that his powers were limited, which presumably explained why it had been so easy for Flood to prevent him from making contact earlier. DuBray obviously found it hard to maintain his manifestations for any length of time, which made speaking difficult. "Only the one who has been waited for can survive within the creature for long enough to banish it. And you have been waited for for a long time. They knew you were coming long before you were born.You can give the creature more than a hundred Floods ever could."
"And that is why Samuel Tayford and Alistair Walsh died." Derek thought about the reputation held by the river at his school. The creature and his faithful servant must have visited regularly, waiting and watching, and grabbing the other lives that they needed while they were there. He remembered swimming in the river himself as a boy, and never suspecting what was behind the phantom currents. It was nearly enough to make him shiver. DuBray nodded.
"Them, and others. Flood was tired of waiting, and wanted to keep going back to look, and the creature needed feeding every time. Flood wanted his freedom, but the creature was more patient."
"What happens when I go to the sea? What happens to Flood?" The thought worried Derek. The idea of an immortal soul wandering the world in search of his former master did not appeal to him.
"Flood believes he has been waiting all these years for his freedom; that he will be allowed to return to the land of the living once he has delivered his replacement to the sea. That will never happen. He was lied to."
"Then he's dead? Like you?"
"Just like me. The creature has been sucking him dry all these years. Once it has you, it will have no further use for him. He can be sent to hell." There was a sudden venom in the monk's voice. "Just as he deserves."
"Fine. Then I have to go." Derek squared his shoulders. "I know what I have to do. Are my friends still safe?"
"For now. For how long... who can tell." DuBray pointed at him. "Good luck." Smoke began to rise. Suddenly and inexplicably cold, Derek found himself standing by the roadside. He saw the swirling, crashing sea, and saw his friends in their car, being buffetted about by the waves. He ran forward. Somewhere above the noise of the water, he thought that he heard someone calling his name, but then all at once there was nothing but the sea.
Waves lifted him up, carrying far, far up into the air. Long fingers of water rose up around him, wrapping themselves around his arms and his neck. He saw a spear of sea water hanging in the air above him, and felt it flow through him, filling him with the life force of the creature within the waves. Fire and electricity seemed to burn within it, raging, screaming and thundering about him. He raised his head, staring deep within the waves, and fancying that somewhere amidst all that churning blueness, he saw a pair of flaming red eyes, watching.
"In the name of the Father," he began, his voice slow and steady, and choked by the sea. "In the name of the most Holy Deity, I command you to leave this place." Around him he felt the water rising in temperature, and his glowing hands began to burn. "Be gone from this world, and return to the depths. I command you to leave!" A huge wave crashed down on top of him, and he felt himself sinking. Panic burst in his chest and he struggled for the surface, not knowing where it lay. It was with relief that he suddenly found himself breaking free above the waves, fighting against the long fingers of water that still tried to drag him down into the depths.
"Go," he spluttered, battling for breath. "All that is Holy demands it. Go!" With a roar of rage, the sea swamped him again, hurling him into the air and raging beneath him. He heard a screaming which surrounded him, hurting his head and chilling his blood, then he was lying on the beach, and the sea had gone. He raised his head, weak and exhausted. Voices carried to him, borne by the wind, and he stood up, turning to meet his friends. They looked shaken from their mad ride in the car, and he could tell, even at this distance, that it was not likely to see road duty again. Alex flung her arms around him, and this time neither of them pulled away, for a few moments at least.
"Has it gone?" Rachel asked. Derek nodded.
"Into the depths, for what it's worth. It can't come back."
"I'm not sorry." Alex smiled, turning to gaze out towards the horizon. A sea gull swooped low over the water, snatching a fish from just below the surface. It was a ridiculously normal sight, but a hugely welcome one.
"What has happened to me?" The voice was soft, but filled with anger. "What have you done to me?"
As one the four Legacy members turned. A figure rose up from the rocks beside the surf, standing challengingly where the water swirled in foaming lace.
"What have you done?"
"What-?" Horror-stricken, Rachel stared at the figure, unable to summon any more than that one, faltering syllable. The figure was a skeleton, dressed in the hanging, tangled rags of soaking clothes. Empty eye sockets flashed with unearthly light, and scraps of burnt and blackening flesh clung to its skull and its battered rib cage. It raised a hand, pointing at Derek and the others.
"You'll pay for this." Slowly it began to advance.
"No, Titus." Appearing from out of nowhere, Claude DuBray stood between the four and the vengeful Flood. "It's over. You were lied to by the creature. You have looked like that for more than two hundred years."
"Be quiet." Flood advanced still further, reaching out for the monk. "What do you know? I killed you with my own hands."
"But you were already dead." DuBray pulled the hood back from his face, revealing that he was no more than a blackened skeleton, just like Flood. "The creature gave you the illusion of life that helped you to serve its purpose. You died before I did. It never planned to let you go."
"No!" In a burst of rage, Flood grabbed DuBray by the arms. His eyes blazed with hot, intense white light, and his hands flamed. DuBray screamed, then crashed to the ground. His robe caught fire, burning for one brief, violent second; then his rotted, skeletal form exploded in a mighty flash, the pieces of blacked bone vanishing into nothingness.
"And now you'll pay." Flood began to advance again, but Derek and the others stepped forward to meet him.
"Now it is time for you to pay," Derek told him. "It's over, Flood. It's time for you to go to hell. They are waiting for you there."
"No. This is my world. I am to have eternal life!" Enraged, Flood reached out for him, but the others were quicker.
"Get out of here, Flood," Nick told him.
"In the name of the Father," Alex added.
"And of the Son," put in Rachel, stepping forward.
"And of the Holy Ghost," finished Nick. Flood froze, staring from one to the others in turn. Red lights began to flash and explode around him. Fire ignited the sand at his feet, and he stared down at it, fascinated and horrified.
"I will come back," he spat furiously, unable to fight against the powers that were already beginning to drag him downwards, into the Earth. "I will come back."
"I don't think so," Derek told him, although he would have liked to have been more sure. The ground began to rumble. Flood stared up at him, spitting flame, his eyes burning with rage. Finally, with a last, desperate scream, he vanished, and the beach was quiet again. Derek stared down at the glass formed by the intense heat of Flood's departure.
"Peace at last," he muttered to himself. He felt Alex taking one of his hands.
"The marks are gone," she said, sounding relieved. He glanced down and saw that she was right.
"So they are."
"Then that's it." Nick sounded deeply satisfied, pleased with another job well done. "Great. Just in time for lunch, too. I'm starving."
"I'll ask Dominic to make you some fish," Derek told him, and Nick winced.
"Thanks, but I'm through with sea food for a while. Nothing puts you off it like nearly becoming it."
They turned and began to walk back up the beach, heading for their remaining car. It looked nearly as battered as the other one, but a little more serviceable. As they reached the road, Alex looked back out to sea.
"It's still out there, isn't it," she said. Derek nodded, putting his arm around her shoulders.
"Yes, it is. But it can't come back. It will remain out there, dormant, like it was before the dawn of time. It won't be getting any more human lives to feed on." He smiled down at her. "Come on. We have things to do back at the house."
"Yeah..." Hanging back for a brief second to watch the wheeling sea birds, she followed the others to the car.
Titus Flood was a respected ghost hunter who dedicated his life to helping those innocents that had been persecuted by the dead and the undead. Sitting alone at his desk, Derek stared at his journal, wondering how to put his thoughts into words. Thinking hard, he continued writing. Eventually he found himself corrupted by all that he had tried to make a stand against, and he was turned into all that he had hated. It is hard to say what can make a man do such a thing; to betray mankind for the sake of personal gain; but in the end it was him who was betrayed, by the very powers which had corrupted him. It may be that we can all learn from this; or perhaps the lesson is that we shall never learn. There will always be men like Titus Flood. And there will always be the need for the Legacy, to fight them, and to see that the darkness does not prevail.
As Derek put his pen down and turned to leave his office, several thousand miles away a diving bell dropped slowly down into the depths of the Mariana Trench. The three scientists on board gazed eagerly out of the windows, studying their instruments and chattering together in excitement. They saw the two red eye-like lights which glowed in the darkness of the water, and they wondered at their origin; then the sea began to bubble and they watched in horror as water started to seep into the chamber.
"Get on the radio!" one of the men shouted, but as one of his colleagues reached for the microphone, a tendril of water wrapped itself around his wrist, pulling him back. There was a brief churning and raging of water and foam; then the diving bell sunk slowly down to the sea bed, its three lifeless occupants slumped together in its airtight chamber. The sea would always be hungry.