THE KNIFE OF THE SEVEN
Scotland looked good in the summer. The sun was bright and everywhere seemed to be green and quiet. Empty. Derek Rayne grinned, staring out at the horizon with a feeling of deep pleasure. It felt good to get away for a while. He had been absorbed in his Legacy work for eighteen months without respite, but had finally bowed to the pressure from his associates. Even a Rayne couldn't keep going forever without a break of some kind.
Although he had at first been uncertain as to whether or not joining the Legacy was a good idea, Derek had not looked back. He had spent a long time searching for meaning in his life after the death of his father, and now, at last, he seemed to have found a direction. The Legacy offered him challenges aplenty, as well as the chance to fight for something that counted. He had been introduced to a whole side of existence that he had hardly been aware of in the past; a world where evil fought against good, and where the forces of the night had to be held in check. There were not many anthropologists who spent the better part of their days helping to exorcise malevolent spirits, or fighting blood-crazed demons. But then, Derek reflected, there were not many young boys who saw their fathers murdered by unknown forces summoned from who knew where. It was really only a surprise to him that he had taken as long as he did to come to his final decision. Where else was there for him but the Legacy? Where else could a man with such potent psychic powers turn? Derek Rayne was only twenty-five, but he already knew that his course in life was set.
"Penny for them?" The voice caught him by surprise, and he glanced up towards it. A woman had come from nowhere and stood beside him, gazing out at the horizon. By her accent he surmised that she was a local, probably from the nearby village.
"Oh… I was just thinking."
"That's what everybody does round here." She laughed. "We breed thinkers in these parts. Obviously attract them too."
"It's nice to know I'm not alone." Dusting off his hands, Derek climbed out of his excavation trench. "Derek Rayne. I'm here for the archaeology, I'm afraid. Not necessarily the thinking."
"Archaeologist?" She looked interested. "So's my father. He'll be glad there's somebody come out here. He's been studying this place for years, but could never interest anybody else in it."
"Really? I'm surprised; but I'm not an archaeologist, I'm an anthropologist. I am the head of the Rayne Foundation, set up to look into issues of public interest, concerning historical artefacts. I heard that you had some interesting ruins in these parts."
"The Rayne Foundation? I think I've heard of that. Never in Britain though."
"We're expanding." He grinned. "I'd like to talk to your father. If he is serious about developing the archaeological work being done around here we could arrange for him to get a grant." He frowned, realising that the woman was smiling in amusement. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. But you don't relax much, do you." She laughed. "Sorry. It's a wonderful offer, and you really should talk to my father; but I'm afraid I'm not much involved in these things myself. I'm a scientist, not an historian."
"In my experience there are no other two subjects better suited as a combination." Derek gestured at the excavation. "That is the past. Science is the present. Together they make the future."
"Good point." She smiled. "Come on. I'm going to have to introduce you to my father. We run the boarding house in the valley just outside of the village. Where are you staying?"
"A few miles away. A farmhouse."
"You're staying with the Grahams?" She laughed. "They'll charge you a fortune and refuse to cook you breakfast. Come and stay with us. I won't hear a refusal."
"Sure. Thankyou." He grinned. "But I don't often eat breakfast anyway, so it really doesn't matter."
"Well I'd still be glad of the company. If you come the average age of our guests will be lowered by about fifty years."
"Then it's a deal. I make it a point never to refuse a plea for assistance." They both laughed. "Can I show you the excavations?"
"Why not? I might learn something." She smiled, and took his hand to assist herself down into the trench. "What's this bit here?"
"Building work of some kind. I'll have to look closer to find out for sure, but it's probably some kind of altar. Something religious."
"How can you tell?"
"The site, the locality. Plus the sort of items I have been finding around here. All point to early religion; pre-Christianity of course."
"Of course. There were a lot of Pagans around here. My father used to try to scare me with tales of them when I was a child. All the usual; terrifying rituals and bloody sacrifices. Human sacrifices, naturally."
"Naturally. What good story is without one?" Derek pointed something out, half buried in soil. "This is probably the surface of the altar, here."
"Do you think it was used for human sacrifices?" she asked him, with a touch of relish. He laughed.
"Maybe. You can never be sure with these ancient religions. Accounts vary so much. Early Christians made the Pagans out to be evil people who liked to sacrifice children and pretty maidens, but other contemporary accounts are much more sympathetic."
"I prefer the bloodthirsty stuff."
He smiled. "Well I suppose it does make better bedtime reading. All the same, there are a lot of terrible stories which are quite likely to be true. You know the sorts of thing that the Aztecs got up to."
"Yes. Wonderfully gory." She grinned at him. "I'm a sucker for a good bit of human sacrifice."
"You would love some of the artefacts my father collected," Derek told her. She looked interested.
"Let's just say that he had a predilection for all things dark and nasty."
"Jolly good. Next time I'm anywhere near Rayne HQ I'll look you up." She stretched. "Sorry. I really ought to be getting home. Do you want a hand moving your stuff to my father's place?"
"No thankyou. I travel light, there isn't much stuff. I will be with you as soon as possible; I must cover all of this over first."
"There's no real rush. We keep late hours." She climbed out of the trench. "Bring something interesting with you. You can entertain father. He'd love to try and teach you your job."
"Certainly. Goodbye for now."
"Goodbye, Derek." She hurried away, soon vanishing down the mountain slope. Derek scrambled out of his trench. It was growing deep, and he had got a lot of work done in the last few days. Nothing especially interesting, but all extremely fulfilling. He grabbed the sheet of canvas that lay a few yards away, rolled up and weighted down with stones. He put it over the trench and hammered a few tent pegs into the ground to keep it secure.
"That should hold you," he muttered to the excavations, idly chastising himself for talking to inanimate objects. "We'll see what we can find in the morning." He turned around and walked over to the pile of items he had already uncovered. A clay pot of some kind, mostly broken but still just about recognisable; a few beads made from wood, with a few marks of dye still visible on them; and a knife. The latter was small, with a long, broad blade and a handle that showed evidence of flamboyant decoration, although most of it was worn away. He toyed with it, looking at the workmanship, and trying to decide what the knife had once been used for. You could never be sure with an ancient knife. Even the smallest and most innocent of blades might have some kind of unpleasant history. He remembered the talk with his guest, the thought of human sacrifice making his blood run cold. He had enjoyed such tales himself once, before he had entered the family business. One thing that the Legacy did for you was to cure you of a liking for cheap tales of horror. There was far too much of the real thing waiting for a member every time he or she started a new case.
"I think you could do with a clean," he told the knife and tossed it into the air, watching it spin before he caught it again. "Definitely a little too rusty." He grinned. "Must have been all that blood." He threw it into the air again, but as he did so, a cold shiver ran down his back. He shuddered. The knife spun down towards his hand, and he reached out to grab it, an odd, familiar feeling of light-headedness coming over him. The knife touched his palm and everything changed.
He was standing on a hillside, with a light wind blowing through his hair. Beneath him, in a valley, he could see a circle of stones, surrounding a large slab which could only be an altar. A girl lay on the slab, bound by ropes on her ankles and wrists. The wind whipped at her long, brown hair, and the sound of its wailing hid her own. Derek could see the distress on her face, but the people surrounding her seemed immune to it. They stood in a circle, holding hands, chanting words that were lost in the growing wind. Thunder rolled around the hills, and Derek saw the rain landing around him; large drops that sent spray back up into the air. He felt none of it, remaining dry despite the downpour. lightning split open the sky overhead, and he flinched instinctively, hearing the thunder crashing closer. One of the people in the valley broke away from the circle and raised their arms into the air. A jagged streak of lightning provided a burst of brightness which reflected off the blade held in the person's hand. Derek shouted, but the thunder drowned his words. He could not even hear them himself. He began to run; faster and faster until he was slipping on the wet grass, losing his footing on the treacherous ground. He fell and began to roll down the slope, hurtling down, unable to stop himself. He heard the thunder crashing around him, heard the cries of the girl becoming clearer as he came closer; but confusion welled up within him. He no longer knew where he was. The world whirled about him, spinning madly as he fell, rocks and thistles impacting sharply with his body. Breathless, he was unaware of when his wild descent came to an end. All was black.
On the mountainside by the excavation trench, an old man stood among the trees, watching. He had been hidden in his vantage point for some time. He had seen the young stranger dig up the old, rusted knife; had seen the girl stop to talk to him. He had whispered words of old Gaelic to himself when the man had begun to play with his finding. Now, alone on the mountain, the old man came out of hiding and stood looking down at the stranger. The young man lay on his back, still and silent, his breathing almost imperceptible. He was unconscious; oblivious to all. Even the rain did not disturb him as it began to fall around him, faster and faster until the ground was awash. Thunder rolled about in the sky above, and the old man pulled his coat closer around his shoulders and walked away. Left alone, Derek did not move, and the thunder rolled closer.
San Francisco, Present Day
The rain lashed the windows, making the glass rattle in its housing as though it were desperate to break free. All about was dark, and the rustling of the tree branches on the windows made strange, anxious noises, as though the trees were desperate to get inside, out of the storm. Rachel Corrigan, doctor, psychiatrist and Legacy member, wrapped her arms tightly around her body, staring out of the dining room window as far into the wild night as she could see.
"Glad you decided to stay here?" a voice asked her. She turned, smiling at Alex Moreau.
"Yes, definitely. Imagine trying to get across to the mainland in this, or even just driving on the freeway. Ugh." She shivered. "Of course, I can't say that I enjoy the power cut in particular."
"One things you can always count on Derek for, and that's that he'll be prepared for an emergency." Alex held up a box of candles. "You should see the cellar. If this storm goes on, we may all starve to death, but we certainly won't be lacking in candles." She lit one, handing it to Rachel. "It could be kind of romantic, were there anybody to be romantic with." Rachel laughed.
"What's Derek doing?"
"Huh. What's Derek always doing when the night is cold, dark and spooky, and we're lit solely by flickering and eerie candle flames?" Despite her mock frustration, Alex smiled. "He's translating some scroll about witchcraft and ancient ritual. Just the title was enough to give me nightmares."
"That's why you're not the Precept." Rachel sat down on one of the chairs and stifled a yawn. "I'm never going to get to sleep with this racket going on outside. It sounds as if the storm is trying to get in here with us."
"I wouldn't be surprised if it did." Alex took a chair near to Rachel and gazed speculatively into her candle flame. "Sometimes the way that the wind blows around this building…"
"Tell me about it." Smiling ruefully, Rachel looked torn halfway between nervousness and her usual scepticism. "It's not always easy to believe that rustling leaves are just that."
"Don't I know it. Sometimes I could swear that I can hear ghosts tap-dancing on the roof." Alex grinned, and Rachel smiled back.
"Don't tell Derek that. He'll have us up there looking for them." She looked up sharply at the sound of a door slamming upstairs. "That didn't sound like the wind."
"Only Derek and Kat are upstairs." Alex was halfway to her feet before the sound of light footsteps on the stairs came towards them. The door burst open and Katherine Corrigan, Rachel's daughter, ran into the room. She went straight to her mother, her small form looking pale and forlorn.
"Hey, what's this?" Rachel pulled back. "You're not usually scared of a little thunder and lightning."
"This isn't thunder and lightning." Kat was shivering. "It keeps talking to me. I don't like it here, Mom. Can we go home?"
"Home? In this?" Rachel shook her head. "I don't think so. Just calm down, Kat." She frowned. "What were you reading before bed?"
"A book Derek gave me. About witches and ghosts." Kat frowned back, her expression carrying the same fierce determination that Rachel used, when trying to bring some rationale back into what she saw as one of their Precept's more wild imaginings. "I wasn't having nightmares, Mom. This is different."
"She may be right. I've been feeling strangely cold all evening." As if to prove her point, Alex shivered a little. Rachel rolled her eyes.
"Of course she is right." Derek Rayne, Head of the San Francisco Legacy House, wandered into the room with his usual look of undefined mystery. "This is not a natural storm."
"It's a storm!" Exasperated, Rachel stood up, walking over to the window. She pulled back the curtains all the way, gesturing at the wild scene beyond the glass. "Thunder and lightning; first grade science."
"Rachel…" Derek pulled the curtains closed again, putting a soft hand on Kat's shoulder. She pressed against him. "Try and understand, please."
"I understand perfectly." Rachel drew Kat towards her. "And I'd be obliged if you didn't give Kat books that are going to keep her awake all night imagining that she can hear voices. She has to go to school tomorrow."
"You heard the voices?" Sitting down so that he was on eye-level with the young girl, Derek leaned towards her. "Where were they? What did you hear?"
"They were outside the window. I couldn't hear what they were saying." She sounded reluctant. "It sounded angry and upset, and--"
"Kat, enough." Rachel put her arms around her daughter. "You were dreaming. You can stay down here tonight, if you'd like, but no more about voices, okay?"
"I wasn't dreaming, Mom. I wasn't even asleep." The small girl looked up at Derek. "They were trying to talk to me."
"Yes, I know." The Precept caught Rachel's eye and abandoned his previous line of conversation. "Why don't you go and sit down in the front room? There are plenty of candles in there, and I think Nick is trying to fix up the secondary generator to run the TV. He may have got it working by now."
"Okay." Immediately seeming much happier, Kat ran off. Rachel watched her go, her expression one of frustration.
"Derek, do you have to put these ideas into her head? She's only little."
"Perhaps the spirit world does not know that." He sighed, a little exasperated by her difficulty to believe in the things her eyes refused to see. "Come into the other room, both of you. I think we have to talk."
"Alright." Sounding as though she had no intention of listening to him unless he had something sensible to say, Rachel led the way to the front room. Nick had just succeeded in getting the television to work, and was settling down in front of the highlights of the day's football. Kat was already curled up on the settee, watching the sporting action with large, round eyes.
"Hey guys. Am I a genius or what?" Nick threw himself into a chair, gazing at the screen appreciatively. "Er... are we being serious now?"
"Perhaps, a little." Derek sat down near to Kat, and she moved instinctively towards him. There was a link between the pair which had bothered Rachel at first, although she had no idea why.
"It's the storm." Alex went to the windows, peering out between the curtains. The heating was still on, but she felt cold nonetheless, and was more than willing to accept Derek's suggestion that there was something peculiar about the weather. She had not heard the voices, but she could feel their presence.
"Predictable enough, I guess, since I was just getting comfortable." Nick sighed, turning the volume right down, but leaving the television on. "Okay, Derek. What's up?"
"Kat has been hearing things." Having so recently sat down, Derek immediately stood up, beginning to pace. "I think this may have something to do with the sudden deterioration of the weather that we witnessed earlier today."
"It's a storm, Derek. They do happen, even if the weathermen don't see them coming."
"Yes Rachel, I know that." Sounding as infinitely patient as ever, Derek nodded towards her, conceding her point. "Has anybody seen the news today?"
"No." Alex leant against the windows, arms folded. "Why?"
"A ceremonial knife was stolen from the Lincoln Museum of Anthropology, in Los Angeles last night." Derek looked thoughtful. "It was a broad bladed weapon, about nine inches long, the blade about six and a half inches. It would have been used in ancient ritual sacrifice; probably animals, and I think humans as well."
"Human sacrifice? Ugh." Kat shivered. Rachel sighed.
"Maybe you'd better go back to bed."
"On my own?" Kat shook her head. "No way. It's cold up there, and the voices might come back."
"It's alright, Rachel." Derek smiled down at her. "Kat is not afraid by my stories, are you Kat?"
"No." She grinned, showing a typically gruesome relish in any story involving blood. "We just did about human sacrifice in school. The Aztecs used to cut the beating hearts out of their sacrifices, and--"
"Thankyou…" Hiding a smile, Rachel glanced back up at Derek. "Okay, carry on. My daughter is far more gruesome than you're likely to be."
"You know a lot about this knife, Derek," Nick observed, cutting into the conversation in his usual, pondering way. "Do you know the museum?"
"A little. The knife I know well. I picked it up on an archaeological expedition in Scotland some years ago, when I was over there on a holiday. I donated it to the Lincoln Museum, because I disliked having it here, with me."
"Bad vibes, huh?" Alex asked, sounding understanding. Derek nodded, although she could tell that there was something more to his dislike of the object than a mere feeling.
"I had a vision concerning the knife. I saw a girl, being sacrificed by Druid priests. The following morning a girl was found murdered. There were… ritualistic elements to the killing." He shrugged. "From then onwards, the presence of the knife was a source of discomfort. Almost continual images of sacrifice, the sounds of screaming. It was horrible, but it was just visions. I could not see anything that might have been of any use in discovering the girl's killers."
"What did you do?" Nick asked. Derek stared at him silently before answering.
"I left the investigation to the local Legacy House, and went back home. What else could I do?" He looked at the ground for a few moments. "The night of the murder was October 24th."
"That's today's date." Rachel frowned. "You don't really think that the murder of some girl however many years ago is in anyway connected to a storm outside our windows today. Do you? Come on, Derek…"
"All avenues have to be explored." He smiled at her, evidently amused by her disbelief. "Humour me, Rachel? The police believed the murder to be the work of a madman; a psychotic killer who had struck entirely at random. There were certain things about the death, however… Certain things that made me suspicious. The girl was laid out on the ground, arranged as though by an expert. Her heart had been removed, and was not in evidence anywhere. Why would anybody remove a heart, and take it away with them? What possible reason could there be for such an action?"
"If it was a madman, there wouldn't need to be any reason for it. It could all be entirely illogical." Alex frowned. "What makes you so sure that it wasn't just some nut?"
"Because the heart was removed by an expert. The cuts were made with surgical precision, by a knife blade honed to a fine edge. It would have to have been immensely sharp. I cannot believe that a psychotic killer would act with such expertise and forethought. It just does not ring true. In America maybe, but not in some tiny, out of the way place in the Scottish Highlands. Added to that is the vision I had that night; at about the approximate time of the murder itself. The vision was of ritual and sacrifice."
"But you said yourself that the vision came form the knife you found. Why should that have anything to do with the girl's murder? It was just a coincidence that it happened at the same time." Rachel shook her head. "You'd be surprised at what some truly insane people will do, Derek. They can go to great lengths to plan what they see as a necessary killing. Perhaps the murderer was a surgeon before he went mad; there could be any number of explanations."
"I know." He smiled at her, as if trying to say how much he appreciated her rationale. "But you have to trust my instincts on this one, Rachel. I know that this is not a coincidence. I would not be telling you about it if it was an unimportant event from my ancient past." He stared towards the window. "In my vision, the sacrifice took place during a storm; a powerful storm. I heard voices within it, whispering; as though they were trying to speak to me. I could not hear them above the sounds of the rain and the thunder, but I knew that they were there. They were the voices of the other sacrificial victims."
"They told you that." Rachel's voice dripped with disbelief. "Even though you couldn't hear them."
"You do not always have to hear voices, to know what they are saying." Derek frowned at her, uncertain how best to explain. "When you have a vision, sometimes thoughts are clear to you, without you knowing where they have come from." Alex was nodding, and this confirmation seemed to register with Rachel. Her frown did not fade however.
"So you're saying that because this knife was stolen, all of these voices have been woken up again, and are trying to be heard? Only this time they decided to try talking to Kat? Some group of unsettled spirits are trying to avenge their possibly ancient murders by speaking through a storm to an eight year old girl?" She sighed. "I'm not actively trying to disbelieve you, Derek, but you're not making it easy to accept all this."
"Then try this." Derek went to the window, pulling the curtains back. "Look out of the window, Rachel. Try and see beyond the storm. Turn to another channel on the television. Nowhere else has a storm tonight. The whole of San Francisco is enjoying a warm, mild night. Explain that."
"Freak weather." Rachel stared out of the glass, trying to see the mainland. Her voice was losing its conviction, and she knew it. "It just doesn't connect, Derek. This girl you mentioned. She can't have been killed by the same knife."
"No, but perhaps she was killed for the same reason." He turned away from the window, staring into some world beyond his eyes, that no one else could see. "Why would anybody want to steal a rusted old knife from a small museum. It's not worth anything. There were many exhibits there that it would make far more sense to steal. Yet the thieves took that knife."
"So they might be a part of some cult?" Nick shrugged. "What do we do? We can't leave the island with the weather like this, and with the power off we can't use the computer."
"So your spirits weren't thinking when they made the weather change." Rachel sighed. "Don't tell me. They didn't make the storm."
"They appear within it. That doesn't mean that it's of their making." Derek smiled at her, clearly enjoying their confrontation. "It might well be that the storm was summoned by those who stole the knife. The rituals involved with the type of sacrificial murder I am speaking of are those concerned with the weather; ancient arts thought to allow control over the spirits harnessed within the wind and the rain."
"I'm not even going to comment on that one." Rachel smiled nonetheless. "Okay, so we have a possible crowd of killers on our hands, possibly magically endowed, possibly even long-dead, who summon storms at will, and who have just stolen an ancient knife. We also have a crowd of long-dead spirits, who are trying to whisper inaudible messages to us in the midst of said storms. And I thought my day job could be peculiar."
Alex giggled. Despite her unshakeable belief in everything Derek said, she could still see the funny side when Rachel's scepticism laid their Precept's theories bare. Derek himself merely raised an eyebrow.
"Who's that?" Kat's voice startled them, for she had been quiet for a long time, watching the silent on-screen antics of a pair of football teams.
"Who's who?" Rachel asked. Kat pointed to the television screen, frowning. "Him. That man."
They turned to look, moving as one towards the television. In the centre of the screen, spinning slowly, was the barely visible picture of a man. He looked old, and his mouth opened and closed as though he were speaking.
"Turn the volume up," Derek snapped, but before Nick could reach for the remote control, a long, loud squeal burst from out of the speakers. Backed with static, the noise tore through them, making Kat yelp with surprise and pain. She clapped her hands over her ears.
"Storm." Within the static, a male voice came to them, loud and deep and yet oddly muffled. The voice clearly came from the television, but it did not appear to have anything to do with the football game, still going on behind a covering of electrical snow. The blurred and faint image of the man, his slow spinning continuing, grew larger momentarily.
"Lost." A woman's voice cut through the static, sounding plaintive and sad. "Evil."
"Evil." The man's voice agreed, and Derek took a step towards the TV screen. The image of the old man was growing, and he reached his hands out, his spinning ceasing as the Precept grew closer.
"Derek!" Worried, Alex moved forward. There was another violent burst of static, and the man on the screen screamed in agony, holding his hands to his ears and shaking. He raised pain-filled eyes to look up at the Precept, and mouthed a single, muted word.
"Leave." He raised one hand, and for one, brief moment, it broke free from the screen, becoming life-sized as it reached out. The skin was white and bruised, and the nails were torn. The fingers grasped for one, desperate second, and then with a suddenness that startled the Precept, were sucked back into the set. A long drawn-out scream echoed about the room and everything was still.
"What was that?" Nick took a step towards the television, then changed his mind and froze. "Er… We did all see that, right?"
"Relax, Nick. It was real." Derek knelt down in front of the screen, fiddling with one of the controls. He could get nothing more from the set.
"I don't know why that should be reassuring, but it is." The ex-SEAL shrugged. "So, er, dead guys in the TV set. Does this mean I should call our twenty-four hour help line, or are we not covered for possession?"
"The generator is drained." Derek tried toying with the wires connecting it to the television, but could make nothing happen. "We have no more power for anything."
"Well the telephones should still work." Alex headed for the phone lying on the table in the middle of the room. She listened to the receiver for several seconds, then shrugged. "Nothing. The line is completely dead."
"It doesn't surprise me. Somebody or something is very determined to keep us cut off from the rest of the world." Derek went back to the window, looking out at the storm. "Do you still think I am imagining all of this, Rachel?"
"I'm certainly hoping so." She joined him, looking out at the darkness. "When did you know?"
"About an hour ago." He smiled at her, his eyes sad. "I'm sorry that it couldn't have been sooner, so that you could have got Kat away. Just before the power went off, I heard about the theft on the radio. I knew then that the storm was very likely the work of our friends. They would be sure to come here."
"Here, rather than the Legacy House in Los Angeles? I mean, if that's where the knife was stolen, it would make sense for things to be centred there." Alex gave up with the telephone and sat down on the table. "Do you think whoever stole it is after you?"
"Yes." He shrugged. "Or more correctly, all of us. Perhaps I had better explain." He frowned, as though insure how to continue. Nick sighed.
"Well there's a surprise. He wasn't telling us all of it." He turned to face the Precept. "Not wanting to seem pushy, Derek, but spit it out, okay? If some weird ghosty thing is going to try and kill us tonight, I want to know what it is and where it comes from."
"Alright." Derek pressed his hands against the cold glass, trying to recall exactly what it was that he had uncovered all those years ago in Scotland. "I don't know as much as I'd like."
"Never mind." Nick folded his arms, listening expectantly, and their leader finally turned from the window to face them all.
"It was some time ago. I had not been with the Legacy for long, and I went to Scotland for a holiday…"
Derek Rayne wiped the mud from his shoes and knocked on the door of the boarding house. It was quiet and still, which pleased him, since he had hoped to be able to get some work done in his room. After a second the door opened, and an old man stared down at him.
"You'll be Derek Rayne," he said slowly, with little emotion showing in his voice. Derek nodded.
"Yes sir. I was told--"
"You were told to come here. We have rooms. My name is Andrew McAllister." The man looked about. "Do you have your bags?"
"I only have the one." He held it up. "Is your daughter around?"
"My daughter?" The old man frowned down at him, then nodded. "Katy... Yes, she's here. Come in."
"Thankyou." Derek stepped up the two stone stairs into the hallway, offering his strange host a hesitant smile. He was shown along a short corridor to a living room, where three old men and a pair of ancient women were sitting on wooden chairs drawn up around a fire. They looked up as the new guest entered, smiling at each other.
"You'll be Derek Rayne," one of the old men commented, rising to his feet. Derek shook his proffered hand, surprised by how cold the old man's skin felt. Obviously he had not been in the room for long, for it was almost uncomfortably hot.
"Yes. I'm working on an archaeological dig near here. I've been uncovering some fascinating objects." Derek frowned slightly at the nods he was receiving in reply.
"We know," one of the old women told him, her dark eyes smiling at him. "Katy told us. She told us we should be expecting you." She rose slowly to her feet and offered him a cup. "Would you like some tea?"
"Thankyou." Not liking to refuse, Derek put down his bag and took the cup. The liquid inside did not look like any tea that he had ever drunk before, and indeed smelt suspiciously herbal, but he smiled nonetheless, and took a sip. "Lovely."
"We make it here." The old woman raised her own cup, drinking some of the murky brown liquid. "Sit down, and pull up a chair."
"Well, actually I--" He paused, wondering what exactly he could give as an excuse. There did not appear to be anything. "I'd love to. Thankyou." He sat down on the nearest chair, as far from the leaping flames of the fire as he could, and tried to ignore the steam beginning to rise from his clothes. He could not remember having got so wet, but everything was still a little confused in his mind following the vision. He thought about the old knife in the bag nearby, wondering if it had been sensible to keep it near him following that last episode. He had been strangely unwilling to leave it with the other finds.
"Has it been raining?" one of the old men asked him. He frowned.
"I, er, I don't know. I… fell asleep, I think. By the dig."
"Ah." The old man nodded sagely. "Storms happen around here. They come for no reason, and they go soon after. Don't they?" He asked the question of the room in general, and everybody nodded in agreement. Derek glanced back at his host, and saw the old man standing in front of the door, his arms folded. He looked almost as though he were keeping guard. The young Legacy man took another drink from his tea and shivered involuntarily.
"Are you cold? I'm sorry, and here we are keeping the fire from you." The two old women moved aside. "Come closer to the fire, Derek."
"No thankyou." Even as he spoke the words, Derek found himself moving closer to the flames. His hand shook, and the tea slopped out of the cup, splashing onto the ground. He could no longer see the carpet beneath him, and in its place was grass. The walls had disappeared as well.
"What's going on?" He tried to climb to his feet, but hands were holding his arms, preventing him from moving. The fire before him was growing wilder and more intense, and each upward burst of flame sent pains rushing through his head. He heard screams in the distance, and somebody calling for help.
"Join us, Derek," a woman's voice whispered in his ear. "Join us."
"You've seen what you shouldn't have seen," a man's voice added, his whispered tones mingling with the woman's voice, and with the distant screams. "The storm is coming."
"The storms will always come." He recognised the voice, and tried to turn towards it, but could not move.
"Who are you?" he asked, his voice no longer wishing to obey his will. A disembodied laugh echoed about him.
"Who do you think?"
"No…" He struggled, but could not break free, and his mind began to spin. In desperation, he fought for consciousness against a rising tide of insensibility, that seemed determined to consume him. The words of old songs, and poems learnt in school, flitted about in his mind, joining him in his battle for clarity. He stumbled to his feet.
"Do not resist us, Derek. You can't stop what has already started." One of the old women was standing in front of him, her eyes bright and dark. She pointed at him, and he saw her eyeballs become hot red light, blazing with inhuman fury. "Do not stand in our way." He looked past her, where the mists of the Highlands all but hid the shapes of four robed figures dancing wildly. A human shape lay on an altar at their centre, struggling wildly and screaming for help. He tried to move forward, but knew immediately that the figures were just another vision. He had no way of knowing if the sacrifice was real, or ancient; or even if it was happening hundreds of miles away.
"Join us, Derek." The old woman was moving towards him, and he saw her hands turning to claws. They reached out for him.
"No!" With a sudden effort, he pushed her, and she fell backwards into the flames. There was a long, drawn out scream as her clothes ignited, and for a single, terrifying moment he looked down at her, and saw the face that lay beneath the skin of her human disguise. Then she was gone, and he was alone on a hillside. Rain began to fall, and the fire before him hissed and spat, dying down in the face of the growing assault from above. The young Legacy man stood alone, growing progressively wetter, staring towards the distant hillside and the sacrificial altar. Rain blinded him, and yet he could still see the face of the woman, pleading and pale as she struggled to break free. He knew that he would never forget her face, and her look of abject fear. He took a step forward, a frown crinkling his forehead, as he tried to make out some detail; something that might allow the vision to become more clear, but the rain was making it too hard to see. He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the water, and at that moment, the lead figure spun around, knife raised in one of its clawed hands. Red eyes flashed beneath the hood which shielded its face, and he thought that he heard a growl of animal rage. Then the vision exploded, and he was truly left alone. Even in the midst of the new silence, his hands would not stop shaking, and filled with fear he picked up his bag and began to run. Suddenly he felt terribly isolated on the hillside, and he knew that he would not cease to be afraid until the Highlands were far behind him. Somewhere above his head, the thunder rumbled.
San Francisco, Present Day
"So what happened?" Rachel asked, shifting her position on the settee slightly, whilst trying not to wake up Kat. Despite her earlier scepticism, she had been captivated by their leader's story.
"I went to Edinburgh, to the Legacy House there. I told them what had happened." Derek was silent for a few moments. "As soon as the reports came in about the murder, I knew that it was the same girl I had seen in my vision. I could not tell the police what I had seen, of course, so I told the Legacy. Almost immediately I was called back home. Something had come up, and all hands were needed." He shrugged. "At first I had intended to keep the knife for further study, or at the very least to install it in the Rayne Collection, but the visions continued, and they became nightmares… In the end I had to get rid of it. I knew the curator of the Lincoln Museum, and so I gave it to him."
"It's taken the owners a long time to collect it," Nick observed dryly. Derek nodded.
"Perhaps they had no reason to come until now." He shrugged. "Perhaps the Scottish Legacy House succeeded in stopping them. It's always a possibility. I did not check back."
"Why ever not? I'd have thought you would be wanting to keep informed." Alex sounded incredulous, and Derek turned his head slightly to look up at her.
"You would have thought so, wouldn't you. The truth is, Alex, that I have never been so afraid in all my life as I was on that hillside. Those people… Whatever they were, it was unspeakable. I did not want to know anything more about it. I never quite understood why. When I finally picked up the courage to investigate further, some years later, I found that none of that team was still working with the Legacy. The House had an entirely new staff, and none of them seemed to know anything about their predecessors. There were no records anywhere, about what had happened to them."
"Weird." Nick shook his head. "That can't happen. The Legacy keeps records on everything and everyone, dating back as far as records have existed. If you log onto the main database, you can hook out records on people who were members a thousand years ago or more."
"Precisely." Derek shrugged. "I asked who I could about it, but most seemed to think that if the records were gone, we were better off without them. The general opinion is that the members went over."
"The whole House?" Rachel whistled. "You don't believe that, though. Right?"
"Right." The Precept began to pace once again. "I believe that they tried to investigate the people I told them about. The old people from the boarding house. I think that they were taken by those people. Killed perhaps, or worse. Perhaps theirs are among the voices Kat heard in the storm."
"You have a theory about all of this, don't you." Rachel leaned back in her chair, the scepticism mixing with a genuine desire to know what had happened. "You think you know what happened to the Scottish Legacy House."
"I do, yes. I have done some research. I traced the people that I could, and I believe I know what happened." He frowned. "I can only propose theories, but I believe that there was a confrontation. A violent confrontation between light and dark that could only have one outcome." He glanced towards the windows, where the storm was growing in violence, and the trees seemed about to be uprooted. "We have some time, I think."
"Time? We don't need time." Nick stood up. "I'm going to see if I can make it across to the mainland. I know it'll be tough going, but I wasn't in the SEALs for nothing."
"You won't make it, Nick. The storm is here for a reason." Derek shook his head, reacting to the scepticism on his colleague's face. "What would you do? You are planning to contact another Legacy House?"
"Sloan. He'll know what to do." Nick smiled at the expression in Rayne's eyes. "Oh come on, Derek. This is no time for your rivalries to surface."
"I have no doubt that Sloan would know exactly what to do. That is not what I meant. Try the doors, Nick. Try the windows. They're all locked, but the keys will do no good. I have tried them all."
"That's crazy." Nick went to the window and shook it, determined to make it open. He was unable to move it in the slightest. "This is impossible." He ran from the room, the others following. Only Derek remained where he was; and he was still standing there, very still, when they returned.
"The door wouldn't open." Alex frowned. "What do they want, Derek?"
"Us." He smiled at her, impulsively taking her hand, his eyes strange and sad. "As the storm grows stronger, so they come closer. Their victims are here already, trying to warn us, trying to get through; but they won't be able to help us in time."
"Something is coming to kill us, and you're saying that there's nothing we can do about it?" Rachel could not help looking over at Kat, curled up on the settee fast asleep. "Derek, I--"
"Don't worry, Rachel. I do not give up that easily." He gestured for them all to sit down. "The Scottish Legacy House made mistakes that we must not repeat. When these creatures come, we have to be ready for them."
"How? We don't even know what they are." Nick leaned back in his chair, gazing up at the ceiling, visible through the flickering light of their candles. The darkness seemed to be growing, as though some great blackness were descending upon them all.
"Yes we do. We can imagine." Derek folded his arms, staring about at them all. "We know what the Scottish Legacy House discovered, to their cost; at least if my theories are correct."
Rachel folded her own arms, trying to keep herself warm despite the growing cold. Even the candle flames no longer seemed warm, and she could see the faint traces of her breath when she spoke. If this continued, soon the temperature would be hardly bearable. She moved closer to her daughter, to try to keep the girl warm, and looked up at Derek with eyes that showed the slightest hint of desperation.
"And what did the Scottish House discover?" she asked him.
George Henderson hung up the phone, a confused look on his face.
"Line's dead," he told the others, concern beginning to creep into his voice. "That's odd."
"Everything's dead, dammit." Ian Allison, the Precept of the House, threw his torch across the room in a sudden fit of temper. "First the lights, then the heating, now the phones. Even the torches are no bloody good."
"We've still got candles, Ian." Maggie Farlay sat down on an easy chair, fingers wrapped around an ornate iron candlestick. "Sit down and hold a candle. It's warmer than just standing there."
"I don't want to sit down. I want to pace, and I want to get very, very angry." Ian glared at her, appreciating her calm, but infuriated by it nonetheless. "Doesn't any of this bother you, just a little?"
"Not really. Oh, I know. You think it's something to do with our investigation at the moment." She smiled at him. "Ian, you mustn't get carried away. Every time a light bulb flickers you see menace. This doesn't mean anything."
"Doesn't it." He sat down, looking up as the fourth member of their team, Sandra Menzies, entered the room. She was holding a candle, and he could see a faint fog around her mouth as she breathed. It was getting disturbingly cold. Fluctuating temperatures were nothing new for Scotland, but for the summer, this was definitely out of the ordinary.
"The doors are locked." She sat down directly opposite the Precept, and frowned at him. "You didn't lock us in, Ian. Did you?"
"No. You know I never lock the doors until midnight." He cocked his head on one side, puzzled. "Are you sure they're locked. All of them?"
"All of them. And the windows too. I mean, I didn't check the upstairs ones, but I can't get the ones down here to open. I'm scared, Ian. What's going on?"
"I don't know." He took her hand briefly, to try and impart some confidence, then stood up. "I think we have to face facts. Something out there is trying to get at us."
"And you think that it's got something to do with that girl's murder." Henderson sat down beside Maggie. "Those weird people in the mountains."
"You saw what I saw when we went up there, George. Explain it any other way if you can, but they were not normal. I touched that mantelpiece, and it was cold. There was a fire raging underneath it, but it felt like ice. So did they. You shook that old man's hand."
"True. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they're… not human." Henderson gazed into the flame of the candle on the table beside him. It was flickering, almost in tandem with the raging wind outside the house. "Just because that kid saw what he did--"
"I checked up on 'that kid', and he's one of the most respected members of his House. His psychic powers have been developing since early infancy, and his father died for the cause. I believe him. It's not as if that's all we've got to go on, anyway. I've been a member of the Legacy since I was twenty-two years old. Thirty years I've been here. Don't you think I've learnt to trust my instincts in all that time?"
"Of course you have." Maggie smiled at him. "We don't doubt your instincts, Ian. But all the same, if these things don't like our investigations, and they want to silence us; what are we going to do about it?"
"What we always do. They're evil, and we're going to stop them. We'll confront them, and we'll send them back to hell, or wherever it is they came from. I don't care how powerful the storm gets, or how cold it gets in here, and I don't care how many windows they try and whisper at. We'll beat them."
"Of course." Sandra rose to her feet, heading for the secret cupboard hidden behind the fireplace. "We'll beat them at their own game. We have Holy water, and scented oils; and we have the Holy books of half a dozen religions just in this room. We can be just as strong as they are."
"Precisely." Ian stood up, following her towards the hidden cupboard. "Whatever they throw at us, we'll throw right back."
"Ian!" With a cry of fear, Maggie leapt to her feet, staring at the nearby window. Even as the words came from her mouth, the window cracked, the sound like a bullet fired at close range. Glass splintered inward, hurled about the room by the sudden implosion of wind and rain. At the same instant, the dead fireplace burst into life. The suddenness of the flames startled Sandra, who was standing almost on top of them. Her skirt ignited, and she screamed in terror.
"Sandra!" Hurling himself at her, Ian tried to beat out the flames. The wind and the rain tore at his face and his eyes, blinding him, and making it harder and harder for him to breathe. He struggled through mists of impenetrable ice to get to her, and all the while voices in his head were speaking to him.
"Leave her. Leave her and come with us."
"Come with us. Be with us."
"Drink our blood. Take her heart. Hold the knife."
"Get away from me!" He struck out with both hands, fighting against the invisible beings standing in his way. Above him he could hear sounds of chanting, and he recognised Maggie's voice. Somehow, despite the confusion affecting his mind, she had made it to the bookcase, and had found a Bible. She read from it, her calm voice restoring the light to his mind.
"Sandra." He finally managed to smother the flames, and helped her to her feet. "Are you alright?"
"No." Even as he held her hands he saw her face and body change. Gone was the girl he had helped raise from infancy, and in her place was an ancient woman. She laughed at him through toothless gums.
"Get back!" He pushed her aside, grabbing for the contents of the nearest shelf within the secret cupboard. Scented oils burst from the jars that his anxious hands broke, and splashed about the room. The old woman screamed, and her eyes turned to red fire.
"Ian, look out!" Running to his friend's assistance, Henderson knocked the old woman side with a blow that sent her rolling across the ground. Hisses burst from her throat, and her tongue, long and forked, flickered in the air. She spat fizzing green smoke at them, climbing to her feet with an agility that did not belong to one who had previously been so slow. Her misshapen body turned fluid, changing before their eyes.
"Sandra. What happened to Sandra?" Ian shook George, who could tell him nothing. They turned away from the hissing, cackling old woman, looking back towards Maggie. She stood alone in the centre of the room, three old men hissing at her, trying to approach but being beaten back by the Scriptures she was quoting. Their rage was clear in the fire in their eyes, and in the ghastly hisses which escaped from their mouths.
"Help me, Ian!" She stole a glance towards the Precept, who tried to step towards her. Instantly the floor between them burst into flame. Ian tried again, fighting against flames which seemed in turns to be unbearably hot and as cold as ice.
"Hold on, Maggie!" He threw himself through the flames, feeling them dissipate around him, and seized the oldest of the men around the neck. Clawed fingers grasped his wrists, trying to break his hold, but he resisted.
"You can't win." His voice like ice, Ian tightened his grip, seeing the flaming red eyes beginning to bulge.
"Neither can you." There was real fury in the old man's voice. "You can't kill what doesn't live."
"And you can't kill us."
"We have one of you." In a flash of fire, a second old woman appeared, a long knife in one hand. She pointed with it to where Sandra stood, dressed in white, in front of the smashed window. Her eyes were open and still.
"Let her go." Ian stepped forward, but all at once the wind began to build again, flying through the window and knocking him over backwards. He crashed into the wall, unable to rise to his feet.
"You won't win!" he screamed at the old woman, who laughed and lifted her knife as if to throw it.
"You can't get out of here! You can't escape from these words." Raising her Bible above her head, Maggie started forward, heading towards the old woman. The three old men fell back, holding their hands over their faces to protect them from the book. "You can't beat us."
"But you can't beat us either." The old woman threw the knife.
"No!" Struggling back to his feet, Ian stared in horror as the knife struck Sandra in the chest. She screamed, the life coming back into her eyes the second before it was extinguished forever. She fell forward, blood frothing from her mouth. It spilled onto the hands of the old woman as she bent to retrieve her knife, and she screamed in purest agony.
"Get away from her." Ian ran forwards, George beside him. They grabbed the old woman, hurling her aside, and she crashed into a heap with the three old men. The second of the old women stepped forward, her mouth hanging open and her flickering tongue spitting flames at them both.
"You will not resist?" she asked them. Ian reached back, snapping a long shard of glass from the broken windowpane behind him.
"Never. You people are going back to hell, where you belong." He moved forward, ignoring the rain which threatened to cut his back to ribbons, ignoring the wind which howled in his ears. "Get out of here now. In the name of the God I hold Holy, I send you back to the realms of hell." He threw the shard of glass.
It struck the old woman in the throat, and she staggered back, flames erupting from her mouth. Her arms thrashed about, leaving trails of blood and fire hanging motionless in the air. She tried to take a step forward.
"Fools." Her voice still came to them, forcing its way out of her slashed throat. "You don't know what you're doing."
"Yes we do." Maggie and George moved forwards, one on either side of their leader. "We won't back down."
"Then suffer forever." The old woman laughed, and the ground at her feet burst open. "If you will not release us from your spells of religion, we will not release you from our hold."
"You're going back to hell, you shrivelled old witch." George stepped towards her, pulling the worn old cross from around his neck.
"So are you." She laughed and pointed to him, her hand bursting into flame. The cross in Henderson's hand exploded, spraying him with acid that burnt his face and hands. He screamed, and the chasm beneath the old woman's feet opened still further.
"We go together!" she shrieked, and the three surviving Legacy members felt themselves being dragged towards the hole in the floor. The book in Maggie's hand caught fire, scorching her fingers. She threw it aside.
"This isn't possible," she gasped, seeing the flames from beneath the Earth rising to consume her. An echoing laugh filled her head.
"You don't know what you're dealing with." The room filled with flame, and darkness surrounded everything. Soon there was nothing left but the end.
San Francisco, Present Day
"So you're saying that the Scottish Legacy House was dragged into hell when they banished these creatures?" Rachel could not stop a shiver running down her spine. "So the only way to beat them is not to try? That's crazy, Derek."
"Crazy, yes. But that does not mean it's not right." He fixed her with one of his piercing stares. "Those creatures have been somewhere for the last seventeen years, and now they are free again. For whatever reason they are back."
"So they want the knife they used to use in their rituals?" Nick whistled. "Must be pretty important to them."
"It is the knife used in rituals of millennia past. It was used in the ritual which first summoned them from hell, and allowed them to gain a foothold on the Earth. I don't know how many people they must have killed during their time on Earth; how much darkness they must have spread; but when I found the knife, I was able to see something of their true nature. That threatened them. It led to their being sent back to hell, even though it was only temporary."
"Boy, they really hate you, huh." Nick smiled, despite the growing wind and the increasing cold that was a horrible reminder of what might be about to descend upon them. "Creatures fighting to escape from hell, to get back to the Earth that gave them power, desperate to get revenge against the man they see as responsible for their defeat before… Did anybody ever tell you you have lousy luck, Derek? You can't just take a holiday and have a relaxing time, without stirring up the rages of hell against you? And I thought I had a bad time on my last holiday, 'cause the weather was so bad."
Derek smiled. Nick's presence was often a source of strength to him, despite their often opposing approaches to life. Each member of his team enriched him in some way, and he hated the idea that they might all be being put at risk because of something that he had done, by chance, seventeen years previously. He wanted the Legacy computer, to check his theories and to search for more information on what he might be facing. He wanted to investigate any unsolved murders in the Scottish Highlands that might prove his theories about the existence of these creatures he suspected were now on their way. How many more people had they killed? Had they restricted their activities to Scotland, or if he searched would he find evidence that they had travelled abroad? Such creatures were always on the look out for fresh blood. It was hard to face the possibility that he might never get the chance now to find out for sure.
"Derek?" Alex was beside him, looking up into his eyes. "Are you alright?"
He stared down at her. There seemed to be a mist between them, and he could not see her face clearly. The mist moved, and its touch was like ice. Behind him, through the window, the storm had reached a zenith, its roar so loud that it seemed unlikely the glass could hold out for much longer.
"Alex?" He smiled at her through the mist, reaching out for her with hands that were not moving. Voices filled his mind.
"Run. Escape. Go. Leave."
"Get away from here."
"I can't." His voice was filled with sadness, for he hated to give in so easily, but there seemed no way to turn. "I can't leave."
"Derek?" Alex's voice was still calling to him, but it came faintly through the others; faceless voices that seemed to come from his mind. Many voices, all joined together, all speaking at once until the sounds became confused.
"Leave here. Go. Escape."
"Penny for them?" The voice was that of a young woman and he jumped, recognising the girl from the hillside all those years ago even before his mind had time to be confused at her presence here and now.
"You." He stepped towards her, but she held him back with a hand on his arm. "Ssh. You mustn't make a noise, or you'll disturb the ritual."
"What ritual?" He looked where she was pointing, seeing only mountains where there should have been walls and the furniture of the room. He saw the stone table where he had seen his vision in 1981; where the hooded figure had killed the young woman. There was a figure on the altar now, its face hidden behind the dancing, robed figures. He didn't need to see the features to know that the body was that of Alex. She was struggling fiercely, and beside her was Nick, fighting against the unbreakable hold of the two hooded figures holding his arms.
"Join us," the young woman was saying, her voice deceptively gentle. "Join us, before it's too late. We made a place for you before. Join us now before your friends die."
"You want me to join you?" He stared at Alex, seeing her dead even though she was still alive. Part of him could see the certain future, and could see her lifeless body drained of blood. "Why?"
"Because you are us." She laughed. "Take a look, Derek."
He moved closer to the altar, and saw the lead figure turn to face them. He had seen the figure in his dreams many times in the last seventeen years, but the face had always been hidden from him. As he drew closer, the figure threw back its hood. His own face stared at him, eyes red, and he heard his own laugh, loud and filled with mockery.
"Part of you is already with us, Derek. It always has been." The young woman took his arm. "You know it's true. Look inside yourself. Feel what you are. You've always known it."
"No." His voice sounded small and weak, and he was acutely aware of it. "You're lying. You're murderers. I won't be a part of all that."
"But you are a part, Derek. Because of you the Scottish Legacy House was destroyed. Because of you the San Francisco House is about to fall. Your demons are always ready to consume you, Derek. You've always known it. The Rayne family has always stood at the brink. That's what makes you what you are. Welcome it."
"No." He felt his voice losing strength, and his legs growing weak. Part of his consciousness clung to the idea that this was not real, but most of his mind seemed content to accept the illusion above the truth.
"Derek?" He snapped away from the voice, his hands thrown up to block out the face and the voice, long before he realised that it was Alex looking up at him, reaching out her hands towards him.
"Alex." His voice sounded broken, and she frowned up at him.
"Derek? Are you okay?"
"Alex, we have to get out of here." He took her hand, startled by the icy coldness of her skin. His worry had been so great that he had failed to notice the continuing decrease in temperature. Their breath hung in the air in white clouds, and the cold had awakened Kat. She clung to her mother, clearly afraid, able to sense what was coming nearly as clearly as he could himself. "We have to leave."
"Derek, what's wrong? What did you see?" She was staring up at him, her dark eyes earnest and bright. "Derek?"
"They're coming," he told her softly, before the windows smashed, and the room was filled with the storm.
"Derek…" The soft, sing-song voice somehow managed to rise above the howling wind. "Derek…"
"Mom?" Kat's voice, filled with fear, floated through the confusion of thunder and rain.
"Kat?" Derek heard Rachel, and thought that he saw her struggling to reach her child from across the other side of a room now filled with visible winds. They raced about, intertwining with each other, throwing furniture through the air above the heads of the people cowering beneath. Books flew by, scraping the top of Derek's head, and he ducked instinctively.
"Rachel! Stand still!"
"Stand still!" He struggled through the mad confusion to reach her, and took her shoulders in his hands. "Keep very still."
"Mom?" Kat was still calling, the fear even clearer in her voice now. "What's going on?"
"Kat!" Rachel tore free, dashing forward, only to run straight into the arms of a man who was not there. He appeared for the briefest of seconds, his white flesh phantasmal and barely real. His claw like hands snapped around her arms, and they both disappeared.
"Rachel!" Derek ran forward himself, meeting only the wind. It tore at his eyes, dragging forth tears that hurt and blinded him.
"Derek, what the hell happened?" Nick was fighting towards him through the storm. "Derek?"
"Here." He felt for the other man, although he could barely see him. "Where is Kat?"
"I don't know. She was with Rachel, then suddenly she was gone." He looked about, suddenly grabbing the Precept by the arm. "Look up there."
"Where?" Derek looked up, seeing Kat hanging in the air above them, her back flat against the ceiling. Her eyes were closed and they could see that she was crying. "Oh no."
"Derek?" This time it was Alex's voice that came to them through the wind. "Derek, it's Rachel. I can't find her anywhere."
"She's gone." The words hurt his throat. "They took her."
"Why?" Alex, her hair a mess from the pouring rain and the howling winds, flinched involuntarily as a violent rumble of thunder crashed about them. For the briefest of seconds, lightning filled the room, and they were able to see each other as clearly as if it were day.
"I don't know. To hurt us, to get at us." Derek remembered the vision, where he had seen Alex and Nick at the sacrificial altar, but no sign of Rachel. "Or maybe to kill her."
"Well they're not in here. That means they must be outside." Nick headed towards the broken windows. "I'm going out there."
"Do you want to go out, Nick?" A low voice giggled at them out of nowhere, and in the blink of an eye an old woman appeared. She reached out with long, grasping fingers.
"Get away from me." He raised his hands to protect himself, but her fingers reached for him nonetheless. Her hands touched his, and he yelled out, hurled suddenly through the air by unseen powers. He gathered speed as he flew, and all at once vanished through the broken window, thrown out into the wild night.
"Derek?" The old woman stepped towards him. "Come with me."
"No." He stumbled away from her, trying to push Alex out of her reach, only to hear a sudden squeal. He turned. The three old men had appeared in the room, and in his ignorance he had pushed Alex straight into their waiting arms.
"Derek." Her voice sounded weak, and he saw the pain on her face.
"Leave her alone." He threw himself at the inhuman trio, only for them to disappear along with their hostage. They reappeared a few feet away, and he rushed towards them again.
"Shall we tear her limb from limb?" one of the old men asked him. "Shall we sacrifice her on the stone of our being?"
"Leave her alone!" He ran towards them again, this time succeeding in seizing hold of one of them. The man yelled out in fury, and fire seemed to flow through him. His touch burnt Derek's hands, and Alex screamed in agony as the fire filled her.
"Derek!" Kat's voice floated down to him, mingling with Alex's yells, and he felt his eyes drawn up to the girl. She still hung from the ceiling, her body twisting and rippling under the force of powers that he could not imagine. He stared up at her, torn between his desire to protect two of his colleagues and his knowledge that there was nothing he could do for either.
"Join us, Derek." The young female voice came from behind him and he turned towards it. He saw Katy, dressed as she had always been, in her simple dress. She held the knife in his hands that he knew so well. He recognised every nick in the blade, every imperfection caused by its years underground. "Join us and save them."
"You won't let them go." He found it hard to focus on her as the wind howled around him, and if sensing this, she whispered nothings into the air. Her eyes flashed and the storm ceased. Somehow the silence was worse than the noise.
"You can't beat us, Derek. Try to banish us and we'll destroy you all, just as we destroyed those others you sent against us. Would you like to know the agonies they suffered when they were drawn down with us? Would you like to feel the insanities which haunted them?"
"Join us, Derek." Again the voice was familiar. Andrew McAllister stood before him, his arm around his daughter's shoulders. "Fulfil your destiny. Be with us."
"Go to hell." He tried to back away, but found his legs unwilling to obey him.
"Only if you'll come too." McAllister laughed. "It's your destiny, Derek. You found the knife. When they found what they had summoned, they hid the knife, and buried us with it. You brought us back, Derek, when you dug it up. Now you have to live with the consequences. You are us."
"Leave here." He looked up at Kat, still crying in pain and fear, and then at Alex, her form fluttering in and out of existence in the arms of her captors. He had no idea whether Nick and Rachel were even still alive.
"Come with us." The two old women stepped towards him out of thin air. Their voice were rising around him, and the sound hurt him. He heard it inside his head, sapping his strength and filling his mind with pain. "We need you. You give us life. Join us."
"No." His voice was no more than a whimper, and he found that he had sunk to his knees. He no longer had the strength to climb back to his feet. "You've killed my friends."
"Join us." McAllister's daughter was smiling down at him, and he could almost see Alex in her eyes. His confused mind was telling him that there would be rest and quiet, if only he accepted what he was saying. Her voice hurt him, and yet she seemed able to promise him peace. He reached up, and felt her hand close around his.
"Derek…" Alex's voice came to him from far away, and he looked up, seeing her floating somewhere above him. He frowned, reaching out his hand for hers, unable to touch it. She frowned down at him.
"Where are you going, Derek?"
"I have to leave." His own voice sounded so faint that he could barely hear it. "I have to go now."
"To…" He felt his strength draining away. "Somewhere." Black mists were rising, and he could taste blood in his mouth.
"Come on, Derek." McAllister and the others were with him, and he could feel their hands on his arms. Their claw like fingers tore at his skin, and he saw the young woman who had begun it all standing before him, the knife in her hand.
"Welcome, Derek," she said, and laughed a deep, animal laugh that could not have belonged to any creature of his world. "At last."
"No." His voice was still weak, and he felt no strength within him. She smiled seductively, moving closer, but her pretty features were turning to bone before him. A loose jawbone grinned at him, and he saw fires burning in her empty eye sockets. Worms moved about within her skull.
"Life at last." With a sudden thrust of the knife, she came towards him. He saw the blade move towards him, and with every last bit of power within him, he threw himself aside. The blade passed through his arm, feeling like fire as it went through him. He heard a scream of rage, and felt the hands on his arms go slack. He turned. The knife blade had gone straight into the chest of McAllister, standing behind him. He opened his mouth to speak, but only blood came forth.
"Help me," he whispered. Derek backed away.
"Help me?" It was Rachel's voice now, her body drooping, clutching at the knife in its chest. "Derek?"
"No." He stumbled back, aware only dimly of the pain in his arm.
"Derek?" Alex's body replaced Rachel's, then Kat's. He shook his head.
"Get away from me."
"Help me, damn you, or all of your friends will die." Flames licked at the corners of McAllister's mouth. The other members of his group were starting to ripple, their images fading in and out of existence.
"You can't touch them. You're helpless, so long as we don't fight back." Derek backed away. "Leave this place, McAllister. All of you. Go."
"We want life." Katy appeared beside him, reaching out with her clawed, skeletal hands. He pushed her away.
"You're dead. All of you are dead. You have been for centuries. Go back to where you came from. It's over."
"No." Struggling back to his feet, fighting back into existence, McAllister made a grab for the knife in his daughter's hand. Derek beat him to it. The claws of the beast sunk into his hand, and he cried out in pain, but succeeded in pulling the weapon free. Hhe held it above his head.
"You want this? This is what you are after? Here." He held it as tightly as he could. "Take it." The blade snapped in half, and he threw the pieces onto the ground.
"No…" His voice reduced to no more than a whisper, McAllister sank to the ground. The skin of his face vanished, until only a skull remained, the eyes still staring up at Derek.
"You haven't heard the last of this, Rayne," he hissed, as his skull became dust. "I shall return."
"I don't think so." Derek stared down at the collapsing form, a grim smile showing on his face. He picked up the broken halves of the knife and turned them over in his hands, then looked up into the distant sky. Somewhere out there lay consciousness.
"So how are you feeling Derek?" The voice of William Sloan sounded unaccountably cheerful over the videophone, and Derek smiled back at the screen. He had finally talked Rachel out of allowing him to remove the sling, and the claw marks were healing nicely.
"I'm fine. We all are. Nick landed on his head, so he is okay."
"I heard that." Glancing up from the book he was reading, Nick glared at the Precept. Sloan laughed.
"So what did you find out about our playmates?" he asked. Rayne shrugged.
"Not a great deal. They were priests from the old days, many centuries ago. They discovered how to exploit certain powers, and were taken over to the dark side. A long time later, but still more than a thousand years ago, some people were toying with powers they did not know how to control, and they summoned the seven. They embarked on a reign of madness, killing at random to satisfy the powers they believed had given them life. Eventually they were imprisoned when the knife was buried. I freed them when I dug the knife up." He shook his head. "The Scottish Legacy House did not go over all those years ago. It is something I regret."
"It's not your fault, Derek. Anyway, you can give me a full report in a few days. I'm coming over to San Fran for a convention on seventeenth century witchcraft. Thought I'd stay with you."
"Oh good." Derek smiled at the screen and Sloan smiled back. They had come to enjoy their ever-present rivalry, and the antagonism between them was now almost entirely friendly.
"Knew you'd be pleased. See you at the airport on Monday. You can carry my cases." He glanced at the figure behind Derek and smiled warmly. "Goodbye Alex."
"Bye." The picture faded out of existence, and Alex handed Derek a cup of tea. He smiled at it.
"Thankyou. But do you have to be so friendly with the opposition?"
"He's the boss, Derek. I like to be polite to my superiors."
"Then why aren't you polite to me?"
"Because." She smiled at him, glad to see the smiles in the corners of his eyes. He had been almost completely silent since the affair with the seven creatures, and she had almost believed that he blamed himself for everything. "Oh, there was an E-mail from the Vancouver House this morning. They buried their half of the knife in twenty feet of concrete last night. I think that makes it pretty secure."
"The Melbourne House is due to bury theirs this evening." Derek nodded in satisfaction. "Good. That should be the end of it."
"Should? I wish you'd sound a little more confident occasionally." She sat down beside Nick, listening to the wind outside the house. "Sounds like that storm is really building up."
"Yes. I'm glad Rachel and Kat said that they would stay the night." Derek smiled, seeing the expression on both their faces. "Relax. This time the weathermen predicted the storm. They think the power could go off right across the Bay."
"At least we won't be alone this time." Nick glanced up as the door opened. "Hey Rachel. Kat asleep?"
"Some chance." She held up a book. "What is this, Derek?"
"A little light reading. I thought--"
"Derek? From now on, I choose which books Kat reads, okay? No more witches, no more ghosts."
"If you insist." He smiled. "Sit down, Rachel. Have a drink of something."
"Thanks, but it's late. I've just had to spend two hours convincing my daughter that there are not monsters hiding in secret panels behind the walls; thanks to somebody's inability to choose a suitable bedtime story. Next time I ask you to read to her Derek, please choose something from her own bookcase."
"Goodnight Rachel." He smiled at her, watching as she left the room. Nick stood up almost immediately.
"I think I'll turn in too. It's getting pretty late. Maybe this time we can sleep through the storm."
"Night." Alex watched as he left the room, then turned towards the door. "Are you going to bed, Derek?"
"Sure. In a little while. I want to finish writing up my journal first." He smiled at her. "Goodnight, Alex."
"Derek… You've hardly slept at all in the last week. Let it go. Relax."
"I will." He rose to his feet, opening the door for her. "Goodnight, Alex. I'll see you in the morning."
"Sleep, Derek." She took his hand for a brief moment. "They're gone. None of it was your fault. We're all okay."
"I know." He stood in the doorway, framed by the light, until she had vanished up the stairs, then he turned back to the table. His journal lay there, opened, the entry half written. He sat down and picked up his pen.
Part of me was always sure that I was not to blame for the deaths of the Scottish Legacy House members. It was with good meaning that I first dug up the knife, and their return could not have been predicted. For whatever reason, however, they wanted me to join them, and my concern for my friends nearly led me to do just that. I was almost prepared to throw aside all that I have fought for, and all that my father gave his life for, in order that my colleagues should not suffer. This is a weakness that may one day be exploited by those stronger and more powerful than the seven we have just encountered. For many years I have been alone in this life, with only my friends as my companions. If friendship is something that can be so easily exploited by my enemies, I have to conclude that it is something that I must continue to avoid. Can it be worth the risk, now that I have faced the end? He laid down his pen and closed the journal, then picked it up and headed towards the stairs. Rest had not come easily to him these last few nights, and he felt a strange unwillingness to go to his room, where only nightmares had met him in the silence. The inevitability of it made him sigh, with thoughts about bed and how nice it would be to go to his, knowing that only restful, deep sleep would be waiting for him in the dark. Despite his reservations he lay down anyway, clicking off the light and staring up at the ceiling. The wind was beginning to grow outside his window, but for some reason that made him smile. He felt oddly safe; strangely secure in this large, old house where his friends slept close by. He closed his eyes, and for the first night in a week, images of an ancient knife did not flood into his mind. Instead he met only peace. He tried to relish it, and to relax into its embrace, but his exhaustion fought him for control of his thoughts, and he felt his fears fade. It was over, for now. This time had not been his final battle, and the fears had no reason to stay. Sleep came despite his best efforts to resist it, and he feared it no longer. It relaxed his body and his mind, until finally consciousness slipped away. The knife was gone, and his nightmares had gone with it.