The Shaman by Lona J.
  by Lona J.
  Most of the fan fiction I have seen contains an obligatory bow to the actual creators of the characters contained in the story and avowal of non-profit intentions. Consider it said.

Part One

Saturday, December 21, Winter Solstice. The Castle on Angel Island.

Dr. Rachel Corrigan took another sip of single malt scotch and set the glass back down on the writing desk. The Scotch's rich peaty flavor always reminded her of Ireland, darkness and druids. Or maybe it was just dark druids, like the haunted soul pounding out Frederic Chopin's Opus No. 9 on the hapless grand piano in the Castle's drawing room downstairs. Derek's impassioned playing gave her yet another reason to be glad that Kat was sleeping with Alex in the old nursery way up on the fourth floor.

With her fingernail, Rachel traced the gold Celtic cross inlaid on the cover of her Legacy journal and debated the wisdom of joining him. Wisdom lost the polemic along with caution, discretion, and professional detachment. Derek needed someone to listen while he pounded the fear and anxiety of the last few days out of his soul. Rachel threw a terry cloth robe over her Marvin the Martian nightshirt. Maybe tonight he'd finally reach out for someone. Maybe.

The Opus crashed to its finish. Derek began another piece she didn't recognized. His head thrown back, eyes closed, Rachel wondered how he found the keys. Although the Castle sometimes rang with his late night playing, she'd never heard anything like this out pouring of the soul. The urgent notes burned in the night air.

The nakedness of his emotions drew her, and for all his newly heightened shamanic awareness, he didn't seem to know she was there. She was five steps away, then three, two. She stood beside him and became aware he was crying. His playing grew less urgent and then ended softly in benediction. Derek's head hung; as he drew a shuddering breath. He looked sideways at her standing beside him. He'd known she was there all along. His eyes asked a question she couldn't quite read, then he slid to the far end of the piano bench, making room for her to sit beside him.

During their Legacy work she'd been this close to him many times, even a few times when she'd had on less clothes than she did now. Still something was different. He stroked her hair then her cheek. Carefully, he took her face in both his hands, leaned over and for several heart stopping moments kissed her lips.

precept (pre'sept), n. [ from Old French derived from Latin, "to teach"], 1. A direction meant as a rule of action or conduct. 2. A rule of moral conduct; maxim. Preceptor, n. a teacher.

Four days earlier, the Castle on Angel Island

Alex's collection of Tarot decks took up half a closet shelf. There were a eight different editions of the Rider deck, four card sets based on sweet tempered New Age interpretations of the arcana, and in a locked oak box three sets whose ominous prints of skeletons, blood coated swords and fiery deities seemed suitable only for forecasting disaster. By far her most precious deck was the 15th century Cardinal Sforza hand-painted by Cicognara, a summer solstice gift from Derek six months ago. Touch the future with it, he had said, and it definitely had the closest link to him. She now carried it back to the library, holding it with both hands to avoid marring the miniature masterpieces.

Second sight is a curious thing, as individual as DNA. Although Derek "saw" in his mind, visual, auditory, even smells, Alex felt, usually through her finger tips, sometimes through her whole skin. And today it seemed with the very roots of her hair. Every time she brushed against her precept's desk or favorite chair, a scream of anxiety ran through her epidermis.

An expedition in Kyrgyzstan seemed low key, but Alex was becoming certain that Nick and Derek would be in danger soon, if not right now. She fingered the lovely old Tarot cards and began to shuffle carefully. Any place but Central Asia she would have tried to call them on the cellular. So much for modern technology, let's try some tradition.

The magician and the hanged man. She'd cast a three card grouping twice; both times she'd drawn them. The magician -- skill, self-confidence, sometimes mental disease and sickness. The hanged man -- trials, sacrifice, divination, prophecy. Derek, oh yes, Derek. On the first cast the third card of the grouping had been the nine of swords -- death, failure, delay, despair. On the second cast, another sword card, the seven -- a plan that may fail.

Even after two years under Derek's tutelage, she couldn't quite accept the certainty of her precognition. She paced a narrow path in the library littered with open volumes. Once again in her preoccupation she brushed Derek's desk. Then did something she'd never done before, began to riffle through it.

Yes, there it was. The secretive bastard. For Dr. Alexandra Moreau, To be Opened Only in the Event of My Death, Dr. Derek Rayne. Indeed. Alex ripped open the envelope.

"Alex, if you're reading this, the plan has failed and I am no longer the San Francisco precept or anything else but dead. And you want to know why I'd do such a foolish thing.

"Yes, I have always kept my reasons to myself, but this time for your safety and the sake of the Legacy, you all must know.

"Yesterday, I had three visions, one right after the other. First came my father, looking as I last saw him alive, coated with dust and bleeding from his death wound. Derek, he said, the Legacy bleeds too. You must be strong.

"Then I was in a sacred grove of oak trees, standing with two Druids, all of us in white robes. We raised the mistletoe in our hands in supplication to the sun. Then the other men turned to me and said, The sun longs to light the world. A window must be opened.

"Finally, I was standing outside the Castle, in the rose garden, I think. A sacred griffin stood before me. Come, he said, you must find me. You must be me. I am strong enough to do what must be done.

"With this letter I appoint you interim precept of the San Francisco house. DO NOT contact the Mother House. Keep yourselves clean from the disease eating the Legacy as long as possible.

"May God have mercy on us every one.

"Dr. Derek Rayne."

She reached for the phone. In Ireland, Philip was 7,000 miles closer to Kyrgyzstan.

"A belief in the interconnectedness and sacredness of all life lies at the heart of Druidry." Introduction to the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, The Druid Tradition.

Osh, Kyrgyzstan, the next day

Nick stood two steps behind Derek's right arm, his hand resting unconsciously on the Glock nine millimeter automatic at his belt. It had been a while since he'd openly carried a sidearm. Its visible presence added to a faint tension that had nothing to do with the scene of horses, donkeys, mean looking camels, and even meaner looking herdsmen that surrounded them.

But it had a lot to do with dinner last night, or more precisely what Derek had said over dinner.

"Okay, Derek," Nick had said. "I've played along. I didn't ask where we were going or why. But I think it's about time you told me something. Why are we here in the back of the beyond in the middle of the winter?"

"Well," Derek had said tearing a pita in half and preparing to dip it in paprikash, "I've been waiting for you to ask me that."

He ate silently.

Nick couldn't stand it anymore. "Well?"

"Well, what?"

"Why are we here. Don't talk down to me, Derek."

"Sorry, didn't know I was." Derek's head bowed and he intently studied his next bite. "I especially wanted you along on this expedition. I had a vision, actually several visions." His eyebrows knit together. "They were not good. Blood and fire and a huge griffin."

"Nick," Derek said, suddenly putting the pita bread down and leaning towards Nick. "There's an evil eating at the Legacy, you know that. You've seen some of it yourself. And it's not over yet. I'm looking for a weapon to fight it, but I need your help. Can I count on it?"

"What are you looking for?" Nick asked, but Derek was not to be denied.

"I need to know if I can count on your help, Nick. It's important," Derek insisted. "You may . . . may have to do things you don't want to. I need your deepest commitment to the Legacy."

"You got it, man. Of course, you've got it." Nick had been more disturbed than he wanted to admit.

Things always look a little brighter in the morning, a little more possible. And the order of the moment was transportation to Uzben.

". . . and this," Derek was saying, "is my bodyguard, Nick Boyle."

The horse drover Chelek, the only drover in the whole of Osh who spoke English, grinned yellow teeth and bobbed a sincere head. Mirrored beads on Chelek's felt hat flashed in the winter chilled Kyrgyzstan sun. "Americans two horses, yez zir. Gentle, yez. Excellent horses for excellent Americans, yez, yez"

They were good horses, too, with beautiful flat Arabian heads, large intelligent eyes. But gentle they were not. "Why'd you tell him I was a bodyguard?" Nick finally managed to gasp out as his rear end hung in mid-air between one bounce and the next.

Derek turned in the saddle to look at Nick's awkward seat on the beautiful mare. "High status occupation. It also explains your gun. Easier for us to go out without a guide." He chewed his lower lip a moment, hesitating to give the volatile young man unsought advice. Damn it, Nick wouldn't be any good to him at Uzgen if he couldn't walk. "Nick, relax. Hold your horse back a little, don't let it trot. Feel for her rhythm." Nick scowled at Derek's back. He would be happy if he found anything (other than Latin) at which Derek didn't excel. Nick pulled back a little more firmly on the reins and thought of Hootie and the Blowfish and the San Francisco Philharmonic.

Ahead of Nick, tension tightly strung Derek's shoulders. He had been fighting himself every step of this climb. If his resolve relaxed one moment, Derek was sure he'd rein his horse completely around and gallop back to Osh, maybe even all the way to Istanbul. Reneau, he thought, that's how they'll remember me, like Reneau. I'm going to crucify myself too. Who do I think I am, the Second Coming? Oh God, I'm going to die.

Up wound the trail, higher and higher into the Kungay Ala-Too Mountains, the plains stretching out below them, a gray brown sea of steppe coated with soft strips of snow. Occasional flakes blew through the gray day like feathers from some distant flock of winter birds.

Later that night, his breath laboring a little from the altitude, Nick stood in the mouth of the huge ceremonial cave. He could see in the village a quarter of a mile down slope, a dozen sod houses, roofs 8 inches deep in snow. Nick thanked his personal version of God (Poseidon, thank you) for their arrival at Uzgen for their safe arrival in the village. At the moment it was about the only thing he had to be grateful for.

The ancient village shaman had been pleased when they arrived earlier in the evening. "Tonight," he said in Turkish, "we dream." His nephew Ohmani, the entrepreneurial fellow who had invited the illustrious Dr. Derek Rayne (and hopefully many American dollars) to the tiny remote village, translated the shaman's eagerness into English.

The tiny Uzben village buzzed with people. A half dozen scruffy individuals galloped through town. Ohmani frowned after them.

"Something wrong?" Nick asked.

"Those, they make trouble maybe. Shaman and bandits always not get along. Bandits not want new shaman in Uzben."

"You can't keep them out?" Derek asked, coming up from behind.

"Maybe, if we fight. Maybe kill them, maybe kill us, maybe all killed," Ohmani replied, repeating the refrain of pacifists everywhere.

Nick grunted and fingered his pistol in its holster. It was going to be a long night.

Nick stepped back into the cave and squatted on his heels next to the fire. The enormous ceremonial cavern expanded endlessly in the dim firelight. Fantastic limestone stalactites and stalagmites walled it off into rooms as neat as any modern office cubicle. Nick could hear the shaman begin the dream dance about 100 meters away, out of sight and but not hearing.

Three of Ohmani's "bandits" sat hunkered across from him. They wore dirty leather but the AK-47s slung across their backs were shiny clean. Ohmani himself sat a few feet away eyes focused on the ceremonial chamber, back to the fire.

"I know it's tough, Nick. It always is to watch and wait," Derek had told him earlier.

"What are we here for?" Nick demanded again. "Damn you, Derek. I've had enough of your secrecy."

Derek hesitated for a moment, should he tell Nick the whole truth? That they were in Uzben so Derek could seek the dream plain? That it was more likely he'd die or lose him mind? He could hear himself now, "The Druids told me to open a window to God and this seems the best way."

Instead he said, his hand on Nick's shoulder, "If something happens to me, look to your own safety. Do what you have to do, but get back to San Francisco. Warn the others. Don't take chances. Do you understand?"

"What? What are you going to do down there, Derek? Derek!" but his precept was walking away with the ancient shaman and his apprentices.

"In this society many of the states the shamans go through would be labeled as psychotic." Stanislav Grof.

Same evening, Uzben

Arrien, the ancient shaman of the village, had been a young boy at the last dream dance. Then for 75 years communism had ruled Kyrgyzstan. Now communism's day was over. The shamans, hidden so long by the true believers, held dream dances again, walked the dream plain, and raced with the fire breathing dragons of the mind. When this dream dance was finished, there would be a new shaman in Uzben.

His father would have loved this, Derek thought. Young men whirled around him, leapt over the small fire, and fell to the ground moaning only to rise and whirl some more. His own head swayed back and forth with the hypnotic beat of the drum. Careful, he thought, must watch and wait, stand on the outside looking in, just for a little while longer. Just until Arrien prepared his drugged dream potion, then he would see the dream plain and dance the dream dance.

Arrien bent over him offering it now, the door to higher consciousness, insanity or death. Take your pick, winner loses all. Derek sipped at the half clotted liquid, tasting the iron of blood and bitter herbs. Arrien's hands motioned him to drink up. The horn cup fell empty to the dirt floor.

Derek's body moved on its own and joined the whirling dancers. His spirit, however, climbed into the sky, pierced clouds, troposphere, stratosphere and hung in perfect balance 24 kilometers up. Through breaks in the clouds he could see the Indian Ocean reflecting moonlight in the south and dawn faintly blushing China's countryside, a few hours to the east.

He breathed in crystal purity and breathed out fire.

"Son," someone said. Winston Rayne's voice, his father.

"Dad? I can't see you," Derek tried to whirl and survey his plain of air.

"Derek, do you know how proud I am of you?" the bodiless voice persisted. "You are ten times the man I ever was."

"Dad, please. I miss you. Where are you?"

"Derek, listen to the music. Remember the music."

Somewhere far off strange, urgent music tinkled on a celestial keyboard. He listened carefully. This was important. He must learn this song. It was his, and his alone, for the rest of his life.

In the cave his body began to change.

THE GRYPHON - also spelled Griffin or Griffon. A creature composed of a lion's body (winged or wingless) and a bird's head (usually that of an eagle). It was shown seated on its haunches, often paired with the sphinx; it's function may have been protective. The gryphon may have had some sacred attributes as it was used in sanctuary and tomb furnishings. It's precise nature or its place in cult and legend remains unknown. Found on the 'Net.

Around 4 a.m., Uzben.

Nick's head started sinking toward his chest again. Time for another tour of the cave entrance, they were almost out of firewood anyway. He rose smoothly to his feet.

"Ohmani," he said tapping the man on the shoulder, "going after wood." Ohmani nodded without looking away from the glow of the ceremonial chamber.

Nick returned into two minutes with an armload of wood. And dropped it with a loud clatter when one bandit grabbed him from behind. Another held a rifle to his throat. The third was finishing off Ohmani with a quick slash of the knife. The smell of hot blood permeated the cold cave air.

And then just as suddenly he was released. One of the brigands hit the ground beside him dropped from a great height. Nick spun on the balls of his feet, uselessly slapping his hand on his hip, now empty of his pistol.

In his three years with the Legacy, Nick had seen many remarkable things, most of them horrible. This huge creature was like none of those. Long, waving fur shone an iridescent, silken brown in the firelight. That fur covered a graceful, long limbed leonine body. A wondrous, sharply beaked head now closed on one of the remaining brigands with a resounding snap, cutting both the man and his rifle in two. Blood spurted everywhere.

The creature filled the cavern as far as the firelight reached and disappeared into the shadows beyond. Around its legs and underneath its body whirled Arrien and his flock of shaman wannabes. The griffin stepped over them carefully, pursuing the third bandit.

Derek was no where in sight.

"Derek!" Nick screamed once, twice. "Derek, damn it man! Answer me!"

No answer came.

"The shaman is a person, male or female, who has an overwhelming psychological experience that turns him totally inward. The whole unconsciousness opens up, and the shaman falls into it." Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth.

Almost dawn, Uzben

I'm dreaming, Derek thought. I hope I am. In his head, the griffin's blood lust pounded at him, whispered the adoration of the shamans and Nick's fear while more quietly.

Nick stood maybe 10 feet away, his glossy black automatic pistol finally in his hand, but holding his fire. So far the griffin was on his side. Good boy, Derek thought, but didn't know Nick believed him dead.

A shower of boulders, dirt and snow exploded outwards as Derek's griffin body forcibly enlarged the cave entrance. The third bandit ran toward the village where a few lamps were beginning to show. That morning, Uzben woke up to a wondrous sight - a 20 foot tall mythical beast stalking a human prey through snowy streets.

"He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions." Daniel 6:27

Dawn, about two miles west of Uzben in a Mi-24 Russian made helicopter

From the helicopter, two miles away, Derek's abrupt exit from the cave looked like several sticks of dynamite going off. Philip was certain he was too late to save Nick and Derek from Alex's precognition of death. Moments too late, even just seconds.

And he was to blame, Philip thought. When Alex had finally ran him down at the Jesuit center in Dublin, he had listened stubbornly disbelieving for 20 precious minutes. Finally Alex had read Derek's letter to him. Derek sounded scared, and Alex was scared too. It was enough. Philip would go to Kyrgyzstan.

Of course, it hadn't been as easy as that. It took another precious two hours to make arrangements, get permissions and pack. A private flight to London, a public flight to Istanbul, another to Osh. It had taken him a little over 24 hours to get to the airport in Osh, and Uzben was still a day away on horseback, and it was late evening here, almost 10 p.m.

In jeans and sweater, Philip stood in front of the dusty Osh terminal, debating his best course of action. A taxi filled with five young Japanese and at least twice that many pairs of skis drove past. It had come from a building 200 feet away with a sign showing a helicopter cruising low over snowcapped peaks just barely visible in the scant airport lighting. Helicopter skiing. Helicopters.

Within an hour Philip was on his way to Uzben. It had taken many of the Legacy's dollars to persuade the chopper pilot to fly at night, but the weather had cleared and the man knew the way.

All for nothing. They were too late.

The Russian made helicopter beat closer and closer. The pilot, who spoke not a word of English, yelled and pointed. In the first red light of dawn, Philip saw the griffin, an enormous living, breathing escapee from a coat of arms. It pawed at something on the ground, oblivious to the approaching helicopter.

"Put her down over there," Philip yelled at the pilot, pointing off to the side. He never found out whether the man misunderstood him, panicked or lost control. The chopper instead of landing, began to spin, whirling inexorably toward the griffin's golden back. The tail rotor thwacked it sideways, and the main rotor barely missed cutting into a furred shoulder.

Leaping faster than an animal that big should have been able to move, the griffin knocked the helicopter hard. Just as the helicopter's motor coughed and died, a very strange thing happened. The griffin caught it, lowering it gently to the ground. It bent over to peer in the glass walled cockpit, then with no transition, no movement, disappeared.

Derek. Old German name meaning ruler of the people. Has the power to win devotion or allegiance of others. Likes to dominate, strong. Very loving and caring. Seen at the 'Names and Their Meaning' artwork shop in San Antonio, Texas

December 21st, winter solstice, Angel Island

Rachel finished reading the letter Alex had found in Derek's desk and handed it back to Alex.

"Well, it's not a suicide note," she said, "but I wouldn't take any chances."

"They're not. Philip chartered a private jet out of Athens and Nick's not leaving Derek alone for a second. I think that close brush with the griffin shook everyone up," Alex said, then looking into Rachel's eyes, "Nick thought Derek had been killed for sure." She turned and put the letter back in Derek's desk. There would probably be hell to pay when he found out she'd opened it, but somehow it didn't seem important.

"The griffin," Rachel asked, "where did it come from?" Alex's answer was a shake of her head and a lifting of the shoulders. Philip's phone call had been brief, mostly about an enormous living griffin and the rescue of Nick and Derek, unharmed. They'd take a private jet chartered in Istanbul to New York, he said, and from there a non-stop commercial flight into San Francisco International. The Legacy's helicopter would pick them up there. Their trip from Uzben to Angel Island would actually be two hours shorter than Philip's mad dash from Dublin, even though it was 7,000 miles further. They were due to arrive on Angel Island any minute now.

Kat's childish treble piped a tuneless song on the stairway, as she played a children's game, sliding up and down the stairs. Today was winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, a day Druids had celebrated for 2,000 years. Rachel and Kat had come for a party, but it looked as though there would be none today.

"Life in its manifestation is vibration." Edgar Cayce, reading no. 1861-16

"There is an instinct for rhythmic relations which embraces our entire world of forms." Freidrich Nietzsche

They had been afraid to push him too hard. Although that in itself disturbed Derek, he was grateful for the temporary respite.

Tomorrow there would have to be answers but tonight he could escape and escape he did. The grand piano in the most informal of the Castle's drawing rooms kept him company. He played every piece he had ever learned, but avoided the one he longed to play, the song he had learned on the dream plain.

Then he could feel Rachel standing at the door behind him. She moved closer and closer, and finally his dream song could wait no more. He began to play the melody that was his alone. Rachel, sweet Rachel, would be the first to pass judgment on him. Rachel's soft concern seeped into his mind. The blazing pounding of his song slowed, sweetened and finally stopped, soothed.

He looked at her to see what she thought, but couldn't read anything but caring. He slid aside, making room for her to sit with him.

Her eyes were soft, accepting. Her hair and skin silken. Carefully, he took her face in both his hands, and kissed her, tasting the peaty taste of the fine old Scotch, savoring it.

Finally, he stopped. Pulled away. "You don't think that way about me, do you?" he asked, but didn't want the answer she started to give.

"No," he said laying a hand on her mouth, "leave me some pride." She stopped and he turned back to the piano and plinked a note or two. "I think I'd better go to bed," Derek finally said. And left Rachel sitting on the piano bench, staring after him, her heart still pounding, wondering.

Part Two

"... post -Communism, many Russians view science with suspicion. When the lid was lifted, as was also true of virulent ethnic hatreds, what had all along been bubbling subsurface was exposed to view. The region is now awash in UFOs, poltergeists, faith healers, quack medicines, magic waters, and old-time superstition." - Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World

December 22, the Mother House in London

The phone line clicked as the translator came on. "Good evening," she said, first in Oxford-accented English and then smooth Russian. "Are we ready? I am Lydia Browning of James and Browning Translation Services, and you are Mr. Jason Ransom and Mr. Sergey Golovko. Is that correct?" The same thing again in Russian, followed by affirmative noises all around. Harrison hoped Ms. Browning had never read Debt of Honor. Stupid of Krimsky to use a name out of a popular novel.

"Shall we proceed?" (Russian repetition.)

Harrison launched the conversation with, ."Sergey, old man, good to hear from you." Krimsky's voice came on after Browning's translation. The Russian was using a cellular phone that gave his voice an unearthly, hollow sound.

Browning's deep contralto voice said, "Greetings to you also. My man in Kurdistan, no, that was Kyrgyzstan, reports our competitor has completed his bridge." Pause while Krimsky spoke again. "We took a heavy loss." Pause for translation. "Our work in Moscow still proceeds, but I'm inclined to send some negotiators to San Francisco." Pause. "Can you help?"

"I doubt the old man can spare anyone right now," that was true enough, "but we'd like to help in some way." The "we," of course, was just Harrison. "Will your team be passing through London?"

Why, yes, they'd be at Heathrow for two hours tomorrow, 3 to 5 a.m. local time. Harrison groaned. Then silently chastised himself. When he became Mother House precept, he'd have to endure a great deal more. A little lost sleep was nothing if Rayne could be taken out of the competition.

"Excellent," he said. "I have some ammunition they will find very helpful at the bargaining table." Pause for translation. "I'll meet them there." As he hung up, a grin spread slowly over Harrison's jowly face. Good show! Grimsky's thugs would deliver the egg to San Francisco. He wouldn't have to risk it in the mails after all.

Lydia Browning took off her headphones and rubbed her itchy ears. Sergey Golovko, is it? She shook her head. Corporate spies have absolutely no imagination and read far too much Tom Clancy. Chuckling, she pushed her athletic body away from the desk. She'd have to hurry to make the gym by six. Christine would tie her gloves together if she were more than five minutes late. Having a sister for a boxing coach could be trying.

The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality. Dante.

December 22, the Castle library, Angel Island

Philip surveyed the library from his chair, half way between the Christmas tree and the mahogany table where the four Legacy members sat. Derek's household staff never ceased to amaze him. Now that the precept was back in residence, a fresh, tastefully decorated evergreen had mysteriously appeared overnight. Ribbon garlands adorned the most used drawing rooms and mistletoe hung over every doorway. And Philip had not seen so much as a ladder, or for that matter a workman.

"Plan, what plan?" Nick was saying, as he proffered Derek's letter in Rachel's general direction. She shook her head. She'd read it yesterday. Derek sat with his hands clasped, fingertips pressed together. His steepled forefingers tapped his lips, as if reminding himself to speak with care. Dark stress rings still shadowed his eyes, but his voice was old Derek, steady and authoritative.

"Alex," he said, "I honestly don't know what to say to you. I . . . "

Nick broke in, "Alex had a premonition, Derek. You're always telling us to trust our instincts. She saw us in trouble. I would have done the same thing." Alex gave Nick a little thank you grin and under the table squeezed his hand.

"I have a peace offering," she said to Derek, picking up a thin sheaf of papers and folding back the first page. "While I was hanging out, back at the ranch, trying not to go out of my mind worrying about everyone, I started a little research project."

A thinning of lips signaled Derek's displeasure. He could guess the subject of her "project" and was not pleased. If someone backtracked Alex's inquiries . . . However, what was done, was done. Alex, eyes on her notes, didn't see Derek's grimace. "I've been scanning Legacy internal files and came up with three interesting facts," she went on. Ticking her points off on her brown fingers, "Fact one – three new Legacy Houses have been added in the last two years, all of them in the former Soviet Union. Never," she said looking up for emphasis, "in the Legacy's entire recorded history have so many Houses been added in such a short time."

"Point two," she continued, "in the last three years, seven active Legacy members have died, including two precepts. All deaths were what the police like to call 'unnatural.'

"Fact three – four of those seven deaths were at the Mother House in London. The rest you already know about."

"Four at the Mother House?" Derek asked. "I hadn't realized. So many. Not all at once, I take it?"

Rachel shook her head and said, "A suicide, a ritual murder, and," she looked down at her papers again, "the last two were killed by what onlookers swear was a giant snake." Derek's eyebrows went up. A snake?

"Philip," Derek said, spinning his chair toward him. "You're going home to Dublin tonight?"

"Midnight," the priest said. "It was the only flight open."

"How has your family been handling Robert's death?"

"Not well."

"I'm sorry to hear that. Any progress at Scotland Yard?"


Derek leaned toward Philip to intensify his next question, "How would you like a chance to catch a killer, Philip? Maybe not Robert's killer, but a killer nevertheless."

Philip looked at Derek a moment, then away at the Christmas tree. The silence grew uncomfortably long. Derek went on, "We need an information pipeline in the London House. A phone tap or a video uplink, something on that order. Will you help us? Philip?"

Nick watched the resistance in Philip's rigid body. He remembered Derek in Osh. "You may have to do something you don't want to," he had said. Apparently Nick was not going to be the only one.

Philip's body language relaxed. He had come to a decision. "On one condition," he said. "You haven't told us what you know about the griffin." Then he grinned a little. "Remember," he quoted, "'faith has need of the whole truth.'"

"Yes, the griffin, of course. I believe it was something created by the dream dance, a manifestation, if you will," Derek hoped that would satisfy him. It was, after all, the truth.

"You mean the dancers had a collective hallucination?" Rachel asked, as usual looking at conventional answers first.

"Some hallucination!" Nick exclaimed. "It killed three bandits!"

The muscles around Derek's eyes grew tight at the reminder. "And it might have killed more if Philip hadn't arrived with the helicopter. Now, if you don't mind, let's get to work. Only two shopping days left until Christmas, you know." The lame joke effectively ending the parlay. Philip was keeping Cinderella hours and there was much to get ready.

"Now there is another, deeper meaning of dreamtime – which is of a time that is no time, just an enduring state of being." - Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth.

Christmas morning about 3 a.m., Rachel Corrigan's house, San Francisco

"Help mij! LOOK OUT! No!" Rachel ran down her upstairs hall to the guest bedroom. "Help mij!"

Derek sat in bed, his wide open but unseeing. His arms flailed wildly, he was hitting himself, the bed lamp and everything else within reach. Rachel sat on the bed and hugged him, pinning his arms down. The lamp tottered precariously as Derek moaned and fought her.

Last night they had spent a Christmas eve en famille. It had seemed so normal. Persuading Derek to leave his Legacy work, even for the holiday had been the most difficult part, but once there he appeared to enjoy himself, getting flour in his hair as they baked gingerbread and singing Christmas carols in Dutch much to Kat's amusement.

Now the horror had caught up with him again. She whispered soothing words and pressed her head against his chest. He quieted.

Derek wandered on the dream plain again. Every night he came back here and every night it was the same. He was the tall, strong griffin, sitting at the gate to reality, a barrier to the outer dark. He was a mortal man with words of love that never had time to be spoken. He was a 15 year old boy in a cave in Peru crying helplessly over his father's body. All were him and more, and they all stood together on the plain looking down at the gray haze creeping over the cheerful lights of downtown San Francisco. Fog, they thought, the famous Bay Area fog. But the lights began to wink out with finality as a serpent of blackness crept inexorably over the landscape. Daly City, Oakland, Pacifica, Millbrae.

No, not fog, too black for fog. Too dead. And then came agonized screams from those trapped in the blackness below, dying as it squeezed out their lives. The griffin leapt off the dream plain, down towards San Francisco, running, angry. This fight was his.

The griffin looked at the blackness slithering down Telegraph Hill, a churning snake of bodies, cars and masonry. The snake broke into tendrils and the tendrils into still smaller serpents with yellow eyes. Derek's griffin beak snapped at them, but where he cut off one, two more grew back. They wrapped around him, crept up his legs, and closed around his throat.

Derek came awake gasping for air, every muscle in his body contracting all at once, leaving him trembling and chilled. It took him a moment to realize that he lay side by side with Rachel, one of her arms tightly wrapped around him, her body warmly pressed to his side. She was whispering, "Hush, hush.. It's OK. Hush now." The faintest light of Christmas morning shown through the window.

Derek's dark hazel eyes wandered over the face just inches from his, paused on her lips, but moved on to the brown eyes. Even awake his heart pounded from the remembered horror. "I think," he said, "it's coming to San Francisco"

"The griffin?"

"No . . . yes. The griffin and something else. Something I can't see. I don't think I want to see. It's just blackness and it smells of death." They whispered. Even words like blackness and death can seem an intimacy when whispered.

They lay quietly for a while. Derek's nightmare panic subsided, and his body became more and more aware of Rachel's warmth. His hand smoothed her blonde hair. "I've kept you up half the night, haven't I? Why didn't you wake me?"

"I fell asleep," she smiled. "It's OK." She moved a little closer. "I enjoyed sleeping with you." Now was the time, if she wanted him, to let him know. Life must look forward or be forever lost in the past, she thought, and tilting her head a little brought her lips to him. Her body followed, pressing his almost involuntarily, the kiss involving her every muscle. It had been so very, very long.

Down the hall, Kat's little girl voice broke into Jingle Bells, sung half in Dutch, half in English. Her feet pattered on thin hall carpet. "Mom? Derek? Where is everyone?"

"All money is congealed energy." - Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Just before dawn on Christmas morning, the waters off Angel Island.

The Englishman's instructions had been very explicit. Moddul had even made notes to be sure they would remember everything just right. Lay a small fire of oak or rowan. Place the egg in the center, along with a picture of Derek Rayne. Burn the wood completely, all the way down to ashes. Scatter the warm ashes and egg fragments in the waters around Angel Island, chanting, "Auqa ni siugna tetal" until they were done.

Zoll weighed the egg with his hand. It seemed to be made out of polished pink marble, a thing unlikely to burn up in any size fire. But Harrison had been most insistent that it would work and Krimsky had said to trust him. Might as well, as the Americans said, cover all their goalies, or was that bases? They would set up Harrison's incantation, but they would also kill Derek Rayne the old fashioned way, with a bomb and a bullet. Only when Rayne died would they get the 100,000 American dollars. They needed to be very, very sure.

Gingerly Zoll lay the egg and a newspaper photo on broken oak picture frames from their hotel room. Raizo shielded his lighter from the slight breeze blowing across the boat's open stern and lit the small stack. The egg caught fire first, then its hot flames ignited the oak pieces. Soon nothing was left on the aluminum deck except a small pile of gray ashes and black shell fragments. They would have to be parsimonious with their scattering or the cinders wouldn't make it all the way around the island. Moddul started the engine of the rented boat and they puttered quietly into the earliest light of Christmas morning.

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." - James 1:17

Christmas Day about 2 in the afternoon, Rachel Corrigan's house, San Francisco

Occasionally Derek Rayne was grateful to have almost unlimited personal wealth. This was one of those times.

In her small arms Kat gently hugged a tiny sealpoint Persian kitten with baby blue eyes and a non-stop purr motor. It had taken no little money to locate the purebred kitten on Christmas eve, and even more to have it delivered here Christmas day, along with a box of kitty necessities, but Kat's unabashed joy made it worthwhile.

Derek sat in a comfortable armchair. From the couch Rachel was giving him one of those "how-could-you-do-this-to-me-I-thought-you-were-my-friend" looks. Derek shrugged a little apology and tried to look guilty.

"Oh," Kat said, jumping up, "I almost forgot. There's one more present for Derek!" She put the kitten down and ran into the laundry room where wrapping paper, ribbons and name tags were still scattered about. The kitten, already bonding to her, followed in playful little leaps.

Kat returned with a small flat package about the size of her hand in bright red Santa Claus paper. "Here," she said, holding it out to Derek. "I wrapped it myself."

"Why thank you, sweetness," Derek said, and took it from her.

"Oh, it's not from me," Kat replied. "Christine asked me to give it to you. She couldn't stay very long."

Derek looked at Rachel's concerned face. She had nearly lost Kat the last time Christine had come for a visit. The seeds of panic were in Rachel's eyes.

Derek put his arm around Kat's small body and pulled her close. "Christine came to see you last night? Do you remember what she said?"

"She said, 'give this to Derek.' And that you'd know what to do with it. But I wrapped it for her, 'cause she didn't have any Christmas paper."

"OK. Well then, let's see what we have," Kat turned in Derek's arms to watch his hands opening the present. She wriggled a little in excitement. Out of the paper came a flattish leather pouch, about three inches long, with a design worked in amber and jet beads.

Derek released Kat, who grabbed the kitten and headed for the kitchen and a dish of milk. He held the pouch up for Rachel to see. A golden cat with an eagle's beak stood, one paw raised, its open mouth screaming challenge and a single red eye bead flashing defiance at the world.

"Ohmigod," Rachel said, "the griffin."

"Death is afraid of him because he has the heart of a lion." - Arab proverb.

Same time, same place. "It's a protective amulet, I think," Derek said. He poured out its contents into his palm and examined each in turn. A claw, a feather, a small hunk of amber, a piece of reptile skin. Returning them, he tightened the cords and slipped the bag over his head, letting it fall inside his silk shirt.

He took Rachel's hands in his, "Let's not worry about it now, shall we? It's Christmas Day and we were having such a good time."

"But Christine . . ." Rachel let her voice trail off, then started again. "Do you think my grandfather is coming back?"

"No, I don't," Derek reassured her, kissing the tips of her fingers and then her forehead. "Don't worry so."

Kat chose that moment to return and announce the kitten's name was for now and henceforth, or at least until tomorrow, Bo-Peep.

The doorbell rang. Derek and Kat played pitty-pat with the kitten while Rachel went to answer it. She returned with a brown parcel, exclaiming about the dedication of postal employees who deliver on Christmas Day. She began to open it.

To Derek, the room seemed to suddenly to disappear in fire and pain. Rachel's face disintegrated before his eyes into a thousand bloody fragments. He staggered and then came back to reality. A vision. He snatched the box out of Rachel's hands, ran to the nearest window and pitched it through the glass into the backyard.

"Get back! Get back!" he yelled and grabbing Kat ran after Rachel into the hall. Derek's arms encircled Rachel and her daughter protectively. Kat held Bo-Peep, petting her with jerky little movements. "Well, maybe . . " Derek began to say, but was interrupted by the backyard exploding in a wall of flame. Air, dirt, pieces of furniture and Christmas tree decorations blew into the hall through the open livingroom door.

Derek jumped up and yelled, "Call 9-1-1!" He ran for the front door. Bombers often stayed to see the explosion.

"Derek! Don't!" Rachel cried after him, but it was too late. She hugged Kat close. The nearest phone was in the kitchen and that's where she went.

Part Three

"A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother." Proverbs 10:1.

December 26, 7 p.m., Harrison's apartment in London.

Harrison finished one sleeve of his best white shirt and set the hot iron down while he arranged the other.

Her Royal Majesty's Year End Ball for Interpreters and Translators began in one hour. But Precept Tremaine had kept him late, and Harrison was far from ready. Boxing Day had begun with San Francisco emailing them a computer virus. The resulting file server crash had kept the Mother House busy all day . . . and deeply ticked off the Brits. San Francisco a backfire into their system. It received little sympathy and less help.

Somehow Harrison forgot he'd planted that virus. After all Sir Tremaine's mismanagement caused the real problems. The old man shouldn't have had kept us so late, Harrison thought. We have lives to get on with! When I'm precept, my house members won't have to stand on their heads to get social leave. Modern languages dominated the Translator's Ball, but at least 20 in ancient tongues always came, plenty of reason for Harrison to go, as Tremaine bloody well knew.

Harrison waved the steamy iron at the only wall decoration in the tiny apartment, a black and white picture of a stern, middle-aged woman wearing a pith helmet and holding a feathered spear as tall as she. "You did a better job when you were precept, Mums. Sir Eddy's a waste." He had a humorous thought, "And I'm going to waste him and all his little favorites." Chuckling at his little pun, Harrison finished the second sleeve.

The CNN newscaster rattling on the telly had less than half his attention until he heard a grating combination of syllables, "Derek Rayne." He paused in the middle of pressing the collar. The telly showed a file photo of Rayne's handsome face and full lips. The American reporter continued, "This just in from San Francisco, Dr. Derek Rayne, noted San Francisco humanitarian and founder of the Luna Foundation for the Preservation of Antiquities, shot yesterday in an apparent assassination attempt. Fortunately, Dr. Rayne suffered only a superficial head wound. A mail bomb also damaged the home of Dr. Rachel Corrigan, a member of the Luna Foundation board of directors. It's not clear whether the two incidents are connected." The screen cut to a videotape time stamped 8:00 last night, San Francisco time. The camera chased Rayne and a pretty blonde woman as they walked to a Legacy helicopter, the sword decal plainly visible.

"Dr. Rayne," the reporter shouted over the chopper's idling rotor, "do you have any idea who's after you?"

Rayne turned to the camera, revealing a long clipped notch in his hair and a shining white bandage. "No comment," was his only comment. The blonde woman's haunted eyes moved back and forth between the camera and Rayne's face.

As the helicopter took off, the reporter continued, "Based on reports from witnesses at the scene, the San Francisco police are looking for three Asian males. These men have been tentatively identified by Interpol as members of an antiquities smuggling ring operating in Asia, Europe and North America. Russian authorities provided CNN with these exclusive photos." On the screen flashed bad snapshots of Krimsky's henchmen, Moddul, Zoll and Raizo. "If you have seen any of them in the last few days, call San Francisco police at area code 415, 638-9467."

The smell of scorched cotton brought Harrison back to London. "Bloody stupid bastards! Bloody, bloody stupid!" he yelled. He threw the iron at the wall, smashing his mother's picture and saturating it with steaming water. Harrison gasped at the carnage, then sat down heavily on his dusty couch and indulged in a good cry.

Teaming up with the Russians hadn't been such a good idea after all. They were too greedy, too eager for short term profit. Flying off like that. If they'd only just sit back and let his basilisk do the job. The basilisk, too fantastic to be believed, too deadly to be defeated. Maybe Rayne found some shaman drivel in Kyrgyzstan, but nothing, nothing, stood a chance against a poisonous snake two hundred feet long.

Feeling better, Harrison, fished his second best shirt out of the laundry bag and began to dress for the ball.

Gloucester: Why dost thou spit at me? Anne: Would it were mortal poison, for thy sake! Gloucester: Never came poison from so sweet a place. Anne: Never hung poison on a fouler toad. Out of my sight! Thou dost infect my eyes. Gloucester: Thine eyes, sweet lady, have infected mine Anne: Would they were basilisks, to strike thee dead! Gloucester: I would they were, that I might die at once; for now they kill me with a living death . . . William Shakespeare, King Richard III, Act I, Scene 2.

In San Francisco Bay, just off Angel Island, 11 a.m., December 26.

It hungered. From the first moment of awareness, it hungered. The body fed on whatever unwise protein crossed its path -- fish, seaweed, plankton, it mattered not. That was the lesser hunger. The basilisk spirit craved only one food. A man, a certain man. A man close by. At night the basilisk hunted the dream plain. It smelled the man's spirit again and again. But only glimpses of him did it catch. Cat like shadows on the edge of sleep.

The basilisk's long snake body coiled and writhed. Acid green scales glowed in the muddy Bay water. Soon it would be strong enough to strike, first at the man's mind, then at his body. Soon it would feast. Soon.

December 26, 8 p.m., the Interpreter's Ball in London.

Lydia Browning ambushed Philip from behind while he was still removing his coat. Putting her hands over his eyes, she whispered in his ear, "Guess who, Phil."

Few people still called him Phil, and even fewer of those were women. "Lydia? Lydia Browning?" Philip hugged Lydia happily. "What are you doing here? I thought you were in Moscow translating for I.T.&T."

"Went into business with Geof James. You remember him. One form behind us. We do contract translating right here in London. I just couldn't bear Moscow."

"Let me guess – no ladies' boxing."

"You know me too well -- no ladies' boxing. And you, what's doing with you? How's the 'father' business?" she asked, tweaking his Roman collar.

Philip told her. He never kept anything from Lydia. She knew about Ellen, even a little about his Legacy work. He caught her up as they strolled to the punch bowl through the crowd of party goers. They made quite a pair, a tall Irish cleric and an equally tall blonde woman, both dressed as plain as wrens among the brilliant plumage around them.

"Kyrgyzstan, really?" Lydia said. "That's amazing. I'd never heard of it until two days ago. One of my clients mentioned it."

But Lydia had lost Philip's attention to something behind her. Turning, she followed his gaze to a short round man reminiscent of a penguin in his black tuxedo, now waddling in their direction. "Someone you know?" she asked. Penguin arrived before Philip could reply.

"Father Philip!" Penguin cried. "Fancy seeing you in London! I thought you were still at the San Francisco house."

"Hello! Sad to say, I'm no longer with the Foundation. I'm at the Jesuit study center in Dublin," Philip replied. Turning to Lydia, he said, "Lydia, may I present to you a fellow student of ancient tongues, Beverly Harrison. Beverly, this is Lydia Browning."

Harrison winced at the sound of his hated given name then decided on a little revenge. "I was so sorry to hear about Dr. Rayne. How shocking. Have they apprehended the culprits?"

Philip's bushy eyebrows leapt toward his hairline. He hadn't heard yet. Oh, excellent, Harrison thought. "What do you mean? What's happened?" Philip asked. Harrison told him.

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.) Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

On Angel Island, December 26, noon

They're not going to buy it, Derek thought. The concern radiated by the members of his House took no shamanic talent to read. Rachel, still angry he'd refused to stay at St. Lukes' Hospital, avoided his eyes. Nick sat at the conference table wearing his 9-millimeter Glock in a shoulder holster. And earlier this morning Derek had found Alex at the breakfast table, the Sforza tarot deck spread out before her in the 11-card Celtic Cross conformation. No, telling them not to worry wouldn't work.

Derek fingered Christina's amulet, looking at the griffin's red eye. It winked at him wisely in the weak winter daylight. The griffin would have to fight soon.

"Alex," he said, "what did your tarot reading tell you?"

Alex's troubled eyes looked into his. "I cast it for you, Derek, not me. The nine of Swords came up in position 4 and the Devil in position 6." Her face grew bleak. "The significator was Death." This last was plainly difficult for her to get out. She looked past him at the San Francisco skyline visible through the windows, as she said it, afraid to look at him. Nick knew nothing of tarot, but he could the deep stress lines on Alex's face. His fingers nervously played with a spare clip of bullets.

"Hmm, nightmare, violence, and death for me. Is that your reading?" Derek asked Alex.

"Maybe not, I hope not. Maybe you're death for someone else," she replied

"What about position 11, the final outcome?" Derek asked. "Will I be successful?"

"The Hanged Man, a...a sacrifice, I think," anxiety made Alex stammer. She went on, "One card didn't make sense." Derek raised a questioning eyebrow.

"The Magician in position 2."

"Sickness," Derek decided. "An illness now or very soon. Hmmm . . ."

"I want to thank all of you coming back to the Island. I know you had to sacrifice. So, let's get to work. Nick, Alex, see what you can do about getting the LAN operational. We need that virus cleaned out and the system running. Rachel," he said, turning toward her, "I have a special job for you." The meeting dissolved.

Rachel practiced Derek's simple tune on the grand piano's ivory keys. Da-dum, te-dum, der-rum te-dum, de-la-a-la. The dream song echoed softly in the quiet room. Although she played pianissimo to avoid disturbing Derek, whose head bent over a Legacy journal a few feet away, Rachel's rigid back announced what she thought of music as medication. She stopped with a crash of keys. "This is insane," she said and slammed down the piano's fallboard. "I'm supposed to play a song to keep you healthy?" She went to stand over him. "Head wounds can lead to seizures and all kinds of complications. Tell me you'll go back to the hospital for more tests."

He looked up at her. "No, I won't go."

"Why ever not? What are you out to prove?" Rachel asked and for the first time that day looked him directly in the eye.

"Prove? Nothing. But I made a promise and swore an oath."

"To whom? The Legacy? Your father? That murderer, you know you're going to have to wake up some time, Derek. Can't you see . . ." She stopped as Derek's chair abruptly crashed backward. He fell to the floor, arms and legs jerking spasmodically, his eyes horrible white blanks. His mouth began to foam.

Derek fought an invisible enemy for control of his body. The poisonous basilisk spirit forced on him seizure after seizure. Apparently, the griffin's first battle would be here inside his head. He thought, Can't lose, not yet. The song, Rachel, the song.

"Stand back," Rachel told Alex and Nick, who at the crashing sounds had come running from the control room. "Don't restrain him."

"What's going on?" Nick asked. "He's never had seizures before."

"The head wound's internal bleeding or maybe brain damage," she told him. "Damn, damn. How soon can you get the helicopter here?"

"It's at the airport refueling. Twenty minutes at least and another ten to the hospital. Coast Guard could probably get a Medivac chopper here in fifteen." Nick looked at Rachel. "But that's not good enough, is it?"

"No, it's not. I think it's a grand mal. Without Dilantin he'll have brain damage in ten minutes and be dead in ten more," Rachel replied.

"I'm going to radio for the Medivac. I just can't stand here," Nick said, and ran to the control room's shortwave radio.

"Let's roll him on his side," Rachel said to Alex. "He might choke." Alex took one of Derek's arms. Her eyes grew wide. "Take his hand, Rachel! He's yelling inside his head! He keeps saying 'play my song' over and over."

Rachel took Derek's left hand in both of hers. "I hear him," she said. "I can't believe it! I hear him!"

Play my song! The dream song! Play it! Please, Rachel, play the song! Derek's voice echoed in her mind.

"OK, if that's what you want," Rachel told him. Sitting down at the piano, she lifted the fallboard, and poised her hands over the keys. The tune wouldn't come. Tears threatened to roll down her cheeks. She wiped her eyes. She couldn't fail him now, not when all he wanted was that silly song! Desperately, she began fingering keys at random, hoping the melody would materialize. First her ear found the minor key, then the first simple bar, then the next and the next. Alex picked up the tune and together she and Rachel crooned a wordless dream song lullaby. Da-dum, te-dum, der-rum te-dum, de-la-a-la.

Derek's spasms quieted, then stopped. The pupils of his beautiful eyes reappeared. Rachel continued to play while Alex helped Derek sit up. He wiped the spittle from his mouth with the sleeve of his cardigan. "Rachel, you can stop now," he gasped.

br> "I don't want to ever have to do that again," Derek said. "Help me up." Supported by the two women, Derek staggered to a couch.

Nick came running back. "Thank God. The Medivac'll be here in ten minutes."

"No, no, call them back," Derek said. "I'm not going anywhere and I don't want any strangers on the island." Nick didn't move. "I said call them back."

"No, I won't do that," Nick replied. "For once, you're going to let us take care of you."

In the hall a secured Legacy phone began to ring.

December 26, a few minutes before midnight, the alley behind the London House, an ancient, imposing mansion near the Thames.

"Tell me again why we're here," Lydia gasped in a whisper as her hands the cold from the brick wall seeping through her black sweatpants. She and Philip stood, pressed into a pocket of shadow about ten feet from the Mother House's service door.

Philip told her, "I made a promise to Derek. But you," his white teeth flashed as he grinned in the dark, "you just love excitement."

"No, I'd just love to bring those smugglers to justice. Harrison's in it, I tell you. I translated a Moscow call for him. They talked about Kyrgyzstan and San Francisco. It has to be him!" She squeezed Philip's hand. "And besides you need my help. Priests don't make good cat burglars."

"We'll not burgle a thing. Just add a little book to their collection," he whispered in reply, hefting the disguised camcorder. Nick had trashed a perfectly good leather bound copy of Shakespeare. A pity. "We won't even break and enter. Derek gave me the Legacy's overriding security code. Nothing to it."

"That's why you brought me along."

"Company, lass, and you're the best dirty fighter I know, male or female. You beat me up."

"You were only 10 years old!"

"And so were you. No matter, the game's afoot, Watson! We must be about."

Lydia looked both ways down the alley, checked the shadowed spots, even glanced upward at the cornices overhead. Then she surreptitiously studied her old school chum's face as he punched in the security code. Since his phone call to San Francisco, Phil's eyebrows made one tight bushy bar across his brow and his lips tended to tremble. Either the news from Angel Island had been very bad indeed or the priest's conscience pricked him sorely.

In another moment they entered a dark hall smelling of old food and disinfectant.

"This way," Philip whispered, taking her hand. Lydia's light boxer's stance carried her soundlessly down the hall. Philip's heavier tread clicked quietly on a thin carpet. Derek had drawn him a map based on hazy memories of several visits to the Mother House. The conference room should be down here.

It would have been so much simpler if the doorman had just let Phil pay a social call earlier today. But there'd been no luck that way, some kind of problem with the computer system. "Everyone's tied up," the doorman had told the priest. "Why don't you come back in two days?" After the phone call to San Francisco Phil had decided two days would be too long.

The conference room door had a balky latch. It popped as Philip slowly turned the knob, and dragged across the strike plate with a rattle. Lydia's hair stood on end. They slithered into the room. There, that bookcase would face the head of the table. The third shelf would be about the right height.

Phil put the camcorder down on the table and opened the leather cover, looking for the transmitter switch. Behind them Harrison said, "So nice of you to call, Father." Lydia's heart lurched painfully. The lights came on, painfully dazzling her eyes. "Hands up now," Harrison said. In his hand he held the biggest, shiniest revolver she had ever seen and around the little man's stubby neck hung a contraption that looked like hotwired welder goggles. He still wore the tuxedo.

"I'm so glad you brought Miss Browning with you, Father Philip. It saves me the trouble of finding her. Good evening again, Miss Browning."

He gestured toward the door with his pistol. "Let's go. Bring your little toy. If Derek Rayne wants to know what's going on here, I'm sure we can find a way to show him."

Hands in the air, Philip and Lydia watched Harrison pop a knob in the hall's decorative frieze. Under the stairs a panel slid open, revealing unbroken blackness. Harrison gestured with the revolver for them to enter. Then the plump little man pulled the infrared goggles over his eyes and followed Philip and Lydia into the Stygian darkness. "Keep going," he said. The priest and the tall woman stumbled blindly ahead of him into the bowels of the earth.

She plucked from my lapel the invisible strand of lint (the universal act of woman to proclaim ownership). O. Henry, Strictly Business.

December 26, the drawing room on Angel Island, 3 p.m.

Rachel gently brushed a stray hair strand back from Derek's forehead. The graying mane looked even more unruly than usual. A clipped and bandaged furrow took out a large notch, and the remainder was wildly mussed. Derek napped on one of the drawing room's soft couches, a blanket tucked under his chin. Rachel sat next to him. Derek rolled his head towards her. His eyes opened. Not napping, no. His spirit had been hunting the dream plain.

"You're upset I didn't let the Medivac take me to the hospital," he stated, studying her drawn face.

She nodded. "Yes, I am." He took her hand and squeezed it gently. She continued, "I'm not sure how much more I can take. I'd tell a patient to get out of a situation like this. To look out for herself...and I have to think of Kat too. I can't get . . . involved with someone, with someone..."

"Rachel, I'll be all right," he interrupted her. "It's not what you think. You have to trust me and keep singing my song, OK? It's very, very important. Promise me if I'm in trouble again, you'll sing it for me?" She managed to summon enough humor to roll her eyes.

"You've got it. You know that. Now, where's the little pouch with the Dilantin?" She reached for the griffin amulet bag, now filled with a week's supply of the seizure drug. She slipped it around his neck. "Do you remember what to watch for? Hallucinations, halos, strange voices?"

Derek laughed. "But that's the story of my life! Rachel, I can't take one of those. I'll lose the Sight."

"You will take it, and I'll be there to make sure you do."

He shook his head and sighed. They were all so stubborn.

The griffin must fight soon, maybe even tonight. Derek had made what arrangements he could to protect his House. The re-fueled helicopter sat on its pad. Nick had dug out a box of dynamite from their field supplies. But their real protection would be to convince them to stay hidden. The basilisk sought Derek Rayne and no other. It would attack the others only if provoked.

A box of dynamite. Nick couldn't believe it. He entered one more line of code and hit the enter key, watching the screen to make sure the mini-procedure did its stuff. Derek had actually told him to get out a box of dynamite. Even told him to put it in the front hall, a probable violation of at least a half dozen Marin County safety codes. Nick wiped sweaty palms on his jeans, checked his pistol once more to make sure it was loose in the holster. Waiting could wear down the best fighter. Gotta relax. After Philip's phone call at noon, they'd re-doubled efforts to fix the LAN. The camcorder's satellite uplink feed should be coming in soon.

Alex bent over the Legacy network workstation a few feet away. Just beyond her Nick could see the security system monitor flicking from one camera to the next. Camera 5, camera 12, camera 7, it rotated among observation points randomly. Nick jumped up and ran to the security monitor. Camera 7 had caught an unnatural sickly green shiver, just for a second, just on the edge. He over rode the automatic security program and began rotating camera 7 looking for movement.

"Oh my god," Alex gasped behind him, "I'm getting Philip on the uplink! Philip's activated the camcorder! Get Derek! I think something's wrong!"

to be continued on the next page...

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