Larisa's Shadow Part 1 through 3

Part 1

It was late and, man, was she tired. That anal director just HAD to call for another take of the stupid carnival scene. Never mind that Larisa already had 15 whipped-cream pies in her face that day...what was one more? And that Lithgow with his damn whoopie cushion! He was 50 going on 15. Grrr.

But they had finally called it a day and Larisa headed straight out to her "Pimp Mobile" Sable. All she wanted to do was get home and soak in the tub...and scrub the stickiness off her face Great! That freakin' light is out again, she thought, noticing that this end of the parking lot was darker than it should have been. But she was just too tired to even be nervous about it.

Which was unfortunate.

As she slid the key into the door lock, a hand grabbed at her face from behind and then clamped down on her mouth. She felt herself pulled back against the body of the hand's owner and a knife appeared right in front of her eyes.

"Keep quiet!" her attacker said. The voice was so high and squeaky that it almost made the vulgar word sound comical...but the knife kind of negated that effect. "Keep quiet or I'll slit your soft...pretty...neck..." his voice trailed off as he seemed to lose his train of thought. She heard his breathing get heavier and felt his thumb roughly caress her neck. Even worse, his breath smelled horribly of pistachios, which really bothered her because she HATED pistachios. She was just starting to wonder if now was really the time to worry about pistachio-breath, when he suddenly whispered, "Later" to himself and then tightened his grip on her.

"C'mon, girlie. We're going for a little walk..." he growled (well, he growled as much as someone with Mickey Mouse's voice could) and pulled her away from her car. She realized that he was pulling her into the alley between the Starbuck's and the Internet Cafe she liked to use when she got the urge to check out what was going on at Larisa.com. Every speech, warning and lecture she had ever heard on the dangers of a girl alone at night was running through her head...which kind of pissed her off. Where were you 15 minutes ago? Huh?

It was at this point that she began to struggle, but it was no use. The guy might have been made of stone for all that her twisting and kicking affected him or his progress towards the dark alley.

"Now...let me spell this out real good for you...I don't want to have to keep my hand over your mouth. So if you even make a peep, I'll just cut you and find some one else to have fun with. Got it?" He emphasized his question by pushing the tip of his knife just slightly into Larisa's cheek.

Larisa's normally beautiful eyes were wide open and clouded with fear. She nodded...and was suddenly thrown to the ground near the back of the alley. Looking up, she saw her attacker for the first time. He was huge. She hadn't realized it (what with the terror and pistachio-breath on her mind), but he had been stooped way over when he was holding her. He was a giant...at least 6 and a half feet tall. He wore filthy jeans and a T-shirt with "I Love Britney Spears" emblazoned on the front. Somewhere in the back of her mind she thought, Figures. The T-shirt let her see just how futile her struggles had been as the guy was obviously a weight-lifter or something and had to weigh at least 300 pounds, all muscle. She had envisioned his face as being ugly when he had been behind her, but it wasn't. If he hadn't been dirty and grimacing with seething rage, he might have been attractive, with strong features and a shock of blond hair that framed his face just right. His eyes blazed as he looked down at her and he smiled. The smile was completely devoid of humor or kindness. It was a smile that said, "You're fucked".

At this point, without really intending to, Larisa did actually try to scream. But she was too scared and nothing came out. He crouched down on one knee and reached out for her.

This is not fair! It was all too much for her...the terror of the past few minutes, the surrounding dark and dank alley, the enormous man grabbing at her and the even worse fate which was only seconds away. She couldn't breath. She couldn't move. She couldn't even cry, although she wanted to. The man had grabbed her shirt and started tearing it.

"Please..." she whispered.

"Shut the hell up!" he bellowed back at her, his face turning red with even more fury. He raised his hand to strike her and she recoiled, closing her eyes. But the blow never came. She opened her eyes.

There was a...shape behind the man. A shadow. And as if the night itself had taken corporeal form, the shadow had wrapped itself around her attacker's wrist, holding it fast. He was looking back and seemed confused, as if trying to figure out why he couldn't bring his fist down on her. And then the shadow spoke.

"You...will...never...lay another hand on her," it said. The voice seemed to come from nowhere in particular. It was low and sounded like slow thunder, but with something else behind it...angels singing? Cold anger was also clear in the voice, but she knew that it was aimed at the man and not her. No, definitely not her.

Suddenly, Larisa heard the sound of a bone breaking and the man cried out. He was pulled to his feet like a doll grabbed by a child and thrown against a wall. Darkness enveloped the man and he screamed again. She could hear the man being hit over and over by something, as well as his now pitiful whimpering, but she couldn't see what was doing it. Darkness ebbed and flowed around her former attacker and when his face became visible for a moment, it was covered in blood. He slumped to the ground and the darkness retreated away from his body.

But it didn't leave. Larisa blinked, and she thought she could make out a faint outline in the shape of a person. In fact, it looked as if a hand were outstretched towards her as if to help her up. Summoning up her courage, she hesitantly reached out to the "hand". She made a short squeal when she felt a solid hand take hold of hers and then gently pull her to her feet.

"Are you alright?" the same thunder/angels voice said, but this time there was no anger, only concern in it.

"Uh...yea. I guess so. Umm...thanks." Larisa said. She was staring right into the shadow and the more she looked, the more she could swear that she could see a face in it. "Who...er...what...?" she started.

"A friend," the shadow said, as if that answered any possible questions. "Whenever you have need...I will be there for you." And then the shadow being seemed to melt away, leaving only the usual mundane shadows, the beaten, unconscious body of the attacker and a very confused Larisa.

She took one last look around, and then started to run back towards the studio as fast as she could. --- "And you have no idea who it was who came to your rescue?" Detective Ramos asked. Larisa was sitting in the squad car wrapped in a blanket. She was staring straight ahead into space and did not answer the question. "Ms. Oleynik?"

"What? Oh...who rescued me?" she said, considering the question for a moment before she realized what had been asked. She looked up at the detective, her eyes suddenly very serious. "Haven't you been listening? I don't even know WHAT saved me."

"Right...this man-shadow, shadowman thing...", the detective replied. He made some notes in his book and then said, "I understand your friend is here to take you home. Here's my card. Detective Ramos, Robert Ramos. Call me if you think of anything else. Or if you just need to talk about what happened to you...that's part of my job, too," the last part delivered with a comforting smile.

Larisa smiled back and thanked the detective. Ramos headed over to talk to the Forensics detective and the Medical Examiner who were both drinking cheap coffee out of styrofoam cups. He turned to the doc first.

"How's the perp?" "Bad. In fact, I'm surprised he's still with us. I guess all that muscle is good for something," the examiner answered. He pulled out his own notebook and started listing off his preliminary findings. "He has multiple bone fractures, and by multiple, I mean most of his bones. Some are crushed completely. Many of his organs have been ruptured or are severely bruised. His skin is covered with bruises and I'm not sure this guy's mother would be able to recognize his face."

"Any punctures or lacerations?"

"No. This guy was beaten, not cut or stabbed."

"Beaten with what? A jackhammer?"

"Only if it had a fist-shaped bit on the end of it. The shape of the bruising clearly indicates a fist, or rather two."

"Geez," the forensics detective interrupted. "PCP?"

"Or something," the doctor nodded. "We're talking serious damage here."

"Thanks for your report, Doctor Simmons," Ramos replied. "Please let me know if you find anything else. Bill, what can you tell me about the crime scene?"

"Evidence at the scene does support the victim's story...for the most part. We found the knife and there was clearly a struggle, but..."

"But what? What do you mean 'for the most part'?"

"Well, you know this guy she says saved her? The one she claimed was a shadow?" Ramos nodded slowly, already not wanting to hear it. "Well, he might as well have been. There is almost no indication that any one else was in that alley. We've got her footprints and we've got the perp's footprints, and sure there are other, older prints. But no third set to go with the first 2. It's like he wasn't really there. But someone was there, because the beating definitely took place in that alley."
---
He woke up cold, shivering. His body was lying on something soft, but wet and cold. But that was comfortable compared to the hard, but wet and cold surface his face was pressed against. He shook off the last vestiges of sleep and lifted his head. What the...? He was lying in the grass in the courtyard behind his modest apartment building. His face had been on the hard concrete of the walkway that led from the gate to the back of the building. It was late...or early, depending on how you looked at it. Definitely closer to dawn then midnight judging from the heavy dew on the grass...and on his skin. How the hell did I get here? and then, noticing that he was naked, And where the hell did my clothes go?!? He quickly jumped up and ran towards the sliding glass door that lead to his ground floor apartment. He was thankful that it was unlocked. He was still groggy and since it was late and he had to work, he just jumped into bed, intent on warming up and getting as much sleep as possible before he had to get up for work. This is absolutely the last time I go out drinking with Vince Vaughn and his buddies. And what a weird dream. It's just like me to dream about saving Larisa...

End Part 1 ---

Part 2

Damon Ives REALLY didn't want to wake up. He had managed to stay asleep while his alarm clock went off for over an hour. But now the combination of the alarm, the phone ringing, and his neighbor pounding on the wall were becoming hard to ignore. When his eyes opened, he was looking straight at the clock, which read 8:12. Oh man, late again. He groaned audibly as he shut off the alarm and dragged himself out of bed. He heard his answering machine pick up in the other room and could vaguely hear his boss leaving a message. He didn't sound happy. Crap.

Five minutes later, he was out the door. The previous night's events were the last thing on his mind.
---
Damon had made it to work by 8:45, which was 45 minutes late, but still in time for an important scheduling meeting. He had hoped to get into that meeting before seeing his boss, but as he was approaching the conference room, someone put a hand on his shoulder from behind.

"Ah. So good of you to join us this morning, Mr. Ives." The voice dripped with sarcasm.

"Hey, Ken. Sorry I'm late...again. I overslept." It sounded pathetic even to him.

"Look, Damon. I'm not gonna lecture you on being late again. I'm just gonna spell it out for you. The next time you're late, I'll be forced to let you go. No exceptions. Got it?" His boss looked at him squarely. Damon nodded, trying to look suitably chastised. "OK. Then let's get into the meeting."

Since Damon had spent the better part of yesterday putting together the very schedule that this meeting was about, it was very boring for him. His was just staring at the wall behind the Associate Producer, not paying any attention to what was being said, when he caught a flash of motion out of the corner of his eye. He looked towards the window looking out into the hallway. And saw her.

Larisa.

She was walking past, no doubt on her way to the rehearsal stage. In Damon's eyes, she moved like an angel gracefully stepping from cloud to cloud. She was beautiful. And then she was gone, past the window. Did she look upset?

Two of the other production assistants, Laurel and Bryan, had noticed her walk by as well. Damon heard Bryan whisper, "Did you hear what happened to Larisa last night?"

"Yeah...she was attacked or something, right?" Laurel whispered back.

"In the parking lot. But that's not the weirdest thing. I heard she claims that some kind of 'shadowman' saved her."

Shadowman?

And then Damon remembered. He remembered waking up outside his apartment building last night and he remembered the dream he had been having before he woke up. He had dreamt that he had saved Larisa from a violent attacker, but in the dream he wasn't himself...he had been a shadow. What the...? This has to be coincidence. Doesn't it? Yeah, of course, I'm just being silly. I mean, for one thing...Larisa must have been mistaken anyway. A shadowman? No, she was probably just traumatized, poor girl. But then, how DID I end up naked in my backyard last night? Now that I think about it, I DIDN'T go out with Vince last night...he invited me, but I declined because I remembered when I woke up naked the last time I went out with those guys. Something weird is...

"... Damon?", the sound of his name brought him back to the meeting. Everyone was looking at him. He had no idea what he had been asked. It's gonna be a long day...
---
In a guarded hospital ward, what was left of "John Doe" lay in a bed unconscious and hooked up to various machines. The machines were the only things keeping him alive. If it could even be called that.

The lights were out, so the room was awash with oddly shaped and tinted shadows caused by the various indicator lights and screens around him. He was alone. And then he wasn't.

Two black robed figures stood over him. The dark, flowing robes covered each of them from head to toe, the only break in the material an oval-shaped opening on the face. They looked down at the nearly dead man, and then glanced at each other. Both sets of eyes gave the impression of complete, but violent alertness, as if their owners knew EXACTLY what was going on, but had not yet decided who to kill or what to destroy. One of them leaned in and made a long, low sniffing noise, as if smelling something rich and sweet.

"Can you smell it?" The voice was old, perhaps ancient, but strong. And confident. "Yes. It is him. He put this man in this condition," a younger voice replied. "Interesting. I wonder why he did not simply kill him," said the older man, turning suddenly to the other. "What does Precept 17 state?" It was a test, not a question. "To leave nothing in your wake, lest your enemy exploit your leavings," The answer came quickly, with obvious pride about that fact. "Correct." "But how can we exploit this...corpse?" "Everything evil can be made of use to us. Come. We must report what we have found to Zip-Six." And then they were gone. And "John Doe" with them.
---
Larisa lay on her side, curled into a tight ball. She had the blankets pulled over her head. She was tired, but she was wide-awake anyway. The director had sent her home early for the day. She wasn't really focused enough to be doing much good at the rehearsal, but everyone understood. Or at least thought they did.

How can they understand, when I don't even understand? What WAS that last night? When she had been questioned by Detective Ramos, she had been positive about what she had seen and she told him. He did his best to hide it, but she knew he hadn't believed her. And now, a day later when the terror and the excitement had faded, she was beginning to doubt it herself. She tried to remember some detail that would convince her one way or another, but as is often the case with traumatic experience, the details would not come. She remembered the attack, and then the man being pulled off her by...something. A man. It was just a man. She remembered the screams of her attacker. And she remembered one other thing. The one thing she had not told the police. She remembered her rescuer talking to her afterwards.

"A friend," she said aloud. "He said he was a friend." And oddly, that was the one thing she could take comfort in. She may not be able to say for sure whether or not he was a man or something...else, but some part of her believed him when he had said that. And right then, she was feeling like she could use a friend. She shivered and then got up to (re) check the locks on her doors and windows. Then she got back into bed, pulled the blankets up again, and lay there for a few more hours before finally falling asleep only a few hours before dawn.

Despite the events of the last day or so, and the confusion, and the difficulty sleeping, if Damon Ives had seen Larisa's face as she lay there, finally asleep, he would have been overcome by the beauty of her angelic face.

End Part 2 ---

Part 3

Damon Ives was thinking about Larisa.

He had tried to get more information about the attack on her from Bryan, but couldn't find him. He must have been sent off the lot on some errand. He got the official story in a memo that said that someone had been attacked in the parking lot. It was really intended to warn employees that the parking lot might not be as safe as they thought. But he had not heard any other mention of "shadows" and he didn't want to feed any rumors by asking about it.

At this point, though, he was more concerned with her well being. He knew she had left rehearsal early the day before and he remembered the look on her face as she had passed the conference room. He hoped she was OK. Then a flash of rage ran through him as he thought about Larisa being attacked.

"Never again." It was his voice, but it was as if someone else had said it. Huh?!?...

"Never again what?" Damon looked up and saw Ken Stevens standing in the door and looked at him blankly as his brain tried to decide which demanded his attention more, his boss or whatever had just happened in his head. "Earth to Damon...come in, Damon." Damon managed to get out "Oh...hey, Ken. What's up?"

"If it's not too much trouble," the sarcasm dripping, "I need you to go pick up Larisa Oleynik at her home and bring her back here."

Damon nodded quickly. Driving things and people places was a normal part of his job. He had even driven Larisa around town a few times in the past. "I'm on it," he said jumping up. He immediately realized that he was showing a little too much enthusiasm, but it was too late. The other man looked at him with a questioning expression but then turned and left. A moment later, he leaned back into the room and said, "And be polite, for god's sake. She was the one attacked the other night."

But Damon was already running out the other door.
---
Damon pressed the button and waited. It was raining hard and for a moment, the only sound was the driving rhythm of the water hitting the streets. Then a girl's voice came over the intercom. "Hello?"

"Ms. Oleynik? It's Damon Ives from CW. I'm here to take you to the studio."

"Oh, great. I'll be right down." Her voice was followed by a slight electronic click. Damon stood there on the stoop of her apartment building, just inside the brick-lined arch. He was glad for the covered entryway, since he was soaking wet from running the meager ten feet between his car and Larisa's door.

The Mexican-style stucco building was in very good shape, probably less than 3 years old. It was the usual cream color, but the curved clay roof tiles were alternating purple and green that, along with the purple door, gave the place a happy, festive look. The first time he had been here, he immediately thought it was exactly the right place for Larisa to live.

Two minutes later, Damon heard the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. The door opened and then she was standing there. Even after working at Carsey-Werner for over a year and having seen Larisa up close a number of times, she still had the same effect on him. He looked at her, taking in her beauty, his breath caught in his throat. Those amazing eyes shone with a little less light than usual, but he was still captivated. He could stare into those big, hazel pools forever.

"Damon, hey. Thanks for coming to get me," she said. Her voice snapped him out of his reverie and he realized that he was in fact staring at her.

"Oh, no problem," he said, hoping she hadn't noticed. "It's part of my job. One of the better ones actually."

"Well, I really do appreciate it. I don't know why, but my car just wouldn't start this morning."

"The Pimp Mobile?" he asked and then immediately regretted it.

Larisa looked surprised for a moment and then said, "Uh...yeah. What a pain, huh? Goodness, look at the rain!"

"Yeah, I guess we're gonna have to run for it." They ran out to the curb and he opened the passenger door of his aging Pontiac Sunbird for her. Then he ran around and jumped in the other side before he became completely soaked. The insides of the windows were all fogged up. He reached behind Larisa and grabbed a towel from the back seat.

"Defrost is busted," he explained as he wiped the windshield so he could see out of it. Once he had cleared enough of the windows to see, he started the car and pulled out into traffic. "Mistaken" by Save Ferris was playing on the stereo.

"Oh, I love this song," Larisa said. They drove along for a while listening to the music. Damon wanted to talk to her so much, but he couldn't think of what to say. Finally, Larisa spoke.

"So how did you know I call my car the 'Pimp Mobile'?" she asked, a smile creeping slowly onto to her face. "Don't tell me you're a fan? How come you never said anything?"

"Well, uh..." He could feel the heat from his face as he became embarrassed. "You know...I just wanted to give you your space. I see you give a lot of time to your fans as it is and I figured you didn't need me bothering you when you were trying to work."

"Ooh...that's so sweet. But really, it's no bother. It's nice that you tried to think of me, though. In fact, that's the nicest thing I've heard all week." Then her smile faded as she slouched down in the car seat and exhaled sharply. "Not that that's saying much. This really hasn't been my week."

"Yeah...I heard about...um...that you were attacked the other night." He turned away from watching the road and looked at her. She faced him and saw the obvious concern in his eyes. "Are you OK?"

"Mostly. I mean, yes...I don't know. Every time I start to think I'm getting past it, suddenly I'm thinking about it again." She paused and then said, "You know what really gets me? The feeling of total helplessness. One minute, I'm looking for my car keys, the next..." She stopped suddenly. He looked over at her again. The look of fear and pain on her face nearly broke his heart. He didn't know what to say, but he knew he had to say something.

"I know that this probably doesn't help right now, but what you're feeling is totally normal. You've been through a really bad thing. It'll get better," he said, hoping it didn't sound TOO cliché, but knowing it did. Then he had an idea that he thought was actually pretty decent. "Hey, I read somewhere that one of the things they recommend for attack vic...uh, people who have been attacked, is to take a self-defense class. They say it really helps with the feeling of helplessness you were talking about."

"Self-defense? You mean like Karate or something?"

"Yeah. Or what about Kickboxing? I know a lot of actresses do that to keep in shape and supposedly, it is one of the better marital arts for women. Something about how the difference between upper and lower body strength is a lot higher for women than men." Now he was just starting to babble. "Well, anyway. It's just an idea. I could put together a list of classes that are available."

"Maybe. I'll think about it. Really, I'm just being dumb. It's not like the guy is going to be bothering me again, you know? The last I heard, he was on life support at the hospital. Whoever that was who stopped him totally kicked his ass."

"You don't know who it was who saved you?"

"No...uh...he ran off before the cops came."

"Did you see what he looked like, at least?" he asked, hoping she would tell him about it. He knew he was being ridiculous, but he kept seeing images of his dream about being a shadow and saving Larisa while Bryan's voice saying "shadowman" repeated over and over in his head.

"Not really. It was dark and it all happened so fast," she began. "At the time I thought...oh, never mind."

"You thought what?" he said quickly. Immediately he felt guilty. Nice. Here she is hurting and you're still stuck on this stupid idea that you had something to do with saving her. "Oh Damon, you're my hero," he thought, mocking himself. "Wait, I'm sorry. If you don't want to talk about it anymore I shouldn't pry. But if you need to talk to someone, I'm always around."

"Thanks. Maybe I'll take you up on that offer sometime. I've just thought, and talked, about it enough for now."

"Anytime you want," he said. He tried to give her a reassuring smile, but thought that it probably just came across as a goofy one. Give it up, Damon. Your dream had nothing to do with her attack. And she is WAY out of your league. He was glad that they had reached the studio because he was starting to feel embarrassed again.
---
The torches that illuminated the rough-carved passageway flickered as the two men passed, throwing wickedly shaped shadows that danced against the walls. The two figures dressed in black made their way towards a large chamber that was just ahead. A dead man floated horizontally in the air behind them, following like a balloon on a string.

"Hurry, Ezekial. The K'Kel will want our report and he is not to be kept waiting," the older man said. He was slightly thinner than average, but with wide shoulders that made him look even wirier than he was. Despite a five and a half-foot tall frame that was bent slightly by age, he carried himself as if he were a giant. The hood and mask of his robes were pulled back, revealing a shaved head and a face of mixed qualities. The age that showed in his voice and posture was also evidenced by pale skin that looked like it was as thin as tissue paper and was covered with liver spots. Despite this, the skin itself was smooth and wrinkle free. His eyes displayed the alertness of a man in his prime, while still conveying a look of aged wisdom. A hint of something else...mania?...could be found there as well.

"What will you tell him, Kel Moran?" Ezekial asked. He knew it was the wrong thing to ask when Moran immediately spun around to face him. The anger was clear in his dark, blue eyes.

"The truth! Speak always the truth when in the presence of the K'Kel. Always and only the truth. You should know better than this by now. Remind me to punish you after we have given our report." With that he turned back to resume his steady pace up the passageway.

"Yes, my docent," the younger man replied meekly. Ezekial was taller than the older man, surpassing six feet in height by a few inches. He was solidly built, but not bulky. His movements were the slightly awkward ones of a man who came into his height at a young age and never really figured out how to use it. Unlike the portrait of contradictions that was Moran's face, Ezekial's appearance was far more ordinary. He had brown hair, cut very short, and brown eyes. His skin was clear and healthy despite the fact that it looked like it had not seen the sun in several years. He was clearly a young man, possibly not even twenty yet. At the moment, the only thing his eyes revealed was shame.

A minute later the passageway opened into a vast cavern, partly natural and partly carved like the passage itself. The chamber was brighter than the passageway and the two men blinked their eyes as they adjusted to the increased light. A large number of torches ringed the room at shoulder level and high above, an enormous chandelier emitted reddish light...unnatural light from a source that had never needed to be replenished in the six centuries it had been ignited.

As big as the chamber was, it gave the appearance of being very cluttered. Treasures and junk were scattered everywhere, in equal amounts. Piles of gems and jewelry sat next to piles of moss covered rocks and stones. Stacks of famous and valuable paintings were mixed in with random pieces of wood, canvas, and other trash. There were a number of statues placed around the room, in varying condition. Some were pristine, while others looked more like mere stones, barely recognizable as having been touched by the hand of an artist. Paths through the random collection were carpeted both by magnificent oriental rugs and cheap, irregularly cut pieces of shag carpeting. And in the center of it all, the oddest sight. A mountain of chairs towered towards the roof of the cavern. It was composed of exquisite gold-laid thrones, cheap plastic lawn furniture, handcrafted antiques, even an orange and green plaid Lay-Z-Boy lounger which was clearly made circa 1977. Perched at the top was a large, plastic, red and green, straight-backed chair. There was a pair of posts coming up off the back of the chair and a sign was attached to the top of them. It said: Get your picture taken with Santa. The chair was occupied.

Zip-Six, K'Kel of the Keepers of the Dark, sat on his throne. He was tall and impossibly thin. He sat askew on the giant seat. One leg was thrown over an arm of the chair and he leaned on his elbow against the other. He held his chin in his hand and fingers that ended in sharp, blood red claws tapped a slow beat against his cheek.

Moran and Ezekial slowly approached the base of the throne-mountain. When they were exactly four feet from it, they prostrated themselves and waited. They had not made a sound since entering the room.

Although he had sensed Moran and Ezekial long before they had entered the chamber, Zip-Six did not acknowledge them at first. He knew they waited for him. For a long moment, the only sound in the room was of his fingers clack-clack-clacking against his tough, leathery skin. Finally, he looked down at them. Dark eyes with only the tiniest bit of white in them regarded the two Keepers from below two short horns that protruded from his forehead. The eyes were dead, but somehow mirthful at the same time. The hint of something that could be seen in Moran's eyes was fully present in the K'Kel's.

Zip-Six was not human, at least not any more.

"WHAT HAVE YOU DISCOVERED?" his voice rang out. It was a sound that was painful to hear. Moran stood his ground to it, but the younger Keeper had raised his hands halfway to his ears before he realized it. He gritted his teeth to the pain and lowered his arms to his side as quickly as he could.

"Oh, Great K'Kel," Moran began. "We have found what we had hoped. The Cursed One has returned again."

"INDEED. AND THIS TIME IN THE NEW WORLD. WHAT WAS THE NAME OF THE CITY?" This time both men managed to steel themselves to the voice.

"Los Angeles. We found this man...," Moran gestured to the body still floating behind him.

"THIS CORPSE, YOU MEAN." Zip-Six gestured and the body floated up towards him. Ezekial was relieved when he did not jump as the body suddenly passed over his head. He had begun to sweat. The K'Kel reached out and placed his hand over the dead man's heart. Then he leaned forward and inhaled. "YES. HIS STENCH IS ALL OVER. HE KILLED THIS MAN?"

"No. He beat him severely, but did not kill him. When we found him, he was comatose and being kept alive by machines. He died when we removed him. We do not know why the Cursed One did not kill him."

"INTERESTING. WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU TO TELL ME?"

"Um...nothing as yet, my K'Kel," Moran swallowed. "I had thought to perform the Ritual of Azazel on him. He could then tell us what circumstances brought him into contact with the Cursed One. And perhaps he could be of further use later."

"DO SO."
---
His phone was ringing when he got back from lunch. Damon threw himself into the chair and searched through the piles of paperwork, videocassettes and assorted trash that covered his desk. The ringing allowed him to locate the phone by the third ring. He picked up the receiver.

"This is Damon," he said into the receiver.

"Hey. It's Larisa," he heard her voice say.

"Oh...hey, Larisa. What's up?" He immediately sat up straight in his chair.

"I was thinking about what you said. About those Kickboxing classes? If its not too much trouble, do you think you could get me that list after all?"

"Sure. It's no problem. I should be able to get you a list by the end of the day."

"No rush," she told him. "I wouldn't be able to even look at it tonight. I'll be at the Palladium all night."

"Oh yeah? Who's playing?"

"Actually, it's more of a public appearance. It's this big party that CS is throwing. A lot of my friends in the 'biz' will be there. And a lot of fans, too."

"Are you sure you're up for it?"

"Yeah, I think so. Besides, part of me could really use being with a bunch of people who really like me," she said. He could hear the smile in her voice.

"Cool. Well, have fun."

"Thanks. And thanks for that list, too. Talk to you later."

"No problem," he said and then heard the line click as it disconnected. "Anything for you," he said to the dial tone.
---
"Is everything prepared, Ezekial?" Moran asked. He stood in the center of a small, circular room that had no ceiling. It was night but there were no clouds and the room was well lit by the moon and the stars. The body of "John Doe" floated just above him. The walls of the room were of smooth-cut obsidian and the moonlight reflected slightly off them. The floor was, presumably, of the same material, but it was so stained by centuries of spilt blood that it was impossible to tell. Evil-looking artifacts stood against the walls at each of the four "corners". Ezekial stood between two of them, holding a tray of strange instruments and a collection of powders, herbs and liquids.

"Yes, Kel Moran," he said simply. He held himself gingerly, not wanting to shift too suddenly, lest the fresh wounds on his back re-open. Moran was harsh when it came to discipline.

"Good. We shall begin." He reached his hand towards Ezekial, who handed him a vicious-looking bladed tool. He placed the blade against the corpse's back, at the bottom of his spinal cord and then pushed it up and in with great force. With a single, practiced motion, he slid the blade up towards the head, leaving a coarse incision behind as he went. When he reached the top of the spine, he yanked hard and withdrew the blade. All at once, the incision opened and blood, spinal fluid and other such gore poured out onto the floor. Some of it splattered on his robe, but Moran did not notice. Ezekial, however, did and it was all he could do to stop from losing the contents of his stomach over the whole scene.

"Attend me, boy!" Moran's sharp voice caused Ezekial to flinch before he handed his teacher a bowl containing a silvery powder. Moran sprinkled it over the blood and gore in a specific pattern. This was followed by a darker powder that smelled of sulfur, a greenish-purple herb, more of the silver powder and finally a few drops of a clear liquid that made Ezekial's eyes water when he uncorked the vial it was in. All were thrown onto the floor. "Yes. It is right."

Ezekial placed the tray on the ground, against the wall, and then took two identical instruments from it. They appeared to be small hammers of some kind, but with stone heads instead of metal. Instead of flat striking surfaces, these came to a point like an awl. He handed one to the other man and they knelt opposite each other around the repugnant puddle that had been created.

"Oh Great Azazel!" Moran intoned. As he said "Azazel", both men struck the ground in front of them with the hammers. Sparks flew from both impacts.

"Once Great Azazel!" he said and again, they struck the ground causing even more sparks this time.

"Humbled Azazel!" This time when they struck the ground, a full shower of sparks was created and the pool of blood, gore, and mystical ingredients suddenly ignited. Ezekial immediately threw himself back against the wall, but Moran merely rose to his feet and began to chant.

"Dequasif finup, O uxp zua! Fu na coffoph us qez vji qsodi!" The words slipped away from Ezekial's mind before he could even try to understand them. Try as he might, he could not remember what had been said. But he had little time to contemplate this as he was suddenly aware of a presence. Something was with them now, something evil and angry. Moran continued to chant what sounded like nonsense to his protégé, but it was clearly having an effect. The flaming puddle began to swirl and bubble. At first it was a swirling mass of reds, browns, greens and other colors. One by one, the colors began to disappear. The pool became darker and darker until all that remained was a dark red liquid that continued to swirl, bubble and flame. The sense of anger all around increased as well.

Moran raised his arms above his head and yelled "Azazel!" at the top of his lungs. At the same moment, the puddle erupted upwards. The flaming liquid rose off the ground and poured in reverse, back into the corpse. As it entered the corpse, the skin, now lit from behind, began to glow. Flames licked out of the open wound which then began to close, a single flame running along it seeming to melt it shut. When it was completely closed, it was as if a window had been shut to hold out a storm. The flame extinguished, the skin returned to normal and the presence was gone. Moran fell to his knees, his strength gone. Ezekial leaned against a wall, stunned by what he had just witnessed.

All was silent for a moment. And then the corpse began to scream.
---
Damon's day had finally ended. It was almost 9 PM, but he had finally managed to finish the work his boss insisted had to be done for the next day. He started to yawn, and his arms raised up as he stretched. Maybe I'll just go home and get right in bed. He was beat, but then he remembered the CS party at the Palladium. Well, I am a fan after all. Maybe I'll just go for a little while. Just to check on Larisa and make sure she is doing OK. Besides... But he never finished that thought. For all intents, Damon Ives was no longer there.

He, or rather his body, rose and gestured at the fluorescent light above him. The light immediately went out, leaving the room almost completely dark except for what little light that came in through the shades from the street light. The room was now full of shadows. The shadows and Damon's body began to...interact. They reached out towards him, and he reached back. His skin began to darken, as if absorbing them. His form began to lose shape as well as substance and his clothes fell in a pile on the floor. He had become shadow.

The shadow turned and unerringly faced the exact direction that Larisa was in. Then he began to move in that direction, paying no heed to any barriers that were in his way. What had been Damon Ives a moment earlier walked right through the wall of his office and out into the city night.
---
Detective Robert Ramos was not happy. The Larisa Oleynik case was going nowhere, but there were too many loose ends to just file it away. No sooner had they identified the nearly dead perp as Danny Harrison, a street punk with a long rap sheet that included multiple A&B's, when he just up and disappeared from the guarded hospital room he was in. Loose ends like a missing comatose body and a mysterious rescuer were not the kind of things that he could just ignore.

"Dammit!" he said out loud, feeling frustrated. He was about to say it again when his phone rang. He picked it up and barked "Hello?"

"Detective? You asked to be informed of any "strange" things that get reported, right? Well, I think this qualifies. Some guy just splatted all over Sunset in front of the Palladium. Reports are that he was thrown off the building by...and this is a quote...'some kind of shadow'." The uniformed officer on the other end of the line waited for a response and when he didn't get one, he said, "Hello? Detective Ramos?" But by that time, Ramos was already half way to his car.
---
Damon opened his eyes but saw nothing. At first he thought he was lying on his back, but then he realized he was standing, with his back flat against a wall. He had no idea what was going on.

"What the fuck?" He could tell from the way his voice sounded that he was in a very small room. He reached out and immediately struck a wall a few feet in front of him. He felt around some more and decided he was in a room that was about three feet by three feet square. His hand ran over a knob and he turned it. The door in front of him opened and light from the hallway flooded in.

He was in a closet. Looking out, he saw that he was at work and he suddenly became aware of the fact that he was naked. Not again. What the hell is going on here? It's just like last..., and then he realized that like the last time, he again could remember a dream about being a shadow. Larisa wasn't in it this time, but he remembered feeling like she was in danger. In his dream, he had thrown a man off the roof of a building, killing him.

He was starting to get scared. He was either going insane, or something even weirder was happening to him. Either way, he was standing naked in a closet at work and that wasn't a good thing.
---
When Detective Ramos got to the Hollywood Palladium, the scene was chaos. Not that that was unusual for Sunset Boulevard at night, but it wasn't the usual kind of chaos. A crowd of onlookers was being held back by a hastily erected barricade in the middle of the street. Inside the barricade, policemen were moving around busily. The body of a man lay in the center of the closed area. He had clearly landed on his head and a pool of drying blood surrounded it. Detective Ramos stopped a uniformed officer.

"Who's running the show here?" he asked. The cop pointed at a pair of men in suits who were talking to a man in a white coat, obviously the medical examiner. He recognized the two detectives as JC Lennon and Mark Kehres, both good cops. "Thanks," he said, and he made his way over towards them.

"...cause of death? Head trauma. Obviously," the medical examiner was saying, flipping his notebook closed. "That's all I got right now." Ramos took the opportunity to cut in.

"What's going on, guys?"

"Robert! How you been, old man?" JC said. The three exchanged greetings warmly, then got down to business. "You're gonna love this one. It seems that Mr. Flathead over there had a thing for one of the celebs that was inside tonight." He pulled out his notebook and read the notes off of it. "Beverly Mitchell...she's on some show called 7th Heaven. Anyway, based on what we read in his suicide note, I guess he just couldn't live without her anymore and decided to take her and himself out, even if he brought everyone else along for the ride. He had a bomb tied to his chest and was all ready to set it off when someone threw him off the roof. According to eyewitness reports, he actually bounced off the building across the street before hitting the ground. Whoever threw him must have been damn strong."

"And what about the guy who threw our love-sick bomber friend? Do we have him?" Ramos asked hopefully.

"Nope. He got away clean, like he was a shadow or something," Mark answered. "Oh...and get this, that's what people are saying did the job...a shadow."

"I still say that's bull. The guy must have just been standing in a shadow," JC replied, shaking his head.

"Oh really?" Mark said, looking up at the roof of the Palladium. "And where exactly would these shadows have been with those spotlights shining up there?" Ramos looked up and had to agree. The place was lit up bright. "Look, Robert. I'm not saying that these wackos here are right...that 'the night just reached out and grabbed this guy and then flung him off like he was a rag doll'...that was one report, by the way...but something is up with this."

Something indeed. This HAS to be related to the Oleynik case. Damn! If only we could have gotten the guy this time. Or at least some clue about the connection. His eyes scanned the crowd and after a minute, he saw a familiar face. Bingo!

"Thanks guys. I see someone I gotta talk to," he said as he moved off towards the crowd.

"Hey! If you've got something, let us in on it," JC yelled after him.

"It's too soon," he said, turning to face them. "But it looks like we've got a vigilante on our hands. And I think things are going to get really weird before this is all done." He continued towards the crowd where he had seen her. She was still there. He supposed it could be a coincidence that Larisa Oleynik was present at both reported sightings of this "shadow vigilante", except that Detective Robert Ramos did not believe in coincidences. No good police detective did.

"Ms. Oleynik?" he said loudly, raising his hand to get her attention. When she looked over at him, he said "Ms. Oleynik, it's Detective Ramos. Remember me? Could I talk to you for a second?" She looked a little surprised, but started to head towards him, pushing her way through the crowd. "Make way. Police business. Let her through," he barked, and the crowd started to part. Now, let's see if we can get some answers from you this time, Ms. Oleynik.
---
The screaming went on and on while Moran knelt, gathering his strength and Ezekial tried to gather his scattered wits.

"K...Kel Moran? Are you alright?" he asked shakily. Moran's head slowly rose and he looked his student in the eye.

"Of course. The ceremony has only momentarily exhausted me," Moran replied, already starting to rise to his feet. His face was slightly whiter than usual, but that was passing as well.

"Why does he scream?" the younger Keeper asked, wishing it would just stop.

"You would scream, too, if your soul had just been ripped from the afterlife, digested by a demon and then thrust back into your now undead body," Moran said sardonically, an evil grin coming to his face. "I imagine he is in quite a bit of pain, as well." He gestured and the screaming man suddenly fell to the ground. When he hit, he stopped screaming.

Danny Harrison lay on the stained floor, more confused than he had ever been. He could not move and his body felt really weird, like he wasn't quite in it. He did not know where he was. He had never seen either of the black robed men who stood over him. He couldn't remember how he had gotten here and in fact had no idea where 'here' was. Terror was rapidly replacing confusion as he realized there was not a single thing he could do except wait. Finally, the shorter man spoke to him.

"We have questions for you. I assure you, you will answer them. Not that it matters, but let's start with your name," Moran said to him.

"Daniel James Harrison," Danny heard himself say. He hadn't meant to answer, but he had anyway. The shock showed on his face.

"Yes. You are discovering my hold over you," the Keeper laughed. "We will explore that more later. For now, I wish to know of your encounter with Cursed One. The one who killed you," Moran said, twisting the truth slightly. "Why were you fighting the Shadow Demon?"

Now Danny remembered. It was the last thing he could remember before he was screaming in this room. He had been in the alley with that actress and was just about to go at it when he had been interrupted. What did this guy call it? Shadow Demon? Yeah, that's about right. He remembered being held powerless by what seemed to be nothing but shadow. But it was solid enough when it hit him. And it had done so over and over. He remembered thinking every bone in his body was broken before he passed out. Or rather, before he had died. Wait...did this guys say I had been killed? What the...? Well, he certainly felt like he had been to hell and back. Now that he remembered, he started talking. He told Moran and Ezekial the entire story, omitting no details. They seemed particularly interested in the girl.

"My docent, she must be The Descendant!" Ezekial said excitedly.

"A logical assumption, Ezekial," Moran nodded. "But let us not jump to conclusions. Nor must we act too hastily. The Cursed One has escaped from us too many times in the past. He will not escape this time...if we are fully prepared when we act. We must return to Los Angeles to learn more of this girl, Larisa Oleynik."

End Part 3 ---

Copyright 1999 by Dei