"I told you.", Larisa said, losing her patience a little. She'd been at the police station for over an hour. Most of the time had been spent in this drab little room, which contained nothing except a long table and a few chairs. The mirror (no doubt one-sided) on one wall was confirmation that this was an interrogation room. "I have no idea who that man was."
"I'm not saying that you do.", Detective Ramos assured her. He sat across the table from her. Several file folders were spread out in front of him. "But when we first spoke, it wasn't a man that you said had stopped your attacker."
"I...uh...must have been mistaken. I was just really freaked out that night, Detective."
"Well, that would be understandable.", he said. He picked up one of the folders. Opening it, he seemed to read through its contents for several moments. Finally, he spoke again to her, "That man who was thrown off the roof tonight? What would you say, if I told you that every one of our eyewitness accounts describes the thrower as a 'shadow'?"
Larisa's eyes opened a bit in surprise. Maybe I wasn't just seeing things. But still she held back, unsure of what the truth even was and so unwilling to admit that she knew more than she had said. The detective noticed her reaction and waited to see if she was finally going to tell him whatever it was - and he knew there was something- that she was holding back. But after a moment, he realized that she wasn't. He tried a different approach.
"Look, Ms. Oleynik. I don't really think there's a 'shadow man'.", he explained. "What I do think is that there's a vigilante out there getting off on spooking people before he kills them. Other than his victims, you're the only person who's spoken to him. Did he say anything else to you? Anything at all?"
"I don't...", she began, but he cut her off.
"He's already killed 2 people!", he said, his voice becoming stern. "If you do know more than you are telling me, and I think you do, the next person he kills will be on your conscience!" Ramos looked at her over the table. A long minute passed in silence. Larisa grew uncomfortable under his accusing gaze.
"He...said he was a friend.", she said finally, looking away. "And that he would always be there when I was in need."
"What?!?", he said, rising out of his chair. It was his turn to be surprised, and his usual controlled demeanor slipped a little. Irritation was clear in his voice when he asked her, "Why didn't you say that when we took your statement?"
"I felt stupid!", her own voice rising a little, defensively. "I could tell you didn't believe me about seeing the shadow. How was I suppose to tell you that it was a 'friendly' shadow?"
Before Ramos could respond, the door opened. Another detective leaned his head in.
"Robert...her lawyer's here.", the detective said. Immediately, he leaned back outside as a very well-dressed man brushed past him. He was average height and a little overweight, with a style-less bowl cut that seemed at odds with the expensiveness of his suit and briefcase.
"Yes, I am here. But what I'd really like to know is what my client is doing here?", the lawyer said getting right down to business. Robert was about to answer, but he was cut off. "Is she being charged with something? No? I thought not.", he dismissed Detective Ramos with the tone of his voice and turned to Larisa. "Ms. Oleynik. You can leave anytime you want, and my advice is that you to do so now."
"How did you even know I was here, Mr. Cannon?", Larisa asked her lawyer, whom she had only met a few times. To be honest, he kind of gave her the creeps.
"Bazza called me. He saw you getting into a police car in front of the Palladium.", he replied. "I have a car waiting to take you home if you want."
Suddenly realizing how tired she was, she decided that home was exactly where she wanted to be. She turned to the detective. "That's all I know about...about him. He didn't tell me anything else."
Ramos just nodded. He knew the interview was over as soon as her lawyer had shown up.
Mr. Cannon lead Larisa outside to a waiting limo. He told the driver to take her home, but did not get in with her. As the car accelerated into the street, she leaned back and closed her eyes. She was tired and confused. She had begun to convince herself that she was wrong about what she thought she saw that night. And now he seemed to have shown up again, this time at the Palladium. Was it just a coincidence that she had been there, too?
She had heard several policemen at the station talking about the bomb, so she knew that the man who had been killed had been about to blow the whole building up. He was trying to kill Beverly, not me, but I would still have been in danger. And somehow...he knew. How? She was still lost in thought trying to make at least some sense of all this, when the driver announced that they had reached her apartment.
Back at the police station, Detective Robert Ramos was yelling into his phone.
"I want this girl watched 24-7!! I want her home staked out. I want her followed. I want her friends and co-workers checked out. Do you hear me?", he knew he was taking his frustration out on the uniform on the other end of the line, but he couldn't help it. Why couldn't she have just said this from the get go? We probably could have caught the guy tonight if I had just known to have her watched. "That's right...a full-on stake out. I don't want this girl to so much as say the word 'shadow' without us knowing about it. Let me know the minute it's set up." Feeling assured that his orders would be carried out the way he wanted, he hung up.
"No wacko vigilante is going to go around killing people in my town."
Damon sat in the doctor's waiting room trying to fend off his nervousness by reading an out of date issue of "Sports Illustrated". It wasn't working. He didn't like doctors and the fact that he was even here was upsetting him, never mind the reason.
"Damon Ives?", the nurse called. Damon stood up and headed towards her.
"Dr. Nagel will see you now.", she said. Then she turned and headed down the hall. She led him towards an open door marked 'Exam 3' and then into the room itself. "If you would just put on that gown," she said indicating a tiny, paper garment.
"But I'm only here to talk about the results from the tests he did last week.", Damon protested. I hate those things...they always leave half my ass exposed. The nurse looked down at her chart.
"Very well. Just have a seat then and the doctor will be in shortly.", she said and then left the room.
Damon climbed up on the examination table. He sat with his legs dangling off the edge and waited. And waited. And then when he was done with that, he waited some more. He was growing restless and his eyes darted around the room, trying to find something to distract him from the worst case scenarios that were running through his mind. It's a brain tumor, I know it. People don't just black out for no reason. Where is that doctor?!?
"The doctor will be in shortly, my a...", he stopped as the door suddenly open and Dr. Nagel walked in. He closed the door behind him.
"Hello there, Damon. Sorry to keep you waiting.", he said offering his hand to Damon. He was young, for a doctor at least, having only been in practice for 2 years. He was maybe an inch or 2 shorter than average and was in good shape. The white lab coat hung off a pair of broad shoulders. Damon shook the doctor's hand.
"No problem.", he lied. "So what's the bad news?"
"Well, the only bad news I have for you is that we still don't know what's causing these blackouts.", the doctor opened the file he was carrying and read from it. "Your EEG readings were normal, the CAT scan showed nothing, nor did any of the other neurological tests. Your blood tests came back OK, too. Better than OK, in fact. As far as I can tell, you're in perfect health."
"Meaning, that I can't help you. Have you had another episode, yet?"
"No, just those two times. But, Doc, what do mean you can't help me? What do I do...just hope it doesn't happen again?", he asked, annoyed. Damon was prepared for bad news, not NO news.
"No, no. I want you to go see a specialist. He's a psychiatrist mainly, but he specializes in unexplained neurological dysfunction, such as this. His name is Dr. Alex Jacobs. Speak to my receptionist on the way out and she'll call and make an appointment for you."
"Uh...thanks, doctor. Will he be able to help me?"
"Well, if he can't I don't know who can."
Danny Harrison was screaming again. He was bent over backwards, standing on both hands and feet, his belly stretched and extended upwards. Moran had ordered him into that position over an hour ago and he had obeyed, or rather his body had. And now, try as he might, he was unable to move at all. At the moment, the handle of a large knife was sticking out of his stomach, the blade fully embedded in him and poking out just a bit on the other side. There were several deep cuts along his midsection, evidence that this was not the first time that he had felt the blade.
Kel Moran walked around Danny, shaking his head. Ezekial stood directly next to the undead, former thug, ready to remove the dagger that he had just plunged into Danny for the 9th time. Unlike during the Ritual of Azazel, he was able to keep himself relatively calm despite the gruesomeness of the situation. This fact was no lost on his teacher. Danny was still screaming.
"Enough!", Moran said. Ezekial gripped the handle and pulled the knife out. There was no blood on it. The screaming stopped and Danny's body relaxed, just slightly. "He seems unwilling to learn the lesson I am trying to provide him with."
"Perhaps he is unable to.", Ezekial offered. "He has not struck me as being particularly smart."
"Intelligence has nothing to do with it. I have never had a subject fail to complete the transition from man to Zelhound. The Ritual of Azazel is the most taxing part, but the Acceptance is just as important." The older man, knelt on one knee and lowered his head very near to Danny's ear. "Can you hear me? Answer."
"Yes.", his voice was coarse from the screaming, although it was still that high, squeaky Mickey Mouse voice.
"Good. Listen carefully. You are no longer alive, no longer merely a man. You are a Zelhound. My Zelhound. As you are undead, you are no longer bound by the limitations of your previous, mortal existence. You cannot die. You will not feel pain. You need not eat or breath. Do you understand me?"
"I...but I feel the pain. From the knife...", he cried pitifully.
"No. You only think you do. When you accept what you have become, you will be stronger than you ever imagined. And you will use that strength at my command. As we continue, think on what I have told you. Accept." Moran stood again and spoke to Ezekial. "We must complete the transition soon if he is to be of help to us in Los Angeles. We cannot delay our return any longer. Extreme measures must be employed."
He withdrew a knife from his robes. It was the exact twin of the one Ezekial held. He indicated a spot higher up on Danny's torso than where the wounds had been inflicted. Ezekial nodded in understanding. As one, the two Keepers struck. Ezekial's blade slid easily into and through what remained of the Zelhound's heart, while Moran struck directly between his eyes, piercing his life-less brain.
Danny Harrison, Zelhound and possession of Kel Moran of the Keepers of the
Dark, opened his mouth to scream again, but the sound that came out was
infinitely more miserable.
Once again, Damon found himself sitting in a doctor's waiting room. He was even more nervous this time. The room was much nicer than the one at Dr. Nagel's office. Leather and wood were worked into each piece of furniture and it was clear that some amount of money had been spent on it all. Still, the luxurious décor did nothing to sooth his nerves or increase his patience. Finally, he threw down the Sports Illustrated he had been thumbing through but not really reading. It was the same out of date issue he had read at Dr. Nagel's. Do these doctor's all shop at some kind of "Last Month's Magazines" shop?
The door to the inner office opened and a 50-ish looking man stepped into the waiting room. Reed Richards?, Damon wondered. The man standing before him could easily pass for the leader of the comic book team the Fantastic Four. He was tall and a little thin, with a handsome face and brown hair that was completely white at the temples. Damon found himself wondering if he could stretch and stifled a chuckle.
"Damon?", the man asked.
"That's me.", Damon said, sounding as if he wished that weren't true.
"I'm Dr. Jacobs." The two men shook hands, and the doctor ushered Damon into his office. As nice as the waiting room was, it paled in comparison to Dr. Jacobs's office. Every wall was lined with beautiful hardwood book cases, each packed full of leather bound volumes. Again the furniture in the room was of that combination of wood and leather, but this time of even higher quality. An enormous oriental rug covered the floor. Even the computer monitor and keyboard on the desk were of the highest quality. Damon began to wonder if his health insurance was going cover to this because he was sure he could not afford the good doctor's going rate. Dr. Jacobs sat down at his desk and indicated one of the chairs opposite it for Damon to sit in. He did so. The doctor started to read from the top of a stack of papers on his desk.
"I see that Marc Nagel referred you to me. Good man. We did our residency together at Stanford.", the doctor's voice trailed off as he continued reading. "Let's see. Damon E. Ives. What's the E for?"
"Uh...oh, Eric. Why?", Damon asked.
"No reason. I was just curious.", and he went back to reading from the file Dr. Nagel had sent over. Finally, he put the file down. "OK, Damon. Why don't we start from the beginning. You say you've had 2 blackouts? Tell me about the first."
"OK. Well, it started about a month ago. I woke up, naked in my
backyard...", Damon began to tell his story.
"Ki-YA!", Larisa yelled. At the same time she whipped her leg around and hit the pad in her instructor's hand causing a very satisfying "SLAP!". It was the first time she had been on target with the difficult kick. She felt a rush as she realized what she had done.
"Excellent.", he instructor told her. "Now...can you do it again?", he challenged. Larisa accepted the challenge and assumed her beginning stance again. Her eyes narrow slightly as she became focused. She breathed slowly in and out, in and out, in...and then as she exhaled she turned and brought her leg around in a near identical motion as before. Again, she made contact squarely in the center of the target, this time with enough force to knock Sensei Weh's arm back into his chest. He nodded approval and she nodded back in acceptance, trying to hide the smile on her face. She succeeded until a short giggle escaped her lips. She looked up quickly to see if he had noticed, but he was already walking back to the front of the class.
"All right, class. Let's run through the entire routine...several times. Stances!" , and he began to lead them through the difficult exercises. Sensei Weh proceeded to work his class for over 25 minutes without stopping. At first, Larisa, already tired from the first half of the class, was unsure she would be able to keep up. Her sore and tired muscles begged for respite. Sweat ran from her forehead down her beautiful face. But after a short time, she began to lose herself in the motions. The less she thought about what she was doing, the less she hurt. She moved from form to form, not flawlessly by any means, but with a certain grace and joy. When her teacher finally called stop, she was genuinely disappointed.
Class was dismissed and Larisa headed for the locker room. She loved the way she felt at the end of class. So alive, so full of energy. She felt like she could take on the entire world, including that SOB who had attacked her. And if Mr. Shadow turned out to be a bad guy, she'd kick his ass, too.
In the shower, she allowed the water to just run over her for several minutes as she continued to enjoy the afterglow. As it faded, her thoughts turned to the attack and the Shadow and then to Detective Ramos and finally to Damon. He's been so sweet. And it was so nice of him to help me find this class and listen to me when I needed to talk. Between him and Mr. Shadow, I guess I have at least two friends. She smile at the thought of the Shadow and Damon, side by side guarding her from any and all dangers. Ya, right.
She dressed and left the school, jumping into her Pimp Mobile and aiming it towards the studio where she was due for rehearsal. Traffic was bad, as usual, and she settled into the bumper to bumper traffic, resigned to the long drive. She slipped her new Dance Hall Crashers CD into the stereo.
"Well, at least I've got DHC.", and she smiled. Not even LA rush hour could
spoil her mood.
The low-pitched humming noise that had filled Damon's ears for the past 10 minutes suddenly shut off. He felt the platform he was lying on begin to move and he slid out from under the "Electromagnetic Neuromatron" or whatever Dr. Jacobs had called it. He blinked his eyes to get used to the brighter light.
"Go ahead and put your clothes back on and I'll be right with you to discuss the results of today's tests.", the doctor said and then left.
Damon got dressed and wished the doctor would hurry back. After their initial meeting, Dr, Jacobs had scheduled some time at the USC University Hospital's Neurological Center. Since arriving there 4 hours ago, Damon had been subjected to so many tests and placed into so many mysterious looking devices that he had long ago given up trying to keep count and had just resigned himself to whatever happened. But finally, it seemed as if the testing was done. Please let them have found out what's wrong with me.
Dr. Jacobs came back a minute later. He had removed the lab coat he had worn during all the tests, and Damon now saw that he wore a yellow polo-style shirt and green and white plaid pants. It was clearly an outfit that belonged only on a golf course. He sat down across a table from Damon.
"OK, Damon, we've run just about every test that science has come up with to test the human brain and nervous system. We can tell you the relative likelihood of whether you will experience a stroke in the next 5 years. If you had a brain tumor - you don't, by the way -, we would know about it. I can even tell you how much sleep you've been getting lately. What I can't tell you, is why you experienced those two blackouts."
Damon stared at the doctor, processing what he was being told and then waiting for the rest. And...?
"As odd as your experiences were, it seems likely that they were just isolated incidents. Related to each other, no doubt, but I can see no evidence that you will experience any further problems.", and with that pronouncement, Doctor Jacobs put Damon's file into his briefcase and stood up. "My advice...don't worry about it. I'm sure you'll be fine. Anyway, if you'll excuse me, I have a 1:30 tee time and I've got to run."
Damon nodded numbly. He wasn't sure how he felt about this. I guess I should be relieved that it wasn't brain cancer or something. But nothing...? In his heart, Damon didn't believe this was going to be that easy. He sat there for a few minutes more trying to come to terms with another disappointment until a more pressing sensation interrupted him.
"I'm hungry", he said to the now empty room.
"Damon!", he heard someone call his name. He turned away from the counter seat he had been heading for and scanned the tables for a familiar face.
It was Larisa!
She was waving to him, so he made his way over to her table. As he approached, he saw that Laurel Randall was sitting at the table with her. Laurel was a Production Assistant like he was. They always seemed to be working on different projects, so Damon didn't know her very well, but what he did know suggested she was pretty nice. Except maybe for those rumors about her and the entire cast of That 70's Show in a hotel room after the last Emmy Awards. I wonder if it's true? Nah...I'm not sure that's even physically possible.
"Hey guys.", he said. He tried not to sound down, but Larisa picked up on it anyway.
"Aww...what's wrong Damon? Ken isn't threatening to fire you again, is he?", she said teasing him.
"Actually Larisa, Damon is on quite a streak...he hasn't been late for work for at least a week.", Laurel chimed in with a laugh.
"Ha ha.", Damon said, wishing he could shake off his mood and just go along with the joke. He looked down at the table. The menu was printed on the paper table cloth and he pretended to be busy deciding what he wanted.
"Oh, we're sorry.", Larisa said. She reached across the table and put her hand on Damon's. Goosebumps ran up his arm at the contact. He looked up into her eyes. She looked honestly concerned. "Seriously, what's wrong?"
"Well, remember those blackouts I was having?", he asked. He had told Larisa himself and he guessed that Laurel had heard it around the office at some point. Both women nodded. "I just finished with yet another round of tests and they still can't say what caused them. The doctor actually told me that it was probably a one time thing and to not worry about it. Yeah...not worry. Easy for him to say."
"But isn't it good news? That they didn't find anything?", Larisa said, trying to sound encouraging.
"Yeah. I guess so. I don't know. It just doesn't feel right. I don't know...maybe this is something that science can't explain."
At that point, the waiter arrived. He took their orders, flirting with Larisa and Laurel the whole time, while all but ignoring Damon. This annoyed him a bit, but Damon just let it go. He had other things to worry about besides some pretty boy waiter who was too busy playing "Casanova" to be polite to him. Besides, Larisa didn't seem to be flirting back.
The rest of lunch was actually very pleasant. They mostly made small talk about the industry, and music and clothes, although Damon had little to contribute to the latter. He had not realized it, but apparently Larisa and Laurel were pretty good friends. A few times during the conversation, one of them would say something that seemed innocent, but then would look at the other and then to Damon, very slyly, at which point both would burst into laughter. When Damon asked what he was missing, the answer was invariably "Oh...nothing. You had to be there." Damon just nodded, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he was missing some private joke...and that it was about him.
When they were done, Larisa said her good byes as she was done for the day and was heading down to Orange County to see some friends and catch a show later that night. Damon offered Laurel a ride back to the studio.
"So...I don't know if you would be interested,", she began once they were in Damon's car. "But when you said that maybe science couldn't explain your problem, it made me think of my sister, Michele. Maybe she could help you."
"Why, is she a witch or something?", Damon asked jokingly.
"Actually...yes. Well, I don't know if witch is exactly the right word. She's psychic. And she's actually a Ph.D. in Occult Studies. I don't know if you believe in that kind of thing, but maybe she could tell you something those doctors couldn't."
Damon had almost cut her off when she was wondering if he believed in "that kind of thing" because he didn't, or at least he never had, but something had stopped him. Now that he thought about this possibility, he realized that the whole "feel", for lack of a better word, of his experiences had been...mystical? Spiritual? He wasn't sure, but definitely not scientific. Abruptly, he decided What do I have to lose?
"Do you think your sister would see me?", he asked.
"Oh, no problem. I'll set it up.", she said making a note in her schedule book. They sat in silence after that, until Damon's curiosity got the better of him.
"So, Laurel...about the Emmy's..."
Neither Damon nor Laurel noticed the unmarked police car that had followed them from the restaurant. Detective Robert Ramos was reading information from the computer in his car as he followed them back to the studio.
"Damon Ives. 9014 Ashcroft Avenue, Apartment B-2, West Hollywood.", he said, reading Damon's DMV info. "Well, Mr. Ives, I know I've seen you around our girl Larisa enough times to warrant my attention. Let's just see what a background check turns up, and what the hell, how does a 48-hour surveillance detail sound?"
The detective reached for his radio to call in the new orders.
Danny was standing in the middle of the chamber. His legs were spread about shoulder-width and his arms were held away and above him in a Y-shape. His body was pierced in numerous places by four foot long, narrow metal poles. Moran and Ezekial had driven them into him - three in each arm, four in each leg and five in the pattern of an upside-down pentagram in his torso. He had maintained this position, with no help or control from Moran for almost ten hours. This was his final test.
Early on, he thought he would fail. Despite his master's insistence to the contrary, he had felt the pain of each spear as it had stabbed into his skin, through him and out the other side. And after an hour of trying to hold himself in the required position, especially with the weight of the twenty-two metal spears pulling down on him, he had started to feel his muscles burn and ache.
He had tried to reach deep inside himself to draw on every bit of energy and endurance he had ever had. But he knew it was not going to be enough. He was going to fail, and Moran was going to punish him and then...he didn't know what, but since he was already dead, he figured it was going to be pretty bad. And that made him angry. Not with Moran, no he never felt anger towards his master, but with his situation in general.
What did I do to deserve this anyway? I may not have been the best guy all the time, but this is too much, even for me. Put me in jail. Put me in solitary. Hell, kill me even. But not this. I'm not even human anymore. What the hell is that? I'm undead. Undead.
"Undead!", he yelled at the room and the universe and everyone in it. And then he knew it. Or rather, he accepted it. The pain that he had thought he felt was gone...had never really been there. Without the constraints of being human, it was suddenly the easiest thing in the world to stand as he had been told to. He was easily strong enough to hold the spears and himself in place. And he wasn't getting tired. If anything, he was getting less tired, or maybe it was just that tired was no longer a term that applied to him. He felt free. A short burst of girlish giggling escaped his lips. He knew he would make it.
Now he watched as the clock in front of him ticked off the final seconds of the ten hours. BONG! A rich, low bell tolled once indicating the tenth hour had passed. Danny maintained his place, awaiting his master's arrival. Minutes went by, but Danny knew he could wait for days if that is what Moran wanted.
The bell rang again, and Moran entered, followed closely by Ezekial. Both Keepers regarded the Zelhound for a moment and then Moran spoke.
"Excellent, my hound. You have Accepted. I am pleased."
Danny felt himself flush, overcome with pride at having pleased his master. It was the most intense, most pleasurable feeling he had ever experienced and he knew that he would do anything to feel that way again.
"You have proven yourself worthy of a name.", Moran stood in front of his Zelhound and placed his hand on the spear that represented the bottom point of the pentagram. He began to pull it out as he spoke. "O howi zua vjot Peni! I name you...Anzac!"
As he spoke the name and pulled the spear completely out of the Zelhound's body, energy crackled around and through both Moran and the newly-named Anzac. As it dispersed, the bond that had existed between master and hound was completed, making it permanent and unbreakable. Moran patted his hound on the head and turned to Ezekial.
"Make the final preparations for our return to Los Angeles.", he ordered.
And then as he left, "Come, Anzac."
Damon wasn't sure what he had been expecting, but this sure wasn't it. Laurel had arranged a meeting with her sister and had even come along with him to make proper introductions. When Laurel had said her sister was psychic, he had envisioned meeting her in some kind of "fortune teller's tent" or something. Instead, Laurel had driven him out of LA, to Malibu Hills. They had driven down the coast for a while before she turned off the main highway onto a winding dirt road. As usual, Laurel had been driving too fast and Damon was forced to hang on to stop from being slammed into the roof of the car as it bounced over the rougher terrain.
"We're here.", Laurel had announced as they crested the top of a hill.
'Here' turned out to be an enormous house sitting on the very edge of a cliff over looking the ocean. Damon was impressed. Instead of the usual movie-star's mansion Damon expected in Malibu, this was a truly unique piece of architecture. It somehow managed to look like a castle, without actually being one. A small parapet at each corner of the house and enormous, wooden double-doors at the main entrance had been combined with an eclectic collection of Greek, Victorian and even Federalist features...and somehow it worked. On top of it all, not only was the house obviously worth big bucks, Damon couldn't imagine a more beautiful setting for it as the house sat right at the edge of the cliff, towering over the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean a hundred feet below.
Laurel drove right up to the doors - Damon actually wondered for a minute if she was going to drive right through them - before slamming on the brakes and bringing her car to a halt in a cloud of dust. When it had cleared, she had lead him into the house, through an entry way, that was large enough to really be called a foyer and into a sitting room decorated with what appeared to be mostly primitive art.
"Wait here. I'll be right back.", she told him and was off into some deeper part of the house. He threw himself into a comfy looking couch and waited. He could hear Laurel yelling for her sister in the distance.
So this is what it has come to? A psychic witch? Oh well, at least if she says she can't help me, it's not like I haven't heard that before. At least she has a nice waiting room...or whatever the psychic equivalent is.
He was looking around the room at this point. It was decorated in warm earth colors, darker oranges and browns mostly, and both the style of furniture and the materials that it was made from had a soft feel to them. It was a room that had been decorated to be comfortable and calming.
A few minutes later, he heard Laurel and, presumably, her sister talking as they moved through the house towards him. Laurel came back into the room followed by another woman. Damon looked, but he just couldn't see any family resemblance.
Whereas Laurel had straight black hair and displayed a clearly Hispanic heritage, Michele looked more like a Celtic Druid and her hair was wavier and brown, with very flattering reddish highlights. Their attire further emphasized the differences. While Laurel had on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, Michele wore a long flowing dress of some material that he had no doubt was hand made. And she was bare foot. She looked to Damon as if she had stepped out of another time.
But then the two women exchanged a look, as if they were reading Damon's mind, and the expression on their faces was identical. They were sisters all right.
"Damon, this is my sister Michele.", Laurel introduced them. Damon rose to his feet and offered his hand to Michele.
"Damon. I'm so pleased to meet you. Yes. Yes, there IS something about you.", Michele said and then as she took his hand to shake it, "Oooh my! Indeed."
"What? What is it?", Damon asked.
"I'm not sure, yet. But I'm very glad that you came to see me.", Michele said looking into his eyes. Damon got the distinct impression she was looking for something and then that she had found it. "I think I may be able to help you in some way, even if it is only to help you identify the cause of your problem. Let us go sit in the garden. Laurel, will you prepare us some tea?"
"Of course.", and she was off.
Still holding his hand, Michele led Damon deeper into the house, passing through several rooms. If Damon had been in a less distracted state, he would have noticed that each room was decorated in a very different way from the last, as if each room had a distinct purpose and Michele had taken great pains to ensure that every component of the room lent itself to that purpose. But Damon's mind was racing far to quickly to do more than make a vague acknowledgement that everything in the house looked expensive.
Something? I meet her for ten seconds and she already knows there's something? Well, that's more than the doctors could tell me. Please let her have some answers for me.
Finally, they came to a room that had only three walls. Where the fourth should have been was only a large opening that led outside into what Damon supposed must be the garden, although that word hardly did it justice. He was led out into it a lush jungle that ran right up to the house and was dense enough that Damon could not see where it ended. There was a path through the trees, vines and plants before him.
"This is my garden.", Michele said as she walked down the path beside him. "When I first came here, there was nothing but a well kept, but empty lawn next to the house. I have allowed and encouraged Mother Nature to flourish as she will here. And she has done the same for me."
The path opened into a clearing about twenty feet in diameter. A shallow pool, about four feet across was at the center of the clearing and there were five short, stone benches around it. When they reached the pool, Damon looked down into it and saw that it was less than a foot deep. The water was perfectly clear and he could see that stones had been laid along the bottom in a pattern. It was a five pointed star.
"A pentagram? Isn't that for devil worshipping?", Damon asked, suddenly wondering what he was getting himself into.
"Oh no. The Pentagram is merely a symbol for focussing, well, anything really. Prayer, power, you name it. It is neither good nor evil and can be used for either, depending on the intent of the user.", she assured him. She then indicated one of the benches. "Come. Sit with me while we wait for Laurel and the tea."
They sat together on one of the benches. She still held his hand and he was beginning to wonder if she was going to give it back. She did not say anything further and seemed to be content to sit in her garden and wait for her sister. After a few silent minutes, Laurel appeared with a small serving tray that held an ornate tea pot and 3 matching cups. She poured a cup and offered it to Damon, who accepted mainly to be polite as he had no particular desire to drink tea at the moment. It also provided him with a reason to take his hand back from Michele. After providing her sister with a cup, Laurel sat down on the bench next to them.
"You are too tense, Damon.", Michele said between sips. "Please, enjoy some tea. It will help you relax."
Doubtful, Damon took a sip and was surprised at how good he found it. He rarely drank tea, preferring the more tangible punch of black coffee to jump start his mornings or get him through late nights, but he thought if he could find tea this good he would have it more often. He found that he was, in fact, more relaxed. Just as Michele had promised.
When they had all finished, Laurel took the tray, teapot and cups headed back to the house. Michele turned to Damon and this time took both of his hands in hers.
"Tell me your story.", Michele said again looking into his eyes as if she were searching for something within him. And he did.
He told her everything, even more than he had told the doctor's or Laurel or Larisa. He told her about the two blackouts and waking up naked. He told her about the dreams. He even told her how he thought that the blackouts and the dreams were related to the attack on Larisa and the bomb scare at the Palladium a few nights later. He couldn't believe it when he heard himself admitting to such nonsense and fully expected Michele to look at him as if he were crazy, but she did not. She only nodded and then spoke.
"Love is the most powerful force there is. The fact that you love this girl so strongly is either the cause, at least in part, of what is happening to you or has become involved with it in some way."
"That I love her so...no wait, I never said...", Damon started. But Michele just arched an eyebrow at him, stopping him in mid protest. He looked down, embarrassed. "Is it that obvious?"
"I'm afraid so. Every time you speak her name, it's like a thousand stars twinkle behind your eyes and I can see your heart skip a beat.", she said. Damon looked up and saw that she was smiling. It was such an understanding smile, that the red quickly began to fade from his face. "She must be special for you to feel as you do."
"She is. I don't have the words..."
"You don't need them. I can see it in you."
"Michele? What's happening to me? Sometimes I think I am going crazy and others I am convinced that I had something to do with saving her."
"You aren't crazy, at least no more than the rest of us. You are possessed.", she said matter of factly, as if she was telling him that he had cold or something. Because of her tone, it took a few moments for the words to sink in.
"P-Possessed? Like in the exorcist?", he said incredulously.
"Oh, goodness no. Well, I don't think so anyway. Nothing you have told me indicates to me that you are possessed by something evil. I sensed a presence in you from the first moment we met, but I do not think it is evil. To be honest, I don't know what it is. I've never felt anything like it before. This is beyond my experience."
This last statement caused Damon's heart to drop into his stomach. This sounded all too familiar.
"Don't tell me that you can't do anything for me. Please."
"I'm sorry Damon, but I can't. However, I do know who can."
"Let me guess...a specialist.", Damon said a little sarcastically. No, it's not her fault., he chided himself. She's already done more for me than those doctors and she has been incredibly nice to me. Just being here, I feel better than I have in a while. "I'm sorry, Michele. I'm being rude."
"I understand. You're scared. But I truly believe that this will all work out for you.", she told him, trying to reassure him. To a degree, she succeeded. "As I said, I know who can help you. His name is Dr. Roman Van Horne. I studied with him briefly a few years back and he has more knowledge of the hidden world than any one I have ever met. He travels all over looking for people and things exactly like this. I'm sure he would want to meet you. Will you allow me to arrange that?"
"Allow you to? If you think he'll be able to help me, I should be asking you. Yes, please do." And for the first time in a while, Damon actually felt hopeful about his situation.
The two of them returned to the house and found Laurel sitting in the kitchen with what looked to Damon like a guilty look on her face.
"I thought you had quit.", Michele said to her. There was a slightly accusing tone in her voice, but it was mitigated by a greater amount of concern.
"I did.", Laurel answered. "But then I started again." Michele just nodded and held her hand out, looking her sister in the eye with a level gaze. Laurel drew her self up and looked back at her stubbornly. The two women stood there and Damon suspected some kind of test of wills was occurring. Finally, Laurel sighed loudly and pulled a half-full pack of cigarettes out of her pocket and handed them to Michele.
"I love you.", Michele said as she pulled out the remaining cigarettes and crushed them in her hand.
"Ya ya.", Laurel said as she turned to Damon. "Did you get what you need?"
"Actually, yes.", realizing that it was true as he said it. "At least for now."
"I'll get in touch with Dr. Van Horne and let you know. OK?", Michele told him.
"Thanks, Michele. I really appreciate it. And thanks for understanding...about everything I mean.", Damon said.
To his surprise, Michele stepped up to him and embraced him in a tight hug.
He hadn't realized it, but he had been needing that, too.
It was well after midnight, but Detective Robert Ramos was still at work. Reports had been coming in on Larisa Oleynik's friends and co-workers that he had put under surveillance and he was pouring over them trying to find some clue that would lead him to his vigilante. He had been reading the report on Damon Ives for about five minutes when he found something that piqued his interest.
The phone tap on Damon's office phone had recorded a message from a Dr. Alex Jacobs. The notes indicated that the doctor was a psychiatrist who specialized in neurological disorders. The transcript of the message read: "Mr. Ives, this is Dr. Jacobs. I was just calling to follow up and see if you had experienced any more of those episodes. Feel free to give me a call when you get a chance."
Well, well, well, Mr. Ives. And what kind of episodes are you having
that you would be seeing a psychiatrist? Ramos was a good detective,
mainly because he knew when to listen to his instincts. And his instincts
were telling him that he was on to something with Damon Ives.
Two days later, Damon found himself in what he hoped would be the last waiting room he would be in for a while. He had to admit that this one was impressive, though. It turned out that Damon was fortunate and Dr. Van Horne was in LA this week. Damon had been given an address where Van Horne would be waiting to meet him and it turned out to be the penthouse of one of the taller buildings downtown. The room he sat in now was lavish enough to make Dr. Jacobs office seem ordinary by comparison. And like Michele's house, it was decorated with expensive and rare art and artifacts. In particular, Damon noticed a recurring theme involving horned men and other creatures.
Well, I suppose you would find a lot of such things in his line of work and as a decorative scheme it works, if a little morbidly.
"Mr. Ives?", a voice drew his attention to the door on the far side of the room. He had not heard it open, but a tall man, about his own age now stood in the doorway. He was very pale and had brown hair and eyes.
"Yes, I'm Damon Ives. Are you Dr. Van Horne?."
"I'm Doctor Van Horne's assistant. He's waiting to meet you and has asked that I escort you to him. If you will follow me?", the man indicated the door he had just come through.
Damon got up and crossed the room. He followed the doctor's assistant through the door into another, smaller room. The opposite wall held a doorway that was covered by an ornately threaded curtain. The taller man indicated that Damon should wait and then stepped through the curtain. After a moment, his head re-appeared and he ushered Damon into the room on the other side.
"Dr. Van Horne, this is Damon Ives.", Damon heard himself be introduced him as the curtain was held open for him. He stepped in and looked at the short, wiry old man before him. He was about to thank the man for finding time to see him when he noticed that the man had turned completely white.
"You!", the old man hissed through clenched teeth, already starting to back up. Instantly, Damon felt an rush of pure hatred pour through him.
And then all hell broke loose.
"Moran.", Damon heard himself say, astonished by the disdain his voice. An animal-like shriek erupted from his throat and he felt himself lunge forward, his hands coming up to reach for the old man's throat. And then he began to change.
From behind him, Ezekial could only watch in horror as the innocent-seeming young man that he had brought into his docent's presence had begun to undergo a terrible transformation, even as he was reaching out with obvious lethal intent. As the man crossed the distance separating him from Moran, he first lost all color, turning entirely a deep, empty black. Even his clothes were affected. Then he began to lose shape and definition, seeming to merge with the shadows in the room and they with him. And Ezekial could see that a pair of ebony-colored and now clawed hands were still reaching for his master. Less than half a minute after he had spoken Moran's name, Damon Ives had been replaced by a being of shadow.
"The Cursed One!", Ezekial realized at once and aloud.
As he backed up Moran had begun making arcane gestures in the air. When the shadow was less than 2 feet from him, he completed the spell and spoke a word of power to activate it, "Tjoimf!" A flash of swirling red and black appeared between his outstretched palms and immediately expanded into a jaggedly shaped wall of the same colors.
But it was no use. The Cursed One shattered the shield as if it were made of candy glass and wrapped his fingers tightly around Moran's throat. Centuries of anger and hatred towards this man were channeled into his hands as he squeezed and squeezed, wanting nothing more than to kill the man who had caused him so much torment. Moran fell to his knees and probably would have fallen to the ground if the grip on his neck had not held him up. The shadow continued to choke him, his claws cutting through the old man's skin now, drawing blood. It ran freely and began to drip down onto the floor. A loud "CRACK!" could be heard as bone started to shatter.
Ezekial had been standing still in complete shock over the unexpected turn of events, but now he was seeing the life flow out of Moran, his teacher and master. Indifferent to his own safety, he lunged at the Cursed One's back...or at least where he supposed the back must be. He impacted squarely in the middle of the dark shape, or at least he would have if he had been attacking a man. Instead, he felt himself sink in to the darkness as if it was more immaterial than solid. Having been prepared to strike with all his strength, he now found himself off balance and falling forward. He landed in a heap on the floor and was completely encompassed by the shadow.
A chill that he felt deep down in his bones came over him as did a powerful fear that he felt just as deeply. Panicked, he struggled to his feet and flailed wildly in an unknown direction, trying to escape the dark and the cold and the fear. Suddenly, he broke from the shadow and immediately ran into the nearest wall. His head hit the wall hard, and then the floor just as hard a moment later. Moran would receive no help from his pupil.
A low, humorless laugh echoed around the room as the Cursed One felt Moran dying in his hands. Finally, he would exact vengeance. Or so he thought. Too late, he sensed the presence of another entering the room. The blow hit him with incredible force. He recoiled back, losing his grip on Moran. He could not remember the last time he had been hit so hard. Or at all, for that matter. Pulling himself out of the wall that he had partially passed through, he faced his new opponent. Nothing would prevent him from killing Moran now that he was so close. Nothing except...
"A Zelhound!", he said, his thundering voice suffused with surprise. But the "man" standing before him could be no less than one of the undead creations of his hated enemies, the Keepers. His skin and hair had taken on a slight greenish hue, as if greatly diseased, while also appearing to be made of some non-organic substance such as wax or plastic. And, like all Zelhounds, he reeked of the foulest evil. This he had not expected. But he was too close now to give up. "No matter, hound. You will not save your master from me."
"You don't remember me.", the childishly high voice said, almost gleefully. "But I remember you. Oh yes, I do. You killed me. But I got better." Suddenly the hound lunged forward, and quickly. The Cursed One was not prepared for such speed from one so large and bulky and was caught off guard. Again, the hound's fist contacted with the shadowy form. Pain exploded in the shadow's suddenly vulnerable gut and he was pushed backwards through the wall, this time all the way into the room on the other side. Immediately, the Zelhound began to pound on the wall, eager to get at the one his master called "The Cursed One".
"Anzac!", Moran's voice was barely a whisper, but it still carried total authority. The Zelhound immediately spun to attend his master. He wanted to continue to pursue the shadow, but he was utterly incapable of ignoring Moran.
"Master, I can kill him. I know I can!", he said.
"Perhaps. Perhaps not.", the Kel's voice was almost inaudible, but Anzac heard every word clearly. "The risk is too great. You must get me to safety before he returns. I am too weak. You must...", his voice trailed off. Finally, he managed a final command before he lost consciousness, "Bring Ezekial."
With one last glance in the direction of the Curse One, he threw Ezekial roughly over his shoulder and then gently picked up Moran in both arms. He headed directly for the back of the room, where another doorway had been concealed by a curtain until he had torn it down in his rush to come to his master's side. The other side of the door way was completely dark and when Anzac stepped through it, all three of them were instantly somewhere else.
At the same instant, the Cursed One emerged from the floor of the room, having hoped to surprise the Zelhound by reappearing from a different direction. Instead, the extra time taken had allowed the two Keepers and the hound to escape. He saw them enter the Portal and knew that he could not follow. He stood there for a long moment, seething with rage at having come so close only to be denied at the last.
Umm...excuse me...uh..."Cursed One"?, he heard Damon's thoughts ring through his own mind. Unlike the past two times he had been overcome by the shadow, Damon had been there the entire time, conscious of what was occurring but unable to do anything but watch. Do you mind if I ask...what's going on here? And where the hell is my body?!?
End Part 4 ---
Copyright 2000 Dei