The Harrowing of Hell – Part One

This is a piece of fan-fiction based on the TV series Poltergeist: The Legacy, which I was addicted to back in the late 1990s. I have two other similar pieces here, on FanFiction.Net, but I didn’t post this one there because of the adult content. At about 65000 words, it’s almost a novel, and too long for a single webpage, so I’ve split it into six parts.

Warning: contains sex and swearing. Not excessively graphic, but unsuitable for children.

The Harrowing of Hell

a ‘Poltergeist: the Legacy’ story, by Jilly Paddock

The paper was full of yesterday’s news. There were skirmishes in the Balkans and rumours of war; another political scandal had been uncovered and a senator’s career was on the line; a new study had proved the latest wonder drug against obesity to be unsafe; something nasty on the Net had caused a panic, with all the usual clamour to ban this and outlaw that; police still had no clue as to the identity of the man attacked and left for dead at Corona Heights, striped of his clothes and his memory; and three people had died on the highway in another cruel, senseless crash. Derek Rayne scanned the pages with his customary frown. Two thousand years of western civilisation and nothing had changed for the better.

“Don’t squint,” Rachel said, through a mouthful of toast. “You probably need reading glasses if you have to peer at small print like that. When was your last eye test?”

“Gee, Derek, you’d look great in specs!” Alex giggled. “So very intellectual and distinguished! Quite the professor – you ought to go for it.”

He discarded the newspaper with an irritable rustle. “In high spirits today, aren’t we, ladies? It wouldn’t have anything to do with your latest test subject in the PK trial, would it, that intense, dark-haired young man?”

“His name’s Jaimie,” Alex said. “And he is rather cute.”

“Wasting your time, girl.” Rachel reached for her coffee. “He only has eyes for our Kristen.”

“What? Are you joking?”

“You mean to tell me that you haven’t noticed his eager puppy-dog look whenever she’s in the room and the way his face falls every time she leaves it?” The doctor shook her head. “Alex, which planet are you on? I guess it’s a blonde thing; if you stuck a straw-yellow wig on a mop and paraded it past the window, thirty percent of the men in the room would stare and ten percent would wolf-whistle. It’s in their genes, poor things. They can’t help it.”

“Men aren’t so easily swayed by such shallow things as hair colour!” Alex protested. “Derek?”

He shook his head. “This is one argument you can leave me out of.”

“But you’re our token man,” Rachel said, grinning. “Which do you prefer?”

Derek glanced from her sleek blonde tresses to Alex’s ebony ringlets and chose the diplomatic answer. “Redheads.”

“Coward!” Alex accused. “Shame on you, and you too, Rachel, for trying to wind me up! How could Jaimie prefer Kristen to me? I mean… there’s no comparison!”

Rachel grinned. “Tell us, Derek, who would you choose?”

“As I recall, the last time a man was put on the spot like this there were three goddesses and a golden apple involved, and it all ended in tears!” He picked up the paper and his coffee, and retreated towards the door. “Having learnt from history, I shall withdraw before any lasting damage is done.”

Their laughter and good-natured jeers followed him out of the room.

***

“Jaimie’s late today.” Alex remarked, as he passed her later in the hall. “By a good half-hour at least.”

“I told you he was too flighty to complete the program.” Derek teased. “You must have worked him too hard on Friday and scared him off.”

“Me?” She rewarded him with a brilliant grin. “It’s Rachel’s fault, she and all her diabolical psychological tests!”

“Don’t blame me!” Rachel said, appearing from the drawing room. “You agreed the protocol and helped select the personality tests. Anyhow, the gate have just called to say that our young victim is on his way up to the house now.”

“About time too!” Alex frowned. “I wonder if he has a good excuse?”

When Jaimie arrived, he nodded a subdued greeting to Rachel as he limped past her. He had a black eye, bruising along one side of his jaw and a deep cut over his cheekbone, held together by three neat sutures.

“What happened to you?” Derek demanded.

The young man wouldn’t meet his gaze, suddenly evasive and wary. “I had a… um… little accident.”

“Here, come and sit down.” Alex ushered him up to the library.

Jaimie moved awkwardly, as if he was in considerable pain. Rachel wondered if he’d taken a beating, but he hadn’t seemed the sort to get into a fight. They sat around one end of the table, Derek claiming his customary seat at its head. “Tell us about it.”

“Things got a little hairy at Circle on Saturday night.”

Derek frowned. “You didn’t mention that you were involved in witchcraft.”

“I didn’t think it was important,” Jaimie said defensively. “There was nothing about religious inclination in your questionnaire.”

“Tell us what happened.” Alex pressed. “Please.”

“It was just an ordinary meeting.” He shrugged. “Think of it as a supper party with a touch of ritual magic thrown in. Do you people believe in magic?”

“Sorry, no.” Rachel admitted.

“I do.” Alex confessed. “Derek, however, is waiting for the FDA ruling on the subject.”

Jaimie smiled, then winced as the movement jarred his ripped cheek. “If you’d seen what I have, you’d believe. You’ll have to forgive me – I’m not comfortable talking about the Craft to those who don’t practice it. There was a full moon on Saturday and our priestess summoned us to an esbat. We met, ate, drank and went about our magical workings, all very routine. The only thing out of the ordinary was that there was an outsider present, by invitation, of course. I’d heard of the woman. She isn’t a witch herself and yet most of the local covens welcome her along to their meetings. She seemed pleasant enough.”

“Who is she?” Derek asked, prompted by the feather-kiss of a shiver that slid down his spine.

“I don’t know her real name. Our priestess called her Galadriel. She’s tall, strawberry-blonde and green-eyed, and she speaks with a slight accent, something European, I think.”

Alex glanced across the table, catching the sudden hardness in Derek’s eyes. He knows who she is, she realised. How can he be so certain, from a sketch made out of a scant handful of words?

The precept cut to the heart of the matter. “How did you come to be injured?”

“We worked an unfamiliar ritual.” Jaimie confessed. “I’m not absolutely sure of its purpose – I think it was some sort of portal between the mundane and the spirit-world – but evidently it went wrong and we gated something in from the other side, an elemental force, malicious and violent. I remember being hit in the face by something that felt like an invisible sledgehammer, and after that everything went a little hazy.  People were screaming in panic and pain, the ground was shaking and I swear I saw lightning strike – I think I passed out then. I came round just after our visitor had stitched up my face. Whatever we’d summoned had gone and no-one was badly hurt. I suppose we were lucky.”

“And you have no idea what this entity was?” Derek was frowning again.

“I didn’t really see it. It moved so fast – it was flying, I think. A blast of hot air blew all of our candles out, then something came at me out of the darkness.” He swallowed hard, the memory too fresh and painful. “I’ve always felt safe within our Circle, but when that ugly thing hit me I was convinced I was going to die… I thought all of us were.”

“Did you get yourself checked out by your own doctor?” Rachel asked.

“I’m okay, just a mess of bruises and jangled nerves.” He shrugged. “No harm done. Shall we get on with my ESP tests now?”

“You’re in no state to jump through our hoops today,” Alex said, smiling in sympathy.

“Yes, you need to take a few days to get over the shock of this.” Rachel echoed. “I’ve some work to do at my office – I could take you back to the mainland.”

“I’m fine, really.” Jaimie protested. “It’s no big deal…”

“You can’t concentrate and you’ve lost your focus,” Derek said. “In that state you won’t produce any useful results. Forget the study for a week or so. It’ll wait.”

Alex caught Rachel’s eye as they escorted the young man out; Derek was seldom so reasonable. He waited until Jaimie was gone, then moved towards the stairs. “I need you to run a quick search on the database. It should only take a few minutes.”

“Okay.” She followed him upstairs and through the hologram, flexing her fingers as she sat down at the terminal. “Give me a subject.”

“Elise DuBois.”

“Ah, your pet thief.” Alex called up the file. “Our friend the silversmith, with sidelines into psychic healing and demon-hunting. Do you think that she could be this Galadriel, Jaimie’s mystery woman?”

Derek’s frown deepened. “What do we have on her?”

“Not much. Since that incident with the Green Man, Mam’selle DuBois has been laying low and keeping her nose clean.” Alex scrolled down the screen. “She’s been out of the country twice – a trip to Paris a couple of months ago and another to London, last week. Some of her jewellery was shown in an exhibition there and she sold a few pieces to some minor celebrities of the fashion world. Hey, look at this – she was even mentioned in Vogue!”

“Has she been linked to any further miraculous cures?”

“Rachel keeps us up to date with rumours from the hospital. Elise still visits people and most of them get better, but there’s no evidence, no real proof.” Alex pulled up the only picture they had of Elise DuBois, the one on her driver’s licence, and sent it to the large screen. “She’s been careful not to attract too much attention.”

Kristen wandered into the room, catching the tail-end of the conversation. She glanced at the blurry image on the wall and froze. “Dear God! Her! Wait a minute – that’s a Californian licence! Please tell me that she hasn’t moved out here?”

“How do you know Elise DuBois?” Derek demanded.

“A local radio station ran some dumb news item about her curing a child with cancer. Honest reporting it wasn’t – according to them, she practically raised the kid from the dead! Our precept had us follow her around for a week or so, just trying to work out what her angle was.” Kristen scowled at the memory. “That was a miserable week – it rained every single day and I swear that bloody woman trailed us all around Boston just for the hell of it!”

“Why didn’t Jane just talk to her?”

“In the end, that’s what she decided to do, but somehow DuBois must have got wind of it. She grew even more elusive and whenever we got close to her, she’d do a neat vanishing act. Finally, we set up a trap for her. It took most of the House, but we cornered her outside her apartment block. I was across the street with a girl called Valerie, our newest recruit, when two of the guys caught up with the woman.” Kristen paused, reliving the scene. “They had her – one even had a grip on her wrist – and, boy, did she look furious! Then everything fell to pieces. Val cried out and collapsed, thrashing about in some kind of seizure. I yelled for help, the rest of the team were distracted, and in the confusion DuBois made her escape. We went back, of course, about three hours later, but the woman had gone – packed everything up and fled the city.”

“Was your colleague all right?” Alex asked.

“It was two days before she was even coherent. When she was able to talk about what had happened, she said that when we’d captured DuBois, when we’d triggered her anger, the woman’s control had slipped, just for a moment. Val’s psychic in some way, a sensitive, and she caught a glimpse of what the woman keeps hidden beneath her mask of normality,” Kristen said. “She’s still having nightmares over what she saw.”

“And what was that?”

“She wouldn’t tell us all of it, just fragments.” The blonde girl shuddered. “This woman is dangerous, Derek. Val would only say three things about her – powerful, ancient and not exactly human.”

“We’ve had dealings with Mam’selle DuBois too,” Alex said. “She’s one of the good guys. She saved us from a devil-dog.”

Kristen seemed unimpressed. “Well, I wouldn’t trust her in a hurry!”

Recalling his last encounter with the enigmatic woman, Derek could sympathise with that viewpoint. “I suppose I’d better go and talk to her, to find out if she was involved in Jaimie’s ill-fated summoning.”

“How many of us will you need as back-up?” Kristen demanded. “Shall I get Nick?”

Derek frowned, perplexed. “I’ll go alone.”

“But you can’t! She’s too dangerous!” The blonde girl went five shades paler, appalled by the notion. “There’s no telling what she’ll do to you!”

“Elise won’t do anything to me. She’s a very reasonable person.”

“No, she isn’t,” Kristen said, shaking her head. “She isn’t a person at all!”

***

The converted warehouse on the edge of Chinatown hadn’t changed much. The alterations on its facade had mellowed with the effects of weather and the trees in its central courtyard had grown taller. No rainbow moons and stars to walk through today; the cosmic dome was being cleaned, swathed under polythene sheeting, and the cafe tables stood deserted in twilight. He went to the back of the building and up to the second floor, then jangled the antique bell five times before the door was answered.

Elise DuBois stood there, hastily wrapped in a patchwork quilt. It left her shoulders and far too much of her long legs bare. He’d roused her from sleep – her pale auburn hair was a tangle of snake-locks and she looked groggy and confused.

“You!” Real surprise registered in her voice, in her peridot eyes. “What brings you here, Dr Rayne?”

“That flashy magic trick you worked on Saturday night.”

She didn’t reply, turning away from him and leaving the door standing open. Derek closed it behind him. The apartment was in semi-darkness, its blinds drawn against the daylight.

“Give me a moment.” Elise went into the kitchen-area, stumbling about like an automaton as she set water to boil on the stove. The quilt hampered her movements, dragging behind her like a train and slipping down, so she was constantly clutching it about herself to cover her nakedness. Derek tried not to stare. He’d forgotten just how lovely she was in the flesh. His mind strayed for a moment, wondering how it would feel to run his fingers through that glorious hair, how it would feel to lie close to her, skin against skin, how her lips would taste…

“Dr Rayne?” Her voice summoned him back from his reverie with a jump. He tried to keep the guilt out of his face. “Would you be kind enough to wait while I…”

“Make yourself decent?”

“That might take a century or two, I fear,” she said, without smiling. “The best we can hope for at the moment is ‘presentable’. Will that do?”

“I’ll take that.”

She rolled up the blinds, wincing at the sunlight that poured into the room, then grabbed the two loose pillows from the sofa on her way through to the bedroom. He heard water running and vague movements for a few minutes, then she was back, composed again, wearing a brown silk robe and with her hair combed and fluffed out. Without asking, she made coffee for both of them and sat down on the sofa. He took the armchair, reluctant to sit too close to her.

“I’m sorry to wake you.” All the evidence suggested that she’d slept on her own couch, which seemed odd, since there was obviously no-one else here. “Isn’t it a little late in the day to still be asleep?”

“I came home in the early hours of Sunday morning and crashed here.” She took a hit of the coffee. “Must have slept straight through.”

“For around thirty hours?”

“I lead a chaotic life, Dr Rayne. Sometimes I don’t sleep for two or three days, so when I do, eight hours just isn’t enough.”

“You look pale,” he said. That was true – her complexion was a stranger to the sun, as white and translucent as bone china. She looked vulnerable, fragile, but that was an illusion. He’d glimpsed her hidden strength. “I imagine that the rest of the coven look worse.”

“I work through bruises quickly.” Elise shrugged.

Derek almost smiled – he’d missed that signature gesture. “Just what exactly were you trying to do?”

She leaned forwards, resting her head on her hands and massaging her temples as if to dislodge an ache. The firestorm of her hair hid her face. “I can’t tell you.”

“You mean, you won’t.” He scowled. “I’ve no time for your games, Elise, your mystical, mystery act. Last time I played along, but this time you’re going to tell me the truth from the outset!”

She lifted her head, mischief sparking in her eyes. “You missed out the ‘or else’, didn’t you? I tell everything or else… what? Will you beat it out of me, Dr Rayne, or isn’t that your style?”

“Mam’selle DuBois, don’t tempt me!” That came out laced with more anger than he’d intended.

“Ah, but I might!” Her smile took his breath away, so warm, so intense. “Would you hit me, I wonder, if I provoked you enough?”

“Of course not!” he said, in exasperation. “I’d never hurt you… I couldn’t.”

Her eyes went suddenly wide and vacant, and her face went slack as the inner vision engulfed her. Precognition – Derek knew well enough how it felt. Black lightning. Silent thunder. An abyss yawning at your feet waiting to swallow you up.

“Elise?” Unthinking, he reached out to take her hand. “What do you see?”

His touch roused her and she snatched her arm away, but not before he’d sensed a fragment of her vision. Darkness, sorrow and blood.

She shook herself, her face still a mask of horror. Her eyes focused again and she stared at him, trying to judge how much of her private insight he’d stolen. “Rien, c’est rien… Nothing, I saw nothing.”

From the pieces he’d seen and from her reaction to the precog, Derek took a wild guess at its content. “You saw a death, didn’t you? Whose was it?”

“No-one.” A little crooked smile twitched at her mouth. “No-one important.”

“Elise..?”

“You have the Sight yourself, Dr Rayne. You know how fickle it is, how imprecise, and anyhow, the future is plastic, changed and shaped by our actions in the present.” She sighed. “D’accord… okay. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but..?” All of the light drained from her face. “When you strip it bare, the truth is pretty meaningless really. I’m free-lancing for your people. I’m a… what’s the exact term they used? Ah, yes… a consultant.”

“You’re working for the Legacy?” That wasn’t the answer he’d expected.

“Not willingly, I assure you!” She shook her head. “One of your colleagues in London called in an old debt, and when I reluctantly answered his invitation, I got hauled in front of the whole damn Council. They had the gall to threaten me…”

“The Ruling House used coercion to make you work for them?” The very idea gelled like ice in the pit of his stomach. “What on earth did they want you to do?”

“Free a soul from Hell.”

How soon he’d forgotten what a conversation with this woman was like! At first cordial and civil, then the gathering unease, then that little casual phrase that almost stopped his heart. Derek shivered. “Sloan?”

“Mais oui, poor William. I had a plan to get him out, with the witches’ help, without using those bloody sepulchres. I really thought it would work!” She growled, deep in her throat, like a tigress. “But I was wrong – sweet fire, I’m not used to being wrong! We botched it and gated in a minor demon, a nasty dog-faced winged thing, one of Belial’s crew. I managed to send it back and we escaped with our skins relatively intact, but we came within a whisker of disaster.”

“And Sloan’s still in Hell?”

“Not exactly.” She frowned. “We pulled his body through, back to earth, but they kept his mind.”

“His body? Is he dead then?”

“No. He’s alive, just not himself.”
“Where is he?”
“Je ne sais pas,” she said, vaguely. “I’m not sure. I imagine that the police still have him in custody. They described their latest John Doe, the man found naked on the Heights, as being in his late forties to early fifties, with greying hair and blue eyes. Does that sound like Sloan to you?”

“Yes.” He saw the flaw in her story. “How do you know about that? You’ve been asleep for thirty hours.”

“Perhaps I woke in the early hours of this morning and caught a news bulletin? Or did I scry it in smoke or see it in my crystal ball? What does it matter?”

“You promised me the truth.”

“So I did.” She smiled an apology. “It was on the news – it’s the kind of kooky story that they like to run with. Perhaps you ought to go to the police and give them a name for their mysterious stranger?”

“And what will you do?”

“What, do you require a copy of my itinerary?” She stretched languidly, wriggling her toes. “Well, right at the top of today’s list of to-dos are another cup of coffee, some breakfast and a long, hot bath. Would you care to join me in any of those?”

“Non, merci!” He stood up, hurriedly. “I meant, what are you going to do about Sloan?”

Elise drew her legs up in front of her, resting her chin on her knees. “I don’t know. I don’t suppose you have a spare ‘Get out of Hell Free’ card floating around anywhere, do you?”

“Do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars.” Derek grinned. “Nice idea, but, no, I’m afraid not.”

“Thought so.” She sighed. “Leave the problem with me, Dr Rayne. I’ll work on it.”

***

The police were unhelpful when he contacted them, almost up to the point of being rude. No, they wouldn’t let him see their anonymous attack victim. No, it wouldn’t help them if he could identify the man at this point in their investigation – in fact, it might even be harmful to their victim. And no, they didn’t care who he was or who he knew. As far as they were concerned, the Luna Foundation could just keep their noses out of the whole affair.
Derek put the phone down in frustration. Things had been so much easier when Frank was still alive. Now the back door was locked and bolted, while the front office seemed to have instructions to keep him safely at bay.

He put in a call to the London House to check on Elise’s story – not that he didn’t trust the woman, but she had lied to him before. London were a little cagey when questioned about Mam’selle DuBois. Yes, she was in the Legacy’s employ as a consultant, and that was all the information they were prepared to disclose about the entire affair. He insisted on talking to Wallace, the locum Precept, was kept waiting for ten minutes and then fobbed off with some dumb excuse that the man was in a meeting and couldn’t be disturbed. Derek broke the contact, swearing aloud in the silence of his office. Damn London! Damn the Ruling Council! And these people were meant to be on his side?

***

Things hadn’t improved much the next morning. Derek spent an hour pulling strings and still drew a blank. As a consequence he came in late to the morning meeting. The girls were twitchy and impatient.

“Where’s Nick?”

“Tapping Frances for information,” Alex said. “And, before you ask, I don’t have an answer. There’s nothing on their computer except the official press release.”

“He isn’t in hospital.” Rachel added. “I guess he wasn’t injured badly enough to need admission.”

“I checked with the ER at the General and all the local clinics within easy reach of the Heights.” Kristen took her turn. “If our John Doe needed treatment, then he must have been looked at by the police surgeon. He didn’t attend anywhere else.”

Derek acknowledged their work with a brief nod. “So where do we go from here?”

“Do you really think the attack victim is Sloan?” Alex asked.

“Elise believes he is.”

“That bitch can’t be trusted!” Kristen snapped.

Derek silenced her with a lift of that eyebrow. “I don’t trust her, but I am prepared to listen to her. If I could get in to see this mystery man, then all our doubts could be laid to rest.”

“First we have to find him,” Rachel said.

“Unless Nick hits pay-dirt, that won’t be easy.” Alex admitted.

Dominick appeared in the doorway. “Sir, I know we’ve had no warning from the gate, but there’s a young lady here who says she wants to see you…”

“Merci, I don’t need to be announced, thank you!” Elise stepped past the butler. “Hello, Dr Rayne. I decided to accept your kind invitation to visit your island, albeit a little belatedly.”

“You’re only – what is it? – a year or so late,” Derek said with a smile. “But you’re welcome all the same. May I introduce my colleagues, Alex Moreau and –”

“Miss Adams.” The silversmith’s voice was abruptly glacier-cold and there was loathing in her eyes. “I’m surprised to find you here. Didn’t the climate in Boston suit you either?”

“I think I’ve more right to be here than you,” Kristen said, acidly. “How dare you come into this House!”

“It is my House.” Derek reminded. “And Elise is a guest here…”

“If you say so!” In a sharp, sudden movement, the blonde girl rose from her chair. “But that doesn’t mean I have to stay in the same room as her!”

“Kristen!” Derek scowled at the girl’s retreating back. “Come back here!”

She ignored him, pausing for a moment as she drew level with Elise. “You don’t fool me with your act. I know what you are!”

“Do you, petite fille?” The green-eyed woman laughed, a nasty sound stripped bare of all humour. “Oh, I don’t think you do… or else you wouldn’t walk away from me – you’d run!”

Kristen tossed her head and pouted defiantly at the threat, but she fled all the same.

Derek sighed. “I must apologise for that. It was unforgivably rude.”

“And Miss Adams does rude very well!” Elise shook herself, as if unruffling her feathers. “I’m sorry too, moi aussi. I’ve little love for any of the members of the Boston House; in fact, few Legacy Houses treat me as cordially as yours. I guess I must be persona non grata at the moment, the enemy of the month.”

“You aren’t my enemy.” Rachel declared, breaking out her most brilliant grin. “Definitely not, after you helped break Kat’s coma and bring her back to me.”

Elise looked confused. “I don’t deserve your gratitude, Dr Corrigan. I did nothing – no, really, nothing at all. Kat came back on her own. She’s a very resourceful girl, strong and smart.”

“And she thinks very highly of you. She still has dreams about you, wonderful, inventive things, full of ghosts, mythical beasts and magic!” Rachel laughed. “She tells me all about them. Such an imagination!”

“And you think them dreams?” Elise shrugged. “Eh, bien, whatever fits in with your belief system.”

“What brings you out here?” Derek asked, steering the conversation back to safer ground and indicating that they should sit back at the table.

“I’ve always fancied taking a look around this house.” Elise sat cross-legged on her chair, as fey as ever. Today she was dressed in shades of chocolate and spice, a cinnamon print cotton skirt and a dull orange vest top under a baggy brown cardigan with floppy sleeves and huge pockets. The buttons were on the wrong side and it was so big it almost swamped her – she must have stolen it from a man’s wardrobe. With the added dark amber beads and battered sandals she looked like a refugee from a 60’s sit-in. Derek could imagine her singing ‘We shall not be moved’ and ‘The times they are a’changing’. The sunlight brought out the red in her hair, turning it to pale flame. “Late Victorian high-gothic at its best, all gargoyles, stained glass and dark wood. C’est merveilleux, a period piece.”

“We could give you the tour.” Alex offered.

“Why are you really here?” Derek demanded. “The truth, remember?”

“I understand that you’ve been dabbling in a rather fruitless game – cherchez l’homme?” Her eyes were playful again. “Well, I’ve found him for you.”

“Where?”

“A little place on the coast called Bedlam. I’ll take you there.” She saw the warning in his frown and smiled. “It’s a hospice near Pacifica that some misguided soul saw fit to name Bethlehem Lodge.”

“I’ve heard of that.” Alex exclaimed. “It’s run by the Phoenix Project, isn’t it? They provide care for AIDS sufferers and people with terminal diseases.”

“One of my patients was helped by them,” Rachel added. “He was too ill to work, almost broke and at his wit’s end. They picked up his medical bills, paid his rent arrears, even provided free vet visits for his dog. Nice guys.”

“How did they get hold of Sloan?” Derek mused. “If it is Sloan.”

“The police were going to commit him into the care of a mental hospital,” Elise said. “Phoenix offered a better alternative – short-term care until he recovers his memory. The thing is, without his soul, he won’t.”

“Unless we can free him. Do you have any ideas on that front yet?”

She looked evasive, distant for a moment. “There are a couple of contacts I need to talk to first, to call in some old favours. Give me a day or two.”

Derek knew better than to press her.  “So, how do I find this place?”

“I’ll show you the way — if you can stand my company, that is?”

“It’ll be a trial, but if I must, I must.” He didn’t smile. “Shall we go?”

Outside the house, he looked around in vain for her transport. “Where’s your car?”

“I walked.”

Derek grinned; he was growing rather fond of that shrug of hers. “Not across the water as well, I trust?”

“Mais oui!” She joined in with his laughter. “Hélas, you’ve found out my secret and seen through my disguise! What trick do you want of me next? The water-to-wine transmutation or the kissing-the-dead-better thing?”

The smile froze on his lips as he thought of what Kristen had said about this woman, her words identical to those he’d found in Boston’s report of their botched capture attempt. Powerful, ancient and inhuman. “Do you know that we’ve been watching your activities at the hospital, to find proof that you can work that last miracle?”

“Yes, I know.” All amusement drained out of her eyes. “But you won’t find enough proof to satisfy your scientific criteria, Dr Rayne. I don’t leave any.”

Derek swallowed hard and fled the subject. “We’d better take one of the Legacy’s vehicles. This way.”

***

Bethlehem Lodge was a low, modern complex of buildings close to the beach. Derek parked in the lot to one side of the hospice and Elise led the way to its entrance with an ease that suggested she’d been here many times before. The receptionist glanced up as they reached the desk, then dropped her pen, knocked the handset off the phone, went pale and leapt up from her seat. “Dr DuBois! I had no idea you had a visit scheduled for today!”

“I didn’t,” Elise said, smiling. “We’re here to see your mystery patient.”

“The police brought him here yesterday.” The woman recovered a modicum of calm. “We have instructions to keep him isolated. No visitors and named staff only in attendance.”

Derek wondered how his companion was going to sweet-talk them past those prohibitions, but Elise merely nodded. “Sensible precautions. Too much disturbance might prejudice his recovery and drive him deeper into shock. Where can we find him?”

“The west wing, room 24.”

“Thank you.”

Derek followed the red-haired woman, his amazement growing as they walked unchallenged through the corridors; in fact, all of the staff they met greeted ‘Dr DuBois’ with deference or friendly respect.

“They know you here,” he said, as they passed through a set of double doors and entered the other wing. “Do you work for the Phoenix Project?”

There was mischief in her smile. “Yes, I do, in the same way that you work for the Luna Foundation.”

“What do you mean?”

“Ah, the Legacy! Thinks it’s the only secret society in the whole damn galaxy!” She laughed. “You should read some more conspiracy theory, Dr Rayne. You aren’t nearly paranoid enough!”

Room 24 had a security guard at its door. Elise smiled at him and he let them in without a murmur. It was a pleasant room, full of sunshine. A man sat in a chair by the window, dressed in borrowed pyjamas and dressing gown, watching TV with the sound down and smiling at the silent cartoons. At first glance, Derek thought him a stranger, his face was so untroubled, his features totally relaxed, devoid of all sorrow and care. “William?”

Sloan turned to them with a beatific grin. There was no recognition in his blue eyes. “Hello. Do I know you?”

“We’re old friends, you and I.” Derek kept most of the anxiety out of his voice. “Your name is William Sloan.”

“William,” the man said, as if trying it for size. “That’s a good name. I’d like to be called William.”

“You are,” Derek said. “You live in England, with your wife, Patricia, and your two daughters.”

“Patricia – another nice name.” Sloan smiled vaguely. “Is she pretty?”

Elise laid her hand on Derek’s arm. “Don’t confuse him with too much information, Dr Rayne. He remembers none of it. The Sloan you knew isn’t here. This poor creature is like a blank sheet of paper waiting for a story to be written. He has no past. All he’s aware of is the present, the now.”

She was right; there was no vestige of Sloan’s acerbic personality left in this empty human vessel. The dawning horror of it struck Derek cold.

“I do know you,” Sloan continued, still smiling at Elise. “You came to the police station yesterday. You said that I’d be taken to a nice place, a place where I’d be comfortable and where people would be kind to me.”

“And did I lie to you?”

“No. It is nice here.” Some of the placid contentment left his face. “Except for one thing – they still ask me too many questions.”

“They’re curious,” Elise said gently. “They want to find out what happened to you and why you can’t remember anything.”

“There’s nothing to remember.” A fleeting wisp of confusion crossed his eyes. “Remember me when I am gone away, gone far away into the silent land…? Oh dear, I’ve lost the rest of the words. It’s part of a poem, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. Perhaps you learnt it by heart, a long time ago. Ah, William, don’t trouble yourself over it.” There was pity in the woman’s voice as she quoted the final couplet of the sonnet. “Better by far you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad.”

The door behind them burst open and a short, dark man in a white coat catapulted into the room, panting as if he’d arrived at a run, but still in possession of enough breath to yell at them. “What the devil are you doing in here? Get out! Out, now! This patient mustn’t be disturbed… I gave strict instructions that he receive no visitors! Oh, Christ, it’s the hell-bitch… I mean, it’s you, Dr DuBois! Why are you here?”

“Hello, Rafe.” Elise struggled to suppress a smile. “The hell-bitch? What a cute soubriquet – tres charmant! Do you really think of me in such a negative light?”

“Sorry, slip of the tongue!” The man scraped his hair back from his forehead in a nervous gesture, trying to hide the fact that his cheeks burned crimson with guilt. “I was just surprised to see you here. What’s your interest in this case, and who’s this?”

“Dr Derek Rayne.” Elise supplied. “And this is Dr Rafe Marcos, Bedlam’s brilliant, very talented and somewhat hot-headed Chief Physician.”

Marcos winced. “I do wish you wouldn’t use that name for this unit. What’s your speciality, Dr Rayne, and what brings you out here to see our star patient?”

“My speciality? Dead bones, dusty archeological digs and ghosts of the past.” Derek had to mask his instant, irrational dislike of the short man. “As for why we’re here, William Sloan is an old friend of mine. We went to college together.”

“Is that his name? Sloan?” Marcos glanced at his patient and saw no reaction to the word. “Do you know where he lives? I mean, we could use an address to inform his next of kin of his whereabouts…”

“He lives in London,” Derek said. “And don’t worry. I’ll tell his family what’s happened to him.”

“London?” Marcos shook his head. “London, England? What on earth is he doing here?”

“Sight-seeing, perhaps?” Uncharacteristic sarcasm put an edge on Elise’s voice and Derek guessed that she didn’t like Marcos either. “Or maybe he was here on business? People do travel, Rafe. After all, it is almost the twenty-first century.”

“Most people don’t end up naked and under a bush in a park in San Francisco,” the physician protested. “And don’t give me that dumb mugging story! There isn’t a mark on him, no cuts, no bruises, no blows to the head – nothing to account for such global amnesia. Look, can we take this conversation outside? I don’t believe it’s helpful to talk about this poor man in front of him.”

Sloan showed no interest in their words, his attention back on the silent cartoon. He was smiling again, carefree and unworried, utterly at peace within this little, enclosed world. He appeared unconcerned when they left.

Dr Marcos led them to the end of the corridor into a bright, sunny common-room filled with sofas and armchairs. Two patients were playing cards in the far corner – both waved at Elise, who grinned back – and another was asleep beside an open door to a terrace with views down to the beach. They settled into a trio of chairs out of earshot of the room’s occupants.

“I’ll admit that this is a most perplexing case,” Marcos said, ruffling his hair. “Before we did a scan, my money was on a CVA, but there’s no apparent cerebral damage of any type. Every biochemical test we’ve run has come back normal and the drug screen was negative. What we have here is a fit, healthy middle-aged man with no memory of anything before he woke up on Sunday – and I’m damned if I can come up with a single physical reason why!”

“So you’re considering a psychological cause?” Elise asked.

“To blank out so much of his memory he must have been traumatised, treated brutally, tortured even.” Marcos was shaking his head again. “The lack of any injuries suggest that didn’t happen. Fear is another trigger for amnesia, but I can’t begin to imagine what level of terror would cause a man to forget everything, including his own name.”

“Yet he remembers a great deal – language, the details of everyday life and much about the world around him.” Elise remarked, half to herself. “He retains the basic program for human life. I find that fascinating, don’t you?”

“He failed our standard test for dementia.” Marcos returned. “He didn’t know what the date was, not even the year, and he couldn’t name the President.”

“Anyone can fail that test. Garfield? Eisenhower?” Elise raised one eyebrow. “DeGaulle – non?  Now, would you say I was demented?”

“No, but don’t ask me to certify that you’re sane!” The physician finally smiled. “Forgive me, Dr DuBois, but I don’t understand your concern with this case. Your baby is vaccine research, overseeing the technical side and drumming up the money to keep the project running. Why take time out over a lost memory, even if the cause of it is such a puzzle?”

“Why?” Her eyes lost focus, looking inwards, considering the past. “The truth is that I’ve known the man for a long time too, although we were never close enough to regard each other as friends. I owe Sloan a great debt, and helping him now goes some way towards repaying it.”

Marcos frowned. “What did this guy do? Save your life?”

She snapped back to the now with a small, wicked smile. “Au contraire, Rafe – he let me die. Dr Rayne, are we done here?”

“We’re done.” Derek stood up and shook the short man’s hand before he could argue. “Goodbye, Dr Marcos. Thanks for your help.”

“Merci, Rafe.” Elise followed suit. “And keep up the good work.”

As they walked back through the hospice, Derek touched the woman’s arm. “That stuff about owing Sloan – was that just a piece of nonsense to throw Marcos off the scent?”

“Are you accusing me of lying?” She raised her voice a notch, pretending outrage.

“Perhaps you’re merely being economical with the truth?”

“Moi?” She avoided his gaze. “Sloan uncovered some secrets from my distant past. When I found out what he knew, I arranged a little rendezvous in a dark, secluded spot. Our meeting started badly with a few mutual threats, but sense prevailed and we came to an agreement. He swore never to tell – and for that, he has my undying gratitude.”

Derek didn’t even want to think about the kind of threats Elise might make. “What secrets?”

“Uh-uh! You don’t get anything for free!” She laughed. “You want the dirt, you’ll have to dig for it, just as William did. You might not find anything though. I buried it all pretty deep.”

When they got back to the Explorer, Elise paused. “Have you ever seen Sloan like that before? So calm, so untroubled… Maybe I’m not doing him any favours by returning his persona. Maybe I should leave him as he is, free of the world’s chaos.”

“What? You can’t leave him like that! He isn’t himself!”

“But he’s happy and at peace, practically in a state of grace. What right do I have to take that away from him?”

“No!” Derek caught her wrist, swinging her to face him. “If Sloan had a choice, he’d want to be as he was. If I were in his place I’d want the same, and you would too! You have to bring the missing piece back, you have to make him whole again!”

“Oui, yes, okay!” A sudden fierceness burned in her eyes, dangerous fire. “You’ve made your point. Now, let me go!”

He released her, shaken when he saw the red marks his grip had left on her skin. “I’m sorry! I never meant to hurt you…”

“C’est rien.” She eased back down from anger and her smile came back. “Such passion, Dr Rayne, and such loyalty for a friend! He’ll be in good hands when you take him back to London. I’ll call you tomorrow when I’ve cleared it all with Phoenix.”

“Aren’t you coming back to the city with me?”

“Non. I feel like taking a walk by the ocean.”

“But I can’t leave you out here…”

“Why not?” She smiled an amiable farewell, slipping out of the passenger seat. “Au revoir, Dr Rayne. See you around.”

“It’s an hour’s drive back into town.” He called after her retreating back.
“Elise, come back here! You don’t even have your purse with you… Elise!”

She half-turned and waved at him, then continued on her way down to the shore.

“Damn the woman!” Derek slapped the steering wheel so hard that his palms stung. “Damn it!”

When he caught up with her she was paddling in the surf, with her sandals in one hand and her skirt in the other, hitched up high on her hip to keep it from dangling in the water, for all the world like an overgrown child. The breeze whipped her hair up into a pale strawberry froth and carried her laughter to him. He called her name and she swung around. There was such innocent joy on her face, such delight in her eyes that in an instant his anger was swept away.

“It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?” She splashed her feet in the sea-foam, then balanced on one leg to draw a sinuous spiral in the wet sand with her toes. “What is this life if, full of care..?”

“We have no time to stand and stare.” Derek completed the quote, then skipped forward a few verses. “No time to turn at Beauty’s glance and watch her feet, how they can dance. No time to wait till her mouth can, enrich that smile her eyes began.”

Elise grimaced at him. “I ought to know better than that – it’s futile to try and outwit a man with an Oxford education! Why did you follow me?”

“Perhaps I’m too much of a gentleman to abandon a lady out here in the wilderness?” He smiled back at her. “How would you have got home if I’d been mean and left you here?”

“Walked. Hitched a ride.” She sketched a figure of eight in the sand, or maybe it was the symbol for infinity? “Sprouted wings and flown.”

He hoped she was joking. “It’s a long way back to Chinatown, even as the crow flies.”

“Crow?” She stepped out of the water and spread out her arms, flapping them like wings. “Is that how you see me? A carrion-eater, big, black and threatening?”

“No, not a crow. Not a dove either.” He paused. “A hawk, perhaps.”

She laughed at that. “Better a hawk than a harpy!”

They walked along the beach for a while, with Derek picking his way around the flotsam and jetsam on the tide line and Elise dancing along the water’s edge. She paused, tilting her head on one side. “There are dolphins out there, a small group of them.”

He squinted out over the ocean. “I don’t see anything.”

“I can hear them, singing to each other.” She turned to face the ocean and let out a stream of high-pitched calls, a cascade of tumbling musical notes.

“Don’t tell me you can talk to dolphins!” As she fell silent, Derek laughed. “Where did you learn to do that?”

“Alpha-Centauri!” Her eyes were full of mischief again. “Or was it Amsterdam? I forget – all places are alike to me!”

“You said that you’d tell me the truth!” He protested.

“That was yesterday.” She shrugged. “Actually, it was Brighton. I worked all summer in the aquarium and spent a great deal of time with the dolphins. They have five at Brighton, you know.”

He wondered if she enjoyed being so exasperating. “No-one can communicate with dolphins, not even you.”

“Well, I’m not fluent, but I speak enough to get by.” She giggled. “Which is more than I can say about Latin or Greek!”

Derek lost track of how long they spent on the shore in peaceable silence. The sun’s warmth and the salty kiss of the breeze on his skin lifted his spirits. They walked a little further, then wandered back, and when the Explorer came into view, he found he was reluctant to return to it. Elise dried her feet on a dirty handkerchief and brushed off the sand before donning her sandals again. She was quiet for most of the journey back, letting him concentrate on the late afternoon traffic. He found a space to stop just along the street from the ex-warehouse.

“I suppose that the London House will want Sloan back as soon as possible,” Elise said, as he killed the engine. “Call me tomorrow and I’ll make the arrangements to release him into your care.”

“Don’t you need him to stay here until we free his mind from Hell?”

“We?” She shook her head. “You aren’t a part of this, Dr Rayne. Your Ruling Council gave the job to me and I’m not sure they’d sanction any Legacy House getting involved, especially yours.”

“I’m already involved. Who do you think got Sloan into this mess?”

“And is your guilt the price of admission to this hell-ride? I think not – and your Council would agree with me.” She smiled sadly. “Sit this one out. And no, it doesn’t matter where Sloan’s physical body is. Once freed, his mind will join it.”

Derek frowned. “William is one of my oldest friends. You don’t have the right to exclude me from your plans to rescue him!”

Elise spread her hands in a gesture of defeat. “Enough! I surrender! You clear it with your own people and you can join in the fun – okay?”

“Fine.” He wasn’t sure that he trusted her to keep the bargain. “And thank you for your help today, and your company. You made a difficult task a lot more bearable.”

“Yes, it’s been a good day.” She leaned across the vehicle and kissed him on the cheek. “Au revoir, mon cher.”

The sudden, brief touch of her lips made the hair stand up on the back of his neck. “Elise…?”

She blushed. “Pardonne moi! Sorry! I forgot! We aren’t lovers yet, are we?”

“What?” His ears must be malfunctioning or else her words were being scrambled on their way to his brain – either way he could make no sense of them.

“Sometimes I forget where I am in the time-stream, like losing your place in a book,” Elise said, fumbling for the handle on the door. “The past and future blur together and I drift for a second. Forgive me. It was just a momentary lapse.”

Before he could say anything else, she was gone, fleeing along the street like a hare with all the Wild Hunt on her tail.

Derek sat there for a full ten minutes, an island of stillness in the constant motion of passers-by and traffic, replaying that moment over and over in his mind. Had it been an honest mistake? He doubted that she’d let her concentration slip for long enough to allow such a lapse; after all, it had taken the Boston house a week of concentrated harassment to make her drop her guard. She was a control-freak, just as he was, and all the mood swings and feyness were just play-acting, just a part of the game. Had she been teasing him then, to see what he’d do? Or had it been a real invitation, and if so, how should he react to it? He sighed. Elise was way too weird to second-guess.

***

Within an hour he’d made up his mind and was standing at her door. He hesitated before ringing the bell, still free to walk away and not make a fool of himself. When the door opened unexpectedly, he almost jumped out of his skin.

“What do you want?” Elise asked, leaning against the doorpost, her arms folded.

“How did you know I was out here?”

“Magic.” Her eyes glittered. “Call it a wild guess, if you’re more comfortable with that – or maybe I just smelled the food?”

“I did bring dinner.” He lifted the bag of take-out for her inspection. “I hope you like Chinese?”

“Hate it.” More mischief danced in her apple-green stare. “Why else would I choose to live in this part of town?”

“Can I come in?”

“Yes, on two conditions,” she counted them off on her fingers. “One, you turn off your cell-phone, and two, you take off that ugly tie.”

“Agreed.”

She took the carrier-bag from his hand and let him enter the apartment. He removed his tie, a sombre thing in black and charcoal stripe, and tucked it into his pocket. “Why do you object to this?”

“Because it’s dull, conservative and lacking in imagination – none of which apply to the real Derek Rayne.” She unpacked the cartons of food as she spoke. “Do you want wine with this? I have an unpretentious French red or a rather good Californian white.”

“I’d better stick to water or I won’t be able to drive back to the island.”

“There’s always the sofa.” She offered, with an open, innocent smile. “I can vouch that it’s comfortable. After all, I did spend most of the weekend asleep on it.”

Now that was an invitation – and what kind of idiot would turn it down? “Wine, then. I’ll try the red.”

“Good choice,” she said.

It was a strange evening, even measured against the sum of his uncommon experiences. He found it very easy to relax in this woman’s company even though he didn’t totally trust her, and within ten minutes he’d shed his jacket, unbuttoned the collar of his shirt and kicked off his shoes. They shared the food, enjoying a leisurely, messy meal. When he spilt hoi-sin sauce on the rug, Elise just laughed and blotted up the worst of it, not caring that it left a stain, and when he apologised profusely she fed him tit-bits to silence him, plump prawns and choice pieces of char-sui pork , lifting each morsel to his lips with chopsticks. By the time they’d finished eating, it was growing dark outside. Elise drew the blinds to keep out the night, lit candles around the room and fed a CD into the player, an instrumental piece at low volume that seemed oddly familiar.

“Oldfield?” Derek asked, frowning.

“Quite right, Esmeralda – it’s the Bells,” she said in a strange voice, ducking one shoulder to suggest a hump and closing one eye.“Version three. If you don’t like it… “

“It’s fine.”

They settled down on the sofa with coffee and more wine, and giggled at the banal wisdom and enlightenment of the sayings in their fortune-cookies. Lines from the vocal sections of the music slipped into his mind like surreal prophesies – ‘you can’t stay, you can’t stay’ and ‘the man in the rain picked up his bag full of secrets and journeyed up the mountain-side – and nothing was ever heard from him again’. He shook his head and slowed up on the wine.

Afterwards, Derek couldn’t remember what they’d talked about, just scraps and fragments of the whole. They’d touched on his time at Oxford – Elise had been there, of course, and knew of the Botanical Gardens and the delights of the Ashmolean Museum. Tibet was mentioned, and he won a confession from her that she’d lived there for the best part of a year, on a retreat in a monastery. He pitied the monks – she’d be temptation enough to cause even the staunchest celibate to stray from the true path. From there they’d skipped to history, then archaeology, with a quick digression into the state of medical science and the latest discoveries in astronomy. At no point did they ever get close to anything personal, emotional or otherwise dangerous.

When Derek yawned for the third time, he glanced at his watch. It was after midnight.

“Tired?” Elise asked, smiling in sympathy.

“Aren’t you?”

“A little.” She stood up and stretched. “Let’s call it a night. I’ll get you some bedding.”

She brought back an armful – a couple of blankets, three pillows and the quilt. “Use whatever you need.”

Derek was reluctant to let her go, even into the next room. “Thank you for this evening. I can’t remember the last time I had such fun.”

“I’m sure that the Legacy doesn’t approve of such frivolity.” Her eyes glowed with amusement, bright apple green. “But, yes, it’s been a treat for me also, to have such intelligent and agreeable company. Bonne nuit, Dr Rayne. Sleep well.”

The couch was somewhat lumpy and too soft, but he’d spent the night on worse beds. Derek arranged the cushions and pillows to his liking, then pulled the quilt up to his chin. He’d never noticed that Elise wore perfume, but the fabric was full of the scent of her, subtle and spicy, like rosemary under Mediterranean sun or mulled wine simmering on the fire at Christmas. Smell is the oldest of senses, hard-wired into the ancient, reptilian hindbrain. It can conjure deep-buried memories and bypass rational thought to call up hidden emotions. He took a deep breath, savouring her fragrance, finally admitting to himself how much she aroused him, how much he desired her. Oh, hell, he thought, I sure know how to pick them, don’t I? Always the dangerous ones, the ones with an aura of mystery about them. Perhaps that element of risk was what attracted him in the first place.

The light was still on in Elise’s room. He could see the thin golden line that outlined the door, which was ajar. It made no sound at all when he pushed it open.

She was sitting on the bed with her back to him, combing that wild hair of hers. Her pose reminded him of the statue of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, lonely and forlorn, lost in a world that could never be hers. She was naked; her skin glowed in the yellow tungsten light, pale and perfect, curiously devoid of freckles. She knew he was there – her hand froze in mid-air.

“Turn around, Dr Rayne,” she said, very softly. “Go back to the couch and forget this.”

“I can’t.” That wasn’t true. “I won’t.”

Elise set her comb aside, rose to her feet and faced him. So beautiful, as flawless as any classical statue of an ideal female form – the sight of her took his breath away.  He couldn’t move as she approached him. “It’s madness for us to get involved with each other… Lunacy!”

“I don’t care…” He caught her shoulders, drew her to him and kissed her. She tasted of wine and honey, of ginger and sesame oil. Then her hands were caressing the back of his neck and running through his hair, sending delicious shivers down his spine. His found her breasts and she drew closer to him, the feel of her body against his sweeping his senses away. When he regained a little control, somehow he was naked too, lying flat on his back on the bed, with Elise sitting astride him. As she leaned over him for another kiss, he felt a small, cold pang of fear.

“What’s wrong?” She paused. “Not afraid of me, surely?”

“No. My last lover… I mean, the last time…” The memories came thundering back, memories of being helpless and taken against his will, of his all-consuming obsession with Jess… He couldn’t bear to say her name, couldn’t even shape it inside his head. “She hurt me, terribly.”

Elise eased back, shifting herself so her weight was on his thighs, giving him some space. “Tell me about it.”

“She was the fiancee of a dead friend, only she wasn’t… She almost killed me. She was possessed by a demon, a creature called Lamia…”

“A lamia?” She laughed. “And I thought they were all extinct! My, but you precepts do lead exciting lives! Forget her. She isn’t here now, but I am.”

“Elise, I’m not sure I can…”

“Relax, Derek. I’m not a lamia.” She took his wrists in a gentle grip, placed a kiss in each of his palms and lifted them over his head, pressing them down on the bed in a weird parody of what the snake-demoness had done to him. Terror washed over him as she came in close, nose to nose, her hair falling in a soft veil around his face, her breath warm on his cheek. She purred, the sound resonating deep in her throat, no mere human imitation but the purr of a real great cat. “I’m far more dangerous than that!”

“Elise…!” He struggled beneath her, but she held him easily, her body sliding over his, taking him within herself. Derek cried out at the soft, velvet feel of her, caught between fear and pleasure.

“Don’t fight so hard.” She whispered in his ear. “I don’t want to hurt you… Ah, sweet fire, that feels so good…!”

Then her mouth was on his and his hands were free to touch her and each time she moved he was swamped with another wave of ecstasy, intense and endless, and he wanted to kiss all of her at once, as she seemed to be doing to him, and his fingers were knotted into her hair… Elise moaned and writhed in his arms, reaching her climax, and the motion carried him to one of his own, sudden and overwhelming, like falling into fire…

When his mind cleared, he found he was still panting for breath. Elise was draped over him, her head on his shoulder. For a long time they lay still, tangled together, then she languidly lifted herself up on one elbow to look down into his face, smiling. “After the famine, a feast! How is it with you, Dr Rayne?”

“Good…” He was suddenly grinning like an idiot. “No, better than good. Oh, Christ, for one stupid moment back there I thought you were going to kill me!”

“It was only a little death.” She kissed his cheek. “After that, I could use something to drink. Do you want some more wine?”

“Please.” He watched her walk across the room, still mesmerised by her loveliness, by the grace of her movements. She came back with a single glass of the white; he sat up and they shared it.

“Tell me something.” Elise brushed her hair back from her face. “Am I stepping on anyone’s toes? Are you involved with anyone else?”

“It’s a little late to ask that!” he said, with a wry smile. “But, no, there’s no-one.”

“I find that hard to believe, when you share your House with Alex and Rachel, two beautiful women!”

He knew she was teasing him. “Three. You forgot Kristen.”

“Quite deliberately, I assure you.” Her eyes glittered with malice.

“You really don’t like her, do you? What did she do to upset you?”

“Nothing. She’s a spoilt child – she annoys me.” Elise wrinkled her nose. “Let’s talk about something else.”

He framed the question that had been bothering him all evening. “Back in the Explorer, you said that we weren’t lovers – yet. Did you know that this would happen?”

“I hoped it wouldn’t. It complicates things.” She shook her head. “I should know better – there are some things that can’t be avoided.”

“You make me sound like an obstacle to be overcome!” He protested, only half in jest. “Do you want me to leave?”

“Absolutely not!” A smile lit up her face, so warm and tender that it washed all of his misgivings away. “You’re welcome in my bed and always will be. Tell me, Derek, do you believe in reincarnation?”

“It’s a nice concept, the safety-net of another life after this one, with rewards or punishments for deeds done. Do I believe in it? Without a single scrap of proof – no.”

“You should.” Her eyes clouded, suddenly awash with pain and sorrow. “Most souls have lived before – very few are new to the game – and yet there’s no way of proving it, nothing concrete, nothing solid. There’s regression, of course, memories conjured under hypnosis, but most of that is false, pretty delusion, nothing more.”

“But you do believe in it?”

She nodded. “I remember, more than I care to. We’ve been lovers in past lives, and we will be again, in future ones – that’s our blessing and our curse. You’re always the seeker, the warrior-mage…”

“And you? What are you?”

“Just me. Always just me.” She took the empty glass from his hand and curled up next to him. “Now, tell me more about your encounter with this snake-woman, this Jessica.”

Derek froze. “I never told you her name. Did you take it from my mind?”

“Your head is locked up as safe as a strong-box.” She ran a fingertip across his forehead, resting it lightly in the hollow of his temple. “All psychics are, to protect themselves from intrusive emotion and raw evil. In spite of such defences, thoughts sometimes leak out. I catch them.”

“So you are a telepath?”

“Names, categories, little boxes!” She tickled the back of his neck with her other hand. “Don’t you ever take any time off from your scientific investigations? This Jessica, this serpent-creature – do you still have nightmares about her?”

“Not often, but yes.”

“You won’t have any more.” Her smile was gentle. “You’re free of her – those memories no longer have the power to haunt you. Consider it a gift.”

It was true. There was no slippery darkness when he thought back to that night, no taint of horror. “When did you work your magic on me?”

“In that moment when all your wards were down, when you were at your most vulnerable.” Was there a hint of a threat in her voice, a subtle predatory gleam in her eyes? “Now I’ll walk in your nightmares instead – like St Patrick, I’ve cast out the snakes.”

Derek wondered if he should be more wary of her, but she was too lovely to fear. He was drunk with the taste and feel of her, his body was utterly relaxed and his Sight was untroubled by the closeness of his almost-enemy and not-quite friend. “Why should anyone have bad dreams about you?”

“That poor girl in Boston does.” Elise shook her head. “And she rejects all my efforts to help her. Kristen must have told you all about the incident, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve read the report?”

“I have.” He was playing with fire tonight, so a little more probing wouldn’t hurt. “It said you were powerful, ancient and inhuman – is that true?”

“Do I look ancient?” She demanded, in mock-outrage. “And which particular bits of me aren’t human? Go on, point them out, if you can find them!”

“You said yourself that you were more dangerous than a lamia,” he reminded. “More dangerous than a shape-shifting demon?”

That impish glint was back in her eyes. “How do you know I can’t shape-shift?”

“How do I know you’re not a demon?”

“You’d know. Could you get this close to something so evil and not be aware of its true nature?”

“I suppose not.” Derek reached up to touch her cheek, tracing the line of it to the curve of her lips.“What kind of creature are you?”

“Just because we’ve had sex doesn’t entitle you to know all of my secrets!” She licked his finger. “I’m not a soul-taker or a dream-thief. I don’t want anything from you, except pleasure, and I’ll return that tenfold, with interest. Would you care for another installment?”

This time he didn’t hesitate, far beyond caution and fear.

 

Go to Part Two

1 Comment

  1. July 15, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    […] previously added one of my Poltergeist: the Legacy fanfics, The Harrowing of Hell, to the site, but hadn’t read all the way through the page. Bad mistake. At almost 65000 […]


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