Part One

"We need their help, mon amour." Tarot Morlaix said matter-of-factly from where she sat cross-legged on the floor, dressed in clothing she thought never to wear again--cutoff jeans and shirt. The leather outfit that she had been wearing when they arrived six months ago--could it have been only six months past?--now hung in a room the original builders of the house had never envisioned. If life were fair, she might never have to bring it out again. But, of course, life wasn't fair.

R.C. Moore, who, once long ago, had a very different name, paced back and forth. Here, in the safety of the ward-shielded house, he didn't need the cane and walked with the slightest of limps. Tarot watched him, getting dizzy from his quick turns and aggravated half-stomps. She was just contemplating tackling and pleasantly distracting him when he stopped.

"We can't involve them. . .we can't meet them."

Tarot flinched at the dead tone of his voice. Part of her wanted to comfort him while the other part wanted to knock some sense into him. "We're working the same circles, R.C. Sooner or later our paths are going to cross. Why not now?"

She stared at R.C.'s back, reading tension in the taut muscles. After a long moment, he turned to face her, dark eyes far too old for one so young. But then, he had lived two lifetimes. "They'll guess. . ."

"Peut-etre--maybe--more likely not. They don't have to meet you. I'll go talk with them. Or maybe Jesse. Or Britt. They don't know us. . .at least not yet."

This time it was R.C.'s turn to flinch at the reminder of things that might come. A struggle could be seen in his expressive eyes. . .the fervent wish not to mingle so closely with his all-too-painful past battling against the need for aid only one man could give them. Need won out.

"We'll leave in the morning." He started to turn, to walk down to join the others.

"We?" Tarot was startled.

R.C. paused, not looking back at her. "Yes, 'we'. I. . .remember enough to find the place. You'll go in to ask the questions. . .I'll wait outside in case you need me." With that, R.C. walked from the room. Moments later, she heard the rhythmic thump of his brace on the stairs.


In the end five of them went; Jesse Little Horse because he could go where they could not, Amiko Makiko because she was best equipped to defend them all, and Jarita Moore because she refused to be left behind. Even now, the youngest of the group darted about the airport terminal, making a general nuisance of herself. For the third time, Jesse called her to order and she retreated to his side, fidgeting on bare feet that just begged to take off again.

R.C. shook himself free of the reverie that had claimed him since they left New Orleans and looked down at the young girl, frowning. "Where are your sandals?"

Jarita looked at him with brilliant black eyes. "I et 'em!" She proclaimed insolently, jutting out her jaw.

R.C. didn't seem to notice. "Well, regurgitate them and get them on your feet. Now."

Jarita scowled but reluctantly obeyed, digging a pair of sandals from the bag she carried slung over a shoulder and slipping them on. As she finished that task, Amiko reappeared. She tossed a glint of car keys to Jesse then reached for her bag and wooden case.

"Just one car?" R.C. asked and Amiko stopped in mid-stoop.

"I thought that's all we needed."

"Yes..." He frowned. "But we don't all need to go." He patted Jarita's head absently and she glared at him. "We'll drop you and Jari off at the hotel then go over to the store."

"Are you sure that is wise?" Amiko looked alarmed.

He looked at her with sober eyes. "They are no danger to us," he reminded her.

"All we need is information. Tarot can get that easily enough while I keep watch outside and Jesse. . .does his thing. We'll be safe enough."

Amiko didn't look convinced, despite anything R.C. said during the trip to the hotel, and even less convinced when they finally dropped off her, a protesting Jarita and their luggage off. After making them promise to call in two hours and informing R.C. that if they didn't, she'd appear on the doorstep, Amiko herded Jarita inside and the trio pulled away. It took just under an hour to find the store. . .R.C.'s memory of it wasn't as good as he'd thought. Jesse parked the car but left it running as they surveyed their destination. It was an ancient-appearing store with an antique sign proclaiming 'CURIOUS GOODS'. Items could be seen in the display windows; antique items, reasonable since it was an antique store.

Tarot tore her eyes away from it and looked at R.C., who sat rigidly in the front seat, his face pale and expressionless.

"Now what?" She murmured.

R.C. didn't answer for a moment and she thought him to be too caught up in ancient memories to have heard her. She opened her mouth to ask again.

"You go inside. . .ask the needed questions. I'll keep an eye out there. . .from that alley. Jesse will find a safe, obscure place to park and check the place out." There was quiet pain in his voice and Tarot realized with alarm that it was physical pain.

"R.C.!"

"I'm fine, Tarot." R.C. opened the door and carefully stepped out, keeping his back to the store. He glanced around and frowned at the emptying street, then at his watch. It was later than he would have liked. Tarot appeared beside him. Slamming the door shut, he slipped an arm around her. "Be careful," he murmured, pressing his lips to her forehead briefly.

She gripped the lapel of his jacket and pulled him forward for a true kiss before spun on her heel and walked across the street. He watched as she opened the door and slipped into the store then turned back to look at Jesse. "Good luck." Straightening, he limped into the nearby alley. Positioning himself in the deepening shadows, he turned and braced himself against the cane, looking over to the store. Jesse, he was pleased to note, had already pulled away.

Now all he could do was wait.


Jack Marshak turned to the music of the door chime, putting down the crystal he had been studying. He blinked and took a more careful second look at the incoming customer. She warranted it, with her warm cocoa skin, long black hair and striking green eyes. Dressed casually in a light blouse and skirt, she moved among the cases with a grace that made Jack wish he were 20 years younger. . .or that he at least felt 20 years younger.

She didn't see him, he realized, posed as he was near a stand-alone case, and he savored the moments, waiting until she paused at a case holding ancient tarot cards. She bent slightly, staring intently into the case, not noticing as he left his shelter and approached her.

"May I help you?" he said, in his professional voice. The woman started then spun, almost falling. Automatically, Jack reached forward to steady her. "I'm sorry, miss. I didn't mean to startle you." He smiled reassuringly, a smile that, after a few moments, she returned.

"No problem," she said in an musical voice, tinted with what seemed to be a French accent, though to Jack's ear it sounded odd. "I was, eneffet, looking for you. . .M'sieu Marshak, correct?"

Jack looked at her, startled. Of course, he was well-known in some circles but he wasn't sure he really wanted to unexpectedly run into others from that circle. He spoke cautiously. "Yes, I'm Jack Marshak. And you are. . .?"

"Jean-Marie Bronet." She walked around a display case, idly running a finger over the glass. "I understand you have some knowledge of the occulte and its related subjects?"

Jack studied her narrowly, thinking back on adversaries that had pretended to be working on the same side as he and his partners only to betray them at inopportune moments. Some of them had presented themselves in a like manner. "Well, I do have some knowledge in that direction, yes. What exactly are you looking for?"

"Information on a Satanist named Astaroth." Almost immediately, she bit her lip, as if realizing she had said something she shouldn't. She seemed to force herself to meet his piercing gaze.

"Astaroth is dead. He overstepped himself." Briefly, Jack was thrown into the not-too-distant past. . .the mysterious light destroying first the Lucifer Book, then the man who attempted to fulfill its prophecies. . .a man who had come disturbingly close to succeeding. Why would this woman wish to know of him? And how did she know of him in the first place??

"But his ideas. . .his purpose. . .are not," the woman said tersely. The oddness of her accent deepened and, for a brief moment, sounded familiar to Jack. Then he concentrated on her words again. "True evil--like true good--never dies. There is always someone there to pick it up again. What of his followers? Or even his masters?" She paused briefly then plunged onward. "We need to find the coven he lead because. . .because. . ." She floundered then blurted, ". . .because we think they have the last of the Lucifer Books."

"What makes you believe that?" Jack's voice was sharper than he intended and the woman flinched.

"Because we knew where the last Lucifer Book was, but when we went to retrieve it the collector was dead and the tomes gone." She said this very reluctantly and this time Jack correctly identified the accent. . .it was French Cajun, which she was attempting to disguise as French. "We think it was one of Astaroth's followers or masters or even Astaroth himself." She caught the look on his face and snapped, "Don't look at me like that! You've faced the dead before!"

And how would you know that? Jack thought, frowning. The woman looked at him. "Well?" she prodded.

Jack stared at her speculatively. She was definitely hiding something, but what? Well, there was one way to find out. He turned and walked up the stairs to the desk, reaching for an address book. "First things first. Let's see if we can discover who his followers were and work from there."

"We tried." She followed practically on his heels. "All the coven members seem to use aliases and stay well-hidden." "That makes sense." Jack pulled his glasses from a pocket. "But if we could find just one of them, we'd at least have a starting point. Until then, how about telling me your interest in all this? And who are 'we'? And. . ." He looked at her pointedly. "How did you know where the last of the Lucifer Books were?"

The woman's face remained carefully--too carefully--blank, as she began to speak. "We have made a profession of battling the occulte, my people and I. Some months ago, we learned of the existence of the Lucifer books. . .or rather, by that time, book. . .from an. . .informant. Following a lead, we managed to track down the last book in the care of a collector of ancient tomes. Unfortunately, when we finally arrived, we found the collector dead and buried and the majority of the tomes stolen." She paused briefly for breath, then plunged onward. "This aroused our curiosity instantly. After all, they had been in her family for generations and most of the occulte community had known it, though I've my doubts anyone knew exactly what was in the collection. Why would someone suddenly want the tomes so badly they'd kill for them? The only thing we could think of is that they--whoever they are--didn't need that Lucifer Book. . .until the one they had was destroyed And they took all of the books to cover the theft of one."

Jack looked at her thoughtfully. While there were gaps in her story he didn't like, the latter bit made sense. "I think I know of the collector. . .Cynthia Weatherspoon?" The woman nodded. "I'd heard of her murder and of some tomes being stolen but I had no idea she had the last of the Lucifer Books." He found the number he was looking for and reached for the phone.

Forty minutes later, they were little closer to their objective. None of Jack's contacts could put a name to any of Astaroth's followers or to who might have the Book. Jean-Marie was no help here. . .her contacts weren't firmly established as yet. She spent the time looking at the books crammed into the shelves or peering over Jack's shoulder.

"Well, that was pretty worthless." Jack rubbed his eyes, sighing. "Except. . .it seems that Astaroth was working on his own. Everyone I spoke to agrees on that. Apparently he thought he could get on Lucifer's--if you excuse the expression--good side by fulfilling the prophecies."

"And, from what I heard, he almost succeeded."

"Hmm." He slipped his glasses back on, thumbing through the address book idly. "Now someone else wants to use it. But for what? To fulfill the prophecies? Or. . ." He paused thoughtfully. "Or to use the spells within the book."

"Spells?" The woman blinked.

"Oh, yes. There's a section in the book concerning Necromantic spells."

"Oh." Jean-Marie bit her lip, looking as if she regretted ever mentioning the Book.

"Yes, my sentiment exactly. Not many people know of that sealed section of the book and even fewer would dare open it. Astaroth did. That's how he--" He caught himself abruptly, looking up to meet her interested eyes. "Well, that doesn't matter now. What matters is that wandering Book. It had to be someone who had been working with Astaroth."

"An apprentice peut-etre?" Jean-Marie said with an eagerness that startled Jack.

"Perhaps. Most sorcerers have them. But did he?" Jack once again reached for the phone, a thoughtful look in his eye, only to pause when he heard a faint footstep and looked up to see movement on the stairs above. He knew the culprit instantly. "And what are you doing up? You have the flu! Back to bed!"

The woman next to him started noticeably, obviously not realizing that someone else was in the store. After a moment, she relaxed and bent to look at a book she had pulled from a shelf.

"I'm bored." The boy standing half-way down the stairs lamented. His face was flushed and the brown eyes peering from beneath tousled brown hair were fever-bright, not surprising considering his illness. Physically he was ten; in reality. . .Jack cut off that train of thought and rose to stand at the bottom of the stairs, not noticing the shocked expression on the woman's face as she stared at the curious-eyed boy.


Outside, R.C. glanced nervously at his watch, then at the darkening sky. It was almost time to call Amiko but he really didn't want to until Tarot came out. He shifted his weight onto his good leg, trying to ease the steady throbbing.

"Want me to check it out again?" came the whispery voice of Jesse beside him.

Turning his head, R.C. looked at the shadowy appearance of Jesse's spirit-form. Amazing, when one thought about it. In reality, Jesse was blocks away, in the car, apparently asleep. Yet, he was here also, his spirit-form functioning independently of his body, and with greater advantages. The perfect sneak.

"No, I don't think it's necessary," R.C. thought on Jesse's previous report; Tarot and Jack bent over the phone, seeking information on what they sought, another person--Michelle most likely--buried under a swelter of blanket in a bedroom upstairs, the vault down below, filled with objects heavy with evil, evil that made his head throb rhythmically.

"R.C.?" Jesse spoke sharply and R.C. turned his head to blink at him. "What's wrong with you?"

R.C. blinked again. "Too close to the vault, me' thinks. Too much evil in one place. The. . .influences are leaking through." He looked back to the store and then to the nearby phone booth, not seeing the shrewd look Jesse was giving him.

"R.C., that vault's warded." The young man snapped his head around, looking at the spirit-form with surprised eyes. "Granted, the wards aren't as good as the ones Britt can cast and undoubtedly some of the evil is seeping through...but not enough to affect you this way."

"Which means. . ." R.C.'s throat tightened and he took a hurried look around.

"Which means that, since it's highly unlikely Marshak would leave cursed objects lying about outside the warded vault, whatever's affecting you is coming from outside the sto--R.C., look out!!!"

Maybe it was Jesse's yell or maybe it was the sudden, sharp twinge in his leg that warned him. Not that it mattered as R.C.'s leg buckled. Not being a fool, he followed the path of least resistance into a shoulder roll. By stiffening his arm and pushing at just the right moment, he managed to get his good leg underneath him, spinning just in time to see Jesse, with a full-blown war whoop, dive through his trench coat-garbed attacker. This would normally distract even the most diehard assailant but this one didn't even flinch--just gathered himself and once again lunged at R.C., hands outstretched to grab.

Automatically, R.C. brought up his cane in a fencer's gesture. A taloned--taloned?!--hand snatched at it and then jerked back with a sharp hiss. The attacker moved back, eyeing him warily and shaking its hand gingerly. R.C. stiffly backed up, keeping the cane between them.

"R.C. . .that's no human." Jesse's voice came from behind and above the young man.

R.C. nodded, not taking his eyes from his assailant. He'd guessed that almost immediately, despite the disguise of trench coat, trousers, and hat. Now, from a relatively safe distance, he could see that the disguise was incomplete. There were no shoes on the splayed-toed feet and the eyes gleamed cat-slitted red. The skin--no, scales--were black-green and, he was willing to bet, hard enough to turn just about any blade. He knew its ilk of old and put a name to it.

"Daemon." The creature raised his head and eyed R.C. warily. R.C. eyed it back, no fear in his ancient eyes. Absently, the young man brought his cane down, gripping it with both hands. "And what does a daemon wish here?"

The daemon chortled, an evil sound, and did not answer. With inhuman swiftness, it leapt forward. R.C. twisted the cane, separating shank from handle and sliding free the silver saber-blade. Stepping back into a fencer's stance, he raised the slender sword and flicked it at the daemon's hands. With a shriek, the creature fell back, staring at his hands, now minus three of its eight fingers. The wounds spouted greenish blood.

"Ohhh. . .you will pay for that, little human." The daemon hissed. "Oh, yes, you will. Dangoth will take it from your hide and still leave enough for Azdemius." The daemon lunged forward abruptly.

R.C. froze at the second name but recovered quickly. Lips thinned, he whipped the sword up and across, the silver blade cutting through the scaly hide as if it were paper. His hesitation, however, cost him as the daemon's taloned hand struck his shoulder, ripping through the leather-layered Kevlar and to the skin below. The daemon hissed with satisfaction as blood welled from the talon marks. R.C. said nothing, his expression unchanging as he flicked the blade free of the green blood and readied himself for the next charge.

Above the combatants, Jesse watched helplessly. The major disadvantage of his spirit-form was his inability to touch and therefore aid his companions in battle. He could try hurrying back to his own body and return but by then the battle would be over. He was just contemplating fetching Tarot when, again, the daemon charged. This time R.C. sidestepped. Holding the sword handle with both hands, he swept it up and across, the sliver blade slicing through scales and flesh and bone. Momentum kept the daemon's body rushing forward several feet before collapsing, its head bouncing in the other direction.

"Good thing daemons are not known for their quick, original thinking," R.C. said dryly as he cleaned the blade on a section of the daemon's trench coat.

"R.C.?"

"Hmm?" R.C. picked up the shank from where he had dropped it and sheathed the sword. Gingerly, he began to search the clothing the daemon had worn. The daemon itself was now rapidly decomposing into an unappealing sludge and R.C. grimaced at the resulting stench.

"Azdemius doesn't come into prominence for another five years."

"You mean he didn't." R.C. corrected absently, frowning at what he pulled from one of the trench coat's pockets. It was a woolen cap, of the size and type a young boy would wear. He glanced at the now thoroughly sludged daemon then turned to look at the store, a thoughtful look in his eyes.

"Yeah, I guess I do." The Cheyenne crossed his legs, suspended six feet from the ground, and looked down at his friend. "So. . .how much have we changed the past just by being here?"

R.C. looked up at him. "Apparently a lot more then we ever expected." He froze, his eyes catching by a movement on a far rooftop. "Go get the car, Jesse."

"Uh?"

"The car, Jess!" Tossing the cap into a nearby trash can, R.C. straightened and limped rapidly across the street, throwing glances up at the figures that followed him via the rooftops.


Jack smiled at the boy, as the latter trundled down the stairs, yawning and trying to hide it. "No excuse, Ryan. But I'll tell you what, why don't I move the TV into the bedroom, eh, lad?"

Young Ryan, who had once been much older, looked disappointed but obediently turned to return upstairs. However, before he could take a step, the front door crashed open. Jack spun to see a young man throw himself into the store. He blinked as the man paused, panting. There was something familiar about the newcomer but his face was in too much shadow.

The newcomer spared him and the boy next to him a bare glance before looking at the woman. "Tar--unnnghhh!"

Something slammed into the man's back...something small and fierce and green. The man fell forward, just missing the stair railing. The cane he held flew from his hand, thumping to the floor just out of his reach. The creature darted upwards, sharp teeth bared, scurrying toward the gleam of flesh showing between jacket collar and short brown hair.

With a shriek that made Jack's back teeth ache, Jean-Marie threw the book she still held. It smacked the creature dead center, tumbling it from the man's back. The man flailed an arm, grabbing the railing and using it to pull himself into an sitting position, looking around frantically. The creature edged forward and the man ceased his search to kick out with his left leg, which, Jack noticed, was encased within a silvery brace. The brace struck solidly against the creature's jaw and it staggered back, hissing in pain. The next second, it shrieked as a dagger suddenly sprouted from its chest.

Startled, Jack looked at the woman who now stood posed with a second dagger in hand. Almost absently, he noted the dagger, a twin to the first, was silver with a gold cross in its hilt. . .a St. John's Dagger. How in the world did she get one--two of them?

"Wow." came from the boy next to him. Jack glanced at him then followed his wide-eyed gaze to the creature. . .or, rather, what was left of it. . .as it was presently turning into a nauseating pile of sludge. Nearby the newcomer got shakily to his feet, his back to them. Jean-Marie slid the dagger back into its hidden thigh-sheath and moved to help him.

"R.C.! Your shoulder!"

For the first time, Jack saw that the man's jacket was ripped at the shoulder, revealing a glint of blood-caked metal. After instructing the boy to stay put, he started forward, pausing to pick up the cane. He stared at it, then at the back of the man's head. He knew this cane but not in the hands of this man.

The woman pried back the ripped edges of the jacket, making worried noises. The young man fended her off. "Daemons, Tarot. Heading this way."

"Quoi!? Comme?"

As the man shook his head, Jack moved to stand behind him, though still on a upper level. "What the devil is going on?" he demanded in a low tone, hoping the other two would get the hint to keep their voices down.

Automatically the young man turned and Jack froze at the up-close sight of all too familiar--achingly familiar--features. Same brown hair, same pleasant attractiveness, same build. Only the eyes were different. Same color, yes and same shape but these eyes were far too old for someone this young. Turning, Jack looked briefly at the little boy standing at the foot of the stairs then back to the young man standing at the foot of another staircase.

"Who are you?" he asked urgently.

The young man gave him a twisted, mirthless smile. "Someone best forgotten."

Jack opened his mouth insistently but the young man cut him off. "There's no time now. We have to leave before whoever was with that demon brings help." He looked briefly out the window. "Here comes Jesse now." He stretched out his hand to take the cane Jack still held.

Jack hesitated. There were too many questions...who was this strange young man with Ryan's adult features and initials, and a cane so rare only two existed? And the woman, who, Jack suddenly realized, was no longer next to the young man. . .who was she to have a name like Tarot? And what of this talk of daemons? He glanced at the sludge. Well maybe it was a daemon.

"Where we going?" mumbled a sleepy boy's voice and Jack turned to see Tarot wrapping the quilt from the sofa around young Ryan.

"Somewhere you can sleep, mon petit cher. Now hush and let me carry you." As expected, the boy protested but didn't struggle as the woman picked him up and carried him toward the door. Jack looked once more at the intense young man in front of him and reluctantly nodded, reaching for his hat. With a vague look of relief, R.C. opened the door, allowing first Tarot and then Jack to slip out. A moment later, it was locked and Jack had the back door of the car open, allowing Tarot to slide in with her burden then sat down beside her.

"Go," R.C. murmured as he slipped into the passenger seat, slamming the door shut. A tall Amerindian with shoulder-length black hair eased the car from the darkened store, heading into the city.

"Where are we going?" Jack asked.

"The hotel we're staying at. We have to pick up the other two before they come looking for us. Along the way we'll drop you and the boy off at a church. That should be safe enough."

"You're not getting rid of me that easily. Not until I find out what's going on. But I agree about Ryan." He glanced over at young Ryan, now fast asleep with his head on Tarot's shoulder. "It would be best if he were in a safe place." He looked out the back windshield, searching the darkness. "Won't they follow?" he asked pensively.

R.C. didn't look up from the dagger he was cleaning. "They can't. At least not immediately. I killed their tracker."

"Tracker!? What tracker?" He paused, narrow-eyed then asked slowly. "Who were they tracking?"

The young man turned to look at him then shifted his gaze to the boy Tarot held. Jack followed his gaze. "What!? Why?!"

R.C. gave him a mirthless smile. "Power. Power the knowledgeable could use for their own purpose."

"Power? How. .?" Jack paused in thought, looking absently out the window at the dark, silent buildings. "France?" he asked tentatively.

R.C. and Tarot both nodded.

"I. . .see. And someone knows he has this power?"

"Apparently. That's the only thing I can think of. Or maybe. . ." R.C. paused, tapping the dagger against the dashboard. "Maybe that daemon wasn't following his scent. . .maybe he was following the power." He seemed almost surprised at this thought.

"Yours or the boy's?" Tarot asked and R.C. snapped his head around to look at her. Her eyes meet his unwaveringly. After a long moment, he turned to look out the windshield sightlessly.

"The boy's," he said with certainty. "His power is as yet untapped. . .unchanneled. Leaking like a sieve, in other words. And if that's the case, then it would be an easy matter for a daemon to pick up the trail." His voice slowed with realization.

"Wait. . .wait. . .wait a minute." Jack leaned forward. "Who the hell are you all? Though you. . .," he meet R.C.'s eyes in the rearview mirror, ". . .I can guess you are. Or rather were."

The young man flinched.

"I am Tarot Morlaix," the woman sitting beside him said quietly, gently stroking back the sleeping boy's tousled hair. Jack noticed she had dropped the attempt to hide her accent. "My apologies for the deception but it seemed needed at the time. The man driving is Jesse Little Horse and the other is. . .," she threw Jack a side-long look.". . .R.C. Moore."

"R.C.. As in Ryan Christopher?" He prodded.

Tarot threw him a quick look then once again looked down. "Peut-etre."

"How?"

She smiled. "It's possible. You've done it, and Michelle, and John, and even. . ." Tarot glanced down at the boy, now firmly asleep.

"Time travel?" That made an odd type of sense. "You came back from the future? But how? And how long have you been here?"

"About six months."

"Six months. That was about the time Ry--" He looked at R.C. then at young Ryan. "--We returned from France." He glanced back at her, noticing that she did not answer his other question. "Okay, here's the million dollar question. Why?"

Tarot laughed mirthlessly. "We had no choice. We--"

CRASH!!!!

"Sweet Trinity!" "Goddess damn!" "Mon Deiu!!" "What...?"

All eyes snapped forward just in time to see a large daemon land heavily on the car hood. The hood buckled as the car slid sideways, going into a slow spin before stopping. The daemon lunged forward, outstretched arms shattering the windshield. Taloned hands reached for the driver's throat.

R.C. let out an outraged yell and thrust the dagger he still held into the daemon's near arm. It shrieked and slashed at R.C. with the wounded arm. R.C. tried to duck but didn't succeed as the hand smashed his cheek, rocking his head painfully against the door frame.

"Noooo!" Tarot screamed, unable to shift the boy to reach for the concealed dagger. In front of her, Jesse ducked the arm aiming for him and kicked open the door, diving out into the street. Scrambling to his feet, he jerked a tomahawk from his belt and, with a Cheyenne war whoop that shook windows, brought it down with a meaty thunk into the demon's good arm. The daemon shrieked again and turned to face him. Jack forced open the door and slid out, reaching through to help Tarot out with Ryan.

"R.C.!" She turned toward the stunned man. Jack yanked her back.

"Run!" he commanded.

"But--"

"He wants Ryan. You mustn't let him fall into his hands. Run! We'll cover for you!"

Tarot hesitated a moment longer then, holding Ryan tightly, started rapidly down the streets. Jack watched until they vanished into the shadows then turned to open the front door and help R.C. out. The young man was dazed, staggering against Jack. Jack noted that despite his confusion, the young man kept the cane tightly clenched in one hand.

"R.C.? Come on, R.C. . .snap out of it." The young man blinked and Jack shook him hard. "Ryan!"

"Wha. . .what? Uncle J-Jack? What. . ?" For a brief moment, Jack saw the man as he had known him for two years then his eyes cleared and grew old and he was the aloof R.C. again. "Oh, Goddess, it was another daemon."

"It IS another daemon!" Jesse screamed from where he faced the aforementioned daemon. "Help!"

R.C. reached into a thigh pocket and drew out a shuriken. With a deft flick of his wrist, he threw it. The shuriken thunked into the daemon's neck and it staggered back, attempting to clutch at the weapon but unable to due to the silver covering it. Jesse shifted the tomahawk to his other hand and slid forward, snatching the dagger from where it still jutted from the demon's arm. With a skilled movement, he thrust the dagger home. The daemon slumped to the ground, screaming thinly as the holy silver killed it as surely as anything could. They watched as it rapidly turned into sludge then R.C. looked up and around.

"Tarot! Where--?"

"I told her to take Ryan and run. She went that way." Jack gestured toward the shadows. Turning, he saw Jesse glaring disgustedly at the wrecked car and sighed. "Looks like we'll have to walk."

"Looks like. Shall we. . .?" R.C. jerked as a shrieked scream reached his ears. It was Tarot's voice. "Oh, Gods." R.C. bent down and snatched up the shuriken. Behind him, Jesse yanked the dagger from the decomposing daemon and took the lead, heading into the shadows. The screams continued, shrieks of rage and fear.

Jack kept pace with R.C., who, he was surprised to note, ran swiftly despite his brace. But then, he had fear to spur him on. The screams increased briefly then faded.

R.C. faltered and a low moan escaped him, then he lunged forward. The next second they left the shadows. . .and saw Tarot.

She stood with her back against the wall, dagger in one hand. Three men lay at her feet, either dying or dead, eight more men surrounded her. She fought silently now, a grim look to her face and blood on her arm.

R.C. skidded to a halt, pausing long enough to let loose the shuriken and then, once his hands were free, to draw the shank from the cane. Thrusting it into Jack's hands, he moved forward, slashing at the nearest man.

Jesse didn't pause at all, just leapt into the cluster of men, blades flashing. Two men fell to join the one R.C. dropped and then the others were turning to face this new threat. A mistake on their part, as Tarot took advantage of their distraction to press her attack.

Jack paused, looking around for a weapon of any sort. Finally he spotted a pipe, left by someone in the garbage. Leaning the shank against the wall, he moved to R.C.'s side, staying clear of the flickering sword. The fight didn't last very long as two more men fell, one by the pipe Jack wielded, the other by R.C.'s sword. The others looked at the fierce expressions of their opponents then, as one, turned and ran.

"Non! Stop them! They have the boy!" Tarot threw herself from the wall, only to stagger off-balance. In a flash, Jesse ran past her and after the fleeing men.

"What happened?" Jack asked as he dropped the pipe. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, mon professeur, just a little off-balance." She straightened. "I ran, like you told me. For that park over there." She nodded toward a small, neat park across the street. "I thought I could get lost in the trees but these men jumped me before I could get there. They snatched the boy from me and carried him away before I could draw my dagger."

"Did they take him away on foot?" R.C. asked tersely as he wiped the blade clean on one of the dead man's clothes and resheathed it. He drew a handkerchief from a pocket and used it to bind the wound on Tarot's arm.

"Non, I don't think so. I heard a car, perhaps a van, drive away."

R.C. cursed fluently in both English and French, then paused abruptly, head tilted, listening. Jack noticed and straightened, tilting his head to hear better. Faintly he heard the sound of sirens.

"We better get out of here. I don't think we can answer their questions." Jack moved to help Tarot. "Let's try for the park. Jesse should be able to find us there."

As Jack and Tarot headed for the park, R.C. paused to pick up their weapons. A moment later, he rejoined them, heading for the deepening shadows. They were barely in the safety of the trees when the first of the police cars arrived. They moved back farther into the trees, watching as the officers secured the area.

"Lost them," said a sudden disgruntled voice behind them. Tarot barely choked back a scream and both Jack and R.C. jumped, the latter spinning with knife ready. Jesse stood there, a bag tucked under an arm. He set it next to Jack. "There was a car." He shook his head in disgust as he opened the bag, drawing out a box of gauze. "I stopped for some medical supplies and tried to call Amiko. No luck. She and Jari have already gone."

"Damn!" R.C. absently cleaned the dagger. "Just when we need them too." He sunk into thought for several moments and then added musingly, "Jesse, you'll have to go find them."

Tarot started and Jesse threw R.C. an undecipherable look. R.C. smiled grimly. "No choice. Go for it."

Jesse glanced at Jack, shrugged and sat down, crossing his legs. Confused, Jack watched as he closed his eyes and relaxed against a tree. Something rose from him. It was misty white and human-shaped and. . .and. . .it was Jesse! "What the. . !?" He started.

"Don't ask." R.C. advised. "Head out, Jesse. Try the store, that's where they'll head first."

"Right," Jesse said in his whispery voice and the spirit form sped away, heading back the way they had come. Jack watched until he was out of sight then looked at the living body of the young man, lying quietly, seemingly asleep. After a moment he turned to look at R.C., who was now sitting while Tarot tended his wounds. At her urging, he peeled off the ripped jacket and shirt enough for her to reach the wounds--the latter causing the wounds to resume bleeding--revealing smoothly muscled chest and arms, one shoulder marred by raking claw marks.

"There seems to be more to you all then meets the eye," Jack murmured.

R.C. glanced at him but other than that did not acknowledge the observation. "What are you doing with. . .with the boy?"

"You should know that better then anyone." Jack said thoughtfully, after a long moment's pause.

R.C. turned his head to look at the older man with sober eyes. "No. No, I wouldn't." He paused, then stated bluntly. "I never saw Michelle or John again after we returned from France and I didn't see you again until I was fifteen. Now, what are you doing with him?"

"I. . .don't understand."

R.C. stared at him for a moment then looked away. "We came back to change the future--our future--and appeared to have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. Or should I say nightmares. We were told ever so carefully the major points that lead up to--down to--our future only to discover that just our returning to this time seems to have change everything. Everything is off!" He fell silent.

"Such as. . ?" Jack prompted, when R.C. gave no indication of continuing.

"You have the boy. In the past I remember--" He swallowed hard and changed the subject abruptly. "There's the demons. There were demons summoned intermittently before but nothing really came of them, they were never really directed until 1995 when a minor cult leader named Azdemius learned of a way to open the gateway between the dimensions and make a deal with the One Who Lived Beyond. All he needed was enough power to do so."

"Power that somehow Ryan. . .you generate," he amended, still having trouble with the knowledge that the same person was somehow existing at the same time.

"Yes." He threw Jack an undefined look. "It had something to do with France and Mother Mary and the reversion to childhood. Somehow it gave me. . .us. . .a power. I never knew it existed until I was fifteen again and then. . ." He paused frowning. "And then I could use it."

"Just like that?"

"No. It took a trauma to force the power into working."

Jack thought of young Ryan. "What type of trauma?"

"I. . .don't remember." R.C.'s dark eyes grew haunted and his voice far-away. "It was a cult, a summoning. I remember being taken into the chambers where the rites were held and being put on the altar and chained down." He stopped abruptly, gulping the cool night air. "The next thing I remember is waking up in a car, my leg," he looked at the brace involuntarily. "My leg was lame and. . .and. . ." He took a deep breath and steadied visibly. "The attempt didn't work completely but it worked well enough."

"Meaning?" Jack pressed.

"Meaning our world turned into a nightmare. A hidden nightmare, granted, but a nightmare just the same. The cult spread its influence secretly, using the powers given to them by. . .," he faltered. "They created more cursed objects, selling them or giving them away as needed. More and more dark covens appeared. And more and more people died, sacrifices--" R.C. flinched suddenly as Tarot finished bandaging the shoulder wound.

"And what about you? After you were rescued?" Jack thought about Micki and Johnny, wondering what happened to them and afraid to ask. Absently, he looked across the street, watching the police as they cordoned off the area and wondering how long it would take them to start checking out the park.

"I was taken to England, though we didn't stay there long. Always on the move, always changing our names. The covens were after us, you see. They still wanted me. For whatever reason."

"'We'. You keep saying 'we'?" Jack didn't look at him, somehow he knew the answer.

R.C. was silent for a long moment. "'We', you and me. You were--would be?--would have been?--the one who took me from the coven's lair. And later you were our teacher."

Jack opened his mouth to ask of Micki and Johnny and of Elizabeth, then closed it, deciding he didn't really want to know.

R.C. pulled up the ruined shirt. "We finally settled in France with a group of sorcerers. It was there that certain friends of yours began to send other teen-agers. Tarot, Jesse, Amiko, Britt, Wayne and Jarita, who wasn't--isn't--a teen-ager."

"Just a general nuisance," Tarot muttered.

R.C. gently took and squeezed her hand, then returned his gaze to Jack. "Each one of us is. . .unique, if you will. That's why we were gathered together. The sorcerers thought they could train us to fight Azdemius and the covens but it didn't work the way they planned it. Oh they tried but by the time we could even think of fighting them, they had grown too powerful. So the sorcerers elected to do what they thought was the next best thing. They sent us back here, hoping we could change the past and keep the one we know from ever happening."

"And you succeeded."

"Apparently all too well. But is it for the better? Azdemius has the boy and he can cast the spell now rather than in 1995. It will work the same, perhaps even better." He pulled on the jacket Tarot offered him, looking over toward the alley they had left and the police searching it. An ambulance had just arrived.

"Damn! I wish the others would hurry."

"Your wish is our command."

Jack jerked and snapped his head around to look at the young woman who had appeared behind him. That she was tall for a Japanese was his first thought, that she was oddly clad was his next. Her outfit was black, with the flowing sleeves common to kimonos, and a hood, presently pulled up. Small pouches graced the cross-harness and belt she wore while two dark shadows jutting above her shoulders proved, much to Jack's surprise, to be sword handles. A young girl, East Indian by the look of her and perhaps Ryan's present age, stood next to her, clad only in a black wrap-around tunic with the hood drawn up over short black hair and simple sandals.

R.C. stood. "Jack, this is Amiko Makiko and the little one is Jarita Moore, my ward." Amiko nodded acknowledgment and Jarita looked at him with gleaming black eyes.

"Here." Amiko tossed a bundle to Tarot. "Thought perhaps you could use this."

Tarot grimaced but picked up the bundle and faded back into the shadows. "Found them at the store like you figured." Jesse stood and stretched out the kinks. "Inside, no less. Sorry it took so long to get back here."

R.C. grunted. "We're going to need a car. Maybe a van, Jesse. Think maybe you can find us one?"

Jesse grinned. "No problem! Be back in a minute." The young man moved silently into the brush, followed by young Jarita.

A few moments later, there was a rustle in the brush as Tarot rejoined them. She had changed clothing and now wore a suit similar to Amiko's minus the flowing sleeves and swords. Instead a gun was strapped around her waist and a dagger to her thigh. She had twisted her hair up and pulled the hood to cover it. The bundle, actually a knapsack, swung from her hand as she dropped on one knee to stuff what medical supplies were left into it.

"Tarot, which way do you think the car went?" R.C. asked.

"It sounded like it went that way." Tarot gestured toward the nearby intersection. "But I'm not sure in what direction. I was a tad busy at the time."

"Pssst!" Jarita stuck her head back into the little clearing. "Come on!" They followed her to the other side of the small park. There, Jesse sat in the driver side of a dark, slightly beat-up van. Sliding the door open, R.C. gestured all inside.

"So, kemo sabe, what's the plan of attack?" Jesse asked.

"Head for the intersection. . .the one north of where we were," R.C. amended, remembering that Jesse had not been with them when Tarot pointed it out. "And drive carefully, just interested passersby wanting to see what all these police are here about. The last thing we want to do is attract attention."

"If you got this van in the manner I think you did, you may not be able to help it, Jack muttered, from where he sat in the passenger seat.

Jesse threw him an amused look as he guided the van into a u-turn. "I got it from over there." He gestured toward a used car lot. "I bought it."

"Bought it?"

Jesse grinned. "Plastic is wonderful, isn't it? Just told them my van broke down and I just had to get somewhere and didn't you have an inexpensive one I could just charge and--" He noticed the look on Jack's face and paused. "Is something wrong?"

"Yes. Money." He turned to look at R.C.. "You couldn't have brought that much back with you."

"We didn't bring back any. If we had, we would have ended up with original bills all right, but they'd be duplicates. We could have ended up in a great deal of trouble. Just brought some jewels with us. Didn't really matter if they are duplicated. We sold them and--slow down here Jesse--played the stock market." He smiled grimly. "One of the things we brought with us was a list of the stocks destined to rise. We made a fortune in a month."

Jack shook his head slowly. "Oh Lord. There's your change, R.C. There's why everything changed so swiftly."

"Uh?" came from all sides.

"Your little advantage with the stock market! Maybe your buying those stocks kept someone else from doing so and maybe stopped them from doing something that kept Azdemius in check. Or maybe it caused someone to get money he didn't have in your past and he used that to aid Azdemius. Maybe. . ." He shook his head. "So many maybes. Right now we better concentrate on cold, hard facts. . .like those cops who are eyeing us." He turned to look at the others. "How do you propose to. . ?" Then he realized what they were doing and froze, eyes widening in amazement.

Tarot was kneeling on the floor of the van, fixing a harness to a young, black-furred wolf that had not been there before. Jarita's tunic lay across a seat, sandals and Tarot's gun and holster resting on it. The young woman looked up at Jack and smiled.

"Simple really." She said, snapping a leash to the harness. "I'm going to take my wolf for a walk." She slid open the van door and slipped out, the wolf following her.

Jack raised his eyes to R.C.'s and saw that the young man was smiling slightly.

"Did you know," he said in a conversational tone. "that genetic engineering will advance quite a bit further than anyone realizes?"

Jack looked at him a moment longer then turned and watched as Tarot and Jarita--for who else could the wolf be?--wandered toward the inevitable crowd around the police line. Jarita was casting for a scent, her head sweeping back and forth.

"How did she get Ryan's scent?" Jack looked back at R.C. and shook his head. "Never mind."

Jesse chuckled. Suddenly Jarita yipped and strained back the way the duo had come. Tarot followed, seemingly reluctant. The wolf dragged her to the side of the road and then halfway around the intersection. Moments later, they were scrambling back into the van.

Jack turned and watched as the wolf's features flowed like quicksilver, shifting into a combination of human and wolf. The harness hung oddly from her changed frame.

"They put 'im inna car an' went that way!" The little half-wolf pointed down the northward street.

"Now what?" Jack asked.

"Now comes the fun part." Jesse turned the car down the indicated street and they started off. But not for long. At the next intersection, they once again pulled over and Tarot, with Jarita again in wolf-form, stepped out to make a circuit of the streets. Again Jarita indicated the northward street and again Jesse steered down it. Again and again they stopped at intersections and each time Jarita pointed them northward until finally a time came when she circled an intersection three times and could not find the scent of the car.

As Jesse turned the van around, Tarot coaxed Jarita back the way they had come. The young wolf walked along the northbound side, nose down, until finally she refound the scent. Tail wagging, she followed it to a side road.

"Climb in, you two!" Jesse called and the duo rejoined them. While he eased the car down the road, Tarot unstrapped the harness, tossing it back into the knapsack and the next time Jarita scrambled out, she stayed out, following the scent with a steady pace.

After some miles of taking this turn and then that, she paused. Carefully she circled around then shifted to half-wolf form and gestured for them to join her.

"The car stopped here and two men got out, one of them with Ryan. They went this way." Jarita dropped onto all fours, though she stayed half-wolf, and lead the way up to an old-style Victorian home. She pressed her nose to the crack beneath the door. After several hard sniffs, she said. "They went in there."

The group looked at the house with its darkened windows and foreboding appearance.

"May I?" Amiko asked.

"All yours." R.C. invited.

The woman stepped up to the door and reached up a hand to knock. No answer. She knocked again, insistently. No answer. Trying the door, she found it locked. Absently she tested it then paused. Taking a deep breath, Amiko grasped the knob firmly and. . .

. . .twisted!

There was a click and the knob turned.

With a smile, Amiko pushed the door open and then ducked as a man leapt toward her, knife flashing. "Oooops! Company! Heads up all!" She reached for the man, grabbing the knife arm he so willingly offered her and threw him, hard. He flew an impossible distance, thunking into a tree hard enough to snap his neck.

Jarita yelped. "I'm sorry! I didn't scent him!"

Amiko patted her head absently, meanwhile keeping an eye out for others. "It's all right, Jari." She peered into the darkness of the building. Nothing could be seen stirring. "Shall we?"

R.C. grunted. "We shall. Jesse, we may have to make a quick getaway. You better stay with the van." Jesse looked disgruntled but didn't argue. "And don't let your spirit-form wander too far. There may be more coven members around."

Jesse nodded and turned back to the van. R.C. reached over and gently tugged on Jarita's fur. "Lead the way, sweetheart." Jarita shifted fully into wolf and led the way into the dark building.

Tarot frowned. Digging into the knapsack, she pulled out three flashlights; passing one to Amiko, another to Jack and keeping the last for herself. As one, they clicked them on.

What they saw in the light beams was nothing surprising. . .simply a room filled with antique furnishings. Nice furniture, Jack noted with almost absent-minded professionalism. He had no opportunity for further study, though, as Jarita lead them forward.

The young wolf lead the way unerringly from room to room until they finally reached what could only be the kitchen. Once there, she stopped before a door and scratched at it insistently, looking up at Amiko appealingly. The woman opened it and the wolf started down the stairs that presented themselves, the others following. From the stairs, Jarita lead the way to a pile of crates and boxes. She burrowed into them, whuffling and snuffling. Quickly, they tossed the trash to one side, revealing Jarita circling a trapdoor. Amiko lifted it with surprising ease, considering it seemed to be of very solid wood, and they looked down into darkness.

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