Part Two

"No sounds. . .no one's near." Jarita, once again in half-wolf form, muttered. "But Ryan's scent goes down there and some others too!"

"How many?" R.C. asked.

"Don't know," she said absently. "Some new, some older. . .some old go in but don't come out!"

"Maybe more then one exit," Jack said quietly.

"Maybe. Amiko, you go first."

Amiko complied, easing down the ladder. Jarita followed and then R.C.. Jack, after a careful glance around the basement, followed Tarot down.

Where they ended up was a tunnel running east and west. Jarita once again became full wolf and immediately began to trot east, her claws clicking on the concrete. R.C. grunted.

"We have to clip her claws again," he murmured absently. Tarot jabbed him with the flashlight and he looked at her in surprise before following after the wolf.

They walked for perhaps a couple miles, Jarita unerringly following Ryan's scent deeper and deeper into the tunnels, occasionally passing ladders going up and even a couple going down. After the first few turns made while following the wolf, Jack was lost and glad that Jarita was with them to lead them back out. He found himself walking next to R.C. and realized, for the first time, that the young man appeared to be limping worse than before.

"R.C., are you all right?"

R.C. shook his head. "No. We're approaching something intensely evil and it's making my leg ache."

Jack gave him a startled look. "What?"

The young man paused, leaning against the tunnel wall, breathing heavily. "A side effect of my. . .power, if you will. The ability to sense evil. Something up ahead of us is very evil and I can feel it." He leaned his head back against the wall, closing his eyes briefly.

"R.C.?" Tarot had turned back and joined them, Amiko and Jarita waited up ahead. "Can you continue?"

He nodded. "I have to, not much choice in the matter." He straightened, looking around with a frown. "These tunnels seem. . .familiar somehow."

"Funny. That's what I was thinking." Jack paced R.C., flipping the light beam over the tunnel walls. They did look familiar and--

"Lights off!" Amiko hissed from in front of them and Jack snapped the light off. That left only Amiko's light still on, her hand darkening the beam. "We're getting close. Listen!"

They did. Ahead of them, they could hear a faint murmur of voices. Slowly they crept forward until, at last, they could peer around a corner and into a chamber. Jack took one look and cursed avidly. "I don't believe it! It's the temple underneath Curious Goods!"

"Yes." R.C. said in a sickly voice. "I remember now."

The chamber was as Jack remembered it save now it was occupied. A number of people, men and women, filled the chamber, some wearing black robes, others normal street clothing. He looked among them, hoping to spot Ryan.

"There he is!" Jack followed Tarot's pointing finger toward a archway. There Ryan lay, apparently--hopefully--still asleep, still wrapped in the quilt. A robed man stood over him, obviously guarding the boy. Another man walked over to him and they began to talk.

"Great. How do we reach him?" R.C. muttered.

Jack frowned, eyeing the distance between them and the boy, then the surroundings. There was nowhere to safely hide until they reached the boy and no safe exit even if they did reach him. He thought briefly of the robes--perhaps with hoods pulled up?--but then saw that the robes had no hoods. Desperately he looked around and noticed for the first time that the pit, which they had sealed so carefully not five months ago, was open. Chunks of cement were tumbled up against a nearby wall.

"The pit! It's opened!" He hissed. "How did they get it open? It was warded."

"Warded?" Tarot look at the concrete chunks. "How?"

Jack described the wards they had sent in the still-wet cement. Tarot nodded absently at his description.

"I know that type of wards," Tarot murmured. "They were developed to keep something from breaking out. . .not to keep someone from breaking in. The coven simply shattered the cement and re-opened the pit."

"Damn!" Jack muttered, eyeing the pit. "So that's where the demons are coming from."


"Oh, Gods." R.C. said in the same sickly tone." There he is."

Jack followed the young man's gaze to one of the men in the chamber. He was a tall man, handsome with thick black hair and steely gray eyes, dressed in a business suit and twirling an antique cane idly in one hand. He paused to greet a woman and she half-bowed then straightened, looking at him with a worshipful gaze.


R.C. nodded, his eyes thoughtful. "If we could kill him. . ."

A sudden snarl interrupted him and they all turned to see Jarita facing down a man who had crept up behind them. Amiko thrust the light into Tarot's hands and drew a sword, leaping forward. The man looked at his knife then at the longer reach of Amiko's sword and managed to scream before the sharp edge found his neck.

"Well, so much for the element of surprise." R.C. looked into the chamber and nodded. "Shall we?"

Murmurs of assent came from the others and Jack sighed, fingering the gun Tarot had lent him. "I knew I should have just written off my losses and never returned to this place," he muttered. Next to him, Tarot chuckled dryly and entwined her fingers in Jarita's ruff.

As one, they stepped into the archway, looking over the assembled coven. Weapons--knives, pipes, even the occasional gun--had appeared.

"Lord! They are the ones who attacked us!" One of the men, an arm bound by bandages, shouted suddenly.

The one R.C. referred to as Azdemius stepped forward, looking them over with a scornful gaze. His eyes paused at the wolf, then at R.C., eyeing him carefully before continuing.

"So you are the ones who managed to kill. . .how many of my men? Well, well. And whatever could you want?"

"The boy. . .for now that's all we want." R.C. said curtly.

The man rewarded him with a scornful glance. "That was a rhetorical question." He looked where Ryan still slept, now with three men standing over him. "Well, you can't have him. He must finish what destiny intended for him."

"Destiny had nothing to do with it! It was that damnable Astaroth! He's a boy now, nothing more. No harm to you and no help either."

"You sound so sure of that. What perchance do you plan? If you can't rescue him, kill him?"

"If need be." R.C.'s curt answer made Jack shudder with the realization that he meant it. Tarot rested a reassuring hand on Jack's shoulder.

The man attempted to stare R.C. down but could not meet those ancient eyes for long. He half-turned. "Kill them," he said, in an almost bored tone.

R.C. drew his sword and dropped into a fencer's stance. Amiko joined him, sword in hand while Tarot drew the gun she wore.

"Jack." R.C. said quietly. "You and Jarita go for Ryan. Grab him and head back into the tunnels."

Jack eyed the crowd facing them, doubting whether he could reach the boy but nevertheless nodding. A sudden shot made him start and then, when he saw a coven member fall, realized that Tarot was taking out the ones with guns. He followed suit. The coven drew back for a moment, eyeing them balefully, then lunged forward as one.

Jack fired until the bullets were gone then used the gun as a club. Next to him, Amiko and R.C. used their swords with an abandon that would have normally shocked the older man. He had no time to think of the others, only later remembering Jarita in first wolf form and then half-wolf, slashing and tearing with nails and teeth alike and Tarot emptying her gun into the coven then attacking with knife and fist and foot. But there were only so many of them and too many of the coven. Some even emerging from the tunnels behind them, overrunning them and dragging them down.

Jack kicked, hit and even bit, trying to free himself. Nearby he heard a banshee scream and abruptly the weight lifted from him. He heard screams of agony suddenly cut short and heavy thuds against stone. Slowly he sat up, then stood up, looking around.

R.C. stood next to him, reddened sword by his side. Blood ran from his nose to mingle with what was already on his jacket. His clothes were ripped and torn, steel glinting through the rends, the silver brace gleaming with an ethereal light. Next to him, Tarot gingerly reloaded the gun she still held, favoring her wounded hand and ignoring the blood that flowed from a cut in her temple.

A whimper attracted Jack's attention and he looked to see Jarita crouched half-conscious at Amiko's feet, blood flowing from a dozen wounds to cake in the fur of her half-wolf form. Amiko herself stood tall and straight, though with a hint of weariness, one sleeve torn and reddened, blood-stained sword pointing downward. There was an expression on her face he could not identify.

Slowly Jack turned his head to look around. Coven members were scattered carelessly about like GI Joe dolls when the day's play was over. Some had been shot, others stabbed, others looked as if a wild animal had gotten hold of them. But most looked as if they had been thrown against the wall with great force.

"How did you do that!?!?" A question, a demand. Jack looked at Azdemius, who, in turn, was looking at Amiko. He was one of the few coven members still standing, he and the three men standing over Ryan.

"Give us the boy or find out."

Azdemius stared at her, gauging her determination. As he watched this contest of will, Jack felt a hand on his arm and looked to see Tarot next to him. "Come, mon proffesseur. Let's get le garcon." Jack nodded and started forward. The three men looked at them and reached for weapons. Tarot raised her gun, the indication obvious: Draw and die.

The men looked at her, then at Azdemius.

"Face them or face me," Azdemius said coldly.

They reached for their weapons.

Tarot fired and one of the men acquired a third eye directly between the other two. The other two started forward--

--and then were seemingly picked up and slammed against the wall.

"Thank you, Amiko." Tarot said, motioning Jack to get Ryan. Stepping over a body, he reached down and picked up the boy. Ryan mumbled and turned slightly but did not wake. Jack frowned at the heat he felt emanating from the boy.

"His fever's higher," he murmured to Tarot, as he rejoined her.

"A good thing, peut-etre. He'll think this all a dream." The young woman frowned. "I don't like this."

Jack followed her gaze and knew instantly what she didn't like. Azdemius was smiling.

"'ve won." There was a disturbingly mocking tone to the man's voice. "And what will you do now? Turn me into the police?" He chuckled. "Kill me, perhaps?"

"Sounds good to me," R.C. said harshly and the man laughed.

"Well, well. How serious you sound. Such a pity, isn't it, you won't have a chance. You see, the one whom I. . .work for still values me, unlike that fool Astaroth. And in this value, we have reached an agreement." He snapped his fingers, beckoning from the darkness of the nearby pit a daemon. It shuffled up and forward into the torchlight. Its red, red eyes gleamed evilly and sharp fangs bared in anticipation.

Amiko took one look and shuddered. "R.C. . !"

"I know." R.C. flicked his blade clear of any blood that clung to it. "Protect the others. I'll tend to this creature."

R.C. ignored Azdemius as the coven leader chuckled. Instead, he slipped into the now familiar fencer's stance, stumbling briefly as his lame leg gave out. Blood ran even more freely from his nose and, now his ears, as the demon shuffled forward.

"No chance," Azdemius murmured in ecstasy. "No chance at all." He chuckled.

In response, the daemon moved forward. R.C. shuffled back then lunged, sword darting out. But pain slowed him and the daemon swung out a hand, slamming into R.C.'s arm, sending the sword sailing through the air. R.C. stumbled and fell to a knee, blood dripping on the ground.

Next to Jack, Tarot started forward only to be held back by Amiko.

"No!" The Japanese woman hissed fiercely, just loud enough for those near her to hear. "My abilities cannot work well against that daemon, even if I were not so weary. And even if we could kill it with silver knives and bullets, he would only summon more. No, let R.C. handle it."

Jack threw her an astonished look. R.C. handle it? R.C. couldn't even stand. Even now the daemon reached down and scooped the young man up. "Come to momma," The daemon chuckled then dropped R.C. into its embrace and began to squeeze.

R.C. choked as ribs grated painfully. One hand flailed, then scrabbled at the side of the daemon's head, finally hooking on a horn. Slowly R.C. raised his head to meet the daemon's eyes.

And then he smiled.

Ignoring the pain, R.C. pressed his hand flat between the daemon's horns. Almost immediately, a glow appeared around the hand. The daemon grunted in confusion as the glow began to spread around it, a deep red-black aura that seem to ooze from the creature's very pores. Its hold on the man loosened slightly.

R.C. tugged his other arm free and brought it up to rest next to the other. Closing his eyes in a look of concentration, he appeared to draw the aura to him. It crept up and around to surround him, shifting from the evil red-black to a soothing silver hue. More and more he drew to him until, at last, nothing remained of the daemon's glow or of the daemon itself.

The young man fell awkwardly to the ground. He lay there briefly, panting, the glow dancing about him, then forced himself back to his feet. He looked hideous with his blood-covered face and clothing and bared, blood-stained teeth. "Your. . .turn." He panted at the coven leader.

For the first time, Azdemius did not seem sure of himself. He wavered, staring at this apparition with the silver aura dancing about him then at the boy laying asleep in Jack's arms.

"There are many more daemons. And it is easy to call them up." He glanced nervously at the yawning mouth of the pit then relaxed as a scrabbling sound could be heard.

"No. Not any more. Not from here!" R.C. threw out his hand and Tarot stepped forward, slapping the hilt of his sword into it. Smiling grimly, he flicked the sword upright and the silver aura crept upward to surround the blade. "No more! This ends now!"

The glow brightened, highlighting for a brief moment the words engraved on the saber-blade. The words were in Latin but Jack knew what it said. 'Thus perish all thine enemies, O Lord' it translated into. The aura inched upward until all of it surrounded the blade.

"No!" Azdemius shouted, obviously knowing what R.C. intended. He twisted the cane he held, flicking free a dark blade of forged iron. Tossing the shank to one side, he lunged forward, the blade darting toward his opponent's stomach. The young man barely managed to parry the blow, twisting his sword skillfully, forcing the black blade up and back.

"I hoped you'd do something like that." R.C. slipped backwards, sword held ready, then lunged forward. Azdemius parried expertly and R.C. barely managed to dodge the returning swipe in time. He slipped out of reach, a surprised look in his eye.

Next to Jack, Amiko let out a stifled groan.

"He is a fencer, perhaps better then R.C.," she murmured, watching as R.C. sidled forward, back into the foray. Gleaming silver and sober black crossed, thrust, parried, and parted, faster then the eye could follow.

Jack noticed Tarot fingering the gun she still held. "Shouldn't we help?"

"No! This is R.C.'s fight. It's something he must do," Amiko said, eyeing the pit warily. The scrabbling noises were louder now.

The two men seemed evenly matched in skill but Azdemius had the advantages of two sound legs and being unwounded. Inch by inch, he drove the younger man back, sneering as R.C.'s weariness showed in his faltering moves.

"So. Still think you can win?" Azdemius mocked. "Give up now and perhaps I will kill you quickly."

"Kill me?" R.C. spat fiercely. "You already killed me once. You won't do it again!"

Azdemius faltered in surprise and R.C. lunged forward, hate giving him strength. "You killed my mother! My friends! Everyone I cared about!"

Azdemius was hard pressed to defend himself. R.C. continued to slash, spitting out the words with a feverish intensity, "Left me crippled and destroyed my life! All our lives!" Using both hands, R.C. swung the sword, shattering the cold iron blade.

Azdemius stumbled backward and over a body of one of his followers. He landed on his back, looking up at the young man now towering above him.

R.C. lowered the blade until it rested against Azdemius' throat. "You took everything away from me; my childhood, my friends, my family, my future. Now it's my turn."

"I don't even know you!" Azdemius gasped.

R.C.'s lips curled. "And now you never will." He flipped the blade upward, holding the hilt with both hands and stepped back. The glow pulsed in time to a heartbeat. Behind him, a clawed hand appeared from the pit, fumbling for a hold.

With a shout of mingled outrage and fear, Azdemius slashed at R.C. with the shattered remains of the sword. The slash was weak, however, skittering off the silver brace. R.C. snarled as he reversed the glowing blade and thrust it downward, falling to his knees as he drove the blade into the cultist's lower chest and deep into the floor beneath him.

Azdemius screamed, slashing blindly at R.C.'s face with the broken sword as tentacles of silver-hued power lashed out, creeping along the ground with blinding speed. Everything it touched was seemingly judged, anything lacking bathed intensely in silver flame. The mud pool, where once the faces of deceased coven members awaiting resurrection had appeared, danced with flame until the mud was gone and only hard clay remained.

To the far side of R.C., silver flame formed a barrier across the mouth of the pit. Agonized shrieks could be heard from it and something seemed to strain briefly against the barrier. The shrieks grew louder and then they began to fade. . .as if the creature uttering them was falling. The aura brightened until it hurt in its intensity, then abruptly vanished.

Jack blinked to clear his eyes of the aftermath of the glow and looked around. R.C. leaned heavily on his sword, still embedded in the floor. Where Azdemius had fallen was a large silver area, burned into the floor and still smoking. Just beyond him a silvery partition covered the pit, sealing it for now and ever with a barrier far stronger then cement and wards.

"R.C.?" Tarot moved to the young man, kneeling beside him. However, when she reached to touch him, he sagged to one side and would have fallen if she had not supported him. Gently she cradled his head, stroking back his hair, murmuring soft words and not looking up as the others approached.

"Is he all right?" Jack asked anxiously, looking down at the young man's pale face. His eyes were barely open but all that could be seen were the whites and his breath came raggedly. After a long moment, his eyes closed and then re-opened, looking in an unfocussed way at them.

"What's wrong? Never see anyone collapse before?" he mumbled. "Help me up, will ya, Tarot?"

Tarot reached over to pull the sword from the floor and resheathed it, slipping it through a loop in the back of her belt. Reaching down, she settled R.C.'s arm across her shoulder and helped him up. He swayed dangerously, supported mainly by Tarot.

Amiko joined them, Jarita, now wrapped in a black robe, in her arms. She pointed with her chin toward the exit. "Shall we?"

Jack glanced around at the bodies of the dead and unconscious coven members, at the once-again sealed pit, at the room that still glowed faintly silver and nodded. It didn't take them long to find a ladder going upward and they climbed cautiously from the tunnels. The trapdoor opened into a store just a couple blocks of from Curious Goods.

Luckily the store was empty and it was a simple matter for them to break out and hurry back to the antique store. Once there, Jack shifted Ryan to one arm and managed to unlock the door, ushering all within.

"Take R.C. upstairs. You can put him in Micki's bed." Tarot nodded and obeyed, aiding R.C. up the stairs. Amiko laid Jarita gently on the sofa and followed them, returning shortly with two towels, one wet, the other dry. Jack laid Ryan down at the other end of the sofa, watching as Amiko unwrapped the robe and washed away the blood covering the girl.

"Shouldn't she see a doctor?"

"No, it is not needed. Look."

He saw that gashes had become severe cuts and severe cuts bruises.

"She heals very swiftly, does our Jarita. And the wounds are not serious. By tomorrow you will not know she has even been hurt. What we need now is something for her to sleep in."

Jack frowned thoughtfully then slid back the shelves that covered the door into a secret room. After a few moments of searching though the boxes stored within, he returned with a t-shirt once worn by the adult Ryan. As expected, it fit Jarita like a nightshirt. After assuring Jack that Jarita would not, in fact could not, catch the boy's flu, Amiko tucked both children in.

"Now, I must fetch Jesse." Amiko smiled at the startled look on Jack's face as she slipped off her cross-harness. "Hei. I forgot about him also. May I use your phone?"

"Of course."

Amiko called a taxi and, slipping on an old coat to cover her now-bandaged wounds and unusual outfit, stepped outside to wait for it.

Jack shook his head, gave the children an extra tuck-in and went upstairs. The door into Micki's bedroom was open and he looked within as he made up some coffee. R.C. lay in the bed, almost asleep from the look of it, his clothes piled on a nearby chair and the brace leaning against it. Tarot sat next to him, holding his hand and humming gently.

Jack poured two mugs of coffee and walked into the bedroom, offering a mug to the woman.

"You should tend your own wounds."

"As should you. Merci." She took the mug and smiled at the look on his face as he noticed for the first time the gash on his hand and another on his arm. "And your eye is swelling."

"Oh, great. I'm going to have a wonderful time trying to explain that to the others." He sat in a nearby chair, sipping the coffee and watching the young couple, absently running a finger over the symbol-engraved brace. R.C. was dozing now, eyes closed and mouth slightly open. "Is he all right?" He asked quietly.

"He will be all right," Tarot murmured. "Just very tired and very. . .drained. Using the power does that to him." She stroked back the hair of the now-firmly sleeping man. "He will have nightmares for a time but they will fade." She looked up at Jack. "Always his subconscious tries to remember what happened that night when his leg was crippled and innocence lost. Always he refuses to remember and I don't blame him. For a while they will be worse, je penser, but now, peut-etre, now that there is no way for our future to have happened, they will stop."

"So now what happens?" Jack asked. "Do you go back?"

Tarot's hand tightened on the mug and for a moment Jack thought it might break.

"Back? Non. There is no 'back' for us. We have changed the future, yes but the future we came from. . .was it changed? Or did we peut-etre create another future? When you went back into the past--remember?--did you change the future? Non. Would we go back to the one we left or the one we have created? And will that future be any better? Peut-etre but we will never know. Here we must stay. Even if we wished, we could not go back."

"The object you used. . .?"

"Non. No object. It was a spell. A very powerful spell but, like a cursed object, it had a very high price. The lives of those who cast it, the sorcieres who taught us and their apprentis. All dead." She did not look at him as she said this and Jack knew that he had been one of them. "Here we must stay." She smiled slightly. "But at least the future is brighter, non?"

"Oui." Jack raised his mug in a salute and smiled, a smile Tarot returned. On the bed, R.C. stirred slightly, muttering in his sleep and Tarot took his hand, squeezing it gently.

Some time later Amiko and Jesse appeared to find Jack and Tarot had moved into the kitchen. The bedroom door was ajar slightly to enable Tarot to hear R.C. if he called out in his sleep. Their wounds were now cleaned and bandaged and Jack held an icepack to his swelling eye. The two newcomers accepted hot mugs of coffee and joined them at the table.

"So now what?" Jesse grunted, looking slightly disgruntled at having missed the fight.

"Now we seal the chamber for good. With brick and mortar, which we should be able to get in," Jack looked at his watch. "just over six hours. Did you all know it's almost one o'clock?" Everyone groaned and Jack chuckled. A sudden cry from the bedroom distracted him and he grew sober as Tarot darted to her feet and into the other room. He could hear her voice speaking soothingly and R.C.'s gasping cries as he woke from whatever nightmare it was that had claimed him. Amiko grimaced and put down the mug.

"I think it best if we get some sleep. Jesse and I will return to the hotel. I think Tarot would rather remain with R.C. and Jarita is happy where she is. That is, if you don't mind?"

Jack assured her he didn't and the duo left. He followed them down to lock the door and check on the two youngsters, both fast asleep. Switching off the lights, he returned upstairs briefly. The bedroom door was now closed and he could hear the low murmur of voices within. As quietly as he could, Jack washed out the mugs, switched off the lights and went down to his room in the basement.

Later that morning, after all save the children had awakened and breakfast was done, Jack and Jesse went out in the van to a store some miles away that sold brick and mortar. While they were gone, the others cleaned up what was left of the sludged demon, moved the children upstairs and even opened the store on time with Tarot cheerfully handling the day's customers. R.C. remained upstairs, watching the children while Jack and Jesse found a nearby manhole that opened into the tunnels below. The chamber, much to their surprise, proved to be empty of coven members, dead or alive. Their day was spent in permanently sealing the chamber below the store. It was late afternoon by the time they finally finished. Exhausted beyond belief, the duo climbed back up to the street and made their way back to the now-closed store.

"All done?" Tarot smiled from where she stood behind the counter, counting up the day's tally, which, Jack noted with surprise, came to a nice amount.

"Yes. Finally." He stripped out of the coveralls he had worn over his clothing and handed them off to Jesse, absently counting along with the young woman. "Hmmmm. You want a job, Tarot?"

She laughed. "I have a job. Two actually. Three if you count trying to keep this group out of trouble. Jarita! Stop that!"

Jack looked down to see the wolf stealthily stalking his shoelace. "Well! So you're feeling better, eh?"

The wolf yelped happily and leapt on the shoelace then darted off. Jack winced as items tipped and tilted but did not fall.

"Jarita!" The wolf froze and looked up at R.C., who was sitting at the desk, idly thumbing through the manifest. "Go curl up with Amiko."

Jarita snuffled but trotted over to the sofa where Amiko dozed. With a mischievous gleam in her eye, she crouched down then sprang upward, landing on the woman. Chaos reigned briefly as Amiko awoke, already in attack-mode, only to freeze when she saw the happily panting wolf atop her. The others laughed as she once again collapsed.

"You will be happy to know," Tarot spoke up, "that the boy's fever broke about two hours ago. He is firmly asleep. . .unlike a certain little mischief maker."

Jarita yelped happily from her place atop Amiko, who flinched and covered her ears.

Jack laughed and climbed up the stairs to join R.C., looking over the young man's shoulder at the open manifest. "Finding that interesting?"

"Hmmmmm?" R.C. looked up then back at the manifest. "Yes, very. So many items. . .though I think we've found a few of them. Here, this Medusa Shard. . .and this sewing machine. We have them in our vault."


"Hmm. Vault. In New Orleans. Under the house." He flipped the large book closed. "Damn nuisance but we can't destroy them."

"Well, we must compare notes sometime. Which reminds me, what about that last Lucifer Book. Azdemius didn't se--" He paused as the look on R.C.'s face.

"We have the last of the Lucifer Books," R.C. said after a long moment. "After the murder, we snuck into the collector's house and tracked it down. It's safe and sound in a warded bookcase."

"Oh?" Jack turned to look at Tarot, who was presently finding the ceiling fascinating. "I see."

"I think I'll check on the boy," Tarot practically ran up the stairs.

Jack turned back to R.C., noticing that the young man was smiling--really smiling--for the first time since they had meet. R.C. shifted his eyes to meet Jack's and shrugged.

"We needed the information. Do you blame her? And as for comparing notes. . .maybe when you next come to New Orleans? We don't dare come here often. Last I heard, Ryan Dallion is still wanted for murder and I don't think I could convince anyone that I'm not him."

Jack chuckled. "True." He glanced idly out the window then peered more intently, shifting his gaze briefly to his watch. "Damn!"


"Company. Micki and Johnny are back earlier then I expected."

The others followed his eyes to see the antique black car was just pulling up.

"It would be best if they didn't see us." R.C. reached for his cane and stood hurriedly. "The fewer people who know, the better. Tarot!"

Jack nodded his head in agreement. Tarot ran down to join them, pausing to face Jack. "Le garcon is asleep." She pressed something into his hand. "Call us if you need us, mon professeur. We will come." She smiled, gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and darted down the stairs to the back door, which Jesse held open. R.C. moved to follow.

"Ryan." R.C. paused but did not turn. "Good luck."

Jack heard a dry chuckle. "You too. And take care of the boy." And then they were gone. Jack looked down at the card Tarot had pressed into his hand. 'KNIGHT SHIFT', it read, 'Paranormal Investigations'. Underneath was a phone number. Smiling, he slipped the card into his pocket and turned to greet his friends.

Outside, R.C. slipped his arm around Tarot, letting the cane dangle. Tarot smiled.

"That wasn't so bad now, was it?"

"No," R.C. admitted. "But it would have been better if. . ." He grunted as Tarot punched him in the ribs. He threw her a surprised look.

"You are never satisfied."

"Come on, you two!" Jarita, once again dressed in her tunic, yelped from the open door of the van. R.C. noted her lack of sandals and scowled at her. She grinned back then popped back into the van, heading toward the back.

"Hmmmm. . ." Tarot rested her head briefly against R.C.'s chest. "I could use some sleep, mon amour."

"It's not sleep I'm thinking of. Though to be truthful it's probably all I can manage at this time." She threw him a surprised look and he chuckled softly. He briefly held her close, looking back at the store he had been told so much about, yet remembered nothing of. It was a part of his past. . .a past he knew little of, yet was destined to be haunted by. And now, it appeared, it would be part of his--their future.

There were, he decided, worse fates.

A few days later Elizabeth arrived to pick up her recovering son. The boy, once again bright-eyed with curiosity, had been running wild all over the store for the past day, driving the trio crazy from trying to keep an eye on him, and so it was with a somewhat glad heart that they turned him over to his mother.

"Well, Ryan, you will be back, I've little doubt," Jack said, with a certainty that startled his friends. "And you can finish that book then." Jack gently extracted said book from the boy's hands.

"Okay," Ryan said reluctantly, reaching for his duffel.

"Ryan?" Elizabeth7 asked suddenly. "Ryan, where did you get that necklace?"

"Necklace?" Jack looked at what the woman indicated. Ryan was indeed wearing a short chain necklace with a ancient silver cross on it. The boy reached up to touch it.

"I'm not sure. I woke up wearin' it. I kinda like it. Can I keep it?"

"Oh, yes. . .I gave it to him," Jack said a bit too hurriedly. "Just a loose piece of inventory laying about. Johnny, you're driving Ryan and Elizabeth home?"

"Yeah. . .yes. . .let's go." Johnny threw Jack a surprised look then took the duffel from Ryan and herded them outside, leaving Micki to eye Jack in bewilderment.

"I don't remember that piece in our inventory."

"Someone brought in some items and I thought that little trinket would suit Ryan. A little added protection if you will." Jack turned away to stare at an crystal lamp without truly seeing it, aware that Micki was still eyeing him.

"Someone? The same someone who maybe had something to do with that black eye?"

Jack ignored the question, starting to whistle tonelessly. The black eye had still been visible when the young duo had returned, though it had since faded--not that it really mattered. It was the cross that mattered. He knew that cross, just as he knew the cane and the daggers. An ancient item that could only be used for good. R.C. must have given it to the boy and Ryan, deep in fever, remembered nothing of it. . .or of anything that happened. Which was good.

Picking up an item and idly turning it in his hands, he thought of a boy and a man, the same yet different, both older and wiser then they appeared. Of a future that may have been and the future that could be.

And he wondered when he might be going to New Orleans again.

The End

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