Chapter 8

Christmas Day

00:00:00 Ė 00:00:15



††††††††† The clock on the mantle began to chime midnight.Alopex rolled his head on the pillow to stare at it.

††††††††† It begins, he thought.It will either be a monumental triumph or a catastrophic disaster.By this time tomorrow, this house could be empty.The Legacy could find itself with a gaping hole in its defenses, and all because Merlin wants to give them a special gift.A magical gift on a magical night ÖWhy did I ever give her that damned book ..?It put ideas in her head and Enforcers are at their best when they donít think. We are creatures of reaction.Evil arises, we react to it.A situation develops, we react with planning and action.We donít do creative very well.We obey orders, whether from within or from Legacy Precepts and members.We donít initiate situations.It only leads to trouble.

††††††††† And the trouble with this is that it could rip these people apart.Friends could become enemies.Allies could take sides.Deep, dark secrets only ever thought about quickly and in the privacy of the deepest inner mind could rise to the surface and dominate.If they donít take over, they could easily cast a dark shadow over the future.Tomorrow, these people Ė these good, decent people Ė will be suffering trauma.Whether it is mild or paralyzing is yet unknown.Some Christmas this is going to be Ö

††††††††† Why did she want to do this?We have all said it at one time or another Ė just because we can doesnít mean we should.This is perilously close to crossing the line.

††††††††† The clock chimed the second stroke of midnight.Alopex shifted slightly, his head starting to roll back so he could stare up at the ceiling.

††††††††† It could be an abuse of power.It is definitely manipulation, despite what she says.If sheíd only said something to them, prepared them in some way, it might have made all the difference. They might have gone into it and enjoyed the experience or been saddened by what they saw, but they would know it isnít real.Itís .. only a possibility.One chance among thousands of chances.Itís certainly a violation of their privacy.Going into minds, memories, sifting thru them .. itís wrong.I donít know how she could even think of doing that to her friends.

††††††††† This house is so quiet.So big.It has seen so much.I know this house is new compared to the one here before but the memories remain stamped into the air.The echoes of evil, the faint, silent cries of fallen enemies, the shrieks promising vengeance.The memory of death, of blood and vain sacrifice.All here.Just at the edge of hearing, just beyond the realm of sight.And yet this house is so quiet.It dwells in peace, undisturbed by what has occurred in its past.A warrior in its own right, guarding, defending, giving unconditional shelter and solace.Strength in its walls and foundations.Solitude in its rooms.Quiet, understated purpose in everything it does.Its weapons are hidden, as all the best weapons are Ė love, honor, duty, truth.With these as shield and spear, enemies are destined to perish like ships breaking on submerged rocks.

††††††††† The clock chimed the third stoke of midnight.Alopex sighed as his head came to a halt on the pillow.The ceiling was dark yet he could still see it.

††††††††† By now their journey is a quarter done, he mused.I donít think I envy them, being dragged thru a different past, one where they might discover untold joy, unmeasured happiness, and to know that, but for one small decision, this could have been theirs.I know it could never happen to me because I am, like Merlin, a true-born, but .. what could my life have been if I hadnít been born to the flame?I will never know. There is no point in my past where I chose, either consciously or subconsciously, to follow this path.I can never be taken back and shown a different view of the events of my life.Merlin spoke the truth Ė we have never asked ourselves the question.We have never needed to.It is moot.Iím not sure if I would even want to see a .. fantasy life, and for the same reasons that I am so uneasy about what Merlin is doing now.What if that fantasy was better?I would wake and know that life could never be mine, that all it could ever be is .. images in my mindís eye, a sequence of experiences in my memory.Surely, it is better not to know what might have been.Such a gift could detract from the richness of reality, could lessen the vibrancy of what has made these people who they are.

††††††††† The clock chimed the fourth stroke of midnight.Alopex began to fold his arms under his head as he listened to the soft, almost gentle pattering of rain on the window.

††††††††† The fourth stroke .. and now the past is done and they enter today.The present.By now, they will be resigned to the journey, and feeling either satisfaction or fear.The past is an open book which resides in the memory.It cannot be changed .. under normal, everyday circumstances and rules, and it can be read whenever anyone feels like it.The present is more nebulous, less certain.The days do not always run according to our plans.Things are forgotten or put off.Situations arise which we must deal with at the expense of other matters.All we can hope when we rise is that we will survive until tomorrow.And the future .. well, if the past is an open book, the future is a closed one.A vast ocean of darkness under a moonless, starless sky.It cannot be plotted.There is no course to navigate, no landmarks, no shore nor harbor.It is unknown, and we fear the unknown. There is only one thing in the future of which we can be sure Ė our bodies will suffer death.And then .. our future is eternity.A reward for the uncertainty of our lives, and our lives become the past in total Ė an open book of memories to warm and nourish us, something unique to us we can cherish thru all the days to come.

††††††††† The clock chimed the fifth stroke of midnight.Alopex settled his head on his arms.The rain grew a little heavier, a little more persistent.

††††††††† When all is said and done, it is envy on my part.I never believed, not completely, that Merlin could do this.We all know the soul can travel.We are trained from practically birth to master the art of detaching the soul at will.But we .. the shell is then vulnerable.If the body dies, the soul cannot return.Merlin has broken new ground.Her shell is no longer a weak and fragile housing.It can function independently and that is an astonishingly potent weapon in itself.And, tonight, she takes that even further.Splitting the soul into four parts ...Does she sleep while this happens?Is she active?Does she experience any of what the others experience?I hope not.A gift .. if it is seen and accepted as such .. like this should be personal, private.If they wish to share their experiences, it must be their choice.I do not believe Merlin would share what she knows, if she knows anything at all.Aquila is a seasoned warrior and she understands the value of secrecy.I just wish .. and this is the night for wishes .. that Aquila survives this ordeal without harm.Merlin says I must be ready to put her back together again .. and I donít know how to do that.Nonetheless, I am ready to try.

††††††††† The clock chimed the sixth stroke of midnight.Alopex drew in a breath and released it slowly.Only six more chimes to go Ö




††††††††† The clock chimed the first stoke of midnight and Kat stirred, waking just enough to hear it.She felt a thrill of excitement.It was now Christmas Day.

††††††††† That sweater Alex gave me is so pretty.She just knew what Iíd like.Iíve been so mean to her in the past.Iíve shouted and run away .. and she was only trying to be nice.No, not only that, she was showing me that she cared.When my Dad died and I lost Connor, I never believed, not once, that I would ever find people who Iíd see as my family.But I did.I have.I guess Iím lucky.This family is .. made up.Manufactured.But theyíre still people who care for me and about me.And .. they donít have to do that.I guess they do because they really like me.I love them as much as a real family.And I know my Mom wouldnít have made it without them.I guess that itís okay for me to fight with them occasionally because thatís what families do.It isnít always happy and everyone getting along.Sometimes, people really blow up over nothing very much at all.Moving stuff without telling.Borrowing things aní not returning them.Putting things back but in the wrong place.Being untidy.It all comes down to personalities aní knowing what makes people tick.Alex is really sweet.Not like a big sister but .. kinda like a cousin who lives real close.Sheís always ready to help me.She can be a little heavy with her advice sometimes but she never lies.I hope she likes the gift Iíve gotten her.It took ages to find.

††††††††† The clock chimed the second stroke of midnight.Kat began to wriggle farther down under the bed covers.

††††††††† I could go downstairs now and open my gifts.It isnít cheating.Itís Christmas Day.The clockís striking midnight right now.I know my Mom wouldnít want me to do that though, so I wonít.Iím not a little girl anymore and creeping downstairs at midnight to open gifts is what little girls do.I hope Mom hasnít gotten me something Iím gonna be embarrassed about when I open it in front of everyone.Something with frills.Or a doll.I think Iíd die if it was a doll.The others would just smile at me aní Iíd have to lie aní say it was great .. and theyíd all know.I love my Mom but getting her to accept the fact that Iím growing up is proving an uphill struggle.I donít wanna go on dates or stuff, I just want to look nice aní dress my age.Now Iíve started having my periods .. well, you canít stop time.Sheís had to accept that.I hope she likes what Iíve gotten her.Working here in the summer aní getting paid for it Ė it meant I could spend a little more than usual.Getting time to go shopping on my own .. thank goodness Peri was around to act as chaperone aní bodyguard!She says my Mom will love it, and sheís always right.I wonder if my Mom will ever get closer to Derek ÖI wonder if heíll let her.Theyíve settled into a comfortable routine and no one likes to change it when itís working.The thing is it could be better for both of them .. if theyíd only take a chance.

††††††††† The clock chimed the third stroke of midnight.Kat finished her wriggling and let warm drowsiness start to pull her back toward sleep.

††††††††† I know Periís gonna like what Iíve gotten her.We had so much fun that day.The store assistant thought we were crazy but I couldnít stop laughing.Neither could Peri.I wish Mom could see us together when weíre like that.Sheíd understand then.It isnít that Peri is too old to be my friend, she comes down to my age aní she is so funny.I know it doesnít last aní, as soon as she drops me back home, she grows up again but, for those few hours, itís like having a sister who just .. understands.I wonder if Periís gotten me a gift ..?Whatever it is Ė if she has Ė itís going to be great.Just what Iíd buy myself.My friends at school think I am so lucky to have a friend like Peri, not because sheís fun aní all, but because she looks so cool aní dangerous aní she wears leather pants and boots with stick heels.And boys are scared of her when she just glances at them.Theyíre drooling too.She must set off so many teenage fantasies.And, because sheís hanging with me, they think Iím pretty cool as well.When Peri first came here .. I wasnít scared of her.I think itís the best thing to have happened in this house in a long time.Some changes are good.They shake people out of their comfortable routine.I wonder if sheíd help get my Mom aní Derek a little closer ..?

††††††††† The clock chimed the fourth stroke of midnight.Kat heard the sound of rain pattering on the window and she felt a fond hope that it would turn to snow and make her wish come true.

††††††††† Nick ÖHeís never been the easiest guy to buy gifts for because heís so quiet about what he likes.Not so much when it comes to stuff he hates.I think weíve all heard him shouting then.And now heís married to Peri, heís got as much money as he needs to buy himself whatever he wants.Which makes it difficult for people like me to know what to get him.Peri said something for his car but I donít know anything about automobiles!I hope he likes the book I bought him.Itís got lots of color pictures in it.Peri was right.I did have a crush on him.Not a terrible Iím gonna die if he never loves me crush but I did feel something more than just .. what I should.I wanted to make him happy because .. when he smiles, when he laughs, he changes so much.Periís done what I couldnít so Iím happy heís with her.One day, Iím gonna meet someone who feels the same way about me that Nick feels when heís with Peri.Itíll be wonderful.I think I only felt that way about Nick because heís always protected me, right from the start.He doesnít mind if he gets hurt so long as Iím safe.How could I not feel something for someone whoís like that?Nick is .. a really great guy.

††††††††† The clock chimed the fifth stroke of midnight.Kat distantly heard the rain becoming heavier and she didnít believe it would snow.It hardly ever did so close to the water.

††††††††† And then, of course, thereís Derek.He is so nice.He can be nasty, even cruel, but thereís always a reason and it never affects how I feel about him deep down inside.I understand what itís like to lose your father when youíre young.He has learned how to deal with it .. most of the time, anyway.Sometimes, when he thinks heís on his own, he looks so sad.I just want to hug him aní tell him itíll be okay.I donít, but I feel like I should.I think heíd understand.Heís another one whoís difficult to buy for.This house .. everything in it .. what could I get him that heíd want?So I got him something I think heíd like.I donít know, but Peri said it was a good choice.Anyway, it isnít long to wait now until I know.Eight hours, maybe less.Iím definitely going to wear that sweater Ö

††††††††† The clock chimed the sixth stroke of midnight and Kat drifted into sleep.When the clock chimed again, she never heard it Ö




††††††††† Merlin knew exactly when the numbers on the digital clock on the nightstand showed a row of zeroes.She got a sharp pain in her head.Beside her, Nick twitched very slightly.

††††††††† Here we go, she thought.Oh .. I really hope Alopex didnít get the right spin on this.If it blows up in my face, I am gonna do some serious harm.It is a gift.The truth often hurts and sometimes it hurts viciously .. but, whether the life they know or the life they could have had is the preferred truth, I wonít know till later.Will they hate me for doing this to them ..?Will they even realize itís me ..?I never wanted for them to hate me.I only wanted to show them that this is where they should be.That this life, the life they have, while dangerous aní unpredictable, is the result of the best choice they ever made.

††††††††† Her mind started to fill with chaotic, jumbled images and she gently shut them out.I donít want to share in it, she decided.The ability to do this is my gift to them.What comes later as a result .. is theirs, to keep or to try to forget.I just hope .. they end up realizing how precious this gift is and feel grateful for receiving it.

††††††††† I just have to get thru the next thirty odd seconds.It doesnít sound very long but Iíve fought whole battles which have taken less time.This isnít a battle though.Itís a journey.

††††††††† Distantly, she could hear the grandfather clock at the end of the hall outside.It chimed the second stroke of midnight.She began to turn her head away from Nick.She didnít even want to watch him until this was ended and Aquila had returned.

††††††††† This is all because I had no idea what to get him for a Christmas gift.The others .. almost as tough, but Nick is impossible.How do I top giving him his own helicopter?Well, I just hope he likes the SIG Sauer, thatís all, and that I donít lose him for an entire day while he checks it out.Alex is an ethnic soul, close to her roots.The pashmina has got to score points.Rachel, again, a creature of habit.Very into silver jewelry.So the antique earrings and matching necklace has to go down well.Kat .. my young friend, you are in for a special treat.Youíre not being visited by three ghosts tonight, so, for you, thereís more.Not only as a Christmas gift but as a heartfelt thank you for being my friend aní letting me experience what itís like to be fourteen.As for Derek Rayne, Precept of this house, slave master extraordinaire, the guy who takes dedication to new heights, youíre like me.You inherited money aní property.What could I possibly get you that you either havenít got or could afford to buy yourself?Something you would never think of getting, thatís what.Thank you, Carl, for your devious imagination and useful contacts ÖWith luck, it will keep Derek occupied for weeks.Maybe even months.

††††††††† The clock chimed the third stroke of midnight.Merlin knew six seconds had now elapsed.Several days before, as part of the preparation for this night, sheíd timed the clock in the hall when it struck noon.Thirty three seconds precisely.For her, just over half a minute.For others, literally, a lifetime.

††††††††† Christmas is such a strange time of year.Well, it is for me.People say itís a magical night, that, if you listen really carefully, you can almost hear the sound of sleigh bells.Yíknow, itís true.Yet, when I was a kid, I didnít even know about Christmas.It wasnít till I was five .. no, six years old that my Dad felt I had enough control that I could take my first night off.Until then, Christmas Eve was just like any other night.But, when I hit six, that year we celebrated our first proper Christmas as a family.Tree, gifts, big blow-out dinner.Night off the night before.I thought it was what everyone did Ė start celebrating when you were old enough to really appreciate it.I knew December 25 was the date that people honored the birth of Jesus Christ but Christmas Day has always been a workday.That hasnít changed at all with time.Hostilities only seem to be suspended on Christmas Eve.Thereís an ocean of hope aní peace swamping every evil impulse.Christmas Day .. when people suffer disappointment aní stress, aní they eat too much, drink too much, the familyís all there aní no oneís letting up for a second ÖBusiness as usual.

††††††††† The clock chimed the fourth stoke of midnight.Merlin felt Nick twitch again.She refused to look at him.She might not like what she saw in his sleeping face.

††††††††† Nine seconds in aní the past is over.Now theyíre starting to live the present.Derek had the longest journey thru the past because he knew from a young age what his life would be.Rachel had the shortest journey thru the past because her choice was less than ten years ago.Aquila and I decided that the present would be this year and not this day.A day isnít enough to show the developments which have brought them to this point.A day doesnít give them enough to prepare them for whatever happens next.And, then, they can sleep undisturbed.In the morning, theyíll waken and .. what?Remember in vivid detail?Have only a faint recollection?Be sad over what theyíve lost or be overjoyed that theyíre here, in this house, with these people?It didnít feel wrong to do this.I can usually tell when one of my ideas is a non-starter.This time I didnít get that sinking feeling in my gut.I wonder if theyíll share the experience with each other.With me.I wonder whatís happening right now in each of their lives ÖWill it be too distressing?I hope not.I really do.Itíll ruin Christmas Day if it is.And that will be my fault.No one else can take the blame.But what could possibly go wrong?So, they didnít join the Legacy.What did they do instead?What huge upsets could there be?

††††††††† The clock chimed the fifth stroke of midnight.Merlin listened to the rain pattering heavily against the window.She lay still.Aquila was using a lot of energy doing this.Merlin couldnít add to the burden by getting up to walk around.

††††††††† Now I know I canít do this to myself but .. what would my life had been like if I hadnít been born to the flame?Letís see now Ö I wouldíve gone to school.I would have had friends round to play and for sleepovers.I wouldnít have known William Sloan.My parents would have gone to regular jobs.I wouldíve had birthday parties.Celebrated Christmas from year one.I wouldíve had to sit exams in school.Gone to college, got a degree .. or maybe not.Wouldíve had to get a job.Pay taxes.Take a driving test.We probably wouldnít have lived in the house on Paradise Drive.I wouldíve had boyfriends aní my Dad wouldíve gotten upset.Probably marry the wrong guy, have kids, get divorced.Grow old.Be normal.Be scared of dying.Then die and be surprised.Wow .. thatís boring.Never having instant weapons?Never fighting evil?Never being confident enough to walk down the street in the dark?Never having a really good set of rules by which to live ..?I used to think Iíd be happier if I was just like everyone else, and I donít believe I would.I think Iíd be miserable.Which just goes to prove my point Ė better the life which is than the life which might have been.Sometimes the grass is greenest right in your own backyard.

††††††††† The clock chimed the sixth stroke of midnight.Merlin closed her eyes and forced herself to relax and stop thinking.Aquila didnít need that kind of interruption either.There were only six more chimes to go Ö




††††††††† In the foyer of the house on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, Marin County, California, the small carriage clock on the table by the fireplace chimed the first stoke of midnight.The foyer was dark, the lights extinguished because everyone was home, tucked up in their beds and sleeping.The alarms were set, all the doors were locked.The foyer was decorated with festive greenery, one huge tree draped in scarlet bows and silver tinsel.The fire still glowed faintly with the last breath of the blaze which had warmed the guests at the Luna Foundationís Christmas Eve party.

††††††††† This entrance hall had seen its fair share of disturbance.William Sloan had perished here.Tony Harris had been almost fatally shot on its stairs.Demons and those turned willingly to evil had been executed within these paneled walls.Innocents had died too, sacrifices to a greater cause.In the old house, there had been even more blood spilled.Rachel Corrigan had once described the house as a magnet for evil.That was a little unfair.Evil is drawn most to the weak but it cannot resist those who appear incorruptible.A house can be neither good nor evil.It is the people within who give a house its reputation.And the Legacy house on Angel Island, dark and slumbering on this early Christmas Day, surely deserved its reputation as a bastion against evil.Its people were only human but their souls, their spirits were strong in their faith and in their belief that the war they fought, while it may never end, was the good fight.They made a difference and the house drew strength from them.

††††††††† In the lounge, the clock on the mantle over the fire chimed the second stroke of midnight.The lounge was warm, this fire still settling and shifting with soft sighs.The three trees, one big, two smaller, were dark yet glittered faintly in the failing firelight.Around the base of the bigger tree, gifts wrapped in shiny paper and bedecked with bows and ribbons lay waiting for the coming of day.This room had not always been so calm either.Ghosts had walked here.They would again, if they could only find a way thru.And there had been other disturbances over the years, disturbances of a more mundane nature.A family had lived here once, a family of blood and not circumstance.A family composed of one plus three Ė a husband, and his wife and children.Christmas can be stressful as well as a celebration, and the Legacy demands much of its members.Sometimes, the burdens it imposed could not be set aside for even a few hours of domestic tranquility.Yet this lounge had known only peace.It waited, like the gifts, for the return of daylight when it would echo again with laughter and exclamations of pleasure.Thru the windows, over the water, the city of San Francisco glittered and glowed, and, faintly, the peal of church bells could be heard ringing in the announcement that Christ was born, and mankind could rejoice in the hope of ultimate salvation.

††††††††† In the study, the ormolu clock on the shelf in the alcove behind the desk chimed the third stroke of midnight.Even this room had a tree.A small one, barely three feet in height, yet equally decorated and festive, stood in one corner.The study, home to daily meetings, had seen any number of situations in their infancy, had listened to any number of discussions on possible causes and solutions.The study was the room were ideas were born, ideas which were then transferred to grow in the nursery Ė the library and the control room beyond.There were not many tools in the study.The bookshelves had books, yes, but of a more general kind.Dictionaries.Atlases.Road maps.The study was a room for thought more than action.A cozy, intimate room lacking the proportions of the lounge.When the people gathered in here, they sat closely together, reinforcing the idea of teamwork.The study had heard laughter and it had heard anger and words of conciliation.Mostly, it had heard words of purpose, of question and answer, and of concern that, maybe, someone was working too hard.It was a personal room, of private thoughts and genuine affection, of closeness and of caring.Its furniture was older, more comfortable, a place where people could gather to be with company or just to sit and be alone with themselves.The chess table in the window was ready for a new game.The phone on the desk, often the first herald of bad news, remained silent yet always ready, a little like the people who used this room each and every day.

††††††††† In the library of the Legacy house on the island in the Bay, the clock on the wall chimed the fourth stroke of midnight.Its tall windows felt the slight pattering of rain but this was nothing unusual.Many things which occurred in this large room were not unusual although, if they had happened anywhere else, they would have been viewed as, at least, remarkable and, at most, impossible and terrifying.Demons had been called into existence in this room.People had planned murder and almost succeeded.But it had seen more resolute courage than danger.War councils had been held around its long table.Intense study of its books had been undertaken under the ever present reminder in its stained glass windows.It was not a room devoid of blood.People had been hurt in here yet evil had also been vanquished.The library was the heart of any Legacy house and this heart was strong.It had a deep, solid pulse of life.It was a room as dedicated as those who used it.It was dedicated to knowledge, to study, to investigation, to the making and advancement of plans of action.It didnít frown on those who sat upon the table to work.It was there to be used.Here were held the tools for the task.Providing they were treated with respect, the library didnít care how they were used.The books were there for a reason.It was presently dark and cold yet this was only temporary.It would not be long before it began to live again, fulfilling its purpose as a depository of learning and the development of ideas.

††††††††† In the office off the control room used by the Precept of this Legacy house, the small clock on the shelf chimed the fifth stroke of midnight.

††††††††† Like the office, the control room was deserted and yet the room still hummed with energy.If the library was the heart of any Legacy house, the control room was the brain.It watched with electronic eyes, although, on this night, there was nothing to see.It listened to the entire world thru its computer links.It was used to company, often around the clock.But it wasnít all work.It had heard the frivolous exchanges, the light words of banter which never prevented progress from being made.Often, it was the only way to lift the burden the Legacy imposed.This was not a room meant for anything except serious matters even if the way they were handled was not always serious.The links contained here accessed information in shadowy databases, information the world outside would never need to know, would never want to know.In here, all the slight, inconsequential threads were pulled together into a tapestry of dire meaning and intent.Here, the situations born in the study and developed in the library grew to a maturity requiring action.It had witnessed attack upon itself.To hurt the body, attack the brain.Blind the eyes, deafen the ears.Isolate the senses.Deprive those who worked here of their link to the outside world.Then move in for the kill.But the people who used this room didnít rely on it totally in the pursuit of their goals. The control room, while haven and inner sanctum, protected and protector, companion thru the long, dark hours of the night, was only another tool.And that was why the enemies who tried to attack by severing the brain from the body never succeeded.The control room was only a brain and, while sophisticated and fast, it lacked the creative impulses of the mind.Evil couldnít create, it could only subvert and destroy.The Legacy was, above all else, dependent on its members to win the battles it fought .. and this house had the best.

††††††††† The clocks in the house on Angel Island chimed the sixth stroke of midnight.

††††††††† Magic was at work this night and it was only half complete Ö




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