Shadows From the Past
Consciousness crept slowly over him, like the sun peeking over the horizon before sliding into view and starting a whole new day.
With that gradual return to consciousness came a slow awareness of his position. Feeling crept back, pain mingling with the realisation that he was still alive. His back felt stiff, and his head was aching, although, for the moment, he didn't know why. His wrists hurt too, but he guessed that that was due to whatever it was that was tying them together behind his back. As the binding dug into his skin viciously, he realised that it was garden twine or something similar, and that his wrists weren't the only parts of his body that were confined. His ankles and his elbows also throbbed with pain in time with the beating of his heart. His breath shuddered in his chest as he came fully awake and he knew that he was sitting, tied by the ankles and elbows to a wooden chair in a wooden hut somewhere. He didn't have his partner's ability for filtering smells, but there were a few he could recognise: wood, from the hut; incense in the air; and a smell of musty old clothes.
The voice was soft but Blair's head jerked up in response. The soft fall sun was peering through the dirty window, showing the floating dust motes but not showing whomever it was who had spoken.
"Who..." Blair licked his lips and tried again. "Who are you?" He wondered how long he'd been unconscious. He was certainly thirsty enough for it to have been some time, and judging from the angle of the sun's rays, it was a few hours before sunset.
"I? I am no one, merely an instrument of destiny." The whispery voice was calm, detached, as the speaker moved around the hut in the shadows where the sun didn't reach.
Blair's heart beat faster as his mind ran over all the 'no ones' this person could be. Jim and he had ticked off a lot of people, and, so far, he had no idea if Jim knew where to look for him. Well, while he was hopefully waiting for rescue, or a chance to escape, he might as well try and figure out who this no one was. "So...what does destiny want with me?"
"So practical, and yet, so vile. It's hard to believe that anyone so vile could look so uncorrupted."
Blair thought that one over. He couldn't think of anything he'd done that was particularly vile. At least, not recently.
"Do you dispute it?" the voice asked.
"Uh...could you give me some specifics?"
"Specifics." The voice repeated his request, sounding rather taken aback.
"Yeah, specifics. You know, like what I'm supposed to have done." For all that his situation was serious, possibly deadly serious, Blair couldn't help the slightly sarcastic tone in his voice.
A sigh reached him. "It's not what you have done, it's what you haven't."
"Well, then...what haven't I done?" Blair asked, hoping to get some answers - any answers.
"It's quite simple. You haven't died."
Simon's voice was terse and Jim's face matched the tone in his voice as he turned to look at him. "Not much. We found his car at the University. He was supposed to meet me at the station at eleven. His backpack and keys were beside the car - so it must have been around then when whoever it was jumped him."
Simon hesitated for a second then asked, "Did you find anything?"
"There was a smell. Old, like books...or clothes. Musty."
"Could it have been some of the books in Sandburg's backpack?"
Jim shook his head. "I checked. Some of them were old but...this smell was really old."
"We'll find him, Jim. Wherever he is, we'll find him."
Blair blinked. "I haven't...died. Was I supposed to?"
"Oh yes. A long time ago."
"Uh...pardon me for being nosy, but when exactly was that?"
"It's been so long, I don't suppose you remember." The shifting of the voice showed that the speaker, man or woman, he couldn't tell, was moving back and forth just out of sight.
"No, I don't remember."
"It's not surprising. You were very young when Naomi took you away."
Blair jerked with the shock, his breath catching in his throat. "Naomi?" So it wasn't anything to do with any of Jim's cases. His hopes for a rescue plunged. He knew that the first thing Jim would do would be to see who had a grudge against him - and, like Blair, he'd assume that grudge was from Jim's work.
"Your mother. You do remember her, don't you?" The voice was almost accusing.
"Of course I remember her. But how do you know her?" Blair's voice was curious while his mind searched for a way to escape.
"Naomi joined us...for a while. Ezekiel was pleased with her. He planned for her to become our Priestess."
"And Ezekiel was...?"
"Our leader, our Messiah," the voice dropped lower until Blair could barely hear it, "our God." Bitterness crept into the tone. "But when Naomi discovered the price of our redemption, she left."
Mentally Blair muttered, 'Yay, Mom,' but all he said was, "And the uh...price was me?"
At that, the person stepped forward, almost into the sunlight, and the voice became angry and clear, revealing that it belonged to a woman. "You would have been saved. Your place was assured as the sacrifice! But you cried when Ezekiel showed you the knife - you cried and ran to Naomi. Ezekiel never had a chance to explain how much your death meant to us; by the time he reached her she was gone. You did this! Vile, corrupt child - you would have been assured of eternal salvation in spite of yourself, but instead you had to damn us all."
The woman stepped forward again, her steps bringing her into the sunlight, and Blair's eyes opened wider as he saw the old clothes she was wearing. With a flash he remembered the black cloak with silver embroidery - now tarnished and broken in places. It had been so long ago that he'd forgotten. He'd forgotten his fear of the tall, dark haired man named Ezekiel who'd been so taken with Naomi's little boy. He'd forgotten the day he'd seen the knife and heard Ezekiel's soaring voice as he proclaimed that Blair was to die and save them all. Blinking and shaking his head, he remembered old nightmares that had taken long years to be banished, and realised that their foundation lay in those age old events that had slipped through a four year old's memory into his subconscious. The woman's triumphant voice interrupted his thoughts.
"It remembers. It remembers its sin - it remembers what it did to us!" She raised her arms, holding a serrated-edged knife high, and crooned with delight, "Master, Master! Your damnation will be at an end!"
"Banks." Simon listened to the voice on the other end of the phone, a grim smile appearing for a second. "That's good, Joel. Thanks." He hung up and stalked to the door, yelling for Jim as he went. "Madame Marina's Psychic Emporium. A student says she saw a van with that on pulling away from near Sandburg's car."
He caught the gleam in Jim's eyes before he headed for the elevators, Brown and Rafe in his wake. All they needed was one lead and they'd bring Sandburg back.
Blair jerked his wrists angrily, then hissed as the twine bit deeper into his flesh. He was damned if he'd meekly sit back and allow this madwoman to slaughter him. His mind was still searching for something, anything, but he was fast coming to the conclusion that he'd have to hope she was planning to untie him before killing him.
The knife was lowered and the woman approached. He could see her clearly now. Her dark hair fell lankly upon the shoulders of the old cloak, and it was obvious that moths had fed heartily upon it at some point. The smell of it - old, musty, never been aired - reached out to him as she stroked the knife over his cheek.
"Rest easy, child. Your time will be at hand soon and you will no longer have to wait for your salvation." She retreated again, and played with her knife, stroking the blade like a lover. "When the moon graces us with her presence you will die, as you should have died then, and your soul will ascend to the heavenly skies to dance with the stars forever." She smiled, showing stained, crooked teeth. "And Ezekiel will be free to dance with you."
The bell of the shop jangled as the door was pushed open, and Madame Marina's assistant scowled. She hated her job, she hated this shop, and she really, really hated Madame Marina. As for customers who turned up at half past four when she was hoping to close up early? She hated them too.
She frowned as the three men entered the shop, and for a second she wondered if they were about to demand the contents of the till - not that Madame Marina ever had much in the till - for they didn't look like Madame Marina's usual type of customer. Her gaze slipped over them, noting the good-looking guy at the back, and passing over the dark-complexioned man at his side. She glanced at the man in front, intending to look back at the good-looking guy, but a pair of ice blue eyes caught her attention and she stopped. The cold didn't normally bother her, but she could have sworn the temperature had dropped the second he pinned her with that gaze. Her eyes flickered over him, then returned to his face. He was a tall, steel-jawed man who looked like he wouldn't be caught dead buying old herbs and cracked crystals, and yet here he was in Madame Marina's shop. She didn't think she'd want him to be a regular customer.
"Detective Ellison, Cascade P.D." The icy looking guy flashed his badge at her before continuing, "This is Detective Brown and Detective Rafe."
She scowled. Make that definitely not want him to be a regular customer. "Whaddya want?" she asked, reaching for a nail file to demonstrate her total indifference to him and his badge.
Jim took a second to listen for any sounds, or heartbeats, from upstairs or out the back as the girl started filing her nails. Finding nothing, he turned his attention back to her.
The rasp of the filing was setting Jim's teeth on edge, so he took the file away from her and ignored her indignant face. "Are you Madame Marina?"
She scoffed. "Get real. You think I'd own this place?" Deprived of her nail file, she slipped her gum out of her mouth and started swinging it around her finger before chucking it back into her mouth with a loud smack of her lips.
Jim found that annoying too, but he wasn't going to confiscate the gum. "One of Madame Marina's vans was seen in the vicinity of Rainier University this morning. Do you...."
"Oh yeah," she interrupted. "That would have been Madame Marina. She was out today picking up supplies for her 'trip'." She wiggled her fingers to show the quote.
"What trip was this?" Jim refused to wiggle his fingers.
"Yeah, she was heading up to her 'cabin'," again the finger wiggle, "for the weekend. She reckoned she had real important stuff to do. Date with destiny." She snickered, "Not that she'd ever get a real date."
"Do you know where this cabin is?"
"Yeah, it's up in the woods. Real spooky like."
Jim guessed she was getting bored with his questioning when she started fluttering her eyelashes at Rafe, but he continued anyway. "Do you know exactly where it is?"
Rafe stepped forward and laid his hand over one of hers, and Jim was glad for his sake that it wasn't the gum slinging one.
"Maybe if you could tell us we could go...take a look sometime?"
She smiled. "Yeah...well..." Shrugging, she chewed her gum harder, giving him a look that Jim could only guess was meant to be sexy. "You got a map? I can show you where to turn off the road."
Jim hurried to produce a map as Rafe didn't look like he was going to hold out much longer. One spittle covered scarlet nail pointed out the road.
"Yeah, you go up there and turn off around here. There's a dirt track up to the 'cabin'." Her nail left the map so she could do her finger wiggle thing. "It's about a half hour drive from the road.
"Thank you. You've been very helpful."
Jim managed a grimace which was the closest he could get to a smile, but Brown was smiling widely as Rafe nervously backed away.
"Yeah, give me a call sometime."
Jim wasn't fool enough to think she was talking to him.
"So what happened to Ezekiel?" Blair asked, hoping that the bogeyman of his dreams wasn't about to reappear to join in the sacrifice. "Why isn't he here now?"
Her face twisted, fury fighting with her tears that were trickling down her face. "It asks why, Master. Does it not remember?" She leaned closer to the bound man and stared into his face. "You do not know? You destroyed our Messiah's life and you do not know?"
Blair tried to avoid breathing as her foul breath wafted over his cheek. He shook his head silently.
Her eyes turned upwards, seeking some truth that was not to be found in the wooden roof. "Do you remember, Master?" she called, her voice rent with grief. "I do, I remember the pain, the sorrow. The doubting." Her gaze turned back to Blair, her voice becoming hard and accusing once more. "After you ran, some of our apostles became disenchanted - they doubted Ezekiel! Doubted him! He who had laid down the rules for our happiness, he who was to guide our footsteps on the heavenly path." She stopped talking for a second, her gaze introspective. "All those who doubted him had to be punished. Ezekiel saw that. It was for their own good. With doubts they would never reach salvation." She turned away then, flicking a glance at him over her shoulder. "He punished them...he punished them." Her head sank down and she returned to the lengthening shadows in the corners of the hut, crooning over her knife.
"Where is he? What happened?" Blair's stomach muscles clenched in trepidation.
Her gaze flicked up then away. "It was always asking questions as a child. Always." She sounded annoyed at his persistent questioning then her voice hardened again. "You want to know? You want to know what your cowardice did?"
"Yes." Blair could barely breathe. If he was going to die, or die trying to escape, he wanted to know what she was blaming him for.
"Ezekiel punished his doubters as he saw fit," she spat at him, "but the police said otherwise. They lied about him - said that he'd murdered them. He didn't murder them," her tone changed, almost pleading with him to understand, "he punished them."
"How many?" Blair wasn't sure his whisper had reached her until she replied.
"How many what?"
She sounded impatient and Blair realised that those people hadn't mattered at all to her then. She'd probably helped Ezekiel kill them, just as she was about to kill him. "How many people did Ezekiel kill?"
She leapt forward at that, the knife raised high, and Blair flinched, sure that it was over. "Punished! He punished them! He didn't kill them!"
"I'm sorry...punished. How many did he...have to punish?" For a second he thought she was going to plunge the knife into his chest, but she managed to restrain herself, casting an impatient look at the dusk outside.
"Seventeen of them." She retired into the shadows, the dusk hiding her from his view. "They'd even corrupted their children. I hoped that we could use another child in place of you, but it wasn't to be." Her voice tore with grief again. "They could have been saved but for you and your tears. They were our brothers, our sisters, our children. And you killed them."
"No...no, I didn't." Blair's voice was low and reassuring, desperate to convince her before the moon rose. "Ezekiel killed them. You couldn't have stopped him. If you'd tried, he would have killed you too."
There was silence and, for a second, he hoped that he'd managed to reach her, but then the sounds of a rusty laugh, long unused, reached him.
"Oh, you're good, boy, I'll give you that." Her laughter turned to tears again. "You killed them. You killed them all. And you killed Ezekiel."
He heard her moving, and flinched as the musty smell warned him that she was near.
"They said he'd murdered those people...our brethren. He died...died..." she turned away again, "before they could execute him like a common criminal. Your fault. All your fault."
She sounded tired as she stumbled away from his chair, and Blair breathed a little easier now that the air was clearer again. Blair heard her retreat then sink down onto the floor, and he hoped, prayed, that she'd fall asleep. Feverishly, he set to work trying to loosen the twine around his wrists, regardless of the damage he was inflicting upon them. After a while his wrists were turning more easily, but he couldn't be sure if that was because the twine was looser or if the blood was making his wrists slippery.
A silvery light crept into the room, and Blair yanked harder at the twine. He was pretty sure he'd damaged his wrists a lot, but at this point in time, that hardly mattered. Gritting his teeth, he pulled harder and harder, but the twine refused to give way, merely burying itself deeper in his wrists.
He stopped in horror as he heard her cry, then wrenched at his wrists again. He was not going to go down without a fight.
Sighing, with what sounded like relief, the woman moved forward. "Master, I will complete your work. I will give you your redemption!"
Blair glanced up as the dark figure moved forward, her hands reaching to caress his face before sending him to oblivion. With a leap of his heart, he thought he heard the sound of car engines above her wailing, but the sound died and took his hopes with it.
"Child, accept your fate," she soothed. "Go into the darkness and redeem us all." Her hand moved across his face gently, the other holding the knife ready. "So young, so innocent, so corrupted...I release you from your prison."
The knife rose and Blair struggled harder, fighting with his whole body to get away from her. The chair tipped and fell sideways, taking him with it. For a second she paused, then stooped to complete her self-appointed task.
"Do not fear, you go to salvation," she whispered.
Blair's eyes fixed on the knife that was about to end his life. Nothing could save him now.
There was a huge thud and the door flew open, the woman straightening again. Blair could only see the back of the door from where he was lying but he could hear just fine.
"Cascade P.D. - don't move."
Blair felt as though his bones were melting with the relief. Jim was here, he was safe. He wanted to laugh but it stopped in his throat as the woman swung back, her knife arcing down towards his heart.
He heard Jim's gun fire, and the woman disappeared from his sight as she wailed, the sound filled with desolation and pain.
"Jim...Jim...." Blair didn't think he'd ever be able to breathe again properly, the feeling in his chest was so tight.
"Relax, Chief. Just lie still."
He heard feet moving around, then a hand on his arm holding him still. Jim's voice came from just behind him.
"Jesus, Sandburg, what did you do to your wrists?"
Blair rolled his eyes, then gasped in pain as the twine was released. "And you call yourself a detective," he muttered.
A few minutes' work and he was free to have his wrists temporarily bandaged by Jim while they waited for the paramedics. He sat in Jim's truck, legs dangling from the open door, as Jim worked silently on the damaged wrists.
Blair listened to the woman's shrill crying and shuddered. Seeking a distraction, he asked, "How did you find me?"
Jim looked up for a second, his eyes sombre. "We got lucky. A witness saw her van and noticed the writing on the side." His eyes dropped to Blair's wrists again as he fiddled with the bandages.
Blair half smiled, knowing that Jim was irrationally annoyed that it was pure dumb luck that had saved the day. As for himself, he didn't care how, he didn't care what. Jim had saved him - again.
Jim kept his face blank as he stared down at the bandages; Sandburg had really done a number on his wrists. He couldn't blame him though - if he'd been tied to a chair with some deluded bitch about to plunge a knife into his heart, he'd have been struggling too.
He leaned in closer, under the pretence of checking that no blood was soaking through the bandages, and inhaled, using Sandburg's scent to drown out the mustiness of the woman's cloak that was clinging to the cabin and, he realised with a surge of anger, to Sandburg's clothing. She must have been all over him. Jim's mind flashed back to the instant when he'd kicked in that damned door and he'd seen her bending over Sandburg with the knife held high. She was lucky he'd only shot her once.
Flashing lights got his attention and he glanced up to see several police cars and an ambulance heading their way.
"Guess Simon sent in the cavalry too, huh?" Sandburg grinned at the sight although his voice was trembling slightly with reaction.
"Guess so." The vehicles screeched to a halt. "So, no arguments about going to the hospital?" Jim asked, acting surprised.
"Who said I was going to the hospital?" Sandburg demanded, indignation in his tone as he fell for the diversion. "I thought they'd just check your bandages and I could go home."
Jim grinned and tilted his head. "Not tonight, Josephine." The doctors would want to make sure there was no permanent damage to Sandburg's wrists, and he suspected that the kid would be lucky to get out of the hospital the next day, let alone that night.
Sandburg's gaze shifted to stare over his shoulder and Jim glanced over, then back in time to see his jaw set stubbornly.
"I'm sure they'll let me drive you down there though." There was no way Jim was going to let Sandburg get in the same ambulance as Madame Insanity, even if the kid didn't mind at all.
He got a look of surprise, then of relief.
"Yeah." In spite of the relief, Sandburg was still prepared to argue. "But, y'know, if they check my wrists, it'd make more sense to just head home."
"Uh huh." Jim smiled, there was no way the kid was getting out of this one. "And after that, there are your elbows and ankles to be checked."
"Yeah, but -"
"And after that, maybe they'd better check your head too."
"Yeah, Darwin. If you think your blessed protector will just drive you home after this, you definitely need your head checking!"
Jim turned over in his sleep and then woke up, his ears reaching out for the sound that had woken him. He could hear Sandburg's heartbeat and knew that the kid should have been asleep in his bed - he'd gone to bed before Jim - but judging from the sounds of paper rustling, Sandburg was definitely not in bed.
He was right. His wayward friend was sitting on the couch, papers and pen in hand. His gaze met Jim's, then fell, a guilty look on his face. The papers were laid face down on the coffee table then, in an obvious attempt to gain some time, Sandburg took a gulp of juice.
Jim fetched himself a glass of juice and settled himself down on the couch comfortably, casually resting his feet on the papers on the coffee table. "Not sleeping tonight, Chief?"
"Uh...I just realised that I had these papers to grade. Was gonna get them done and then hit the sack."
Jim didn't need to listen to Sandburg's heartbeat to know he was lying. "Let me help."
"No, it's okay. It's not very interesting."
Sandburg's hand reached for the papers but Jim swatted him away. "No trouble." He dropped his feet and grabbed the papers before Sandburg could try for them again. "Interesting design. Kind of reminds me of that cloak Madame Marina was wearing." His eyes met Sandburg's, daring him to lie.
There was silence from the other end of the couch.
"You've been dreaming again?" Jim's gaze was steady as he looked at Sandburg. The kid hadn't exactly spent a restful night in hospital, in fact he'd nearly given Jim a heart attack by trying to leap out of bed in the middle of the night, but Jim had thought the dreams were subsiding. Then again, seeing as they'd heard that Madame Marina had killed herself that morning, he guessed he should have realised that the nightmares would start again.
Sandburg sighed and wiped his hand over his face. "It's nothing. I just....old dreams, that's all."
"Old dreams involving...?"
"Ezekiel. And his cloak. Mostly his cloak, oddly enough. Probably because I know what the symbols mean now." Sandburg took another gulp of his juice.
Jim stared down at the detailed drawings in his hand, recognising Sandburg's attempt to gain a scientific detachment. "So, what do they mean?"
"You wanna hear this?" He sounded astonished.
"Yeah, I wanna hear this. So talk." Jim settled back on the couch, ready for the long haul. However long it took, he'd get Sandburg to talk it out. After all, that's what friends are for.
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