Title: Cthulhu Adventures 01 - Strange Aeons
Summary: Gruesome deaths haunt Washington, DC. Mulder and Scully are called in to assist a strange young woman from the Behavioral Science Unit track down the killers. Does she want more than she is saying?
This story is a departure from my Seasons stories and is an exploration of the darkness that lies at the edges of fantasy and reality. For this tale I owe much thanks to H. P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, and the many others who wrote tales of gothic/science-fiction/horror during the twenties, thirties, forties and beyond. The Cthulhu genre is wildly appropriate to the world of the X-Files and I thought that the two should be introduced.
J. Edgar Hoover Building
There were dark rumors flying around the bureau, dark winged and squeaking as they unerringly diverted themselves from reaching Agent Dana Scully's ears as she entered the J. Edgar Hoover Building on her way to work. The whispers hissed at the edges of her consciousness, sibilants ceasing abruptly as she walked by. Dana Scully had become long used to being the object of the rumor mill, since beginning to work with Fox Mulder, the brilliant, if problematical head of the X-Files Division.
But today there was something sinister in the dark eyed stares that cut away whenever she looked up, something suggestive of horror...
And the hum of whispers continued on behind her as soon as she passed by.
Curious, Agent Scully scanned the corridors ahead of her, watching for someone she knew, someone who would be willing to tell her what the devil was going on. The only person she really noted, however, was a young woman in a neat business suit waiting calmly outside of Assistant Director Skinner's office, her golden-brown hair glinting like honey in the early morning sun.
It was the young woman's serenity that first attracted Scully's eyes, an almost preternatural stillness and composure that seemed to spill from her, like a fountain, filling her personal space with an inviolable wall of silence. Peace, strangely comforting, seemed to flow from her, calming even the air about her. Her eyes, a deep golden amber barely a shade paler than her hair, looked into an unseen middle distance, staring at things that Scully was momentarily convinced, no person would ever want to see.
For a moment, those strange, golden eyes flickered and focused on her, serious and questioning, before going back to their quiet contemplation of whatever the young woman saw. As she passed, Agent Dana Scully saw the FBI name tag pinned to the young woman's lapel.
Scully's eyes widened slightly as she realized who the young woman was. Anja Neilsen had become one of Patterson's protégés in the last year before he'd gone mad. It was rumored that she had written a significant portion of the profile that eventually drove Patterson out of his mind. It was also rumored that just before Patterson had requested the aid of Agent Mulder on the 'Gargoyle' case, as it had come to be called, Agent Neilsen had requested a transfer out of Patterson's group, citing conflicts that were detrimental to the team.
There were darker rumors that she had told A. D. Killern that Patterson had gone around the bend, but he hadn't believed her. It was known that Anja Neilsen had spent a six month stint in western Alaska until Mulder had brought Patterson in for murder. Not long after that, Neilsen had been back in D. C., back in Behavioral, and back in the good graces of her Assistant Director with nothing ever said about why she'd been forced out to Alaska in the first place.
But since her return from Alaska, Neilsen had gone my a moniker given to her by the agents who had known her there -- 'Ice.'
There had been a series of unexplained deaths, horrendous murders that had drained their victims of bodily fluids -- terrible things that Mulder had wanted to go investigate, but had been turned down on the basis of the fact that someone else was 'looking into them.' Within three weeks, Neilsen and her new partner had rounded up the people responsible, gotten full confessions in the presence of the accuseds' lawyers... and had gone, respectively into the hospital and into the madhouse. Her partner had been admitted into an asylum for the criminally insane almost immediately after the case was completed.
That had happened to the next two partners as well.
And every time, Neilsen reacted with little or no emotion.
From then on, most agents treated her as though she was poison, for all of her purported brilliance. With each case and each partner, Neilsen's composure grew, and her reputation escalated with it. If there was anyone in the Bureau more ostracized than Ice, Dana Scully wasn't aware of one. Even 'Spooky' Mulder tended to be greeted with greater warmth.
Dana Scully shuddered delicately as she reached the door to the basement and she heard Agent Neilsen's name called by A. D. Skinner's secretary. Bizarre as it sometimes was, she preferred to work with her spooky partner than risk working with Ice.
Special Agent Fox Mulder sat in a basement office of the J. Edgar Hoover building, staring blindly at photos that had been sent down to him by the Assistant Director's office. In all the time he'd profiled monsters for the Behavioral Sciences Unit, he'd never seen anything quite like the scenes he found in the pictures that lay strewn haphazardly across his desk.
Satanic cults he'd heard of, though he'd never found one that was real. But these pictures... The scenes came from an organized group of people who knew what they were about. The deaths documented by the photographs had been executed with consummate skill and artistry, with a great deal of thought having been put into the slow, agonizing torture of the victims.
That, however, was not what bothered him so much. He'd seen the exacting work of professional killers who got a kick out of murder. It was the pure ritualistic nature of the deaths. The manner of death had the weight of age and experience behind it, as though the killers knew exactly what they were trying to accomplish by committing these atrocities. There was a purpose and direction to the deaths that was not completely covered by the MO of the killers or their general selection of victims. Something indefinable, but he could scent it in the air.
Feel it oozing from the pictures.
It was a touch of horror that could not be duplicated by amateurs who simply thought it would be interesting to act out something they found in a book. Whatever it was, it was something real, something growing, something that caused the pictures to practically radiate evil.
Mulder snorted to himself, knowing what Scully would think of that particular fancy. Radiating evil, indeed.
The door opened.
He glanced up to see his dainty partner back-lit by the fluorescent light in the hallway. As usual, he felt a strange surprise at seeing her height -- whenever she wasn't present, he somehow always retained the impression that she was taller. Perhaps it was the sparkling vitality and intelligence of the teal blue eyes, or the fire of her hair and her temper. He grinned up at her as she dropped her briefcase on her desk.
"Happy Monday, Scully."
Scully rolled her eyes at him, grimacing slightly.
"Mul-der... The only reason for Mondays is so that the rest of the week doesn't get ruined by reminiscing about what one *should* have been doing over the weekend."
"Yeah. Like doing my laundry instead of cleaning your fish tank. Geez, Mulder, no wonder your fish keep dying. Bad enough that you don't feed the poor things..."
"Hey -- I feed them!"
"When you remember. But clean the tank? When was the last time that had been done?"
"Uh --" Mulder stared at her helplessly. He couldn't remember the last time he'd done that chore himself. "Oops?"
"I'm going to have to get you some of the plastic floaty-fish things, then you won't have to feed them or clean the tank -- too often, anyway." Scully smirked faintly at him before dropping her eyes to the pictures on his desk. "Good God. *Mulder*... What the hell are those?"
"Our next case. It came down from Skinner the instant I got into work..."
"Which was at..."
"I ain't tellin'. I got plenty of sleep. In any case, Skinner wanted us to familiarize ourselves with this case so we can get on it immediately. They've been able to keep these out of the papers -- the natures of the crimes are so horrific that even the scandal-rags agreed to keep quiet about it."
Scully scanned the pictures, her stomach roiling. Here a heart had been cut out with clinical precision, there the skin had been removed -- all done neatly, yet with the maximum possible spillage of blood. Many of the killings had taken place in relatively public places where something should have been noticed.
She stared at one of the pictures with a strangely horrified fascination. "The reflecting pool? And no one *noticed*?"
"Hard to believe, isn't it?"
Scully swallowed convulsively. "That's putting it mildly."
His eyes darkened in complete understanding. Mulder sighed. "If it was something that we could leak to the press, this would be the case that could make our careers, or break them. But someone high up wants this solved, very hush, hush, and very, *very* fast."
"So they called for you." Mulder was surprised at the bitterness in her voice.
"Not at all." A new voice, like rich silk-velvet flowed slowly into the room. Mulder and Scully both started in violent surprise. Standing in the doorway was the young woman Scully had seen waiting outside of Skinner's office. Thick amber-brown hair curled carelessly over one shoulder as the young woman stared evenly into each of their eyes. "*I* was the one called in to deal with this case, Agent Scully. I was told that I could pick whomever I wanted for my team. They wanted the two of you as far away from this case as you could get. I need help, however. So *I* asked for you."
Mulder's lips quirked up in a smile that he knew didn't reach his eyes. "And you are?"
She smiled back, expression serene. "Agent Neilsen. Anja Neilsen. Known better to most of my colleagues as 'Ice.'"
Scully stared at the gentle, serene smile and blinked in surprise. Neilsen's depthless amber eyes held endless mystery... and a hint of amusement.
"Ice?" she said dumbly, shock numbing her wits.
Mulder shot her a dirty look, but Scully ignored him. Agent Neilsen's smile grew wider and turned friendly. "That's what they call me. I even answer to it."
"You do?" Derision dripped from Mulder's words. Neilsen, however, simply grinned at him.
"Why, yes, Spooky. I happen to think it's cute..." She tilted her head to one side, slowly, expression mocking. "But then my family has been calling me that for years... Long before the guys in Alaska started using it... But then you've apparently never learned that the secret to dealing with obnoxious nicknames is to adopt them and make them your own."
Mulder's expression went murderous and Scully placed a gentle hand on his wrist.
"What do you need us for, Agent Neilsen? From your reputation, you should have this well in hand."
"Ooooh. Well spoken, Agent Scully, with just the right touch of disdain. The self-deprecation wasn't bad either. But I've heard many things about Fox Mulder, and I'm sure he can tell you, just from studying the photos why I need at least one partner, and why I would choose the two of you over many of the guys in BSU or VCS."
Scully allowed her glance to sweep over the photos as she felt Mulder's hand tense into a fist.
"Yes, Neilsen, I can see why you need a partner. But not why you need us."
Neilsen smiled, saccharine polishing every tooth. "Why don't you tell your partner what these represent, Mulder."
Mulder sighed, and Scully could see pain flickering brightly in his eyes. "A cult, Scully. An honest to golly cult -- worshiping what, I don't know -- that knows what it's doing and why it's doing it."
"That's ridiculous." Scully stared at him. "We both know that the odds of something like that are astronomical. Most of the time it's just poseurs --"
"Even if that was the case, they've still killed a number of people. We don't know..." Neilsen muttered something unintelligible. "...all right, I don't know what they think they're doing, but they know what they're about."
"That's crazy, Mulder."
"Scully, look at these." He pulled out a particular series of five photos. "These cuts were done by an expert..."
"Medical doctor, nurse, orderly..."
"...in a complex pattern..."
"...gotten from a book..."
"...so absolutely perfect you could superimpose them on one another and get only one image..."
"On who?" Neilsen's voice flowed in smoothly. Scully looked up. Neilsen's gentle smile was back, serene and calm. "Or on whom, I think is more correct. But a doctor can't cut his patients up like that. Our killers would have to have been at this for a long time to get those kind of results. I have, in fact, done a superposition of those slices, and Mulder is right. They do line up. Perfectly. From depth to length proportional to the torso they were done on."
"That still doesn't mean it's cult activity."
Neilsen actually laughed. "Does it matter?"
"What?" Mulder looked up, annoyed.
"Which part didn't you understand? I said 'Does it matter?' --" Neilsen walked in, ignoring the clutter and found the one and only clean chair in the office, besides Scully's, that wasn't occupied. "-- after all, the only important thing is what the group thinks its doing. Not whether they succeed in it or not. Agent Scully, just because this could, theoretically, be a bunch of poseurs who happen to be good at reading books and making up rituals, doesn't mean that they aren't a cult and doing this for a purpose. Our impressions of the validity of whatever they're trying to accomplish is completely secondary to the fact that these people, whoever they are, are killing, gruesomely, in this city and it needs to be stopped."
"Why you?" Mulder's voice was a low growl that accompanied the whispering hiss of the air conditioning.
"In reality?" Neilsen's amusement was obvious. "Because you no longer work in Behavioral, Mulder. Whether I'm a better profiler or not may come out with this case, but I don't see where it matters. You got out of it, and I'm the best they have there now. *I* wanted your help, because some of the conclusions I've come to about this I don't like, and the rest of the guys in the unit are spinning their wheels. I wanted another opinion. And yours would be the best."
Some of the darkness left Mulder's eyes. Neilsen shrugged.
"They say that you knew about Patterson before he started killing."
Neilsen stiffened, closing her eyes briefly. When she opened them, Scully was astonished by the bottomless depths of grief therein.
"Yes." Neilsen stared at her hands, clasping and unclasping them.
"Why..." The young woman flinched from the whisper of agony in Mulder's voice.
"I tried." Her eyes went to the poster over Mulder's shoulder that showed a photo of a UFO bearing a subscript saying 'I want to believe.' A strange smile graced her lips as she stared at it. "I tried."
The call had come in fifteen minutes later as Ice went over her profile with Mulder. Scully reviewed the autopsy reports, slowly coming to similar conclusions as the psychologists as she read detailed descriptions of the injuries suffered by the victims.
She stared at a faceless scull and tried to push the thought that what she was looking at had once been human out of her mind. If she remembered that, she'd spend the rest of the day in the bathroom stuck in a stall with dry heaves. There wasn't time for the horror now. She could deal with the growing agony later.
The phone rang. Without thinking, Scully closed the file as she picked up the receiver.
"Federal Bureau of Investigation, X-Files Division, Special Agent Dana Scully speaking. May I help you?" She ignored Mulder's look as the practiced phrase rolled off of her tongue.
"Is Ice there?" A male voice, rough and strained filled her ear.
"Yes. May I say who's calling?"
"Officer Richard Anaphon, Washington PD. I need to speak to Agent Neilsen right now."
"Just a moment." She held the phone toward Neilsen. "Sounds urgent."
Neilsen took the phone, lifting it to her ear. "Ice... Yah, what... Oh, gods. No. God, no. Rich -- Yah. We'll be there right away..." Her hands grabbed desperately for a notebook and a pen, characteristic serenity shattered. "Okay. Okay. What?... You've got to... Where... 1121 East Westport -- Jesus who would name a street something like that? -- how many? What do you mean you don't know? Gods above and below, Richard... Christ.... Oh, shut the hell up. I'll be there soon... Yes, I'm bringing them... Hell no. Who are we to throw stones?"
Mulder and Scully stared at Neilsen. The sense of calm that had enveloped the younger agent had disappeared. Completely. The stillness that was so intrinsic to her nature had changed into something explosively violent -- something strange and cold and unremittingly cruel. The honeyed depths of her eyes were strangely shuttered as her hands fluttered around her waist, seeming to reassure themselves of the presence of weapons and other equipment. The receiver slammed down and the tattered shreds of calm were pulled into a ragged mantle of desperate quietude.
Expressionless, Ice's eyes focused in the middle distance, calculating things that Scully couldn't even begin to imagine.
"Let's go. There've been more killings."
1121 East Westport
The drive to the scene was uneventful, except for the curious lack of traffic as they took the most direct route to the scene. Ice had regained her composure, seeming to be thoroughly unruffled. Scully would have thought her unaffected save for the burning anger that gave Neilsen's eyes the metallic shade of molten gold.
Briefly, Neilsen relayed what information she'd gotten from Officer Anaphon. It seemed that a strange red stain had appeared on the ceiling of a young student who rented a basement apartment from a nice young couple named Dubois. He'd been gone the night before, working in a study group and then sleeping over when the group ran much later than normal. Since he'd had a separate entrance, he'd gone downstairs upon arriving home. It was hours before he noticed the spreading stain on his ceiling, and even then, he only noticed because something had dripped on his back.
It was fortunate for the young man, though not for the police, that he'd been in an accident a couple of years before that almost completely destroyed his sense of smell -- otherwise the stench would have driven him crazy. Since the house was well back from the road and away from the neighbors, no one else had noticed.
When they pulled up to the house it was surrounded by cops, there seemed to be hundreds of them, and the paramedics and the people from the Coroner's office were all hanging around outside. Yellow police tape cordoned off the area surrounding the small, two-story house.
Mulder stared at the scene curiously. "Why is *everyone* standing outside?"
Scully started and looked at the people surrounding the house. Mulder was right. The reason there seemed to be so many boys in blue was because they were *all* outside, every last one of them. Even the detectives. Even the boys from forensics and pathology were standing timidly outside. Scully blinked and looked at him.
Neilsen sighed as the car rolled to a stop and stepped out immediately. A tall man in his mid-forties stepped forward, the twin streaks of silver in his raven-black hair framing eyes that showed the myriad greens of the Brazilian rain forest.
He held out a hand. "Ice."
"Dancer." Her eyes traced up and down his body wearily. "You're looking good. So what's going on?"
Mulder and Scully got out of the car. The man stared at them for a moment before glancing down at Neilsen.
"Anja --" She raised a hand.
"Don't start with me!" Cold fury seethed restlessly in her voice. "Detective Richard Anaphon, I'd like you to meet two of my colleagues, Special Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder."
Scully noted the slight hesitation before the man held out his hand. A patently false smile graced his lips.
"Pleased to meet you."
"You've heard of us." It wasn't even a question. Mulder stared into Anaphon's eyes, expression closed and cold.
"Yeah. You could say that."
"Back off, Dancer, or you'll answer to me."
Detective Anaphon's eyebrows raised slightly.
"Is that so?"
Neilsen's smile had the bite of the north wind.
"Count on it. I've told them what you told me." Neilsen pulled heavy camera equipment out of the back seat of the car. "Now, if you would be so kind, Richie, *darling*, I'd appreciate it if you'd lead us to the scene."
"As you wish, *dear*." She swept past him, fiddling with the camera.
Scully started after them, sighing. "Well, that's one way to win friends and influence people."
The initial glance at the scene was more than enough for Mulder. He wished devoutly that he'd had the poise of his partner, who'd had the presence of mind to go to the bathroom to vomit. He'd returned outside to adorn the rose bushes outside with what appeared to be the fourth or fifth garland of partly digested goo. The scent had been enough to get him at the door. Scully had actually made it a few feet into the entrance.
Ice, of course, had blithely ignored both the scent and the sight of floors close to ankle deep in blood. She'd made an absurd comment about wishing that Richard had told her to bring galoshes as she began to document the scene with the camera she'd brought along with her. Something inside Mulder envied her the ability to go on despite the hideous things that she was seeing. It had begun to drive him mad while he'd been in Behavioral -- the scenes, the madness, the killers, the death, the horror of it all. But Ice seemed strangely unaffected, as though the world had thrown far worse things than blood and ichor at her.
As he watched flashes go off intermittently inside the house, Mulder wondered if the world had. Slowly he forced himself to his feet and back toward the entrance of the house. Everything dripped blood, from the walls to the ceilings. Human blood, he was sure. Mulder shuddered. This was worse than his worst nightmare.
"Agent Mulder?" Anaphon's voice, mockingly concerned.
"Yes, Anaphon?" He turned to meet the mesmerizingly green eyes of the detective.
"Are you planning to investigate, or are you going to leave Ice to do it all herself?"
Mulder wanted to smack the mocking smile from Anaphon's face, but decided against it.
"Yes. As a matter of fact, I was. Where, pray, is the student who lived downstairs?"
Anaphon pointed to a young man in jeans and a blood-stained t-shirt, who stared in mute horror at the house. Mulder nodded and headed toward the boy.
Ice stared at the scene, cataloging the horror for future reference. Damn if it hadn't been a neat job. It would take days to figure out exactly how many bodies there were. Dismembered corpses littered the house, hacked into tiny bits. Heaps of various organs and limbs decorated various corners, obscene monuments to the hideous acts that had been performed here.
To keep her mind off of the horror of it all, she took pictures. She separated herself from the person walking around the house, and concentrated only on composing the photos, pressing the button and advancing the film. The ritual was not anything she recognized, but that didn't mean anything. She wasn't the expert that some of her acquaintances were about such things. She'd have to describe the whole thing, in detail, in order to know what the cultists had been trying to do, and whether or not they succeeded.
Neilsen sighed softly. She'd left Massachusetts with the intention of never getting involved in this sort of thing again, had gone into law enforcement because it would give her the opportunity to help people without having to see scenes like this.
Apparently, whatever controlled the universe wasn't ready for her to to slough off all ties to her previous life. She was reminded of something her philosophy professor had once said to her.
"You can't run away from what you are."
And what she was had caught up with her once again.
Dana Scully huddled in the bathroom, grateful that the door had been open and just to the right of the entrance. She cut up dead bodies for a living, but this was something far beyond her experience. That someone could have done this --
She vomited again, bringing up little other than bile.
Part of her shuddered in denial. Only in horror movies did things like this happen. Walls covered in blood never happened -- well rarely happened -- in the real world. It was a movie set. Or something. It was an expensive joke...
Her nose haughtily informed her otherwise. The scent of death was nothing new to Dana Scully, and it hovered over this house in a foul miasma that would take centuries to disperse. She could almost feel the agony of the victims crying out to her from the walls.
Slowly she stood up and forced herself to turn back toward the rest of the house. The dead needed justice before they could sleep. She would provide it, if she could.
In the distance she heard another car drive up to the house and hoped, faintly, that it wasn't one of the neighbors.
Lucien and Arlette Dubois had moved to Washington from Paris shortly after the Gulf war. Despite the dangers of the city, and the rough and uncultured ways of the Americans they now lived with, Lucien and Arlette had found that they enjoyed the life offered to them in a country that did not have the weight of ages bearing down on it.
As professors at Georgetown, they had celebrated the end of the Finals they had to administer and the completion of grading papers by spending the night at one of the most expensive hotels in town and eating a fine meal that could only have been matched by their favorite restaurant in Paris. Thus, when they returned home, they were more than a little surprised to find it surrounded by a police perimeter. Their young tenant was standing with a handsome man in a well-cut suit. They parked on the street just beyond the perimeter line and walked up to the nearest officer.
"Excuze -- Umm... Excuse me, sir, but -- what is it that you are doing with our house?"
The officer stared down at them, and much to their surprise, he fainted.
In later years, Fox Mulder would describe the scene in humorous terms. It was one of funniest things he'd ever seen. He'd been conducting an interview with the young man who'd discovered the scene when all of a sudden thirty cops pulled guns on an unarmed couple who were standing, staring in blank surprise at the crumpled form of a young beat cop.
"Mr. and Mrs. Dubois!" The young man next to him collapsed, in surprise or relief, Mulder wasn't quite sure. As the boy's startled exclamation echoed through the ranks, four or five other officers, apparently under far too much strain, also fainted or otherwise fell down gibbering. There hadn't been a single person who doubted that the Dubois' had been in the building with the rest of the... bodies.
Then pandemonium broke out as various officers tried to catch their falling comrades or try to deal with the startling information that the owners of the house were not dead.
Lucien Dubois watched this calmly for a moment and then shook his head. "We were not expected, no?"
Mulder walked calmly over to the two of them.
Dana heard the minor riot break out, and rushed outside, grateful for the excuse. Her partner, she saw, was talking to a relatively young couple -- they were both in their late twenties. The two looked confused and mildly alarmed at whatever Mulder was saying. Determinedly, Scully walked towards them, deftly side-stepping milling cops.
A hand touched her shoulder.
"Agent Scully?" a baritone voice asked neutrally. She turned to find Richard Anaphon's eyes resting on her. Scully shivered faintly, and told herself it was the light breeze.
"Your partner seems to have the two of them well in hand. I thought you might, perhaps, prefer to start looking around the grounds."
Scully stared up at him for a moment and then at the milling cops. It wasn't as though there would be much left of the tracks. That didn't mean that there wasn't valuable information to be found. She glanced briefly at the house and saw a bright light flashing every few seconds and considered going with the Detective. Then she shook her head.
"No. Agent Neilsen is the only one working inside the house, and without help, it will take hours to document the scene. The Coroner hates it when we make him wait. And it will be harder for me to perform the requisite autopsies if we allow the bodies to sit and decompose further."
Anaphon pulled his hand back from her shoulder and smiled faintly. "I should have guessed. I suspect you have a stronger stomach than your partner."
Scully shook her head. "Not at all. But Mulder is very good at interviewing. I'm sure he'll be along directly."
Without bothering to see what Anaphon was doing, Scully walked back into the blood filled house.
Anja sat quietly in one of the few rooms on the first floor that wasn't sodden with blood -- the bathroom. Scully found her there, staring off into that shifting middle distance that only Anja seemed to be able to see.
"Ice?" Scully's voice was soft.
Anja pulled herself out of her reverie and looked up into Dana Scully's concerned eyes and smiled wearily.
"The pictures are done. I got lucky and brought exactly the right amount of film."
Scully nodded. "Need help?"
Neilsen laughed. "Of course. I'd love to know what the hell was going on here last night."
Ice looked up and laughed at the deadpan expression on Scully's face.
"True 'nuff. 'Twas definitely killing. The question is... Why?"
Scully nodded and moved in to sit on the edge of the bath tub.
Ice sighed. "What do I look like? An occult expert?"
Scully stared at her.
"Okay, okay. Stupid question. Answer -- yes I have ideas, in a broad, general kind of sense. I sort of know who -- or rather, what kind of who -- is involved in this. People who want power and are willing to sacrifice not only their own souls, but the souls of others to that goal. If it weren't for the fact that we found the scene, I'd say that it was a sect of Starry Wisdom... But if it'd been them... we never would have found this house. They never would have left it this way for us to find."
Ice made a vague cutting gesture with her right hand. "It's an old cult that performs human sacrifice. Usually you don't find it here, though there are a few places in Canada that I've heard rumors about. Normally you'd find a cell of oh -- three to ten or so, there would be a few unusual disappearances every few months... Tramps, hookers and the like... People that few would miss. They often operate in such secret that no-one ever finds out about them."
"Why aren't they listed with the FBI?"
"Because they're so quiet and so good at what they do, and they're so rare. Like I said, there hasn't been a rumor of them for years, anywhere..."
"How would you know?"
Ice smiled. "Because... I used to make it my business to know."
Scully shook her head. "And you don't now?"
Sorrow turned Anja Neilsen's eyes almost black.
"I'd... tried to get away from it."
"And now?" Teal blue eyes opened wide with concern.
"It won't let me go."
"People were killed in our house?" Lucien Dubois stared at Fox Mulder, dazed. "Ce n'est pas possible! Nous --"
"Doucement, mon brave, mon amor -- Monsieur... Mulder is it? You must forgive us. We both... um... think in French when we are disturbed and this, well this is tres disturbant. Yesterday, around three o'clock, we left, that we might celebrate the end of classes for the semester. We went to... l'hotel... je m'excuse... the hotel -- the Chanson D'Or and dined at Le Jardin des Fleurs. It is an excellent restaurant that has cuisine much like that of our favorite en Paris."
Mulder nodded. "And they would have record of this?"
"Mais oui." Lucien looked fondly down at his wife. "Julien, our waiter, should remember us well. We spent hours over the meal and left him a truly impressive tip."
Arlette looked up at him and smiled. "Our neighbors in the hotel may remember us as well..." she flushed slightly. "We were, um..."
"...unusually noisy. But the walls are very thick a la Chanson, ma cherie."
Arlette blushed harder.
Scully managed to keep control of her stomach as Ice conducted a casual tour around the house.
"How can you stand this? How can you be so -- unaffected?"
Neilsen shrugged. "Getting emotional about the whole thing won't change it. They're still dead, and I've still got a job to do. I can't do it if I'm allowing myself to be overcome with my anger and shock and despair."
Scully stared at her.
"What? Did you think I'm not feeling those things?" Neilsen laughed shortly. "Of course I do. I'm as horrified as you are, but I cannot allow myself to be overcome by it. I'll have a good crying fit later. Right now..." her gaze traveled around the room, "...these people need me strong. I can break down later."
Neilsen smiled slightly. "It's not so different, I wouldn't think, than doing an autopsy, Agent Scully. You have to stop thinking about those you cut up on the table beyond much else other than victims until after the job is done... correct?"
Scully nodded dumbly.
"Well, this is the same thing. Concentrate on one thing at a time, and you lose contact with the blood and stench. Think of it as a movie set if you like. None of it is real except as a puzzle. After we're done you can heave. Until then, lets get on with the show, shall we?"
They walked into the living room. An altar, set up with planks and cinder blocks filled one end of the room. Neilsen pointed to it.
"It's things like that which make me suspect a cult. What about you, Scully?"
Dana found herself wanting to laugh, despite the horror of the moment. She nodded, a slight smile quirking at the corners of her mouth.
"Yes, that does rather indicate that someone thought they were up to something religious." She looked at it more closely. "What's this?"
On the leading edge of the altar there was an inscription. It was written four times. Once in Arabic, once in Greek, once in Latin, and once in English. Air hissed from between Neilsen's teeth as she saw it.
"Shit." Neilsen began cursing, fluently, in at least three languages. Scully looked at her, startled, before turning her eyes to the words that had been carved into the wood with a deft hand.
That is not dead which can eternal lie
And with strange aeons even death may die.
The words seemed to burn themselves into Scully's consciousness. Nonsense words that seemed to have a strangely compelling power to them. She stared at the words, repeating them over and over, like the rosary, but they gave her no peace -- only a building terror to which she could not give a name. In the back of her mind she could almost hear the strange syllables repeated -- along with nonsense.
Slowly Scully reached out to trace the letters of the inscription when Neilsen's hand whipped out and grabbed her wrist.
"That, Scully, would be very unwise." Neilsen's eyes gleamed a bright, liquid gold as she led Scully out of the house. When they got to the door, Detective Anaphon and Agent Mulder were waiting. "Agent Mulder, I think you should take Scully back to the car."
Scully stared, dazed, into Mulder's eyes. Slowly she nodded her acquiescence. Mulder took her gently by the arm and guided her carefully back to the car.
Keeping a tight rein on the icy rage that spread through her, Neilsen met the depthless forest-green eyes of the man she had once loved more than her own life.
"Okay, Dancer. Spill."
He smiled slightly, gently taking her hand. She pulled back as if burned. Ice stared at him, rage burning in every line of her posture for those who knew her well to see.
"Is that any way to treat your fiancée?"
Anaphon shook his head. "You'll change your mind -- again."
Neilsen itched to take the smug expression off of his face.
"I'm not here to re-hash dead romances, Dancer. I'm here to re-hash dead people. What the hell is going on here? With something like this, there's no way we're going to be able to keep this out of the press. The tabloids will over it!"
"The Society is dealing with it, as you'd know if you hadn't quit."
"Don't push me, Dancer."
"Why not? You up and left and took your expertise to the damned FBI! You swore an oath, little girl --"
"Don't." The deadly quiet of her voice brought him up short. Neilsen smiled, a feral curving of lips that was frightening in its intensity. "Don't ever presume upon what we used to have, Dancer. You ever call me that again, and I'll feed you to the monsters myself."
He stared at her, as if judging her sincerity and then smiled slightly. "As you wish, *Ice*. How ironic that your Alaskan friends would pick up on your old moniker."
"How do you know I didn't tell them?"
Anaphon blinked. "I wouldn't have thought you'd want the reminder."
Her laugh was cold. "You never did know me as well as you thought."
"Care to tell me what the hell is going on here?"
He shuddered. "A summoning."
"I found the couplet. Or rather, *she* did. Do they actually want to wake *him* or are they just using him as an invocation?"
"We're not sure."
"Any ideas on who?"
She nodded. "I not particularly surprised... Why did you call me?"
"You were the best of us, Ice. The very best. You were the only one who could face all of that and not crack."
Neilsen looked away, surveying the teams that walked quietly around the house. "And I learned enough for it to be a danger to me, Dancer. I'm surprised I'm still alive. They usually kill --"
She stopped and shook her head. "I was out of the loop, Richard. I wanted to remain that way."
"I know. But --"
"Richard --" She closed her eyes, imaging the scene. "I want close up photos of the altar. Taken by you. I'm going to go back in and take some, but you know what to look for as well, and we've got to get back and get ready for the influx of... parts. I want the complete plans for this house and surrounding land with everything on the scene marked for its location. You forget anything on it, and I'll know. You got that, Richard?"
"All right then. Send them to me as soon as you're done. I'm going to try and piece together the overall ritual that they're trying to invoke. If I have problems, I'll contact someone, but I won't do that until I have to, understand?"
She turned away and headed for the car.
"Your account on Whateleynet is still active. You can use that to talk to people."
Anja closed her eyes and fought frustrated tears. They would never let her go. Not until she was dead or insane. Slowly she nodded and padded gracefully back to the car.
X-Files Office J. Edgar Hoover Building
"So... Scully... Do you suppose that our esteemed partner is nuts, or is she just insane?"
Scully raised an eyebrow. "That's a strange question coming from you, Mulder."
"Now, Scully... Have I ever struck you as being this obsessed or this crazy? Strange cults operating in Washington, D. C..." He grinned. "Though that would explain a lot about how the Republicans came to power..."
"More than you know, Agent Mulder." Ice's voice was dry and cold.
"Oops." He hid his head in a file folder.
Scully rolled her eyes at her partner. "Don't mind him. He just thinks that anyone who behaves like he does is crazy."
Ice grinned. "He'd have to. He's a classic obsessive-compulsive. And I doubt that Mr. Mulder here wasted all of that time at Oxford to think that obsession is normal among most of our species."
"Same old, same old. The photos and plans of the Dubois house are here, finally." Neilsen grimaced, slightly. "Richard always did like to take forever about getting information to me when I needed it."
Scully moved to clear a place in the clutter for Neilsen to sit down. She looked into the clear, amber eyes of the younger agent and glimpsed the enduring fury that always seemed to rage now beneath the younger woman's ruthlessly cold demeanor. Neilsen smiled, banishing the anger from her eyes.
"Thanks." Neilsen sat down and flipped open the tabs on her briefcase.
"So who is this Richard Anaphon, and why did he call you in on this?"
Ice's hands stilled as she looked up into Mulder's quizzical hazel eyes.
"What do you mean?"
"There's been a series of murders, yes. And I do believe they are connected. But who is Richard Anaphon, that he recognized them for what they were -- with the exception of some of the public places that they've been done -- there's hardly anything in common. So Detective Anaphon knew something. And he knew to call you in, Ice."
"Does it matter?"
"Curious things always matter, Ice. You know that. You're an excellent investigator, for all that you partners seem to find their way to the madhouse. I'm rather curious if that's the whole purpose of your choosing us to work with. Driving the two of us insane so the X-Files would be shut down."
Anja Neilsen's eyes burned a brilliant gold in a face as still and pale as marble. "Are you so paranoid, Mr. Mulder?"
Scully opened her mouth and then shut it with a snap, looking back and forth between the two of them.
"Anja S. Neilsen, Ph.D. Miskatonic University, M.A. Psychology, Miskatonic, M. A. Folklore and Occultism, B. A. Psychology, B. A. History. Noted for her work in ancient cults and their modern-day descendants. You did a study up near... Where was it? Innsmouth. Strange place, Innsmouth, particularly since the FBI went in and killed most of the residents. After two years of teaching you went on sabbatical and started specializing in abnormal psychology. Three years ago you quit teaching and applied to Quantico. From what I've heard, they were very glad to get you. The CIA, according to some friends of mine, would love to have you working for them. Thing is, no one seems to know why you should be so popular. You were a civilian, well enough respected in your field, but hardly the sort of brilliant type that everyone would beg for."
Ice narrowed her eyes. "Until you remember that I entered college at the ripe old age of fourteen, got my dual bachelor's in three, both M. A.'s in three, and my Ph.D. in two. The CIA wanted me because of the number of languages I speak and read fluently, Mr. Mulder and for my ability to analyze human behavior. But that particular accomplishment is neither here nor there."
"Isn't it?" Mulder stared at her. "Putting aside the puzzle you represent, why not go back to the original question. Who is Richard Anaphon?"
"He was my fiancé before I told him that he could take his more controlling ways and shove them up his ass. Is that clear enough for you? I did some consulting work for his department before I joined the FBI That was how we met. We spent a lot of time together on some cases and fell in love. It happens sometimes, under stress. Then I discovered that I didn't love him so much that I'd let him dictate my life. We broke it off... Less than amicably, but we kept in touch. I told him I'd joined the FBI, he came to my graduation from Quantico. He knew that what was going on needed to be handled by someone with more authority and resources than he had, so Dancer called me and asked me to look into it. Right about that time so someone got in contact with my A. D. and told *him* to put me on the case. Satisfied?"
Mulder shook his head. "How did Anaphon know?"
"That the murders were related."
"Jesus H. Christ." Anja stared at him. "You have a real shitty opinion of anyone who isn't FBI don't you? Or maybe it's anyone who isn't you or Scully. As it happens, *Special Agent* Fox Mulder, there are thousands of local cops who have very good eyes and good deductive abilities. Richard happens to be one of them. A number of those murders happened in his precinct and he had the feeling that they were related but couldn't put his finger on why. So he sent me copies of the damn case file. I read them over and called him back to say 'Yes they are,' and why. Not more than a couple of hours later, my A. D. is telling me to drop everything else and get my ass out investigating this case. QED."
"Bullshit." The word was enunciated carefully. "You're lying to me."
Ice pulled out the files Detective Richard Anaphon had sent to her along with her notations on the information contained therein.
"Fuck you, Mulder. If you don't know the truth when you hear it, then your reputation as an investigator is filled with decaying shit." She dropped the pile on his desk without regard to the other papers on it. "I, for one, want to catch the bastards who did this, and how I came to be on the damn case is secondary to finding the bad guys. Maybe you should think about that."
She turned on her heel and walked out. Mulder looked across the room to see blue eyes sparking with anger.
"She's right, Mulder." Scully stood up and grabbed her coat. "I'm taking a break. I'll be back in fifteen minutes." She measured him with a look. "Don't follow me, or I swear to God, I'll shoot you again, Mulder. And it won't be in your shoulder, do you hear me?"
Scully rushed out of the office, barely managing to trail Neilsen to the Reflecting Pool. The preternatural stillness was back, covering a seething pain that Scully could feel raging about her.
"It's not fair, you know."
Neilsen's voice was quiet in the flower sweetened air.
"I... My parents were scholars, you know? They had their areas of interest, and with me... Gods... I could read before I could walk reliably. My parents spoke seven different languages around the house and hired a baby-sitter who spoke three more before I could say 'Gah' rather than Dadda. I didn't enter school for three years because I didn't speak English. I routinely spoke English, French, Italian, Russian, German, Arabic, Japanese and Spanish -- all mixed up. And I had the worst time figuring out why no one could understand me outside of our household. My parents taught me -- Math and science, history, geography... whatever. They never really thought about what they were doing. So when I was tested to be put into regular classes... It was all a mish-mash of crazy things that most of the teachers never would have thought I'd know at my age. I read in five languages. Above my supposed reading level in each. I understood the basics of English grammar better than most of my teachers -- not surprising because my parents had had to drill me in it, I had to think about it consciously in order not to speak in a strange pidgin of every language I knew. It was years before I spoke comfortably in English only.
"God." Neilsen stared into the water with unseeing eyes. "School was a nightmare. I never fit in. Bad enough that I was two or three years under age -- before I started skipping grades -- but outbursts tended to be unintelligible. No one understood me. Or cared to, except my parents. Teachers had no time for the gifted. They spent all of their time with those who didn't give enough of a good damn to use the intellect they had.... I never resented the kids who were trying... who were truly trying and struggling. But I sat and watched those teachers spend all of their time with the ones who were lazy.
Tears dripped silently down Neilsen's face as she laughed sadly to herself. "I've always wanted to meet Mulder, y'know? Ever since I heard about him at Quantico. 'There's someone who should understand what it was like to be on the outside. Someone I might be able to talk to.' But --" She shrugged. "-- I suppose that I was a bit arrogant. Probably a lot. It's one of my bad habits, learned in self-defense. If you can't beat 'em, fuck 'em up the ass with an attitude that they don't expect and can't destroy. I learned that one in high school... I had to. I was a senior and I wasn't old enough to drive. Graduated valedictorian, not that anyone wanted to admit that. It went into my records, but they had someone else give a speech. You can't have the little twerp *girl* give the farewell speech. She's still playing with dolls. Hell, she doesn't seem to have hit puberty yet."
Neilsen drew in a shuddering breath.
"I went to college. My mother picked Miskatonic because her brother was teaching there, and I would have a home and meals. The money from my scholarships more than paid my way. I worked hard, never really interacted with anyone, and graduated with honors... At seventeen. I was accepted into the departments I was interested in for the Master's program and continued to work. I went on for my Ph.D. By the time my age mates were graduating with their B.A.'s, I was teaching." She smiled sourly. "I worked for Miskatonic in much the same way I'd worked as a student. Studying the things they told me to study, reading the things they told me to read. Doing papers on my own research and studies, but that was all an aside. And one day I said the hell with it -- I'm tired of taking orders from everyone; I'm tired of being the one the rest of the faculty remembers as being a big-eyed fourteen-year-old with the sudden growth spurts that had me needing new clothes every three to six months. So I quit and applied to Quantico. I was old enough that I knew what I was doing. I'd enjoyed working down here on occasion, I wanted to do more investigative work without --" Her eyes shadowed, "-- without Richard staring over my shoulder. I wanted to know I was strong enough to do it on my own. Richard wanted me to be a boring almost-hausfrau who did nothing more strenuous than do research and write papers.
"He said I had a gift for investigation that if I allowed it to lead me, it would get me killed. He never understood that I needed to use my abilities. I had to use them. If I didn't I was betraying all that I was. Richard didn't accept that until I got accepted at Quantico and had graduated. That's why he called me. That's why he sent me the damn files. Because I have a gift beyond the damn intelligence and memory that never lets me forget -- I can see people in aggregates as well as individuals. He says I predict groups better than anyone he has ever known."
Scully stared at her, unable to think of what to say. "That's not all."
"Hell no." Neilsen turned and looked at her for the first time. "But I'm not going to tell you how I got desensitized to blood and gore and death and violence. Not until I know I can trust you. And I don't know that... Do I?"
"We'll be watching your back!"
Ice laughed, composure back in full force. "of course you will, sweeting. Of course. And I'll watch yours. I trust you with my life, Scully. My very life... But there are more important things than lives, Scully. The essence of what I am -- that you have no right to and no right to ask for. You wouldn't tell me your deepest secrets any more than you'd tell me Mulder's. Why the hell should I tell you?"
Scully stared at her. "I... I hadn't thought of that, I suppose."
"I'm not surprised. You're an investigator, someone who wants to know everything about everyone, whether you admit to that desire or not. If my secrets begin to have bearing on this case -- then I'll discuss them with you, but not before. If you had secrets that bore on this case, I'd expect the same from you. Until then, Agent Scully, I imagine that it's hands off."
Dana Scully nodded slightly as Anja Neilsen pushed herself up off of the bench and walked off.
This time, Scully didn't follow.
Anja Neilsen went into the FBI gym and abused a punching bag until lunch hour, when the gym would fill up again. She didn't feel any particular guilt about doing it on company time. She hadn't slept more than three hours a night for the last week since Dancer had sent her the file. All of her time had gone into writing a profile that would make sense, into trying to make heads or tails of the events.
She knew that it was some kind of cult. She'd seen real ones before, the kind that could call terrible things out of the darkness and be rewarded with powers beyond human comprehension. Just as well. The things that lurked in the dark were, themselves, generally beyond any kind of human comprehension. It was one of the few things the writers in the thirties had gotten right about the creatures that came out of the night.
Her hands and feet moved rapidly, striking out against the hapless bag. Normally she would have done katas to calm herself down, but Ice felt the need to lash out and destroy something, a violent fury that she knew, from experience, could only be conquered by excessive physical exertion. With each fact she knew about the case, she lashed out, feeling the impacts in her bones.
The group was organized and old. They knew what they were about. Very much so in fact. Their rituals were completed with exactitude. In many cases this would argue for a perfectionist as the killer, but Anja was certain that the hideous repetitions, with their insidious feeling of precision, were that way because they had to be. Any mistake would destroy the cycle that had been set up.
But why? Cults like this rarely advertised their actions in such a way. Why would they be so open about what they were doing? Why would they...
The memory of a lonely night and haunting, maddening, ethereal and unreal music ripped through her and she staggered. Ice stared at the punching bag and saw eyes -- black, unseeing, mocking eyes that fed on chaos and destruction. She moaned deep in the back of her throat and stumbled on her last kick. Ice fell heavily to the floor, curling tightly around herself, fighting the urge to sob uncontrollably.
As she had told Richard two days before. She knew far, far too much.
Fox Mulder walked into the gym a few minutes before he knew everyone would be running for the showers and watched 'Ice' Neilsen take out her frustrations on a punching bag that looked like it truly wanted to split at the seams. Every blow was fast, hard and jarring, reminding him of a clip he had once seen of Bruce Lee practicing his punches. Ice moved smoothly and without thought, her hands and feet a blur as she worked out against the poor, defenseless bag.
She did not seem, as his partner had intimated to him in a slow, sad voice, to be depressed or sad. On the whole, Ice looked like she was mad as hell. Which, from the reports he received on her from the Lone Gunmen, was an unusual state for her to be in.
When she fell, Mulder forced himself not to go to her side. Ice was a dangerous unknown. She'd been involved in things that the Gunmen had been completely unable to dig up any information on. Like many of the other instructors at Miskatonic, Anja Neilsen had had the tendency to disappear for a week, showing back up in her lecture hall with a few bumps and contusions that no one seemed able to explain.
The Gunmen had also been unable to explain why Neilsen referred to Richard Anaphon as 'Dancer.' There were, according to their sources, maybe four people who referred to Anaphon as that.
Distressingly enough, however, Ice was the only one left who knew the reason for it.
Everyone else was dead.
Silently he headed back to the locker room, knowing that Ice hadn't seen him. He waited for about ten minutes before going back in.
When he returned, she was gone.
Dana looked up as Ice walked back into the basement office of the X-files, shaking a fringe of wet hair out of her eyes. Ice smiled warily and sat down on the chair that had been cleared earlier.
"Have you had a chance to go over the file yet?"
Scully nodded. "Yeah, though I don't see the point of the annotated building plans."
"I want to find out if anyone can identify what ritual our killers thought they were performing."
"Don't you have any idea? You're the expert."
Ice laughed. "Oh, Gods. Not me, Scully. When it comes to that, I'm a talented amateur. I thought I'd call in some favors owed up at Miskatonic and see if anyone who actually studies these things would have any idea what this is."
"I thought --"
"That I had? My expertise runs to various cults that have sprung up in New England, and I wouldn't claim that I'm an expert. There are those who would know."
Scully nodded. "I suppose that it would be unfair to expect you to have a concrete idea. We haven't identified what religion they think they're practicing, let alone what rituals within it --"
"-- but you know who to ask?"
"Oh, yes. Several someones, in fact. Although --" Ice frowned.
"Richard knows a number of these people as well. I'm surprised that he hasn't already done so."
Mulder returned from lunch to find Ice going over the folder of information that Detective Anaphon had sent over. Her eyes flickered from the volumes of pictures that she and the rest of the forensics team had taken back to the blueprints of the house. Every once in a while she'd make a notation on a yellow legal pad. Briefly he glanced over her shoulder, and was surprised to see a strange mixture of languages co-mingled over the page.
Ice looked up at him, golden eyes empty of anything he could read. No hate, rage, or despair -- instead, her eyes were filled with a chilling indifference that was more chilling than any of those.
"Hello, Agent Mulder. Scully and I have been going over the crime scene photos looking for anything that the other teams might have missed. Or I might have."
Idly she tossed the set of double prints to his desk. It landed atop a stack of photocopies the two women had made earlier. Scully glanced up, her eyes guarded. Mulder read the gentle warning there and went to his desk, forgoing a number of scathing things he'd've liked to say to Ice.
He began pouring over the photos as a heavy silence dropped into the room. Somehow it was easier to do this than it was to go to the scene itself. Perhaps it was that the scent of blood was no longer heavy on the air. Perhaps it was the fact his feet were safe from getting wet in the pools of blood. Perhaps it was simply the distancing that photos gave one, but it was easier to free his mind from the horrors of a scene when it came in a disordered little package of photographs.
They spent hours like that, pouring over picture after picture after picture. Again and again, looking for any nuance that would give them help. Slowly, Ice completed her inventory of body parts and locations within the house and stared at it eyes glazing over.
"How odd." The words slurred slightly and Mulder glanced up at the clock, shocked to realize that it was almost midnight.
"What?" Scully glanced up from one of the numerous autopsy reports that had been flowing in all day. Skinner had told her that the boys down at Quantico could do the job. She was too valuable to the investigation to have her spending weeks trying to sort out the bodies.
"Shape." Ice stared down at the blueprints. "Very... odd."
"Ice?" The concern in Scully's voice startled Mulder. It was very like the concern she usually showed... to him. "Have you eaten anything today?"
Anja Neilsen blinked owlishly at Scully. "Eat?" She thought about it. "No. Exercise! Beat up bag. No food... Damn." Neilsen sat up and flipped open her briefcase, pulling out a small stash of junk food. "Sugar... Bottomed out."
Mulder stared at the usually eloquent Ice and felt a bit uneasy. She opened two packs of sugar and downed them rapidly before opening a bag of granola and another bag of Butterfinger BB's.
"Gods. Thanks Scully. I hadn't entirely noticed. I hate it when that happens."
"Do you have blood sugar problems a lot?"
"Hell no. Yes I passed the physical. I just haven't eaten well the last couple of days..." Ice closed her eyes. "In fact, I don't think I've eaten for at least thirty-six hours. Maybe more. That'd cause *anyone* to bottom out. Particularly since I was beating up a bag earlier today."
Scully nodded, apparently satisfied. Mulder closed his eyes as he suddenly realized how hard Ice had been working. Even he usually remembered to eat at least once a day. It was rare that his obsession with work ever caused him to miss more than one or two meals. Now that he bothered to look at her closely, Mulder could see the faint purple circles, like bruises that were mostly covered up by the makeup Ice wore. There was little doubt that Ice wasn't sleeping well either.
Abruptly he stood up and walked over to Nielsen and held out his hand. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have accused you like that, this morning. And I should have accepted your word that the case was more important to you than how you got on to it."
Ice gave him a guarded look as she munched somewhat noisily on granola. Sighing, she lifted up the small bag of BB's and held them up.
Mulder took one. Nothing solidified a peace like chocolate. He smiled.
Dana considered laughing, but decided against it. Ice and Spooky were like two children on the playground, wary of territory, but unable to resist the lure of candy. Swearing peace beneath the auspices of Butterfinger BB's indeed. She'd have to remember to tease Mulder about that later. Her eyes went to the blueprint in Ice's lap.
"What was so odd?"
Neilsen started and then smiled slightly. "Oh, the way things were set up. At first I thought it was concentric circles, but they're not. It's a spiral, with the altar the beginning arm."
Scully blinked. "That is odd."
"Yah." Ice stared down at it. "Normally I'd've expected the altar to have been at the center, but for some reason it wasn't."
"Was there anything at the center?" Mulder asked.
"I'm not sure. I've been just staring at the damn thing, trying to figure out why the circles didn't match up. I hadn't gotten as far as looking for the center." Anja looked down at the blueprints. "The center is somewhere around the doorway between the hall and the study, I think. Scully, I think you've got those photos."
Scully nodded and began sorting through them rapidly. "Yeah. I remember seeing something odd that I wanted to ask you about... Here it is... There. At first I thought that was a door stop, or something, and then I realized there weren't any actual doors in the vicinity." She tossed the picture to Neilsen who studied it carefully. "I think there's a close up of it... There's some sort of carving on it, but I didn't think..."
Neilsen looked at the close-up and began shaking uncontrollably. "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh CTHULHU R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn. In his great house, in R'lyeh, dead CTHULHU lies dreaming..."
Scully looked up at Mulder, eyes wide.
"Dear God." The words rolled off of his tongue like a prayer as Ice -- the coolly composed Ice -- slipped from her chair in a dead faint.
Mulder stared at the slumped form of the younger agent, trying to decide whether she was mad or simply overworked. Only a fool would make the claim that some cult worshiping the god Cthulhu was massacring people in the heart of Washington D. C. Only a fool.
He looked at the photo he'd pulled from her hand. The small wooden block *did* hold a strange script that he'd never seen before, but that was no reason to believe that this woman could read it, let alone believe the words that she'd uttered before passing out.
<'In his great house, in R'lyeh, dead CTHULHU lies dreaming.'>
Mulder remembered reading the stories of H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, two men who had been masters of engendering the feeling of unnamed horrors. The stories they told were not real. They were fodder for macabre imaginations and Gothic tales of death and despair.
<'Ph'nglui mglw'nafh CTHULHU R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.'>
The stories were meant for the young and old, so they could feel the strange terror of the haunted house without leaving their homes, so they could feel the excitement of a doomed exploration without themselves entering danger. The stories were fantasy, errant nonsense, that only the gullible and the foolish would ever believe.
<'That is not dead which can eternal lie,/And with strange Aeons even death may die.'>
Only the foolish.
<'Mulder, that's impossible!... Wake up, Mulder! There are more than enough horrors offered by our own species without looking for an alien source... MUL-derrrr...>
Mulder glanced up at the poster that Neilsen had stared at bemusedly a couple of mornings before, remembering the faint longing in her eyes... as if she knew *some*thing. Something that made the wish to believe absurd and somehow sweetly naive.
<'In his great house, in R'lyeh, dead CTHULHU lies dreaming...'>
Mulder's eyes went back to Anja Neilsen's face, almost angelic in its relaxation, and contemplated extreme possibilities.
Between them, Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were able to rouse the semi-comatose Ice enough to shove her in a taxi and get her home. Throughout the entire process, Mulder remained abstracted, seeming to be puzzled about something that he refused to share with his partner.
"It's nothing, Scully."
"It's nothing to discuss at --" he checked his watch, "-- one thirty in the morning."
"Tomorrow morning, after I've done a little research. I thought that Miskatonic sounded familiar..."
"It's in Arkham. I took a tour there when I was deciding what school to go to. It's got a beautiful campus, and a library that a lot of people would die to get into."
Mulder's hazel eyes seemed to look through her, dark and piercing.
"Somehow, I don't find that at all surprising..."
Anja Neilsen's Apartment
Ice stumbled into her apartment, closing and locking the door as words from forbidden texts danced gleefully before her eyes. Memories that she had fought since leaving Arkham filled her mind as she collapsed onto her bed, nightmares that refused to die.
Dana Scully's Apartment
Dana Scully went home and went to bed, puzzled by Mulder's unwillingness to confide whatever theories he was conjuring up. Shadowy monsters filled her restless sleep, writhing and dancing to a strange, whistling music that terrified her. And in the background she could hear voices chanting...
"IA! IA!! Cthulhu ftaghn! Hgl'aai Yog-Sothoth! *Nyarlathotep*!..."
Fox Mulder's Apartment
In nightmares new and strange, Mulder watched his sister taken by writhing tentacles. Her hysterical screams echoed uselessly in his mind as she was thrown into the gaping maw of darkness. The paralysis let go of him and he ran through the forest, trying to escape a many-hooved creature that he would not identify, even to himself.
2:15 AM, EST
In the bar of the hotel, Chanson D'or, a tall black man wearing mirror shades smiled faintly behind his saxophone, as he played for the pleasure of the guests of the hotel. Richard Anaphon, sitting the back of the room, closed his eyes and enjoyed the music, letting it ripple through him like a fine drug. He felt the hands of his latest conquest travel lightly over his shirt and then down below the table, loosening fastenings as they went. Anaphon opened his eyes, turning to give the girl at his side a deep, wet kiss as his own hand slipped eagerly between her thighs.
On the stage, the music swelled, and the lights reflected strangely behind the sax-player's glasses, making his eyes seem to glow red.
Anja Neilsen's Apartment
4:15 AM, EST
Ice woke suddenly, her hands clutching at the small pendant that never left her neck, a tiny star shape molded from meteoric iron that held the suggestion of an eye at the center. Professor Andrew Greever had given it to her, the night he died, swallowed by an unnamed *thing* that roamed, even now, in the forests of New England. It had seen her through horrors that could never be discussed or described except to others who had worked in her field, in the field that so many of the professors at Miskatonic had worked.
A field that would have them condemned as madmen and fanatics by all but themselves. A field in which knowing too much was more than a curse. It was a death warrant. The minds of serial killers had been such a refreshing change from the twisted world she had lived and hunted in all of her adult life. Madness spawned from human minds was so much easier to deal with...
On the whole, she had hoped that the strange cases that had come across her desk in Alaska were flukes, just random chance putting the evil she had run from across her desk again. She'd wanted that to be true, wanted it desperately.
Though no longer bound by the oaths she had made when she was too young to know better, Andy Greever had been right. She couldn't run from what she was, or from what she knew. She had explored areas that would have been far, far better untouched, and the world would never let her forget it. If she did not look for the enemy, he would look for her.
Anja Neilsen stared into the darkness, shaking uncontrollably, and waited for the dawn to come.
6:00 AM, EST
Shrill in the pre-dawn, the phone rang. Another body. This time there was only one, but the scene, apparently, was worse than any of the others. Neilsen listened to Dancer with only half an ear as she laid out her conclusions about the group that was doing this across her kitchen table. An idea was forming in her mind that she didn't like at all.
"Have you called Agents Mulder and Scully yet, Dancer?"
His flow of chatter was cut short.
"No. I thought --"
"They weren't very useful on the last seen, Angel Eyes."
"Don't call me that."
"Whatever. The fact remains, that neither of them did a damn thing --"
"Mulder interviewed the boy from downstairs, which is more than *you'd* gotten around to. When the boys from Forensics decided that they didn't want to deal with the scene, *you* could have gone in and done the photos. You were *just* as absent from the house as they were, Richard."
"*I* was doing my job."
Ice bit back the retort that her seething anger demanded.
"Don't fuck with my team, Dancer. D'you hear me? I requested their assistance. They are doing their jobs admirably. I've gotten nothing from you but shit and slow work. It's beginning to piss me off, so quit pushing!"
"Christ, Anja, you don't need them!"
She stared at the opposite wall, her knuckles turning white with the effort it took not to throw the phone across the room.
"Yeah? Well, we both know what happened the last time I went off to work alone, so confident in my abilities I didn't think I needed anything so mundane as backup." Her voice flowed over the phone lines, smooth and emotionless. "I do a lot of things, Richard, but I don't repeat my mistakes. They are *mine*. Do *anything* to fuck them up or the investigation -- and I own your ass."
"Do you promise."
Ice smiled slowly, malice dripping from its hard, cold edges.
"What I would promise would give you nightmares for the rest of your life, Richard. You may be older, but I've read far, far more than you have. In that, you are outclassed and out gunned. And I won't hesitate. Understand."
The cocky assurance of his voice wavered not a bit.
"Maybe. The scene is at ten-thirteen east Chestnut. See you there."
The line disconnected and Ice was left listening to the steady drone of the dial tone. Quickly, she dialed the number for Dana Scully, giving her the bare facts and asking her to call Mulder. Ice rocked the receiver gently in her hands before tapping out a familiar number that she had refused to call since she had left Arkham.
Her isolation from those who understood and could help had lasted long enough.
321 Hanover Place
Dana Scully stared at the body and wished that she could respond to the sight in a way that would relieve the horror. Mulder, true to form, had left, leaning over part of a hedge row as he fell into dry heaves. She'd thought the previous scene had been bad. This, however was far worse than anything she'd ever imagined.
Ice was on the scene already, taking pictures with a casual unconcern that was almost eerie in its lack of emotion. Scully remembered the words Ice had used when walking on floors that had been saturated with blood.
<"Think of it as a movie set, if you like. None of it is real except as a puzzle...">
Scully concentrated hard, closing her eyes. It's not real. None of it is real. It's a B horror flick at best, the sights and smells are nothing but an illusion. The only important thing here is the puzzle it all represents. She repeated it, like a mantra, remembering a time when she had faced all death with an equimanity that had earned her the nick-name 'the Ice Queen.'
Scully opened her eyes and watched Neilsen for a moment, feeling her lips twist into a rueful smile. Whatever else she was capable of, Ice was better at it. The advice helped, however, where Scully's pathologist training had failed. It became easier to look at the scene and look for clues to the murderer.
Richard Anaphon stared at Special Agent Dana Scully with hooded eyes. He had little or no respect for Mulder, who was still caught in dry heaves after viewing the body. The fact that his own men had done the same thing didn't bother him. Anaphon had little respect for them, either. Pathetic, gutless wusses, all of them. Working with Anja Neilsen had spoiled him for all other partners. Her ability to take in the horrific and then turn it into almost logical actions and motivations was unique in the world. When she'd defied him in order to strike out on her own, he'd been more angry about losing her insights than he'd been about losing her. She'd helped him crack several cases simply by making observations about his work.
His efficiency rating had gone down the toilet and his boss, who'd promoted him over another officer, wanted to know why. It had been humiliating to admit that many of the clever insights that he'd had in the cases he'd solved had derived from the woman who'd walked out on him one cold night and refused to come back.
<"You don't own me, Richard. This ring isn't a damn chain!">
<"Bitch! Why can't you just go along with my requests?">
<"Destroying my life so that I can serve you and only you is *not* what I agreed to!">
<"I only asked you to retire from the Society and teach at Georgetown!">
<"*Asked*?!?! If it had been a request, I might have considered it, but it was a fucking demand! You didn't say 'Anja, considering the danger of it, could you retire from the society and teach at Georgetown?' You told me that I would! You told the Society that I had! The first I heard about it was when old Haskell-Roberts told me that the Society would miss having me ranked as one of its members. You went *behind my back* and did those things without consulting me!">
<"Damn it! You're my fiancé! I have the right!">
<"Then maybe I should call your department and tell them that since I think it's too fucking dangerous for you to be a police officer, you're leaving the force and taking up flower arranging, since that's neither stressful nor dangerous to your health. Oh... and you're quitting the Society as well, because 'you're no longer a free agent.'">
<"Why? Because you're male?">
In the dangerous silence that had ensued, he hadn't known what to say. Among her other abilities, even then she'd had a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and had training in other disciplines as well. She was an excellent shot and could handle a knife like a professional. He knew. He'd seen her in a knife fight. He'd seen her take down people almost twice her size with an ease that most of his friends on the force would have envied.
That dreadful silence had lasted while she packed the few belongings she'd kept at his apartment. With cool and precise movements she'd removed the ring he'd bought for her, placing it in the red velvet jewelers box that it had come in. He'd been surprised to see the box before realizing that *she*, with her damn Ph.D. in psychology, had known before she came over that it would come to this.
Without speaking, her amber eyes dark and expressionless, she walked over to the end table where he'd placed his cuffs and his gun. With exquisite care she placed the box, red as blood inside the lenticular intersection of the circles of the cuffs.
The symbolism of the act was not lost on him.
With the icy calm that had earned her the nickname Ice from her friends in the society, Anja Neilsen had walked out of his life without ever looking back.
Neilsen could feel Richard's eyes on her back, and was determined not to look into his eyes. The phone call she'd made that morning to her colleagues in Arkham had opened her eyes to a side of her ex-fiancé that she wasn't at all sure that she'd ever wanted to know about. After she'd left him and started at Quantico he'd quit the Society himself, citing stress and the loss of the woman he claimed to love.
Not long after that, it became quietly known that Richard Anaphon had gone somewhat rogue.
It was not unusual for a member of the Society to retire. What they did caused wounds, both mental and physical, that were often difficult to recover from. It was, however, unusual for someone who had been a member to use the talents that they gained over years of working with darker mysteries for ends that were not to the Society's benefit.
It was not so much that Richard did anything wrong with his skills, far from it. He used them in the pursuit of criminals that had gone beyond the law. The ones that no one would ever catch. It was hard to call him a monster for using terrors from the dark to kill the men and women that were beyond the touch of the common detective.
The idea of it, however, was disturbing. The power that he used was like a dark stain. It corrupted by existing. It was addictive, and could lead into realms that no one, sane or insane, really wanted to go. Realms which Ice no longer wanted to see in her nightmares.
With an almost mechanical precision Ice released her mind to wander the paths of speculation while a tiny part documented the scene in photos and brief written descriptions that would help later in working with the pictures. She saw Scully doing much the same, going over things with a delicate touch that many on the forensics team probably envied. Her detachment from what she was seeing isolated her from the others working on the case, but that didn't bother Ice. Their awe could get in the way, but she'd found that it often got the best work out of many because they couldn't help but compete with an uppity female who could do the job without vomiting.
Ice kept the smile from coming anywhere near her face. The fact that she usually spent the night worshiping the porcelain god until the images left her mind's eye was quite beside the point, her control on scene was what made her a legend. Not even Richard had known that the reactions were delayed instead of absent entirely. Of course, he'd only really seen her work common psychopaths, not this --
She turned her mind away from what she was seeing and concentrated on taking pictures and pointing out evidence that could now be collected.
Mulder marveled at the phenomenal control Scully and Ice were exhibiting. They were able to walk in where everyone else feared to go. He laughed silently to himself. It was this ability and no other that so set his teeth on edge around Ice. She was a brilliant analyst, but he was sure his pride could take that. She might even be as good as he -- he thought he could deal with that as well -- but the uncanny ability to ignore horror, *that* was something that he'd never been good at. In the long run, it would serve her well in VC, where he'd begun to go mad from the images.
He prowled around the edges of the scene, making brief, mental notes about the items he found before signaling to one of the boys from forensics to either take pictures or bag the evidence. To this death there were no witnesses other than the elderly couple that found the body. She had been a blonde with light brown eyes in her early twenties. The things that had been done to her -- his mind shied away from the facts...
The couple that had found her would be in counseling for a long time to come. They did not know her, they said, but she resembled their granddaughter. It had been such a shock that the old man had to be taken away in an ambulance, his heart giving him pain.
Mulder's hands clenched into fists. The monsters who were murdering these people had to be stopped before the collateral damage started killing others. He looked around and was not pleased to see a television news crew hovering at the edge of the scene. Mulder wasn't surprised, it would take more power than even those who wanted the case solve could bring to bear to stop the idiots with the camera's. He could see it now, the waves of copy-cat killings that would confuse things and make it harder to catch the criminals. Everyone walking home carrying a gun, with untrained fingers firing at every nervous sound.
Panic would sweep the city, and the only people who would get blamed would be the police. It made him want to scream. Sometimes the people's right to know should be superseded by the cop's right to catch the criminal. He thought about confronting the news team when he saw Ice carefully removing her latex gloves and head toward the cameras.
"Hello. What are you all doing here?" Anja Neilsen's voice was cool, but friendly.
Sterling Cameron, a five-foot-nothing dynamo who filled the small screen with the force of her personality looked thoughtfully at the FBI agent in front of her. She knew that the woman had to be FBI from the suit and the purposeful stride that Sterling was certain was taught only at Quantico. Some agents you could get information out of, but this one held secrets to her breast, nursed them, and let them go only when it was time. Sterling sighed. This wasn't going to be her day.
"Got a hot tip that something was going on out here."
"Nothing that they'll let you air." The agent's smile was rueful. "I'm sorry. Due to the danger of copy-cats, no information is being released about this investigation."
"None beyond the fact a body was found."
"Why are there so many officers here?"
"I can't answer that."
"Why is the FBI involved in this investigation?"
"I can't answer that."
"Why --" Sterling looked into the woman's eyes. "You can't answer that either, huh?"
The agent smiled slightly. "Probably not."
"I don't believe you."
"As you wish. I wouldn't suggest staying here, though. If you do, you'll be forcibly removed from the scene and placed under arrest for obstructing justice. I realize that as a reporter you face that danger all of the time -- but I wouldn't really suggest doing it unless you want to write an article on the condition of the jails in D. C."
Sterling snarled to herself and walked off scene, grateful only for the fact that the FBI agent's threats had been caught on tape and that they could use the tape for the noon news.
She and her team took the clip back to the station and were startled to find that every inch of the videotape had been wiped clean of magnetics. They couldn't get anything to record on it. Sterling felt something like an itch on the tip of her nose. She rubbed at it and looked at her camera man -- or woman in this case -- and shook her head.
"There's something going on here, Chris."
Christine Balfour nodded. "Yup."
Sterling smiled. "And we're going to be the first one's to break the story."
Ice turned back to the scene and began packing up equipment. Scully, she noticed, had gone over to stand with Mulder. Good. They were probably ready to leave too. For the first time since he'd called, she turned toward Richard Anaphon and went over to talk to him.
"We're packing it in, Richard."
"So I see. How are your little pets doing, Ice?"
"Just fine, Dancer, so shove it."
He laughed. "Wherever and whenever you want me to."
She her eyes gleamed with dark malice. "Into a hole lined with sharkskin would do nicely."
Anaphon winced. "You never used to be so cruel."
"I used to love you. I don't anymore. Most of the time I don't feel anything for you at all, but right now I'm leaning toward hate. Such a pity. Deal with it."
"Whatever. We'll get double prints and copies of all of our reports sent over to you."
Neilsen nodded. "A little faster this time?"
"Whatever you say, G-woman."
She turned to walk away.
"Not that it matters."
"What?" She looked back at him over her shoulder.
"I think that they're almost done with whatever they're up to."
Ice stared at him, eyes a dark, antiqued, gold.
"All the more reason for haste, then, isn't it?"
FBI Pathology Lab
Ice sat with Mulder outside of the autopsy bay, waiting patiently for Scully to finish the autopsy of the unknown girl who'd been found that morning. Their silence was unnatural, still and cold, and filled with hints of menace. Mulder stared at his hands, considering the revelations of the night before and tried to think of a good way to ask the questions that he didn't want the answers to.
It wasn't even a question really, just a word that held everything he felt about the possibilities. He was willing to allow for the extreme, but this -- it went beyond what he knew. Ice stifled a snort of laughter, hearing both the questions he didn't want to ask and the beliefs he thought he held. Tired amber eyes met hazel, sparkling dully with hollow mirth.
Mulder shook his head. Her voice was calm and even, sweet and warm in the encroaching chill of the hospital bay. Her certainty was steady in her eyes, humorous in the face of his non-belief.
She shrugged. "My theories would hardly be appropriate to this setting."
"No more bizarre than the stuff I spring on Scully."
She laughed, the sound tinkling like bells. "Oh, I bet they are."
"Because I want to believe."
"Not this. Never this, Mulder." Her eyes were haunted.
"Tell me. I'll listen, anyway."
"My theory? Insanity. Terror. A world run mad with fear and bloodlust. That's what whoever is behind this wants."
"Who wants it."
A ghost of a smile curled at the corner of her lips.
The lounge of the Chanson D'Or was filled with worshipers of Jazz and the golden tones of its legendary saxophone player. Richard Anaphon meandered slowly through the crowd, making his way to a secluded table in back where he'd be able to enjoy the music and a meal without being bothered. To some extent it had been a rough morning, and he wanted to use his lunch hour to relax and unwind as far as he could. The music soothed him, and Ice was getting colder and more demanding. It wouldn't be long before she started asking questions he didn't want to answer.
He looked down at the Polaroid in his hand, tracing the very dead features of the blond girl that had been found that morning. Such a pity. The girl had been a good fuck, the previous night, relieving the nightmares that haunted him with lips and hands that had been well trained in their profession.
God, the little whore had been good. Better than good, the little bitch had been fantastic.
He looked into her face, so innocent in death. It was almost impossible to remember the light brown eyes and fuck-me red lipstick or the amber hair that had glowed like honey in sunlight. But he could remember the feel of her, wet and hot and tight as he took her repeatedly in the back alley, in the stairwell, the table in the foyer. The sweetness and spice of her breath as she used her mouth to its best advantage, the little scream when she came, the scent of sex, heavy in the air as she sucked him off one last time for free.
A thank you, she'd said. Pleasure, after all, was rare in her profession.
Then she'd taken his money and walked out, his semen slick between her thighs. Now she was cold meat in the morgue, picked up by some freak who probably hadn't gotten between her legs to discover her finer qualities. Poor little girl, butchered before her time. It was a pity. A pity indeed. He'd have to find other light entertainment for the evening to release the building tensions of the case, to erase the memory of her writhing frantically beneath him.
He laughed darkly, catching the eye of one of the waitresses, honey blonde with legs that went on forever. Her smile was sexy, inviting, and more than he could resist. Hazel-brown eyes met his and he saw the flicker of interest as the music of the saxophone went on and on and on...
Ice ignored the gentle derision in Mulder's voice. She'd known that he wouldn't believe. "He's the messenger of the outer gods. He's much smarter than any of them, though he's less powerful... So far as any of us can tell --"
"-- he plays with humanity out of little other than malice. He doesn't give a damn about humanity at all except as a source of endless amusement. Our attempts to build a rational world-view seem to amuse him, and he enjoys destroying it when he can."
She shrugged. "Those of us who deal with him and the others -- or more generally their minions and human worshipers."
Mulder nodded, eyes shuttered. "There are others who believe as you do?"
Ice looked up at him. "What?"
"Others who ascribe to this unorthodox world-view. There are others?"
"Don't start that with me, Mulder. I know the game. I told you that you wouldn't believe it."
"You're right. I don't. But it doesn't really matter as long as you reach the right solution, however you get there."
Ice tilted her head consideringly. A lock of amber hair tumbled loose from the bun she'd twisted it into as she ran out of the house and she brushed it back with a graceful, long fingered hand.
"You don't care?"
He looked thoughtfully at her. "I've proposed enough preposterous theories that I'm hardly going to ignore what you have to say out of hand. I don't have any reason not to believe, yet, except for the vast store of fiction that this rightly should fall into."
Ice laughed. "Fair enough. In any case, there's not a lot we can do about Nyarlathotep. He's a god. At best we might be able to dismiss him, but there's a good chance that whoever summoned him in the first place will just bring him back."
She shrugged. "Generally, Nyarlathotep doesn't show up unless he's been sent or summoned. I don't imagine what the blind, idiot god would care about what's happening. The Unspeakable one wouldn't either, so I doubt that one of *them* sent him. Therefore someone summoned him. Probably in return for some power of some sort. It's fairly likely that it was a group of someones, for Nyarlathotep doesn't mind being worshiped. It gives him a base from which to send chaos though our world."
"And it's this power base that's doing the killings?"
"I think so. He may have asked them to raise Cthulhu. He knows perfectly well that they'll be stopped. After all, from what we've been able to tell about his activities and attitudes -- so far as they're comprehensible -- Nyarlathotep despises Cthulhu and would as soon see him permanently destroyed. There's also a rumor..."
She sighed. "There's no good way to confirm it, unfortunately, unless we travel to the Antarctic or find the forbidden plateau of Leng, but it has been suggested by recent scholarship that there is a time limit on Cthulhu's imprisonment, but with every unsuccessful attempt at escape the limit gets extended. Kind of like in the prison sentences here. You get away and get caught, you do extra time for escaping."
"So Nyarlathotep gets both of his wishes at once, extended time on Cthulhu's imprisonment and madness and chaos in human society."
"Respectfully, Dr. Neilsen, I think you're crazy."
"Respectfully, Dr. Mulder, that wouldn't surprise me much."
Special Agent Dana Scully finished the autopsy on the girl and sighed in frustration. When she'd realized that the girl had had several bouts of consensual sex soon before death, Scully had thought that they might be able to get a line on at least one of the killers, but someone had been very thorough about cleaning the body. Not a trace of semen or foreign pubic hair anywhere on -- or in -- the victim.
The cause of death had been fairly easy to determine. Most people die soon after having their heart removed. The other injuries were ones that Scully forced herself not to think about until she was safe in her bathroom at home. The things that had been done to this girl were terrible, beyond anything that Scully had ever dreamed one human could do to another...
The nightmares from this one were going to last forever.
She stripped the gloves off after turning off the recorder. Almost frantic to get away from the body she removed her scrubs and walked into the showers, suddenly feeling the need to scrub and scrub and scrub, wishing devoutly that the memories would disappear as easily as the bubbles.
"So what do we do now?"
"We find the cult. Ideally, we find the leader of the cult as well and take him -- or her -- out. The unfortunate thing about this situation is that I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that we have to shoot them all in order to stop what's happening."
Mulder blinked at her, nonplussed.
"I only wish. Cult activity of this level implies fanaticism. Even the garden variety type who will kill occasionally for power is not the type to do so in public places. The shielding that they're using to keep people from noticing depends very much on to what extent they can convince passers-by that there are no problems. It's possible to do, but someone with a strong will can destroy the whole thing -- they aren't always fooled. And then what a mess you have."
"That sounds --"
"What, ridiculous? Asinine? Impossible?" She laughed. "I gave up the word impossible at the age of fourteen. *Anything* is possible. The universe is too chaotic for it to be any other way."
"The universe isn't chaotic, Agent Neilsen." Scully walked up to them, hair damp from a recent shower.
Ice smiled ruefully. "If you say so."
"So how do you propose that we find this cult?"
Neilsen smiled slightly. "You know that hotel the DuBois' were staying at?"
"The Chanson D'Or?"
"What about it?" Scully asked.
"It's an interesting place, according to some of my sources. It's a place to go for good rooms, good food, and good jazz..." A predatory stillness replaced Ice's characteristic serenity. "And according to friends of mine at city hall, it's the place to go if you want to end up involved in a crime scene any time in the last six months. Nearly ninety percent of violent crimes that have occurred in a ten block radius of that place have been committed by or against someone who has frequented the lounge in the previous few days. Usually within twenty-four hours. And it's weird things too... Spouses of twenty years suddenly up and kill each other. The fatal accident rate has gone up in that vicinity too. Usually involving people who weren't drunk."
Ice looked at the piece of paper in her hands. A young cop had come in and handed it to her without saying a word. She'd been considering the problem of where to look at the time and had merely thanked him and gone back to her musings. When she'd gotten around to reading the note it had held all of the information she'd needed.
"That's nuts." Scully's voice was acidly ironic. Mulder shrugged, his eyes dark with disbelief.
"Is it?" Ice curved her lips into something that wasn't even closely related to a smile. She handed the paper to Mulder and watched him open it. "If it's crazy, then tell me this: Why is it that Arlette and Lucien DuBois are dead? They were found this morning -- a double murder/suicide that included the unfortunate young man from the basement apartment."
J. Edgar Hoover Building
The three went back to the basement office of the X-Files shrouded in a heavy silence. Before them simpler folk gave way, unable to explain, even to themselves, why they could not stand before Mulder and Scully's united purpose or Ice's burning, yellow gaze. As they walked through the building, whispers faltered and stopped, crumbling beneath the shock of the tension that rolled off of the three in bleak waves.
Together they entered the office, silently walking to their assigned places precisely, like dancers or actors waiting for the curtain to rise. Scully stared down at the pictures that still littered her desk, wondering, dimly, at the horror of them, but inured now to it. She felt a piece of herself detach and spin away into darkness as she accepted the hell that was presented before her eyes, and, for the first time, felt nothing other than that strange curiosity. The same curiosity that burned within Ice's eyes, filling the younger agent with predatory hunger.
Scully looked up into Mulder's eyes and saw understanding shine brightly in their depths. It was that -- the whittling away of the soul that had driven him from the Behavioral Sciences Unit, the moments when he looked at victims and felt nothing but the cold, detached interest that allowed him to function as nothing more than a problem solver. She wanted to cry as she suddenly understood why Mulder had avoided entering the area of the scene, it was not the horror of it, but the detachment that burned away parts of the soul he feared. It was that instant of losing some part of himself that bent him over the rose bushes and flower-beds.
She wanted to cry. Needed to. But none came to her eyes or offered her release.
"How did they die?"
"Knives." Scully looked into Ice's eyes, seeing there the sudden excitement of the hunt burning alongside an impotent rage. "It was... messy."
Ice's voice broke over the last word.
Ice nodded. "I think so. If we do some back tracking on the victims, I'd lay odds that all of them had spent some time in the hotel or in the lounge. There's something *there* that centers all of this."
"I can't wait to see the report." Mulder's voice was tired.
"Write whatever you want. Say I'm crazy if it makes you feel any better."
Mulder shook his head. "Somehow, I think you're the only one in this room with any idea of what's going on."
Ice shook her head. "Doubtful. You've been around the scenes, what do you think of them?"
He shrugged. "Professional. Precise. Like the killers knew where and when and how to do whatever they were doing for the maximum effect..."
Scully's voice was soft.
"Evil, like a stench in the air, a foul miasma that hovered over her body like a black shroud..." Scully closed her eyes. "Music..."
Ice gasped slightly, blood draining from her face as Scully spoke.
"Music, high and fast, maddening... And voices -- Ia! Ia! Cthulhu ftaghn! Voices high and deep and..."
"Scully!" Ice's voice hard and cold, smooth and polished like marble.
"Yes --?" Scully opened her eyes, dazed, her voice the merest whisper.
"Scully, don't go there. You'll be trapped if you listen to what you're hearing." Ice enfolded Scully's hands in a grip of steel. "Scully, look at me. LOOK AT ME!"
Scully blinked as she felt Mulder come around behind her and place his hands on her shoulders. She looked into the blazing gold of Ice's eyes, feeling the pull her away from... *something* to which she could not give name. Her hands would have trembled if not for the iron grip of Ice's hands.
"Scully, I want you to repeat after me."
Scully nodded vaguely.
"En'leghn dhai me'zhri..."
"...en'leghn dhai me'zhri..."
"Ql'nzrdi jhin ghta..."
"...ql'nzrdi jhin gtha..."
"...n-n-nlgl'rl'gaii... What the hell?" Scully blinked, cerulean eyes suddenly clear as she stared at Ice.
Ice shrugged. "It happens."
"But what was 'it'?" Mulder's voice was hard, though his hands were gentle on Scully's shoulders.
"Some people are sensitive, Mulder. There are people all over the city who can probably feel what's going on and it's driving them slowly crazy. They're hearing voices and chanting, and probably a strange, whistling music --"
Scully nodded once, cautiously.
"Most will assume that it's in their imaginations. Unfortunately it's not."
Scully shook her head. "That's nuts. It's just something that popped into my head as we were going over the scene today."
Ice raised an eyebrow slightly. "If you say so. Why you'd go into a trance over the whole thing is questionable, though."
Scully rolled her eyes. "I'm sure. I just spaced out for a moment."
"Listening to the chanting?"
Scully shook her head and pulled free of Mulder's hands, suddenly impatient. "It was nothing!"
Ice nodded. "If you say so."
Scully sighed. "I say so. If you two will excuse me, I'm going to the ladies room."
She walked out of the room, the two remaining agents staring after her.
Scully spent fifteen minutes in the bathroom, staring at the three metal walls of the toilet's stall, trying to regain her composure. Though she couldn't admit it aloud, she had heard the voices Ice had described. They were calling to her, begging her to follow them. For a moment, just as she had finished reciting after Ice, when they had been silenced, but they were calling louder now. Demanding.
A burning sensation began low in her belly, hot and wild, that begged to be quenched as the voices called to her amidst the sad, bluesy notes of a saxophone. Jazz, slow and sweet, would soften the ache. It always did, when she thought about her lack of love-life and wanted, badly, to go screwing around, to do the things that the nuns told her were sins but felt so good that she had trouble remembering the strictures.
She was a good girl, and some jazz would calm her. The whirling notes of the mad flutes would stop, and the empty ache would vanish as though it had never been. Scully checked her watch. It was noon. It was time for lunch. Scully smiled. Ice wanted to check out the Chanson D'Or. Scully had been to the lounge a time or two. Their saxophone player was the best she'd ever heard, and the food was far above passable.
Scully grinned and then walked out to the front office and left a note with a secretary to be taken down to Ice and Mulder. She was going to lunch. They could do as they pleased with the lunch hour.
He noticed her come in through a thin layer of alcohol. That redheaded partner of the sissyboy FBI agent. She looked sleek and elegant, like a cat, as she prowled into the bar, turquoise eyes dark with something more than hunger. The sweet, cascading notes of the saxophone buoyed him up, and he found himself wandering over to her table.
"Agent Scully... how... unexpected. What are you doing here?"
She stretched languidly, her breasts straining slightly against the cream silk of her shirt. Her lips were red and moist as she stared up at him, her nipples hard little peaks beneath the thin, taut cloth. Her smile was dark and slightly dangerous as she idly swirled the fragrant contents of a brandy snifter 'round and 'round. She tossed the drink back, fiery hair sliding gently along the white column of her neck and she gestured for him to sit down.
"Detective Anaphon..." Her voice was husky and low as she looked him up and down and re-crossed her legs. "I'm here... for lunch..."
He smiled as he took the seat closest to her, the back of his hand grazing her nipple lightly as he reached across the table for the list of mixed drinks. She moaned almost inaudibly, her hand catching his as the music of the saxophone player swelled.
Her low laughter was a siren's call as she pulled his hand beneath the table.
"Among other things."
Mulder kept staring at the door as the noon hour passed. Then another one slowly ticked by. At two o'clock he began to pace.
"She's never this late."
Ice looked up at the clock, shocked to realize she had been pouring over old reports for two hours and more. It took her a moment to realize that Scully had not come back yet from lunch. She stared at the clock.
Mulder turned and looked at her, hazel eyes almost black with worry. Ice mumbled a few words under her breath and cursed fluidly in several languages. She grabbed her briefcase and purse and started for the door.
"She's not in the building."
"What? How do you --" Amber eyes swung toward him, stopping the words before they could come out.
"We've got to find her." Ice's voice was soft as her eyes unfocused. "She's in terrible danger."
"I'm not sure I can explain."
He grabbed her arm. "You damn well will. This is *Scully* we're talking about."
Richard Anaphon's Apartment
His lips were like the finest wine she'd ever tasted, drugging her as his hands moved expertly beneath her skirt, ripping away her hose and panties. Scully moaned, arching up into his hands. She pulled impatiently at his belt, feeling the straining hardness beneath the taut linen of his trousers. Finally it slid free has his fingers found the molten core of her desire. She screamed softly into his mouth as he began to play expertly with the treasures he'd found. She convulsed, ripping his fly open with unnatural strength.
He laughed and caught her hands in his, holding them down beside her head as his lips teased the taut peaks of her breasts beneath the thin silk of her shirt. Scully thrashed beneath him, her hips arching up, begging silently with sweet undulations.
Richard stared down at her, forest green eyes dark and hungry.
She moaned softly as he teased apart the buttons of her blouse with his lips.
"Say it... Dana."
She arched into him, her slick, hot wetness burning into his leg. She could feel his smile as he undid the front clasp of her flimsy bra with his teeth, nuzzling the fabric aside with his nose and tongue.
His tongue swirled gently around a naked nipple before he pulled away, staring into her eyes.
"Say it..." His voice was low and rough and real and his hardness drooled hotly on her inner thigh.
Her lips curved in a dark, erotic smile.
"Fuck me." She pulled a hand out from under his and guided him to the place she most wanted him to be. "Fuck me." She pulled the other hand free and ripped his shirt open, spraying buttons all around. "Fuck me, and make it last."
"Is there anyone who hates you enough to sell his or her soul in order to destroy you?"
Mulder stared at Ice, uncomprehending. She stood up, beginning to pace. "This whole thing is more complicated than I thought. I should have guessed when she noticed the engraving on the altar."
"What?" Mulder grabbed Ice's arms, shaking her. "What are you talking about. What does that have to do with anything?"
"I didn't notice the engravings, Mulder. I'd already taken pictures of the damn altar, and I didn't notice them. They were keyed for *her*. Someone knew that she would be involved." Ice pulled free of his hands. "I was a fool, I didn't take your backgrounds into account when I realized what was happening. I should have known that it was directed at all of us. If I hadn't..." She stared at the poster on the wall. "If I hadn't lost touch with my colleagues in Arkham over the last couple of years, I would have known when Dancer called me. I should have known anyway. He's got that edge now --"
"Damn it, what are you talking about?"
"Dancer. He quit and went rogue, but that's dangerous, Mulder! The power is so corrupting, it can change you without your ever knowing that it happened. It can destroy your soul before you have a chance to defend yourself."
Mulder took a deep breath. "You're not making sense."
"I'm sorry." Ice centered herself. "The murders fit the pattern I told you, and I am certain that they are, honestly trying to raise Cthulhu. It won't work, however. A friend of mine looked over the photos of two of the scenes and told me that there were several omissions or errors that have occurred in the sacrifices so that we don't have to worry about R'lyeh, though we do have to worry about the cult. He called down here while you were in the bathroom..." She shook her head. "Anyway, I told him that I thought that the murders were part of a larger design, intended to entrap or kill me and Dancer. He agreed that there was a good chance that I was a target, but he wasn't at all sure that Dancer was. Richard, he said, had been walking the fine line, it was possible that he'd crossed it without ever knowing."
She looked at Mulder. "It was when she went into that little trance that I began to suspect that you two were involved. Someone wants to destroy your careers, as well as mine. If we don't solve this case, and soon, we'll be relegated to escorting little old ladies across the street. And that will be on our good days. But who wants that so badly that they'd bring in Nyarlathotep? It's crazy!"
Mulder stared down at her, eyes widening in disbelief as the words flowed past him. "No. You're crazy."
"Shut *up*, Mulder!" Her eyes were dark and cold. "You're a hypocrite, you know that? Everyone I've ever talked to said that you believed in extreme possibilities. This may be extreme, but damned if I couldn't produce proof that *my* version of reality is true, which you *can't*."
"I'll take you up to Miskatonic sometime if you want. Christ on a crutch, what am I saying? --" Ice shook her head. "It doesn't matter. The thing is, I can almost see what the plan was... Somehow that last girl was probably connected to Dancer. We're supposed to find out about it somehow and confront him -- at a guess -- and something is supposed to go down that would blow holes in all of our careers."
"What is the most common occurrence that destroys the reputations of female law-enforcement officers, particularly in an ole-boys network like this one?"
Mulder thought for a moment.
"Yeah. I've never quite worked out which is worse, opening one's legs or keeping them chastely closed. Either way you catch hell from someone."
Mulder stared at her, dumbfounded. Ice smiled coldly. "You've probably never run into this problem, but I know that both Scully and I have. Given her reputation, I suspect that destroying *her* will involve Scully losing control. Sleeping with someone she shouldn't and then..."
Ice stared into the middle distance. "What would happen to her if she slept with someone who was a suspect?"
"She'd be ruined. You know that."
"I meant, personally."
"I --" He thought about it. Scully, losing that icy reserve with someone -- anyone. He couldn't imagine it. It was hard for him to imagine her as a remotely sexual being -- she was his partner, friend, confidant... She held herself so rigidly in control, valuing it beyond any material possession, and perhaps even her own life. The involuntary loss of that -- he shuddered, remembering the months after she'd nearly fallen into bed with Brother Andrew. It had been a blow to her self-esteem that they'd never discussed, but he'd known that the incident had nearly destroyed her self-respect, even though she'd been manipulated by pheromones thousands of times stronger than human males secreted. To actually go through with the act -- and enjoy it? "It would destroy her."
Ice nodded slowly. "It's easy enough to disgrace her then. We either find her with him, or she says something in a public place that gets back to ears in high places.
Dana screamed into his mouth as she came, wave upon wave of pleasure blotting out everything but the feel of the man within her. She could feel him spurting within her and warning bells tolled madly at the back of her mind, fading rapidly beneath the crashing waves of ecstasy that flowed through her. A warm lassitude enervated her as Richard Anaphon disengaged himself from her body. Dana felt his hand trace gently down her body, from breast to thigh as she slipped rapidly into sleep.
Richard Anaphon's Apartment
Dana Scully awoke slowly, her back and neck stiff from sleeping on what felt like smooth stone. Frowning slightly, her head a bit muzzy, she stretched, slowly recognizing the faint muscle aches whose source puzzled her until she realized that her blouse was open and her skirt had been roughly shoved upwards over her hips. Scully blushed as she recognized the stickiness between her thighs, remembering, suddenly, how it had gotten there.
She sat up, clutching the edges of her shirt with one hand as she pulled her skirt down with the other. Never in her life had she done such a thing. She'd always been in control, able to rule her body with the force of her mind. What had happened to her? It was like a spell had set her afire and Detective Anaphon had been the only one in the whole lounge that could quench the ravening heat.
Scully's hands trembled as she closed her bra and buttoned her shirt. She looked around the room, suddenly realizing that she had been laying on a long table with a black-and-red marble top. She hopped down, a shamed blush staining her cheeks a deep rose. She'd known, in the haze of her desire that they hadn't made it into his bedroom, but he'd... fucked... her on a *table*. He'd made her beg for him.
Scully wanted to vomit.
Actually, he hadn't even forced it out of her. He'd simply *asked* her to beg for him, in that rich, dark voice. And she had. She'd writhed, empty and aching, begging...
<"Fuck me and make it last...">
The memory of it washed over her. The exquisite pleasure -- she wanted it. Again.
She remembered his taste when she'd sucked him off in the men's room with several people watching... remembered the thrill of dangerous excitement. The hollow ache as he'd looked down at her, forest green eyes boring into hers.
"NO!" Her scream echoed and re-echoed in the empty room. J. Edgar Hoover Building Office of the X-Files
"The saxophone player is Nyarlathotep."
"Probably. It's one of his forms."
"I... see. And what is the messenger of the outer gods doing playing saxophone in a hotel lounge?"
"Getting people to do things they wouldn't ordinarily do."
"How do you know that it's sex?"
"It isn't, always. Usually it's not. But Dana is so self-contained... And Dancer..." She stopped. Mulder looked at her. "Whether he knows it or not... Dancer belongs to Nyarlathotep."
She found an envelope tucked into the pocket of her suit jacket. It was the only article of her clothing that had been treated with anything resembling respect. Curious, she opened it, finding a large wad of bills and a short note.
Thanks for the afternoon's diversion, Scully. It
Scully stared at the note in shock. Out of habit she took a look at the cash. Fifties, and there had to be twenty of them at least. Scully dropped the envelope on the floor, watching the money scatter across the glowing hardwood. She made it down the street and back to her car before collapsing. Chanson D'Or
Mulder and Neilsen walked into the lounge of the Chanson D'Or while the Saxophone player was on break. Anja stared at the sign and grimaced. "Figures."
"His plans may be a bit... delicate right now. He doesn't want to be seen by anyone who knows him for what he is."
"He knew we were coming?"
"He's a god, Mulder. Of course he knew."
Mulder saw the bitter acceptance of that fact in her eyes, and tried not to gape openly. One of the waitresses, a honey blonde, came over to them, her hazel eyes distant and somewhat cold.
"Can I help you?"
Mulder took the lead, pulling out a picture of Scully. "I hope so. We're looking for this woman, and were wondering if anyone here had seen her?"
The blonde gave the picture a cursory glance. "Never seen her before."
"How about this man?" Anja produced an old photo of Anaphon.
The woman's eyes flickered. "Nor him neither."
Anja smiled slightly, her fingers brushing the waitress's as she took the photo back. The woman pulled back as though burned, her eyes blazing to life with bitter hatred. The strange pendant at the hollow of Anja's throat seemed to gleam brighter in the dim light, as Anja's smile became frankly predatory. The waitress snarled.
"They aren't here. I suggest that you accept that and leave."
Anja turned and looked up at Mulder, amber eyes burning a molten gold. She shook her head slightly.
"All right." He said, not questioning.
"We'll be back." Anja's voice flowed like honey and velvet.
They walked back to the car. Anja turned to him. "I've got a stupid question."
"Have you tried Scully's cell-phone?"
Mulder stared at her, nonplused. Then he began to laugh, shakily.
Her phone was ringing. It was probably Mulder.
Scully stared down at the cell-phone lethargically.
Oh, God. How was she going to tell Mulder? How was she...
The phone rang incessantly.
She picked it up.
"Scully." God, how she hated that tone of voice. High and nervous, like a child's.
"Thank God. We were worried about you."
We? -- Oh, Neilsen, in so far as she cared about anything other than the hunt.
"Where are you?"
She looked around. There was the Chanson D'Or -- maybe three blocks away. Even from here she could see the gleam of amber curls. "Down the street. I see you."
"Scully are you okay?"
"I'm..." Her breath caught in her throat, like a sob. Exquisite pleasure...
She saw Neilsen's head swivel around, searching. The phone dropped out of her hand as Scully curled up and began to sob uncontrollably.
Dana Scully's Apartment
Fox Mulder walked out of Dana Scully's bedroom, shutting the door quietly behind him.
"How is she?"
Neilsen's voice was soft in the quivering silence. Mulder stared into her eyes, wanting to blame her for Scully's condition.
"Catatonic. The tears have stopped, but she won't acknowledge the world at all."
"Did she tell you anything?"
Mulder shook his head. Ice bit off a vicious curse.
"Why didn't you warn us?"
"And say what? The goblins are out to steal your souls?" Neilsen laughed harshly. "I couldn't tell you that because I didn't know."
"You knew when she walked out of the office today!"
"I thought I'd broken his hold on her --" Anja raised a hand, stopping Mulder's next words. "Do you know if she'd ever been to the club before?"
He shrugged. "She likes Jazz. It's possible."
"Then the seeds may have been planted long before I even came along, Mulder. I'm not perfect, I'm not a god, and I'm certainly not the world's greatest magician."
"Damn it... This is *Scully*, my *partner*..."
Brilliant amber eyes closed, and she sighed. "I'm doing what little I can. You just don't understand. Nyarlathotep is *here*, present... If he wants to devour her soul, he can do it, and what little I can do won't prevent that."
"I've warded the apartment, the complex, her room and windows. I've spent energy I don't have to keep her as safe here as possible... What more do you want from me?"
"I want you to fix whatever's wrong with her!"
Anja raised a sardonic eyebrow. "I can't do that, Mulder... Though you might."
With a graceful hand she undid the clasp of the strange, star shaped pendant around her neck. "Put this on her, no matter how hard she fights. It might help."
He stared at it dubiously. "What is it?"
"A charm, perhaps. I don't know how old it is, but it has helped keep me safe for years..." To Mulder's surprise he could see tears gathering in her eyes. "I was given this on the day that I lost my belief in a well-ordered universe... When I lost my innocence. The day I realized that there is no such thing as impossible..."
"My mentor died and I was forced to face the hideous unknown by myself." Her voice grew soft. "Give it to her. Maybe it will help."
"What are you going to do?"
"What I should have done when I realized that Dancer was playing with forces that would control him."
The desolation in her golden eyes stopped him from asking any more questions. Richard Anaphon's Apartment
Richard Anaphon brushed a lock of sweaty blonde hair away rich brown green eyes, and smiled wearily into their depth. The woman beneath him stretched luxuriously, arching her hips into his, moaning slightly when she felt him swell within her.
"Mmmm." Her lips curved upward in a darkly erotic smile as his hips began to rock expertly between her thighs, and his fingers traced lightly over the re-awakened bud of her clit. "God... Yes...."
Anaphon groaned as she began clenching an releasing inner muscles in a rhythm as old as time, and her hips began meeting his thrusts with a building urgency that matched his own. Wet, hot, tight... A creamy velvet sheath that twisted and writhed... She bit his shoulder, her teeth sinking deeply, sending a jolt of pleasure/pain so strong that he came in an endless stream...
He hardly noticed when she ripped his throat out with her teeth and began drinking his blood.
Anja stood at the doorway to Dancer's apartment and leaned on the doorbell.
She stared at the door. His car was down in the garage. She knew that he was home. Sighing she concentrated on the locks, listening for the faint *snick* when the mechanism gave way to her will.
Ice stood back as the door swung wide open.
The stench of fresh blood rolled over her in a tidal wave.
Forcing herself not to gag, Ice pulled out her cell-phone and dialed for backup.
Static was her only response.
"Oh, no, little bird, curious bird. You want knowledge? We'll give you knowledge..." The warm, cloyingly sweet voice came from the darkness beyond the stairwell. "We know you little bird, pretty bird. You've watched us from afar... Tried to stop us. Oh, yes, tried to stop us, curious bird." Death stained the air black and red, pulling at the edges of Anja's vision. Naked and blood stained a woman walked forward, malicious madness glittering in hazel brown eyes. "Come in, pretty bird. Can't you hear the whippoorwills calling?"
Anja stared at her, gesturing briefly with her right hand, a glowing star appearing before her, a green-violet eye burning in its center.
The woman flinched and then laughed, sweet, vicious laughter that rang like gold and iron. "She thinks to protect herself, the pretty, pretty bird. You don't like that, do you my pets? Teach her, teach her, what it means to draw that in the air before her."
From the shadows behind her, Ice heard a familiar squelching accompanied by a frenzied chittering, like maddened mice...
Mulder stared at the pendant in his hand. Belatedly he recognized the symbol for what it was. It was an Elder Sign -- a sign of protection, according to the stories. It was something that fiends like Nyarlathotep could not touch...
A moan, faint and desperate came from the bedroom. Instinctively Mulder turned and opened the door, peeking in. Scully lay on the bed in an old set of pajamas, her hair unbound in a fiery cloud. Her eyes snapped open, bright blue and glazed with something that Mulder didn't recognize. Something dark and cold blazed to life in the eyes he knew so well, and rich, dark laughter suddenly rippled from Scully's throat.
"Mulder..." Scully sat up, ruby red lips suddenly parted in a darkly erotic smile. "Is she gone?"
Mulder swallowed, staring at her. The top two buttons of her pajama top had come undone, and he could see the coral pink tip of one of her breasts. "Uh, yeah... Scully do you feel alright?"
"Dana..." Wicked laughter danced in her eyes. "Dana..."
"Dana..." he repeated, trying to ignore the faint sound of maniacal flutes playing in the distance.
Anja dove through the open doorway before the slimy tentacles attached to the hideous voices could grab her. The woman before her laughed.
"Good little bird, pretty bird. A challenging plaything. Master promised that you'd be fun."
"I doubt that you're Master much cares."
"Master cares. He'll get you, now or later. It doesn't matter. Master has the power, Master can do all things, pretty bird. Master wants you pretty bird, Master likes you."
Ice shuddered, stomach roiling. "Your Master can return to the center of Infinity, where he belongs."
"Here, Infinity, all the same, pretty bird. It's all the same. The Lurker knows, the Key and the Gate. Why take this world when there are so many others? All the same, all the same." The young woman danced around the room, as Neilsen became aware of the rising sound of ethereal flutes. The tempo grew faster, haunting and desperate...
The woman before her laughed, beckoning the things that lay in the shadows beyond the reach of light and space. Anja whirled, her fingers dancing in intricate patterns as a wall of pale green flame rose around her.
"Akhent lhk'nftgn -- Ft'a'ahkn ulgli!" The blond woman screamed as a hemisphere or violet-green flame rose around Anja, a huge Elder Sign protecting her from the roving evils let loose in the room. The music abated somewhat in tempo and frenzy. Anja felt the rage that had built up with every body they found strain for release, and she smiled at the woman beyond the dome, a feral curving of lips that complemented the predatory light in her eyes.
"You want to play games, little puppet? Then let's play for keeps..." Ice raised a hand, and a brilliant green fireball engulfed the closest monster, burning it's amoeba-like structure in verdant bands of destruction. "...pet Shoggoths go first..."
Fox Mulder stared into his partner's eyes, an alien hunger and malicious amusement filling their once-familiar blue-green depths. Her hands gracefully teased apart the buttons on her shirt.
Her eyes twinkled darkly. "Something wrong, Mulder?"
Her hands began lightly caressing the tips of her breasts, occasionally cupping the soft mounds gently. Scully moaned slightly. Mulder backed away. "Uh... Scully..."
He felt the chain of Neilsen's pendant cut into his skin. "Uh... Neilsen said that you should wear this..."
Her eyes flickered to the pendant, a flash of hatred sparking in her eyes. "That ugly thing? Why would I want to wear that?"
A hand trailed softly down the center of her chest, coming to rest at her waist, plucking gently at the elastic of her pajama bottoms. She smiled again, running her hands lightly over her body. "It seems to me that we're both wearing too much, Mulder."
The door behind him swung shut of its own accord. Mulder heard a soft *snick* as the door locked. Mulder looked into her alien eyes and suddenly knew that he was in a fight now, not for his own life, but his soul...
Five protoplasmic bodies lay strewn about the room, acidic body fluids turning the hardwood floors to black slag. The half-dome of green-violet light flickered and died as the last, half-visible shoggoth erupted into flames. The laughing woman no longer smiled.
"Mean, bird. Vicious bird. Master will get you for that. Those were his especial pets. Ia! Ia! Nyarlathotep! Hlgzin'ftangh!" A web of black light flew from her hands as Ice raised a shower of glowing lights to meet it. The light destroyed most of the net, but some of it got past, attaching itself to Neilsen's arm and chest. Anja screamed as the black tendrils burned through her clothes, attaching themselves to her skin as the naked priestess called out, the voices of a hundred people replying in chorus.
"Master knows you now, little bird. He tastes your blood!"
Ice could see them in the shadows, images flickering and dancing, worshipers who gave their power but not their physical presence. They sought to protect themselves with physical distance. Her mind cried out, desperate. She couldn't fight that many of them, not alone.
~We hear you, child. Take whatever energy you need.~
She almost wept as pure, clean power swept through her, restoring reserves badly depleted by the warding of Dana Scully's apartment, and, unbeknownst to him, Fox Mulder himself.
~You are a member of the Society, my girl. We'd hardly let you face this alone.~ Ice could almost see the smile. ~Braidon-Jones?~
~In the Aether. But we'll talk later, you've a job to finish.~
The voice vanished, but the connection to steady, pure power remained. Strengthened, Ice turned around, staring into the shadows and dreading what she had to do. Her mind flitted between the flickering shadows, searching for a better way... But there was none. No other way to stop the madness.
"Anlaghzen F'ta!" The remainder of the black netting burned away as Ice moved slowly forward. "Lhg'dhurz zhi'fhli, An'yh'alhi dhgu-ytr!"
Screams erupted from the shadows as the apartment erupted in ghostly black flame.
The rising music fell again, winding down.
"Why are you resisting, Mulder?" Scully's breath was soft and scented, spicy and tempting. Her lips grazed his ear gently. Mulder knelt by the door, having discovered that not only would it not open, the window in her bedroom refused to shatter. "You want me. I know it. I can feel it."
Her hand brushed gently over his growing erection.
"I don't know who you are."
"I'm Dana... the woman that you've worked so hard not to meet, the one who hides behind the name of Scully..." The wicked laughter was back in her eyes, alien laughter. "The woman who fucked a total stranger because the man she really wanted thinks she's his sister. The woman who sucked him off in the men's room, with a crowd of admirers because she couldn't have this." Her petting became much more pronounced. "The woman you want but are afraid to take."
Her laughter was dark, exotic... and cold. She removed her pajama bottoms, and slowly straddled his thighs. Mulder could feel her wetness begin to soak through the front of this trousers as Scully rocked her hips gently against him. Mulder forced his hands to stay at his sides.
Her breath was soft against his lips. "Won't you touch me, Mulder? I know you can feel my heat..." Her nipples brushed against his shirt. She nipped at his lips. "Touch me, Mulder. Take me."
"No..." But her lips were so close... brushing across his with each plea, and the alien coldness in her eyes bothered him less and less...
All across the city, houses erupted into flame. No one ever found the cause of the mass destruction and death, though the knowledgeable sighed and shook their heads. One man, protected by the precautions he had taken, shrieked in anger when he realized that his power base had just gone up in smoke.
In an apartment on the edge of the city, Anja Neilsen stared at the High Priestess of an unnamed cult, death and agony reflecting in the anguished gold of her eyes.
"Now..." Ice's voice was rough with exhaustion. "...let's end the game, shall we?"
The woman hissed, spitting. "Cruel bird. Master will get you. Doesn't matter what happens to me."
Anja stared at the blood spattered woman before her and nodded. "I know. But I can put an end to it if you tell me who was in control.."
"End it? Never! Nevernevernever... Master will come and you will die. Everything dies." Her laughter echoed off of the air. "See?"
She pulled a ritual knife of obsidian and meteoric iron off of the red-and-black marble table. "Everything dies! Ia! Ia! Cthulhu ftaghn!"
She buried the blade in her own heart, right up to the cross-piece. Anja shuddered as the apartment burst into real flames. Ice ran for the door, using what little strength she had remaining to keep the flames from spreading further. Shaking and alone, she watched as the fire gutted Anaphon's apartment, destroying everything within.
Mulder reached behind Scully, bringing the pendant. Praying that when she realized what was happening she would forgive him, he accepted the kiss she pressed upon him, bringing his hands to the front of her throat, managing to fumble the latch closed before she seemed to realize what was happening.
Scully arched as though electrocuted, and fell off of his lap as the door to her bedroom suddenly unlatched, swinging open. For a moment, Mulder could have sworn he saw the shadowy figure of a man with red eyes standing over Scully's body, but when he blinked it was gone, and Scully was unconscious.
Weak and trembling, Mulder pulled out his cell-phone and called 9-1-1. When he got off the phone he picked her up, managing to dress her in demure night-gown he pulled from her chest of drawers, and threw the pajama bottoms into the hamper in the bedroom.
His phone rang just as the paramedics got to the door. He opened it and followed them to the bedroom, where he watched them start checking Scully's vitals. His cell-phone chittered incessantly.
"Dammit! -- Mulder..."
"...hello..." Anja's usually rich voice was reduced to a thin whisper. "...it's over..."
Mulder listened to the concerned noises coming from the bedroom and snarled silently. "Is it? Scully's unconscious and they can't wake her up."
"...oh. Dear." Ice's voice grew a bit stronger, but was haggard with fatigue. "Did she do anything when I left?"
"Damn... I'm on my way."
"We're going to Georgetown -- meet us there. Can you fix it?"
"...I...don't know. We'll see. I'll see you there."
"Anja --" a dial tone answered him. Mulder stared at the phone, suddenly realizing that even when she hadn't eaten and hardly slept for four days, she hadn't sounded so tired and sad. That was unusual...
The paramedics came through with Scully on a gurney, and he forgot about anything else.
Georgetown University Medical Center
Ice lifted her hands from Scully's temples. "That's the last of it, I think." She looked over at Mulder, amber eyes bruised with exhaustion.
"Good job. I couldn't have done a neater job myself..."
Anja turned toward the cheerful, light tenor voice and smiled wearily. A small man, barely five feet tall with shockingly white hair and gleaming black eyes smiled at her. She smiled back, pushing her weariness aside. "Braidon-Jones."
"Ice. I see you've decided to pick up again."
Anja's lips twisted sardonically. "I wouldn't say that I had much choice."
"Nonsense, girl. We'd've heard about it eventually... It's a pity about Richard, but..."
"But what, sir?"
Mulder's voice was rough with fatigue and worry. His glance was sharp and doubting.
"...It was inevitable, I fear. I warned him that he was walking a very fine edge. I'm Luther Braidon-Jones, professor of philosophy at Miskatonic."
He extended his hand.
"This is Fox Mulder, Ph.D. psychology, and FBI." Anja smiled slightly. "Braidon-Jones is another believer in... what did you call it? This unusual world-view?"
"That's hardly something I go around bragging about, my dear."
She laughed, hysteria edging her voice. "No, I don't suppose you do."
"In any case, Mr. Mulder -- or do you prefer Doctor?"
"No, it confuses people since my partner is an M. D."
"Hmmm. I see. As I was saying -- it appears that Ice has cleared away the last of Nyarlathotep's taint, the hooks in her psyche are gone, but the wounds are going to be difficult to heal. Particularly in view of what Ice has told me of Dr. Scully's temperament and the quality of your partnership."
Anja ignored the sharp glance that Mulder gave her.
"I have come to offer what assistance that those of us with this 'unorthodox world view' -- I must remember that, Haspon will love it -- can offer. You will find that the blood tests you get back on Dr. Scully hold trace amounts of a drugs called Elysia..."
Anja raised her eyebrows, eyes questioning.
"In this case, my dear, it is quite real, though I don't imagine that she had enough of it to matter much realistically. It does, however, seem that even trace amounts of Elysia make people even more susceptible to outside influences... However, the nature of the drug should give you all of the help you need in helping Dr. Scully over this rough spot."
Mulder stared at them. Anja sighed.
"Mulder --" She looked into his eyes and saw a helpless torment that she wished she could ease. "-- Mulder, whether you want to see it as magic or drugs, Scully was not in control of what she was doing. Her conscious intellect had no say in what was going on. As I doubt that she can accept the verdict of possession... She might be able to accept the verdict of 'innocent by reason of drugging.'"
"I can't lie to her."
"It's not a lie... Look, I saw Richard give Scully a cup of coffee at the scene this morning... It's possible that it was done then. Since Elysia tends to metabolized quickly, it would have had to have been a huge dose to have lasted this long."
"You don't think that happened."
Anja glanced at Braidon-Jones, who shrugged.
"No. I don't. I don't think Richard had anything to do with it until the end, but..." Anja closed her eyes. "One of my duties is to keep the true knowledge of what happened from the public --" she raised a hand before Mulder could object. "-- because the public does not want to believe in things that go *bump
shriek* in the night. Before you condemn me and those of us who do this, I want you to think carefully about what would happen if I *did* tell the truth -- nothing except getting locked in a padded cell. And if I could get people to believe... Mulder, we *don't* need a world filled with insane people who kill each other for power. The knowledge is proven to be mind-shattering. When Lovecraft and the others described people dying or going insane, he wasn't lying. It's one of the few things that were absolutely true... in fact, it's one of the few things that he actually underplayed."
"Do you understand? We don't do this for power."
Braidon-Jones shuddered, sending his white hair flying about his face.
"However, Mulder, you've become a member of a rather select group. Now you know. You can choose to believe or not, but the knowledge never goes away."
He stared into Scully's face, pale as marble against the harsh white of the sheets. "She won't believe it."
"That makes it harder, but in this case it will give her an acceptable out."
Braidon-Jones and Ice watched him, silent and contemplative.
"Ice...? You promised me a tour of the Miskatonic Library."
Braidon-Jones bit his lip. Ice smiled slightly, eyes sad. "I think it can be arranged."
She walked out of Scully's room with Braidon-Jones and quietly closed the door behind her.
Her smile was sad. "I never could fool you, could I Luther?"
"No. It's one of the disadvantages of your having grown up at the University. We all know you too well. Behind that iron control of yours, you're grieving, and it will swallow you if you're not careful."
Anja started down the hallway, toward the waiting room, eager to get out of earshot of the room Scully lay in. Tears glittered on her cheeks, silver and gold in the softer light of the waiting area.
"Dancer knew what was happening. Some part of him. He had to..."
"Why do you say that, my dear?"
"Because... When it started... I thought he was being his normal, obnoxious-right-on-the-edge-of-downright-annoying self. He kept trying to push them away. I thought he was being territorial, but I don't think he was. I think..."
"He was trying to protect them?"
Braidon-Jones stared at her thoughtfully, his dark eyes cataloging everything about her. Ice was unaware of the deep purple circles under her eyes, or the paper-white skin the spoke of exhaustion that verged on collapse. Despair wriggled blackly in the depths of amber eyes that had darkened almost to brown under the weight of her emotions, despite the dispassionate face that she turned to the world. Oblivious to these obvious signs of her distress, Anja sat down, staring at a wall.
She sighed, wiping the tears away. "The clincher of it all, of course, is that *he* was the one who encouraged me to call you."
Ice laughed. "Perhaps not you, specifically. I know that he wasn't fond of you. But he wanted me to get in contact with Miskatonic. He went so far as to check if my accounts were still active there."
"Which they are."
She nodded. "...I think that part of him knew. Some small part... They'll paint him as the villain of the piece, you know. He investigated most of the crime scenes -- they'll assume that he was directly involved with a cover-up. It's a good thing that the Society called the killings in..."
"Ice, we didn't know about it until you got in contact with us this morning. We didn't call it in."
"Then who did? I know the order didn't originate with Richard, which is a good thing for me, not to mention Mulder and Scully -- we'd be stuck with the assumption that we were helping if Richard had done it. But I traced the order back right after I got it." She grinned a little ruefully. " -- don't tell Mulder, but I did think that it was a little suspicious when Richard called me. I mean, he came to my graduation from Quantico, but that was just to see if I really was happier toting a gun than being in bed with him most nights. The orders came from above -- there's nothing to connect us with Richard other than the broken engagement, and no one would think that I'd hide anything he was doing."
"No. You wouldn't... Of course, the question is, can you hide those things that need to be?"
"Yeah. The details of the killings will never be released. I doubt that it will be difficult to get all of the evidence sealed. No one in the general populace is going to be stuck wondering how the body in the reflecting pool came to be."
"Good. Now, miss -- you are going to go to bed. And you'll sleep late."
Anja smiled, a true smile that erased the grief from her eyes and made them glow like honey in sunlight.
"Yes, uncle." J. Edgar Hoover Building Three weeks later
Dana Scully walked down the familiar hallways of the J. Edgar Hoover building with an almost hesitant step. It was her first day back at work since the night that fires erupted all over Washington. The papers were calling it a suicide-death cult whose leader, Richard Anaphon, had ordered the strange and bizarre killings of people all over the city.
The mere thought of his forest-green eyes filled Dana with rage and shame. No matter how many times Ice tried to tell her that it wasn't her fault, Scully could only remember the wild desire that had seemed to take control of her body and mind, and her inability to stop herself from doing things that she knew would destroy herself and her life.
She hadn't been able to look Mulder in the eye since that night. Bad enough that she had rutted like an animal with Anaphon, but to brag about it in an attempt to force Mulder to take her...
Scully could still see the desperation in his eyes as his mouth had settled on hers, sweet and giving, just as his hands pulled that necklace around her throat. The necklace that she still wore along with her cross.
<"Ice thought you should wear this...">
Her fingers caressed the silvery star, feeling it's alien coldness, as though body heat could never warm the metal. Scully tried not to think about it, but the memories burned in her mind's eye.
Scully walked past Skinner's office, eyes focused inward, when a familiar, honeyed voice flowed around her.
Dana's steps faltered, then she turned around. "Ice?"
Anja smiled, brushing a lock of golden hair out of her eyes. "How are you feeling?"
"You always say that, Scully. I don't suppose there's much hope of your saying differently. Heading back to work?"
"Yeah..." The compassion in those honey-brown eyes broke the bonds on the tears that Scully hadn't yet shed. "I'm thinking of getting a transfer, though."
Ice sighed. "It's a good thing that I just finished with my meeting with the A. D. Let's go talk."
"We've been over this..."
"Yeah, but you haven't believed before. This time I think you will."
"I've got --"
"-- to get to work, yeah, I know, but trust me?"
Scully stared at Anja, thinking about it. She looked up into amber eyes and smiled slightly, surprised. "Yes. As a matter of fact, I do."
They went outside and walked the long way around the Reflecting Pool. The first few minutes they didn't speak, they just basked in the honey-gold light of the sun.
"Dana, please. Mulder calls me Scully all of the time."
Ice nodded. "Then call me Anja or Ice. I do honestly answer to the second... Anyway, Dana, I want you to understand something about what happened."
"What? I behaved reprehensibly, with no control whatever?"
Anja shook her head. "No. That's not what I want you to think about... Scully, you weren't in control of your actions. What was done to you... It was rape, of your mind and your soul as well as your body, all with the intent of driving you and Mulder apart, if not getting you killed."
"You've said that before." Doubt lay and cottony in Dana's voice. Ice sighed.
"You don't believe me."
"No. I made those choices, Anja. I wanted to get..."
"Scully -- Dana --"
"I *wanted* it, don't you understand?"
"Maybe. But not that much. Not enough to do what you did... Dana, you haven't looked at the case file at all. I know that you haven't checked your blood work up. You should. You'd probably be surprised."
"What could possibly have been in my blood work up that would change what I did, Ice? I tried --" Dana looked away from Ice's serious eyes. "I tried --"
"Stop right there." Anja grabbed Dana's hand and pulled her to a stop. "You're going to shut up and listen for a moment, without the grief and guilt... Have you ever heard of a designer drug called Elysia?"
Dana closed her eyes, thinking. "Yes. It behaves rather like a cross between Ecstasy and the rape drug -- it lowers inhibitions to an absolute nadir, and causes a rather unique form of suggestibility, something like being deeply hypnotized. It tends to be accompanied by visual or aural hallucinations. The higher the dosage, the more frequent and discernible the hallucinations, and the stronger the suggestibility of the ingester. Why?"
"I'll get to that. Had you ever been to the Chanson D'Or?"
"Once or twice. Their Sax player was the best." Scully saw Ice grimace, but didn't ask why. Ice shrugged.
"Well, it seems that they were slipping Elysia into the drinks of about half of the people who were going there... It allowed people to talk freely and behave more... indiscriminately than they might otherwise. But the suggestibility came in useful for the cult activities because it allowed them to get people to come back when they wanted them to... I noticed that you accepted a cup of coffee from Richard that morning..."
Scully thought back. He had come up to her when Anja had gone to deal with the reporters. The coffee had been pretty good, and they'd chatted for a little while...
"You think he drugged me?"
"We're pretty certain of it. And left you with the suggestion to meet him at the lounge. Why? I don't know, but that's what he did. I suspect that he left you with instructions to seduce Mulder as well..."
"Because sleeping with him while on a case would be really poor conduct, and you know as well as I do that you'd quietly lose everything if it got out that you'd done so. As for seducing Mulder... Scully, you two are good friends, closer than most, closer, in fact, than many lovers I've known... The fastest way to destroy a platonic relationship would be to stick the two of you in bed, knowing how you'd regret it the next day. And, Scully, with your personality... Just losing control like that..."
Dana stared into the waters of the reflecting pool and thought about that, slowly nodding. Ice watched her closely. "Unless I'm mistaken, you're more disturbed about the idea of losing control like that than the idea of making love with your partner. Or are you?"
Scully blushed. "I--"
"You wouldn't be the first to be attracted to him..." Ice grinned. "He *is* cute, after all. And you wouldn't be the first to feel attraction to someone that you can't have because of the rules... or because of your conscience. They *knew* that. And they knew that it would destroy your relationship with him if your attraction got the better of you..."
"But why didn't they do this to him? Why me?"
Ice tilted her head to one side. "I'm not sure. The actual high priest was a female, a good looking one at that. But she wouldn't have had the same access to you and Mulder -- or me, for that matter -- that... Richard... had."
Anja's eyes were bleak.
"...It's nothing. Just the waste of it all. Richard was a good man, once. He slipped into darkness without making a ripple, without even knowing it..." Her voice grew soft. "But no matter. We were talking about you. Can you deal with what happened?"
Scully thought about it for a while. "Does Mulder know this?"
"About the drugging? Yes. He's been trying to call you for the last week and a half to tell you the news."
"What does he believe?"
Anja shrugged. "You'll have to ask him."
Scully nodded, somehow feeling as though her burden had lightened. Her shame and guilt fell away as though they were nothing. Impulsively, she hugged Anja. "Thanks."
Anja laughed, surprising them both. "No problem. I'll probably be seeing you around."
"I hope so."
"Still -- when I first saw you I thought that I'd rather work with almost anyone else than you..."
Anja grimaced. "That's nothing new. No one in the Bureau really wants to work with me."
"But it was rather unfair of me..." Scully looked down the pathway and noticed a lone still figure sitting on the bench that she and Mulder habitually used. "You're really not so bad."
"...however, I need to go talk to Mulder..."
Scully ran, almost sprinted, to the bench, and Mulder looked up. Even from that distance, Anja could see the grateful smile that flickered across his lips when he spied her standing by the pool. Anja waved and turned away.
She grinned briefly, up at the sun, enjoying the warmth and the distant sound of song birds. There was no point in noting that Nyarlathotep was working on real, if buried desires. He wasn't the sort to waste energy on forcing out feelings that weren't there. Why bother, he could have driven them both insane instead, which was one of his favored tactics. Thus he must have found it more amusing to have their secret desires come out.
Anja glanced back, seeing the two agents sitting on the bench, Mulder holding one of Scully's hands gently, like a rare flower. Hidden, but not absent.
Mulder and Scully would have to work that one out on their own.
Anja wended her way back to the office, going the long way around. She'd been reassigned as a liaison officer between BSU and VCS -- profiles still hitting her desk in a landslide -- but it gave her more immediate control over what got assigned, where, and to whom. Her pick of partners if she needed to go into the field.
Anja smiled peacefully the whole way back.
It was shaping up to be a good day.