Maggie sighed in frustration. "Did he never throw anything away?" she asked, tossing yet another empty box into the large trash container Tattoo had delivered to the hacienda.
"I think your grandfather was what is politely referred to as a pack rat," Roarke replied, idly flipping through a yellowed notebook. He tossed it into the trash atop a pile of old bills he had found on the same shelf.
"The man never met a scrap of paper he didn't want to preserve for posterity," Maggie grumbled. "It makes it nearly impossible to figure out what's important and what isn't."
"Perhaps that was the idea." Roarke glanced down the row of boxes with a sigh. "He might have been hiding his treasures in plain sight."
"'Treasures?" Maggie snorted in disgust. "I don't see anything worth treasuring. Except…" She pulled a folded page from the midst of a group of receipts. "What's this?"
Roarke reached out and took it from her, unfolding it with a frown. It was yellowed with age, the handwriting faded and elegant. The paper was ragged at the edges, as though it were roughly torn from a book, with odd figures drawn in brownish ink in the corners. "It looks like a translation of a spell he had been working on. Some sort of transference spell."
"Transference?" Maggie's voice took on a strained tone as she took back the page. "I remember this. He taught me this when I was just a kid. I never knew where he got it from or why he was so determined that I learn it. Still don't."
"What did the spell really do?" Roarke asked quietly.
"It was supposed to allow one wizard to transfer power, magic and even life energy to another person, usually another magic user. He told me his father wanted him to learn it so that he could continue the family tradition – keeping himself alive by using the power of family until he could find the 'right' heir to pass his power along to. My great-grandfather was a conniving, evil old man who probably sacrificed goddess only knows how many of his own descendants to keep himself alive until the 'right' one was born, and then expected his child to do the same."
"I never met your great-grandfather." Roarke pulled another book from a box and shook it gently over the table. "But from what Raul said about him, 'conniving' and 'evil' would have been compliments. Yet I have wondered over the years…"
"You've wondered if Grandfather was like his father." Maggie glanced down at the page with a frown. "I suspect as he got older and his children didn't turn out the way he expected, he did start to remember his father's lessons and take them more to heart. But this page wasn't written by him. I know both his and my dad's handwriting well enough to recognize it. This *is* a man's handwriting, but not theirs."
Roarke reached across the table and took the page back. A chill flowed over him as he read the first line, filling him with mixture of dread and despair. He rose and crumpled the page in his hand, tossing it into the fireplace in disgust. "You don't need this power," he said quietly.
"And yet Grandfather insisted I learn it. Makes you wonder what he knew that we don't." She poked around the stacks a little more and pulled out another book. This one was different from the others they had been looking at. It was bound in leather, with gold-filigree writing on the cover. The pages were heavier than modern paper and yellowed with age. "And here is my missing birthday present – Elizabeth Bathory's grimoire."
Roarke strode across the room quickly. His hand shot out and he snatched the book away from the young woman. "I'll take that."
Maggie held on grimly. "Oh no you won't! That's my birthday gift." She grinned suddenly. "Goddess – I sound like Golom from Lord of the Rings."
Roarke didn't return her smile. "It's still dangerous, even after all these years."
"Not to me it's not," she retorted. "I'm older and more experienced now and know what to expect. It can't take me by surprise. Besides, I've always wondered something, and maybe the book can answer my question."
"What is your question?" Roarke asked, releasing the book.
"There was a legend that just after Bathory's husband died, she was visited by a stranger, a dark stranger who might have been responsible for introducing her to some of the more horrifying of the Dark Arts. All the supernatural enthusiasts use to say that it might have been Dracula – the vampire not the Prince – but of course that didn't happen. I've always wondered about who it was if he actually existed. "
Roarke frowned, casting his mind back to that long-ago time. "I remember whispers about that visitor, but I never actually saw him. I remember, though, that it was after those stories started to spread that Elizabeth began to change, to become darker, colder. I could no longer reach her heart." He sighed and sank back onto the sofa. "How strange that I had forgotten that incident."
Maggie shrugged, then cracked open the book, flipping pages carefully as she scanned the faded writing. Suddenly she spied a familiar script. She dropped beside him on the sofa and pointed to a particular page. "Does this handwriting look familiar?"
He squinted at the spidery script for a moment, and then stared in shock at his guest. "It's the same writing as the transference spell!"
She sighed and carefully closed the book. "That's what I was afraid you'd say. Maybe Great-Granddad was more of an evil creature than the family knew. I shouldn't be surprised. Anyone who would steal their children's youth and life force would probably be capable of spreading the knowledge of the Dark Arts around wherever he could." Maggie glanced down at her watch. "Wow. Time flies when you're not having fun. We've been at this all day. Don't you have guests to check on?"
Roarke glanced at his pocket watch the rose quickly. "Yes. The fantasies that were planned for this weekend are routine but I should check with Tattoo just to be on the safe side. Shall we begin again in the morning?"
"I think I'll stay here tonight" she replied, carefully putting the elaborate book on the table in front of her. "There are still so many other items in this room that I need to look at before my cousin shows up and makes this more difficult."
Her host frowned slightly. "I'm not comfortable leaving you here alone."
"I can take care of myself" Maggie said coldly. "Grandfather taught me all too well. And I've had more than a little experience with Dark powers."
"I have no doubt you are a capable fighter" Roarke began, rising and moving towards the door. "But this house has not been continuously inhabited since you were born. I seriously doubt it will be as comfortable as staying at the main house."
Maggie shrugged. "I've been in worse places."
Roarke sighed in frustration. "It will get cold when the sun goes down and there is no water to the house right now. I can have it turned on tomorrow but for tonight I must insist you return to the main house."
Maggie sighed in frustration. "Fine! I'll meet you back at the main house in an hour." She reached into a pile and started flipping through another old book, effectively ending the conversation.
An hour later Maggie appeared in Roarke's office, a carefully bland look on her face. "You'll arrange for the water to be turned on at the hacienda tomorrow – right?"
Roarke looked up at her with a frown. "Are you sure…?"
"Yes I'm sure I want to stay in my grandfather's old, run-down house. Yes I want to poke through years of trash to find what magical horrors he's hidden. Yes I want to find out whether being a serial killer ran in the old family blood line. Any other questions?" Maggie turned on her heel and stalked off in a huff.
She stopped just outside of the main house and cocked her head, listening for the voice that had been ringing in her ears since her dreams of Bathory's torture chamber had begun. "Well – was that emotional enough for you?" She felt the dark presence that had followed her since the fight in Wales move behind her, running its spectral fingers through her dark hair the way her grandfather had done when she was a child. But Maggie knew instinctively that this was not the same ghostly energy that made up her grandfather's presence. This was someone much darker, a force much stronger even than her powerful warlock grand-sire. The presence she had felt ages ago, when Raul had first taught her the transference spell.
Many years before
"So essentially you're saying that with this spell I can drain someone of their life?" Maggie's voice had risen in surprise at the end of the statement, staring at her grandfather in amazement.
"Only if they are of our bloodline." Raul laid his book on the desk and started to clean up the mess his lesson had created. "Of course, you could always change it."
"You mean improvise? I thought that was strictly forbidden in the world of magic." Maggie stretched her arms above her head wearily then hopped to her feet. She pulled a book from the shelf and pretended to scan the contents, keeping her eye on her mercurial grandfather. Out of the corner of her eye she could see a darkness hovering near her grandfather's chair, a presence that she had felt watching them the entire time he had been teaching her the spell. She wondered vaguely why her grandfather didn't dispel it he had other ghostly entities his magic had attracted. But since abuelo didn't seem to take notice of it she dismissed it as well.
"Don't be silly girl. If the next generation of magic doesn't improvise how will it evolve?"
"How will what evolve?" Eduardo de los Santos, "Eddie" to his friends, moved quietly into the empty space between his father and teenage daughter. He could smell the incense in the air, and could see the remains of a spell littering the coffee table. He gritted his teeth in annoyance. "So what have you two been up to?"
"Nothing" Maggie drawled, dropping into the sofa and tucking her long legs under her and smiling brightly up at her father. "Just goofing around."
Eddie glared at his father. "I thought we agreed…"
"No boy – You agreed. I never did. The girl needs to learn to control her power and the best way to do that is to practice. All you're wishing isn't going to make her not have the gifts of our fathers."
"It's no big deal dad" Maggie added, "I can do this – it's not that hard."
Eduardo grimaced. "It's not a matter of whether you can do it child – it's whether you should do it."
"Whatever." Maggie replied, rolling her eyes.
Raul grinned amiably. "Some things never change. You use to do roll your eyes at me when you were that age."
Eddie sighed then dropped into the sofa beside Maggie. "I give up. Obviously I'm not going to win this argument. " He reached out and stroked her hair gently. "Just be careful."
"Always am." Maggie replied, smiling brightly at both the men in her life.
Raul sat back, ignoring the darkness behind his chair. A voice, raspy with age, whispered in his ear "A talent. At last! Soon it will be done."
"It will be done." Raul agreed silently. "But maybe not as you would have it done."
A hollow laugh rang in her ears. "He knows you are pushing him away, girl. He was always quick to see what people didn't want him to see."
"Maybe so" she agreed calmly. "But our little battle is about to begin and I, for one, don't want any more distractions. Arranging for Byron to spend time with his family took more than a little "persuasion" on my part. I don't want Roarke involved at all….at least until I need him." She smiled grimily to herself. "We both know you're playing both ends against the middle. That's why Tobias is coming to the island. A final battle on what must be neutral territory where neither of us will have advantage. You want to see which one of us is "the chosen one". Well played. Sato would be impressed." She absently brushed at a speck of dust on her sleeve. "I, on the other hand, am not so easily impressed. Maybe I'll make a move that will surprise you. After all, improvisation is my specialty."
A chilling laugh floated out of the gloom. A dark shadowy figure glided out of the darkness behind her and moved effortlessly back towards the old hacienda. "We shall see, girl. We shall see."
Maggie frowned in exasperation. "I really hate ghosts."
Behind her, hidden in the doorway, Roarke watched the tableau with concern and agreed with Maggie's assessment. "I dislike ghosts as well."