"Listen to me," he'd said. "I'm sure I know a way where we can all live again! Not just for a few stolen hours, but permanently!"
Daniel had been skeptical, but the others, even Sofie, seemed more receptive, so he'd continued. "Look. I can take her over completely--I'm sure of it! Once I do, I can manufacture an excuse to leave New Babbage--something that will seem perfectly reasonable to her friends. Then I'll go to a new city, one where she's not known. I'll be able to live as I please, with no one to know that it's not usual."
"And how does all this help us?" Daniel asked sarcastically.
"Well, there'll be an empty apartment, right? Someone will move in, and all you'll have to do is wait for that someone to start being weakened by the machine as well. Then one of you can take that person over, and do the same thing. You could even start checking the other renters now."
"Mac, that's ridiculous! It won't work," Daniel said scornfully.
"Why not?" asked one of the others. "It sounds reasonable to me."
"Yes, I think he has a point, too," Sofie said.
And with that, the battle lines were drawn, and the war was fought in fitful arguments, punctuated by necessary silence when living folk came too near. It was still raging when evening came on.
But as the others argued, Mac stayed silent, letting them concentrate on something other than him. He hoped that Evie would bring him the word he was hoping for, and then perhaps he could present them with a fait accompli. And sure enough, as they continued to wrangle back and forth, Evie flashed in beside him. "She's there, and asleep," she whispered.
"Thanks, kid. I owe ya," he whispered back. He drifted back, then flashed upstairs and entered the woman's body. He was sure, if he could only get away from interference, he'd be able to solidify his control, and occupy her body permanently. Getting up, he swiftly exited the apartment and headed downstairs, pondering where to go.
"Hello again, Miss Bo--Book?"
Mac whirled around at the sound of Mr. Somerset's voice, in time to see the man do a double-take. Why on earth was he still hanging around?!
"Oh! Oh, hello again, Zac," he said, doing his best to slip into the part, but seeing the man's eyes narrow. "What kept you here? I thought you'd be back home to Nell by now." He grinned outwardly, even as he cursed inwardly, wondering how he could escape.
"Book...come here for a second..."
Mac's eyes hardened as the man approached cautiously. "Why?" he asked.
Mac cursed again, but kept trying to bluff his way through. "Why, what do you mean?" He took a step back as Mr. Somerset came even closer, feeling a flicker of fear cross his face before he could still it.
Suddenly, Mr. Somerset said, "I'm sorry, Miss Book," and swiftly grabbed his arm. He stiffened, and was about to pull away, when he felt another presence...inside! A presence that asked, "Who are you?!"
He gasped, frozen by this action he hadn't expected.
"Release Miss Book at once!" The presence carried Mr. Somerset's voice, and Mac realized now that his plans were tumbling down around his ears.
"No!" he shouted, as a feral look crossed his face. He whirled, wrenching his arm out of Mr. Somerset's grasp, and ran for the edge of the sea wall. Balancing precariously on the edge, he turned around and held up his hand at the rapidly approaching man.
"Don't come any closer!" he yelled desperately. "I'll throw her into the sea and drown her if you come any closer!"
Mr. Somerset smiled grimly. "Leave Miss Book be! You can't get away with this."
"Oh, no, I'll not let her go! I have a chance to live again!
"No, not really. It wouldn't really be you, and it would be at peril to your host."
Mac snorted. Did the man really think he could be fooled so easily? "I don't care," he growled. "Anything is better than haunting a graveyard, and I'm getting more and more control every day."
"Sir," Somerset said. "You don't seem to understand. You won't be able to regain your life this way; you'll only end up killing Miss Book. She can't go on hosting you forever!"
"Pah--you'd say anything to get me to leave! Keep in mind--I have nothing to lose here. But you--you have a great deal to lose!"
"But not today!" Mr. Somerset riposted. Mac suddenly stiffened, started, as he felt the man's presence inside. Mac was helpless to stop him, as he wakened Bookworm's consciousness. All he could do now was turn inward, trying to push her back down, and somehow contain her consciousness so that it could never escape. He didn't feel Somerset grab his arm, dragging him away from the edge of the Vernian.
Bookworm seemed to feel a tug on her mind, and a cry of "Bookworm! Wake up!" She tried to say, "Hmmph--I'm up, I'm up." She tried to jerk in her startlement. But her mind seemed to have no connection to her body. And suddenly, she felt...a presence, an alien presence, one that was pushing against her mind, trying to shove it down.
For a few seconds, she could only exist in surprise. But then she thought, 'Wait. This...this. Is. Wrong.' With a strength born of panic, she began pushing back, struggling to claw her way to anything that felt like herself--her entire self.
It seemed to take an eternity, but slowly, she began feeling her body again. First a toe, then a finger, then an ear. It felt like her consciousness was slowly expanding to refill her body, pushing the alien presence out and away. Finally, she felt herself in complete possession of her body--though not so much in control yet that she could prevent herself from collapsing.
She lay still for a few moments, feeling a tendril of someone else probing delicately in her mind--a someone she suddenly identified as Zac. She stirred a little, feeling wordless comfort from him as he did...something...something she couldn't identify. She groaned, trying to bring her scattered senses together.
"Miss Book, I'm so sorry I had to intrude on your mind without asking," Zac said with deep concern. "Do you remember what happened?"
"Oh...oh, Zac. I...I think so..."
"I'd like to fortify your shields so that you're unlikely to be attacked that way again."
"What? Oh...yes, yes. That would probably be wise." Bookworm sat up, holding her head in her hands.
Zac nodded, and once again, she felt him doing...something. "There, that should help for now, although it would be beneficial if we could do some mental work together to teach you how to enhance your own shields. I don't know that I can teach you much more than that, in terms of mental abilities, but that much should be do-able."
Book stared at him. "I felt that. I really did." She shook her head, considering all the assumptions and beliefs that she was going to have to re-think.
"Yes," Zac replied. "I tried to be gentle, but there was a bit of a wrestling match in there for a moment. you fought him off well, by the way. You did that, not me."
Bookworm stood up, looked around, and slowly walked over to some nearby steps to sit down again. "I just...it seems so hard to believe." She looked up at Zac. "Ghosts...possessing me?"
He sat down beside her. "It happens. Though not often."
She looked over in sudden panic. "And you're sure they can't do it again?"
"For now," he said reassuringly. "As I said, though, it would be best if you could learn how to strengthen your own shields. I can help with that."
Bookworm nodded, then started a bit in surprise. Had she really just heard a thin voice say, "Oh, *good* one, Mac!"
Zac smiled. "Nell would tell you she hates shield work. She once called it a pointless exercise in trying to keep me from reading her mind. I'm sure the fact that she was 15 and had a crush on me wasn't helpful."
Book smiled wanly. "At this point, I would be *very* glad to learn anything you can teach me."
Zac nodded. "Once you're fully rested, let's work on that first."
"Rest," she sighed. "That sounds like the most beautiful thing in the world."
"I'm wondering, though, why you've been invaded by a swarm of ghosts. You did know there were more than the one?"
"I didn't know there were any until my struggle with Mac," Book said wryly. "Somehow, I picked up a lot of information from him during that."
"I wonder if something here made you especially susceptible, or maybe just attracted them to this area in the first place. There's a graveyard nearby, isn't there?"
"Yes, between the Mechanix Arms and Mr. Footman's lab," Bookworm replied absently, trying to sort through everything she'd gained access to. Suddenly, she stiffened and gasped. "It was Mr. Footman! He built a machine, to try to contact the spirits in the graveyard! It did strengthen them, but for some reason, it also weakened me. It made it possible for them to possess me!"
Zac nodded in understanding. "And I just remembered...I warded your apartment last summer, but evidently the wards have weakened, or they couldn't have gotten inside. Well, I can fix *that* now."
"Really? Why is that?"
"I've really no idea," Zac said, frowning, "but it's not the first time I've found out that things don't always work as expected here in Babbage."
"Ahh, yes. 'Things are different here.' You'd think I'd've learned that by now," Book replied ruefully.
"It's one reason we have the Chapel upstairs in our house. I don't fully trust in just the wards anymore. And...there was a lot of darkness in that house before."
Bookworm smiled wryly. "With Underby there? That I believe."
"Normally we wouldn't have given it a second look, but...in a way, it's like the house wanted us there to relieve it of that taint." He looked at Bookworm, smiling. "And before you ask, no, that doesn't make sense even to a Deryni." She chuckled.
Zac offered her a hand up. "Well, let's go take care of your house again, shall we?" She nodded, and followed him toward the stairs, then preceded him to unlock and open the door for him.
"Book, it would probably be a good idea to perform an exorcism on that graveyard. And your apartment, if it needs it."
"Well, the graveyard is on Mr. Footman's property..."
Zac nodded grimly. "I'll have a word with him about it." With that, he settled down to work. As she had last summer, she watched him intently, but this time with rather more interest...and belief. She still didn't understand any of it, though.
With a small grunt, Zac straightened up from the last corner. "Well, that's done. And now, I must run. Nell's been worried, wondering what's keeping me. I just explained."
"But how...oh. Yes, quite." Bookworm blushed. It was going to take some doing to readjust her reactions to such statements.
Zac smiled. "Mental rapport has its uses."
She escorted him to the door and opened it, but then placed her hand on his arm, forestalling his departure. "Thank you, Zac. I...I think I owe you my life."
He patted her hand reassuringly. "You saved your own; I just handed you the tools to make it easier. That's my job, you know." He smiled.
Book smiled back, and stepped back. "Well, I won't keep you. And my bed is definitely calling me."
"Good evening, Book."
"Good night, Zac."
Bookworm closed and locked the door, then slowly walked into the bedroom, shedding clothing as she went. She sank down into its soft embrace, having just enough energy to pull the covers over her. Despite her confusion, she trusted Zac. If he said she was safe, she believed it. She could relax, and sleep as long as she needed.