It was a beautiful spring night when the disaster struck. The small town of Thai-jing was completely unaware of what was about to break loose and the 200 inhabitants went along to their work in the fields or the larger city of Onhai as usual. The old and the women and children, who weren't old enough to attend the school in Onhai, stayed home, expecting their families to return later that day.
Yin Soon looked after her husband as he drove off with the bus of workers towards the city. He would return late that evening and she was sure he would be tired. In spring there was much work to do and it meant money for the family. Money the traveling worker family needed. Thai-jing was only one of many towns Yin Soon had seen in the last five years since she had married Lee. She had known he was a traveler and she had accepted the fate that she would never really settle down.
Returning to the small house they called their home for the few months their work force was needed in Onhai, she went over what she had to do today. Suddenly she stopped. Something had drawn her attention. It was like a faint tingle on the back of her neck. But she nevertheless felt a very faint tingle. The feeling was familiar, though she had experienced it only once before in her life. And the day she had felt it had changed her life and her perception of the world forever.
Quickening her pace she entered her house and walked straight into the bedroom. Beside her mattress was a small night table with a closed drawer in it. She always wore the key around her neck -- for safety reasons. She wasn't afraid that someone would steal the contents of the drawer. She was afraid someone would hurt himself if he tried to.
Opening the drawer she got out a wrapped package of about an egg's size and was just as oval and equally formed. The cloth that served as a wrapping was old and covered with ancient writing in her ancestor's language. Her mother, who had given the package to her when she had come of age, had told her what the writings meant and Yin Soon had learned the ancient and dead language until she spoke and wrote it fluently.
She took the wrapped up egg in both hands and closed her eyes, feeling the tingle increase. Something was wrong, she knew. Something was
terribly wrong. For years it had been quiet -- since
the day her mother had died and left her with the sole responsibility of guarding the small object.
A tremor made her open her eyes. The ground shook ever so slightly, but it was a sign of the disaster to come. Yin Soon stood up, looking
out of the bedroom window, searching for signs of
something unusual. Only the animals she could see -- a dog and a few chickens -- were looking around rather nervously. They seemed to feel something. Something they didn't know what to make of. It was enough for her to confirm that there was trouble coming.
Quickly she stowed the package in her pocket and left the house. If something was about to happen, she didn't want it to happen in the town. But as she walked down the street she knew it was too late. Like a shock wave the tremor passed through Thai-jing. The earthquake -- which was not a normal, natural one, Yin Soon knew -- was strong enough to flatten most of the houses, which were built mainly of light wood. People ran screaming out of their collapsing homes, searching for shelter. Animals barked and whined and screamed. Dust rose from the street as if caught in a whirlwind and a crevice split the street in two halves.
Yin Soon's first instinct was to help the village's people, but she knew she couldn't do that. She had to protect what had been given to her by her mother, and before that had been passed on from one female family member to the next. So she ran as fast as she could, leaving the village behind. But she still knew that she would be unable to fulfill her duty. Gritting her teeth she swore she would try.
She reached the outmost fields of Thai-jing and stopped to catch her breath. Turning around she could see the village as a dusty cloud. She heard thunderous roars from the direction of Thai-jing and something like a huge shadow seemed to move away from the town -- directly towards her. Yin Soon's eyes widened as she took in the growing black cloud. She felt unable to move. Clutching the stone protectively she faced whatever it was that came to take it from her.
The black shadow gained in form as it closed in on the Chinese woman and she recognized something vaguely humanoid looking in the shadowy cloud. Silver, almond shaped eyes stared at her out of a horned head and claws stretched out towards her.
"Give me the stone!" a rough and barely human voice demanded.
"I am Yin Soon, Keeper of the Stone!" she called defiantly. "I will never surrender Earthbound to you!"
Something like a grin appeared on whatever face it was that looked at her from within the cloud. "Brave girl," the voice mocked. "But such futile bravery. Either give me the stone or die!"
Yin Soon closed her eyes, remembering the words of her mother as she had given her the stone. 'The stone is a very powerful object, my daughter. Never pass it on to someone not knowing what it represents and never let it fall into the hands of evil-doers.' She had sworn to follow those words -- even if it meant dying in the process.
"I am the Keeper of the Stone!" the woman repeated, facing the cloud with all the bravery she could muster. "I will never give it to you."
Yin Soon saw the cloud move in on her, the blackness enveloping her body and coldness numbed her body and mind. She felt the stone being lifted out of her hands and she screamed in protest when the entity unwrapped the precious jewel. She had only once seen the stone she had to protect and now she saw it for one last time before she died.
* * *
When the alarm of Ghostbuster Central rang it brought a hearty groan out of Peter Venkman. The dark-haired man lay on the couch of the living room, his eyes closed. Now he opened them and stared at the ceiling.
"Not again!" he wailed, making no moves to get up.
Ray Stantz came down from the third floor, the same enthusiastic gleam in his eyes as always when they went on a bust.
"Come on, Peter!" he called. "Hurry up!" Then the auburn-haired man disappeared down the stairs to the first floor.
"I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying," Peter muttered. He felt weary to the bone, which was the result of too many busts in too few days. And Ray's enthusiasm was too much for him to bear right now. How could the occultist be so cheerful when they had just returned from one of their scheduled busts, which had turned out to be more than they had bargained for?
When he had finally made it down the stairs all his colleagues had already dressed up and were waiting for him.
"C'mon, Pete," Winston urged. "Dress up."
Egon only frowned at his colleague, while Ray was already in the car.
"Chill, guys," he told them, getting out his coverall and dressing up. "That ghost will still be there when we get wherever we are going."
"Brooklyn," Spengler informed him and motioned him to get into Ecto-1.
"Good. Then I can catch some z's on the way there." The psychologist yawned. "Wonder when I slept the last time."
"On the way home from our bust this morning," Ray supplied helpfully.
"Yeah, had to carry you up to the bedroom," Winston put in with a broad grin as he steered Ecto out of the garage.
"I'm talking about real sleep -- like in eight hours straight! What's with the world? Ghosts all around us and it's getting worse every minute!" Peter complained.
It was true. The last days had been hell for the most unusual business of New York. The Ghostbusters had so many calls that they didn't know when to do the jobs, and there were constant emergency alarms like right now. They were all tired and weary, but they still had a job to do.
"Egon? Any bright ideas?" Peter wanted to know.
Egon pushed his glasses up his nose. "Ray and I have been trying to find the source of the ghosts. Their sudden appearance in this quantity is unusual."
"Didn't find a thing," Ray said with a disappointed look in his eyes before Egon could. "There were some hints, but before we could get a good look at what we thought might be the source, it was gone."
"Until yesterday." The blond physicist fiddled with his P.K.E. meter. "I detected a slight anomaly. It was like a quick burst of P.K. energy and then it was gone."
"And it was this morning when the ghosts came back in full stream," Winston remarked. "Think there's a connection?"
"Possible. Somewhere something must have triggered a gate, I think, which sent a large quantity of ghosts into our world. But I don't know where that gate is."
"You mean, until you can't find the gate we have to keep on going and bust those little critters?" Peter didn't really want an answer.
"Yes," Egon said nonetheless. "But since the opening of the gate is so brief, I have to re-wire some equipment to read those short bursts and pin-point the gate."
Venkman yawned. "Do it, big guy. I'll take a little nap. Don't wake me when we've arrived."
When Winston stopped Ecto-1 in front of the address they had been given, Ray nudged Peter and the psychologist startled awake.
"Huh?" he muttered.
"We're here," Ray announced and Peter sighed dramatically, dragging himself out of the car.
A ghost flew out of the store, howling and screaming. It brushed the dark-haired psychologist who was just strapping on the proton pack.
"Yah!" he yelled in disgust as ectoplasm dripped off him. "That critter is toast!"
* * *
Ånar Carlsson looked up from his book he was reading. The Swedish man frowned, unable to tell what had made him abandon the mystery novel he had hunted down for weeks and finally discovered in one of the small book shops of Malmoe. With a shrug he returned to the chapter where one of the possible murderers was questioned by the police. But the feeling of ... yes, uneasiness ... made him stop again. With a sigh he shut the book and placed it on the table. A look at the clock told him it was close to four p.m.
A tingle on the back of his neck made him sit up straight. He frowned, unable to surpress the fear that rose inside of him. He knew the tingle and he knew what it meant. The stone!
With an agility that belied his 61 years he got up and walked over to a small wall safe. He opened the safe and got out a small box, which was ornamented with runes. The runes were carved into the dark wood and when he touched them he felt the power contained inside. Ånar's fingers trembled slightly when he opened the small box and looked at the contents. Before him, on a piece of simple cloth, lay an aquamarine colored stone, the size of a hen's egg. He took the stone, feeling the cold it emitted. He shivered.
Suddenly there was an ominous sound, a low rumbling. It sounded like the first signs of an earthquake. Placing the stone back into the ornamented box, Ånar closed the lid and took the box, hugging it to his chest. Then he hurriedly left the house. He nearly ran over to the garage where his small Volvo was parked. With still trembling fingers he opened the door and ignited the engine. The blue car shot out of the garage and he steered it away from his hometown. He didn't know where to go. An instinct told him to get away from habituated places to the open ground where no human being lived. From his childhood he knew the woods close to his hometown and that was the only place he could think of right now.
But he never made it. As if out of nowhere a dark cloud appeared. Had it been a rainy day, Ånar wouldn't have thought much about it. But today was very sunny and the dark cloud was too unusual to be a rain cloud. And then there had been the warning through the stone.
'The stone will tell you of danger, because it expects you to keep it safe' his father had told him over 45 years ago when the small box had been passed on to him. Since then he was there to guard it and pass it on to his child. But Ånar Carlsson had never had any children, his first wife dying of a slow illness and his second wife unable to bear children. Maria had died two years ago from a coronary attack and since then he had been alone -- again. Pushing those thoughts aside, the old man stepped on the accelerator. But he couldn't shake the cloud. It seemed to flow with him, matching his speed. And was it his imagination or were hungry eyes watching him?
Too late did he see the sharp turn of the road and he crashed into the guard rail. He didn't pass out from the impact and was dimly aware of blackness descending upon him as the cloud enveloped the car.
"Give me the stone!" a hoarse voice demanded.
The old man held the box with the stone to his chest. "I will never give you the stone!" he said, his voice weak.
Laughter filled the air around him. "Give me the stone and you will live, old man."
Ånar Carlsson remembered his father's serious look and the earnest voice he had spoken with when he had given his son the precious object that had been in the family for hundreds of years. He was the guardian of the stone.
"Never!" he whispered.
The blackness deepened, if possible, and something took the box from Ånar's suddenly numbly cold fingers. The box opened and the aquamarine stone floated out of it, directly into the black cloud.
"Finally," the voice triumphed. "Windmaster is mine!"
It was the last thing Carlsson heard before he died.
* * *
"He has stolen three of the four keys."
The voice was female and belonged to a slim figure in a flowing, yellow robe. A hood covered the head of the figure and at her side floated a round, crystal-like object. Her name was Ath'antheia and she was one of the few female demons in this part of the Netherworld dimension. Not that there were more female demons in the other parts of this dimension. Female demons were few wherever you looked, but in those parts they existed in, they didn't hold positions of power in councils or as a leader. They were brilliant schemers, but they also kept very much apart from their male colleagues. Nobody knew exactly why.
Ath'antheia was no exception to this rule, but in this part of the Netherworld, known as The Khelljin, she belonged to a special group of demons, assigned to guard a gateway. Below the hood of the robe shone a pair of bright, yellow eyes out of a dark face. There was no visible mouth or nose and to a normal being it would have been unimaginable how Ath'antheia could utter a sound.
The one she addressed was the stark opposite of her. He didn't look humanoid at all, more like a skeleton come to life -- the black skeleton of a deer with claws instead of hooves. Muscle-like tissue stretched over the bones, keeping them together it seemed. Reddish glowing eye sockets regarded Ath'antheia with an unnatural calm
"When he finds the fourth key, he will be able to open the prison," the creature said, its voice surprisingly soft for its menacing appearance.
Ath'antheia looked at him in dismay. "I know that, Anrhenjx. I know that fact very well." Her eyes fixed on the crystal ball at her side. Inside the ball hovered the picture of the blue Volvo of Ånar Carlsson. Firemen and police were swarming around the supposed car accident. "Three of the people who have sworn to protect the keys have already died!" The demon sounded outraged.
Anrhenjx growled. Like Ath'antheia he was a demon of the Netherworld, one specific to only this area of the domain. But unlike Ath'antheia he was male and less powerful, but nonetheless a guardian of the gateway. Now he looked at the crystal. The picture inside it changed and showed a room. A man was sitting in the room, reading a story to a child.
"He is the fourth Keeper and the last between D'rlanzinhj and the stone," he rumbled.
"We have to protect the last stone from falling into D'rlanzinhj's hands!" Ath'antheia insisted. Her robe billowed around her and her eyes flashed.
The skeleton gave a low hiss. "Jaimaa is already in the humans' dimension," he said as if to remind her of it.
Ath'antheia turned narrowed eyes on her companion. "Cxjiy'Jaimaanjey has been unable to protect the other three Keepers of the stones. I don't think she can protect the last one."
"She will." The two words were spoken with absolute confidence.
The female demon made a gesture with her left hand and the crystal ball disappeared. "If she can't, OushRian will be freed and we will die." She sounded fatalistic.
Anrhenjx hissed. "D'rlanzinhj won't succeed."
The other demon gave him a humorless look. "We will see."
* * *
Egon Spengler was brooding over the test results when Winston brought him the lunch he had missed. The black man placed the plate with the steaming food on one table and then went over to his friend and colleague, a faint smile on his lips. Egon didn't seem to have noticed his entrance and was absorbed in his studies. He was scribbling something on his note-pad, while looking at a read-out screen.
"Food!" Winston announced. "Eat it while it's hot!"
Egon jumped and looked up. There was a confused look in his blue eyes the other man recognized. Egon had lost track of time again.
"Food?" the physicist echoed. Then he looked at the plate. "Oh."
A grin spread over Zeddemore's lips. "What are you working on, m'man?" He peered at the notes which were completely unreadable. They could have been hieroglyphs, for all Winston understood.
"I've been trying to pinpoint the exact location where the ghosts, which have appeared over the last couple of weeks, are coming from."
Egon sighed. "Not much. I know they didn't come from one point, but three different ones. And those points don't seem to be connected." He gave Winston a sheet of paper with a map printed on it.
"China, Sweden, Kenya," Zeddemore read. "Don't see a connection there."
Egon nodded. "Me neither. But those are the locations I detected a strong rip and where the ghosts spilled out in our world."
"A rip?" the black man asked. "How'd you detect a rip? There's P.K. energy all over the world."
Egon smiled. "Yes, indeed there is, Winston. But this is something very special. I think the rip in itself is not large enough to pose a real danger and it seems to be self-repairing since the strange energy I detected is gone now. But the energy is abnormal enough to register even this far away from its point of origin." The blond man pointed at a large device Winston had seen him and Ray working on in the last few months. "This," he continued, "is one of the prototypes of a long range P.K.E. detector Ray and I are working on. It's not yet fine-tuned and I think it needs a lot more work, but it was able to pinpoint the location of the rips more or less precise -- because of the abnormal energy."
"Abnormal energy," Winston sighed. "Doesn't sound like the things I wanna hear. Trouble, right?"
The physicist shrugged. "I don't know yet."
"Okay, if they came in our world, why didn't they haunt the countries they appeared in, but chose to come to New York?"
Egon pushed his glasses up his nose. "Very good question. Ray is working on that. He thinks there might be something here to attract the ghosts."
"Oh, great. Love it." Winston shoved the plate under Egon's nose. "Now eat or I'll send in Slimer."
Egon nodded, but his eyes were already on the screen again. With a sigh of defeat, Winston left the lab, closing the door behind him. When he arrived on the second floor he met Peter, who was sitting in front of the TV. As Winston walked over to the kitchen, the psychologist looked away from the flickering screen.
"Did you dig out our little genius or couldn't you find him under all that data?"
The older man grinned. "I don't think he even noticed the food."
"What a shame."
"He's still after the reason of the sudden ghost appearances. He found some interesting things, but it's really weird."
Peter shrugged. "It's always weird when Egon's into something."
"Where's Ray?" Winston looked round. "Wasn't he here when I walked upstairs?"
The dark-haired man nodded. "Yeah, but he went over to the library because he wanted to research something." He shrugged. "Don't ask me what."
"Well, we get to know soon enough." With that Winston disappeared into the kitchen.
Peter switched off the TV and decided to get back to work on the papers he had collected downstairs over the weeks. Most of them were bills, ads and business stuff like that. He wasn't looking forward to it, but with Egon and Ray deep into research and Winston working in the kitchen, he had no-one to keep him company -- unless he wanted to help Winston. And Peter didn't really feel like scrubbing the kitchen right now.
* * *
Cxjiy'Jaimaanjey stood on the spot where the Keeper of the Stone had died. His name had been James Naaran, oldest son of a tourist guide in one of the National Parks of Kenya. The spot didn't show any signs of the struggle that had passed between D'rlanzinhj and Naaran. The wind and the hot sun of the past days had erased all. But Jaimaa felt the power that had been unleashed out here in the vast lands of the national park reservoir. Naaran had been alone when D'rlanzinhj had attacked him, demanding Firewalker from him. Naturally, Naaran had refused. Like all Keepers of the Stone he had felt the danger even before the dark cloud had come close to his home in Mombassa and he had fled into the loneliness of the park, hoping that this way he could keep the attacker from destroying the city. He had succeeded in that, but had still died.
The demon shuddered as she felt the negative, evil emotion of D'rlanzinhj. She sensed the traces of cold triumph as her enemy had taken the stone and killed its Keeper. Naaran had been found days later, his body already decaying and half eaten by lions and hyenas. It hadn't been a pretty sight and the police of the park had declared him dead through animal attack. There was no other explanation.
Jaimaa had entered the world of the humans only a few days ago, searching for the stones and D'rlanzinhj at the same time. She had been too late for James Naaran and she had been too late for the Chinese woman, Yin Soon. As with this place in the national park, the spot where Yin Soon had died blazed with cold and negative energy. And like here, there had been a small rip in the fabric of the dimension and ghosts had escaped, seeking their way through the world of the humans towards one place. Jaimaa knew she would have to follow the ghosts to find the place they were attracted to, but not right now. There was one more place to go.
Concentrating she sought out the last of the three spots where a Keeper had been killed and minutes later she materialized beside a road. The difference in landscape was astounding. Instead of bare land she found herself standing on green grass, trees all along the road and birds flying overhead.
Ånar Carlsson had left a mark at the place he had died by a supposed car accident. The guard rail was severely dented and the grass was torn out of the ground were the tires of the car had tried to find hold. The car had been removed by the police, as had been the body of the old man, but Jaimaa felt the pain and the death and it made her sick. D'rlanzinhj went over dead bodies to get the stones. He could have just taken them and left, but he had to kill the Keepers.
Closing her eyes, Jaimaa tried to find the last of the four stones, but since none of them was detectable unless they were activated, she felt nothing. How D'rlanzinhj found the stones was a riddle to her. He had no stronger empathic powers than she, but somehow he had sought out the Keepers and stolen the stones.
All of this meant she had to wait. No, not exactly. She could still follow the trail of the ghosts set free through the sudden burst of power when the stones had been stolen. Maybe that way she could find a way to stop the powerful entity which was behind all of it.
With that plan in her mind the otherworldly woman dissolved into a bluish mist, streaking into the cloudy sky.
* * *
Ray returned to Ghostbuster Central late in the afternoon. He was carrying stacks of copies from books and papers written by famous or less famous people. Janine looked up from her computer as the door opened and quickly hurried over to help her boss with his load.
"Thanks, Janine!" Ray said and stacked some more books beside the copies.
"What'd you do? Raid the library?" The red-haired secretary eyed the copies and books. "Did you leave anything for other library visitors or do they have to buy a new stock in occult and mystic books?"
The occultist grinned. "Naw. I just copied most of the books I couldn't take along. The others I'll return when I'm through. Where are the others?"
"Upstairs. Want me to help you with that load?"
But before Ray could voice his thanks for the offered help the phone rang. Janine picked up the receiver and listened to the frantic voice on the other end of the line. She frowned, then scribbled down the address.
"They'll be right over," she promised the caller, then hung up.
"What is it?" Ray wanted to know.
"Some joggers in Central Park encountered a cloud-like thing that was apparently chasing a man. The caller was one of the joggers' group."
"Cloud-like entity?" Ray's eyes sparkled. "Great! Call the others! I'll pack up Ecto."
Janine hit the alarm button as told and minutes later the four Ghostbusters were on their way.
The cloud-like shadow that was D'rlanzinhj chased the elderly man through the large park in the heart of New York, known as Central Park. Arthur Perez stumbled along the small forest of trees and tried to shake of the thing the stone had warned him of. But it was no use and he knew it. He had to stop and fight -- with whatever weapons he had.
As he came to a stop, turning around to face the cloud, he noticed a white car driving towards where the two different combatants had chosen their ground. Flashers on top of the car whirled in red and blue and a siren screamed. The car came to a stop just a few meters away from them and four men got out. Arthur recognized them immediately. The Ghostbusters! His heart made a giant leap of hope. Clutching the precious object he had been given to be the Keeper of to his chest, he watched the four men come closer.
"Well, Egon?" Peter didn't let his gaze wander away from the large, black cloud as he tried to get his blond colleague to tell him what he was about to face.
"It's at least a class-8," Egon said, frowning at the P.K.E. meter. "And it shows traces of a demonic entity."
Peter groaned. "Swell! I knew the last days had been too easy."
"You call masses of pesty class-2's and a bunch of class-3's easy?" Winston grumbled.
"Compared to the things we encountered when New York became the tourist attraction for ghosts, yes." Peter still remembered the nasty ghost that had nearly taken his head off.
Winston nodded. "Yeah."
"A class-8?" Ray now echoed. "Doesn't really look like one ...."
"Looks can be deceptive, Raymond," Egon lectured. "This cloud entity is definitely very high classed and potentially dangerous."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Peter readied his thrower.
"What about the man it was chasing?" Ray wanted to know, afraid they might hurt the man in the process of trapping the demon.
"You distract the demon, I'll get him out of the immediate line of fire," Peter instructed them. "Try to get it to move over a little bit to give me some free way."
"This could be dangerous," Egon said slowly, knowing that when Peter's mind was set, there were few things that could change it.
Peter frowned at the demon and then looked at the man who stood like rooted to the spot, clutching something to his chest, staring at them with wide eyes. "Yeah, could be. Let's move."
The casualness of his voice couldn't mask the fear he felt and that tinged his voice. He was about to encounter a possible demon and he had just volunteered for the most dangerous job of all. Egon looked at his friend and saw how tight his thin face was drawn. He was worried about the safety of the three Ghostbusters and the man, who was closest to the demon and its intended victim.
When Peter looked over to his blond friend, Egon gave him a reassuring smile. They would cover him as long and as much as possible.
As planned, the three Ghostbuster moved to different positions to cover the large cloud-like entity as best as they could. Peter moved around the other side, edging closer to the man. When he yelled 'Now, guys!' his colleagues fired their proton streams.
The black cloud entity howled in annoyance and surprise, and moved a little bit away from the man. Peter darted over to him and grabbed him by one wrist.
"Come on, Mister, move it!" he urged, pulling the man with him towards the dubious safety of the forest.
The entity, seeing its prey escape, gave another howl and followed the two men.
"Full stream!" Egon shouted, training his thrower at the middle of the demon.
Silver, almond shaped eyes appeared in the center and Egon thought he could spot something vaguely humanoid there. A hiss came from the demon and it lashed out at the three men, who were annoying him.
"Watch out!" Winston screamed in alarm and dodged the black tentacle.
Ray was nearly caught off guard and was barely able to jump aside in time. Both men had to switch off their throwers, which left Egon alone to tackle with the entity. But instead of taking out his sole torturer, the cloud demon pulled free and choose to follow his intended prey.
Peter had witnessed the attack and was just grabbing for his thrower when the entity attacked. The psychologist fired directly into the blackness that started to surround him, trying to keep the terrified man behind him. The demon wasn't the least impressed with the fireworks and kept coming closer.
"Give me the stone!" its cold voice came from within the cloud.
"No!" the man behind Peter protested. "You will never get it!"
"Then you will die and I will take the stone." The blackness engulfed them.
Peter gritted his teeth. "Not if I can help it, buddy," he muttered and set his proton rifle to full stream.
For a second it drove the entity off, but it came back, pressing against the proton ray and lashing out for the man behind Peter.
"Get outta here!" the dark-haired Ghostbuster yelled. "I can't hold it off much longer!"
Arthur Perez did as he was told, though he knew he wouldn't get far. Whatever it was that was after the stone, it was stronger than the Ghostbusters. He had lost. He would die. And he would loose the stone he had sworn to protect. Running as fast as his legs would he crashed through the forest. Behind him he heard the roar of the entity and then an agonized scream of a human being. He closed his eyes briefly, then doubled his speed, the stone still clutched in his veined hands.
Ray's head whipped around when he heard the scream and his face went white as chalk.
Then he started to run over to where the dark cloud demon was pressing into the forest, ignoring the fact that he was running into danger.
"Ray!" Winston yelled, stumbling to his feet after landing hard on the solid ground when he had evaded the demon's tentacle attack. When Ray didn't stop, the black Ghostbuster cursed and followed his younger colleague, Egon right on his heels.
The cloud entity was charging through the forest, unminding of the lifeless figure on the ground. D'rlanzinhj had to follow his prey unless he wanted the human to escape. The man with the fire spewing machine had been no threat to him and he had easily overrun him. Now he would get the other human and take the stone from him.
Suddenly something attacked him. It hit him fast and painfully right into the middle of his cloud-like body. D'rlanzinhj stopped, feeling the pain spread, as well as his surprise. What ....? He looked around and discovered a human figure not far away from him. His surprise doubled as he recognized the figure.
"Cxjiy'Jaimaanjey," he growled, letting the human Keeper run further away as he stopped to confront this enemy.
"D'rlanzinhj," the other demon acknowledged him.
"Don't think you can stop me. The keys are mine!"
"I wouldn't be so sure of that." With that she dissolved into thin, blue smoke and billowed up around him.
The black cloud gave a shriek as the blue vapor touched it and started to pull back. The blue smoke pushed its darker opponent further away. Suddenly the black cloud billowed up, too, trying to envelop the smaller one. Jaimaa pulled back, feeling the coldness of D'rlanzinhj's soul touch her's. Laughter filled her 'ears' as she was forced to retreat.
"You are no match for me, Cxjiy'Jaimaanjey. You have never been and you will never be!" D'rlanzinhj lashed out and Jaimaa screamed in pain.
Peter lay on the ground, his uniform covered with tiny flakes of snow. His face held a bluish tinge and he didn't seem to be breathing when Ray fell to his knees at his side.
"Peter!" the occultist exclaimed, searching frantically for a pulse at the older man's neck. Ray was shocked to feel the cold skin, but a small wave of relief flooded through him when he found a faint pulse.
"Peter!" The exclamation startled Ray and he looked up, discovering Winston and Egon behind him. "Is he ...?"
"He's alive," Ray whispered, "But he's so cold!" He started to rub Peter's shoulders.
A scream -- female in voice -- cut all Egon had wanted to say and the three men looked at each other.
"Ray, stay with Peter," Winston told the auburn-haired man. "Egon and I will take a look."
Ray only nodded, starting to massage some warmth into Peter's cold hands as the other two men went off. Suddenly the psychologist moaned and his hands twitched faintly. The auburn-haired man held them and abruptly Peter's eyes opened, fighting against the hold of the occultist.
"No!" he gasped, green eyes wide with horror.
"Peter! It's okay, it's gone away," Ray tried to soothe him, still rubbing the hands he held in his.
"Ray?" the other man whispered, blinking furiously. "Where's .... ?" He moved his head. "Egon? Winston?" A violent shiver passed through his body and his teeth began to chatter loudly.
"They're chasing the demon. Somebody screamed and now they are trying to find out who it might be. How are you?" Concern and fear tinged Ray's voice and made Peter concentrate on him.
"Cold." Venkman shivered violently again, feeling the icy cold that sat deep in his bones. It wasn't a natural cold, but something created by the entity that had briefly touched him. He tried to get up. His muscles protested against the sudden movements -- cold as they still were -- and he felt pain surge through him.
"Stay down," Ray advised him, pushing him back. "We'll call an ambulance to get you to a hospital and checked."
But Peter wasn't easily convinced what was for his best. "Help me up, Ray," he demanded and pushed against the restraining hands. "I'm fine. I don't need a hospital."
Ray sighed and helped his friend to his feet, trying to stabilize him as he swayed.
"Where'd they go?" the dark-haired man wanted to know.
His younger colleague looked around and suddenly there was a sizzle of ionized protons. With a wry smile, Peter started to stumble off in that direction, dragging Ray, who still held on to him, with him. And Ray didn't really let go, keeping an arm around Peter's waist for balance.
When they came to the place where the proton beam had been fired from they discovered that they were out of the forest. There was a long stretch of green grass before them, leading to a group of benches. Behind one of the benches cowered the man they had tried to save from the cloud demon. Winston and Egon both stood beside the bench, throwers readied, watching the retreating black cloud.
Ray saw how the black demon dissolved more and more, leaving only a bluish mist behind. When the black had vanished completely, the blue mist solidified and became a vaguely human shape. Then it, too, popped out of existence.
"What the .....?" he began, but Peter's shout cut him short.
"Egon! Winston! Are you guys okay?"
The two called men waved towards the other Ghostbusters and Peter heaved a sigh of relief, down the slightly uneven hill he had stood on. The man who had hidden behind the bench, surfaced and first stared at the spot where the blue mist had been, then at the Ghostbusters.
"Are you okay, Mister?" Winston wanted to know.
The man nodded. "Yes," he said slowly, obviously shocked. Only now had the four men a chance to get a closer look at him.
The man seemed to be in his fifties, with gray hair that had once been brown or auburn, blue eyes and a thin, wiry body. He was about Winston's height and dressed in casual clothes. And only now did they see the wrapped up bundle he held close to his chest. Egon frowned as he peered at the reddish cloth. There seemed to writing on it.
"What'd the ugly nasty want from you?" Winston went on.
"I ... I ...." The man looked helpless.
"Was it what you are holding?" Egon asked somberly.
The man went white. "How do you know?"
"Simple, logical deduction. Since you hold on to it like it is the very treasure of your family, it must be worth something, though I doubt it is monetary worth. And since the demon pursued you so stubbornly and demanded you give something to him I couldn't understand, I deduct it is the object you are holding that it wants."
"And to make it short," Peter said in a pained voice, "we're all gonna go home and discuss it in the nice and relative safe quarters of the famous Ghostbusters."
Only now did Egon look at his dark-haired friend. "Peter, are you all right?"
The psychologist grimaced, arms wrapped around his middle in an attempt to get warm. His teeth hadn't stopped chattering and he was shivering. "I feel like I spent a week in the freezer and I'm sure I'll get pneumonia in the next coupla days, but yes, I'm absolutely fine. Thanks."
Egon didn't comment on the sarcasm, only decided that Peter was right. His friend needed a hot shower and some warm clothes and the man they had saved from the demon had some questions to answer. He nodded. "Let's go."
* * *
Jaimaa shuddered. Her whole body hurt and she was cold. D'rlanzinhj had attacked her with a fury she had never felt before. The very essence of him was like acid to her soul and the cold he emitted in large waves stunned and numbed. How could he have acquired such power in such short time? He had been her equal when they had last met. And he had been even less than her when she had first met him. Of course, she had grown in power, too, since their last meeting, but not that much.
It had to be the stones he already had. And with the fourth stone he would be too strong for her to even hurt him a little bit. And if he focused the power of all stones he would be unstoppable -- and he would be able to open the door to OushRian's prison. Another shudder went through her body, but this time it had nothing to do with the cold. The very thought of OushRian made her cringe with fear. She had to stop D'rlanzinhj. And to accomplish that task she needed help.
* * *
Winston came from the kitchen, balancing five cups of coffee on a tray. He placed the tray on the table in front of the couch and everyone took one. Peter had taken a hot shower and now sat in one of the armchairs, wrapped into a bathrobe, his hair still damp. He looked much better than when they had driven home from Central Park. He was still too pale, but there was no more of the bluish tinge to his lips and he had stopped shivering. He was no worse off than on a cold winter day after running around in the snow and catching ghosts. He would recover soon.
The other three Ghostbusters had simply changed out of their uniforms. The man, who had introduced himself as Arthur Perez, sipped the hot liquid with obvious relief. He still held on to the little package as if it was the greatest treasure of the world.
"Mr. Perez," Egon finally began, deciding it was time to breach the subject. "Could you tell us what all of that in Central Park was about? What did the demon want from you?"
The gray-haired man sighed and placed the cup back on the table. He looked at the cloth-wrapped object, visibly fighting over the question what he could tell the four men who had saved his life.
"This might sound very ridiculous and strange to you," he began hesitantly.
"You can tell us, Mr. Perez," Ray encouraged the man. "We're used to strange stories."
Perez smiled humorlessly. "I'm sure. But this is more than just a story. It's the truth. It's what happened decades ago." He still looked indecisive and chewed on his lower lip. Then he shook his head. "I think I .... I can trust you ....?" The last sounded like a question and the four men nodded, trying to reassure the confused and frightened man. Perez clutched the object even tighter. "This ... stone ... has been in my family for hundreds of years. It's given from father to son -- or daughter -- whenever the child is old enough to understand the responsibility that comes with it. The man or woman being assigned to protect the stone is called the Keeper."
"Stone?" Ray broke in. "What stone?"
Perez looked at the package in his hand. "This is one of four stones guarded by Keepers," he said slowly. "They're said to be keys to a door into another dimension where a great demon lies, sleeping and waiting for the day it will be freed."
"Geez!" Ray looked excited. "That's fantastic."
The old man smiled wryly. "Yes, it is. My father told me the legend accompanying the stones." Egon nodded encouragingly and Perez began. "Hundreds of thousands of years ago it is said that a mighty demon was conquered by four warriors. They sealed it into a dimension where there is no life and no way out, except for one door. They closed off the door and cut down the key into four different stones. The stones were inserted into swords and hidden in different places. The followers of the captured demon tried to retrieve the swords, but through a lot of luck and fierce battles, the stones could be cut out of the swords before the minions of the demon vanished with them. Then the stones were placed into the trust of four families. Through a spell, the stones were deactivated, because it was their individual power that betrayed their location to the demon's followers."
Perez fiddled with the cloth covering the stone he was talking about.
"The families were sworn in to protect the stone in their possession with their lives. The stone was always given from father to son or from mother to daughter. The children were told what the stone was and that it must never fall into the wrong hands. I was given the stone of my family over thirty years ago. Until today, nothing has ever happened. But this morning I felt a strange tingle in my neck and I knew that the stone was in danger."
"But..." Winston broke in, puzzled, "if you have never felt the tingle before, how could you know it was a sign of danger?"
Perez shrugged. "You just know, Mr. Zeddemore. I felt the tingle only once before and that was the day the stone was given to me. Today I just knew that it was a warning and that I had to flee to keep the people in my neighborhood from being hurt or killed."
"So you fled to Central Park." Ray frowned. "And then we came along and tried to trap the demon."
"Yes. I would never give up the stone and it would have killed me to get it." The old man shivered a bit.
"Yeah, we saved the day," Peter said brightly. "But what now? Big bad ghostie will return, won't he?"
Arthur Perez nodded darkly. "Whoever it was, he won't give up until he has the stone."
"What about the other three stones?" Ray wanted to know. "Where are they?"
Perez shrugged. "No-one of the Keepers knows the place of the other stones, except for his own. It's safer."
"Mr. Perez, would you let me examine the stone?" Egon asked.
The gray-haired man looked indecisive. "I don't know. You won't damage it, will you?"
The physicist shook his head. "No, of course not. I just want to take some readings. I won't touch it if you don't allow it."
On that Perez placed the bundle on the table and nodded. Egon got out his P.K.E. meter and held it over the wrapped up stone. He frowned at the display.
"Not a single reading," he said, puzzled.
Ray leaned over to him and caught a glance at the read-out screen. "That's strange. You think an object like that would burn the circuits."
"Maybe ...." the blond man muttered, looking at the cloth covered stone. "Would you please unwrap it?"
Perez nodded and started to pull away the cloth. He had barely uncovered a fourth of the stone when the meter screeched and the display screen burst. A small wisp of smoke rose from the over-powered device and Egon quickly shut it off.
"Wow!" Ray exclaimed, looking from the meter to the stone. "That's incredible."
Peter leaned forward, his eyes fixed on what he saw of the stone. "You can say that again, Ray."
The others looked at the stone, too, and Winston whistled softly. "Well, that's a sight."
The stone Perez had now completely uncovered was of a bluish green. There were tiny specks of silver in it, glistening in the artificial light of the room. It was about the size of an egg and seemed to have a life of its own. The closer you looked at it, the more you got the impression that something inside was moving in slow, graceful swirls. The stone seemed to be man-made since it was polished and evenly oval.
"Its name is Sealink," Arthur Perez said into the stunned silence.
"It's got a name?" Zeddemore was surprised.
"They all have names, Mr. Zeddemore. My family is the Keeper of Sealink."
"What are the other stones called?" Ray asked, getting out his pen and notebook. He'd have to research those stones.
"Windmaster, Earthbound and Firewalker."
"Do they all look the same?"
The Keeper shrugged. "I don't know. I never saw any other stone but this one.
Egon looked at the cloth used for covering the stone. It was dyed in red and covered with writing and small pictures. "Do you mind ...?" the physicist asked, but had already taken the cloth. "This is interesting. Ray, look at those marks."
Ray frowned at the markings and then started to copy them onto his piece of paper. "Looks like old writing to me," he muttered, looking at the scrawlings. "Do you have any idea what it means, Mr. Perez?"
The old man shook his head. "No. It has always been on the cloth. My father didn't know what it says either and I never tried to find out."
Egon gave the cloth back and Perez wrapped the stone in it again. "We will have to find out. Maybe it's a lead to the demon. Mr. Perez, since you are still in danger of the demon attacking you, I advice you stay here until we find out what this is all about."
Perez didn't look happy, but he nodded. "Okay."
"Do you think we can defend the stone when black nasty decides to try it again?" Peter wanted to know.
Spengler sighed. "I do not know. We need to find out what kind of demon this was and why it is after the stone. And I think we can build a field to cover the stone and this way keep the demon off."
Ray's eyes lit up with enthusiasm about the tasks ahead. "I'll get to work on researching those four stones right away. Then I'll help you with the field. We also have to decipher the writing on the cloth."
"Let Pete and me do the research on the stones," Winston broke in. "You two have enough to do with coming up with a gizmo to battle that demon and translating the writing."
Peter grimaced. "Winston!" he wailed.
The black man clapped him on the shoulder. "C'mon, homeboy, get dressed and ready to do some serious research."
The psychologist rolled his eyes. "So much for R&R for poor victims of nasty ice ghosts." But he got up and went to the spiral stairs leading to the bedroom to get dressed.
"Mr. Perez, you can help us with the research," Winston addressed the older man. "Maybe you think of something your father told you or you heard when we get the information 'bout the other stones."
Perez nodded. Ray and Egon went off to the third floor lab and Winston motioned Perez to follow him downstairs where the books and copies Ray had brought from the library still sat. They would carry them up to the second floor where they had more room.
* * *
It was late in the evening when the five men met again over dinner. They had ordered some pizza and now they sat around the table, eating and exchanging information. Winston, Peter and Arthur Perez had spent most of the day researching the four stones in the books Ray had brought. Since Ray had to take the books back the next day, Winston had gone out and made copies of all the important pages. The living room looked like a copy-shop devastated by a storm. There were copies everywhere. Ray's own books were stacked in between, too.
Ray and Egon had not been seen since they had closed the door behind them on the third floor and even now Egon looked like he wanted nothing more than go back and continue his work. Ray looked eager to share his information and was hardly able to eat.
"Okay, Ray, spill it," Peter said in amusement over his younger friends enthusiasm.
Ray put down the fork and got out a crumbled piece of paper from the folder he had brought down with him. "I managed to translate about ninety percent of the pictures and the scrawls on the cloth. Most of the pictures on the cloth are of the old South American Indian culture. They're also the oldest inscription. The other ones are mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, Mexican and English. The pictures are strong Indian spells, mostly protective spells. The later symbols add to the protection spell, strengthen it."
"A spell on a piece of cloth?" Winston echoed. "That's something new."
"Not if you consider that the cloth hides a very powerful object, Winston," Egon objected.
Ray nodded. "And the cloth is very old, too. It's handmade. I guess it was made by the same person who painted the first spells on it."
"That's old." Zeddemore shook his head. "You expect something as old as this to be torn and brittle, but it looks mighty new to me."
"I suspect it's part of the spell." The auburn-haired occultist shrugged. "What did you find?"
"A lot." Winston took his own notes and looked at Peter. The psychologist motioned him to go ahead. "I found some brief paragraphs of the stones in various legends, but nothing specific. Mostly it could be something else. But then Pete stumbled across something very interesting."
"Just a lucky shot," Peter muttered. He had spent hours pouring over books or punching up files in Tobin's Net and it had been just pure luck that he had discovered the chapter in one of the many books Ray had brought from the library.
Winston knew better than to call it 'a lucky shot'. If Peter was really interested in something he could bury himself in research, but he rarely showed any further interest in any projects. And Zeddemore knew why: Peter was notoriously lazy. But the stones had captured his interest after he had muttered and cursed for the first thirty minutes that a respectable psychologist and known celebrity shouldn't rummage through copies and dusty books. But after those thirty minutes his mutters and curses had died down, and Winston had discovered that he was intensely reading through the copies. The black man had smiled at that. He had wished for a camera, because Peter's highly absorbed face and the stacks of books and copies all around him had been such a rare picture that he had wished for a way to keep it on film for the rest of them to show it Peter later -- when he was again cursing and complaining about research tasks falling to him.
"The four stones," Winston now told the others, "called Windmaster, Sealink, Firewalker and Earthbound, were given to four different men and women by the guardians of the door to the prison of OushRian. Earthbound came to the family of Hai Soon Oh, a peasant. He gave it to his son before he died and his son gave to his own son when the boy was old enough. The stone passed from family member to family member, always accompanied by the legend of its origin and the warning never to give it away. Firewalker disappeared in the depths of the African continent. There are few stories accompanying its disappearance. It's supposed to be in the hold of the Massai warriors and was treasured by the chieftain, given to the oldest child when it came of age. Windmaster ended up in the Scandinavian area and was passed from Viking warriors to their heirs. It disappeared from the face of the known earth just as the Firewalker stone, but there are brief mentionings of the 'vind loepare' or the 'blåst flyta' in different areas of Sweden. Sealink was first written about in the journals of the Spanish conquerors. They nearly captured the Indian who was the Keeper and heard of the story of the stone."
"Wow!" Ray breathed. "That's incredible. "Imagine this. Whole families have passed psi-potent objects from generation to generation, never really knowing what it was they kept."
"Well, they knew it was a key to a door and that it was dangerous if in the wrong hands," Peter objected. "Winston and I found some reports from family members of the families in China that they were afraid of the power, but they would never refuse to be the Keeper."
Egon shoved his glasses up his nose. "The Keepers knew what it was they were told to guard, but they never realized its true power."
Arthur Perez nodded. "I always knew the stone was special, but I never thought it to be so powerful or dangerous."
"What about the black demon?" Ray wanted to know. "Did you find out anything about it?"
Peter shook his head. "No such luck. There has never been a demon like it. I went through 'Tobin's' twice and found not the least of a trace. Same with the 'mighty demon' or OushRian sealed in another dimension. And I read all the copies, too," he added before Ray could point out that.
"What if the name of the demon has changed from one language to another?" Perez suddenly asked. "Windmaster has different names in different languages, so why not the demon?"
"Very good question," Egon said slowly. He took the laptop from the table it stood on and punched up some files. "The up-date of 'Tobin's Net' I got a few weeks ago has a translation program on it. It can translate every word in the language contained in the program."
"Egon, the name 'OushRian' isn't exactly like the word 'bathtub'," Peter said with a slight mocking voice. "How can you translate a name?"
"The name consists of different letters which, in different languages, are pronounced in different ways. The program goes through every pronunciation possible, creating the word in the process and comparing it to the files we already have."
"How many languages are stored in the program?" Winston asked curiously.
"429, including ancient and written languages." The blond man kept on punching in the keys. "But there will be a more recent up-date soon."
After about ten minutes of waiting and intense keyboard hacking from Egon, the small laptop spat out some sentences.
"Ushra, Othra, Uthriaad," Egon began to read the names the laptop offered. "I have found about 295 different versions of the name and I'm sure I could find some more."
"Skip the names, big guy, read the info," Venkman told him.
"OushRian, Lord Demon of The Khelljin Netherworld, Ruler of the Takij demons and former Council Head of The Khelljin-Takij Alliance. He was the feared leader and hated chief of The Khelljin for several thousand years until he was banned into the prison dimension Hor by Ath'anthein and three others. The prison was sealed forever and is guarded by the demons banishing the Lord Demon." Egon looked up. "That is all it says here."
"Gee, great guy, that OushRian. Really nice." Peter smiled tightly.
"Does it have anything about The Khelljin or the prison dimension?" Ray asked, peering over Egon's shoulder.
The blond punched up a few more files, then shook his head. "No. The Khelljin Netherworld must be a part of the Netherworld dimension, like New York is part of the United States."
The five men fell silent, all trapped in their own thoughts.
"What now?" Winston finally wanted to know. "Mr. Perez is still in danger of being attacked by the demon and we're no step closer to solving the 'why'. Why does the demon want the stones?"
"If the stones are keys and the demon wants them so badly, it must be intent to open the prison dimension of the Lord Demon," Egon mused aloud. "We don't know if it already has the other stones or if this stone is the first it will get."
"What about that protection field you and Ray wanted to design?" his dark-haired friend asked.
"We have been able to construct a field strong enough to withstand a class-8 for several hours, but it is not yet stable. If too much force is applied, the field will break down."
"Swell." Peter shook his head. "What now?"
"Mr. Perez will stay with us." Egon looked at the older man. "If that is okay with you, Mr. Perez. This is the safest place for you and the stone. We will continue the work on the shield and place the stone under it in case of an attack. We can get you your personal things and some clothes for a change if you want us to, but I strongly advise that you keep low."
Perez nodded. "I understand. And looking back on what happened today, I agree that I'll better stay somewhere other than my apartment."
Peter yawned. "I'm bushed. What d'you think about sleep, guys?"
"Maybe later," Egon answered absent-mindedly, standing up. "I have to finish the protective field and there are some other things I just thought of I want to research." With that he disappeared back upstairs.
Peter just shrugged. He stood, too, clapping Perez on the shoulder. "C'mon, Art. Let's get the spare bed ready for you to crash for the night."
Winston followed the two men to help them and Ray choose to get into the lab and see if Egon needed help.
* * *
Jaimaa hovered in the limbo between her world and that of the humans. She still felt a numb cold inside of her and there was pain in various parts of her now vapor-like body, but it was getting better. She knew she had no time to heal completely and that she had to act soon. But right now she had to think. Since the icy cold that had also slowed her thinking process had been banished by the warmth that was returning to her, she was trying to find a solution to her problem. Alone she couldn't even dream of defeating D'rlanzinhj. She needed help. And with the word 'help' came the image of the four men trying to battle the black entity.
One of the men had been hurt by D'rlanzinhj. She had felt his pain and surprise as the black demon tried to freeze him to death. She didn't really know who they were, just that they had the power to fight D'rlanzinhj, though they weren't strong enough to defeat him. Sure, he'd return soon, but for now he was licking his wounds. Jaimaa pondered her options. The four men were mortals and they had firepower to fight ghosts. They had also taken the Sealink and its Keeper with them to their home. She wasn't sure that the human and the stone were any safer there than otherwise, but she hoped.
She came to a decision. She needed their help to fight her enemy and they needed her help to protect the man named Arthur Perez, the Keeper of the Stone. She would ask for their help. They might be the only ones to offer her the help she required. About her own kind she wasn't that sure. She was a Khelljin demon, a female one to be precise. Since The Khelljin was closed off for other demons -- well, most of them chose not to come to those parts of the Netherworld anyway -- none of them would even listen to her. The other guardians in The Khelljin were another possible source of help. But there were so few of them, barely a dozen, that it was out of the question to ask one of them to come here and help her. Abandoning his or her post could mean that those Netherworld demons who weren't afraid to come to The Khelljin might chose to try and get in.
Jaimaa sighed softly. She really had no other choice. The humans were the only ones she could ask.
* * *
The night passed without further incident. Arthur Perez slept on the spare bed while the other four men returned to their own beds on the third floor. Egon stayed in his lab until late -- or early, from whatever point of view you saw it -- and kept on working on the shield for the stone. He accomplished stabilization of the field in the early morning hours and decided to follow Ray's example and go to bed. Ray had left somewhere around three a.m. after falling asleep twice on his chair. Egon had told him to get some sleep, promising he'd follow immediately. It was five a.m. as he fell into his own bed.
Four hours later the others were wide awake -- even Peter, a notorious late sleeper -- and decided to let Egon sleep. Ray paid a quick visit to the lab to check on the progress and was surprised by finding the stone under a strong shield.
"He did it!" he told the others over breakfast. "He programmed the field to strengthen the second a paranormal entity approaches, making it too dense for the entity to get to the stone."
Perez heaved a sigh of relief. "That means the demon can't get the Sealink."
"Right. And it also means we can stop worrying about it and concentrate on finding the nasty critter." Winston stirred his coffee. "But how? And further more: how do we trap it? It's mighty strong."
"We trapped class-8s before," Ray objected.
"Sure, but this one's meaner."
"And how do we keep it from stealing the other stones instead?" Arthur Perez put in. "Maybe it gave up on the Sealink and decided to steal the others first."
"I do not think so, Mr. Perez," a bass voice told them. Egon Spengler walked over to the table, accepting a cup of coffee from Winston. He looked very tired, but not exhausted.
"Huh?" Peter wanted to know.
"Do you remember that I detected a slight anomaly the last time we had a sudden flood of ghosts?"
"Yes. And you said it disappeared very quickly again," Ray said. "Why? Do you think this is connected?"
"Whatever gave you that idea?" Peter asked.
"The first anomaly appeared a few weeks ago. A large quantity of ghosts haunted New York only two days after the anomaly had disappeared again. The anomaly appeared again a second and third time, again accompanied by ghosts. And again they haunted New York. I tried to find a reason for this anomaly, but since there was no trace left of the little rip, it was hard to pinpoint an exact location. I discovered that the ghosts had come from three countries, though."
"Sweden, China and Kenya!" Winston exclaimed. "You showed me the list when I came to the lab!"
"Yes. And following the legends about the four stones and the origin of the families they were given to ....."
"Sweden, China and Kenya," Ray repeated. "That's incredible!"
"Yeah, really incredible," Peter muttered. "But what does it mean?"
"It means that the other three stones, Firewalker, Windmaster and Earthbound, have already been stolen by the entity that attempted to steal the Sealink yesterday. It also means that every time a stone is stolen or taken from its Keeper it sets free enough energy to open small gates to another dimension and let ghosts in."
"Then tell me one thing, O Wise One: why do they come to New York?" Peter raised an eyebrow. "It can't be because of our famous sights."
Egon frowned. "I do not know. Technically, the fourth stone should be somewhere in South America, but because one of Mr. Perez's ancestors emigrated to the United States, the stone came here."
"That was my great-grandfather," Perez supplied helpfully. "But he didn't move to New York immediately. That was my father."
"You mean there's something here in New York that attracts the ghosts?" Winston asked.
"It could be. Either the ghosts seek out the entity that is after all the stones -- which is highly unlikely since it moved from Kenya to China and then to Sweden and none of the ghosts followed -- or there is something else here." The blond man heaved a sigh. "But I don't know what it is."
"Maybe there's something in the books we've overlooked," his auburn-haired colleague spoke up.
"Ray!" Peter protested. "I went over everything a dozen times!"
"But maybe you overlooked something, Pete. After some time, all pages look the same." Zeddemore shrugged.
Peter sighed. "Which means: back to the books. I just love it."
"If the ghosts try to get to something here in New York, maybe we should try and follow them," Ray suggested suddenly.
"We caught all of them, Ray," the psychologist pointed out. "And don't you even think about freeing them again!"
"I wasn't thinking about freeing them, Peter. One would be enough."
"I don't think the ghosts will really lead us to the place," Egon objected. "They were scattered all over New York when we trapped them. None were meeting somewhere."
"Which means we have to find another way to find whatever attracted them." Winston gnawed on his lower lip. "But how? We don't even know what it is."
"Maybe I could be of help."
At the sound of the female voice the five men whirled round. Not far away into the living room stood a female figure. As they gaped at her she came closer. Her hair reached down her back to her thighs and when she moved, it moved as if it had a life of its own. It had bluish-black color, as had her eyebrows. Her skin was of a slightly blue color and her eyes were red with an even deeper red iris and a black pupil. She was dressed in a black, skintight something that appeared like an armor or something -- full body-armor to be precise, with only the hands and the head free. But then again it could have been some kind of leather, too, because it didn't make metallic sounds as she moved closer. It appeared to flow around her body with every move. And the most outstanding of all was the fact that there was a pair of leathery wings on her back.
Egon pointed his P.K.E. meter at her and both eyebrows arched in complete surprise as he took in the readings.
"It is a demon," he announced calmly.
Peter jumped up, his eyes searching for the non-existent proton pack. All packs were either downstairs, in the basement or in the lab.
"That's great!" Ray exclaimed.
It made Peter stare at him like he had just decided to quit ghostbusting and sell icemakers together with Peter's dad somewhere in Alaska.
Egon stood. "Who are you?" he asked.
The blue-skinned demon looked at him with large, red eyes. She didn't look too menacing, even attractive in a strange kind of way, but the physicist didn't want to think about what powers she might possess. And the sharp talons on her hands weren't very reassuring, too. They had a metallic quality, just like her dress.
"My name is Jaimaanjey," the demon finally said, her voice a bit rough, but definitely female.
"What are you doing here? Normally your kind doesn't just appear inside our Headquarters and offers its help." The dark-haired psychologist's voice was like acid. Peter didn't trust her. Not a bit. Demons appearing inside Central from one second to another were not exactly high on his list of trustworthiness.
"Peter!" Egon looked scornfully at him. Then he turned to the female demon. "Why don't you sit down?" He made an inviting gesture towards the chairs. She eyed the empty chair, then decided to follow the invitation.
"You, too, Peter." The physicist pushed his younger colleague back on the chair.
Peter gave an unwilling grunt. He would feel better if he had his proton pack at his side. Or at least a trap. He sat down on the other side of the demon, his eyes fixed on the almost-beautiful, blue face. Okay, she wasn't the normal demon, all scaly and ugly, but that didn't make her any less suspicious. Why would a demon want to work with the Ghostbusters?
"I have come to offer you my help and ask for yours," the demon answered Peter's unspoken question. She looked at Arthur Perez with a mild smile, showing a pair of fangs. Perez shuddered. "You are the Keeper of Sealink," she said as if this was visible for everyone.
The man nodded, looking frightened. "Yes. How do you know?"
"As your ancestors were the Keeper of the Stone, my ancestors were the ones who imprisoned OushRian."
Perez's eyes went wide, but he didn't say a thing. Egon's eyebrows shot up in surprise.
"Where do you come from, Jaimaanjey?" the physicist asked.
"From The Khelljin, a region of the Netherworld hardly known to any human being," she answered willingly. "And please call me Jaimaa. You do not have to address me with my guardian name."
Egon simply nodded.
"We are very worried about what has happened to the Keepers," Jaimaa continued. "One of our kind betrayed us and sought to find the keys to free OushRian. He has succeeded in collecting three parts of the stone so far. I couldn't stop him in time." She looked at the Ghostbusters. "You have succeeded in protecting the Sealink yesterday, but D'rlanzinhj won't stop until he has all four stones."
"Who is D'rlanzinhj?" Ray asked.
"He is the enemy I am here to fight. He wants to open the prison of OushRian and set him free. If the Lord Demon is ever set free, this world and others will be destroyed."
"I knew it," Peter sighed dramatically. "We're here to save the world again."
"This D'rlanzinhj has the other three stones," Spengler said matter-of-factly.
"Yes, he does. He killed the Keepers and stole the stones. I was unable to come to their aid." The woman looked at Perez. "And I almost failed to protect the last stone and its Keeper. D'rlanzinhj will be back. He needs the Sealink to finish the circle. And he needs the focus."
"Focus?" Winston echoed. "What focus?"
"The four stones are of no use to him as a key unless he has the focus. Right now he uses the stones to grow stronger. That's why I was unable to defeat him. Your fire-rays helped me to push him back, but he was only hurt, not fatally wounded. So he will return, because unless he has all four stones, he can't find the focus."
"This is getting better and better," Peter muttered.
"Okay, now we have the fourth stone and he doesn't. What about this focus? Is there a way to find it?" Ray wanted to know.
"Not unless we have all four stones. If the four are brought together they will activate the focus. Then you can find it." Jaimaa looked at the five men. "And just like the stones, the focus can't be found unless it is activated because a strong spell protects it. I couldn't find the stones and I can't find the focus."
Egon frowned. "I think the focus is here in New York."
"What?" Four heads turned to him.
"Whenever a stone was stolen, a rip in this world opened and spilled ghosts. All came to New York. And it wasn't because of the Sealink. I think they are coming to the place where the focus is."
"Of course!" Ray called. "I tried to find a reason why the ghosts were coming to New York, but wherever I asked I didn't get a hint at something more unusual than normal."
Ray had been through the Occult Community and asked a lot of his friends who were either into the occult or the mysterious if there was something new or if there was some kind of power harnessing here in the Big Apple. But he had received negative answers. Nothing out of the ordinary had been happening lately. It had been a fruitless search for the young Ghostbuster.
"Then why hasn't this D'rlanzinhj found it yet?" Peter asked pointedly. "If he's such a clever little demon and can find the stones even when our 'guest' can't, why didn't he follow the ghosts?"
"Because he is single-minded," Jaimaa said before Egon could answer. "He needs the stones and that's why he doesn't see the obvious. He is fixed on his goal."
"Which gives us the advantage of finding the focus before he does!" Ray said enthusiastically.
"Raaa-hay." Peter shook his head. "Don't you ever listen? Mrs. Break-in said you can't find the focus without the stones. You can't even find a stone unless it's uncovered."
"True." Egon rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "But I think there is a way to detect such a powerful object -- given time."
"Which we don't have. This Dral-guy is still out there, remember?" Venkman smiled sarcastically.
"But he can't reach the stone," the auburn-haired occultist protested.
"Which won't keep him from trying, Ray," the older man explained patiently.
Jaimaa listened to the discussion with a frown. It was true that the focus could not be found, but she didn't think it was impossible.
"What about the books?" Winston put in. "If we found the stones and their history in there, why not look for the focus?"
"Good idea," Ray agreed and turned to Jaimaa. "Does this focus have a name like the stones? Or do you know how it looks? Maybe it was given to a Keeper, too."
Jaimaa shrugged. "I don't know whether it was given into the guard of a Keeper or if it was simply hidden, but the name of the focus is Spellbinder."
* * *
"Aha!" Egon surfaced from his stack of copies, startling the others with his exclamation.
"What is it? Did you find something?" Ray wanted to know, coming over from his place at the dinner table where he was going over various copies.
"Come again please?" Peter peered over the blond's shoulder.
"Spellbinder," Egon translated. "Also known as Zauberbanner."
"It's all Greek to me."
The physicist scowled at his friend. "It is German and means the same as Spellbinder. The focus came from Italy to Germany and then disappeared."
"To the States," Ray made a wild guess.
"It looks like it."
"Does your book say what it looks like?" Winston wanted to know.
Peter rolled his eyes. "Great. We're back to square one."
"Not exactly. It says here that the Spellbinder is of enormous magnetic power to certain entities such as ghosts. Some ghosts are attracted to it. Very strongly.
"Which gets us back to the option of freeing the ghosts we trapped from the containment unit." Peter shook his head. "And I say no."
"Some of those nasties were very dangerous, Ray. Remember the one that nearly bit Winston's leg off?"
Winston shuddered. "Yeah, really nasty."
"Why don't we take Slimer?" Venkman suggested with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
"Slimer never behaved in any extraordinary way," Egon reminded him. "If he were attracted to the focus, he would have run off and tried to find it. He hasn't done such a thing."
"If we can't control the ghost, we're in deep trouble," Zeddemore muttered.
"It is unnecessary for you to control the ghost," Jaimaa spoke up, the first thing she said since they had started their search for information about the focus.
She had kept back, been nearly invisible for the five men. Only Peter had looked up now and then, watching her with narrowed, suspicious eyes. The female demon didn't know if the distrust was because she was a demon or because she was a stranger who had popped up in their midst. She only knew she had to be careful in the way she behaved. Maybe that was one reason why she hadn't told the men her full name. Knowing the full name of a demon gave anyone full control over the demon. And that was something she didn't want to worry about.
"If you want the ghost to be controlled, leave it to me. If it is attracted to the focus, I will follow it. I won't let it destroy your world."
"Gee, thanks," Peter said acidly. "How very generous."
Jaimaa's red eyes flashed briefly, but before she could say something -- or do something even worse -- Egon broke in.
"If you can control the ghost, we will set it free and follow it."
The demon nodded.
"Then let's go."
* * *
"Next one left, Winston."
Winston complied and steered Ecto-1 down the street while Egon's nose was still glued to the P.K.E. meter. They were following the trail of the ghost they had set free half an hour ago. It was a more or less harmless representative of its species, though an ugly one. It was sickly yellow, with a thin body, too-long arms and a love of sliming everything in sight. Jaimaa had taken off right after the ghost and the Ghostbusters had pursued them in their car, flashers on and siren screaming.
"Follow that street and then turn right."
"We're going straight to New Jersey," Winston said.
That brought forth a moan from Peter, who sat on the back seat, his face dark and gloomy. He hadn't liked the idea and he still didn't like it. They were following a ghost which was supposed to lead them to a mysterious focus, trusting a demon to help them. Just great. And to top it all, Janine and Perez had stayed at Central to try and protect the stone. Maybe this Jaimaa was leading them away from Central to make it easier for D'rlanzinhj to steal the Sealink. Maybe she was his partner.
Janine had first refused to do anything remotely like it. 'My contract says nothing about baby-sitting stones and fighting big, black ghosts' the secretary had told him, crossing her arms in front of her chest and staring at Peter with cold, blue eyes. All his charm -- which she was immune to -- hadn't been enough to convince her. And then Egon had simply asked her to do him a favor -- and Janine had smiled and said yes! He couldn't believe it.
"You look as if Slimer slimed your bed and pajama, Peter," Ray remarked with a smile.
"I don't trust her and I never will. She's a demon! She appears in Central, wins your trust and now she could lead us into certain doom, but no-one of you ever considered it."
"Aw, Peter ....."
"I did consider it, Peter," Egon said calmly, never letting his eyes wander off the display screen. "But it's our only chance to find an answer to our problem."
Peter sank back into his seat. "We don't know a thing about her!"
"She is a class-8 demon with a humanoid appearance," Egon said without looking up. "Her kind is called Khelljin demons and they roam a small area of the Netherworld. They hardly visit our dimension and have no hierarchy as the other demons we know. There are few of them, about a dozen, not more."
"Thanks, Mr. Encyclopedia," Venkman said sarcastically. "But that doesn't tell a thing about what she really wants. Demons normally don't go around and ask us little mortals for help. Especially us Ghostbusters. Have you ever thought about the possibility that this demon is leading us away from Central so that the other one can steal the stone."
That made Egon look up, a puzzled frown on his face.
"Obviously not," Peter muttered.
"She is okay," Ray tried to reassure his friend. "She asked for our help."
"I don't trust her."
Why didn't the guys understand? Okay, Jaimaa wasn't your normal, menacing demon, all scaly and ugly. She had a strange beauty with the light blue skin, the blackish-blue hair and the unmistakably female figure. But she was a demon! For all she said and looked, she was a Netherworld entity. And it was their job to bust those entities.
Peter crossed his arms across his chest.
Ray sighed and shook his head. He trusted Jaimaa. He didn't know why, but he did. He was sure the demon wouldn't lead them away to let D'rlanzinhj take the stone. She wanted to help them fight a common enemy and Ray was ready to accept that help.
* * *
Jaimaa found it very easy to control the ghost the four humans had set free. It was a low level entity with a simple mind. So only part of her concentration was fixed on her task of keeping the yellow entity away from the humans' buildings, though it yearned to haunt some of them. Another part of her mind was pondering the decision she had made. The four men, the Ghostbusters, where the only ones who were remotely able to help her. They had the power to catch ghosts and they had defeated D'rlanzinhj once. But would they be able to help her to defeat him forever? She didn't know. They were strong, though not all of them trusted her. But they had the power to fight Netherworld entities.
Frowning, she closed in on the ghost, keeping it away from yet another building it would have loved to haunt, and stretched her leathery wings to soar up again. Down below she noticed the white car the Ghostbusters used as a means of transportation.
Jaimaa had failed in protecting the three Keepers who had died in the last weeks. She had been too late to help James Naaran. The young man, a descendant of the proud Massai warriors, had died quickly and violently. She had felt the death the second D'rlanzinhj had killed him. But she hadn't been fast enough to keep Naaran alive and she hadn't been fast enough to keep D'rlanzinhj from getting away with the stone either. Then Yin Soon had died. And as with Naaran, the female demon had been too late. After the second failure she had searched frantically for the last two stones, but was unable to find them. She only felt the stones when they were ripped from their Keepers and the protection of the spells.
The demon had been devastated when the third Keeper had died. How could D'rlanzinhj find the stones and she couldn't?? It was impossible. Now she was trying to keep the last stone away from her enemy. If D'rlanzinhj ever took the stone ... she didn't want to think about it. He would be all-powerful. And he could find the focus. That brought her back to the reality around her.
The yellow ghost was still going straight towards a place where they thought the focus was. And the Ghostbusters were following them. Maybe she had decided wrong, she thought. They were only mortal and D'rlanzinhj had hurt one of them before. Maybe that was the reason why the dark-haired one didn't trust her. His green eyes were full of challenge and his stance that of an animal ready to attack if threatened.
She could understand that he didn't trust an entity that he normally trapped for a living, but his accusations had been aggressive and had somehow hit home in a personal area of her being. He had challenged her with his behavior and Jaimaa always loved a challenge. And the dark-haired man would be a big one, not only for her mind, but also for her patience and temper.
With a sigh, Jaimaa adjusted her wings to the gusts of wind to glide after the ghostly bloodhound.
* * *
"It's a toystore!" Ray exclaimed when they stopped Ecto-1.
"Yeah, great," Peter muttered with no enthusiasm at all. "Tell me we're wrong, Egon. Tell me we can go home now."
Egon was scanning the toystore with his P.K.E. meter and shook his head. "No readings." He looked up. "But that doesn't mean a thing, since we can't pick up the stones with the meter either when they are covered."
Jaimaa, standing on the sidewalk, looked at the store and frowned. "The lower class entity was drawn to this place. The Spellbinder must be here, therefore."
"Brilliant deduction, Miss Wings." Peter shrugged into his proton pack and shot her a sarcastic look.
Jaimaa decided not to react to the provocation. Egon was glad she didn't.
"Let's get a look inside," Ray decided and walked straight towards the toystore.
The others followed him, Peter once again eyeing Jaimaa. "Can't you change into something less conspicuous, like say -- a dog?"
She shot him a red glare.
"How 'bout a cat?" the psychologist went on.
Another glare, this time accompanied by a rustle of the large wings.
"Peter," Egon said softly, hoping Jaimaa was the most patient demon in the Netherworld.
"Maybe you could shed the wings and get a bit more of a healthy skin color. And some contacts for the eyes." Peter was in the mood for teasing dangerous entities right now and not even Egon's louder repetition of his name could stop him.
"I," Jaimaa said slowly, "won't change what I am. This is as 'human' as I come. But if you don't watch your tongue, you might find that your skin will take on a very unhealthy color for a human, and wings are the least you then have to worry about." She went past Peter, who only grinned at the threat, and entered the store, followed by the Ghostbusters.
The toystore was crammed with stuff, but well lit. There was a small counter on the other side of the room where a man sat beside a cash register. When the four men and the woman entered he looked up, a friendly smile on his lips.
"Welcome to Andy's Toylands," he greeted them and came around the counter. "Can I help ...." He stopped abruptly, his eyes widening as he took in the uniforms and Jaimaa's look. "Ahm, you're ... the Ghostbusters!" He kept on staring at the winged demon.
Peter decided to break him out of his stare and stepped forward, shaking the stunned man's hand. "My name is Dr. Peter Venkman from the Ghostbusters."
"N ... nice to meet you," the man stuttered. "Andy Gardener." He spoke like in trance.
Peter introduced the other three and then Jaimaa.
Gardener produced a smile. "Charmed." He coughed. "How can I help you?"
"We are looking for a specific object that -- following our information -- must be in this building," Egon explained.
"The Spellbinder," Jaimaa spoke up.
Gardener stared at her again, his face paling a bit. "Spellbinder? Never heard of it. Is that a puzzle or a doll or a model kit?"
He was lying, that much was immediately clear to the four Ghostbusters. He was trying to protect something. And Peter was a hundred percent sure it was the Spellbinder.
"Mr. Gardener," the psychologist said. "We need to find the Spellbinder. There's really nasty ghost going around and killing people to get what it wants. And it wants the Spellbinder, too."
"You are ... a ghost?" Gardener asked Jaimaa, obviously not listening to Peter.
The blue-skinned woman nodded. "I am what you would call a demon."
"You look like the one my grandmother used to talk about. The guardians."
Jaimaa looked at him in surprise. "You know of the guardians?"
The man nodded. "It's a story grandma used to tell me when I was a kid. And when Mom gave me the ...." He broke off and bit his lips. "Shit."
"She gave you the Spellbinder," Egon said matter-of-factly.
Gardener nodded. Then he sighed. "Come with me," he said in a beaten sounding voice and led them to the back room of the shop after walking over to the door and flipping the 'Open' sign to 'Closed'.
The back room was small and mainly occupied by a desk, a chair, a small fridge and a flower trying to survive in front of a tiny window. Gardener went right over to the fridge, opened it and got something out of the freezer compartment. It was a small box. A Tupperware box, Peter discovered with amusement. Gardener kept a magical object in a Tupperware box in his freezer. Cute. The toystore owner opened the box and got out a ball, not larger than a golf ball, covered with tiny flakes of ice. He cleaned the ice away with his sleeve and held the round object up for inspection.
The Spellbinder -- if it really was the one -- was a featureless, unremarkable piece of polished glass. It didn't look like more than a Christmas ornament and it sure didn't look like the focus they were looking for.
"That's it?" Peter asked in disbelief.
Gardener nodded. Egon got out his P.K.E. meter and took a scan of the ball. There wasn't the slightest trace of P.K. energy.
"It's passive," he told his colleagues.
Jaimaa stretched out one clawed finger and touched the glass ball. "It is the Spellbinder," she then announced.
Egon was still getting no reading. "Mr. Gardener, where did you get the object from?" he asked the toystore owner.
"It was given to me by my mother, who in turn had it from her mother and so on. My great-grandmother brought it with her when she emigrated from Italy to Germany and my mother then took it along when my father decided to move to America. It's been in the family forever." He shrugged. "No-one ever knew what it was, only that it was something never to be sold."
"Would you be willing to let us keep the Spellbinder stone until we have secured the demon that is after it in our containment field?" Egon asked.
Gardener blinked, trying to decipher what Egon had just said. "You want to take it away?" he then asked.
"Not for long, Mr. Gardener," Ray assured him. "But the demon has already killed three people to get what it wants. And it's after the Spellbinder, too. Please trust us. We won't misuse it or try to keep it."
Gardener looked at the winged woman again. She didn't say a thing, didn't move. Finally, he nodded. "Okay. I trust you with the stone." He heaved a sigh. "I hope I'm doing the right thing."
"You are," Winston assured the man.
Suddenly the beeper went off. Zeddemore took it out and his eyes widened as he read the little message on the display. It was an automated message, sent by the alarm system.
"It's the alarm in Central," he told the others.
Egon paled. "Janine!"
Peter cursed and made a run for the door, followed by the others. Ray had taken the Spellbinder and was assuring Gardener that nothing would happen to the stone.
Seconds later Ecto-1 left with screaming sirens. Jaimaa decided to take the shortest way available to her: she dematerialized into a thin, blue mist.
* * *
Janine Melnitz switched off her computer and decided it was time for a cup of coffee and something to eat. She went up the stairs to the second floor and got herself the coffee she wanted, and a sandwich. Then she walked over to the living room area where she had seen Arthur Perez.
"Hi," she greeted the older man.
"Hello, Ms. Melnitz," he returned the greeting.
"You want something to eat? There's still one sandwich left."
The man shook his head. "No, thanks. I'm not really hungry."
Janine saw that he was reading in one of the copies of a book Ray had just returned to the library. It was about the stones.
"Anything interesting?" she wanted to know, trying to sound casual.
Perez smiled. "A lot. I never knew much about Sealink, except what was told from one Keeper to the next. And I knew nothing at all of the other three stones -- only their names. Now I'm reading things about them I can't really believe."
The red-haired secretary peered at the pages. "What for instance?" She liked the older man, though he seemed very absent-minded from time to time. No wonder, she chided herself. He's in danger of being killed by the demon because he owns a stone that was given to him from his dad.
"Sealink is not only the part of a key, it's also a symbol of the elemental Water. Like many other objects it harnesses the power of the water and represents a part of that elemental. All the other stones are the same. If used properly, the power can do wonders." He sighed. "I think no-one of us ever knew about that power."
"Don't you think this was done on purpose, Mr. Perez? Leaving you in the dark about the powers, I mean. Think about the danger of that knowledge. Right now you only keep the stone safe and give it to someone else in the family. What if this someone knew about the power available to him? What would he do if he found something unjust or wanted something very badly and used the stone to get it? That would be against what you were told to do."
Perez smiled. "You are a very sharp minded young lady, Ms. Melnitz."
Janine blushed a little. "Well ...."
"And you are right. But right now I'm trying to imagine what would happen if all four stones are ever focused. One stone has the power of an elemental -- or part of it. Four stones are ... it's unimaginable!"
"That's why the guys are trying to find this focus and keep the demon from succeeding in binding the power in one."
Perez just started to say something when he suddenly stiffened and his eyes widened.
"Mr. Perez? What is it?" Janine was alarmed.
"It's coming again!" Perez shot to his feet, darting for the third floor stairs.
Janine followed him as quickly as she could. What was going on here? Who was coming? She paled all of a sudden as her mind told her exactly what might be coming. The black demon! But how did Perez know that? She burst into the lab where she found Perez standing defensively in front of the stone that was kept under the field. Janine noticed that the power output of the generator of the shield was increasing. Egon had told her that he had tuned the sensor of the device that the shield would power up when a very strong entity approached. And now it happened. The black demon was coming for the stone.
"I knew I shouldn't have let him convince me to do this," she grumbled under her breath and strapped on the proton pack Egon had stowed on the lab for just that occasion. Cursing and still grumbling she checked the power level and found it charged one hundred percent. Then she unhooked the thrower and backed towards the generator field and the stone. Perez took up his position at her side, though he had no means to defend himself, except his bare hands.
"Look!" he suddenly exclaimed and Janine's eyes widened.
Something black and ink-like was oozing through the ceiling. The black was growing and growing, taking more and more solid appearance. Inside the blackness were two silver eyes and something vaguely human shaped. Janine leveled her thrower at it and pushed the 'on' switch. The familiar hum of the accelerator did a little to soothe her nerves. The cloud-like thing advanced.
"Give me the stone!" it demanded without preamble and stretched out one tentacle.
"Eat protons, sucker!" Janine pushed the fire button and a full stream of ionized proton hit the tentacle. It was immediately pulled back into the inky black mass, but the demon didn't stop its advance.
"You'll never get the stone!" Perez yelled at the demon, moving protectively in front of the Sealink.
The demon laughed and another tentacle, this one bigger and stronger, lunged at the man. Janine's proton stream didn't even make it twitch as it hit right on target. Perez was blown off his feet and hit the wall opposite, sliding down in an ungraceful heap. He didn't move. Janine bit her lip and fired again, keeping her beam locked on the silver eyes. The thing's laughter filled the room as it swiped her off her feet, too. She was luckier than Perez and didn't loose consciousness as she crashed into the table. This way she witnessed as the black demon attacked the shield Egon had erected around the stone.
With satisfaction she saw as it pulled away from the sizzling field with a howl. Part of the ectoplasm still clung to the field and turned into steam.
"See how you crack that jackpot, creep," Janine muttered, every muscle in her body hurting like hell.
As if it had heard her he demon made another run for the stone. This time, Janine thought she saw the field weaken. But that couldn't be! It was supposed to strengthen when the demon touched it. But the sheer mass of the entity was enough to overload the generator. It spewed sparks into the air and sputtered. Again the demon came closer, wrapping itself around the field. The red-haired secretary summoned her last bit of strength, lifted her thrower and fired. The proton beam danced over the black body of the entity.
It gave an annoyed growl and a tentacle shot at Janine, just barely missing her head and crashing into the desk. Janine cowered down, not to get hit by the large chunks, and had to stop firing.
The black cloud gave a howl of triumph and with barely concealed horror did Janine see as it broke through the shield. The stone vanished in the black body and the demon hissed with pleasure. And disappeared.
* * *
Jaimaa materialized only seconds after D'rlanzinhj's triumphant departure. Her heart sank as she saw the destruction. And she felt desperation creep into her as she didn't see the Sealink. She had failed again! And the failure made her wish she had never been born. Now her enemy possessed all four stones and soon he would know where the Spellbinder was. He would come again to the Ghostbuster's Headquarters and kill them.
Janine groaned as she tried to get the destroyed table off her. The female demon went over to her, helping the red-haired woman to free herself. When she saw the demon, the secretary grabbed for her thrower, only partly relaxing when she recognized who it was. Her eyes flew over to the motionless form of Arthur Perez.
"Mr. Perez!" She scrambled over to him and shook him slightly.
The older man blinked and groaned, touching his head gingerly. Then he looked up abruptly, as if remembering something. When his eyes fixed on the empty spot of the place where the stone had been, his face fell and he looked as devastated as Jaimaa felt.
"I failed," he whispered in a broken voice. "The stone was stolen from me."
Jaimaa shook her head, her blue-black hair moving with the motion. "No, you haven't failed." Her voice was soft and gentle, drawing the dark eyes of the Keeper to her. "I am the one who failed, for I am the one who was chosen to protect you and the stones from D'rlanzinhj."
Perez stared at her in surprise, his speechlessness matched by Janine. Only now did Janine notice that the blue-skinned demon appeared crestfallen and paler than the time she had met her.
"What now?" the secretary finally asked.
Jaimaa sighed. "I do not know."
* * *
Peter, Egon, Ray and Winston stormed into Ghostbuster Central about twenty minutes after D'rlanzinhj had departed. They found the three occupants of the old firehall in the third floor lab. Arthur Perez appeared a bit pale and there was a bruise on his forehead. Janine was bruised, too, but she looked ready to blast every ghost or demon that came too close to her. She had a proton pack strapped on her back and when the four men entered, she trained the rifle on them.
"Janine!" Egon called.
She lowered the thrower. "Egon!" But instead of rushing to him and embracing him in relief, she stood like rooted to the spot. She was afraid and angered at the same moment and didn't exactly know how to react to the present situation. There was still a demon standing in the lab. And that demon was the prime target of a certain Ghostbuster.
Peter Venkman's eyes held a dangerous glint. He walked over to Jaimaa, his face drawn tight, his figure tense. "You!" he hissed. "You tricked us! You led us away from here so your friend D'rlanzinhj could steal the stone!" He stood only a few feet away from the demon, staring into the almost-beautiful face, his green eyes flashing.
Jaimaa's red eyes glowed brightly and she hissed, baring her fangs. "I did not betray you. I do not know how D'rlanzinhj was able to detect the whereabouts of the stone."
"And you want me to believe this?" The psychologist laughed humorlessly. "Tell me another one!"
The wings on the back of the demon rustled as she tried not to react to the provocation. It was hard, but she was able to keep her temper down. If she had been younger, the human would be a smoldering heap right now. But she had learned a lot of self-control in her latter years. Lucky for him.
"I am telling the truth."
Before Peter could say anything, Egon stepped in. "Peter," he said calmly, his voice carrying a mixture of threat and warning. He placed a hand on his younger friend's shoulder and pulled him slightly away from the Netherworld entity.
The psychologist stared at his friend, his green eyes ablaze with anger and the feeling of betrayal. "She tricked us, Egon! I told you she would! She's a demon. Why should she chose to help us?"
"Because I need your help, Ghostbuster," Jaimaa said levely. "I alone am not able to defeat D'rlanzinhj. And you are not able to trap him with your devices. He now has all four stones and it won't be long until he can find the focus. You have the focus and because of that you will be the prime target."
"She is right, Peter," Ray said. "She could have taken Sealink if she had wanted to. But she didn't."
"She needed us to find the focus," Venkman insisted.
"If I had been working with D'rlanzinhj and was after the Sealink, I would have been able to find the focus after stealing the stone." Jaimaa's voice was reasonable.
"Maybe you're working against that Lanzy-character, but you have the same aim -- freeing that other demon." Peter was not ready to let her go unscathed. Maybe he was prejudiced, but he had all the right to be. She was a demon, for God's sake. The Ghostbusters trapped her kind for a living. Why would she want their help? She was more powerful than all of them together, able to turn them into God-knew-what within the blink of an eye, but still she came to offer and seek help. He didn't like her.
"Right now, we don't have any other choice than to believe her," Winston said.
"We could always bust her," the dark-haired psychologist said sweetly, tapping his thrower. Like the others he was still wearing his proton pack.
Jaimaa returned the smile, only hers resembled the grin of a predator. "You couldn't catch me."
"Wanna try?" Peter lifted his thrower.
"You wouldn't dare ...."
Venkman switched on the thrower and the hum of the accelerator filled the room.
"Peter!" Ray called out in horror, eyes darting from the demon to the psychologist. "You can't ...."
"I can and I will. She's a demon and she betrayed us to this black nasty! Now he's got the fourth stone." Peter's finger hovered over the trigger.
Arthur Perez, who had been standing quietly on the side, stepped between the blue-skinned demon and the angry Ghostbuster. "Please put the weapon down," he said calmly. "I don't believe that Jaimaa did it. I know it's only a story, but my grandma always told me about the guardians of the gate to the prison dimension. She wouldn't do anything to help the other demon."
"How do you know that she isn't his partner?"
Perez touched his chest. "I simply trust my instincts."
"So do I. My instincts say she's involved."
"Peter, stop it." Egon's blue eyes held Peter's and the psychologist lost part of his aggressiveness. "The problem who is on whose side is irrelevant right now. We have to find the stones before D'rlanzinhj finds out we have the focus." He turned to the demon. "How long will it take him to find the Spellbinder through the other stones."
Jaimaa frowned. "I don't know. He's already using the other stones and so it will be no problem for him to attune himself to the last one. I think he will find the place of the focus very soon."
"We have to hide it somewhere." Ray looked at the others. "Maybe we can build another shield like we did to stop D'rlanzinhj from getting Sealink."
"Yeah, and didn't it work just fine?" Peter asked sarcastically, lifting one eyebrow.
"I think that's a good idea, Ray," Egon told his younger colleague, but looking at Peter, flashing him a warning look. "But we don't know how long it will take us to build that shield. And D'rlanzinhj might be here soon."
Peter bit his lip, cutting off a reply. He simply glared at the demon and Jaimaa glared back.
"Then what can we do?" Winston wanted to know, sounding practical.
There was a long silence while four Ghostbusters, one former Keeper of the stone, one secretary, and one female demon pondered that question.
"What would happen if we put the focus in the containment unit?" Winston finally asked aloud.
Ray and Egon looked at each other and frowned.
"I don't know." Ray shrugged. "We don't even know what that focus really is and whether D'rlanzinhj can still sense it when it's in the containment field." He looked questioningly at Jaimaa.
The blue-skinned demon rubbed her chin. "You use a containment field to trap ghosts?"
"Maybe we could trap D'rlanzinhj in there, too." She raised one blue-black eyebrow.
"We'd have to get him into a trap first, wouldn't we?" Janine spoke up.
The auburn-haired occultist shook his head. "No. We had ghosts which were sucked straight into the unit before, remember? It can work, if we set it up right."
"But we don't know if D'rlanzinhj can find the stone when it's in the unit, guys," Peter reminded them. "What if it doesn't work? What if the field shuts the stones off from the focus?"
"We'd have to leave the focus outside the unit and trap D'rlanzinhj when he tries to steal it." Egon scratched his nose. "Which means we have to place the Spellbinder very close to the opening of the containment unit, so it and the demon are sucked inside."
"Sounds mighty dangerous, m'man," Zeddemore said.
"I don't like it," Peter announced. "We don't know anything about either this D'rlanzinhj demon or the focus. And we don't no nothing at all about little 'lady-in-blue' here." He shot Jaimaa a glance. "How do we know she doesn't warn D'rlanzinhj."
"Peter, we've been over this before," Egon said patiently.
Peter frowned and his face held a dark look. "I still don't like it."
"But it's the only thing we can do right now. If this D'rlanzinhj ever gets the focus, he can free OushRian and then ... " Ray shrugged. "I don't think we have to worry about anything any longer."
Winston gave Egon a clap on the shoulder. "Let's try it. I hate to go down without a fight."
The blond physicist nodded. He looked at Ray. "Ray, I need your help with that."
"Sure." Ray started to collect some things he was sure of they would need in the basement.
Winston went over to Arthur Perez, looking at the bruise on the older man's forehead. "Let's get that cleaned and bandaged up, Mr. Perez." He led him over to the bathroom.
That left Peter, Janine and Jaimaa alone. Janine decided it was mighty unhealthy to stay in the same room with a furious and maddened Peter Venkman and a demonic Netherworld entity, grabbed the proton pack and left, too.
"I think I've some more reports to type," she muttered as an excuse.
Now Peter and Jaimaa were alone. Venkman looked at the female demon and sighed. "Guess that leaves me to clean up, hm?" he asked lightly and shrugged out of his pack.
Jaimaa didn't know what to make of the man. One second he was mad as hell at her, accused her of collaborating with D'rlanzinhj and intent on destroying this dimension. And the next he made small talk! He was weird. She watched him as he made a half-hearted attempt to move the remnants of the former lab table out of the room and decided to help him. With her superior strength it was easy to complete the task and minutes later the table -- or what was left of it -- stood in the hallway.
Peter dusted himself off and looked at his female helper. "Don't think I'll trust you, Cxjiy'Jaimaanjey. But since it seems that the others do, I have to live with it. And since I have to live with the others long after you're gone and this mess is over, I won't kick you butt into the containment unit along with the black nasty."
He stalked off towards the spiral staircase and left the stunned demon alone. Jaimaa shook her head and decided to see what Spengler and Stantz were working on.
* * *
D'rlanzinhj gloated with triumph. Finally! All four stones were his and the key was complete. No, not really complete. Though he could now use the power o the stones, he couldn't harness it in one place. And to open the door to the prison dimension of OushRian, he had to focus the stones. And to do that he needed the Spellbinder. But that was the problem, that was the easiest to solve. He only had to use the stones and they would lead him to wherever the focus was.
The black demon took the Sealink and absorbed the stone in its cloud-like body. It merged with the three stones already there. D'rlanzinhj felt power surge through him and he reveled in it, laughing out in sheer delight. No-one could stop him now! He was too strong for either Jaimaa or the others of The Khelljin to fight him.
* * *
Egon and Ray had transformed the front of the containment unit into something only remotely resembling what had once been the large, round and red device used to store ghosts. There was a kind of cage fixed to the red surface, just large enough to allow a man to enter. The opening mechanism of the unit was set on 'open', but no ghosts were getting out. The bright glare of the unit lit the room. When Peter and Winston came down the stairs to the basement, they witnessed as Ray shut off the glare by closing the opening and the light returned to normal intensity. There were dozens of cables leading from the control unit or the lab behind the containment unit to the containment unit itself.
"Nice," Peter commented. "What is it?"
Ray looked up and smiled broadly -- and proudly. "We did it, Peter. I think we can trap D'rlanzinhj in the containment field, without endangering the focus." He gestured at the cage and the partly open containment unit. "We position the focus in front of the opening as a bait and when D'rlanzinhj makes a run for it, we activate the energy cage. Through it he will be trapped in place and we only have to open the containment field."
"Energy cage?" Winston echoed.
Stantz nodded eagerly. "The cage works like our proton packs. We hooked it to the emergency generator so it has enough power to hold D'rlanzinhj for the time necessary to open the containment unit and suck him in."
"You hooked it to the what?" Peter asked, incredulous.
"The emergency generator, Peter," Egon entered the conversation, coming over to them to check the cage. "We can't use the generator for the unit, because it needs all power when its opened."
"What if the emergency generator breaks down in the process and we need it because the containment unit is breaking down?" the psychologist wanted to know.
"Then we're in deep trouble," was Egon's wry comment.
"Gee, never would have guessed that," his younger friend muttered. Then he gave a bright smile. "So, what now? Do we wait for big, bad ghostie to make its guest appearance?"
"We have to," Ray said. "We don't know where this demon is and we don't know how quickly he will find us."
"It won't be long," Jaimaa spoke up, her deep voice echoing in the basement. "He has the stones."
"Which brings us to the topic of the stones," Winston reminded them. "What will happen to them?"
"We have to get them from him," Jaimaa insisted. "I won't let him take them with him. They need to be returned to the Keepers."
"Darling, they're dead," Peter said sweetly. "Except for ol' Art, all your precious Keepers have been murdered by a demon."
The blue-skinned demon turned to him. "We will find new Keepers. But the stones must be saved."
"I'm sure we can get him separated from the stones," Ray assured her.
Jaimaa didn't comment on it, only turned away, looking at the containment unit. She didn't have a good feeling about this. The device Stantz and Spengler had constructed looked well and the explanations sounded good, but there was this doubt in her mind that it would really work. D'rlanzinhj was a highly intelligent being and he wouldn't be lured in such a simply trap. But then there was his greed for the Spellbinder and his single-mindedness when it came to getting something he really wanted. She had fought him before, mostly in mock combat or to fend him off from entering areas he was not allowed to enter, and he had always been insistent and had not easily given up. Now he was far above her in power -- but he was still the same being inside.
"I want Janine and Mr. Perez out of Central," Egon said and got Jaimaa's attention back to the group of mortals.
"She won't like it." Winston smiled. "I think she'd rather stay here and fight demons -- with you."
"It is too dangerous," the physicist insisted. "She will understand."
"Oh, sure," Peter muttered and grinned. "I'll go and 'explain' it to her." He walked up the stairs again, leaving the three men with the female demon behind.
* * *
It was in the middle of the night. Janine had left Ghostbuster Central under loud and long protests about three hours ago, taking Arthur Perez with her. He would stay at her apartment for the night.
"Nothing you can do will ever be enough to pay me for that, Venkman," she had threatened and stomped off. Peter had only smiled at the bewildered Perez.
"She's just blowing off steam," he had assured the older man. "Janine's a really nice, young lady -- with an attitude. Treat her well and with respect and you'll live."
Perez had only laughed. "Just like you do, right?"
Peter had smiled, too. "Right."
Now that Janine was gone the four men had divided up into two groups. Egon and Ray were down in the basement, still fiddling with their device, while Winston and Peter sat in front of the TV, watching a late night movie. They both had a walkie talkie with them, so that in case of an alert they could be paged.
Jaimaa had not been seen since and that made Peter nervous. He had to restrain himself from running through the firehouse and search for the demon. He still didn't trust her and there was nothing the others could say to make him drop his guard. She was a demon and she was dangerous. That she was supposedly on their side was of no importance.
The alarm went off at about 1.30 a.m. Winston had volunteered to make another bowl of popcorn while Peter switched through the channels to find a good movie or show. The last one had nearly bored him to death and he had fallen asleep once or twice, only to be shaken awake by Winston. When the alarm sounded, both men ran for the stairs, grabbing their proton packs on the way to the basement.
The basement was brightly lit and Peter saw that the machine to trap D'rlanzinhj had changed a bit since he had seen it the last time. There were even more cables leading to the cage and the focus sat just in front of the opening. The containment unit was still closed, but there was a remote control mechanism just beside Ray, who stood at the control panels.
"What is it?" Winston asked the two scientists.
"The long range scanner picked up a class-8 entity, about half a mile from Central," Egon reported. "I think it is D'rlanzinhj."
"It is him," Jaimaa's voice told them and they saw a bluish mist solidify into the familiar figure of the female demon. "I can feel him, too."
"Okay, show time," Peter announced, activating his proton pack.
Ray and Egon strapped into theirs and followed his example.
"It's coming closer," Ray said, one eye on the display of the long range scanner. "Two hundred yards."
Peter edged closer to the containment unit, while Winston took up a position further away from his colleague, trying to cover his back. Ray and Egon did the same, but Ray stayed at the control panel where the remote control for the containment unit was.
The moment Jaimaa announced, "He's here" was also the moment an inky black cloud oozed though the wall. It hovered there for just a second, as if to assess the situation, then dove for the focus. Jaimaa had to force herself to stay calm and not move against her enemy.
D'rlanzinhj entered the cage and one tentacle stretched out to reach for the focus. Just before he could touch it, Ray activated the cage. With a low hum, the cage came to live, sizzling. The black demon howled in rage as it felt the trap close around it. Letting the focus sit where it was, it hit the cage. The proton energy crackled loudly and Peter saw Egon frown all of a sudden. That wasn't a good sign.
The next blow let the energy flicker off for a second, then the generator's increasing power output strengthened it again. But not for long. D'rlanzinhj, seeing that the cage's proton energy walls were too weak to stay solid under a constant assault, made another run. This time, the cage broke. With a loud explosion, the emergency generator died a quick death. The feedback of energy short-circuited the remote control of the opening mechanism of the containment field.
"Full stream, now!" Peter bellowed, firing his rifle and pinning the demon with it.
Egon, Ray and Winston followed his example. But as before, the streams were too weak for such a powerful entity.
"We have to open the containment unit now!" Ray called, edging over to the control panel to do just that.
D'rlanzinhj hissed, lashing out at the occultist and just barely missing him. Ray moved aside, rolling over on the ground, never stopping his fire. Peter moved closer to the demonic entity, feeling the thrower's heat, as it was used longer than normal at this set of power output. They were going full stream and didn't even tickle the demon! They were just annoying it. Another swipe of D'rlanzinhj had Ray stop firing and the demon roared in triumph as the auburn-haired Ghostbuster hit the basement wall, sliding down.
"Ray!" Peter screamed and tried to get over to his friend.
Jaimaa watched the battle with a sinking feeling. D'rlanzinhj was way too strong. His power was quadrupled by the stones and the mortals were no match for him. Deciding it was the only way, she attacked her enemy.
D'rlanzinhj was surprised when the female demon shot a burst of blue fire at him and he turned away from Stantz. He growled in pleasure, anticipating the fight. He would kill his long-time enemy and then take the focus. After freeing OushRian from his prison cell, not even the Ghostbuster would stand in his way -- ever again.
Winston and Egon were still firing at the demon, trying to weaken him, while Peter ran over to Ray. Keeping one eye on the fight between the two demons, he knelt down beside Ray, shaking his shoulder lightly.
"Ray?" he called. "Are you all right, buddy?"
The occultist groaned and opened his eyes. "Yeah, just bumped my head." He grimaced and touched his hurting head. Then his eyes fixed on the fight. "Wow!" he breathed.
It was a sight. Even Peter had to confess that. Jaimaa had dissolved into a bluish-black mist and was trying to billow up around the inky black opponent as if to suffocate him. But D'rlanzinhj always evaded her attempts as if playing with her. Shots of blue and yellow fire sizzled between the clouds. Was it his imagination or was Jaimaa weakening? Peter frowned.
"We have to open the containment unit!" Ray whispered intently, trying to get up. He groped for the remote control and his eyes widened as he took in the burned device. "It's burned through!"
Peter looked grimly at the little control device. The only way to open the containment unit now, was to do it manually. And that meant getting there first.
Another fire bolt, a close one this time, made Peter jump for cover. When he looked up to search for Ray, he saw the occultist making a run-and-jump for the containment unit.
"Ray!" he yelled, fear transforming his stomach into an icy knot. "Get back!"
But Ray didn't hear him. He kept running, dodging the bolts and the crackling energy.
D'rlanzinhj and Jaimaa were stretched over most of the open space in front of the containment unit and the constant bolts of fire or energy didn't lessen the risk. Jaimaa was weakening -- that much was visible for Peter as he stared at the combat scene. The inky black mass was growing and growing.
Egon saw him the second Ray went off towards the containment unit. "Ray, no!" he yelled, nearly simultaneously with Peter. He knew exactly what the occultist wanted to do and it was too dangerous.
D'rlanzinhj must have heard him because a tentacle now lashed out towards Ray. Egon shot at it and the tentacle changed course, aiming at him instead. The blond physicist was too slow to jump aside and was hit full in the chest. He went flying backwards, hitting the ground hard. Egon stayed down, too dazed to get a clear thought. Winston, seeing and understanding what Ray wanted to do, was torn between covering his colleague and looking after Egon. But since Egon was still moving, though slowly, he decided to help Ray.
The auburn-haired dodged the bolts of energy and made it up the three steps of the small stairs in front of the opening of the containment unit. He activated the manual control board, raking his brain for the entry code. Punching several buttons he was relieved when he the door to the containment field unlocked. Now he only had to pull the lever ....
D'rlanzinhj detached himself from his female opponent and dove for the occultist, who was completely unaware of him. Ray was so intent on his task that only Winston's alarmed cry made him turn around. His eyes widened in horror as he took in the black cloud that was coming for him.
Jaimaa recognized the danger the Ghostbuster was in, too. She concentrated, collecting all her powers in one fire bolt. The bolt hit D'rlanzinhj in his back and he howled in pain. The satisfaction Jaimaa felt at causing her enemy pain was short-lived. Through the power of the stones he was her superior and that she felt seconds later. Her scream of pain echoed through the basement and her cloudy body solidified as it crashed on the floor.
Peter, on his way to Ray, saw how Jaimaa lost her fight, landing on the floor in a graceless heap. She didn't move and her black wings lay in an unnatural angle. Feeling rage flood through him, Peter fired at the black demon, but not inflicting any damage at all.
In the meantime, Ray finished with opening the lock of the containment unit. He quickly grabbed the focus, which still sat in front of the opening and then pulled the lever. The containment unit opened abruptly. A bright, white light shot out of the rectangular opening and there was a high-pitched warning noise. With the bright light came a howling wind and it swiped Ray off his feet. He toppled down the small stairs. But before he could think about it any further he saw D'rlanzinhj. The inky black demon was sucked towards the opening of the containment field and he roared in protest. He wrapped tentacles around the cage in front of the unit, but the pull was stronger. One tentacle after another was stripped away and the roar changed into a howl of panic.
Through the blinding light Peter saw the unconscious form of Jaimaa move towards the containment unit. She was a paranormal entity, too, and like her enemy she was pulled inside. The psychologist shoved all prejudice against demons aside and lunged for her as she slipped past him. He wrapped his hands around her wrists and held on for all it was worth.
D'rlanzinhj's body had started to disappear into the containment field opening, but he was still fighting. A proton stream hit the cloud demon and pushed him further inside. Through the blinding light and the howling wind Peter discovered Winston. He was firing his stream at his victim. A sharp pain in his arms got Peter's attention back to the demon he was preventing from getting sucked inside the containment unit. Jaimaa's red eyes were open and she looked at Peter through a haze of confusion and pain. Her taloned hands were digging deep into his forearms, as her survival instincts took over. Peter tightened his hold, gritting his teeth against the pain.
Jaimaa didn't really know what was going on. Something was pulling at her and her pain-numbed brain was telling her it was the containment field somebody had opened. D'rlanzinhj's howls were nearly drowned by the howl of the wind in the basement and the sizzling of the throwers. Someone was holding on to her, keeping her from getting sucked inside and she realized it was Peter Venkman. Her instincts had made her bury her talons in his unprotected forearms and his hold on her was getting slippery through the blood oozing from the wounds.
Suddenly D'rlanzinhj's howls stopped as he vanished into the containment unit. Winston darted over to the closing mechanism and pushed the lever to the 'closed' position. The bright, white light died down and, together with it, the howling wind stopped. Silence descended upon the four men and the demon, a silence only broken by the ragged breaths of Peter and the running steps of Egon and Winston.
The dark-haired Ghostbuster looked up and blinked, trying to identify the blurry face above him. "Egon?" he ventured, his mind telling him that the voice fit the blurry image with the blond hair.
Egon was relieved as Peter recognized him, though he was worried as he discovered the blood covered arms and the shredded sleeves. Peter was still holding Jaimaa's wrist and the female demon was only slowly releasing her hold on the Ghostbuster. The psychologist winced and looked down at his hands.
"Ouch," he muttered, too shocked and numbed too feel real pain. Seconds later the said pain hit and he felt dizziness run through him. Egon put an arm around his younger friend's shoulders and steadied him.
Now Winston and Ray came over. Ray was as shocked as the rest of them, sporting a bruise on his cheekbone. "Is he okay?" he asked and eyed Peter worriedly.
"Sure, I'm okay," Peter said and tried a bright smile. It failed. Then he looked at Jaimaa. "You okay, Jaimy?"
The blue-skinned demon nodded and sat up cautiously. "I am all right. Thank you."
She didn't look all right, though. At least not to Peter's eyes. Her skin was too pale compared to the color it had had before the fight, and her wings looked like they were broken. But there were no open wounds and her red eyes shone brightly.
Why the hell was he worrying about her? The question shot through his head and there was no immediate answer following. He was worried about her. And he had saved her from getting sucked into the containment unit. Why?
"We did it!" Ray said with a mild note of triumph in his voice, tearing Peter's mind from the problem of the female demon.
"Yeah, we really did. Never doubted it." He gave a wry smile.
"Sure, homeboy," Winston chuckled. Then he turned serious again. "Now let's get you upstairs to the first aid kit. Those cuts look nasty."
Peter looked at the cuts again. They were bleeding freely and hurt badly. He didn't protest as Winston and Egon pulled him to his feet and helped him up the stairs. Jaimaa got up, too, her wings hanging down her back like they didn't belong to her body. She followed the four Ghostbusters, trying to assess the damage to her body. She gave up after coming up with a list of injuries too long for memory alone and decided that she'd take a few days off as healing time.
Suddenly a thought struck her. The stones! She whipped around and scanned the floor of the basement in the wild hope to see the four stones lying there. But it was a futile hope. D'rlanzinhj had taken them with him. Anger and hopelessness flooded through her and nearly banished the pain. She had lost.
Peter bit his lower lip as Winston pulled back the sleeves of his jumpsuit and revealed four rows of very nasty looking cuts on each arm. The cuts went from the middle of his forearm to his wrist and hurt like hell. Zeddemore cleaned the cuts, making Peter yelp from time to time in the process.
"You'll better let a doctor take a look at these, homeboy," Winston advised his younger friend as he bandaged the cuts. "Looks nasty."
"Feels nasty, too," Peter admitted with a grimace.
"I'm glad that's over," Ray said and sat down beside Peter on the couch. "How are you, Peter?"
"I'll live." He grinned wryly. "How's your head?"
"Oh, it's just a bump. Nothing serious." The occultist touched the tender spot and pulled a face.
"I think we'll get you looked at by a doctor, too, Ray," Peter said and patted his arm.
"It's really nothing, Peter!" the other man protested.
"Yeah, right." The psychologist turned angry green eyes on Ray. "That was a really dumb stunt, Ray!"
The occultist lowered his eyes, a bit ashamed. "It seemed to be the only possibility at that time," he muttered as an excuse.
"But did you have to endanger your life? You could have gotten yourself killed!"
"There is no use in thinking about what might have been possible, Peter," Egon said calmly. "We trapped the demon and everyone is all right."
Peter looked ruefully at his arms. Then he leaned back wearily, wishing for a bed. His eyes brushed over the silent figure of Jaimaa. She had refused help with her injuries, telling them that most of them would heal in no time and that none of their medication would help her anyway.
"But you're right," Peter suddenly said, his voice more quiet now. "I'm glad it's over."
That was the moment the siren went off. The four men jerked up, shooting each other alarmed looks.
"The containment unit," Egon said slowly, his face white and tense. He had been standing aside while Peter let Winston ministrate his cuts, examining the focus Peter had given him some minutes ago. He was fascinated by the clear, glass-like and smoothly polished object that was the source of all their trouble.
"You don't think ....." Peter didn't want to finish the question because he didn't want to know the answer.
They hurried down the stairs into the basement where the remnants of their battle from mere minutes ago still lay. Egon and Ray went over to the partly burned control panel, assessing their situation.
"D'rlanzinhj," a female voice said. Jaimaa looked at the four Ghostbusters, her red eyes as alarmed as they looked.
"But ....," Ray stammered. "We trapped him and secured the containment unit. He couldn't possibly get out." The alarm died down as quickly as it had come. Everything appeared normal again. No ghost had left the unit.
"He can't get out," Jaimaa agreed. "But he can change from your containment unit into The Khelljin Netherworld."
"That is impossible," Egon disagreed. "Nothing can escape from the containment unit. It's been regularly checked for breaches."
The female demon shook her head. "He doesn't need to get out, Dr. Spengler. He has the stones. With them he is powerful enough to open a gate to The Khelljin Netherworld."
Ray shook his head in disbelief. "Not even the most powerful ghosts and demons in the containment unit have that power."
"They don't have the stones. Each of the stones is a key. With all four of them you can open every gate from wherever you are." Jaimaa shrugged, wincing as it jarred her broken wings.
"What now?" Winston wanted to know.
"Now I have to go. If I'm right, D'rlanzinhj has just passed into my world. I do not know what he intends to do there, but right now he's less powerful than before. Using the stones drew a lot of power from him. If I hit him now, I might succeed in either destroying him or banishing him from yours and our world." The blue-skinned demon looked determined.
Peter eyed her. She looked a bit better than a few minutes ago when he had prevented her from being sucked into the unit, but her wings still appeared broken and he was sure that she wasn't really up to fighting this D'rlanzinhj demon.
"Need some help?" he asked casually.
Jaimaa looked at him in surprise, as did the other three Ghostbusters.
"I thought that since we fought him once, we might be able to help defeat him for good," Peter tried to defend his unusual offer to an entity he had distrusted hours ago.
Ray came to his rescue. "I think we owe you this help, Jaimaa," he agreed with his dark-haired friend. "I'll come along with Peter if you need help."
"Count me in, too," Winston spoke up and Egon, too, nodded in agreement.
Jaimaa was momentarily speechless. True, she was too weak to do more than pass over to her dimension and maybe find D'rlanzinhj, but she would still try to finally defeat him. And now the four men offered her help to accomplish just that.
"I accept," she finally said. "But it won't be easy."
"When was it ever easy?" Peter quipped. "Just give us a minute to get our stuff and we can go."
Ten minutes later they were ready. Jaimaa looked at them again, seeing the determined faces and feeling the weariness emitting from them. The first fight had weakened them, but they would still take D'rlanzinhj on a second time. Amazing.
With a little bit of concentration she managed to transport the four Ghostbusters and the female demon vanished from Ghostbuster Central.
"Nice," was Peter's first comment when he got his first look at the world around him. "Really, really nice. With a little effort you could turn that into a holiday resort."
They were standing inside some kind of tunnel, just large enough to let two men walk side by side, and just high enough for Egon not to hit his head on the ceiling.
"Last time I went to the Netherworld there were more sights," Venkman went on. "You'll never get any tourists down here if you can't come up with some more attractions. Though I've to confess the rocks are kinda nice."
There were large chunks of rock buried in the ground. The rock was black and polished like a mirror. Though it should have been completely dark in here, with no torches anywhere in sight and electrical power existing down here being a bit unlikely, there was a strange twilight. It was enough for the four men to see each other and their surroundings, though Peter could have thought of happier things to see. Jaimaa had no trouble at all seeing anything.
"We are in the Netherworld, I presume," Egon said, ignoring Peter's ramblings -- as usual -- and addressing Jaimaa.
The blue-skinned demon nodded, but she looked kind of puzzled. "This is the part we call 'The Khelljin'. It's very secluded from the other areas and very few of us ever come here."
"But ...?" Peter inquired, noticing the puzzled look and the strange tone she said it all in.
Jaimaa looked at him, her red eyes full of surprise. "This is not where I thought we would come out of the gateway."
"These are the catacombs. No-one ever comes here. It's closed off territory. They are under the actual surface of The Khelljin."
"I think that's why they call 'em catacombs," Venkman muttered and received a nudge from Ray into the ribs and a muttered, 'Peter!'.
"Normally the gateway doesn't end in the catacombs," the demon went on. "Unless ...." She frowned.
"Unless what, red-eye?"
Jaimaa flashed Peter an annoyed look. "Unless someone detoured it."
"Detoured? Never heard of gateways being detoured." Winston looked at Ray for help.
The occultist just shrugged. He was no expert on gateways anymore than the others. He had heard of them, read about the phenomena witnessed by few people, but he had never been through one. Their own entry into the Netherworld had not been through gates, but through rips they had opened themselves.
"It can be done, though it is tricky." Jaimaa looked around, trying to find out where exactly in the catacombs they were.
"And you think D'rlanzinhj's the one who did it?" Winston wanted to know.
The answer was a brief nod. Then she explained: "He would surely come here, for here is the gateway to the prison dimension of OushRian. And he needs time to do whatever he came here to do. He suspected I would follow and so he detoured the gateway."
"But you said he can't open the prison dimension without the focus," Ray objected. "What good can it be to come here, then?"
"He had no real choice," Jaimaa answered with a humorless smile. "The stones -- when brought together -- are the key to many gateways, but all lead here. The keys are attuned to the lock of the prison dimension gateway."
"Now he's here and he can't open the door. Bad luck for him," Peter commented. "But why send us into some lousy, damp cellar?"
Jaimaa turned to him. "These are the catacombs. There are a lot ways inside, but few ways out. Not many who come here by accident ever find their way out again."
"Uhhh, I love it! Did you see some bad movies lately? Sounds like it." Peter shook his head. "Why is it we always land in such situations?"
"Jaimaa," Egon turned to the demon, still ignoring Peter, "you said D'rlanzinhj needs the focus to open the gateway. Now he has returned here -- without the focus. Why should he do it?"
"The moment he has enough power restored, he will try to get to the focus again," the female demon said slowly. "He is here to recharge his powers. We have to take the key from him. Then he will be no more than he was before. And then you can trap him -- forever."
Jaimaa started to walk down the corridor, her wings hugged tightly to her body so they wouldn't scrape on the ceiling. The four Ghostbusters followed her, Peter and Ray in the lead, Egon and Winston bringing up the rear.
"Where are we going?" Ray wanted to know, looking around curiously. The walls stayed the same -- gray rock. Only the black, polished stones kept varying in size. The light -- or whatever you could call it -- stayed, too, and Ray had the feeling it was moving with them. Every time he looked back over his shoulder he could see as far as a few feet, then there was only a murky blackness. The same was the truth about the way they were going.
"To find D'rlanzinhj."
"You know where he is?"
"He is at the gate. He will be there until he has enough power to make another transition." Jaimaa didn't slow her pace and the Ghostbusters had to quicken their pace to catch up to her.
"Whoa, just a minute, Jaimy-babe," Peter hurried up to her. "You said there's no way out of here. How are we gonna get outta here?"
"There is a way," she said briskly.
"Oh, sure. Yeah, right. Where?"
"I do not know. Not exactly."
The psychologist grimaced. "Great. We could spend years down here searching for that damn exit!"
Jaimaa smiled. Somehow the smile didn't reassure Peter very much. "Oh, I don't think so."
"It might be centuries."
That produced a gagging sound from the psychologist and he stared at her. "Say again?" he croaked. "Listen, Big Wings, I don't intend to spend centuries in some rotten, damp place because you screwed up!"
Jaimaa stopped abruptly and Peter nearly bumped into her. This time she was angry. Very angry. "I did not screw up," she hissed.
Peter wasn't easily intimidated. "Oh, yeah? What are you calling this?" He made a gesture to encompass the corridor. "It's not exactly what I call the reception area! We landed somewhere all right, but it's definitely not where you intended to get us, right? To me that looks a lot like you screwed up. Big time."
"Peter," Ray intercepted his friend, trying to prevent him from talking himself into more trouble than he had bargained for. Being in this situation was bad enough. Having an irritated guide was worse. Having an irritated guide who happened to be a demon was something the occultist didn't want to imagine. And from the look on the demon's face Peter was very close to being incinerated on the spot -- or worse.
"What, Ray?" Peter spun around, facing his colleague. "You gonna jump in for her again? Why is it you guys trust her like that? She got you under some kind of spell?" Angrily Peter stared at his three friends. "Everytime she says we got the black nasty, something happens and we're back to square one again! And now we're trapped in some kinda catacombs and might never find our way out again!"
"We will find our way out," Jaimaa said into the silence, her voice tightly controlled. She was very close to doing something she might regret later. Very, very close.
"Yeah? How?" The dark-haired man's voice was like acid.
"I have been down here more than once, human. I know my way around here." She lifted one blue-black eyebrow. Then she walked off, leaving Peter standing were he was.
"Oh, great. Now she tells me. So if you've been down here, where are we?"
"In the Southern Catacombs, close to the gateway."
"Aha. Somebody got a map?"
A hand dropping on his shoulder jerked him around. Winston's dark eyes looked into his green ones. "Get off her case," he told his younger colleague. "She's on our side, homeboy."
"Sure," Peter sneered. "Stop defending her actions, Zed."
"I'm not, Pete. But you seem to insist on seeing the enemy in her. Why? She helped us a lot. You even saved her life! If you don't trust her why didn't you let her get sucked into the containment unit?"
"That was an accident," Venkman growled." I didn't know what I was doing then." He stomped after Jaimaa.
After some time of walking the tunnel changed. The gray became more of a blue and the ceiling lightened visibly. It was like a real sky overhead. And there were inscriptions on the wall. Winston had a hard time with Ray, tearing him away from the walls he was studying.
"This is great!" the occultist exclaimed. "Look at those signs. It's like the signs on the wrapping of the stone, Sealink. Wow!"
"C'mon, m'man," the black Ghostbuster said with a grin. "We have to save the world first. Then we can go on looking at reliefs in strange, otherdimensional tunnels."
They had been in the tunnels for what seemed to them all like hours, but were only minutes in fact. But even though it were only minutes, the humid air and the slightly wet walls were getting to them. Peter was ill-tempered and kept back. Jaimaa led them through bends and turns, up a lot of stairs, until they finally stood in front of a large door. It was bare of any ornaments and seemed to be made of simple wood. The female demon touched a dark panel on the right side of the door and the door opened with a silence that was as eerie as if it would have creaked loudly. She stepped back, looking at the four men.
"After you," Peter said sarcastically and made a flourishing, inviting gesture. His green eyes were full of distrust and Jaimaa felt herself sigh, regret welling up inside of her. Why she felt regret and for what was something she couldn't pin down. Now she only lifted both eyebrows and stepped through the portal. The Ghostbusters followed.
They were definitely out of whatever underground world they had been in. Above them was the open sky -- or whatever substituted as a sky in this dimension. It was something bluish-gray without clouds or a sun. The ground was bare rock with grassy plants growing here or there. A withered, gnarled tree stood left of the portal they had come through. There were no mountains or other outstanding landmarks anywhere. Just plain, bare ground.
"This is The Khelljin," Jaimaa said as the men gazed around in stunned silence.
"Well," Winston said, shrugging. "It does look different from the part we visited."
It was very lonely. They had not encountered a single other being in the catacombs and now they didn't see another living -- or un-dead -- thing either. Egon remarked on this to their guide.
"The Khelljin is not very populated with Netherworld entities of any kind. Like I said, no other demons ever come here. We are cut off from the rest." Jaimaa shrugged.
"Wow!" Ray suddenly exclaimed and pointed straight ahead. The eyes of the other three Ghostbusters followed him.
Only a few hundred meters ahead of them rose a large, round structure straight up from the blue-gray ground. It looked like a gigantic ring, precariously balanced and likely to crash over any second. There were inscriptions all over the ring. The ring in itself consisted of three different rings. The outer ring was without inscriptions, appearing like a frame for the other two. The second ring was lighter in color, a bit broader and with inscriptions. The inner ring was even broader, very lightly colored, appearing nearly glass-like, and there seemed to be something painted on it.
"That's fantastic! Look at the inscriptions! I've never seen anything like it before!" Ray was enthusiastic and nearly ran towards the gigantic ring.
The material seemed to be stone, but it was polished and glistening in the non-existent sun. Nothing was keeping the circular structure upright, it just seemed to stand on its own. The Ghostbusters advanced in awe. The closer they came, the larger the thing got until it loomed over them, gigantic and alien.
"This is the gateway?" Egon asked, though he thought he knew the answer.
Jaimaa nodded. "It is."
"That thing's large!" Winston exclaimed.
Ray was all over the inscriptions he could find and circled the construction. Spengler discovered four indentions in the hard surface of the outer ring and guessed they had to be the sockets for the keys. Jaimaa confirmed his guess when he pointed it out.
"This is really great!" the auburn-haired occultist repeated as he came back to the group. "Why have I never seen or read anything about it anywhere?"
The female demon smiled and showed her fangs. "The gate is a secret, as is this part of the Netherworld supposed to be. You may know about The Khelljin area, because some have mentioned it and wrote it down, but no-one who has ever seen the gateway was ever allowed to tell about it."
A cold feeling spread through Peter's stomach, but it wasn't the result of the vampire-grin. "Come again please?" he asked, his voice carefully neutral, but he couldn't keep a slight tinge of anger out of it. "Is that a threat?"
Jaimaa turned to him. "No."
Before they could go any deeper into the meaning of no-one ever being able to tell about the gateway, something happened. It was a slight tremor running through the ground, hardly enough to make them loose their balance. The gateway ring didn't even move the slightest inch. But it was enough to tell Jaimaa that he was here.
"D'rlanzinhj," she whispered, turning around and scanning the vast, empty land surrounding them.
Egon got his P.K.E. meter out and tried to take a reading, but there were too many interferences to get something straight. Fiddling with the dials he tried to sort out the interferences. But it was difficult to do so. The interferences were too strong and the physicist suspected that it was the gate that was the source of those readings. Even when it was inactive it emitted strong enough energy pulses to make it nearly impossible to detect anything else with the meter.
Another tremor went through the ground. This time the construction that loomed over their heads gave a faint creak and Peter though he saw it sway a little. Cold sweat broke out on his forehead as his imagination supplied him with a picture of the gateway crashing down on all of them. He moved away from the gate.
"He is here. Very close. Waiting."
Jaimaa spoke like in trance and Peter thought he could detect a note of fear in her voice. He eyed her closely. Her appearance had improved further, her wings no longer looking like they were broken, but she was still weak and probably in no condition to fight the much stronger demon, who was about to make an entrance.
Then all hell burst loose.
D'rlanzinhj, his inky black body still as menacing as before, popped out of nowhere, very close to the gate. He made a rush for the gate like a maddened rainstorm cloud, shooting lightning bolts at the group of mortals and immortal. The four men scattered and searched for cover. All drew their throwers and started firing nearly the same instant. The ionized protons hit the black cloud and were able to deflect his flight path for a second. Then D'rlanzinhj started a counter attack. He might have been weaker than when they had fought him in the basement, but he was still a class-8 demon. And as a such he was very strong. The Ghostbusters were wiped off their feet, landing in different direction, either closer or further away from the gateway. The black cloud resumed its run on the gateway and succeeded to reach the large ring without further disturbance.
Peter groaned and sat up. His arms seemed to be on fire and he discovered new specks of blood on his uniform sleeves from once again opened cuts. He looked around, dismissing the pain as minor, trying to find his friends. Ray was not far away from him, moving slowly and trying to sit up. Winston was already on his feet and trying to help Egon. Jaimaa was standing where she had been when the black demon had attacked. Her blue skin held no more color and her red eyes were burning brightly in the strange light of this part of the Netherworld. Peter saw how she stretched her wings and he thought he could hear the formerly broken bones rub painfully against each other. Then she dissipated into blue mist and rushed for her enemy.
"Look at that!" Ray suddenly called.
The other men looked at the gateway. D'rlanzinhj had lost no time. The indentions on the ring were filled with four differently colored stones and the stones were glowing brightly. A strange hum came from the gate and Peter thought he could see the second ring of the gateway begin to move.
Very, very slowly.
The humming increased, sounding almost musical. And then the gateway itself moved. It didn't tilt over or roll away, it lifted off! Like in slow motion the ring rose about ten yards into the air, then it tilted sideways, so that it looked like it was laying on a cushion of air. The second ring was still turning and finally stopped with a loud snap.
The humming increased again.
"It's beginning to open!" Egon yelled over the hum, his blue eyes fixed on the gateway in fascination.
"I thought he couldn't open it without the focus, Egon!" Peter reminded his friend, yelling back.
"He can't, as far as I know."
"Then what's this all about? A dry-run?"
Egon was at a loss. He didn't have an explanation for it either. The four stones couldn't open the gate without the help of the focus. And since D'rlanzinhj didn't have the focus, he wouldn't succeed in opening the gateway completely. Suddenly an icy feeling spread through Spengler. His left hand slid into his jumpsuit pocket and came in touch with a cool, smooth ball. The focus. He had not left it at Ghostbuster Central. He had slipped it into his pocket when they had been transported into the Netherworld, not knowing what he was doing. And now he had brought the focus here. To a place the small stone should be miles -- dimensions -- away from.
As if D'rlanzinhj knew this, he untangled himself from the bluish mist that was Jaimaa with ease and made a run for Egon, who stood like rooted to the spot, his face white. Bolts of fire from the blue mist followed the black cloud, but the female demon was too weak to do anything. The fight in the basement of Ghostbuster Central and the transition into The Khelljin had taken too much out of her.
"Egon, watch out!" Winston called, firing at D'rlanzinhj in the process, accomplishing nothing.
The black demon swiped down on Spengler like a bird of prey, tentacles wrapping themselves around the scientist. Peter gave a howl of protest and charged the Netherworld entity, hoping that brute force might accomplish what four throwers couldn't. The next second he found himself lying on the hard floor, close to the hovering gate, his whole body hurting, his arms bleeding freely. Through dazed, green eyes he saw how D'rlanzinhj dumped Egon like an old doll and lifted something small and brightly sparkling off him. With horror Peter realized it was the Spellbinder. Egon had brought the focus with him! But ..... Shoving all thoughts about what had motivated Egon to do that aside, he tried to get to his feet, but found he was unable to.
Ray and Winston were still firing at the black demon, trying to distract him from his run at the gate. But it was no use. Venkman saw the cloud coming his way -- he was closest to the gate, he realized now. The focus was brightly visible in the blackness that was D'rlanzinhj's body.
As the Spellbinder was brought closer to the gate, the humming and the strange melody grew in volume.
The third ring began to move ......
Peter got himself with his back against the smooth surface of a protruding stone. Then the small, golf ball sized stone flew past him, thrown directly at the gateway by the demon. The dark-haired psychologist expected it to fly right through he ring, but instead it stopped right in the middle of the ring, hovering there, as if held by invisible forces. The hum was by now drowning out all other noises and all of a sudden, there was an explosion of multi-colored light. Peter, his eyes narrowed in the glare, saw the four stones send out brilliant lights towards the focus and the little stone glowed like a tiny sun. Then the light exploded outwards, vanishing abruptly. For a second, there was stark silence, then something rushed towards Peter like a large tidal wave. From his position at the foot of the gate he saw something funneling away from the rings, reaching towards him. Just as it looked like it was going to touch the shocked psychologist, the bubbling and sizzling funnel collapsed back the way it came from.
Venkman blinked and suddenly found that D'rlanzinhj was much closer to him. He narrowed his eyes even further as he thought he saw the black being pulled towards the funnel. An idea rose inside of him. Trying to spot his friends, he saw Winston and Ray coming closer, both a bit unsteady. Egon lay where D'rlanzinhj had dumped him. Peter hoped he was only unconscious ....
"Ray! Winston! Shoot at it! Now!" Peter bellowed, leveling his thrower at the black cloud that was definitely closer to the gateway than before. D'rlanzinhj didn't seem to mind that he was so close to the gateway to the prison dimension.
Winston understood what Peter was planning and fired, full stream, joined by Ray a second later. The black demon was suddenly shoved forward by the force of the throwers that couldn't really hurt him. Another stream of ionized protons hit his belly -- or what could substitute for one -- and he howled in annoyance. Trying to get away from the Ghostbuster, D'rlanzinhj made further moves towards the gateway.
The gateway itself was alight in a silvery white light. And when he looked very closely, Peter could see something move on the other side of the liquid appearing surface. He only hoped that whatever it was, it wouldn't try to get out right now. His hope died a quick death as a red scaly, taloned hand reached through the gateway, groping for something. He cursed under his breath, willing D'rlanzinhj closer to the gateway, shortening his stream in the process. The demon was pulled closer to him like a fish on the hook.
Jaimaa, who had been too stunned from her short battle with her enemy to understand much of what was going on around her, blinked into the bright glare. When her red eyes focused on the open gate and the battle between three Ghostbusters and the black demon that was taking place below it, she tried to get up. On unsteady feet she witnessed the taloned hand reach through the gateway. OushRian! An icy feeling spread inside of her, numbing her through and through. An arm followed the hand, then a shoulder.
With an effort, her brain snapped back into working order and she realized what the Ghostbusters were attempting to do. But with only three proton streams they were not strong enough, though they tried hard not to let go. Inhaling deeply, she launched herself at the black cloud.
Peter felt sweat running into his eyes, but he was unable to wipe it away. It would mean letting go of the thrower and if he did that he'd loose his hold on the demon. His arms burned like they were on fire and his sleeves were stuck to the reopened wounds again. The bandages had to be soaked through. He shoved the pain and the thought about the injuries into a far corner of his mind, concentrating on his task. Then he saw Jaimaa. She launched herself into the air, transforming into the blue mist that seemed to be her second body.
"What the ...." he muttered and then witnessed as the two demons connected.
D'rlanzinhj was hit by yet another blow from behind and found himself sailing right at the open gateway. With a roar of protest he tried to stop his flight, but it was too late. His black body hit the liquid surface of the gate and the clawing hand of the demon trapped on the other side.
OushRian's taloned claw grabbed the black demon. D'rlanzinhj fought against the tight hold, screaming and roaring as the gateway pulled him inside, the pull doubled by OushRian's desperate attempt to get free.
The screams -- desperate and full of pain and fear -- were filling the world around him as Peter fired away at the black demon. He wouldn't cease the fire until either the proton pack was empty or the demon was pushed inside the gate. The second was what happened first. With a final roar of protest the black cloud demon disappeared into the gateway. And with its disappearance, the gateway repeated its performance. Another funnel of light exploded outwards, this time the other way. Bubbling and sizzling it screamed away, only to stop at a certain point and collapse inward again.
The gateway closed, tilting, sinking back to the ground. With a revibrating thud it set down on the ground.
Silence descended upon the lands of Khelljin.
Winston blinked hard to get rid of the afterimages dancing in front of his eyes. A soft sigh caught his attention and he saw Ray sitting down abruptly on the ground.
"Ray! Are you all right, m'man?"
The occultist looked at him, eyes a bit glazed. "Sure," he said. "I just ... needed to sit down."
Winston checked his younger colleague and found to his relief that nothing was wrong with him, except that he was exhausted. But then, Zeddemore felt exhausted himself.
"What about Egon?" Ray asked, looking round.
Egon Spengler lay a bit apart from them, still unmoving. Winston ran over to the blond man, immediately searching for a pulse and finding one. Spengler gave a little moan and tried to open his eyes. Winston helped him up as the physicist tried to sit, giving Ray a thumbs up. Though Egon was bruised all over, cuts in his face and on his forehead bleeding, he seemed to be okay.
"Yeah, homeboy. How are you?"
"Fine. A bit dizzy. What happened?" Egon looked owlishly around.
"We busted him. The black nasty is gone."
Winston helped Egon up. The physicist flinched violently as the other Ghostbuster touched his left wrist. Winston took the wrist and examined it closely.
"Looks like you busted your hand, m'man," he told him.
Egon looked at the wrist, blinking. His brain was still a fuzzy mass and the pain in his wrist was not helping either. There were images flashing through his mind, mostly consisting of bright light streaming like a giant waterfall out of the ring and falling back into it again. And there were flashes of a black cloud and a large, red claw. He had to ask the others what it had been all about.
"Oh," he simply said again.
Winston shook his head, a smile on his lips.
"Peter!" Ray's anxious call made them look over to the gateway.
Stantz was already running unsteadily over to the place where Peter stood, staring at the now inactive gate. The rings had rearranged themselves into their old position and the gateway looked like before -- like a gigantic ring with strange inscriptions.
The psychologist didn't seem to notice their approach. His hands dangled at his side, the sleeves of his jumpsuit a blood-soaked mess again. Not far away from him stood Jaimaa, looking as beat and exhausted as all of them. She, too, was coming closer.
"Peter!" Ray exclaimed again. "Are you okay?"
Peter looked at him with dazed eyes, a look similar to the one he had worn when the mess with the containment unit had been over. "Hiya, Ray," he mumbled, summoning up a smile.
Ray discovered the blood-covered arms and gasped. "Your cuts are bleeding again!"
"Oh, yeah, didn't notice."
Ray was sure Peter had noticed. He was loosing blood and the loss was making him light-headed and dazed. "We've gotta get you to a doctor!"
"Try to find one down here, kid." Peter felt weary to the bone and suddenly his knees gave way. Ray caught him and lowered him down, leaning him against a protruding boulder.
"I will get you back," Jaimaa said slowly, her red eyes never leaving Peter.
The psychologist's mouth turned up into a sarcastic grin. "You don't have the strength to lift weights anymore, darling."
"I will accomplish it," the female demon said with conviction, her eyes flashing at the implication that she was unable to do such an easy job.
"Tell me another one," the Ghostbuster muttered. Suddenly a thought struck him. "What was that talk about no-one ever mentioning the gateway before all this mess happened?" Peter's green eyes were suspicious slits.
"It is like I said. The ones who have seen the gateway, never told anyone about it." Jaimaa's almost-beautiful face was straight and open. "And I'm asking you to do the same."
Peter wasn't ready to let relief hit him yet. "No threats? No brainwashing? No suddenly appearing assassins?"
The blue-skinned female looked at him with a slightly shocked expression. "Of course not. We have never killed anyone in our existence before."
"Oh, sure. You demons are such little angels." The psychologist snorted.
"You may not believe it, but demons are as different as humans are." Jaimaa smiled. "But I promise you this: no-one will ever threaten your lives or your memories because of what happened today. We are very thankful for your help."
Peter didn't answer. He closed his eyes again, wishing he had a bed to fall into and sleep till the next millennium.
Ray's surprised exclamation let him snap open his eyes again and he stared at the familiar surroundings of the firehouse. Egon was only a few feet away from him, still looking slightly puzzled, his face smeared with blood. The sight made Peter's stomach lurch, but he soon realized that the blood came from the minor cuts and scrapes all over the thin face. Winston, still kneeling at Egon's side, stared around in astonishment, too.
Venkman's eyes flew to the slightly smiling face of Jaimaa. "How ....?"
"That, Dr. Venkman, will be my secret."
* * *
A few days after the incident with the stones the four Ghostbusters were nearly back to normal. Egon, slightly concussed after the attack of D'rlanzinhj, was allowed to do light work again -- as long as he didn't overuse his broken wrist. The doctor had put a cast around it, to help keep it stable. His scrapes and cuts had disappeared nearly completely. Ray's bruises had faded and Winston's cut healed nicely. Peter's forearms had needed stitching and he had not been allowed to lift anything heavier than a fork or a glass of water. Of course he had used this handicap to the hilt, letting the others do his chores and fuss over him. But now, after a week, he was partly fed up with lying around. It was nice to be the center of attention, but there was a limit to it.
Peter's decision to get up and see what he could do without having to work against the doctor's orders coincided with the visit of Arthur Perez. The older man had been relieved to find out that the threat was over, but had appeared crestfallen at the news that the stones were still in The Khelljin Netherworld. He had been the Keeper of Sealink for so long, he didn't really know what to do about the feeling of personal failure.
"Hello, Art," Peter greeted the man with a smile. He was downstairs, reading over some reports Janine had typed. Janine had left half an hour earlier.
"Hello, Dr. Venkman," the gray-haired man returned the greeting. "How are your arms?"
"Still attached to my shoulders," Peter answered with a grin. "No, seriously, I'm fine. It's itching like hell and hurts from time to time, but otherwise I'm fine." He looked at the former Keeper. "And how are you doing?"
Perez shrugged. "The same, I think."
Peter frowned and placed the unread report on the stack with the rest of the reports. "Art, you didn't fail," he said as if he knew exactly what it was that was bothering the man. And he was right. Perez flinched and avoided the intense green gaze.
"I lost the stone."
"You didn't loose it. We did. You gave the stone in our trust and we let it be stolen. If there's anyone to blame, blame us, not yourself."
"You don't understand, Dr. Venkman. The stone was given to my family. I was responsible for it. Whatever decision I made, it had to be the right one. I decided to trust you with the stone and I made the wrong decision." Perez made a helpless gesture. "It's gone."
Peter sighed silently. "Yes, you're right. It's gone. But nothing bad happened and now that this black demon is trapped with the other guy, the stones are safe. Maybe they'll leave them in the gate. Looked really nice." He smiled, trying to cheer up the crestfallen man.
"But I was the Keeper!" Arthur Perez said desperately.
"And you still are," a female voice told him.
"Geez, Jaimy, wear a bell around your neck!" Peter exclaimed. "And didn't anyone ever tell you there's door for a reason?"
The winged and blue-skinned demon, who had appeared in the middle of the firehall -- only a few feet away from the two men -- smiled.
"Hello to you, too, Dr. Venkman."
Peter grinned. "What brings you here?"
"This." She held up her right hand and between her index finger and her thumb she was holding a green-blue stone with silver sparkles in it.
"Sealink!" Perez called out in surprise, staring at the stone.
"I am here to return it to you." She extended her hand and held it out to him.
The older man took it carefully, looking at the stone with tears in his eyes. Finally he lifted his eyes. "Thank you," he whispered. "But ... why?"
"Aren't you the Keeper?" Jaimaa asked softly, cocking her head.
"Yes, but ....."
"Then this belongs rightfully in your guard."
"Until you give it to an offspring in your family," she continued, smiling.
Perez gave up on trying to explain to her that it had been his fault that the stone had been stolen and that he no longer felt worthy to be the Keeper. Something told him that he was worthy. Why else would The Khelljin have returned the stone to him.
"Thank you," he said again. He turned to Peter. "I .. I have to go. Thank you, too."
Peter smiled. "My pleasure. Maybe see ya again, Art," he called after the departing man. When the door closed after Perez, Venkman turned his attention back to Jaimaa. "That was awfully nice of you."
"He is the Keeper of the stone. And his family will always be. There was never a doubt that the stone would be returned to him." The demon looked at him as if she didn’t understand why he had ever doubted that the stone would be returned.
"What about the others?" Peter asked curiously.
"We will find other Keepers, hopefully in the families of the deceased ones."
"And Spellbinder is with Gardener again?"
Jaimaa nodded. Then her red eyes fixed on Peter's green ones. "I wanted to thank you for helping me defeat D'rlanzinhj," she said slowly.
Peter shrugged. "It's our job. That's what we do."
"Is rescuing demons part of your job, too?" the blue-skinned demon asked softly.
Venkman shrugged again. "You came by and I thought it might be a good idea not to bust you right away. Might have fun doing it another time."
His tone and words couldn't deceive Jaimaa. He had not done it for the reason he had just told her. He had reacted to something else, maybe instinct. He could have let go of her the moment her instincts had taken over and she had hurt him. He still bore the marks to show everyone.
"And I might have fun busting you instead, Venkman."
Peter stood, still smiling very sweetly. "You wouldn't even be able to come close," he challenged, advancing on her, his green eyes alight with unholy glee. Somehow it felt good to have a word-fight with the female entity.
Jaimaa imitated his grin, showing her fangs. "Wanna bet?" she asked, copying Peter's tone of voice.
Peter looked at her, for the first time really noticing that she was slightly taller than himself. Her red eyes sparkled with something akin to amusement.
"Just give me a minute to get my thrower and I'll introduce you to a trap and the containment unit," the psychologist promised.
"I think I have seen enough of your containment unit to know what it is like. Thank you for the offer."
"Ah, chickening out, are we?" Peter grinned evilly. "But that's of no use. We have special discounts for obnoxious, blue-skinned, female demons appearing in Central today."
Jaimaa grinned slightly. Peter made a move for the cabinets, but the demon planted herself in front of him.
"I thought I wouldn't qualify for a discount -- since I'm not trustworthy."
The psychologist flinched a bit. "Listen," he said seriously. "I'm sorry about the accusations. I had no safe ground to say what I did." It was hard for him to apologize, but he needed to do it. He had misjudged Jaimaa and he didn't want her to leave with those accusations still in mind. "I have a big mouth from time to time and I think I can be grateful that you didn't turn me into a cockroach." He shuddered. "I was wrong, Cxjiy'Jaimaanjey," he added, his voice low. "I admit it and I'm honestly sorry."
Jaimaa looked at him, her head cocked, a puzzled look in her red eyes. "You are a very strange man, Dr. Peter Venkman," she finally said, addressing him with the same full title as he had addressed her.
That look in her eyes sent a strange feeling along Peter's nerves. "Uhm, I take that as a
compliment," he said. Then he cleared his throat. "I think we owe you our thanks, too. Since my colleagues are either wrapped up in experiments, out with a friend or haunting a convention, I think you have to take the vote of thanks from me."
"I can think of worse." Jaimaa smiled. "As far as I know there's a way to say good-bye to someone in your dimension," the demon said, amusement shining in her eyes.
Before Venkman could guess what was about to come, Jaimaa kissed him. Peter was caught so much by surprise that he was unable to react to the intimate physical contact. When he was able to breathe again, his head reeling and his knees weak, he tried to come up with some comment, but found himself unable to.
"Till we meet again, Peter" Jaimaa said with a broad smile and vanished.
Peter Venkman stared at the spot where she had been mere seconds before for a long, long time, for once in his life caught speechless. His fingers moved to his tingling lips and his mind tried to cope with what happened.
"Peter kissy by demon," a voice brought him back to reality and he discovered Slimer hovering close to him.
"If you breathe one word of that to the guys ...." Venkman threatened and advanced on the spud.
Slimer gave a little yelp and made a run for the dubious safety of the upper floors, all the way singing 'Peter kissy by demon'.