Outside the house

He knew it was silly. Even as he ran as fast as he could, he knew he was being stupid. He knew Scully was right. But he couldn't sit in that house and wait for this wraith to come and get him. And he knew it would. The fact that the guards were gone from the entrance, the fact that he had not been held back by anybody was enough of an indication that it was already doing its evil deeds. As he had raced down the garden path toward the gate, he had heard the flap of its wings somewhere behind him. Although it had not immediately followed him, he knew it would. Because it was somehow tuned into him.

Daring a glance back over his shoulder as he kept running down the dirt track leading toward the highway, he saw it rising up over the hedge of the garden surrounding the house. The leathery wings flapped audibly with every swing it took, closing on him, its arms outstretched. The sight of that thing spurred him to give it his all. The knowledge that it would rip him open and kill him gave him access to resources he didn't even know he had.

Spurting down the dirt track, the highway in sight, he glanced back again to see it still approaching. It was with the greatest surprise that he suddenly collided with somebody. His forward motion was stopped instantly and although his speed should have been enough to knock the other man down, he stood his ground.

Frantic to the point of panic, Mulder tried to get out of the man's grip, but was held steady. "Stop fighting." The sound of that voice, a voice he recognize immediately, made him freeze. So far his eyes had still been on the approaching demon. Now he turned his head to stare into a pair of emerald eyes. "Hold still, will ya?" Krycek snapped, raised a gun and pointed it at the oncoming demon. Firing two rounds at it, he started backing up toward a black jeep parked near the edge of the dirt track, dragging Mulder along.

The demon screeched. Not in anger or hatred, but in pain. Mulder blinked in surprise and looked back at it as it fell to the ground, hissing and spitting. "What the hell..." he began, but Krycek pushed him urgently toward the jeep.

"Get in. It may be down but it's not out," he said, racing around to the driver side. Slapping the hood of the jeep, he stared in at the driver. "Get us the hell out of here."

Mulder somehow felt that he had no choice and obediently got in on the passenger side. The jeep was in motion before he had a chance to close the door. Behind them, the demon got back to its feet, flapped its wings and rose into the air again, already in pursuit.

Krycek watched it rise up until it was obscured by the roof of the jeep, then slapped the woman behind the wheel on the shoulder. "FLOOR IT," he yelled. Within moment, they left the demon behind them as the jeep ripped down the road, its engine roaring angrily at the pressure it was put under.

After having had time to regain his breath, Mulder slowly started thinking again. The fact that Krycek had just saved his life was a rather odd and pretty new experience. Glancing back over his shoulder, he didn't really know what to say.

Krycek beat him to it, though. "Don't go off the deep end, Mulder. I'd just as soon have left you to it," he said, his tone of voice slightly sarcastic.

This day was getting odder by the minute. "Then why the hell did you... " he began, but couldn't bring himself to admit that Krycek had, indeed, just saved his butt.

"Save you?" Krycek finished for him. The man looked thoughtful for a moment, the look in his eyes distant, then he sighed. "Don't ask. You don't want to know," he finally said and leaned back. "Meet Anna," he added, waving his right hand toward the woman driving.

Anna glanced over at Mulder, her expression slightly strained. She was pretty in her own way. No great beauty, but she had charisma. "Hi," she simply said and then re-focused on her driving.

Mulder settled back, confused in more ways than one. He couldn't seem to think straight. "Wait a minute," he suddenly blurted out, turning halfway around on the seat. "How the hell did you know where I was?"

Krycek met his eyes for a moment, then grinned joylessly. "Please! The FBI's ability to keep things like that secret is the same as if the tabloids had a direct line into the database," he replied, sounding slightly annoyed. "All you need are the right contacts. And I've got'em. Besides, that pretty partner of yours isn't big on watching her surroundings."

Mulder glared at him for a moment. "So, where are we going?"

"That's for me to know and you to find out," Krycek growled.

"We're taking you to a place where you'll be safe," Anna inserted, the first full sentence she had said.

"And where exactly is that?" Mulder wanted to know. "And why do you care if I'm safe or not?"

"We care," Anna replied, glancing over at him. "The location is rather obscure. It's difficult to explain. That thing can't go there."

"What about Scully? She's in danger back there," Mulder suddenly shot, angry and scared and utterly confused.

"No, she isn't. That thing is following us," Krycek said in a morose tone of voice. "Or rather, it's following you." Shaking his head, his annoyance mixed with nervousness, he glanced back through the rear windshield. "It's so like you to get into a situation you can't handle. If you weren't so damned important to the cause I would have left you back there."

Mulder frowned, on the verge of demanding an explanation, but reconsidered. Maybe it would be best to let Krycek talk. Eventually, he might say something important and not realize it before it was out. "What about... " he began, but Krycek cut him off.

"Enough with the questions, wiz-kid," he snapped. "You're always asking the wrong questions at the wrong time. So just shut up."

It was very clear to Mulder that rescuing him had not been Krycek's idea. So he probably owed his life to Anna more than Krycek. Whoever Anna was. He glanced over at the brunette with the blue eyes and wondered about her. Why was she with Krycek? She didn't seem to have much of a will of her own, which led him to believe that she was with Krycek because he had forced her to. It was beyond him that anybody would hook up with Krycek out of their own free will.

X X X

Scully came to stop at the end of the dirt track and looked down the road after the black jeep racing away with the demon hot on its tail. Breathing hard, she cursed herself for not being faster. "God damn it," she whispered and tugged her gun back into its holster under her left arm. The demon had gone down. Whoever had intervened had known how to slow it down. Whoever it had been had rescued Mulder. And for that she was grateful. But she was apprehensive about determining who she thought she had seen. Because it might mean more trouble than Mulder could handle.

With a sigh, she turned around and headed back up to the house to call Skinner. And to check if any of the men the demon had mauled were still alive. She doubted it. Those three she had seen had definitely been dead. "Damn it," she whispered again, wiping the back of one hand over her brow.

X X X

Skinner glanced around him at the front yard of the safe house, feeling utterly frustrated by this situation. If he had heeded his own apprehension about assigning Mulder to this case, none of this would have happened. On the other hand, he might have had a great deal more unsolved murders on his hands right now. "Damn it, Scully, what the hell happened here?" he asked her again, aware that she was getting fed up with telling him the same story over and over again.

She sighed heavily. Her hands and clothes were blood-stained from her efforts to save one of the men, but he had died in her arms while she had desperately tried to hold the gash in his stomach together with one hand. After realizing he had passed away, she had gone back into the house to call for help. Help which was way too late. She had been sitting on the steps leading up to the front door when Skinner and a team of six other agents had arrived. And she was still sitting there. "I already told you, sir," she said, her tone of voice defeated.

"Why the hell did Mulder leave the house?" he demanded, shaking his head.

"I don't know. I guess he panicked. I don't blame him, really." Exasperation was a part of her voice right now. She felt so utterly tired, so completely worn-out, but she knew she would find no rest until she knew where Mulder was and that he was safe. Just the thought that he might turn up dead made her flesh crawl. "I would have, too. You haven't seen that thing. Not only is it hideous, it's also dangerous like hell."

Skinner sat down on the step beside her. The corpses had been removed. All that remained were the bloodstains on the ground, tainting the brightly-lit lawn. "Why don't you tell me who you think saved him? I get the impression that you know," he said, his tone of voice softer now. He knew she wasn't to blame for what had happened. He could only imagine her helplessness while she had fought for that agent's life, knowing it was a battle she could not win.

"I'm not certain," she said hesitantly. "But it looked like... " Trailing off, she sighed again. She wasn't certain because she didn't want to be.

"Like who?" Skinner pressed her.

"Krycek. It looked like Krycek. Although I don't know how he could have known where Mulder was. Or why he bothered to save him." She shook her head, rubbing the heel of one hand against the bridge of her nose. "It just doesn't make any sense to me any more. Nothing does."

Sighing heavily, Skinner leaned back a bit. "Join the club," he mumbled, then put a hand on her shoulder. "Let's get out of here. I think it's a safe bet that he won't bring him back here," he added and got up.

Scully looked up at her boss, then took the offered hand Skinner reached her. "I'm a mess," she commented.

Skinner eyed her for a second. "Yes, you are. We'd better get you home so you can change."

X X X

The George Washington National Forest

The cabin high up in the woods of the George Washington National Forest was old, leaning slightly to one side, weather-beaten and worn. Mulder stared at it, then let out a grunt when Krycek gave him a push toward the cabin. "Staying outside would be a mistake, Mulder," he warned and headed toward the door.

"And that's going to protect me?" Mulder replied, nodding toward the cabin. It looked like it would collapse if the door was slammed too hard.

Krycek had stopped with one foot on the first step leading up to the porch and glanced back at him. "It's not the structure that will protect you, man," he grumbled. "It's the person waiting inside," he added, waving toward the door.

Mulder frowned, but felt too exposed to remain where he was. The fact was probably that the demon or whatever it was would have no trouble at all following them. "Okay," he finally said and followed Krycek into the cabin. It was a lot roomier inside than it looked from the outside. A fire was lit in the fireplace and the cabin was warmer than he would have expected.

Like in an ancient fairytale, an old woman sat in a rocking chair next to the fireplace, watching them intently. Not making any comment or move, she just sat there, watching them. Krycek grabbed Mulder's arm and pulled him closer. "For once in your life keep your mouth shut until she tells you to speak," he hissed, sounding more nervous than annoyed now.

Mulder glanced at him, then back at the woman and wondered why he shouldn't speak. But, for once in his life, he decided to heed another's advice, so he remained quiet much to Krycek's surprise.

The old woman sat up, leaning forward a bit. "Come closer," she said. Her voice was crystal clear, smooth and melodious. No frailty there. And her hand waving Mulder closer seemed strong, too. He took a hesitant step forward. "Sit down," she added, waving at a chair to her left. Mulder complied, still without saying a word. "You have invoked a powerful curse, boy," she told him.

"Curse?" Mulder frowned, a little taken aback by her words. "What do you mean, I have invoked a curse?"

"The Kandarian demon. The one that is so hot on your tail. You have chosen to be its next victim without knowing you have done so," she told him.

Mulder stared at the wrinkled face, trying to make sense of what she was saying. "How can I choose something I don't know about?" he replied.

"You felt the pull of the magic behind it. You feel it still. Part of you wants to go to it. Part of you is fascinated by it. But you must not let it take you. The curse it carries is a strong one and it will undo mankind if it can."

He was taken aback by her words more than he thought he would be. Mainly because, somewhere deep down, he knew she was right. He was fascinated by this creature. Almost as strongly as he was scared of it. "How do I avoid it? I've been lucky so far, but I have a feeling that my luck is running out," he said after thinking it over for a moment.

"And so it is," she replied, reaching out to pat his hand gently. "But we will try to prevent this from happening. You need a strong believer by your side to help you on this path you must now walk. A believer like yourself."

Mulder met her clear, grey eyes and knew she was right. But there was just one problem to all this. "I don't know anybody who believes like I do," he confessed, already feeling downcast.

"Oh, but you need not search for such a person," the old woman said, sounding slightly bemused, and glanced up at Krycek.

He didn't look happy about the situation. "I already promised her I'd help," he growled.

Mulder looked up at him with a frown. "If you're all the help I get I may as well just put a bullet through my head right away," he replied, the feeling of defeat lingering.

"Strong animosity between you two," the old woman said, leaning back again. "That is not good. You, Alexei, must not leave his side. Without you, he is not protected and if he dies you know the consequences."

Krycek rolled his eyes, annoyed that he had to stick with Mulder. But the old woman had explained the situation to him in all its elaborate detail. There was nothing to be done about it. He had to do this or doom the world. As if it wasn't doomed already, he mused, then sighed. "I won't. Don't worry, Hannah," he replied, forcing his tone of voice to be calm.

Hannah smiled at that. "Good. Then I have faith that you shall succeed. Neither can exist without the other. There is a bond between you and it will only grow stronger with time. It would be better for all involved if you were to become friends."

Mulder leaned back on his chair and looked up at Krycek with a slight smile on his lips. There was nothing good about that smile. "Fat chance," he replied. "He killed my father and my partner's sister. I'm not likely to form any bond of friendship with him."

Krycek's expression became horribly strained at that. "I did not kill either," he spat. Anna grabbed his right arm, holding him back. "I don't want this any more than you do, Mulder. But we have fairly little choice in the matter. Now, do you want to live? Because I sure as hell do."

Hannah reached a gnarled hand out to grab Mulder's wrist in a steel grip. "You must put your differences behind you. At least for the length of this trip you are destined to take together. The demon will allow others of its kind to enter this world if we do not stop it. And you are the only one who can."

Mulder stared at her, unable to put the fact behind him that he had been told this before. That he was somehow intertwined in all this, a key player of some kind. Agent Spender's mother had told him the same. Shaking his head in denial, he pulled his hand out of Hannah's grip.

Everybody's attention was pulled away from the rather tense situation at the sound of a high-pitched screech from outside. The demon had arrived. Mulder was on his feet at once, staring nervously at the door, but Krycek was the one to calm him down again. "Don't worry. It won't come in," he said. And it appeared he was right. The demon made no attempt at entering the cabin.

"It's because of this," Hannah said, causing Mulder to turn back toward her. In her hand, she held an amulet of some kind on a thin, golden chain. Laboriously, she got to her feet and without further ado hung the chain around Mulder's neck. "Keep this close to you. And when the time comes, you must put it around the demon's neck. Only that will stop it."

Mulder picked up the amulet and stared at it for a moment. "This will stop it?" he asked, sounding slightly dubious.

"Yes, it will," Hannah agreed. "All you must do is place this chain around the demon's neck and all will be well. But your path to accomplishment of this task will be dangerous. Many pitfalls ahead. You must keep an open mind."

"About what?" Mulder wanted to know, still staring down at the amulet. "And what do you mean I must place this thing around the demon's neck? If I get anywhere near it, it will kill me," he added, looking up again to meet her eyes.

"That is what Alex is for," she replied, startling Krycek.

"What?" he snapped.

Smiling, she raised a hand. "Take it easy, Alexei. I do not mean that you should lay down your life for this. I simply mean that if there are two of you, it will be easier to distract the creature. It will not know which to attack."

Mulder and Krycek glanced at each other, both equally uncertain about where this was heading. "How the hell did you get into this anyway?" Mulder wanted to know. "I can't believe that you volunteered for this dubious honor."

"Oh, he was difficult to persuade. But I knew from the beginning that he was the one," Hannah said, smiling wistfully.

"She called me. God only knows how she knew how to get in touch with me. I don't exactly have a steady address," Krycek inserted morosely.

Mulder's curiosity was peeked now. Rising, he stared at the other man. "What the hell did she say to you to convince you? I thought you'd rather see me dead."

"Oh, don't think any differently just because I'm here now," Krycek replied. "Once this is over, we're back to square one, Spooky."

Mulder growled under his breath. He could take that nickname from anybody but Krycek. Somehow, it was that much more of an insult when he said it. "Watch it or I may feed you to our winged friend out there," he said, his tone of voice icy.

"I'm shaking," Krycek shot back, angry enough to seethe.

"Would you two just knock it off?" Anna demanded, sounding just as angry as both of them. "This I'm-better-than-you-attitude is driving me nuts."

Hannah regarded the three of them thoughtfully, wondering why she kept feeling that something was missing. Then she snapped her fingers. "We are still missing a piece of this puzzle. The young lady you admire so much. That partner of yours," she said, her attention on Mulder.

Mulder immediately lost interest in Krycek and stared at her. "You are not pulling Scully into this," he warned. "No way. She's been through enough already."

Hannah's gaze darkened, a frown furrowing her brow. "Without her you will die," she told him seriously.

"Then I'll die. She's been through enough," Mulder replied, very serious about that matter.

"Don't be stupid, Mulder. If she can help us beat that thing... " Krycek began, but fell silent at the ominous look Mulder gave him.

"There is no discussing it. She's not getting involved in this," Mulder said, folding his arms over his chest in defiance.

Hannah regarded him thoughtfully for a moment. "Don't you think that she has a right to make that decision for herself?"

X X X

Scully's residence
3170 West 53 Road
Annapolis
Maryland

After taking a lengthy shower and changing into clean clothes, Scully felt marginally better. She glanced at her watch, noting that it was ten past ten P.m. and sighed. Skinner would pick her up in twenty minutes. They had to try and figure out where Mulder might be and how best to help him.

Dropping down on her couch, she let her head drop forward, trying to relax her tense neck muscles a little. Things were bad this time around. Very bad. She didn't believe in demons from Hell or where ever they came from. But this thing was very real. So real that she could not ignore the fact of its existence. "No more than I can deny the existence of all the other creatures we have dealt with," she told herself in a tired tone of voice. "God, what I wouldn't give for some peace," she added and slumped back into the couch, letting her head drop down against the back. Staring up at the ceiling, she cursed life in general, wishing herself back to that time in her life where she had been blissfully ignorant of all the evil things lurking in the shadows. With that thought roaming around her mind, she closed her eyes and drifted off. She had to get what little rest she could.

X X X