Father Goose and the Black Knight
Chapter 18: Biff! Pow! The Black Knight Rides
It was a clever plan. It involved an elevator with a hidden back door, two demons with pressurized sprayers full of Ovids Petals powder, a parking garage and five identical white vans.
And, whatthehell. It worked. The detectives sat and watched first the single decoy van speed off, then the four other vans emerge from the underground garage and speed off in all directions.
Shit, Munch said, and dialed his cell.
You were right, there were four, we couldnt follow, you sure you dont want us to call in ?
No, no, were still good. Go ahead to Plan B. Ill call when were ready for you.
* * *
Mather closed the phone, the Slayers were in the van, the vans were all enroute. Everything was going well. It worried him.
He looked across the table to where Madame Pavlova sat and he willed her to raise her right arm and she did. He willed her to raise her left arm and she did. He willed her to dance a round in a little circle and she did. He let her sit again.
You have nothing else to tell me? he asked her.
Nothing. They come.
Mather went to check that the demons were all in their assigned defensive positions. Demons, he knew from experience, not the most reliable creatures in the world.
For as long as he could remember Mather had known of the existence of demons, for the simple reason that his father had had one chained up in the basement. He fed it live pigs and goats and calves and the occasional troublesome employee and thought of it simply as a useful animal. But Mather the younger had been a curious and lonely boy and, careful to stay out of the creatures reach, had spoken to it and had been somehow not terribly surprised when it had answered.
It looked rather like a giant frog, with a bit of piranha in the woodshed, and which had had a severe collision with an even larger cactus and merged somehow. Its name was something like Zoznkzvjlrxvcshishi, so Mather had called him Zonk and brought him magazines and newspapers and a little portable TV so he could watch the Indians games.
How can you stand to root for such losers? Mather had asked him.
But someday they will win, Zonk had answered, and the victory will be so much sweeter. Im three hundred and forty years old, hed said. I can wait.
In return Zonk had told Mather stories of demon life. At the time Mather had taken them as gospel but later, many years later, he had learned that Zonk was, to put it mildly, prone to exaggeration and a bit of outright fabrication, particularly his tales of a demon homeland. Though to be fair, after decades of being chained in a dark room he had probably come to believe his own fantasies. Still, to the boy it was a wonderful glimpse into a world much more interesting than his own dull existence of tutors and lessons and the occasional formal party where he was scorned by his guests, children of other local prominent families who knew him only as that weird Mather kid, sometimes seen shopping with his mother.
Those shopping trips ended when Mather was eleven and his father came home unexpectedly and discovered why Mather was rather fond of his French teacher, inasmuch as Mather was often allowed to go and play while the young man gave the lesson to his mother.
His father took them both down to see Zonk. Mather often wondered if his father had left the door open on purpose or he had simply been too angry to take his usual precautions, but the lovers screams had echoed in the hallways as Mather sat on the stairs and listened.
Later, in tears he had reproached his friend, She was my mother, how could you eat my mother?
The demon had looked at him quizzically, head cocked to the side, Its what I do, hed answered. It is my nature. Why does it matter? It was a point Mather took back to his room to consider.
Shortly thereafter Mather had been shipped off to a high-priced boarding school for the traditional training in arrogance, sadism and sodomy. From there hed gone on to college where hed plunged himself into the study of the occult, thrilled to discover the works of the likes of Aleister Crowley, only in the end being forced to dismiss them as frauds, whether self-deluded or outright con artists. And then slowly he began to make inroads into the real thing, the first time he had floated a pencil he had nearly orgasmed with excitement. But he found that, though his knowledge increased, his power grew no stronger. He could float a pencil, he could ensorcel the occasional girl, but only if she was so inclined in the first place. He knew what could be done. He couldnt do it. He graduated. He came home.
His father took him into the business, showed him the ropes, began grooming him to take over in twenty years or so when his father decided to retire. Mather went to visit Zonk, and gave him chocolate shake laced with a mystic sleeping powder. When he was sure Zonk was out, he poured acid on the demons chains until they were barely attached to the wall. He waited. Three weeks later his father disappeared, as did Zonk. A simple glamour hid the basement entrance when the police searched. Mather took over the company in his fathers absence, and seven years later he took full ownership.
He still moved in the local magical circles, picked up what he could of the gossip from the world underground but knew he was too weak to ever really join. He performed rituals and the occasional Black Mass, but that was mostly to pick up women willing to mount his altar; if they regretted the decision, well it was too late then, leather straps controlled them just well as magic and took less effort. He had drugs to confuse them after and he knew he had a reputation for being dangerous that drew them like moths to a flame. He was a melancholy but not truly unhappy man. His appetites were serviced, his dreams remained dreams and perhaps that was just as well.
And then three years ago he had been performing a dark ritual with an eye on a particularly voluptuous redhead when he had felt the power surge through him and the demon he had been invoking actually appeared in the candle-lit room, sending all but the most steadfast true believers running for the exits and a new appreciation for Sunday morning choir practice. The redhead had been forgotten as Mather sat with the demon and learned of the Hellmouth that was opening beneath Cleveland, spreading several tendrils throughout the city, unlike the single portal in Sunnydale.
One of the tendrils reached into the caverns beneath his hilltop mansion, a little searching brought him to a newly formed seal. He conjured a guardian and began to study his new power, which, it turned out, consisted mostly of the power to control demons. For humans he had to resort to the use of spells, but now they worked on even the most strong-willed of subjects. Before long Zonks old stories of demonland took fresh root in his imagination and the plan was born.
And now it was coming to pass, the Slayers were unconscious in his van and rapidly approaching his altar, and then nothing would stop him.
If only Madame Pavlova wouldnt smile like that.
* * *
Oh, shit, Benson said, what the hell is that?
Im thinking worlds biggest pet newt, Xander said, but then Im prone to unfounded optimism. He reached out and took the torch from her, held it higher, added, Well, thats something you dont see every day. Even if youre me.
Is that ?
Of course, Xander answered. What else could it possibly be? The albino quality is a little surprising, but I guess it makes sense.
Benson heard a strange buzzing, a rattledragon? she wondered.
What do we do now? she asked.
Well, Xander said, you know the joke about the two guys that meet a bear in the woods, first guy starts putting on his running shoes, other guy says you cant outrun a bear well, this might be your lucky day, Detective.
Yeah, you will. Sometimes run like hell is the only thing you can do. Look, he pointed, she turned and saw a green glow in the distance that hadnt been there before, you run like hell that way, Ill run like hell this way and with any luck the thing will die of indecision. Go!
She looked back at the giant white lizard thing as it rose up, bumped its head on the cavern ceiling and lurched forward, gravel crunching underfoot and cracking like pistol shots.
GO! Xander repeated and she went.
She could smell the creature now, fetid and moist, she heard it hiss and her feet took wing, stumbling and crashing over the rough terrain, she saw a white light now in the center of the green, and hoped fervently it was the end of the tunnel and not the train, she ran. She ran. She heard the dragon roar and risked a glance back and saw that Xander, like all men, was a liar, and wasnt running at all but standing before the beast, torch waving in one hand, executioners axe upraised, the blade covered in a dark fluid similar to that spraying from the creatures nostril, the buzzing was louder now, echoing off the walls.
She took another step, two steps away, she saw the white light growing brighter. She stopped. What a stupid way to die, she thought. But how could I live with myself if I leave him. She retrieved Shreiners pistol from her waistband and holding it tight in her hand, turned back, catching her breath as the dragon snapped at Xander and he dived away, thrusting the axe at its eye but falling short.
The buzzing became a mechanical, pounding thrum, suddenly her shadow was racing ahead of her. And then a motorcycle went flashing past her, she ducked the spray of gravel and watched the machine and riders plunge on, moving so fast it seemed to just be passing over the top of the rocks.
She saw the passenger suddenly fly free, Benson winced as the girl landed, tucked in and tumbling head over heels but still hitting the rocks at a speed that had to kill. Benson ran toward her, still watching as the motorcycle and remaining rider, leatherclad, long black hair billowing, headed straight for the dragon then shifted at the last moment, there was a flash of silver and the beast screamed again and stumbled. In the red glow of the taillight Benson could see the blood spurting from the dragons wounded leg, fire sprayed from its mouth, searing the cavern ceiling.
The motorcycle spun to a kidding stop, facing the dragon again. Benson saw the rider reach back into saddlebags and come out with a handful of sticks which flared suddenly with green light as she broke them, threw them in scattered pattern around the dragon, surreal now in the eerie viridian glow, surrounded in weird shadows, squaring to face its tormentor, drawing its head back for another flame.
The engine revved once, twice, began to scream, the back tire beginning to smoke and then the motorcycle shot forward beneath the dragons billowing flame and this time the flash of silver drew a line of blood across the beasts chest and it roared in pain.
Benson came up to the rumpled passenger who turned out to be a wiry young girl, who, to Bensons amazement was sitting up and beginning to brush herself off.
Hi, Benson said. Are you okay? Who are you?
So fucking tired of this shit, the girl said.
Oh, Benson said. Im Olivia. Thats Faith, right?
Yeah. Mean bitch. She could have at least slowed down a little. Carla get in the dirty body bag. Carla jump off at a hundred miles an hour. I mean, geez. Slayers pet, my ass.
What? Benson said but she wasnt listening, turning to watch Faith make another slashing pass with what Benson now realized was long broadsword. The smell of exhaust, burning rubber and toasted rock filled the air as the dragon flamed and just missed again and paid the price with another slicing wound.
Benson saw Xander then, struggling to his feet, holding the axe aloft and Faith went by and picked it from his hand and circled round to face the dragon head on and the engine roared, gravel sprayed and she rode straight in, the axe held out like a lance and she drove the blade deep into the beasts chest, twisted and slammed the bike sideways against the scaly body, Benson could see the shudder run through the animal like a ripple in jello. And then Faith spun away, circled the bike to shine the headlight on the stumbling dragon, dropped the side-stand and leaped off, sworod in hand.
Benson saw Xander stumble and go down and she ran forward to help him, got a hand under his shoulder and braced him, helped him to his feet, shifted to his weak side and pulled his arm around her shoulders. Liar, she told him.
The dragon was squealing now, wheezing, Benson looked up and saw Faith mounted on its back, hacking at its neck, great gouts of blood spurted, the head began to sag, it came loose and fell and then Faith leaped free as the huge body fell sideways and began to thrash randomly in its death throes.
And then Faith was bounding toward them, Benson heard the whoomph as the air left Xanders lungs as Faith slammed into him, pasted herself against him, kissing him hard until his hands began to flail. Then stepping back and holding him up in air, glaring, demanded, Dont you ever, ever, ever scare me like that again!
Damn, Benson thought, no wonder the demons dont frighten him.
Umm, Xander said, okay?
And then Faith let him down and kissed him gently and, to Bensons amazement, looked down and scuffed her feet and went all shy girly, said softly, I love my new bike. Thank you.
Well, Zoey found it.
I know. And I thanked her, will again. But you knew I needed it Brought you something, Faith said and slipped under his arm, helped him move toward the motorcycle.
Benson wanted to scream, THERES A DEAD DRAGON OVER THERE!
George doing okay? Xander asked.
George is doing great.
Faith reached over to the bike and retrieved a silver headed walking stick, handed it to Xander, dug in her saddlebag, pulled out two sandwiches and a couple of Gatorades, tossed one each to Benson who thought, THERES A DEAD DRAG oh, that hits the spot.
Then there more lights, moving silent across the cavern floor like lightning bugs, lights that grew larger and resolved into five girls on mountain bikes who came up and leaped en masse on Xander until theyd each gotten in a good hug, then they ran over to inspect the dragon, half-seriously complaining to Faith that she hadnt left them any, the little blonde girl looking around, asking eagerly, Do you think theres another one, like a mate or something, cause that would be cool and maybe Faith wont hog it next time? And I want a motorcycle, too.
So, Faith said, youre here. I guess that means you know where the back door is.
* * *
ADA Catherine Lodge heard the doorbell and went to the door, her hand pressed against the still painful brand on her breast. She peered cautiously through the peephole, but it was only two young grinning girls, holding what looked like boxes of candy.
Selling band candy, maam, ten dollars for a box of twelve, good deal, good cause.
Lodge sagged, a little chocolate would be nice. She opened the door and there was darkness.
* * *
Mather sat on his throne, waiting.
The vans at the gate, the purple headed quarshink demon informed him.
Let them in, Mather said. He looked over at Madame Pavlova. Youve been lying to me. I shall have to discover how you did that. Well, Im sure well have plenty of time to explore.
He settled back to enjoy the anticipation. A Slayer on his altar. A Slayer under his control. Four. The power. He could taste it. He could see himself carried through the cheering demonic crowds of Free Cleveland, even Matherland, perhaps, riding on a sedan chair carried by four comely Slayers.
He heard the machinery cranking as the van was lowered down, he heard the steel door roll up.
His world went to shit.
The fyarls by his side sprouted crossbow bolts, the wounds foaming with the green bile that meant the tips were lethal silver, the quarshink turned to run but took a spear in the back that pinned him to the wall, the remaining Praetorian Guard fell in hail of steel and wood, what should have been four unconscious and helpless girls had turned into ten heavily armed Slayers, moving fast, he stood, waved a hand and caught one in a stasis spell but before he could move again his hands were pinned down, fastened to the the arms of his throne, a ball gag in his mouth prevented him from speaking, his mind ordered Madame Pavlova to act, but she too was bound and gagged and helpless.
There was girl standing over him, looming over him, auburn hair in a tight French braid, dressed in a tweed suit, with blue eyes so icy it made his blood run cold.
The thing about Ovids Petals, Mr. Mather, the girl said softly, is that any well educated Watcher knows there is an antidote.
It got worse. The panel hiding the dragons lair rolled back and still more Slayers spilled into the altar room. There was a girl with them, leading them A vampire. One of his vampires hed thought was lost, she led them to the secret stairs and the Slayers poured upward and soon he could hear the screams and howls of dying demons.
And worse still. Harris was there, grinning at him.
Now, Harris said, dont you wish wed just gone for pizza?
* * *
Crap, Carla thought. Im not gonna get to bite him, am I? Lying bitch.
They were ignoring her after shed shown them the stairs, so she slipped away down the side hall to the dorm area. The two slave girls were there, sitting up but looking stunned. And on the third bunk her friend Marissa lay still, doped up. Carla grabbed her, sat her up, slapped her a couple of times, careful to avoid the fangs, shook her til she came awake, her eyes widened. Carla! Youre alive. We thought
Yeah, yeah, cmon get up, we gotta get outta here.
I cant, the Master, I need
The Master is full of shit. Also, totally fucked. You dont need him. Look at me. Havent had any potion since last time you saw me. All bullshit. Only the blood matters. Its all about the blood. Youll see. Now lets get the hell out of here before they decide to fuck me over again some more.
* * *
It was overwhelming. Benson stood and gaped.
There was a girl hanging frozen in mid-air. There was a man dressed like a comic book character tied to a chair. Madame Pavlova was bound and gagged.
Other girls were moving at inhuman speeds. Dead monsters littered the floor, unearthly howls and screams echoed down the stairs, grew fainter and more rare and finally trickled to a stop. Harris stood chatting with a young woman in a tweed suit, or he was listening as she spoke, nodding often.
Then came the ant parade of girls carrying one, sometimes two dead monsters on their shoulders and tossing them down through the hole in the wall, Faith shouting at them to be careful not to hit her Beemer or the other girls bicycles.
She watched two girls, one the motorcycle pillion who bounced off rocks and another who looked vaguely familiar, both doing the worlds worst casual walks over to the elevator but still managing to leave unnoticed by anyone else.
She watched the woman in tweed, who she gathered was called George for some reason, pull on tight leather gloves and search the bound man and retrieve an ugly looking athame. She spoke into her phone and moments later two girls and a young man in a three-piece suit came down the stairs, one of the girls was carrying an unconscious ADA Lodge. She laid the woman on the altar and began to undress her.
Benson started forward. What the hell are you
George turned. Oh, Detective, Im sorry, how thoughtless of me. Perhaps you would rather wait upstairs?
Wait upstairs? What the hell are you talking about what are you going to do?
And then Harris had his arm around her shoulders, he was pulling her way. What are you going to do, Olivia? Arrest him? He pointed at the girl hanging in mid-air. Can you keep him bound and gagged forever? What are you going to do when he freezes the courtroom and walks free? Or the precinct. Maybe takes a couple of your fellow officers along as slaves?
But what are you going to do?
Were going to kill him, and frame ADA Lodge for it. Itll look like she escaped and killed him. A respected ADA, beautiful woman. Self defense, easy. Especially when your crime scene guys starting looking in the other rooms. Shell be a hero. Besides, do her good to see the system from the other side for a change.
He did rape her, you know. A couple days ago. He raped Madame Pavlova, he was going to rape you, and not just sexually. He was going to control you, the way he did Shreiner.
But I cant let you just murder
His eye was warm and brown, his grin contagious, and suddenly both were very very cold and hard. You cant stop us, Olivia. You want to go tell your bosses about demons and dragons and me shoving a knife in his heart you do what you have to do. Good luck. Or you can be one of the brave and clever detectives hot on the trail of a serial killer/rapist, arriving just in time to give aid and comfort to the brave woman who saved herself. Your choice. You dont have to watch.
Yes, she said, I do.
She watched as Faith and the rest of the two-wheel crew disappeared back down into the dragon cave, and the man in the three-piece, Thiago, waved his hands and the hole disappeared.
She watched Xander and George argue fiercely for a minute, and then finally Xander nodded sadly and stood back and George put the knife against the bound mans chest and drove it home.
The girl fell out of the air and began complaining shed missed all the fun.
Benson watched Xander lean over and stare into Madame Pavlovas face a moment, then nod and untie her, ease the gag from her mouth.
Took your own sweet time about it, didnt you Xander, she said and Xander grinned.
Youre welcome, Vaddie, he said.
Yeah, yeah, she said, reached out and took his hand, then suddenly pulled back and began to fan herself. Oh my, she said, youre going to have quite the night, arent you?
Cmon, Vaddie, the girls will take you home.
Benson watched Xander and George remove the dead mans gag and bonds, then lift an underwear-clad Catherine Lodge, place her hand on the knife, then wave something under her nose and she woke, looked around and began to sob. Benson took her in her arms, held her, heard her whisper, Im free, thank you, thank you, Im free.
Come to supper tomorrow, all of you, Xander said. Well sort out any last details.
George opened her phone, dialed, said, Detectives, youre on.
And then Thiago came to stand with Xander and George and suddenly they were gone and Benson was alone with the corpse and the crying woman and her own terrible confusion. She owed them, Xander, her life, she knew that. But they had been so cold.
She heard the car arrive, heard Stablers voice. Down here, she called, and watched as Stabler, with Munch and Fin close behind, came into the altar room, gun in hand; then deciding it was clear, came running to her. She stood, let him take her in a big, terribly awkward hug.
Liv, are you all right? he asked.
Im fine, she said.
He stood back, looked around, said, What the hell happened here?
Elliot, Benson said. You really, really, really dont want to know.
| Next Part | Previous Part |