A Balasta demon? Well, thats rotten luck. Giles took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his glasses clean.
Yes? asked Buffy. Rotten luck how? Rotten luck for Balasta demon or rotten luck for us?
Us, actually. He put his glasses back on and gave his Slayer a mild look. Balasta demons have skin like plated armour. Extremely tough to pierce, even with a broadsword. I
Uh, who cares? interrupted Xander. Arent we just wanting to get to the portal to Hell thingy?
Giles shrugged. Well, yes, I guess that is the stated goal here.
So why get frisky with the local demon goon squad? Well sneak in, rescue Angel, get out, and everybodys happy. More importantly, everybodys alive. I hear being alive is good this time of year.
Its not that simple. Steven shifted from foot to foot, obviously impatient. There were a couple of big guards in front of the door leading to the basement, and lets not forget Balrog. Can I go now? Ive done what you wanted. I escorted your little werewolf friend into the Hell-Hole and I brought him back out in one piece. Now give me my memoirs and let me go.
I dont think so, suck-boy, said Buffy in a tone that brooked no argument. Not until we get what we came here for.
* * *
He liked shadows. They seemed friendly. The only light in the office came from a tall scented candle, the shadows dancing and capering along the walls. He leaned back in his chair, sighing. Across the desk, one of his minions sat expectantly.
So you say a human was in the club tonight?
The minion nodded eagerly. When it spoke, its speech was slurred with the effort of speaking an unfamiliar language.
Thass right, bosss. He might haf been a werewoof, not sssure about dat.
The boss shrugged. He didnt really care much whether his patrons were demons or humans, as long as the club kept making a profit, which it did rather handily. He had an understanding with the local authorities; basically, he was allowed to run his club any way he wanted, and they were allowed to continue breathing. It was a satisfactory arrangement. He wasnt expecting Mike Wallace to burst through his office door at any moment, either. The mass media had this wonderful ability to ignore the most fantastic things. For every human that truly believed that demons walked the earth, there was another million that didnt, and that made his life extremely easy. It also helped that they were so astoundingly weak, too. Oh, he was sure a ground-to-ground missile could pose a serious threat to his continued existence, but he still remembered the first time a human tried shooting him with a gun. The look on the mans face had been priceless.
Then again, he had heard rumors of a group of humans that worked to fight the demons that terrorized this world. What was that name? Oh, yes, the Watchers, how prosaic. As long as they continued to watch and not do, that was fine with him. Of course, they did have trained warriors, called Slayers; one story said that these warriors were young girls, but that had to be a joke. Still, he thought it would be nice if he ran into one of these Slayers some day. He was starting to think his life was getting rather tiresome. A bit of excitement could be just what the warlock ordered.
The Balasta demon, whom everyone called The Boss, smiled in anticipation of such a moment.
Do we have anyone who desires the use of the Portal?
The minion shook its head, then bared its teeth before responding. There iss no one, bosss. Bussiness iss sslow.
Get ready to close up, itll be sunrise soon.
It nodded before scampering off.
* * *
The bathroom stall was in a state that could charitably be called hideous. The thin wooden walls were covered with inscriptions and etchings from past visitors. One read, For a good time, call Nythloth at 555-KILL. Another read, Violets are blue, Roses are red, in my dimension, youd already be dead. The toilet seat was cracked and pitted with pockmarks that looked to be the work of some kind of corrosive acid. Above the toilet was a small window, glass with a wooden pane. Drawn on the glass with dried blood was a traditional warding symbol, designed to keep do-gooders out.
Buffys right foot was more than a match for it.
Oh, God, this is disgusting.
Her head was poking through the opening, and her nose wrinkled prettily. She wiggled forward, grabbed the tops of the two walls, and pulled herself through the window. Her legs swung down, narrowly missing the filth-laden toilet, and she landed next to the door.
Man, what did this guy have for dinner? grumbled Xander, trying to hold his breath and scrunch his way through the window at the same time. He swung down with a bit less grace than Buffy, who was already checking the rest of the bathroom for any undesirables. Hey, look at this one, he said, pointing at an inscription. It says, I eat Slayer moms for breakfast. How charming.
Buffy went to the bathroom door and cracked it open, peering down the hallway. The coast seemed to be clear, and she glanced back. Giles was making his way through the window, grunting and groaning. Wow, Giles, I didnt think you were going to make it.
He joined her by the door and said quietly, Well, um, I suspect the tea and crumpets that are such an important facet of my day-to-day existence. That, or my ability to suck my tummy in.
A commotion at the stall caught Buffys attention. She walked quickly over and said urgently, Keep it down, people. The whole idea behind sneaking around involves a great deal of keeping our mouths shut. Now, whats the problem?
Cordelia was the last one to come through the window, but from the look on her face, she wanted to stay that way, too. Theres no way Im climbing over that fly-infested dung heap! I mean, this blouse cost my father at least a hundred and fifty, and how would I explain what happened?
Cordy, began Xander, its not that bad.
Youre right, Xander, its way worse than bad. Ten miles past Ishtar, it looks to me.
Buffy held up her hand to stop the argument. You dont have to come with us. Oz can give you his keys, and you can wait for us outside in the getaway van. She turned to give Oz a pleading look. Is that all right?
The teenager smiled and nodded, tossing his keys up to Cordelia, who was quite profuse in her thank-yous. Good luck, she said, and disappeared.
Buffy nodded. All right. Lets get to work.
* * *
It was a few minutes before closing, and Josh was wiping down the bar with a damp rag when he heard the whisper. Accustomed to strange occurrences, he ignored it. Probably a ghost or something, he thought.
A hand came out of the darkness and pulled him into the back room.
He blinked and saw the werewolf and vampire, along with a few friends, including a beautiful young blonde girl. She still had a grip on his arm, and the look on her face, fierce and focused, shut his mouth before he could open it.
Hi. Im Buffy. These are my friends. We need to get down to the basement. Care to help?
I should point out that Im only holding your arm right now, not crushing it into powder.
Oh, well, thats different, because Im a big fan of avoiding pain.
Most people are.
Josh nodded at the werewolf. Youre back.
In Technicolor, replied Oz.
The bartender cocked an eyebrow at Giles. Youre a little bookish to be hanging around with this crowd, dont you think?
The Watcher smiled grimly, his eyes determined and hard, and Josh revised his mental assessment of the man. Hes more dangerous than he looks.
Josh cleared his throat. Uh, well, you know that the basement door is guarded.
With two demons.
So what am I supposed to do?
Oz stepped up. Remember Mr. Balrog? Wed like you to offer him a proposition.
* * *
The Balasta Demon looked up from his ledger with some irritation.
What is it? You made me lose count.
Uh, Bossss, one of the wardssss was broken.
Human intruders, how exciting. He closed the ledger and stood, flexing his muscles. How many are they?
Not ssssure. At leasssst three. The minion was practically bouncing from foot to foot with anticipation.
I wonder if the FBI has finally caught up to me. He still had memories of his last encounter with the FBI, when a couple of agents named Mulder and Scully had almost nabbed him in New York. Oh, that was quite a chase, him and two dozen federal agents through Central Park. He had had to eat a mugger along the way for some quick energy; descending into the subway system, he had grabbed the back of that train just in time. Well, he had learned his lesson always have a bunch of henchmen to tire out your opponents before jumping in for the kill.
Are we closed yet?
The minion shook his head. Five minutessss to closssing.
Shut us down, clean everybody out. I mean to have some fun today, and I dont want other demons muscling in on my action.
Yessss, bossss. The minion darted out the door.
The boss glanced towards his closet. Hanging from a hook was his fighting armour, which covered up his weak spot at the base of his spine. Forget the armour, I want to have a little danger. Spices things up quite nicely.
* * *
Goran had been a guard for the Boss a long time; he remembered foraging for food on the dark streets of Los Angeles, hiding in alleys and dumpsters, and then one day the Boss had come around. Rescued him from a life that was barely a life, brought him to Las Vegas, gave him a chance. Now, with Grash, he guarded the basement door, which led to the Portal. He was a big demon, shaped more like an ape than a human, with long arms and a wide chest. Not too bad with the language, not too good with the thinking, but good enough fighting to do his job. Sometimes he felt nervous around other demons, though. Like they could see his past in his eyes, they could see the years of abject poverty, of living without purpose, meal-to-meal. He knew he was strong, but other demons seemed to radiate a different kind of strength, a sense of purpose to their lives, whether it be killing humans for sport, or generating chaos throughout the land. He guarded this door. A modest thing, to be sure, and Goran knew he should be happy with that, but still
A group of humans was walking down the corridor. This was unusual enough that Goran blinked twice to make sure he wasnt seeing things. They stopped in front of the two demons, a collection of young people and an older human. No, wait, there was a vampire trying to hide behind them. Now this was really strange. A vampire who looked afraid of humans.
Are you lost? asked Goran, his voice the sound of gravel crunching underfoot.
The blonde girl in front shook her head.
Im sorry, then, but we cannot allow you passage.
The red-haired girl shrugged. A polite demon. Whats that about?
Grash coughed. Hes from Canada.
The older man in the back looked nonplussed. We need to get down to the basement. Sorry to be a bother, but would you mind stepping aside?
Goran sighed. If I did that, I wouldnt be doing my job, would I? The Boss pays me nice to stand here and keep humans and other bothersome creatures away.
Well, began the blonde girl, youve been really nice about this, and I hate to hurt you, but it looks like I have no choice.
And with that, her left foot came out of nowhere and struck him in the head. From that point on, things got a bit blurry.
* * *
They dragged the unconscious demons into a utility closet, and then scurried quickly back to the basement door.
Uh, Buff? Xander was yanking on the door handle, but it wasnt moving. I think its locked.
She grabbed the handle and pulled. The door flew open and hit the wall with a bang. The deadbolt was still engaged, but there was now a chunk missing from the door frame. Not a problem. She glanced down the corridor. Do you think our friend is coming or not?
I dont think we can afford the time to wait, said Giles.
Right. Buffy turned to head down the stairs, but a hand took her arm to stop her.
I really dont think you need me anymore, said Steven. Ive been a good boy, Ive done what you wanted, now let me go quietly.
The Slayer snorted. And let you run upstairs to tell everyone were here? Are you kidding me? Youre with us to the end, Romeo, like it or not.
Growling, Steven shot back, Do you always get your way, Princess?
A wooden stake appeared in her hand, twirling out of the darkness. Only when it counts. Lets move.
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