Driving past the LA city limits the night after his last stand at Wolfram & Hart, he'd wondered what would happen to Lilah. Not for long; he figured she'd make it or she wouldn't, and that if she didn't then she wouldn't let the bastards take her down quietly. Either way, not his problem.
Less than two years later she was bleeding all over his ugly Goodwill couch and even if it wasn't his problem, it was one that had followed him home. He emptied the bathroom cabinet, knocking disposable razors and bottles of aspirin into the sink. Back in the living room, she was limp on the couch, eyes closed, and he thought - oh, fuck.
"Kidding," she said, opening her eyes. "I love what you've done with this place, by the way. All the elegance of the trailer park but still convenient for the crack dens." Looked like she'd been hauled here through dumpsters and probably halfway to dying, and she was still being a bitch. Gave him faith in the stability of the world.
"You're a one-woman riot." He dumped the stuff beside her. She picked out a wad of gauze and a strip of bandages, long enough to go around her twice. Sitting on the couch would mean covering himself in Lilah's blood, so he knelt on the floor.
She hitched up her blouse, gingerly unwrapped the rust-coloured dressing beneath. The slash across her side was maybe four inches across. Deep, as best as he could tell before she pressed the fresh gauze over it.
"Jesus," Lindsey said, "whatever you did musta really pissed Nathan off."
"Nathan? Oh," she said, "Nathan Reed. That was two bosses ago. What, you don't get the newsletter out here?"
"Guess they lost my subscription." She couldn't wrap the bandage around herself one-handed, and he took over. Had to lean in close to pass it around her back, and he grimaced. "Smell like you've been crawling through sewers. When'd you last see a shower?"
"Let's not go down that road," she said, flashing a patronizing smile. "I'd have to ask when you last saw a naked woman, and, shucks, we just don't have time for the comedy repartee."
"Whatever," he said. "You want a beer?" He got one for himself, drinking half of it down before he said, "What do you mean, don't have time? You saying you're not long for this world? Because that'd be a shame. Try to die in the hallway."
"What, this?" She looked down at the dark stain across her blouse. "Hasn't killed me so far. It won't stop, but I'm still walking. Talking. Hitching rides to Arizona to see really special old friends."
He leaned back against the counter, circling gesture of his hand motioning her to get to the point, if she had one. This was Lilah Morgan, he reminded himself. Maybe she would come all this way just to die in his apartment. Sounded like her idea of humour.
"We don't have time," she said, "because the thing that did this to me wants to finish the job."
"Yeah?" He took another long draught. The beer wasn't nearly cold enough. The refrigerator had to be shorting out again. "What're you looking for? Protection? Got nothing to blackmail me with, Lilah. I don't want to know. Not my fight."
Lilah smiled and said, "Well, here's the thing "
This truck had got him to LA and then got him out of there. Got him all the way back to his roots, and when he realized he belonged in Locust Grove even less than he did in Los Angeles it brought him around again, swinging back across the states till he found himself a hundred miles outside Phoenix. And then he just stopped. Rented a place, picked up money three or four nights a week playing his guitar in some of the local bars. It kept him in beer and gas, and gas. When'd he last fill the tank?
His foot was already to the floor but he pushed harder, anyway. They were chasing the sun. Lilah'd made a big deal about the sunrise and she kept glancing down at her wrist - checking her watch, he'd thought, till he realized she wasn't wearing one, and that there was a ragged, round scar on her arm. Some kind of rune, but not one he recognized.
She nodded, running a fingertip over the white lines. "It keeps me off-radar. As soon as I got out of the damn sewers I headed to Paul Fiatonni's place."
Took him a minute to place the name. Fiatonni - big, jovial guy down in Research who'd liked Lilah a lot, for reasons Lindsey couldn't make out. Retired back in '97. "Should've brought him along. Sorcerer'd be a helluva good thing to have right now."
"Paul wasn't a caster. He just collected the texts. Anyway," she huffed a breath on the window. Dragged a finger through the white and drew the same circle-and-cross as her homemade tattoo: "the Beast got to him first."
"But you still used his library."
She smiled, not looking right at him. "Prised the book I needed from his cold, dead hands."
They made another three miles in silence.
"If this thing was even after me it'd've killed me by now," Lindsey said.
"Maybe it's just too busy makin' a list and checkin' it twice."
"That thing on your arm, that wears off at sunrise?" It was already fading. "Guess I could just dump you beside the road. Get myself as far from here as I can because we know that it's looking for you and all of a sudden, being around you doesn't feel too safe."
"You could," she agreed. "Make a miraculous escape, spend the rest of your life singing bad country songs in bars called Big Tex's. Settle down in some little house in the 'burbs with a girl called Mary-Jo and have eighteen brats. And then you'd eventually die, probably of boredom - and end up right back in Wolfram & Hart. Hell Division." Said with a big smile that didn't quite hide her wince as he hit a hole in the road. She clamped her arm around her stomach. "I'll be sure to request you work in my department," she grated out.
There it was, the big, ugly truth he'd been skating round the edges of since the day he'd left; standard perpetuity clauses were a bit harder to walk away from than a conference room. Senior Partners had let him go, never chased him down, never done the thousand nasty things he'd feared they would, but he'd lay money they'd never torn up his contract, either.
So, when he laid it on the line, he had a couple of choices: go it alone. Assume the worst, that the Beast caught him, killed him. Eternity in a hell owned by people with no tolerance for his kind of company disloyalty. Otherwise: stick with Lilah. Get to the divisional office and hope he could stick his hand into the lion's cage and not get it chewed off. His own metaphor made him wince, his wrist itching along the scar that he could barely see.
A sign flashed past his window. They were sixty miles from Phoenix.
Wolfram & Hart: Phoenix was identical, outside and in, to Wolfram & Hart: Los Angeles. He kept a grip on Lilah's arm as they ran from the badly-parked truck and up into the lobby - the blood loss made her unsteady on her feet. More important, even a potential hostage of next to no significance to the people in these offices was better than none at all.
They only got a few steps inside the glass doors when they stopped. The foyer was silent. The main reception desk, supposedly staffed twenty-four hours a day at all the corporate centres, stood empty, the computer screens blank. Lindsey let go of Lilah and went to the phones, started pressing extensions at random. Nobody picked up.
The lights above them clicked off and Lindsey started, then remembered the auto-timers geared to daylight. Lilah's arm was smooth and blank, no trace she'd ever had a scar.
"Beast got here first," he said. His voice bounced off the tiles. Better acoustics than the shitty bars he sometimes played him. Number of times these past two years when he'd missed Caritas
Lilah was shaking her head, looking round them. "The building's not locked down."
"Yeah, but could be he's been and gone," he argued. "The Senior Partners'd have to undo the shutdown for the clean-up crews to come in."
"Doesn't matter," she said. "Whatever happened, the research department should still be here. We need to get up to Files and "
The elevator's building whine sounded far too loud.
They both stared at the gauge that said it was on level ten. Dropping. Nine.
Lindsey was at the door before it hit eight, but the security bar had clicked home. "Fuck!" The glass was triple-reinforced, didn't even vibrate when he kicked it.
He said, "We got any weapons?"
"Maybe we should've thought of weapons."
"I unloaded a gun into this thing. Wes tossed a grenade at it and it barely slowed down."
"Damn," Lindsey said, and then he frowned. "Wes? Angel's Wesley? The hell was he doing there?"
They were on three.
Lilah's composure wavered for a quarter-second, max. She shrugged. Two. "Trying to be a hero. Whatever Angel's people do."
The elevator dinged its arrival. Lindsey felt time thicken to tar. Seemed to take whole minutes for the doors to slide open.
The Beast was smaller than he'd thought.
"Hi!" The woman was young, petite, and walking towards them with her hand out. Lindsey shook it, reflex action; Lilah just raised her eyebrows. "Mr. McDonald. Ms. Morgan. I'm Eve Reynolds, I'm the liaison to the Senior Partners."
She was just a hair too eager, a fraction overboard with the bright eyes and bushy tail. He shot a look at Lilah over her head: new girl. Had to happen to us.
"Eve." His smile was friendly as he could make it, seeing that this girl's bosses more than likely wanted him fricasseed. "Pretty quiet around here. Something going on?" Lilah's incredulous eye-roll said no shit, Einstein.
"The Beast hasn't attacked any of the offices outside Los Angeles," Eve said, "but the Senior Partners thought it would be wisest to evacuate some of the branches. Everything West of Kansas is empty. Lilah," she turned to her, "it's good to see you in one piece."
Lilah's smile stayed far away from her eyes. "It'd be a more blood-filled piece if the Partners had stepped in back in LA."
"It's still hoped this being can be offered a deal." Turned up the sunshine even more. "We'd like you to be the one to negotiate it. Now - we can't offer protection, but if you can bring it onto our side "
Lindsey started to laugh. It shook him, hard enough to make him lean against the solid, locked door. "You gotta be kidding. She's the only one that gets away from this thing and you want her to cut a deal with it? What about me, they planning on sending me in as an appetizer?"
Eve looked between them, smile fading. Not angry, just puzzled. He wondered how old she was. "We can talk about it upstairs."
Lilah was already making for the elevator, hand on her side and stiff as a wind-up toy. "Layout's the same as LA, right? Files is on six?"
"Yes, but "
Lindsey slipped through the doors before they closed. Eve was left in the lobby, whatever she'd been saying cut off.
"You gonna do what they want?"
"I'm going to kill this son of a bitch before it kills me."
For the very first time since he'd met her he thought, that's my girl.
Eve got to Files & Records a couple of minutes after they did. Lilah sent her straight to Research to bring her the source books.
"I'm not a secretary," she complained.
"And if I wanted you to bring me off under the desk, that'd be a problem," Lilah said, not looking up from her mountain of files. She got through another one, tossed it on the floor. Eve waited it out a minute or so and then stormed out.
"Didn't know you ever worked the typing pool." Another folder tossed onto his own pile. He didn't even know what they were looking for. Any reference to a demon made of rock, or how to kill something that bullets just bounced off of.
Somewhere in the floors below them, the lockdown alarm started to wail.
They stared at each other.
"Eve could've tripped it," he said, but Eve was already bursting through the door, the books she'd been carrying falling out of her arms as she stumbled.
"Everything's shutting down, and I didn't do anything!"
"The emergency escape's in the third floor storage closet," Lilah said, hobbling around the desk. Lindsey caught her arm. "Get the book. Any of them."
He scooped one off the floor without letting go of her. "Stairs or elevator?"
"We're running away?" Eve said. "But we're supposed to negotiate with it."
"Fine," Lilah said, "you stay. Maybe snapping you like a twig'll distract it long enough for us to get away."
She glared. "I'm immortal."
"So was the LA office's liaison," Lilah said as Lindsey got them out of the door. "Last I saw him his head was hanging off his shoulders."
"Both of you," Lindsey snapped, "bitch while you run, 'kay?"
He had to all but drag her, the book clamped under his arm. Eve had run ahead, was holding the stairwell door wide. "Come on!" she yelled.
"Lilah, I'm gonna carry you."
"I'm fine." She gritted her teeth and ran faster.
They were only a few feet away when Eve, staring past them, screamed.
Lindsey thought of Sunday School on stifling July days; the story about Lot's wife looking back, the Lord turning her to salt.
He looked back anyway.
The thing was as big as Lilah had described. Its horns almost grazed the ceiling. She'd told him it was solid rock, all crags and crevices, but she hadn't mentioned the cloven feet or the way it grinned when it caught him looking.
"Lindsey," it rumbled.
"Lindsey!" Eve screamed.
He turned and wrapped his arm around Lilah's waist and ran down the stairs like the devil was behind him.
They were going to die. All three of them, even Eve-the-Immortal, the Beast was going to rip them apart.
He wrenched the storage unit away from the wall. The escape hatch was right behind. Lilah hunkered down, started to pry it open.
He dropped, sending bolts of pain shooting through his knees. The hatch was tight to the wall, no space to squeeze his fingers around the edges, open it that way. He bloodied his fingernails trying, and then he put both of his hands around Lilah's on the handle. "On three," he said. "One. Two."
They both hauled back and the door gave. The air that wafted out was stale, unpleasant. The tunnel went all the way down to the sewer. Lindsey looked inside, but there was nothing to see but black.
"Has to be forty feet," he said.
"Feel free to stay." Lilah picked up the source book and manoeuvred herself into the hole feet-first, like a kid going down a playground slide. She pushed herself forward on the heel of one hand, and then she dropped out of sight. A couples of seconds later, there was a wet thud below.
No sign that she'd made it. He gestured at Eve to come on. She was pressed against the door, like her eighty-pound weight could keep something the Beast's size out. Outside in the hallway, there was a crash like breaking wood.
"I can't," she whimpered.
"You're immortal, right? The fall can't kill you."
She took a step towards him and hesitated.
Hell with this. He grabbed her wrist, yanked hard enough that she had to hit the ground or dislocate her arm. The hole in the wall was big enough for the both of them, barely. The storage room door burst open, crashing off its hinges, and Lindsey threw himself and Eve backwards, no time to think about how they were going to land. She buried her face in his neck and screamed as they fell into the dark.
He landed on his back in filthy water, Eve still clinging to him. The impact hurt but not like it should have; a fall from that height should have killed him outright, and he realized there'd been a spell of some kind cushioning their fall. Made sense. Why have an escape route that killed the escapers?
He shoved Eve off. She scrambled to her feet. "That was incredible," she said, her voice wavering. "You were so brave."
"Lilah," he said.
He rolled over, got to knees and - wasn't that a thing - Lilah held out her hand to help him up. She looked no worse than she had upstairs.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Aside from a bad case of déjà vu and the huge gaping wound in my side," she gave him the thumbs-up, "best day ever."
"You saved my life," Eve said, staring at Lindsey like he was James Bond covered in chocolate sauce. Kid had a crush, huh? That was vaguely annoying, but he filed it away to think about later.
"We have to get out of here," he said. "Eve, where's the nearest safehouse with access from the sewers?"
"Glendale," she said automatically.
Bill, the LA branch's liaison, had known every square inch of the city, on the ground and under it. Said the Partners loaded the maps into him when they built him.
Lindsey said, "Can you get us there?"
She looked around them at the high, brick tunnel. To Lindsey, it looked exactly the same ahead of them and behind them and in the dark path off to the left, but she nodded and said, "It's this way."
Whoever'd been sequestered in the safehouse, they'd left in a rush. There was still food on the table, days old and congealed. Goddamn Marie Celeste, Lindsey thought, bolting the security door behind them.
"What's she doing?" Eve said as Lilah started emptying the kitchen drawers.
Lindsey got it. "Find something you can draw on the walls with," he said. "Paint, Magic Markers."
She didn't look like she understood but she jumped to, anyway. "I'll look in the bedrooms."
Lilah muttered something to herself, sagging for a moment against the table. The blood-smear on her shirt looked bigger than the last time he'd noticed it. They'd need to look for a first aid box, bandages; failing that, they could tear up the sheets. The wards were more urgent.
He laid the heavy book on the kitchen table, opened it at the centre. "Protection runes," he said. The pages stayed blank.
Did these books even work outside the main building?
"It's a library reader, not Google," Lilah said. She snapped it closed and lifted it close to her mouth, speaking to the top of the pages: "The Serthinian Collection, English translation."
The pages were still blank when she opened it up again, but then the ink flooded in, cramped text and spidery drawings fading onto the paper. One of them looked like the cut she'd had on her arm.
Magic had always made Lindsey's head hurt. "Which one do we use?"
"All of them."
Eve's scavenger hunt in the bedrooms left them with a laundry marker, some white-out and a handful of lipsticks. They did the door first, Lindsey drawing the sigil in what the cap claimed was called Autumn Forest, while Lilah read the incantation and Eve nervously hovered. Windows got the same treatment. It was a bright day, creeping onto noon by now, and the penthouse was high with a beautiful clear view right across the city. Darla would've loved it.
After the fifth time they all knew the ritual words by heart and the walls were done in a third of the time. Lilah's runes were huge and quickly drawn; Eve's were small and neat and she took longer to finish than the other two.
"This stops anything from knowing we're here?" she said.
"So says the Serthinian Collection." The marker was out of ink. He tossed it aside.
"That means the Senior Partners don't know where I am." Her voice was very small, very lost.
"If it makes you feel better, they probably don't care," Lilah said brightly.
Eve flashed big, wounded eyes at him and he was thirteen again, stuck between two warring sisters.
"Lilah, go take a shower or something," he said. "I'll look for bandages."
"I want a shower too," Eve piped up.
Lilah smirked. "Honey, we only met a few hours ago."
That should've pushed her into actual tears, but Eve crossed her arms. Lifted her chin like a brave little soldier and said, "And if I wanted to have sex with you, that'd be a problem." She gathered up the lipsticks and said, "I'm going to do the bedroom," sweeping out without looking at them.
Lilah was startled into laughter. "What was that?"
He dropped back onto the couch, one heel going up on the coffee table. "She's copying you. Heard one time they're made that way, liaisons. Not much personality of their own so they find somebody to be. Just means she's young." Then, sitting forward as it hit him: "She's really young. Couple of days, tops."
"Hmm," Lilah said. "What do you think, would that make her more or less valuable?" At his look - stern but not surprised - she said, "It's not like mom and dad can help her. She said herself, Partners can't see in here. We could always say she covered herself in runes and ran away."
He mulled that over. "We talking selling her or sacrificing her?"
The bedroom door slammed back. "I can hear you, you know."
"Settle down," Lindsey said, "nobody's sacrificing anybody."
"Yet," said Lilah, walking to the kitchen area.
"I don't want to be sold, either!" Her mouth dropped open as Lilah got a cereal bowl and a small, sharp knife. "Lindsey!"
But Lilah ran the blade down the inside of her own arm, held it over the bowl until the blood stopping flowing. Lindsey wiped the knife on his shirt and opened up his own arm, avoiding the major veins. He didn't flinch at the sharp pain. He'd signed enough contracts in his own blood that this was nothing new.
Eve looked green.
"Your turn," he said, holding out the handle. "Eve," he said, when she didn't take it, "it's the last part of the protection spell. Blood magic's stronger than word magic, every time. We're just gonna repaint the seal on the door, make it extra-tight."
"I don't even know if I have blood," she said. "I wasn't anywhere and then I was in the white room and I was me, and you two were in the lobby and I just had to be. But they didn't tell me how to run away from monsters and almost die and have to bleed, I'm just supposed to be the messenger and something's wrong with my eyes." She swiped angrily at them with the back of her hand.
"This'll keep us safe," Lindsey said, "you too. Me and Lilah, we were fooling around, we wouldn't kill you." He glared at Lilah before she could say different. She sighed, pantomimed zipped lips.
Eve was staring at the knife. "I can't "
"You want me to do it?"
A long moment before she nodded, once, her eyes flying shut.
There was a pulse in her wrist, speeding up under his fingers as he set the point of the blade to her skin. Heartbeat, warmth; just like a real girl.
"I'm not gonna hurt you," he said, and pressed down.
Chivalry was overrated. Meant he had to go last for the shower. He soaped the sewer-stench out of his hair and wondered what in hell they were going to do next. The magics keeping them out of sight should hold three days, a week if they kept redrawing the symbols, and after that
They could do what Lilah'd done, carve the runes on themselves and get out, but where would they go? The Senior Partners weren't going to step in. They would've let Eve and Lilah die without lifting a finger.
He turned the shower as high as it'd go, raised his face to the spray. This was the first chance he'd had to think since Lilah had dragged him into this.
Wait a second.
"What am I doing here?"
Lilah changed channels on the TV. "Dripping on the floor?"
He'd pulled on a pair of black pants he'd found in the closet - okay fit, not as baggy as the pantsuit Lilah was wearing or Eve's sloppy UC Santa Cruz sweatshirt - but he was still barefoot, bare-chested. And wet.
"I've been thinking," he began. "You said you hitchhiked from LA. Why not go the whole distance? Get some trucker to take you into Phoenix? You had to go out of your way to come find me, that wasn't just to get a ride."
"Maybe I wanted to warn you," she shrugged. "Out of the goodness of my warm and cuddly heart."
Eve was curled at one edge of the couch, eyes going between them like a kid watching her parents fight.
"You needed me for something," Lindsey said, starting to pace. In his head, he was back in a courtroom, comfortable there as if he'd never been away. "What was it, Lilah? Hostage? Looking to trade me to the Partners if they'd get you somewhere safe?"
"Please. If they wanted you they'd have tracked you down long ago." She stretched back, relaxed. "They're more than happy to let you live out your life. After that, they own you anyway, so what's the rush?"
"That's true," Eve put in. "If they wanted you dead, I would have been told."
He never broke eye contact with Lilah. "So why? Nowhere to go. We can't walk out that door, may as well get it off your chest."
Finally, she let out a long sigh. "One of the books I found at Paul's place talked about how to open a dimensional portal. I figured it couldn't be too hard. Blood circle, some candles, chanting. But it didn't work."
"The portal opened, but it was unstable." She fingered the newly-patched hole in her side. "Son of a bitch did something to my blood."
"Why didn't you use somebody else's? Drag somebody off the street?"
"It doesn't work with normal blood," she said. "Even human blood. There has to be a power there. A witch, warlock, seer "
"Or somebody whose soul belongs to Wolfram & Hart." And then the pieces fell together. "That's why you needed me."
"Not all of you." She smiled. "Just what's on the inside. Oh, and the source book, since Paul's were enchanted to the house. They turned blank when I tried to bring them along. Good for security, bad for me."
"She was going to kill you," Eve said, sliding off the couch as if she expected Lilah to pull a knife any second. Lindsey wasn't so sure she was wrong. "We should kill her."
"Nobody's getting killed," he snapped. To Lilah: "Okay, we use my blood to open the portal. Then what?"
"Then we go to another dimension and hide," she said, very slowly and clearly.
"For how long? Forever?"
"I was going for 'until somebody kills the Beast'."
"What if they don't? What if it just keeps coming?"
"It hasn't attacked any of our other divisions," Eve said. "It only showed up here after you arrived. I think it hates you."
"She could be right, Lilah," he said. "Could be this is personal and you just don't know it."
She was thinking about that, he could tell. He crouched beside her and said, "There's no running from this. All we can do is try and beat it."
Nobody had turned off the TV. As he and Lilah stared at each other, the commercials gave way to the news. Lindsey let the words drift by, white noise, till the name of a city made him turn.
" second day of the eclipse-like blackout that's been blamed on a rare meteorological effect." He grabbed the remote, turned up the volume. They watched the pictures from Los Angeles, dark streets and chaos.
"It might not even be related," he told her. "Weird crap goes on there all the time. Angel's guys must've been sleeping on the job."
"Mesektet," she said.
Meant nothing to Lindsey. He glanced at Lilah, who shrugged.
"The LA conduit," she went on, pulling her knees up to her chest. She looked ten years old. "It was part of the ra-tet."
"Ra," Lindsey said, "god of the sun? Thought that was a myth."
"Guess you were myth-taken," Lilah said.
"Shut up, Lilah!" Eve looked as surprised at her outburst as Lindsey was. The rest of her words came in a rush. "If the sun's out then the ra-tet are dead. It'll start in LA, and then it'll spread to the whole state. And then " She looked at the window where the high afternoon sun was framed by the lipstick-rune.
Lindsey said, "Killing a god, that takes power. We need to know what this Beast is."
Researching had been easier when he had paralegals, not to mention Files & Records with her mental card-catalogue. Now there was just him and Lilah and Eve, and one book between the three of them, and even if that could access any book in the world, it wasn't a lot of good unless they knew where to look.
They took turns. He went through Rhinehart's Compendium and the Sybilline Codex while the others combed the apartment for anything that might be magically useful. Then he passed the book to Lilah, left her to hunt while he heated them all canned soup. Hadn't eaten in a day, but he couldn't manage more than a few spoonfuls. Eve sipped at it cautiously, and then finished her bowl and his both.
"Must be weird for you," he said, watching her pick through the fridge, sniffing and tasting. He'd had to take the sour milk away from her before she drank it. "Everything's new."
"It is," she agreed. "I mean - I know what cheese is. But it's like like having a picture in my head with the word 'cheese' beside it. There's no smell, no taste. I don't really know any of these things."
"Never been a cheese fan," he admitted. "Had this dream once where "
Lilah threw the book onto the coffee table. "There's nothing here. It's not in any books."
"That's impossible," Eve said. She sat on the floor, picked up the book. "Did you try the index?"
They stared at her. "What index?" Lindsey said.
"Show me the index for Beast comma the," Eve said into the book, and opened it. The pages that appeared were filled with paragraph-long extracts. The words 'the beast' were highlighted in each one and beneath was the name of the text.
"You said this thing wasn't like Google," he complained to Lilah.
"The beast of Acathelion, the beast with two backs, the beast of the final night of the Httrian uprising," Lilah read. "Can you narrow it down?"
Eve spoke into it again. "Keep results, cross-referencing: attack on Wolfram & Hart Los Angeles."
This time only one line faded in - no results found.
"That's impossible," Eve said again.
They ever got out of this, he was going to rent this girl The Princess Bride.
"Okay, it's not in the books," he said, "yeah, I already know it's impossible, Eve. Tell us why it's impossible."
"Everything's in the Wolfram & Hart records," she said. "If it's not in there it pre-dates them. Us."
"Try something else," Lilah said.
She picked up the book again. "New search: Beast as proper noun, match rock or stone or " she struggled.
"Horns," Lindsey said.
"Horns," she told the book. "Text and images."
The first image on the page was all too familiar.
"What does that mean, not available?" Lilah said, jabbing a finger at the reference line.
"It means this drawing was in Rhinehart's." Eve frowned. The pages wavered and went back to white. "But it's been erased. We can't access it from this dimension."
Lilah must've realized at the same moment he did because their heads came up, locking eyes. "That's why it stabbed you. Tainted your blood, stopped you opening a portal. It was scared you'd go somewhere else. Find the books it's in."
"It's hiding something."
"Thinking our pal the Beast's got an Achille's Heel." He looked at the blank pages. "You thinking what I'm thinking?"
She smiled - old school Lilah smile, predator again and not the prey herself. "We need the Market."
He hated portals. They made him dizzy, though that could've been the blood-loss from the ritual to open the gateway. But the world stopped spinning, and they were at the entrance to the Market.
Eve said, "When you said it was an interdimensional black market, I didn't think "
"That it'd be an actual market?"
A small, tubby demon shuffled past them, dragging a laden cart beneath the huge wooden archway. He turned and gave the three of them a long look, finally flicking a forked tongue at Eve. She cringed against Lindsey.
"This is a great place," he said. "C'mon."
He'd only been here a couple of times, when he or one of his clients had needed something a little more esoteric than usual. The layout looked different every visit because a stall was rarely in the same place twice, but there were constants. The long dirt road that they walked down now, dust scuffing around their feet. The green hills around them, lush and untouched by houses. The swollen red sun hanging in the white sky that had made his eyes water like crazy on his first trip.
"We just have to find a bookseller and then we go home, right?" Eve whispered, staring at something like a giant spider that was busily hanging pots and pans outside its stall. It clicked, waving a hairy foreleg at them.
"No thanks," Lindsey called. "Maybe later."
"Look, there's Amaranta," Lilah said, pointing down the path at a small tent with a recliner outside. God, he hadn't seen Amaranta in years.
"She runs this place," he told Eve. "Much as anybody does, anyway. She'll know where to find a book stall."
"Uh-huh," Eve said, sounding uncertain. "Which one's Amaranta?"
The woman - women, if they'd been in the real world - stood to greet them. "Lindsey. Lilah. So lovely to see you again." She hissed out the s's, the sound more prominent because both of her spoke at once. The one on the left reached out to touch Eve's jaw. "And a new-constructed immortal. She would fetch a good price."
"No," Lindsey and Eve said together.
"How much?" Lilah asked. Lindsey elbowed her uninjured side. "Fine," she complained. "We're not trading today. We're looking for a book."
"Books." She nodded wisely. "Books are precious things. Follow the road to the pathreader's tent. Take the left fork. The frogs know where to go."
Eve said, "We're lost."
They'd been walking a quarter hour, or would have if time passed here. The Timex he'd found back in their safehouse was frozen.
"We're not lost," he said. "Right ahead. That's got to be the pathreader's tent." It was crimson and gold, rising in points and frills. Either side of it, the road forked away to more rows of stalls.
A frog ribbitted past their feet, heading for the left side-street.
"This is the place," Lindsey said.
Lilah was walking easier here, her wound not seeming to hurt her so much. She strode ahead of them. "I see the bookseller."
An old woman shuffled out of the grand tent. "Tell your fortune?" she offered, reedy voice and toothless grin.
"I know my fortune," Eve said.
"Hunh," the pathreader said, "do you, now."
Eve glanced at Lindsey as if looking for support. He raised his hands. Keep me out of this.
"I'm going to live forever," she said, sounding a lot surer of that than when she'd been half-crying in the storage room. "What else is there to know?"
"Lots and lots, sweetpea, lots and lots." She lifted a hunched shoulder. "But, you don't want to hear it." Her eyes, when they fell on Lindsey, were thoughtful, knowing. "You, though - you should come inside. Cross my palm with silver."
"Fresh out of silver," he said. "I'm just here for a book. Nice meeting you." He took Eve's arm to steer her away.
"You know somebody called Angel?"
He glanced back. Pillars of salt, he would think later, pillars of salt. "Why?"
"'Cuz he's gonna kill you," she said. "Seriously, kid, you better come inside."
"Excuse the crap," she apologized, gesturing him to an overstuffed chair, settling herself on its twin. "People expect the crystal ball, the ambience, the whole shebang. Otherwise they feel like they're gettin' gypped, no pun intended. Will you siddown? Making me nervous, here."
"What do you mean, Angel's gonna kill me?" The question sounded a lot dumber than it had in his head. He pressed his fingers to his temple. "Why would he kill me? How can you even know that?"
"Don't shoot the messenger, cutie, I just get these flashes. This was a strong one. You, dead, killed by somebody name of Angel. Could be next week, could be some time when the damn dirty apes have taken over the Earth dimension, I don't get subtitles. And for God's sake, the chair's right behind you."
He sat, mind going too fast for him to keep up. "How can you see more? You want me to sing?"
"Might work. Not how I usually do this, though. Tell me something deeply personal."
She pulled a cigar box from somewhere under the tablecloth. "You want one? You don't mind if I ?" She bit off the end and spat it out. Struck a match on the side of the table. "Ah. That's good. See, for me to read your aura, you have to bare your soul. Hence me making your little friend amscray."
Eve and Lilah would be looking for the book. They'd need his help.
"They're fine," she said as if he'd spoken. "Forget them. Think about you. Tell me a secret and I'll tell your future. Confession's good for the soul. I heard that on some talkshow."
He missed Caritas's Host. "Uh if I knew for sure we'd both be dead in the morning, I'd be having sex with Lilah right now."
"It's not bad. Could be more personal."
"And trying to talk Eve into a threeway."
She waved her hand from side to side. "Getting there. I see you and the skinny chick in bed, but that could just be an old woman's slightly perverse imagination. Tell me something else. Something you never told anybody."
Before he could think he blurted out, "Darla said she wasn't the one I wanted to screw, Angel was. She was right."
"Yep, that works." She clapped her hands together. "O-kay. Here's what I see. Angel's going to kill you, and don't try subverting that, that never works, there's this hilarious thing about the father killing the son that's not important. I see you in," she tipped her head to the side, taking a thoughtful puff on her stogie, "hell. Nice lawns."
Just like Lilah'd said. Apart from the lawns. "I'm in hell," he said. "You're sure?"
"Demon in the basement ripping out your heart? Doesn't happen in your ordinary suburbia." She choked, a long, hacking cough. "Maybe in New Jersey. This isn't a visual thing, son, I just get random details. Doing the best I can."
So that was it. All she wrote. Angel was going to kill him - sanctimonious bastard, what the hell gave him the right? - and he was going to be tortured for all eternity.
"Don't be so glum, chum," the pathseeker said. "We all go some time. Even your immortal-for-now friend." She held out the tin. "Have a cigar. Make you feel better."
"We found the book," Eve said, her excited smile dying as she got closer to him. "You just stood on a frog."
"Over there, looking at necklaces."
"You're in a bad mood," Lilah observed as he joined her. "Did she say you wouldn't meet a tall, dark stranger? Y'know, one who's not going to kill you?"
He glared at Eve. "I didn't know it was a secret," she said.
Lilah pointed at a piece of jewellery on one of the trays, a chunky amulet on a chain. "What does that one do?"
The demon behind the stall delicately picked it up with one antenna. "This, ah, it absorbs and contains a soul until such time as it is, ah, released."
"Absorbs a soul." Lilah nodded. "So it kills the wearer."
"Most, ah, destructively." It leaned forward, all six of its eyes bulging. "For best result? Feed it the soul of a champion. Nothing will be, ah, left in its path."
"We'll take it," Lindsey said grimly. "How much?"
Less a Timex but plus a book and amulet - and a hippogriff sandwich for Eve, who'd managed to talk a free sample out of the vendor - they retraced their path back to the entrance.
"So that's the plan?" Lilah said. "Tell Angel it'd be super if he'd just slip on the amulet for us and drop him somewhere near the Beast?"
Took care of two of his problems.
They passed a field where two men were demonstrating some kind of martial arts, performing incredible leaps in the air. Eve had slowed down to watch.
"You like my fighters?" A human-looking guy strolled over to them. "We got training centres in over four hundred dimensions. Bunch of my guys worked on The Matrix. Taught Keanu everything he knows."
Lindsey thought about vampire strength and speed. "You can teach anybody to do that?"
"Taught kids, grandparents. It's better than aikido for staying in shape. Where're you folks from, Earth? Hear it's a happening place right now. From beneath you it devours, huh?" He fanned a pile of business cards in his hand, plucked one from the centre. "Come see us. We're over in Nepal." He winked and turned back to his show.
"Eve, we're going," Lindsey said.
She peeled away from the spectacle, pouting. "But time doesn't pass here. We could stay for longer." She hesitated and then she said, "We could stay forever "
"Never go home again?" He shook his head. "Nah. Some things you can't outrun."
Amaranta was still outside her tent when they reached the entrance, one of her selves languidly fanning them both. "Are you leaving us so soon, Lilah and Lindsey and little-immortal?"
"I wish I could stay," Eve complained.
"Things we need to do," Lindsey said.
"Yes. On Earth." She looked at each other. "There are ripples, there. A vampire's soul has been lost. Wilfully removed, and then taken by a force that would do much harm."
Lilah said, "The Beast."
Lindsey said, "Shit. Shit. Lilah, the amulet won't work on Angelus."
"We can find something else. There must be a weapon here, something that can "
"No," Amaranta said. Lindsey had never heard her interrupt someone before. "What you need, you have. The arsenals of the world could not help you beyond that."
Lilah clutched Rhinehart's Compendium tighter to her chest.
"Go," the demon said, turning away. "There are no more answers here."
Lindsey scuffed out the salt-and-sugar circle. Leaving it would be like a crack in the door between dimensions. They wouldn't need it again, anyway; Lilah had traded a music box she'd found in the bedroom for three one-time teleportation passes. Silver and a little smaller than a credit card, it could take them anywhere on the planet.
"We could all take a trip to Outer Mongolia," he suggested, turning the pass over in his hand. "Make the Beast travel to kill us." But Lilah came out of the bathroom in her own clothes, and he knew she was going back to LA. Lilah Morgan didn't face down almost certain death in hand-me-downs.
"You can have mine," Eve said, slipping it into his hand. "I'm going back to the office." She pushed back a strand of her hair and said, "They'll be looking for me."
Lilah picked up Rhinehart's.
"Lindsey, where are you going to go?" Eve asked.
"Back to his life," Lilah answered for him. "He knows the Beast can't touch him. Useful thing about being fated to die. It makes you otherwise pretty unkillable."
He was never going to see her again, he thought. Not in this life. "Goodbye, Lilah."
She smiled. "See you in hell, Linds." And she bent her head over the pass, said, "Hyperion hotel, Los Angeles, the basement," and vanished.
Eve rubbed her arm where he'd cut her open. Felt like weeks ago.
"I'll walk you to your building," he said.
She glanced up at him, startled. "Aren't you "
"I'll get back the old-fashioned way." He tucked the two silver cards in his back pocket. "Can't leave my truck."
It was a Thursday night, and Thursday nights he was played at Charlie's. The bar was half empty (two months ago, before everything, he might've said half full, but he couldn't say for sure) and he was in competition with some guys who found whatever they were talking about hysterically funny, but he sang anyway; songs by other people, and songs he'd known so long he didn't have to think about the words and the chords because it all just flowed, and songs he'd written these last months, even though he hadn't done that for years, thought he was done with it.
"There's a girl asking after you," Charlie said as he gave him his tips, jerking his head a table tucked far into a corner. "Mousy li'l thing. Said she could wait while I closed."
Eve had dressed up. Skirt and blouse she could have stolen from Lilah's wardrobe, better hair. Fruity drink on the table that he was sure Charlie wouldn't have known how to make without being walked through it.
He'd been waiting for this call.
"When'd she die?" he asked, taking the chair opposite her.
What he'd expected. "How's she doing?"
"I don't know. They won't let me talk to her." She dropped her voice. "Nobody knows I'm here."
Their little girl was all grown up and rebelling. Lilah would be proud.
Eve started to talk about the reopening of the LA branch, and her reassignment there. Lindsey listened to bits and pieces, and when she very deliberately let slip a big piece of information he had to ask her to slip it again, and then he had to have a drink.
Charlie let them stay well past closing time. He was a good guy.
"Angel won't take the deal," Lindsey said, total conviction behind it. The Angel he'd known would never have signed on for Wolfram & Hart.
And then Eve told him about Angel's son. Darla's son. Born because he was foretold, and Angel was going to kill him to make the deal stick because that had been foretold too.
These prophecies, they seemed to have a way of coming true.
"I have to go back tonight," she said. She kept clasping her fingers around her glass. Letting it go. "I could come back some time. Will you be here?"
He remembered a door closing in her face, Lilah saying I'm going to kill this son of a bitch before it kills me.
He emptied his pockets onto the table. Plectrums, a capo, a couple of quarters. Two teleportation passes, and a card sandwiched between them that he couldn't remember putting there. Nepal, it read. Learn the deadly arts of the Nu-Kao-Wan.
The silver gleamed. One to get there, one to get to LA.
"Heads, I stay," he said, lifting one of the quarters. "Tails, I go."
Eve said, "What are you talking about?"
He just grinned and spun the coin towards the light.