Chapter 1: I
When the entry phone of her London penthouse rang, Modesty Blaise was in the middle of a yoga session. The part of her mind that wasn't meditating absently noted the voice of her houseboy Weng. Then Weng came into the lounge and coughed apologetically, bowed slightly when she looked at him, and said "There are two young women to see you. They have been sent by Sir Gerald Tarrant."
Modesty stood, said "Better let them come up," slipped on a house robe over her leotard, and went to her desk. She wasn't expecting trouble, especially from Tarrant, but it was always possible that they were impostors, and her MAB Brevette pistol was in one of the drawers. She heard the lift doors open, and a moment later Weng showed two women into the lounge. Modesty guessed they were in their early twenties. One had dark-hair and a slightly Latin look, and wore leather trousers and a midriff-revealing top that let Modesty see the faint trace of a scar on her abdomen. It looked like a knife wound. The other was a redhead wearing jeans and a denim jacket over a wooly jumper. The redhead said "Hi. My name's Willow Rosenberg, this is Faith Lehane." She had an American accent, probably Californian. "We're here about a guy called Lucifer."
"Lucifer?" Modesty asked cautiously. She remembered the psychic and his paranoid delusions, and the period when she'd been forced to be his lover, but they were supposed to be a closely-guarded secret.
"We were told you were the person to talk to, the person he'll listen to. Only it's a little difficult to explain."
"Maybe you could start by explaining who you are."
"That's one of the difficult parts." Willow looked embarrassed. Faith grinned but didn't say anything.
"Weng said Sir Gerald Tarrant sent you." Tarrant ran one of the less conspicuous and more effective parts of the British Secret Service. From time to time Modesty and her former partner in crime, Willie Garvin, worked for him.
"Oh, right. Sir Gerald said we should ask you to call him to confirm that."
"Thank you, I will." Modesty sat down and dialled his number from memory, and in moments was through to his office.
"Sir Gerald? I have two women here who say you sent them."
"Miss Rosenberg and her colleague?" Sir Gerald Tarrant's voice was unmistakable.
"That's right. Could you describe them, please."
"Miss Rosenberg is about five foot eight, a redhead, aged twenty-five. Miss Lehane is the same height, dark haired, aged twenty-four."
"Thank you. And it's in connection with...?"
"Lucifer. They're cleared for all information on him."
"You're quite sure?" asked Modesty.
"Absolutely. Oh, I should warn you, what they'll be telling you is odd, and has nothing to do with this department. I'd strongly advise you to keep your involvement to a minimum." Coming from Tarrant, that meant that it was going to be very odd indeed, and probably extremely dangerous.
"Thank you. Oh, will you still be free for dinner on Thursday."
"This Thursday?" said Tarrant, surprise in his voice. "I thought it was next Wednesday."
"Just checking it was really you."
"I'm afraid so," said Tarrant. "Call me back later, I'd appreciate your thoughts once you know what this is about."
"I will." Modesty hung up, and turned her attention to her visitors. "What can I do for you?"
"First, let me just check something," said Willow. "You know that Lucifer has powers, right?"
"He can predict the death of anyone he touches, or by touching their possessions, if it'll happen within a couple of months. He's about eighty percent accurate."
"How do you explain it?"
"Psychometry. A type of psionic power."
"Run across anyone else with powers?"
"I know a very successful dowser, and a friend can sense danger sometimes."
"Okay, that's a good start. What about magic?"
"I've met tribal magicians, but I've no reason to believe it works, except by suggestion."
"Okay. Let's just say that you're wrong, that magic exists, and that magic and psionics are all part of the same package. Are you okay with that?"
"I've listened so far because Tarrant sent you," said Modesty, "but that's... well, it's a little hard to believe."
"I guess," said Willow. She cupped her hands together and a ball of glowing light appeared between them, floating towards Modesty as she moved them apart. As it moved towards her it seemed to grow, until it was floating a few inches from Modesty's face, about the size of a grapefruit, and bathing her in the warmth and light of a summer day. "You were saying?" said Willow.
"Oh.." said Modesty, "...is it safe to touch it?"
"Yes. Might be a little warm but it shouldn't burn you."
Modesty poked the ball with a cautious finger and felt a tingle of gentle heat, then reached into a drawer, pulled out a digital camera, stood, and took pictures of it from three different angles.
"Clever," Willow said approvingly. "You're right, of course, except if I was messing with your mind, I could probably make you think you were seeing consistent pictures. But I'm not."
Modesty dropped the camera into a docking station and pressed the "print" button, then watched the pictures appear, each showing the ball. Eventually she said "So magic exists. Now what?" Somehow, she wasn't sure how, she was taking it relatively calmly.
"Now it gets dangerous," said Willow. She clicked her fingers, and the ball seemed to implode on itself and vanished with an audible 'pop.' She leaned forward in her chair and said "Okay. Now, given that magic exists - and if you want more proof I'll be happy to show you - are you prepared to accept that supernatural creatures exist too?"
"My turn," said Faith, speaking for the first time. She was another American, Modesty couldn't place the accent. "I always wanted to give the speech. Really ought to be wearing tweed for this." She stood, pretended to take off a pair of glasses, and in a feigned British accent said "'This world is older than you know. Contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a paradise. For untold aeons demons walked the Earth. They made it their home, their... their Hell. But in time they lost their purchase on this reality. The way was made for mortal animals, for, for man. All that remains of the old ones are vestiges, certain magics, certain creatures... ummm...' Damn, can't remember where it goes after that. Anyway, the point is that there's a lot of stuff out there besides humans, and a lot of it is pretty nasty. Black magic, vampires, demons, they're all real."
"And some of the good things too, of course," said Willow.
"There's a war between good and evil," said Faith, "only they don't call it that, of course. One side is the Powers that Be, the guys that want humanity to win, except that they want us to do it for ourselves. Every now and again they'll give us a champion or a seer, or some kinda miracle, but that's about it. The other side... well, their shock troops are vampires and demons, that ought to give you a pretty good idea. Over them are a bunch I've heard called the Senior Partners, half a dozen other names."
"And Tarrant knows about this?" asked Modesty.
"There are several organisations on the side of good," said Willow. "Or at least on the side of keeping the human race from being monster fodder. One of them, the one we work for, is the Watchers' Council, and for the last few hundred years it was based in Britain, had ties to all sorts of departments in the government. Every now and again the Watchers would need something the government had, like weapons or fake passports, and I guess there was some payback. We don't really know much about that, most of the records have been lost, but the government seems to think it owes us a few favours."
"What happened to the records?" asked Modesty.
"I said this was a war," said Faith. "A couple of years ago most of the Council was taken out, their headquarters and most of their people in the field. You might remember part of it, there was an explosion in London, killed about fifty people, got blamed on an Iraqi splinter group." Modesty remembered it; she'd gone to give blood in the aftermath, and been turned away because she'd had several transfusions in the past. "That was it for the old Council, and for a while it looked like we were going to lose, but Willow worked some major mojo that helped us win a battle, and ended up actually making us stronger. Stronger and kinda disorganised, but we're working on that."
"All right," said Modesty. "Accepting all that for the moment, what does this have to do with me... or Lucifer?"
"A couple of months ago I was driving through New York state," said Willow, "when I felt... it's difficult to explain, kinda like a power surge, only magical. I was in a hurry, couldn't do much more than make a note of it, but I came back about a week later and tracked the source down to a sanatorium - you can guess which one, I think."
"The Benson Clinic?"
"Yeah. So I did some checking and found out about Lucifer, and I went back and lied my way in to see him."
"And he ignored you?" asked Modesty
"Showed him pretty much what I showed you, he kinda took it in his stride, said I was powerful for a mere human. When I tried to talk to him about his power, about what he really is, I got nowhere. He's totally locked into his delusions. It wasn't urgent then, so I left it at that, but things have changed."
"So Lucifer is... what? One of the magical creatures you mentioned?"
"Kinda," said Willow. "We need him to return to his rightful place."
"As far as I know he's still a psychiatric patient. Has he escaped?"
"No. He's still in the clinic. That's the trouble."
"He ought to be where he belongs. In Hell."
"I know it's kinda hard to take in, but it's true. Everyone thinks he's nuts, but they're wrong. Well, wrong-ish. He really is Lucifer, the Lightbringer, the Morningstar, rightful ruler of Hell." She paused for breath, then said "I said it was difficult to explain."
Chapter 2: II
"I know it's kinda hard to take in, but it's true. Everyone thinks he's nuts, but they're wrong. Well, wrong-ish. He really is Lucifer, the Lightbringer, the Morningstar, rightful ruler of Hell," said Willow. She paused for breath, then said "I said it was difficult to explain."
"Try," Modesty said flatly.
"Okay. What Faith said earlier is right, basically. The world used to be ruled by demons, only as it got older their powers didn't really work too well, or they got to the point where they felt too restricted. They gradually moved into dimensions where things are more to their liking, leaving this one for humans and the small-time demons that couldn't cut it with the big boys. One of the last groups to leave were the classic demons, the ones everyone has heard of; Lucifer, Asmodeus, that crowd. Some of them didn't make it out, because by then humans were starting to develop their own powers."
"Yeah. Case in point, Moloch got himself trapped in a spell book. Around that time some of the magicians created the first Vampire Slayer, a woman with the strength and speed to take on the monsters and win even without magic. Faith's one of the current Slayers."
"I'll prove that if you like," said Faith, "but bending steel bars and lifting cars gets old, so we'll skip it unless you really want to see it."
"Later, maybe," said Modesty. "About Lucifer..."
"We don't know much about what happened," said Willow, "but Lucifer used to be in charge of one of the more important hell dimensions. We think he got too close to humans, started to feel a little sorry for us. So they decided to have a coup, throw him out of that hell, and allied themselves to the bunch of demons we call the Senior Partners. Demonic politics are complicated, but we think it's one of their major power bases these days."
"They threw Lucifer into our world?" asked Modesty.
"Some time in the nineteen-fifties, I think. They stripped him of his powers, or as much as they could, made him into a human, as much as they could, took away a lot of his memory, gave him a fake background, and added a few delusions to tie everything together and make it look like he was nuts. Well, he is nuts, I guess. He thinks that he's still ruler of Hell, so he isn't trying to get back to power."
"Why didn't they kill him?"
"My guess is they can't, not directly. It'd break the spell, let the real Lucifer free again. But if he died naturally on Earth, or from human causes, it'd be different. I read the folder on Lucifer, the extortion racket his guardian, that guy Seff, had him involved in. I'd guess it was supposed to end in his death."
"You could be right," said Modesty. "Seff was planning to clean house at the end, kill all the witnesses including Lucifer. We were all nearly killed. But how do you know what the demons planned?"
"I'm guessing, mostly, but the Powers have dropped a few clues. Anyway," said Willow, "once I realised what Lucifer is, I began to wonder if there was any way we could get him back where he belongs."
"Why would you want to? Wouldn't he make your enemies more powerful?"
"Right now that particular dimension is firmly allied with the Senior Partners. With Lucifer running things we think they'd be more neutral, and that'd help us immensely. Amongst other things, we think some friends of ours are being held there, as of a week or so ago."
"Yeah." For a moment Willow looked grim. "But they've been there before and survived, if we can get them back fast they ought to be okay."
"Assuming that you're right, why involve me?"
"When I started to look into this, before it got urgent, I hacked into the clinic's records, and one of the things I found was that Lucifer's fees were being paid by a CIA shell company. That got me curious, so I hacked them and found the link to Tarrant's department. They don't have any computers with sensitive data on line, so I left it. When it got urgent the Watchers swung us an introduction. He told us the story, said that you were the only person that Lucifer listens to."
"It isn't that simple. You have to tailor your story to his beliefs. For some reason he decided to trust me, but it's still on that basis."
"He does more than trust you, I think," said Willow. "How old are you?"
"Thirty-four," said Modesty, surprise in her voice.
"Are you sure of that?" asked Willow.
"As close as I can judge it. I was a refugee in the Middle East, I've never known exactly when I was born."
"When were you a refugee?"
"After the war."
"The second world..." Modesty hesitated, then said "That can't be right."
"I'm sorry. I wasn't sure if you realised. Near as I can work it out, you're about seventy."
"Holy crap," said Faith. "I would have said about thirty tops."
"How can that be possible?" asked Modesty.
"There's a honking big spell helping to keep you young, I think," said Willow. "Probably a few other people too. If it works the way I think it does, the side-effects stop anyone from noticing, including you. I doubt Lucifer even realises he's doing it."
"No, you're wrong..." said Modesty, tapering off as she realised that Willow's theory might explain a lot. It was years since she'd last been ill, other than injuries. How many years? She thought back, tried to remember.
"Near as I can figure it out," said Willow, "they made Lucifer human, but they couldn't make him completely mortal. He was unchanging, so the things around him, and the things that were important to him, had to be unchanging too, to keep him from noticing. I guess you were important to him."
"I think he loved me, as much as he was capable of love."
"I thought that might be it. So the spell started to affect you too, and the people that were important to you. Tarrant for sure - he's nearly a hundred, looks about sixty, and nobody seems to have noticed he should be retired. Anyone else still in your life that was around when you first met Lucifer?"
"Willie Garvin. Weng, of course. And a few friends."
"How old was Weng when you met Lucifer?"
"Still looks that way to me. And you met Lucifer in nineteen sixty-seven. Lucifer still looks about twenty-five, by the way."
"I can't understand why nobody noticed. Why I never noticed..."
"You wouldn't," said Willow. "For about a hundred years the town that I come from was under a spell cast by an evil magician. Nobody noticed it had a higher death rate than most war zones, though the figures were in all the government statistics. The spell that affects you is like that, all of the evidence is there, all of the details are on paper if you look for them, but nobody seems to put it together."
"I suppose I ought to feel lucky," said Modesty. "Why don't I?"
"Because people aren't meant to live that way," Willow said gently. "There's a natural cycle. People get older. They retire. Eventually they die. And they do it with their friends. I'm willing to bet that you've lost contact with people over the years, and wouldn't even recognise them if you met them in the street today. You're remembering people wrong, because the spell doesn't want you to realise what's happening."
"That can't be right."
"When I told Tarrant about this he mentioned a guy called Fraser, said he'd died young. Remember him?"
"Of course. Tarrant's old deputy, had a heart attack at his desk. It was a tragedy."
"I looked it up," said Willow, "Got Tarrant to let me see his personnel file. He was nearly sixty."
"It's unbelievable," said Modesty. "How could I be so stupid?"
"It isn't your fault. But the trouble is, while you're marking time the world is moving on. Do you understand politics these days?"
"That doesn't prove much," said Faith, "They're all jerks, who needs to know more?"
"Even so," said Willow, "I think you can see my point."
"Yes... Yes, I think I can. Poor Weng..."
"Why Weng?" asked Faith.
"His idea was to work for me for a few years then start a family. It's been forty-five years."
"I bet all of the people affected are missing out on things like that. Including you."
"What happens if the spell's broken?" asked Modesty.
"That's a good question," said Willow. "I'd have to run more tests to be absolutely sure, but it feels like you'd simply start aging normally again. Don't worry, you won't put on forty years overnight."
"Would releasing Lucifer break the spell?"
"I think so."
"What did Tarrant say when you told him?"
"He was... I guess I'd have to say he was relieved. He's been sitting behind that desk for nearly fifty years, I think he wants to call it a day."
"Then why didn't he tell me that when I called him?" asked Modesty, then realised the obvious answer. "Of course, he wanted me to make my own decision."
"You've got it," said Willow.
"Then I think we have to do it."
"I was hoping you'd say that. When would you be free to visit Lucifer?"
"Right away, I suppose," said Modesty, "but there's someone else I have to talk to first. I can't make this decision on my own. Do you have a car?"
"No," said Faith, "We're supposed to phone for a ride when we're done."
"Would it be a problem if it was outside London?"
"Very well. If you don't mind, I'd like you to meet Willie Garvin. Tarrant may have mentioned him. He was with me when we rescued Lucifer, and he must be under the same spell. He deserves to know about this too."
Modesty picked up the phone and pressed one of the speed-dial buttons to call the pub Willie owned near Maidenhead, on the Thames West of London.
"The Treadmill," said Willie, adding "'Ullo Princess." His phone had caller ID.
"Willie, something rather odd has come up, would it be convenient if I came round with a couple of Sir Gerald's friends."
"Jacqueline and her pal?" asked Willie. It was their danger word, used as a warning if either of them was under duress.
"No, nothing like that. Just odd."
"Anything I ought to know?"
"I think I'd like to save that until we're there. Like I said, it's odd."
"See you soon, then." She hung off, then said "Just give me a few minutes to shower and dress. Weng can get you something while you're waiting."
"Do you want us to tell him about the spell?" asked Willow.
"Not until Willie knows."
Modesty called Weng, then went off to change. When she came back Willow and Faith were drinking coffee, and most of a plate of biscuits had gone. Faith smiled, glanced at her watch, and said "Ten minutes forty seconds."
"Faith!" said Willow. "Sorry, she has no manners sometimes."
"Says the girl who was betting on twenty minutes," said Faith. "Pay up."
Modesty laughed as Willow apologetically reached into her shoulder bag, pulled out a purse, and gave Faith a two-pound coin. Faith spun it between her fingers, so fast it was a blur, tossed it into the air, caught it, and pocketed it.
"Have you ever tried card tricks?" asked Modesty, as she led the way to the basement garage.
"Too delicate," said Faith, "I'm fine with coins and throwing knives, I'm a whizz if you want someone to juggle chainsaws, but I'd shred cards if I tried to handle them that fast."
Modesty led them to her car, a titanium silver BMW 645ci convertible. "Nice car," Faith said appreciatively as they climbed in. She sat next to Modesty, Willow took a rear seat.
"I think I preferred my old Jensen Interceptor," Modesty said as she took the car out of the garage, around part of the Park Lane one-way system, and back towards the Bayswater Road, "but it didn't have enough power for modern roads... God, that was twenty-odd years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. More of the spell's work?"
"'Fraid so," said Willow.
"I like German bikes," said Faith, "but Harleys are better. Never driven the cars, 'cept one time I stole a Mercedes. But this looks like a sweet machine."
"What about you, Willow?" asked Modesty, expertly slipping the car between two streams of traffic at Shepherd's Bush, and pushing Willow's revelations to the back of her mind. "What type of car do you prefer?"
"Actually," said a faint voice from the back seat, "I get kinda car sick."
Chapter 3: III
Willie came out of the old pub as they were getting out of the car, and Faith took one look at him and gave a wolf whistle. Willow blushed and dug her in the ribs with an elbow. Willie smiled at the girls and kissed Modesty's hand. She touched his cheek then said "Willie, I'd like you to meet Willow Rosenberg and Faith Lehane. We need to talk."
"The barn, I think, if you've got someone looking after the pub."
Willie looked surprised, but led the way through the pub, said a few words to the barmaid, and continued out to the barn which housed his gymnasium, workshop, and armory.
"'ere we are," said Willie, flicking on the lights. Willow blinked as the fluorescent lights came on, and Faith's eyes lit up as she saw the weapons racks at the far end. "Cool! Mind if I take a look?"
Willie looked at Modesty, and she gave a tiny nod. "Okay, if you know what you're doing, but you clean anything you fire. Targets are over there, the backstop'll handle anything up to .38"
"Not the guns," said Faith. She picked up a replica Bowie knife, tested the balance, then flicked it into the air, caught it by the point, and threw it into one of the targets. It went in deep.
"Three o'clock, inner," said Willie, trying to hide his surprise. "Good shot."
"I'm better with something a little heavier."
"Heavier?" said Willie. "Tell you what, I've got the knives I used to use for a circus act, want to give them a try?"
"Uh, Faith," said Willow, "maybe later. We've got some business here, remember?"
"Maybe you'd better start at the beginning," said Modesty, "Willie will probably think of some questions I've missed."
. . . . .
"What happens if Lucifer returns home?" Willie asked eventually.
"Like I told Modesty," said Willow. "I'd have to run more tests to be absolutely sure, but it feels like you'd simply start aging normally again. Don't worry, you won't put on forty years overnight."
"I wasn't talking about us, though it's nice to know. What happens to... well, to Hell?"
"Lucifer takes over, the Senior Partners lose part of their power base, and hopefully we get our friends back."
"Aren't you missing a few steps there?" asked Modesty. "You said 'Lucifer takes over,' but won't there be some opposition?"
"Of course, but we'll be going in with him."
"You'll be going in with him?" said Willie. "A witch, action woman over there..." he pointed towards Faith, who was practicing with a katana at blinding speed "...and Lucifer against the massed demon hordes of Hell. Aren't there a few thousand demons in Hell?"
"Most of them'll switch sides as soon as Lucifer gets back. The demons that took over aren't popular."
"And if they don't switch sides?"
"Then I guess Lucifer fights them." Willie and Modesty stared at her, then Modesty said "They beat him once. Why wouldn't they beat him again?"
Willie said "This was never about restoring Lucifer to power, was it?"
There was a long pause, then Willow said "No. We're trying to destabilize Hell."
"Well, that's an interesting idea," said Modesty. "You don't think small."
"What's the plan?" asked Willie. "Send Lucifer in to claim the place, then nip in and rescue your friends while they're killing him?"
"Not exactly," said Faith, who had somehow put the katana away and crossed the barn completely silently. "We're gonna give him some help."
"What sort of help?" Willie asked suspiciously.
"A military advisor," said Willow. They stared at her again, as Willow seemed to be thinking about her next words, then she said "Okay... not exactly an advisor... Got a VCR handy?"
. . . . .
"I did not ask for this form," said the blue-haired woman. "It is small, cramped, and incapable of holding my power. This world is incapable of holding my power."
"Does she ever stop complaining?" asked Modesty, pausing the tape.
"Not so far," said Willow. "Trouble is that we really weren't paying enough attention to what was going on in LA. I guess she's got cause."
Modesty pressed 'Play' and Illyria said "And even as we speak, those you betrayed by your neglect are being tortured by demons. You will help me to leave this world and enter their Hell, or suffer the consequences." She stalked away from the camera.
"There's more," said Willow, stopping the tape again, "but it's pretty repetitive. Our friends are in Hell, we were supposed to be helping them - and we would have done if anyone had bothered to tell us what was going down - yadda yadda."
"The important part," said Faith, "is that she turned up at our base in Cleveland seven hours after things went down in LA. And she didn't take a plane, she ran."
"She's incredibly powerful," said Willow. "The way she tells it, Wesley drained some of it off, but if we could get her into Hell the power would flood back. She'd be a match for anything they could throw at her."
"And Lucifer?" said Modesty.
"Maybe. Don't really know."
"So if Lucifer wins," said Willie, "she might try to take over. Blimey, you're right about destabilizing the place. But what about all the prisoners, the poor bastards that ended up there."
"It's got to be an improvement," said Willow. "Even if all we do is disturb things a little, the disturbance might give some of them a chance to move on to Purgatory or whatever, without getting impaled on a pitchfork as soon as they pull themselves out of the mud. And Illyria isn't actively hostile to people; she just thinks we're beneath her notice."
"And if we don't help?" asked Modesty.
"We'll try to get in without Lucifer. Illyria still ought to help, but it'd be a lot easier if we had Lucifer on our side and fully functional."
"You can't restore his memories without our help?"
"We could try, but Doctor Benson thinks he thinks he owes you. I think it'd be a lot easier if you could help us get it over to him. For one thing, he's a lot less likely to kill the messenger."
"Less likely?" asked Faith.
"Well, this isn't exactly risk-free," said Willow. "We're letting loose the most powerful demon we know of. Okay, there'll be a god there to help, but unless he helps us she won't be at anything like full power. I'm not sure she could stop Lucifer in this world."
"What are the alternatives," asked Modesty.
"Pretty bleak," said Willow. "We could try to go in without him, but we have no easy way to locate our friends, no guarantee that my spells will work properly, and no way to get back if they don't. Lucifer knows that universe inside out, he's our best hope."
"Then we'd better go," said Modesty. "I rather like the world the way it is, and I really don't want to see something as powerful as you're describing wrecking the place."
"No, Illyria. How long have we got?"
"We've got a private jet standing by at Northolt airport," said Willow, "with priority clearance to take off whenever we get there. How long do you want?"
"I'll have Weng pack a bag and bring it to Northolt. That'll give me a chance to talk to him. I think all the weapons I'll need are here."
"Weapons?" asked Faith.
"I'm coming with you, of course. You don't think I'm going to miss a chance to see this for myself?"
"Make that 'we're coming with you,'" said Willie. "Someone's got to guard the Princess's back while she's in 'ell, and you're going to be busy."
"You sure about that?" said Faith.
"'Course I'm sure."
"Can I borrow that katana then?"
. . . . .
"...So I go tearing out," said Faith, "stark nude, and this church bus has broke down, and there's these three vamps feasting on half the Baptists in South Boston. So I waste the vamps, and the preacher comes up, and he's hugging me like there's no tomorrow, when all of a sudden the cops pull up and arrest us both."
"Okay," Willow said, packing her bag of crystals and herbs and putting it into one of the executive jet's overhead lockers, "the good news is that I was right. When the spell's broken you'll start to age normally, not gain nearly forty years overnight. And I think you'll start to feel a little more connected to the people around you, and them to you, but that'll take a while."
"And the bad news?" asked Willie.
"Let me put it this way. Has either of you ever had any unusual luck? Survived accidents that should have killed you?"
Willie stared at Modesty, and Modesty began to giggle. Then both of them were laughing uncontrollably. In a moment Faith was joining in.
"What's so funny," asked Willow, glaring at Faith.
"You weren't listening while we were swapping war stories," Faith eventually gasped. "Modesty's been hit by lightning and survived, Willie was once thrown out of a plane without a parachute."
"Was that before or after you met Lucifer?" asked Willow. She wasn't smiling.
"After," said Willie.
"Thought so. The bad news is that you might not be so lucky if it happened again. I think that the spell was protecting both of you."
"Well," said Modesty, "there's nothing wrong with being more careful."
"Yes," said Willie, "always believed in a bit of caution." He looked at Modesty, and she looked at him, and both of them began to laugh again.
"Still want to go through with it?" asked Willow, when they'd sobered a little. "You still have a couple of hours before we land."
"Definitely," said Modesty.
"Yeah," said Willie. "Should have realised there was something a bit off. Can't go on like that."
"Okay, I'll get on the radio. We need to get everyone else evacuated from the clinic, just to be on the safe side, and they'd better start now."
. . . . .
"Lord Lucifer," said Modesty, "I have to warn you of another plot against your life."
"There are always plots," Lucifer said dismissively. Nearly forty years since they'd first met, and he was still a perfect physical specimen, still seemingly in his mid-twenties.
"This one is close to success," said Modesty. "Somehow you have been drained of your power, so slowly that you couldn't notice, until you are little more than a mortal man. One of my servants noticed the change, a mere witch, not even a demon. And I see that it is true. You are greatly diminished, Lord Lucifer."
"While you have chosen to rest here, believing yourself secure, most of the power of Hell has been stolen. Already your hordes obey new leaders, and old alliances have been broken and new ones made."
"Nonsense, I am as strong as ever. Do you wish me to prove it again?" Lucifer was a formidable opponent in a fight, his precognitive ability allowing him to counter a blow before it was made. There were ways to block it, but this time she thought she had a better idea.
"The demon lord Illyria will prove it to you," said Modesty. "For my part, I lack the heart for this when you are so weakened."
At that cue the door opened and Illyria entered, in the form of a harmless-looking girl. "This is Lucifer?" said Illyria. "This is the Morningstar?" She laughed.
"You mock your Lord?"
"You were never my Lord," said Illyria, transforming to her inhuman form, blue haired and armoured. "I am of the Old Ones, those who abdicated power before the god that made you was created. We wait for this world to be ready for our return. I had thought to ask your help in a minor matter, but you will be useless. Your weakness offends me." She reached out with inhuman speed, seized him by the neck, and lifted him one-handed, indifferent to his struggles.
"Stop!" said Modesty, no longer acting, "What do you think you're doing?"
"This... this mortal thing is useless," said Illyria. "You told me I would meet a worthy ally, but he doesn't even know that he is diminished."
"Put him down," said Modesty. "You'll gain nothing by hurting him."
"True." Illyria opened her hand, and Lucifer fell to the floor, retching. After a minute or so he looked up, glared at Illyria, and said "So... I am diminished? I have been fooled again?"
"My apologies, Lord Lucifer," said Modesty, "but it may not be too late to save you. The witch believes that she can help."
"Then take me to the witch," said Lucifer. "Now."
Chapter 4: IV
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Lucifer sat, cross legged, in the centre of a pentacle. Willow, Faith, Modesty, Willie, and Illyria stood at its points, while a girl Willow had introduced as Kennedy guarded the door, with more Slayers on watch outside. There was nobody else in the clinic, everyone had been evacuated to the nearest hospital, but nobody was ruling out the possibility of a demonic attack. "...release what was bound," said Willow, "Restore what was lost. Return the memories that were stolen, remove those that are false, retain those that are true. Unbind that which was bound, restore what was lost. This I ask, in the name of the Goddess, and for the restoration of the balance of things. So mote it be." As she said the last words she seemed to be bathed in white light, which spread to the centre of the pentacle. Lucifer howled with anger and pain, then seemed to twist and change form. The man became a red-skinned giant, horned and nearly eight feet tall, with bat-like wings, naked and unashamed. He stood and stamped a cloven hoof, bellowed his anger, leaving a deep gouge in the wooden floor, then seemed to focus himself, shrinking back to his usual size and shape. He looked around the room, turned his eyes towards Modesty, and said "Modesty. Finally you have saved me, released me from this pathetic trap."
"You really are Lucifer?" she said, awed.
"You never really believed," he said, laughing. The room seemed to shake. "Oh well, what does it matter now?" Willow gulped audibly as he casually crossed one of the lines of the pentacle that was supposed to be containing him and briefly caressed Modesty's cheek with his hand. He turned to Willie, and said "And you, Willie Garvin, did you ever believe me?"
"Sorry," said Willie.
"Yet both of you have given up so much to help me. You could have lived centuries!"
"People aren't made to live like that," said Modesty.
"Perhaps..." said Lucifer. "What now? What can I do for.. for two Slayers, a witch, and a god?"
"Some friends of ours are in the Hell you used to rule," said Willow. "We thought we'd give you a hand getting back there, if you'd help us rescue them."
"And I would leave this world and find one less confining," said Illyria.
"What's in it for me?" asked Lucifer. And the bargaining began.
. . . . .
"How long 'ave we been here?" asked Spike, swinging on his chains in the torch-lit dungeon and wondering if he could build up enough momentum to kick the next demon that came by.
"Feels like a century or so," said Angel, "so it's probably about a month."
"Still might be rescued then."
"There is no rescue..." said an echoing, disembodied voice. "There is no hope..."
"Sodding PA system," said Spike, "They'll be playing bloody Barry Manilow next."
"Nothing wrong with Manilow," said Angel.
"What was that saying about Hell being other people?"
A smallish demon came in, easily dodged Spikes lunge, scuttled over to a brazier, and pulled out a red-hot poker.
"Never mind," said Spike.
"Friend of yours?" asked Angel.
"Naah, look at the nose, he's Irish."
Somewhere outside there was a loud explosion, followed by inhuman screams. The demon put the poker back into the brazier, went to the door, and looked out. There was a crackle of shots, and it scuttled back in again, slammed the door and barred it, and ran towards a rack of pikes on the far wall.
"Guns?" said Angel.
"It'll be the bloody Initiative," said Spike, "That bastard Finn really has it in for you."
There was another explosion, and the door blew off its hinges. The demon ran towards it, then clutched at the hilt of a throwing knife that was suddenly protruding from its forehead. A shot finished it off. A man and a woman wearing body armour and infra-red goggles came in, covering each other, and the man shouted "clear!"
"Excuse me," said Spike, "any chance you're here to rescue us?"
"Depends," said the man, in a broader version of the same Cockney accent, "on who you are."
"We've got them," said the woman, and Spike realised she was using a radio.
"Got any keys?" asked Angel.
There was another explosion outside, a last shriek of pain, and two women came in, both carrying swords dripping with demon ichor.
"Faith?" said Angel, recognising her despite her goggles.
"Hi." She moved to his chains, examined them, and gave them a quick tug. Nothing much happened. The man began to mould a small ball of material that looked like putty, and stuck it to one of Spike's chains, while Faith cleaned the ichor from the katana.
"What's that?" Spike asked nervously.
"Thermite," said Willie. "Keep your eyes shut for a second."
There was a flare of white sparks as the compound burned through the chain. Willie moved to the next chain while Modesty threw a grenade into the corridor. There was another explosion, and more cries of pain.
"Kennedy?" said Spike, finally recognising her. "Presume that means that Red isn't far away."
"She's outside with Illyria," said Faith, "holding off most of the bad guys."
"Sooner we're out of here the better," said Kennedy, firing her crossbow into the corridor while Modesty reloaded. Another cry of pain from the corridor, the second chain burned and Spike fell to the floor. Faith threw him a bag of blood and he drank thirstily, while Willie worked on Angel's chains.
"Got another sword?" said Spike. "Or a gun?"
"Sorry," said Kennedy. "We had to travel light."
"Never mind," said Spike, picking himself off the floor and staggering towards the weapons rack. He grabbed a pitchfork, used it to steady himself, then went back to kick the demon. It groaned, and Spike grinned, got a poker from the brazier, and stuck it up its nose. There was a smell of burning meat. It spasmed then lay still.
"Spike," said Kennedy, "We're a little busy here, stop playing and give Angel a hand, he's hurt more than you are."
"Okay," said Spike, pulling Angel to his feet. "C'mon, Grandad, let's be having you."
"Of all the morons in the world," said Angel, "Drusilla had to sire you."
Willie and Modesty threw more grenades into the corridor, waited for the explosions, then led the way out. Thirty seconds later the satchel charges Willie had left behind detonated, collapsing the corridor behind them.
. . . . .
"I hate teleporting," said Spike.
"Sorry," said Willow, "Trust me, you don't want to be anywhere near that fortress right now." She pointed across a desolate plain towards a distant mountain, the red sky around it black with circling demon hordes.
"About half of the armies of Hell are tearing the place apart looking for us, and they're going to run into Illyria and a friend of Modesty's any moment now."
"Who's your friend?" asked Angel.
"Lucifer," said Modesty.
"Bollocks," Spike said disbelievingly.
"Okay," said Faith, "that's the Spike I remember."
"Don't worry," said Willow, "they're both really here, and they've both got souls. No First Evil, no Angelus. First thing I checked."
"What's going on over there?" asked Willie, staring at the mountain through binoculars. "Looks like they're flying away from the mountain."
Willow concentrated for a second, then shouted "Cover your eyes. Spike, Angel, get behind that rock."
"What?" said Angel. Willie lowered his binoculars.
Both vampires leaped for cover. A second later there was a flash, and for a fraction of a second Hell was illuminated by a light brighter than any sun. When their eyes recovered the fleeing hordes were gone. So was the castle and half the mountain.
"Sodding hell," said Spike.
"Lucifer," said Willow. "The Lightbringer. Settling some old scores."
"Is he all right?" asked Modesty.
"How about Illyria?" asked Kennedy.
Willow reached out with her mind for a few seconds, and said "I think so. Both kinda busy right now." For some reason she was blushing.
"What was that saying about power being an aphrodisiac?" asked Faith.
For a few second they felt the noise and shock wave of the explosion, both in the air and as the ground shaking. The mountain was burning, its peak erupting as a volcano, and hot blobs of ash were thudding down from the sky. Angel slapped one from his arm.
"Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone," said Willie, "and a horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. Psalm eleven verse six." Angel stared at him, Spike laughed.
"Willie was stuck in prison once with nothing but a Psalter to read," said Modesty.
"I think we'd better get out of here," said Willow, "everyone close, Kennedy and Faith next to me, I may need to draw on your power."
They gathered around her, and in moments they were gone.
. . . . .
"So what happens now?" asked Modesty, back in the clinic, after they'd bandaged their cuts and burns.
"We head back to Cleveland," said Willow, "get these two debriefed, find out everything they know about the Senior Partners and the rest of that crowd, and see what we can do about putting more dents into their plans."
"No you don't," said Spike. "The first thing we're going to do is get rat-arsed drunk and say goodby to Wes. Reminds me, did Gunn make it?"
"He's in hospital in LA," said Faith, "with at least two Slayers around at all times. Between them he and Illyria saw just enough to tell us where you'd wound up."
"Better get him somewhere safer," said Angel, "They'll want to settle scores eventually."
"Once he's okay to be moved. Don't worry, I think the Senior Partners have more important things to worry about right now."
"I hope Illyria's going to be okay," said Spike. "I kinda like Smurfette."
"Hate to tell you," said Willow, "But I think she's moved on."
"To Lucifer?" asked Angel.
"Can you think of anyone else that could cope with her?" asked Faith. "Besides, you didn't meet the guy. Believe me, he's hot. In a demonic sort of way."
"I hope she'll treat him well," said Modesty.
"What about you two?" Kennedy asked Modesty and Willie. "Get some rest then head back to Britain?"
"I think so," said Modesty. She had a slightly haunted look.
"What's wrong?" asked Faith.
"Time," said Willie. "I think we're both feeling it catch up with us a little. All of the stuff that was fuzzy in my memory is coming back to me. You know, I've owned that pub nearly forty years now, a lot of my regulars weren't even born when I bought it, and I never realised."
"It's the same for me," said Modesty. "People I'd completely forgotten, so many that just drifted away over the years, or thought that it was only a year or two since I'd seen them."
"Probably not a good idea to go back and renew old acquaintanceships," said Angel. "I made that mistake a few times, it never goes well."
"Well yeah," said Spike, "considering everyone hates you. The Scourge of Europe, remember?"
"I meant after I got my soul back, you moron."
"Look," said Willow, "if you need a hand with this I could kinda fade it in gradually, so you didn't feel the impact so much."
"Not for me," said Modesty, "if I'm going to rebuild my life I want my wits about me."
"Same here," said Willie.
"You know," said Modesty, looking thoughtful, "there must be quite a few police out there who've forgotten us completely by now."
"Now there's a thought," said Willie. "Fancy going back into business? Start up The Network again, or just pull a few jobs to keep our 'ands in."
"It's an idea. Never stole the Mona Lisa."
"Or The Scream."
"They've both been done though."
"'Ow about The Night Watch, now that'd be a challenge."
"It wouldn't fit into the penthouse."
"Warhol?" asked Willie
"I already own too many legitimately," said Modesty.
"I think we just unleashed a monster," Willow whispered.
"Well, at least it was in another dimension," said Kennedy.
"Not what I meant, doofus."
"Well, we can't leave yet," said Angel. "Still daylight out there."
"I know," said Spike, "Anyone got a pack of cards?"
"Funny you should say that," said Willie, dipping into a pocket. "Poker?"
"Got any kittens handy?"
"Most people play for money, Spike..."
The first of Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise comic strips appeared in 1962, with a novelization in 1965 and a (dreadful) film in 1966. The last novel was published in 1985, with a final short story collection in 1996, and the final episode of the strip appeared in 2001. A 2002 film, My Name Is Modesty, was set at the beginning of her career and is considerably better than the original movie. Most of the other material is readily available; the strips have been anthologised several times, and the books were recently reprinted.
In many ways the series seemed to be adrift in time; generally nobody seemed to age, and some of the values and attitudes seemed to be stuck in the sixties. While it would be easy enough to overlook this aspect of the series, and write a story that assumed a more recent origin for the characters, I decided to take all of this at face value and write a story that explained how Modesty could still appear to be in her early thirties despite a career spanning four decades. I hope that readers will have enjoyed the result.