Riddles in the Dark
A/N It's Allliiiiiivveee. I realize that it's been a bit longer than I wanted it to be, but my muse refused to focus on this one. Anyway, its back from the grooveyard of forgotten favorites and my muse is excited about it again. Hopefully I'll have enough legs to finish it before the end of the year, that is if inspiration doesn't strike, then all bets are off. As always, I have no claim on either the works of HP Lovecraft or BTVS. Enjoy.
Riddles In The Dark
Dave Hildebrand ran a bar. His father and grandfather had also run bars. In fact, Dave was convinced that if you followed his family tree back far enough; his ancestor would have been the one passing out the wine at the last supper. His family had been in Cleveland since before the Civil War and he didn’t figure on moving any time soon and so, of course, that’s where his bar was. It was called “Dave’s”, not the most creative name in the world, but it worked.
There were the usual bar accoutrement's like televisions tuned into various sporting events, there was a shrine to the Cleveland Indians in one corner and a smaller one to the Browns in another, there were pinball machines, the requisite pool tables and even a vintage Pac-Man machine over near the jukebox. Yeah, Dave’s was a typical bar; that is if you didn’t count the clientele. They were your typical demons, the kind you found in every city because they could blend easily with the human population and then there were a few rarer species brought here by fate or the tides of fortune, and then you had the one’s drawn by the hellmouth, they were always trouble. Dave tried to run a quiet, profitable, little bar; and rampaging demons looking to cause trouble endangered that; so that was why he had no problem with the Slayers coming around as often as they did.
They got to see who was in town to cause problems and he didn’t have to rebuild the bar every other week. Dave also passed on whatever he had heard, rumors of what might be happening that the Council bunch would find interesting; he had to keep his knee-cappers happy after all. So it really wasn’t a surprise when a couple of teenage girls and an older woman walked in on a Wednesday night.
“Brigit, how ya doing Love?” Dave boomed out; unfortunately his voice had only two settings, real loud and off.
“Just fine Dave,” the Australian Watcher in Training answered as the two girls with her scanned the bar. She smiled as Cassie wandered over to watch a couple of Brachen’s playing darts. “Anything of interest going on?” she asked as he pulled her customary Castlemain.
“Nothin really,” he answered. “Ever since you lot had your little to-do with the Order, everyone’s kinda laying low.”
“Now that’s good news,” Brigit mumbled as she drank down the top third of her beer.
“Yeah, not even any good rumors,” Dave answered with a smile. “The only thing I’ve got is a couple of the nastier ones mentioning some storefront church on Humboldt. Only reason I thought it was weird was because they sounded scared, and they weren’t the kind to scare easily. They only mentioned it once and there weren’t any details, so it might be something you want to check out or it might just be nothing, demons can psyche themselves out just as much as humans can.”
“I’ll run it by Buffy and Al,” Brigit answered, dropping a couple of bills on the bar to cover the beer. “Thanks Dave.” She turned and called out to Cassie and Stephanie and the three of them left the bar. Dave watched them go, if you had tried to tell him what his little tip would lead to, he would never have believed you.
Buffy peered again at the writing above the door. It was tough to make out, but it did seem to say ‘Esoteric Order of Dagon’. She had to admit that it wasn’t much of a building. It was small and dirty and looked as though its best days were about half a century behind it, which was probably the last time it had been painted. As far as Buffy could tell, the only reason it was still standing was because the termites were all holding hands. “This is it,” she said, turning to Al and the two slayers with them.
“Is anyone picking anything up?” Al asked. There were three “No’s” in reply. “Why don’t we find an entrance that isn’t on a street?” he muttered to Buffy.
She simply nodded and slipped down the filthy alley on one side of the old church. A couple of discreet tugs and there was an opening to the interior. Buffy stepped in first and gasped out as she felt the tingle of magic wash over her. The building was much larger inside than it was outside. Also, there was some luminescent fungus or something that gave the interior a strange, eldritch glow. Buffy also noted that there were lots of shadows for things to hide in.
“Now this is freaky,” she heard Patrice whisper behind her. Nodding her agreement, Buffy started forward towards the front of the church, but after only a few steps, her slaydar suddenly started pinging off the charts. “Guys, there’s something here now; and it’s way nasty.”
“Do you think we should leave?” Al asked.
For an answer, Buffy started moving backwards and pulled the scythe out of its sheath on her back. Seeing this, the rest drew their weapons but it was too late. Something that looked like a tentacle swung down from the ceiling. It looked to be as insubstantial as smoke but as thick as a telephone pole. The three slayers and Al watched as it moved lazily back and forth, while they were backing towards the window they had come in. Then it moved like lightning and darted towards one of the slayers; it still looked insubstantial right up to the moment of impact, when it was suddenly as solid as rock. The blow was devastating as it gored Patrice’s chest; the girl was dead before she could even feel it. Seeing the young girl die so quickly caused something to snap in Buffy; she was angry, angrier than she had been in some time. She darted forward to the center of the church while screaming out, “get out of the building Al, and make sure Patrice gets out of here as well.”
“What about you?" Al yelled back, even as he was doing what Buffy had said.
“I’m gonna turn it into calamari,” Buffy replied with a snarl. She could see two tentacles now, and knew that there was another behind her. Buffy knew that she needed just a few moments of peace to focus her senses but she doubted that Smokey the Squid would just wait around for her to do something. Buffy pirouetted and swung the scythe through the tentacle behind her. It sliced through the misty appendage, although she could feel some resistance; and she felt something bellow in pain and anger. Whatever it was didn’t actually make a sound, but Buffy could feel that it was hurt.
She could also feel the other two tentacles moving with a purpose, but now they were too late. Grasping the scythe like a javelin, Buffy hurled it towards the place where the creature’s pain had been most intense. There was an incredibly disgusting sound, followed by a death wail that was so low it was nearly inaudible and then something hit the ground like a ton of runny Jello. It looked kind of like an eye, except the colors were all off and the thing was four feet across. Buffy walked forward and pulled the scythe out of the rapidly putrefying mass and called out, “it’s clear.”
Al came over, watching what was left of the church’s guardian the whole time. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, the slaydar’s quiet for now.”
“So what do you want to do?”
“Tell Aisha to stay with Patrice’s body, meanwhile this thing was here for a reason, I think we should find out what that reason was.”
Al had seen Buffy in ‘field marshal’ mode like this a time or two before; he knew that it was pointless to argue with her so he just did as she asked. He did, though, have his Glock 31 drawn when he came back, just in case. He saw Buffy’s brief look of loathing, but just as he knew that there were times that it was pointless to argue with Buffy, she knew the same about him. Together they quickly worked through the smaller rooms in back of the sanctuary until they heard someone crying.
Kicking the door open, they say an old man, tears running down his cheek, about to strike a match and set fire to a bunch of papers in a garbage can. He froze when he saw them, then his face curdled in a rictus of hate and he struck the match. Before he could move his hand Alistair’s gun rang out and the man was spun around and back by a bullet hitting his shoulder, the lit match landing harmlessly on the filthy carpet.
As Al went to collect whatever it was he was trying to burn, Buffy stood watch over the man. Up close he was hideous, his features almost looked melted, as though he were somehow made of wax. Buffy had seen something like this before, but only in survivors of nuclear accidents. Ghastly features aside, the man looked as though he hadn’t bathed since Reagan was president and what little hair he still had was matted and plastered to his skull. As Buffy watched, the man gave a sudden smile and then foam started pouring out of his mouth.
“Dammit, the bugger poisoned himself,” Al said, looking over Buffy’s shoulder.
Remembering what had happened to Patrice, Buffy found it difficult to care. “So what was he about to turn into flambé?”
“No idea, but he seemed to think it was worth dying for.” He handed Buffy the documents, “Take these and get out, I’ll finish up in here.”
Buffy just nodded and left. She was comforting Aisha when Alistair showed back up. Together the three of them made their way back to Cleveland house. Buffy wasn’t surprised by the explosion that occurred behind them. As for Alistair, he’d seen only two words on the paperwork he’d handled, and even that was enough to let him know that the next few days were going to be rough.
It was a Wednesday afternoon and Faith had no idea where they were. Surprisingly, this was just fine with her. Xander was driving them somewhere but Faith really wasn’t paying attention to where they were; she trusted him after all. Instead, she was taking the opportunity to appreciate the scenery. It was Autumn in New England and as far as Faith was concerned, there was nothing finer in this world. Sure, California with its sunshine was great, but there was something about the season that spoke to her and Fall was not something you got in So-Cal. Last year she’d been too focused on settling in and her relationship with Xander to appreciate the season, she wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice.
After a while Faith started to pay attention to where they were, her appreciation for the colors and feel of the season being temporarily sated; and realized they were driving through a fairly ritzy neighborhood. Faith had avoided places like this during her time on the street because she would be too conspicuous. One year, though, she had been in such a neighborhood when she’d had an amazing stroke of luck. She’d been heading back for her usual haunts when she’d passed a family piling into the family car for a Christmas vacation. Hearing that they would be gone for two weeks, Faith had circled the block and passed by again and the home was dark and empty. She’d then ducked into the back yard, shimmied up a tree and jimmied a second story window to get in.
She really hadn’t cared if there had been an alarm. For her, an arrest meant a few months in Juvie where she’d have three hots and a cot for six months or so; which really wasn’t so bad. But there hadn’t been an alarm, so for two weeks Faith had enjoyed hot showers, soft beds and a full belly. She had thought about taking some of the stuff that was there, but somehow it just felt wrong to her, so she’d mooched for two weeks but aside from that she'd left the house and property intact.
Now they were driving through the same kind of neighborhood and Faith was starting to wonder why. She knew Xander had been up to something lately but she hadn’t pressed but now she was curious. “What are we doin’ here Xan?”
“Just something I thought you might like,” Xander answered with a grin as they pulled into the driveway of a large house. “And something I need to ask you?”
“Yeah, what’s that?” Faith asked as they got out of the SUV.
“I need to know if you like this place?”
“Why?" Faith replied, unsure as to where all this was leading.
“So I can let the real estate guy know if we want to buy it, or not.”
“Buy?” Faith said, incredulity coloring her voice. She was having trouble believing that she’d just heard what she’d heard.
“Yes buy, I mean if we’re getting married I’d like to live somewhere other than that cramped apartment the school provides.”
Faith was absolutely stunned. To her a place was just a place, she’d been on the move since she was born and had never considered settling in one place an option. At first it had been the quick moves in the middle of the night to avoid being locked out for not paying rent. Then it had been dodging the cops or living on the street. The time with her first watcher had been fleeting at best, and this was followed by her cross country run of crappy motels culminating in that piece of shit she’d lived in when she first got to Sunnydale. The longest place she’d ever stayed in one spot was when she was in prison. Even when she’d been running Cleveland with Xander and Dawn, she’d always lived somewhere temporary; moving every year or so. She was Faith, and nothing pinned her to one place, she came and went as she pleased; so the thought of settling in one spot was something she’d never even considered. Now Xander was asking her to do just that and she didn’t know if she could. Heck, part of her mind was still convinced that one day Xander would wake up and just ditch her ass despite the ring and everything else; it had happened before with others that had said they loved her. Another problem was that Faith equated settling down in one place with being tamed, and that was one thing she swore she’d never be. All of this was going through her head as she stood on the front lawn of a house and stared at Xander like she’d been smacked on the head with a 2 x 4. “You want us to live in a house?” she finally managed.
“Sure, most married couples do you know.”
“I’m not really the settling down type Xander, you know that.”
“I know that Faith, and honestly I’m not either. But I think that together, WE could be the settling down types. What do you think?”
Faith looked at the man in front of her. To put it very simply, he loved her and believed in her; he always had, even when she hadn’t believed in herself. She could tell this was important to him, and she owed him more than one. And in the end, she thought he was right, together they could be the settling down types; it was certainly worth a try. “Okay Xander, let’s look at this dump,” she said with a smile.
Kennedy was in trouble and she knew it. She’d had a fight with Willow and had stormed out of the Slayer House looking for something to take her anger out on. She’d dusted a couple of vampires, and that was just fine with her; but considering the mood that she was in, the fights just hadn’t been that cathartic.
Then she’d run across a Fyarl and it seemed like her prayers were answered. She’d been in the process of simply beating it to death, when it had knocked her into a wall and then turned and run. That should have been what tipped her off, Fyarls didn’t run, ever. But she hadn’t exactly been thinking clearly so despite the fact that her stake had broken against the alley wall and she was unarmed, Kennedy had chased the thing into an abandoned school. There she had finally cornered the Fyarl, but unfortunately for her; about a dozen of his relatives were visiting at the time. Kennedy immediately realized that retreating was her best way to go, but the demons didn’t really seem to be giving her that option. It was a trap, and she realized it too late.
Since running wasn’t an option and because playing defense wasn’t her strong suit, she attacked the demon she’d already injured. She sprang at it and ducked under a lumbering right, as she straightened up her right hand, stiffened and pointed, struck the upper abdomen, moving upwards until it was behind the creatures ribs. Then she just pulled and ripped the damned things chest open. She turned and took up a defensive stance while the demon died noisily while clutching its entrails. Kennedy had hoped that some of the demons would run after witnessing such a messy death, but what she saw were eleven determined creatures all focused on her.
They were hesitating before they attacked and in that time Kennedy realized something, there was someone else involved. Her reasoning was simple, Fyarls were tough and everything, but there wasn’t a one of them that could organize to save its ass. That meant someone else was pulling the strings; Kennedy vowed that if she survived this, she’d find the mastermind and introduce them to their own colon. But to do that, she first had to survive and for a slayer, survival meant movement. So she moved, away from the obvious exit. She was hoping that the demons would move to cut her off and hopefully thin out in front of the exit. At first, her plan worked. The demons moved to intercept her and this thinned out the cover they had on the exit. Kennedy was beating on about four different demons and had even managed to kill one of the others when they all happened to back off at the same time. Realizing that this was her chance, Kennedy broke for the exit.
As she was kicking the blocking Fyarl out of the way, she heard a sound behind her, like someone hocking the world’s biggest loogie. As soon as both her feet were on the ground, she felt something hit her legs. She looked down and saw that both her legs were covered in some sort of disgusting green/brown mass. The mucus, how could she have forgotten about the damned Fyarl mucus? She tried to spin, but could already feel the stuff starting to harden, her mobility would be fatally compromised if it set up completely. Without hesitation, she reached down and tore the waist of her jeans and jumped out of them. This jump ended with her sitting on the shoulders of one of the Fyarls, so she took the opportunity to break its neck. She hit the ground facing five of the remaining demons as the one she’d just killed collapsed, now she was really mad, those had been her favorite jeans. She heard the hocking sound again, and dove out of the way to her left. As she came up, Kennedy saw a mass of mucus hit the demon that had been standing in front of her; she grinned at the irony of it.
Just as the smile touched her lips, she felt two arms encircle her in a bear hug. Knowing that she had to get out of it fast, Kennedy brought her right foot down onto the demon’s instep, shattering its foot. As the thing roared its agony, nearly deafening her, Kennedy turned and snapped her former captor’s neck. Just as she heard the crack of its spine, she felt herself flying into its corpse. She tried to get up, but the signals weren’t conducting somehow. It occurred to Kennedy that one or more of the demons had tagged her right in the spine. She was just staggering to her feet when she felt one arm loop around her neck and another palm her head. She closed her eyes and muttered a brief prayer, knowing that her days as a Slayer were over. She felt a wrenching in her neck, and then no more.
Two hours later, a couple of slayers and their watcher found the body. Both of the slayers looked pleadingly at their watcher, neither wanted to tell Willow that her girlfriend was dead. Melissa, the watcher, held out silently for almost ten seconds before she simply shut her eyes and nodded; she knew that this would not end well.
Willow knew that something was wrong. She’d known it for some time, but she didn’t know precisely what was wrong, only that something had gone awry. She could have performed a divination ritual, but it took a lot of time and Willow reasoned that she’d learn what was up almost as quickly by doing nothing; well aside from the pacing that she was doing.
She’d been much more prudent with her magic these last few months, ever since Giles’ shooting. She had seen the physical and emotional toll Xander’s retributive strike had taken on her friend and it had scared her. So now she carefully weighed the benefits against the cost when thinking about turning to magic as a solution. Surprisingly this had caused some problems with Kennedy. The young slayer believed that by pulling back a bit, that Willow was encouraging the local demon population to be a bit more active. Willow was, after all, the Council’s biggest gun.
She’d tried to explain to her girlfriend the reasons that she was being so cautious but Kennedy had dismissed her fears with a wave and this had really irritated Willow. The girl hadn’t been around for Dark Willow’s rampage, so she didn’t know just how devastating Willow could be when she wasn’t in control. Not to mention the fact that Kennedy had only the most rudimentary knowledge of magic, she couldn’t know how seductive the power was. This as well as past grievances had all come up in the rather vigorous ‘discussion’ they’d had. A discussion where both voices and tempers had risen; a discussion that had ended with Kennedy storming out of their room. Now Willow was pacing, all she wanted to do was to hug Kennedy and apologize for her behavior. She still did believe that the younger woman was too casually dismissing Willow’s position but that could be hashed out later, right now all she wanted was Kennedy in her arms.
She turned quickly when she heard the sound of the door knob turning but when the door opened it wasn’t Kennedy standing there. Instead it was Melissa, a younger Watcher. Willow started to ask what the young woman was doing there but the words died in her throat when she saw the devastated look on the young Watcher’s face. Her mouth open and shut but Willow could not manage to get the words she wanted to say to form.
Knowing what Willow was trying to ask, Melissa just shook her head, silent tears rolling down her cheek.
Willow then knew, knew beyond a doubt that she would never hold Kennedy again. Her legs gave out from under her and she fell gracelessly to the floor, all the while shaking her head in denial. It could not be true, she would never believe it was true but it was inescapably true and this Willow knew as well. And then Willow remembered the words that they’d said to each other, the last words that Kennedy had heard from her; the last words that Kennedy had spoken to her. Willow was racked with guilt, now sure that her scathing words to Kennedy had caused the younger woman to go out and do something foolish, Kennedy was dead because of her, just like Tara. Willow’s body was sitting at the foot of her bed, but her mind was sunk in a whirlpool of sorrow and self loathing and it didn’t look like she’d be getting out anytime soon.
Melissa saw Willow collapse and then the witch’s eyes had gone dull. Melissa had tried to bring the woman around; she’d tried smelling salts and even taken the dangerous step of slapping her, all to no avail. Finally she had eased Willow into bed and left the room, she was out of ideas and feeling a bit out of her depth. The two more senior Watchers tried what they knew and even the apprentice Wicca attempted to get Willow to come out of it, but nothing worked. Having done everything that they could think of they realized it was time to call in the big guns.
Xander was interrupted from the extremely pleasurable pastime of kissing his fiancé by the ringing of the phone. They had come back to his office at the University to talk about houses and this had evolved into a very pleasant make out session. Considering who he had on his lap, Xander would ordinarily have ignored the damned thing but he recognized the number when he glanced at the offending instrument.
“Let it ring,” Faith muttered feeling Xander hesitate.
“It’s Giles,” he replied. Faith sighed and pulled away. “Me and Jeeves are gonna have to have a talk about his crappy sense of timing,” she huffed.
Xander just smiled at her antics and then picked up the phone. Faith felt him stiffen and when she looked at him she could see that Xander had gone pale, almost bloodlessly pale. “What’s up?” she asked but he only shook his head and continued to listen.
“I understand Giles,” he finally said and hung up the phone.
He got up from the chair, a distracted look on his face; his movements were jerky and stilted. Faith watched as he silently rummaged around in his desk, only seeming to be able to push papers and such around without accomplishing anything. Finally she’d had enough, “What the hell is going on Xander?”
He turned to face her, an almost comic look of surprise on his face; as though he’d forgotten that she was there. “It’s Willow,” he muttered.
“What about Red?”
“Kennedy was killed earlier today,” he said and started moving around the office, his actions now more fluid and purposeful.
It took Faith a second to process what he’d said and then she paled as well. She looked up to ask him about what he was going to do, but as she opened her mouth, he pulled a pistol from his desk and after checking the safety, tucked it into the waist of his jeans. Faith knew then that Xander was going to do whatever it took, even if it meant killing his oldest friend. “You want me along?” she managed to ask.
Xander paused and turned to her, his eye warming. He knew what she was really saying. Faith was volunteering to pull the trigger if needed, to spare Xander the pain. It reminded him again why he loved her so. “Not right now,” he replied. “But I’ll call if I need you.”
“You be careful,” Faith said, pulling Xander into a fierce hug.
“Always,” he whispered; hugging her back. He then turned to a corner of his office, and with a few deft movements drew a design in the corner. Then without hesitation he walked toward the corner and disappeared.