Into the Maelstrom
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's Note: Points to kelvin for guessing Diocletian's apprentice accurately. The Heslrec Demons are completely my invention.New City, Same Enemy
Chapter 8: Into the Maelstrom
“Mr. Lott?” The clerk rapped lightly on the open door into the Director of Wolfram and Hart Chicago Special Projects Division’s office. “I think we might have a bit of a problem.” He clutched a file tightly in one hand.
Lott looked up, “You don't decide what problems are. I
decide what is and what isn't a problem.” He nodded and the clerk came over and set the file down on Lott's desk. “Go on.”
“Well, Mrs. Sinclair has gotten a new attorney-”
“Not that much of a surprise. Her last attorney suddenly having his gambling debts called in and having to go on the run from his loan sharks, after all.” And with no way to trace it to Wolfram and Hart, as always. David Sinclair had been a long-time client of the firm, and now he was divorcing his second wife, trading up for a younger model. Wolfram and Hart Cleveland had ensured in the previous divorce that his wife had gotten almost nothing, and Wolfram and Hart Chicago would do the same. “How is this something you considered a problem.”
“Her new attorney...its...its Lindsey McDonald.” Lott practically ripped open the file. Indeed, right there, Lindsey McDonald's signature on a request for a brief delay in going to trail while he familiarized himself with the case
“The one who got a away.” Lott murmured, and then smiled. The Senior Partners didn't consider Lindsey McDonald much of a threat, but was an annoyance – and he had successfully gotten away from the firm. No one got away from the firm. It set a bad example to let someone get away from Wolfram and Hart alive. But McDonald had managed it for two years. “I don't know what he's playing at coming out of hiding over this, but it was a mistake. I want him killed. Who is available?” It would be a significant feather in his cap – and a huge march stolen on Manners – if he delivered the head of Lindsey McDonald to the White Room.
“Um...sir. That's just the thing. We can't kill him.” The clerk said nervously. “He's listed...” His voice trailed off, but at Lott's glare he gulped and continued. “He has a contract of employment with Oracle Securities...meaning he works for Marcone, and we can't...we can't kill anyone who-”
“I know that!” Lott hissed, fists clenched. Marcone, and that damned Oracle Securities. Already a dozen-odd fledglings in Gregory of Arles' following had been killed by them, and they were hard at work eliminating demons throughout Undertown, depriving Wolfram and Hart of potential recruits. And now they were protecting traitors to the firm. And there was absolutely nothing he could do to solve the problem directly. “Get me Denna.” He told the clerk firmly. The Firm couldn't do anything, but Diocletian could, and Diocletian was Denna's responsibility and issue.
It took only a five minutes for the clerk – who scampered out of the room in fear for his life – to find Denna, and for her to arrive. “Yes, Mr. Lott?” What the hell do you want, you fat bastard
, was really what she wanted to say – hatred of their boss was probably the only think Richard Carlise and Denna Frost had uniting them – but again, 'diplomatic' niceties took precedent. Lott pushed the file over to her as she sat down on the other side of the desk, and she opened it. “Lindsey McDonald?”
“Do you want me to arrange to have him eliminated? I can get the wet-works team moving in-”
“No.” Lott said, interrupting her. “Its a little more complicated than that. Next page.” Denna turned and saw the Oracle Securities employment contract. “Ah.”
“Indeed. Our orders from the Senior Partners still prohibit any overt action that could be construed as grounds for war. Which leaves all our conventional assets useless. Which is why I called you here. I want Diocletian to kill Lindsey McDonald. Tell him to do it.”
“No? I think you misunderstand who has the power in this situation, Denna-”
“No, sir, as in Diocletian will not agree to do it. Diocletian only hunts and kills magic users. He would never devote any time or energy to killing someone like Lindsey McDonald, no matter how much we offered. He considers that sort of thing beneath him.”
“He was brought here to do what we tell him.”
“On the contrary, Mr. Lott.” Oh, it is so fun to see him squirm like this. Not that I'm making this up.
“We brought him here specifically to deal with Harry Dresden. Nothing more, nothing less. In fact, I suspect that as we speak, he's already putting whatever plan he has for everyone's favorite wizard in the phone-book into action.”
Two people walked down the streets of the Windy City that night. Well, two among many. One wore a black hooded cloak that covered him entirely, no part of his body exposed to view, save for one gnarled, wrinkled hand that had snaked its way out of his right sleeve to grip a wooden, hand-carved walking stick. It was an utterly unremarkable thing, but the stooped man certainly needed it, if the slow and unsteady nature of his walking was any indication.
The other was young, in her early twenties at best. Long brown hair and she wore brown shirt and jeans. From the way she could be seen helping the older man move along, she could be his granddaughter, helping her grandfather.
Or not. The elderly man suddenly stopped, and straightened himself up, scanning his surroundings with a quick glance. “He's here. Hide yourself, Madison.”
The woman frowned, “But sir-”
“You will do as I command, Amy Madison! You came to me, asked me to teach you so that you would have the knowledge necessary to defeat the witch Willow Rosenberg. If you wish for me to impart to you even a fraction of the multitude of secrets I possess, then you will obey my every command! Conceal yourself, and only come out when and if I command you.”
With a barely contained hiss, Amy Madison nodded, “Yes Master.” Without another word, she faded into the shadows of a nearby building. And onto the empty street turned a VW Beetle of numerous colors – though, Diocletian noted with faint amusement, not one of those colors was blue, despite the nickname Dresden had given his car. With a wave of the plain staff, the car suddenly stopped. To his credit, Harry Dresden knew immediately the cause of his car's....technical difficulties. Only magic could create such clean breaks and shut downs. Diocletian watched as his prey came out of the car, blast rod out. Poor, stupid man. He thinks his familiar old tricks will save him.
And then Dresden saw him.
“What's with the bathrobe? I mean, do you guys get together and have a conference on what kind of uniforms you're going to have for the next few years?”
Diocletian waved a hand and Dresden was suddenly stuck to the wall of the building along the street, like a fly stuck to a web. “Your attempts at humor will serve you no purpose against me, Mr. Dresden, as I intend to do what many have attempted and failed to do.”
“What? Pull the Ring-wraith look off successfully?”
“No, Mr. Dresden. I intend to kill you.”
“No offense, I'm sure you think you're a pretty tough customer, but people a hell of a lot more powerful than you have tried to kill me, and-”
“You survived your encounter with Nicodemus only because Shiro gave his life to save yours. There's no Knight of the Cross here to save you, to give their life for you. And you only defeated the one you know as Cowl because he was too busy to concern himself with a gnat like you, which allowed you to interrupt his Darkhallow by freeing the spirit you call Bob.” He smirked as he revealed secrets. “And you have committed the same fallacy that Donald Morgan, Anastasia Luccio and even your mentor Ebenezar McCoy committed. Power is not the only tool for victory, Mr. Dresden.” His will keeping Dresden stuck to the wall held even as he spoke, “Power is a fine medium when you want achieve victory in the short-term, create short-term effects, but the only true way to have real victory is through a higher currency. Secrets, Mr. Dresden, are the true currency of the world in which we live. Who has them, who doesn't. Who knows more secrets, whose secrets are more powerful. That is how I have survived as long as I have, and that is how I will continue to survive for far longer. I possess a far greater arsenal of secrets than you ever will, and what paltry few secrets you still possess that I do not already know will not save you, Harry Blackstone Dresden.”
“That's only three of my names.” Dresden replied flippantly, “You can't do anything without my fourth. And don't you know its impolite to not introduce yourself when you know the other person? I need something to call you.”
Diocletian chuckled, “You have spirit, I will give you that, Mr. Dresden. But my name is immaterial and irrelevant to this discussion. You may know me by the name the White Council whispers in terror of my might, for I will be the one to tear down its ancient edifices and build a new order on the ashes of the old. I am Diocletian, and I will be your death. Before this night is through, I will have your fourth name.” A new blip formed on his senses, and without a word, he spun to the left as a young woman, younger even than his own apprentice, with biologically impossible neon green hair, threw fire at him. Diocletian waved his hand lazily and blocked the magic with a shield. “Molly Carpenter. I was wondering when you would arrive. Madison, deal with her.”
“With pleasure, Master.” Amy appeared out of the shadows on his command and gathered fire in her hands. “Want to see what real
fire magic looks like, Molly?” She threw the ball, but Molly ducked, and with whispered words, suddenly was veiled against sight. Amy hissed in anger. “Show yourself, you coward!”
Diocletian had no more attention to spare for Molly Carpenter, for while her spell had been completely ineffectual in its goal of harming him, it had distracted him enough that Dresden had removed himself from the spell sticking him to the wall. “I look forward to draining your apprentice of her magics, Mr. Dresden.”
“Bite me!” Dresden spat, “Forzare!
Diocletian laughed, “You still don't get it! Forzare Interruptis!
” The energy of Dresden's force spell collapsed into itself and flew into his hand. “You have no understanding of the true power of secrets, Mr. Dresden. And to think you're the one that Mab wants as her new Winter Knight!” He laughed again, then thrust out the hand that had caught the spell, sending its force back at Dresden. The blast knocked him into the building, though he survived blow mostly intact.
“What can I say, Mab knows quality when she sees it! Fuego! Pyrofuego!
” Fire flew from his blasting rod, but again, to no effect.
” The fire congealed itself into his hand, and Diocletian gave it a little something special. He threw the fire back at its originator, and Dresden raised his wrist, blocking the flames and the heat they generated – he had learned from the flame-thrower wielding Rensfeld. But he caught a familiar scent.
“Brimstone! That was Hellfire! You're a Denarian!”
“No, Mr. Dresden. Sharing your body with one of the Fallen is not the only way to attain the secret of hellfire. Not when you can just rip it from the mind of one of the Order of the Blackened Denarius! Like I have. Secrets, Mr. Dresden. I know all of yours. There is nothing you can do, especially now that Lasciel is gone from your mind, that can stop me from taking your fourth name from your mind, and ending you!”
Even as that 'fight' had gone on, Molly was taking full advantage of her veiled status to evade the attacks of Amy Madison, and get in a few of her own. She got in close finally, and kicked her opponent in the gut, forcing her to double over. Feeling victory near, Molly kicked again, only for her leg to be caught by Amy. “Compared to Black Court Vampires and the Slayer, your strength is negligible, Molly.” Smirking, she twisted her hands and Molly screamed as the sickening sound of bones snapping rang out from her leg. Molly became visible once more.
Diocletian turned yet another spell back at Dresden, “Familiar! Don't you have anything new? I was expecting a challenge of out of you!”
Dresden heard Molly scream. He had tried several more spells, but each time, Diocletian had blocked him, turning his magic against him. He had only one thing left to try. He raised his hand, where the fused force ring sat, and unleashed its force against the warlock. “I'm full of surprises,”
Diocletian saw the effect going at it...and it was one of the secrets he didn't know. It would never kill him, but – the force connected and sent him flying across the street. Power was one thing Diocletian had never possessed, which was why he'd been so interested in utilizing Secrets to achieve victory. But Secrets he didn't know...when called to account for his failure to deal with him, Blackstaff McCoy had said of Diocletian “Any spell can work on Diocletian. Once.” Diocletian had ripped the knowledge of the man's words from yet another Warden trying to stop him, a few decades ago. It was decidedly true.
Any spell could work on Diocletian. Once. And when a spell worked on Diocletian...it worked. Seething in fury, struggling to get back on his feet, he watched as Dresden summoned wind and buffeted Amy Madison aside, grabbing Molly Carpenter and escaping the one way left to them – taking a shortcut through the Nevernever. The warlock cursed in a dozen languages as his prey escaped him, but he still had one cold comfort – that trick would never stop him again.
“You know, I was hoping for another turkey shoot. I was really fucking hoping. But no. We have to pick a fight demons that shoot back! Seriously, since when do demons use modern weaponry?” Mark's words were overlaid, as if to punctuate his point, by a hail of bullets hitting the wall the mercenary was hiding behind.
Wesley, on the other side of the empty doorway in the old sunken building, also using wall as cover, leaned carefully around said wall and squeezed off several shots from one of his pistols getting one of the demons in the throat. He barely managed to get behind the wall again as the other demons responded with more bullets, which either hit the wall or sailed past him into the empty room. “The vast majority of demons do not use modern weapons, and those demons native to any of the various Hell Dimensions certainly don't use them, but there are some species of demon who are, for all intents and purposes, native to Earth, and of them, there are a handful that have adapted to modern weaponry. Not every species of demon is a stupid as a Fyarl is.”
“I could've stood to have learned the earlier, you know, Wesley.” He looked at the wall. “I don't think this wall will be stopping may more bullets-” another hail of bullets interrupted his words, and Mark dove down for good measure, crouched. “much longer.” he finished.
“Throw in a White Phosphorous Grenade.” Wesley responded.
“They're not Vampires.”
“Neither are you or I, but we'd be just as dead if someone set us on fire, albeit we'd leave something more than ash behind. Heslrec Demons don't like fire anymore than you or I.” He ejected the half-empty clip from one of his pistols and loaded a full one in its place. “I'll keep their heads down, you throw the grenade.” Without waiting for Mark's response, Wesley stepped completely out of cover and began to empty both pistols into the demons, firing them both at the same time. That man is fucking psychotic! And completely reckless!
Mark didn't let that though distract him, as he ripped the pin off of a grenade and threw it into the next room. Wesley barely managed to dive back into their room as the three remaining Heslrecs were ignited, screaming the universal scream of the agony of burning to death. Mark didn't need to speak any demon languages to understand that. Mark, no matter how much he might hate whatever/whoever he was fighting, never liked
killing them, never liked the death. When it came to killing demons and vampires, he wasn't so sure that Wesley Wyndam-Pryce didn't
like the killing.
They both waited for the fire to start to die down. They'd entered the structure with two other mercenaries and Abigail St. Pierre, but when they'd split up almost immediately. They'd arranged to meet on the next floor down, but the most direct route down was through the room that had had a squad of the short, spiny Heslrec Demons. “There going to be any more of these little buggers?”
“Almost certainly. Heslrecs are often found in large groups. They're pests and this building is without a doubt swarming with them.” Wesley reloaded his empty pistols and stepped into the charred room, carefully sidestepping some flaming debris. “We should have a clear shot to the stairs.” Wesley fired three shots into the one of the charred corpses.
“What the hell?”
“It was twitching.” Wesley said, by way of explanation.
“It was dead, Wesley.”
“Now we can be sure. Let's go.” It took a bit of concentration on both their parts to avoid all the remnant fires, but soon enough they were across the room and into the hall beyond. From there it was easy enough to hit the stairs going down.
On the floor below, they heard heavy gunfire coming from somewhere nearby. Immediately they headed towards the source of the sound, but instead, an explosion of something with a great deal more kick to it than White Phosphorous went off somewhere in the building, sending the entire place shaking, and almost knocking Wesley and Mark off their feet as one of the ceiling beams collapsed in front of them.
“Shit.” Mark stepped over the fallen beam, and they kept on. They found Abigail and the other two mercenaries on the other side of a room filled with at least a dozen of the Heslrec Demons. Abigail was managing to keep them all safe from bullet fire at the moment by creating a shield to block them all, but there was an upwards limit – even a fairly high one – to how long someone could keep a shield spell going, no matter how good you were, especially under pressure from that much lead. They three were crouched behind a whole bunch of crates to minimize their target, but the crates wouldn't block much in the way of bullets, hence the shield.
Mark sprayed the flanked Heslrecs, all of whom had their attention focused on the three in front of them, and when the three on the other side of the room saw him, they – well, the two mercenaries anyway – joined in with their assault rifles.
“Everyone alright?” Mark asked the three, once the dozen demons were dead.
“Close enough, anyway.” Abigail said. “Petrovich got grazed before I put the shield up.”
“I think we need backup.” The Russian said. “If we're going to clear out this building of gun-toting demons. What are they anyway?”
“Heslrecs. Nasty little buggers. They're one of the primary suppliers of kittens to the underground kitten-poker games around the world. They kill any humans that get in the way of their collection efforts.” Wesley commented. “I wouldn't be surprised if we find a goodly number of kittens somewhere in this building, getting ready to be shipped off somewhere.”
Abigail was the first to respond after that little bombshell threw them all off. “Kitten poker?!
Meanwhile, in a Hell Dimension relatively 'close' – as these things are reckoned – to Earth, three beings of awesome power watched with amusement as Chicago went Into the Maelstrom. What they didn't – couldn't – realize was just how quickly Earth, and then the Nevernever, would be following suit. The whole of creation was going to pass Into the Maelstrom, and only some would make it out the other side intact – and even less would make it out, alive.