Explanations and Encounters
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's Note: That little teaser I gave at the end of chapter 8? Don't expect it to actually pay off for quite
some time.New City, Same Enemy
Chapter 9: Explanations and Encounters
Showing up at the Carpenter household with an unconscious Molly is not the best of options. Showing up with an unconscious Molly that also had a broken leg – even worse. Charity was probably an inch from taking my staff from me and beating me to death with it.
Harry considered. The trip though the Nevernever to Molly's home had been of the quick and dirty variety, and quite frankly, he'd almost been inclined to let Charity beat him with his staff – though not to death – for letting Molly get hurt like that. He wasn't even sure how she'd been there, in a position to, frankly, save his life, when she did, but it was his fault she'd gotten her leg broken by that woman – Diocletian's apprentice? Did he say her name was Madison?
Whoever and whatever the hell Diocletian was and wanted, he was something different than he'd ever faced before. Cowl, Nicodemus, Aurora, He Who Walks Behind, Justin DuMorne – most of his various enemies over the years could pack more magical punch than Diocletian. Its almost depressing, the way I so easily rack up enemies several times my own power.
But Diocletian...whatever the hell it was he had, he knew, made him a threat of a kind – though not of a degree – Dresden hadn't dealt with before. His fused force rings seemed to throw him for a loop or something, which was good...
Harry was in his lab within minutes of arriving back as his apartment.
“Bob, wake up.”
The eye sockets of the previously inanimate skull sitting on the desk filled with an orange light. “What, no cracks about 'wake up, lazybones'? I'm insulted.”
“Not really. I just got curb-stomped by a warlock calling himself Diocletian.”
“Diocletian? You're sure.”
“Yea. He violated the Evil Overlord List with a perfect monologue on it. You've heard of him.” It wasn't a question.
“I met him. He was buddies with Kemmler.” Bob obviously caught the look on Harry's face, “He was never anywhere near Kemmler's power. Kemmler could've dealt with him without blinking. Look...I only can remember a little bit about him without getting into those memories I'm never touching, but he's bad news...he's got this power, or something. You cast a spell against him you've cast at him before, or he knows how you cast it well...he can-”
“Catch it and turn it against me?”
“Pretty much. That's all I can remember without-”
Harry cut him off, “That's enough. We're definitely not touching that part of you. I'll contact the Council, see what they can tell me.” Harry felt the adrenaline that had kept him going in the fight begin to fade. Then again, Harry was used to running on empty. “My force rings worked though.”
“They won't again. He just didn't know about them, is the only thing.”
“Hells Bells. Can it get any – oh, yea it can, He knew one of my middle names. I haven't the slightest idea. Its not like I bandy those two around.”
“You did sell one, in exchange for information from Chauncy, that one time.” Bob remarked.
“Well, lets find out. Let's whistle him up and ask him, shall we?”
“And pay him what when you ask him? Your fourth name? He already sold the third one.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of forcing the information out of him.” Harry responded.
“Yes, kitten-poker. Its exactly what it sounds like. Probably the most common game played by vampires and demons here on Earth. Its a game of poker where they bid...kittens instead of chips.” Wesley said dryly. “As food, in most cases.” He shrugged. “They're evil, what do you expect? Don't you Americans have that whole 'the evil villain once kicked a puppy' trope?” Wesley checked the clips on his pistols. “Come on. There's going to be more of the Heslrecs-”
“I'm afraid not, actually, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce.” The set of double-doors on the far end of the room the five humans were standing in were thrown inward, and a short, unassuming man stepped in. He wore an Armani business suit and a had a sword in one hand. He spun it around a few times as he continued to talk. “Such a pleasure to meet a man who has been behind the death of several of my kin.”
“I've killed a lot of vampires, and helped kill a lot more.” Though Wesley didn't even pretend to count anything that happened in Sunnydale to that total. “You'll have to be more specific than that.”
“My name is Daniel. I'm here representing my Sire, Gregory of Arles. He's taken some offense at your activities, and sent me – and thirty of my good friends – to see to it that your interference is put to an end. Permanently.” As villain speeches went, it was uncreative, but then, sometimes, things just work.
“I don't see the thirty friends.” Mark opened fire, spraying Daniel. The vampire was knocked back, and he assumed his 'game face', but was also completely intact.
“Kevlar.” He said, by way of explanation. “Modern technology goes both ways, my friend.” He looked at the tattered suit and frowned, however. “I liked this suit. Do you know how hard it was for me to find someone who owned one that was my size? And then kill them without ruining the suit?” He snapped his fingers, and the promised thirty vampires arrived, ten blocking each exit, and each one armed with swords. Wesley produced his own blade, but he was the only one who had one on hand – sword training for the rest of Oracle Securities was just getting started. “Kill them.” He said calmly, and immediately they charged.
“Didn't anyone ever warn you about escalation, Danny-boy?” Mark asked, and pulled two white phosphorous grenades, both with ripped pins. “Its a bitch.” Both were thrown immediately at the two closest groups of charging vampires, and though some managed to figure out what was coming and dove down, or back, or ran for cover, fire exploded all around them, and this time, the room itself joined the blazing party.
“Now would be a very good time to leave, Mark!” Abigail shouted, throwing a piece of flaming half-rotted furniture at the last group of charging vampires. “I'll take a bit singed from running out one of those exits over getting my blood drained any day!” Fire was spreading quickly, across the room and into other rooms, but there was still room enough to get through the hallways, at the moment. The five humans found themselves out and away from the room.
“Well? After then, you morons! They're only humans!” Daniel didn't even wait for any of them to act or protest, just beheading one before they had a chance to move. “Go! Or you can join him!” Twelve vampires hurried down the burning hallway after their enemies. Daniel, on the other hand, sighed. “With any luck, those idiots will at least kill one of them. Honestly. You can never find good help these days.” The Oracle Securities team was heading up, back into the upper levels of Undertown. Daniel, on the other hand, was going down. He needed to tell the boss they required more recruits.
Wesley was the first to see – or rather, feel – the pursuing vampires. Modern technology and cool toys aside, a vampire will always be faster than a human. The one at the head of the pursuit grabbed Wesley by the arm and flung him back into his own comrades, sending them flying like ninepins, but also leaving him completely surrounded by vampires.
“Wesley!” Mark turned, firing off a burst, catching one of the vampires in the leg with the incendiary rounds, bypassing the Kevlar, and still setting it on fire. Not that the fires all around them needed more help, the vampire flailing in agony and tumbling into another room, starting still more flames there, with more to work with.
“Go!” Wesley swung his sword, keeping the vampires just far enough away, but he couldn't keep them all back – he was surrounded.
“Fuck that!” Abigail shouted. “This is no time to play the noble hero sacrificing your life!” She pulled a stake from her inside coat pocket and threw it at one of the vampires, her well practiced aim and kinetomancy ensuring it passed right through the heart – and by sheer luck, ended up in the arm of another, sending it out of the fight for a few moments. Wesley fired the stake from his launcher, but his arm was jostled and the stake went wide, flying off into the ceiling.
“Wes, down!” Wesley dropped, swiping at the legs of one of the vampires and severing a foot, but even as Mark and the other two opened fire, he was lifted and hurled bodily into the ceiling himself. He landed, catching his fall with his hands, but didn't even manage to get his footing before he was kicked in the stomach and sent flying into his team. Mark grabbed him by the arm and half-dragged him up the stairs, a handful of vampires still chasing after them.
“Stop,” Wesley said, getting onto his feet weakly.
“The building is on fire, Wesley!” Abigail said, “We don't have time to-” Wesley interrupted her by calling a fireball into his hand. He wasn't very good at magic, when you got right down to it. Oh, he knew all the theory, knew all the spells, but it was all academic. He didn't have anything resembling the natural power he would need to even be considered a true focused practitioner. But if there was one thing he had down, one thing he had focused on grasping perfectly since the debacle that was his tenure in Sunnydale, it was fireballs. He couldn't really do many, but even one would do for this. The vampires were running just ahead of the flames licking their way through the building, but they weren't expecting fire in front of them. As the first of them came barreling up the stairs, they had a faceful of fire, which gave the rest of them just enough pause to meet the fire rushing in behind them.
“Now we can go!” Mark declared and up they continued. They raced the fire, against time, against the collapse of the building as floors below burned – leaving them at risk of total collapse – but they made it out into the wider tunnels of Undertown, just below the city, as the hallway collapsed behind them.
“Have you or have you not sold knowledge of my name to a warlock who goes by the name Diocletian, Chauncy?”
The demon looked over its incongruous spectacles at Harry and shrugged. “I can't just give that kind of information away for free, Harry.”
“I didn't say you were going to give it away for free.” Harry replied, rummaging through the boxes on the shelves. “Bob, where's the hemlock?”
“Fifth box, bottom shelf.” The skull replied. Harry nodded and opened the box, pulling out several leaves of the poisonous plant.
“Now, as long as you're stuck in my binding circle, you can't go anywhere. That alone cuts into that little information brokering business you have, but there's also the fact that you're sharing company with some Hemlock.” He tossed the leaves into the circle. Under normal circumstances, it would have broken the binding, but a carefully constructed circle designed to let Hemlock in or out was another matter. It had taken some doing and a lot of help from Bob though. Chauncy hissed in annoyance as the presence of the Hemlock began to stick him. “If you're looking for payment, here's my offer. Either you don't tell me what I want to know about Diocletian – which is everything you know about him – and then I send you back home, or I leave you in that circle until the Hemlock kills you, which should take..what, a few painful days? That payment enough?”
Chauncy hissed, then nodded. “Diocletian has only used my services twice. Once he sought knowledge about Anastasia Luccio, and once he sought knowledge about you, two of your weeks ago.”
“What did he pay you?”
“Nothing. He had acquired the rights to favors promised to other entities and used those for information, both times. In both cases, he acquired the favors first, shortly before summoning me. How he got the favors is unknown to me – I never asked those he got them from. Diocletian is even weaker than yourself, Harry, but you underestimate him at your peril.” He looked at the Hemlock, wincing again. “Now return me to my home. I have told you all I know.” Harry nodded, “A deal is a deal. But if I ever find out you've been bandying my third name around, we'll have to have a repeat of this little incident, only no information you give will make me inclined to send you back. Clear?”
“As crystal, Harry.” Harry released the bindings holding Chauncy to this realm and felt him vanish back through a split-second open portal to the Nevernever.
It was a short time later when he called the Wardens up directly. If Diocletian was anywhere near as Bob was hinting at, at the very least, he needed to give someone the heads up. Though, if he was to be believed, Diocletian had fought Captain Luccio, Donald Morgan and even his own mentor, McCoy, and come out alive, even on top, in theory. That was a disconcerting thought. If He'd fought them before, then theoretically, none of their spells would work. Still, he was, at the moment, our of options.
“Hello?” Came the voice on the other end of the line.
“This is Warden Dresden. I need to speak to Captain Luccio, or Acting Captain Morgan, if at all possible.”
“What about, Warden Dresden?”
“A warlock calling himself Diocletian nearly killed me a little over a half and hour ago, and his apprentice nearly killed mine.” There was a moment of no response, then he heard a gruff, familiar voice on the other end of the line. Morgan.
“Diocletian. You are absolutely sure, Dresden?” Hells Bells, is it so hard to believe that I might get the name right?
“Yes. He gave me the whole 'I'm going to be the one to destroy the White Council' speech, then followed that up with a detailed description of his love affair with secrets. He's here in Chicago, for some reason he's decided to go gunning for me, and he has an apprentice.”
Morgan didn't reply for a time. “We're stretched thin, Dresden. The losses in the war, and the need to crack down on the rise of warlock activity during the war means I have absolutely no one to send to Chicago. I do not like to say this, but at the moment, Diocletian is likely going to keep roaming free unless you can manage him on your own, for at least a few weeks. I will speak to the Senior Council. If they deem it possible, I will reallocate what I can.”
“Morgan, be straight with me. Just how in over my head am I with this guy. He claims to have beaten you, Luccio, even McCoy.”
“Beaten may be too strong a word,” Morgan said, and Harry thought he could hear Morgan swallowing his pride as he spoke, “But yes. In encounters with myself, with Luccio, with McCoy and numerous others, he has managed to either win, or escape with his life intact, which is still a loss for us. He is the most slippery enemy the Council has faced since Kemmler...though we are fortunate he is orders of magnitude below Kemmler in every way. Spend every waking moment you have in your lab, developing something – anything – new. It is your best chance to ensure you live through future encounters.”
“You're all heart, Morgan. Thanks for the advice.”
“You are a Warden now, Dresden, and though I think that giving you the Gray Cloak was a mistake, that means as long as you bear it, you are as much my charge as any other Warden. If I had more to offer, I would offer it.” Harry knew it was true. Say what you wanted about Morgan – small-minded, narrow-minded, overly literal, ruthless, paranoid, somewhat simple – all true – but what was also true was that he was one of the most honorable sons of bitches on the face of the planet, and his sense of duty was pretty much the only thing he cared about, as far as Harry could tell.
“Here's hoping the Merlin sees things your way.” Harry said, then hung up.
It hadn't been hard to locate which bar Richard Carlise drank at. Not McAnally's. Places like that didn't really have the vibe to suit a Wolfram and Hart lawyer. Neither had Caritas, but that was yet another thing that had divorced him from the rest of his fellows at the Firm. That and that occasionally niggling conscience that had lead to his first and then final departures, and that had grown more and more present – though still a decidedly small voice over his sense of self-preservation, and a desire to mess with Wolfram and Hart purely for the personal enjoyment of messing with it.
He found his fellow lawyer in a bar that was upscale enough for him, but not so much that he'd be overly conspicuous just sitting there drinking at the bar. Lindsey sat down next to him and ordered his drink.
“Have you considered slicing off your hand, Richard?” He asked, conversationally. “Its a pretty good way to get in with the higher-ups, I hear. What you're willing to sacrifice for the company, and all that.” He raised an eyebrow as Carlise looked at him. “I'd be happy to oblige you, if you're considering it.”
“I think I'll take a rain check on that, McDonald.” He replied. He turned a bit more in his chair to get a full look at Lindsey. “Your hair is longer than it is in the pictures they have of you. The Senior Partners would reward whoever brought you their head quite a bit.”
“I'm sure they would.” The bartender returned with his drink, and then stepped away. He knew the first guy was with that weird new Law Firm in town – couple other lawyers from that place came here to drink as well, and he'd learned quickly he didn't want to know anything about them. “But as long as they're not interested in starting a full-scale war, I'm pretty safe.” He held up his drink idly. “Cheers, by the way.”
Carlise took a sip of his own drink and chuckled. “Hiding behind the Accords. Doesn't seem a very brave thing to do.” he commented, finishing his drink and waving for another.
“Whoever said I was brave? I certainly didn't. Besides, I'm a lawyer, at the end of the day. Have a law degree and everything to prove it. Hiding behind the Accords is exactly the lawyer thing to do.”
“Is there a reason you're here?”
“What, a guy can't have a drink?”
“When he's sitting down next to a guy who works for the express enemy of the organization he works for, I don't think he's just there for a drink.”
“You've been working for Wolfram and Hart too long without a break. Not everyone has an angle. I just wanted to sit down and chat, enjoy a drink with a fellow lawyer, chat about working for Wolfram and Hart. You know, all the shit that goes into the job.”
“I don't chat.” Carlise replied.
“Then how about you listen?”