Dawn In Rome Part Five
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I love that girl, I guess, I really do because worry is acid in my throat. But this really was not the time for her to go off and do something brave and crazy. She may be small and dark-haired, but she doesn't have to try to be Faith.
That got old even for Faith eventually.
I check all the rooms, and bang hopefully on the bathroom doors, and I go up on the roof in case she is brooding philosophically there the way action heroines do at the end of the second act.
She is in none of those places.
So I stand in the middle of the hall and I must have sobbed because Andrew sticks an awkward arm around me and makes consoling noises. He isn't good at this, but at least he tries.
'Where do you think she's gone?' Andrew says.
'Wolfram and Hart,' I say. 'They're the enemy. She'll want to hit someone. Hard. It's what she does.'
'Surely they won't be open,' he says. 'Not this early.'
'Andrew,' I say. 'This isn't a law firm like you'd use to sue somebody. This is Mordor; it's the unsleeping lidless eye. Pay attention.'
I go to my room and put on a pair of old jeans and a t-shirt. No point in getting formal when we're probably going to our deaths. I try ringing Celeste, only she isn't picking up, which, I guess, I can hardly blame her for.
More bits of LA are burning, but the dragon is down. Someone rode it into the air and cut its head off with a sword, a reporter from a traffic helicopter says. So maybe not everyone I know in LA is dead. Oh god, I hope they're not all dead.
And I notice I'm not thinking oh god, let them all be all right.
Michael Moore's saying, 'Everyone knows the Bushes have had contracts with Wolfram and Hart since the thirties. Why aren't these Senior Partners around to answer questions? They let them fly out ahead of time, like the Bin Laden family did. You should read Greg's articles, man; a shitload of demons were bused in to vote in Dade County. Get a clue - it's not oil they're pulling out of the ground.'
If we live through all this, the rules have changed.
Andrew clearly wants to be very formal in death, because he is wearing the very sharpest of the sharp black suits he's been buying since he's been in Rome. Not tweed at all.
'Dawn,' he says. 'You need to stay here. Because we shouldn't both confront the enemy at once. I'm more expendable.'
He's actually being quite impressive, sort of Frodo being gloomy on the slopes of Mount Doom instead of Pippin macking on Merry. I'd swear his voice dropped a bit, or maybe he's been crying and it's gone husky.
I guess he's mourning his role model.
' Besides,' he says, 'I'm an official representative of the Watcher's Council. If they hurt me, it's war. There are peace treaties which go back to the dawn of time.'
The fake English accent somehow doesn't seem silly anymore. It's a shield for him.
And I am all the more impressed by him because he is even more scared than he was when we closed the Hellmouth. I walk over and give him a big hug.
'You think they're going to kill me, don't you,' he says.
'Well,' I say. 'They might not.'
Of course once he is out of the apartment I follow him.
He manages to get a cab straight away.Probably has to do with the fact he has a sharp suit.
The first two taxis that stop for me do that whole 'why don't you ride in front and talk about how we pay your fare' thing. Which I suppose might happen to Andrew, as well, but not so often.
When I eventually get to Wolfram and Hart, the two gangsters who kidnapped me before are standing in the street.
'Ah,' the one who talked more says,' Miss Summers. Ilona said you would be here shortly and we should escort you to her. Some colleagues of ours have gone to your apartment, just to be sure, but Ilona said she knew you'd be here.'
'I thought you boys were freelancers,' I say.
'Ah,' he says, ' we were, but Ilona made us an offer. We come to work for her, and she doesn't have us eviscerated.'
His pronunciation of hard English words is weird, but impressive.
'I suppose she knew you'd say yes,' I say.
'She is a strega,' he says. 'She knows everything that is going to happen.'
That could be tricky, I think.
In the middle of the marble-paved atrium of Wolfram and Hart Rome, there is now a gaping pit with an Art Deco spiral staircase leading down into it, with a tasteless motif of sharp-toothed dolphins on each of the bannister supports.
'She's down there,' he says. 'And so are your friends.'
'Aren't you supposed to take me down there?' I say.
'Are you crazy?' he says. 'That is the Wolfram and Hart War Room. You don't go there unless you are called for, and you probably don't come back even then.'
So I head down the stairs with a jauntiness I'm not feeling and my sandals go pat pat with a slow echo on each step. This is one of those staircases on which sound and space go ominously weird. Big Evil always has to show off - that's one of the reasons why I am glad to be more or less good.
Upholstery Woman is waiting for me at the bottle of the steps wearing a red leather cat suit that shows off just how many curves she has managed to acquire. It has black plastic darts that point to the cleavage and the crotch. Just in case any passing trade fails to notice she's a girl.
When she turns round to gesture expansively at the banks of television screens and computers and the various unpleasant looking beings standing around with automatic weapons, it has a slogan on the back which says 'Evil but cuddly.'
And she creaks, quietly, like old buildings in the wind.
'Dawn,' she says. 'I've been expecting you.'
And she smiles one of those smiles that remind you that evil has good dental, and the spotlights that make the room a pattern of dazzle and dark cast shadows that make her cleavage seem like another deep dark place.
She obviously went to the sexiness class at the college of intimidation.
'So I hear,' I say. 'How's that seeing the future thing working out for you? Don't you miss getting surprises?'
'No,' she said. 'They are - how does it say itself - over-rated.'
Most of the screens are showing dying fires in LA, and a few left-over demons being muscled into paddy wagons and hit over the head with night-sticks.
'That's not a very impressive apocalypse anymore,' I say. ' You always know they're fizzling when the army of ultimate doom becomes a victim of police brutality.'
'Ah,' she says. 'It didn't go as well as if I had planned it myself, but it got the job done. Your sister's undead lovers are no longer around to plague us. No more shanshu prophesy.'
'Going over my head, here' I say. 'No one tells me these things.'
'Poor little Dawn,' she says, intruding into my personal space and creaking ever louder. 'Here all alone with the scary evil woman. Your little friends are already in chains, my dear, and soon you are going to join them.'
At least she didn't say 'join them - In Death' and go bwahaha. Important to look on the bright side.
Over to the left of the screens, there is a dungeon, a really retro dungeon with chains hanging from stone walls with damp running down them. Andrew is already there hanging by his wrists - that nice suit will never be the same. So is Kennedy, who has a fetching mouse on her left eye and so, rather more to my surprise, is Celeste, and one of her bodyguards. He looks dead though.
'Hi guys,' I say. 'Dawn to the rescue.'
Then I turn back to Ilona.
'I wasn't expecting Celeste to be here. I rather thought she was working with you on your little diversion.'
'No,' Ilona says with an angry toss of her hair. 'Why would we employ a singer of popular music? She is like a gypsy, not worth spitting on.'
Only she spits anyway. At least the floor doesn't sizzle
'Can you imagine? She had the arrogance to march down here and complain that we'd upset you and you probably wouldn't want to go out with her anymore, boohoo. She isn't even my client, and I had to take over this apocalypse at the last moment.'
Nice to know that evil lawyers have problems too.
'Ah,' I say,' poor Hamilton.'
Because I do pay attention, even when the Harmony Kendalls of this world are babbling at me.
For a second, I get to see that perfect gloss crack, because I'm clearly not supposed to know this stuff.
'You know,' she says,' I was thinking of keeping the three of you around afterwards. I always have a use for cute little girls. But perhaps...'
'Oh,' I say,' I think we'll pass. Don't you think, ladies?'
Kennedy isn't looking too well, but she manages a Bronx cheer and Celeste joins in only half a beat behind.
Ilona narrows her eyes. 'Don't screw with me, little chickee. I can have people killed ' - she snaps her fingers like a Spanish dancer -' just like that.'
She speaks into the mike.
'Thirty-seven,' she says. 'Kill that little girl for me that you're observing.'
'Yes, ma'am,' says a military sounding voice over the speakers that hang suspended above the screens.
And then there is a silence, and then there are screams and sobs.
'You know,' she says, 'all we have to do now is find all your little Slayers and kill them. And that is that, finito. No more problem.'
And then she says, 'Thirty-seven?' in a voice that is a little less certain.
'This is forty-two, ma'am,' says a more tentative voice. ' Thirty-seven can't talk right now. The little girl hit him in the face with a baseball bat and then she broke my gun-hand. And then she ran away.'
Ah, I think with quiet satisfaction, the first three lessons of Slaying. Hit the guy, hit the other guy, run like the wind.
'Never mind,' she says testily. 'Eighty-six.'
And this time there is a shot and a voice says 'Das Madchen ist tot.'
Which is heart-breaking, because it's some girl I never met, but I feel like I know everyone who survived the Bringers, except I see Celeste twitch involuntarily, and I see Kennedy watching her with a guess in her eyes. That's interesting, I think, with the same guess. Maybe Willow's spell is even smarter than she planned it to be.
And if Ilona didn't see that coming, maybe she can't foresee Big Magic. And there is a thought trying to follow that one, or not a thought. Something that part of me knows.
'I think,' Ilona says, 'that we are done here.'
She points her hand dramatically, and the chains disappear and everyone ends up on the floor.. The way the bodyguard falls, he really is dead. Andrew lands in a heap and goes ouch. So do Kennedy and Celeste, but not as convincingly - Celeste can be forgiven, because hey! new to this, but Kennedy really needs to work on that.
I am not even a bit uneasy that my mind seems to have come into high focus.
'So,' Ilona says. 'Your heads will be a useful warning to this new upstart Council.'
'I really really wouldn't threaten us,' I say, with a cheesy smile.
The focus is like a gentle building warm purpose in my brain.
Ilona laughs, and it isn't bwahaha, but a sort of high tinkle with a touch of throatiness behind it, and it's still a good villain laugh, which she has obviously worked on for years.
'Oh, how pathetic,' she says. 'You think you can bluff me. Little Key, you may have been power once, but you have none.'
'Probably not,' I say and point my hand in a way that I hope looks almost as cool as her.
I am probably going to feel really stupid for about ten seconds before I feel really dead.
Only suddenly Ilona is dangling upside down by one of her ankles which is caught between the jaws of something which looks a bit like a Hellmouth beast and a bit like a Venus-fly-trap, which is sticking out through a small hole in the air. And a hot wet wind is blowing past it.
And a couple of the things with guns get off a round or two before disappearing with gentle pops like champagne corks, and the bullets suddenly stick in the air and get sucked back into the guns that fired them, which are the last things to go.
It's almost unfair that the other things are all looking at Ilona, because Kennedy springs up and does this cartwheel thing from where she is lying and sends a bunch of them flying like she was bowling. Then she dashes for the weapons she brought with her, which are just lying around untidily.
And her guess about Celeste is obviously right, because Celeste picks up the rhythm almost as quickly as the Bronx cheer. She has a natural gift for mayhem, I guess, as well as for sex. Makes up for the singing.
I'm almost jealous watching them double-team it, but then there's the thought of them double- teaming me, which is a very interesting thought to carry with me until I can get them back to the apartment.
'She's very good,' I say.
'A natural,' Kennedy says, staking two vampires and beheading a gargoyle.
'It's all the dancing for my videos', Celeste says, kicking a Fyarrl in what passes for a crotch.' But damn I'm good.'
'And she does the banter well, too' I say.
'Without inspirational training sequences to teach her.' A big lizard lunges at Kennedy with a cutlass and she takes its head off with a backstroke of one of her swords
Andrew just ignores all of this, and goes over to a desk and starts rummaging through papers and stuffing a selection of them into a large bag he has pulled from somewhere in the ruins of his suit.
'Now,' I say, because I have always wanted to say this, ' we can do this the easy way...'
Ilona is so improved by hanging upside down.
The cat suit is creaking ever more ominously as gravity does things to those curves that even high-fashion engineering can't wholly put right.
'I'll kill you,' she says.
'Umm, no,' I say. 'Don't think so.'
'But you had no powers,' she says. 'You were famous for it. This isn't fair.'
'Yeah,' Kennedy says. 'What's with that, Dawn?'
I don't lose that exhilarating sense of something new and clear in my head, but I have to say 'Dunno.'
And a stitch bursts somewhere on Ilona's left thigh with a distinct twang.
Celeste finishes kicking a Fyarrl in the head - of course, she has issues there - and says ' I know this one. I know this one'.
So we look at her, and even Andrew looks up from his stack of memos.
'She got you laid,' Celeste said.
'Don't be crazy,' Ilona says.' Powers go when you stop being a virgin, everyone knows that.'
'I guess the monks had a sense of humour,' I say. 'Years of chastity, prayer and soap operas will do that for some guys.'
And I walk over to Ilona and look down at her upside down face and I say, ' And what have we learned from this?'
Andrew says, 'Never mess with the Summers girls.'
And Kennedy says, 'Fuck yeah.'
And Celeste says 'Is Dawn's sister as cute as she is?'
And Kennedy says 'No' and Andrew says 'Yes.'
And I say 'We're done here.'
I look up at the maw which is gradually chewing Ilona's foot off and has almost entirely dissolved a very nice red Manolo Blahnik with its drool, and I say 'Good plant, good plant. Now drop her.'
She is even worse at falling than Andrew and there are several more twangs from somewhere inside her clothing.
Next time she drops people, she'll know what it feels like.
I try snapping my fingers, which I need practice on, and the plant disappears, leaving just a few scarlet tendrils as a memento.
Ilona lies in a bedraggled heap, muttering what are probably curses.
I pull her head up by her hair and slap her more for the form of the thing than to hurt her.
'You're a killer,' I say. 'I'm not. Yet. Be very very glad of that.'
We dash up the stairs - no gangsters waiting, which is useful - through the big stone doors, down some steps and out into the street.
Andrew starts trying to hail a taxi, and I was right about it's being the suit, because not having so much luck now he's in an ex-suit with a cuff torn off.
Then there is a crackle of blue energy that misses me by inches. Ilona is standing at the top of the steps with her hair all frizzed out with energy and bits of lush brown flesh peeking out of the catsuit at her left thigh and under her right arm, and that shoe is definitely a write-off.
'You don't get to walk away,' she shrieks. 'I am Ilona. You don't turn your back on me.'
That feeling of focus comes back all at once and I look back up at her.
'OK,' I say. 'The hard way.'
And I point again.
'Wow,' Kennedy says.'Remind me never to get caught between you and Willow.'
Between the buildings on either side, there is a pool of green obsidian where Wolfram and Hart used to be.
'We'll have to watch out for that one,' I say. 'Because she'll come back from there someday and boy is she going to be pissed.'
'From where?' Celeste says.
'Don't know.' I say. 'I'm the Key. Not the name-plates on the door.'
My two lovers snuggle up to me in the back-seat of the taxi. It's like they've been talking to each other while they were hanging in chains, because they somehow manage to fit round me and stroke my neck and kiss my ear and are so very much together as well.
Which is a nice thought to doze to, I think as I drift into sleep between them.
And a better thought than the alternative which bobs along in its wake. Which is how am I going to explain all this to my sister?