"Science is a way of talking about the universe in words that bind it to a common reality. Magic is a method of talking to the universe in words that it cannot ignore. The two are rarely compatible." – Neil Gaiman, "The Books of Magic
February 29, 1916
Saint Louis, Missouri
Luther Black rode to Whitebridge Hall in a driver-less black Hansom surrey that was pulled by two black horses. Despite the popularity of the motorcar, Black considered them gauche, and had promised himself that he wouldn't buy one, or even ride in one, until he absolutely could not avoid it any longer. He was coming from a rather over-wrought production of Oscar Wilde's Salome. He decided to himself that the play had, unfortunately, become horribly passe. Such a pity. When it had been first published, back in 1893, it had been quite the scandalous piece, and quite exciting. Ah, well. Times changed, and with them the mores of the public.
His mode of dress, in a fine tailored Seville row suit, accompanied by finely polished leather boots with silver caps, a top hat, and a silk cravat, all accompanied by a cane with a molded silver serpent's head handle, screamed to anyone observing him that he was a man of immense wealth and refined taste. Both were true, at least for certain definitions of refinement.
As his coach rolled up the carefully tended white-cobble drive of Whitebridge Hall, he counted the apple trees lining the road in whispers. Six on one side, six on the other. He wondered about the choice. Twelve was one of the mystic numbers, but it wasn't as powerful as three, or five, seven, or thirteen. He mused that it was likely aesthetics and not a means to mystic power. It happened occasionally that even the most powerful sorcerers engaged in frivolous things for their own amusement.
Distantly, he heard a church bell sound as the 28th of February rolled over into the 29th. It was his birthday; it was the forty-first Leap Year Day he'd lived through since his birth one hundred and sixty-four years ago. As the bell tolled twelve, Black looked to the sky, only to find that the stars had reversed themselves. The Southern Cross hung visible where before Orion had stood vigilant. Before his eyes, a moving star Black knew to actually be the planet Saturn burned its way through the constellation Carina.
His coach stopped just before the doors to the manor. As Luther Black stepped down to the cobblestones, his dark eyes scanned left and right. He was looking for the next sign. As with many of his ilk, his life depended on the passing of omens. He wasn't disappointed.
As Black stood there in the drive, the wind picked up, causing his long opera cloak to flap around his legs. The air around him grew deathly cold; even colder than usual for Missouri in February. He heard a pack of dogs howling after him, coming up the drive, but when he looked no dogs were to be seen. At this he nodded, and with almost exaggerated care used a long black silk scarf to tie his top hat to his head against the force of the wind. The knot Black used was carefully positioned just under his chin. It was, naturally, a square knot: the ends of the scarf were positioned in such a way that they formed a crossroads, of a sort. In this fashion, he was hidden from the prying eyes of all other sorcerers who would oppose him this night.
With a smile that would scare small children, were they to have seen it, Black strode forward to the door and rapped on it, with three quick, single strikes, using the silver end of his cane. He waited, still being buffeted by the wind, for precisely three minutes and eighteen seconds. The moment the door was opened, the arctic winds stopped completely.
The door was opened by a tall, well-tailored Negro who looked Black in the eye when he asked, "May I help you, sir?" Black respected men who weren't afraid to look other men in the eye, because doing so was a sign of scorn, and above all, he would not be scorned. Personally, He wasn't one for all that silly 'superiority of the white race' gibberish. He'd known too many powerful wizards and spell-casters who weren't from Europe to bother with such nonsense. Though carefully examining this man revealed to Black that he wasn't entirely a man at all.
"My name is Luther Black. I've come from Paris to see your master, Mister Whitebridge, and conduct business with him."
The manservant stepped back, away from the door. The butler didn't issue a verbal invitation to enter, and that, again, raised the servant's worth in Black's estimation. He took off his hat, leaving the scarf around his neck, and handed it and his coat to butler, who took both articles silently.
"Is Mister Whitebridge in?"
Finally, the butler spoke. It was a gravelly, scratchy sound that spoke more of the grave than of a living breathing person. "The master is in his study, enjoying a brandy. Would you like one also, sir?" He turned and led Luther Black through the foyer to a curtained doorway, gesturing Black to enter.
"Yes, that would be fine. Thank you."
"Very good, sir." Black dismissed the manservant from his thoughts and entered the study.
Consider Michael Whitebridge. He is a pinched man in his mid-50s. Slightly overweight, as all nearly wealthy men of his time are. He stands only 5'7" tall, making him on average shorter than the average male citizen of Saint Louis. His head and face – and in truth the rest of his body – is naturally hairless due to alopecia. He has a large, prominent nose, and a ready smile, though like Luther Black's, his smile is that of a viper waiting to strike at a rat.
When he build the Manor back in 1881, the established gentry of the city dismissed him as "new money." Twenty-three years later, they dismissed him as an eccentric lunatic with a reputation for deviant sexual tastes and a propensity for importing prostitutes from Chicago and Cincinnati, and other towns nearby. Those whose ear was even closer to the ground marked him as having a taste for young boys in addition to young girls, and could repeat many rumors regarding children that Whitebridge had caused to disappear by way of murder and Satanic cruelty.
Whitebridge was an established sorcerer, a demon-worshiper, the leader of a cult of like-minded followers, and absolutely not a man you wanted to cross if you wished to continue living a long and healthy life.
Luther Black terrified him.
"Come in, Mr. Black. Its nice to see you again." Whitebridge rose from his chair in front of the study's fireplace. "Please, make yourself at home. Has Dominic offered you a brandy?"
"He has, yes. And yes, it is good to see you again, Whitebridge. How have you been keeping?" Neither man was much for small-talk, but niceties must be observed in this sort of situation. Just getting to the point would never do. Only after the comparative weather in Paris and Saint Louis, the American and French stock market, whether Alistair Crowley was really serious or just a con-artist, and the downing of a second snifter of brandy apiece was the subject of the meeting broached.
"So, Whitebridge... you said you found it?" Black's face was carefully under control to show no reaction, but his eyes gleamed with anticipation.
"I do... I do indeed." This was a grand moment for Whitebridge. He wasn't often treated as an equal by sorcerers of Black's caliber, and yet here he was. He dragged an iron lock box from under a table. After pulling a set of keys from his pocket, he opened the thing, to reveal a smooth black stone wrapped in purple silk. The stone seemed to be made of volcanic glass, and had an odd green light buried deep within it that shifted around the inside of the sphere at random.
"The Basilisk's Eye. Finally!" Luther Black extended a hand as if to touch the artifact, but was stymied when Whitebridge dropped the lid of the box closed. For a moment Black's face twisted with rage, but only for a moment. The man collected himself and straightened. "Yes, that would be what I was looking for indeed."
"So its true then?" Whitebridge looked at his companion with a gimlet eye. "You intend to attempt an Ascension?"
"I intend on doing more than attempt, my good man. When I am through I will not only be a worshiper of the Kings of Edom, I shall stand as one of them."
"Heh. Heh." Whitebridge couldn't help it. "Heheheheheheheh. Yes, well... heh... good luck with that. It will take you, what, a century? More? Ah, well... I do wish you luck."
Black bristled. "I am more than most men, and have ambitions above them." He eyed Whitebridge. "You will go ahead with your plans for a summoning?"
"I will. As you say, I'm not as ambitious as you. I do not wish to become one of the Gods of the Dark Kingdom. I will be satisfied with mere immortality and temporal power. Now, do you have my book?" He shoved the box toward Black with his toe.
Luther Black grimaced and brought a square object from under his coat. It was wrapped in black silk and tied with the same knot Black had used on his hat. "Yes, here. Enjoy." He handed it to the other man, then picked up the lock box. "And with that, I shall take my leave."
"Certainly, Mr. Black." Whitebridge waved vaguely toward the doorway, his manservant Dominic standing by. "Dominic will show you out." Whitebridge sat with his prize in his lap until he felt the traces of Luther Black's presence leave the boundaries of his household wards.
He made a sign to Dominic who left the room silently. Whitebridge caressed the silk wrapping of the book before opening the knot. The book was stained a dark red, its cover a soft, supple leather of a kind not usually seen. The face of a screaming man was embossed on the front cover, a screaming woman on the back.
"You wished to see me, sir?" In the doorway, Michael Whitebridge's only child, his ten year old son Peter, stood waiting.
The elder Whitebridge said, "We have it. The Liber Terribilis! It is all the Order needs to proceed. We will perform the ceremony at the next full moon. Pass the word on to Mister Sikes. Have him gather the coven. We will call down Illyria at the next full moon." Michael Whitebridge looked up at his son, who stood motionless. "And then we shall have everything we ever wanted."
Whitebridge slept, and his dreams were filled with images of power and glory. And death, of course, especially death. They would call down the Primordia Rex, one of the great Kings of Edom, the Dread Rulers, and he would trap it and hold it and demand that it make him ruler of the world. And all would bow to him and despair.
He woke, suddenly. Peter was there, standing over him with a candle. The boy was already dressed in his supplicants robes. "Yes? What?"
"It's midnight." Peter said in his hesitant voice. "It's time."
"Time, yes. Very good." Whitebridge rose swiftly, covering his naked body with robes of his own. Unlike his son's drab coverings, his own clothing were decorated with arcane symbols and charms befitting his station.
He motioned his son to follow him down the dark corridor and the stairway leading to the summoning room in the basement. "You know, son, no one has ever dared attempt what we are going to do tonight. What we will achieve. To summon and imprison one of the Kings... this will be my triumph. Eh, Peter?"
The boy, following behind loyally, nodded. Then he choked out, "Yes, father." when he realized a more full response was needed.
Whitebridge stopped and looked at his son. "Father!?"
"Sorry... Magus. Yes, Magus..."
Whitebridge stared at his son, then snorted in contempt. He turned to continue the walk to the summoning room. "I tell you, Peter, after tonight that vagabond bastard Black won't be making any more jokes about me. No more jokes, not once I have ultimate power in my hand."
Whitebridge swept the doubled doors to the summoning room open. There, in the center of the room, his acolytes were putting the finishing touches on the circle. Nearly twenty feet in diameter, it was framed in black paint, with arcane prayers were inscribed along its circumference. An inner ring of salt lay along the thick black circle's body, itself surrounded by a ring of blood-red wax.
Jeremiah Sikes, Whitebridge's second in the coven, stepped from the shadows. "Everything has been prepared according to the Liber Terribilis, Magus. We are ready for the ceremony."
Whitebridge surveyed the summoning room. "Excellent. Everyone, to your places, then. We shall begin." He waited until those thirteen members of his coven, all true believers especially chosen for this task, stepped to their appointed spots around the circle. His son, Peter, stepped back, disappearing into the shadows yet remaining close in case he was needed.
Whitebridge stepped to the podium placed at the 12 o'clock position. It held the Liber Terribilis, a silver dagger, a feather, a handful of other things needed for the spell. For a moment, Michael Whitebridge is terrified. This action is an affront, an insult. To think that he... a mortal man... could actually bind one of the Great Old Ones to his service...
For a small moment, he hesitated... he actually questioned if he really wants to go forward with this...
But only for a moment...
"Oh Great One, I conjure thee. I give you the bone of a righteous man, washed in the blood of the Fallen. I give you the dying wish of a virgin, stolen from her grave. I give you a knife, cleansed in tears. I give you a coin spent in hatred. I give you a tooth, ripped from a wolf's jaw. I give you a feather plucked from the wings of an angel."
Without pausing from his conjuration, Whitebridge raised his hand and used the silver dagger from the podium to slash across his left palm. He clenched his wounded fist until the blood was freely flowing. "I give you blood from my own veins. And I give you a name, a name long lost."
There is feeling, like a bell tolling in the back of his mind. This body throbs with the power of the spell, and Michael Whitebridge realizes that he has gone too far. There is no way he could stop the conjuration now if he wanted to. "I call you forth with names, my Lord. I summon thee with venom and pain. I summon thee with blood and I summon thee with despair. I open the gate to thee and call thee forth. Come!"
All around him, his cultists pick up the chant. Come! Come! Come! Come! Whitebridge shudders as every candle in the room flares to life by themselves. In the sudden burst of light he can see his son, Peter, cowering in a corner, blood dripping from the boy's ears. And still the chant, Come! Come! Come! Come!
"I summon thee forth in the name of the Old Lords! The Queen Beyond the Pale calls you! The Mistress of All Sorrow calls you! The Muse of Lethargy and Despair calls you! The Lord of the Scarlet Infinity calls you! The Heart of Man's Dementia calls you! The King in Sapphire Robes calls you! The Chaos Irresistible calls you! The Key of Power calls you!"
A golden smoke began to rise from the center of the circle. Whitebridge's eyes widened, as this was a sign none of the old texts warned about. Not even the Liber Terribilis mentioned golden smoke. But it didn't matter. It was working. The conjuration was working!
"They summon you! From the dark they call you, and into the dark they call you! Bone and wish, knife and coin and tooth. Feather and blood and name." The golden mist was congealing in the center of the circle, getting more and more solid every second. Taking a form. Taking a definite form. At last Whitebridge screamed, "Here in the darkness we summon you together! COME!"
He stopped, breathing hard. Harder than he breathed at the apex of sex. Harder than he breathed when terrified. Whitebridge concentrated on his breathing, all the while keeping his eyes on the form lying at the center of the circle.
The summoned form was seemingly a naked girl. A child. Long white hair that tinged gold at the ends. Skin unblemished and pale, with patches of gold at her joins, along her scalp, down her arms. She was beautiful, and seemed utterly delicate. She wasn't moving; the power of the spell had obviously driven her insensate.
"We... we did it!" Sikes stepped forward. "I don't believe it. We actually did it!"
Whitebridge finally controlled his breathing. He stared at the still form in the middle of the circle and understanding came to him.
"No. We failed. That isn't Illyria, damn it to hell. We failed." He stared at the figure some more, then shrugged. "Perhaps we can make a silk purse out of this sow's ear, eh Sikes? We still called one of the Old Ones, and we have bound it here."
"But Magus... which one? Which one did we snare?" Sikes question was asked with a quaver of fear that brought a sneer to Whitebridge's lips.
"Which one? Who knows. I surely don't. That will be yours to determine, Mister Sikes." He looked back down at the unconscious being in the circle. "Now, get moving. We need to put that in the cage before it wakes up and slaughters us all." He stepped back from the circle. "Let us not look a gift horse in the mouth. We shall find a way to make this unfortunate mistake pay off for us in the greatest way possible."
The emptiness that surrounded Creation and the ephemeral realms of spirit that enclosed it roared with the storms of base existence. Winds that were not winds, and lightning that was not lightning struck at anything and everything that dared enter the shadows beyond the light of creation. The power of the summoning echoed past the material worlds that made up true existence, into the outer darkness.
Beyond the astral, beyond the city of Man called Babylon, beyond the Lands of Legend where myth lived, beyond the Netherworld of Hells and Punishment, beyond the Elysium of Heavenly Reward, beyond the Rings of Loezen, beyond Yggdrasil and the City-States of Yong, beyond the Mill-Works of Bromion and the Veil of the Temple, beyond Death's Dominion and the Realms of the Four Zoas, beyond even the empty, storm-wracked outer emptiness itself lay the fifth world, the Qliphothic, the Realm of Shining Darkness. The Anti-Creation.
Titanic, teeth-like mountains jut from warped flowing plains in utter disregard to geography and gravity. Indistinct, wet things writhe randomly from place to place. At random intervals, the landscape... if it can be called such... is interrupted by clusters of humanoid statues made of compacted ash. These figures would resemble huge crouching fetuses to a human eye that saw them in the split second before the realm itself tore the sanity from it. The figures are strung with slimy moss-like bodies, and horrors nest and grow in their empty eye-sockets.
Mere mundane light explodes here, like a bomb would, causing injury to anyone foolish enough to try and use it.
There was nothing to see In the Qliphothic Realm, for everything radiated the blackness of pure dark. No human mind could take the sight of this realm; no mere mortal being could survive exposure to it. Fearsome and immortal creatures made it their home, though you could never say that such creatures actually lived there...
The call of the spell penetrated the realm of the Qliphothic. Its power flowed across the land until it encountered the being known to the mortal men of one earthly realm as Sineya, the Great Predator, the Hunter of All, the Devourer, the Queen of Beasts, the Slayer.
On any other day... though there was no true time in the Qliphothic and the word 'day' is only a convenience.. Sineya would have ignored the spell, perhaps sending a servant or two on a mission to punish the upstart who dared think it could command the will of an Old One. But today... and again, there were no true days in the Qlipothic... it was resting. Licking its wounds after a fight with another entity, another Old One. It was hurt, and it was tired, and thus the spell ensnared it and dragged it screaming from the Shining Darkness. Sineya shot across the outer emptiness toward the Light of Creation like a dark comet.
Something new and unexpected was waiting in the Light. One one of the many worlds of the Malkuth, the mundane realms where humans had spread like a living plague, a summoning of an Avatar of the Hunter of All had already taken place. The power of Sineya the Slayer had long ago been mystically bonded to the soul of a mere human, who used the power to protect her native realm from monsters.
Had the power been concentrated in the body of this mortal, this human, this insignificant flea-speck named Faith Lehane, the power of the summoning worked by Michael Whitebridge would have torn the mortal girl from her own realm and thrown it, alongside Sineya itself, into Whitebridge's summoning circle. But this did not happen.
It did not happen because an easier target was available.
Even more unexpected than the bonding of Sineya's power to a mortal, its power had recently, as such things were counted in the outer realms, been torn in twain, split between two separate mortals, who each used it to their own ability.
Luckily for the mortal Faith Lehane, if such could be called luck, the soul of the other mortal, the other flea-speck, that had been bonded with the Devourer was already at its rest in one of the Elysium circles. Within easy reach of the passing Old One as it burned through the ephemeral realms to appear, suddenly and unwillingly, in the center of Michael Whitebridge's summoning circle.
She was cold.
She was cold, frightened, and her body ached, everywhere.
A moment ago, Buffy Summers had been warm, and safe, and secure. Everything around her had been soft and welcoming and warm and safe. She knew... she knew that everything was just fine, and she had nothing at all to worry about. She had been in Heaven. She had been at rest. She had been at peace.
And now she wasn't.
Buffy Summers' eyes snapped open. They were wide, and horror-filled, and wet with tears, her eyes. Above her was a featureless wall of brick, oddly distorted. She stared at it for an eternity before realizing that there was nothing really to see above her.
It took all of her willpower to sit up and look around.
The room she was in was dark – she knew that it was dark, despite being able to see the length and breadth of it clearly – and distorted for some reason. It was cold, and dark, and dank, and cave-like. The walls of the room were dark brick, hung with drapings of deepest indigo.
It never occurred to her to wonder how she could still see color in such a dark room.
Three men, dressed in robes resembling those of fantasy-movie wizards, stood by a pair of closed wooden doors. The men were alert and awake, and she could see the pulse of their heartbeats in their necks and foreheads. The moment she sat up, one of the men left through the doorway.
It never occurred to her to wonder how she could see their pulses, either.
Buffy stood in one fluid motion. It wasn't her intention, but the grace with which she went from sitting to standing gave the impression of a powerful predator, a tiger perhaps, moving to its feet. She took a step toward the two men, one hand extended. Buffy opened her mouth to ask for help, only to close it again when she discovered the reason why everything in the room seemed distorted.
She was in a glass sphere. A huge hollow ball of glass. Buffy moved as much as she could within the confines of her glass prison, examining the interior of the sphere, which is how she discovered that it was sitting on a gold-colored base. There seemed to be no way into the sphere. Not even holes to let air in.
Buffy immediately began to hyperventilate. She was sure she was suffocating. The air in the sphere was close and tight, and what was worse, it was the only air available in the sphere! The knowledge that her air supply had a time limit, that she only had a finite number of breaths before she could no longer breathe at all caused the sphere to close in on her. It was getting smaller, squeezing her tight.
She fell backwards, onto her behind. The glass bottom of the sphere was cold; she could feel it in the back of her thighs and in her buttocks. Suddenly realizing she was completely naked only added to the stress. Her breathing went from rapid to labored.
It wasn't a voice. It was a presence, a near overwhelming presence that originated from nowhere and everywhere all at once.. It hadn't spoken to her, it had commanded her – no, commanded was too direct. It had transmitted to her, not quite instructions. Not quite commands. Less than orders and more than requests. Advice, perhaps. Regardless of the nature of the communication, Buffy calmed. Her breathing slowed to nothing, and it took her several moments to realize she had stopped completely. The fear she had felt since waking was gone, and she was no longer cold, or hurt, or shaking. Her body no longer ached.
Who are you? Now that she wasn't panicked, she could feel the presence lurking in the back of her head. What are you doing in my mind? Oh god! I'm possessed! Get out of my head! She started to panic again.
The answer was a dark impression that somehow felt like a mix between anger and humor.
And just like that, she was calm again. It wasn't a command. It wasn't a request. It just was. And it... the presence... was almost soothing. It felt familiar somehow, like something she'd always had, lurking within her. It felt almost like...
Buffy's eyes grew wide again. Are you the Slayer?
There was another dark impression. Acceptance. Of its place as part of her? Pride. In her and her use of it power? Anger. Always anger. But if not anger at her, anger at what?
She examined the inside of the glass cage again, only moving her eyes. In a sudden burst of motion she was standing, one fist extended in the lightning-quick punch that slammed into the glass of the sphere. The whole thing rang like a bell, making the two robed men standing by the door jump in shock. But the glass of the sphere was unmarked. No cracks, no chips. No effect on her prison at all. What is happening? She thought to herself. And how do I escape?
There was a knock at the door, and one of the robed men hurried to open it. Buffy's eyes immediately went to the three men who entered. One, a boy, she dismissed immediately as unimportant. The second, a dark-skinned man in glasses, she eyed for a moment, but just a moment. It was clear that the bespectacled man was of some importance, and that she should be wary of him, but not now. It was obvious that as powerful and important as the second man was, he was only the second to the third man.
The third man radiated evil and dark magic.
Buffy was sure the presence was right. This man was the one who brought her here. He was a relatively short man. He was hairless, not even eye-lashes. And he was dressed in clothing that Buffy knew had gone out of style nearly a hundred years before she had been born. He even carried a cane, though he did not need it to walk. Not yet, anyway. The man approached the glass cage, but stopped a good foot short of it. Buffy glanced at the man's feet and suddenly became aware of the black circle painted around her cage. It was inscribed with prayers, she realized, though she could not understand how she could read the bizarre lettering. There were two other rings, one in white, made of salt – again, how she knew this she did not understand – and a red one in candle wax.
The man leaned in, careful to not overbalance himself. "Welcome, Great One. Let me introduce myself. I am Michael Whitebridge. I am Magus of this enlightened order. And I am your new master." Buffy began to open her mouth to speak, to demand release, to threaten, when another impression from the dark presence rolled over her.
"As you can see, the three circles imprison you spiritually. The crystal sphere imprisons you physically. You will not be getting out unless the circle is broken and the sphere opened. The circle will not be broken, nor the sphere opened, unless I order it." The man brought his hands together and rubbed them. There was a greedy look to his eyes. "We will discuss the conditions of your release later. For now, make yourself comfortable."
Buffy took a seat, her legs crossed in front of her. It didn't occur to her to be bothered by being naked and on display for the men in the room. Not anymore. She was sure the presence had something to do with it. It advised her to be patient, so she would be patient. She would be calm, and she would be patient.
She realized it was good advice. She would bide her time. When the chance to escape came, she would be ready.
March 15, 1926
Saint Louis, Missouri
"Bugger and blast her!"
Peter Whitebridge jumped in his chair at his father's noisy entrance. Michael Whitebridge slammed the doors of his library open. Mister Sikes followed. Peter closed the book he'd been studying, but kept it in his hands. He stood attentive, awaiting his father's command.
"I know she can understand me. I know it!" The elder Whitebridge handed his cane off to Sikes. He'd actually come to need the thing in the last few years. "But does she respond? No. She doesn't say a word. Not one word in ten years! She hasn't threatened harm if not released, she hasn't vowed revenge, and she's ignored every demand and entreaty I've made to her! If the guards hadn't seen her move around, I'd swear she was a storefront mannequin!" Michael Whitebridge hadn't even noticed that Peter was standing there.
Sikes overturned a pair of crystal tumblers and poured two fingers of scotch into each. "What do you expect, Michael? We called her down out of the outer darkness against her will." He handed one glass to the elder Whitebridge and took a sip from his own. He shrugged. "She hates us."
"Of course she hates us. I know she hates us." Unlike Sikes, who was sipping his scotch, Whitebridge tossed his down in one gulp, then handed the glass back to his second for refilling. "But she doesn't act like it. She just sits there and stares at me with those creepy little eyes of hers."
Sikes nodded. "Creepy. I like that. Yeah, her eyes are creepy. Like a tiger's eyes. You don't expect eyes like that looking out at you from a girl that looks like Lilian Gish."
Peter stepped forward. "Uh, Father. Magus, I mean. I, uh, I think I found something that, uh, it might be applicable... I mean, it might make dealing with our, um, guest, ah, a bit easier. Its in the Vivlio Apagorevmeni Onomata." He opened the book he was holding and pointed to the page. "Here, sir... do you see the picture?"
"Yes?" Michael Whitebridge took a pair of glasses from his coat and put them on. "Hmm... yes. Yes, indeed. Why do you think the guards around her are so heavily armed? She was one of the Primal Spirits, I was sure of it. Of the most ancient of Old Ones. But which one? She wasn't Illyria, we knew that. Azogg-Mon, then? Ovilkan?"
He put a fatherly hand on his son's shoulder and the boy almost leaned into it. "No, it had to be Sineya. She was the only one that fit the bill. I had hoped you would work it out on your own, Peter, and you did. Well done, my son."
Whitebridge turned to Sikes and nudged his second in command. "Its good to know that the coven will be in good hands when I'm gone, isn't that right Sikes?"
Sikes barely paused, hiding his anger at being passed over in favor of his master's weakling son, merely smirked. "Certainly, Magus. Certainly."
November 24, 1936
Saint Louis, Missouri
"Peter." Michael Whitebridge was stooped now. At 78 years of age, he was finally accepting that he was an old, old man. He walked, carefully and slowly, along the upper gallery of his mansion. "Has there been any news of the traitor?
"No, father." Peter didn't call his father Magus anymore. Not since he had inherited the title. "There has been no sign of Mister Sikes, nor the money and artifacts he stole. The Pinkerton men I employed have found no luck, nor have the demons of the winds I sent after him."
"Demons. Bah, they are the problem. Sikes is being protected by the verminous powers." Whitebridge put the stem of his pipe between his toothless jaws and tried to light it, but the palsy in his hands was too great. He waited, expectantly, and Peter lit it for him.
"What, uh... " Peter looked down to the first floor of the mansion, where the door to the secret cellar was hidden. "What about our guest? Couldn't she find Sikes? Punish him for his transgressions?"
"Oh, absolutely. Pray tell, son, just how will you get her to do that?"
Peter looked confused. "We convince her to..."
The elder Whitebridge laughed. It was a dry, sickly sounding laugh that descended into a dry, sickly sounding cough. "In twenty years, how many things have we convinced her to do for us, Peter? How many? No. We can't 'convince' her to do anything. All we can do is keep her imprisoned, and hope that she changes her mind."
Peter followed his father toward the master bedroom and helped his father into bed. He winced at the smell of stale urine coming from the man's pajamas, but knew better than to bring it up. As he was settling his father, Peter asked, "Well... can't we try to summon Illyria again?"
"No, you idiot. No! Didn't you learn the first time? Our ceremony wasn't right. It won't ever be right. It will only summon one being, and we have her in a cage already." Whitebridge sneered. "I will be glad to finally see your mother in the hell where I sent her. I'll look at her and spit in her face, that you were the product of her womb..."
Peter watches as his father slowly drifts into sleep. For a moment he dreams of grabbing a pillow and smothering the life out of the nasty old man. But he doesn't. The death curses of true sorcerers are certain and lethal.
Besides, Peter knows he doesn't have long to wait.
December 3, 1946
Saint Louis, Missouri
Peter Whitebridge is no longer at all afraid of his father. He is Magus in his own right, and is a skilled sorcerer who controls and commands the dark forces in his own name. He is no longer the little boy who cowered behind the pillars In the summoning room. His father didn't scare him. Not at all. He would never be afraid of a crotchety old grouch who couldn't even muscle up the power for a candle-trick spell anymore.
"Father, are you sure this is a smart thing to do? It isn't safe for a man of your age to get riled up, and you know that..."
"My age?" Michael Whitebridge coughed. "When did you become so insubordinate? So defiant. Open the fucking door already, Peter!"
Peter stood at the bottom of the staircase that led back up to the main hall of the house. The doors to the secret basement and the prisoner was behind him. In front of him was Michael Whitebridge. The old man was in a shoddy, food-stained bathrobe, a white sleeveless t-shirt, and a pair of pale blue boxer shorts that were stained with substances best not thought about. On either side of the old man stood the two shifters, both were-hyenas, that Peter had hired to help keep his father out of trouble. He looked at both of them, and they shrugged.
"You two are useless." Peter looked Michael in the eye. He wasn't afraid of his father, and he wasn't giving in because he was intimidated by the old coot. There wasn't any harm in it, after all, and it would keep the grouch out of his hair. "Fine. Go ahead." In his head, he thought, Its your funeral.
Peter stood away from the doors. Michael gestured to Fredo... or was it Lincoln? Peter could never tell the two were-hyenas apart. Michael gestured to the man, who opened the door. The other shifter offered an arm, and leaning on his minder, Michael Whitebridge entered the dark chamber.
The old man stormed up to the cage, waving his cane the whole time. In his anger, Michael Whitebridge never noticed that the feminine figure inside the dust-covered glass sphere moved only her eyes. They snapped downward, watching his feet, and when they saw the man stop well-clear of the protective circle, they snapped back up to stare at nothing.
"You! This is all your fault, damn you to hell! All your fault!" Whitebridge raised his cane to point at the thing inside the glass. "You haven't aged a day since we caught you. Not one day in thirty years! And look at me! LOOK AT ME!" The old man screamed at the girl in the ball. Tears began to flow from his eyes. "You could have been free from this prison. All you had to do was cooperate. You could have given me endless power. Immortality."
"But I got old..." Michael Whitebridge was crying openly now. "Why did I have to get so –snrk!" Michael Whitebridge clutched at his chest with one hand. The other flung itself outward like a claw. Peter and the minders and Peter rushed forward to help, to keep the man from falling, but it was too late.
Michael Whitebridge was dead.
Buffy watched her captor's fatal heart attack with a blank expression. She'd watched the man grow old and die without changing her position or even her expression. She thought that when the time came she would revel in the death of the sorcerer who had her trapped, but it was empty. A hollow victory. She was, after all, still in the prison.
January 22, 1956
Saint Louis, Missouri
"Peter, sweetheart, I have to ask, why in the hell are you still keeping that thing down in the basement? Why?"
In the ten years since his father's death, Peter had changed the entire look of the house. Gone were the mysterious and creepy statues, the bear-skin rugs, the mythical paintings. The black-on-red wallpaper was history, replaced with soft pastels. He had made the house his own.
Except for the hidden basement. Peter had left that room alone.
"Hmm? What did you say, Adam?" He turned to his lover, smiling. The other large change in the house. With his father gone, he had no more reason to hide Adam's existence, and had moved the young man into the house to live with him.
"I asked why you still kept that girl down there."
"What do you expect me to do with her, Adam? Seriously? I can't just let her go." Peter leaned back on his desk and crossed his arms. "She'd slaughter us all."
"But... but what if someone finds out? What about the police? If they were to find her down there, they'd have you up on kidnapping! That's a federal charge! The FBI would get involved!" Adam lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. "Sorry, love, but I don't think you're up to living in prison."
"Adam, don't be absurd. Please." Peter turned to the desk and began rearranging the papers. They didn't need it, but he was uncomfortable with the subject. "She's been down there for forty years now. In all that time, she hasn't had a bite to eat. She hasn't slept a wink. Hell, I don't think she's even breathing. If she can breathe at all in that damned fish tank. She's got to have used up all the air by now."
"But..." Adam began.
"Look, darling, its like this: she's a being of unspeakable evil and limitless power. What am I supposed to do, just open the door and say, 'Hey, sorry about that, it was all my father's idea, you know? So I'll let you go and you don't strip the flesh from my bones and we'll call it even, right?'" Peter stepped close to Adam and took the younger man in his arms. "Look, I know you don't believe in all of it, but let me tell you, the Order was more than just a way for my father to make a lot of money. Some of it was for real."
Peter kissed Adam lightly on the lips. "For that matter some of it still is. I've seen shit that you would never believe in a thousand years. Things that are still giving me nightmares decades later. Trust me, we're safer just leaving her down there. She can't get out on her own, and we'll both be long gone by the time anyone lets her out. She'll be someone else's problem by then. Okay?"
"If you say so." Adam returned the kiss. "So... what do you think? Trattoria? Get some Italian food?"
"That sounds perfect. Let me grab my coat."
July 13, 1966
Saint Louis, Missouri
Buffy – after fifty years, she still thought of herself as Buffy – no longer questioned why she didn't age, just as she no longer questioned her lack of breathing, or eating, or sleeping. She no longer questioned why her skin had golden-yellow patches. She knew. Whatever had brought her here, whatever had torn her free of Heaven had made the Slayer in her more prominent, and as a result, she was no longer sure she qualified as a human being.
She stared at the door, unblinking, barely noticing the guards anymore. Buffy had studied the men guarding her over the years, and these, she admitted, were the least impressive so far. The robes of the Coven were long gone. Now they dressed like hippies and smelled vaguely of sweat and sex and dirt and chemicals. These guards lounged around rather than standing vigilant. Some even had the temerity to stand guard while obviously high on something. Buffy kept careful watch to see if any of them broke the circle, but none of them did. Drug-users they might be, but they weren't overly careless.
They still smelled of hyena. Shifters. Had to have been shifters. The Slayer was the Queen of Beasts, and Buffy knew her own when she smelled them. She remembered back, when the younger Whitebridge had first begun to employ weres as guards, trying to mentally dominate them so that they would release her. According to the presence, it should have been child's play. But the circle blocked her power there, too.
Buffy could hear the tap-tap tap-tap of her captor's cane against the brick floor as he approached the wooden double doors. The boy she had seen come in with her original jailer was now an old man. His hair, once auburn and full-bodied, was now mostly gray and thinning. He walked with a limp, the remnant of some accident or misadventure. Buffy watched as he pulled up a folding chair to sit down. As they always did when someone approached, her eyes flicked downward. The circle was unmarred still. That was all right. If the last fifty years of captivity had taught Buffy nothing else, it had taught her patience. Endless patience.
She watched the old man without moving her eyes, and imagined what his heart might taste like, eaten raw and warm right from his torn and open chest. That was something else Buffy no longer questioned. Where once she might refuse to kill a mortal human, fifty years of having the Slayer as a greater presence in her head had altered Buffy's acceptance of violence against humanity.
"Hello." Her jailer said. "How are... herm. Yes, I suppose that's a stupid question to ask. Sorry"
Buffy didn't react. She hadn't reacted in fifty years.
"You know, you don't need to be in there. You don't. You can leave at any time. The same deal applies. I mean, the one my father offered you, back when you were first summoned." He leaned back in his chair and tapped his cane against his leg. Buffy's eyes flicked downward again, then back up. She could tell the man was getting careless. The presence in her head had assured her that someone would do so, eventually. Sooner or later, the circle would be broken.
He was still talking, but she wasn't paying attention. Not really. Buffy had heard it all before. "Power, immortality, and a binding promise that you won't seek revenge. That's all you need to give me, and you'll be freed.
Buffy kept her silence. Her captor limped away, disappointed.
Peter was surprised that they still came to him for enlightenment. His new 'acolytes', and he laughs when he thinks of them that way, aren't interested in magic so much as they are interested in expanding their consciousness. So he teaches them about Kundalini Yoga, and Tantric Sex, and Altered States. Nothing too important.
He forbids his followers to use psychedelic drugs, at least at his house. He's too afraid of what might happen if one of them is on guard duty and starts freaking out over a rogue hallucination. But those assigned to guard the basement are supplied with as much coffee and amphetamines as they request, to keep them alert.
He's turned over the business end of the organization to Adam, who he is now often seen with publicly. Adam still doesn't believe in magic. Adam sees the Coven as a way to efficiently separate the amazingly gullible and stupid from their hard-earned cash. And it works. They haven't had this much money rolling in since the 1920s.
While it is never a good time to be a gay man in the United States, the hippy movement and free love give them a cover that lets the two of them move openly for the first time since their relationship began. Peter is head-over-heels with Adam, and Adam is just as much in love with Peter. If it weren't for certain secrets the two share amongst themselves, it would be a perfect relationship.
In his copious spare time, Peter wrote a book about his father, correcting certain rumors about the man, and carefully not correcting certain other rumors. It sold well, for a time, and then was forgotten.
Peter himself has given up on true magic. He no longer associates with it, uses it, or even reads about it. His were-hyena hirelings are all gone now. They were giving him the heebie-jeebies and made his skin crawl.
There was one exception, of course. He couldn't help himself. At least once a day he would spend some time in his father's old library, staring at a single page in the Vivlio Apagorevmeni Onomata.
Just a single page that he had long-since memorized.
And still the creature in the basement is silent.
September 2, 1976
Saint Louis, Missouri
"Why won't you talk to me? You could – you could teach me! You could tell me so many amazing things! I want to learn from you!" Peter sat in his wheelchair in front of the glass globe. It had a covering of dust and dirt over most of its surface, and he could barely see the girl.
The crystal cage could not be cleaned, after all, without breaking the circle.
"You know, I haven't had a good night's sleep in years. Not since the 40s, at least." Peter waved an arm at the sphere. "I bet that's your fault. You've... you've managed to penetrate the circle with your mind somehow and are giving me nightmares." He sat silent for a moment, then whispered, "... nightmares..."
Adam put a hand on Peter's shoulder, but the older man shrugged it off. "I could, uh, I could have you tortured, you know! Don't think I don't know how! I've done it before! I've killed people before! It would be easy!"
"Peter, calm down. Its not good for your heart." Adam again laid his hand on Peter's shoulder. Peter looked up into his lover's face and nodded. The last thing he wanted to do was go out like his father had.
He turned back to the glass sphere. "I hate you. I do. I'm glad we trapped you. You... you're nothing. You're insignificant. You're powerless. Just a funny-colored, naked girl trapped in a fish-tank. That's nothing at all. You're nothing at all." He seemed to run out of breath. "You're nothing at all," he whispered one last time.
Peter stared at the girl in the glass bubble, her image dimmed by the dirt and dust. She still sat unmoving.
"Ah, this is pointless. Adam, take me back up to my office. I have work to do." Peter's face smoothed over. "I do have work to do, right?" Sometimes he lost track of things from day to day.
"Of course you do, love. Of course you do." Adam spun the wheelchair in place and the pair exited the door, heading for the elevator they had secretly installed when walking stairs had become too much for Peter to handle.
"Don't humor me, Adam. I hate it when you humor me.
For the first time in sixty years, Buffy wasn't staring at the door. She wasn't watching the lover push the old man in the chair out of the door. She was, instead, staring at the circle. She was staring at the streak of muck left behind by the wheelchair's tire. The scattered grains of salt. The broken wax.
For the first time in sixty years, Buffy smiled.
March 30, 1980
Saint Louis, Missouri
The guards are gone. They'd been gone for little more than an hour. Two of them had been on duty when a third entered the room, spoke to them in whispers Buffy hadn't been able to hear, and the three of them left.
As usual, Buffy heard the man approach before she sees him enter. It's the lover, and he wasn't with the boy.
"I, uh, I don't know why I'm doing this, but I thought it only fair to tell you. Peter died four days ago." The man seemed to collapse on himself for a moment, and had Buffy not been held in a glass cage for sixty-four years, she might have held some sympathy for him. As it was, she wanted to tear his throat out with her teeth.
"I, uh... I'm not going to open the cage. Peter gave me so many warnings about it over the years that I find myself terrified of the thought. Terrified of you... So... I'm sorry." He hung his head, as if he was ashamed of what he was doing. Again, Buffy was less than sympathetic.
"Peter left everything to me, so I guess you're mine now. But I don't want you. I'm... I'm moving away. Far away. Hopefully far enough away that you'd never find me if you escaped." He sighed. "I've updated my will. The land and the house will stay in state as is until I die. I'm not going to be living here, nor will I rent the place, or sell it. No one is going to take care of it. The place will just sit there. It'll only be sold when I'm gone."
Buffy watched him take a deep breath, obviously trying to center himself. "Once I'm gone, the house and the land will be sold off. Who knows. Maybe whoever buys the place will open the cage. Or break it. But I'm not..." She watched as the man knelt, his words trailing off to nothing. He stared at the circle. At the smudged black paint and the scattered salt and the broken red wax.
The man looked up from where he was kneeling, his face mere inches from the glass, and Buffy was suddenly there, staring into his eyes. Her smile was predatory, the smile a cat might have when it has cornered a mouse. The smile of a panther leaping onto the back of an antelope. Her nose is all but pressed against the glass. Buffy could not help it. She stared into his eyes and forced the fact that he was her prey into his mind.
She widened her smile, showing all the points, all the fangs, and the sharp meat-eater teeth. And then she licked the glass.
"Holy fuck! Holy fuck!" He scrambled backward on his ass, terrified by what he just saw, but in a blink of an eye she was right back where she had been sitting motionless since 1916, staring blankly into space, reacting to nothing.
She watched the lover pick himself off the floor and force himself to calm down. The man took one last look at her, and then ran out of the room in terror.
October 7, 1996
Saint Louis, Missouri
Buffy had lost track of time. She wasn't worried, as it had happened before. But then, before there had been the guards and the jailers, whose appearance changed over time. The men got older, the clothing styles got closer and closer to what she thought of as 'normal'. Now, though, there was no way to tell how much time had passed.
She sat in the dark, and planned her revenge upon the world. Intellectually, she knew that given what the lover had told her, there was almost no chance of striking back at the Magus, his son, or the lover himself. But, and this she promised herself, once she escaped it would be the last time anyone put her in any sort of cage. She'd carve her way through entire populations before she let that happen again.
But Buffy made many plans for when she was out of the cage. Plans involving ice cream, and shoe shopping, and maybe finding a job. Plans involving relearning how to act human; how to breathe despite not needing to. How to eat again, how to sleep again, how to talk again. How to fuck and walk and sneeze and shit and puke again. How to be with people without seeing them as victims or opponents. The entirety of the human experience, she wanted it back.
She doubted she was a Slayer anymore – other than being the ultimate embodiment of the Slayer, that is; she'd been tied to the entity in the back of her head long enough to learn certain things about it – but Buffy knew that she likely wouldn't completely give up the lifestyle. She hoped to find a place in the world for herself despite the physical and mental changes she'd been forced to undergo. Buffy hoped beyond hope that her friends were still there when she went looking for them. She missed her friends.
Buffy missed her mommy the most, though. She missed her mommy something awful. And she hoped that her mommy could accept that she wasn't human anymore.
Instantly Buffy cleared her mind of all of her plans, all her thoughts, all her reminiscences. She waited, knowing the presence would...
It was the sound of machinery. It was muffled, but not distant. Something was moving above her. Something large, powered by an engine. As she continued to listen, she could hear wood creaking and smashing and tearing. Someone is tearing down the house, she thought to herself.
Buffy stood, staring at the brick ceiling through the distortion of the glass. Plaster and mortar were falling onto the sphere, loosened by the activity above her. If she still breathed, Buffy knew she'd be holding it. More plaster rained down. There was a scraping sound from above her, accompanied by a growl from the engine-driven whatever it was.
Abruptly, there was a rain of loose bricks as a hole opened in the ceiling. First one, then eight, then two dozen. For a moment Buffy's hopes soared, but it was for naught. The bricks bounced off of the crystal shell, making it ring like a gong but not causing any damage.
From above came voices.
"... what the hell was that ringing... sounded like a bell... move the backhoe off... think we've got another cellar... not on the plans... its there all right... hey, I think I found... get the inspector over here, pronto... look, its a staircase... "
Buffy knew that the time had come. She leaned on the glass. She pounded on it. Her need to be out of the cage made her press against it, but she still couldn't get through. Her efforts were useless.
Buffy's head snapped up and she looked toward the door. She heard voices, at least two, maybe three men. The people with the engine had discovered the hidden stairway. They'd find her any moment.
What? Change? Change what? She couldn't figure out what the presence wanted. She was suddenly desperate to escape.
And suddenly Buffy knew what it meant. She took a calming breath and willed herself to change. Her hair took on a normal blonde color, and grew shaggy and unkempt. Her eyes grew round instead of cat-like oval. Her fangs retracted. Buffy concentrated and the gold patches were replaced by cuts, bruises, and scratches. She was suddenly smudged with dirt and grime. Buffy collapsed in a heap just at the men opened the doors. Feigning weakness, she flapped her hand against the glass spasmodically.
"What the fuck is this?" The first voice, deep and husky.
The second voice. Still male. Higher pitched than the first. "I dunno, but its not on the plans."
Buffy felt something touch the glass; there was a quaver, a vibration in the crystal, as if something was rubbing it. "Oh shit! There's a girl in there! Get... get something... we need to get her out of there! Look at her! I think she's hurt!" The first voice was almost to panic mode. Buffy kept her eyes closed, but heard a frenetic repeated impact on the glass. "Hey, hey you, girl! You okay? Hang on! We're getting you out!"
"Rick, step back! Get back!" A third voice. Deeper than the second, lighter than the first. Buffy heard something impact the crystal. Something heavy. She could feel the glass vibrate beneath her, and heard the thing crack.
The second voice sounded again, but from far away. "... there's a girl down trapped here, god damn it! Call an ambulance... call the fucking ambulance, now!"
There was another impact, and a third, and a fourth. On the fourth the cracking sound turned into the sound of glass shattering. Buffy kept her eyes closed and didn't move. She could hear the men moving around. "Watch the glass! Watch the glass." She could hear the shattered crystal swept away, then two large, warm hands grabbed her by the shoulder.
"Watch it. Don't cut her on the edge there. Careful!" Buffy was pulled, slowly, inch by inch, out of the glass bubble and into the arms of one of the men. She still hadn't opened her eyes, but Buffy could feel his warmth.
She heard his heart beat. And most importantly, she could smell him. He smelled delightful. He smelled like... like smoky barbecue and cherries and chocolate. He smelled like a meal.
She shook her head at the thought, and instinctively put one arm over the man's shoulder. She forced her arm to move slowly, gently, as it would if she were truly injured. Buffy opened her eyes, slowly, and looked up at her rescuer. He was a huge man, and her first impression was that she'd seen him in a movie once, acting belligerent and getting his ass kicked by John Claude Van Damme or Arnold Schwarzeneggar. The man had that sort of tough-guy face. He had long blonde hair pulled back into a pony tail, and a goatee the same color. His eyes were a beautiful, expressive green, and they held nothing in them but concern and kindness for her, entirely at odds to his tough-guy look.
"Help me," she whispered.
He looked down at her and nodded. The man shifted his grip on her until she was being held in the bridal carry. "Don't worry, little girl, we'll help you. Don, gimme your shirt. Cover her up so nobody sees her like this. She don't need nobody gawkin' at her, hurt and all."
Buffy closed her eyes and played the weakling. She'd allow these men to play the hero and rescue the little girl. It would be easier to escape from the ambulance, anyway.
Author's Note: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the property of Warner Brothers in conjunction with Mutant Enemy Productions. Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter is the property of Laurel K. Hamilton and her publisher. The Sandman is the creation of Neil Gaiman, and is owned by DC Comics, which is itself a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. The character Luther Black was created by Alan Thomas and appears in that writer's series of pulp homage crime noir stories dealing with square-jawed detectives hunting down dangerous cultists. He appears here with permission of the author. The Pendleton Legacy by August Derleth is in the public domain.
Author's Note the Second: This chapter was molded after and is an homage to "Sleep of the Just", the first issue of The Sandman, a comic book written by author Neil Gaiman and published in 1988. I created this homage with the full knowledge and consent of Mr. Gaiman, who after reading the rough draft thought that I was off to a brilliant start and made me promise to send him a copy of the finished story.