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Here, at last, is Part 10 of my ‘Tabula Avatar’ crossover universe story The King of Elfland’s Daughter, sequel to Debt of Blood. An NCIS/Stargate SG-1/Forgotten Realms crossover.

Summary: Gibbs and the NCIS Major Case Response Team investigate the brutal murder of a Marine and the trail leads them first to a Congolese immigrant named Cierre LuaLua, working for a secret Air Force project, and then to a deadly, seemingly invulnerable, assassin who might be a literal devil. Chapter 10 is 6,075 words, rating 15.

Sorry for the extremely long delay in posting this; I went through a long period of feeling rather flat and not being able to write more than a hundred or so words a day, exacerbated by my dotting back and forward between this story, ‘Tabula Avatar’, and ‘The Dark Companion’. However a couple of weeks ago I got back into gear and made rapid progress. In fact I wrote so much that the chapter went way over the length of the previous chapters, and even over the LiveJournal maximum posting length, and so I’ve split it into two. I’ll post the next chapter, which will be the Conclusion, after the weekend.

The King of Elfland’s Daughter

Ten: Forever In A Day

The strange woman who called herself ‘Shar’ looked at her coffee cup and smiled broadly. She held up the cup so that her companion could see the name written on it and the blue-haired woman laughed aloud.

Gibbs raised an eyebrow. Shar grinned at him and turned the cup in his direction. The barista had written her name as ‘Shah’.

“I take it that’s not the correct spelling,” Gibbs said.

“Transliteration between two languages that don’t use the same alphabet isn’t an exact science,” Shar said, “but certainly it’s not how I would spell it in your language. And this word means a King or Emperor of a desert-dwelling people.”

“You are the majority religion in Calimshan,” the other woman put in, “so there is some coincidental logic behind that version.” She raised her own cup. “But not this.” Scrawled on the cup was ‘Cheery.”

Shar chuckled. “It’s a passable phonetic representation, apart from the first and last syllables being absent,” she said.

“I suppose my name would not be familiar to the denizens of Earth,” the blue-haired woman conceded, “as it appears to have gone out of use in the two and a half thousand years since the time of Queen Egeria.”

Briefly Gibbs considered suggesting that the barista had thought the woman – Egeria, presumably – to be Canadian, and that she’d given her name as “Eh, Cheery, eh,” but if they were aliens it was unlikely that they would get the reference and so he refrained from speaking.

“We received the coffee, which is the important thing,” Shar said, and she sipped at her cup. “And it is satisfactory. Very pleasant, by the standards of the products of mortals.”

“Indeed so,” Egeria agreed, after following Shar’s example and taking a drink. “And there are many other varieties available. I would like to sample them.”

“I doubt that we will have time to try them all,” said Shar, “but perhaps I will create a replica of this establishment once we return home.”

Egeria broke into a wide grin. “Sharbucks,” she said.

Shar gave an answering grin. “An apt suggestion,” she said. “I shall do it.”

By now Gibbs was convinced that the two women, although undoubtedly from the same planet as Cierre and Bodhi, had no hostile intent. He had been sitting in silence, doing nothing other than observe and take sips from his own cup, but now he spoke. “Okay,” he said, “just who are you?”

“I am Shar, Mistress of the Night” said Shar. “Goddess of the Dark, of Loss, of Caverns and the Underdark, of Memory and Forgetfulness, and of Secrets.”

“And I am Egeria, the Herald of Shar,” said the other woman. “In your terms I could best be described as an angel.”

“An… angel.” Gibbs pursed his lips, frowned, and set his cup down on the table. “Did you meet Colonel Carter when you were wearing a bath towel?”

“Actually the first time I met her I was dressed much as I am now,” Egeria answered, “but at our second meeting I wore nothing but a towel wrapped around my hair. The call to action came when I was in the bath.”

“Angels need to bathe?”

“It’s not strictly necessary,” Egeria said, “but it is pleasant and relaxing. I don’t need to eat or drink, either, but I’m still enjoying this coffee.”

Gibbs nodded. “Point taken,” he said. He turned his attention to Shar. “And you’re a… goddess.”

“You sound skeptical,” said Shar. “I’m not sure what I could do to prove it. There would be no point in my performing a minor miracle that could be duplicated by a non-divine being. You could take out your gun and shoot me in the head, change over to the magazine of silver bullets and empty that into me too, and it wouldn’t hurt me in the slightest. That would prove nothing, however, as you have already met someone who can’t be harmed by bullets and Bodhi is far from being a deity. Whereas something that could be accomplished only by a deity would be somewhat… catastrophic. I could withstand the blast of a thermo-nuclear device, and suffer only minor inconvenience, but a practical demonstration would be difficult to arrange. And, of course, it would destroy Washington.”

Gibbs nodded. “That would be a drawback,” he said. “I’ll take your word for it, at least provisionally.” He glanced at the customers sitting at the nearby tables; none of them were paying any attention whatsoever to the… outlandish conversation. Just like no-one had batted an eye when two seven-foot women walked into the Starbucks.

“You could talk to Daniel Jackson,” Shar suggested. “He has first-hand experience of what I can do.”

“I might do that,” Gibbs said. He picked up his coffee cup again and took a drink. “How come nobody in here is taking any notice of you two? A pair of… attractive ladies… taller than most basketball players isn’t exactly a common sight around here. And there are people within hearing range who aren’t taking a bit of notice despite our conversation being… unusual, to say the least.”

“They perceive us in other guise,” said Shar. Suddenly she was no taller than Ziva, her purple eyes were dark brown, and her skin was no longer almost pure white but was the same shade as that of the majority of the other customers. “I am permitting you, however, to see us as we really are. Or at least in the forms we wear for my worshippers.” She reverted to her previous seven-foot, purple-eyed, persona. “And the nearby mortals cannot make out our words. I am the Goddess of Secrets, after all.”

“A neat trick,” Gibbs said. He paused to take another drink. “So, what is it you want with me?”

“To meet you, and to thank you for a job well done,” Shar said. “When I became aware of you I found you… interesting. Were you a native of my world I would expect you to be one of my worshippers. You have suffered tragic loss and risen above it to perform great deeds. And one of your chief duties is the protection of secrets. Indeed you would make a mighty champion of my cause. Were you not so committed to your duties here I would invite you to take a position in my service. I know, however, that you would not accept.”

“You have that right,” Gibbs said. “My place is with NCIS.”

“And sterling indeed has been your service within that proud organization,” said Shar. “Yet perchance you might perform a task for me after all. I foresee that a time may come when I shall have need of a man who can solve mysteries, and who can deal death at a range of a mile, and if that time comes I shall call for your aid. I understand that your duties for NCIS may preclude you from answering that call but, if they do not, will you come?”

Gibbs took another drink, mainly as a delaying tactic, before he replied. “I’m not going to commit myself to anything when I don’t know all the implications,” he said. “I don’t even know where you fit into things. Are you one of the… Bridesmaids?”

Shar smiled. “The Bridesmaids are those goddesses who were my attendants at my wedding,” she told him. “Eilistraee, sister to my husband. Talona, my longest-standing friend. Mystra, whom I call by her mortal name of Midnight. Mielikki. Umberlee. Eldath. Liira. I count all as dear friends. If they ally with Earth, then I do also. And, indeed, already have I declared myself enemy to Earth’s bitterest foe, and sent Egeria to wreak havoc upon his forces. You need have no fear that I would ask you to do anything against the interests of your people.”

“Good to know,” said Gibbs, “but I’d still need to know your reasons. I wouldn’t want to get involved in any… faction fight on your planet, even if it didn’t harm Earth or the USA, when I didn’t understand the rights and wrongs.”

“A good position to take,” said Shar, “and I would not expect you to act otherwise. Consult with your colleagues, Timothy McGee and Abby Sciuto, and tell them that my objective is to tear down the Wall of the Faithless and free the souls trapped within. I am confident that they will confirm it to be a worthy cause.”

“If they do then I might – just might – be willing,” Gibbs said, “but without my team I’m just a Marine a little too old for regular front-line service.”

“The request includes any of your team who would be willing,” Shar said. “They, too, have impressed me.”

Gibbs wasn’t too happy about how much she seemed to know about his team, and indeed about his own background, but he supposed that as a goddess – he’d take that as being equal to the Ancient Greek and Roman gods, not that he had much knowledge about them other than vague memories of an old movie featuring a mechanical owl – she could do the equivalent of looking down from Olympus. Not that there was anything he could do about it; even if she was over-stating things when she talked about being able to shrug off a nuclear explosion, he was damn sure she was telling the truth when she said shooting her would be pointless. And, to be honest, he was equally sure she was telling the truth not only about her invulnerability but about her benevolent intent.

“I’ll pass that on to them,” he said. “And if McGee and Abby confirm that what you want to do is the right thing, and if NCIS doesn’t need us at the time, I’ll help you out. If any of the rest of the team want to come, well, that’s up to them.”

Shar smiled broadly. “I thank you,” she said. “I hope that it will not be necessary for me to call upon you, but it is as well to prepare for all eventualities. Take these.” She put down her coffee cup and extended her hand over the table. A handful of necklaces landed on the surface. If it was sleight of hand it was better than anything Gibbs had ever seen; her hand had been empty, no doubt about it, and her dress was sleeveless.

“Are these… translation devices like the one Cierre wears?” he asked.

“Indeed so,” Shar confirmed. “These are, however, keyed specifically to your team members. If anyone else puts one on… it will work in reverse. The wearer will be unable to communicate with anyone, neither by speech nor in writing, and they will understand nothing written or spoken. And the amulet cannot be removed from an unauthorized wearer without a Remove Curse spell – which only a handful of people on this planet can cast, and the wearer would have no way of requesting one anyway – except by its rightful owner.”

“Ingenious,” said Gibbs, “and nasty.”

“It was suggested to me by my friend Hoar, God of Poetic Justice,” Shar said. “I take my job as Mistress of Secrets seriously and I was happy to adopt his suggestion.”

“I take it you’ve been planning this for a while, then,” Gibbs said.

“Not really,” Shar said. “I didn’t even know of your existence until you began to question Cierre. It was only when you killed a barbazu with a pen, and then saw through Bodhi’s scheme with her duplicate, that I began to think about requesting your aid. I’m a goddess. It doesn’t take me long to create magical items.”

Gibbs took a closer look at the amulets. Each one was of a different design. One bore a Star of David – for Ziva, no doubt – and another had a pendant in the shape of a Baltimore Police badge, complete with the shield fronted by the Battle Monument, but much smaller than the real thing and lacking the lettering. That had to be for DiNozzo. There was one with something that looked like a feather; it took Gibbs a few moments to work out what that one represented. It wasn’t until after seeing one that was patterned after the Kuwait Liberation Medal he’d used to punch the bearded devil, and so obviously was intended for Gibbs himself, that he realized that the feather was meant to be a quill pen and therefore symbolized McGee. There was one other necklace, and he had recognized that one’s intended recipient instantly; a black leather choker, decorated with silver studs, with a silver bat dangling at the front. For Abby.

Gibbs wasn’t sure how he felt about that. She’d kill for the chance to go to another planet; the snag was that she might die for it. “Abby,” he said, picking up the choker. “I’m not exactly thrilled at the idea of her going to a place where there are things like Doyle – Bodhi – walking around.”

“Not many of the denizens of Faerûn are as deadly as Bodhi,” Shar replied, “although I do not deny that it can be a dangerous place. But is the same not true of Earth? Let it be her decision.”

“O…kay,” Gibbs said, reluctantly. Privately he resolved to do everything he could to talk Abby out of it, although he strongly suspected that he’d be unsuccessful. Maybe the absence of Caf-Pow from other planets might be enough to get her to stay behind. “Supposing everyone wants to go, and you call us when we’re not on a case, what then? Do we turn up at Cheyenne Mountain and drop your name?”

“That would not be necessary,” Shar said. “Simply go into a room with no natural illumination, extinguish the lights, and then speak my name. Either I’ll come and get you or I’ll send Cheery.” She shot a sidelong glance at her companion and smirked.

Egeria rolled her eyes. “Oh, don’t you start,” she said, although there was a smile on her lips. “It’s bad enough that Buffy calls me Eggy.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” said Shar. “Another coffee? And, perhaps, some sweet comestibles?”

“I think I would like to try the beverage that has cream floating like an iceberg upon the coffee,” said Egeria, “and, perhaps, a triple chocolate muffin.”

“Agent Gibbs?”

“Thanks, but I think I’d better be moving on,” Gibbs said. He took another drink from his coffee, taking it down to the point where there was only a single mouthful remaining, and then lowered the cup. “Before I go – did you come to Earth just to put your proposition to me?”

“Actually, no,” Shar replied. “We acted as transportation for Eilistraee, who is meeting SG-1 at your Pentagon. She had not met them before, whereas I have met Daniel Jackson and Egeria has met the whole team. We could therefore… home in, I believe you would call it… upon their location. She can make her own way back, of course, but we thought we’d do a little shopping, and sample your planet’s coffee, before returning home. When I perceived you in the vicinity I decided it was the perfect opportunity to make my approach.”

Gibbs nodded and drained what was left of his coffee.

“And, again, I thank you,” Shar said. “Your skill and dedication, and that of your team, has served your world well. If you had kept Cierre in custody, and failed to have Cheyenne Doyle investigated, or had fallen for her trick when she faked her death, the results could have been… unfortunate.”

Gibbs narrowed his eyes. “If you were… looking down from Heaven, or wherever, and watching everything happening, why didn’t you do something about it? Couldn’t you have stopped Doyle even before she killed Gunny Sherman?”

“I could,” Shar told him, “but it would have made things worse. There is an… agreement between the gods not to intervene directly in mortal affairs. I can get away with minor things like bestowing these translation amulets upon you, and transporting you from here to Faerûn if you call upon me to do so, but had I smote Bodhi it would have had serious repercussions. Loviatar would have taken it as giving her carte blanche to intervene herself. She hates General O’Neill, for he slew one of her High Priestesses, and would seize the opportunity to attack him. Eilistraee would, of course, have stepped in to defend General O’Neill. She would try to minimize collateral damage; Loviatar… would not.”

Gibbs had no idea who Eilistraee and Loviatar were but he remembered the fight between Cierre and Bodhi and mentally scaled it up to cover seven-foot women who could withstand nuclear explosions. “I take it the Pentagon would have been wrecked,” he said.

Shar snorted. “The Mistress of Swords versus the Maiden of Pain? You would be lucky if Washington was left standing,” she said. “When Talona fought Loviatar’s sister, in the Year of the Clinging Death, the entire nation of Asram was wiped out. And it would not stop there. Talona and Mielikki would come to Eilistraee’s assistance, and that would bring Bane and Talos to aid Loviatar, leading inevitably to full-scale war. Probably the whole North American continent would be destroyed. Quite possibly the planet. I would rather avoid the possibility of such an outcome.”

“Understandable,” said Gibbs. He had been about to rise to his feet, ready to depart, but now more questions came to his mind and he settled down again. “I think I’ll have another coffee after all.”

- - - - -

“Mistress Hezebel?” The imp’s tone was obsequious.

Hezebel, who had been sitting cross-legged in front of the DVD player watching ‘Shrek 2’, stood up. She had donned outer clothing over her new underwear and now was clad in black breeches, Boots of Hardiness, and a sleeveless black leather top. “I am Hezebel,” she confirmed. “What message do you have for me, imp?”

“You wished to speak with Mistress Nyphithys,” the imp answered. “I am instructed to tell you that she returned to the Hells a few days ago and would be happy to meet with you.”

Hezebel raised an eyebrow. “She wasn’t due back for quite some time. Something unexpected must have happened.” She turned to Bodhi. “How close is this movie to the end?”

Bodhi looked at the screen, where the Fairy Godmother was belting out ‘I Need A Hero’ as Puss In Boots fought his way past the palace guards, and then glanced at her Cartier watch. “About five minutes, I think,” she said. “Not more than ten, certainly.”

Hezebel turned back to the imp. “Convey my regards to Nyphithys and invite her to visit me here as soon as convenient for her,” she said. “I have a request that may turn out to be to her advantage as well as mine.”

“I shall deliver your message at once, Mistress,” the imp replied, and it teleported away.

“You said something about having more violent movies,” Hezebel said to Bodhi. “Pick one out and have it ready to play when Nyphithys arrives. If she is reluctant to aid us, for any reason, some suitably impressive entertainment would be likely to change her mind.”

“Good thinking, Boss,” Bodhi said. “Let’s see… I know… ‘Blade’. I haven’t seen it myself yet but I’ve heard there’s a real bloodbath in the opening scene.”

“That sounds ideal,” said Hezebel. She licked her lips. “I look forward to seeing it. Do you have any more gifts remaining that could be used to buy her favor?”

“Not really,” said Bodhi. “Just a couple of boxes of chocolates. I have a few books but they’re mainly instructional, unarmed combat manuals and so on, rather than entertainment. And I haven’t finished reading ‘Deep Six’. There’s my iPod, the little music player, but it’s loaded with my tastes in music and I couldn’t guarantee she’d like it.” Her lips twisted and she glanced at her left wrist. “I guess I’d have to give her my wristwatch. I have a spare, one I picked up before I bullied Charlotte into buying the Cartier, but it’s just a plain ordinary watch and a man’s at that.”

“May I see your spare?” Hezebel asked.

“Of course,” Bodhi said, and she pulled out her Bag of Holding and extracted a chunky, matt black, men’s Timex Quartz. “The Cartier is pretty much a match for one I acquired when I first visited Earth. Buffy Summers took it from me before Viconia staked me. This one I took from a footpad who was idiot enough to try to rob me.”

Hezebel took the Timex and held it to her wrist. “It is not unattractive to my eyes. It would go well with my leathers.”

Bodhi took the hint. “It’s yours, if I don’t have to give the Cartier to Nyphithys,” she said. Any other senior devil would, she was sure, have claimed the Cartier for herself; Hezebel was, as far as Bodhi knew, unique among devils in the consideration she displayed toward her subordinates. And that was why Bodhi had not, even for a moment, thought of turning her gun upon Hezebel.

“Thank you,” Hezebel said, buckling on the watch, and then she turned her attention back to the conclusion of Shrek’s battle with the Fairy Godmother. “What the Hells? King Harold is a frog?”

- - - - -

“Now that’s the kind of god I could get to respect,” Jack said, after Eilistraee had departed. “None of this ‘Bow before me, puny mortal’ crap, just straight talking and fair dealing. And she has a sense of humor.”

“Indeed,” Teal’c agreed. “I was most impressed by the Lady Eilistraee’s integrity and warrior spirit.”

“It certainly was a profitable meeting,” Sam said. “I was expecting her to ask for so much more in return for what the Bridesmaids are offering us. It was a big surprise to find that what they want for their people is, in the main, nineteenth-century technology. Almost every other planet less advanced than Earth asks for the latest gadgets.”

“Which they can’t manufacture themselves, or keep maintained,” Daniel said. “Whereas Faerûn won’t have any problems dealing with blast furnaces, and nineteenth-century brick kilns, and steam engines. Building a railroad network seems to me to be an eminently practical way of breaking the society out of its… medieval stasis without destabilizing things too much. And those advanced gadgets that they do want are primarily devoted to entertainment. Luxuries. Nothing that will give any one country, or race, any advantage over the others.”

“As most of what they want is the plans for things they can build themselves, rather than the manufactured items, we don’t have to worry about how to disassemble a hundred-ton locomotive into parts that will fit through the Stargate,” Sam said. “Eminently sensible. And in return we get the chance to trade for their… magic and also for significant quantities of naquadah and trinium. It’s too good to turn down, that’s for sure.”

“As long as we can keep the Trust out of things,” Jack said. “I have a feeling that if they start dealing guns, or trying to loot Faerûn by force, the Bridesmaids will stop playing nice pretty damn quick.”

“I concur,” Daniel said, “and it would have dire consequences. When Shar and Vhaeraun were among the Ascended Ancients it was quite clear that they were, so to speak, the five-hundred pound gorillas in the room. If beings who can intimidate the Ancients were to start seeing Earth as an annoyance, or even a threat… I shudder to think what they might do. And there wouldn’t be a thing we could do about it.”

“You’re preaching to the choir, Daniel,” Jack said. “But, right now, they’re very much on our side. And I want it to stay that way. Cierre, can we rely upon NCIS to slap down those Trust idiots who started messing with things they didn’t understand?”

“We can, Jabbuk,” Cierre assured him. “Special Agent Gibbs is much like you. He will not fail us.”

Jack nodded. “Good. And they found the source of the leaks, so we don’t have to worry about that any more. Man, I hate the kind of scum who kidnap children.”

“As does Gibbs, and one of those taken was from his own people,” said Cierre. “He will make them pay.”

“And he’s got Amos Stronginthearm backing him up,” Jack said. “I think we can leave them to it. Okay, people, I think we can call it a day. A very successful meeting, some nice technology, and all it cost us was a few thousand dollars in electronics and DVDs. Oh, and I’ll have to recompense the Navy for getting the USS Barry shot up, even though it was Agent Gibbs who came up with that idea. Still, the things we got from Eilistraee are worth millions, so it’s still a win. And,” he grinned, “nobody won the betting pool.”

“That is not correct, O’Neill,” Teal’c informed him. “There is a winner.”

Jack raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t know anyone had put down Eilistraee as their guess,” he said. “Someone at the base?”

“A data burst came through from Atlantis just before we set out,” Daniel Jackson said, “and it included a couple of entries. One of them did say Eilistraee.”

“Oh? Who?” Jack asked, and then groaned. “No, wait, don’t tell me. Rodney McKay?”

Teal’c nodded. “Indeed.”

- - - - -

Nyphithys arrived, accompanied by two of her own Erinyes squad, an hour after ‘Shrek 2’ finished. Bodhi had not met her before and watched with interest, sizing Nyphithys up, as the visitor was greeted by Hezebel and the two Erinyes commanders embraced. Nyphithys had red hair, worn long and loose, held back from her face by a tiara of green metal in the shape of a bat with outstretched wings. She had the typical tall and slim Erinyes build and, like Hezebel, had white wings instead of the usual red or black. Her two guards were clad in leathers but Nyphithys herself wore a simple, unadorned, green dress. An empty scabbard hung at her side.

“I had not expected you to return so early from your mission,” Hezebel said, “and your sword is missing. Did something go wrong?”

Nyphithys scowled. “King Obould cut me in half with a flaming greatsword,” she said. “The fool rejected my overtures and turned on me. An Orc who would rather have peace with the Dwarves and humans than fight them. Who would have believed it?”

Hezebel raised her eyebrows. “Strange indeed,” she said, “but perhaps it is because he does things differently that he is the most effective leader the orcs have had in millennia. Yaisog Bonegnasher and Logram Eyegouger chose war; they are dead and their clans scattered. That may have influenced Obould Many-Arrows to decide as he did.”

“Perhaps so,” said Nyphithys. “It still came as a painful surprise. And I lost my sword and, as yet, I have not found another that has the same balance. What is it that you wanted to see me about?”

“I have heard that you have a way of returning to the Prime Material, after being slain, in considerably less time than the usual one hundred years,” Hezebel said. “If that is the case I would like you to share the secret. My agents Bodhi and Sshinda have just been slain by Earth weapons and it would be of great value to me if they could return to full active duty in the near future. Bodhi is the only devil familiar with Earth technology, and customs, and there is much she could gain for us if she was once more free to travel there.”

“What would be in it for me?” Nyphithys asked.

“We would share with you, of course,” Hezebel said. “Earth weaponry, which as you may have heard is far more formidable than anything in Faerûn, and their remarkable entertainments. Would you care to see a sample?”

“I have heard of the power of Earth weapons, as evidenced by the deeds of Colonel O’Neill in the defeat of Maugrim and Morag, and I have heard Earth songs performed by Sharwyn,” Nyphithys said, “but I was not aware they had any other entertainments to offer. Of what do you speak?”

“You will see,” Hezebel said. “Cast ‘Comprehend Languages’ and touch Bodhi.” She pointed at the former Elf, who bowed to Nyphithys.

“I do not understand,” Nyphithys said, but she followed Hezebel’s directions. “You are going to perform an Earth play in the original language?”

“In a sense,” Hezebel said. “Bodhi, press ‘Play’.”

“Sure thing,” Bodhi said. She had prepared the DVD in advance, running through the piracy warning and titles, and paused it at the point where the opening sequence began. “Lights, camera… action!”

Nyphithys watched, a frown on her face, as pounding electronic music played and a red-haired woman, who bore a passing resemblance to Nyphithys, escorted a brash young man into a warehouse where many people in unfamiliar garb were dancing in a style that resembled nothing on Faerûn. “Is this… a scrying device?” she asked.

“It’s a performance, stored so that it can be watched whenever we desire,” Bodhi explained.

“Remarkable,” said Nyphithys, “but the subject matter does not interest me.”

“Just wait,” said Bodhi, inwardly hoping that ‘Blade’ lived up to expectations. Then the young man on the screen saw a drop of red liquid on his hand, looked up, and realized that the liquid – blood, by all appearances – was dripping from the ceiling.

“Bloodbath!” A spray of blood erupted from multiple outlets overhead, soaking everyone, and as the young man reacted in horror the other dancers reveled in the gore. As they began to growl and bare fangs, and then to strike and abuse the young man, Nyphithys smiled and her attention became more concentrated on the screen. Then the young man crawled away across the blood-soaked floor and, as the blood rain died away, reached the feet of an imposing figure clad in black leather armor and a long black coat. Nyphithys took two steps toward the DVD player. Then the weapons came out, the carnage began, and Nyphithys was hooked.

In the next two hours the only thing she said was ‘Earth isn’t really ruled by a secret cabal of vampires, is it?” On being assured that no, it was purely an imaginary scenario as a basis for a fantastical story, she turned back to the screen and continued to watch in fascinated silence. At the end, after the final scene on the snowy streets of Moscow ended with Blade drawing his sword, Nyphithys spoke again.

“I want to see the fight,” she complained. “Why does it not show him killing the vampire?”

“It’s so obvious that Blade would win, against a single ordinary vampire, that the makers probably felt there’d be no point,” Bodhi said. Her own feelings about the movie were slightly ambiguous; she’d enjoyed it but, as someone who’d spent twenty years as a vampire, she couldn’t help being a little sad that the vampires hadn’t won. “I take it you liked it?”

“It was astounding,” Nyphithys said. “I wish to see more.”

“There are two sequels,” Bodhi said, “although I’ve heard the last one was disappointing. The first sequel’s supposed to be pretty good, though. The snag is that I don’t have it. In order to get it I’d need to go to Earth – and that would mean waiting for a hundred years. Unless you can cut that time short…”

“I do know of a way,” Nyphithys admitted, “but it has drawbacks. I would only use it myself if the need was truly dire. I threatened Maugrim that I would use it to return for vengeance, if he slew me, but I doubt if I would have done so in actuality. Luckily he did not call my bluff and merely kept me imprisoned.”

“And what are the drawbacks?” Hezebel asked. “I take it that the method is perilous?”

“Not especially so,” said Nyphithys. “No, the problem is… extreme boredom. There is a… pocket plane. A tiny enclave in which time passes far faster than it does here. For each day that passes here, a hundred years goes by in the pocket plane.”

“So Bodhi could spend her hundred years there and be able to return to the Prime tomorrow, by our reckoning?”

“Indeed so,” Nyphithys confirmed, “as long as the boredom and isolation did not drive her insane. The plane is empty. There was a factory there years ago, or so I have heard, run by demons and with a labor force of slaves taken from Earth. Then a warrior from Earth, a female named Gandhi, stormed the place, freed the slaves, and slew most of the demons. The survivors fled. When they returned, some days later, centuries had passed in the pocket plane and the machinery had corroded into uselessness. Now it lies abandoned and empty.”

“Hmm.” Hezebel thought for a moment. “So the main problem is that there is nothing to do there? Bodhi, how many of those… DVDs do you have?”

“Forty-six,” said Bodhi, “and I’ve already seen seven of them. Not enough to keep me occupied for a hundred years. Nyphithys is correct. I would not be able to endure a century there.”

“If we all went,” Hezebel said, “then we could make our own entertainment. You could teach us all the Earth language, teach us how to use guns, and train us in unarmed combat. We could watch one DVD a month, perhaps, and by the time we had gone through them all we would be happy to start again from the beginning. Perhaps we could get through a century after all.”

“My lady, you’re a genius,” said Bodhi. “We might crack before we made it through the whole century but at least it would be a start. If we take all the books we can gather together, some musical instruments, maybe the scripts for some plays…”

“We could take slaves of our own,” Hezebel said. “Males to provide us with sexual entertainment.”

“They would die of old age,” Nyphithys pointed out, “long before the time was over.”

“Not if we took Elves,” said Bodhi. “I could point out a few suitable ones from Suldanessellar. We could kill them before we left, or earlier if we tired of them. Or even let them go free when we returned – they’d only have been away from home for a day. Nobody would have missed them and anyone they told about it would think they were crazy.”

“I’ve just thought of a snag,” Hezebel said. “We don’t need to eat, but mortals do. They would starve to death. Or die of thirst, even faster than starvation would kill them. Oh, well, at least we have the sex toys.”

“I believe there is water there, and a food source,” Nyphithys said. “A fast-growing edible fungus. No doubt the slaves would tire of it, before long, but they would stay alive. The demons used it to keep their slaves fed. It may have died out, I suppose, but we could check before we make a final decision.”

“You are coming with us, then?” Hezebel asked.

“I think I will,” said Nyphithys, “and those of my girls who were slain by Drizzt and his companions. I would want to be included in the training, as well as the entertainment, of course.”

“Of course,” said Hezebel. “I would be delighted to have you. The more, the merrier, and the less scope for boredom. Hmm. If we wait until Charlotte Mayfield dies, and joins us here, then we can teach her to perform her duties as a devil and she can teach us about Earth. That will pass the time nicely. In the meantime, while we wait for her to be killed, we can check out the pocket plane and make sure that the plan is feasible.”

“If the fungus has all died,” Bodhi suggested, “we can stock the place up with supplies. At least enough to keep our slaves alive for a month or two.”

“Perhaps long enough to get the fungus growing again,” said Hezebel. “There are details that we can work out later but, for now, I think the plan is workable. And when we come back we will have the best-trained elite forces in all the Hells.”

“Yes,” said Nyphithys, “and I might be able to give King Obould Many-Arrows a very nasty surprise.”

“And I,” Bodhi said, “might spring an equally nasty surprise upon Cierre.”

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