X – Only If We’re Lucky
The sky was starting to brighten and Spike was looking a little worried by the time the hearse finally followed a series of narrow lanes to a high glass-topped brick wall and an entrance blocked by heavy steel gates. In the half-light preceding dawn Harry read a sign above the arch; The Tara Maclay Memorial School ~ Headmaster Robin Wood Ph.D. The names meant nothing to Harry. For the last few miles he’d had an uneasy sensation of being watched, and he guessed that whoever had been controlling the plants was casting new spells to observe them.
Spike climbed down and spoke into a microphone beside the gate, and after a moment they swung open. “Right,” said Spike, climbing back up and lifting his coat to cover his head. “Follow the track, the school’s about two miles further on. And step on it a bit, or I’m going to be a crispy critter.”
“Right,” said Bury, cracking the reins until the hearse was moving at a brisk trot. Up ahead there were several rows of light, and the dim suggestion of a large building. Off to the sides Harry could see occasional trees, rolling grounds, and in the distance… in the distance was the largest giant he’d ever seen, walking parallel to the road and apparently watching them. But it looked far more humanly proportioned than the usual run of giants. Suddenly the penny dropped, and Harry said “Merlin, was someone stupid enough to screw a thricewise?”
“That’s right,” said Spike, his voice muffled by the coat. “Bloody Andrew decided to come out of the closet, got pissed, and ended up bonking Kenny. We’re still trying to find the git to get the spell reversed.”
“Well, if he didn’t know any better…” said Bury.
“Everyone knew who Kenny was, and what happens if you shag him, it’s not like it’s the first time. Silly sod was too pissed to remember. Still, it’s handy for getting the windows cleaned.” Spike didn’t sound very worried about the situation, and Harry guessed that Andrew wasn’t his favourite person.
“Won’t he explode eventually?” asked Harry.
“Only if we’re very lucky.”
Something else was moving in the shadows; women, at least five to either side, effortlessly keeping up with the hearse. Ahead the building was clearer; an old castle, much smaller than Hogwarts but still impressive. The hearse rattled onto a large gravelled forecourt, where several more women seemed to be a reception committee. Spike shouted “Gangway!” and jumped down before they’d stopped, running towards an open door with his coat over his head.
“Whoa!” said Bury, and as the hearse stopped Harry pulled back the brake lever.
“Stay here,” said Harry, “I’ll go talk to them.” Behind him he could hear Bury muttering some defensive charms.
He climbed down and walked towards the women, recognising Vi and Kennedy amongst a half-dozen others he didn’t recall seeing before. Everyone he could see was carrying some sort of medieval weapon; swords, crossbows, longbows and axes. Harry had a feeling that they weren’t just for show. The sun’s first rays lit the top floors of the castle.
“Good morning,” said Harry, picking his words carefully. “Spike suggested that we drop in for a chat. Could I have a word with whoever’s in charge?”
“Okay,” said the woman who seemed to be running things, a tall brunette in her early twenties, “so you’ve been running from us because you thought we wanted to steal Kendra’s body, right?”
“That’s right, Miss Summers.” They were in a comfortable office on the second floor. Once they were inside Spike had warned them of his wand; to keep the peace he’d agreed to put it on the table, a few feet away, while they were talking. Two of the women from the courtyard stood near the door, watching Harry for any sign of a false move.
“And the flying horse-demon things?”
“I’ve already told you, they’re magical, not demons.”
“And you’re not prepared to tell me where you or they come from.”
“Look,” said Harry, “I’ve given my word not to discuss this, would you trust me if I were to break my word?”
“Why should I trust you anyway?”
“I may be able to help break the curse on Vi and Kennedy, and anyone else affected.”
“The Slayer curse, of course.”
“Riiight…” Behind him the women at the door were giggling.
Harry had a feeling that he’d just made a tactical mistake. “Anything that gets young women killed like that has to be some sort of curse. We’ve…”
“And who exactly is we?” asked another woman, coming into the office, “and where the heck did you get that neat flying hearse?” Harry felt a swirl of magical energy, flowing around the new arrival, somehow constrained and controlled. He recognised its 'signature', similar to the wards around the castle, which would block magical communication and apparation in or out. He couldn’t sense a focus for the power, a wand or anything else that might serve in its place. It was possible to cast some spells without a focus, of course, but there was another, darker way; using your own body, mind, and soul as the focus. The risks were obvious, of course. A wand “remembered” the spells it had cast, and the last of them could be recalled by the Prior Incantato spell; use yourself as the focus, and the spells wrote themselves into you. In the short term it offered great power, in the long term the trick was a recipe for illness and insanity, rarely seen amongst trained witches and wizards.
“I’m sorry,” Harry said, “I’ve already said I can’t discuss this. Does it really matter, miss… ah…?”
“Rosenberg; Willow Rosenberg.” She looked at him, as if expecting him to know her name. Harry guessed that she had some fame amongst witches outside the normal community.
“Pleased to meet you, I’m Harry Potter. Was that your spell, the one with the flowers?”
“No, that was Illyria, she can talk to the green.”
“Illyria, that’s an unusual…” Harry suddenly remembered where he’d heard the name before; in a History of Magic class at Hogwarts. Usually he’d had to struggle to stay awake, but for some reason the story of the Old Ones and their banishment from the world had interested him. “…an unusual name. Named after the ancient legend, I suppose.”
“Not exactly,” said Willow. “It’s more that she was the ancient legend.”
“You've got an ancient demon here?”
“Demon god, actually.”
“That’s… interesting,” said Harry, concentrating. His wand wasn’t that far away, and if he concentrated… “Accio wand!” The wand flew to his hand, before the women had time to react, and he apparated down to the foyer, then ran out through the wards to the courtyard, firing a fusillade of stunners at anyone who got in his way, and taking down the women guarding Bury and the hearse. “Get out of here now!” he shouted, “They’ve been summoning demons!”
“Right!” shouted Bury, clambering up with impressive speed, “about bleeding time.” He cracked the reins and shouted “full speed ahead!” Harry pushed the lever forward as far as it would go, as the thestrals broke into a gallop back towards the gate. Faster and faster; behind them more women ran into in the courtyard, chasing the hearse at impossible speeds. An arrow thudded into the seat between them, and one of the hearse windows shattered, then another. They were starting to pull away from the women when a small figure appeared on the track ahead, an odd-looking woman with blue hair and leather form-fitting armour, running towards the hearse at least as fast as they were travelling. It had to be another Slayer. “Twist the lever!” shouted Bury. With a few beats of its wings the coach and thestrals rose into the air, lurching sickeningly before it was flying properly. Bury banked to avoid the giant form that was striding towards the gate, and in moments they were over the wall, flying North at the thestrals’ top speed.
“That was a close one,” shouted Harry. “I can’t believe it, they summoned a bloody demon and they were boasting about it! Bloody Illyria, for Merlin’s sake.”
“They must be out of their minds!”
“If I felt that the opinions of muck mattered,” said a quiet voice, “I would be offended.”
Harry and Bury looked around. Sitting on the roof behind them, somehow staying put despite the wind and the constant lurching of the hearse, was the red-armoured woman they’d seen earlier. There was something inhuman about the way she held her head, and the icy blue of her eyes and skin. She rose to her feet and walked forward, dropping into the seat between them. “I am Illyria, God-King of the Primordium, Shaper of Things.”
Comments please before I post to archives.
Monday - edited a little to fix a couple of problems that people mentioned.