TALES OF THE DEMON #8 ~ "A Night to Remember, Part Five: Of Heaven, Hell, and Time-Travel"

by Dien Prologue

            She was born Nicolé Suzette Menois, in a tiny French village that the maps no longer hold any record of. As the youngest of seven children, five of them girls, she was not particularly welcome. Her parents were by no means rich; she was another mouth to feed and a bride, someday, to dowry...

            At the age of six, her miller father hired her as a maid to the richest family in town. She was obedient and hard-working, and before she was seven, she had been bought outright-- an arrangement by no means unusual, in those days.

            The banker who was now her master was well-to-do, and his wife in particular became fond of little Nicolé. If she traveled to Lyon or Grenoble, for parties and the social circle, so did Nicolé, to fetch things for her and be her maid. It was a good enough existence.

            In her eighth summer, a business deal went horribly wrong. The banker was imprisoned for fraud, the servants largely let go or rehired to help pay off enormous debts. Nicolé was parted from her mistress, among tears and pleas, and sent to work at her master's cousin's house.

            He was richer yet than the banker, but not so kind, and Nicolé often longed for the tiny village and her beloved mistress, especially since her work at the larger, country house was not so pleasant. She was old enough now to work in the kitchens, to carry wood and water. To be a drudge.

            When she was ten, her new master-- a merchant named Cheval-- was to have a dinner guest. The house bustled with activity, with anxiety; she was told to stay in the kitchens and out of sight. The guest was supposed to be important, here all the way from Paris, and little country girls should stay out of the way.

            But Eloise, the older girl who worked with her in the kitchens, chose that afternoon to run away with the blacksmith's son, and there was no one else to take the wine out to the table when they rang for it.

            Trembling, she had picked up the pewter flagon and gone down the passage, conscious of the stains on her simple clothes and her messy hair, conscious that Master Cheval would not be happy with her.

            A moment's pause by the door, to try and collect herself, then into the dining hall. There was Master, at the head of the table, dressed in his best furs, his heavy gold chain around his neck, all his rings glittering on his fingers-- up until then, the epitome of wealth and power in her little world.

            But the man who sat next to Cheval was the focus of her attention. He was tall, and pale, and had hair as red as fire, with a white streak down the middle of it. He was dressed in plain black clothes, with the barest fur trim, and wore only one little ring, but he seemed richer with that alone than all her master's finery. Beside him, Cheval seemed a sweaty, loud, nervous boy, dressed up in his father's things, and trying to be impressive.

            And then the stranger had looked up and seen her-- eyes like blue ice had captured hers-- the world had turned inside out.

            Still, she had managed to walk over to the table normally enough, pour the wine with hands that barely trembled, keep her eyes down, respectfully.

            She had spoiled the effect a bit when she dropped a full brimming goblet over Master Cheval's lap, however.

            He'd screamed and sworn and been about to hit her, but the stranger's blue eyes were on him, cool and observant, and all the anger had seemed to drain out of Cheval. Very pale, he'd merely muttered for her to get back to the kitchen.

            She'd fled, but not before one more glance at the guest. He was looking at her, a faint smile on his face, and a calculating look in his eyes. She had been afraid without knowing why.

            The next day she was told she had been sold to the strange man, and that she was to pack up her few possessions and be ready to go.

            That was how she came into the service and acquaintance of Jason Blood.

            The year was 1694.

Now

Harry grinned. "Hi."

A pair of clear blue eyes looked up at the sound, dazed confusion in their depths. A long strand of wavy blonde hair was hanging in her vision, and Harry sighed. Mama mia, what a situation. This sort of thing never happened back in the days when I could have done something about it...

The girl still seemed severely out-of-it and disoriented. He tried again. "Hey, hello. My name's Harry. How about you?"

She shook her head to clear it, the fine blonde hair swirling around her head like a blizzard, and seemed to focus a bit. Her body (which Harry was examining with, of course, pure detached and professional interest) stood up and assumed a... fighting stance? Yes, that was a fighting stance. Fists held out before her, muscles tense, nerves alert.

Angel breaks in, accuses Jason of theft, Jason fries him. Check.

Cool English guy breaks in, goes after Jason and the angel. Check.

Seriously hot, nude, blonde ninja babe teleports in. Check.

Officially the weirdest evening I have ever had? Definite check.

"Um, hi. I'm not an enemy, heck I couldn't even hurt you if I wanted to, and I don't. See, I'm a friend. My name's Harry. Can you hear me?" he said slowly.

The blue eyes narrowed on him suspiciously, then she said. "Oui. I hear you. You are Engleesh?"

Oh mama mia, a seriously hot, nude, blonde ninja FRENCH babe. This is not fair.

"Oh no. Not me. I'm American. To the core. As apple pie, or baseball, or..." he trailed off as he realized she had no idea what he was talking about.

"Ah, m'sieur, slower, if you please. My Engleesh is good, but you speak most strangely... You say your name ees 'Arry?"

"Harry Matthews. I'd shake your hand, but I don't have the capability."

She looked at him strangely, then moved closer until she could see over the couch between them. "Sacre bleu! You... you are a... pillow!"

"Yeah, yeah, I know," sighed Harry. "It's a long and tragic tale."

She eyed him curiously, then realized he was eyeing her back with not-inconsiderable interest. She glanced down and seemed to realize she was naked.

"Mon dieu... ah..." she quickly glanced around, saw the tuxedo jacket on the floor that Jason had left there some hours ago, and grabbed it up to cover herself with.

"It was fine the way it was, really," Harry sighed under his breath, but she wasn't listening to him, looking around the room instead with wide eyes.

"Merde... everything, it ees so strange to my eyes..."

"Yeah, well, America's probably a bit different from France," Harry said.

"America? Le nord or le sud?" she asked, turning back to him.

"Huh?"

She rolled her eyes and seemed frustrated. "Ah. What ees word... The north, or south americas?"

Harry blinked. "The United States Americas. North, I guess."

She frowned. "And what ees the year, 'Arry Matthews?"

"Boy, you're really not from around here, are you? 2002," he said, then added, "A.D" in case she was confused about that as well.

"2002..." she repeated dazedly, then looked like she wanted to sit down. "Three hundred years.... sacre merde."

"You're from the past? You time traveled to get here?" Harry asked excitedly.

"Oui... and... where is m'sieur Jason Blood?" she asked quietly, looking around again.

Harry stopped. Damn.

Of course she was interested in Jason. No hot French blonde attack babes ever teleported through time here looking for him. Just Jason.

Life sucked.

"He'll be back soon," he grumbled, turning back to the TV. "He's out fighting, or something."

"Ah..." she said, then tried to pull the tuxedo jacket closer around her. Harry sulked. She wasn't his problem. Let Jason deal with her.

"M'sieur 'Arry... I am Nicolé Menois," she said awkwardly, after a moment of silence during which Harry glared at the TV and ignored her. "I... you are a... friend of m'sieur Blood's?"

"No," he snapped angrily. "I'm the pillow who lives in his apartment. I am not his friend. Jerk doesn't have friends."

"Oui," she said softly, then hesitated again. "Ah... can I ask how it ees that you are... a pillow?"

"No," he said sharply, and turned his attention back to Charlie and his angels.

Another awkward silence ensued, during which Harry sulked some more but felt his resolve slipping. Uh-uh. No. No way was he going to start being nice to her again. Nope. Not happening.

He stole a glance of her in one of the mirror fragments that still lay on the floor from the earlier casting. She sat uncomfortably on the edge of the couch, wrapped in the not-quite-modest tuxedo jacket, looking around her at her alien surroundings with a distinctly miserable air.

She couldn't be any more than twenty, he thought, and probably younger than that. He felt the first twinge of remorse shoot through his stuffing, and ruthlessly squelched it down. She. Was. Jason's. Problem.

Her sky blue eyes were roaming over the furniture, the TV, the room in general with confusion and a little fear written across her features. He noticed she was shivering in the drafts from the broken window.

Nope. No way. No. Nada. Nanu nanu, as Mork said. Not. Gonna. Hap--

"So how'd you wind up here?" he sighed, sipping the rum from the straw.

Nicolé Menois started and looked up. "Pardon? 'Wind up?'"

He grimaced. "It's slang. Jargon. The way we talk here... now. How did you get here."

"Oh." Her face cleared. "M'sieur Blood, he performed la sorcellerie. He said he needed me in the future more than now. So, I step in the circle as he tells me, I stand still when he tells me, he reads words from old books. The world goes away... it is like falling through the earth. I... wake. Here. Now. With you."

"Jason sent you through time?"

"Oui."

"Hmm." Harry considered. "You must probably be pissed at him, yeah?"

Her exquisite brows drew together in confusion. "How... 'pissed'? What is that word?"

"Angry. You must be mad at him, right?"

Though she now understood what he meant, the confusion on her face only shifted slightly, rather than going away. "Angry? With m'sieur Blood? Imposibilitie, m'sieur 'Arry. He is my master. I can be angry at him. I can also be angry with God, or the king, or the sun above my head. This... pissed, it does not accomplish anything," she said with a sad little smile.

Harry found himself at a loss for words. Obviously the situation here was a new one. He settled for clearing the part of his anatomy that roughly corresponded to the throat a few times, then said, "Hey, uh, Nicolé... I can call you Nicolé?... if you're cold, there's some coats and other clothes and things in the closet behind you there."

She glanced in that direction, nodded, and rose to her feet. As she selected some other garments from the closet, Harry mused to himself that he and Jason needed to have a serious talk.

ELSEWHERE IN GOTHAM CITY

            Flame that was hotter than any man could ignite scorched through the air, setting the very oxygen on fire. Zauriel gasped as it hit, painfully searing his angelic flesh. Three beats of his wings took him into the air, where he'd hopefully be able to clear his mind of the pain and figure out how the hell Klarion had conjured hellfire to attack him with.

            Or not. A growl from below was the only warning before more fire, this time accompanied by a powerful form hurtling into him, and the two warring figures slammed together into another one of the wall.

            "Tell me angel, could Witch-Boy's hands

            "Do this? Or could he leave such brands?

            "Wield such fire, spit such rhyme?

            "Admit! You're wasting both our times!

            "Still, it doesn't bother me that much

            "For I confess I've lost my touch

            "In fighting those haloed and bright--

            "Thus, this practice is sorely needed.

            "So since my words you have not heeded

            "We'll see how you handle the fight!"

            The concrete above them started to crack and rain debris down on their heads, Zauriel struggling against both the falling masonry and the demon's body. With a mighty shove, he pushed Etrigan away from him and across the street, where the demon slammed into a streetlight's pole (neatly breaking it in two). Without so much as breaking pentameter, Etrigan leapt forward again, his claws extended for Zauriel's face.

            "Oh, let us see how you see sans eyes

            "My wingéd foe. For perhaps the lies

            "Of youthful mage shall be dispelled

            "When you have no senses to be ensorcelled."

            Zauriel saw the Witch-Boy's hands extending for his face and automatically lashed out with a kick that sent Etrigan back in the direction of the streetlight, wheezing all the while. The angel was in too much pain to grin at the sight, his skin still smarting from the flames. He flew forward to the attack, every thought gone but that it was time to finish this. Where the hell was his demonic so-called ally? Figured. Stupid of him to even think about trusting a demon...

            He grabbed up the top half of the broken streetlight and hefted it as an imposing war-club. "Let's see if this doesn't put some dents in your tousled little head," he gritted out, and swung with a swing that would have had any Major League baseball team recruiting him on the spot.

            But the demon was ready for the fight now, and breathed a gout of fire that incinerated the lamp-post in mid-swing, several feet from his head. With an insanely malicious grin, he counter-attacked with a tremendous back-hand to the angel's face.

            "So I'm told of Lady Payback

            "And what a bitch she can be.

            "Yes, I did enjoy that attack--

            "Was it as good for you as me?"

            Zauriel was a bit too busy hurtling through the air to answer, even if he had heard the question correctly through his enchanted senses. He had no such translocation spells as the demon had had, and was forced to endure the unpleasant sensation of direct impact with the plate-glass window on the third story of one of Gotham's downtown skyscrapers.

            "...Ouch," he managed, pulling himself to his feet in the (fortunately empty, at this hour) office building. He hurt. A lot. But Heaven banish him if he'd let this... kid get the better of him.

            He gritted his teeth, reminded himself of the true Source of his strength, and rose from the window-- to be hit by a full-strength, devastating wave of hell-fire. Wings smoking, trailing a few blackened feathers in their wake, he dropped like a stone to the pavement below, temporarily dazed by the flame. Etrigan grinned from the window-ledge he'd chosen as his attack point, and dove for the falling angel's body. He hit him in mid-air, hastening their descent to the hard asphalt.

            They actually landed in a parked VW Beetle, literally smashing it under their combined weight and velocity. Zauriel, who had been on the bottom and thus received more of the impact, grunted weakly and tried to sit up.

            His efforts were compounded by the fact that he had a demon more or less on top of him, whose strong and taloned hands were currently locked in a tight grip on his throat. The angel choked and struggled. Etrigan laughed and leaned in closer, to taunt.

            "No proud words of last defiance? No brave oath of self-reliance?

            "Pity. Well, surrender then, and we'll mend fences

            "Given that you can be brought back to your senses."

           

            However much Zauriel correctly heard of the uttered derision, his answer at least was easy to comprehend. He head-butted the skull in front of him, fortunately missing the horns.

            "Gyuhhh..." Etrigan said weakly.

            Zauriel grinned with righteous wrath, pulled free of the now limp hands, and delivered a quite impressive uppercut into the stunned demon's chin.

            "...'Oh look Jack I'm flying' quoth our heroine Rose.

            "Though I'll wager she wasn't put there by angelic blows--

            "However titanic in strength and power..." the demon mused feebly to himself as he rocketed upwards in the air. He continued philosophically,

            "Still, Newton's, not Cameron's, rules yet abound

            "And what goes up must assuredly come down

            "As the angel learns, this very hour!!"

            And upwards of three-hundred pounds once more crashed down on Zauriel, who it seems had forgotten to move. The Volkswagen, already totaled, was reduced to shrapnel that embedded itself into the asphalt.

            "Now, Witch-Boy, you shall taste my wrath! Let us finish this!"

            "Gladly, haloed nitwit, prepare to die

            "Or at least to use those wings to fly--"

            "Bloody. Fucking. 'Ell," drawled an English voice in disbelief. "It's like walking into terrorist Ireland... or me ex-girlfriend's flat... bloody war-zone..."

            The two figures momentarily paused, fists upraised, and glanced towards the figure who was crawling over the rubble of the ice cream store. He finally made it through the mess and stood at the edge of it, brushing dust and debris off his trousers and trenchcoat. Cool blue eyes surveyed the scene as the man took a drag on his cigarette.

            "Right proper mess of it you two've made, innit?" he said casually.

            "Who in the name of the Book is this?" Zauriel said in exasperation.

            "Constantine, we meet again. I can't profess I'm glad.

            "Angel, this is John the English mage. Be warned. I'm fairly sure he's mad."

            John nodded politely to the two of them, then walked over to the angel, still paused mid-punch, and looked him in the eye.

            "Hmm. Nasty bit of an enchantment you got there, mate," and slapped him hard across the face. "There. That should do it."

            Zauriel blinked, and blinked again. A human's slap was little more than a gnat bite to him, but he felt suddenly dizzy. When his vision cleared, he looked around... and saw Etrigan.

            "What in... all this time, I've been fighting you?" he asked in disbelief.

            "Brilliant, Holmes. 'Tis so profound I cried," Etrigan snorted.

            "Why in Heaven's name didn't you say something?" the angel managed.

            "Unholy hell! Don't you think I tried?" the demon snarled, looking aggrieved. Zauriel looked faintly embarrassed as he and Etrigan crawled out of the demolished remnants of the automobile. The angel looked around with a chagrined expression. "Oh, great God... we did all this? Oh no... we have to fix it..."

            "Relax, squire," said Constantine, lighting another one of his ever-present cigarettes. "City officials'll write it off as an act of God. Mind," he said with another glance at the two of them, "might not be far too wrong. Anyways, insurance'll pay for it. Come on then, 'fore the cavalry gets here."

            John Constantine calmly turned and walked away, not even looking back to see if he was being followed by the two. Etrigan grumbled under his breath, but stalked after the man. With one last bewildered look, the angel followed the demon and the man away from the battlefield.

THE-SHRINK-WRAPPED-NEXT-ISSUE-BOX: My utter, utter, deeply heart-felt apologies for the time this took to get out. I promise it won't happen again. *looks extremely chagrined* Life... don't talk to me about life.

Anyways, next ish: Constantine explains what he's there for, and Jason is returned to us-- and that little surprise he has waiting at home.