Disclaimer: I own none of the characters or concepts of the Nightside, they all belong to Simon R. Green. Roxanne Lake, however, IS my character and I request that you not use her without permission, okay?
Nightside: Free Agent
Roxanne Lake wasn't a hero, at least not in the conventional term of the word. Yes, she had been to the Adventurers Club and was still a member in good standing, had fought monsters of various types, saved princes and princesses and so on and so forth, but her crusading days were long behind her now. Old failure and bad memories hung over her like a shroud as she drank in the back tables of Strangefellows, the oldest bar in the world.
A lot of things have been said about Strangefellows, some of them even true. You can meet almost anyone there, going up or falling down, and it was neutral territory, or at least as close to neutral territory as you could find in a place like the Nightside. It was run by Alex Morrisey, a miserable pain in the arse who was a descendent of Merlin Satanspawn himself, whom was also buried under the bar itself. Alex would serve you anything, pretty much, but it paid to look at the label and to be sure you wanted whatever you asked for.
Roxanne's red hair fell in a messy ponytail as she poured some cheap rum from the bottle into a glass, studying the off-red fluid for a moment before throwing it back. She wore a leather jacket, with much wear at the elbows and a few obviously fixed tears, along with simple blue jeans and a T-shirt. Despite her drinking she still looked pretty fit, her skin tight from exercise and possibly not getting quite enough to eat. Oddly on the seat beside her was a sword, sheathed, that almost seemed to shimmer in the dim light of the bar.
Roxanne looked up to see John Taylor leaving and sneered, though she didn't do so obviously. She wasn't terminally stupid, after all. John Taylor was a force in the Nightside, and some would even claim he was a Power. The last son of Lilith, it was said, prince and future King if he should get off his ass and finally claim the title. Yet for years he had fled the Nightside, living in normal London and scraping by in a living, hiding from himself. No matter how far Roxanne fell she knew she wouldn't leave the Nightside, it was her home.
Taking another drink Roxanne relaxed, at least as much as someone with her training could relax. Time passed by and a young woman hurried down the stairs into Strangefellows, so clean and shiny she stood out immediately. Long blonde hair shimmered over her shoulders, the face peering out more cute than beautiful. She wore a business woman's costume but didn't look hard enough to be a corporate shark, instead a assistant or secretary. She looked around her worriedly them walked up to the bar, taking to Alex in a low voice.
After a few moments the blonde looked around the bar, then with a determined stride walked over to the back table which Roxanne sat at. Ignoring her for the moment Roxanne finished her drink off, sitting the glass down on the table. Not wanting to seem too eager Roxanne took her time as she looked up at the woman, "Yes?"
"Your associate there, Mr Morrisey, suggested I talk to you," the woman started out nervously. She took a steadying breath, "I need protection."
Roxanne's lips twitched in amusement as anyone calling Alex a associate, but she kept a serious look on her face. "What sort of protection, Miss...?" she asked.
"Gwen," she answered quietly, "Gwen de Veir. I need protection to reach the church of Saint Jude, preferably before midnight."
THAT made Roxanne raise her eyebrows slightly. The church of Saint Jude was SERIOUS mojo, a place where you could literally talk to God himself. And not one of the fakes on the Street of Gods, but the real, divine being in all his glory. However you often heard back things you didn't want to hear, and desperate prayers could be answered with a distressing sort of literalness. The church also moved around to where it was needed, but usually could only be found in the less wealthy and more needy parts of the Nightside.
Roxanne didn't ask why the woman wanted to go there, that wasn't her business. "Would there be opposition?" she asked thoughtfully.
"I don't know," Gwen admitted as she fidgeted nervously, "it's urgent to me, but I don't know who else might be interested."
Roxanne frowned to herself thoughtfully. The case sounded interesting, and she absolutely hated cases like that. There was sure to be betrayal, death, dark magic and heroism to do, and none of those things interested her in the slightest anymore. On the other hand, she was running low on beer money and the rent was due....
Calmly Roxanne quoted a price payable in advance, lower than Taylor's but not cheap and winced as Gwen paid immediately. 'Should have asked for more,' she thought as she rose, smoothly slinging her sword over her shoulder. "Come on," she told Gwen as they walked out of Strangefellows together, "we need to find Saint Jude's and I don't know how long we have."
"But it was only nine in the evening when I came into the Nightside," Gwen said as she followed Roxanne out to the street.
"It's always night in the Nightside, time is fluid in here," Roxanne said calmly as they walked past closed up homes and open shops selling everything from cheap glamor to used futures, "and it's always midnight somewhere."
A main street of the Nightside was a mad and chaotic thing, vibrant with life. Cars and things that just looked like cars raced by without ever stopping, while other craft shifted and slithered along the roads. The street was lined with glittering shops offering every sin and temptation imaginable, along with a few you might not even conceive of. It blasted away with light and sound, deafening and blinding the unwary.
Roxanne whistled loudly, the tone cutting through the volume a moment as a figure forced it's way through the busy cars. The black steed drew a carriage behind it, a older man with a shotgun laying across his lap as he reached them.
"Hello, Rozy," the horse said cheerfully, nuzzling at the tall woman's cheek.
"Hey, Beauty," Roxanne smiled as she scratched behind his ears. She looked first at him then the man on the carriage, "We need to head out to the bad side of town, specifically Saint Jude's. You two up to it?"
"It gonna be dangerous?" the driver hawked and spat on the road, hitting a car that skidded and crashed with a loud bang, bursting into flame up the street.
"Of course," Roxanne shrugged as if it was a question she got asked everyday.
"Good," Beauty agreed, "get in. Usual rates, of course."
Gwen had a faintly stunned look on her face as they climbed into the carriage and rode off. "The horse talks?" she asked mildly.
"He's a refuge from fame, I hear," Roxanne said as they bulldozed their way through traffic. "Whatever happened to him made him into a kind of irresistible force. If he wants to go somewhere, he can go there pretty much."
"Black... Beauty?" Gwen murmured, eyes widening a bit.
"Don't mention that in front of him," Roxanne said dryly, "it annoys him greatly."
"I can imagine," Gwen blinked.
The ride through and out of town was as interesting as was usual, with various cannibal cars trying to jump them, modern highwaymen trying to rob them and the general Nightside chaos about. When traveling the Nightside it paid to be well armed and paranoid, not always in that order. But through all of the chaos Roxanne got that eerie prickling at her neck and the distinct feeling that they were being followed.
"Yo, Clancy!" Roxanne stuck her head out the window, holding on carefully so she didn't get yanked out by the wind or another vehicle.
The white haired old man nodded as he warily kept a eye out, rifle resting against his shoulder in a familiar way. "I know, we're being followed," he said with a scowl, "but they're pros. Can't even get a good shot at 'em."
Roxanne made a fast decision, "Drop us near Jude's and split."
"You sure?" Beauty asked, "We still owe you for stopping that fangirl from kidnapping me back to star in another book...."
"If me and the sword can't handle it, we're all dead anyway," Roxanne said dryly, "besides, I want you guys alive to avenge me. Fair?"
"Will do," Clancy agreed glumly.
They rumbled to a stop on a street that had seen better years and the only shops were to sell to people so poor they were desperate. Roxanne stepped out first, looking about warily even as she helped Gwen get out too. There was a tingle in the air, a feeling of reverence, and she knew the church they were looking for was nearby.
"Are we there?" Gwen asked nervously, the blonde tense by Roxanne's side.
"Nearly," Roxanne answered, "but it looks like we were followed."
Almost like they were waiting for the cue three large, heavily muscled men moved forward from the shadows as Roxanne grabbed Gwen and bolted. "Aren't you going to fight them?" Gwen demanded as they ran around a corner and came upon the church.
"Only when I have to," Roxanne answered as they ran along the fence.
The church of Saint Jude wasn't a shining cathedral or at all fancy looking. Instead it was a plain, four walled building with a deeply solid feel, as if it had stood there for many, many years. Yet it also carried with it a aura of both peace and danger, as if mysterious powers rested within it that were far too dangerous to trifle with.
"Go in," Roxanne pushed the door open with a shoulder even as she drew her sword, turning around to face the men walking warily up the path.
"But what about you...?" Gwen hesitated in the doorway, looking at Roxanne with a startling degree of concern.
Roxanne hefted the blade with surprising ease, her expression intent. "Get whatever you need to do in there done," she ordered as she added confidently, "I'll be here when you get out."
Gwen nodded and went in, then Roxanne faced their pursuers. They were big men, leg breakers for somebody probably, and whoever had equipped them with protective spells too. Yep, someone had paid a pretty penny to go after Gwen, but clearly they hadn't payed enough.
"One chance, fellows," Roxanne ordered, "walk away."
The big men looked down at her, then the tallest of the three began to laugh. "Oh really?" he chuckled, "You and your big sword are warning us away?" He looked amused as he added, "Lady, you're no John Taylor."
He didn't even see the blow coming that sliced right through the protective spell and shattered his muscular arm. Roxanne was a blur as she used the flat of her blade to slam another man aside, swiftly kicking the third right in the nuts. She beat on all three mercilessly, not killing but certainly making them hurt and remembering not to fuck with her again.
Picking up the man with the bleeding nose and broken arm Roxanne smiled, "What was that about me not being John Taylor?"
"Don't kill us, miss!" one man whimpered.
Roxanne shook the injured man as she demanded, "Why are you chasing after Gwen?"
"I dunno," he blubbered, "there was a guy who paid cash! That's all I know!"
"Damn it," Roxanne kicked him aside, knowing that there were plenty of men who would take a job just like that. She stalked toward the church, opening the door then froze.
"... and what you seek is nearer at hand than you think," the voice came from the shining light, "Guinevere, wife of Arthur."
'Well, damn,' Roxanne blinked, a little surprised she hadn't noticed that. 'I should probably turn in my PI's license,' she mused as a noticeably bedraggled Gwen walked out from the church.
"You heard?" Gwen asked quietly.
"Yeah," Roxanne decided it was simpler to tell the truth. "You looking for Arthur?" she asked curiously.
"Lancelot," Gwen blushed, "I may have married Arthur, but I loved him."
Roxanne thought about asking how she could still be around, but figured she'd seen stranger things over the years. "So I guess you have to keep looking for him," she said as they walked out of the courtyard together.
"I intend to," Gwen said with calm determination. She looked up at the slightly taller Roxanne, "I don't suppose I could keep you on retainer?"
Roxanne Lake, who's ancestors once had been called 'du lac' shrugged slightly. "Maybe so," she admitted, "they're something I like about you."
"Then let's go," Gwen smiled as they walked away together.
Notes: Yes, Roxanne is either a reincarnation of Lancelot herself and/or a descendant. Gwen de Veir IS a obvious alias but Roxanne is a pretty straight forward girl, more hired muscle than a investigator.