Author: Tim Knight

Title: Tales of the Wandererverse: Rebekahís Story

Copyright: January 2002
Rating: PG-13 to R (action, fight scenes, blood)

Spoilers:
Buffy: Season 2 until Phases.
Highlander: Season 5 until Season finale. Richie Ryan lives.
Bedlamís Bard: Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, Summoned to Tourney.

Keywords: Buffy/ Highlander/ Bedlamís Bard/ Wandererverse.

Summary: Set in the same universe as the Chronicles of Wanderer by Steve Pantovich, the Tales of the Wandererverse series features characters outside of the main character groupings (Highlander, X-Files, and Buffy). Armored Knights, Psychic Beta Readers, naked elves, and British and Irish myths. ĎNuff said.

Legalese: All characters except those noted below with their respective rights, properties, and copyrights are the property of the respective creators, authors, owners, producers and agencies. These characters are used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended or meant, and no money will be made from this story. This story may be copied in its entirety, and may be distributed as long as all copyright information remains.

The character Arvindel is property of Mercedes Lackey, Ellen Guon, and Baen Books, and is used without permission.

The "off-screen" character Joan Madison is mine. Anyone wishing to use them may contact me at doobytim@aol.com.
The characters Steven St. Wolf, Marc La Chevalier, Heather the Squire, and the Knights of the Order of the Grail are property of Steve Pantovich, as is the universe in which this story takes place. Steve can be contacted at steve711@concentric.net.
The character Rebekah Forsythe is property of either Steve Pantovich or Rebekah Sandell. Iíll let the Grand High Poobah of the Wandererverse and the Psychic Beta Reader of Red Ink fight over this one. I donít need the logic headaches.

Author's Notes: This story takes place in September 1988, two and a half years before Redemption and Rebirth, and three years before Libyan Liberty.

Dedications:
To Steve, for letting me have fun and giving permission to do this story.
To Rebekah, for helping me to make these stories even better, and for giving me a fresh target. . . er, character to work with in this little tale.

Here are the changes from your regular shows:

Highlander:
1. In the Wandererverse, Highlander movie continuity splits from the Wandererverse. In the Wandererverse, Connor never entered the Sanctuary, and still lives in New York. This helps us keep with the series pilot, The Gathering, in which Connor came to Duncan to ask him to continue the good fight.


Rebekah's Story

Part 1: Tall, Dark, and Hideous
(Wherein My Appointment With Several Dark Ghiradelli Chocolates Is Delayed)

San Francisco, California
15 September 1988

Iím just walking along the sidewalk window shopping, minding my own business when the strangeness that is my life rears up and bites me where the sun doesnít shine.

Of course the Fates donít care that I have an RPG tomorrow night, or Northern Faire this weekend to prepare for, or that my plans for the evening were along the simple lines of eating some dark chocolates and sipping some Lapsing Souchon tea while checking my e-mail, although Iíd dump my cup, empty the kettle into the sink, and padlock the cupboards at the first sign of new rough drafts from my writers.

Iíve learned my lesson; you can only wipe tea stains caused by snarfing off of your keyboard so many times before you renounce either tea or editing fan fiction. So I just follow the old adage, "And never the twain shall meet."

I finish lamenting the imminent cancellation of my limited free time and dig through the large book bag over my right shoulder. I carry all my essentials in it; course books, notepads, pens and pencils, and my Glock 21 with three magazines Dutch loaded with incendiary and enchanted silver bullets. Since the Order has people in the SFPD and helped me get my CCW, I donít worry about the police. <Too much,> I add belatedly.

As the screams continue, I draw the Glock and thumb the safety. I hide it behind my leg to keep it from being seen and start jogging toward the source of the trouble, hoping that the Fates will be on my side and keep this from involving too much blood.

This time.

The Powers That Be give me a break of sorts as the source of the mayhem decides to jump in my face. Literally.

I see a blur land fifteen feet in front of me. I bring the Glock up and nearly pull the trigger, but I manage to avoid putting a hole in the thingís hostage.

"Freeze!" I shout in the vain hope that this creature will actually release the eight-year-old girl unharmed. "Put her down!"

The creature stares at me while cradling the sobbing girl, letting me get a good look at him. He stands seven feet tall and weighs closer to three hundred pounds than two-fifty. He has long pointed ears, hostile beady eyes, and coiled muscles in his arms and legs, the arms ending in hands with six-inch claws replacing his fingernails. He wears a long overcoat that belongs in 1888, not 1988, and has a shiny metal breastplate that appears to be made of silver.

Once again I shout, "Put her down!"

My new opponent smiles at me as if dismissing the threat I pose to him. All right, so a five-foot-eight 1/2 History and Computer Sciences major with a toned 38d-24-38 build isnít as imposing as a bronze-skinned six-foot-eight blonde with 24-inch Pythons, but then again, the Hulkster doesnít carry a nasty semiautomatic pistol.

The creature opens his mouth and I see blue flames that remind me of a gas stove. He roars and the fire shoots out. I fall prey to human instinct and duck to avoid becoming barbequed beta reader. Too late, I realize that the flames donít even exceed a foot in range.

By the time I bring my gun back to bear on the creature, the demonic-looking thing is holding the girl directly in front of him and roaring into her face. She returns his scream with interest. To my surprise, the inhuman kidnaper seems disgusted and drops the girl to the pavement, where she collapses into a fetal ball.

I react instantly to the opening, pulling the Glockís trigger with a double tap. The silenced reports shoot an incendiary bullet, which explodes into a small fireball that leaves my target disgustingly unharmed, and one silver bullet that penetrates into his left shoulder, a solid hit.

The creature jerks but doesnít go down. He fixes me with a stare of hostility, his eyes glowing with an eerie light for a few seconds before going dim. His vision returns to normal and he crouches.

I pull the trigger again, but my aim is thrown by the leap this thing executes. He uncoils like a spring and rises twenty or thirty feet, landing on the roof of a building across the street. He turns back to look at me again, and I return the favor with a cold anger simmering in my eyes. I walk forward to cover the sobbing girl, my vision never wavering, exhibiting a calm I certainly donít feel. I hear a low growl emanate from that throat before the monster turns and leaps away, his overcoat trailing behind him like Supermanís cape.

After waiting a few seconds to make sure Iím not about to be ambushed, I decide that heís gone for good. I shift my attention to the little girl. I donít even look her over; I just take her into my arms and hold her, letting her cry into my chest.

Ninety minutes later, I finally free myself of the San Francisco Inspectors and CPS officers who arrived a full fifteen minutes after I last saw my new friend. I put on my mask of a concerned eyewitness so that the cops donít see the rage building behind my eyes. I saw what that creature did to the girlís parents; the claw marks across their torsos leave little doubt as to his guilt in the attempted murders and kidnapping.

The police are going to rule that it was someone using a sword or knife to inflict those wounds, and I wonít stop them. What I will do is try to find out what that thing was and place calls to the other Knights in the Bay Area, especially those in the SFPD.

I also intend to make sure that the girl and her parents get counseling from someone who will understand. Thatís why I give the Inspectors Rosaís card; besides knowing about my "extra-curricular" activities, being a former member in good standing of the Textile Workerís Guild and Arachneís Web (a.k.a the Sewing Circle and Terrorist Organization), and being an outstanding family psychologist, if her double fudge brownies canít make an impact on the little girl and calm her down, nothing will.

Since the cops are searching the area for their "attempted murderer," I head home to handle my own investigation.

*****

Part 2: Research Party
(Why Should I Do All The Work?)

I finally make it home and throw my book bag on the sofa on my way to the computer terminal. I turn on the Beast and start dialing my cell phone. While the computer boots up, I call the Knight Captain in command of my Chapter House, the Knights who work for the San Francisco Police, and Heather, my Squire, letting them know about my little run in with the demon answer to Hank McCoy.

The Knight Captain tells me heíll let the Order know about my playmate but also orders me to see if I can save them some time.

Sigh. Sometimes I hate being the new kid on the block with the computer skills; I get to handle all the grunt work.

I go to the database that every Knight of the Grail has in his or her home, although mine is completely computerized. The database details every supernatural being, object, or phenomena ever encountered by the Order in its 1,500-year history. However, this little Psychic Beta Reader has done the Research Division one better. Iíve created a search engine that scours the database for all matches with the traits exhibited by my kidnapping propane torch with the Ginsu Press On Nails and, in the end, extrapolates the most likely candidate for my tender mercies.

Once I set the program into motion, I once again wonder if I should turn the program in to my CS professor for extra credit. Once again, I get a giggle over the imagined looks on her face before dismissing my fantasy.

Since it will take roughly an hour for the search to complete itself, I decide to take a nice hot bath before calling some friends for help with the research. If the Order doesnít forbid it, then I see no reason I canít get some help with my newest project.

Forty minutes later, Iím somewhat refreshed and nibbling on my Ghiradelli as I call someone I consider the most likely to have the amount of magical lore I need to get some help with my research.

I smile as I hear the calm, gentle voice of Joan Madison, witch, empath, highly placed faire folk from the South, and professional editor.

"Hello?" my fellow Faire volunteer politely asks.

"Hello, my Lady Joan del Sud," I reply, trying to force some cheerfulness into the conversation. "How are you doing?"

Joan doesnít buy my act. "Iím fine, Rebekah. But something tells me this call isnít about Faire. Whatís wrong?"

I softly relate the details of my little tÍte-ŗ-tÍte, as well as what the thing did to the family it attacked. After finishing, I ask her, "Before I make us any more depressed, how are the Twin Terrors?" I can imagine the Buddha smile crossing Joanís face. < God, are they already two years old? >

"Theyíre doing very well," she tells me. A funny mix of love, pride, and fatigue comes into her voice. "I swear to you, Bekah, my daughters are starting to become hard to keep up with. The only advantage I have left is that they insist on doing everything together, including getting into my books."

"Family trade," I say jokingly. "But pray, VERY hard, that they donít start splitting up as a diversionary tactic."

"Ever the warrior," Joan says, giving into a dignified laugh. "Already done, more than once. But about your troubles. Iíll call my mother and see if she has any records that ring any of the proverbial bells. Her journals are more extensive than mine. Iíll find out what I can. Anything to help a defender of the innocent."

"Thank you, Joan," I gush in pure gratitude. "Iíll see you in January for Twelfth Night. Zen hugs!"

"The same to you," the witch says before hanging up.

I put the phone back on the receiver and go back to the computer to check on the progress of my own end of the search. When I see the final results, I find myself wishing that it were just a demon I was looking for.

However, this is a break, as I start reading the limited data on my screen. After forty-five minutes of reading, I get a better picture of the myth that is Spring Heel Jack.

Starting with the original sightings, in London in September of 1837, going on through 1838, to various unconfirmed sightings over the next sixty-five years, to a number of "penny dreadful" novels in the last twenty years of the nineteenth century, to similar sightings in the Americas in the twentieth, including a closely matching series of attacks in Chile in the Ď40ís and Ď50ís." I pay close attention to the descriptions of the coat, the flames, and the supernatural jumping ability. I dismiss the idea of his being some kind of Victorian, fire-burping Batman, swooping down to inflict punishment on evildoers. What I saw was not a type of superhero. Still, the common denominator is that he shows up, scares the bejeezus out of several people, and disappears when the police show up by leaping out of sight, over trees or buildings.

I still donít have the information that tells me why he tried to kidnap that young girl, but what I have is a start. I place another call to the Knight Captain to tell him what Iíve managed to dig up. He promises to pass the data onto the other Knights in the immediate area and put them on the lookout for dear old Jack.

I decide to let my superior know that Iím exploring other avenues of information. He isnít thrilled at first, but relents when I assure him of the discretion of my friends. I also call Heather to tell her to meet me at the place of employment of the next person I want to talk to.

When Heatherís done complaining about my ruining her plans for the evening, I tell her, "My dear, if I have to suffer, so do you. Ciao Bella."

I turn my computer off and head for my bedroom to change from my sweat suit into something more appropriate for going out on the town to call in a favor owed to me. I figure, if you need information about a figure from British myth, I might as well talk to someone who was born there.

As I walk into the building, Iím immediately assaulted with the barrage of music and flashing lights highlighting the stage set against the wall opposite the entrance Iíve just walked through, good thing Iíd already put in my earplugs. I send a few wary glances around and smile, knowing that Heatherís seeing the same thing through the minicam I have on my person.

I key my communicator and ask her, "Are you getting everything, Heather?"

From her position in the surveillance van, my Squire mutters, "Yes. I just wish youíd let me have the fun jobs."

"RHIP & D and tonight Duty is definitely not a privilege," I chuckle to her and myself. "Besides, Iím the one who had to handle them, and the debtís owed to me, not the Order."

"Yeah, right. . . pull the other one," Heather giggles into my earpiece. "Focus on the stage so Iím not bored."

"Iíll do my best," I tell her, earning a mumbled, unladylike response that makes me smile.

I spend a little time walking around the eyeing various members of the staff of this business, trying to determine which one is the man Iím looking for. I finally focus on the stage when a new musical set starts blaring from the sound system. When I see the too-good-to-be-true hunk walking out from behind the curtain, I smile at half my work being done.

I hear a livacious "Hubba hubba," from Heather echo my own thoughts. I put my mind back on business and remind myself that this is the Lord Arvindel, elven warrior-mage, Knight of the Seleighe Court, and next Prince of Elfhame Misthold.

I start walking to the stage to try and pass him a subtle message. Then object of my attention, not to mention the attention of every other female in the place, begins gyrating in a very distracting, sexy dance that causes a number of female patrons, many of them twice my age and/or weight, to flock toward the stage like seagulls after a free meal.

Brushing my way through the crowd, I reach the stage and catch his eyes by chance. He flashes me one of those too-perfect smiles, which I do my best to return. I reach into one of the pockets of my pantsuit and pull out a specific five-dollar bill. As he moves closer so that I can "deposit" the money, Iím suddenly brushed aside by a very large woman who stuffs her own ten spot into Arvindelís Speedo trunks.

Yes, thatís right. The heir to the throne of the elven community in the Bay Area is an exotic dancer.

I sigh and stifle the brief impulse to express my displeasure at the womanís rudeness at the business end of a hammerlock. I work my way back to the stage and hold the five back up to try to regain Arvindelís attention. When he moves in the opposite direction, I wonder if I should have chosen to wear last yearís Halloween costume.

I flash back over the image of that thing; a one-piece outfit with a neckline that started south of my navel and had no back whatsoever. I smile tightly as Arvindelís head suddenly swivels back in my direction. I smile; so he is keeping his telepathy open. When the Magus smiles indulgently at me and works his way back over, I narrow my eyes and let my mouth form a tight line before "bellowing" in my head.

< We need to talk, elf boy. The Folk of Misthold owe me a favor, and Iím calling it in. NOW. >

Arvindelís eyes go wide for a split second. Good, he was passively scanning and heard my "shout." My guess is confirmed again when he sends to me. // How do we owe you, mortal woman? //

< Not out here, > I relay before turning my head and glancing at the dancersí dressing area. < Iíll see you when youíre done with your set. Donít make me hunt you down. I get cranky when pointy-eared hunks play hard to get. >

I turn and start my next mission; sneaking into the dressing room of a male strip joint without being seen.

Arvindel walks me to his private dressing room and stands there with the door open to let me enter first. As I glance around his dressing room, the elf Lord closes the door and imperiously demands, "What do you want?"

I turn around to face one of the highest-ranking supernatural beings in this part of California and give him a falsely innocent smile. "What do I want?" I echo casually. "I want a man with an exciting career that includes international travel, a Swiss bank account with a balance of fifty million dollars, with the body of Val Kilmer and the attitude of Mel Gibson." I suppress the urge to giggle at Arvindelís shocked face. I let the fun Iím having with him flash through my eyes and say, "But thatís in the long term. For now, Iíll settle for calling in the favor owed to me by your subjects, Lord Arvindel."

He watches me for several seconds before saying, "My subjects hardly expose themselves openly to strangers, my Lady."

I just cock an eyebrow over his choice of words. "A strange choice of words, considering your occupation, my Lord."

The Magus just sighs at my observation and suddenly, the ninety-nine one-hundredths naked man is encased in full plate armor made of pure silver, gilded in gold. An elven longsword hangs at his hip. Arvindel folds his arms and with the barest trace of sarcasm, asks, "Is this better?"

"I didnít mind the other outfit," I confess, with a lopsided grin.

Arvindel sticks to business. "My Lady, let us cut to Ďthe chase,í as your people say. What debt is owed to you by my people?"

I snort as I recall my initial exposure to the Tuatha du Danaan eight months ago. "Letís just say that I made a small, yet visible, dent in my checking account to prevent two of your Low Court kids from being arrested for counterfeiting when they spent four hundred dollars in kenned fives at the Northern Faire. I work there, remember?"

My guess is that the High Court Prince-to-be remembers the incident in question. He nods and looks me up and down. At length, he smiles and this time itís in gratitude.

"Yes, Melisande and Elendrias told me of that little episode," he chuckles. He nods to himself and offers his hand to me. "Lord Arvindel, Magus Minor, Knight of Elfhame Misthold."

I take the hand and make my own introduction. "Lady Rebekah Forsythe, Knight of the Order of the Grail, at your service."

Arvindel recovers quickly; Iíll give him that. His demeanor becomes quite serious as he asks me, "What form of repayment are you hoping for, Lady Knight?"

I lean against the wall, cross my ankles, and fold my arms. Before I can formulate my response, Heatherís voice says, "Tell him he can start by changing back to his work clothes."

Apparently, Arvindelís hearing is better than I think or heís reading my mind, as he starts laughing over Heatherís comment.

"Stay out of my mind, Spock," I say with mock anger.

"Your wish is my command," he replies with a grand bow. "Now, what is your wish regarding your appearance here?"

I sigh as I remember why Iím here in the first place. I gaze into Arvindelís eyes and ask, "How much do you know about English mythology? Specifically, the last two hundred years?"

Arvindel considers the question. "It depends upon the subject. Is there a specific subject that brings you here?"

I take a deep breath and say, "Spring Heel Jack."

Arvindelís face becomes grim. He looks around as if suspicious of eavesdroppers and whispers, "This is not the place to discuss such things, my Lady Rebekah. We should seek out someplace private for this discussion."

"Fine by me," I reply, "where to?"

*****

Part 3: History Lessons With A Twist
(My Choice Of Double Majors Comes In Handier Than You Might Expect)

Arvindel leads Heather and me into the apartment he keeps as his home on this side of the Hill. I look around and whistle in appreciation of the totally modern dťcor.

"Did you ken this stuff," Heather begins, my dark-haired assistant looking just as impressed as I am, "or does dancing in your swim trunks pay even more than I ever imagined?"

"Thinking of changing jobs?" I ask teasingly, drawing a glare from her.

Arvindel opens his fridge and brings out three bottles of spring water. He hands one to Heather and me and sits down in an easy chair. He holds a hand out, inviting us to sit down. Once we do so, the Knight of Misthold takes a long draught and looks us both over for several seconds.

"Lady Rebekah, Lady Heather, I will ask that you keep this information to yourselves and your Order. There are those who would frown on my telling even you of this," he begins in a tired voice. His grip on the bottled water tightens, denting the plastic. "It begins millennia ago, in the Old World. This Spring Heel Jack is one of an Unseleighe race whose name is lost even to my people."

Heather impulsively speaks up. "That explains how he took an enchanted silver bullet without blinking."

Arvindel looks to me, and I nod with a wince. "Yes, indeed," he says. "You only made him stronger by that." At our surprised looks, he goes on. "I beg you, listen and do not interrupt."

He leans back and his face becomes far away in thought. "To make a human comparison, if we elves are Underhillís version of humanity, the common race, then the Fey who gave rise to the legend of Spring Heel Jack is the Unseleighe version of the yeti. The difference is their intelligence, cunning, and magical abilities." He sighs. "These particular Unseleighes have always had the ability to feed off of magic in any form; spells, objects, or ambient magic if they are close enough to a Nexus. It strengthens them and is the source of their abilities; strength, agility, endurance, manifesting faerie weapons like armor and swords, and fire-breathing."

I clear my throat and Arvindel nods. "That describes my boy. But he seemed disappointed with the girl and dropped her after making her scream her head off in terror."

"That is what I was afraid of," Arvindel says with a whisper. "Centuries ago, one of these Unseleighe absorbed the powers of one of those humans you call a psionic vampire. It made him into a different form of creature. Now, this creature fed off not only magic in general, but also off of fear. Specifically, the fear of the Gifted; those with magic, psionic abilities, or any form of paranormal powers. He was banished from Underhill, making him a problem for the mortal realms. However, upon seeing the power he could wield, others of his kind, as Unseleighe are wont to do, decided to follow him to this side of the Hill and copy his actions."

Weíve all finished our water, so the Magus waves a hand and instantly refills our bottles. "These creatures failed to note how they began to change over time, except to notice how their own magic increased. The more magic and fear they fed on, the more they changed."

I watch as he stands and paces. "In time, these Unseleighe became less physical beings, and more beings of pure magic, sustained only by sheer force of will. They became almost like those undead creatures your gamers call a Ďlich.í" I blink at the reference, leading Arvindel to nod. "In time, they became gaunt, no longer the muscular beings they were born, but rather thin with constantly glowing eyes. These ĎSpring Heel Jacks,í as your British called them last century, became nigh invulnerable; magic is absorbed and makes them stronger while accelerating the transformation, they become immune to the detrimental effects Cold Iron has on the Fey, and their natural abilities and recuperative powers are dramatically increased. They are the basis for the ĎCauldron Born,í the unstoppable zombies of Irish legend."

"How can they be killed?" I ask impatiently.

Arvindel becomes worried. "I only know of two ways. The first is decapitation, although this releases a magical storm that makes an Immortal Quickening look like an electrical spark. The other is holy magic, but it must be of the highest order to even injure them significantly. Modern priests of Wicca would be hard pressed to even slow them down."

I take a sip of my water. "Then why did he drop the girl?"

"I have a theory, but it is only that, given what you have told me," the Lord replies softly. "I believe that if you test the girlís parents, you will find they have Power. Whether witchcraft, wizardry, or mental powers, they are likely Gifted. I suppose the ĎJackí detected their powers and followed them. The reason he took the girl is simple; children, especially young children, have less control over their fear; they fear the dark, or the monsters under the bed." He sighs in relief that puzzles me until he goes on. "The reason he left her behind, I think, is equally simple. She did not inherit her parentsí Gifts, so he could not absorb her magic. He could easily carry her off, find a private place, and drain her dry of magic and fear, had she possessed both. But without any Gifts, she is useless to his desires."

"So he left her behind. But why try to kill the parents?" Heather asks.

I have an idea. "If they have magic, they could possibly track him and make him use up power he doesnít want to waste fighting."

"And he likely struck from ambush to eliminate them as a threat, if not necessarily kill them," Arvindel adds with disgust. "Lady Rebekah, these creaturesí normal habit is to go on a feeding spree to bloat themselves with magical power, then retreat to some of the more remote sections of Underhill. I suggest you look into other, similar attacks to see how long he has been making such attacks, and hopefully to find a pattern. I will discuss the thingís appearance with my people. Perhaps we will be able to help in our own small way; we love children as much as you do, and will do anything within our power to help them."

Slightly surprised at the free offer, though more than happy with it, I stand up and hold out my hand to Arvindel. "I thank you on behalf of the Order, Lord Arvindel. Iíll keep in touch, probably by phone this time."

We share a laugh, happy that we now have a course of action to take on this menace to Baghdad by the Bay.

*****

Part 4: The Morning After
(Get Your Minds Out Of The Gutter! Just Because My Squire And I Spent Time In The Apartment Of An Elven Stripper. . . Oh, Just Skip It!)

University of California-San Francisco
16 September 1988

I bite my pencil, trying to concentrate on my History quiz and not on my other project, the one that involves Tall, Dark, Evil Faeries On Steroids. Thankfully, Iím good at prioritizing, so I manage to finish my own paper a full six minutes before the bell rings.

As I head out into the campus and the spring air coming in off of the Pacific, the phone attached to my belt starts ringing. I push the button and listen into the earpiece as the Knight Captainís voice greets me.

Iím confused when the first thing he asks me is what Iím wearing. That is, Iím confused until he tells me to meet two Knights who work as Inspectors for the SFPD; theyíve been assigned the case, although I donít want to know how. I glance over my outfit. Itís San Francisco, so Iím decked out in a moss green oxford shirt under a dark brocade vest which is opened, khaki colored gabardine slacks with a brown belt which has my cell phone attached to it, and brown roper-style walking boots. Heels make my knee go out, so I avoid them whenever possible. The entire thing is topped off by a droverís coat and tweed scarf.

I tell him what Iím wearing, avoiding making wisecracks about voyeurism. He tells me where to go, so I do it. Luckily, heís decided to coincide my meeting with one of my two free hours today, so I wonít have to miss a class. Hanging up the phone, I go on my merry way to meet two of SFís finest.

When I get home, Iím all but worn out from the mental concentration Iíve put out today. The History test, two pop quizzes, and the long talk with my fellow Knights about Jack and his activities. It seems there have been six such cases in the last two weeks, yet since they happened in different precincts no oneís managed to make the connection. Upon getting the case from the attack last night, the Knight Inspectors had the girlís parents tested. As expected, they both have psionic gifts that were not passed onto their little girl. I do get some good news amid all this frustration; Rosa will be the caseworker assigned to the girls, and the Knights will make sure she knows that she has their approval. The silver lining to a fire-breathing cloud.

My homework is light tonight, so I get it out of the way so that I can concentrate on what really matters; taking out Jacko. I decide to broaden my search using the online libraries in Europe. Thatís the funny thing about my double major; I need the Computer classes to take advantage of the History data that the major universities in Europe keep online. I swear this Internet idea is going to be big in the next five years or so.

I spend three hours looking for anything on Spring Heel Jack or those so-called Cauldron Born zombies that these Fey mutate into over time. The prospects arenít good, but I take solace in the fact that they can be killed. The hard part will be finding a way that doesnít make me or the kids I save blow up with the bad guy.

I get a call on my cell phone and pick it up. I donít even get to say Ďhií before Heatherís labored voice says, "Weíve got another one, Bekah. And itís not pretty."

"Damn!" I sigh, wincing as images of bloody parents and children running through my mind. I take some measure of relief in my bleak rage; if the images didnít bother me, it would be an indicator that Iíd been in this gig too long. "Where and when?"

Heather gives me the number and reports that the Knights on the case are already looking into it. Itís known that two boys, ages six and eight, have been taken, their mother is in critical condition, and they no longer have a father, whose throat was slashed by those metal-like claws.

"Iíll be there as soon as I can," I vow after my friend gives me the address.

I angrily mash the button down and head to my bedroom. I pull off my school clothes and throw them on the bed or floor, depending on where they land. My attention is fixed on getting ready to kick some monster ass and Iím too mad to use motherly politeness. Rather, Iím going for Motherly Protection.

Yes, capital M, capital P. If I thought itíd work on Jackie Boy, Iíd take the wooden spoon I keep in my kitchen for smacking errant visitors, but the Wooden Spoon of Mommydom wonít behead a Faerie murderer. I have more suitable "toys" for that.

I walk into my closet and press the hidden catch on the shelf. In a blatant rip-off of Diego De La Vega and Bruce Wayne, a secret panel opens up to reveal the uniform I wear for my Night Job.

I throw on a Jerzee Beefy black t-shirt and Dancekin briefs before donning my standard issue Grail armor top, sans gauntlets; I donít want any bad guys to know Iím wearing the stuff. I throw on a navy blue, knit wool turtleneck sweater thatís a size or two too big. Itís baggy enough so that no one will see the outline of my breastplate, and the neck keeps anyone from seeing the armored collar. I throw on a pair of fine-looking black acid-washed jeans from Chi Jeans and a pair of black Hi-Tec lace-up boots. Theyíre well worn, so that will provide an advantage of comfort and allow me to concentrate on sending Spring Heel to whatever afterlife awaits the Faerie version of the Sith.

Checking myself in the mirror, I nod in approval. I throw my special brown leather jacket over my sweater; it might still officially be summer, but the ocean breeze can make things pretty cool at night. I start feeling around to make sure everythingís in place. As expected, Ange de Mort is in the sheath sewn into the back of the jacket, sitting over my spine without jabbing me. Angelís Baby and Sweetie Pie, my matching flat daggers, are in their proper locations in mini-scabbards similarly attached to the sleeves. A simple reach into the sleeves and "voila!" I have my babies in hand, no pun intended.

I walk back to my secret stash and pull out my number-one close quarters friend, Angelís Wings. The double-bladed ax matches Angel, my short sword. I put AW into my duffel bag. I then put my Glock into a shoulder holster under the jacket, where the leather will hide it. My second Glock goes into the duffle with Wings. I pull out Iris, my Derringer, and hide her in my left jacket pocket. Suitably attired for work, I head out to meet Heather at the site of the latest attack.

I arrive at one of Chinatownís occult shops, one that my Talented friends have hinted is popular for rare Oriental ingredients, not to mention the tourist trade. Since the Grail Inspectors are the only police left on the scene, I brazenly walk in past the hangers-on and the press trying to get pictures without actually attracting the copsí attention.

I walk up to Heather, whoís trying to calm down one of the shopkeepers without much success. I walk up to her and nod for her to let me have a go at it. When she nods in agreement, she coos to the old woman that Iím there to help.

The old Oriental woman watches me warily as I sit down next to her. I smile tenderly and ask her, "Grandmother, may we speak in private?"

The woman nods but doesnít answer, fear in her eyes. She leads us into the shopís back room.

"Grandmother, do you know who we really work for? You know that we will help where it is requested."

I give her a look of compassion. I lean in and whisper three names to her, names she should recognize as customers. When I back away, she has a surprised look on her face. Now she speaks, asking me, "You are the one they call ĎBekahí or ĎBecklyn?í"

"Just donít call me ĎBecky,í" I say lightly, attempting to lower the tension with some levity. "Madame, we are trying to find this creature. Did the other Knights tell you that this monster has taken other children, injured or killed other parents? Made orphans of little ones?"

"They have," she answers, looking shamed at being afraid to help us end Jackís reign of terror. "I cannot tell you much. He struck like lightning, killing them and leaving so much blood. . . there was nothing I could do for the children before he took them."

"It is good, Grandmother," I assure her, using a title of respect to convey my honesty. "If you had interfered, you would not able to help us now. We will do what we can to stop him. As will others in the city." She glances at me in curiosity, but I shake my head. "I have their secrets to protect, as I do those of my friends. But we will take precautions and have someone watch over this place, so that if he attacks again, we will know and do our best to stop him. The police will only know what is needed and no more. If the Masters of Shambala would consent to helpÖ "

She looks convinced by my promise and smiles at me in gratitude. I only wish, knowing how strong this thing can be if he completes his change, that I shared her confidence.

Upon arriving home, I call Arvindel at the strip joint, praying that heíll have some kind of information. Unfortunately, heís hoping the same thing.

I give him the dreary details and heís silent for more than two minutes before I finally beg, "Give me something, Arvindel. I need ideas."

"I think, my Lady Knight," Arvindel begins, "that we may have misconstrued this oneís plan of action."

"How?" I demand, sorry for my brusqueness.

The Lord elf tells me, "None of these children have turned up dead or drained, Lady Rebekah. It may be that he does not intend to drain them in turn. I fear that he may have found, if you will pardon my poor choice of words, a Ďbetter wayí to hasten his change into a Cauldron Born."

"Iím getting the feeling that this wonít be pretty, Arvindel," I reply hastily. With a fear twisting my gut like my fingerís twisting the phone cord, I tell him to give me the gory details.

"I am thinking that he may be collecting these children to have a Ďherdí of sorts, which he may intend to take Underhill with him. As you may know from the legends, time does pass more slowly there than in the mortal realm. A few hours in the creatureís domain would equal roughly a week in this city. If he takes young human children Underhill, he can stay there and feed off of them slowly, not draining them by draining a little from each of his victims, for decades. Perhaps centuries."

"Oh my God," I whisper, so stunned by that thought that I canít cry. "Arvindel, we need to find this bastard. Where would he be likely to hide?"

"If I only knew, I would tell you, Lady Knight," he sighs to me. "As it is, I have many of the Lower Court members of Misthold surveying likely areas for Spring Heel Jack to strike, including places frequented by the Gifted. I did not think to send any of them to Chinatown. I wish I had."

"We donít have time for Ďwhat ifs,í elf," I admonish him. < I wish I could take my own advice. > "Iíll be in touch. You have my cell number, give me a call as soon as you hear anything."

"You have my word, Bekah," he says before hanging up.

I stare at the phone, wondering how he got my nickname and why he considered us to be past a "Lady and Lord" basis as far as names go. I shrug and move to go out on patrol; the Knight Captain has assigned us each specific parts of the city to look through for our prey. I decide that the Captain doesnít have a warped sense of humor, but rather is assigning me to an area I know well; the campus of UCSF, where I go to school.

"Works for me," I mumble, making sure I have some of my school supplies in case Iím stopped by campus security. Itíd be just my luck to run into them and have them wondering what a twenty something student who lives off campus is doing on campus after hours. Oh well. Thatís what the campus library is for; built in excuses.

What, did you think it was for studying?

*****

Part 5: Strangers In The Night
(Where Hunter And Hunted Intermingle, Exchange Witty Dialogue, And Throw Down, As Is Required By Law
<Or At Least By Marvel And DC Comics>)

Iím starting to get bored as I walk through the park areas for the third time that night. Iíve searched the entire campus with the proverbial fine toothed comb and other than six couples making out, four frat boys drinking underage, and two freshmen smoking some pot, Iíve struck out. I donít even have Heather to keep me company, as sheís patrolling Chinatown in case our boogeyman decides to make a repeat performance.

Itís as Iím passing a strolling couple, minding their own business while hanging all over each other, that the hairs start to go up on the back of my neck and I get a strange feeling. My writers call me the Psychic Beta Reader, and yes, thereís something to that nickname. My folks have a number of Gifts between them. But as for me, I guess I got the low end of the psychic gene pool. All I have is whatís pretty much a low-scale Precognition; I get early danger warnings or hunches that pan out, although more often, Iím making my writers pull their hair out by guessing at their oh-so-secret plot twists months before they put them to type. Sometimes, however, I wish I wasnít so damned good at listening to that little "Spider Sense" of mine. Iím getting some major willies right now.

As the couple departs my range of hearing, I hear a rush of air above me. < Bogey at high noon! > my Sense screams at me. Reacting on instinct, I dive to the side and roll, coming up into a defensive crouch and drawing my flat daggers in one fluid motion. Also in a crouch, knees bent and one hand bracing itself on the sidewalk is none other than Jack, staring at me with wary eyes and seeming not too surprised by my reflexes. Oh pooh.

Somewhat taken aback that Jackís apparently been tracking me, I decide to be witty. "Fancy meeting you here," I drawl in my best Southern Belle accent. "A gentleman just when I need one to escort me home safely. How fortunate for me!"

My "friend" isnít impressed. With a guttural accent I recognize as Irish, the dark Fey says, "You are like me, mortal girl."

< Hey, Iím a woman here, buddy boy! > I snarl to myself, keeping from provoking Jack, who seems to want to talk rather than start swinging. "Really? Well, I donít see the resemblance. Youíre more the ĎCandygram for Mungoí type, whereas Iím the Champagne and caviar type. Know what I mean?"

Jack straightens up and opens his mouth, those pale blue flames licking out. "Do not mock me, mortal. You are a hunter. A predator, like me. You have Power inside of you, but it is not your own. Thus you are a hunter like I am."

"You could say that," I reply, willing to give him that much but wondering about his mention of Power. My Precog is minor, at best, but it is mine, and the Order tested me to see if I had any latent gifts years ago; no dice. "But Iím somewhat limited in what prey I chase. You donít seem to understand the concept of keeping a low profile."

A gravelly, Irish chuckle rolls from Jackís throat. "Child, if you knew the power that is mine now, and what is soon to be mine, you would not be so confident."

Uh oh. This is very bad. If the power is soon to be his, then that means heís not waiting to get back Underhill to do the deed and start using the kids as a magic beer tap.

My next thought is to kill Arvindel for not telling me that JACKíS telepathic, as the thingís eyes widen when he realizes that I know what he is and lunges for me with a frantic stabbing motion, those wicked finger claws leading.

Unlike Jackie, the best fighters on the planet Earth have trained me. He wonít be able to pull the old "read my mind to anticipate my moves" trick, since Iíve advanced to that rare level of skill where thought and instinct are one. I dodge to the right and let the Fey fly by and stumble since Iím not there to absorb his impact. I flip Angelís Baby and Sweetie Pie in my hands and let fly, sending the knives into his back. Unfortunately, the blades donít penetrate enough because they get caught in his overcoat. The steel blades must cause him some discomfort, since he reaches around, pulls them out, and tosses them aside with a yelp of anger.

I pull out a small item from my pocket and toss it at him as he turns. Thereís no way to tell if Iím successful as Iím already making my next move. I decide to get down and dirty and drop my duffel from my shoulder, my right hand already gripping the shaft of Angelís Wings.

I whirl my baby in my hands a couple times before standing ready. "If Iím reading what you said right, then this little Cold Iron baby will still put a world of hurt on you, Faerie Boy. And Iím big into testing my theories. Shall we?"

Jack decides we shanít. He spits a gout of flame as I close in confidently. I try charging through, hoping that the fire is just parlor tricks, but Iím sorely disappointed. I feel the heat, which brings me up short, and Jack takes advantage of the opening to leap away, flying forty feet down the path and landing with his back to me. He turns to me to give me a smile of triumph before spinning on his heels and springing again, vanishing into the darkness of the park.

I let my own smile of triumph form as I pull out a small device from my coat and flick it on with my thumb. Yep, the signal from the tracking device sticking to his coat is working perfectly. As long as Iím within fifty miles of him, this Order-manufactured, completely technological device will emit a homing beacon that will lead me right to Jack, and the kids waiting for me to rescue them.

As I start moving, I place a call to the Knight Captain to let him know whatís going on.

Forty-five minutes, one Jack-created Gate, one retuning of my GPS tracker, and multiple traffic violations later, Iím cursing over the location that Jackís apparently chosen as his lair. Iím not just cursing him, but myself in that I never would have thought that heíd choose the underground chambers of the PRESIDIO as his hideout!

I pull my bike up to the gate and flash my reservist ID. When the guard wonders aloud why Iím there at this time of night, I pull out my cell phone and dial a number, letting the man who answers talk to the Seaman. Okay, heís only doing his job, which I can appreciate, but Iím pressed for time.

Luckily, Iím ex-Navy, which proves to be a big benefit in several ways. Among these benefits are friendships; sailors take care of their own and are a special breed, never mind what the Jarheads would have you believe. Among these friends are members of the command staff who know either that Iím with the Order or believe that I went into Black Ops for Uncle Sam when my enlistment ended four years ago.

The end result is my getting right in and being left alone to do my job. Despite the Sailor Brotherhood, the average swabbie just doesnít react well to the supernatural. As I finish my musing, I find the entrance to the old abandoned caverns. Praying that the fellow members of my Chapter House will arrive before Jack makes any more moves, overt or otherwise, I head in, following the silent blips on the tracking screen.

It seems Jack has this maze of underground caverns to his liking. This surprises me, given what I know about the Fey; they prefer open spaces or forests to underground. Anyhow, I decide to scout out and determine what heís doing, so I can get a glance at the kids heís taken from their homes and hopefully save them.

I walk through the shafts and intersections; not liking the idea that Jack has apparently put up light globes every fifteen to twenty feet to illuminate the shafts. I know enough about Underhill to know that elves can see as well in complete darkness as humans do in broad daylight. I wonder if Jackís change has some disadvantages to balance out the power he gets. As the signal blips grow stronger, I unerringly make my way closer to his position; I can stumble around to find my way back to the surface after we take him out. Having activated my own personal tracking beacon, Heather will tail me just as easily as Iím following my target.

After twenty minutes of rapid progress, I finally hear something besides squeaking rats, and my Gift starts ringing like crazy. My heart breaks however, since the sounds I hear are those of whimpering children. I sneak up to a corner, where light is coming from a room, much brighter than the passageways Iíve been weaving my way through since entering the mines.

I scrunch myself against the wall as much as Iím able to and chance a peek around the corner, hoping against hope that Jack wonít see me or feel my presence through his mental abilities. I almost give myself away with a choked scream of rage when I see the children.

Jack has used his magic to shape what look like St. Andrewís crosses out of the stone that makes up the floors, walls, and ceilings of the chamber. The children are bound to them at their wrists and ankles, the "manacles" being made of stone seamlessly formed from the individual makeshift prisons. There are fifteen children in all, making me wonder how so many went unnoticed. Some of the children are futilely struggling to break free, while others are unconscious. I feel great relief that they breathe, as if theyíre asleep.

I also see, with great fear, why Jack doesnít know Iím here; heís standing in the middle of the semicircle formed by the children ringing the room, lost in a trance of some sort. Since all of the children who are awake seem to be afraid, itís easy to guess what heís doing. Heís absorbing their fear, drawing from all of them so as not to completely drain them. I also see that heís rapidly losing the Hulk-type musculature that Iíve come to know over the last two days. Heís lost at least fifty pounds in the last half-hour and is shrinking fast.

Knowing that Iíve just run out of time to wait for the Knights to join me, I draw Angelís Wings as quietly as possible. Taking several deep breaths, I try to make sure that Iím ready and willing to charge in full bore, since I know that the kids will cry out for help the second I appear. My plan is simple; run in, swing away, and hope that Iím lucky enough to chop Jack into kibble without an explosion. I take up a position just out of sight of the door, silently count down from three, and charge into the room, a bellowing war cry erupting from my lips.

My gamble that the shout, straight from my soul as a warrior, will distract Jackís draining works. His eyes snap open and the kids who arenít already under sag as much as their bonds allow. Jackís eyes start glowing, but I donít hesitate. I bring Angelís Wings overhead in a chop with all my power and the extra might that fear, anger, and maternal instincts can lend me.

Wings connects with the blazing aura that suddenly surrounds Jack. In that split second I realize Iím too late. The next instant, the aura expands and, like a physical blow, Iím thrown clear across the chamber by a wave of telekinetic force. I land heavily on the stone floor, but my armor absorbs most of the impact. I stand up and decide to retreat into the passageways, hoping that the newly made Cauldron Born will be angry enough with me to follow me out. I donít mind dying for what I believe in, but Iím praying my backup will arrive in time to help me save the kids.

I donít have time to realize my mistake as CBís glowing eyes narrow and I sense a tangible buildup of Power. I realize that heís reading my thoughts and am too slow to feel the rumble as the only egress from this chamber suddenly closes, the seam formed by the walls coming together magically dismissed, enclosing everyone, me, Jack, and his victims, in a thirty by thirty foot chamber.

My first thought is that itís good Iím not claustrophobic. My second is how to take out this bastard before he takes me out.

Again, my thoughts betray me as he laughs at me. I shout another cry and charge, bringing Angelís Wings around in a sidearm swing meant to take off his head, consequences be damned; this guyís too powerful to let loose on Earth again. He just waves his hand, sending me crashing against the newly formed wall with a heavy impact. His lighted eyes narrow again, making my fingers unwillingly uncurl. My weapon drops to the ground and is psychokinetically sent skittering across the chamber, away from Mommy.

Jack uses his powers to send me rising against the wall, about a foot or two off the floor so that his eyes can look at mine directly. My other weapons, my sword, my knives, Glock, the Uzi in my duffel, and all the magazines, fly out and toward the undead Fey. He floats the magazines to him and folds his now emaciated fingers around them. Those talon-like hands glow with magical energy and I curse; heís absorbing the magic in my bullets!

Finishing quickly, he drops the now mundane ammunition to the rocky floor of the chamber and moves toward me. He stops about six feet away, probably reading my rage and desire to rip that pointy-eared head from his neck. He concentrates again and stone flows from the wall Iím magically pinned against. Solid stone bands encircle my wrists, elbows, upper arms, waist, thighs, knees, and ankles.

< Gods above, Jackie, > I think with wicked sarcasm, < you must really think Iím a dangerous woman to go to this much effort. >

"Hardly," he says in the guttural accent. Nice to know something didnít change. "I simply find this easier to do than continue to drain my assimilated power by holding you aloft. I need not use as much power to maintain the stone shaping spell."

< Keep talking, amateur, > I acidly snicker. < Just keep talking and let me use what I learn against you. >

"I hardly think youíre in the position to take advantage of my now limited weaknesses, woman," he chuckles in an ugly way. "I now have the Power to open a portal to Underhill, take my sources of power with me, set up my own domain, and never have to expose myself to the mortal realms, or danger, ever again."

"You realize youíre going to die now, right?" I ask with surprising calm. "You just told the hero your dastardly plan. Tradition says youíll be dead in less than five minutes."

Not deigning to respond to my hard-thought out humor, Jack approaches me and breathes into my face. I start becoming woozy and realize that one of the things I dismissed about his breath shouldnít have been dismissed; the reports that he could use it like anesthesia. My head starts swimming as he runs a hand up and down my chest, feeling the Grail armor.

"Ahhh, more magic," he says happily. "However, I will wait until I bring us Underhill to drain this protective plating of yours. Perhaps I shall use it myself. But for now, I will drain the stolen Power you possess and add it to my own. Maybe Iíll let you keep your superfluous Gift. If I drained that, your fear would be worthless to me." He cocks his head. "Or it might make a nice midnight snack, instead."

He smiles wickedly at me and points his right hand at the far end of the chamber. A glowing circle of light begins forming, and my mind shouts, < Oh shit. > Heís opened a Gate.

Not liking the idea of spending eternity Underhill as a portable larder, I shake off the giddiness caused by Jackís morning breath and try to break free. He just ignores my struggles and caresses my cheeks with his nine-inch nails. The glow of his eyes starts growing brighter, dragging me into a hypnotic state. I barely feel the sensation of something being, well, "tugged" out of me. Seconds later, Iím shot back into reality when the glow dissipates and Jack unleashes an unearthly scream.

He reaches up and grabs at his head. I feel myself falling to the floor of the chamber as the stone-shaping spell he used on me vanishes, dropping me down. I shake my head to clear my senses and see Jackís body beginning to glow. I also see the kids are no longer bound; rather, theyíre lying on the floor, out cold. I donít have much time to act, as my supposedly "superfluous Gift" is telling me Iím in deep ca-ca. Surprisingly, the Gate remains open. Oh goody.

Jackís body glows brighter and I wonder what the Hell happened and ignore the sound of rock opening up behind me. Other than my Precog, I donít have any other Power that he could drain; yet it seems to have given him a tummy ache. I crawl over to Angelís Wings as my mind flashes through how Jack can be killed. I know decapitationís still out, but Iím not going unarmed against this jackass. The second way Arvindel told me was holy magic. . .

My eyes widen as I realize that in a way, I did have Power. I have the Power that resides in my body, holy magic of the Highest Power of them all.

Iíve drunk from the Holy Grail itself.

I donít leave much to chance though. I run up and, dropping my axe, decide to separate Jackís head from his shoulders in a simpler, cleaner way. I grip Zombie Boy in a chokehold, get a good grip, and TWIST.

Jackís neck cleanly breaks with an audible snap, crackle, and pop of vertebrae.

Jack starts twitching, convulsing like an epileptic while the Power he took from my person eats him from the inside out. His stomach bulges, indicating that the Power is trying to eat its way out of the Cauldron Born. Not wanting myself, the children, or the Presidio to go the way of Hiroshima, I wonder what I can do. I remember the Gate sitting there, blissfully unaware of whatís about to happen. My first instinct is to take it, but thatís out of the question; too many kids, and Jackís body imitating C4 that drops part of the base into the ground would be hard to explain away.

Not to mention I donít want to see what Jack considered home.

However, itís that hesitancy that gives me an idea. Fighting against the instinct to close my eyes against the golden glow starting to crack itís way out of my playmateís belly button; I reach down and pick up his now-skinny carcass. Still fighting the remnants of Jackís minty-fresh breath, the loss of the Power he sucked on, and my own fading adrenaline, I lift bony boy over my head and toss him for all Iím worth.

Jackís body vanishes through the portal without a problem. But that still leaves one left. Realizing in my gut what I have to do, I move to try one last desperate idea. I pick up Angelís Wings, stumble back over to the Gate, say one last good-bye to my baby, and toss her.

As Iíd hoped, the introduction of Cold Iron to the other side of the portal has an effect. The Gate seems to bulge and twist, trying to maintain its integrity against the effects of what the Fey call Death Metal. It fails, falling in upon itself and vanishing before the Cauldron Bornís demise sends destructive magical energy, not to mention greasy, grimy, Unseleighe guts into the mortal realm.

Once thereís nothing let in the chamber but me and the kids, I walk over and pick up my Uzi, throwing in a flesh clip of ammo. I sag down, letting the weariness come over me a bit. I keep myself awake, kneeling and cradling my Uzi, just watching over the sleeping kiddies until the Knights and Squires of the San Francisco Chapter House, Heather at their head, burst into the chamber fifteen minutes later.

Once I see my fellow Knights picking up the kids to take them to safety, I let sleep take me to La-La land with them, the difference being a smile on my lips and the knowledge that my dreams will be peaceful. One of those dreams is making the Order pay through the nose to replace Angelís Wings.

*****

Epilogue: Happily Ever After, My Wooden Spoon Swinging Behind
(Aftermaths, Random Thoughts, And Wishing This Job Came With A Better Benefits Package)

20 September 1988

Four days later, Iím fully recovered from the fatigue that I suffered from the combination of battle, smoke inhalation from Jackís need of Listerine, and from his draining of the energy I get from the Grail. I donít miss any time from school, but thatís by my choice; all the Orderís doctors can do is tell me not to go on duty.

The medics have what they consider to be bad news; the magical benefits one gains from drinking from the Grail were stolen from me. That means that Iím no longer immune to disease, I can be possessed by demons, and that I once again have a normal lifespan. Given that Knights drink from the Grail on every anniversary of their joining the Order, that leaves me a whopping five months of being a normal California Girl. I donít mind aging five months before getting the slow down from the Cup, but as it is, the Knight Captainís petitioning the Knight General for a "special consideration" given how I "sacrificed my gifts for the greater good."

Whatever. The kids are safe, thatís whatís important. Some of them are back with their parents, although Rosaís getting more business than she bargained for. That means sheíll be baking a lot of fudge brownies. The Knights who took over the case are getting commendations and promotions, with the attendant raise in pay. For those who say being a hero doesnít pay, take that.

Yeah, I know, Iím the one who lost her favorite toy. I might be bloody-minded when it comes to fighting evil, but I like to see things through rose-colored glasses any other time.

The kids whose parents died are being looked after by members of the Order, with plans to find families for them. Theyíll be taken care of, no matter what, without the intervention of CPS. So I take some measure of happiness in that, to battle the sadness that they wonít see their parents again. At least not in this life.

For me, Iím getting along and acing my courses, which wonít be put on hold for me, never mind that I risked my life to save a bunch of kids. Of course, if I told anyone I was under the Presidio, Iíd be called a fibber. Sometimes, I like having a secret identity. In all, I hear through the grapevine (read: hacking into the computers at HQ) that the Knight Generalís considering me for Lieutenant. Sorry, but Iíll believe it when I see it. Iím still new, and a promotion might take me away from my education. Sorry, sirs, but no thanks. At least for now. Just find a new toy for me to play with.

Hey, I loved that axe!

I log off of my computer, having finished and saved my CS homework. Since itís not due for two days, I have some time to relax and enjoy a job well done. I decide to head over to the Castro and personally tell Arvindel that the Cauldron Born was taken out. Why not get his congratulations in person?

I walk into the strip club an hour before opening. I want to get this done and head home; I have fanfic waiting to be edited from someone in the Midwest. Arvindel sees me and smiles. He walks over to meet me and gestures to a table.

"I take it that he is no longer a threat, Lady Rebekah?" he asks.

The warring emotions give him his answer. Still, I give him a verbal one. "Yes, heís gone. You wouldnít believe how."

"I already know," Arvindel replies with a mysterious smile. At my flashing eyes, he says, "I did not peek, I swear to you, Lady Knight. I have my own sources."

"Oh really," I asked, perturbed that someone might know about this. I certainly havenít told anyone. "Might I ask what these sources are?"

"You might," the elven knight says congenially, "but as I have plans for this, my evening off, I must bid you adieu and give you your answer another time."

My eyebrows go up until I hear a familiar voice say, "What are you doing with my date, Bekah?"

I turn around, stunned. I know what Iíll see, but it still surprises me. There stands Heather, wearing a black, micro mini sheath dress, three-inch heels, and not much else.

"Your date?" I asked in belated realization.

"Well, Arvie here promised to show me the best places to eat for the Fey," she answers with a knowing, sadistic smile, "and he promised to show me more of the dťcor of his apartment."

I start jabbering and turn on the grinning stripper. "Do you realize sheís my Squire, Arvie?"

"Iím older than you, and Iím an adult," Heather says with a giggle. She walks by me, heels clacking against the tile of the clubís floor. "Consider this payback for not letting me have the fun job. Donít wait up, Bekah."

As my Squire and Sir Arvindel walk out, Heather virtually clinging to the next Prince of Misthold, I just sigh, resigned to having a boring night thanks to the email from Detroit while my Squire heads out for Gods know what fun with an elven nobleman.

< The strangeness that is my life. . . >

The End

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