Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday Fiction: The Eschaton Dance (OIA #5)

The Eschaton Dance

Toomey said to Dr. Gideon LaCroix, "A van broke down outside." Toomey was perched on a chair, his feet dangling.

LaCroix looked around. "And no one knows anything about vans but me?"

Toomey smiled. "Cabot's away. Talithe does, but—"

LaCroix sighed. "I know. She can't leave. She's the receptionist."

LaCroix approached the van. Two teenage women and a man (boy, really, thought LaCroix, feeling each of this forty-one years) stood around while the fourth, a blond man, kicked the front grill. "Like, try it again, Teddy," said the boy-man watching. Teddy tried it again. He was built like a football player—eighteen, maybe.

"Hi," said the prettier of the two girls—women, LaCroix reminded himself. "Our van broke down. Can you give us a hand?" A redhead, she wore a purple minidress. Purple used to be the colour of royalty.

"Does this count as a beginning? Because if it is, he's the bad guy," said the other girl. She was not unattractive, either. "No? Let me check my notes."

"It's the second person, Wilma," said Teddy.

"But it's never anyone we haven't seen," she said.

"No," said Teddy, and he gritted his teeth and kicked the van again.

"You have to kick it harder than that," said the sloppily-dressed boy.

"You try it then."

"Let me look at it," said LaCroix. He lifted the hood and said, "How far have you driven?"

"Jinkies, I don't know," said the not-as-pretty girl. "We travel all over the country looking for secrets to unearth and mysteries to solve."

"And nothing...happens?"

"Oh, sure, we find mysteries," said Teddy, using his neckerchief to wipe his forehead.

I'd do both of you in the first week, LaCroix thought. And together the second week. And then he was glad his grandfather wasn't here to hear that; LaCroix was supposed to be controlling himself.

"But they're always guys in suits," said the purple dress, wistfully. "What I wouldn't give for real supernatural stuff."

"How did you get this far?" LaCroix said, "The engine's a wreck, you have no distributor cap, the head gasket's blown. And it's old." He sighed. "You'd better come upstairs and use our phone."

And then he heard, "Ris Seth there?" At least, he thought heard it, because the man had a terrible speech impediment. And a Great Dane jumped out of the back of the car.

For a moment, LaCroix thought, A talking dog! How odd, and then that thought went away. He knew his emotions were being played with, but he didn't care. "No. He's getting ready for his first date in centuries. He took the afternoon off."

"Ruh-roh," said the dog, and looked beyond LaCroix.

A burning angel hung there, his arms flung wide and carrying a spear: a flaming cross suspended in the air, carrying a spear.

"Jinkies!" cried out one of the girls, and "Jeepers!" said the other one, and LaCroix was dimly aware of pictures being taken. There was the sound of running feet, and LaCroix stepped in front of the women, careful not to touch them.

"You are damned," said the angel. "You will burn forever!" And he pointed his spear and a ball of fire flew straight at the lineup of LaCroix, the women, and the dog.

LaCroix spun to grab the women and drag them away, but they had already dived for cover, and the ball of fire caught him, though he ducked. His suit was singed, not on fire yet, and LaCroix pointed his fetch stick at the angel. "May the darkness consume you!"

A ball of darkness eighty feet wide hung in the sky, where there had been a man. "Run!" LaCroix pointed to the building. "That won't hold long."

The angel rose out of the darkness, its white wings beating strongly. "Not long at all," said the angel. It aimed a bolt of fire at LaCroix, but LaCroix dodged it.

"Know fear," said LaCroix, and pointed the stick again. Wisps of things that might have been ghosts shot from it and wreathed the angel.

"Foolish mortal," said the angel. "I have no fear." This bolt of fire was closer and smoke rose from LaCroix's jacket. Thank goodness I have my gris-gris bag, thought LaCroix.

LaCroix redoubled his efforts. "That's...not...true." The wisps were thicker now; you could almost see them. LaCroix felt the sweat popping from his skin, though he looked as though he was only standing, holding a stick.

Suddenly the angel clutched at his eyes. "I have failed. Forgive me, Father!" he wailed and he dashed away, through the air. LaCroix noted absently he was faster than the cars on the street.

Then LaCroix buckled. "Help me," he said to the teenagers.

* * *

The van had been towed away before the angel got back, and at Markur's boarding house the lady said he was out. "Like, I hope they're eating." Hairy cast a longing glance at the bar fridge that sat in the common room—the only room without a window. The dog went near it. "It's empty," said Hairy. "I already checked."

"Does the angel count as the second person?" asked Wilma.

"I think the towtruck driver does," replied Taffy. "I got his name."

"He barely spoke to us," said Ted. "I think we have to wait."

"What do you want with Seth, anyway?" asked LaCroix. He had forbidden Toomey and Daya from coming in here for fear of making them the second person Wilma was looking for.

"He knows about angels, right?" Teddy said.

"He knows about demons."

"Demons were just fallen angels," said Wilma. "In the myths."

"It's more complicated than that," said LaCroix. "From what he's told me."

"Dr. Severn says that angels are just a manifestation of our desire to believe."

"He would."

"He's my hero," said Wilma.

"He's a professor at my school." He said pointedly, "I'm on sabbatical."

"I think you're great," said Taffy. She smiled at him.

He murmured his thanks.

"So you don't think that angel was supernatural?"

"It'll turn out to be a hologram or a guy in a suit," said Wilma.

"But... there are powers."

"I've rarely seen them." He shook his head. It was like arguing with Cabot, but worse. She went on: "Even the Raven is just a highly-trained man. We had an adventure with him, so I know."

The Raven as a man had been retired since the early seventies. These kids were older than they looked if they had an adventure with him.

"Right," said LaCroix. He excused himself for a moment and got the toy from Daya's desk. It jostled a bit and then started rocking as soon as he brought it in the room. It clacked faster as he brought it toward Ringading. He didn't tell the kids: first, because there was no point in arguing with them; and second, because some secrets should be kept, at least until he knew the lay of the land.

"What's that?" said the pretty girl, Taffy.

"Executive toy. I bumped it—I was going to bring it in for Hairy to play with, but it's delicate."

Hairy ignored the toy. "Like, can we order out for pizza?"

LaCroix shrugged. "I would think so. The angel will come back, but we sometimes order out for pizza here. Toomey loves pizza."

"Toomey?"

"A co-worker."

"Will we meet Toomey?" asked Taffy.

"Will the pizza guy count as the second person?"

"Not if the tow truck driver doesn't," said Wilma.

"Then not yet."

* * *

The pizza guy had been and gone, and there were six empty boxes next to Hairy and Ringading. Everyone else was sharing one pizza when Cabot walked in. "Good day. The 'angel' hasn't returned yet."

Toomey and Hutton, who had been waiting in the doorway, burst in. "Oh, you should have seen it," Toomey said. "A burning angel it was, all lit up with fire. Fine work, LaCroix."

"You," said Wilma as she pointed at Cabot, "are the second one."

"I'm Jedediah Cabot. I'm one of the investigators here."

"Doesn't matter," she said darkly. "You're second."

"Terrific." To LaCroix he said, "Does that mean anything?"

"You're going to be the fall guy. Do you know where Markur is?"

"Probably shopping. I loaned him money for better clothes."

"You'll never get it back; mercenaries are notorious about that," said Toomey.

"I'll live." To LaCroix, Cabot said, "What do you mean, I'm going to be the fall guy?"

"The second person they meet is always guilty."

"But I'm part of a group they've already met."

"Good point," said LaCroix. "Wilma?"

"I withhold judgement for now," she said.

Teddy stretched. "We'll need a place to stay."

"Well, this house is protected, so you're probably best off to stay here," said Hutton. "I'd offer you my place, but I don't have one. I stay at the YWCA," she explained.

"I can take someone," said LaCroix. "My house is protected, but my couch is short." Cabot rolled his eyes. LaCroix looked at Ted and Hairy.

"Oh, I'll try it," said Taffy quickly. She was using him, but so what? If they both used each other, that was fine with him. He just had to find out her status before they touched.

"I'll take the guys," said Cabot. "Toomey— Where do you live, Toomey?"

"At home," Toomey replied, with a wave of his hand. Cabot nodded with understanding.

"No," said Wilma. "Someone's got to keep an eye on you. I'll stay at your place."

"I thought you were withholding judgement?"

"Just making sure. The boys will be fine here."

"Riiiight," said Cabot. "Toomey, stay with them."

"I will," Toomey said, and looked grateful.

"Like, guys? The angel's back. And he's brought friends."

"We might not get to our homes tonight," said LaCroix. He looked at Taffy. "Pity."

* * *

Cabot got up and looked out the window. Two black SUVs had pulled up and men in black got out. The Angel hung above them, his wings beating fast to hold him there.

"Talithe will keep them out. They don't want to create a scene."

"Will she do that?" asked Ted.

"If we ask her to."

"Like, you better hurry. They're coming up the walk," said Hairy.

Cabot headed out the conference room door—and Talithe said, "Great. I really need to use the bathroom. Can you watch the front?"

Cabot opened his mouth to say something, and then said, "Okay."

"Great!" She scurried off. Cabot sat down in the warm seat.

Two men in black suits walked in. They wore sunglasses and carried Bibles. The older one, in his fifties, was slightly winded from walking up the stairs. Presumably they saw that the bookstore had a female owner and the Sweet and Low Down wasn't open yet; LaCroix had to have come from here.

"May I help you?" asked Cabot politely. He hadn't been a combatant, so he wasn't worried about being recognized.

"Yes. We're looking for a man," said the older one. He gave a reasonable description of LaCroix.

"I don't think I know him," lied Cabot.

"We believe that he might have committed a crime," added the younger one.

"Might we see your staff?"

"No," said Cabot. "Most of our staff are in the interview process with clients right now. I can certainly take your number and ask them if they want to call you back, Mister—?"

"Talbot," said the older man. "Larry Talbot." Cabot gave no sign he recognized the name. He wrote down the number the man gave him.

The younger man said, "You should repent now. The end is nearer than you think."

"Thank you," said Cabot. "I'll keep that in mind."

They left. A minute later, Talithe returned. "Who was that?"

"Missionaries," said Cabot. "Don't let them in, okay? Tell them nothing."

She nodded and when Cabot went back into the conference room he found everyone hiding from the window and Wilma whispering, "He phoned the angel's people."

"I didn't," said Cabot. "Why are the blinds shut?" He pulled back the edge of the blind to see the angel's wing brush the glass as the angel looked into the conference room. "Ah."

"We need a plan, gang," said Ted. "A trap?"

"Of course," said Wilma.

"I thought you were avoiding the angel. Now you want a trap?" asked Cabot.

"With a trap, like, we're in control," said Hairy.

"And we like being in control," said Taffy, with a raise of her eyebrow meant for LaCroix. Cabot noticed but said nothing.

"Ringading, you'll be the bait."

"Ruh-ruh."

"Would you do it for a Ringading-Dong?" Said Taffy, holding up a snack.

"Ro way!" Ringading shook his head.

"Two Ringading-Dongs?"

"Like, I'd do it for two."

"Nope, we'll need you to swing the molasses can," said Ted. "It's gotta be Ringading."

"Rope."

"All right, you tyrant. Three Ringading-Dongs."

"Raw right." Ringading happily ate the three sticks in Wilma's hand. Cabot thought they looked like dried human fingers.

"We're going to hang a net under one of the trees near the front of the property. Wilma, you and I will drop the net on the angel when he swoops down to grab Ringading. Hairy, you're the best thrower of us, so you'll swing the molasses can to get rid of that spear. Taffy, I'll need you to give the signal when the angel is under a tree. Ringading will be the bait."

"Do you want help?" asked Hutton. "I could make a wall..."

"No offense, but we're experienced in this sort of thing. You aren't."

LaCroix expected Cabot to be offended, but all he said was, "Hey, go with it. Best not let me see it; Wilma is worried I'm the enemy as it is."

LaCroix drew Cabot outside the room and asked his reasons.

"Look," said Cabot. "It doesn't work or it does. If it doesn't, I haven't lost anything. If it does work, we find out who's employing the angel."

"What if it doesn't, and it makes the employer angry?"

"Not our lookout," said Cabot. "We haven't even seen from the Toon Gang. It's a gang of kids and their dog."

"Potentially immortal kids and their dog." He filled in Cabot on the comment about Raven. "Who knows what kind of enemies they've collected in their time?"

* * *

Ringading moved back and forth on the sidewalk, waiting to be spotted by the angel. "Hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmm," he hummed. "Hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmm." The detectives watched from a second-storey window. Suddenly the angel detached himself from a house across the street, snatched up the dog, evaded the net, and flew away.

"Well, crap," said Ted. "That's never happened before."

"We'll save you, Ringading!" cried Hairy. "Though, like, I don't know how."

* * *

Cabot was already looking up the phone number in the reverse directory. "Please let it not be a cell phone," he said. "Here it is. The Wolfram Group. Hold on while we see who owns them." He popped a CD in the computer. Hutton peered over his shoulder.

"They're a wholly owned subsidiary of Rapture Industries."

"I know that name," said LaCroix. "Reverend Fate?"

"Yup," said Cabot. "Immanentizing the Eschaton since 1995. He opened a church in Las Vegas about six years ago."

"Wait," said Toomey. "What's immanentizing the whatsit?"

"Reverend Fate thinks we should embrace the Rapture and the second coming of Christ. He's working to bring about armageddon."

"No thought for those of us without souls," said Toomey.

"What does he want with Ringading?" asked Hutton.

"Good question," said Cabot.

"Well, he talks," said LaCroix. The others looked at him, not comprehending. "He's a talking dog."

"Yeah, so?"

LaCroix looked at them. "Of course. It is Freedom City."

They could hear the heavy tread on the stairs: the gang was returning without Ringading. Cabot let Hutton do the talking. "Got a lead on him," she said. "Easy-peasy. He's being held by people who are employed by Reverend Fate."

"Who?" asked Ted.

"We'll explain on the way." Somehow only Hairy and Taffy were with LaCroix while the rest rode with Cabot.

"Like, I hope the ol' Ringster's okay," said Hairy.

"It will be fine," said Taffy as she patted his arm.

"I can't stand being away from him too long."

An awful thought hit LaCroix. He said, "He means that literally, doesn't he?"

"We all get nauseated after a couple of days, but it hits Hairy the worst." She wrinkled her nose. "He starts vomiting. Disgusting."

"And you've been with Ringading for thirty years?"

In the back seat, Hairy moaned. "I don’t think it's a good idea to tell our secrets."

"Forty," she said to LaCroix. "Does that make me less interesting to you?"

LaCroix smiled. "Actually, it makes you more interesting."

* * *

"We have to assume Reverend Fate got what he wants," said Cabot.

"But why would he want Ringading?" Hutton asked. "Wilma? Ted?" They were quiet.

"The obvious answer is that he's not a dog," said Toomey.

"Obvious to you," Cabot said.

"It’s Freedom City."

"Right." Cabot nodded.

"Reverend Fate is a brand of Christian—"

"We're not all like that," said Hutton.

"I said a brand of Christian," said Toomey. "So whether it’s true or not—" Toomey looked at Wilma "—he thinks Ringading is a demon. He wouldn't kidnap an angel."

"Okay," said Cabot. "I buy it. So what do we do?"

"Well, if he wants to immanentize the whatsit, he'll be forcing Ringading to give up the shape of a dog. To reveal he's a demon."

"Oh," said Ted. "Then it won't work."

"No, it will just kill the dog."

Ted and Wilma groaned.

* * *

They burst through the door at Wolfram, expecting to overwhelm a secretary. Instead, there were six missionaries waiting for them.

Cabot said a rude word. The missionaries stepped behind office furniture, opened their Bibles, and began to read.

"Spells!" yelled Toomey, and he, Hutton, and LaCroix dived to the sides, LaCroix dragging Taffy with him. Bolts of lightning arced from the ceiling to where the first six had stood, hitting Cabot and Ted. Cabot was wearing enough metal to carry the current to the floor, but Ted wasn't, and the force of the bolt knocked him down.

Toomey rolled and tackled the nearest missionary at the knees; he went down, Bible and sunglasses flying. Hutton gestured, and the earth in a potted plant rose and re-formed itself as a dark globe around another missionary's head. He clawed at it. LaCroix gestured with his staff and a third one stood, motionless, sweat breaking out as he fought the fear.

Cabot pulled his pistol for a fourth missionary, but the lightning bolt had fused metal parts of his pistol, rendering it useless. He swore again and dodged to the side.

The three remaining missionaries read aloud. This time the lightning bolts hit Hutton, LaCroix, and Toomey. Hutton fell against a desk and was unconscious; LaCroix put fear into another missionary; and the missionary against Toomey held him off by holding his head. Cabot charged forward to hit the man. The man fell, and didn't get up again.

Hairy clamped his hand over another missionary's mouth. "Like, you don't get to talk here." Toomey hit the missionary in the belly, and he fell down. Toomey hit him again and he stayed down. Then Toomey hit the man Hutton had englobed. He didn't move again.

LaCroix and Cabot each hit the last missionary, and he fell down. Then Cabot went to check on Hutton. She soon stirred.

"Take it easy. Scalp wounds are nasty."

"We have to get Ringading," she said.

"No, now we let the authorities do it. He's just a dog."

LaCroix said, "Um. He's not. Whatever he is, he's not just a dog."

Wilma was going through the wastepaper baskets. "Here," she said. She held up a long grey-white feather. "The angel has been here. Which means Ringading was here!"

They looked at the unconscious bodies. "None of these is 'Talbot,'" said Cabot. "So more will be waiting with the Reverend."

"How do we find out where they are?"

"We wake one of them up or..." Cabot looked at the secretary's desk, the same desk near the feather. There was a notepad on it. He took a pencil from the desk drawer and lightly stroked it. "Or we bring up the last thing written on this pad. It might help." He used the Internet browser on his cell phone to check the address he got. "It's an abandoned hangar."

"Lots of room for occult shenanigans," said LaCroix. Taffy was looking at one of the Bibles. "The spells are written in Enochian. I recognize the alphabet, but I can't read it."

"I know Enochian," said Wilma. "But it was a fraud."

"It was," agreed LaCroix, "but all the angels know it now." He shook his head. "Stuck up lot, angels."

In the mean time, Cabot had peeled the shirt off a missionary. "Nakedness is a great talk-inducer, and it helps wake him up. Hairy, can you fill this jug with water? Bathroom appears to be over there."

"Where did you learn this stuff?" asked Wilma.

"News stories about Abu Ghraib," said Cabot.

* * *

Half a block from the hangar, Cabot stopped. "We need a plan."

"If we had a wheelbarrow, a flashlight, and a blanket—" began Ted.

"A real plan, not one of your ideas, Ted. I wouldn't be surprised if you've coasted on the powers of this dog-who-is-not-a-dog. Lamb, the glove compartment has binoculars. See who's in the parking lot."

Cabot's phone rang. It was LaCroix. "There's a guy watching the parking lot, main entrance at the side. Four other men in black. In the middle, two dozen cultists, the angel, and the Reverend."

"Ringading?"

"Bound in the center of a big pentacle."

"How do you know these things?"

"That's my gift." He didn't tell Cabot about his grandfather's spirit. "He's doing the reveal now, and the gate at midnight."

"Can he do that?"

"I don't know. If it's what I think, all we have to do is break the circle and Ringading can come out. Markur would know, but he doesn't have a cell phone, and his landlady is tired of answering the phone for me."

"Great." Cabot relayed the information to the others in his car. Then, to the phone he said, "We have eight people. Run it like a football play? Four of us take the missionaries in black, two the angel, and one destroys the circle while the other takes the Reverend?"

"No," said LaCroix. "All of us take the missionaries as silently as we can, and designate some to get to the Reverend if possible."

Cabot chewed his thumb. "Are they close enough together for us to do that?"

A pause. Then: "Yes. If we move now."

Cabot filled the others in. "If you find yourself without an opponent, move on. The main objective is to stop the Reverend and free Ringading. LaCroix tells me we can do it by breaking the circle."

"If you believe him," said Wilma. "He is part of your team."

"I think it's safe to say they're good guys, Wilma," said Ted. "They're helping us."

Tney got out of the car. "Just a moment," said Hutton. She went to the grassy boulevard and chanted. A blocky figure made of earth rose up, seven feet tall. Stones projected here and there from the dirt. "Now I'm ready."

GM's Note: She made the golem with Create Objects, then she paid a hero point to have Animate Objects on her earth control, at Rank 4.

The rocky figure strode to the side door and tore it off its hinges. The missionaries inside were startled to see it—they had expected to see the eight people who followed.

"Attack the men in black suits!" ordered Lamb.

Two of them put away their Bibles and drew their pistols; surely a lightning bolt would have no effect on dirt, but a pistol—

The other three read their spells, in voices that struggled to keep calm.

Cabot and Ted caught one as he pulled out his pistol, Cabot low, Ted high. Cabot missed, but Ted hit him, and the man went down. LaCroix hit another with a pistol, and he went down. Toomey took one of the ones reading; the man fell to the ground almost instantly.

The creature of earth took the two remaining lightning bolts. They fused it into a solid mass, and it moved no more.

GM's Note: That's what happens when your minion fails its Toughness save.

Wilma, Taffy and Hairy tackled one of the reading missionaries, but Wilma swung so vigorously she lost her glasses. "I can't see!" she cried. Taffy and Hairy both missed. "Like, we're coming, Ring!"

Toomey finished him off.

* * *

Deeper inside the abandoned hangar, the Reverend Fate lifted an eyebrow at the sound of the door being ripped off its hinges, but kept reading. Ringading whimpered, as arcane forces ripped at his body.

* * *

"Crap," said Cabot. He pulled himself off the floor and dove at the missionary who had no one near him, the one near the inside entrance. The man kept his Bible as he fell, and Cabot took him to the ground, unharmed. The man read, and there was no lightning bolt. Cabot thought, "Different spell." The man stood and kicked at Cabot, but with the strength of five men. Cabot grunted.

Lamb gestured, and the entire creature flew at the man. He went down, and the statue shattered with a loud crash, leaving behind only earth and shells where it had been fused.

Cabot pulled himself out of the dirt and said, "So much for subtle." He grinned.

Ted said, "Let's rescue Ringading!"

Cabot said, "Then you go first."

Ted, Hairy, Wilma, and Taffy stepped through the door.

The fireball from the angel took all four of them down.

* * *

Crouching beside the door, LaCroix said, "Lamb, can you make a wall to shield us?"

"Sure." She used the dirt from the creature, and it lifted and formed into a rectangle.

LaCroix said, "When we get through, scatter. The angel can't hit all of us."

Toomey said, "And the objective is the dog?"

"Right. Destroy the circle, carry the dog out."

Cabot took out his pistol. "In case."

LaCroix said, "Run!"

They scattered into the hangar, Toomey heading straight for the circle.

From his spot, Cabot aimed for the Reverend. He grazed the Reverend in the leg, but didn't break the tall man's concentration. Around the circle, members of the church kept invoking the ritual. "Blast!" thought Cabot. "Not enough bullets for all of them."

Lamb threw the wall at the angel. She missed, and the wall fell apart when it fell on the other side of the circle, leaving a mound of dirt.

Toomey scraped the circle with his foot, but to no avail. He realized it was painted on, so he ran to the center of the circle, intent on bringing out Ringading. Fortunately the circle was not attuned to Fey, only creatures of Hell.

The angel found himself in a globe of darkness that nearly touched the floor.

A moment's flight brought him out of the chill darkness, near the wall of the hangar.

Cabot ran forward and shot at the Reverend again, but missed this time.

Lamb hit him with the dirt, but he still kept on reading.

Toomey tried to take the dog out of the circle...and found he couldn't. It was as though the dog were held in place by a wall.

LaCroix tried to put fear into the angel again, but couldn't.

The angel fired at LaCroix...and a bolt of fire hit him, and even through his protective juju hurting him, frying the arm with the fetch stick.

A bolt of fire shot past Lamb's ear, and she made the mass of dirt rise again, this time as a clip to pin his wings. He was moving too fast for her.

Toomey left the circle, running as fast as he could, and he knocked the Reverend down.

"It's too late," said the Reverend. "Do you see what you've been cavorting with?"

In the circle, clouds of smoke obscured Ringading. They could make out little except a huge pair of bat wings and a man-like figure, over twelve feet tall.

"Forget about breaking the circle," said Cabot. He pointed the pistol at the Reverend's head. "Call off your angel."

"I've won," said the Reverend. At Cabot's push, he said, "Stop attacking these people."

"Louder." The chanting of the churchmembers broke off. They looked at each other, confused.

"Stop attacking these people!" The angel backed off, wings beating faster to hover.

"No portal tonight," said LaCroix as he walked over. He was favouring his burned arm.

"But I've still proven the dog is a demon!"

"They didn't see a thing," said LaCroix, inclining his head to the teenagers.

"And all I see is a winged humanoid," said Cabot. "Could be any of six or seven superheroes, for all I know."

"He's in a circle!" said the Reverend.

"No, he's not," said Hutton, and dirt erupted all through the circle as it rose into the air from beneath the floor. The floor cracked and crumbled as the dirt rose higher into the air, making clouds that billowed. The churchmembers moved back, away from the dirt and dust, and then they all fled, leaving only the Reverend and the angel.

"You fool! You've destroyed the circle! Now he'll eat us all!"

"No," came a deep voice. "Just you."

A tentacle lashed out of the clouds and seized the Reverend, drew him in. There was a scream and then silence.

"Golly," said Lamb quietly.

Out of the clouds trotted a Great Dane.

Toomey said, "I thought you were a demon."

"I rike being a dog. It's fun." He paused a moment. "And demons never say Rank Rou." He laughed, a wheezing giggle, then went over and began to lick Hairy's face.

* * *

"I hope I was up to your expectations," said Taffy.

"I hope I was up to your needs," said LaCroix.

They were standing in the sunshine, waiting for the Enigma Engine to return from the shop.

"Did they—?" Lamb whispered to Toomey.

Toomey nodded. "I'd say yes."

LaCroix held up three fingers behind his back.

"I'm sorry I suspected you," said Wilma. "But it's always the second person we meet. Always. And who knew that the Reverend had built an elaborate switching mechanism under the floor of the hangar?"

"I'm sure you could have guessed."

Just then the Enigma Engine pulled up, with Ted at the wheel.

"Like, I'm sorry the Reverend skipped the country before he could be brought to trial."

Toomey said, "I don't think you'll have to worry about the Reverend."

"Rat's right!" said Ringading, and he burped. LaCroix caught and hid the button that flew out.

The four teenagers laughed, then said their good-byes and left.

Cabot waved as they left. "Listening to Wilma was...instructive," he said to Hutton.

"Oh?"

The other two stopped to listen.

"Listening to her twist things around...well. There might actually be something to this magic business. It's at least as plausible as superpowers."

"Cabot, there might be some hope for you yet," said LaCroix.