[Cecily] Prologue: "Once in a Blue Moon"





June 10, 2189

       The invitation to the reception for some speaker at the university had been tacked up on the fridge for about a month. Harry had carefully cleared all the outdated coupons and bill stubs away so it sat alone in its stuffy academic glory - a clear reminder he was expecting me to go.
       Of course, I'd much rather have spent the evening gnawing my own leg off.
       The argument was pretty classic for us: "Don't forget about the reception tomorrow, 'silly," Harry called quietly from the library as I was charging out the door on an emergency possession. He always does that - catches me while I'm in a rush in hopes I'll just say yes. It's never worked.
       I stopped with my hand on the doorknob, took a deep breath, and sauntered back to the library. "What reception?" I inquired innocently.
       "Professor Brewster's talk on the chemistry of demonic development. It's going to focus on the-"
       I cut him off there, before he got rolling. "Is any of this information going to assist me in killing demons?"
       "Well, not exactly," he hedged.
       "Good, then." I hitched the rifle case back onto my shoulder. "No need for me to be there." I started back down the hall to the front door only to hear a deep sigh issue from the library. "But Cecily, your presence will be good for the business."
       Damn. He was pulling out the big guns. Grinding my teeth slightly, and looking pointedly at my watch, I went back to the library."And just how do you figure that?"
       Harry was smiling smugly, 'cause the twerp knew he had me. "This reception will be pulling in some of the biggest names in the Nexus, 'silly. Think of the potential for increasing our client base..."
       As soon as he said that, I knew I was doomed. And not just because the one thing that will get me to consider sitting through these academic functions is the chance of pulling in more clients, but because I knew he was going to propose that theory to Murray, who would them hound me to make an appearance until I would do so just to shut the little creep up.
       "Fine," I snarled, "but I'm not wearing a dress!"

*****

June 14, 2189

       So Saturday night found me trapped in a room of raving academics. My brother's attention was glued to the podium, where an old guy in a suit thirty years out of date pontificated in the mind-numbing manner only elite intellectuals have mastered. Now don't get me wrong - I do book-related research. Occasionally, I even enjoy such research. But I sure as heck don't want to spend my Saturday night listening to some dork talk about his research.
       Having tired of retying my boot laces for the fortieth time, I surveyed the crowd a little more closely. Pretty much what I had expected, until I spied a lone figure at the back of the auditorium, whose disdainful slouch mirrored my own.
       My brother was oblivious to anything that wasn't speaking in lengthy polysylables, so I snuck to the back of the room and slid in next to the guy I had spotted. Ten minute later I was having a happily non-intellectual conversation with one Jasper Matthews, an independent occult investigator from Joy.
       We were milling about in the reception hall after the talk when I spied Jasper, and his sister Jade (whose seat I had been evicted from earlier). My brother requested an introduction to Ms. Matthews, who was apparently as much of a geek hotshot as Harry (who hadn't appreciated my 'geek love at first sight' comment earlier)
       So I handed Harry off to Jade, and fell into a lovely discussion on the merits of superior firepower with Jasper. We quickly decided to adjourn to a more alcoholic atmosphere when our respective siblings decided to join us.

*****

        O'Donnell's was pretty tame for a Saturday, though it was early enough that the younger crowd hadn't shown up. I parked my brother and Jade in a nice corner booth, and took Jasper up to the bar. Elbowing Patrick off of my usual spot, I waved to Ian. "Two pints, and you will be my savior."
       "How 'bout just payin' up yer bar tab, lass," the old man teased as he slid two glasses down to us.
       I saluted him with the pint. "Talk to Herr Stingy Goblin. He's got the checkbook."
       Back on my home turf, I was much more relaxed, and happily traded stories with Jasper. I've been doing this a lot longer than he has, but the kid seems pretty well-grounded. I was expanding a bit more on my history with Beholders, specifically my quaintly dysfunctional relationship with Hakthla, when my pager went off. A phone call later and I was out the door to assist a very frantic woman with a gremlin-infested birthday cake, Jasper in tow.

*****

       It was a pretty generic operation until the basement wall was blown out to the sound of very familiar maniacal cackling. I sighed as the gremlins streamed out into the neighborhood. Hakthla was always such a drama queen.
       "What the hell?" Jasper looked around for the source of the destruction as I started collecting my gear.
       "You know that Beholder whose oculus I busted?" He paled slightly, and I couldn't blame him. Hakthla has beaten the living crap out of me rather often. But we couldn't let the little suckers just run wild, so off we went after them.
        About two miles into the chase it was pretty obvious they were being called, and we were being set up. Hakthla sets me up like this this about twice a year. I guess he thinks it's funny. I was just about to take my toys and go home when Jasper yelled about something ahead of us. Next thing I know I'm sliding down the side of a tree.
       It took me a moment to get my breath and orient myself. My bike was a totaled mess about 20 feet away, and Jasper wasn't looking much better, lying at the foot of the tree he'd hit.
       Fate, fortune or just plain irony had landed us right outside a 'henge, so I dragged Jasper into the circle and dropped him probably a bit harder than I should have, but at that point the only thing that was truly going to give me much comfort was having my gun in hand. Unfortunately, the nine millimeter in my coat was not going to do much more than annoy a nine foot tall demon, and all my big guns were in the wreckage of the motorcycle, which left me with the alternative of standing in the only safe spot trading lame-ass "good guy - bad guy" dialogue with a very pissy demon.
       Jasper's cell-phone service apparently sucked, as I coudn't reach my brother, and a quick 911 call proved that whatever county we were in didn't do much truck with demonic entities, so I sat with Jasper, and did my best to ignore Hakthla's pathetic attemps to draw me out.
       "Some first date," Jasper muttered as he eyed the darkened woods about us.
       "Date?" I turned away from the spot I thought Hakthla was lurking to give him a dirty look. "I hadn't realized this was a date."
       "He, I think when you've been through what I have tonight, I should at least be able to call it a date."
       I guess he had a point.
       I was almost convinced Hakthla had taken off since I wasn't responding to the bait when two local yokels in a black and white pulled up in response to my emergency call.
       A chill wind sprang up, one of those stereotypical ones you always get in horror novels. 'Course, since my life has a tendency to mimic a bad horror plot, I knew Hakthla had just been delivered his bait to draw me out.
       Muttering something to Jasper about covering me, I charged out of the circle. My gear had been thrown clear of the wrekage so I was able to grab my sword and still make it to the cop car in time to see Hakthla flip it over, cops still inside.
       And then the real fun began. As usual, the fight was pretty much a blur of pain and adrenaline. I got in a couple of good hits, but he got in a lot more. I realized I was in trouble when an attempt to dodge resulted in a sharp pain across my stomach. I stumbled back, knowing that I was so totally screwed when something came whizzing past me and slammed into Haktla's arm. It was one of Jasper's enchanted throwing stars, and while its effect wasn't quite as spectacular as it had been on the smaller gremlins, it obviously hurt Hakthla. A few followed the first, and the bastard high-tailed it out of there.
       Jasper came running up as I was examing the deep gashes Hakthla had left aross my abdomen. I was starting to get that odd, detached feeling that accompanies severe blood loss when Jasper asked if I was okay.
       "I just bought this shirt..." is all I remember saying before everything went dark.

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11/2/99