The Babysitter
Wind River

Blind Shrike Page 45

"Take it. I don't want the damned thing around here."

"Can we really give it to her?" asked Spyder. "I got a glimpse of what it is. I don't know anything about magic and look what it did to me. What could someone with her knowledge do with it?"

"She'll do exactly what Xero was going to do. Make a deal with the Dominions and grab as much power she can," Lucifer said. He opened the case with his puzzle boxes and set them back on their proper display stands.

"We can't let her do that," Spyder said. He went to where Shrike was sitting and knelt down next to her. "We can't give her the key to all that power."

"She'll kill my father. Or worse. Curse him again. He'll be right back in Hell and all of this will have been for nothing."

"I don't know what to say."

"Little brother, you're a hero now. You're going to have to learn to learn to think on a larger scale," said Lucifer. He used his kerchief to slap at the dust that had settle on his clothes while moving the cabinets. "You just cracked open a hole in the universe, wrecked Hell, deceived the devil and sent the Black Clerks packing. Even I couldn't do all that and I can do a lot. Yet with all that to your credit, you're telling me you can't control one dying hag?"

"I wouldn't know what to do."

"You have a warrior by your side and the Prince of Darkness for a friend. What you don't know is how to ask for help, but that is how we gain knowledge and improve ourselves."

"Okay," said Spyder. He leaned back his head, threw out his arms and shouted as loudly as he could, "Help!"

Lucifer shook his head. Shrike covered her ears.

"Damn, I've wanted to do that for days," Spyder said.

Lucifer kicked his way through the rubble until he found what he was looking for. When he picked it up, Spyder recognized the knife the head Clerk had used to stab him.

"You asked for help and here it is," Lucifer said. "When troubled by a diseased sorceress like Madame Cinders, you need a miracle. Look to the saints for a cure."

Lucifer took the knife and went to his curiosity cabinets.

"Come here, so I can give you something," he said. Spyder went to him. Lucifer made one quick slice and wrapped the prize in the scarlet kerchief before handing it to over. "Don't lose that."

"I won't," said Spyder, finding himself suddenly able to be a little shocked again.

Shrike went to where the cage with the book had fallen over. The impact had turned the marble beneath it to powder and driven the book several feet into the floor.

"Any suggestions on how we can move this thing? It's a thousand pounds if it's an ounce," she said.

"Travel for all of you, including the book, is being arranged right now," Lucifer said.

"So, we're probably at the goodbye portion of the evening," said Spyder. "I really suck at this."

Lucifer smiled. "I know. I looked into the minds of some of your exes."

"Find anything good in there?"

"You're not universally despised." Lucifer leaned in to whisper, "That includes Jenny. But you need to learn to let go of things that only exist in the past tense."

Lucifer went to Shrike. She smiled and put her arms around him.

"You helped me free my father. I'll always be grateful for that," she said.

"You've lived half your life in light and half in darkness. Which do you prefer?" Lucifer asked.

"When I've seen enough of either I'll tell you."

"Fair enough," he said and leaned in to kiss her cheek. Then reached out for Lulu's perfect, restored hands and gave each a kiss.

"You're a prince, Prince," she said. "You could turn a dyke's head."

"A higher compliment I'll never receive."

Lucifer went to Spyder and the two of them looked at each other.

"Think we're ever going to meet up again?" Spyder asked.

"Abyssus abyssum invocat," Lucifer said. "`Hell calls hell.' For better or worse, we are brothers. We'll see each other again."

"When you get Heaven finished, invite me to the -opening."

Lucifer smiled, nodded toward the palace portico. "Your ride is here."

Spyder turned. He knew what was coming from the sound and the word picture Lulu had painted for Shrike and him back at the Bone Sea. Finally seeing the enormous mechanical spider, however, was a much stranger sight than he'd imagined. Still, the contraption wasn't as frightening as what had been in his head back when he'd been blindfolded. The creature moved so delicately on its long legs, Spyder thought that it looked like it was walking on tip-toe.

Lulu walked up to the machine.

"Cornelius, remember me?" she asked.

The head on the enormous mechanism looked puzzled. "I apologize, madam. My memory isn't what it used to be. However, meeting you now is certainly a pleasure," he said. Cornelius turned his attention to Lucifer and bowed deeply.

"You were a gleeful and criminally stupid thug during your life. Do you recall any of that?" Lucifer asked. He approached Cornelius, who continued to hold his deep bow.

"No, my lord."

"We harnessed your brutish tendencies to make use of you while you were in my domain. But I'm prepared to relieve you of this job. Would you like that?" Lucifer made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Don't bother answering, I know you would. You will take these good people and this book out that hole you might have noticed in the roof. You will take them wherever they want to go and do whatever they ask of you. When they dismiss you, and only then, you will return here to me and we'll discuss finding you some other task that won't wrack your pea-size brain. Do you understand?"

"Yes. Thank you, my lord."

"Pick up the book and wait outside."

Cornelius stood up and moved with delicate, almost mincing steps until he'd positioned his enormous body properly on the uneven floor. Four of his metal legs scrabbled in the wreckage and pulled the book free. When it was secure against his belly, metal jaws clamped down on it, allowing him to lower his legs. He turned and went outside, a bit slower than when he'd entered, weighed down by the book's bulk.

They followed Cornelius out to the plaza and one by one climbed onto his back. Lucifer stood below in the palace portico looking up at them through the cherry-colored dome glass he held before his right eye.

"The good thing about glass is that we can melt it down and use it again. This marble is a total loss, though. Maybe I'll have some bankers dig it out with their teeth." Lucifer bowed deeply to them, waved once, turned on his heels and strode back inside his palace.

Spyder and the others held on tight as Cornelius loped through the wreckage of Pandemonium, out across the plains of Hell to one of the impossibly high walls that were the boundaries of the underworld. Then, they began to climb.

Fifty Eight

Roll Me a Smoke, John Wayne

"Eight legs good! Two legs bad!" Lulu shouted as they strode across the desert.

They were making great time. Cornelius never needed to rest or slow down, even when walking straight into a sandstorm. Spyder told him to head for Berenice and he started straight across the desert without hesitation. What had taken them days to traverse on the way out, they now covered in a few hours. When they caught sight of the city of memories, around mid-morning, it was strangely reassuring.

"One step closer to home," said Shrike.

Something was happening around Berenice. Even at a distance, they could see it. A dozen airships were in port on the south side of the city. Spyder wondered if they should bypass the city and head across the open desert, hoping they could get a ride from a ship at the coast. But there was no telling when one big enough would come along. They had to go to Berenice.

"Damn," said Spyder. "I should have asked Lucifer for some of those jewels lying around the construction site. We don't have a penny to buy a ride."

"We'll be fine," Shrike said.

"You think?"

Shrike leaned on Spyder's back, running one of her hands through the hair on the back of his head. "The Count was right, you need to think bigger."

They ran into the first spotter a couple of miles out from the city. The boy had been asleep, and his loose dun-colored robes blended into the sand. He awoke suddenly and screamed as Cornelius nearly stepped on him, startling Spyder, Shrike and Lulu almost as much as the giant spider had scared him.

The boy ran ahead for a few paces, shouting something to them before stopping, raising a pistol over his head and firing off a flare. He began running after them again, but fell far behind Cornelius' relentless footsteps.

"You don't think they're a lynch mob, do you?" asked Spyder. "For me doing over that memory?"

"I don't know," said Shrike. "Let's just check it out. If anyone tries anything, Cornelius will run us to the coast."

There were other spotters as they closed in on the city, gawkers, too. It all made Spyder nervous, but as they rode past, each group smiled and waved at them, or ran alongside for as long as they could. No one seemed too upset to see them. Better yet, Spyder thought, none of them looked like cops.

A group of twenty or thirty dignitaries met them at a wadi just beyond the city walls. Spyder guessed that they were dignitaries. They had that self-important air about them, like the kind of crowd that gives a million dollars to the symphony so they can get a plaque and their name in a newsletter. Mostly, he thought, they looked like a bunch of old hippies who'd raided Frederick's of Hollywood on the way to the Renaissance Faire. Just in case, he slipped Apollyon's blade behind his back and kept his hand on the hilt. Shrike touched his arm.

"Relax," she said. "It's a party."

"I guess time really is funny down there," he said.

However time moved in the underworld, on Earth there had obviously been plenty of time for word to spread about what had happened below.

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