Slices of Time
12:00 am. Los Angeles.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
I was working on a new script, my face illuminated only by the glow of the computer screen.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
I was naked except for my boxers, but that was only because I decided to have sex before working, instead of the other way around. It seemed like a logical ordering to things at the time.
Tap. Tap. Taptaptap.
John said, "But Todd, she really did fall on the knife....".
The screenplay was one of those lost love dark comedies. Boy falls in love with Girl. Boy finds out Girl has a boyfriend and isn't interested. Boy decides Girl really is interested after she makes some offhand comments. Girl rejects Boy in several light hearted humorous scenes which publicly humiliate him and scar him for life. Boy becomes obsessed and stalks Girl. Girl rejects Boy again. Boy hires a pack of lovable and eminently redeemable teenagers to stab Girl in the chest thirty times, and return the body back to Boy in an array of plastic trash bags. We all have a good laugh at the end with some lighthearted jabs and a sight gag with a severed hand. I was thinking about my friend Micah, bless his ice cold Djinn heart, who had actually pulled a stunt like this once.
I kind of wondered why I was working on this sort of thing, when I could be working on my stand-up. But even I need to pay my bills.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
When the phone rang, I jumped and hit random keys. It scared me out of my reverie and instantly trashed my train of thought. My mood changed from a definite mellow glow to a dark anger. I stood, and stalked into the kitchen, cursing Terry and his damn indecisiveness over which chick to screw in the middle of the night. I told him, always go with the red heads. If he would just listen for once, I wouldn't feel the need to run over to his apartment and shoot him every so often.
I pattered over into the kitchen barefoot and irritated. I picked up the receiver in mid-ring, trying to keep the tenseness out of my voice. "Yeah, hello."
"Daimie?" The voice sounded weak and distracted.
My blood ran cold in my veins. Only one person calls me that. My eyes going wide, I looked around nervously, like I was looking for the candid camera guys. I cupped the receiver closer to my head. "Yeah, it's me."
"Oh good. I was hoping this was the right number." There was a pause, and some heavy panic filled breathing. "I need you to come out to New York. Right away."
I switched the headset to my other ear, pressing it closer. "Why?"
"You need to come out here. We need to speak," he rasped.
"What is going on?" I was already imagining the worst.
"I'm not really sure." There was another long drawn out pause. "I need to go now."
"Hello? Hello? Eli, are you still there? Hello?" A second later I was staring down at a dead receiver lying in my hand, wondering why Archangels just can't show up for coffee or send mystical visions or something when they felt the need to chat.
I felt stunned like I had just been hit. Silence descended upon the apartment for a few heartbeats. I slowly hung the phone back up, and walked over to sit on the couch. I stared out into the gloom, wondering why I had gotten another call, and if something was going wrong, why he didn't call one of his servitors who were in action. I knew I had made a promise, and I had said any time, under any circumstances. Well here it was, at that any time, under any of those circumstances. The sound of urgency really bothered me. I didn't want to be drawn into something I couldn't handle for a guy I didn't work for. Hell, I didn't want to be drawn into something for the guy I did work for, and I was already in that position up to my eyeballs.
What would be the outcome if I just blew him off? I figured it would destroy any relationship we had, and my only shot of getting away from Andrealphus permanently. If I went, then I might get my ass kicked by forces of the unknown, or I might just end up at a really pretentious and deathly boring poetry recital. It was one of those things that was hard to gauge.
I wondered, faintly, just maybe, we needed to speak because he had one of those mystical Archangel leads on my missing in action Prince. That would be a bona-fide win.
I was trying to decide what to do, and trying not to break out in giggles. I clamped a hand over my mouth, and squeezed my eyes shut. In my panic, I wanted to start laughing and crying at the same time.
I heard the rustling of blankets from the bedroom. I stood and walked over to lean in the doorway, arms crossed. I could see her silhouette against the streetlights through the open window, sitting up in bed.
"Daimon? Were you on the phone?"
I shook my head, and leaned over to turn on the lamp on the table next to the door. It came on with a snick, and blinded both of us. I blinked away the dots that danced in front of my eyes.
When my vision cleared, I took a long look at her. Minnie was sitting up in the bed, completely nude. The covers were pooled around her waist, her pert rounded breasts bare before me. Her long blond hair fell over the left one, failing entirely to give her any modesty. A small gold cross hung from around her throat. She was rubbing her eyes, trying to clear the sleep from them.
"Yeah," I said in answer to her question. Then I began to head over to the pile of strewed clothing on the floor. "I've gotta go."
"Go? Go where?" She looked up, watching me through her big blue eyes.
I started searching the floor for my jeans. Somehow they had ended up under the bed.
"Where do you have to go?"
I started struggling to actually get my jeans onto my body. "Home. Hell home." I pulled on one leg. "There's a problem I've got to deal with," I partially lied.
"Really? What happened?"
I figured she couldn't actually go to Shal-Mari to check out any of my stories, and probably wouldn't even try if she was given the chance. "There was a bombing down in the red light district, and we're afraid that we've had a strike. You know, I have to go down and pretend to administrate and wave my hands around. Look official and stuff."
Her eyes opened wide. "A bombing?"
"Yeah, well, it's not exactly a lovefest down there. It's sort of like living in Las Vegas entirely populated with Pakistani Terrorists. Everyone has to bomb every one else. It's a matter of principle. Do you know where I put my cigarettes?" With a pull of a fly, I had mastered the jeans and now started to look for warm clothing. I had lived in Los Angeles for over fifteen years, where the winter times were a chilly sixty five degrees. Warm clothing in my closet was hard to come by. I stumbled against the immaculate oak dresser.
"That's terrible. Are people dead?"
"They aren't people, Minnie." I stared hopelessly into my closet. "Either they're demons, or it's a little too late for them to worry about death."
"Oh." She sounded a little put off. "Daimon?"
"Do you love me?" She pushed down on the blankets, showing even more of her flat, immaculate tanned belly.
That brought me up short. I stopped pushing through hangers of perfectly pressed shirts to turn to look at her. "Now? You mean right now?"
She nodded. "Right now."
"Um." I tried to think of a response. "No, not really. We're friends, right? Just friends. Do you know where I packed my turtlenecks?" I turned, and the look on her face was like she had just been slapped.
"But what was..."
"Sex. We have lots and lots of sex, Minnie, in all sorts of fun and pleasing positions. We both enjoy it." I went back to picking through my closet, cold and callous demeanor firmly in place. "If it wasn't me, then it would be with someone else around here whenever you came breezing into town, probably someone with a little less integrity. You know perfectly well what I am. Hey, I'm not saying it's not cool. How the hell did your panties get on the over head light? That's what I want to know."
"Oh." She fell silent, her eyes following my movements. She had been telling people that she was my girlfriend for years, and the only person it ever pissed off was my dear Erlithan, who needed a good pissing off once in a while, if you ask me. And I used Minnie for half of my on stage routines. Our relationship could keep any good comedian in material for years, because even I've never figured out exactly what the terms were. What started as a good come into town and screw had become sort of a come into town, have dinner and screw. Considering that I was doing Minnie's sister too didn't help. On the other hand, knowing the two of them, they probably got together and compared demonic vessel penises.
I discovered a box in the back of my closet which smelled of moth balls filled with winter clothing. I probably hadn't worn any of it since the 1970's, making it all instantly the height of fashion. That was fine with me, and I doubted anyone was really going to lean down and smell, unless in the midst of rescuing an Archangel I happened to pass a really good looking girl. The probability of that was low, considering it was going to be the middle of the night in the winter in New York. I held the black turtleneck to my nose and inhaled. It didn't kill me, so I put it on. I reached into the box, and pulled out a tacky button down sweater, and threw it on over the turtleneck.
"Is it cold in Hell?" Minnie asked me.
"I don't know where I'm going to have to come up at. You know, Erlithan is in New Hampshire right now, and I might need to fetch him. I need the padding to absorb the blow when he socks me for waking him in the middle of the night." I crawled across the floor, and pulled open the drawer on the dresser which hid my socks. I fished around for a good sock ball.
"Oh," she said, a small tra ce of jealously in her voice. "Do you still love him?"
"Huh?" I looked up from my socks.
"Erlithan. Do you still love him?"
I pulled on my socks, and padded into the bathroom. I flicked on the light, and looked at my disheveled self in the mirror, and my tousled black hair. I thought fleetingly that it was ironic that the only thing I keep consistent between my favorite vessel and my actual Celestial self is the color of my hair. "Sometimes I think I do, but not really." I leaned into the mirror, and examined my face. "What do you think, should I keep the sideburns?"
"They make you look like a bad rock star," she said from the other room, sounding a little disheartened.
I decided that they would live through another trip to the bathroom. I grabbed my toothbrush, and did something about getting the last of the taste of Mercurian out of my mouth. Then I ran a hand over the stubble on my chin, and decided it just made me look better. I stalked out of the bathroom, on a quest for my watch and my earring.
"You look cute," Minnie said, her hands in her lap. "Very wintry."
"I aim to please." My jewelry was on the bed stand, along with my wallet and my cigarettes. I was down to a half a pack. They disappeared into a pocket.
"When do you plan to be back?"
"I dunno. A day or so? Earliest will be in a few hours, at latest will be a few days." I leaned over and gave her a kiss full on the lips. "Will you do me a little favor?"
She sighed and sagged. "Sure."
"I need you to get a hold of my sister, and tell her I've taken off," I whispered.
"But she's on tour in Europe, last I heard."
"Her manager's private phone number is hanging on the fridge." I gave her another kiss, and a small nip on the nose. Then I grinned at her. "A few days, at worst."
"I'll be gone again by then," she said, a little crestfallen.
"But you'll be back, right?"
"Sure, I guess."
"Well, there ya go." I reached into the air, and pulled out a very small, very thin bracelet. I made a point of sliding it over my hand. It disappeared as soon as I let go. "See? If you do that, I'll owe you a small favor. And I'm happy to repay a phone call in a little bit of fun." I touched her on the nose with the tip of my finger. "Something to look forward to?" I straightened up, and turned towards the door. "Minnie, lock up behind you when you leave. You're welcome to stay here as long as you need to."
I walked out of the bedroom without another word, and into the living room. With a flick of a switch, I brought the lights to life. I took a quick look around the room. It is my little intellectual paradise filled with mementos of time. French, Spanish, Italian, German, Greek, Russian, Northern African, tributes to over four hundred years of continuous faithful service to ideals I had stopped caring much about years before. The far wall was covered with a floor to ceiling bookshelf, filled with leather and cloth hard bound tomes, many of which were in Latin. My memories, bound up in small trinkets I had acquired over so many years.
I went to the computer on the desk, and saved the screenplay I had been working on. My Macintosh does decent service for me, but sometimes even I, a great appreciator of human ingenuity, gets nostalgic for the pungent smell of white out. A flick of a finger snuffed out the life on the machine.
I dug around in the coat closet for a few minutes, and found my overcoat, gloves, shoes, and a scarf. I pulled everything on carefully, everything in place, immaculate as always. I never have a hair out of place, even when tousled.
I picked up my keys off of the table next to the door, and heard dragging behind me. I turned to see Minnie standing, half wrapped in the bed spread, standing in the living room. Her form was only half lit by the lamp light, and she looked a little forlorn. I walked over to her, and took her face in my hands.
"One of these days you're going to take off and not come back," she said, her voice trembling a bit. "I wish you would let us help you."
"Oh, Minnie," I said, "this is just my job. We operate differently then you do. There's nothing to be worried about."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course." I leaned and kissed her slowly. "Of course."
"You're such a good person," she said as we broke. "I don't understand. Why..."
"But selfish," I said, and kissed her on the nose. "I want too much all too myself. And that's the catch. I'll be back."
I turned from her then, and went out the door. I waved before I left.
In the parking lot of the complex, I stopped and tried to figure out the quickest way to New York. Moving Celestially might take me days, and I would probably be spotted. On the other hand, I had lived there for almost fifty years of my Corporeal life, I knew where the tethers were. Instead of taking a plane and dealing with the hassle, I could be there in an hour, if I threw my weight around.
Archangels are not known for their patience, not when it comes to dealing with us honest demonfolk.
When no one but the moon was present, I burned a little bit of
Essence and made the decent to the Pit.
Unknown Time, Palace of Andrealphus, Hell
Descending to Hell isn't as exciting as the movies make it out to be. There are no long fiery tunnels filled with helpless souls crying out for saving. There are no large pits, or red skinned devils with forked tails and pitchforks. Not to say there aren't any large pits or red skinned devils with pitched forks, they're just not commonly seen on route. Of course, those movies are all made by servitors of Nybbas, I'm sure of it, and they just beef everything up just that little bit.
I materialized in a long red carpeted candle-lit tunnel, decorated with small tacky statues of nymphs and satyrs happy at sexual play. At the entrance, seeming a long way down, were the dark shadows of the guards, ever vigilant. On either wall there were hundreds of small niches with elegant gold bars over the front, small golden cages with small, tactfully designed industrial strength locks. It would take some vigorous action with a crowbar to pry one of those little niches open. A few of the niches looked like they were glowing, casting small yellow pools of light on the floor and ceiling.
I peered into the niche which was level with my eyes. Inside was a small brightly glowing orb, about the size of one of those snowflake and water globes, the toys where when you shake it, it looks like it's snowing on a scene down below. I reached my fingers through the bars of the cage, awestruck by its presence. For a moment, I was mesmerized, and totally lost myself. It seemed like it was calling out to me and I really wanted to answer. As I reached, it glowed a little brighter, seeming to respond, but I couldn't quite touch it. I was lost in time, me and my Heart.
I yanked myself out of my reverie and saw the Calabite guard, wearing not much more then a rather nasty barbed weapon he carried in his hand. My head came around and I blinked at him uncomprehending a few times.
He pointed his weapon at me in a meaningful way. "Are you supposed to be down here?"
"Me? Oh, me. No, of course not." I flashed him a sunny smile. "Just come to say hi to the old Heart, you know. See how it's doing, wondering if there was anything I could pick up for it at the store. You want anything while I'm out? Body oil for the wings? Maybe a little lotion for that all over sunburn?"
"Get out of here," he said, motioning with his hand towards the door.
"I was just going, really. You know, that thing in your hand is not real attractive, but very phallic." I waved a merry goodbye at the glowing orb, and allowed myself to be led towards the end of the hallway. "Just a sec." I looked over my shoulder at the demon ushering me out the door. "Do you know if His Majesty, the Dread Prince of Lust, Dark Master Andrealphus is currently, you know, in?"
"Do I look like his secretary?" he said with more then a little testiness creeping into his voice.
I looked him up and down, and acted like I was considering it.
"Get out of here." He grabbed me by the collar, and led me out the large steel door, well decorated with happy little naked fat nymphs with happy lustful smiles. The door swung shut with a large clang behind me.
I breathed in the well perfumed air, and took in the sights. I was standing in a long corridor, lit with sensuous red lighting, red velvet on the walls, and plush carpeting. There were mirrors every few feet hanging from the walls. There were sounds of muffled speech, laughter, and moans coming from various voices from down the hall.
I took a step, and turned toward the large mirror, one of many. I stared at my Celestial form, tall, gracious, thin, short haired, emerald skinned and very Lilim. The black male cut suit hung well from my thin female frame, the patch with the small embroidered jester's cap over my left breast, small bars of rank underneath, one red one and three small black ones. The thin leather collar was buckled around my long neck.
I blinked a few times, I wasn't used to seeing my own face. I caught myself biting my lip in habit and in concentration. I leaned against the wall opposite of the mirror, struck as I usually am after I get a good look at myself, realizing how much I really look like the Impudite who gave rise to my existence, when I thought about it.
Conspicuously absent were the Geas bracelets. It wasn't if they didn't exist. They were just hidden, carefully, within the folds of my suit.
I knew Andre's Bordello like the back of my well-manicured hand. I wondered abstractly if Andre was currently in residence or not, although knowing him and his legion of trysts, I leaned towards not. I knew getting caught here would mean an explanation, and I wasn't in the mood to make up a whole bunch of lies, and then get dragged off to some orgy. I just didn't want to deal with him, favored servitor or not. I had to be careful, the entire place pounded of sex, lust, and the continuous need to feed carnal desires. It would be so easy to just run into someone I knew, and give in for a few hours, thinking that time wasn't really passing on Earth much at all.
I reminded myself that I had gotten a phone call, I had made a promise, Geas-bound or no, and I was going to follow through.
I started moving down the corridor, walking like I was supposed to be there and I was imbued with authority given to me by Lucifer himself, knowing that would keep most people away. A few twists and turns, and I started walking into the more inhabited areas of the bordello. Giggles and groans came from behind closed doors, in the midst of piles of pillows, and small baths in the corners. None of the people I passed on the way I really knew, they were just average servitors who had earned the right to be handmaids to the Prince but not enough to be given Earth service. My blood ran hot with desire, and the need to stop and join one of the piles of flailing limbs and moans was becoming uncontrollable. I was almost ready to drop my resolve, convinced that it wouldn't take too long, when I emerged into the corridor which led to one of the lesser known back doors.
I sighed relief. I knew it was a hike over to the Palace, Kobal's headquarters, but it was a walk I was long familiar with, and was relatively safe. I sped up my gait, and reached the small wooden door dressed in purple gossamer gauze. The ornate bronze doorknob felt cool under my finger tips.
"You've come all this way, and you didn't even stop to say hello to your own father? I thought I raised you better then that."
My blood ran like ice again as my heart leapt into my throat. I closed my eyes against the rising tide of uncontrollable lust, and I wondered how long he hand been following me around. Probably for a while, I realized, just for the sake of amusement. That damned guard had sent up a message as soon as I arrived. It's not like I'm hard to miss. "I assumed you were busy in important meetings, my Lord. I didn't want to trouble you with my small problems." My brain scrambled, trying to come up with a few really good stories which would fly.
I felt his warm fingers on the back of my neck, slowly rubbing into the tension pressure points. My skin tingled at his touch. "You are so very tense. You work far too hard for that black hearted bastard, 'Monique. You should be out having fun, enjoying the pleasures of the flesh with the gifts I have given you, serving the best way you know how."
I moaned involuntarily under his touch, leaning back against his chest, eyes closed. I fought the urge to turn around, and stare into the eyes of an incarnate of one of the deadly sins. His strong hands rubbed deep into the muscles in my shoulder blades, putting pressure through the layers of suit jacket and starched shirt, relaxing me with his expert strokes. His body was warm and strong. I knew his caresses, having experienced them often in my lifetime, sometimes kind and loving, sometimes the harsh painful hand of a Master. It depended on his mood, and how much pleasure he wanted to extract from my body.
He leaned down to whisper into my ear. "I know of your girlfriend, the Mercurian of the Wind. Very nice, bedding an angel, as often as you do. But may I remind you not to get too attached. There are so many other angels out there to... experience."
I sighed relief, easily mistaken for arousal. He wanted to talk about Minnie, thank God. No demands. "Yes, of course, my Lord."
He pulled me closer, wrapping his arms around my chest in a backwards hug, leaning down closer, into an intimate range of speech. I could hardly control my arousal, and I sucked on my lower lip. "I miss your long silky black hair. I miss seeing your supple body in more revealing garments. I miss seeing you grace my presence. When will you be returning to my side, 'Monique?"
"My Master, my father," I breathed heavily. "I am in Geas debt heavily to my Darkest of Dark Lords. It will be many years before I am fully repaid, so I can return to your side." No mention that he had traded most of my geases away and held back the big one, his control, so I was still dangling on his leash. No mention that I never intended to return to his side. No mention of our long angry hate filled history. And he knew I had done it purposefully, carefully, building my debt so that it was almost impossible for me to repay. My loyalty to Kobal was the stuff of legends, and we both knew it.
His hand reached up and stroked my hair lovingly, as the other reached down to cup my breast. "Of course. Of course. You must do as your nature dictates." He kissed the side of my face, his warm dry lips against my cheek.
I shivered. "Yes, my Lord."
We stood that way for several moments, him caressing my body through the heavy cloth, and my arousal slowly building. My lips parted and my eyes half-closed, enjoying the sensations. It was clear he was thinking about something, and I had no choice then to be preoccupied with his attentions.
Coming to a conclusion, he suddenly let go of me, and he returned to rubbing my shoulders. "I pity you, having to do his dirty political work, especially in his absence. I assume you are here to deal with that foul excuse for a Prince." I could hear the disgust in his voice. "The violent little fool is looking for allies again, and I'll have none of it. But we treasure your presence, your hard work at keeping the peace. A small war would be just too much of a distraction from more important pursuits."
I was confused at the sudden change in conversation, and my mind leapt to try to pick up the thread, but I knew I was in the free and clear. I hadn't been appraised of any political situation which required my mediation. I figured Andre had another spat with Saminga in some major meeting in front of the other Princes, and now one or the other was walking around in a huff, spitting insults and pretending to threaten war. It was a common enough occurrence, and I could never figure out why one or the other wasn't always fashionably preoccupied elsewhere when they were requested to be in the same room together. Either way, I had my story, and my doubts that there was anything that really did need my attention. Although my mind was reeling, I hid my confusion, and nodded. "Yes, my Lord. That is exactly why I have been summoned," I lied.
"When you were younger," he said behind me, "and simply mine and mine alone, we would be enjoying each other's bodies right now. Your duties were few, and your body is most delightful."
"You have many other Lilim, my Lord, many of which are more skilled then I."
His hands stopped their motions, and I momentarily pined for his attentions. I was shaking from the force of my body's arousal. He said quietly, "But none of them are of my flesh. You are my Daughter, Daimonique."
"Yes, my Lord."
His grip tightened on my shoulders suddenly, and he spun me around to face him. I stood there, face to face with Lust Incarnate, his wide soft green Impudite eyes staring into mine, searching into my soul. I wanted to melt into his arms, for him to take me, there, in the cheezily decorated corridor before the small wooden door with the bronze knob and covered in purple gossamer gauze. He leaned down, and tenderly kissed me fully on the lips, much as I had kissed Minnie not long before.
He let go, and smiled at me, lips slightly parted, panting a bit in heat. "I will visit your more intimately later, Daimonique," he whispered, "And it will be a most enjoyable experience." And then he let go of me and disappeared down the hall, gone to wherever it is Demon Princes go when they are in need.
I stood there, chest heaving, sweat on my brow. I fell back against the wall, and slid slowly to the plush red carpeting. I pulled my knees up to my chest, arms wrapped around them, making myself into a small ball. Somehow, I felt violated, even though he hadn't really touched me. I felt dirty.
I lay my forehead on my knees, and sat there like that, breathing heavily, waiting for the feelings of arousal to pass. It took a while.
When I could, I stood, and straightened my tie. I ran my fingers
through my hair, and fixed my suit so I looked presentable. Then,
I put my hand on the bronze doorknob. The door opened to the thriving,
living city that is Shal-Mari, my home.
Unknown Time, The Guildhall and The Palace Casino, Shal-Mari, Hell
I'm not going to say I didn't stop at the Guildhall on the way to the Palace, because I certainly did. I was just curious if my sister had come through there, seeing I hadn't seen her in a while.
The younger Sisters were outside on the sidewalk, hoping to get a little bit of Essence and a few small Geases off some of the customers on their way in. I avoided them and headed straight in the front door.
The place was crowded, of course. It was packed full of demons bartering with the Free Lilim for services. I heard everything from someone needing various sex aids to someone else needing a pass into Hades, for whatever reason. The din was deafening, and at the same time it was consoling. It was Lilim plying their trade the best way they knew, and it gave me warm fuzzies inside, to replace the sick feeling left behind by Andre's touch.
The funny thing, when I walked in the door, is that none of the Free Sisters want to come near me, in case they might catch my particular brand of disease. Others need to push through the crowds. I get a magical path that opens before me. I am Bound, and the collar around my neck displays it for all the world to see. It's not like the older sisters don't know who I am. I've been Bound all my life, but some of the young ones aren't used to my presence on the scene yet. Well, I figured that they'd get a clue or they'd be in trouble if they came looking for a real job in this City.
I made my way to the bar, and pulled up onto my favorite stool, the lonely one at the end. The bartender on duty was an elder Free named Jillian, who worked only for Mother and no one else. She wore few Geas bracelets on her bare arms, as she quietly plied her trade. Some think her trade is in drinks, but I knew better. Her trade was in the steady flow of information, and we had known each other for many years.
"I'm on my way to work," I said as she slid a shot of whiskey in front of me.
"On your tab?" She asked.
I shrugged, and gazed into my drink. "Jillian, I have a small question."
"Daimonique, you will owe me a small favor." Her hand never ceased it's circular movements of her rag across the shiny bar top.
I had been warned. "Oh, it's just a quickly, really, although I am happy to repay any debt." I grinned, smart ass look firmly back in place as my confidence was coming back.
She nodded. "A small one from you may come in useful later. Ask your question."
"Have you seen Malik lately?"
She didn't answer for a few minutes. "Malik? No, I'm afraid she hasn't come through the Guildhall in quite some time. Malik is rarely seen anymore. I doubt ones like her come through here much." Her free hand slid a small bracelet toward me.
I picked it up off the bar, the small hours-geas, and slid it into an inner pocket in my coat. "Ones like-"
"You said a small question. You got a small answer. Anything more then that is going to cost," Jillian said. "I have other customers. Are you going to have more then one drink?"
I looked at the shot glass. "No, I don't think so."
"I bid you a good day, then." And with that Jillian went off to the other side of the bar, where someone far more gullible with far more to spend was busy asking too many questions.
I downed my shot slowly, watching the tide of celestials go by. A lost looking Impudite brushed against my back, wearing Nybbas's colors. A spat of bargaining came up, and rose over the noise. A few arms were raised, trying to get someone else's attention. An angry wave of emotion flickered through my consciousness as a Habbalah believed it was being ripped off, and it was and wasn't depending on who you asked.
I stared into the bottom of my empty glass. I had never stood on the floor plying my contractual time. I had never known what it was like to be under the auspices of Lilith and Lilith alone. Other then Malik and a few smattering of others who were very close to me, I had never really been part of the Free Daughters. I had never really cared, it all seemed so petty. Seeing the activity, I wasn't sure I really missed anything.
I got off my stool and pushed my way through the crowd, which again magically split before me. They're a superstitious lot, wondering if my status was catching. If it was, the Princes would be fighting to get me to rub up against other Lilim at a frantic pace, which might not be all bad. But it wasn't happening. I just smiled and waved and acted obnoxious.
I turned on the sidewalk, hands in my pockets. A few steps, and I heard a voice behind me. "How could you let yourself get like that? With the collar and all that? Aren't you embarrassed?"
I stopped and turned, and looked at the young one, with her wide cobalt eyes and her short skirt showing off long shapely green legs. The grin never left my face, and my hands never left my pockets. I just watched her, and eventually she started to squirm. She backed up a few steps nervously, and I approached her at my own slow pace.
I probably would have casually committed bodily harm, if another Sister hadn't intervened and grabbed the young one by the upper arm, yanking upwards sharply. "What do you think you're doing?" she hissed into the young one's ear, eyeing me suspiciously.
The elder sister, still younger then I and an unknown to me, inclined her head toward me. "She meant no disrespect, my Lord."
I shrugged, and looked utterly uninterested. "She'll remember to be polite when she's working for Death. I don't forget faces. Gotta run, girls, it's been a joy."
As I turned to walk away, I could hear the young one ask with some panic in her voice, "Can she do that?"
And the elder answered, "I don't know, but I wouldn't push your luck."
I grinned. I wondered, next time we had a planning meeting, if I would just make a side suggestion about the young Free looking for work down on the sidewalk below. Maybe I would remember, most likely not, but at least she would worry about it for a while. If she was smart, she'd go get her first vessel and bail up to Topside. Every once in a long while, it's keen to be me.
Ten minutes later, maybe, I was standing at the front doors to the Palace. I gazed all the way up the glitzy casino hotel. My apartment was up on the forty-eighth floor with the rest of the intellectual core staff. A few of the windows were lit, but most were dark. I suspected the lit windows were either cleaning staff or lights left on accidentally. The last I checked Erlithan had dispatched us all Topside, but I could have been wrong. A few people may have come home for work matters, which was plausible. Hell, I was here. My eyes strayed to my own window, which was dark.
The Palace was a wild madhouse as always. As I passed the twin black suited Calabite guards and opened the swinging glass doors, the wave of noise was almost a physical barrier. I was basking in it. I had forgotten how wonderful home really was. Souls stood in even lines before the one armed bandits, pouring their Essence into the machines and hoping for a payback they could never spend. Demons stood around blackjack tables making deals under their breath and counting cards. Imps ushered celestials in and out of the theaters, where the most amazing sights could be seen for a small price. Far in the back of the casino were the corridors which led toward the more interesting areas, those off limits to those who did not work for the organization. Employees Only indeed.
I began to wade through the bodies, a sea of souls and celestials alike. I pressed through the crowds, making a point of smiling and waving at people I recognized, and laying down a few smart comments for those I didn't. For a moment, I felt like I was really alive, like I really belonged. A swift fast young Lilim on the up and up, rising through the ranks of a major organization. It was easy to start losing sight of why I was down there in the first place. I could easily forget my urgency.
I emerged into a hallway, and pulled a keycard out of my pocket. The door at the end of the hallway was unmarked by anything but a small box mounted on the wall next to it. The security system was installed by Valefor's people, not Vapula's, so I was pretty sure that getting through the door wasn't going to cause it to explode. When I used my card nothing more exciting happened then the bolt popping open.
The hallway on the other side of the door was nondescript. There were corridors leading off in various directions, and voices came floating back to me. I walked along, nodding to a few people I passed who looked surprised at my presence, and scurried to make some sort of concessions and being polite. But they knew me, and knew I didn't particularly care if they got on their knees and kissed my ass or if they just blew me off and planted kick me signs on my back. I preferred the latter, at least it was as honest as demons actually get.
I walked out through a back door into a filthy urine stained alleyway, and crossed through the garbage to a door on the opposite side. I swiped my card again, and pulled the steel door towards me. If one was going to possibly fight unknown enemies, one should go armed. Figuring I was here, I thought I would make a pit stop.
It didn't look like an arms depot. It looked more like a Sharper Image gone hideously wrong. Gadgets of all sorts hung from the walls and under glass cases. I patted the rubber alien in the plastic tube, the giant blow up pool with various erotic devices, the case with the little electronic date planners which did so much more then remember phone numbers. I passed a display of wicked looking swords, and a long table covered with rubber excretements of all types. It was a servant of comedy's blissful paradise, if the servant in question had authorization to be here.
I was standing there, examining an interesting exploding pen when a voice behind me made me jump guiltily. "Do you like what you see?"
I put the pen down, turned to face the old Djinn standing behind me. I grinned at his old patchwork grizzled bear like visage. He was looking disinterested, slowly dusting a different glass case. "Hanod! Aren't you dead yet?"
He grunted his disagreement, and didn't lift his eyes.
"Hey, Hanod, I've got something for you to do. I'm on a mission, literally, from God." I danced around to stand near his land of sight, bouncing around excitedly.
"Yes? And?" He started to sound annoyed.
"I need your help." I waved a hand at the devices in
the store. "Hanod, you've got to make me Funny!"
Unknown Time, The Connector, Shal-Mari
"It's very interesting, no?" The Impudite asked, as his hands rose and fell over the keyboard of his computer. "It's quite a sight. I would think young lovers would come here and do their young lover thing if it was permitted. You're young. Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Ex-husband, twice over, the dumb thing being it's the same guy. And yeah, you can say I have a boyfriend of sorts." I was thinking that I could probably get permission to have sex in here. I put it on the list of fun activities to pursue. I stared up at the great funnels opening and closing high above my head in the huge red colored room. "So these are the tethers?" I asked, stating the obvious.
The Impudite hit a few more keys, then spun on his chair to get a look at me. "They sure are. They go everywhere you need to go, and some places you don't."
I knew that, of course, having come through here dozens of times. I was just trying to be annoying. "So when I descend one, how come I always end up someplace inconvenient? Why don't I end up here?" I shoved my hands in my pockets.
He shrugged. "Don't ask me the mechanics. I only control who goes in and who goes out."
"Hmmm." I stared up at the ceiling. "So how many tethers does Kobal have right now?"
The Impudite leaned over and tapped a few times on his keyboard. "1,462, currently. Most aren't very big, to tell you the truth."
"Wow. A thousand people have agreed to be Seneschals. Now that is dedication." I tried to look impressed.
He tapped again. "It's an easy word to obtain. I see you're-"
"None of your business." I sucked on my lower lip. "I need to get to somewhere not horribly inconvenient in New York City. Like, I would prefer not to go somewhere I'll appear and get immediately mugged. Now, I know we have one in Manhattan."
He peered at his computer screen. "There are four in the city proper. Do you want to select one?"
I walked over to the terminal, and peered over the Impudite's shoulder. I didn't like him much, but he was just doing a job. I looked at the addresses. "This one here." I poked a long finger at the screen. "Mick's Comedy Club. It'll do nicely. It's a hole, but I'm not doing a show there."
He nodded, and pressed some keys. In the middle of a room a panel in the floor slid back, and a small dais began to rise. "You know how this works, correct?"
I patted my pockets, and felt the artifacts within them. The small reliquary hung from a new chain around my neck under my shirt. "Sure, I've done this before a few times."
He gestured toward the dais, and I made my way over there. The floor seemed to have slightly semi-liquid properties, rippling with every step, although it was quite solid. I imagined bad new age music being piped into here, it would be so appropriate. This room was probably the most stereotypically demonic area available to our organization. I stared up at the large strange portals opening and closing over my head like huge gaping maws. "Okay," I called out when I was ready. "Beam me up, Scotty."
The Impudite frowned. "The portal will open above you in a moment. When it does, I advise you to force yourself Topside."
I knew the drill. I watched carefully as the portals swirled above my head in a strange dance. The one I was waiting for came, stopped, and began to rotate slowly.
I waved goodbye to the Impudite. What the hell.
3:32 am. Mick's, New York City.
I finally found the doorknob, because I couldn't find a light switch. The door wasn't locked, and I came tumbling out with a mop, a bucket, and a small torrent of big sponges. I landed with a small wumpf on the hard wooden floor, on my hands and elbows.
"What the hell is goin on back there?"
I stood up in the well lit dirty hallway, coming face to face with a slowly curling and slightly ripped promotional poster hanging on a filthy white wall. I patted my pockets, and could feel the small collection of artifacts contained within. I reached in and brought out a small bottle. I took a long look at it. Satisfied, I shoved it away. I felt around my neck, and pulled up the chain. Hanging on a cheap 14K chain was a small gold cross, complete with a little agonized Christ reproduction. I grinned at the irony, and let it hang out, a contrast against my black turtleneck.
"I said, what the hell is goin on back there?" The voice was getting angrier. I was starting to bet it was the Seneschal.
I took a few steps forward, in the direction of the voice, and the other ending of the corridor. "Sorry, got lost looking for the bathroom," I called out.
A large, older portly man wearing a stained striped button-down shirt and brown pants held up by fraying suspenders appeared from around the corner. He walked the slow, ponderous gait of the well inebriated, and from the broken blood vessels on his face and his misted over eyes, I figured this was his normal waking state. I was unfortunately standing down wind, and I got a good whiff of a combination of body odor and Johnny Walker. "Listen bud," he said as his pushed a finger in my direction, "the show has been over for an hour. You better not have been stealin back here."
I could feel the sudden wave of disapproval and irritation coming from him. Just my luck, the Seneschal was Habbalah. I sucked it up, and acted like it was affecting me. "Honestly," I said as I spread my hands to demonstrate my harmlessness, "I was outside with my girlfriend, and I had too much beer. I got lost, and opened up your cleaning closet here. That's all."
I could have just identified myself, but I had a feeling that I wouldn't be coming back this way. The way home was going to be via Northwest, not through Shal-Mari.
The Seneschal grabbed my coat, and decided to show me the door. I had apparently intruded on his secret personal time, just him and his bottle in his old worn down theater. I told him the door was very nice, and that it opened very smoothly. Suffice to say, he was not impressed.
I wasn't completely prepared for the ice cold nighttime January air. I grabbed my coat and buttoned it, and wrapped the scarf around my neck. I stood there for a moment, shivering, pondering, wondering what to do next. I started walking down the street, passing a few people who were out as well, looking for a ride, trying to decide on my move. It had been years since I had lived here, but I had visited often since. I still liked the LA night times better, they're not as biting. I dug around in my pockets. A little exploration of discovery, and I pulled out a thin crumpled piece of paper with an address on it. It took ten minutes for me to hail a cab.
I got out at the cross streets in the Village and stared up at the apartment building. I had been here several times before, being forced to listen to long rambling poetry recitals in a cloud of cannabis haze, or badly played blues on out of tune instruments. Artists had grabbed me by the arm, convinced I was human, explaining to me in their own pretentious manner about the essence and the beauty of poorly conceived performance art. It was Eli's small low rent, hardly furnished apartment, with the cockroaches and the old broken fold out couch and the moldy lettuce in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator. I wondered in passing why I cared for him so.
The front door was unlocked, and the hallway stank of humans. The carpeting was threadbare beneath my feet, and the building looked run down. I walked up the stairs to the third floor, and knocked on a nondescript door. I heard some movement, and the door opened slowly an inch. I put my hand flat on the door, and pushed it the rest of the way open, encountering little resistance.
The small waifish blond girl behind the door stumbled back, her hands held up in a subconscious reflex to danger. I took a step into the apartment, and calmly closed the door behind me.
"Wha - Wha-" she was backing away from me.
I reached out slowly, and gently touched her shoulder. I gazed into her eyes and resonated. The need to protect her lover, her archangel, her friend. The need to protect the young human painter she loved. The need to create. She trembled beneath my fingers, so I pulled back my hand. Cherub. I had never met her, but I knew of her. I was surprised that Eli's current girlfriend was one of his servitors, considering that he was in hiding, and half of the time didn't even remember he was Celestial. But I figured if we could pull that in Hell, he could pull that in Heaven.
I smiled down at her gently. "Liza," I said.
"Who are you?" she demanded.
I continued to smile down at her, and didn't answer.
She took a few nervous steps away from me, realization hitting. "You, I've heard of you."
I spread my hands, openly, showing they held no weapon and posed no threat. I looked around, wondering if he was in the apartment.
"You're that demon, aren't you." She looked horrified. I wondered if she had ever met a real live demon before, and the way she was acting, I doubted it. She was obviously very young. "You - You're Daimon."
I made a slight bow. "In the flesh." I came back to full height. "I was summoned. Is he here?" She looked like she was going to cry, so I sighed, and tried to be reassuring. "I'm harmless, and I'm a friend." I was trying to keep the edge out of my voice, keeping it gentle and kind. I was used to dealing with Creationers from way back, and I knew the patient tone of voice to take.
"No," she shook her head. "He isn't here where I can protect him."
I took a careful step toward her, arms open as if I was going to begin an embrace. "He isn't? Can you tell me where he's gone? I know that you know."
She started to ask, how did you know? Her lips parted, and her eyes belayed that she quickly came to the conclusion that it was a demon trick, so I intercepted her comment. "You are his girlfriend, yes? I assume that he told you."
"Yeah," she said, let off the hook. She backed away, turned, and walked over to the couch. She flopped down on the cushions, the broken springs squealing. She gave me a suspicious stare.
I continued to stand by the door, relaxed. She was Needing to be reassured that everything was okay, so I though I would help her out. "I'm worried too," I said in a patient, friendly manner. "That's why I came all the way from California, so that I can help you take care of him. If he's sick, or lost, or confused, I can help you." I walked over and knelt in front of her, taking her hands into mine. "I do care, and he's going to be all right. I'm going to make it so that it's going to be all right." She looked a bit confused, but some of the tension left her face as she chose to believe me. I could feel the small Geas-hook manifest as she visibly relaxed. I shoved it away, figuring I would deal with it later.
My gaze shifted from her to the image reflected in the large patio windows, uncovered by draperies. I saw the faint ghostly image of a young man on his knees before a young woman, as if preparing to propose. I was hit with the faint wiff of memory, two people in the same position once, but roles reversed. I pushed it away, back under the rug where it belonged, and stood. Liza's large eyes followed me, as I started to stalk through the apartment, picking up random art supplies and putting them back down again. "Liza, do you know where Eli went?"
She fidgeted on the couch, and her lips parted slightly, belying her concentration. Her eyes flicked toward me, wondering if I was trustable. I tried to look interested in the half completed canvas hidden under a sheet, allowing her to come to her own conclusions. She finally did. "He's in the park."
I turned to her. "Out there?" I asked, stating the obvious. "It's three in the morning."
"Almost four," she countered. Her lips parted again in concentration. "Yes, I'm positive."
I sighed in agitation. If he was out there naked in some sort of weird nature loving new age religious circle with a bunch of drunken human friends, and he got me to come all the way out here for that, I was going to kick his ass. He might char my vessel to ash, but that wouldn't stop the tip of my good Italian leather shoes from touching some archangel rear. "I bet he's out there unarmed," I said, irritated.
"I don't know, but I'm almost sure of it."
"I bought him a gun a year a ago. Do you know where he put it?" I looked around the scantily furnished apartment, eyes roving for good hiding places.
"Eli would never keep a gun! They kill people!" She looked horrified.
Guns don't kill people, I thought, demons kill people. God save me from this angel's lack of backbone, but she was a Creationer, and they tended toward the more pacifist, in my limited experience. That is, until they did something annoying like Fall, and then they packed heat. I started searching the few drawers in the kitchen.
"What are you doing?" She got up off the couch and followed me into the kitchen. She tugged a bit on my coat with little hands.
I didn't turn to look at her as I headed into the small bedroom. "I am not going out there unarmed. Eli might be crazy, but I'm certainly not."
The bedroom had a bare mattress which was sitting on the floor, and a small beat up wooden chest of drawers. I looked under the mattress first, but there was nothing but dust bunnies. I turned to the chest second. I felt around in the top drawer, and the tips of my fingers brushed against cool metal. Pleased, I reached all the way in, and wrapped my hand around the barrel of a .45. I pulled it out, and looked it over with an expert eye. It had clearly never been used, and upon inspection, was quite unloaded. I reached again into the drawer, and in the very back was the small box of clips. I pulled out three. One went into the gun with a smooth practiced move, and the other two disappeared into my pocket of my coat. The sound of the click made me instantly nervous, and images of blood spattered bodies and death rose up in my mind, giving me a feeling of revulsion Clockwork Orange style. But I shoved it under the rug with the rest of my emotions. I inspected the gun, and the Cherub recoiled in horror. I wanted to do the same.
"Are you... are you going to use that?" She asked.
I opened my coat, and slid the gun into an inner pocket. "Only if I have to. Death is only funny when it's a decent punchline."
She looked puzzled, so I left it at that. I head for the front door. I put my hand on the cold knob, then stopped to look at her. "Is he still in the park?"
She paused, then nodded.
"Can you describe where?"
She described a wooded area on the south side of the park, on a bench near a well graffitied stone bridge and a certain group of trees. I figured I knew where that was, or good enough to start waking up the unconscious bums and looking for the right one. I would have taken her, it would have made my job easier, but I figured she would have just slowed me down. "Well, good." I nodded. "If we're not back before daybreak, then I suggest that you worry."
She didn't look too happy at that, but I thought it was a good
enough line to leave her on.
4:18 am, Central Park, New York City
I entered through Columbus Circle, and headed across the south side of the park, looking for the bench, or the grouping of trees where Eli was. I wondered if he had just gotten caught up in some weird human ritual involving wet leaves and whipped cream and lost track of time. Who knew. I headed briskly along the paths, hoping not to get mugged on the way.
I was almost to the area I was picturing in my head when I heard the voices, the sweet angelic speech over the tops of the trees, being spoken in hushed tones. Anyone else might have mistaken them for a choir group or a crazy group of new agers who were out singing at the moon, lost and confused in their practice in the night, but the intertwined words were on the wind. I stopped short, realizing I could understand it, even if I couldn't reliably reproduce the sung sentences. I couldn't make out the individual words yet, I was too far away. I crept forward, and into the trees where they might give me some cover.
I squinted through the leaves. In a clearing on a path was more then what I expected, three robed forms and two guys standing off to the side, talking to each other and smoking cigarettes. I looked over them individually. The three robed forms where uniform, looking almost identical to each other, although the tall thin build of one belied it as a Seraph. The other two guys were dressed mostly in leather, built like tanks, sporting pony tails, packing heat, and looking bland and unamused. Unlike the three, they gave me the creepiest feeling, in just the way the shadows extended behind them to cast longer, blacker shadows, like long black wings.
I hunkered down, and thought, my God, they've sent a Dominican Triad and some Malakim to drag him back to heaven. I called that trouble, although I was probably exaggerating. I knew they could take me out, no sweat, but I was having some vague nagging doubts they would be successful in doing any harm to anything the magnitude of an Archangel. The comparisons just weren't the same. I didn't know, and it wasn't like I was about to just walk up to them and ask what their mission was, although it was momentarily tempting.
I patted my pockets with some reassurance while I reminded myself not to jump to conclusions, and sang a few notes myself, as quietly as I could. I faded from existence, turning into a shadow which blended in with the other shadows of the night. One thing going for me, there was no way in the universe they could have expected me to be there. Not unless they knew something I didn't, and I didn't discount that as a possibility.
I stood there, and listened to them speak to one another for a few minutes. The gist I got from the snippets of conversation I could hear and understand was that they were there to do some sort of arrest of a very dangerous individual. I figured I was in the right place.
I tried to imagine Eli as dangerous. It wasn't happening. I tried again, this time as just extremely annoying, in a cute fluffy bunny sort of way. That time I was successful. I wondered if being annoying was forbidden in Heaven, since if it was I wouldn't be gracing it with my presence any time soon. I made my living on being a nuisance.
I was about as stealthy as an elephant through the leaves. The forest is not exactly my scene, even though I would hardly refer to where I was as a forest in any technical sense. There were trees and leaves, and that was where the comparison ended. We're not talking about Bavaria here.
I thought it was time to move on, because if they were after Eli, then I wanted to get him out of the park, and preferably out of the city. I crept between the trees, and got back on the path. I started walking along briskly, and figured I was going to make it, no sweat. The angels weren't expecting psychotic invisible demonic help, they were expecting trusting cuddly Creationers who would bat their eyes at them and wanting to discuss the esoteric twists in Elizabethan poetry.
I, of course, underestimated the Malakim. It's one of my major failings in life, underestimating Malakim. Luckily, I don't have too many chances to experience it.
I didn't have time to react. The warm hand curled around the back collar of my coat and yanked. It was strong, and I ended up being dragged off the path into another warm hand, which pulled me into the darkness. I stumbled in the direction I was pulled, and ended up off my feet. I reached out to regain my balance. He hissed into my ear, "You're dissonant."
"Hey man," I said, "I don't know what you're talking about. Do you want my wallet? Is that it?" I struggled to get standing, and realized like a moron that I still had the Song of Form up. He let me go.
"You're dissonant and stupid." His coal black eyes stared down into mine. I resonated. Kill the demon and punish the lawbreaker. I, of course, was the demon in question. He finished it with, "And you aren't particularly honorable."
Me? Honorable? You have got to be on crack. I dropped the song, paid my essence, and brushed myself off as I regained my footing. "Hey, this is none of my business, you know? I was just taking a late night stroll, and-"
He clipped me across my face, and I went sprawling. This, I figured, was the combat portion of the adventure. You can't have a proper adventure without a little bit of fighting, for the ladies. Me, the protagonist, was slated to come out of this ahead, but not before being supremely funny. This, I knew, was going to suck. I put my hands up. "Come on, man. I was just out, and. . ."
He reached up into his coat, and pulled what I termed as an official big ass bowie knife out of a back holster with a snick. The long blade gleamed wickedly in the moonlight, in a way I just didn't like. I scurried back like the natural coward I am, and rolled back onto my feet. "I don't think so. I think you need to be dealt with," the angel said in a gravelly voice.
I stuffed a hand into a pocket of my jacket and my hand came in contact with something cool and hard. I yanked it out and pointed it at him.
"Oh, are you going to shoot me, little Fallen?" He asked, with some mild amusement.
"Indeed I am," I said, as I thrust another hand into a different pocket. "But only if you come any closer. You know, if you kill me, you'll owe me a big favor. You'll feel so much better afterwards that you'll have no choice but to owe me sammiches later. I'm talking alot of sammiches here. If we're going to be on such close terms, me having a piece of your soul and all, maybe we should exchange names. Just so we'll know each other better. Me, I'm Daimon. I'm a Mediator. I bet you don't have Mediators up in Heaven, do you? That's because politics are so nice and friendly and all that other cuddly friendly care bear shit. What's yours?"
"Death," he said, as he feinted with the knife, and went for the stab.
I pulled the trigger reflexively, and the Malakite fell back, attempting to dodge.
The cap in the barrel of the gun went off with a small annoying pop, the smell of gunpowder, and a small red flag with the word "BANG!" slid out and hung there, flapping in the wind. I grinned helpfully.
And then I squeezed the bag in my other hand hidden in my pocket and tossed it into his face. The Song of Light went off with a burst of a cap and a spray of water, and I reflexively put a hand up across my eyes to protect from the dazzle. No doubt this would point us out to everyone in the area, but it was better then dying. The Malakite yelled as it went off, blinding him and doing a little minor damage. He began cursing me, and swung wildly with his knife.
"Sorry man," I said. I shoved the toy gun back into my pocket, and pulled out the small bottle. I yanked off the little red nip off the top with my teeth. "We could have been buddies. But now I have to make your life suck." I pointed the nozzle of the bottle into his face and squeezed.
The Malakite yelled in irritation, and grabbed my arm. He pulled hard, and he rammed me into a tree. I saw sudden spots appear before my eyes. Then the Malakite reached up to scratch his face.
"Itchy?" I asked, as I gasped, dizzy. I gave him another shot with the powder.
He reached up, and rubbed his eyes with his free hand. "Will you cut that shit out?"
Another puff erupted from my bottle, as I looked for another weapon with my other hand. "Why? I find it quite amusing. Hey, I didn't pick this fight." My hand came up with a pen. I spun it around between my fingers, and then caught another hit right to my face, as he brushed past my cheek with the knife. I stumbled backwards out of the woods and onto the path.
The Malakite stopped to itch his face, and roared in frustration. The powder was making its way down his jacket, irritating his back. He protected his eyes, and swung with the knife again, hoping he'd hit me.
I rushed in, and pressed the small button on the pen. Much to my disbelief, it squirted out nothing much more then some black ink all over the front of the Malakite's jacket. It dribbled down on my hand, and made little black dribbles onto the ground. I stood there, typical comedy, wondering what I did wrong. I shook it a few times, looking for the big interesting bang or the stream of boiling acid. His hand hit me across the head like a slab of beef, and I went sprawling onto the sidewalk. The pen went skidding the other direction, where it sparked, and spat out little streams of greenish smoke. I rolled away, and the Malakite's hard leather boot took me in the gut. I rolled up into a ball.
"Now," he said, breathing hard and eyes visibly watering in the dark, "you are going to die, demon. There is no redemption for your kind."
He straddled me, looking to aim his knife through teary eyes and itching cheeks. He reached up with his free hand to wipe the moisture away.
I took a deep breath, and spent a little more Essence. I saw his jacket erupt in dozens of little illusionary eyeballs, and it spread to his knife. A little mouth appeared, and said, "Feed me, Seymour."
He looked down in eyes widening in horror. "What the hell is going on?" He recoiled as the eyes grew mouths and long plant like tentacles started wrapping themselves around his body. The mouths started to speak in unison, "We want blood, we your want blood, the blood of our maker.."
As he fought them off, I reached up and grabbed the belt of his pants. I grabbed his zipper, and pulled with one hand while I stuck the nozzle of my bottle in between the folds of his human underwear, and squeezed as hard as I could. A small puff of white powder blew up into the air, but most of it made it inside. The Malakite's eyes went wide, and he grabbed his crotch as it began to burn.
I pushed him off as he started itching himself maniacally. I rolled over, and sat up next to him. "Cheesy and done, I know I know. It has no tact, but its very effective. Sorry, man."
I started to stand, as the pen went off behind me, spraying another Song of Light, this one more intense then the last. The Malakite, facing the explosion, screamed, and grabbed his face. I blinked away the after effects, realizing that was the exploding pen, not the pen with the squirting acid ink. Next time, I made a mental note, I would label them.
I leaned down, and whispered in his ear, "After that, your friends will he here soon enough. No offense, man."
I straightened, and then did what any good servitor of Comedy
would do. I ran.
5:03 am, Central Park and Beyond, New York City
I searched more carefully, cloaked in another Song of Form, for almost a half hour after that. Luckily I knew where I was heading. I did spot the other Malakite one time, off in the distance, but made a point of avoiding him. He was too interested in the flashes of light and his partner to come after me.
He was sitting up on the bench next to a graffitied fountain when I found him, looking all the world like one of the city's many homeless. I sat down next to him without saying anything, and lit a cigarette. I took a long drag, enjoying the taste and feeding my Discord.
"I'm so glad you came, Daimie." He was leaning back, staring up at the heavens.
I blew the smoke out of my nose, and stared at the ground. "We have to get moving, man. Like, right now. There's a Triad out there, I think, and a pair of Malakim. Cops make me nervous no matter what side they work on, and one of the Malakim almost filleted me with his big knife."
He reached over and patted me on the knee with one dirty hand. "Aren't the stars wonderful? They're so bright tonight."
I sighed in irritation, and took a few very large and meaningful drags before I dropped my smoke. I put it out with the toe of my shoe. "Yeah, they're wonderful. They're fucking wonderful. Very starlike. Makes me want to jump for joy and run around naked in the woods."
He clucked his tongue. "You have yet to learn an appreciation for things, the little gifts that are given to us within Creation."
"Look," I said, as I slid off the bench and onto my knees before him onto the cold hard concrete, going into patient loyal servitor mode. "Please listen to me for once. There are men out there in the park who would like to hurt you. I would rather that didn't happen. You have got to come with me."
He smiled down at me in his benevolent disconnected way of his. "This is so wonderful." He brushed his hands across my cheeks. "Look how far you've come. Giving up your selfish nature to care about another being, being driven by love instead of self interest. Soon you'll repent your evils, and join us up in heaven."
I blinked. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about Brightness." He looked serene.
"Christ. Enough of this." I stood, giving up, and grabbed him by the arm. "I don't care if you are God Almighty himself, coming down to Earth to do the Job thing and mess up my head, which I highly suspect." I hissed. "You are coming with me, right now, to someplace where there's a phone and I can get you the hell out of this city." I mumbled something about crazy old men, and dark nights, and people I just wanted to shoot. He stood up, pliable in my hands. I hissed again in his ear, "If you are God Almighty, you better know right now that I don't believe in you for a second, so if you want to go pfft in a puff of logic, any time now would be nice."
He chuckled. "Oh, Daimie, you are so cute."
I led him to the nearest gate, allowing him to lean on me a bit. He seemed distracted, unattached to reality the same way that a schizophrenic stares at the world around them with ogling eyes, I assumed listening to the Symphony. What he was listening for, he did not say. We made it out onto the deserted sidewalk without too much mishap. I started leading him down the blocks toward his apartment, keeping an eye out for anything that might look the slightest bit angelic.
"Why the hell did you bring me out here in the middle of the night," I demanded.
He stumbled along behind me, nodding to the homeless sleeping in the doorways of various buildings, stopping occasionally to hand them coins, or to help them out with a little water to wine trick. "It's becoming dawn now. We need to speak, and there is trouble. Besides, you would have come out here anyway. I am just pleased you came of your own free will." He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a not so very small glowing orb. Inside was a very small familiar looking figure.
My eyes opened in shock. "Where did you get that?" I tried to snatch the Geas globe out of his hands, but it disappeared into a pocket.
"From a mutual friend," he said.
I glowered. "A friend? My mother? Did you get that from my mother? Yes or no. This isn't a game here."
"No. Not from your mother. Lilith has almost nothing on you anymore, correct?" He shoved his hands in his pockets, and smiled a smile of someone who knows a delicious secret. "A mutual . . . friend."
I made a disgusted noise. "I can't believe you would stoop to deal with Andrealphus. The guy has a continuous coating of slime. Is that Geas slimy? Does it squirt out of your hand when you hold it?"
"Nope. Not from Andrealphus either, although I hear he has quite the supply. I told you, a mutual friend. Someone very friendly gave it to me, no strings attached." He looked up at the buildings as we passed.
I grunted. I was starting to believe that I just didn't want to know. "I don't know why I put up with this abuse. Do you have any idea what I had to go through for you? I had to speak to him today. I went, quite literally I assure you, through Hell. I beat up a Malakite, and is he going to be pissed later. All because you want to talk."
He reached over, and patted me on the back. "Oh, we do all sorts of interesting things in the name of love."
I fell silent for a moment, trying to think up something witty to counter. I couldn't. "What were you doing out in the park in the middle of the night?"
"Hiding," he said.
"Can I ask from what?"
"The Bad," he said, with some finality.
"The Bad," I repeated. "That sounds like half of my friends. I think I married the Bad."
"This is a different kind of bad, a Bad that would like to see my forces spread across the cosmos. It would be an interesting experience, I would think, but it has the unfortunate side effect of only occurring once, and it would be hard to take notes and adequately reflect afterwards. So I would like to put this off as long as possible. Maybe we should stop for coffee, do you think? You'll feel better, and I know an all night place. How about a bagel?"
I sniffed, as I watched suspiciously. I didn't want to die, and I didn't want a bagel. "Maybe later. The angels didn't follow us out of the park. I think we gave them the slip for the time being."
"I don't think the threats I was referring to are angels, although they could be a hassle."
I looked around suspiciously. "A hassle? I would think death is a hassle, sure. It would definitely wreck the entire mojo I have going here. It would be a damper on my sunny mood."
"Death is only a matter of consequence. We have the wonderful ability to experience and understand mortal death over and over, and through this we can learn from it and lend this understanding to others. It's the neatest ability."
I fell silent again. He was waxing philosophical again on me, and I was losing complete thread on the conversation, especially when he used words like 'neat'. We walked almost an entire block without saying anything. I finally spoke up. "The Dominicans are giving you the business."
He shrugged. "The Dominicans are the Dominicans. You know how politics go."
"Yes I do. Amazingly, we've made it to your apartment building alive."
5:37 am, the Village, New York City
As soon as I walked into the building, I just had this really bad sinking feeling. I couldn't identify it as anything more then intuition. My knees started to shake as soon as I mounted the stairs up to the apartment. There wasn't anything obvious, no ripples in the Symphony, nothing weird. It was just dread, waves and waves of absolute terror.
I stepped on the platform, and walked down the third floor hallway to the door of Eli's apartment, him pattering a few steps behind me, surprisingly quiet. I put my hand back, wondering briefly what the hell I was doing, me of all people, in trying to protect an archangel. I mean, who did I think I was? Lilith? God himself?
The door was open a crack. I stood back away from it, and stared it down. There wasn't a sound on the other side.
"Go ahead, Daimie," Eli said, and gave me a slight grin. "I've got your back."
"That does not make me feel better," I hissed.
He gave me a helpful smile. I wanted to plant my fist in his face. Only he can be in a perpetual state of being cool all of the time, and be equally annoying.
"Smart ass," I grumbled, and I pushed the door open. I took a look inside, and was instantly horrified as my fears were justified. My heart leaped up in my throat, and I reached out, very patiently. to close the door again.
I grabbed Eli's arm, pulling him away from the doorway before he got a glimpse through the doorway, walking him down the hall.
"What is it?"
I leaned against the wall, breathing heavily. "Oh Jesus H. Christ on a cracker," I swore. "Oh fuck oh god oh god oh god...." I closed my eyes and swallowed. "Oh man. Just don't look in. Oh man, I shouldn't have left her unarmed. I should have left her the gun."
He patted me on the shoulder reassuringly. "Let me remind you who is the several millennia old archangel and who is the young little demon who thinks he's very cute all of the time." He lifted his eyebrows. "Now come on, I'm right here. Everything is cool."
I shook my head. "No it's not. You can't go in there." I reached up to grab his arm again.
He pried my fingers off his sleeve. He walked past me, ignoring my pleas, and reopened the door. He looked in the doorway, and then stood there for a full minute, just looking, like some sort of statue. Then he said, "Wow, man. Someone really took their time. That's really... something." He looked more then faintly sick. "How long since you were here?"
"About an hour, maybe more." I let the back of my head rest against the wall. "I shouldn't have left her. I should have taken her with me. God, I've seen people get killed, heads rolling and blood spurting. I was taking a stroll through Hell, Hell mind you, the tormented souls and all that other shit, but still..."
"She's Celestial, Daimon." His voice cracked as he spoke. "It could have been much worse. She'll... she's strong willed. She'll come out of it, be good as new soon." He took a step into the room, and disappeared through the doorway. I could hear his shoes squelching on the wet carpeting.
I closed my eyes, and reminded myself who I was. Loyalty motivated me, as I pushed myself off the wall, and walked through the doorway.
What was left of Liza, or at least her vessel, was left spread
eagle in the middle of the living room, a bloody mess. Her corpse
was slit from throat to sternum, her entrails slowly pulled out
and left in messy coils on the floor. Her eyes were still open,
staring sightlessly and horrified at the ceiling. Her hands hand
been removed, presumably with the same instrument that had cut
her open. Her blood coated the couch with the broken springs,
the draperies over the patio window, the white sheet over the
canvas, soaked into the floor. The worst was that someone had
used the vessel's blood as ink across the interior walls. It had
been collected carefully in an aluminum fruit cocktail can laying
next to the body, and one of Eli's good horsehair brushes had
been used. The letters were still wet and dripping down the walls,
shiny in the dawn light through the large glass window.
He let loose on them his fierce anger, wrath, indignation, and
distress, and a company of destroying angels. - Psa. 78:49
Eli bent his head, long wild hair falling over his face, not wanting me to see his distress. But I could hear him choking. I'm not really a callous nasty being, I'm just me. I walked over to him, arms open, allowing myself to be there, and watched the blood drip off the walls into small puddles. My revulsion rose, as did my anger, even when he accepted my presence. We didn't do shit like this, or at least those of us with tact. Kill humans, sure. They're just humans. But still, this was a little uncalled for.
"If this was Saminga's ship of fools, so help me, I'll exact a little pain out of the disgusting lot of them..." Echoing Andre, against my better judgment.
"No," he reached up and grabbed my arm. "No, this wasn't demonic."
I closed my eyes, and thought of the Malakim and the Triad in the park. My lord, they had followed me from the tether, to here, to the park. "The Dominicans? The Dominicans did this? They're, they're angels!"
He shook in my arms, and finally said, "You know how politics go."
But I had my doubts it was them.
8:22 am, the Village, New York City
I sat on the steps, watching the human cops mill around, and the EMS crew take the covered body out on a stretcher. Eli was downstairs, patiently explaining to his neighbors what had happened, doing his Mercurian best to console the humans with soothing explanations. I leaned against the wall, and sat there amazed. No other Superior I knew of came down out of their lofty perch and mingled with the humans, speaking with them, living their ways, being one of them. He worked with them, spoke to them in words they understood, simple, straightforward, caring. No bullshit when it came to working with people. Oh, sure, servants like myself get to live in roles and try to push big Words and maybe get to push our own little ones on the side, hoping it catches on. That was our job. But the Superiors?
No one else really ever comes to Earth full time except-
I looked up into the cop's face, and nodded. I stood, and for the fiftieth time that morning, I gave my statement, exactly as it had happened. I had made the 911 call to get this taken care of. I asked my usual questions and got the usual answers. No, they knew nothing, or anything they felt at liberty to tell me. Yes, I would have to come down to the station and give my statement again. They weren't particularly happy that I was the last person to see her alive, but a neighbor had claimed to have been woken by noises while I had been out. It also helped that there wasn't a speck of her blood on me, except on the bottom of my shoes. That would have been a neat trick, although theoretically I could have burned my coat and gloves and pants and all that.
I sighed, and went down the stairs. I told the assemblage at the bottom that I was going to go out for a cigarette. I needed the fresh air and to stretch my legs. I waved up to the two detectives who were staring down at me from the top of the stairs with suspicious eyes, and went for a small walk to get a little air and mix it up with a little nicotine. I passed a kid I didn't recognize on the way out.
I put my hands in my pockets, and squinted against the morning sun as I stood on the stoop. I thought about finding a phone and calling home, but I realized who I would be talking to, and the last thing I needed was Nybbas's cronies crawling all over me. I thought about where I was going to need to have Eli moved to, he obviously couldn't stay here much longer. Europe, maybe? He said he would move himself, he assured me. You know those wonderful Roles we get handed every once in a while? Archangels can create them for themselves, right out of the ether, and they're almost impenetrable. Lucky him, he'll disappear. I'll end up getting another phone call out of the blue in the middle of the night, and someone else will probably get sliced up.
Eli never did tell me what he wanted to say. I had come all this way just to see a servitor of Creation get whacked and nothing else. The scary thing was, I felt around for the Geas from the night before on that Cherub, and couldn't locate it. I tried to convince myself that it was because she was in Heavenly Trauma, and I just couldn't detect that far, but maybe that was just rationalization.
I could have banged Minnie again, I thought. What a complete waste. Then I chastised myself for being shallow, meaningless, selfish, and my normal self.
I lit a cigarette, and walked away from the mass of yellow tape, cops, and bored looking EMS personnel. There was a reporter outside, a cute little bouncy number in a suit and uncomfortable heels, trying desperately to get some sort of line on what was going on. She pounced on me as soon as I walked out the door. "Sir. Sir! Can you answer some questions for me?"
"Nope," I said, trying to be helpful.
"Sir, can you tell me what...."
"No, not a thing." I said. "I haven't a clue."
She danced around so she was in front of me. "But you just walked out of that building."
I spotted her Needs, but I hardly needed my higher powers of deduction. I was thinking maybe I should indulge, but what was I going to do with a Geas on a human reporter in New York? I could barter with Terry's people, I supposed, or maybe get a little paparazzi attention for myself at some later point. That might come in handy, maybe. "Yeah, well, maybe I did." I tried to look a little more helpful, and more interested in the concept of notoriety.
"Then you saw what was going on in there," she asked. She whipped out a little hand held tape recorder.
"Well..." I fished around in a pocket until I came up with my pack of smokes. "Let's see. There are cops, and a bunch of people, and some stale coffee and hmmm...." I raised my eyebrows. "I believe there was a body sliced up like a Christmas ham. Will that do?"
She nodded. "Can you describe the body?"
I did, in gory detail. She listened like she was starving man being handed a turkey roast. I carefully left out names, places, and my own involvement, realizing I was doing all sorts of fun damage. It seemed to please her. She could get names, aliases, that sort of thing from somewhere else. I felt the Geas hook form, and filed it away under things to forget unless it became convenient to remember. The best part was, when she was done, she left me alone to smoke and watch the carnage in peace. Which I did.
I stuffed my hands in my pockets, and left the madness behind for a while to go and get a cup of decent coffee. The sidewalks were already crowded with pedestrians on their way to their conventional jobs, something as a professional entertainer for at least the last century, I've never had. I wondered, as they passed me without ever looking, how many of them were Celestial and how many where human. I tried to play Spot the Need, but it's a difficult game to play without plenty of time to spare and a good place to sit. So many human needs are mundane and pointless, not even really worth filling without my other, sexier, certainly more padded vessel.
The coffee shop was on the corner, within eyeshot of the apartment building and the collection of squad cars. The shop was filled, but not all of the tables were taken. I got one of those fancy flavored coffees, and a USA Today. I slid into a booth next to a window near the back, in a position that I could still watch, and have a little bit of quiet. I found the crossword and the artifact pen in my pocket, and went to town.
Another paper was put down next to mine on the booth's table surface, accompanied by a strong hand with immaculately manicured nails. "May I sit down?" The voice had an Italian accent.
I looked up into the angular, high cheekboned aristocratic face of an elder man in a neat gray suit. He was wearing one of those pairs of ridiculously expensive sunglasses, just for my own personal amusement. I shrugged, and swore inwardly in demonic. Angel? Maybe one of last night's Triad, finally caught up with me. "What's it worth to you, buddy?"
He lifted an eyebrow. "The seat, or a few moments of your time?"
"Both. I'm busy, you know. Always on the move, and nothing on this here Green Earth is free," I said, responding from habit.
He chucked low. "I think a small exchange of information will do for your time and the liberty of allowing me to sit."
I waved at the seat. "Sit away. Have a blast." I returned to my crossword, trying to get the word Seraph from nibbling away at the back of my brain. I tried to solve the clue, six letters. "All in the _". I filled in FAMILY, and looked for another easy one.
"I've come to talk to you about Eli," the man said as he stirred a half and half into his coffee.
"Don't know him," I said, as I tapped my pen, trying to figure out the next word. "Sorry, buddy. Maybe you should try a phonebook."
He leaned over, pointing a long delicate finger. "You do not lie well. The word you are looking for is 'Chomsky'."
I filled it in. "I bet you don't let anyone cheat at Monopoly either." I looked up at his perfect face. "Me, I'm always the bank."
"I'm sure you are. Your kind is famous for your little barters." He stirred in a sugar, and sipped his drink.
I looked out the window, and watched the ambulance pull away, loaded with dead vessel, and what I suspected was more likely, as much as I refused to admit it to myself, dead Cherub. What a way to go, being chopped up like that to be a message. I would think Archangels would use post-its, or send each other little Hallmark cards. "So you heard that I didn't like your crusade..." The way Eli had been acting, it was like someone had murdered his daughter. I felt terrible about it, and had done some of the consoling, but being a demon, I didn't go out of my way to show it in public any more then I had. Besides, there was a certain sick irony to it that I sort of appreciated.
The older man cleared his throat. "Now about Eli."
"Yes?" I took a sip of my coffee and went back to the crossword. "I'm all ears, really. Talk away."
He leaned back in the booth, arms crossed, looking at me. "What I fail to understand is your involvement. What are you getting?"
"Who says I know the guy?" I filled in the word EGG.
He tapped a finger on the edge of the newspaper. "The Truth will set you free."
"I am free, thanks."
I looked up and just stared at him, irritation mounting. I didn't need to be insulted by angels until I at least had lunch. I finally turned my head away and took a sip of my coffee. "Don't you have someplace to be?"
"The place I have to be is sitting here, talking to you." He lifted his coffee to his lips. "But you have dodged my question."
"And I will continue to do so," I said. "I'm annoying like that."
He shook his had sadly. "You're protecting him, I can tell. He is your enemy, you know. As an angel, he is the enemy of all demons."
I blinked. "I hope you don't believe that."
"I believe in the War."
I stared, feeling a bit of revulsion and a little confusion. That sounded like one of Terry's rationalizations. I decided to go for the throat. "Now I know why I like Balseraphs better. They have more style."
He visibly flinched, then regained his poise. "The War is why we exist. Convincing humans and Celestials otherwise is counterproductive."
"How do you know? Do you personally talk to God? Did He tell you?" I peered at him. "What if someone just made it all up, so we would have something to do?"
"Demon..." His eyes began to narrow. I wasn't showing him his due, and it bothered him. If he was following me around so much, didn't he know that unless he was a Superior, I wasn't going to show him the least bit of respect? This is me we're talking about, the walking Kick Me sign.
"God is dead, so what difference does it make?" I sipped my coffee, and looked down into it's inky blackness. "So we stop killing each other for a while. Will anyone really notice? Will it change anything at all? More interesting sexual partners available and all that."
The angel sighed. "I'm afraid we have gotten off on the wrong foot. I was hoping for this conversation to be amicable, and not about rambling theology and aimless bickering. We're both intelligent, and we both serve our Superiors to the best of our abilities. You may call me Georgio Biotti. And you are Daimon Lightner, and you are a Lilim." He held out a hand.
I looked down at his hand, and took it reluctantly. "Yeah, hi, so I am. Nice to meetcha. Now go away."
"I will do no such thing." The angel let the tips of his fingers rest on the table top. I filled in HAGGIS.
"Okay, well, then, your funeral." I filled in LOKI.
"I'm afraid, demon, that it will be your funeral," he said with more then a touch of malice. The subtle change of tone caught my attention. "That is somewhat of a threat, you see, if you do not cooperate."
"I don't threaten well," I said, not looking up. "Nor do I cooperate well, come to think of it."
"I am gathering this." His voice was still dripping with something. Impatience, maybe.
This guy was making me nervous, and had succeeded in spoiling my quiet reflection time with my cup of coffee. I reached up, and started gathering my newspaper together. "This has been fun, really. But now I must go. Have a good day, George."
His hand lashed out faster then my eye could follow and grabbed mine. It took me completely by surprise. "I'm sorry, but you are not going anywhere."
My hand jerked in aggravation and in the sudden instinctual pressing need to escape anything that remotely looked like an unfair bond. "What the hell are you doing?"
He leaned forward, to quietly hiss in my ear, his paper dry lips flicking lightly against my skin. His words came patiently, like explaining to a small child. "Your favorite Archangel is an embarrassment to our Side. He is no longer supporting his Word, and is no longer worthy of being called Archangel. His flock is scattered, and he indulges in aimless debauchery. He must be punished, as must all of the little heathens who call themselves his servants. They are nothing more then a group of Outcasts pretending to be in the state of grace, and the hard hand of the Judgment will see that they all will get what they have earned and no less."
I blinked, and I felt a very small wave of absolute terror. I hid it under the other terror that had taken root nicely in the last six hours or so.. "You're a funny guy, George. You should come work for us. I have an opening in cosmetics, if you want it."
His hand was like a claw, gripping my wrist. I had a sudden image in my head of angry Seraph teeth locked around my forearm. His sunglassed face turned to stare at mine, and then leaned forward to my ear, within the intimate kiss of a lover. His lips rasped against my ear, his words still the patient candor. "I know you have been cavorting with the so-called Archangel of Creation. I know that you spend time with him, slowly fucking him, taking your carnal desires with him, and he does the same to you. And I know you attempt to, feebly, reproduce your experiences with others, repeating the lies he tells you, spreading broken Words. I want you also to understand that, in this universe, there is no such thing as a Bright Lilim, not if we have anything to say about it." I tried to yank my hand back, but he held fast. "Death is better for them then allowing this mockery of heaven to continue."
"Your kind is totally insane," I said quietly. "You have gone off into bonkers land, George. You need a vacation in reality. Now let me go."
He did not let me go. Instead, he choked up a little on my arm. "The Word of God is absolute, don't you understand? Humanity will only learn to overcome your vile kind by embracing the belief that anyone who steps outside the absolutes of cosmic law must be destroyed, so only the pure survive. No more accepting all humans, everywhere, no matter how fallen toward the Pit. We will win the War, and only the purest will be allowed to continue to live."
I jerked, and turned horrified eyes. "What the hell are you?" I reached up suddenly, a sudden unexpected movement with my free arm, and touched his other hand, skin on skin contact. I hid my revulsion at using Andrealphus's attunement, and resonated for Needs. I am the Judge. I make the Law. I dispense the Judgment. Those who do not conform to my Laws will be Punished. "Fuck," I breathed. "Just what the hell are you?"
"I am a tool of my Lord," he whispered into my ear. "I am merely a tool."
"You're fucked up, that's what you are," I said, as I felt the reassuring presence of the artifact pen in my other hand. "You're fucking falling, man. Let me go, so you can go about your business in peace."
He jerked my arm, and stared at me with a calm dead expression. "I see your guilt. You know I can tell the Truth, I can see when you lie to me. I can see it now. I can see your guilt at cavorting with the Archangel, the guilt at being caught."
My other hand swung around, and pressed the trigger on the pen. This time it worked, and I pushed Essence into the artifact, drawing straight from the reliquary around my neck. The yellowish liquid broke out of the capsule as the Symphony gave a little hiccup, and squirted out of the bronze tip. The liquid hit him square in the face, and splashed a little bit on my collar. He pulled away with a hiss, letting go of me to grab his sunglasses. I yanked my arm away, and my hand went up instinctually to the burned spots on my neck.
He struggled to get the glasses off. I pushed myself out of the booth, and landed on the floor in a pile of newspaper, the empty artifact going skidding along the floor and under the a table on the other side of the room. I looked around wildly, and noticed that most of the coffee shop was now watching our antics. I figured this was for the best, this guy wouldn't indiscriminially kill humans, if he knew what was good for him. The people were looking curious and nervous, but no one had moved to act yet.
He pulled his sunglasses off, and his eyes were like black pits. The skin around them was crackling and giving off a little bit of greenish smoke. He tossed the sunglasses to the side, almost casually, and moved to stand up over me. I scrambled back and knocked over a chair. "This could have been done the easy way," he said. "You could have just given me the information I needed for my Lord. Now I will have to extract it from you in a most painful manner."
For free? I thought. He's got to be joking.
Someone screamed. It might have been me, for all I knew. I felt the Symphony ripple, and suddenly I didn't feel like getting away from this guy so badly. I felt like sitting on the floor, calmly explaining to my good friend George that I really didn't want to play with him anymore. I slowly struggled to get up, as he leaned down and grabbed me by my collar. I thought fleetingly about the amount of action my collar was getting, as he yanked me to my feet, and then slammed me backwards across the booth's table, coffee spilling onto the floor and my head smacking painfully into a little metal sign rack. Out of the corner of my eye, the humans stood there, looking for all the world like this was a completely, absolutely rational act from a pair of completely rational beings. I oofed.
"Now," he said, still polite, "we do it the hard way."
I thought about how we could just talk things out, everything was cool, when the Symphony rippled again, and my mind decided to take a momentary trip out to lunch. I kicked and thrashed, and wondered why there were bloody limbs growing out of the faces of the assembled humans. The walls ran blood, and the ceiling started to cave in. The Seraph started to look like something out of Hellraiser. My hands clamped around the well manicured ones at my throat, and I let out a gut wrenching scream. It seemed to be the proper thing to do under the force of the attack.
My mind reeled, and all I could think of was Bamf. It took me a moment of watching human heads explode around me to understand what Bamf was supposed to mean. It wasn't immediately obvious, with all the blood and the fish swimming in the air and all.
Oh, I thought. That bamf. Of course. I thrashed a bit for effect so it looked like the attack was still going on at full strength, and without word or gesture, I spent my Essence, and sang a minor teleport.
I hit the dirt ground of the alleyway behind the coffee shop, realizing that I was becoming rather close to being tapped out of anything I remotely wanted to consider Essence. The Symphony was now rippling nicely, merrily alerting anyone in the general area to what was going on.
I turned, and noticed the alley ended on one side with a fence topped with curled barbed wire, and opened only one way onto the sidewalk. I rolled over, and pushed myself to my knees, my head in my hands. I moaned low, the hallucinations still making my head spin. The song he used on me hadn't completely worn off, and it was still messing with my head.
I started to stumble to my feet when the dark shadow blocked the little sliver of sunlight that made its way into the small alley filled with garbage and stink. I shook my head to clear it, and held up an arm before my eyes. "You killed that girl, didn't you?"
"She knew things I needed to know," he said, arms crossed, still patient, still speaking the truth.
I reached my hand into the inner pocket of my coat. My fingers brushed cold steel. "I think you could have asked, George."
"I did ask. She told me." He took a step forward.
My hands curled around the hard rubber coated handle of the .45. "And you still killed her? Soul killed her? Upstairs?"
"She was created to embody a broken, twisted Word of God. I am a tool of a pure Word, and that Word is Judgment. The Word of God is nothing if it is not vengeance against those who would defy the Lord, for he will bring the fires of Heaven against you. She will be better used as her forces are recycled to create better servitors for our cause in the War."
Dammit, I thought, he sounds like a Habbalah with PMS. Did he think he was a punisher? All I could think of was that this must be part of what Eli had lightly termed 'the Bad', and I kind of wished he had been more descriptive. "You murdered someone, George. That's not very nice."
He laughed again, that low sound filled with menace. "Murder? I think I simply acquiesced to the word of the great Inquisition, and as such, punished. She was a criminal, quite near Falling, and the punishment was death. All Fallen will be punished the same way."
"Corrupted," I said with a sneer, as I pulled at the .45, slipping off the safety, cocked it, and pointed it at him. "That's the word I've been looking for. You're trying to corrupt something. I'm not sure what, but it's there. I'm a little slow, but I figure these things out."
"Oh, is your little gun going to go bang and wave a little red flag at me? You've tried that little joke, my young Comedian." He asked with sarcasm. He must have spoken to the Malakim.
Sweat trickled down my neck. I wanted to pull the trigger. I imagined myself squeezing. But somehow I knew that killing was bad. Some part of my mind was screaming that if I shot him, I was no better then he was. I argued back, saying that was fine, I'm a demon and stuff, it's okay if I'm just as bad as him. I'm supposed to be. That's the entire point. "We're going to find out, you better believe it," I called out, bluffing lamely.
His answer was to raise his arms and call up to the heavens. I felt the Symphony ripple again, hard, adding to effect. "I demand a trial!" He yelled. "This demon is a sinner of the worst sort, a Fallen, a blasphemy in the eye of God! There can be no punishment save death! I request that he be struck down and sent back to the Pit, to suffer for eternity!"
Oh.... shit, I thought. This is sounding bad.
There was a long, silent moment, when even the crowds outside the alley seemed hushed. Then there was a deep voice, rippling through the air. "Let Justice Be Done."
The sword materialized in the air, hanging there for a long moment, mysterious light beams shooting from the heavens and illuminating its razor sharp edge. The air became heavy. And then the sword moved.
It took me across the side before I even knew what was happening. My sight went red, and my hand jerked. In reflex, my hand tightened on the trigger of the .45. The gun jerked in my hand, and Geogio Biotti's head jerked back in response, as the bullet took him in the face. He stumbled backwards, still standing and taking the blow.
The sword came around for another pass, and I was certain I was done for.
Georgio Biotti's head came back around, missing half of his face. With what was left gave me a bloody, absolutely Balseraph half grin. Then his chest rippled outward toward me as it was riddled from behind with more gunfire.
The sword disappeared inches from my throat. The dead vessel fell to its knees, then on to its face on the dirty oily garbage strewn dirt.
There were three of them, backlit by the sunlight. The largest one moved out of its stance, and slid the gun away into a holster.
I stood there bleeding. My head felt light and dizzy. The .45 dropped on to the ground from my limp fingers. "I, um, I totally, completely surrender. Just no more with the knives." I pressed my fingers to my side, and brought them up, coated with blood. I just stared at them.
I fell to my knees, my head spinning and felt warm hands under my armpits, holding me up. I pressed my face into the warm chest, happy to know I was wrong after all.
10:13 am, the Village, New York City
"Oh man is he going to be pissed when he comes out of Trauma," I said, smoking my last cigarette and trying to enjoy it. I looked up from the front stoop I was sitting on in front of Eli's apartment building, and took another drag. I watched the EMS team load another body into the ambulance, and the two angelic detectives talking to a group of uniformed cops. "Pissed at me no less. I don't need some psychotic half fallen Seraph thing showing up at my cocktail parties. It would put a damper on all the sex and drugs going on in the back room."
The Mercurian sitting next to me patted my knee in his own affectionate Mercurian way, probably figuring out everyone I knew and filing them away for arrest and termination at his nearest convenience. The Dominican looked like a kid in his friendly cuddly puppy undercover vessel. It didn't change the fact that I don't like cops, and I especially don't like them when they have a geas on me for healing my vessel. "I don't think he'll be interested in you for a while," he said. "Since he needs to explain how he was killed in the first place, he'll undoubtedly be busy."
I sighed, and picked at the large hole in my coat with a heavy heart. "I really liked this coat. I really liked it. Now the bastard had to go run a sword through it. Don't people have manners anymore?" I pulled on some nice carcinogens. "Your Cherub said he was some sort of head honcho big shot in heaven."
The Mercurian, his name eluded me again, nodded. "He is the Head Inquisitor. He's a very powerful Judge in heaven."
"Well, I would say you all have a problem." I picked at the hole in my coat, and suddenly gave up on it, bored. "It doesn't answer why he went after me," I said, pretending to be baffled. I had a pretty good idea why, and I figured it all came back to the guy inside the building behind me who walked around looking lost all the time.
The Mercurian thought for a moment. "Maybe he was working with the Asmodeans to take out the Kobalites, and he just got a little too into the entire process and lost his objectivity. Maybe he thought you were a stain on reality. It's a possibility, although there is no way to know without asking." His tone of voice indicated that his own opinion wasn't too far from this himself.
"Hmm." I pondered, and squinted at the two detectives across the street, realizing if I had bothered to check them deeply for Needs I would have known I was being followed around by halos, and would have known to clear out. "So what happened to your Malakim?"
"We sent them home after we figured out Geogio Biotti was after you and not after someone who needed protection. You all are, what, Renegades now?"
I shook my head. "It depends on who you talk to, I guess. I would say not. Just because the Prince went AWOL doesn't mean we did. I thought we've been holding things together pretty good, all things considering. " I looked at him curiously. "Do you guys have a dossier on me or something?"
He nodded, and squinted at the sunlight. He held up his fingers. "About an inch thick."
I chuckled. "Really? You guys trade that much information back and forth? That's impressive."
"Excuse me for saying, but you're a real pain in the neck to anything that even looks like authority." He rested his chin on his hands. "I read the report, you know."
I let the cigarette dangle from my lower lip, and leaned backwards against the steps on my elbows, trying to affirm one of those sexy male model Calvin Klein ad looks. I watched the cops, angelic and human alike, do their jobs for a while, and the Mercurian made some notes on the little pad he kept in his pocket. Most of the time, we sat in silence. I didn't have the energy nor the essence to fight him.
He put the pad back in his pocket. He turned and looked me over carefully, and then he stood up. "Excuse me, can you stay here for a moment?"
"Do I have a choice?" I asked sarcastically.
He shrugs. "That's right, the geas is invoked. I guess not." I watched him walk off across the street and talk to his two other cronies.
I finished off my cigarette with some regret, knowing I was out and wasn't going to get any more any time soon. I sighed, and dropped the butt on the sidewalk and watched it smolder its way to being totally burned out, leaving a small stain on the ground. I wished distantly for a book, or a shot of Novocain, or anything else which I might eek some personal amusement from. I watched people walk back and forth while I waited, playing a little bit of Spot the Need, knowing that I suddenly had both lots of time and a place to sit.
A figure blocked out the sun momentarily as it settled heavily next to me. It sat there for a very quiet moment. I didn't look over my shoulder. "So is this the 'Bad' you were referring to?" I asked.
"Part of it, yeah."
"Are you going to tell me what you called me all the way out here to talk about, or are you going to let the Dominicans continue to beat on me?" I looked at the wild haired angel, who was watching the humans walk by with some interest, and I felt a sudden pain at speaking so harshly. I sighed. "They don't even have the slightest clue you're here. They were after that other guy, the crazy Seraph with the 'go for the jugular' look in his eyes the whole time. Now, the other guy, I think, knew. But these three jokers? I don't think so. I think they're just cops, cleaning up the mess."
"The fuzz," my favorite archangel said. "The pigs. The strong hand of the man is coming on down on us. Man, it bites."
I furrowed my brow in confusion, and then suddenly broke out laughing. "You're really weird, you know that? But it works. For you it works." He was still looking haggard and miserable. The grin mystically disappeared from my face. "If it means anything, I feel really bad about your servitor. I wish there was something I could do."
He shook his head, and put his hand on my knee. "No, Daimie, there's nothing you can do. There's nothing you could have done. You didn't know, and you don't know." He stared out at the Dominicans doing their job, and the Mercurian gave a look my way. I smiled and waved. "What we feel about our servitors, it's not like the Princes, Daimie. I know that you only have certain experiences, and frankly, they aren't very good. But for us, it's not just 'forces wasted' or 'time wasted'. It's like our children. She was very young."
We sat there in silence for a while, watching people go by. I suddenly had an attack of feeling absolutely miserable. I knew I should have left her the gun. Dammit, I wanted to go back to the time where I was just a selfish little demon who knew nothing of morality or the outer world or people other then my little selfish self.
"Well, we need to get moving," he said. "We can't stay here. They aren't stupid angels, and they'll eventually get a clue. If they report me back up to heaven, there might be trouble." Except, I thought, I had to stay here, and if there hadn't already been trouble, then we were working on different scales and I didn't want to know. I watched him stand, and adjust his coat.
I tried to get up, but it felt like someone was drawing fingernails across the blackboard of my soul. I grit my teeth, and tried to fight it, but it wasn't happening. I sat back down in a heap. I shook my head. "Sorry, it's an all day sort of job. Not enough to take over my psyche, but enough to keep me routed to the spot."
He was faintly amused. "Oh, what did you do?"
I looked sheepish. "Well, there was this flying sword, you see, and alot of blood, most of which was mine, and this guy with a Healing song.... it wasn't pressing, I wasn't going to die, but it certainly stung."
He made an annoyed little grunting noise, and touched my forehead. It felt like there was suddenly something indescribable missing, a weight lifted from my soul. There was something I had, and I couldn't put my finger on it, but now it was gone. "There. You can pay it back later, when it's more convenient."
"You're cheating. My mother will be cheesed."
He held out his hand, and I took it. He hauled me to my feet. "Oh, it's cool. I didn't take it away, I just gave it back. They'll be able to invoke it later if they want."
Great, I though. Random little Geases invoked by random little Dominicans. Just what I always wanted.
"And," he added, "I suggest you change vessels before any of the cops come over here and wonder what is going on."
I looked over at the Dominicans, who were busy talking to the uniform cops still. The Mercurian looked distracted, taking notes and nodding. They weren't worried about me, I was supposedly chained to the spot. I stood, and spent my second to last point of essence. The change lasted about a second, I don't think anyone who was not actively watching me noticed. I looked down at myself. "My god, did my sister pick out this outfit? I don't remember." I reached up and ran long fingers through my short light brown hair. I held up the skirt of the long thin simple black dress, with the short jacket and boots.
"You're very trendy." Eli took my arm, as I stood there, probably looking horrified. "I like this, it makes you look very natural." He started to lead me away. "Very much like yourself. Very sensual. You have wonderful eyes, like pools."
"You mean my breasts," I said acidically. "You know, that Cherub is attuned to me."
"He can question you later," he said, as he dragged me down the street. I stumbled on the boot's heels. "In another state. You should consider cooking the night the Cherub catches up to you, or at least luring him out to a nice restaurant for his trouble. It's the least you can do." He started waving a hand, trying to hail a cab.
I stared back, and saw the Mercurian looking around frantically, wondering where I'd gone. "You better get that cab pretty fast. Where are we going?"
"You're going home." He was successful, and a yellow car pulled up to the curve. We piled in, and he uttered the name of the airport to the Pakistani driver. I couldn't tell if he understood or not.
"Home?" I asked when I was settled in the sticky back seat. The car smelled of old fast food and cheap leather. I looked out the window at the city beyond, and chewed on my lower lip. Finally, I said, "You haven't, by the slightest, outside chance, spotted..."
"Hey, why are you worrying about him? It's cool, you know." He patted me on the knee.
I looked at Eli. "So is that a yes? You've seen him lately?"
"Where?" I asked, hearing desperation creep into my voice. "Where did you see him? Where did you see my Lord?"
He flinched. "Okay, okay, calm down, relax, be cool. It wasn't a where, it was a when, and it was a few weeks ago. He's okay, he says hi, and he told me to tell you to not worry."
"Not worry?" The driver was staring at me in his rear view mirror, trying to discern what was wrong. I took a deep breath, trying to control my temper, as my anger flashed. "Fine. I'm not playing Superior games."
"We play gin rummy well," he said, and gave me a half hearted grin. "And 8 Ball. Maybe even a little monopoly."
"Greeeeeeat." I leaned my head back, and closed my eyes. I told myself that I wasn't going to be a pawn, I wasn't going to be just a game piece that got slid around by the primal forces in the universe.
"Daimie?" His voice was a little weaker, maybe a bit embarrassed.
"Daimie, I think I have to do this to you. That Kezef guy, you know, Georgio Biotti, the guy you shot..."
"Yeah?" I lifted my eyebrows, but still didn't open my eyes.
"He's just the tip of it, the beginning of the bigger problem. He's just a manifestation of what I feared was going to come to pass," he said, and hesitated. Then he continued, "but it's okay, it's totally cool. We have a plan. I'm glad he didn't kill you, because that might have mucked it up."
"A plan? I don't really want to know," I said. Something was wrong. "Wait a second. How much do you know about that guy?"
"Welllll..." I could hear his jacket rustle as he shrugged. "Maybe a little."
"Maybe a little? Why am I suddenly feeling this uncomfortable sensation?"
"What uncomfortable sensation?" He sounded concerned.
"The sensation I get when someone is fucking me in the ass." I said with venom in my voice. "It's getting hard to sit."
He chuckled. "Oh, that sensation. I get it alot too." He patted me on the arm. "I don't know if we can trust regular angels, you know? They report to their Superiors and are so trusting and open and all that. You're coming along so nicely, but you're so loyal to your Lord, and that's cool. I wish we could get servitors like that sometimes," he said. "But that's going to keep you down in the Pit permanently, I'm afraid, and we can't have that." He shrugged. "Good experienced Lilim such as yourself are hard to come by, and I have special interests in you, and you particular, you can say."
I opened my eyes, and saw the small pile of glowing orbs on his lap. All of them looked familiar. "What the fuck? Do you have a distributor on those things or something? I don't remember asking for that much stuff. I don't remember asking for any stuff."
"Just think of how many less favors you'll have to owe by the time we get to the airport," he said, hefting one up in his hand. "And how much freer you'll feel. It'll be cool, you'll love it."
"It won't be cool and I will not love it. That looks like twenty years of my life, sitting in your lap," I said, growing revulsion in my voice.
He put down the one he had, and lifted up two more, inspecting them. The cabby was really starting to glare at us strangely. "About that. You have lots to learn, and only in a short amount of time. You have lots and lots to do. You're going to change, but don't be afraid." Eli looked a little cheerier. "It won't be bad. This is why I called you, this is what needed to happen. And then, before we go to the airport, we'll go get some lunch. Sound like fun?"
"But..." I looked down at them in growing horror.
He lifted up a new huge Geas, probably made of dozens of small
ones, and invoked it. "Daimonique, Lilim of Lust," he
said in perfect demonic tongue, "I command you to remember
9:43 pm, LAX, Los Angeles
So help me God, I was going to stick my fist right in Terry's face.
"I came all the way out here to pick you up from the airport, and you don't even tell me why you went to New York in the first place?" He was orbiting me, and talking continuously. "Twins, Daimon. They were twins."
"I'm happy for you." I walked along with my hands in my pockets, head down and staring at the carpeting. I felt drained and empty.
"Sixteen year olds, Daimon. Blondes." He straightened his tie, a reflex he must have picked up centuries before. "Baby, it was a once in a lifetime. Can you comprehend the possibilities?"
I shrugged. "We're going to have Dominicans show up. I'm supposed to give them a nice dinner."
He shook his head. "Dominicans? There's no we in Dominicans, baby. It's all just you."
I stopped and glared at him. "Do you have a bone in your body that is not selfish, self centered, or only geared toward the happiness and longevity of one Terry Jackson?"
"Nope. My own happiness is my prime motivation." He gave me Balseraph Grin #3, Hoping To Put You At Your Ease. "And yours is a very close second. We've got CBS guys coming out for lunch tomorrow. I know you can do lunch, I cleared your schedule. They wanna talk script, they wanna talk money, and we can get some real good stuff out on Prime Time to a major audience. You'll have another writing credit, and my people are already working with their people to make sure you are comfortable so we can get that few hours on television during the coming Fall. Everyone is happy. We're all so cool I could just suddenly freeze."
I just stopped listening to Terry after a while and searched around in my mind. I was having problems remember what all Eli had told me. I remembered the Malakim and the crazy Seraph and the Triad, but the particulars were sort of eluding me. I didn't like big black spots in my head. I had enough, I didn't need to add to the collection. I had this feeling that if I wasn't careful, I was going to lose my sense of purpose and just get sucked into Perdition with everyone else. Sloth was like this ever hungry sucking black hole which was slowly consuming all of the major resources of Hell and turning the television into one, single, gigantic rip into the Pit. I wasn't sure I was happy about this. I wished the Boss were around.
We got out to his car, his newest cheery red Porsche convertible. Terry looked so cool in his good looking high cheekboned vessel with the thousand dollar suit and the raybans. I felt like I was sitting next to the poster boy for high California fashion.
"You're awful quiet. Did something bad happen out there?" Terry asked in a sudden burst of compassion as he pulled onto the road.
"A girl got killed," I said, staring out at the scenery as it went whipping past.
"Anyone we knew?"
"No," I shook my head. "No one we knew."
"Then don't worry kid!" He yelled into the wind. "There's nothing to worry about. Girls get killed all the time."
I squinted my eyes and stared out at the horizon, and into the shining globe of the waning moon. Something struck me as odd. "Terry, are we supposed to get rain?"
He deftly maneuvered his car at breakneck speeds through traffic like some sort of maniac. The fact that he could easily die never occurred to him. He was too busy enjoying the speed, and the feeling of being romantically dangerous. "Maybe. I dunno, I never watch the weather reports."
"Hmmm. Storm looks like it's coming in," I said.
"Hey, baby, I never really care," Terry said, yelling over the wind. "Times, they are always a'changin, ya know? You gotta learn to be cool and flow with it."
"Sure," I said. "You ever have the feeling that we only exist in slices of time?"
He sniffed, and passed a large semi. He cut it off easily, and pushed down on the accelerator. "Nah, I think it's just one continuous slop. There's so much of it, I don't need to remember individual slices anymore."
"Do you remember being angelic?" I asked.
He answered me, "Not really. It was a long time ago, kid. Hey, perk up. After lunch tomorrow we'll go do something fun. You need a vacation. Would that be cool? Just go out and drink or something?" The fake concern crept into his voice. He made an excellent agent and personnel manager when he put his mind to it. And he was mine, as he had been for two centuries. He always felt very important, not only being a Word-bound demon of good standing with several distinctions and a flock of lesser worshipping demonlings who was very effective at corrupting human minds, he also got to represent me, one of the few Shal-Mari Mediators, which was just another feather in his cap.
I sunk down in the seat, and closed my eyes. I poked and prodded. Strange things in my mind, all sloshing around up there. "I dunno. I think we live in slices of time. We remember the important parts and gloss over the mundane. There's all this stuff that seems so profound, and demonic life is rarely profound. We never really know, we just exist, just like humans, and make up a bunch of crap to fill in all the holes in the mysteries..."
Terry weaved again, lost in his haze of his meaningless demonic existence. "Lunch, then drinks, maybe some chicks, we'll call some of your Comedian buddies..."